Lip Service to Diversity?

I had a very busy weekend and it may be a few more days before my online presence is up and running again. But for now, here is a link to a cool article by Bogi TakΓ‘cs. Bogi talks about white, cis, able-bodied American men who get signal boosted for talking about diversity, and then links to a bunch of other people you can signal boost instead. I’m flattered e picked Autistic Book Party as one of the 5 + 1 diverse blogs e enjoys reading! The others on the list are cool, too.

A post on what the heck happened with that “Long Hidden” review

So the Innsmouth Free Press has an author listserv, where one of the things that happens is that Silvia announces when people offer her review copies, and people who want to write a review of whatever-it-is can claim them. “Long Hidden” came up on that list, and I snapped it up, largely because it had been on my wish list anyway and who doesn’t like getting free review copies of things on their wish list?

Then the following sequence of events happened.

1. I read the anthology, and for the most part quite liked it. However, by the time I found myself getting to the actual “write a review” part on my todo list, I was exhausted from Ad Astra and had less to say than I had anticipated. But I did have a deadline, and I knew I’d done this (for Amanda C. Davis and Megan Engelhardt’s “Wolves and Witches”) before. I wrote up what I could think of to say anyway, which was about 450 words – quite paltry compared to what usually happens on Autistic book Party – and apologetically sent it in.

2. In response, Silvia sent me a reply consisting solely of the words, “No, thank you.”

I assumed that this meant the review was not up to her standards in some irreparable way and would therefore not be published. I mean, that’s usually what it means when a publisher says that, right?

I was, like any author facing a form rejection for a more-or-less solicited work, rather upset at first, but the more I thought about it the more I understood her point. It wasn’t up to my usual standards as a review. It was barely long enough to meet IFP’s standards. It was condescending, and it gave too much credence to the viewpoints of people who think such anthologies should not be published in the first place. It barely even mentioned the interesting literary qualities of individual stories. Where did I get off talking about it the way that I did, even supportively? What right did I have to make the negative comments that I made (though the review was overall positive) about stories concerning groups that I did not belong to?

When I had stopped freaking out and thought about it for a while, I even felt glad that the review had been rejected. It was no wonder it had been rejected, with so many problems. I was relieved that no one but poor, beleaguered Silvia had had to look at the results of my terrible attempt at reviewing things I didn’t understand.

3. Totally unknown to me at the time, Silvia hadn’t intended to form reject the review. She had made a small filing error of some sort, and sent me the “No, thank you.” email while putting the review into a “to publish” folder. According to what I have now seen from Silvia on Twitter, both of these were mistakes; she had meant to put the review into an “it’s not bad, but ask some clarifying questions first” folder.

4. This, however, pales next to the error that I found out, a few days later, that I’d made. In addition to all the nebulous problems above, I was going back through things I’d read in 2014 so I could put them on the Queer Spec Fic List if applicable, and I realized that, when writing my 1 sentence of critique of how queer issues were presented in “Long Hidden”, I’d completely forgotten about a very good queer story from the anthology that went against the trend I was complaining about, and really should have been mentioned there.

What a mess. I was now not just relieved, but SUPER relieved, that Silvia had the good sense to turn down my review. The only question in my mind was how I could ever dare to show my face to her in an editorial capacity again.

5. …But of course, since it was in her “to publish” folder, Silvia published the review (with some very minor edits) on April 22.

Since I don’t actually follow the Innsmouth Free Press blog, and since Silvia didn’t specifically inform me it was up, I didn’t hear about this until this afternoon, when some “Long Hidden” authors mentioned me on Twitter.

To my extremely large surprise, not only had they read the review, but they (at least the ones who mentioned me by my Twitter handle) were HAPPY about having read the review. They liked it! Sabrina Vourvoulias was flattered! No one, including Silvia, seemed to think it was actually the piece of condescending crap that I’d convinced myself I’d written.

My head then exploded into tiny pieces.

Was I in a parallel universe? No, I logged into my professional Gmail account and looked back at the review I had sent Silvia, and the reply was still “No, thank you.”

After a bit of confused flailing on Twitter, we figured out that 3 had happened, and I posted a comment to the review apologizing for & correcting the error in 4.

And that, I suppose was that, though I’m still twitching slightly waiting to see if something else happens.

TL;DR TAKEAWAY POINTS

1. I am apparently neurotic as fuck

2. Authors and indie editors are both groups of people with day jobs and other things going on. We sometimes get busy or tired or flustered. We make mistakes sometimes, we figure it out and fix them, it’s ok. (I will certainly be displeased if anyone uses this post as an excuse to be hard on Silvia. She’s running an entire publishing company in her spare time, and I fucked up a lot harder than she did.)

3. If the review as posted appears to have issues, that’s because it does.

4. However, if after all this you would still like to see the review, it (with my posted correction in the comments section) is here.

Autistic Book Party, Episode 14: This Alien Shore

(Has it really been two months since I last reviewed a book here? UGH. Also, happy Easter, to those of you who celebrate the day.)

Today’s Book: “This Alien Shore” by C.S. Friedman.

The Plot: In a far-future space opera universe, two parallel plots unfold: one involves a runaway teenage girl named Jamisia with mysterious secrets, the other, a mysterious and deadly computer virus.

Autistic Character(s): Kio Masada, the world’s foremost computer security expert, who is summoned to assist in hunting down the mysterious virus.

First statement: This book is complicated. So, <i>so</i> complicated that I’m going to break my usual reviewing rule and talk about all kinds of different things, not just the autistic character. You’ll see why in a minute. But first, an assessment of Kio Masada.

Masada is from the planet Guera. I bring this up because all the humans in “This Alien Shore” are sharply divided by their planetary affiliation. Humanity’s first effort at interstellar travel, the Hausman drive, produced colonies on several extrasolar planets, but had severe side effects resulting in drastic mutations in all of the colonists (for some reason, a different type of mutation characterizes each planet). Horrified by this, the humans of Terra stopped using the drive and left the colonies to fend for themselves. Eventually, the humans of Guera – the first and most powerful Hausman colony – discovered a new means of interstellar travel, one that relies on an extradimensional space called the “ainniq”. The ainniq doesn’t cause mutations, but it is incredibly dangerous to navigate, and only the Gueran Outspace Guild knows the secret of doing so. As a result, the Guild now controls basically everything.

Guera is unique among colony worlds, not only in its enormous political power, but by the fact that Guerans are not physically different from Terrans. Instead, every Gueran has one or more conditions that humans today would classify as a mental disorder. Guerans classify themselves by these conditions, calling them “kaja” and naming each one after an animal. Each Gueran also wears special facepaint identifying their kaja.

I should note that the kaja system is not anything like a caste system. We don’t see much of everyday Gueran life, because apart from Masada, all the Guerans we see are high ranking Guildmasters who are very busy with high-level intrigues of various kinds. However, the Guildmasters have a variety of different kaja, which suggests that on Guera, people really are promoted according to their talents and interests, and not according to preconceived notions about what someone with that kaja can and can’t do.

Masada is an iru, a kaja that strongly resembles Asperger syndrome. He hyperfocuses on his work, forgets to eat or care for himself while absorbed in an interesting problem, dislikes disorder, speaks bluntly, and misses or ignores the subtle social rituals of the other Guerans, without ever actually veering into rudeness. The other Gueran characters take Masada’s iru nature into account when interacting with him – for example, they don’t expect him to participate in subtle social rituals, and they accept blunt communication from him even when other kaja would be expected to use more tact – but their primary attitude towards Masada is, consistently, respect. Masada is first and foremost a world-renowned computer security expert, and is treated accordingly. He is never, ever portrayed as “the disabled one”; this would be highly illogical if it did occur, since all the other Guerans are non-neurotypical in other ways.

So far, so great. (I should note that, while “computer scientist” is a very stereotypical Aspie profession, Friedman is careful to note that there is a range of different professions and interests among iru. Masada’s late wife, for example, was an iru musician. Unfortunately, since she is dead when the story begins, she never actually gets any screen time. Nor does any other iru besides Masada. Boo.)

Masada does lack sensory sensitivities, which is mildly disappointing. Unlike many authors, Friedman doesn’t simply ignore this aspect of autism. Instead, she provides a logical-seeming reason why Masada doesn’t have any:

[Masada] understood the periodic distortions in sensory perception that affected [his wife]’s interactive skills; she understood that for the sake of his work he had programmed his brainware to compensate for such distortions, and thus had sacrificed a portion of his natural essence.

So, a couple of things to unpack here, just in this one sentence:

  1. “Cure” technology actually exists in this universe, at least for certain aspects of certain disorders (which is fairly logical, since in the far-future setting Friedman has designed, everybody has brainware in their head that can make all sorts of other changes, including a “wellseeker” that can regulate heart rate and other emotional symptoms if the user wishes)
  2. This technology apparently exists – at least on Guera – without the kinds of social baggage and pressure that would accompany it if it existed today; Guerans can freely choose how and whether to use it based on their own goals and values
  3. The technology is reversible
  4. Partially “curing” oneself, or removing certain cognitive or sensory distortions that happen to cause inconvenience in one’s life, is considered a sacrifice of a part of one’s identity.

#4 on this list is huge. Guerans – not justΒ iru, but seemingly all Guerans – are proud of who they are, and show a strong cultural interest throughout the book in retaining their non-neurotypical identities. Yet at the same time, many Guerans use cybernetic technology to regulate the more inconvenient aspects of the way their brains work. The result is a fascinating neurological balancing act. It’s important to note that this balancing act is not solely the province of iru; everyone does it, often in surprisingly nuanced ways. For instance, here’s part of a scene from the point of view of a Guildmaster with a kaja resembling Tourette’s:

[Varsav’s underlings] knew him well enough to worry when the frenzied motion of his restless body eased, for it signaled that his brain had found something to focus on so closely that it couldn’t be bothered with extraneous motion. They knew that when his language flowed smoothly and easily it was because there were no inappropriate phrases being edited out by his brainware, the usual case. And they knew that he only found such focus in danger…

This is really interesting. It would be more interesting if, as I mentioned, we were given more of a window on everyday Gueran life. Guerans have technology to change their brains if they wish, and are accepted for who they are by other Guerans. These traits are immensely important, and a huge improvement on what we have today. But are they really, by themselves, enough to produce a society in which everyone of every kaja can flourish? What bothers me about Guera, when I look at Guera closely, is that there is no mention of structural accomodations. What does Gueran life look like on the ground? What about its institutions and infrastructure has been changed in order to allow people of every kaja to function at their peak potential without being pressured to change their brains? Friedman never even begins to touch on these questions – partly because her plot is, rightly, focused elsewhere. But I also have a sneaking suspicion that they are questions which did not, at least not in these terms, occur to her.

This brings me, somewhat clumsily, to a second point. While Guera and other colonies are relatively accepting of difference, ableism is a huge point of contention in the universe at large. The point is perhaps best illustrated by this line, spoken aloud by Masada:

“Must I remind you how the Terrans feel about my kaja? The very cognitive style which makes me so valuable on Guera is considered ‘abnormal’ among those people. They did everything they could to eradicate it from their gene pool, and if by some unlucky chance it surfaces now despite those efforts, they use drugs or DNA therapy to ‘correct’ it. Even if the price of that correction is the crippling of a mind, the death of a unique human soul. These are the people you want me to work among? The Terrans are more alien to me than any Hausman Variants ever could be. And you know they dominate the outworlds.”

The problem actually goes much deeper than Terrans happening to hate autism. In Friedman’s history, after the disaster with the Hausman drive, Terrans became paranoid and obsessed with eugenics. There are few or no congenitally disabled people on Terra at all anymore. Autism Speaks, and its science-fictional equivalents, won that war.

Moreover, the tension between Terrans and Variants (a collective word for Guerans and other, more physically exotic descendants of the Hausman colonies) remains one of the major sources of large-scale conflict in Friedman’s present. Terrans hate Variants for their mutations, and for controlling (through the Guild) interstellar travel; Variants hate Terrans because Terrans hate them, and because of their historical abandonment in their colonies hundreds of years ago. There are terrorist organizations on both sides of this divide, and even ordinary everyday Variants and Terrans are shown to be highly distrustful of each other.

I’ve never seen a successful science fiction universe constructed entirely out of disability issues before. I kind of like it. There are, however, a few false notes in the depiction of these tensions, particularly from the Variant side. We see, for example, a propaganda leaflet from the Hausman League (an extremist group of Variants). Yet even while declaring themselves superior to Terrans, the authors of the pamphlet refer to themselves as “damned” and “malformed”. Huh? That’s… not how actual disability activists communicate.

The Hausman Leage may be using deliberately loaded language in order to express great bitterness towards the Terran attitudes that gave them those labels. But even stable, comfortable, politically neutral Guerans like Masada occasionally come out with something that makes my jaw drop:

Had he loved her? Gueran science wasn’t sure if an iru could love. The chemicals were there for it. Sometimes they even combined properly. Wellseekers couldn’t tell the difference.
But subjective experience? No one was certain. No iru understood the language of love well enough to confirm or deny it.
He missed her terribly.

Yeah, no. (And yet, at the same time as Friedman writes this, watch how she deliberately undercuts what she’s saying. Masada’s emotional reactions suggest that he does love his wife, even while he experiences confusion about whether he is capable of doing so, and I think Friedman is on his side there. What bothers me is the fact that this confusion would occur to him when he grew up in a supposedly non-ableist society, and that “Gueran science” is apparently confused about it, too.)

And, as if this review wasn’t long enough already, I now need to talk about our other protagonist, Jamisia. Jamisia is a teenage Terran girl who, due to various plot shenanigans, has acquired mental differences she doesn’t understand. She also has about fifty zillion corporate Terran agents chasing her.

[….AND THEN I wrote a 1000-word rant about Jamisia and about the ending, and why certain aspects of the ending REALLY didn’t work for me, and tried to put it under a spoilertag and did it wrong and WordPress ate that part of the post. SORRY. I really don’t feel like trying to write it all out again. You will JUST HAVE TO WONDER what was upsetting me. :P]

I just…

You can’t look at the book too closely in some of these respects, or it starts to unravel at the seams.

I should note that, if I sound very angry or very emotionally involved in these small setting/plot holes, it’s simply a case of Worst Puppy Ever. Because this is a book that gets a heck of a lot right. By my usual standards – have an autistic character who actually does stuff, portray them accurately and respectfully, etc – it passes just as handily as anything else I’ve reviewed. But it’s also the first book I’ve ever reviewed that tried (and didn’t immediately, horribly fail) to do more with the theme of disability than just having a character here and there. It is, from that perspective, very ambitious, and it accomplishes a great deal of what it sets out to do. I don’t know if a perfect book, which engages with these themes this deeply and fails to leave anything out or offend anyone, is even theoretically possible. I think C.S. Friedman should be proud of having written the book, and I think y’all who have been following my recommendations in this series should read it.

And yet when I look back on this book, I think part of me is always going to think, “Yes, THAT book… With THOSE PROBLEMS in it.” And twitch a little.

Because this was the book that made me dare to hope for more.

The Verdict: Recommended

For a list of other past/future/possible Autistic Book Party books, or to recommend a new one, click here.

Also, because people keep asking me this

Yes, I have seen Community. Or rather, I have seen the first two episodes of Community during a visit with my partner a couple of months back, while eating ice cream. But whatever. I have become acquainted with the characters. Yes, Abed appears to be as amazing as y’all says he is.

However, much to my disappointment, Community isn’t only a show about Abed Nadir. It also has Pierce Hawthorne, who is basically everything I hate most about humanity rolled into one awful, entitled, transparently manipulative and over-familiar package.

No, really, I seriously cannot stand Pierce. I told my partner I would rather stick the cold ice cream spoon into my eye socket than watch another episode with Pierce in it. So we stopped watching. I don’t know why this particular thing about the show bothers me more than all the casual racism/sexism/ableism/homophobia on The Big Bang Theory, but it does. (Although I also haven’t really been watching Big Bang Theory either for the past couple of years, and I’m sort of okay with that.)

So, yeah. From what I’ve seen, Abed is a MUCH more interesting and less problematic character than Sheldon. But if you want an analysis containing more than one sentence, y’all are gonna have to find another blogger.

Invisible

Back in February I did a guest post – “Autism, Representation, Success” on Jim C. Hines’ blog, as part of a guest post series on why representation in fiction is important, and on various people’s experiences with representation in SFF fandom. My post was on why autism representation is complicated, and why deep down I don’t always want to see autistic people in fiction being heroic and good and successful, even though I feel like that’s what I should want. Other people who participated had fascinating posts on race, gender, sexuality, physical disabilities and other things.

Jim has now compiled all these posts (and a few extra bonus ones) into a non-fiction ebook!

Invisible is available for $2.99 on all the usual retail sites, with all proceeds going to Con or Bust.

The anthology is designed to serve as a visceral answer to the question, “Why does representation matter?” I think it succeeds very well at that goal. I learned things from all the different posts in the series, and you should, too.

On Passing

This is not terribly coherent yet, but it’s a thing that has been on my mind.

We talk about “passing privilege” which is the privilege of getting to look more privileged than you actually are. Autistic people who can pretend to be NT can “pass”. So can light-skinned POC, LGB people who dress in a gender normative way and aren’t openly in same-sex relationships, etc.

It’s true that having the option of passing is a privilege. People who can pass and fit in to mainstream culture are usually treated better. However, there are some complications to this.

For starters, passing privilege is not just one thing:

  • Some people can pass in some circumstances, but not others
  • Some people choose to pass in some circumstances, but not others
  • Some people have the ability to pass most of the time, but occasionally (temporarily) lose it
  • Some people pass only because people are uninformed and don’t know what they’re seeing. For example, someone who doesn’t know much about the way Asperger syndrome typically manifests in women might not notice that a woman was autistic, even if her behavior made her very visibly and obviously autistic to people who do know about it.
  • Some people pass imperfectly, or pass for a marginalized group that isn’t the one they are actually part of. For example, being called “weird” or “crazy” instead of being seen as disabled. This is not necessarily better.
  • Some people can pass, but only by working very hard on it, when they could be working very hard on something else instead
  • Some people pass, not because they are trying to pass, but because people assume that the majority is the default. So if you don’t loudly proclaim that you are in a minority, people assume you must not be in it
  • Some people have differences that are so hard to see from the outside that people flat-out refuse to believe them when they say the differences exist; they are in a sense forced into passing, even if they don’t want to

Also, passing privilege can be a double edged sword:

  • People usually treat you better if they think you are normal
  • But sometimes your needs are not the same as a normal person’s needs
  • And if you are passing as normal, no one will know how to give you the things you actually need, as opposed to the things that a normal person would need
  • Some people suffer in ways that relate to the reasons they are not normal (for example, chronic pain). Or they suffer because of the hard work they are doing in order to pass, or because of prejudice / microaggressions / other bad things that affect people in their group, but nobody knows that this is happening to them and nobody can help them with it because they are not seen as being in the group that would be hurt by such things
  • Sometimes when you are passing well, but then suddenly have a problem that a normal person would not have, people react badly
  • Sometimes these are the same people who would deny you accomodations if you had chosen not to pass in the first place
  • So you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t

And the social pressures that come into play here are sort of weird:

  • Sometimes people are told by the majority that if they don’t try hard to act like the majority, they are being bad
  • In reaction to this, groups sometimes apply pressure in the opposite direction: passing is wrong because it caters to the oppressive majority, or because you’re not “being your true self”, or because it will encourage others to hurt themselves trying to pass the way you do, etc
  • But if you interact with more than one group of people in your life, it’s possible (and common) to face pressures in both of these directions at once
  • So it can very quickly turn into another “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”
  • Sometimes people talk as though passing privilege is the only kind of privilege
  • For example, bisexuals in opposite-sex relationships are told that they have “straight privilege”
  • Sometimes people in the majority will do a version of this too; they will tell you that if you can manage to act like a normal person, you aren’t “really” abnormal, it can’t be “that bad”, or you are just making it up for attention or being appropriative
  • This is not true and sucks
  • Being able to pretend you are a thing is not the same as really being that thing on the inside, and being on that thing on the inside will affect your daily life in All The Ways even if others can’t see it

Also

  • People are not always aware of the behaviours that make them seem odd or not-normal (although autism social skills training sometimes tries to make us hyper-aware of these things)
  • Even if we are aware of them, that doesn’t mean we can necessarily consciously control them all the time
  • We are not always consciously aware of the behaviours we adopt in order to pass, either
  • They can be learned survival reflexes
  • Which are just as difficult to consciously control

Tl;dr passing privilege is really complicated, having a choice in the matter IS a privilege, but passing (and choosing not to pass if one is able) are not simple binary choices, and privilege is not reducible to passing.

Autism News, 2014/04/12

April is Autism Awareness Month, so it’s not surprising there are more public/media things going on than usual.

Sesame Street recently announced that its characters would be lighting it up blue in a partnership with Autism Speaks

Other public affairs:

  • Last time I posted about problems with Lindt and Autism Speaks, someone told me I should write to Lindt and explain the problem directly to them. I didn’t have the energy to do so, but someone else did. The response was disappointing.
  • Sonnolenta on why she is passionate about raising funds for the Autism Women’s Network [TW violence against women statistics]
  • The Caffeinated Autistic on how knowing the truth about Autism Speaks makes World Autism Day complicated

Storytelling!

Science!

  • New research shows brain abnormalities in the majority of autistic children which appear to date from “long before birth“. (On the one hand, cool! On the other hand, all the usual caveats about autism research and where it seems to be heading. :-|)
  • M. Kelter makes a provocative point about empathy
  • Musings of an Aspie on the “autistic gaze
  • Joel from Evil Autie questions the connection between autism and fecal smearing
  • Chavisory on abilities that suddenly appear

Aurora Ballot

Since I posted my Hugo nominations, I may as well post this too. (And look at me squeaking in juuuust before the deadline at both of them. *sigh* ) For those of you who don’t know what the Aurora Award is, it’s basically a Canadian Hugo for Canadians only, which we award in our Canadian hockey clubhouse while eating poutine, wearing toques, and apologizing to each other.

It surprised me that I could only nominate three things in each category; I had somehow misremembered it as being more.

Short Story

  • Shay Darrach, “Baggage Check”
  • Jennifer Giesbrecht, “All My Princes Are Gone”
  • Silvia Moreno-Garcia, “Them Ships”

Poem/Song

  • Leah Bobet, “On Living Authors”
  • Amal El-Mohtar, “Lost”
  • Helen Marshall, “The Collected Postcards of Billy the Kid”

…And then I glanced at the other categories and was like “Nope, I have no idea what I’m talking about in these.” >__<

What Makes a Great Villain? Panel Summary

Since Rhoda asked, here is a panel summary. πŸ˜€ I was on this panel with Matt Moore, Thomas Gofton, and either Gregory A. Wilson or Rob St. Martin – one of them didn’t show up and now I can’t remember which one. UGH. As you can see, I am having a bit of trouble remembering who said what, but the actual content is still pretty fresh in my mind, so let’s see what we can do in point form, without attribution.

There was no official moderator, so the panel was a bit of a free-for-all, but I think the four of us worked together pretty well. Villains are a complex and fascinating topic, and there was only time to scratch the surface on many of their aspects.

So what does make a great villain?

  • Villains are often the most active characters, the ones who set the plot in motion
  • Villains have to be powerful enough to create a truly challenging situation for the hero
  • The villain also has to have motives that make sense, and a reason to be creating this situation
  • The villain is a “hero” in the sense of having goals and working towards those goals, and having a story where they could plausibly succeed or fail, and where the audience cares about which one happens – even if their actual goals are horrible.
  • So in some sense writers who are employing villains in their storytelling need to treat the story as if it has “two heroes” – the villain has to work towards their goal just like the hero, and to be concerned about failing, and the author needs to get just as deep into the villain’s head as the hero’s

How should the audience feel about a villain?

  • My opinion: the best villains are the ones the audience “secretly likes”.
  • Or, as another panelist put it, the ones we “love to hate or hate to love”
  • An author’s goal is to make readers want to know what happens next; wanting to see what the villain does next is part of that
  • Other panelists mentioned the opposite: villains who stuck with them because they had been awful and dislikeable and hadn’t received their comeuppance, and years after seeing the movie, they still wanted to go up to the villain and smack them!
  • Also there can be problems when a villain is more compelling than the protagonist, which is why certain 80s horror movies have so many sequels centred around the villain and not the Final Girl; the villains were the ones that audiences had questions about and wanted to see more of.

Villains and morality, part I

  • Some of the most compelling villains start out as good people, who might have stayed good if things had been even a little bit different, but a series of events and misunderstandings happens that bring the villain to a point where they are dead set against the hero, in a way that no longer has a simple solution
  • Others have a good goal (e.g. trying to save the environment) but go about it in unacceptable ways, believing the ends justify the means
  • Most (all?) great villains believe that they are the hero, and the hero is the villain; they are right and the hero is wrong
  • But villains can also be compelling when they are “moral black boxes” (e.g. The Joker or Hannibal Lecter). Their villainous behaviour becomes fascinating because it is so far from what we consider acceptable that it implies a completely alien way of looking at the world.
  • Even “moral black boxes” have to have a goal and care about something
  • For example, in The Dark Knight, the Joker wants to upset the status quo, and will allow himself to be hurt or even killed to achieve this goal

Female villains

  • About halfway through the panel, someone in the audience pointed out that all the villains we had discussed so far were men. WHOOPS.
  • This led to a lot of discussion of people’s favorite female villains
  • Fandoms suggested by the audience for having lots of interesting female villains: Batman, Disney, anime
  • Female villains are frequently sexualized in specific ways, using their sex appeal and/or apparent vulnerability as a weapon
  • Some audience members did not think this was a problem; a villain who is seen as attractive should logically be able to use that to their advantage
  • While this is logical on its face, I pointed out that not every villainous woman will happen to be conventionally attractive, nor will they necessarily have the skill set or interests that would make sexuality a good choice of weapon for them
  • Some examples of non-sexualized female villains suggested by the audience: the Borg Queen from Star Trek, Ursula from The Little Mermaid (although someone in the audience was like “what are you talking about, Ursula looks great!”), Mother Russia from Kick-Ass 2, Stephen King’s Misery, someone from Mobile Suit Gundam Wing whose name I can’t remember anymore >_<
  • There was also a very brief discussion of maternal villains
  • While maternal villains are still potentially problematic, they can be a refreshing change from compulsory sexiness
  • We agreed that we wanted to see more options for female villains in general

Villains and morality, part II

  • We continued discussing this sort of at the same time as female villains
  • Villains who are completely evil for evil’s sake (e.g. the devil) are very hard sells today
  • Post-Vietnam, and especially post-9/11, there is increasing interest by the American market, in particular, in morally gray fiction. Heroes who are not necessarily in the right, villains who kinda have a point or who retain their humanity / remain sympathetic despite doing things the hero finds unacceptable
  • This also relates to the trend of retelling old stories from the villain’s point of view, making the heroes of the story into the real villains – e.g. Gregory Maguire’s Wicked & the upcoming Maleficent movie
  • Villains reflect underlying cultural unease in this way because villains are one way in which we culturally work out some important moral questions. How should we think about people who seem to have the power & intent to harm us, or who do things we find abhorrent? How should we treat them? How hard should we work to understand their perspective? Can they be understood? How do we know if they can be rehabilitated, or if they are even in the wrong in the first place? What do we as a culture call evil, and how should we think about evil?

It was a very lively audience discussion. We reluctantly ended the panel at five minutes to the hour, mostly because I was getting worried about going overtime and messing things up for the panel that came after us. We agreed that there are whole books that can be written about villains, and that we would love to talk more about them; we have only scratched the surface.

Ad Astra Convention Report!

I am back from Dinosaurcon Ad Astra and it was AWESOME. I am not very coherent right now because of post-convention splatbrain and also some mild con crud which has been held back with Advil Cold & Sinus (I will post a more detailed summary of the villainy panel later, when I have brain again, because I know someone here asked me for that), but in the meantime here are some things that happened.

Convention Highlights

  • Meeting people who I had only talked to very briefly online before, or who hadn’t been on my radar at all, but who are SUPER COOL AND NICE. I get the sense I did less hanging out and chatting than most people do at conventions, but I enjoyed the chatting (and, when I was watching someone else’s panel, the observation of chatting) that I did do. I found out belatedly that there are also other ways to interact that would work for me (like… staying and allowing people to come up to me and ask questions following a panel/reading, instead of RUNNING AWAY at the end of my reading like a silly person) and which I will try next time.
  • Doing a reading! (I read “Transitional Chords”, a Lovecraftian music school story which is currently out of print! It was very dramatic.) Having people SHOW UP at my reading who weren’t my family or Internet friends and had no reason to be there except they thought the reading might be cool! Having these people APPLAUD VIGOROUSLY after the reading, and then tell my mom (since I was worried about looking attention-hungry or something and left very quickly, as stated) how cool it was. SO HAPPY ABOUT THIS. I WANT TO DO ALL THE READINGS NOW. <3
  • ALSO THERE WAS A GIANT ROBOT DALEK TANK THAT COULD TALK AND SHOOT PEOPLE WITH WATER PISTOLS
  • YOUR ARGUMENT IS INVALID

Convention Low-lights

  • They spelled my name wrong on all of my author material. πŸ˜› πŸ˜› πŸ˜› EVERYONE DOES THIS. But they were super apologetic about it and gave me a Sharpie to draw the second “N” on my placard, so it was mostly just funny.
  • Showing up at Klingon Karaoke and then realizing that it had been an incredibly long day and I had no tokens to actually do the karaoke. I wanted to sing, but I was just sitting there being vague and confused and unable to figure out simple procedures, and my partner was like “Ok, let’s go back to the room.” πŸ™
  • In general, I was experimenting the whole convention with how to pace myself. I wanted to be very careful since I had some pretty late night panels to do. As a result I did not see as many other panels and readings as I would have liked. I think I’ve learned some useful things about how I operate in these circumstances and will be able to do more next time, but we’ll see.
  • Making concluding remarks at my reading with a dramatic sweep of my arms, which knocked over my water bottle and spilled water all over the place. LIKE A CHUMP. πŸ˜›

Convention Huh?!-lights

  • The “How To Be an Effective Panelist” panel for new panelists at which the actual person doing the panel was 1/2 hour late. LOL. You can guess what we decided the first rule of being an effective panelist was.
  • The dude who cornered me in the dealer’s room and said, “I loved your panel! I loved the part where you said you wanted to stab yourself in the eye with a toothpick!” Um… Thanks? *blink*
  • Being fast-talked into buying Girl Guide cookies from Erik Buchanan. Wait, what? These aren’t even SFFnal. What is going on. *takes a bite* These are pretty good cookies, though.

More ephemeral emotional stuff

You guys, I’ve been to conventions before, but I’m usually a dealer’s assistant (and spending all day in the dealer’s room makes me PRETTY DAMNED LOOPY, lemme tell you). This was different. This was me dressing up in real clothes and being a professional and being taken seriously by people who are just as excited about the field as I am. Really! I was on panels with people like Julie Czerneda and Stephanie Bedwell-Grime and I had as much to say as they did! And no one thought that was weird! Also have I mentioned that PEOPLE SHOWED UP TO MY READING.

It’s one thing to see this happening in parts of the Internet and another thing to see it in real life, concentrated into one place.

I’m so happy. Now if only the room would stop spinning.