Quick Links for Monday

26 07 2010

Two Wheels, Four Paws – Misha Warbanski explains bikejor and canicross, that is, what those crazy people running their dogs while riding their bikes are actually up to. It sounds like fun, but I’m definitely not ready to try it.

The World’s Most Southerly ATM: An Interview With Wells Fargo’s David Parker – needcoffee talks to David Parker about the ATM at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. Turns out if you’re down there and you run out of cash, you don’t even need to pay service fees.


“How to Make Friends in Seventh Grade” by Nick Poniatowski

19 07 2010

I read short fiction, too.

How to Make Friends in Seventh Grade by Nick Poniatowski is a sweet, smoothly crafted, heartbreaking fantasy about what it’s like to be queer (in both senses of the word) and smart in junior high school. It’s about those silly assignments teachers make you do and the dream (which I’m sure every bright kid has) of doing work that has real value, even if no one recognizes it.

I call it fantasy, because there’s a lot about what happens in this story that isn’t quite believable. Why would an alien ship lurk in the Earth’s atmosphere, ignoring every attempt at communication but that of a lonely seventh grader with a model rocket? Were they on safari? Poniatowski leaves that up to the reader’s imagination, and thinking of a plausible explanation takes more than a little imaginative yoga. But the story has deep emotional resonance, and I suspect that many readers who spent the ’90s watching the x-files and dreaming of something better will find a lot to relate to in Ashley and Tyler, and this slice of junior high.

Either way, “How to Make Friends in Seventh Grade” is a compassionate story well worth the read. You can find it at Strange Horizons.

Quote of the Day

19 07 2010

In an effort to, you know, update this here blog more often, I’ve decided to post a quote of the day – something thought-provoking, or beautiful, or grotesque that I’ve found in what I’ve reading. Maybe it’ll spark interest in the book. Maybe it’ll spark discussion. But either way, it will help me remember that I have a blog to update.

Here is the first.

“But they can’t just go off into the wilderness,” said Luz, who had been listening to her thoughts as well as to her father’s words. “Who’d farm our fields?”

Her father ignored her question by repeating it, thus transforming a feminine expression of emotion into a masculine assessment of fact. “They can’t, of course, be allowed to start scattering like this. They provide necessary labor.”

– Ursula K. Le Guin, The Eye of the Heron, p. 21

I like this. Luz (who is an educated woman in her early twenties) is in the process of figuring out her own economic and social privilege as she moves toward taking action (the cover blurb promised me action). She’s working her way through information, speaking up to her kingly father. And without missing a beat, he translates what she says – her feminine discourse (and it’s decidedly feminine, in this universe where City women are denied the right to participate in the power-structures of their community and men rule the world in a third-generation-removed parody of pageantry on earth) – into useful, authoritative masculine discourse. He re-expresses her thoughts as if they were his own, and takes credit for her insight.

I like this passage because in bold, obvious strokes, it demonstrates a couple of processes that happen much more often than one would think in our supposedly liberated twenty-first century world: the appropriation of subaltern speech and the way in which it is then re-interpreted and integrated into the dominant group’s power structures for their own purposes, and their own purposes only.

Needless to say, Luz and her father have quite different uses for this thought.

In which I discover Pamela Sargent, and a bookstore you should check out

18 07 2010

Well, Pamela Sargent’s Starshadows: Ten Stories was a little disappointing: bleak stories of doomed humanity, skirting daring statements and ideas, but never quite making them. It deals with all the important topics – the role of technology in society, social inequality and privilege, colonialism, crime, poverty, violence, extreme environmental degradation – but lacks the punch to truly make the ideas convincing. The blurbs on the back of the book and the introduction all speak of “potential,” so I’m assuming that Sargent developed considerably as an author after the publication of these stories. I have The Golden Space and a couple of Women of Wonder collections in the queue, so I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve made it through those.

Image of the cover of Pamela Sargent's Starshadows

“Clone Sister” presents an interesting family, but its understanding of cloning is all muddled. “Gather Blue Roses,” which tells of a hyperempathetic Jewish character whose mother survived the Nazi camps, shows a lot of possibility, but stops before it gathers any depth. “Oasis,” explores what another hyperempathetic character, driven to the brink by others’ pain, might do to escape his own suffering but is little more than shocking. And “If I ever should leave you” reminded me of The Time Traveler’s Wife (which was Dr. Who fanfiction y/n?) with a lot less romance novel and a lot more darkness.

“IMT” was a favourite of mine because (no, I don’t mind admitting it) I’m a bit of a transit geek. The idea, here, is that the city of New York has in hand the plans for a teleportation-based public transit system, the eponymous IMT, that would solve its transportation woes. City manager Lisa Fernandez isn’t ready to reveal and implement the plan yet, but Joe Taglia, the head of the transportation research group, forces her hand. This move, rather than resulting in the immediate implementation of city-wide commuter teleportation, ends up revealing Lisa’s real concerns with and ambitions for the IMT, which extend to the structure and daily movements of society as a whole. In a way, it’s suburbia taken to its logical extreme, but it’s a striking idea nonetheless.

In the title(ish) story, “Shadows,” aliens invade the earth to save its inhabitants, to bring them enlightenment and eternal life among the stars. The earthlings don’t understand, are horrified by the loss of their homes, by their relocation to domed huts, by the forced and seeming pointless labour that the aliens make them do, and conspire and rebel against their captors. The aliens lash out at the rebels, killing them for their disobedience, then mourn those who have died. It seems a fairly obvious metaphor for the furious colonialism of the so-called Age of Discovery and, intergalactic expansion and colonization being a common theme in science fiction, particularly apt. What makes this story particularly interesting is that the earthlings never do mount a successful rebellion, the focus-character almost willingly gives in to the aliens’ religion, and the author never explicitly condemns the aliens actions. She leaves this up to the reader to do.

View of fields, lake and hills from Mission Hill winery in the Okanagan Valley

It’s been a while since I’ve had an update. I was in heartstoppingly spectacular Kelowna for several days, and I’ve been busy with various commitments since. It’s difficult to blog, having fallen out of the groove. In Kelowna, I worked my way through Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles, Mystery and Mayhem. I’m always a little uncomfortable with Bujold’s work – there’s always something that doesn’t ring quite right – but her books are so addictive and fun. In Ethan of Athos, her manic hero, Miles Vorkosigan, doesn’t appear as anything more than a name dropped, which was pleasant because love and admire him though I may, Miles, with his boundless energy and his schemes, is exhausting, and I have no idea how anyone keeps up with him.

Readers in the Vancouver area should check out Booktown in New Westminster. It’s a huge used bookstore with a great SF collection, and it’s having a going out of business everything must go sale. Older SF titles range in price from as little as $1.95 to $7.95 and everything’s 50% off, so they’re going for pennies – you can really stock up. The selection is fantastic; I’ve filled some of the holes in my to-read list without even having to pay shipping charges. It’s a short walk from the Columbia SkyTrain station and there are a couple of coffee shops nearby in case, like, me, you can’t wait to get home to start reading your new books.