the inevitably necessary political post

(if after reading this post you find yourself wondering, what the heck brought that on? then don’t worry. it’s not aimed at you.)

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I am not anonymous. It’s pretty easy to know my real name, and thus know where else I blog, and other facts about me, most of which are very strongly correlated with a certain kind of politics. From time to time I slip and that political bias leaks out here at haibane.info. Here, I am not interested in being publicly liberal like John Scalzi or alt-right like Vox Day or even partisan on niche issues but determined to link all sides fairly like Mike Glyer. I just want to write about stuff that I like.

In a few days, we enter a new political era, and this has certain people emotional for different reasons. That’s understandable. I like a good playoff game as much as the next guy, and I enjoyed the game so much more when Dallas tied the game – twice – and Rodgers only had 30 seconds left. The emotion I felt, and would have felt had it gone the other way, is real. Same thing with politics. I am allowed to feel what I feel, and so is everyone else. This is the Internet, however, and some people just don’t seem to grok this.

There are people I disagree with profoundly with whom I am able to have a perfectly civil conversation. That is because I consider respect to be the first and foremost responsibility of anyone engaging someone else. If you don’t respect someone, then don’t concern yourself with what they do or think or especially, post on the Internet. This is common sense and civility. Again, I am not surprised that some people on the Internet don’t seem to be able to understand this concept.

I am quite sure that I fit the definition of a SJW or moonbat or whatever other fancy buzzword du jour has all the cucks kecking. But to paraphrase a certain timeless truth, “to you be your way and to me, mine.”

and that’s enough said about that.

And yeah, the photo doesn’t have much to do with the post – apart from the obvious fact that there is only one Green Deity, and his name is Godgers.

Another year of awards

It’s nomination season again, and this year is an exciting one, because it’s the first in which I’m eligible to nominate for the Nebulas as well as the Hugos. Nevertheless, my nominations this year will be narrower than the last two: I’m planning to nominate in the short fiction categories only. Short fiction is what I write, so I feel more qualified to judge it than to judge novels, and I also didn’t have much time for book reading last year. Many SFF novels were published in 2016 and I have little doubt that some of them are great, but I haven’t had a chance to read enough of them to weigh the field.

I’ll start with novelettes rather than short stories, because that way I can start with my favorite story of 2016: Polyglossia by Tamara Vardomskaya (GigaNotoSaurus, March 2016). GigaNotoSaurus doesn’t usually get much attention from reviewers and critics, but this is a rich, multi-layered story that is well deserving of an award.

Polyglossia is a story of linguistics, cultural survival, family and resistance to oppression – not necessarily in that order – set in a low-magic fantasy world that suggests the early twentieth century. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of good world-building, and the world of this story is intricately detailed and plausible; more than that, the world-building is integrated into the plot and informs the characters’ actions such that no detail is wasted. The linguistics are also tightly integrated into the plot – the author is a Ph.D. candidate in linguistics with an interest in the philosophy of language, and it shows – and the politics of language and cultural preservation come to play a key part in its resolution. At the same time, the story calls into question what we call family, what duties we owe to our ancestors, and how to balance those duties against the exigencies of politics. Polyglossia is rewarding on several levels – thus far, I’ve never failed to get something new out of it with each rereading – and if I had to pick one story that defined speculative fiction for me in 2016, it would be this one.

Second on my novelette list is The Dancer on the Stairs by Sarah Tolmie (Strange Horizons, November 2016), the story of a woman from our world who is swept into another and who must learn to navigate and ultimately preserve its society. I hadn’t expected to like this story – tales of mannered societies usually leave me cold, and the palace world within The Dancer is exquisitely mannered – but here, the reasons underlying the manners and the way in which they shape the protagonist’s life are absorbing, and her slow process of learning, adjusting and ultimately realizing her role in that world are both fascinating and emotionally affecting. Again, my taste for world-building, and the intricate way in which the details of this story unfurl, made it one of my favorites of the year.

Rounding out my novelette short list are A Dead Djinn in Cairo by P. Djeli Clark (Tor, May 2016) and Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea by Sarah Pinsker (Lightspeed, Feb. 2016). The former is a lush, beautifully written mystery set in an early twentieth-century Egypt in which supernatural creatures have helped to throw off the colonial yoke but are dangerous in themselves; the latter, a story of music and discovery (recurring themes of Pinsker’s) set amid a post-apocalyptic landscape and seasoned with longing for companionship.

Turning to short stories, my favorite of the year and the first on my nomination list is And Then, One Day, The Air was Full of Voices by Margaret Ronald (Clarkesworld, June 2016). In the near future, Earth has received signals from an advanced and accomplished alien civilization… which then slowly fade, and we realize that the civilization died many years ago and that the records of its decline and death are only now reaching us. The breadth of time and space between Earth and the alien world means that we can do nothing to prevent their demise, and the story is about the spiritual effect that this realization has on humanity. The story is heartbreakingly human, the narration lyrical, and the resolution satisfying to the soul.

Touch Me All Over by Betsy James (F&SF, January-February 2016) is second: the story of a young woman exiled by a magical curse who must learn to turn it into a blessing. This story has been told before, but the way James tells it is intimate, lyrical, and emotionally affecting, and the story is told with a visual richness and an eye for small detail that takes it well above its subject matter.

Life in Stone, Glass and Plastic by Jose Pablo Iriarte (Strange Horizons, June 2016) is a story of memory: how it can be both painful and healing, and how what is lost might be regained at least temporarily. This is another intimate and compassionate story, dealing with dementia on the one hand and horror on the other: the trauma of memory and the trauma of its loss. This isn’t a lyrical story like James’, but it is a forceful one: its dialogue and description are contemporary, gritty and powerful, and its imagery is lasting.

Between Dragons and Their Wrath by An Owomoyela and Rachel Swirsky (Clarkesworld, February 2016) is an allegory of contemporary West Africa in which a refugee child earns a meager living by harvesting dragon scales, dreams of a better life in the capital city, and is both grateful and resentful toward the foreigners who provide aid. This returns to the lyrical style of storytelling, of which both Owomoyela and Swirsky are masters, and it tells of a haunting that is all too literal in much of the world. And Laws of Night and Silk by Seth Dickinson (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, May 2016) is another lyrical and powerful story of the child of a fair-folk race who is stunted so she can be used as a weapon, and the effect of her awakening on her caretaker and ultimately her society.

Finally, my nominations will include three novellas, all from Tor and all, to some extent, out of character for me to like. Runtime by S.B. Divya (Tor, May 2016) is a cyberpunk story – a genre I usually hate – but Divya gives it humanity through the striving of the protagonist, the tense excitement of a cross-country race, and a satisfying conclusion. The Cthulhu mythos also usually leaves me cold, but The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle (Tor, February 2016), set in 1920s Harlem, is a fortunate exception – the storytelling is a blend of Lovecraft and the Harlem Renaissance, and the irony of a black protagonist in that particular world isn’t lost on either author or reader. And A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor, October 2016) is a high fantasy that begins in a royal court – yet another thing that’s usually a turnoff for me – but which is set in a rich African-based world (something I’m a sucker for) and turns into a powerfully told romance. Again, I’m a fan of world-building, and this is what all three novellas on my list have in common: each of them will transport you as they did me.

Hopefully this year, I’ll have time to read a few novels between my writing, my day job and all that’s going on in the world.  But 2016 has still been immensely rewarding and inspirational – we’re living in a golden age of short SFF fiction, and some of the best of it was on display throughout the year – and with stories like those above, I have no regrets about my year in reading.

Which Leia was Leia?

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Right now, The Princess Diarist is the #1 book on Amazon.com. And it’s sold out.

Looking at Carrie Fisher’s other books that feature her in her Leia persona on the cover, namely Wishful Drinking and Shockaholic – I am struck by the fact that she always portrayed herself as Episode IV Leia. (Both are out of stock right now, too). Obviously, she wasn’t a fan of Slave Leia, but General Leia didn’t seem to be as iconic in her own mind.

In a recent Facebook convo about Leia’s image, a female friend of mine expressed that she thought General Leia in Ep VII finally redeemed Leia from the “degraded mess” the character had become in Return of the Jedi, presumably because of that bikini. Alyssa Rosenberg in the Washington Post writes a pretty comprehensive defense of Leia on that score. I largely agree that focusing on what Leia was wearing misses the point – Leia was kidnapped by a space slug, forced to wear something obscene, and then killed him with her bare hands in revenge. The bikini was a literal symbol of how women are oppressed, and it’s her resistance and revenge over the victimization by Jabba, not the actual victimization itself, that define Leia. Fisher herself colored outside the feminist lines – she once joked about not remembering who she slept with to land the Leia role, but hoped it was Lucas himself! That’s not exactly a female-positive sense of humor. Likewise, what Leia wore in one scene of one movie shouldn’t really degrade the character or define it. Leia was complicated, reflecting how Fisher was complicated.

Carrie Fisher

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[after a burst of gunfire from the Mystery Woman, Jake climbs to his feet, covered in mud from the tunnel floor]

Jake: It’s good to see you, sweetheart.

Mystery Woman: You contemptible pig! I remained celibate for you. I stood at the back of a cathedral, waiting, in celibacy, for you, with three hundred friends and relatives in attendance. My uncle hired the best Romanian caterers in the state. To obtain the seven limousines for the wedding party, my father used up his last favor with Mad Pete Trullo. So for me, for my mother, my grandmother, my father, my uncle, and for the common good, I must now kill you, and your brother.

[Jake falls to his knees]

Jake: Oh, please, don’t kill us! Please, please don’t kill us! You know I love you baby. I wouldn’t leave ya. It wasn’t my fault!

Mystery Woman: You miserable slug! You think you can talk your way out of this? You betrayed me.

Jake: No, I didn’t. Honest… I ran out of gas. I… I had a flat tire. I didn’t have enough money for cab fare. My tux didn’t come back from the cleaners. An old friend came in from out of town. Someone stole my car. There was an earthquake. A terrible flood. Locusts! IT WASN’T MY FAULT, I SWEAR TO GOD!

[Elwood covers his head in anticipation of more gunfire, Jake removes his sunglasses to make a wordless appeal, and the Mystery Woman visibly softens]

Mystery Woman: Oh, Jake… Jake, honey…

[Jake embraces the Mystery Woman and they kiss]

Jake: [to Elwood] Let’s go.

[He drops the Mystery Woman and walks off]

Elwood: [to the Mystery Woman as he steps past her] Take it easy.

This scene, and the final journey of the Mount Prospect police car, are what made this movie epic in my mind. Oh, and the sunglasses quote. Carrie Fisher doesn’t channel Leia here at all – she channels someone dark, vengeful, corrupted, a force of nature. There’s something just right about her carrying a gun, even though it’s a different character. Again, her character is softened by a scoundrel, and she shows her humanity too, but there’s nothing weak about her, even when she falls for it. She did, however, have the firing accuracy of a Stormtrooper. No one’s perfect.

binary thinking

Cognition is more complicated than IQ.
Cognition is more complicated than IQ.

I try to stay out of political theory on this blog, but Vox Day’s essay on the differences between the “VHIQ” and the “UHIQ” struck me as intellectually interesting enough that I felt like exploring it further. Personally, I don’t know what my IQ is, so that means I am merely above average*, since only people with very/ultra-high IQ seem to be motivated to willingly take the test. VD lists a number of plausible qualitative traits, of which the following caught my eye:

VHIQ inclines towards binary either/or thinking and taking sides. UHIQ inclines towards probabilistic thinking and balancing between contradictory possibilities.

VHIQ is uncomfortable with chaos and seeks to impose order on it, even if none exists. UHIQ is comfortable with chaos and seeks to recognize patterns in it.

VHIQ is competitive. UHIQ doesn’t keep score.

VD later goes on to quote Wechsler, the founder of the IQ test, at length and summarizes:

Wechsler is saying quite plainly that those with IQs above 150 are different in kind from those below that level. He is saying that they are a different kind of mind, a different kind of human being.

The division into binary groups here – “normal human” (sub-150 IQ) and the Next (150+), and then at the next iteration between VHIQ and UHIQ, is confusing to me, particularly since it is IQ itself being used to classify people into the binary choices. In the comments, VD clarifies (?) that “It’s entirely possible for a 175 IQ to be VHIQ and for a 145 IQ to be UHIQ” but that just moves the binary classifying to a relative scale than an absolute one. Since he also asserts that you need to be at least +3 SD (ie, IQ of 145) to even qualify as VHIQ, it’s clear that the numbers do matter.

There’s a glaring circularity here that I am doing a poor job of articulating. I’ll just make note of it and move on.

VD’s excerpted passage from Wechsler is, however, nonsense. He created an empirical test, intended to assess “varying amounts of the same basic stuff (e.g., mental energy)” and then made it into a score. I have worked with neurologists before and they make the same category error that psychologists like Wechsler do, in ascribing quantitative rigor to tests like the Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS). Just because you can ask someone a bunch of qualitative questions and then give them a “score” based on a comparison of their answers to those of a “baseline” person, does not mean you have actually magically created a quantitative test. Wechsler’s very use of the word “quantitative” is an abuse of language, a classic soft-sciences infatuation with concepts best left to hardsci folks. There’s nothing quantitative about the WAIS whatsoever, until you look at aggregate results over populations. Wechsler lacked even a basic understanding of what human cognition’s base units might be – certainly not hand-wavy bullshit like “mental energy”. Volumetric imaging with DT-MRI is probably the only actual quantitative method the human race has yet invented to probe that “basic stuff” of which Wechsler dreams; but there are some serious engineering constraints on how far we can go in that direction.**

Human cognition isn’t so easily captured by a single metric, even one built on such muddy foundation as the WAIS. It’s chaotic, and emergent, and inconsistent. This infatuation with pseudo-qualitative testing isn’t limited to WAIS; people overuse Meyers-Briggs and over-interpret fMRI all the time. Do qualitative metrics like WAIS or EDSS have value in certain contexts? Of course. However, as a signpost towards Homo Superior, it’s no better than Body Mass Index.

* Why bother with false modesty? I do have a PhD in an applied physics field, after all, and I scored higher than VD on that one vocab test, so empirically it seems reasonable to suppose I am somewhat ahead of the curve.

** spouting off about fMRI in this context is a useful marker of a neurosci dilettante.

Rogue One, the Force, and gender

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A (female) friend of mine loved Rogue One, but noted an imbalance in the Force:

Wept tears of joy. And not to nitpick the film’s clear feminist intentions, but couldn’t at least a handful of the nameless cannon-fodder strike force be women?

The ramblings that follow began as a long-winded reply, but grew so unwieldy and disorganized that I decided it fit better here 🙂 Spoilers may follow. Continue reading “Rogue One, the Force, and gender”