Archived Posts

Displaying posts 221 - 230 of 878

The masculonormativity of spam

Friday September 12, 2008 @ 10:30 AM (UTC)

One observation I failed to make in my general masculonormativity post is this: spam is for men.

This is precisely the kind of thing I would guess is hard to notice if you’re a man, but I estimate my spam (when I do see it) is almost 50% Viagra/Cialis offers, 20% (gender-neutral) offers of cut-rate software, 10% (gender-neutral) nonsense or Nigerian scams, and 20% (male-oriented) porn ads. That means 70% of spam assumes that I am a man. Some of that is likely capitalism at work: if men are more likely to click on spam, or if porn and ED drugs are the main ways to make money off spam, that may be what’s driving it. But it may also be an easy assumption for spammers in Russia or wherever to make — that men are the primary users of the Internet or the primary spenders of money.

All I know is that last year when, briefly, I got spam advertising knockoffs of designer handbags and heels, I was almost pleased. Spam that assumed I was a woman! Amazing!

I love Mass Effect

Thursday September 11, 2008 @ 10:54 AM (UTC)

I have been playing Mass Effect. Yeah, yeah, it came out last November and I didn’t play it ‘til August. I’ve never claimed to be hip or with it.

I don’t really go in for Computer RPGs in a big way. I enjoy the occasional CRPG (last one I recall was Neverwinter Nights — like Mass Effect, by Bioware), but in general I find them too scripted, too limited, and, well, fundamentally based on aesthetics I don’t enjoy. Mass Effect, on the other hand, is based on an aesthetic I grew up in, one I can wallow in with great pleasure: SPACE OPERA. Yes, my friends, I have saved the universe. And I enjoyed it, too.

One of the most fabulous things about Mass Effect is…well, there are a lot of ways to finish that sentence, but I started it intending to talk about gender. While the default hero, featured on the cover and demo cut-scenes in all his stubbly glory, is Commander John Shepard, the player can also play pre-made Jane Shepard, or make a Shepard from scratch. Since all the in-game chatter refers to the protagonist as “Commander” or “Shepard”, you can put whatever first name you like in there, and the face-generating interface gives far more freedom than I’ve ever seen in a game. You’re stuck with the body of John/Jane Shepard, and there’s only one voice track for each, but you can run a pretty full gamut of human appearance. (I don’t recommend trying to make Shepard look like someone in particular though. I tried to make myself for fun and found that my top lip to bottom lip ratio is not an option and, for that matter, that my mouth appears to be narrower than the preset minimum. Sheesh!)

Other customizations exist too — relatively minor, but it’s nice that your character gets to have a past, and you have some input into what that past is. Namely, you get to choose from three childhoods and three career moments as well as choosing your character class (from the fundamental mix of fighting, tk and tech spheres that the game uses.) Hell, if you’re female, you can choose whether your character is straight or gay. Sort of. In play. Let’s not get too far into the political implications or economic advantages of Johns being assumed straight and Janes bicurious, or other associated baggage, shall we? I’m doing my geekthusiasm thing right now.

Moving on to plot and gameplay: the plot is suitably epic, with a few small twists. The plot really inhabits the gameworld, which is fabulous. Some questions about the setting are actually answered by the plot. In addition (and this is why plot and gameplay get one paragraph) the plot pieces are more or less nonlinear, part of the free-play part of the game. You can sit down and decide, “Hey, I feel like tackling more of the main storyline,” and zoom your ship over to one of the plot planets, or you can decide to kill things and take their stuff (mostly side-quest style) by exploring the rest of the planets. I like that freedom in time and space when I am playing a game. Conversations are handled by a now famous interface that allows you to choose the drift of Shepard’s response. Combat is real-time shooter (well, third person shooter) but allows you to pause to use abilities, command your squaddies to use abilities, and even look around/aim carefully. And last but not least, for getting around on forbidding planets, there’s an ATV (despite its armaments, I think ‘tank’ implies treads) that is so idiot-proof I can drive it, even though driving in video games usually feels to me like one of those nightmares where I’m driving but can’t reach the pedals or see outside the car.

A note on squaddies — they actually gave the secondary characters…character. If you care, you can gab it up with your dudes between missions, and occasionally the two squad members you can bring with you will interact (like on the admittedly slow elevators), which can be amusing. Tip for squad interaction: I think humans are chattier (must be that curiosity aliens keep remarking on) so one human and one alien squad member seems to be a good formula for fun. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a combination where they don’t get along well, and you can have some snark with your galaxy-saving. (environmental noise A: What was that? What was that? B: Don’t have a panic attack, I’ll protect you.)

The last thing I want to say about Mass Effect here (I could go on and on) is that the atmosphere and production quality are both splendiferous. The music is really good, the voice acting is astonishingly good (Seth Green is my pilot? Armin Shimerman is on the galactic Council?), including, crucially, Shepard’s voice. (At least, the female Shepard. I have only played the male Shepard for a few minutes out of curiosity.) And wonder. They have remembered wonder, which is crucial for space opera. Stop running across a bridge in the Council’s space station and look up, at the lakes and parks curving away with the circular hull of the Presidium. Stop your ATV on a ridge on an alien moon and look up to see the vast scarred planet and eldritch star burning in the sky. Who wouldn’t want to save this universe?

Sloth, thy name is cat

Tuesday September 09, 2008 @ 02:21 PM (UTC)

I know, I know, hardly news. But when I awoke this morning, Qubit did not greet me. This, also, is not remarkable; ever since I graduated and entered a stay-at-home limbo period, she has gotten used to thinking of me as a useful part of her surroundings, not to be taken special notice of. Do you break into your important sleeping and eating routine to greet your sofa and bookshelves? Breakfast done, I thought, “Still no cat? I am going to TIME her and tell Ryan how many hours it took for her to think she might want to see me.”

I just finished lunch, and suddenly it hit me that the timer was still ticking. Four hours and twenty minutes, and that cat had not tried to shove the lapdesk out of my lap, walk on my laptop, or anything else of the sort. I hadn’t even heard her scratching my toilet paper to shreds or trying to get into the cabinets to sit in my clean pots and pans.

I admit it, I panicked a bit (she always gets me, this cat). I checked my study, the bedroom, every cabinet, the bathtub, empty cardboard boxes for packing/Qubit qastles. Then I remembered Ryan telling me about a time recently when he had panicked about a missing Qubit, and found her in his office closet. Sure enough, all my whistling and calling and shaking of treat bags had been unable to dislodge her from her perch, in an open bin of stuff and storage media three feet up in the back corner of his office. I shook the treats again. She blinked.

Four hours, forty minutes and counting.

Grey City XX

Monday September 08, 2008 @ 09:16 AM (UTC)

The Grey City I
The Grey City II
The Grey City III
The Grey City IV
The Grey City V
The Grey City VI
The Grey City VII
The Grey City VIII
The Grey City IX
The Grey City X
The Grey City XI
The Grey City XII
The Grey City XIII
The Grey City XIV
The Grey City XV
The Grey City XVI
The Grey City XVII
The Grey City XVIII
Grey City XIX

“I won’t tell, Sly, I swear I won’t!” Eirian heard herself say in a meek voice.

Eirian was, it’s true, brave and willful, but she was also very young. She had seen her sister killed and barely escaped that fate herself, to say nothing of time without sleep or food, or other terrors weathered. Either being held out over the river or the painful submission of her promise was too much. She crumpled in on herself to cry. Sly reeled her prisoner back in, and set the girl on her booted feet, only to see her fall on the bridge cobbles.

“Here, what’s wrong wif her?” said Mouse, running up. Sly shrugged, so the boy tugged at Eirian’s shoulder. “What’s the matter, Peep?”

Eirian turned her red face up from the stones and scrubbed it with her apron. With a ferocious scowl, for Sly and to keep the tears down, she said, “Those filthy Runners killed my sister. Like it was nothing, like she was nothing. And now I’m alone.”

“Not alone, Peep! You’re one of us now!”

“One of who?”

“Why, one of Mister Knock’s lot! He has the old inn ‘cross of Ma’am Betty, in the far edge of Warrens, near t’the docks.”

Sly listened, rolling a cigarette with none of her accustomed speed.

“We’re a big merry crew at ol’ Knock’s, boys everywhere. It’s somefing to see!” Mouse sat down beside Eirian and looked at her, then dug in his satchel. He brought out a bundle with a guilty glance at Sly. “I nipped it from a baker’s this morning. We mostwise share at Knock’s, but it smelled so good and I was out on me own…” He removed a large, bright handkerchief that covered the loaf of sweet bread, more than half intact, and handed both to Eirian. “That should cheer you!” he said, “and a real silk kerchief to wipe your mouf wif afterwards!”

Eirian stopped frowning, nearly letting a tear escape. She paused for a moment, then hid her face behind the food without attempting speech. Mouse clapped her on the back and contributed such encouragements as “Down the hatch, that’ll do it!” and “Tastes better than a Runner, don’t it?”

Sly, having finished the manufacture of her cigarette, lit it and watched the smoke rise. "I had a sister once meself. When I come to Knock’s. ‘Most of an age, ’er an’ me was, but the same size, for all I were the helder. It were some years back, i’the Pocks Winter. Mam and Da already carried off, Sylvia an’ me ran off by the neighbors. ’Eard tell it ’ad passed this side the river already, so we came ’ere and found Knock.

“‘E weren’t afraid, ‘avin’ weathered Pocks in the first wave like a plucked ‘un. So ’e put us in a back room like, an’ shore our ‘eads proper for the fever. Once a day ’e came in with water an’ to make sure we was amongst the livin’ still.”

Sly took a deep breath, held in the smoke for a long time. “An’ one mornin’ I woke up, my fever broke, an’ ‘e — an’ Sylvia were gone. When Knock came by wif the water, there was only one boy for to join his gang. Only me.”

Eirian, at last, looked up from her food, understanding in her eyes. And there, standing next to Sly in the haze of tobacco smoke, was Carys.

The Grey City XXI

Reading Recommendations 1

Friday September 05, 2008 @ 10:18 AM (UTC)

I’ve been reading a lot of magazines recently, part of my drive to get to know the current spec-fic world (I’m a huge sci-fi dork, but my reading in the field was long guided by my dad, so it tends towards classic sci-fi.) I have some paper ones, but there are loads of excellent online spec-fic magazines, as well as book publishers givin’ away fiction. I thought I’d share a few stories I’ve really enjoyed which are free as little birdies in our glorious intertubes.

From the fabulous Clarkesworld Magazine:
“Her Mother’s Ghosts” by Theodora Goss: haunting story about the emotional legacy of totalitarianism (her essay about writing the story is excellent as well.)
“Blue Ink” by Yoon Ha Lee: Clarkesworld often goes in for mindbenders — this interdimensional battle is my favorite of them so far.

From Subterranean Press:
“Denise Jones, Super Booker” by John Scalzi: a superhero riff in the form of an interview.

From Apex Books:
“Scenting the Dark” by Mary Robinette Kowal: sci-fi horror story with a blind perfumer as the protagonist.

All of these are short reads, and there’s quite a range between the four. If you’re not much of a spec-fic reader in general, try “Her Mother’s Ghosts”, which might be described as interstitial. If your day could really use some laughter, try “Denise Jones, Super Booker”. Enjoy!

The Dialogue Trap

Tuesday September 02, 2008 @ 08:00 AM (UTC)

“What would you say was your greatest strength coming into the program?” my advisor asked at the first thesis review this June. Luckily, this was not my thesis review, so I thought, Ample time to work this out before he asks me!

Well, I didn’t work it out, but luckily, he didn’t ask me. I still could not tell you with certainty what my greatest writing strength was coming into my MFA program, but I’d lay good odds that dialogue was my greatest weakness. I felt most comfortable writing dialogue in a whimsical vein, writing things like “But what is it, Mister Gently, that brings you along these dusty roads at the peak of midsummer?” and “Gerald, man the manipulator arms!” Things, in short, that no one is likely to say in day-to-day life.

My first serious attempts to write realistic dialogue (I do dabble in realism, too, you know) were fraught with difficulty. I devoted myself strenuously to verisimilitude, so much so that the dialogue was repetitive, ill-graced, and boring. I worked hard, in my brief forays into the world of dialogue (for many of my stories, by dint of protagonists being underwater, alone, incapable of speech, or some combination thereof, did not force me to use the tool overmuch) on finding the sweet spot between plausible speech (for each setting) and speech that was witty and engaging, that advanced the plot and characters as appropriate. Improvements were made.

But many of those forays, as stipulated, were in the context of narrative-heavy stories. Dialogue, when it came, was a welcome change of creative pace, like a ballet scene in an opera, or the bit with the dog. It wasn’t until I found myself working on projects with many speaking characters, above sea level and in rooms together, that I started to worry that dialogue would drive narrative out. The more dialogue I wrote, the more awkward the physical actions of a scene became — I felt I was writing stage direction. Shameful as it is to admit, after spending semesters writing immersive natural environments, full of touch and smell, I would look over pages of my work and realize that there was nothing but hearing (dialogue) and sight (“Daniel walked over and stood at the foot of her bed.”) at play.

This, I suppose, is one of the paradoxes of writing, or art in general. You can move from one extreme to the other from piece to piece, change your strengths and weaknesses completely without changing yourself. It shows that you can’t discard old writing advice because you’re doing well at that aspect; you are now, you might not always be. You will someday need to scrawl “add more sensory detail” in your own margin.

But the paradox can be fruitful. Stuck in a scene full of back-and-forth, seeing my characters walk down a blank street, throwing lines at each other through empty air, I put down my pen. I think of those other places, reefs and castles, beaches and burger shops, that have been easy to smell and feel, easy in their weirdness, vividness or delight for me to experience and share with the reader. I try to see a street as if it were a reef, full of bizarre creatures and unexpected colors. I try to make the world strange again, so I can dive into it anew.

Qubit helps

Friday August 29, 2008 @ 09:56 AM (UTC)

I'm invisible!

This is her helping with the newsprint I meant to pack things in.

The Grey City XIX

Wednesday August 27, 2008 @ 11:16 AM (UTC)

The Grey City I
The Grey City II
The Grey City III
The Grey City IV
The Grey City V
The Grey City VI
The Grey City VII
The Grey City VIII
The Grey City IX
The Grey City X
The Grey City XI
The Grey City XII
The Grey City XIII
The Grey City XIV
The Grey City XV
The Grey City XVI
The Grey City XVII
The Grey City XVIII

Carys awoke on the pavement of the Orchard Street sidewalk. At least, it seemed she did. The sidewalk was there, under her hand, when she raised her head to look, but she did not feel it. Nor could she hear the scraping and rustling she would have expected as she collected herself and stood.

“Eirian!” she called, and she could hear that well enough, though the world did seem quiet, muffled, in the City dawn. She looked down to dust off her skirt, and decided she needn’t bother. Her dress and apron were clean and new, and the dirt under her fingers had disappeared. Her feet did not quite touch the ground – perhaps why they made no sound – and there was a bright, fuzzy quality to the air around her arms and legs, but after all, she had died. She had to expect some effect.

She could not see the Runners or her sister on the street. The rising light made it obvious that hours had passed. The first thing was to find Eirian, and as she thought about her she felt an almost physical tug down Orchard Street. Unquestioning, she started in that direction, moving all the more quickly for her feet not touching the ground, all the more quickly for the pull to which she surrendered.

Around her the City was transformed, and not by the pallid morning light as she had first imagined. The buildings seemed less substantial, less important. As she turned into an alley, then out onto another street, she paused to stare at one of the houses. Its third story flickered, as if seen with one eye and not the other. The effect was disturbing at first, but it had its amusing side as well, particularly when Carys spotted a stout woman in a mob cap walking along a hallway that was here, gone, here, gone.

Indeed, now that she was beyond the disused storefronts of Orchard, Carys could see people all around. They were no more solid than the buildings, but much more colorful, and Carys could see them even through the walls, like washes of watercolor. It cheered her to thus glimpse a normal life, a child being lifted to a window and the bustle of colors she assumed must be an early breakfast being set out or eaten before a workday.

Resuming her glide, she saw a strange shape in the offing, undulating across the thoroughfare. It bristled and shimmered like a centipede, but as she approached she saw that it was some sort of fence. Scattered on the street ahead of the barrier was a pattern of blotches, dark on the washed-out cobbles like soot but splattered and pooled like paint. The stains intensified as she approached the stockade, but she had to look up as she negotiated the boundary, mesmerized by the shifting shapes and almost afraid that the teeth would arrange themselves to close against or capture her.

Beyond the fence, shattered brick facades flashed whole, but seldom, as if it were a past too far removed to remember. The pull of Eirian’s path laced upwards through the hulks and changing debris. Carys followed along for a time on the ground but found the way blocked by an old wall, mortared stone with layers of pilfered tile, unflickering with the certainty of years.

It would take a long time to backtrack and take the aerial route, and she could tell she was getting close, that Eirian was only a half-mile ahead, not moving. She held her solid hand up to the unchanging but half-seen wall. It stopped, as if by habit, half an inch away from the stone, but she took a deep breath and pushed. It was like thick pudding at first, then easier and easier as her conviction grew. She stepped through the wall as if through a waterfall and headed towards her sister.

The Grey City XX

Paper progress

Tuesday August 26, 2008 @ 11:26 AM (UTC)

I’ve been meaning to take this photo since I graduated in June:

writing notebooks

I admit, this may require explanation. These are my writing notebooks. Almost all of my fiction is written longhand in the first draft (though if I get stuck at the end I start typing it in — which may explain weak endings on a lot of second drafts!) and my medium of choice is the French-ruled Clairefontaine notebook. This pile contains writing from July 1998 to yesterday, and the strip of blue batik marks the span of grad school.

This is my way of communicating what an effect grad school has had on me, on my productivity alone. In the two years and a bit between June 10, 2006 and June 28, 2008, just my longhand compositions fill 346 pages. In school, 173 pages of rough a year, instead of the (hmm, hmm, carry the 2) 79 pages a year I averaged 1998-2006 (much of it RPG backstory and in-character journal.)

This is just one way to measure. It doesn’t count the things I type as a first draft — much of Faerye Net falls in that category — or tell you how much of that raw material I used in subsequent drafts. But it does tell you how profoundly grad school transformed my habits. It forced me to think of myself as a writer.

Let’s see, since June 28 I’ve used 123 pages, divide by 2, multiply by 12, 720 pages a year…apparently being done with grad school has been good for productivity as well. Except 60 of those pages are in the last two weeks…I’m tempted to make a graph.

The Midnight Folk

Monday August 25, 2008 @ 08:56 AM (UTC)

The other day EMeta mentioned in comments how inexplicable it is that Gene Wolfe isn’t a household name. Here is another one of those inexplicable oversights of the book world: The Midnight Folk by John Masefield.

This book sat on my shelf for years unread when I was a child, one of a few red-banded paperbacks like E. Nesbit’s Three Children and It that had materialized there unseen, like untorn books in Colin Craven’s sickroom. I often picked it up and put it down again in favor of more known quantities (for I was a great rereader) in spite of the cover, which sported a young woman on a horse inexplicably hovering in the night sky!

Whenever it was that I finally opened it, I could have kicked my previous selves for putting it down unread. It is charming, brimming with adventure, and written with a seamless confusion between the real and magical realms. Its charm is partially in its hero, Kay Harker, who writes himself a letter at one point (an assignment from his supercilious governess) that runs:

My dear Kay,
I hop you are quite well.
I hop your friends, the cats, are quite well.
I am quite well.
Please give my love to Ellen. I hop she is quite well. We have a nice dog here, but he is norty.

If that doesn’t have you saying “hop you are quite well” and “norty” (naughty) for the rest of your life in sheer delight (as I do) then you’re constituted quite differently from me.

John Masefield was the Poet Laureate of England for a while, and the book is quite enjoyable to adults (who, in our degenerate age, are more likely to understand Kay’s horror at Latin lessons and French conjugation). Its challenging habit of hopping from a reality where witches convene on brooms pilfered from the Harker family house to one where Kay’s guardian, Lord Theopompus, holds forth is engaging and wondrous. The common thread in both worlds is the lost fortune said to have been stolen and hidden by Kay’s seafaring forebear. With the help of various magical personages and the friendlier local cats and foxes, Kay tries to find out the truth about the treasure (and his family’s past) before the greedy coven of witches and wizards can beat him to it.

In short, this book is a strange, idiosyncratic delight with a twisting historical mystery, a cast of bizarre characters, and a charmingly disobedient protagonist. It deserves a place on the bookshelf of every book-loving child and child at heart. However – and this is why I write this blogget – it is largely unknown in our era and has long languished out of print. 108 people on LibraryThing own it, and only 21 on the more populous Goodreads. When I discovered that my childhood copy had gone missing, my mother quietly looked for years before buying a 1959 printing over the web from New Zealand and presenting it on my 19th birthday.

However, these dark days are coming to a close. The Midnight Folk is being reprinted, available September 30 according to Powell’s. I encourage everyone intrigued by this blog post to pick up a copy (but not to read the spoilerish Publisher Comments) at once – preorder if you like! It’s a book that deserves a wide and loving audience. I hop it shall do quite well.

Copyright © 2017 Felicity Shoulders. All rights reserved.
Powered by Thoth.