dreamer_easy: (Default)
Reading the March 2016 issue of Australian Book Review on the treadmill and hit the same theme in two unrelated reviews: the intrinsic worth of things.

"[Stanley] Fish feels little need to justify scholarly work by utilitarian standards... Criticism of obscure scholarship and arcane language, he observes, aims at the humanities; similar approaches in economics or engineering get a free pass, because these subjects are presumed to possess instrumental value." (Glyn Davis reviewing Think Again)

"[Nicholas Birns] suggests that it [neo-liberalism] is a synonym for what Australians call economic rationalism - simply put, the valuing of all human effort in terms of money and profit, success and failure... Birns argues that writing - particularly contemporary Australian writing - is one of the last bulwarks against neo-liberal dominance. Imaginative writing... offers ways to 'conceive life differently than merely valuing one another by our financial conditions'." (Susan Lever reviewing Contemporary Australian Literature)

To a list consisting of scholarship in the humanities and imaginative writing, I'd add environmentalism, religion, and human rights as loci for valuing human beings and human work for something other than their dollar value. In the imaginative writing department, science fiction has important work to do, particularly in portraying alternatives to a present and a future we're being sold as inescapable.
dreamer_easy: (*writing 7)
I've read a chapter and a short story recently with Japanese settings (one modern, one mediaeval), both written by Westerners, both of which struck me having a stiff and artificial style which I want to avoid in my own fiction. I don't know Japanese culture well enough to nitpick the research, but in the case of the modern one in particular the details seemed intrusive and anachronistic. I've just realised now, typing this, the possible problem with both narratives: they're told by non-Japanese writers from the POV of Japanese characters. I have read enough to know that an actual mediaeval story in translation, or a chapter written by a modern Japanese writer, would sound quite different. It's another reason to stick to (for example) non-Korean characters' POVs in stories where I use Korean characters or setting: as a monoglot with a very limited experience of the world, I cannot write authentically from inside another living culture. (I may eventually be able to get across the flavour of a historical Korean narrative, but I have an awful lot of reading to do first.)

(I've just been reading a dirty manga to which I decline to link you, but it comes with wonderful notes by a fan translator, who explains the extra meanings conveyed by the author's choice of kanji. It made me think of sign language, which can pack in so much more information in the same amount of time it takes to speak the equivalent sentence in English. I suppose the only way English can compete at all is with its gargantuan vocabulary.)
dreamer_easy: (Default)
Continuing to process the latest Unpleasantness. (Which I am feeling OK about, now, to reassure Jon, who just looked over my shoulder and was worried by that first sentence.) As I mentioned, I'm pretty sure I was hypomanic when I made the posting in April last year which triggered the trouble just now. Here it is:

ngl: as a white Western Kpop fan, it’s a constant challenge not to fetishise Koreans and Korean culture (and, by extension, all Asians and Asian culture). All these horrible crushes lend a sexual aura to ridiculously non-sexual things: I’m all too aware that learning Korean, reading about Korean history, and even trying Korean food are all frequently accompanied by a pleasant erotic frisson. It’s exactly the effect advertisers are hoping for when they create an association between idols and fried chicken. Anyway, all I can do is try to catch myself falling into fetishisation.
 
Now you should read my follow-up postings as well, but in short, I figured out that I wasn't fetishing Asian people or culture - I was just worried that I was, due to the connection with sexy, sexy Kpop.

The chief reaction was one of horror at the implication that I was sexually aroused by eating Korean food, but there was also much hilarity over the phrase "pleasant erotic frisson", as is the Internet's wont. (I suspect a majority of memes begin as the mocking echoes of the dogpile.)

One reason I suspect hypomania is that the posting is so terse: the last sentence shows I'm concerned about the implications, but not enough to slow down and think or talk them through. I just sort of throw my undeveloped thoughts out onto the net, where they sit, ticking like a time bomb. The other reason is the lurching between registers. I open with the onlinespeak of "ngl" ("not gonna lie"), but then I'm into that tongue-in-cheek, slightly old-fashioned style - some of those phrases would not look too out of place in Punch magazine, a Clive James TV review, or Douglas Adams. (At least I didn't go for Molesworth.) Plus there's a dose of earnest Internet social justice self-consciousness - "I'm all too aware", "all I can do is try to catch myself".

There's no reason that American teenagers would recognise that dry British humour*, and tongue-in-cheekness is very difficult to convey over the net, although one reader did wonder if I was being "sarcastic". In fact, this confused mix-and-match style has got me into trouble more than once online, not helped by the tendency when I'm up to include references without footnoting them (after all, they make perfect sense to meee). (Good grief, even the use of "Unpleasantness" in the first sentence of this posting is an unfootnoted reference - it's an expression I picked up from Michael Green's 1964 book Coarse Acting, along with the infinitely useful phrase "All is ease and comfort.")

I suppose the only cure for it is self-awareness, ie, not posting when I know I'm having an episode, or at least going back and doing some rewriting when I've come down. But that's obvious; what's interesting to me is the way that language works - in fact, there's a link between these clashing registers - informal/formal/humorous/earnest - and the wordplay around hierarchy and politeness levels which I mentioned in my previous posting.


* All right, I admit it. The girls going "hurr hurr hurr, you said erotic frisson" sound like fucking idiots.

dreamer_easy: (Default)
Sitting on a plane a couple of hours out from Sydney. I've just finished reading "My English Name" by R.S. Benedict (Fantasy and Science Fiction May/June 2017), and wanted to rave about it a bit. The little note at the start of the story explains that it's drawn from the author's three years of working as an English teacher in China. It has that particularity that gives a fictional setting its power - the details that tell you the author really knows this place, these people. Benedict draws on both the interaction between Western culture and Chinese culture and between Westerners and Chinese people in a story that's about passing - as human, as straight, as gay, as white. I think the title may be drawn from the adoption of an English name by Asian immigrants, as English-speakers, typically monoglots, can't get our mouths around Asian phonemes; but the story's main character and narrator isn't even human, and works hard to pass as an Englishman. This mimicry is reflected all around the narrator in the Chinese culture he negotiates, from the designer knock-off scarf which helps hide his true self, to the use of bribery to gain fake qualifications, to the "rent-a-whitey gigs" he takes that reminded me uncomfortably of accounts that the only qualification you really need to teach English in Korea is whiteness.

The bribery in particular reminded me of the relentless corruption in Ha Jin's short stories, of the pressure on gay men and lesbians in China to marry (described in Benjamin Law's Gaysia) and of the obligation to "pass" as a Chinese citizen with the correct political opinions (I was struck by this in watching the reality show "Takes a Real Man" - the would-be soldiers must pass political tests as well as tests of their actual military skill). Now that brings me to something that's been preying on my mind since it happened. I have a side Tumblr, aegyopoisoned, in which I stash images of my favourite Kpop idols. It's an unremarkable blog with few followers - there must be tens of thousands like it. However, last April, I made a rather oddly written posting (I'll just bet I was hypomanic at the time) in which I confessed my worries about fetishing Korean and/or Asian people and culture as a result of Kpop's sex appeal. I was bewildered by yesterday morning's hate mail ("kill urself" is not as clear a message as it may seem) until we got home from the airport and I was able to locate a series of outraged responses.* In writing a much clearer response this morning I've worked through those concerns to some extent. (Now I just have to worry about the fact that my boys are half my age :).

Almost the first word of Korean I ever learned was 막내 maknae - the youngest person in a family or group. Taemin, my bias - that is, the Kpop idol I most swingeingly desire - is the maknae of the boy band SHINee, and this was the first fact I learned about him. It was also my first glimpse of Korean culture - specifically, the strict hierarchy by age, gender, and position which modern Koreans have inherited from their neo-Confucian forebears. When I learned the word maknae, I literally couldn't find Korea on a map. Now I have some grasp of the language and a rough idea of Korea's two thousand year-plus history, ancient and modern. I knew nothing of the Korean War, or the Opium Wars, or anything about the Suez Canal. I have a shelf overflowing with unread books on the Koreas and China. Sex was the starting point, not the be-all and end-all of my interest.

In recent years I've been reading SF by Chinese authors in translation - short stories, and of course Liu Cixin's mind-snapping, Hugo-winning Three-Body Problem trilogy. (I'm extremely keen to read Korean SF, but haven't found much.) R.S. Benedict's story is told by a Westerner, about being a Westerner in China - an outsider's POV, but an intimate engagement with the culture: her portrait of China is a matter-of-fact, sometimes unflattering one, but it's authentic. In adding Korean settings and characters to my own SF, I'm acutely aware that I'm a 외국인 waegukin, a foreigner, whose contact with Korea is mediated through, erm, the media - I don't have Benedict's first-hand experience. What's more culture (the West in general and Australia in particular) has a history with Asian peoples - colonialism, racism against immigrants, yellowface - which gives me complex responsibilities. My viewpoint characters, therefore, must also be waegukin, and my research as careful and accurate as I can make it.**


* "Why are you so proud of fetishization"?"asked a young white woman whose Tumblr proudly proclaims "Jonghyun is my dad", which may indicate I haven't absolutely cornered the fetish market. (She's also a fellow Lay fan. I'll bet she saw that awful Jackie Chan film too, just because he was in it.)

** I'd love to write something set in historical times, which would make including a Western character more difficult - but I have years of reading to do before I'll know enough to pull that off.

wait what

May. 19th, 2017 09:05 pm
dreamer_easy: (*writing 8)
The crashing realisation that what you want to read is science fiction, and what you want to write is science fiction, and that the next half-dozen projects on your mental list are all fantasy.
dreamer_easy: (*books 3)
Disturbed by Kelly Robson's column in the April issue of Clarkesworld, "Another World: Being James Tiptree Jr". She discusses the letter which Dr. Alice B. Sheldon left to be released in case of her death, in which she outed the science fiction writer Tiptree as being a woman writing under a male pseudonym. Robson quotes a key passage from the letter: "Everything sounded so much more interesting coming from a man. (Didn't it. Didn't it, just a little? Be honest.)" She remarks, "Writing as Tiptree, Alice Sheldon didn’t just avoid gender discrimination; she supercharged everything she wrote with gravitas and authority... Writing as a man gave her freedom that was missing when she wrote as herself... Being Tiptree certainly allowed her to avoid gender discrimination, but more importantly, it allowed her to overcome the barriers in her own mind."

My contribution to Chicks Dig Time Lords, "If I can't Squee I Don't Want to Be Part of your Revolution"*, contains a puzzled self-examination: what makes women's writing different from men's, and thus made my Doctor Who novels different from the others, which were overwhelmingly written by men? I consulted a couple of books on the subject of women's writing: one pointed out that women generally have different experiences to men; the other seemed to warn against lumping all women together. My problem was, and is, my slightly loose connection to the category "woman". Though I am a ciswoman, and share many experiences with other ciswomen, I am also sufficiently gender non-conforming to be occasionally mistaken for a man.

In the Chicks chapter, I pointed out that the style of all of the Doctor Who novel writers was somewhat constrained by the fact that we were writing science fiction adventure stories, with the main characters already provided. Although we drew on our own lives, like any writer in any genre, the books are still fairly homogenous, and that may have overwhelmed any gender differences.

Robson recounts meeting a male SF fan who proudly proclaims that he never reads books by women. I seem to recall that, as a teen, I eschewed female SF authors because they didn't seem to be writing the kind of SF I enjoyed (Asimov, Niven, a Heinlein phase). Perhaps they were drawing on interests or experiences I didn't share; perhaps there were fewer female authors available, so I was less likely to hit on one that I liked**; or perhaps it was simple prejudice. I am frustrated by not yet having found women who write the sort of SF I've recently enjoyed, by Charles Stross, Neal Stephenson, and Liu Cixin.

As well as being disturbed by my freakish gender, it troubles me that I insist on reading and writing SF, even though fantasy seems like it would be my more natural home. Perhaps the reason I write science fiction is to grab some of the "gravitas and authority" that Tiptree's assumed gender provided. Some part of me insists that SF = srs bizness, fantasy = mucking around (the same part that insists that YA is also mucking around). I worry that this prejudice is also somehow grounded in gender. I guess that's why Robson's column troubles me. (OTOH, maybe I don't want to write fantasy because I'm far less interested in reading it?)


* Neither my best title nor my greatest piece of prose ever, but I am still desperately proud of having been part of this landmark book, particularly its role in triggering the Sad Puppies. I'm also chuffed to see it being quoted in academic books, which must mean I got something right. :)

** The two most significant anthologies in my youth were Tomorrow's Children, edited by Isaac Asimov, and The Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus. The former contains 18 stories, three by women, but they seem to have made no impression on me, compared to Damon Knight's "Cabin Boy", Fritz Leiber's "A Pail of Air", Mark Clifton's "Star Bright", Asimov's own "The Ugly Little Boy", and, gods help us all, Jerome Bixby's "It's a Good Life". The Omnibus contains just one story by a woman - "The Snowball Effect" by Katherine MacLean, which I do remember, but it's a bit of fluff, damnit, surrounded by more memorable stuff.
dreamer_easy: (Default)
Spotted in the latest issue of Scientific American Mind: Some People Suffer from Face Blindness for Other Races.You won't be stunned to hear that the study in question was about the failure of white Australians to recognise Asian faces:

"They asked 268 Caucasians [sic] born and raised in Australia to memorize a series of six Asian faces and conducted the same experiment, involving Caucasian faces, with a group of 176 Asians born and raised in Asia who moved to Australia to attend university. In 72 trials, every participant was then shown sets of three faces and had to point to the one he or she had learned in the memorization task. The authors found that 26 Caucasian and 10 Asian participants—8 percent of the collective study population [9.7% of the white people and 5.7% of the Asian people] —did so badly on the test that they met the criteria for clinical-level impairment."
 
 
It's not hard to imagine why white people in Australia, where the population is overwhelmingly white, might be less skilled at telling Asian faces apart: we seldom have to bother. Not only are there few Asian faces around, so we don't get much practice, but the consequences of a screw-up are less likely to be serious - not true for an overseas student who fails to recognise their lecturer or tutor. (The other studies mentioned in the SA piece tend to back this up.)

Before Kpop, I'm sure I would have been one of that 9.7%. For a start, I'm not too crash hot at remembering white faces. I once shared a hotel room with someone who, as part of a costume, donned a wig; when she started talking to me in a hallway, it took me long, confused minutes to work out who she was! In TV shows, I persistently confuse white actors and forget their characters' names in TV shows. Thank heavens for Jon or "Game of Thrones" would be incomprehensible. This problem spills over into my writing - I don't know how to describe faces, so I use other descriptions for characters, like their hair or clothing.

Kpop forced me to learn how to tell Asian faces apart. Even now, when I see a photo or a video, my brain whirrs into action. How many boys? Five? That's probably SHINee, then. Next a scan for my favourite member, Taemin. Wait - or is that Onew? I tend to confuse them when they have similar hair. No, look at the width of the mouth, and the size of the eyes - that's Taemin, all right. And there - those cheeks could only belong to Onew.

I'd been doing this quite automatically for a long time when Jon and I happened to sit down and watch the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of Mighty Jack (a Japanese series edited into a movie by Sandy Frank, who also brought you Battle of the Planets). I was startled to realise that my tell-the-Asian-boys-apart neurons had kicked in: I was sitting there memorising which uniformed, short-haired young man was which.

The most interesting thing is, perhaps, the sheer variety of Asian eyes: Minho from SHINee's are large and "double-lidded"; actor Lee Joon-gi's eyes are long; Onew's eyes vanish when he smiles. Looking at fan edits of the band's faces, showing just their eyes, it's simple for me to tell them apart. But I didn't become consciously aware of this until I very recently read Describing Asian Eyes and followed some of the links there.

To sum up, although I think I'm not good at recognising faces in general, I've learned to recognise Asian faces (well, the faces of young Korean men, mostly) as a skill. That bodes well for my ability to remember peoples' faces in real life, and to describe my own characters better.

(One thing I'm not sure of is whether the six faces used in the study were only East Asian. In Australia, this is what we'd usually mean by "Asian" - Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and so forth.)
 
dreamer_easy: (*writing 7)
"5. Not for nothing, but there is a direct correlation between the quote unquote “diverse” Big 2 properties that have done well (Luke Cage, Black Panther, Ms Marvel, Batgirl) and properties that have A STRONG SENSE OF PLACE. It’s not “diversity” that draws those elusive untapped audiences, it’s *particularity.* This is a vital distinction nobody seems to make. This goes back to authenticity and realism."

— G. Willow Wilson, responding on Tumblr to the recent controversy over diversity in comics

This blew my head up, because I'd just read a short story by Nnedi Okorafor called "Spider the Artist" (in the antho Robot Uprisings), and "particularity" perfectly describes it. Its setting, a near future Nigeria, is full of details that make it ring powerfully true: you quickly understand that these details haven't been invented or researched, but experienced. (And indeed, the author is Nigerian-American and has visited Nigeria many times.) This is the "authenticity and realism" that Wilson is describing - the believability of setting that makes fantastical / speculative stories seem real.
dreamer_easy: (writing 2)
To quote the Sheriff of Nottingham from "Robin of Sherwood", after he was stung by a billion bees and got into the sting-soothing bath: "Oh, the relief!!"

Drifting

Mar. 10th, 2017 01:15 pm
dreamer_easy: (writing 2)
Draft -1. SF short story. All the scenes are there, though there are bits of them that still need to be written out. It's about 11,400 words - looks like it'll end up at something over 12,000.
dreamer_easy: (snow kate)
White Fragility: Why It's So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism (The Good Men Project, April 2015). If you're white, like me, this spells out some of the assumptions you've absorbed from the surrounding culture. It's US-based, but much of it applies to Australia. Come to think of it, a lot of it applies to feminism as well, with the important difference that racism is taboo and sexism isn't.

The bacterial flagellar motor: brilliant evolution or intelligent design? (ABC Science, July 2015). "A central tenet of this theory [intelligent design] is the notion of 'irreducible complexity'. This asserts that some biological machines — like the flagellar motor — must be the product of design, because if you were to remove one or two components from the motor it would not function properly, or at all. The logic being, this motor was designed as a whole construction — it didn't evolve through a series of steps, so the individual parts of the motor would serve no purpose on their own. So the creationist argument relies on us finding no evidence of individual parts of the motor having a role outside of bacterial flagella. Luckily, individual components of the bacterial flagellar motor have indeed been found elsewhere. And they work. So the motor is 'reducible', and certainly not 'irreducibly complex'." This is one of my favourite things about evolution - the kludgy use of whatever's in the toolbox at the time. It's why some antidepressants give you tummy trouble; the same receptors are present in the brain and gut, being used for different purposes. (Well, I say "favourite"...)

The Evil Has No Name (The Daemons): Phil Sandifer's review of the story, from five years ago, which I've just enjoyed re-reading and bookmarked because of the observation that Doctor Who is about putting things together which shouldn't go together. That's missing from the SF I'm trying to write at the moment, I think.

Is Nature Unnatural? (Quanta Magazine, April 2013). That is, is there some explanation for the constants in physics, or are they the result of a multiversal roll of the dice?

I'm only two decades late in discovering the Planescapes setting for D&D - somehow I stumbled across this page on the Quasi-Elemental Plane of Salt and it's captured my imagination. Takes me back even further to reading Heinlein's "Number of the Breast" in the eighties.

Rare, lonely 'lefty' snail seeks mate for love—and genetic study (phys.org, October 2016) Not only does the sinistral brown snail have a "left-handed anti-clockwise spiralling shell", but its genitals are on the "wrong" side.
dreamer_easy: (*writing hard yakka)
Working on a short story and making a complete hash of it. Went back through my collection of print-outs and hand-written notes on how-to-write advice for a most helpful refresher. Here's some of the stuff that's still up online, plus stuff from Writing With Color, a Tumblr bursting with useful information.

Maybe I already linked to this, but what the hell, it's still some of the best writing advice I've ever encountered: Chuck Wendig's In Which I Critique Your Story (That I Haven't Read)

Hardcore Critique Advice by Amy Sterling Casil

How to Critique Fiction by Victory Crayne

Advice on Novel Writing by Crawford Kilian

Murder Your Darlings by James Patrick Kelly

Ways to Indicate Race

Describing Asian Eyes

Words for skin tone


Words to Describe Hair
dreamer_easy: (*writing)
Keeping Mum, short story, 4800 words (published by Cosmos magazine online, March 2016)
dreamer_easy: (*writing)
Set and the Goddesses, essay (submission for A Silver Sun and Inky Clouds: A Devotional Anthology for Djehuty and Set)

Strange Flesh, novel (redraft)

The Pyramids of Mars, essay (for Obverse Books' 'Black Archive' series)
(I actually sent this off on 2 January 2017, but it really belongs here. :)
dreamer_easy: (writing 2)
Absorbing the knowledge and wisdom of many writers and editors here at Conflux. Equal parts intimidating and inspiring.

The advice I've given to many newcomers to writing - not to worry too much about any individual story, because as a writer you'll write hundreds in your life - has come home to bite me on the bum. I've been 110% invested in my novel for a long time; now that the dust is settling on the first draft, I'm gaining the perspective that it's not the be-all and end-all of my writing career or my life either.
dreamer_easy: (writing 2)
Of course, then come rewrites. And then more rewrites.
dreamer_easy: (*writing hard yakka)
Pro:
- fascinating, gorgeous setting(s), not well-known to English language readers
- used to write loads of stuff in historical, er, settings

Con:
- appropriation / colonialism??? Would be suspicious about same setting used by other white, Anglophone author
- living culture (unlike eg ancient Mesopotamia)

OTOH
- tons of fiction using setting being successfully produced in South Korea, so no (?) competition group who can't get their stories told
- not appropriative of the experiences of immigrants

Relevant: responses to Lionel Shriver's keynote speech at the Brisbane Writers' Festival by Yassmin Abdel-Magied and Yen-Rong, plus Nesrine Malik's response to Abdel-Magied. Many people's POV in Stephanie Convery's column, eg: "Omar Musa, the Malaysian-Australian poet... says white writers should read, support and promote the work of writers of colour before attempting to encroach on that space themselves."

Also: I'm a seduced by sageuk, but I don't want to just pastiche and the stock characters and situations of Kdrama...?

Homework: are Diaspora Koreans writing in these settings? Read their stuff! Plus Korean stuff in translation.

Resources:
South Korea, by the Book (WSJ - non-fiction)
4 Must-read Korean Novels [available in English] (Korea-Canada Blog - modern settings)
Historical Novels of Asia list
(Historical Novels.info)
K-Lit in the age of Korean Cool
Books Set in Asia > Korea, North and South (goodreads.com)
Asian Science Fiction & Fantasy: The Essential Reading List (2016)
SF in South Korea (gordsellar.com)
Korea Literature Now feature on SF writer Bok Goe-Il
Korean Literature in Translation
dreamer_easy: (*writing 7)
Three days in a hotel room with nothing but the novel and iTunes for company. (iTunes library now suspiciously well-organised.) Part Three is complete; Part Four is well underway (which means I can now see lots of rewrites which will have to be on Part Three, argh). Well on track for finishing the book, including major re-working of certain bits, by the end of the year.

To commemorate my not being dead after three days in that gods-awful hotel chair, a few writing-related links:

On parasocial relationships with fictional characters. Similarly, Cory Doctorow writes that Stories Are a Fuggly Hack for making us empathise with non-existent people, before going on to those annoying artists who can get straight to the emotions without the suffering and punishment of generating narrative. (More Doctorow advice: Cheap Writing Tricks. Note the reappearance (so to speak) of his breakfast yoghurt.)

What makes bad writing bad? Oh, gods.

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