Alternative Truths III: Endgame Released

My short story “Gold and Ivory” appears at the end of this marvelous collection!

 

 

Alternative Truths III: Endgame is the final volume in the best-selling Alternative Truths series from B Cubed Press. Edited by Bob Brown and Jess Faraday, Endgame features 30 of today’s best writers and political thinkers taking a look forward at possible outcomes of our political decisions.

Humor and satire reign supreme in this collection.  If you want to laugh, read Jim Wright’s “Bathroom Breakdown,” a side-splitting vision of Donald J. Trump at his best or follow the antics of a beleaguered Attorney General in Debora Godfrey’s work, “No Excuses” as he tries to convince the President that he has tried and convicted Hillary Clinton.

This collection has visions of a better world as well. In Paula Hammond’s “Fortunate Son,” we explore what kind of man Donald Trump might have become had he answered his country’s call and served alongside his fellow Americans in the Vietnam War.

Most of all Endgame will make you think, with thought-provoking essays by the likes of David Gerrold and Adam-Troy Castro as they seek to share their understanding of how this happened and what do will we do.

A significant portion of the proceeds of this book are donated to the ACLU of Washington to honor and support their unending quest for the freedom of the American people to express themselves.

The book is available in print and electronic media from Amazon.com.

ISBN-13: 978-1-949476-05-7
Electronic ISBN-13: 978-1-949476-06-4

The book is priced at $5.99 for ebook and $12.25 for print. The book is published by B Cubed Press and can be followed on Twitter @BCUBEDBOB.

A Wizard of Earthsea [Reading Challenge 2019]

A Wizard of Earthsea

by Ursula K. LeGuin
Bantam, 1975 (originally published 1968)

[Challenge # 49: A book you loved as a child.]

Oh Earthsea, Earthsea, how little I knew thee!

For my childhood revisit read for this years’ challenge, I chose Ursula K. LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea. I had read it way back in my early teens and been very impressed. I can’t remember my exact age, but it was around 13 or 14. I remember seeing it in my local card/book store for years before then, though. I would save my allowance to buy SFF paperbacks from there, which at that time were only a dollar or two. The cover illustrated here was the classic one from first Bantam paperback edition and the one I remember.

There you have it. Surrealistic, muted, obscure. It looks like what you’d see on The Worm Ouroboros, not a YA (or teen as it was called when published) fantasy novel. The cover promised baroque language, weighty ideas, and adult subject matter. The latter two were correct, but the baroque language, no. A Wizard of Earthsea is still as classic, restrained, straightforward, and easy to read as it was back then. It’s held up very well and still deserves five stars from me. From the viewpoint of an adult writer, I am in fact more in awe of it now, for what it achieves in a sparsity of words.

As an adult, too, I found the descriptions of sailing and the sea delightful, whereas as a child I had mostly skipped over them. LeGuin has said she based the Kargad Lands on the dry country of Eastern Oregon, and I think it’s not too much of a stretch to say Earthsea’s islands were likely based on Washington State’s San Juan Islands. To sail or kayak through them, or even view them from the ferry, is to see Earthsea in miniature: some rocks barely stick above the water, while others are steep and rocky, crowned with evergreens. The larger ones have farms and hills. All have a brooding, Pleistocene majesty. They are what I see when I read Earthsea. The brooding grayness of Earthsea’s ocean recalls for me, too, the ancient expanse of the Pacific, not the lively Atlantic, and so does the complicated relationship the denizens of Earthsea have with it. As an example of worldbuilding, Earthsea is still one of the best.

Plot in a nutshell: Ged, a loveless boy from a backward island, is discovered to have a talent for wizardry and sent to a wizard’s school on another island. In an attempt to impress a classmate, he summons a dark spirit that attaches itself to him and seeks to kill him. Much humbled by this experience, he spends the rest of the book trying to defeat it while having some adventures on the way. It’s an epic tale much like that of Gilgamesh and I was very impressed with LeGuin’s handling of Ged as an anti-hero, creating a character who is one the reader probably wouldn’t want to be friends with, yet making his problems relatable and himself sympathetic.

Okay, now off come the thin cotton gloves.

In retrospect, this was NOT a feminist book, and if it hadn’t been so carefully crafted to recall Western myth, which are myths and have nothing to do with the way people act in real life (caveat: mostly), I wouldn’t give it to a preteen girl to read.

For the first half of the book, women and girls are consistently bashed and presented as the hindrances to Ged and the instigators of his problems. First, there is his mother, who abandons him by dying, causing his problems of human relation. (I’ll say here that his father, who is gruff and unemotional, is not blamed in the same way as hapless mom is.) There are also the famous sayings “weak as woman’s magic” and “wicked as woman’s magic” in the book which the author was rightly criticized for, those criticisms leading her to retcon the series and world in later books, with mixed results. The sayings drive home the point early on that females are vile, petty, and should be subservient… and if not should be punished, a view that is actually held up throughout the book.

Not only Mom gets a bum deal. The aunt who sees power in Ged and trains him in some spell basics is portrayed as selfish, using him for her own ends, and manipulative. (To the author’s credit, Ged later in the book recalls his time with her with nostalgia.)

When Ged spends time with Ogion the wizard, he is approached by a girl his own age who asks him about magic and tries to tempt him into giving up some secrets. Ged, wanting to impress her (would he have been so keen to impress a male child?) sneaks a peak into one of Ogion’s books and summons A Thing, which Ogion dispels, and then scolds Ged for doing so, saying the child was a tool of her sorcerer mother. Evil sorceror mom also scores bad points here.

Speaking of Ogion, it’s clear the book wants to portray him as this wise mentor and admirable in his self-containment, but what the hell is he thinking, keeping a young teen in isolation? The guy has no idea how to raise a child. Adult me thinks that he is just lonely and needs someone around, and figured a child — whom he can groom to the task — would put up with him better than another adult would. Ogion, you suck.

Then, while at the wizard school, Ged is tempted again to misuse his power by a woman, in this case the young wife of the Lord of O, who is portrayed as silly and childish, though attractive to all the boys there because she is closer to their age than the other women around. She is pleased by an illusion created by Jasper, a fellow student and Ged’s nemesis, clapping her hands like a total ninny; and Ged, jealous, vows to do better. As a young teen, when I read this I hated Jasper for egging Ged on; yet as an adult, it’s clear Ged and Jasper started off on the wrong foot from the beginning. It’s clear at their first meeting that Jasper is willing to be friends, but class consciousness comes between him and Ged – Ged is a Gontish goat herder, and Jasper the son of a Lord who uses magic as well. Class struggles are also a thing in the book, which I’ll analyze later in a longer post.

Then, not only is Ged steamed up about the Lord of O’s teen wife, the spirit he summons in one-upmanship is also a woman, the fey, beautiful Elfarron of ancient legend, who unwittingly also permits a dark spirit to pass through her gate, which attacks Ged, scratches his face, and leaves him convalescing for months!

If woman = sex here, that’s some pretty heavy stuff. Sexual temptation = loss of power, spirituality and focus. No wonder this book, when I first read it, reminded me of the Bible. I even confused it with the Bible in parts, like Ged healing the islanders of the East Reach like Christ among the lepers.

Then there’s the whole mini-adventure with Serret, who is a temptress, betrayer, and liar, as well as being weak and womanly, which I’ll also leave for a more analytical later post.

Thankfully the woman-bashing stops after this, but it was pretty… I won’t say disturbing, but eye-opening to me as an adult and to think that when I was a child I was all “Stupid Serret! You deserve to be eaten by monsters. You go, Ged!”

In the second half of the book, Ged actually becomes friends with a young woman – Kesset, his wizard friend Vetch’s sister – and it’s implied he’s getting a crush on her in a mild way, and the way the book is set up, that he might return later and court her. But in later books he does not.

As I said, I’d forgotten a lot of the book from when I read it as a teen, and on re-reading it I was surprised by what I’d forgotten or made up in my mind over the years. So great was the woman-bashing of the first half that I remembered Kesset’s character as being quiet and subservient to the men, and Vetch ordering her  to serve them like Simon’s mother-in-law in the New Testament. But in my re-read, she’s actually a seeking, curious character, who also has a pet dragon (!) a symbol of female power, and a loom, another symbol of female power. So I guess the author was unconsciously trying to make amends with her character, who knows?

At the end of the book when Ged confronts the shadow he summoned and embraces it, I had long thought he was embracing his dark side, accepting it, and bringing it under his control. But no, in the book he was embracing his actual death! The death-to-come that is.

This puts a whole different spin in the book from what I’d long thought and brings its woman = sex = death theme into a problematic light. Again, it’s a common one of Western myth, but as a YA one, it’s a pretty heavy one.

There’s a lot more I could say about this small novel, and I will; so I’ll let this review stand. But in summation, the book’s still strong, it’s a classic, and should be read.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 5/22/19: Nouveau Cuisine

When I think of nouveau cuisine, I think of small items of food on very large large plates.

Of course there’s more to it than that. Such as an emphasis on freshness and natural ingredients, aesthetic presentation, and novel food combinations. Unlike classical French cooking, there are no heavy sauces and complicated preparation. The portions are small. It’s designed to be a feast for all the senses, not just one or two.

Are your characters headed to some pretentious new five-star restaurant in town? Here are some ideas for what they might eat.

Nouveau Cuisine

Pierogis of smoked shark simmered in zucchini broth flavored with lime.

Fresh salad of cold sliced halibut cheeks, spinach, brown rice, and taro root, with a creamy pepper dressing.

Japanese king salmon served on a poached bun, slathered with a yogurt and lentil relish.

Pressed duck sandwich presented with anise mayonnaise and slivered cucumbers.

Roasted scallop sandwich wraps with kale chutney.

Llama jerky and polenta with a spicy green curry sauce.

Fresh tuna simmered with squid ink and fleur-de-sal.

Partridge roasted on a cedar plank with brown rice biscuits.

Bratwurst of ground headcheese baked in organic sauerkraut.

Lobster flesh glazed with a whiskey-honey marinade and served with pickled artichoke hearts.

Scrambled Muscovy duck eggs with New Zealand organic lamb sausages and brown rice/buckwheat pancakes.

Peruvian paprika-seared duckling, served with diced cucumbers and cellophane noodles topped with ground bone marrow.

Lemongrass-infused pork liver deep-fried to perfection.

Grilled lamb slathered with truffle oil.

Roast turkey stuffed with veal medallions, Amish oysters, and pickled figs.

 

 

Sleep

Let’s plug into a good night’s sleep!

Worldbuilding Wednesday 5/15/19: States of Confusion
xxxx(The American Heartland)


Not a lot seems to happen in the American Heartland, even in the U.S.A. of an alternate world. The exception is the world of Star Trek, where Captain James T. Kirk (remember the T stands for Tiberius) is stated in canon to have been born in “a small town in Iowa.” When the series was cancelled and Trekkies started to become a thing in the 1970s, one small town proclaimed itself to be that very one! The evidence is above. Note also that Kirk is an Aries, the first sign of the zodiac and the one most associated with leadership! **

Kirk’s past was not shown on the original Star Trek series, but in the new movie franchise, he is shown as a young man racing through the cornfields as giant starships under construction loom in the background. The impression given is that the state is now vitally important to mankind’s future.

Need some names for Midwest states that might have been?

Imaginary U.S. States, The American Heartland

Oklahoma

Oklanitha

Osloroma

Aklahopa

Okkuola

Elkahoya

Iklawoma

Ondahoca

Nebraska

Sheveska

Neyaska

Nebrastrud

Nebrahull

Netrohart

Megoska

Neyaska

Iowa

Oula

Iobru

Ioma

Aiwa

Oewa

Iorha

Iochra

Kansas

Chansas

Kansam

Keddakh

Kanthas

Kansaber

Kefrel

Kamkes

** This was actor William Shatner’s birthday.

Being a Dog [Reading Challenge 2019]

Being a Dog

by Alexandra Horowitz
New York, Scribner, 2016

[Challenge # 9: A book with a dog on the cover.]

Since I enjoyed Alexandra Horowitz’s first book, Inside a Dog, for its insights into the canines we share our lives with, I picked up Being a Dog: Following the Dog into a World of Smell for more of the same. It didn’t disappoint, but I did find it slightly less endearing and more overwritten than the previous book. I still enjoyed it, however. It’s about the physics of how dogs smell, how dogs are trained to use that sense to find or track, and how people — including the author — can also their noses to smell as well, for example as in the perfume and wine industries.

The people/dogs connection didn’t dovetail 100%, but it was fascinating. My favorite parts of the book were when the author visited a training center for sniffing dogs and we got to see how they eased into rescue and detective work starting at puppyhood.

What I did find annoying about the book was the Sunday magazine tone. I don’t think we really needed to know exactly what the various experts were wearing and how they presented themselves to ingest what they were telling us. The focus should have been on the dogs.

For human beings, the book did bring a valid point. We really don’t smell the world as a dog does. Every once in a while during the day a distinctive smell reaches us and we take note: wood burning, fresh baked cinnamon rolls, someone’s bad breath. But most of the time we don’t notice, because it is not necessary for our survival. Our olfactory systems too shut down a smell we are in the constant present of. But when we train ourselves to sniff at random times, it’s surprising how much we can sense. Almost as interesting as the dog training parts were the people training parts. As it turns out humans don’t have a vocabulary to describe smells, partly because, like the description of colors, it’s very subjective.

Now I find myself sniffing at random times throughout the day, just to see what’s out there.

Lick It Up

Don’t you hate when that happens?

The Geek Feminist Revolution [Review]

The Geek Feminist Revolution

by Kameron Hurley
Tor, 2016

Kameron Hurley is one of a new generation of feminist SFF writers who began to publish in the 2010s, when social media began is phase of near-ubiquitousness, a cornucopia of hype, much of a geek-related. By geek I mean SFF in its many media — games, fanfic, fiction, movies, and reviews of those media. It’s a situation similar to the old Pohl Anderson story the “Man Who Ate the World” where manufacturing has become so cheap and widespread citizens must consume a certain amount of goods every day so the system doesn’t collapse. (The problem in the story comes from a man who is driven to consume too much, causing power blackouts.) I think we are living in that kind of world today, where media of all sorts is constantly clamoring for our consumption and being publicized and touted by other consumers, making yet more media.

But Hurley navigates this web with ease. Her essays, of which this is a collection, are about the intersection of feminism with this riotous tumult, ranging from Anita Sarkeesian and Gamergate to the Sad Puppys/Hugo Awards debacle of 2015. There is also much written about the depiction of women in media, and the issues that come with being an outspoken women in media. And make no mistake, in 2019 media depictions of women are still problematic in many ways.

Her essays are very readable and move along breezily, influenced by her advertising work. Her most tweeted and linked essay, “We Have Always Fought,” which one a Hugo award, discusses the role of women in war, giving lie to the notion we were just passive homebodies waiting at home to be raped or the menfolk to come home. There is so much SFF fiction written even today that still shoves women into a passive role, not to mention the books that are still out there written in previous years that are still being read. It is food for thought and I think every SFF writer should read it.

The essays referring to recent events in the SFF world are worth reading also if you have only a tangential memory of them. Time passes at lightspeed on the internets and it’s easy to forget or overlook; these events are also referred to in the present which also happens at lightspeed, so they were a good overview of the situation(s).

Hurley also writes about the art of writing itself, and the decisions to inculcate, or not inculcate, the attitudes of  The Biz. Frankly I’d say. And these are worth reading also.

She does get a too personal and drumbeating at times, particularly in an essay where she mentions a grandmother living under the Nazis (my dad killed Nazis) and an abusive relationship when younger (my ex-husband tried to kill me) that, though meant well, might not resonate with everyone. It depends on one’s age; the author is at least 20 years younger than I. On the other hand, an essay about being hospitalized in a coma, and awakening to find one is suffering from diabetes, is a very good indictment of the American Health System and an unspoken commentary on the nature of American work, where one must keep a job, no matter how vile, to ensure health insurance simply for one’s survival.

The writer also has interesting things to say about 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road movie and its feminist aspect. I am reading Richard Morgan’s problematic grimdark fantasy The Cold Commands now and I would dearly love to hear what this author says about that. I think it’s so patently offensive and overly trope-twisting it’s hilarious, but like feminist author Suzy McKee Charnas’ Walk to the Ends of The World, which is anti-female grimdark as harsh it comes, might it mean something more?

Hurley also writes about her fascination with woman as strong, silent loner characters, like the male protagonist of the 1980s movies she grew up on, the Bruce Willises and Patrick Swayzes. It’s something I don’t personally relate to, yet she makes a case for them, and I enjoyed getting a secret peak into her character fetish, as it were.

Five stars and recommended.

 

Worldbuilding Wednesday 5/8/19: More Steampunk Novels

For all my fooling around with steampunk slang, clothing, and book titles, I doubt I’ll ever write one.

Why?

I don’t like the Victorian Age that much

Oh, I’ve tried to like it. I had an older sibling who was infatuated with Victorian decor, china, and 1980s Victorian revival fashions. I liked them from an aesthetic viewpoint. They were pretty and feminine and nostalgic. For a while all the blouses I wore had to be cotton or linen, and ironed by hand with starch or sizing. I liked flouncy, flowing skirts and delicate jewelry, too. But, they really didn’t fit my lifestyle, which was all about activity and getting dirty. I didn’t like feeling like a shy virginal flower either. My nature is more direct. They didn’t fit with who I was. I can admire the delicacy and prettiness of a china tea service, but even for home decor it doesn’t fit me. I like the bold, natural colors of Mexico and things that look handmade. I like natural wood and nature motifs and real leather. It’s something that says home to me.

Actual Victorian women’s fashions, the kind you’d see in a museum, bring to mind psychic and physical pain. I’ll never forget a passage from one of the Little House on the Prairie books where Laura is annoyed with her goody-goody older sister Mary because Mary sleeps in a corset and Laura can’t, because she likes to be able to breathe. Now, I know there are corset revisionists out there who say corseting isn’t really all that bad, you just have to get one that’s properly fitted, yadda yadda yadda. But the truth is, they were made to keep upper and middle-class women inactive and on display. Working women, like these lady’s servants, used corsets to support their bosoms but did not lace themselves so tight they could not work. Tiny waists indicated that a wife or daughter need not lift a finger. That was for the peons.

The heaviness of Victorian clothing repulsed me also. I grew up in hot, humid New Jersey where even shorts and a tube top failed to keep one cool in the August heat. To be corseted and wrapped in multiple petticoats, sleeves, and layers was a thing that sounded like torture. Even if the world was a little cooler back then and the dwelling rooms higher and more airy.

I also hated the waste of it all. As a child I read in an animal book that many species of birds almost went extinct because they were shot for their feathers which were used for lady’s hats. Tiger skins, beaver pelts, elephant ivory, scrimshaw… all this Victorian frippery was evidence of the wholesale slaughter like the nature was a never-ending fountain of riches. And let’s not even go into British, Dutch, German, and French colonization of Africa, India, and other places and the colonizers’ treatment of native peoples, which often received “scientific” justification from the nascent field of genetics.

And of course, there’s the wholesale pollution of rivers, air, and cities because of industrialization and the burning of coal. London in particular suffered from horrendous sulphor fogs which persisted even into the 1950s.

I couldn’t even start reading The Difference Engine, one of the books that started Steampunk on its way, because the first chapter was about the proverbial hooker with a heart of gold. That’s one trope I was tired of even when it came out.

But… who knows. Perhaps I might write some dystopian Steampunk story in the future, something horrendous and disturbing.

Need some ideas for yourself? Here’s a list of more randomly generated titles.

More Steampunk Novels


Gears of Beguilement

An Affair of Soulless Spectacle

The Affair of the Brass Parasol

The Bronze Homunculous

The Partisan Turbines

Black Sparks

Whispernought

The Recollections of a Pallid Gentleman

The Eurhythmic Breath of Angels

An Incident of Wondrous Scandal

The Alloy Runner

The Compass Thief

Skycloister

A Scoundrel of Queer Rebellion

Chemical Paradise

The Girl in the Pallid Cameo

A Steam-Driven Mirror

Livingstone’s Cigar

The Pneumatic Throne

Vacuum Cloud

The Tick-Tock Hunter

The Turbines of Phantasm

At the Wireless Circus

The Steam-Driven Summer

The Warlord’s Compass

Sinister Doings

The Hell…? Someone please tell me what this is.