Friday, March 24, 2006

Like Wanda Maximoff

I'm taking an informal poll. Did you, as a child (or, you know, yesterday), participate in the ritual of "jinx"-ing? In my experience, this happened when two persons said the same word or phrase simultaneously. The first person to complete the incantation of "jinx" effectively cast a spell of silence over the other, only to be lifted when the jinx-er spoke the jinx-ee's name.

An example, for those who are completely unfamiliar; Miriam and Douglas (honestly, Mr. Lain, they're just the first two names that popped into my head) are talking, and both utter the phrase "We be illin'" simultaneously. Miriam quickly says "jinx," and by playground law Douglas is now unable to speak until she says his name.

What's interesting to me are the elaborations and variations. When I was young, it was the incantation that acquired new parts; following the "jinx" one had to say "Knock on wood," followed by the name of a beer ("Schmidt," a local St. Paul brew, was the default choice), "Buy me a Coke" (I think it was kosher to say any soda/pop, but Coke is easiest to say), and eventually there were other additions which I have forgotten. To release the jinx-ee, however, we had only to say the person's name.

This, however, is only a snapshot of the ritual in one suburban Minnesota school district. I want to know about your regional variations, please! And yes, this might be research, but I'm also gen-yoo-wine-lee interested. So please comment below!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

In the West, Seventeen Horns Blowin'


Patrick Samphire has some thoughts about metaphor in speculative fiction. I think he's right on, here; metaphor tends to get lost when you're writing about the fantastic. I think, though, that it's not always due to a fault of the reading. It can also have to do with the nature of SF, wherein things can be literal which would otherwise impossible. Even something as trite as "I gave her my heart" can be written as fact in certain sorts of stories. More subtle metaphors can get completely lost in the press of impossible become reality, and SF readers aren't necessarily trained to spot them. It's hard, I think, to read on both levels at once, which is why otherwise smart readers will sometimes fixate on the plot significance of something that's intended to be symbolic. Frustrating, no doubt.

Other stuff.

I love the Dixie Chicks, and I don't care who knows it. Follow the link to hear a brand-new song off their upcoming album.

In a letter dated Monday, 250 scientists protested a federal proposal to no longer protect grizzly bears in the Yellowstone area under the Endangered Species Act. Two days later The Wildlife Society and the National Wildlife Federation come out in favor of de-listing. You know what this means; the bears are now selling tickets to a Scientist Cage Match! BYOF. (That's Fish.)

In India, Clive the 250-year-old tortoise dies of liver failure.

Spiritists in Hell's Kitchen.

Worst fake Bigfoot video ever. I wouldn't even point to it, but it comes from Ely, Minnesota. I mean, that's even farther north than Embarrass, Minnesota. There isn't a lot for the folks to do up there, you know. Probably that's the latest in winter fashion.

Things That Can't Possibly Turn Out Well #3528: Bruce Lee: The Musical.

You may have already seen this, but this young man needs to be given his props for out-debating his Republican Senator on gay rights issues. Go read.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Things That Can't Possibly Turn Out Well, #3527

They're going to make The Stars My Destination into a film.

Man, Alfie, I'm sorry.

Monday, March 20, 2006

This Bottle of Stephen's Awakens Ancient Feelings

If you're sick of the whole Itzkoff teapot tempest (and it would be hard to blame you if you are), skip this post. I'm late on this one, but I'm feeling crotchety. If you don't know what I'm talking about, here's a primer: Karen Joy Fowler on Octavia Butler (stupid Salon commercial view required). Michael Schaub takes offense to KJF's minor mention of Dave Itzkoff. Meghan cluesticks Schaub (doubt it'll take). The Itzkoff pieces in question (so far, anyway): One, two. And now, you're all caught up.

So, yeah. When I first read Schaub's response to KJF, I was fighting mad. And no, it's not the first time he's pissed me off with his casual contempt. On the other hand, I read Bookslut--particularly the blog--regularly, and while I'm more often ticked off by the tone of Schaub's postings than by Jessa Crispin's, I'm not annoyed enough to stop reading.

But I am annoyed, and now that I've cooled down, I'll tell you why. Aside from the warrantless snarking at KJF, there were a couple of quotes that really got up my nose. This one:

[A]t least Fowler is way more calm and measured about the situation than most of Itzkoff's critics on the blog circuit, many of whom are reacting to the list [that would be One, above] (of personal favorites, remember) with almost comical levels of unfettered geek rage.

And this one:

I guess the SF world is a lot more contentious than I thought.

(Parenthetically (hence the parentheses), I don't give a shit about this--

But there's one thing I think we can all agree on: Science fiction is not real literature, and everyone who enjoys it is a virgin. (Kidding! Kidding! I swear.)

--because this is clearly Schaub's way of pre-emptively deflecting any criticism as simply a matter of folks not being able to take a joke.)

OK, but back to the geek rage. Leaving aside the fact that I can't imagine KJF being other than calm and measured (this is exactly what makes some of her short fiction so harrowing, BTW . . . the calm and measured way in which she emotionally eviscerates her characters), and the nasty dismissive phrase "unfettered geek rage," what upsets me about that quote is the framing of it. Speaking objectively, Itzkoff, whatever his other qualifications, simply doesn't have geek cred. His history includes stints at Maxim and Spin (and he sounds like it). No, I'm not saying there's something wrong with that. But.

There's sort of an anthropological condescension at work here. We are, as Schaub so tactlessly reminds us, a subculture. Itzkoff is, for most of us, an unknown quantity. He's not one of us. And yet, he's been brought on by one of the nation's leading periodicals to comment on us. To observe us. Which he does, first, by lamenting that we are not cool enough to hang with. "Why does contemporary science fiction have to be so geeky?" he asks.

Dave--my name-brother--if you're too embarrassed to be reading us on the train, are you too embarrassed to be the Times' SF reviewer? 'Cause I can think of a dozen people off the top of my head who are more qualified to mediate between the lit-insiders and the outsiders that you like to tell us we are. I don't, incidentally, believe that this is strictly true nowadays. But folks like you and Michael are the reason it's true at all. You don't seem to be immersed enough to grok what SF is about, that it's gone through some changes since the 1960's, that it's not just white guys writing it nowadays (if it ever was). You're skimming the surface, brother, and if you were anyone but an SF reviewer, that would be just fine. But you are an SF reviewer, even if you don't like to talk about it at parties. It's time to step up your game and broaden your reading.

Back to Schaub. "I guess the SF world is a lot more contentious than I thought," he says, and I can't think of a more dismissive way to refer to a subculture. It approaches a colonial level of condescension. "You mean those little people have opinions?" Why, f*&% you very much, Michael, yes we do. We have discourse. We have arguments. Really, it's almost a mark of respect to Itzkoff that he's been dogpiled on, because we do it to our own all the time. It's one of our quaint little rituals; when someone says something stupid, we like to call them on it. Your ignorance of these cultural norms suggests that you are not qualified to comment on these rituals anymore than is your friend Dave. (You are friends, aren't you? I mean, I can't figure out why you'd just flip out and machine-gun a bunch of phantom geek bloggers (please point to an instance of unfettered geek rage) like that unless you've got your back up about a friend of yours. Or maybe you just think the geeks should know their place?)

There's a Viking proverb: "No man is a fool if he keeps silence." And if this were a Saturday night con party and we were all getting drunk and talking shit, we could just tell these guys to shut up, or ignore them. But this is not the case. Bookslut and The New York Times aren't going away. The way we are presented by Itzkoff, and to a lesser degree by Schaub, affects how we are viewed. It affects the attitudes of readers and publishers. It keeps us in the geek box.

I doubt very much that Schaub cares enough to educate himself out of his assumptions. Luckily, there are others at Bookslut, including Ms. Crispin, who are more friendly towards SF. As for Itzkoff, despite his inauspicious beginnings, it's early yet. We know where he's coming from, at least. Perhaps he will reveal himself to be more nuanced in his opinions than we've seen so far; perhaps he will learn. If not, perhaps next time the Times will not make such an extraordinary effort to find a reviewer whose primary credential is that Phil Dick makes him go all whoa.

The Needle Has Landed

Good morning. Now go read Meghan's story at Strange Horizons.