“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 radical notion…

I’ve been thinking a bit about Mad Max lately; specifically the Fury Road movie. I’m fond of the franchise in general, although my interest mostly lies with the post-apocalyptic setting of the second, third, and now fourth movies. And the fourth movie makes me extremely happy.

I am very fond of the post-apocalyptic genre, and I found the character of the protagonist–the fact that she existed, and how the movie handled her–to be deeply affecting in a good if startling way. That said, while I’d heard that the movie was being described as feminist, I don’t think I really thought about it at the time.

(I actually tried pretty hard not to think about it, because I was honestly not expecting it to be really better than most action movies, and I did not want to get my hopes up and have disappointed hopes get in the way of my movie enjoyment. I am not sure if this is selfishness or compartmentalization, and I am okay with that.)

I’ve seen arguments both in favour and against its being called a feminist movie. I’ve thought about it, and because it helps me to write things out when I think about them, I am rambling about it here. I think there are a few ways to parse the definition; looking at the creation of the work, and two ways of looking at the work itself.

Also there might be spoilers, I guess, so time for a break. Continue reading “The radical notion…”

Counting ink.

It is late, and everyone is discussing 2014. With my habit of getting bogged down in quantifiable minutiae, I am therefore posting about my reading and writing this year.

In 2014, I aimed for 80 books and finished 95, covering a total of 24421 pages.

I was also trying to aim for gender parity in my reading, and I failed. Overall the split was 38:14:43 (the numbers representing female authors:authors of non-binary or unspecified gender, or multi-authored works with a gender mix, or anthologies:male authors, respectively).

  • one was non-fiction. This low number isn’t surprising; I tend to dip in and out of non-fiction works, rather than read them end to end, and I don’t count RPG books as non-fiction. 1:0:0
  • eighteen were short standalones (stories or novellas); most were ebooks, although I did get four in print, including copies of Bob Leman’s “Instructions” and Naomi Mitchison’s Travel Light. 9:1:8
  • sixteen were anthologies! Unsurprising, as anthologies are generally my favourite kind of book to pick up. 2:13:1; the first two were Two of the Deadliest and The Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories by Women, and the last one was The Cthulhu Mythos Megapack.
    (I ran across two other Mythos anthologies this year which only featured male authors, earning Mythos anthologies the distinction of being the only genre of anthology I’ve learned I need to check when I’m tracking gender in my reading, as I clearly can’t assume they’ll actually have a gender mix. A++ Nyarlathotep, carry on. You jackass.)
  • fourteen were collections of stories by a single author (including one of the graphic novels, since the Jonah Hex collection felt more episodic than any of the others). 6:0:8
  • three were RPG sourcebooks. 0:0:3
  • five were game-related fiction: two Wasteland standalones, two Deadlands Noir standalones, and one Pinebox, Texas (now… re-mastered, I guess? as East Texas University) anthology. 0:1:4
  • eight were graphic novels. 0:0:8
    Yes, really. And I thought Mythos anthologies were bad. If you count the writer and the artist as co-authors, that changes to 0:1:7, and my overall stats become 38:15:42
  • twenty-five were ebooks; I read more of these towards the end of the year, and suspect I will read more in 2015. Cheers for a tablet and a new ereader. 11:2:12
  • thirty-seven were novels. 20:0:17

Four of the books I read I five-starred on Goodreads, which is a rating a reserve for books that I think people should read even if they usually pass over that genre (The Last Unicorn, The Inheritance and Other Stories, Save Yourself, and Strong Female Protagonist). 2:0:2, or 2:1:1 if you count writer and artist as co-authors.

Four of them I two-starred, which means I did not hate them but pretty much stopped enjoying them and ground on to see if they would get better. If they had, I would have rated them higher.

And the oldest book I read this year was Naomi Mitchison’s Travel Light, first published in 1952.

I also submitted stories 34 times, and got 31 rejections (although one of those rejections came in for a story I submitted in 2013, so you can say I only got 30 2014 rejections. This does not mean I got four acceptances, but it does mean I am expecting at least four rejections next year. 😉 ) I am slightly embarrassed by how little I wrote; my yearly wordcount hit five digits, but not six.

Happy New Year! See you on the other side.

I didn’t read Heinlein.

Not the edition I would have picked up in the bookshop.
Not the edition I would have picked up in that bookshop.

Okay, that’s a lie. I read a Heinlein novel during a university course on science fiction. It was Starship Troopers, and it was contrasted with Haldeman’s Forever War. And I may have read part of The Puppet Masters, but since I only remember a bit about how some clothing (hats? coats? tops?) was being outlawed, it is more probable that I just picked it up at the neighbourhood secondhand bookstore and read a few pages. I liked to hang around the SF section and do that sometimes, and it’s left me with an eclectic collection of snippets–that bit, something about a Doctor Who novelization in which a villain had attached a canister of horrible mutagen to Peri[1], and a rich tourist who went to the Savage Theme Park of New York and was stuck there after it was closed for the season.

(Those bits are rather vague, since I would have been between seven and eleven at the time–more than two decades ago.)

But when I was growing up, I didn’t read Heinlein.

I have been thinking, lately, about a line from Toni Weisskopf’s blog post, “The Problem of Engagement,” which runs:

Well, Heinlein is one of the few points of reference those fans who read have. Of course we all read Heinlein and have an opinion about his work. How can you be a fan and not?

I am a fan who reads; horror by first choice, yes, but I always read SF and fantasy when there wasn’t enough horror around. I have loved Worlds-That-Are-Not (or Worlds-That-Are-Not-Quite) for many many years, and I found them through books. I have been, I would have said, one of those “fans who read” for a very long time.

But I didn’t read Heinlein.

See, the first time I picked up Heinlein with a recognition of who the author was supposed to be (this name I’d heard about, seen on book spines, was told was incomparable), in the hope that I would enjoy it? I would have been about twelve; my family was in Algeria at the time, and the English fiction library we had access to was in a repurposed basement. The entirety of the genre section was a single bookshelf, and I made a heartfelt effort to go through all of it.

This, on the other hand, is the exact edition of Phantoms I read in that library.

I’m going to digress for a moment, and talk about Dean Koontz.

I discovered Dean Koontz and Stephen King on that same bookshelf (while I’d seen a secondhand hardcover of Cujo a few years earlier, I hadn’t been allowed to read it). Dean Koontz was easier to get a hold of, and often more snappily paced, and I would guess I read a good twenty or so of his books in the next few years. I probably overdid it, and I’d occasionally joke about how I could summarize the commonalities of plot of his novels in a single sentence. I got bored with him, and quit reading. (I’m drifting back, now, but that’s another story.)


When I was twelve, when I was bored and had basically no-one to talk to, when I was starving for something to read and I went through that bookcase, here is what I found in the first handful of pages:

  • The first Heinlein novel I picked up, I read about a guy watching his daughter strip her top off and being proud that she was checking with her husband instead of with him to be sure it was okay.
  • The first Koontz novel I picked up, I read about a doctor who was taking care of her little sister and who’d bluffed an evil biker gang leader[2] into believing that she was too damn scary to mess with.

Goddamn right I wasn’t interested in more Heinlein. And my take on his work is and remains “I don’t know it,” and I don’t think that’s informed or detailed enough to count as an opinion.

And when I was back in Canada… well, I met other people I could talk to about this genre thing, and we swapped recommendations, and I know some of them liked Heinlein but none of them ever made anything he’d written sound cool enough for me to bump him onto my must-read list. And then there were things like university and work and now, sad as it makes me, I don’t have the time to read that I used to. For a little while in eighth grade I was getting through five books a week. These days I’m lucky to clear eighty books a year.

It doesn’t make me happy, but I can live with that.

So when it comes to the question of

Of course we all read Heinlein and have an opinion about his work. How can you be a fan and not?

It’s not that hard. You just find other things that suit you better, and listen for things that people describe in such a way that they sound actually enjoyable, and you don’t have unlimited time.

And to that, Weisskopf wrote:

So the question arises—why bother to engage these people at all? They are not of us. They do not share our values, they do not share our culture.

I can live with that, too. And my reaction to that is much the same as my reaction when I put down Number of the Beast. I don’t have time for this, I have not seen enough to suggest I will enjoy this, and so I will leave this behind and go find something that will brighten or deepen or enrich my day.

And if that decision means I am not of your culture, that I do not share your values, I am sure we will both be much happier for it.

[1] Unsurprisingly, it didn’t work. If I recall correctly, the mutagen canister was removed from where it was attached to Peri’s belt, and was ?thrown? at the villain, where it interacted with a wooden stake he was standing near. The mutagen then worked on the wooden stake, causing it to explode outwards into a spiky lattice of stake-y wood and skewer the villain to death.
[2] I am not saying Phantoms was particularly nuanced. (Jeter, the man in question, is further developed later in the novel. I would say the development was done to add horror, not subtlety or multi-faceted characterization.)

Just one of those things.

This is not a happy post.

I was spending a little time on the fire-hydrant stream of Twitter, as one does, some days. And someone shared a link to a five-minute game, and the post-mortem of same.

The game is called The Day The Laughter Stopped.

It is not a happy game. It is not an unrealistic game.

In the more detailed discussion from the game creator, they also link to an article by someone I wasn’t familiar with, who writes as Film Crit Hulk. (There are many Hulks online! They often talk in ALLCAPS and refer to themselves in the third person. E.g.: “HULK’S SAYS IT ALL THE TIME, BUT THE PROBLEM WITH PLAYING DEVIL’S ADVOCATE IS THAT YOU’RE ACTUALLY ADVOCATING THE DEVIL.” (The post-mortem also contains a link to http://convertcase.net/, where you can copy and paste the article in question and then change it out of ALLCAPS, if you are annoyed by the prospect of someone internet-shouting at you for the entire length of an article.)

Seriously. The holiday season is upon us. There is stress and hope for kindness and many things to get done and many people being rushed. It is okay to not read the rest of this. Trigger warning ahoy.

I had somehow missed this.

There’s an article in the Balder & Dash section over on Roger Ebert’s site. Written by Laura Bogart, it’s called The Trouble With Carrie. It’s thought-provoking, to say the least, and I’m still processing it.

Short version of the article, which you should go read: Carrie is remarkable because she does not kick ass for anyone else. She does it for herself. Sarah Connor–oh, my god, please understand this isn’t an indictment of Sarah Connor, who by the second movie has become a brilliant and much-beloved-by-me character in what is assuredly one of my favourite albeit not watched-to-tatters movies–does what she does for her son. Ripley is unremarkably motivated by survival (does not count; this is about doing more than what you need to do to survive), but goes above and beyond that, moving from rescuing cats to the iconic “Get away from her, you bitch.” Laurie Strode is babysitting children she needs to take care of. Kick-Ass does what she does because her father tells her to. When Nancy Thompson is done being motivated by survival, she comes back to help the other children.

But Carrie, as of the latest version, does it because this should not have happened to her, and it was not fair, and she has fucking had it.[1]

This sounds selfish.

And kind of glorious.

Scott Lynch once quoted H.L. Mencken as saying “Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” Not for someone else’s sake. Not because it’s easy to afford. Not because other responsibilities demand it. But because sometimes, dammit, you just want to say that it’s not okay to need to eat so much shit.

I am working a lot harder to make time for this movie, now.

[1] To be clear: this “it is not fair” motivation is not unique. It happens a lot in the rape/revenge subgenre if the victimized woman survives. I generally don’t watch that genre, because Reasons I Do Not Feel Like Unpacking Now; I just wanted to note that Carrie is not something utterly new (and no, I’m not saying her movies are an example of r/r either, and now I’m getting back to the main post).

Lightning and lightning bugs.

Was thinking of movie commentary in the car this morning, and of Return of the Living Dead, and something that’s been in my head on and off came to mind:  Why isn’t there a word that defines what gender you’re attracted to, but doesn’t do so in relation to you?

I mean, the movie has a striptease scene in a graveyard, and part of the commentary (or possibly an interview I read once; regardless) is along the lines of “Yeah, we did this for the guys… If we’d known there would have been so many girls in the audience, we’d have put in eye candy for them too.”

Which is actually kind of nice to hear, but that’s a tangent–what I’m trying to address right now is that the group meeting the definition of “finds women attractive” is not the same as the group that meets the definition of “guys”.  (And yes, I get that the movie is nearly thirty years old, I am perfectly aware of colloquial assumptions, I know there is a long habit of going with the “everyone is straight until proven otherwise” assumption, and I think it’s at best a bit of a lazy and horribly erasing habit but that is neither here nor there.  So.)

So what is the word or term for people who are attracted to men or women?  As humans we tend to label and categorize and articulate; I can’t believe that there hasn’t been a term a little less unwieldy than “straight women and gay men and bisexuals of either any or all genders” created yet.  I doubt it’s a perfect term, because one of the other things we tend to do is simplify and generalize, but there has to be something.

And am I completely missing something?  Christ knows it’s possible–this knapsack is invisible, but it does one hell of a job as a pair of blinders.


Edited to note:

The terms exist! They are androphile and gynophile.

Annoying Horror Story.

Alright.  Caught episodes 7 and 8 of American Horror story a couple of days ago, and taken together I’m actually really annoyed with the way the story is going.  My reasons are split up into a couple of posts, just because the rant about one particular issue was getting a bit long. Continue reading “Annoying Horror Story.”