It’s a neat word; it’s inarguably a noun, but it covers both the actual object (my driver’s license! Which I now have!) and the quality of being permitted to do something. People have license to speak freely, to buy the books that suit them, to travel to other cities.

I would have expected it to share a root with censure, since that sounds similar and means pretty much the opposite, but as far as I can tell, it doesn’t.

Getting my driver’s license was much more frustrating that I’d hoped. For Reasons, I needed documentation that wasn’t on the website, so I had to go home to get it and come back. That is roughly a 25-minute drive, and as may be inferred from the fact that I was there to get a driver’s license, I could not simply drive home and then back.

But I got it, in the end.

So! License achieved. Now all I need to learn to do is drive.

“The Screwfly Solution”, James Tiptree, Jr.

AP/Nassau: The excursion liner Carib Swallow reached port under tow today after striking an obstruction in the Gulf Stream off Cape Hatteras. The obstruction was identified as part of a commercial trawler’s seine floated by female corpses. This confirms reports from Florida and the Gulf of the use of such seines, some of them over a mile in length. Similar reports coming from the Pacific coast and as far away as Japan indicate a growing hazard to coastwise shipping.

That cheery fragment is actually one of the less upsetting pieces of text in Tiptree’s “The Screwfly Solution”. It’s a fairly hard-hitting story, especially when you (for example) go in thinking that while it’ll probably be a good story, it’ll be a little dated and there’s no reason to think it’d make more of an impression than others you’ve read.

(I was corrected. To borrow a phrase from another work, I was corrected harshly.)

That short story’s remarkable to me at least in part because I honestly feel like the last few lines weaken the horror of it. Partly that’s surprising because I find most of Tiptree’s work is remarkably consistent and builds well on itself; partly that’s interesting because I’ve got a class on beginnings and endings tomorrow, and I’ve been thinking a lot about them lately.

Tiptree wrote a great many stories, and it’s hard to choose what to recommend first, but after “The Screwfly Solution” you could do worse than go with “Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled of Light!”, “The Man Who Walked Home”, and “The Girl Who Was Plugged In”.

The open road.

I’m going for my driver’s test tomorrow. (This will not get me a full driver’s license, but it will get me a first-level license; what we call a G1. It will allow me to drive a car in certain circumstances with a fully qualified driver in the passenger seat. We have graduated licensing in Ontario, you see.)

I’m nervous. It’s strictly a paper test, so this is not the road-test-what-if-I-hit-something fear. (Do people worry about that? A lot?) It’s more the fact that you currently need to pay $150 to take the test, and I am really really hoping I do not need to do that more than once.

(I had a G1 driver’s license for a while, but I let it lapse. Back then it only cost $100 to take the test.)

The idea of driving makes me nervous, since in my experience it is the activity that most often causes otherwise reasonably restrained people to start yelling at other people (even if said people can’t hear them). This clearly means it’s a dangerous and fraught activity that should be approached with extreme caution, right?

But I’d like to be able to drive, both because it’s useful and because it’d allow me a lot more freedom of movement. So here’s hoping the first step doesn’t need to be taken more than once.

The Sheep Look Up, John Brunner

Latro, California: “Terrible diarrhea, Doctor, and I feel so weak!”/“Take these pills and come back in three days if you’re not better.”
Parkington, Texas: “Terrible diarrhea. . . .”/“Take these pills . . .”
Hainesport, Louisiana: “Terrible . . .” “Take . . .”
Baker Bay, Florida . . .
Washington, DC. . . .
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania . . .
New York, New York . . .
Boston, Massachusetts . . .
Chicago, Illinois: “Doctor, I know it’s Sunday, but the kid’s in such a terrible state—you’ve got to help me!”/“Give him some junior aspirin and bring him to my office tomorrow. Goodbye.”

EVERYWHERE, USA: a sudden upswing in orders for very small coffins, the right size to take a baby dead from acute infantile enteritis.

I skimmed my first John Brunner novel somewhere in my early 20s and thought it was creepy but neat.

I read my second John Brunner novel in 2007. It was Stand on Zanzibar. To the best of my recollection, I spent a weekend feeling very stunned by the influx of information and the intensity of the plot. The last SF novel I’d read about overpopulation was Make Room! Make Room! and while I liked it, it did not quite have the impact of Brunner’s mosaic of plot, sorrow, and horror.

This quote is from The Sheep Look Up, which is about pollution in the same way Stand On Zanzibar is about overpopulation. I don’t find it quite as affecting as Stand on Zanzibar, but it is most definitely worth reading.

Image is found here, by Witch Kiki, used under the CC0 1.0 license

2016 has not been kind.

David G. Hartwell has died. He was an editor of great note.

I was at a panel where he was speaking last year. It was actually just back on the first of November, at the 2015 CanCon. It was a panel on reviews; how they should be done, what they are for.

I have notes. Most of them are fragmentary, and paraphrase what was actually said, but they are hopeful.

a note to look at Greg Cox’s advice on how to review the samurai vampire novel

“an ability to review the work by its standards

“the generosity of spirit to love the book by its own lights”

“convincing, intelligent, favourable reviews of unknown authors” (my notes say that one is a quote)

I am more upset than I would have expected to find myself.

People who knew him better than I are talking over at Making Light. I find I don’t have much I feel I could add.

I think TV Tropes has a name for this

I’ve been watching Minority Report, and while I wouldn’t call myself a fan[1], there was a kind of striking moment in the seventh episode.

To summarize the basic premise, established in the pilot: Dash (one of the precogs) is the hopeful nice one who’s voluntarily (and secretly) assisting the police, and his brother Arthur is your basic languid-sleaze-in-a-suit using his powers to steal people’s identities and generally make headway as a white-collar criminal. Lieutenant Vega is the police officer who knows what Dash is and is working with him. (There are other characters who are not relevant to what I am discussing.) Spoilers follow. Continue reading “I think TV Tropes has a name for this”

“The Haunting of Hill House”, Shirley Jackson

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

Admittedly when you’re talking about picking great quotes, I feel that this is low-hanging fruit. But it is a great quote, and I’m including it.

That is the opening to Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, one of the great haunted house novels. It was published 58 years ago, in ’59. Shirley Jackson wrote 6 novels and well over a hundred stories. Odds are good that people in the North American school system at least were exposed to “The Lottery”, but if you’ve missed it, I recommend picking up “The Summer People“.

(I’m not explicitly picking opening quotes, by the way; I am just trending in a direction that avoids spoilers, and since a lot of the great quotes that resonate with me are beginnings or endings–which is part of why I’m taking Cat Rambo’s class on same this month–I’m mostly going to lean heavily towards beginnings.)

Romance! (No, really. Wait.)

I was discussing Leverage with someone–one of my favourite TV shows–and they described it as a bad but fun. And I asked why it was bad, and they described several qualities of it, and one of them was “it makes no attempt to be realistic.”

And something clicked for me. I’m going to turn to an English-as-a-subject ramble here for a moment.

Do you know how you can make a strong argument that Frankenstein isn’t a novel? That The Hobbit and The Mists of Avalon and The Phantom Tollbooth aren’t novels?

Because a novel is also a genre definition and that definition is “a book-length work of realistic prose fiction”.[1] The books I have mentioned are not novels; they are romances, where the definition of a romance is “a prose narrative treating imaginary characters involved in events remote in time or place and usually heroic, adventurous, or mysterious”.

(This is why the H.G. Wells Historical Society talks about his scientific romances, which is a term which was also applied to A Princess of Mars. We’re talking romance as a thing that gives us giant submarines and time machines and alien princesses, here.)

Getting back to Leverage: no, it is not remote in time or place. (It is in a TV-land where people are surprisingly pretty and such things as ledger deposit slots exist, plus there’s what Hardison does anytime he’s near a computer, plus Elliot… Alright. It is not blatantly remote in time or place, although it’s pretty clearly not next door.)

But it is certainly heroic and adventurous. It is a pulpy show, in the best sense–Lester Dent’s essay on pulp fiction writing is absolutely not posted on the wall of the writer’s room. 😉

No-one has to like fiction that isn’t realistic, and you can definitely make an argument for defining fiction that isn’t realistic as being silly. (I personally would be inclined to disagree, but I can see the pattern and structure of the argument.) But I think that to define a work of art as a bad example of the art, it’s important to engage with it in terms of what it’s trying to be.

Possibly more thoughts later.
[1] Specific definition plucked from Dr. Doyle’s SF Genre Rant.[2]
[2] Now that you’ve read that essay, please note that I’m not arguing that genre fiction cannot be realistic in both senses described in it, but I think the realistic vs. romantic distinction is useful for the point I am trying to make about the TV show I was discussing, which I will now get back to.

Second Sunday.

We’re nearly a third of the way through January, and the Eastern Canadian in me is deeply confused. We’ve had about a week of winter all told, and today it was warm and raining and everything was getting washed off the lawns and streets and sidewalks.

(This is January-in-Ontario “warm”, which means “definitely above freezing” rather than “iced drinks and T-shirts!”, but still.)

It looks like it’ll be closer to normal over the next couple of weeks, but I’m more used to a month and a half of winter by this point in the year, so the back of my mind is remaining slightly confused by the fact that the snow showed up after the days started getting longer.

Mostly I’m hoping that there isn’t an ice storm coming. People are worrying a little about that, but it’s hard to tell where that is on the spectrum between “worrying because knowing they have a plan will make them feel better” and “worrying because it’s actually likely to be a problem”.

In other news, my goodness there are a lot of lovely things that can be nominated for the Hugos this year. I’m trying to pull a list together of stuff I particularly liked, but it’s a bit overwhelming. Still, it’s a goal.