Happy Valentine’s Day

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Reflections: The Butterfly Mosque

A year ago today, I was just reading the final pages of a very beautiful book: The Butterfly Mosque, an autobiography by G. Willow Wilson.

I jotted down a few thoughts on that day:

The snow has been steadily, quietly falling since yesterday evening, blanketing the city by degrees.

I’ve spent the morning in bed to finish reading “The Butterfly Mosque”, by G. Willow Wilson. In general, her autobiography and the early works that accompany it, particularly “Cairo” and “Air”, have taken me by surprise in the past month.

It’s very beautiful, very passionate material. Her writing style is not flowery or ornamental, but her subjects are often deeply romantic.

Over and over, Wilson’s work is very much about love, and the way that different kinds of love intersect. Love of family. Love of community. Love of humanity, love of beauty. Love of truth and fairness, love of knowledge and reason. And entwined at the heart of things, a braided knot of the three passions that are most fundamental to her: love of self, love of partner, and love of God.

Listening is the root of all wisdom, and reading is one of the most potent and intense forms of listening. The central holy book for 1.7 billion people on Earth is called “The Recitation”, and in many respects “Islam”, a word which translates literally to “submission”, seems to be a life-long commitment to listen.

I haven’t gained much real knowledge of Islam as yet, but I can begin to see how little I know. And that is something.

I’ve been pretty quiet about the books I was reading last year. As I’ve said before, I was primarily reading these volumes for myself, to stimulate growth and foster a better understanding of the world. I feel I have further to go, and I am still walking the path.

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A sense of place

Saw this post from a great writer on Twitter, who has written several novels over the past few years, usually set in various parts of Mexico. It got me thinking about the sense of place in fiction, about the places that I have set my own stories over the years.

I think most writers locate their fiction either in a place they have been, or a place they’d like to be. Almost no one writes about where they are. 

Some of my stories are about places I’ve lived, that I know intimately–the American Southwest, for example, some parts of the east and west coasts of the USA. But I write about those places when I’m safely gone from them, and they cannot draw me physically back.

The rest of my stories are not about places I’ve lived, but about places that live in me. Sometimes because I long to go there,to a place I’ve never seen and may never see with my own eyes. Sometimes because it’s a place that haunts my imagination, for reasons I cannot fully explain.

Regardless, I am never writing about any place because I feel that I own it or because I’m entitled to lay claim to it. I’m never the authority about any place I’m writing about.

I am a visitor to this planet–not its conqueror.

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Rumination on Homeworld: Cataclysm

Fascinating in-depth analysis of the Lore elements of Homeworld: Cataclysm, one of my early games. The video is produced by Lorerunner, who seems to be working on a series of video game analysis pieces of similar depth–those who care about games as art should definitely support his work.

For those who have not already heard this long ago, Martin Cirulis and I were a writing team in the late 1990’s, and between us we wrote the background fiction and campaign scripts for both Homeworld and Homeworld: Cataclysm (now available and re-titled as Homeworld: Emergence). 

For those who wonder whether writing and Lore (aka Narrative Design) is a critical feature in game development, please note how many people group Homeworld, Cataclysm and Deserts of Kharak as a trilogy, and note that Martin was also the writer of the background fiction for the recent Expedition Guide for Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak.

The background fiction and narrative design that goes into a project is often described as “fluff” or window dressing when planning or developing a game. But world building is an art and a craft, and how well the job is done makes a critical difference in how the audience receives and processes a novel, a film, a game or a television show.

The structural design of the Homeworld universe–language, culture, history, etc.–was done and done well years ago. Thanks to that strong foundation, that universe can support any number of vivid and engaging games based on the adventures of people that are easy to identify with and care about.

The only sad thing about this video, from my perspective, is that Lore Runner is clearly a gamer who cares very much about the art of games and about Lore in particular, and he still has no idea who wrote the background fiction for the games he loved as a kid, or why “researching the Lore of Homeworld” was not an issue for the team who made Cataclysm.

The work I do can be critical to the success of a franchise for years–but it is very hard to be properly credited and cited for that work. Something should be done about that, don’t you think?

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We are Live!

My team launched our tabletop board games division today, with our first crowdfunding campaign. We flipped the switch at around 1:00 pm, Pacific time; eight hours later we are over 11% funded, which is not bad for our first time.

For those interested in minis for the Sword of the Stars universe, and people who just plain love my team and my work, and for people who just love innovative board games with a lot of interesting choices and custom dice–this game is for you.

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The Dying Traditions of SF

Bit of foorforah in science fiction social media lately, as some of the great Grandmasters of the field spoke out against safe spaces in SF social gatherings, characterizing them as “segregation”. Harsh words were spoken and dire promises were made notably by CJ Cherryh and David Gerrold, both heroes of mine whose work influenced my life and thought a great deal as a child.

The fact that Grandmasters in their 70’s are threatening to boycott conventions that prioritize the comfort and safety of POC creators and fans, or who provide mini-events that allow POC nerds to build community and support…truly saddens me. And let’s face it: Old White People Bashing Safe Spaces is not a great look on anyone.

I honestly don’t know where and how things went wrong. In the summer of 2016, I returned after many years to Vanguard, which is the oldest extant gathering of SFF fans in Seattle.

When I first attended these parties, it was 1989 and I was 19, recently moved to the city from the sticks in Colorado. I boldly invited myself to the party because it was held at the home of Vonda McIntyre back then, and I had gone to see her speak at a conference in my tiny, crappy uranium-mining home town. I was new in town, I knew who she was and had heard of Vanguard. And of course, Gods help her, she was listed in the phone book…

Anyway. In the late 1980’s, vanguard was truly a rockin’ party. People from all walks of life, drinking and talking, listening to music, and talking about politics and science fiction passionately. I was standing in that living room when I first heard about the Tiennamen Square Massacre. It was the sort of party where William Gibson could drunkenly kiss a dumb country girl on the mouth, because he was already the God of Cyberpunk by then and could be utterly charmed that a girl would hit on him without knowing who he was.

Upshot here is that Vanguard in the 1980’s was a place where you engaged with Life, and the World, in all ways possible. 27 years later? Vanguard literally consisted of four (very) white people who showed up slowly over the course of an evening and chatted awkwardly about whatever, while waiting to see if anyone else would show up this time.

The modern day equivalent of 19-year-old me and her friends were utterly absent from this party. Only one person there was under 30, and he was only there because he was my date, and he was meeting me there at the end of the evening after he finished his set at a comedy club.

At some point, the Old Guard of SF fandom in Seattle must have utterly lost touch with any source of new blood. They stopped connecting with younger people, they stopped recruiting younger people, they stopped regarding people under 30 as peers and making them comfortable and welcome. They got old, in the negative sense of the word.

And to put it bluntly–that’s why the party is dying. And it’s why whatever valid contribution this older generation of fans might have to make to the field is being lost.

I find this sad and I regard this loss as significant. After talking to the Old Guard for a few evenings, I can tell they still have hugely exciting ideas and a lot to share about art, music, politics, life, and science fiction. But they’re not sharing that information, those ideas. No one is there to have that conversation.

Maybe that’s because the Old Guard isn’t interested in a conversation–an open and respectful exchange between peers. Maybe they’re only interested in lectures, delivered by them, to an obedient audience of whippersnappers who they imagine have nothing of worth to say?

Any community dies when it stops embracing its future. How much more stark are the death throes when that community was FOUNDED on embracing the future?

How ironic is it that the Old Guard are being left behind by the future?

Of course, there are still rockin’, happenin’ events in Seattle fandom circles. The semi-public version would be the brief summer season of promotional events for Clarion West. There are also private, invitation-only parties for the very coolest of the cool kids–I wasn’t invited to any of those, but I heard about them second-hand. The people who host them aren’t listed in the phone book.

All I have to say at this point is that we all have a choice. The difference between SF that has a future and SF that is going to become a bloated corpse floating in the Sargasso Sea is going to be the active participation of non-white creators and fans. The active participation of openly queer, trans, and disabled creators and fans.

Old School Fandom called itself progressive and prided itself for tolerating marginalized people–New School Fandom celebrates and centers them, at least occasionally, and it is stronger for it.

Anyway. I have no final answer to the question of where things broke down or how they can be fixed. I do think that both sides would have to care more than they do about community to heal the breach, however.

That’s true of all the expanding chasms in our society, between races and ethnicities, between religions and philosophies, between young and old, between rich and poor.


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Boys Will Be Aziz Ansari

Embroidery by Shannon Downey

I see a great many people in my social sphere sharing links and talking about the recent Babe article about a date with comedian Aziz Ansari. There have been some truly egregious, tone-deaf and worse-than-pointless opinion pieces in the media on this subject: I’m not going to link to them. Here are some good ones:

Aziz, We Tried to Warn You ~ by Lindy West

Not That Bad ~ by Katie Anthony

Speaking solely for myself? I am sometimes amused by the stories that are juxtaposed in a given news cycle. The two most talked-about pop culture events this week were Aziz Ansari and the Tide Pod Kids, and my summary of the two was this:

It is a thousand times smarter for a child to eat a plastic packet of laundry detergent than for an adult to defend bad consent practices.

So please, if you’re a friend of mine…spare me the rhetoric about “innocent mistakes” and “poor bumbling nerds” when it comes to Aziz Ansari. And many other men of his ilk.

Please, learn to understand and accept that the vast majority of men are not “innocent bumblers”. People say “He didn’t mean it” because that’s a standard script to cover and minimize abuse in this culture, and both predators and victims use it. Some men have learned to weaponize the common stereotypes about men, and now they use them as a duck blind for sexual assault and coercion.

It’s not bumbling. It’s gaslighting.

Aziz Ansari is 34 years old. He has claimed to be a feminist. He says that he “listens to women”. HE HAS WRITTEN A BOOK ABOUT DATING. And he was on a date with a girl significantly younger and less experienced, only 22 years old.

Exactly who was supposed to behave more like a compassionate, worldly adult in this scenario? The older man who trades on his image as a feminist ally? Or the dumb kid who went on a date with a celebrity because garsh, he’s famous and claims to respect women?

Frankly, I am very weary of the constant drumbeat of “Boys Will Be Boys” in this culture. When does it EVER end?

When a male is a toddler or a small child, he hits people and pushes them down. We smile and nod and say that it’s natural for boys to be more aggressive.

When he’s an older child, he teases and bullies other children. He expresses his budding interest in girls by hurting them emotionally and physically and touching them without permission. We tell the girls he’s attacked that he’s “paying attention” and that his assault “means he likes you”.

When he’s a teenager, he’s “awkward and fumbling” and his early dabbling in rape is written off as “growing pains”, “drunk teenage hi-jinx” or “adolescent lust”.

As a GROWN ASS MAN IN HIS 30’S he goes on a date with a 22-year-old and he’s “making innocent mistakes” and “doesn’t know any better”.

As a middle-aged man he’s “having a mid-life crisis”.

In his 60’s and 70’s he was “raised in a different time”.

There’s always an excuse, always a reason that everyone and everything but the man himself is to blame for his actions, and their consequences.

So please, tell me…at what age is a man EVER responsible for what he does?

How he treats women?

How he makes them feel?

When is a man supposed to know that sexual pleasure is a collaborative process, a thing that people build together–rather than something you take for yourself at someone else’s expense?

When is a man supposed to know that when your partner doesn’t say “Yes” enthusiastically, it means “No”?

When is a man who claims he listens to women going to actually DEMONSTRATE that he listens to women? At what age can we expect him to stop making “mistakes” that send young girls home in a cab crying and wanting to vomit?

Seriously. I’m dying to know when boys are supposed to become men.

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Mensch As Fuck: One Year Later

In December of 2016, I made a New Year’s Resolution about my reading habits. I decided to spend a year reading the genres I loved–science fiction, fantasy, horror, comics–but avoid reading those genres as written by people with the majority worldview.

Instead of reading mostly white authors, I would spend twelve months deliberately seeking out authors who were People of Colour. Instead of reading solely able-bodied authors, I would try to spend twelve months reading books and stories by people with disabilities. Instead of reading mostly straight authors, I would try to spend time reading books by queer authors.

This is not to say that I never read and enjoyed any fiction before by a writer who was not Privileged in Every Way! I had read and supported a few POC authors, one or two queer authors, perhaps a disabled creator here or there. The difference in 2017 was my commitment to focus for a full year on ONLY those voices. To let them dominate my book shelves and reading list for twelve full months.

Now it is 2018, and time to sit back and reflect on what I’ve learned.

Short answer? Spending a year reading #ownvoices fiction has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life. It is the best gift I’ve given myself in many years.

In 2017, I read many great authors for the first time.

Nnedi Okoroafor, the author of the Binti series, Who Fears Death? and The Book of Phoenix, Akata Witch and Akata Warrior.

N.K. Jemisin, the author of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms trilogy and the Broken Earth trilogy.

Octavia Butler, one of the mothers of modern science fiction.

Kai Ashante Wilson, the author of two brilliant novellas set in a world that inevitably reminds one of Gene Wolfe and Samuel R. Delaney.

Junji Ito, one of the greatest masters of horror in the world.

And a great many others, honestly–more than I can list in one post.

My first impulse when I started the Mensch As Fuck Book Club was to publish reviews of these books as I was reading them, to share my journey and the unfolding of consciousness as I learned and grew. But my first few queries were ignored or fell flat, and I decided that I didn’t really need to share this work publicly. It was something I was doing for myself, after all, and well worth doing regardless of whether anyone else noticed, cared, or subsidized me. 

2017 is over, of course, and now I have a choice.

Was a single year enough?

Have I accomplished everything I set out to do?

No. Honestly, I don’t think I have. In most cases, I haven’t even read all the works of a single author! It’s harder than it used to be to read the complete works of an author. 

At any rate–I think I’m going to stay on this path.

In 2018, I may pick up a few more books by straight white authors, if I’m genuinely excited about their work. But for the most part I think I am going to continue to focus on voices that the world has tried to muzzle, muffle or deny. 

I might share more thoughts about books I’ve read, or the books I’m currently reading for research. But in general, I am still doing this for the love of reading and for the healing impacts of excellent fiction from an original and unexpected point of view.

Reading these books is changing me in ways that I like. I feel more optimistic and hopeful than I have in a long time, and more inspired to write about people who share my own identity, problems and passions.

If you’d like to join me in reading great fiction by marginalized voices in 2018, the Facebook Group still exists and is going strong. Anyone who’s a Mensch is most welcome.

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There Can Be More Than One

I have nothing bad to say about Oprah. I think she’s an inspiring person who does a lot of things well. Including speeches.

That being said, Sarah from SF is dead on with her comment above. It is INCREDIBLY toxic to frame Oprah’s excellence this way–solely in terms of bashing some other woman.

Please stop doing this. Forever.

Stop behaving as if there is not enough awesome to go around, and trying to convince every woman who can Do A Thing that we are all Duncan MacLeod and every other woman who can Do The Thing is the goddamn Kurgan.

There can be more than One.

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Gothic Science Is Back!

Illustration credit: The incomparable Bernie Wrightson, creator of the best illustrated edition of Frankenstein of all time.

Many years ago I was a volunteer instructor at an alternative school in North Vancouver, the Windsor House community. I taught a number of subjects, but my most popular class by far was a series of workshops called Gothic Science.

The former administrators at Windsor House have now founded a new educational community called The Learnary, and invited me to offer the Gothic Science class once more! My first workshop is about Bugs: why do we fear them enough that they appear in our horror movies? What is cool and interesting about them? How have humans battled them, tamed them, and learned to live with them over the millennia?

Anyone who lives locally in the lower mainland of British Columbia is welcome to attend the class on the evening of January 23rd, 2018. The cost is $20, and includes a vegetarian meal for attendees. I will supply some fun coloring pages, suitable for artists of all ages, and I’ve always enjoyed the questions and interactions with the audience at these workshops. It keeps me on my toes.


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