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April 2009

Michael Bérubé on the fate of Cultural Studies

Kathryn Cramer

A long time ago, when Cultural Studies was all the rage, I was in graduate school. And I thought Cultural Studies was neat because the rage for Cultural Studies allowed me to  talk about things like genre fiction and publishing with professors whose interests would otherwise have been too refined to  allow me to discuss such things in an Ivy League graduate school. 

The beginning of the end was when one of my advisors asked me if I was independently wealthy after I described for her my intended course of study. This took a while to sink in, but when it did, I dropped out of graduate school and got a job.

The problem with Cultural Studies when I was in graduate school was that while it allowed the pretext under which I could discuss genre literature, making claims that any particular book was better than any other book and that it was possible to tell the difference between good books and bad books seemed to be streng verboten under Cutural Studies rules.

My final term in grad school, I bumped my head on a chair while writing my final papers and got a concussion, and this brought me to my senses. So I ran away with the circus, or rather went to work as an editor of hypertext fiction for Eastgate Systems, showing up for work shortly after New Year's Day in 1994, a decision I have never regretted.

I had not thought about Cultural Studies in some time. But Michael Bérubé is an academic, and so he has watched its course. He has a long post entitled, "the university after what, now?" which I won't attempt to summarize, but is very much worth reading. But here's a sample: 

. . . I want to accentuate the negative in order to point out that over the past 25 years there has been a great deal of cultural-studies triumphalism that now seems unwarranted or embarrassing. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, we heard (and I believed) that cultural studies would fan out across the disciplines of the humanities and social sciences, inducing them to become at once more self-interrogating and more open to public engagement. Some people even suggested, either in hope or in fear, that cultural studies would become the name for the humanities and social sciences in toto. And lest this sound grandiose, I want to insist that there was, at the time, good reason to think this way. The period of theoretical ferment that began in the late 1960s and gained traction in the 1970s seemed to have reached the boiling point: when Illinois held its “Cultural Studies Now and in the Future” conference in 1990, the program included historians, media theorists, sociologists, anthropologists, and AIDS activists; and the theoretical terrain, over which cultural studies had held its earlier skirmishes with deconstruction, with psychoanalysis, with feminism, and of course with the epochal struggle of Althusserians and neo-Gramscians, had lately been enriched by the arrival of Foucauldian historicism and queer theory. It really did seem plausible that cultural studies could be the start of something big, something that would have a profound intellectual and institutional impact on the American university.

Oh God, how glad I am that I got out while the getting was good and went out and just did weird stuff that I felt like, and published a bunch of anthologies which said over and over, I can too tell the good from the bad, and here's what you ought to be reading. 

Just where would I be now if I'd played by the Cultural Studies rules?


Reading Bruce Sterling's "Black Swan"

Interzone-221-cover I just read Bruce Sterling's "Black Swan" (Interzone, Issue 221). I'd picked up the magazine intending to read Alaya Dawn Johnson's fantasy story in the issue, but when I saw the title of the Sterling story, I decided to read it first. (Johnson's an interesting new writer whom we've reprinted a couple of times before.)

BruceI was seduced by the Sterling story. Not just that it was by Chairman Bruce, but the title itself is an incredible narrative hook. I have a real fascination with unexpected catastrophic large-scale events driven by the interaction of simple principles. I am a sucker for Black Swan theory. The term "black swan" is, I gather, a coinage of Nassim Nicholas Taleb whose website is called fooledbyrandomness.com.

Blackswan The set-up os the story is pure old-school cyberpunk: a somewhat corrupt tech journalist is meeting in a cafe with a guy dressed all in black who's involved in some kind of industrial espionage. Okay. We know whose movement we're in.

But line by line, the story just gets weirder, appropriating a bunch of other sf movements: alternate history, quantum-mechanical hard sf, the power fantasy, etc.

And Sterling has packed a whole novel's worth of material in a story, on his way there. And it is bursting with moments of well-observed reality. I was going to quote a few, but I think this is a story that should be read in sequence. 

And then read again. I have a suspicion it will be different the second time through.


Four thoughts on blogging

  1. If you have something nice to say about someone, try to mention their name in the title of your post.
  2. What's happening today may not be as interesting as something that happened a few years ago. Write about what's interesting.
  3. Don't join in on Internet stonings. The adrenaline rush isn't worth it and you may regret what you said in the morning. If the issue is that important, what you have to say will still be worth saying next week.
  4. Don't be snarky. Snarky gets old fast. And unless you take it down, your post will be a up long time.

Mathoms from the Time Closet: The Discon 1 progress report, 1963

Nice 3 color illo on the front of the 1963 WorldCon progress report:

Discon 1 Progress Report p. 1

George Scithers was "Chairman, Parlimentarian, and Calculating Programmer."

Discon 1 Progress Report p. 2

Hotel rates? Nine bucks for a single, fourteen for a double. Membership? Two dollars. Honest.

Discon 1 Progress Report p. 3

The Guest of Honor was Murray Leinster.

Discon 1 Progress Report p. 4

It was David's first convention. One of the things that's great about living in the same house with him is that he keeps this kind of stuff. Here's how David remembers it:

I attended my first sf convention in 1963, Discon, having been unable to attend the Pittsburgh and Chicago conventions just prior. When I was interviewing Joe Haldeman as Guest of Honor at Confluence in Pittsburgh, I asked in the course of the discussion about his first convention, and it turned out that Joe and Gay as teenagers had attended Discon and even entered the masquerade (as Rhysling, Heinlein’s blind poet, and a lady from the Anti-Sex League in Nineteen Eighty-Four, respectively). I had just graduated college and was alone that evening, so I sat at a round table with an older gentleman for two hours and talked about myself and about sf while the masquerade and dance went on. Les Gerber, a New York fan, was dressed as Terry Carr in a sort of zoot suit. John and Joni Stopa were mostly undressed as Incubus and Succubus, for which they won first prize.

The gentleman I was talking to was Harry Warner, and when I told Paul Williams and my other fan acquaintances, they didn’t at first believe me. I was relatively new to fandom and did not know until their astonishment and disbelief that I had spent an evening with the hermit of Hagerstown, whom none of them had met. I had earlier that day been introduced to Walter Breen, so I looked up his Fanac report on the convention years later. It turned out that young Bill Gibson was in that masquerade as a priest of the beetle god. It was his first convention, too. And Mike Resnick’s

(I was born in 1962; I didn't go.)


I seem to have been prophetic: The Madlyn Primoff "Incident"

The other day, I wrote a meditation on Lenore Skenazy's Free Range Kids in which I compared the plight of American mothers to what it must have been like to live in East Germany. I said:

It seems to me that the object of control of all this anxiety is not children, but rather their parents, specifically their mothers. And what Skenazy describes is a three-decades-long process of de-liberating their mothers by insisting that anyone too young to get a driver's license needs direct adult supervision at all times. Further, though Skenazy tries to deal with this cheerfully, there is a kind of police-state-like enforcement of this de-liberation which reminds me of what it might have been like to live in a place like the German Democratic Republic (except that you don't get shot): every one is watching you and anyone can report you to either the authorities or the media at any time. Something innocent can bring Child Protective Services or a Nancy Grace to your door at any moment.

People can and do call the cops on their neighbors for allowing a 9-year-old to leave the yard, and in this day-and-age the police take this seriously. Off-handed and inaccurate statements by children can be used to incriminate the parents. If anything about you makes the parents of your kids' playdates nervous, beware. Someone may make an example of you.

. . . and went on to say . . .

Skenazy is tough and brave and I wish she lived in my neighborhood, but she does not offer much of a solution for the problem of overzealous adults: For American mothers today, to quote Jean Paul Sartre's No Exit, L'enfer, c'est les autres (Hell is other people).

This morning, I happened to look at my blog's Sitemeter before heading off to a Church sale, and I noticed that for some reason that this post had suddenly attracted a huge amount of traffic, though I couldn't tell why.

Now I know what's up. I went over to Skenazy's blog and read about what the Wall Street Journal is calling . . . [drum roll, please] . . . "The Madlyn Primoff Incident." 

From the WSJ:

Madlyn Primoff, a 45-year-old mother of 10- and 12-year-old daughters, couldn’t take their squabbling anymore as she drove them on Sunday through a commercial part of White Plains, N.Y., in suburban Westchester County. She ordered them out of the car and drove off. The 12-year-old somehow managed to catch up with Ms. Primoff and get back in, but the 10-year-old, lost and frightened, was found by someone on the street and taken to the police. Ms. Primoff, who had called her town’s police to report her daughter as missing, was directed to the White Plains police, who arrested her on a charge of child endangerment. She has pleaded not guilty.

(John Edwards III, writing for the WSJ, even compared her to Skenazy!)

I seem to have been prophetic. Primoff's parenting transgression, about ten miles from my house, which should have been something for her family, Child Protective Services, and a therapist or three to hash out, has become the Bad Mommy Perfect Media-storm. She's suddenly being treated like the next Andrea Yates over something that is basically none of our business.

Not only did her family's difficult afternoon make the Wall Street Journal, it made The New York Times, ABC, the TimesOnline, USA Today, Fox News (God help her!), MSNBC, etc. And the ever-classy Lower Hudson Journal, managed to weave Primoff's story into an article entitled, "Police: Cortlandt mom used daughter, 12, to shoplift." 

The press ran around with TV cameras, and got her neighbors to condemn her, published her mug shot world-wide, and have in essence branded her a Mama bin Laden: a mother terrorist.

And some of the bloggers are , if anything, worse. I found one guy, with a fetish for child abuse stories,  who posted her address and  a Google map showing how to get to her house. He also published the name of her employer, her office address, and the names of some of the law firm's clients. (A sick man, if you ask me.)

Listen people, the Baader-Meinhof gang used to have to rob a bank and hold the guards hostage to get this kind of coverage. This is a private matter which should be reolved privately, and is none of our business.


See also Romi Lassally at The Huffington Post, Lenore Skenazy, Aylette Waldman, and Jezebel.


What We're Reading

Bestofstuntology300 Peter is reading Sam Bartlett's Stuntology: "Absurd pranks and pointless techniques to amuse yourself, amaze your friends, and annoy everyone else." A mother who buys such a book for her 11-year son gets what she paid for. (Or what she deserves?)

LatinforPeople I am reading Latin for People : Latina Pro Populo by Alexander & Nicolas Humez, recommended  by Eileen Gunn, preparing myself to help my son get back on track with Latin. (Yes, he's taking Latin in the 6th grade.) 

Cov0904lg-250 I am also reading the April/May F&SF, which contains a terrific story by Ellen Kushner, "A Wild and Wicked Youth." (I read it a second time this afternoon.)


Old NYRSF photos

A few weeks ago, I thought I'd lost most of the The New York Review of Science Fiction back-issue files because I couldn't fine them on my hard drive. Turns out they were on a different computer in the house.  I've been copying them to my computer, so I know where to find them. Looking through the files, I've found some marvelous photos.  

Here us the original 1988 NYRSF staff, minus David Hartwell, who took the photo, and contributing editor Samuel R. Delany, in whose apartment we met weekly until Chip got a good academic gig out of town.

Susan Palwick, Kathryn Cramer, Tom Weber (aka Soren DeSelby), Teresa Nielsen Hayden & Patrick Nielsen Hayden in the Hartwell kitchen in Pleasantville, NY, 1988

Susan Palwick, Kathryn Cramer, Tom Weber (aka Soren "Scraps" DeSelby), Teresa Nielsen Hayden & Patrick Nielsen Hayden in the Hartwell kitchen in Pleasantville, NY, 1988.

Delany telling a story to my then-small son Peter. Peter was quite entranced. Chip was waiting for us all to depart for ReaderCon. (Chip is great with small children.)

Samuel R. Delany tells a story to Peter Hartwell

Plus an incriminating photo from issue 88, the first issue where we ran a photo section.

David Hartwell, Michael Swanwick, James Patrick Kelly, & Tim Powers

David Hartwell, Michael Swanwick, James Patrick Kelly, & Tim Powers.


Torture, American Style: “a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm”

From The New York Times, a stunning article: In Adopting Harsh Tactics, No Inquiry Into Their Past Use

In a series of high-level meetings in 2002, without a single dissent from cabinet members or lawmakers, the United States for the first time officially embraced the brutal methods of interrogation it had always condemned.

This extraordinary consensus was possible, an examination by The New York Times shows, largely because no one involved — not the top two C.I.A. officials who were pushing the program, not the senior aides to President George W. Bush, not the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees — investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with little debate.

According to several former top officials involved in the discussions seven years ago, they did not know that the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, had been created decades earlier to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans.

Even George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director who insisted that the agency had thoroughly researched its proposal and pressed it on other officials, did not examine the history of the most shocking method, the near-drowning technique known as waterboarding.

The top officials he briefed did not learn that waterboarding had been prosecuted by the United States in war-crimes trials after World War II and was a well-documented favorite of despotic governments since the Spanish Inquisition; one waterboard used under Pol Pot was even on display at the genocide museum in Cambodia.

They did not know that some veteran trainers from the SERE program itself had warned in internal memorandums that, morality aside, the methods were ineffective. Nor were most of the officials aware that the former military psychologist who played a central role in persuading C.I.A. officials to use the harsh methods had never conducted a real interrogation, or that the Justice Department lawyer most responsible for declaring the methods legal had idiosyncratic ideas that even the Bush Justice Department would later renounce.

The process was “a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm,” a former C.I.A. official said.


Reading Lenore Skenazy's Free Range Kids

Free-range-cover13 I pre-ordered Lenore Skanazy's book Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedon We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry in January and when the book was released this month, it came in the mail.

Skenazy was dubbed "America's Worst Mom" after she wrote about letting her 9-year-old ride the New York City subways by himself. Her writing style is cheerful and entertaining, but what she's writing about is, to me at least, a scary subject: the near-total loss of autonomy by American children over the past 30 years. While I never rode the New York City subways until I was an adult, when I was nine, in 1971, I rode the Munich subways by myself, and so did other kids. And my habits of independence continued once I returned to the US (though Seattle had no subways for me to ride).

America is now gripped with terrible anxiety about what will happen to kids if they are not constantly under the watchful eye of a parent or some paid professional. And, as Lenore Skenazy points out, the crime statistics do not bear out the claim that this is a more dangerous era. It is not. We only behave as though it is. Skenazy discusses the issue of balancing children's freedom and safety and aims to empower parents to give their children the kind of freedom they themselves enjoyed as children.

I read her book immediately after reading a book about genocide, Ponary Diary 1941-1943: A Bysrander's Account of Mass Murder by Kazimierez Sakowicz  -- see my post, Reading Kazimierz Sakowicz -- an odd juxtaposition, to say the least. Sakowicz's eyewitness account describes the brutal murders of many children and infants. And indeed, other than natural disasters and epidemics, the main cause of large-scale deaths of children is military, political, religious, or ethnic violence. So first I read a book about genocide and then about how relatively safe children are if we let them out of our sight.

This raised, for me, an interesting question. What is all this anxiety about that Skenazy describes? Is it just a function of our fear-driven media and Americans' very shaky command of statistics? Is it a function of litigation-mad parents? Did women trade in their children's freedom for their own? Or is it a function of the rise of the suburbs and car culture? Is everyone expecting a burned turf divorce? Is this the war of the super-mothers? Where does the anxiety come from? 

It seems to me that the object of control of all this anxiety is not children, but rather their parents, specifically their mothers. And what Skenazy describes is a three-decades-long process of de-liberating their mothers by insisting that anyone too young to get a driver's license needs direct adult supervision at all times. Further, though Skenazy tries to deal with this cheerfully, there is a kind of police-state-like enforcement of this de-liberation which reminds me of what it might have been like to live in a place like the German Democratic Republic (except that you don't get shot): every one is watching you and anyone can report you to either the authorities or the media at any time. Something innocent can bring Child Protective Services or a Nancy Grace to your door at any moment.

People can and do call the cops on their neighbors for allowing a 9-year-old to leave the yard, and in this day-and-age the police take this seriously. Off-handed and inaccurate statements by children can be used to incriminate the parents. If anything about you makes the parents of your kids' playdates nervous, beware. Someone may make an example of you. (These days, you're not even supposed to let your cat outside!)

Why the de-liberation of both mother and child? Whose interest does it serve? Certainly not the children. It serves the interests of towns that don't want to pay for sidewalks. It serves the interests of rating-hungry media like CNN (known in this household as Child-abuse News Network). It serves the interests of cultural conservatives. It serves the interests of car makers if our kids have to be driven everywhere. It serves the interests of lawyers, especially divorce lawyers. It serves the interests of insurance companies. In short, there are many conflicting social forces at work.

I can easily follow her instructions for how to feel at ease letting my children have freedom. The hard part is other adults.  Skenazy titles her chapter 6 on the problem of overzealous adults "Ignore the Blamers." The hazards presented by overzealous are not just social disapproval of the other mothers of the playgroup. In upper middle class suburbia, the other mothers really do not need you, and so are capable  of terrible behavior towards you or your child if made even slightly socially uncomfortable. 

Skenazy is tough and brave and I wish she lived in my neighborhood, but she does not offer much of a solution for the problem of overzealous adults: For American mothers today, to quote Jean Paul Sartre's No Exit, L'enfer, c'est les autres (Hell is other people). 


"Racism and Science Fiction" posted on the NYRSF site

At the request of a NYRSF subscriber and by permission of Samuel R. Delany, I have posted Delany's 1998 essay "Racism and Science Fiction" to The New York Review of Science Fiction site.


Continue reading ""Racism and Science Fiction" posted on the NYRSF site" »


Reading Kazimierz Sakowicz

On my 47th birthday, I read Ponary Diary 1941-1943: A Bystander's Account of a Mass Murder by Kazimierz Sakowicz, ed. Yitzhak Arad (Yale University Press, 2005). I first picked up the book last week, at Lyrical Ballad in Saratoga Springs, because I am descended of Sakwitzses who emigrated from Riesigk, a tiny town in Germany near Dessau to Comfort, Texas, in the 19th century. 

When my parents and I visited Riesigk after the German currency conversion but before German reunification, we noticed in the graveyards that there were various spellings of the family last name, and that there was almost no one of any variation of that last name after World War II. So I was curious about someone with a last name spelled "Sakowicz." Ancestry.com tells me that it is a Polish surname: patronymic from the personal name Sak, a reduced form of Isaak (see Isaac).

My great grandfather Sakwitz was born in in Reisigk in 1871 and arrived in the US in 1881; he later worked for the railroads. When we visited Reisigk in the 1990s, we asked why there were few Sakwitz graves in the village cemetery after Word War II. We were told that the adult males of the surname were sent to the Russian front and did not come back.

The historical importance of Sakowicz's book is that it is a bystander diary chronicling the mass murder of about 60,000 people, mostly Lithuanian Jews. Kazimierz Sakowicz seems to have worked at the train station in Paneriai (in Polish, callled Ponary), Lithuania, near where the mass murders took place under Nazi occupation. On July 11, 1941, he began to record what he saw in very brief, very plain journal entries. 

They typically read like this:

November 25

Trucks, women children, a few men. A total of nine trucks. At the entrance to the gate they tried to jump. Beaten.

He records tens of thousands of murders. Before the war, he had been a newspaper owner in a city nearby. It's not clear what he intended to do with the records he was keeping. He may have been a member of the Polish underground.

What I found especially striking about it was the narrative voice. The diary is laconic, with very little in the way of editorializing. One of the most important things it documents is the massacre on April 4th, 1943, during which 4,000 people were killed in Ponary. In it is a passage that for me forms the core of the book.

The Lithuanians throw the clothing onto a pile; suddenly one of the Lithuanians pulls out a child from under the clothing and throws him into the pit; again a child, and again another. In the same way -- into the pit. One the the Lithuanians stands over the pit and shoots at these children, as we can see.
What is this? The desperate mothers thought that in this way "they had saved" the lives of the children, hiding under the clothing. Evidently, they expected that when the clothing was collected the children hidden in that way might be saved. Unfortunately. (p. 73)

In this stark, terse prose it becomes evident that those going to their deaths have more faith in the basic humanity of the Lithuanians of Ponary  (and in the Nazis) than does our narrator. He has already seen tens of thousands die. In only a few cases was he able to find out their names.

What is hard to discover or understand from his narratives is how Ponary came to acquiesce to becoming a massive waste dump for human remains. The effect on the town is not subtle:

July and August 1943
That Myszka [a small dog whose name means "little mouse" and who is referred to elsewhere as the "vampire dog"] digs up corpses does not surprise anyone because they buried them badly (it's a waste of time to bury them deep). In general everything is only just covered, even when they were killed last year. So there is a horrible stench at the base. Everywhere one can see pieces of discarded clothing, men's, children's, women's, various bits of the wardrobe, underwear, women's slippers, men's caps, gloves, shirts . . . Occasionally, she brings something when she returns. One time -- it was August of 1943 -- she carried an intestine but, terrified, dropped it down before Sieniuc's plot. Children placed it on Sieniuc's fence. (p. 100-101)

Sakowitcz was shot in 1944, and his diaries were published only after the collapse of the Soviet Union.


Clay Shirky has an excellent post on #amazonfail

ShikybyDoctorow The Failure of #amazonfail (I have quoted extensively, but read the whole thing):

In 1987, a teenage girl in suburban New York was discovered wrapped in a garbage bag, smeared with feces, with racial epithets scrawled on her torso. She had been attacked by half a dozen white men, then left in that state on the grounds of an apartment building. As the court case against her accused assailants proceeded, it became clear that she’d actually faked the attack, in order not to be punished for running away from home. Though the event initially triggered enormous moral outrage, evidence that the event didn’t actually happen didn’t reverse that outrage. Moral judgment is harder to reverse than other, less emotional forms; when an event precipitates the cleansing anger of righteousness, admitting you were mistaken feels dirty. As a result, there can be an enormous premium put on finding rationales to continue to feel aggrieved, should the initial one disappear. Call it ‘conservation of outrage.’

A lot of us behaved like that this week, in our fury at Amazon. After an enormous number of books relating to lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgendered (LGBT) themes lost their Amazon sales rank, and therefore their visibility in certain Amazon list and search functions, we participated in a public campaign, largely coordinated via the Twitter keyword #amazonfail (a form of labeling called a hashtag) because of a perceived injustice at the hands of that company, an injustice that didn’t actually occur.

. . .

So it is here. Whatever stupidities Amazon is guilty of, none of them are hanging offenses. The problems they have with labeling and handling contested categories is a problem with all categorization systems since the world began. Metadata is worldview; sorting is a political act. Amazon would love to avoid those problems if they could – who needs the tsouris? — but they can’t. No one gets cataloging “right” in any perfect sense, and no algorithm returns the “correct” results. We know that, because we see it every day, in every large-scale system we use. No set of labels or algorithms solves anything once and for all; any working system for showing data to the user is a bag of optimizations and tradeoffs that are a lot worse than some Platonic ideal, but a lot better than nothing.

We know all that, but we’re no longer willing to cut Amazon any slack, because we don’t trust them, and we don’t trust them because we feel like they did something bad, even though we now know, intellectually, that they didn’t actually do the bad thing we’ve come to hate them for. They didn’t intend to silence gay-themed work, and they didn’t provide the means for groups of anti-gay bigots to do so either. Even if the employee currently blamed for the change in the database turned out to be a virulent homophobe, the problem is in not having checks and balances for making changes to the database, not widespread bias.

We’re used to the future turning out differently than we expected; it happens all the time. When the past turns out differently, though, it can get really upsetting, and because people don’t like that kind of upset, we’re at risk of believing false things rather than revising our sense of what actually happened.

We shouldn’t let that happen here; conservation of outrage is the wrong answer. We can apologize to Amazon while not losing sight of the fact that homophobic bias is wrong and we have to fight it everywhere it exists. What we can’t do, can’t afford to do if we want to think of ourselves as people who care about injustice, is to fight it in places it doesn’t exist.

Yes. Yes. And yes. Rushing to judgement does not justice serve.

See also Darren Barefoot.

Photo of Clay Shirky by Cory Doctorow.


What I've been reading lately

Cov0903lg-250 I've been bouncing from book to book and as is often the case with me I am reading several books. As usual, I am reading short stories, though I haven't really geared up for seriously plowing through the short fiction of 2009 yet.

Regarding fiction, I was most recently reading the March issue of F&SF: "Shadow-Below" by Robert Reed is terrific. Reed stories vary widely in technique, tone, and approach. Here's he's writing a Gene Wolfe-type story. Good stuff. "The Unstrung Zither" by Yoon Ha Lee is also really fine; I appreciate it for its mathematical/musical aesthetic logic. Getting to the ending is like reading a good proof. I've read half of Marc Laidlaw's "Quickstone" which is going well so far. In general, this seems a really strong issue of F&SF.

But mostly I've been reading non-fiction: either ordering books on impulse and then trying to remember why I bought them when they come in the mail a week later, or cooling my heels while David loots shops large used bookstores.

9780230218659 Today, I was reading Social Work: Themes, Issues, and Critical Debates (2nd edition), Robert Adams, Lena Dominelli, & Malcolm Payne, eds. I bought it for Mary Langan's essay "The Legacy of Radical Social Work," but have dipped in here and there reading individual essays.

Diffjacket Based on a comment section recommendation, I ordered Scott E. Page's The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Schools, Firms, Schools, and Societies. I've read the beginning, which was pretty good. Then he got into arguments concerning how problems that are hard from one perspective can be easy when translated into a different genre of though, and I found myself nodding, yeah, yeah, category theory and decided to put the book aside until I was willing to follow the actual mathematical and logical arguments closely, since in terms of the arguments that draw on category theory, he's preaching to the choir with me. Seems to be a good book, though not bedtime reading; I was reading it at bedtime. (He does discuss the extent to which ethnic and gender diversity are and are not what he's talking about.) Page is "a professor of Complex Systems, Political Science, and Economics." It is a rigorous book, which is good.

Bookcover The book I finished yesterday is Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace by Noa Davenport, Ruth Distler Schwartz, & Gail Pursell Elliott. It is a very useful book for anyone who has experienced mobbing. The writing is very utilitarian, and while it does pull the plow, one could wish for the prose style of someone like Oliver Sacks. 

Cover The book I was reading, with some fascination, on the way back from Westport this weekend is Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief by Bill Mason. I bought it in Lake Placid while waiting for David to finish going through the stock at With Pipe and Book. What is most interesting about the book is the point of view. Mason robbed celebrities, because they felt socially compelled to show of their jewels. He viewed the society pages as a catalog. And once he'd seen someone with what he called "serious stones" it became an idea fix: he couldn't stop thinking about the details of how he would take them. For lack of a better phrasing, Mason seems to be a man with tremendous discipline and almost no impulse control. To an extent, the jewel heists are things that happen to him rather than things he does. I'm about a third of the way through the book.

3124124AWXL._SL500_AA240_ Recently read: White Awareness: Handbook for Anti-Racism Training by Judith H. Katz. I have the 2nd edition. It is a quick read, a book rooted in the 12-step movement, conceiving of racism as a disease in need of treatment. By reputation, it is the book that coined the equation "racism = prejudice plus power." In the book, it's on page 53, almost an aside, an optional addition to dictionary definitions of racism. The failings of this book's approach are discussed in Mary Langan's  essay mentioned above. It tends to cause acrimonious confrontations.

There are several books I have in hand but have not yet started: 

Update 4/15/09: I finished Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief. Fun book.


A photo I took is used in the package of Mary Koth Lutton's new CD, To Vermont with Love

With permission, Mary Koth Lutton used a photo of mine as part of the interior package of To Vermont with Love. Here's the cover:

Mary Koth Lutton: To Vermont with Love

. . . and here's the interior:

Mary Koth Lutton: To Vermont with Love interior

. . . and here's my original photo:

sunrise over the lake

I gather it will soon be for sale via Amazon and at CDBaby, the independent music distributor.

Also, some of my other Lake Champlain work is coming out from a book on the art of Lake Champlain from a publisher in Vermont. I'm not sure what the pub date is.

Continue reading "A photo I took is used in the package of Mary Koth Lutton's new CD, To Vermont with Love" »


Philip K. Dick Awards announced

On behalf of the administrators of the Philip K. Dick Award, David Hartwell & Gordon Van Gelder, I have updated the award's official website to reflect that EMISSARIES FROM THE DEAD by Adam-Troy Castro (Eos Books) and TERMINAL MIND by David Walton  (Meadowhawk Press) have shared the Philip K. Dick Award for the 2008 award year. It was a tie. No Special Citation was awarded. For more information, see the official announcement.

(I host the award site on my Typepad account; Gordon usually posts the announcements.)


io9 commenters suggest Paolo Bacigalupi should kill himself; our field should be better than this

I am really bothered by some of the comments posted in the io9 comment section when Charlie Jane Anders  posted part of Paolo Bacigalupi's interview with EcoGreek under the title The Best Green Technology Is Population Control. Never mind the general run of comments that amounted to "Fuck you Paolo," there were multiple comments suggesting that he kill himself.

If he believes less people are the answer, fine…off yourself and save us the trouble of hearing your filth.

. . . and . . .

Yes, let's destroy every single person in the upper, all-polluting, opulent reaches of society.

Hey Paolo, you first fucker.

What is the matter with people? And where was the comment moderation? Io9 is a for-profit adverstising-driven commercial blog. Surely they can afford an experienced moderator.

I would really like to believe that our field is better than this.

(Via Paolo Bacigalupi.)


Antiquarian Adventures: "A curious mode of salutation"

We are sorting antiquarian books in our Westport, NY storefront this afternoon, and encountered this peculiar illustration in the book The Story of Exploration and Adventure in Africa Compiled from the Most Authoritative Sources, Philadelphia: Henry Altemus, 1896.

A curious mode of salutation

The accompanying text read: "The natives of [Kalai] have a curious way of saluting strangers. Instead of bowing, they throw themselves on their backs on the ground , rolling from side to side and slapping themselves on the thighs, while they utter the words, "Kina bomba! kina bomba!" In vain Livingston implored them to stop."

Presumably "Kina bomba" translates to "Dr. Livingston, I presume."


John Hertz accused of being a "clothesist"!

As read in Vanamonde by John Hertz, dated April 23, 2008, a letter of comment from one John DeChancie, which begins:

If you think I'd consider informal anything less than a white tie, you surely don't know me very well, do you? Also you invite  the inference you're a clothesist.

The letter continues with what appears to be a lengthy quotation from Shaw.

John Hertz & Cheryl Morgan, Best Fan Writer Nominees

John Hertz & Cheryl Morgan, Best Fan Writer Nominees, 2006; they have a rematch in this year's Hugo nominations.


Charlie Stross on Web 2.0 as an attractive nuisance

Charles Stross & Kathryn Cramer

Antisocial Networking:

And what I've noticed is that all successful social network sites are structured to provide an attractive nuisance.

This isn't to say that they aren't sometimes useful, but in order to attract users, a social networking side like Facebook or LinkedIn has to keep folks coming back. It's not enough to get them to create a user ID in the first place; I've seen some estimates that around 90% of legitimate, human-derived accounts on social networking sites are inactive. (I qualify this as human-derived because a whole lot of them are bot-generated accounts used by spammers. I'm talking about the ones with a human brain behind the name.) So the successful sites need to get real humans to keep coming back — especially if they're going to raise the advertising revenue from click-throughs to pay their bandwidth bills — and the developers are therefore subjected to a ruthless Darwinian selection pressure: add attractive nuisances, or die.

We can see this on FaceBook with its endless games. (I sometimes wonder if I'm a Facebook widower.) We can see this on LJ with its endless rounds of emotional affirmation in comment threads. We used to see it on USENET back in the eighties and nineties, with the flamewar season. Social networks don't grow because they provide utility to their users: they grow because they keep pushing the social stimulus button.

I do get something out of Facebook (by disabling all games and other intrusive apps), and a little bit out of Twitter. But in general, I think Charlie's spot on.


Year's Best Fantasy 9 Table of Contents

Year's Best Fantasy 9, David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer, eds. table of contents. (Forthcoming from Tor.com in 2009.)

Shoggoths in Bloom • Elizabeth Bear

The Rabbi’s Hobby • Peter Beagle

Running the Snake • Kage Baker

The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm • Daryl Gregory

Reader’s Guide • Lisa Goldstein

The Salting and Canning of Benevolence D. • Al Michaud

Araminta, or, the Wreck of the Amphidrake • Naomi Novik

A Buyer’s Guide to Maps of Antarctica • Catherynne M. Valente

From the Clay of His Heart • John Brown

If Angels Fight • Richard Bowes

26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss • Kij Johnson

Philologos; or, A Murder in Bistrita • Debra Doyle & James MacDonald

Film-Makers of Mars • Geoff Ryman

Childrun • Marc Laidlaw

Queen of the Sunlit Shore • Liz Williams

Lady Witherspoon’s Solution • James Morrow

Dearest Cecily • Kristine Dikeman

Ringing the Changes in Okotoks, Alberta • Randy McCharles

Caverns of Mystery • Kage Baker

Skin Deep • Richard Parks

King Pelles the Sure • Peter Beagle

A Guided Tour in the Kingdom of the Dead • Richard Harland

Avast, Abaft! • Howard Waldrop

Gift from a Spring • Delia Sherman

The First Editions • James Stoddard

The Olverung • Stephen Woodworth 

Daltharee • Jeffrey Ford

The Forest • Kim Wilkins