ReaderWriterLinks

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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What I’ve been teaching: Privacy

This spring I’ve been teaching a course on the politics of privacy. I first taught it as a summer school course two years ago, when I had half a dozen students and ran it as a seminar. It was a lot of fun, and I got to try out unfamiliar readings and unusual assignments. The following spring TheHusband taught it as a lecture course, and now this year it was my turn again (we plan to alternate).

It’s a pretty interdisciplinary syllabus. We start with sociological readings from the 1960s on the social construction of the self and the self in public, because you can’t understand the private sphere without thinking about the public sphere. The reading list includes everything from law articles and legal cases (including Romanceland’s own Carolyn Jewel) to economics articles to current EU, Canadian, and US statutes on privacy. And also Gawker and Reddit (yes, your tuition dollars are being spent on teachers who send their students off to read stories on Reddit. I’m sorry). We finish up by watching a couple of recent documentaries, 2014’s The Internet’s Own Boy (about Aaron Swartz) and CitizenFour (the 2015 Oscar winner about Eric Snowden, now on HBO, GO WATCH IT EVERYBODY).

I tell the students at the beginning of the class that teaching this class is in many ways a selfish act on my part. Those of you who followed my VM blog know that I’m very interested in the digital divide and uneven access to technology. My more than two decades online, especially the last decade and the explosion of social media, has made me think a lot about the intersection of technology and privacy. But as a certified member of The Olds, my take on these issues is very different from that of my students. Policies and laws are passed and implemented by people who are closer to my age than theirs, but they are the ones who have grown up in a connected world and will never have the option to leave it.

One of the truisms I see a lot in online discussions is that millenials “don’t worry about privacy.” That is not my experience at all. Some of them are blasé but many are not. Granted, I have a self-selected sample of millenials who are more likely to care about these issues. But even within this group, while attitudes vary about how much privacy they want or expect, they’re not ignorant about the benefits and drawbacks.

That said, they’re not always fully aware of how many ways privacy is not in their control, and one of the things I try to get across to them is an understanding of what kind of data are out there. They do an assignment they call “internet self-stalking,” in which they go to computers that they don’t usually use and surf via a variety of browsers to see how much information there is about them online, and where that information might have come from. Some of what they discover is expected, but other results are not. The students are often surprised by how much information is put online by other people. If they have commonplace names or share names with more famous people then they are safer, because their results will be lost among the rest. But if they have even slightly unusual names, they’ll show up.

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ReaderWriterLinks

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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April TBR Challenge report

I signed myself up for SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge as part of my effort to read more of the books I already have. I’ve reviewed the first three months’ books at Dear Author, and I’d planned to do the same for this one. April’s category is Contemporary Romance, which means I had a lot to choose from, so I chose a contemporary Harlequin romance that also filled a category in my PopSugar Challenge. It was by a new-to-me author, Sophie Pembroke, and it was her first book for Harlequin after a contemporary trilogy at a smaller press. I used to read a lot in the Harlequin Romance line but then fell away from it, so I looked forward to seeing what the more recent books looked like (this was a September 2013 release).

Spoilers for the book follow, so don’t read if you don’t want to know.

coverStranded With the Tycoon started out promisingly. Lucinda (Luce) is a university lecturer who runs into an old acquaintance from college when she’s attending a conference in Chester. The hotel has lost her reservation, but Ben is providentially standing by when it happens. This is providential because Ben’s company owns the hotel, and he just happens to be booked into a suite with two bedrooms. He offers one of them, she accepts, they spend a chaste night together, and they make plans to drive Luce to her home in Cardiff the next day. But a snowstorm requires them to divert to Ben’s cozy cottage in the Brecon Beacons.

Luce is academic, uptight, and the rock of her family. Ben is carefree, never spends two nights in a row with a woman, and does his hotel job well but it’s just a job (despite being the family business he runs with his brother). Opposites attract indeed. But Pembroke’s writing is smooth and she does the familiar with just enough individual touches to make it a good read.

I was enjoying this until the last quarter. The academic parts didn’t ring quite true, but they were close enough that it wasn’t a big deal. Luce and Ben’s will-they-won’t-they was augmented with plenty of scenes that brought them to life as individuals. I enjoyed when they finally got together (mostly fade to black, since the book is in Harlequin’s sweet-romance line), and I was glad Luce made it home to make a slapdash but well-received Christmas Eve dinner for her family.

And then there was a plot twist that made me stop reading. Completely. As in, I may have yelled, and I certainly put the book down. Then I reread to make sure that it was what I thought it was. And it was.

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RECIPE: Beef braised in wine

I love beef burgundy, but the original recipes take forever and have many steps. Luckily my favorite chef, Jacques Pépin, has a much simpler recipe which is delicious. I’ve tweaked a couple of things from his original directions, which you can find here. You do have to let the stew cook for a few hours, but it mostly just bubbles along by itself while you do other things. We made it many times this winter, and while we’ve mostly moved on to spring, this is perfect for those occasional cold and/or rainy days. [It’s raining as I write this, so that might be why it seemed like the perfect time to post the recipe.]

Ingredients:

4 Tbsp olive oil
2 lbs chuck roast or other inexpensive stew meat, cut into 2-inch chunks
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
One 750-milliliter bottle red wine
2 cups chicken broth
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried thyme or 1 Tbsp fresh thyme
1/4 cup chopped Italian Parsley (with stems)
2 slices bacon (or 1 slice thick-cut bacon)
12 pearl or small cipollini onions, peeled
12 cremini mushrooms, halved
3-4 carrots, scrubbed and cut into 1/2 inch rounds

Cooking Directions:

Preheat oven to 350F.

Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a dutch oven or other deep, ovenproof pan. Sear meat over medium-high heat in the olive oil. Do one layer of beef at a time, sprinkling the meat with salt and pepper as you sear the cubes. Remove each layer from pan and set aside. Add chopped garlic, onion, and bacon to pan and saute on medium-low heat. When onion is translucent, add bay leaves and thyme, stir and cook for 1-2 minutes.Return meat and its juices to pan and stir to combine. Sprinkle flour over meat and stir thoroughly until flour is fully integrated. Add wine gradually, stirring to mix with flour, then add broth, half the Italian parsley, and 1 tsp salt. The liquid should cover the meat. If it looks like too much, cut back the wine. If it’s too little, add water.

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Thoughts on The Goblin Emperor

Last year social media was abuzz with love for Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor, a fantasy novel written by Sarah Monette under a new pseudonym. In fact, there was so much buzz that I doubted I would ever read it because I frequently don’t do well with non-romance novels that are beloved by my romance-reading buddies. I was tempted, despite the 18-year-old protagonist and the elves & goblins setting, because the emphasis on politics and court intrigue was right up my alley. Still, my TBR was huge, I was on a book-buying fast, and I was enjoying what I had queued up in my near reading future.

Then the Hugo nominations furor hit, and I was struck by the fact that the two non-slate novel nominees were The Goblin Emperor and Ancillary Sword. I’d been underwhelmed by the first half of Ancillary Justice and put it aside but was still mulling why, and now another book I had ambivalence about was nudging me to read it. So I decided to give it a try.

I read the first chapter and found it well written but not particularly engaging. It takes a huge suspension of disbelief to accept that the ruler of a nation whose sovereigns are endangered regularly through that nation’s history would let his entire line of succession (at least the part he approved) ride with him in the same vehicle. But if he hadn’t, our hero wouldn’t have stumbled onto the Throne of Elfland (not the real name of the nation but Addison makes up lots of names and they’re even harder to spell than they are to remember). I lowered my eyebrow and decided to keep reading. And I’m glad I did. I didn’t love this book the way so many people do, but it has many features to recommend it.

I found The Goblin Emperor to be a warm, fluffy, blanket of a book. It was never particularly surprising; the good people stayed good, the villains were who you expected them to be, and the hero and his immediate circle were unfailingly decent, honorable, and admirable. Maia, the accidental emperor, was sweet and obviously sympathetic, but in some ways it was too obvious. I would have to have an even harder heart than I do not to be moved by his plight, but it felt like something I accepted as part of the story rather than something that reached out to me and gradually brought to me care deeply for his fate. His problems were external, rather than the result of the internal struggles of a complicated personality, with the exception of his reflexive self-loathing, and even that dissipated as he realized that he was not that unusual, he just had an awful, awful father who made innocent victims pay for his own poor decisions.

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ReaderWriterLinks

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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What’s in My Bag

This is a lightweight post to compensate for a couple of heavyweight weeks.

I first ran across the popular “What’s in your bag” category at The Verge, but it’s expanded to cover all kinds of people, from celebrities (Mayim Bialik’s bag is charmingly normal) to men who like to carry tools, to hipsters to anything you can imagine. I thought about doing one but balked because I didn’t think (a) it would be interesting; and (b) I had a sufficiently consistent “everyday carry” to make it fit the theme. But for the last year or year and a half, I’ve basically been carrying one type of bag (a backpack) and one set of core items, with a few things switched in and out depending on how much I need and which size backpack is required to hold it. So while (a) may still be true, (b) is not.

Here you go: my most common Everyday Carry:

WP_20150402_07_56_42_Pro
(click photo to embiggen)

 

From left to right, top to bottom: handkerchief, earbuds, 6th gen iPod Nano, pen case, tissues, flashdrive/cables/etc. pouch, band-aids, file folder, Dell Venue8 Pro tablet, Midori Traveler’s Notebook, weekly planner, sunglasses, Midori Passport Traveler’s Notebook (w/Pilot Prera fountain pen), cosmetic case (including comb & Altoids minis), key pouch, and reading glasses. I used to carry a folding knife but after losing one at TSA because I forgot it was in the bag, my current one stays at home now.

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