When All Else Changes


A few years ago, I read a book called The Science Fiction Hall of Fame: Volume I. This book purported to be “The Greatest Science Fiction Stories of All Time” and presented stories published in the 1930s to the 1960s in order to showcase these “greatest” stores that were published before they could win a Hugo Award that they so obviously deserved. Two things became immediately obvious upon reading this book:

  1. Out of the 21 stories presented, only one was written by a woman. And that was the least sexist thing about this volume.
  2. Some of the “greatest” science fiction writers of their time could not imagine a world where women had names. Or speaking roles. Or didn’t exist simply to keep house and get the coffee.

The utter lack of any idea that the social elements of a country might change along with the technological elements echoed through those stories like the dog that didn’t bark. It isn’t like these writers didn’t know that culture changes. They lived through the first world war or the second or Korea or the Cold War. They1 saw their world change, sometimes dramatically, during the course of their lives. And yet? They could not see the role of women change much if at all in the futures that they wrote about.

This comes to mind now because I’ve been watching and enjoying the various DC television series, often called the Arrowverse. These shows are fun and some of the most progressive shows on television from a social standpoint: diverse characters, inclusive storylines, strong women in positions of leadership and authority. We have Sarah Lance leading the Legends and next year we’ll have Supergirl’s adoptive sister Alex leading the DEO. White man Barry Allen married Iris West, a black woman. Two of the smartest people in the universe are Felicity Smoak (a woman, and also Jewish) and Cisco Ramon (Puerto Rican) and they come through to save the main heroes every episode.

Just on Supergirl we have gay characters planning their wedding, a black hero/vigilante afraid to take off his mask because cops kill people like him, the chauvinism of how the world affords much more respect to SuperMAN than SuperGIRL, and a huge crossover series where the ultimate point of the storyline was to punch Nazis. And yet?

And yet they can not conceive of relationships as anything other than monogamous.2

What brought this to mind was the storyline on Supergirl over the last two seasons between Kara and Mon-El. It started off traditionally enough and, in true Superhero fashion, ended tragically (so we thought) when Mon-El had to leave earth. We open season three with Kara mourning the loss of her sweetie just seven months prior and dreaming about him. So of course, before she’s fully healed from the tragic and sudden end of her relationship with Mon-El, before she’s stopped loving him, he returns. From 1000 years in the future. With his wife.

For him it has been seven years and he’s “moved on.” But of course, he hasn’t. In good 3 television fashion, the writers set up a potential love triangle between Kara, Mon-El, and his wife Imra. It’s obvious to everyone that all three are conflicted about what’s going on. Kara respects the fact that it has been seven years for him, but it hasn’t for her and she tries to deal with that by not telling him how she feels because she ‘respects’ his marriage. Mon-El begins to remember what it was that he had loved about Kara in the first place but doesn’t say anything for Reasons and lies to Imra when she asks him how he feels. Imra sees that there is conflict and wants to know what her place is because 31st century woman passively wait for the guy to choose just one.

Why? Because in the 31st century they still have 20th century idealized relationship structures?

We’ve seen relationships change, radically, even within my lifetime. Divorce and gay marriage just two of the most obvious changes, not to mention singledom and cohabiting without marriage or even plans for marriage, all of which are part of the Arrowverse. And yet, one thousand years from now, the very ideal of coupledom as the sole basis for relationships hasn’t changed? At all? Not even a little bit?

I’m not saying that the characters would eventually choose polyamory or even that they should. But I am saying that the very concept that love is boundless should be given some screen time. Because even now, in the 21st century, ethical nonmonogamy is a thing, practiced by uncounted thousands of people in the US alone. More and more people recognize that attraction and love can happen without it being the end to a current, agreed-upon relationship structure. No, I’m not suggesting that in 1000 years everyone will be poly. I am suggesting that the writers of Supergirl might have found a progressive way of writing a storyline involving three people that wasn’t trite, overdone, completely predictable, and the least progressive thing about the show.

  1. As noted, these authors were almost all men. You’d think that ‘the male gaze’ would have at least noticed flapper dresses. 
  2. Maybe the writers can imagine such a thing. Chances are that some of the writers may even practice ethical nonmonogamy themselves. But that’s one social element that has not made it to the screen. 
  3. And by that I mean boring, unimaginative, and predictable. 

Edited to remove typos and to clarify some of the text.

I’m Not Insecure! S/He’s Not Safe!


I’ve been following Polyamory Weekly for years now, pretty much since the podcast first began, more than a decade ago. But just because I love Cunning Minx and the resources that she provides, that doesn’t mean I always agree with her or her co-hosts.

In her 507th episode, How do I get control of my fears? she and co-host Kevin were discussing a letter from listener “Lost and Confused.” Lost and Confused asked how to get control of her fears and insecurities so she can feel more comfortable in poly situations.

From what I recall of the episode1, the letter writer presented a situation where she and her hubby were in the beginning stages of poly. She had asked him to limit his sexual encounters with his new sweetie, to not engage in PiV (penis in vagina) sex. He agreed to those stipulations.

And then he violated that agreement.

Okay, “just a little bit” (what does that even mean?). We’re told that he then stopped what he was doing with his sweetie and went to talk to his wife about it all.

To be fair, I agreed with about 80-85% of what Minx and Kevin suggested. So please, go to the link and you can read those suggestions for yourself. But there is one element of this that Minx got wrong — and consistently gets wrong — that I felt strongly enough about to write my own blog post about it.

Both Minx and Kevin call the letter writer “insecure” and ask rhetorically why she is trying to control her husband’s sexual interactions. “What’s the big deal?”

Holy crap, where to start?

How about the fact that she’s not “insecure.” Her husband has just shown to her that he is not willing to keep to his agreements. She is actually, justifiably, INSECURE because he’s proven to her that she should not feel secure in his promises.

Our letter writer is just getting started in poly. She’s had however-many-years of learning the monogamy rules and how life works on the relationship escalator. She honestly doesn’t know how she is going to feel, how she’s going to react, to a polyamorous situation because it is all new to her. So she asks her husband to take his sexual relationship with another woman slowly. Give them all — but maybe mostly her —  time to acclimate to the changed reality. Minx and Kevin both — rightly — call what she’s going through “experience shock.” Yes! And she tried to minimize the experience shock by setting some boundaries.

  • A boundary which her husband agreed to
  • A boundary which her husband then violated. Twice.

Would it help to call them “expectations” instead of boundaries? No. Not at all. Because in either case: she asked. He agreed. He did what he had agreed not to do.

In the long run, it really isn’t about the sex. People who have been poly a long time may not even think to create the sort of stipulation that would limit what our sweeties do sexually with their sweeties. But in this, an early test of how the two of them will do poly together, she learned that he isn’t willing or able to abide by decisions he’s agreed to. Her feelings of uncertainty, fear, unease are all perfectly justified. Not only that, they are smart feelings to have. Poly relationships rely on trust as much as communication and the husband in this case has proven himself untrustworthy.

Of course, this can be overcome. These are growing pains. But they are NOT her growing pains. He has to learn how important it is to abide by his agreements. Yes, she has to learn how unimportant it is where his dick (consensually) goes. But to dismiss her rightful feelings of unease over his failures does neither of them good service. The husband has to abide his agreements (as does she, of course). The letter writer needs to learn she can trust that he will (and that she, in turn, will keep to her agreements).

The biggest problem is that I hear this dismissive attitude ALL THE TIME. “Oh, you’re just being insecure” is a phrase that is flung about as if it is an irrefutable argument, a taunt to shut down discussion, to shame the person feeling uncertain, leaving the person who is being an unsafe partner free of scrutiny. The reality is, the lack of feeling secure is because they know that they don’t get to ask for what they want and to have that request respected. Minx and Kevin were right to discuss the ways in which feelings of unwarranted insecurity can be overcome. But where they messed up was in dismissing the feelings of this letter writer as unwarranted.

  1. Minx paraphrased the letter, so it is entirely possible that the letter writer didn’t make explicit her expectations or boundaries. So the specifics may be off. But, alas, I’ve heard enough laments about ”insecurities” from hers and other podcasts that my larger point stands. 

Timeless Flaws


2016-0801-timeless-aboutimage-1920x1080-koNBC’s Timeless presents users a science fiction trope of time travel but I can’t see any evidence that anyone associated with the show has ever read any science fiction! But that may be because they are trying to do a character show with some “action” (aka “things blowing up”) and so the science fiction aspect is pretty much ignored. It is never billed as a science fiction show, although the time travel aspect is central to the entire story arc.

The thing is, they do time travel so very, very badly I’m not entirely sure the show runners have ever read or watched any science fiction using time travel as a concept. Lots of stories — both written and filmed — have played with the concept over the years that they could have still created a “family” show, an “action” show without making the watching of it painful for actual science fiction fans.

Let’s take the “ticking clock” aspect that they feel the need to build into every show. The discover that the bad guy has made a jump to a past timeframe. What happens next? Do they begin In-depth research into the era? Do they train the three heroes on the nuances of the target era? On the way to wear the clothes, the kind of foods to expect, the social strictures and religious mores?


They hurry. They rush. They throw things together, grab a costume off the rack and jump into the time machine so that the bad guy doesn’t have time to do any damage.

Wait, what? The bad guy is in the past! And when they do jump to the target time, do they set it to go earlier? Nope. They get there after he has already arrived even though they have a time machine.

The blurb on the show talks about the need to preserve the past, and yet every single episode, history is radically changed. People are moved onto other paths, they interact with people they otherwise would not have, people are dead that would not have gotten dead except for them. Has any of that changed the future? Once, in the first episode. Our heroine’s sister disappeared from the timeline. But that is the only major change to any character, yet alone to the nation or the world.

The show would have been so much better if someone would have spent a few hours watching old Star Trek episodes, or Quantum Leap, or even old Time Tunnel. Better yet if they had read any number of books. But they didn’t and don’t actually seem to care.

It would have worked so much better if the story had taken place on an alternate Earth. Then the changes that inevitably happen on every mission would serve to get them closer to our timeline. This would allow the writers to create whatever mayhem they want, as long as it all ends up being accurate to our history. This would allow the viewers to enjoy the added tension that every show gets them closer to being us. The rest would still rankle, but the show would be so much better.

They do history as badly as they do time travel (two demographics that will stop watching sooner rather than later), which is a sad waste of both. In this era of ‘alternate facts’ we could use some story telling that bothered to be accurate and not an insult to viewers’ intelligence.

Hunger Games, movie and book review

Last week I watched the movie Hunger Games and last weekend I read the book by Suzanne Collins. I’m not usually a YA reader, although I’ve read more in last year than I usually do. My gf had bought the book on Kindle and so, when we were together last week, we watched the movie on PPV. I was impressed enough to ask for the book, and she was able to loan me the first one.
Now, having both watched the movie and read the book, I have to say that the movie was one of the best adaptations of a book into film that I have ever seen. Like Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, the writers managed to capture the essence of the book and make a movie out of it that captures the story but makes it a movie, not a book. No mean feat.
Reading and watching movies are such completely different entertainment modes that it amazes me how often people expect movies to be “just like” the book and vice versa. They want the story the know from the book and are (almost universally) disappointed when the viewing experience doesn’t manage to capture the reading experience they had (I’m not even going to go into the whole participatory element of reading. But I could. You stand warned). Utilizing differences between those two types of experiences to tell the best story that the movie medium allows, while still retaining the impact of the book is impressive. Take Point of View for instance.
The book is told in first person point of view. For this story, it is the perfect choice. We get to experience Katniss’ reactions to the events in her world, learning just enough at just the right time to keep the world understandable for us (always a challenge in any SF/Fantasy or Historical fiction where the world building has to happen fast enough to allow us to follow the action but not so fast we lose track of the action in the details of the world). The first chapter of Hunger Games is the perfect first chapter. Plenty of action, smooth introduction of characters, just the right amount of world building. I think that most of this is a credit to the choice of first person as the POV.
In the Games section of the book, the close POV heightens the feeling of dread as she doesn’t know (so we don’t know) who of her enemies is where. We get her dread, her resilience, her pain, her motivations as she tries to stay alive in the game. I don’t think that even a close 3rd would have given the readers as much. At the end of the game, we get to follow her thoughts as she realizes that the double-suicide would mess with the gamemakers’ plans and to the extent that (she hopes!) the gamemakers will interrupt them before they’re both dead. Because we know her true motivation, that she know what would push the gamemakers and chose that action because of it, we then know at the end that she *did* rebel as far as they were concerned. The danger as it is shown at the end of the story is real. The same is true for the “romance” between her and Peeta: we see her motivation and so we know it is a ruse for her, even as it becomes gradually more than a stratagem. She doesn’t know, and so we don’t, just how much of it is a ruse for Peeta, and just how much is heartrendingly in earnest.
The movie, however, is a movie. First person isn’t really an option. And, for the film, it wouldn’t be a good idea. This is a visual medium and we want to be able to have the expansive scope available to us. The film makers can raise the stakes by showing us how close her opponents are, for example, showing us what she doesn’t know. Effective in the movie given the visual medium. Would not have been as effective in the book. Because it is 3rd person, we get to see the machinations of the president and the efforts of Haymitch and others on her behalf. This works in the movie to add tension. In the book, it might have worked as well, but the close identification with Katniss worked better.
But. It is a different story than the book. They are both good, they are both effective, they are both eerie and enraging as hell. In both cases, the writer(s) used the medium best to tell their story.

One quibble: the “meta” fact of the movie wasn’t played up as much as it should have been, in my opinion. The book, being a book, telling us about the televised Hunger Games, gives us a distance. We’re not watching the games, like those ghouls, those decadent assholes in the capitol. No, we’re with Katniss, in her story, not outside of it. Watching the movie, however, is the same psychic distance as watching the televised Games would be for those other decadent assholes. The movie could have made much more of this by using shots that showed the story as if we were seeing it on TV. More “hidden camera” shots, more documentary style filming. We should be uncomfortable watching the violence. We know it’s not real, but our society has very little compunction about watching simulated violence. Being made uncomfortable by that, wouldn’t have been a bad thing.

A Weekend with Your Novel – A Review

Not that anyone had been clamoring for new blog posts from me, but I feel as if I should note why I haven’t posted anything in months. I wish I could say I’d been writing furiously instead of blogging. Or had been traveling somewhere exotic or simply hiking the Appalachian Trail. But no. The computer crashed in early June and my relationship required a reboot in late June and it was that easy to fall out of the habit of writing and spend time doing fun summery things. As a means by which I could put myself in the path of a writing habit again, I signed up for A Weekend with your Novel one of the offerings from the UW-Madison’s continuing Studies program. It gave me a deadline by which to have the first fifty pages polished (just in case someone asked to see them right then!) and got me thinking about writing again.
Saturday came and I headed downtown early, with the first, informal, session beginning just after 8:00AM. Billed as a “weekend” with the novel, I only spent the one day on campus. Friday and Sunday had opportunities for participating in critique groups, but I opted out of that. My novel – in whole or in part – had been critiqued by my writing group (twice), in a WisCon workshop, various other friends, and my sweetie who, most recently, acted as copy editor. Right now, I didn’t need more people telling me what to change. I had to learn, for myself, what needs changing.
My primary purpose in attending was to focus on the business side. Alas, that didn’t happen. The first workshop was the only one that fit that description: “The Concept and the Query Letter.” The aims of the class were good, and I’ve been impressed with Laurel Yourke before, but on Saturday she didn’t have her best stuff. A large part of it was the large class of neophytes who ate up nearly a third of the 90 minute workshop just asking questions about genre (seriously, people. If you go into a Barnes & Nobles Bookseller, where on the floor would you expect to find your book? Got it? Until the marketing department tells you otherwise, that is your genre). Too many students wanted the “right” answers and Laurel worked hard to give them those answers, seriously hampered by the fact that such answers don’t exist. Laurel warned people off from the Internet as a source of query letter examples without mentioning such invaluable sites like Query Shark.
Laurel did give good advice – and a great handout – on the features of a query letter and what must be in there (name, title of the manuscript, word count) vs what may go in if there’s something to say (what kind of platform do you have?). But the serious work of taking a 100k story and condensing it into a “hook” and two sentence “logline” was given short shrift. I’m not entirely sure what I will need to feel comfortable getting that work done for my own novel, but what I got in that class didn’t give it to me.
The next workshop I didn’t get much out of either. That I lay to me choosing the wrong workshop to go to more than its content. “Trouble & Twists: Making Nice Characters Just Naughty Enough” was not the right workshop for me. I have long had the problem where I don’t want bad things to happen to my characters. I have also had characters that were too perfect, Mary Sues and Marty Stues that could do everything they set their minds to. After listening to the workshop I realized I did not have that problem with this novel. Nor are they too “nice” or in need of some sort of naughtiness. Not that the information that characters need to be more rounded, more alloyed with both good and bad ports is bad information. It just wasn’t the most immediately helpful to me because I feel as if I’m doing much of that. Perhaps that’s what I got out of the workshop, the confirmation that I’m on the right track with these characters after all.
In the afternoon I attended two workshops given by Christopher Mohar. Now those workshops were useful! My novel is somewhere between too long and way too long (I keep hearing different measures for “too long.” If it was anything other than fantasy, it would definitely be way too long. With it being a Fantasy novel, it is probably just too long). Chris’s “Middles: Tone the Spare Tire” has helped me immensely. Or at least, it will when I have a chance to put it all into practice. He gave a tone of very practical information on how to judge if a scene contributed to the story, how to make sure the tension stayed at the pace it needs to be at given where it falls in the story, and more. Because of that workshop and his “Endings” workshop, I spent much of the day Sunday combing through the manuscript for where I can start toning and shaping. I’m confident that I’ll lose some “word pounds” before I’m all done and have a much better novel to show for it.

Until it is on the shelf at the book store, it isn’t finished. At some point, I may be done with it, but until then, I’m going to continue striving to make this the best novel I can.

Book Review: The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner

One of the books recommended at the Return of the Rape Panel was Ellen Kushner’s The Privilege of the Sword. Since I’d also been to the Living the Long Tail panel, it became the first book I’ve read using a Kindle app on my Android phone. The following  is both a review of reading on a phone and a review of the novel.
One of the things I mentioned as a benefit of using Kindle was that, pretty much as soon as someone mentioned a book at one of the panels, I could access Amazon and get a sample of that book sent to my Kindle app. That makes it really easy to keep track of recommendations and then to read enough of those books to see if there’s more I’d like. Buying the book is very simple from the app as well.
Another benefit that I hadn’t realized at first was that all instances of Kindle used by me are linked. I have a Kindle app on my home PC, my work PC, and my phone (no Kindle device yet, but I’ve been strongly leaning in that direction. At least until my home PC became a boat anchor and there may be a new computer purchase in my future). I usually have my phone with me throughout the day and more than once I found I wasn’t able to make it home for lunch. That meant eating out and I had reading material with me. A really nice feature was that Kindle kept track of where I’d been reading across all of the devices. If I read for a bit on my home PC and then went out to lunch, the phone app would ask if I wanted to go to the furthest point read. It remembered where I was on that device and where I was over all. Nice feature.
For the most part, I enjoyed reading on the Kindle app. One of the things that has me more interested in Kindle than the other book readers is that Kindle allows me to make annotations, bookmarks, and highlights. Except you can only create bookmarks with the phone app and that’s not as nice. It makes the app good for novel reading, but not great for research. Good limitation to know.
I’ve read the two other books that Ellen Kushner has set in this universe (Swordspoint and The Fall of the Kings) and enjoyed them both, but it had been several years since I’d read the last one. That meant I felt a bit lost trying to remember if I’d met certain characters before and what they’d been doing when last we spent time together. That was probably a mistake on my part. Ellen (I can use her first name that because I’ve met her a couple of times at WisCon. Spent time in her “living room” at the ‘con several years ago. She wouldn’t remember me at all, but I’d like to pretend we’d be on a first name basis) set this story several years forward from the last one in the series and so the main characters in those tales were secondary to this one.
The story is really good. Let’s get that out of the way up front. I think it may be my favorite of the series but I should re-read the first two before I make that definitive. This review is going to focus on two elements of the story that are either intriguing or challenging. The first is the reason the book had been recommended to me originally. A major element of the plot is the rape of one of the secondary characters. Unlike rape as it’s depicted in shows like Law and Order SVU or the majority of novels, this rape was typical. What’s that? You don’t know what I mean? Rape as it’s often depicted in TV shows and books is most often perpetrated by strangers with violence. Afterward, the person raped is usually totally destroyed by the experience or has put it all behind hir by the fourth act or a dozen chapters later. More to the point, rape is something that happens to move a plot forward and then ignored when the plot no longer requires hir suffering.
The rape in this story is actually typical: the person was someone she knew, it happened more by the way of coercion (social more than physical) than knife point. She then told her family about the rape, but they were more interested in preserving the family name and status than in helping out their daughter. I admit: at first I was put off by the fact that the last half of the novel became about the rape. Despite picking up the book because of how it handled rape, I found the story to be distressing to me because of how much time was spent on the aftermath. Of course, before long I realized that was the point. The violence perpetrated against the character, particularly in the society as Ellen set it up, needed to reverberate across all the other characters and plot points in the novel. Just as promised at the WisCon panel, the issue of rape became central to the character and the story and it has handled appropriately.
The other element of this story that I wanted to touch on is an issue of craft. Ellen used a first person point of view for the main character and third person for multiple other characters. I’ve tried to use that approach in a short story because of the potential for storytelling. The short story didn’t work that well, but that was more because of me than the technique. I liked how the approach helps center the story in the first person character. All the benefits of first person POV can then be used to get us really close to the main character. We’re in her head and experience the world as she does. But the limitation of first person POV – that we will only know what the main character knows – can be sidestepped by having the third person used for the rest of the storytelling. Ellen uses a close third person: each scene is told pretty tightly from one POV during the scene/chapter. But she uses a range of those additional voices, whatever is needed to tell the story. Instead of being a “lazy” way of using the first person POV, Ellen uses those additional voices to add tension to the story of the main character. It brings us closer to her even as it expands the canvas of the story. Not every novelist could carry that off, but Ellen does it very well.
To sum up, the novel is very well told with a wide range of enjoyable characters. The situations presented take this novel off the “casual, summer fluff” list, but that’s ok. I’m guessing that reading it on a Kindle app didn’t take from my enjoyment at all. But if I see Ellen at WisCon again, it’s going to make it damned difficult getting her to sign the e-copy during the Sign Out.