November 13, 2013
November 8, 2013
This includes my story, “The Best We Can,” and it gives me an excuse to talk about my thoughts on possible first contact scenarios, and why I wrote the story at all.
First off, I do think we’ll find evidence of extraterrestrial life within my lifetime. Fossil microbes on Mars or something swimming under the ice on Titan. Something. But we may even find extraterrestrial intelligence. It’s not going to happen at all like it does in the movies, or like it has on any number of Discovery Channel mockumentary scenarios. In fact, it’s probably not going to be very cinematic at all. It’ll come from the examination of tiny pixels, and the analysis of mountains of data. It’ll take years to confirm.
The search for exoplanets — planets outside our solar system — has been more successful than anyone dreamed. According to Exoplanet.org, 755 planets have been confirmed, along with 3455 unconfirmed planet candidates. That’s over four thousand planets, and the number is constantly growing. (This is one of the reasons I get cranky when people insist that not having a space shuttle means the U.S. doesn’t have a space program. You want a space program? Here, have FOUR THOUSAND EXOPLANETS, BITCHES.) You use this data to extrapolate the numbers in the Drake Equation for determining the likelihood of finding alien civilizations, and the results start to look ridiculously probable. Which leads to the attendant question of course — why haven’t we been able to talk to them yet? And the answer is, to quote Douglas Adams: space is big. Really big. Hugely mindbogglingly big.
Astronomers use a few different methods to find planets: with the transit method, they can track changes in light that occur when a planet passes in front of its star. Tiny little eclipses. They can measure the gravitational pull that planets and stars exert on each other. Direct imaging has also become possible.
I think at some point we’re going to find a star system that obviously has planets, but the data is going to be wonky. Astronomers will find light where it shouldn’t be, on the shadowed side of a planet. They’ll find something orbiting something else that predictions say shouldn’t be there — because it’s artificial. It will be evidence not just of life, but of civilization. And it’ll be dozens and dozens of light years away, and it’ll take a lifetime for our message saying we know about them to get there. Maybe we’ll finally get that radio signal SETI’s been looking for — but it’s not going to be a message meant for us. It’s going to be a random alien thing, noise sent to the stars, like what we’ve been sending out for the last 80+ years. Plus — it will likely have been traveling for many, many years. Whatever evidence we find, whether light or radio or something else on the EM spectrum, will be old by the time we get it. Maybe ancient. It will be a message in a bottle, and likely an accidental one to boot. Discovering extraterrestrial life is going to be like archeology.
And it will be so bloody frustrating, won’t it?! We’ll turn to the heavens, shouting, because what we really want is to talk to them.
This is what was driving my story: the idea that we’re going to find the holy grail, incontrovertible proof of alien civilizations. And we’re not going to be able to do a damn thing about it. We’re not going to be able to talk to them. We’ll just have to gather and catalog the data and try to figure out what it means. I know the story depressed a lot of people because of its depiction of bureaucracy overwhelming the wonder of discovery. But really, I meant there to be a thread of hope as well: because hey, we found life. We found civilization. We aren’t alone. And that’s very likely going to have to be enough, at least at the start.
November 1, 2013
The musical, I mean. This is the hardest ticket to land in Denver right now. Apparently, it’s easier to find Book of Mormon tickets in London than it is here. This is the second time the touring show has come to Denver, and it still sold out within hours. The national tour opened in Denver a couple of years ago — sold out in minutes. I expect this is because Parker and Stone are locals. They’re ours. We claim them.
I put myself on spoiler blackout for this like three years ago when I first got an inkling of the thing’s existence, and when I heard the first song posted online: “Hello” on youtube. I loved this so much, and I decided I didn’t want to hear anything else about the show, the songs, or anything, until I could actually see the thing live myself. I have been waiting three years for this.
Mom landed the toughest tickets to get in Denver, because she’s just that good. We saw it Wednesday after a great dinner and two bottles of wine between the five of us who went, which is exactly the way to do it. We dressed up. The theater. Awesome.
The show: Parker and Stone (and Robert Lopez of Avenue Q) are pretty much the greatest satirists working right now, and this was like seeing a live action version of one of the better episodes of South Park. It’s crass, rude, horrible, and wonderful, and as a long-time fan of musical theater, I never thought I’d see a Broadway show that had female genital mutilation as a plot point and made it work. As a fan of South Park, I knew what I was getting into. But I wonder how many people in the audience were only there because this is the biggest musical of the last ten years and it won the Tony and well, they liked The Lion King so maybe this’ll be good too… Oy!
Between all the grossness and profanity, these writers know exactly what they’re doing and have tough, meaty issues under the sensationalism. The Book of Mormon isn’t about profanity or wild caricatures of both Mormon missionaries and western perceptions of Africa. It’s about how faith and religion are not the same thing, and one should never be mistaken for the other. This is awesome.
Plus, one of the main characters is a serious science fiction geek and they nailed it. Glorious, to see that on stage, and I’m so glad I didn’t know about that ahead of time because discovering Elder Cunningham was delightful.
October 30, 2013
So, River Phoenix died twenty years ago, tomorrow.
He was my favorite actor when I was a teenager. I think I still have that giant poster of him stashed away somewhere.
I found out…badly. A good friend of mine who was well known for spinning ridiculous but convincing tall tales told me he’d died. I didn’t believe her. She knew I adored him, but she just kept saying, “No really, I’m not joking.” Which was exactly what she said to convince you her lie was truth. I refused to listen to her until she found a newspaper and showed me.
This was during my junior year abroad in York. I spent the rest of my college years in Los Angeles, and there are two momentous things that happened in L.A. that year that I missed — the Northridge quake, and Phoenix’s death. I would have been one of the groupies lighting candles outside the Viper Room. So it’s just as well I wasn’t there.
I’m still pissed off at him, and still upset that he’s gone. I keep wondering about all the movies we never got to see. I know every generation has their tragic fatality, their young icon gone too soon. River Phoenix is mine.
If I had to name just one of his movies as the best? Well gosh, all of them, but if you could only watch one I’d say make it Running On Empty. Or My Own Private Idaho, or Stand By Me, or Sneakers…
August 30, 2013
August 21, 2013
Face Off: I don’t think I talked much about Season 4 because I was mostly disappointed in it. It was pretty clear that the show was running out of talent to recruit, and Anthony was so clearly the best artist right from the start. And nobody did anything pretty. There was a sameness to the big, gooey, ugly, gross monsters that everyone did week after week. So, I’m deeply happy with this season, because Laura is back and we’ll get to see some really beautiful work, because that’s what she does. The show seemed to realize they needed to get some real diversity in talent back in the lab. So I’m liking the vets v. rookies format. Though the maturity of the vets v. the noobiness of the rookies is kind of painful some moments.
Heroes of Cosplay: Digging the costumes, but the depiction of cosplay culture doesn’t really jive with my experience of cosplay culture (which is admittedly limited, but still), which is annoying. Then I remembered something my friend Zoo told me. We were at DragonCon, and I noticed something: the very best costumes were not in the Masquerade. You want to see the very best costumes at DragonCon, you go to the hotel lobby Friday and Saturday nights. When I asked her why these fantastic, amazing costumes weren’t in the Masquerade, Zoo said something along the lines of, “The Masquerade is mostly for the attention whores.” And that’s what’s bugging me about Heroes of Cosplay. I don’t think we’re actually getting a good look at cosplay here, which is a shame.
July 22, 2013
Appearances to the contrary, I’m not that avid of a crafter. I dabble a lot. I’ll learn just enough to do a certain project. I’ve acquired enough craft supplies that I can generally raid them for just about any weird prop or project or thing I want to do, but I’m not really an expert in anything. I don’t feel confident enough about any of my crafting to actually sell it for money. (I put all that effort into my writing.) And I definitely don’t go prowling the Internet in search of projects.
But this Beaded Spider project turned up on a friend’s Facebook feed, that she had pinned to Pinterest, and I just had to try it. Mostly because I have a whole box of beads just sitting there. Beaded spider, y’all. How cute. How pretty. So, I made one:
(I think all this sudden crafting may be further fallout from my writing vacation these last few weeks. The tactile part of my brain is obviously hungry. I am feeding it.)
July 19, 2013
This is the follow-up to my post about the Heinous Textile, the thing I knitted with the very first yarn I ever hand spun. The thing I pretty much filed away as a “learning experience.”
Here is the most recent yarn I hand spun (using a drop spindle) and the thing I knitted from it:
It’s dyed merino. See how straight and slim that tail of yarn is? Yay, practice! The thing is from this ruffly scarf pattern I got from Jane Austen Knits. Didn’t have enough for a whole scarf, so this will end up being a collar or hairpiece or something. But yes, this is what progress looks like.
July 10, 2013
I have this object I call the Heinous Textile. Here it is:
When I first learned to spin wool, I wasn’t very good at it. The yarn I produced was thick and uneven and all in all quite horrible. But I was determined to do something with this awful yarn. Just to say that I did. I mean, it was my first ever handspun yarn! Well, I knew from talking to other spinners and weavers and such that before you use handspun yarn you have to do something to it called plying — spinning two strands of the yarn together, making a double strand. It increases the yarn’s strength, and also counteracts the twist that gets worked into the yarn when you’re spinning it. At least, I know that now. I didn’t then. I just spun two strands together just like I’d spun the original yarn. What I didn’t know: when you ply, you have to spin in the opposite direction than you originally spun. That’s what neutralizes the original twist so that you end up with a nice soft pliable yarn. So when I plied, I plied in the same direction, and the resulting yarn ended up extra extra twisty. Stiff, kinky, and awful. But I was still determined to do something with it, so I knitted a square. The most horrible, stiffest, roughest knitted object I have ever come across. I’m pretty sure this thing could be used as armor, as it is most likely thick and stiff enough to stop arrows. It was kind of revelatory — all those fantasy novels and historical accounts that talk about woolen or felted armor? It might have looked something like this.
So, the Heinous Textile — not a total waste after all! And my spinning — not terrible anymore. In fact, I’m knitting something now with some merino that I hand spun, and it’s not heinous at all. I’ll show you when it’s finished.
July 1, 2013
I’ve been trying to write a blog post about sexual harassment against women at conventions and in general. It’s taken awhile because I’ve been reading dozens of accounts and reactions, and pondering. Originally, this was going to be a post about how I haven’t been harassed, and how that makes me lucky. Nothing about me suggests that I wouldn’t be harassed, I’m not all that different, I’m just part of the percentage of women who hasn’t been harassed. I’m just lucky.
But then I remembered that one time at a Worldcon when this guy I’d never met before propositioned me out of the blue. He walked away when I said no, so it was more an annoyance than actual harassment, right? Then there was that one time when that big name writer said something inappropriate to me in a workshop, but I got him back for it (seriously, rendered him absolutely speechless) and we all moved on. And there are the times I’ve been the only woman in the room and wondered if it was a problem, but it generally wasn’t a problem, and I’m pretty good about leaving if I start to feel uncomfortable, and that’s not really harassment. And there’ve been a couple of times at readings & signings where someone made not just me uncomfortable but had other people worried on my behalf, to the point where friends have insisted on escorting me to my car, just to be sure, but things hadn’t gotten to the point of actual harassment, you know? I’ve had situations with actual stalkers, but those were outside conventions for the most part so even though I felt deeply uncomfortable it wasn’t like I was getting harassed at a convention. It’s not like I’ve ever been groped or assaulted. . .
You see how this works. The insidious inner voice that tells us this sort of thing isn’t really harassment, it’s no big deal, you’re just being overly sensitive. . . Then you line all these “no big deals” up together and think, whoa.
I can sit here and say I’ve never been harassed, but is that just because so much of this is ubiquitous background noise that I don’t even notice it anymore? Have I developed an ultra high tolerance because I’ve been dealing with sexism and low-grade harassment my whole life and I’ve gotten so good at ignoring it that I really, honestly, don’t see it? I was 24 years old when my Grandpa Vaughn asked me if people teased me about being an old maid. He was joking, but not, you know? I said, “Well, not until just now, Grandpa.” I realize I have a highly developed “Oh, Grandpa,” response to a lot of this, because I don’t want to ruin Thanksgiving.
I just have one story to tell: I was the first girl to join my high school’s science fiction club. This was 1988. First, my high school had a science fiction club, so yay! It may not be much of a “first” trailblazing milestone. Not like Sandra Day O’Conner or Sally Ride. But I did it. And I was lucky because 90% of the guys in the club were fine with having me there. (In fact, once I brought some of my friends along, they were downright giddy. They realized if they behaved themselves and endeared themselves to us, they would have prom dates forever. It worked.) But there was this one guy. I think I broke him completely, because he could not wrap his head around me being there. He never reconciled himself to it. He argued against inviting me to D&D parties. When I was elected president of the club the next year he informed me that I had stolen the club from him. His abuses never got past the verbal, and never became sexual because frankly, he didn’t have the imagination for it. But as far as he was concerned, women didn’t belong in science fiction.
He lost that fight. Mainly because I kept showing up, and eventually he stopped showing up. I’m sure he’s convinced that I drove him out, but leaving was his choice. I didn’t “do” anything to him. He did it all to himself. I haven’t ever looked him up because why would I, but I have a feeling he’s on the Internet somewhere ranting about the terribleness of uppity women.
I straddle generations. I’m just old enough to be part of the “you just deal with it” generation. You ignore it. You keep quiet because you don’t want to rock the boat, but you keep showing up and doing the work and don’t let them close doors on you. You don’t say anything because no one will listen to you, and you don’t want to get kicked out. And for God’s sake you keep showing up because no one else will fight these fights for you.
I’m also just young enough to be part of the next wave of feminism. The generation that’s standing up and declaring that we shouldn’t have to put up with any level of harassment, low-grade or otherwise. And who are generating a level of backlash I have never witnessed before.
I am a beneficiary of several generations of feminism that went before me and I’m so grateful to them for the right to go to college, to own property, to have access to birth control. To live the life I want to live. I didn’t have to fight those fights. I’m lucky. But there are new fights, aren’t there?
I love science fiction and fantasy. And I love that there are communities of people who love science fiction and fantasy, and I want to be part of that. The thing that jerk in my high school SF club taught me: Keep showing up. Gather your defenses, array your allies around you, speak up. We’re fighting for the generations that come after us.