zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (read)

Ghost Night by Dani Atkinson

Urban fantasy where the fantasy is, in the author's words, 'commonplace enough to make the weather report'. I have to say, the warding precautions are so complex I honestly think the authorities have a point saying '...Actually just don't even try.' Though I also see the point that people will be desperate enough. So, probably there should be licensed practitioners or something.



It Brought Us All Together, by Marissa Lingen

(A reread as I perform browser-tab maintenance.) This is about grief and reminds me a lot about the earthquakes even though it's nothing to do with that.



So Much Cooking by Naomi Kritzer

Food blog + bird flu pandemic = all of the earthquake feels that got missed out by the previous story.



Yuanyuan’s Bubbles by Liu Cixin

The utility of beauty: blowing soap bubbles as climate change-induced drought threatens a city.



Today I Am Paul by Martin L. Shoemaker

This was sweetly sad (reminding me of the recent Dutch documentary about a care-bot prototype being alpha-tested) and then I reached the last line and the only thing that stopped me bawling my eyes out was that I was visiting family and I didn't feel like explaining.

zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (read)

Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers, by Alyssa Wong

Starts with the classic 'Creepy dude preying on women is fallen on by his intended prey' but then it continues and is creepy awesome.



Needle on Bone, by Helena Bell

I didn't at the start understand why the narrator's equating their lover with the aliens, but by the end: yes. Yes, and so poignantly.



Cradle, by Tom Jolly

Why do wildly different aliens so often subsist in such similar atmospheres to our own? That's not the point of this story, but it has an implicit answer to it anyway.

zeborah: On the shoulders of giants: zebra on a giraffe (science)
or,
Forget your goddamn hoverboard — where's my utopia?

Every now and then someone writes some screed that seems to presuppose that science-fiction began with Star Trek or Campbell and that the movement to include social themes is destroying the genre. This is a patent nonsense: firstly because the genre is flourishing; secondly because social themes were always part of those stories; and thirdly because Campbell and Star Trek were mere johnny-come-latelies to a centuries' long list of illustrious foremothers.

But the fake geek guys don't actually care about the history of the genre. All they care about is what they read and saw when they were growing up. That's why the catch cry among the current generation is "Where's my hoverboard?" They saw Back to the Future Part II, they imprinted on the hoverboard like a newborn chick on its mother and, ever since, that piece of cheap technology is all they want of the future.

What this doesn't take into account is that hoverboards don't come from nowhere. Someone, or more likely some team of people, has to create them. Back to the Future Part II has no interest in exploring this. It's not the kind of story that delves into social themes; it's the kind of story that knocks a woman unconscious and leaves her in the alley to keep her from interfering in the men's adventure. So it simply has our white male hero steal the hoverboard from a native of the time period and proceed to trash it.

Star Trek, though it was (self-)consciously interested in social themes and depicted the future as a utopia, wasn't much more forthcoming on how its technology or that utopia developed. Which came first, the replicator or the society with no need for money? Zefram's warp drive seems necessary to meet the Vulcans and enable humanity's next step of societal 'evolution'. It's never spelled out and there are a few counterpoints — the Prime Directive at least seems to recognise that technology isn't a panacea — but by and large the general impression, imbibed by the generation raised on the show(s), is that if we get the technology right, society will fall into place.

This isn't entirely unfounded: technology can greatly improve quality of life. Birth control, immunisations, water filtration, solar power and cellphones have, together and severally, incredible transformative power. But it's not the whole story. We still need to figure out how to get our hoverboard.

And this is something that the ovular works of science-fiction took an intense interest in. Whether their utopias were reached by the imagination, a polar vortex, a dream, or time travel, they didn't want to just revel in cool technology (although they did that) or the fantastic adventures it enabled (though they did that too). They wanted to know How do we in the present get some of this? And the answers were based in social justice.

Suffrage, says The Blazing World. Education, an end to early marriage, and keeping men secluded in mardana, says Sultana's Dream. Physical and mental training for women, suffrage, prostitution reform, and farming, says Men's Rights. Free and universal education, class equality, parthenogenesis, and eugenics, says Mizora: a Prophecy.

Yes, eugenics; no, these authors were not perfect. (None of us are: we can but keep striving for it.) But they were right about extending education. The more people we educate, the more people can contribute to advancement of society, knowledge, and technology. Like science-fiction, computing was literally founded by women, and we wouldn't be anywhere near where we are today without the integral contributions of LGBT people, of people of colour, of people with disabilities.

But our society doesn't make it easy for any of these people. In the news recently have been the stories of women who left astrophysics because a prominent lecturer at their university harassed them and countless others for years with impunity. The same happens in science-fiction fandom. It happens in computing. And it happens in engineering. People who don't meet the cis-het white male standard get chased, sidelined, and ignored out of the field.

So where's our hoverboard? Let me tell you: it was supposed to be created by a team of engineers who met at a conference and discovered a shared passion and a mutually complementary set of skills. But in our timeline, none of these people are in the field any more. Maybe they got shot at the École Polytechnique. Maybe they got arrested for building a clock. Long story short, if we want a hoverboard we're going to have to take our DeLorean 30 years back in time and fix whatever went wrong.

No DeLorean time machine? Well, in that case maybe we'll just have to settle for fixing the things that are still going wrong in the present.

So first we need to build our social justice utopia and then we'll get our hoverboard. And a lot more besides.
zeborah: Zebra holding a pen, its stripes forming the word "Write" (writing)
This novel took have a dozen versions over a dozen years to finish to my satisfaction; I submitted it a few places, then gave up, and haven't seriously thought about it in years.

Yesterday, for a random reason, I started reading it again. And... I liked it. The prose is perhaps a little purple, the pace a little slow, the hints at things I should have just said a little opaque. In the middle half, some of the soap factor needs to be reigned back. But by and large...

The more serious problem (which I've known for ages and is probably one reason I abandoned the novel as a lost cause) is that I was doing this 'post-feminist' (with all the quotation marks) thing of "Sure, a woman can run a starship if she wants, but sometimes a woman just wants to go home to one's hyperpatriarchal society and be owned by a man with no real recourse if he decides he wants to kill her". Which: Young Zeborah, what were you thinking?(*)

But also, I noticed this time and not then, the entire rest of the novel is steeped in all the rape culture. It's all terribly asexual, but wow. The main character is harassed and almost everyone including herself blame her for not reciprocating; the author-at-the-time saw Both Sides of the Story while now I'm all, "Dude, she said back off. Back off!" In an important subplot, her best friend makes a complaint of harassment and all the focus is on exonerating the poor guy she's complaining about and then it turns out she made a terrible mistake and he's innocent after all. In other really important subplot, same person defends herself from super serious charges by explaining about the super serious harassment she was undergoing and no-one including the main character believes her.

It's... wow, it's really bad. Or... they're some really horrible situations, narrated uncritically. So now I can't help but feel that if I told them more critically, and was also more critical of some of the politics behind Federation and space exploration and post-war peace treaties -- I could make a really powerful theme out of boundaries and the violation thereof and the reclaiming of agency afterwards.

Or possibly waste my time on a novel I filed away seven years ago with very good reason.

It's not like I don't have a pile of unfinished things I could be working on instead....


(*) I'm pretty sure what I was thinking was that I was young and nervous about being an adult.
zeborah: Zebra with mop and text: Clean all the things! (housework)
When you've got a tiny bit of touch-up painting to do, and you think, "It's not worth using a dropsheet for a job this tiny," you're wrong. Always use a dropsheet.

This was not my mistake, this was the professionals' mistake. Several times. In fact, every time they've tidied a spot where they'd dripped paint before, they've dripped a new colour of paint on something else. I foresee this taking us recursively into the new new millennium. I'm going to see if I can convince them to leave me some of the interior paint so I can just sign off on the project already and fix it myself.

After having procured a dropsheet.

ETA: When reminded to put the curtain rod back up, you don't have to interpret this too strictly; you could also put the curtain itself back up too. Except no, you couldn't, because you put the curtain rod up back to front. --I fixed this eventually, though I managed to warp one of the thingammies so one of the screws isn't really exactly holding anything, but nothing's fallen down yet so it must be good.

---

In entirely other news, one step closer to a replicator in every home. (Well, one step closer to replicator patterns in every home, the replicator itself is more expensive and thus far limited in the materials it can work with.)
zeborah: Map of New Zealand with a zebra salient (Default)
Right at the moment, of course, the sky is bright, bright blue with a few scattered white clouds.

But you all know that's not what I meant. And thank you for the ideas yesterday. I always feel guilty when I ask for ideas and then say “No, that's wrong, I don't like that, no." But of course they're all helpful even when they are 'wrong', and working out why they won't work for me is useful too.

I do want to avoid fantasy, and thus gods; and my sisters awesome suggestion last night that the sky might host a plague, and the plague might leave survivors photosensitive, would have perfectly given me the arbitrary quality that I need, but at the cost of making the premises seem arbitrary too.

But Caper_est's suggestion that the pieces of sky could have some useful properties too – well, I already knew that, but as I was brushing my teeth and thinking about things from an entirely different angle I realised I had a solution.

Because the primary property of sky is that it protects from the sunlight. Even when it is lying on the ground it should still do this. So yes, people are going to learn how to make windows out of it to protect themselves. But in the meantime as it lies on the ground, it's going to be sheltering at least some small portions of the biosphere – patches of grass for example. Ants. Cockroaches. Larger drifts of it might shelter a lucky cat, or a very lucky human.

The only question left was what do these pieces of sky look like. At first I thought they'd be like glass, but you'd think the sky would be thicker than that. I was pondering Styrofoam, or something softer. But that didn't seem right either.So I chatted with my sister again today. She agreed that Styrofoam seems too soft and suggested shale instead. So it's composed of overlapping layers of something like glass and when it shatters it falls in flakes and sheets. It's light – I feel that sky should be able to float on water – but extremely sharp-edged, So it cuts when it falls: power lines, people. But being light it easily slowed down so it might cut through a roof but then lie in the roof space. Winds will affect where it goes too so it will lie thinner in some areas and thicker in others. On average, maybe a foot deep, so most people and most trees will be too high to benefit. But here and there, a sheet larger than usual might fall on the low-lying forest and last just long enough to break the fall of other sheets so some patch of forest can even survive.

And then humans figure out how to make it into windows and glass houses and so forth...

I think (as soon as I've finished my short stories in progress) I may be ready to start this novel.
zeborah: Map of New Zealand with a zebra salient (Default)
In my high school story, the sky broke when one too many aeroplanes flew through it. Itshattered and fell, and afterwards humans had to live underground. I think the sky had acted much like the ozone layer: afterwards people were greatly at risk of sunburn. Possibly, but I can't remember, all the air had also escaped in defiance of gravity.

Considering it now, I see four ways in which a breaking sky could be a disaster:

1) the shards of the sky could fall and hurt people, by concussion or by slicing. But even in the middle of a bright sunny day, I don't see how this could possibly kill more than half the population. Meantime, on the other side of the world, 99.9% of the population will be safe in bed or at work inside.

2) the sky could have been protecting against harmful radiation from the sun. If the radiation was severe enough, even the light coming through windows could kill you. But this would kill the rest of the biosphere too. And worse, of course, if the radiation's that bad, then even the survivors won't survive long.

3) the sky could have been holding the air down. Bt handwaving gravity seems to go a bit far. Besides, not only are there very few people who have spare oxygen tanks lying around, I suspect they'd have a hard time securing a permanent supply before their existing supplies ran out. And then there's the rest of the biosphere again.

4) the shards of the sky could be poisonous. They could release t toxic fumes – and for bonus points, the fumes could only affect humans. But the humans who survivve would tend to be humans who have gas masks readily to hand. And I want to write about ordinary people, not soldiers, emergency service folk, and survivalists.

I think (1) is a given. But it obviously needs something more. My imagination likes (2) best: the idea of sunshine being deadly (both at the moment when the sky falls and in the after days) has a lot of storytelling potential. I think I could even cope with destroying the whole biosphere: then part of the story thrust would involve the survivors having to grow plants again, first for mid-term survival, and then on a larger scale needing to find a way to regrow rainforests to ensure the long-term health of the planet. It would be a massive, multigenerational task, but that's where the optimism comes in. It does leave me with the problem of handwaving a kind of radiation that can kill near instantly but doesn't linger to be a nuisance once the sun's set.

Unless the toxic fumes from the shards of the sky made humans extremely photosensitive. That might almost work. I still kinda want this to happen almost instantly, mostly because the sound of nearly 7,000,000,000 people dying of sunburn... makes it hard to be optimistic.

Or – I was going to start the novel as it happened, with the flash of light, the brightness of the sky concentrating itself into the blinding brightness of the sun – but maybe I had the right idea when I was a teenager: start the story with a hand wavy paragraph saying “yeah, we didn't think the sky could break either, but, well, it's happened, so let's just get on with surviving and staying away from sunlight" and just carry on from there.
zeborah: Vuvuzela concert: This is serious art. (art)
I've got a couple of short stories I need to finish, but when they are done it feels time to get back to writing novels. I've got a few ideas, but nothing's really grabbed me. Until I was reading a New Zealand post-apocalyptic fantasy (by the way, all the books I'm reading now I'm reviewing on GoodReads - these ones are Kokopu Dreams and Shadow Waters - and feeding the entries through to twitter) and was one of those ones that does just enough right to inflame the imagination, but just enough wrong to inspire me to feel that I can do better.

Now the thing is, I'm not actually all that in to post-apocalyptic novels. I read a few as a young adult: The Burning Times, Children of the Dust, things like that. But they were always so depressing, pessimistic, fatalistic. And now here's me wanting to write one myself. An optimistic one. Which kind of starts with the premise.

In prehistoric times, post-apocalyptic stories were about floods (Noah, Gilgamesh, Atlantis). In the mid to late 20th century, it was the nuclear holocaust (we even did Z For Zachariah in class). Then there's plagues (The Handmaid's Tale, Kokopu Dreams et seq.): you can destroy 99.9% of humanity, but leave the rest of the biosphere intact, which is handy if you want to argue that we ought to go back to nature, as so many of these stories seem to do. Oh, and there's the space age version: colonists crash on Terra Nullius and colonise away, unfettered by either pesky natives or supplies from home to prevent you reverting to feudalism.

In all versions, survivors are likely to acquire handy supernatural powers. But aside from that, the stories aren't terribly optimistic: all these premises take for granted the idea that we're a hair's breadth away from extinction. And even more pessimistically, they frequently take for granted the idea that this is a good thing. So I want to write a story that completely subverts all of this: I want to say that population is good, and technology is good, and our current society isn't all that bad either; without ever granting the supposition that the mega disaster I posit is actually to be feared.

When I was in high school, I started a story called something like “The Day the Sky Broke". It was meant to be a slightly absurdist premise played seriously. My teacher didn't understand it. But then, I didn't have much idea where it was going either. Now I'm pondering it again: writing a post-apocalyptic novel about the sky literally falling. But no matter how I work it, I have trouble killing the requisite 99.9% of humanity without also killing every other living thing on earth, including rainforests and the mysterious things that live in the ocean. While this would lend an urgency To the survivors' realisation that retaining technology is perhaps more useful than going back to nature, I think it might be going a little overboard after all.

I've got one other idea, but it involves magic, and I'd rather write this one as science-fiction.

So. Still pondering.

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