MystiCon!

Hey folks! It’s MystiCon this week, which I am attending Saturday and Sunday as a guest, so our post is a little early this week. Here is a list of my appearances, in case you’re in town to check things out.

Saturday

  • 9 am: The Politics and Economics of Cover Art
  • 1 pm: Beyond Western Europe: Other World Cultures for Fantasy
  • 3 pm: Women on the Dark Side

Sunday

  • 10 am: The Last Racebenders/Genderbenders (M)
  • 12 pm: Epic Scale Fantasy (M)

I either volunteered or was volun-told that I am moderating two panels Sunday, as the (M) indicates. I’m really excited to do these two on race- and gender-bending and on epic scale fantasy with some wonderful authors, including R.S. Belcher and Liz Long. A lot of work goes into moderating, so I’ve been hustling to get that figured out! But I think the discussion will be great for all of these panels, and I’m excited to see some new and interesting topics this year.

I hope to see you all there!


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Labor Unions in space and hunting for mermaids

I loved Dune, surprising no one. I grew up on it, after all. But one thing that always bothered me about the story of the sandy Arrakis was the “divine right of kings” subtext throughout. If this also bothered you, you’re in luck. I’ve got a book with none of that going on.

Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells is the book, the first in a duology that concludes with Blood Binds the Pack. This is Dune if Dune were written by a pissed off feminist steeped in socialism, and let me tell you that I am here for that. Much like that book, the world-building in this short series walks the line between fantasy and science fiction. There is mining of special minerals that let people cross galaxies in a blink, and people tweaked and blended with those minerals that are used to pilot the ships across these vast interstellar distances. There is also native contamination by the same minerals, and otherworldly symptoms that come out of it.

That, though, is where the similarities end. No sandworms here. Instead, you’ll get biker gangs and labor disputes,  vision quests and corporate espionage. Also, found families and badass women abound. If this sounds like your jam, I encourage you to check out these books.

OtherLands

Changing pace a bit, let’s talk about a book that has made me laugh out loud more than any other both this year or last. In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan is a clever book with a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor perpetrated by a very sardonic protagonist. The only complaint I have about this book is that my ship is not canon. I won’t spoil what that ship was, but check this out if you like awkward teen romance done well, elves, mermaids, sword swinging, wonderfully bisexual and otherwise characters, and holier-than-thou brats of a scholastic bent. Also, lots of laughs. So many laughs.

Speaking of bisexual characters, allow me to recommend one last book. Into the Drowning Deep is by Mira Grant, and it is every horror movie you didn’t know you wanted to watch. This is a book with killer mermaids, naive scientists, and a trip out to sea. The main character is again bisexual, and a scientist, and perhaps too driven for her own good. I would certainly not have remained so composed with the mermaids who killed my sister coming for me as well. Expect to feel unsettled and a little iffy around water for a while with this one.


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A lifetime of juggling

My motivation has been super terrible in the month of February, probably because January kicked my butt. The dayjob got wild those last two weeks, there was some general drama, and I finished APM, the novella I had been working on, which rang in at a little under 26k. Which, by the way, you can see a sample of on my Patreon at the $1/month tier.

We also did the math on our finances (finally) and realized we’re really going to have to cut back on some of our discretionary spending, what with being house owners and such. The bills have been much higher than expected this winter – though I am hopeful they will go back down once the weather breaks and that will take some of the stress off. That means that writing lunches are a lot harder to swing. (Since my office doesn’t have a break room or anything, I was going out to get lunch in order to have privacy to do non-dayjob work, but that’s not going to fly now.) Add to all that the fact that the S.O. has gone to dayshift and it’s been a weirdly off-kilter couple of weeks, though not bad. I’ve enjoyed being in the kitchen more despite the obligation, and not going out as much gives the S.O. and I more time together usually.

All of this is to say that I rolled into February feeling exhausted, mostly, and really hoping for a snow day or three, and six days in that has not let up. But, being as it’s February, I’m technically behind on some of my deadlines with DoM (I built a cushion, but I didn’t want to use it this early). I am, however, back into editing as of this weekend. This round of edits is the good kind – tweaking word choice, adding detail, and making sure character dialogue and general descriptions are consistent with the prior book. It’s weird to realize how much I have evolved as a writer, honestly, comparing the two texts. I hope that I am successfully keeping the tone and voice of the prior work in a way that makes reading between one and the other fluid. I have 426 pages to get through and I think I’m on page 30, so it’s going to be a long month.

Jumping back to writing has been really difficult this time around, probably because I have been doing so much of it for so long without really feeling like I’ve hit any milestones. Impostor syndrome is a writer’s bread and butter, but I do feel that there’s a need for some positive feedback occasionally on this long road, and it feels like it’s been a while since I’ve had any of that. World Fantasy Convention was awesome, of course, and it was great to meet new friends and rekindle connections with old ones. I am really happy to have done that. But it was expensive. Futurescapes will be as well. Though I am excited, doing these things means using up my limited vacation time and using up money that we probably need for home repairs and other such fun adult things. And it’s time that I can’t rest. Lately, I feel sorely in need of rest. Preferably rest involving a mountain cabin with no internet, snow, and a hot tub, but I could handle an island instead, just a tent and the sand and quiet there, too. You need rest to regain your chutzpah, and the quality of that rest is important. Self-imposed isolation seems like the way to go.

So after Futurescapes, I’m going to take a break from appearances and workshops until next winter and focus on some other, non-writing projects for a few months. The goal is to push through April, get Daughter of Madness out, make it to MystiCon, RAI, and Futurescapes, and then take a break. During my break I’ll be creating for fun and mostly focusing on some of the things I need to wrap up at home and at the dayjob. Plus it will be summer, and maybe I can at least get some time on the riverbank, or maybe a long weekend adventure in.

That’s technically three months from now, but it’s something to work towards. Until then, it’s back to juggling.

Artificial intelligence in Blade Runner 2049

I’ve been thinking a lot about AI lately, probably because someone pointed me at Janelle Monae’s Metropolis-themed albums. You may remember I did a whole blogpost in response to Ex Machina, comparing it to Metropolis. The latter movie is a fascinating piece of cultural history to me, as a woman and a speculative fiction author, so no doubt it will come up again. (You may also check out this post comparing depiction of AI.)

One of the things that fascinates me about the trope of a built artificial intelligence is the reasons that the creators (in narrative and of the narrative) code specific AIs as feminine. The feminine AI is, typically, a source of comfort, comfort that generally involves sex work but may not always. We see this very clearly in Metropolis, where the scientist creates a robot in the image of a woman he desires, and in Ex Machina, where the scientist creates multiple women, often voiceless, purely for the purposes of sex and a stunted type of companionship (though he rationalizes his inventions as more than that). But this narrative choice is simultaneously most poignant and most disturbing in the more recent Blade Runner 2049.

I posted about this movie when it came out, and I loved it. But I didn’t get into my exact emotional responses to the relationship between Joi and K because there was so much going on with the movie. K believes that he loves Joi, and Joi believes (as much as she can believe, which is left up to the viewer) that she loves K. But in the end, Joi is created to believe that she loves K. She is created to serve him. Can love that is not chosen be love?

What is fascinating to me about Joi’s character is how she is built to fulfill the idea of what a woman is. Unlike the replicants, who are largely shown behaving with clear autonomy and are able to affect change in the narrative, Joi is utterly loyal – and utterly powerless. In no scene is this more apparent than when K crashlands in the junkyard. Joi, experiencing a system error, is trying to wake him up, trying to help him in whatever way she can. But she cannot help him. She cannot even help herself.

Joi

Joi needs another woman to be able to even touch K in the way that she wants to. She needs a flesh-and-blood woman’s active participation to be intimate with K, and it is debatable how much control of that interaction she has, forced to sync each of her motions with Mariette’s own to maintain what is, in the end, an illusion. Whatever Joi feels, however she has been allowed to be an individual in her motivations and emotions, she is functionally without agency. Her existence is even more pitiful than K’s. At least he can kill those who hurt him. Joi can only be erased.

What is so powerful for me about the narrative role that Joi plays is that she does seem to care. In an article on Animation World Network, VFX supervisor Richard Hoover says this about the junkyard scene: “It was important to depict her attachment to K as her systems were failing. She tries to save K, but she can’t touch him or pull him from the wreckage. It was an emotional scene.” I respectfully disagree. It wasn’t just an emotional scene.

It was a horror movie.

There’s a popular concept in feminist critique called “fridging”. As defined, “‘Fridging’ (Short for ‘Women in Refrigerators’) Refers to an act where the villain kills, maims, depowers, or rapes someone close to the hero in order to break the hero’s spirit and attempt to make the hero chase him.” It surprised me not at all when Joi met her fate later in the movie. Joi was an idea of what women are, from the beginning. She was an idea of a housewife, of a companion, of a lover. She was, in the end, none of those things. She was a lie that K was told, that he let himself be told, by systems of power.

And that is what is so interesting, for me, about Joi’s character. Joi is a lie told about what women are, or perhaps about what it is desirable for women to be. But in the end, her vulnerable and truly self-less nature causes K nothing but pain. Just as systems of patriarchy often do not benefit individual men when enforced upon partners they rely on, K is not benefited by the lie of Joi’s character. He becomes dependent, and, later, lost. The lynchpin of his life was, after all, so easily twisted and stolen.

Unlike many viewers, I don’t think that Joi lacked feelings. I think that Joi was so stripped of agency as to have those feelings be fundamentally meaningless or harmful. And this reading is the horror movie, for me, because it is the horror of the narrative of womanhood that we are told, day after day. Powerlessness corrupts, and in Joi’s case, powerlessness erases.


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