I.e., this week has been mostly getting the new computer to do those things which it ought to do, and leave undone those things which it ought not do -
Among which the most disturbing was the discovery this morning that Thunderbird was marking ALL, yes ALL, incoming mail as Junk and also as Read, fortunately I did discover that this was happening.
There has also been wrestling with getting to be able to talk to the MyCloud as part of my home network rather than via a remote interface connection.
There was the oops, I needed to do a backup of This Thing, That Thing and The Other Thing from the old computer, and having to sort that out.
There is all the finding the passwords and activation codes for things for which I entered a password when I first activated the thing, and never since.
There is also the loss of some things - don't seem to be able to have the little slide-show widget thing of photos on my desktop, chiz - and finding that the new versions of things are Not What We Expect - the new Kobo Desktop App is quite horrid.
But on the whole, we are reasonably satisfied with the New System - its speed in particular is commendable.
However, I am annoyed with Opera, which I was intending using as my secondary browser to avoid Microsoft and Google, but the main thing I wanted a secondary browser for was so that I can log into The Other DW Journal without logging out of this one, but Opera, for some reason I wot not of, insists on autofilling the login screen with the details for this account rather than the other - la, 'tis tedious vexatious.
The world we live in is not always peaceful… and maybe sometimes we kind of like it that way, whether we like to admit that or not. Author Anna Smith Spark has thoughts on the act of violence, and how it animates the story of her novel The Broken Knives.
ANNA SMITH SPARK:
The Court of Broken Knives is a novel about violence.
When I started writing the book, I didn’t have a plot or a world or a cast of characters in mind. What I had was a scene.
A group of men.
I’ve always been fascinated by violence: How one might respond to the opportunity for violence. What doing violence might feel like. And that’s what The Court of Broken Knives ultimately became about.
I was brought up reading the great myths and legends, the old stories of heroes. The Iliad. The Eddas. Beowulf. Gilgamesh. The Tain. I loved these stories. Read and reread them, immersed myself in them, told myself stories set in their worlds. But what I came back to, as I got older, was the realisation that for so many of these stories we are not reading about good versus evil. We are not reading high fantasy, the last desperate stand where evil is vanquished and the Dark Lord is overthrown. We are reading about violence for its own sake. The act of winning, of killing one’s opponent and glorying in one’s triumph, is the victory. The hero is ‘good’ because he wins.
And yes, ‘he’. These are acts of masculine violence. More women have perhaps fought in battle than we realise, yes, granted. But, historically, organised violence has been the domain of men. Armies and battle hosts have been male places. Places from which women have been excluded. And that in itself is worth thinking on.
Let’s look for a moment on the Iliad. The Iliad was written down over two and a half thousand years ago. It was composed perhaps three thousand years ago. It is the first and greatest masterpiece of European literature, the foundation stone of western culture. It is a book entirely and totally about war. A very large number of people die in the Iliad. Graphically, horribly, and without even the consolation of heaven awaiting them. The whole reason for the war is shown to be futile.
But war is also the whole basis of the Iliad’s society. The leader of the Trojans is called Hector. He’s spent ten years killing Greeks for the sake of a woman who ran off with his little brother. He’s seen most of his brothers die, and his wife’s entire family die, and he knows, deep down inside, that he’s going to die himself. In one of the most moving scenes in the poem, he says farewell to his wife and child before going out to battle, and he knows and we know and they know that he’s not going to come back from it. And this is what he says:
When [their child is grown and] comes home from battle wearing the bloody gear
Of the mortal enemy he has killed in war-
A joy to his mother’s heart.
(Homer, Iliad, trans. Robert Fagles, Penguin, 1990, book 6, lines 568-574)
Coming home from battle still bloody with his enemies’ innards. That’s the greatest joy a woman can want for her children. That’s what makes you absolutely the top chap.
The Iliad is not a celebration of war. But is not a rejection of war, either. It makes one terrible, horrifying, entirely obvious point:
Winning at war feels great. And that’s a strange and exhilarating experience to write about—particularly someone who has not ever fought.
Reading about war is enjoyable. Writing about war is immensely enjoyable. And I strongly suspect, from everything I’ve ever studied about history, that actually doing war is even more enjoyable than reading or writing or watching it. Warfare has been pretty much a constant of human history, and those who are good at it have generally occupied the top social and sexual desirability spot. Some war is morally justified. Most war is not. We’ve always known that. Right back to the Iliad. And yet we do it. We have always done it. We probably always will.
We do it because winning at war feels great. I wanted my characters to have the same feelings as Hector: to understand simultaneously that war is bloody and horrible, but also glorious and exciting and fun.
I do not say this because I think war is a good thing. It is a terrible thing. A horrifying thing. A thing of utter shame and grief.
But I say it because it is a true thing, and a thing that I wanted people to remember in The Court of Broken Knives.
Alison Weir's latest novel in her series about the wives of Henry VII, Anne Boleyn, A King's Obsession, is Weir's interpretation of the story of Anne Boleyn, the woman who triggered the creation of the Church of England through her relationship with King Henry.
There have been many different interpretations of Anne's life and character, from villainous harlot to innocent and loving victim of Henry's overwhelming desire to have a male heir. Weir takes an interesting path between the extremes, giving us an intelligent and ambitious Anne who may not have loved Henry, but consented to her pursuit of her for reasons more charitable than greed and power-madness, an Anne who did not betray the King in deed, but who may well have allowed the game of courtly love to go too far with a man, or men, for whom she felt greater emotional affinity than she did for her husband. Weir's Anne is an early church reformer, who pressed Henry to break with the Church of Rome, not just to facilitate their marriage, but to give Henry the power to correct abuses of the people by church and clergy.
Weir says about her interpretation of Anne: "In writing this novel from Anne’s point of view, I have tried to reconcile conflicting views of her, and to portray her as a flawed but very human heroine, a woman of great ambition, idealism, and courage who found herself in an increasingly frightening situation."
Weir is, as one would expect, painstaking in her research and she fills her novel with explicit detail, paying close attention to where Anne was, at various points in her life, and the people she was likely to have encountered and how they interacted. From that perspective, the book succeeds in giving us a fairly full picture of Anne's comings and goings, and her known and possible dealings with family, friends, and with members of the courts of three countries - Burgundy, France and England.
Unfortunately, I found this portrayal of Anne somewhat flat, as if, despite Weir's telling of the story from Anne's perspective, we are seeing more of the outward than the inner woman - a license the writer of history cannot take, but the writer of fiction must.
It's funny how, despite the number of pages that the above represents, I always feel like I've read NOTHING when I've only read manga. That's kind of sad, because, obviously, graphic novels and manga are just as "real" reading as any traditional novel. I don't really know why I buy into the idea that somehow they're 'lesser.'
Speaking of my my TBR pile, on it is a graphic novel called Skim by Marika Tamaki / Jillian Tamaki, a traditional novel called The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North, the second collected volume of Bitch Planet, Bitch Planet: President Bitch by Kelly Sue Decconnick / Valantine DeLandro, and a graphic novel The Stoneman Mysteries: Book One by Jane Yolen, Adam Stemple / Orion Zangara.
We'll see how much of this I get through in a week. I need to at least get though The Stoneman Mysteries since I told Twin Cities Geek that I'd review that one for them. Adam is, of course, a local author and Twin Cities Geeks likes to highlight the local interest stuff whenever possible.
Meanwhile, I still have a pretty intense case of the blahs. I blame the weather and the Nazis.
I’ve eaten Stella Parks‘ desserts, and, oh, man, they are so good. So I’m delighted to give her space today to let her tell you about her debut cookbook BraveTart, which examines and celebrates a branch of America’s culinary tradition Parks thinks is overlooked and underappreciated. Is she right? Read on.
When people hear that I’m a classically trained pastry chef or that I work at a place called Serious Eats, most everyone will ask how I got my start. I can’t help but imagine they want to hear about a magical summer in France or else how I learned to bake at my mother’s side. Maybe they want me to say that I always loved Julia Child, or that I saved up my allowance to buy my first croissant. Trouble is, it didn’t happen that way at all.
I grew up in suburban Kentucky, my summers spent with Puddin’ Pops on the porch, my winters passed one mug of Swiss Miss at a time. I loved the tongue-scorching sweetness of a McDonald’s apple pie from the drive-thru window and the muffled scrape of a plastic spoon against the bottom of a chocolate pudding cup (the tinfoil lid curled back and licked clean, natch). At the supermarket, I learned the heft to a tube of cookie dough, the lightness in a bag of marshmallows, and the rattle of rainbow sprinkles in a plastic jar. That’s how I got my start—somewhere between the milk-logged squish of an Oreo and the snap of a Crunch bar.
Sure, it sounds a little trashy compared to that whole Proust thing with madeleines and tea, but I find those bites are just as transportive, little triggers that send me flying back through time. Chances are, if you grew up in America, you’ve got some memories like that as well. Maybe it’s the a dollop of Cool Whip on pumpkin pie, the sticky fingered bliss of an ice cream sandwich, or that familiar slab of birthday cake on the conference room table. Those shared experiences, however mundane, connect us across most every demographic.
It’s a common phenomenon, but a culinary tradition we pay little respect—we call it junk food. Truth is, mass produced snacks have a lineage as respectable as any other. Animal crackers, vanilla wafers, and Fig Newtons all date back to the 1800s, and even newcomers like Rice Krispies Treats, Reese’s Cups, and Milky Way bars are nearly a hundred years old. For anyone raised in America and alive today, these sweets have always been a familiar part of life. Yet they’re not really ours; industrial formulas are subject to change or even cancellation outright (RIP, Coke Zero; adios, Magic Middles).
So when I set out to write a cookbook about American desserts, I knew I couldn’t leave the “junk food” behind. It had damn well earned a place at the table—right alongside “proper” American desserts like devil’s food cake, chocolate chip cookies, and apple pie. With that mandate in mind, I spent nearly six years writing, researching, and developing recipes for everything from Snickers to snickerdoodles. In the end, I don’t think of it as a cookbook so much as a culinary time capsule, stuffed full of recipes, vintage images, history, and photography to tell the story of American desserts as a whole.
What I read
Finished The Color of Fear: up to usual standard.
PC Hodgell, The Gates of Tagmeth: these have definitely succumbed to a kind of Dunnett syndrome, in which there is some huge mysterious meta-arc going on, occasionally alluded to, but each episode deals with some particular problem that Jame (mostly) has to face (there were a few other viewpoint sections in this one) in the foreground and doesn't seem to be advancing the longer game particularly. On the other hand, kept me reading. On the prehensile tail, so not the place to start. (Are there really only 8 books in the Kencyrath sequence? only I have been reading them for decades, so it seems more.)
JD Robb, Echoes in Death (2017), as the ebook had finally come down to a sum I consider reasonable for an ebook. The mixture as usual, pretty much. Okay, not the most sophisticated of mystery plots, I got this and the twist very early on, but it's the getting there, I guess.
On the go
Discovered I had a charity-shop copy of PD James, The Private Patient (2008), the last of the excursions of Dalgleish, which I had not already read for some reason - possibly because I wasn't at that time sufficiently keen on PDJ and AD to shell out for a trade paperback.
Hi! Apologies for the long hiatus. I've been kind of preoccupied, with a funeral in the family and then a world science fiction convention in Helsinki, but I'm finally home and trying to get back to some semblance of normal.
In the meantime, some news:
If you're in the United States and read ebooks, The Rhesus Chart is currently discounted to $1.99. (The link goes to Amazon.com but it should be the same price on iBooks and the Google Play store and Kobo. It's probably also at this price in Canada, but not in the UK or Europe--different publishers in different territories.) If you haven't tried the Laundry Files, this book isan entrypoint: why not give it a try?
Tonight, August 16th, I'm appearing at the Edinburgh Book festival with Nnedi Okorafor, Jo Walton, and Ken Macleod. We'll be at the Studio Theatre from 7:15pm; it's a ticketed event from the main book festival box office.
And on Friday August 18th, I'll be back at the book festival for a discussion with Nalo Hopkinson, Ken MacLeod, and Ada Palmer: we'll e at Bosco Theatre (on George Street) from 6:30pm, and again, it's a ticketed event.
And finally, the big news: my space opera, Ghost Engine, is being rescheduled for 2019; instead, July 2018 should see publication of The Labyrinth Index, the ninth Laundry Files novel! Publishers will be Orbit in the UK and Tor in the USA (this being the New Normal for the Laundry Files). This change has been in the works for a few months, but I didn't want to pre-announce it until I had it nailed down. (In a nutshell: Ghost Engine was too ambitious to finish on my original schedule, and The Labyrinth Index was growing more and more timely, until they just crossed over.)
It was the most delightful of pleasures to receive your letter and to hear that you had been safely delivered of a fine baby boy, that I daresay will be walking and talking by the time you receive this. What a very fine man Mr Lowndes sounds to be, I am most greatly sorry I never met him. It is immensely reassuring to me to think that you have the companionship of such an excellent lady with such wisdom in matters of maternity as Mrs Ferraby. I only hope that you do not go about to overdo, betwixt motherhood, your responsibilities towards your pupils, and your writing for Mr Lowndes’ paper.
But, indeed, I am not one to preach upon the matter, for I am quite constantly kept busy here: not only do I begin the Thornes’ dear children on the rudiments, but I continue to find a great desire for education among the convicts of our community, and a wish to have letters written by those that do not yet feel confident in writing them themselves, although there are now some few that have come on to be able to instruct their fellows. I also assist the Thornes with their observations.
And besides that,
Abby Mrs Thorne and I find ourselves assisting Mr Carter in matters of nursing the sick. I do not recollect whether I wrote to you before about Mr Carter? – he came to this land in the capacity of surgeon to the scientific expedition, but has fallen so in love with the country that he has determined to stay, to collaborate with the Thornes in their scientific enterprizes, and also to run a dispensary for our people. But I daresay even I had not mentioned this to you, you would have heard somewhat of the matter from Lady Bexbury, for we have applied to her for the provision of surgical instruments, drugs, &C, that are very hard to come by here. There is not a deal of injury and disease, for we practice sound measures of hygiene, but there will always be some accidents and ailments.
Mr Carter is a most excellent man, a most adept surgeon – oh, Lucy, I try to write of him in a sober fashion, but I must tell you, that we find ourselves in a most happy condition of mutual admiration, and purpose to marry very shortly. He is the dearest of fellows, and it is no wonder that he is so greatly esteemed by Mr and Mrs Thorne. Sure I have found myself, to my astonishment and sometimes embarrassment, courted by several gentlemen in this place, from government officers to free settlers, some of whom grow exceeding wealthy on the backs of sheep: but I have found none that I could like as much as Mr Carter.
He is the finest of men, has a most humane spirit – there is very bad treatment goes on of the aboriginal peoples of the land, that he has a great admiration for, saying that when he was with the scientific expedition all were most prepossessed with their abilities in tracking and hunting and finding sustenance in what appeared a barren wilderness, where the products of civilization would have wandered in circles, or sat down and waited for death. He is writing up a memorandum on the subject, and wondered if, did we send it to you when completed, Mr Lowndes might publish it?
Indeed those years with the Duggetts seem like some nightmare from which I have now awakened. I am sure you would laugh and teaze me unmercifully did I tell you how wonderful I find the Thornes; they are quite the finest companions one could have.
But I mind that there was a thing I meant to ask you, about whether there was any in your circles that might pursue the matter. There has lately come about these parts two gentlemen – I say gentlemen because although they show the effect of hardships and are burnt very brown by the sun, they are clearly well-bred educated fellows does one speak to them – Mr Perry and Mr Derringe, that have some intention to set up a school for boys, for there is a considerable desire among the settlers &C to have their sons educated as gentlemen. While they go about to raise interest for this enterprize, they undertake some private tutoring. And one day came to us Mr Perry, half-carrying Mr Derringe that had some fever or other about him, seeking Mr Carter’s aid in this extremity.
We have a few beds attached to the dispensary, and he was laid in one of them, and examined by Mr Carter, who determined that ‘twas some fever very like unto the mala aria: most fortunate he keeps some fever bark about the dispensary, so quite immediate went about preparing a tincture. Meanwhile, he desired me to sponge the fellow to cool his fever.
So I went about this, and Mr Carter managed to convey him some of the tincture, and he seemed a little better, but then Mr Carter was called away, and said to me, dear Miss Netherne, would you greatly mind sitting by Mr Derringe and continuing to sponge him and keep him quiet, giving him a little of the tincture every few hours? Why, said I, I was about to ask was there anything I might do, so he left me with careful instructions.
I sat by Mr Derringe for some hours, and it seemed to me that he was troubled in his mind, and it did not seem entire delirium, and in due course he disclosed to me very halting and in between shivering fits, that he had on his conscience that he had allowed a young lady to whom he was affianced to suppose that he was dead of a fever in the South Seas, and it would have been a better and more honourable course to communicate to her that he had found that he was such a fellow as would not make her a good husband and thus set her at liberty with no obligation to mourn. She was, he said, a Miss Fenster, her father was the vicar of Upper Stobbing.
So to reassure him I said that the Thornes and I had numerous connexions in England that might be able to go about to find the present condition of the lady, but was it not like that she had by now married another? Very like, he said, she was a quite excellent young woman. So, dear Lucy, I write to you to ask are there any in your circles might go about with discretion to discover the present whereabouts of this lady, for it is clear that the business continues to prey upon Mr Derringe’s mind even though he has recovered from his fever, and Mr Carter fears 'twill bring about some relapse.
Oh, my dear Lucy, the only spot upon my happiness is that you may not be present at my wedding, that Mr Thorne will perform, and that I cannot see you and little Andrew and your excellent husband. Please convey my very greatest respects to Mr and Mrs Ferraby and to Lady Bexbury, that great patroness of our enterprize here: oh what a foolish misguided narrow-minded creature I was to so misjudge her fine qualities.
With every affection, your loving sister, Ellie
And I can't help wanting to say to Boris J that in Ye Bygone Days when people built follies they did so on their own estates and with their own money (though on reflection this was probably ill-gottens from the Triangle Trade and dodgy dealings in India) and didn't ask the nation to pay for them.
(And aren't there already memorials to Princess Di? How many do we need?)
And, you know, it's a pretty idea and in theory I am there with Thomas Heatherwick that 'London needs new bridges and unexpected new public places': except that that is not a part of London that required Yet Another Bridge, there are so many that taking the boat journey along that stretch of river is more like going into a tunnel.
Also, it was not properly a public space:
a link that would be privately run, would be able set its own rules for access, and would close at night and be available to hire for private events.Not dissimilar from those gardens in London squares to which access is by residents' key. I do not think that is a definition of 'public' that would have been assented to by those urban planners and reformers creating parks and spaces for the benefit of the inhabitants of the metropolis.
I am also boggled by the suggestion that the river is not already pretty much 'centre-stage' in our great city.
I think Mad William would have had things to say along the lines of
I wander thro' each charter'd street,and whether if crowds flowed over the bridge, so many, common and routine usage would have meant that
Near where the charter'd Thames does flow.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
I might go along on the line suggested by this to comment that what good is a garden bridge if the land lies waste?
There’s the saying that “those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it,” but in order to learn your history, sometimes you have to dig deeper — much deeper — than what is commonly known. This is a fact that has relevance for author Beth Cato and her latest novel Call of Fire.
I love that historical fiction can be entertaining and educational at the same time. When I began to research prior to writing Breath of Earth, the first novel in this series, I was genuinely excited to delve deeper into turn-of-the-20th-century California history. My books feature a 1906 America that is allied with Japan to form the Unified Pacific, a world power in the midst of conquering China as part of its goal to dominate mainland Asian. I bought a number of books on Chinese immigration and experiences in America in that era.
As my research continued for my second book, the newly-released Call of Fire, I found that I dreaded reading more on the subject. I’ve been a history geek since I was a kid and I went into this with the knowledge that Chinese immigrants had been treated poorly, but I had no real comprehension of the horrific abuses they endured.
This wasn’t just about far-off California history anymore, either. This was about my hometown, the place I was born.
Like many other San Joaquin Valley cities, my hometown of Hanford was founded by the railroad in the late 19th century. Chinese men did much of the hard labor to lay the tracks and blast their way through mountains to connect the state with the larger continent. Centrally-located Hanford had one of the largest Chinese communities in the valley. These days, the city is proud of what remains of its China Alley. There’s a lovely tea room there, as well as a preserved Taoist Temple with a gift shop. The Moon Festival each October is a big draw.
When I was a kid, though, I was puzzled that Hanford still had its China Alley but other nearby cities–even larger ones like Visalia and Fresno–did not. My mom told me something like, “They were probably torn down over the years.” That made sense to me. Hanford’s China Alley has some decrepit buildings, too, and it’s only been in recent years that other parts have been lovingly restored to become a year-round attractions.
During my research, though, I finally found the real answer to my childhood question. The other Chinatowns weren’t simply torn down. In the 1880s and 1890s, they were firebombed and the surviving Chinese were run out of town. There were even race riots in vineyards near Fresno.
Hanford still managed to retain some of its Chinese population, but that didn’t mean all was well during that period. I found mention of an editorial from my hometown paper in 1893 that admonished young white women of the county to improve their kitchen skills so that they would not hire Chinese cooks.
I called up my mom. “Did you know about all of this?” She did not. I called up my grandma. Same answer.
That’s when I became angry.
What the Chinese had endured had been erased from local history. Men were murdered. Families terrorized. Livelihoods destroyed. Then the butchery and abuses they endured were forgotten.
When I write about these kinds of racist incidents in my books, I imagine many readers will think that the stuff is pure fiction, all part of the elevated drama of my alternate history. That’s exactly why I include an author’s note in each book along with an extensive bibliography (which I also have on my website at BethCato.com). I want readers to know about the ‘Dog Tag Law’ that required Chinese immigrants to carry an identity card, America’s first internal passport, starting in 1892. I want them to know what happened in Tacoma, Washington, and Honolulu, Hawaii.
I hope people enjoy my books Breath of Earth and Call of Fire, but I also want readers to learn, as I have, that our beloved hometowns may possess dark secrets that need to see the light. We can’t undo the crimes of the past, but we can learn. We can remember.
Last night Mason and I went to a vigil for Charlottesville at Bde Maka Ska (formerly Lake Calhoun,) over in Minneapolis. Did we end racism by gathering. listening to a few speakers, lighting candles, and singing a few songs? No, of course not. But I needed to get out of the house and be with likeminded people, and that helped. The Minneapolis weather witches kept us dry, providing a break in the drizzle. Once we were safely home, the sky opened up and all the rain came down. It was a howler, as they say.
It's been very rainy here and that has done very little to improve my mood. It's supposed to rain all week. It's also a busy work week for me, I work Tuesday night and Thursday afternoon (and maybe Saturday, too. I'll have to check the calendar.)
So, I dunno, just sort of blah. You?
So, farewell then, printer which has been with me some dozen or so years, also previous computer.
Take it away Bessie Smith:
The usual sturm und drang over setting up the new All In One Computer and the printer which purports to be wireless, but refuses to connect thusly: however it will connect by cable.
Though alas, all the USB ports are on one side of the computer, the one away from where the printer has to go (unless I do some major rearranging), but I think I have contrived.
And of course, various other things still to get sorted.
But, getting there, sorta.
Craig Timberg's Tinderbox: How the West Sparked the AIDS Epidemic was, as far as I can tell from reading a few reviews, somewhat controversial when it was first published. Certainly there's a lot in this book, which looks primarily at how the AIDS epidemic started, and the conditions that both encouraged and hindered its spread in Africa, that makes one stop and think.
Timberg begins with an anti-colonialist narrative of how AIDS finally, after centuries of being confined to the simian population of Central Africa with no significant or recorded crossing of species lines, erupted into the human population. He identifies Western engagement in Africa as the catalyst, from the vast social disruptions caused by European projects intended to steal the resource wealth of the continent by forcing its people to do the work of harvesting and transporting, to the effects of both Christianisation and forced separation of families on traditional patterns of marriage, initiation rituals and sexual activity.
In particular, he points to a history of circumcision as an initiation ritual, and the tendency to have polyamorous but closed circles of sexual relationships as two traditions that might have limited the spread of AIDS throughout Africa had they not been lost in the decades of colonialist exploitation and ' modernisation.'
Timberg presents considerable evidence that the greater resistance of circumcised men to HIV infection was noted on many occasions during early research into risk factors, but never considered as a potential part of prevention education and programming.
He also notes that in those instances where African nations focused on trying to change sexual behaviour, stressing the idea of faithfulness within relationships and partner reduction in general (such as the 'zero grazing' program in Uganda) rates of infection fell significantly.
The narrative he constructs around attempt to slow the rate of infections across Africa contrasts the mostly African-based programs focused on changing sexual behaviour with programs imposed from outside along with Western aid money, which stressed condom use. He also contrasts attempts to introduce multi-faceted prevention programs, such as ABC (abstinence, be faithful, condoms), with programs focusing only on using condoms. Summarising the findings of one epidemiologist who examined the effectiveness of condom-centred prevention programs, Timberg says:
"Hearst found that condoms rarely failed when used properly by individuals, but he couldn’t find any examples of condom promotion campaigns slowing HIV’s spread in African societies with widespread epidemics. He acknowledged their role in reducing infection in epidemics such as Thailand’s, where transmission was concentrated within the sex industry. But while African men often used condoms in casual hookups or with prostitutes, few did so with their wives or girlfriends, despite years of public health campaigns encouraging the practice. He also raised the unsettling possibility, stimulated by some disturbing findings his research team had made in Uganda, that aggressive condom promotion campaigns, often featuring racy images and double entendres, may make casual sex seem more acceptable, potentially helping to spread HIV."
Condoms seemed not the be the answer for Africa, a possibility that few Westerners were willing to accept. Instead, Timberg suggests that the program ultimately championed by his collaborator in this book, David Halperin, focused on circumcision, partner reduction and changes in sexual behaviour, would be more effective in African nations: "What existed in Africa’s AIDS Belt, and in only a couple of other places on earth, was a “lethal cocktail” of extensive heterosexual networks and low circumcision rates. Changing either factor, on a broad enough level, could cause the pace of new infections to slow dramatically."
While Timberg deplores the imposition of Western ideas of how to fight the spread of the disease on African cultures, he does not ignore the mistakes made by African governments - often prompted by a desire to refute Western perceptions of Africans as promiscuous, primitive, and sexually over-active, or by resistance to conditions attached to money intended to help prevent the rising number if new infections and treat those already infected.
It is an interesting book, and one that tries to look at the ways in which Western imperialism and ignorance have affected the path of the disease in Africa. I find myself wishing, though, for a book that covers similar ground written by an African.
Bread during the week: a Standen loaf, v tasty.
Saturday breakfast rolls: brown grated apple with molasses and ginger: using up two bags of flour probably a) rather more wholemeal than strong white b) probably quantities a bit more than usual; also using up ginger so these were quite gingery.
Today's lunch: small whole sea-bream baked in foil with ginger and lime; served with purple crinkle-cut sweet potato fries, garlic roasted sweet-stem cauliflower and bellaverde broccoli, steamed samphire tossed in butter, and padron peppters.
Denouncing Nazis and the KKK and violent white supremacists by those names should not be a difficult thing for a president to do, particularly when those groups are the instigators and proximate cause of violence in an American city, and one of their number has rammed his car through a group of counter-protestors, killing one and injuring dozens more. This is a moral gimme — something so obvious and clear and easy that a president should almost not get credit for it, any more than he should get credit for putting on pants before he goes to have a press conference.
And yet this president — our president, the current President of the United States — couldn’t manage it. The best he could manage was to fumble through a condemnation of “many sides,” as if those protesting the Nazis and the KKK and the violent white supremacists had equal culpability for the events of the day. He couldn’t manage this moral gimme, and when his apparatchiks were given an opportunity to take a mulligan on it, they doubled down instead.
This was a spectacular failure of leadership, the moral equivalent not only of missing a putt with the ball on the lip of the cup, but of taking out your favorite driver and whacking that ball far into the woods. Our president literally could not bring himself to say that Nazis and the KKK and violent white supremacists are bad. He sorely wants you to believe he implied it. But he couldn’t say it.
To be clear, when it was announced the president would address the press about Charlottesville, I wasn’t expecting much from him. He’s not a man to expect much from, in terms of presidential gravitas. But the moral bar here was so low it was on the ground, and he tripped over it anyway.
And because he did, no one — and certainly not the Nazis and the KKK and the violent white supremacists, who were hoping for the wink and nod that they got here — believes the president actually thinks there’s a problem with the Nazis and the KKK and the violent white supremacists. If he finally does get around to admitting that they are bad, he’ll do it in the same truculent, forced way that he used when he was forced to admit that yeah, sure, maybe Obama was born in the United States after all. An admission that makes it clear it’s being compelled rather than volunteered. The Nazis and the KKK and the violent white supremacists will understand what that means, too.
Our president, simply put, is a profound moral shambles. He’s a racist and sexist himself, he’s populated his administration with Nazi sympathizers and white supremacists, and is pursuing policies, from immigration to voting rights, that make white nationalists really very happy. We shouldn’t be surprised someone like him can’t pass from his lips the names of the hate groups that visited Charlottesville, but we can still be disappointed, and very very angry about it. I hate that my baseline expectation for the moral behavior of the President of the United States is “failure,” but here we are, and yesterday, as with previous 200-some days of this administration, gives no indication that this baseline expectation is unfounded.
And more than that. White supremacy is evil. Nazism is evil. The racism and hate we saw in Charlottesville yesterday is evil. The domestic terrorism that happened there yesterday — a man, motivated by racial hate, mowing down innocents — is evil. And none of what happened yesterday just happened. It happened because the Nazis and the KKK and the violent white supremacists felt emboldened. They felt emboldened because they believe that one of their own is in the White House, or at least, feel like he’s surrounded himself with enough of their own (or enough fellow travelers) that it’s all the same from a practical point of view. They believe their time has come round at last, and they believe no one is going to stop them, because one of their own has his hand on the levers of power.
When evil believes you are one of their own, and you have the opportunity to denounce it, and call it out by name, what should you do? And what should we believe of you, if you do not? What should we believe of you, if you do not, and you are President of the United States?
My president won’t call out evil by its given name. He can. But he won’t. I know what I think that means for him. I also know what I think it means for the United States. And I know what it means for me. My president won’t call out evil for what it is, but I can do better. And so can you. And so can everybody else. Our country can be better than it is now, and better than the president it has.
So, the story is about Elloren who is basically the granddaughter of Hitler (if the Nazis had won) and the great-great-great-granddaughter of Hitler crossed with a T-Rex. Hitler T-Rex basically invented a religion where their people were the oppressed chosen ones and set off to smite all their enemies. And what Hitler T-Rex didn't do, Grandmother Hitler finished the job and increased the size of their country 10-fold and they became the new local super-power.
Elloren grew up in a country where the victors wrote the history books so she's well indoctrinated in their biased view of history and it's all backed up by their religion. And to put a cherry on top, her parents died in this war so of course she has an interest in believing they are heroes.
Elloren is painfully naïve (and frequently annoying). Her (evil and powerful) Aunt wants her to get engaged to another powerful family to ensure her purity and to make a powerful alliance. Also because if Elloren isn't the latest Hitler, then hopefully she will give birth to the new Hitler (the Titular Black Witch.)
It's true - there is a whole lot of racism in the book (and sexism) and quite a lot of it comes from the main character. It is not subtle. I can entirely appreciate how this is a deal breaker for people.
Elloren is largely clueless rather than cruel, but that doesn't really matter and I think Sinyard's criticism that this is book written for white people is spot on. Though I disagree that it's meant for white people who think they aren't racists so they can get a cookie. Rather, I'd suggest that it was written to allow white people to recognize that they are being racists and to show the harm that comes from it.
This is not to say that the book actually hits that mark, but I think that's what it was going for. It undercuts itself in a number of ways:
Elloren gets treated poorly by a number of people from other races which enables her to feel the victim - it doesn't make me empathize with her (and I think it was meant to) and clouds the message I think Forest was trying to portray.
Elloren also has quite an easy path. Even when she does things that ought to be unforgivable, she gets forgiven anyway. I think this book would have been quite a lot stronger if there had been real consequences to Ell Oren's actions. When you say or do something hurtful, sometimes the only thing you get is the lesson not to do it again. Saying you're sorry doesn't guarantee forgiveness (and it shouldn't)
Most annoyingly, Elloran is still jonsing for Lukas at the end of the book even though he's a jackass.
So, about that review, I agree with some of it, but it also unfortunately cherry picks its quotes. For example in one of the most horrifying scenes in the book, Lukas (the man who wants to marry Elloren) threatens the kitchen workers who have treated Elloren poorly, culminating with threatening to send a child to a work camp where she will be worked to death.
Sinyard quotes the following:
"But what's the alternative? To let them bully me? To let them kick me and slap me and threaten me with further violence? No, it's better to make idle threats, if they now fear me.
I may be devoid of magic, but I'm Carnissa Gardner's granddaughter, Vyvian Damon's niece and favored by Lukas Grey."
And concludes "Elloren feel fully justified in the way that Lukas threatened an entire scene of workers"
But the paragraph immediately following the quoted section is:
For the rest of shift, I try to cling to my roiling fear and anger to bolster myself and justify Lukas's actions, but it's impossible to hold back a fierce wave of sickening guilt. And I'm careful not to meet anyone's eyes for the rest of the shift.
Elloren feels basically the opposite to what Sinyard asserts - she tries to justify it in her head and fails and feels ashamed and guilty because of what Lukas did on her behalf.
Or when Sinyard describes the scene when Elloren learns of the Silkier trade:
pg. 52-54. Elloren sees the Selkie for the first time. She's locked in a cage and is being sold as a pleasure slave. Her aunt explains that she's actually a seal with a human skin and she's just a wild animal, so there's nothing to worry about.
Yes, her aunt does say that, but right from the beginning it's clear that Elloren's Aunt is a jackass. Elloren is very upset to see the selkie in a cage and what actually comforts her is when her aunt says the following:
I am completely and utterly against the Selkie trade and am doing everything I can to wipe it out." She pats my hand reassuringly.
But even with this, the shock and horror lingers:
I nod silently as my out points out her favorite shops and historical landmarks, but the face of the Selkie stays fresh in my mind, and I can't shake the chill I now feel for the rest of the ride.
It was clear to me that her aunt was deliberately trying to obscure the fact that the selkies were used as sex slaves and it's clear from the text that the aunt's solution probably isn't something that Elloren would actually like. The book isn't suggesting that the aunt's point of view is good, and clearly Elloren remains upset about seeing the selkie in the cage.
I can understand people rage quitting this book, but honestly where I ended up was mostly bored. The world building is thin, the pacing is terrible and Elloren is a pretty annoying Mary Sue.
The outline for my remarks on The Expanse and politics at Worldcon 75 in Helsinki, Finland.
- Spoilers through 2nd Season of the TV Series (Caliban’s War)
- Will talk about both books and TV series
- Who am I
- Emma Humphries
- Programmer and Project Manager, 20+ years experience
- 29 years in fandom (28 WisCons)
- Format: I’ll talk for 25 minutes or so, and then we’ll have a discussion for the remainder of the time we have
- What is The Expanse?
- ASK: how many of you have read or watched?
- Series of Novels and TV Programs
- James S. A. Corey (Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck)
- Future history of the Inner and Outer Solar System
- Why talk about politics?
- Because SF has been the acceptable place to talk about politics
- Queer/Non-binary/Trans representation
- Universal Income
- What I’m Not Going to Talk About
- I’m going to suggest you start with the Black Girl Nerds podcast who have been recapping and discussing the TV Series
- Why The Expanse
- I love space opera
- I adore the women in this show
- Naomi Nagata: Ship’s Officer and Engineer
- Bobbie Draper: Gunnery Sgt in the Martian Marines, who trains under one Earth Gravity
- Chrisjen Avasarala: UN Undersecretary who knows where the bodies are buried
- All represented as women of color in the TV show
- All flawed, but real characters, I empathize with
- I stan for Chrisjen
- Competent, middle-aged women are awesome
- Charlie Jane Anders on Twitter: “Now, more than ever, we need Chrisjen Avasarala. #TheExpanse https://t.co/Ih8j19kh1W”
- I love to hate on Holden
- But, honestly, can anyone stand Holden?
- Miller’s stuck with him because of alien machinations
- What does Naomi see in him?
- Queer/Non-binary/Trans representation
- The good, there are gay and lesbian characters
- The bad
- Heteronormative relationships
- The Martian ambassador and his husband
- Annushka "Anna" Volovodov
- A settler couple on Illus
- Two hundred years in the future, and the nuclear family is still the norm
- Holden’s family back on Earth, a poly-cule, are considered weird/aberations
- No non-binary or trans characters
- The non-normative relationships and characters are the thieves, rebels and sex workers
- Heteronormative relationships
- Definition time!
- A type of political discourse which posits an “authentic people” in opposition to “a privileged elite.”
- In left populism that’s often the workers vs the wealthy
- debates on distribution of wealth
- in right populism it’s white people vs everyone else
- debates on who is and isn’t part of the “nation”
- The OPA is a populist movement with both right and left characteristics
- Anderson Station, and Illus are left populist actions
- Workers, abused by Inner Planets wealth and corporations standing up to power and paying with their lives, and/or using violence as a means
- But the OPA has a right-leaning side which is terrifying
- We see it at the end of Season 2 where the economic populism gives way to an nastier ethnic populism
- In the 2nd Season a Belter Ship, carrying evacuees from Ganymede to Tyco Station, puts all the people from the Inner Planets out the airlock
- It will only get worse in later books
- Definition time!
- Universal Basic Income
- Also known as Social Income, or under the UN in the world of the Expanse, “Basic”
- There’s a body of economic research that finds evidence for giving people direct cash assistance as the best way to support people
- Basic income, in and of itself is not sufficient
- You need universal access to healthcare
- In “Churn,” for example, we see the UN handing out substandard/palliative-only care
- A well-implemented Social Income system, with healthcare (including reproductive healthcare), transport, and housing can provide a stable base for people to build on
- In the world of the Expanse, the social income system is geared to subsistence and governability
- Needs more work
- Tell me why all your queer relationships are heteronormative
- As a queer dyke, I want to see relationships like the ones I see in my community in the here and now, or at least understand why they aren’t there
- Yes, this is a honest portrayal
- How populism, unchecked, can go from a liberation struggle to genocidal violence
- Social Income
- A pessimistic view
- Is this in the service of story, people struggling to escape a dismal earth? Or a libertarian view of the role of the state?
Got it? Okay!
1. I’m both super pleased with the list of winners and even more pleased that the ballot could have fallen differently and that in nearly all cases I still would have been happy. There was so much great work and so many great people celebrated this year that it was almost impossible to go wrong (there were a couple of troll attempts in there too, but they were never really a factor in the actual finalist voting. I’ll talk more about that in a bit).
2. I discovered that The Dispatcher was number seven in terms of the nomination tally for the Novella category, a category with six finalist spots. How do I feel about that? Pretty darn good. The Dispatcher was in audio form for the entire nomination period, which is not the usual format for works considered for the Hugo ballot. So I think it’s pretty cool it got close. Also, you know. It was a finalist for the Locus and three separate Audie awards (winning the Best Original Work category), so it was certainly honored enough. And I happen to think that all the finalists in the Hugo category were excellent. No complaints!
3. And, why yes, women won in nearly every category. Good for them. Their work certainly deserved it.
4. This was the first year nominations for the finalist ballot were run through the “E Pluribus Hugo” process, a complicated procedure involving fractional votes that aimed specifically to blunt the effect of “slating,” i.e., jackholes trying to swamp the ballot via lockstep nominations. It’s also the first year of “5/6,” in which people could nominate five people/works in each category but six people/works were on the final ballot — again, to minimize the effects of slating.
And how did it work? For the purposes of defeating slating — pretty well! To the extent that the jackholes who have been slating work for the last few years were able to get on the ballot at all, they were confined to one finalist out of six. All those jerkhole-related finalists were dealt with appropriately in the voting — most appearing below “no award” (i.e., we’d rather not give an award than have it given to this finalist). The signal-to-noise ratio of the Hugo ballot was much closer to the mean this year than it’s been in the last few, and that’s a good thing.
Which is not to say EPH in particular doesn’t have its issues — there were people/works this year that would have gotten on the ballot under the old system that missed out in this one (not The Dispatcher, I note, which would have been in the #7 position in either system). And I think some people noted that the jerkhole movement was muted this year in any event, so factoring for it might not even have been necessary — there was a motion at the WSFS business meeting to have EPS lifted next year.
My own thinking on this is that it was muted because the jerkholes knew the Hugos were that much harder to game, and given the scope of the slating nonsense — which lingered over four years of Hugo voting — maybe dropping anti-slating measures after just a year is a little precipitate. It does appear that others agreed with me on that, since the motion to suspend it for next year failed. Good.
5. Speaking of the jackholes, I did like that when when voting process sorted everything down, the chief jackhole got outvoted by “no award” in his category by a ratio of about 12:1. That seems about right to me. Aaaaand that’s all the mental energy I’m expending on that dude.
6. Overall, a very fine year for the Hugos. Congratulations to all! Let’s do this again next year.
Voting for the Hugos means reading graphic novels, something I'm trying to do more of, but.... So many, many books, so very little time.
I continue to enjoy the Ms. Marvel series by G. Willow Wilson. In Vol. 5, Super Famous, the adventure plot has sone things to say about gentrification and the effects of urban redevelopment on communities, but it's the interpersonal material that's pure gold. As usual, the best parts are about Kamala trying to negotiate her day-to-day life while balancing that with being a suoerhero and member of the Avengers. Naturally, this goes terribly wrong as she tries to do what she thinks is expected from her on all sides, but everything ends well with Kamala learning some important lessons about priorities and staying sane and level-headed in the midst of chaos.
I had never really been aware of a superhero named Vision before reading the Hugo-nominated The Vision, Volume 1: Little Worse Than A Man, written by Tom King, and illustrated by Gabriel Hernandez Walta. The IMDB says he was in the recent Avengers films, but I guess my attention slid right over him in favour of the superheroes I did know.
In any case, this is an excellently written and deeply frightening graphic story - I want to know how it ends, but I'm not sure I want to read any more of it. Vision, apparently, is an artificial life form created with the use of the brainwaves of a real human being. At one point he had a human wife and children, but they died, so he has made himself a synthetic family to replace them, and moved them into a nice middle-class suburban neighbourhood. And just as sure as if this were a Steven King novel about death and hubris, things go horribly, horribly wrong. Small mistakes and misunderstandings, misjudgements, errors and then attempts to cover up the errors to make everything seem perfect on the surface, it all piles up.
The story is told in a very objective, almost mechanical fashion, almost in the style of a casebook or police report, a contrast to the increasingly violent and horror-filled events of the narrative. Not going to forget this soon.
Unfortunately, I was not nearly as enthused by Volume 1 of Brian K. Vaughan's Paper Girls. It's the story of four young teens - all girls who have early morning paper routes in the same typical American town in the '80s - who get caught up in something called The Ablution involving horribly disfigured teens from the future battling armoured warriors riding mutated pterodactyls and the disappearance of most of the people in their town. When one of the girls is shot by accident, the future teens offer help, and the girls team up with them temporarily and reluctantly. Various twists and turns later - all of which happen very suddenly and serve only to further confuse the reader (or at least, this reader) - the paper girls find themselves thrown forward in time, only to meet with the future self of one of them on a dark and lonely road. End Volume 1.
Alas, despite my confusion, I am not tempted to find out what's going on. The somewhat frantic pace, and the deliberate 'let's confuse everyone' tone of the work, left me cold, and not even the prospect of a story about four girls was enough to warm me up.
As readers of my other Dreamwidth journal may recall, I recently experienced a serious health crisis - which I am not yet recovered from - which cut short my writing about what I've read. I have a number if partially written pieces, sone of which are about Hugo reading, which I will finish and post as I am able to, even though the Hugo-related pieces are rather dated at this point.
I'm doing much more sleeping than reading or writing these days, so entries here may be sparse and sporadic for some time to come.
The Long Read in today's Guardian is on 'clean eating' and how problematic, not to say, entirely woo-woo, it is.
However, I think the author misses a trick because, even though she cites to a mid-Victorian food reformer:
In the 1850s, a British chemist called Arthur Hill Hassall became convinced that the whole food supply of London was riddled with toxins and fakery. What’s more, he was right. Hassall had done a series of investigations for the medical journal the Lancet, and found that much of what was for sale as food and drink was not what it seemed: “coffee” made from burnt sugar and chicory; pickles dyed green with poisonous copper colouringsit is claimed:
He started to see poison everywhere, and decided that the answer was to create a set of totally uncontaminated food products. In 1881, he set up his own firm, The Pure Food Company.He was pretty much right to do so, rather than, as suggested, paranoid. An examination of the annual reports of Medical Officers of Health across London for the period, handily available digitised and searchable online at London's Pulse indicates how extremely yucky food practices in the metropolis could be at the period: food hygiene and contamination was a major concern for MOsH.
I also wonder how many people, and of what demographic, are actually into 'clean eating', given that most people don't even manage their 5 a day (I'm not honestly sure I achieve this every day myself). Well, presumably people with time and resources enough to worry over what they put into their mouths, rather than where the next meal is coming from.
And apparently some German politician has been complaining about the decline of the good old German nudist tradition. I remember some years ago at a conference when someone who works on sexuality in the former GDR was talking about the perception among its former citizens of the loss of body positivity of that kind when the Wall fell and exposure to consumerist capitalism happened.
This morning on Twitter:
But yeah, seriously though, those Nazis and KKK and other assholes congealing themselves in Charlottesville today to marinate in their bigotry can go fuck themselves.
Also, if you feel like donating to Charlottesville-area groups who fight this nonsense and/or represent people these shitbirds hate, here’s a helpful Twitter thread for you, with links.
- because that's where I've gone to.
No, really, I am boggled.
So I bit the bullet and ordered a new desktop computer, a new notebook, and a new printer: because I realised that my existing printer, the one that is acting affectingly consumptive, was one that has been doing service for 12+ years and thus I think putting out to grass is the sensible thing to do. And if I'm getting a new printer, and I already had it in mind to get a new desktop, rather than having to faff twice over to get computer and printer to make nice to one another, I might as well combine getting these things and just have a massive getting up to speed with new electronics session.
And My Favoured Retailer did not have the desktop model I wanted so I had to go Elsewhere, but they did have the Yogabook and printer model I wanted: but then it turned out that these come from separate places, and there was some suggestion that the printer might take up to a week to arrive.
But, lo and behold, mirabile dictu: the desktop and the Yogabook arrived pretty much within 5 minutes of one another at a civilised time of day, and the printer at mid-afternoon.
What're the odds, eh?