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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Bright

Now that everyone I know has weighed in with the same opinion, I’ll state my Unpopular Opinion of the year.

No, you’re all wrong. ALL of you!
 
The hoi poloi and I are right.
 
Bright, the new urban fantasy blockbuster from Netflix, was not at all a terrible movie.
 
You just hate it for being beautiful. *sniffle*

I saw it over the winter  break. It was a fairly standard Will Smith vehicle and a workmanlike “buddy cop” movie–the science fiction equivalent was Alien Nation, many years ago. Full disclosure: this was another movie that I very much enjoyed. The film and the television show both entertained me enough that there is an homage to Alien Nation in Sword of the Stars, in fact–Alien Nation is the reason that Hivers love cheese.

 

Hivers love human cuisine, especially the products of fermentation. Now they make their own brie. It’s a lovely pale jade color and tastes divine.

Bright follows the formula for Buddy Cop stories note by note almost perfectly. Whether you love or hate this movie SHOULD depend almost entirely on whether you find the formula for Buddy Cop movies to be tolerable at all.

If you normally would consider a movie like Lethal Weapon, Rush Hour, Beverly Hills Cop, Bad Company, The Man, Miami Vice, Die Hard etc. to be an honest day’s work or forgettable-but-fun popcorn fare, and you’re throwing a shit fit about Bright being somehow terribly written or badly acted?

Something was gone wrong with your grey matter.

 
 

Maybe everyone should take this film as an invitation to look at the formula for the Buddy Cop genre a LITTLE more closely. All Buddy Cop movies take a very problematic view of race, and present a very unrealistic vision of how the world works. But the fantasy world of Buddy Cop movies is a popular fantasy, a fairy tale that appeals primarily to lower and middle class white people–and we are apparently the majority population in North America.

A lot of Bright‘s most problematic elements are inherited from its form. The Disney film Zootopia has a lot of the same problems in its depiction of racial violence and conflict–not just because it’s a Buddy Cop movie with “mismatching investigators” who learn to care about each other and work together, but particularly in the way it seems to assign the blame for discrimination on the choices or “biological nature” of the victims.  Predators in Zootopia are victims of discrimination because they were actually PREDATORS, biologically speaking. Orcs are victims of discrimination in Los Angeles because “they chose to serve the dark lord” in the past, etc.. This kind of racism built into the foundations of the world should never get a pass, or be stated without opposition. 

The other problem some people will have with Bright is that it’s a Shadowrun movie, although sadly it does not credit the developers of Shadowrun or any of the other works in its lineage. And Shadowrun is to Tolkein and Dungeons and Dragons what the Sex Pistols are to Hall and Oates, or the Ramones are to the Osmond family.

Shadowrun has always been more hip to its own bullshit than other versions of modern fantasy. Shadowrun makes the subtext of more “genteel” racism and classism in traditional fantasy games and novels into a visible, contested reality. This game is the stained wife-beater tank top underneath Tolkein’s crisp white linen shirt.

A Shadowrun setting is a gritty urban fantasy milieu full of open hate, stereotyping, and resistance. Fear and loathing in in Beverly Hills. A night of blood and hell-fire in Compton. A film where the orcs are an oppressed minority and the rich and powerful elves are framed as creepy at best, terrifying and evil at worst–just like real aristocrats.

 
 

You can’t be too rich, too thin, too immortal, or have ears too goddamn pointy.

Personally, I like it. It appeals to me for the same reason that punk rock once did: it gives voice to my working class white rage, which is complex and even sometimes melancholy. It is Noir in its framing of upper class whites as the enemy, and that feels true to me and always has.

I don’t expect everyone else to magically change their minds, but this is why I think that you’re all wrong, and the unwashed masses and I are right. I look forward to more “supernatural police dramas” and more wet eldritch fire dropping from wands which are described as “a nuclear weapon that grants wishes”.

The future looks Bright to me.  you can catch it on Netflix.

 

Creepy elf chick is creepy. Never warmed up to this character. Never trust an elf.

 

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The Changeling

I finished reading this novel over the weekend, and it is just a killer.

Victor LaValle is one of my favorite discoveries of the last year. Everything I’ve read from him thus far has been brilliant. This book in particular has some dizzying reversals of plot and tone, which definitely keeps you reeling as a reader. I would recommend it for its masterful handling of plot alone, but it’s also a wonderful example of a novel that navigates the horrifying mythic landscape of northern Europe extremely well, particularly the British Isles and Scandinavia. The witches, fairies, goblins and trolls of ancient fairy tales find new life here, and it is wonderful to see.

A warning for the curious: this book is a true fairy tale, of the Elder Kind. It is a tale for adults about childhood and parenthood–not a tale for children. It is never wise to mistake the one sort of fairy tale for the other, although the two are cousins.

This novel is dark, bloody, and violent. It features genuine chaotic magic, the kind that is rare to see and exacts a terrible price from human beings. There are monsters both mundane and supernatural. It is a classic story about the fae: the hapless hero must pierce illusions, learn to tell friend from foe, separate love from selfishness and vanity, have faith and humble himself in the presence of mysteries he does not understand, in a world that seethes with hostility and lies.

It is also one of the most beautiful stories about fatherhood that I have read in recent memory. The text explicitly evokes other beautiful stories about fatherhood as well, both in ancient and modern literature. One of the MacGuffins of the plot is a signed first edition of To Kill a Mockingbird, as an example.

The primary magical text of the novel is a children’s book by Maurice Sendak, Outside Over There. Several characters throughout The Changeling are haunted by the opening lines of that story. It begins “When Papa was away at sea…” and concerns a girl named Ida, who loses her little sister to the goblins. The kidnappers replace the human child with a Changeling, a golem carved from ice…but the magic around the creature is powerful enough that even the child’s sister cannot initially pierce the illusion, and gathers the cold thing in her arms to say, “I love you so.”

The real world issues that this story touches upon are many. Postpartum depression and infanticide. Toxic masculinity and patriarchy, and how they twist the script of love for a woman or a child. The invalidation of women and their experiences and beliefs, as well as the threats to their safety. Fatherhood in all its forms, specifically the shattered bonds between flawed fathers and their sons. The survival necessity of friendship between men, particularly black men. The dangers of social media, particularly the oversharing habits of the “New Parent” in millennial culture. The permeability and vulnerability of our homes and families in the digital age.

It’s a rich, rewarding book, and I cannot say another word without spoiling it, so I won’t.

Highly recommended. Read it for yourself.

 

 

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Happy Holidays, Los Angeles

๐Ÿ˜ณThe scene in California is straight out of a Roland Emmerich film

Posted by Barstool Sports on Wednesday, December 6, 2017

I awoke this morning to find this seemingly impossible video on my news feed.

Every time I see something impossibly awful, wonderful, or ridiculous in the real world, it reminds me of all the critics over the years who’ve told me that my visions of the future were “far-fetched” or “unrealistic”.

Compared to the actual world we live in…most artists are very conservative.

Reality is wild and doesn’t care how hard you may struggle to suspend your disbelief.

 

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Deep Magic Compendium

Just a quick note to let everyone know that Deep Magic e-zine has released a compendium edition covering June 2016-April 2017. This book will include my novella “Imperial Ghosts”, and the whole book is a steal at $5.99 for the Kindle edition.

Lots of great content at a ridonkulously low price. Including me. Who can say no to that?

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Sword of the Stars: Control!

As many of you may know, the team at Kerberos participated in the Extra Life! Charity Game-a-thon this year to raise money for the BC Children’s Hospital. Our game-a-thon was very successful! We stayed up for 24 hours playing demo games of our two new board-game projects based in the Sword of the Stars universe, Sword of the Stars: The Pit Boardgame and Sword of the Stars: Control! and we broadcast live from the Kerberos offices here in Vancouver on the Kerberos Twitch Channel.

The viewers who logged into our channel had a pretty good view of The Pit Boardgame being played at the main table, but they couldn’t see the Control! table very well. Since some of you asked to get a closer look at the game which was causing so much laughter, I thought I would post a few photos of the demo cards for the game.

As you can see, Control! is a pretty simple game in terms of the deck. The cards and planet bases are beautifully designed by our in-house artist Ken Lee, but the real elegance and fun of the game is in the mechanics and rules. We’ll be broadcasting a live play demo of Control! later this month, if all goes well, and you should get a chance to see the game in action.

In the meantime, I just want to share this because it’s one of the major rewards of creating a universe that has enough depth and detail to support a lot of different games. Sword of the Stars is by far the longest writing project of my life. But it is also a gift which keeps on giving, creatively speaking, and that is a source of immense joy.

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Don’t Be a Sheepskin Jacket

Yet another stinkbomb of misogyny explodes in my professional sphere this week.

Yet another misogynist sociopath in the industry, taking cover behind a progressive, woman-led team and forcing them to waste energy defending his predations rather than creating their art and achieving their mission.

It’s bad enough to encounter a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s even worse to realize that the sheepskin the wolf is wearing…is you.

S0. A few words to the wise regarding sexism in a professional setting.

1. Not all misogynists are open, obvious, and easy to identify. Some predatory men are in fact very cunning, manipulative, and successful in recruiting strong women to serve as their defenders and meat shields. Sociopaths are often SPECIFICALLY ATTRACTED to strong, brave, progressive people because we make the best and sturdiest cover from which to hunt others. We lower the guard of potential victims and we provide plausible deniability and front-line defenses.

Men who prey on women seek to embed themselves in progressive institutions and woman-led teams for the same reason that people who prey on children choose to become teachers and pastors. It gives them access, authority, and a LOT of deniability.

Remember the examples of Joss Whedon and countless other false allies who abused positions of trust.

Not every friendly face belongs to a real friend.

2. There is no antidote to being used and manipulated by predatory men except for one: believe women.

Believe them immediately, believe them early, believe them often, believe them preemptively.

Where there is smoke, your best practice is to assume that there is fire.

3. The realization that you have been duped and used by a misogynist predator sucks.

It is one of the most unpleasant experiences that a strong progressive woman can have.

The only thing MORE unpleasant than being duped by a misogynist predator is being the victim of a misogynist predator, and having his female friends and family attack you as the enemy.

I have had experiences in both categories. The latter is the reason I was banned from a local science fiction convention in Vancouver–by the women who ran it, not the man who had stalked and harassed me on Twitter, tried to have me fired, etc..

4. Whatever strategy you are personally using to cope with sexism, as a woman, is just that–your current strategy.

No, it’s true that whisper campaigns do not overthrow the system and that you cannot remove misogynists from positions of trust and power without confronting them directly.

But even a whisper is better than nothing, if it saves another woman from pain and harm. And even a whisper can come at significant personal risk and cost.

Your current strategy for dealing with sexism does not define you as a person. There is no wrong way to survive and thrive in a system that is stacked against you, unless you are deliberately throwing other women under the bus.

Take care of you, take care of your friends. On days you have the strength and resources to stand up for others, that is great. But you do not owe the world your life blood, your livelihood or your trauma. When you’re ready to speak, speak louder, whatever–our place is not to judge you, but to support you.

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Extra Life!

Greetings all! 
 
I thought you might be interested in what my team is up to this week. We’re showing off our new board game in development on Twitch TV, and raising money for Children’s Hospitals around the globe. ๐Ÿ™‚
 
We’re going to play-jam The Pit Board Game on Friday and Saturday, November 3 and November 4. So if you’d like to watch the live stream or support the team (or my personal page, with a fundraising goal of $100), I’ll post the links below.
 
Anything you can do to help is great. Money for the hospital is fantastic, but you can also help us out by sharing the links below as widely as possible. We’d like to get people interested in the new game as well. ^_^
 
Thank you all for being awesome, as always. And I wish you all a safe and joyous Halloween.
 
 
 
The Kerberos Team Page: Kerberos on Extra Life
 
Our Twitch Page: Kerberos on Twitch

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