Return of the links

I beefed up my RSS feeds to make up for going on Twitter hiatus, and luckily for me several of my subscriptions link me to interesting stuff.

The Awl has a terrific piece on time travel movies and books and how they are grounded in (mostly unacknowledged) white privilege:

Whether it’s Marty McFly in 1950s Hill Valley or Jake Epping in segregated Texas, the entire genre of American time-travel fantasy, with its chaos theory nerdery, butterfly-effect affectations, and desire to reshape the present, is irrevocably linked to the very real idea of white privilege. No narrative of time-travel makes this case more powerfully than Octavia Butler’s masterpiece “Kindred,” which both deconstructed and revolutionized the genre by using time travel to explore the experience of slavery and its lingering effects on the present.

Unlike Back to the Future and “11.22.63,” there is no clear mission to speak of in “Kindred,” at least not one that Dana, the black writer at the center of the novel, is aware of. The circumstances for her time travel are ambiguous and entropic and, for a while, aimless. No rabbit holes. No flux capacitors. The time travel just occurs, suddenly, to Dana, and soon, to her white husband. Butler’s point is not that we are better and more self-aware than the backwards people of the past, nor is it that the past only fills rooms with roaches and erases photographs of family members. Rather, it’s that the past can weigh on the present in devastating ways. “Kindred” reminds us that, for some protagonists, traveling back in time is the opposite of escapist fantasy. The past is alive, says “Kindred.” The past is us.

Next up, the wonderful, inimitable, invaluable Laurie Anderson in a wide-ranging interview at The Atlantic. She talks about politics, blockbuster Broadway musicals, and concerts for dogs (OMG she doesn’t love Hamilton! and is brilliant on Trump):

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Hugo Awards 2015

After much excitement and apprehension, the Puppified Hugo Awards were announced last night. For those who want a thorough overview of the backstory, Wired has a very good article. Beware the comment thread.

The list of winners and finalists is here. You’ll see that No Awards cleaned up in a number of categories.

Natalie Luhrs has a summary of an “alternate timeline Hugo awards“, or what the finalists in each category might have been had Puppification not occurred. Her inferences are based on the full nomination and award counts (the link is a cached version of the pdf), which were released right after the awards ceremony. If I’m reading her post correctly, she assumes that none of the Puppy votes would have been transferred to any other nominees or finalists. (I’m describing, not criticizing, since there’s no better alternate way I can think of to infer a non-Puppy outcome.)

If you’re on Twitter you’ve already seen a lot of discussion, but I wanted to provide some information and links for readers who aren’t.

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The semester is over, spring is sliding toward summer, and I’m trying to get organized to make the best use of my non-teaching months. So far I’ve read two books this week. That’s productive, right? Meanwhile, have a hodgepodge of links.

First, Twitter had a disappointing earnings report a few days ago, which led to a number of posts on what its weaknesses are and how it could recover from them. This piece by John Hermann makes the point that since every website wants you to stay within its confines rather than surf away and spend your time elsewhere, Twitter is becoming more inward looking. It’s an understandable process for a public company but it feels antithetical to what made Twitter so appealing in the first place:

In 2013, a month before going public, Twitter starting putting images in its feeds. It added “fav” and “retweet” buttons to the main flow. The effect was Facebook-like. The feed felt more substantial, and less dependent on the things it linked to. It was no longer a scroll of jokes and comments and headlines; it was a scroll of jokes and comments and headlines and photos and videos and chunks of articles. People had a few more reasons to stay in the feed, and fewer to leave.

The path Twitter chose then is the one it still seems to be on; each change since then—most recently, Twitter added the ability to embed tweets within tweets—has emphasized Twitter’s own feed over the things it references. For years, Twitter was largely and stubbornly centered around links, contributing to the web and providing and layer through which to interpret it; now, it is withdrawing into itself.

The new media news is also full of how companies are trying to adapt to Facebook’s push to keep content siloed within Facebook, so while I’m still horrified at the idea that Facebook should buy Twitter, I can see how the financial logic makes that idea attractive.

Next, an interesting piece from the always insightful Christopher Fowler’s blog on how blog tours are appealing from an author’s perspective. Fowler is a successful, veteran mystery and horror author who has managed to stay viable in the face of massive upheavals in the publishing industry. He makes a great point about how traditional publicity has changed and how blogs can be an improvement:

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I was busy doing work stuff last week, mostly end of term conferences, student meetings, and faculty meetings. I didn’t get a chance to write a regular blog post, but I made sure to collect some links along the way.

First up, a terrific column by Caleb Crain on the debate over American PEN’s decision to honor the Charlie Hebdo staff (there is a shorter version at the LA Times as well). There has been much heated conversation on both sides, completed with high-minded and not so high-minded rhetoric. Crain cuts to what I think is a crucial point of departure for the two sides:

The cartoons in Charlie Hebdo were captioned in French, and they depended for their meaning on memes that won’t be familiar to anyone who isn’t a regular reader of French newspapers and watcher of French television. I can read French, but I don’t keep up on French domestic politics, and I draw a complete blank when I first look at most Charlie Hebdo cartoons. In the past week, many people have said they aren’t funny, and yeah, I have to agree. They aren’t funny. I think there are two reasons. First, they’re puerile—pitched at roughly a Mad Magazine level of sophistication—and in the American ecosystem, editorial cartoons are usually a little more tony, and don’t seem to have as broad a permission to engage with racial imagery as movies and comics do. Taste is to a great extent learned, and I’m afraid that an American reader of my ilk just isn’t likely to find vulgar and puerile cartoons about politics much to his taste. But second, and more globally, Americans can’t find these cartoons funny simply because the cartoons always have to be explained to us. We don’t recognize the political figures being caricatured; we don’t know the political slogans being tampered with; and we haven’t surfed the particular waves of enthusiasm and disgust that have been flooding French political life lately, and on the surge of whose waves these cartoons sprang into being. In America the waves that flooded us were a little different.

By this point, I’ve probably tipped my hand, and I’ll go ahead and lay my cards on the table: I don’t happen to think Charlie Hebdo is racist or bigoted, and I think that some of the American writers who have condemned it must have had the subtitles off while they were trying to make a determination that can be tricky to make even about an American message designed for American consumption. More than three million French citizens rallied in solidarity withCharlie Hebdo a few days after the January murders. Were those marchers complicit with racism or bigotry at the newspaper, or unwilling or unable to recognize them? Maybe, but I doubt it. There’s a debate worth having about whether the French policy oflaïcité is a sufficiently merciful and flexible way for a democracy to handle the separation of church and state, but I strongly doubt that there would have been such a broad outpouring of support forCharlie Hebdo in France if it had been a French analog of the Westboro Baptist Church. When it comes to telling whether a French newspaper smells sweet or sour, I think the French are likely to have the more discerning noses.

While we all recognize aspects of humor that are universal, we are often less aware of how cultural contextualized humor can be, and especially how much the boundaries of what is funny (as opposed to offensive) are set by cultural norms. I find that USians in general are less comfortable with satire than some other cultures, and many of us don’t do discomfort in humor well. Many comics will tell you that comedy has its roots in anger, but I’m not sure how many audience members fully appreciate that.

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This week, we have a little more on the Hugos and a lot more on reading and writing. First up, Gili Bar-Hillel, an Israeli translator and editor, talks about another way in which the Hugos are narrow in scope. The rest of the world snickers when we call the US baseball championships the World Series, but we call the Hugo con the WorldCon even though it’s overwhelmingly North American and UK oriented:

So what am I saying here? I am saying that OF COURSE the Hugos are dominated by Americans. This should be of no surprise to anyone. I am also saying that if you truly want more world in your WorldCon, it will require conscious effort, not only to attract and encourage fans and writers from other countries to attend, but to actually listen to them on their own terms when they arrive. Stop with the tokenism and the pigeonholing. Don’t cram all of your foreigners onto special panels for and about foreigners – just as you wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) relegate women only to panels about gender, and POCs only to panels about race. Not only does it rub our noses in the fact of our being outsiders, it makes it far too easy for the insiders to skip our panels for lack of interest, and not really expose themselves to us at all…

People like me, who are comfortable in more than one culture, can serve as bridges and connectors. We bring a different perspective just by being who we are. But not if we’re cordoned off and observed from a distance as alien objects. Non-Americans who come to WorldCons do so because we love science fiction and fantasy just as much as Americans do. We want to participate, not to be held up as examples of difference. I’m afraid that too often, the programming, while well intentioned, is inadvertently alienating – the opposite of what it purports to achieve.

This is the same kind of essentializing that we do when we talk about “people of color,” as if their color is their defining characteristic. Sometimes it is, of course, especially in terms of how they’re treated in society. But sometimes it’s not, and we do the US/UK-centric thing there too. (This topic is too big for a links post, but I’m working on something longer.)

The author Aminatta Forma strikes a similar chord when talking about the way she and her book have been received and categorized by the UK and US literary communities:

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This week’s links lean heavily toward the Hugo awards. I’m sure most of you have read plenty about them; Robin has been providing links in several DA news posts, and Natalie has done an excellent, comprehensive job in rounding up a wide variety of reactions and canine defensive maneuvers. I’m linking to a handful of pieces that I don’t think are in either of those locations and which you may not have seen.

First up, Pep at Two Dudes in an Attic talks about the Puppies from the perspective of a white, male, Mormon reader of SFF. I found the Two Dudes blog a few months ago because Pep (I think it’s mostly Pep) wrote three great reviews of Aliette de Bodard’s fantasy trilogy. And he’s a political scientist, so his reviews sound the way I think. It’s not at all because the Dudes’ pseudonyms are Pep and Jose and the early ratings are in terms of football teams. Nope. Anyway, his take on the Hugopocalypse is pretty unambiguous:

Brad’s religion expressly forbids any sort of diversity-motivated hatred, and I have no doubt that Brad himself is a decent guy. Unfortunately, Mormons have a checkered history of racism, homophobia, and misogyny, and there is a deeply rooted strain of benevolent bigotry in Mormonism. (Full disclosure: I am Mormon myself, for those who are new to the party here, and I am allowed to say things like this. Anti-Mormon spittle flinging from anyone, no matter the political or religious affiliation, will be squashed like a loathsome cockroach.) I fear that Brad, no matter how well meaning, has a blind spot right where all the non-white, female, and/or LGBT people are, a blind spot endemic to his native culture that I am not immune to either. I don’t think he sees the full implications of what is going on here.

Worse, he refuses to repudiate the spiritual leader of Puppy-dom, the singularly distasteful Vox Day. (Speaking of loathsome cockroaches.) If the gentle reader is not acquainted with dear Vox, count your blessings. Anyone looking to be outraged is welcome to Google the man, just be ready for a shower afterwards. Possibly in hydrochloric acid.

I encourage you to read the whole thing, and to bookmark the blog. The posting schedule is erratic but the content is worth waiting for.

The second post is one Athena Andreadis linked to in one of her great posts on the Hugos. You should follow Athena’s blog too, if you aren’t. She writes about science, gender, and SFF, and she writes stories and edits SFF anthologies in her spare time (I guess days on the East Coast are longer, because that’s the only explanation). Joshua Herring takes apart Abigail Nussbaum’s troubling and confusing post about why she is going to vote No Award rather than vote for Laura Mixon. I don’t know Herring, but this is an excellent demolition of an argument that should have collapsed of its own weight:

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I’ve been collecting links for a while, since before the blog move, but kept putting off the post. But I said I would have links at the new blog, so here we go.

First up, the enduring appeal of feature phones. I mentioned in my last post that I’ve gone back to using my Nokia featurephone. It gives me phone, text, email, and a severely compressed browser that mostly allows me to read news sites. It has useful offline stuff too, like an alarm clock, timer, and ToDo list app. The battery lasts for days and the phone itself is tiny.

When I was in Japan a few years ago I was enraptured by the oversized flip phones that I saw people using. Apparently they’re still popular. Engadget has a story that suggests why:

The Japanese editor-in-chief of our sister site Autoblog JP was eventually browbeaten by coworkers (and this guy) into buying an iPhone, but his eyes light up when we ask him about the gara-kei thing. Why do you love these phones? “It’s light,” he says. “It’s small; it’s easy to type on, easy to talk into.” He then flips one open, adding, “It’s cool.” He flips it shut.

What has he gained from the upgrade to a smartphone? He’s silent: He doesn’t use the map app, and says the camera on his flip phone was good enough. I’m at a loss for words. Would he go back to a feature phone? “I just bought this thing,” he says as heaves the iPhone 6 up, “but maybe.”

I think it’s also the simplicity. If you can get the hang of typing on a 10-key pad, then you can communicate when necessary but for the most part your phone is just your phone, plus maybe a planner and a quick reference tool. It’s not a mini-computer and lifeline to the social media world.

Obviously we feature phone users are a dying breed. The same Engadget author wrote a second article about how difficult he found it to live with a feature phone even for a week:

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