A few weeks ago, I spoke to a student reporter from UW about Norwescon, reading habits, and how my own reading habits have changed as I aged and as the pandemic hit. While the conversation was a lot longer than the one quote that made it in, at least I wasn’t cut completely, and got a mention of Norwescon in front of UW students — so mission accomplished, I say!
Science fiction, dystopia’s similar but more optimistic counterpart, is also seeing an increase in popularity during the pandemic, much to the excitement of seasoned fans everywhere.
Every year, Seattle hosts the Pacific Northwest’s regional science fiction and fantasy convention Norwescon. Michael Hanscom, longtime convention attendee, volunteer, and secretary of this year’s virtual event, has been turning to the familiar, curiosity-driven world of “Star Trek” since the beginning of quarantine in order to cope with reality.
“This is not always quality sci-fi; this is absolutely escapism,” Hanscom said, gesturing to his bookshelves filled with “Star Trek” paraphernalia during our Zoom interview. “I think 80% of my reading last year was ‘Star Trek’ novels because I couldn’t concentrate on anything more weighty than that. With everything going on and being locked down at home, I needed that escapism. I needed to get away.”
Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction: “This work-in-progress is a comprehensive quotation-based dictionary of the language of science fiction. The HD/SF is an offshoot of a project begun by the Oxford English Dictionary (though it is no longer formally affiliated with it).”
Civility. Some thoughts.: "It's hypocrisy to us because we believe that the behavior is the problem. It's not hypocritical to them because they believe the person is the problem."
What To Do When ― Not If ― Roe Vanishes: "Now, it is almost certainly a matter of when, not if, we lose Roe. It’s time to prepare for life without nationwide legal abortion." That we have to be thinking seriously about this is incredibly sad.
Sometime between April 15th and April 18th, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!
Freshly Remember’d: Kirk Drift: “There is no other way to put this: essentially everything about Popular Consciousness Kirk is bullshit. Kirk, as received through mass culture memory and reflected in its productive imaginary (and subsequent franchise output, including the reboot movies), has little or no basis in Shatner’s performance and the television show as aired. Macho, brash Kirk is a mass hallucination.”
Woman Who Shared Philadelphia Starbucks Arrest Video Tells Her Story: “People ignore this kind of stuff. They don’t believe that it happens. People are saying that there must be more to this story. There is not. This would never happen to someone who looks like me. People don’t believe black people when they say this stuff happens. It does. They want to know the extenuating circumstances. There are none.”
Star Trek: Discovery’s Version of the Enterprise Had to Be Modified for Legal Reasons: Interesting tidbit of information. While Discovery’s been a bit hit-and-miss for me, I’ll admit that in the moment, the end-of-season reveal did just what it was intended to do. I’m not too put off by the design changes to the Enterprise, either; it was a given that it wouldn’t be identical, and I thought they did a reasonably good job of staying true to the classic form while updating it for modern needs (and a much better job than the oddly lumpy NuTrek version).
Once again, I’ve read through all of the nominated works for this year’s Philip K. Dick Awards. Made it with two weeks to spare this time.
Here are my thoughts on each of the nominated books, in order from my least favorite to my personal favorite and pick for the award (if I got a vote, which I don’t, and I’ve yet to pick a winner, so perhaps it’s best not to put too much stock in my opinion…). A strong slate this year, there wasn’t a single one that I didn’t enjoy at least a little bit.
The Book of Etta, by Meg Elison: Much as with the first book in this series, it’s well written and realized, but simply isn’t my thing. Post-apocalyptic fiction tends towards the dark, dismal, and dreary, and these are no exception. I can recognize that they’re well written, and can see why they resonate for many people…just not for me. Because of that, I can’t really give a more thorough review.
Revenger, by Alastair Reynolds: Space pirates, hidden treasure, scheming and swashbuckling — and while I didn’t dislike reading it, it never entirely grabbed me, either. I think for me, it’s just that while I recognize the conceit of “adventure on the high seas IN SPACE” as an attractive one for many, it’s simply never particularly caught my interest. I’m not sure if that’s because I’m not much into “adventure on the high seas IN WATER” tales and the switch to “…IN SPACE” isn’t enough to make it work for me, or if I just find the conceit itself a little…well, silly. Not that solar sails and the like aren’t scientifically sound, but the overly-literal application of the idea always feels a bit far-fetched. Anyway — the book isn’t bad, it just isn’t for me.
The Wrong Stars, by Tim Pratt: Enjoyable space adventure, with lots of amusingly clever writing and fun ideas for alien cultures, particularly the primary alien life and how they interface with humanity. Liked reading it, and appreciated the diversity of characters both human and alien. Doesn’t nudge its way to the top of this year’s PKD nominee stack, but that’s not at all a knock against this book, this is just proving to be a strong selection this year.
After the Flare, by Deji Bryce Olukotun: The first book, Nigerians in Space, was interesting, but was almost more of a spy thriller, barely touching on SF. This is not only more of an SF story, but is also a stronger book. A few of the characters carry over from the first book, but the plots aren’t directly connected, and reading the first isn’t at all necessary to enjoy this one. With both books, I greatly enjoyed the African setting and the blending of SF tropes with African history and culture. A strong start to my PK Dick Award reading this year.
Bannerless, by Carrie Vaughn: I’ve mentioned in past years that I’m not a big fan of post-apocalyptic stories; as such, they generally don’t rate very high for me, even when I know that they’re good, well-written stories. This is a rare exception – apparently, the trick is to place the time period a good few decades after civilization falls over, so that the story isn’t overshadowed by the depressing turbulence and chaos of most post-apocalyptic tales. Here, there are distant remnants of the world as it was, but the world has survived, society has rebuilt (to a point, at least), and our characters can have their adventures and solve their mysteries in the world they know. The look at the society that emerges, and how it builds on what fell in the past, attempting to use the lessons of the collapse of the past to keep a stable present, worked very well for me.
All Systems Red, by Martha Wells: A quick and very enjoyable read about a cranky, antisocial security android who just wants to watch their shows, but has all these annoying humans to take care of. Quick moving and darkly humorous, it felt like a SFictional take on the autism spectrum (said as a neurotypical who is entirely guessing, and could be far off base with that).
Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty: Something of an SF take on a locked room mystery – the cloned crew of a generation ship wakes up to find the corpses of their previous bodies – with fascinating questions of the ethics of workable cloning and the concepts of selfhood and the soul in such a world. Very much enjoyed this one.
Sometime between December 27th and January 8th, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!
Why So Many Men Hate the Last Jedi But Can’t Agree on Why: SPOILERS: "I don’t think every human who disliked The Last Jedi is an evil, evil misogynist. I do think that we have so deeply internalized sexist narrative tropes that we see them as 'correct' and 'good filmmaking' while seeing their absence as 'flaws.'"
My Hero, Luke Skywalker: SPOILERS: “It is a beautiful fantasy and, I thought, a particularly resonant message for the anxious and depressed about what you can be capable of, the kind of peace you may be able to find if you dig down deep enough and push yourself emotionally.”
Stop reading what Facebook tells you to read: "Literally, all you need to do: Type in web addresses. Use autofill! Or even: Google the website you want to go to, and go to it. Then bookmark it. Then go back every now and again."
Star Wars “fans” should remember being a fan doesn’t mean unequivocal love (or hate): SPOILERS: “This is the problem with these loudest of ‘fans’: They’ve forgotten that a big part of fandom is the ability to hold multiple opinions on the same material all at once. That all-or-nothing mentality does a disservice to fans and films alike, by reductively lumping pluses and minuses into one indiscernible stew of love or loathing.”
Sometime between November 12th and December 19th, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!
Toxic Masculinity Is the True Villain of Star Wars: The Last Jedi: SPOILERS: “Poe's character, while not one of the main protagonists, has even more to do in The Last Jedi. However, while he may be filling the role of the dashing pilot that Han did in the Original Trilogy, director Rian Johnson is using the archetype to say something completely different about heroism, leadership, and—perhaps most importantly—masculinity.”
Star Wars, the Generations: SPOILERS: “Great movies reflect an era through the eyes of artists who embody that era. George Lucas embodied the era of Baby Boom ‘destiny’ and self-conceit. Rian Johnson embodies our era of diminished heroism, cynicism and near despair– tempered by the hope, if we can but learn from our heroes’ mistakes, that somehow, some way, some day, we may yet restore balance to the Force.”
Rian Johnson Confirms The Dorkiest Reference In ‘The Last Jedi’: SPOILERS: “There is a dorky reference in Star Wars: The Last Jedi that even director Rian Johnson admits that you may have to be of a certain age to get – thanks to a narrow window where you might have been watching premium cable in the very early ‘80s when this bizarre little short film would air in-between feature-length films.”
Rian Johnson Says There Are No Twists, Only Honest Choices: SPOILERS: “It seemed completely honest to me. It seems like the most dramatic version of that. And that’s what you’re supposed to do. Find what the honest moment would be, and then find the most dramatic version of it. So, in terms of the big ‘twists’ in the movie, they sprung from a process of trying to follow where these characters would go as honestly as possible.”
Pro-Neutrality, Anti-Title II: Interesting argument that the likely change to ISP regulations — the 'net neutrality' debate — may not be quite the horrid thing it appears to be. Worth thinking over. "The question at hand, though, is what is the best way to achieve net neutrality? To believe that Chairman Pai is right is not to be against net neutrality; rather, it is to believe that the FCC’s 2015 approach was mistaken."
The Amazons’ New Clothes: “The Wonder Woman designs received acclaim from fans and costume fanatics alike. They were clearly inspired by the Amazon’s origins in the Mediterranean and were feminine but very functional. Why mess with perfection? Oh, right. The all-male team of directors and executive directors wanted women to fight in bikinis.”
How Does X-Men’s Charles Xavier Leave His Own House?: "Based on various depictions of the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters, Professor X—a paraplegic mutant telepath with a supposedly genius-level intellect—somehow forgot to add wheelchair ramps to his own home."