[sticky entry] Sticky: Semi-Friends Only

Apr. 17th, 2020 08:28 pm
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My public stuff is fic updates, meta, and perhaps occasional musings on non-fannish things (writing, birds, etc).

Random life commentary, or general commentary that happens to include potentially personally-identifying information (for some relative value of that term, anyway) is private. I like my secret internet double-life, yo.

If you want to be friends, just leave a comment here (all comments screened). If I've seen you around, or you convince me that we have some stuff in common, I'll probably add you!
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I don't often read 50's era scifi nowadays—not because I hate it or anything. But, it tends toward hard science where I prefer softy goopy anthropological scifi, and it tends toward pulp and space opera when I'm more into artsy and earthy things. Moreover, its themes tend toward things that can feel strikingly archaic nowadays. Endless Cold War-era brooding of superpower stand-offs feel faintly quaint in a post-Soviet world where nuclear concerns are more diffuse, and tangled, and unpredictable and tenuous.

A Canticle for Leibowitz is absolutely 50's-era scifi, but very much unlike the rest. It's only called scifi because there's not another classification that really fits—"alternate history" maybe? There's no space opera here, just monks hanging out in abbeys, and even though it is basically the Cold War scenario—"what if nuclear holocaust"—its take is surprisingly fresh, even a half-century after its publication.

The book's divided into three sections, each six hundred years apart, starting six hundred years after The Big Nuclear Apocalypse. Christianity survives, but just barely, and a tiny order of monks out in the Utah desert have been busily preserving what few scraps of writing and civilization remain.

review )
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suppose you were a super-duper-bajillionaire, to the tune of Warren Buffet or Bill Gates levels of money. what kind of super-duper-bajillionaire would you be?

some rich-people archetypes, for the sake of illustration:

* Bill Gates. Start your own philanthropic organization. Make it The Best at what it does. Wipe out bad shit in third world countries, etc.

* Paul Allen. Basically made Seattle his town, in a good way. Buys old historic buildings/theaters/etc in order to preserve them, funds museums and art galleries and sci-fi museums and nerd shit, owns a football team, all that good stuff.

* Koch Brothers. Silently influence the great political powers to do your bidding with your giant, giant wads o' cash! (Hopefully for slightly less evil ends than what they're aiming for...)

note that the question isn't meant to be a "would you be a selfish jerk, spending all your money on yourself, or would you be Good (TM) and work for Good Things (TM)"—e.g., Paul Allen still gives away half his wealth to charitable causes. he's just a little more passionate and active on the "making Seattle rad" side of things, and turns out at that level of wealth you can give away billions and own a football team.

anyway, contemplate & discuss at will :P
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I read Too Like The Lightning a few weeks ago and gave it a hearty, almost frothing recommendation. It's easily the most excited I've been about a book in years; the last time I remember having this feeling was probably when I was reading Yukio Mishima's Spring Snow which was, gosh, four or five years ago?

Having read the second book now, I'll explain them like so: the first book was like watching a fabulous magic trick. The second book was a little bit Magic's Biggest Secrets Revealed—satisfying, in that you finally see where Palmer's going with all of this. Less satisfying, in that some of these tricks are revealed to be rather unmagical smoke & mirrors rather than the hoped-for super-clever-solution.

In particular, the ultimate aim + incredible success of a certain character's scheming is a bit hard to swallow. Plots that rely on folks holding the idiot ball is not great in the best of circumstances, but it becomes intolerable when some of the holders are implied to be the most powerful, most intelligent, best-educated persons in the whole world. Also a lot of the plot seems to rely on a rather dubious interpretation of World War I history, which I'm willing to swallow for a bit to see where things are going, but are still rather awkward.

The world, however, remains very rich and exciting and weird, and in particular the religious/miraculous aspects are still as fascinating as ever.

That's all I can say without spoilers. Someone please read these so I can scream about them with you endlessly plz
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Here’s a fun one: what are the ten most important moments/events in world history?

Don’t click the “read more” if you want to think about it for yourself first; I share some reasonable answers below.

Read more... )
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So I watched my boyfriend play Space Station 13 the other night and boy is it weird. And fascinating. It reminded me of lots of things I loved about my old play-by-post RPG days.

So: once upon a time (2003), some internet person with a funny handle made a convoluted, overly-complicated online multiplayer game, using some weird game engine that made everything look like a shitty NES RPG. The internet person started slacking off with updating it / maintaining it, though, so someone stole the compiled source, someone else reverse-engineered it, and in the over a decade since then, people are still running servers and modding the shit out of the original source code, all totally community-driven.

Ostensibly the point of the game is a mafia-esque "some small subset of you are traitors, try to hunt down the traitors before you all get killed" thing, but that's somewhat akin to saying the point of life is getting your next promotion at BigCo. Turns out, when a bunch of nerds spend a decade hacking in new characters, environments, systems, etc, all willy-nilly into their unsupervised space-game, they will reimplement approximately the entire universe, opening up infinite opportunities for mischief, quixotic sidequests, and general faffing about.

Like, okay. Let's make this concrete. In the playthrough I watched, my boyfriend chose to be a chef, because it's a pretty basic/easy role to play. He wanders through the space station and asks the head-chef (another player) what to do, which turns into this whole cooking subgame—I was expecting a couple cute cooking-mama-esque interactions, but holy shit look how thorough this food and drinks guide is.

At some point he and the head chef wandered into a back room, where a little calf was standing, and they brutally slaughtered it for its meat—then the head chef turned on him, punching him to the ground and tying him up. The head chef reveals his true self at this point—he's a vampire—no, I'm not sure why there's vampires in space—and he tries to beg to be turned into a vampire, but apparently it doesn't work that way, so he just gets all the blood sucked out of him and dies. Afterwards the chef takes his body, grinds it up in the meat grinder, and starts serving it to the denizens of the space station, who remain none the wiser for quite a long time.

At this point, he then got to wander around haunting the station (you can't do much once you're a ghost, but you can knock random objects over and do other minor nuisance-y things). I got only the vaguest glimpse of the random incomprehensible shit happening around the station. There was: (1) a clown that was going around HONKing its horn at random people, and trying to get someone to build him a "H.O.N.K. mech", (2) the captain of the ship occasionally making announcements where he sounded kinda stoned & warned people to watch out for vampires, (3) some kind of space carp infestation that security was being called in to deal with. There was also a crab infestation, but no one seemed bothered by that, just let them hang out in the dining hall. (I called them "space crabs" but apparently that was incorrect; there are space-animals but also just regular animals.) There was also a portal to some beach paradise place, which is where I would wanna hang out, but seemed surprisingly unpopular. At some point someone discovered the identity of the head chef and forced him to drink holy water, which caused him to burst into flames, but at that point a "biohazard level 3" was unleashed and people started falling over coughing all over the place. Which led me to Google how the fuck biohazards in this game work, and led me to the gloriously trollish list of space diseases—to counteract a plague, folks have to band together to correctly diagnose the symptoms and make an antidote before everyone dies, just like a real-life Center for Disease Control would.

That was about an hour of play. This game is bananas.

Every single character class seems to have a related subgame / emergent system / etc that's so complex it could make up a whole game in and of itself; I think I'm most charmed by space law so far, but gosh knows there's a ton I haven't even looked at yet. The subreddit has a cute topic of "SS13 stories that sounds bizarre out of context but make perfect sense in-game."

I guess an apt comparison would be Dwarf Fortress, based on what I've heard of the game (I've never played myself), but this has the upside of being gloriously & gleefully multiplayer where DF is solo, and has simple n00b character classes to let you ease into the maddening complexity a bit.

Anyway, in my heart, I adore shitty mid-2000's RPG things; gimme a ring if you're ever on the Paradise server because that's where I'm getting started :P
queenlua: (pic#7912258)
At the Ginko Petrified Forest in eastern Washington, there's a little spot of lawn at the campgrounds, by the visitor center. As you stand there, on one side the land plunges down into canyon—the Columbia River stretching vast between those ancient rocky walls. On the other side is broads stretch of shrub-steppe, scraggly little desert-grasses and bare desert-bushes, curving slowly a distant ridge.

But at that little spot of lawn, those unkempt beautifully-twisted shrubby bushes turn, all at once, over a stark line, into bright-green short-cut suburban-as-hell grass. There's four enormous revolving sprinklers going off all the time, because when you're in the goddamn desert you have to do that kind of aggressive maintenance to keep anything so mundane as grass alive.

And even though I'd seen sights like this before, even though I'd been to this exact spot before, when I stood there Saturday morning I felt a flash of hot, unbridled anger. Perhaps the shrub-steppe just struck me as particularly beautiful that morning, or I was feeling particularly temperamental, or something else. But I thought, how stupid and wasteful and ugly seems. How stupid and wasteful and ugly lawns everywhere seemed—here we were in the heart of sagebrush country, the last untamed bit of the American West, and instead of respecting that for what it is, even in the grounds of a state park, we've got four damn sprinklers going off all at once just to preserve some perverse purity, some symbol of civility.

Read more... )
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i found it quite curious to see "My Family's Slave" percolating through the facetwitsocialsphere. it has "slave" in the title. it is about a slaveowner. and yet the comments accompanying the article weren't outraged so much as awed.

i read the piece. and it is written quite tenderly & beautifully. i had two major impressions of it: first, i was quite gripped by the author's pained relationship with his mother, the pain and complexity of it, her legitimate sacrifices just as obvious as her casual cruelty. second, i was bothered that the author never seemed to do much to help Lola. or rather, really, i guess, the author didn't seem troubled enough by his failure to help Lola. it's hard for a twelve-year-old to turn on their mom; i get that. it's easier for a young twentysomething to just avoid contacting a family that's doing a horrible thing than to turn in your own mom for doing a horrible thing; i get that. when mom dies and she's left behind a slave who's ill-equipped to get a proper place of her own, taking her in may seem benevolent; i get that.

but none of those choices should rest easy. none of those were the only choice, much as the author tries to imply that. the relationship with mom is hard, sure, but Lola had it hard too, and the author found it easier to stay distant and yell at mom rather than truly help. and i was especially bothered at the very end—the author didn't try to help Lola get a place of her own, or learn to read, and so on. even if the author was benevolent, it was a relationship based on a hideous imbalance of power; if the author couldn't repair or make moves to amend that then at least they could've tried.

so yeah, i found it quietly troubling.

and yet all the generally urban-lefties i know on the facetwitsocialsphere seemed to love the piece. "wow" and "so powerful" and so on. i couldn't quite grok what exactly they meant by "amazing read!" without further qualifiers.

so when a friend directly linked it to me, i shared my thoughts with him directly: it's a nice piece, but, isn't it kind of fucked up too? don't you find the author's actions, even if understandable, still troubling? isn't it messed up that we're only hearing about this after both the author and his slave is dead?

Read more... )
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Last summer, my boyfriend and I stopped by Swakane Canyon on the way to a cabin in eastern Washington. Very few eBird checklists had been submitted for the place, but luckily, the dead-tree book Birder's Guide to Washington had a nice writeup, which gave us a better idea of what to expect. We picked up a lovely variety of eastern species—Bullock's oriole, black-headed grosbeak, yellow-breasted chat.

Last weekend I went to Umptanum Road, a very well-known birding spot that I'd never actually been to before. I was surprised to discover that the habitats there are almost exactly the same as Swakane Canyon—dusky canyon entrance, mountain stream, ponderosa pine. Geographically, the two aren't very far from each other—a few hours' drive—and you'd expect the same diversity of birds in both. And yet one is crawling with birders, and in the other, I saw nary another soul. Why?

Some of it's probably reputational—people know Umptanum has good birds, so if they're planning a trip, they'll go for the sure thing rather than the unknown quantity, and then they'll report more birds, so more people know Umptanum has good birds, and etcetera etcetera the cycle continues.

Some of it's access—the roads in Swakane Canyon are not quite as nice, and it's an hour further from Seattle, which is a hugely concentrated birding population.

But it's not lack of good bird habitat. So here's this whole undiscovered, underbirded canyon; if I visited tomorrow, I'd be the first birder in the whole past month, according to eBird. Who knows what might be hiding there?

* * *

When we made that trip out to Swakane, we saw a very strange blackbird. Instead of the red-and-yellow you see on a red-winged blackbird's wing, there was a single stripe of pure white. It was far away, across a marshy field, so we squinted through our binoculars for a long time and crept closer and closer, trying to see if it was a trick of the light. Just the white. It made some weird calls I didn't recognize—not any classic red-winged blackbird calls, but not any classic tricolored calls either. When it finally flew, I saw a tiny flash of red, and alas, I didn't have any equipment to take a picture of the darned thing.

I wrote a long description of the encounter and sent it to my Elite Birding Cabal* mailing list. Several folks said that indeed sounded not-red-winged-blackbird-like, but tricolored blackbirds are quite rare in Washington in general, only flocking around some ponds in Othello, two hours southeast.

* that is not the actual mailing list name :P

I shrugged, and figured it was just a weird red-winged blackbird. I wasn't very good at birding Washington yet, and I didn't want to be overeager to shout "RARITY!" where there was none. Surely, if it were rare, someone else would've noticed it?

Except, this past weekend, I went out to those ponds in Othello, and I saw a whole flock of tricolored blackbirds, and God if they didn't look just like the weird bird we saw in that canyon.

I'm now quite certain what we saw was one very lost, confused tricolored blackbird, and given what I now know about how underbirded the Swakane is, I think maybe we were the only ones who saw it.

Unfortunately I didn't have a decent camera on me, and it was a year ago, so I doubt I'd be able to convince the wider birding community. No way the bird's still there.

But I know what I saw, and that's plenty for me.

And even better: I know there's this little patch of bird-territory that barely anyone goes to, and who knows what I could find there next?

I can't wait to go back.
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thought-dump from a conversation i had with the boy last night:

The parallels between Firefly and Cowboy Bebop are bleedingly obvious, he said, but he could easily see someone liking one and not the other. The style of humor is different, for one.

I said, well, is the style of humor or just the presence of humor? Bebop isn't a very funny show (one or two gag-ish episodes aside).

He mentioned the whole "data dog" thing with Ein, and I started laughing, because the running quirky stuff with Ein is very funny—the ridiculous circumstances they capture him under, the subtle nods here and there that Ein's smarter than he seems, that final bit in Brain Scratch where he finally does... something... and the fact that we never really learn wtf a data dog is, it's cute, it's funny.

But it's not Firefly humor. The humor in Firefly is much more situational and character-driven, more laugh-out-loud, more sitcom-y in nature. Mal does an embarrassing thing and {Inara wittily derides him, River says weird shit, Jayne exploits to the situation to some amusing petty advantage, etc} and we all laugh.

It gives me the instinct that it'd be much easier to write Firefly fanfic than Cowboy Bebop fanfic—take any 2-3 characters in Firefly and do some fun twist on their standard interactions and, bam, you have a fanfic. Whereas I've never quite known where to start with a Bebop fanfic. You can do some overwrought Spike backstory, and AO3 indeed tells me that's been done, but honestly I think Spike's backstory is better left mostly-unsaid (and given how my entire jam is writing backstory fanfic I feel this is a strong statement). You can do some kinda sweet post-show Jet/Faye, which I think may be the most fruitful avenue, but that still doesn't feel quite right. You could do a monster-of-the-week-style interlude-episode, but I'm not really into fanfic that doesn't do an interesting development/change on the source material, and—well, I think the problem is, as much as people complain about Bebop's main plot dragging, I think it proceeds exactly as fast as it needs to. All those "filler" monster-of-the-week episodes show the crew growing closer, bit by bit. And then, once they've become close enough, once Spike inevitably goes back to face his past, the crew drifts apart—because they don't need each other anymore, and because that's how it had to be. I wouldn't want to fanfic it any other way.

Anyway, back to characters. Here's an interesting thing—Firefly desperately wants us to believe Mal is this stoic, badass, brooding personality, but it's just not true.1 He's far too pleased with himself, his "snapping at his underlings wah i protect my people" thing isn't so much as badass but a little insecure and controlling, his whole "wah I remember the rebellion wah" rings absolutely stupid and hollow given that he's just running a petty smuggling operation, etc.

Spike, on the other hand, is a dude with some damage. He's way closer to the stoic badass that Firefly is looking for. And you can tell it not from some sort of Heroic Old-School Principles he's always rattling on about, or his snapping at the crew, or anything like that. It's the moments when he seems to care just not quite enough about his own self-preservation, the thing where you look at the biographies of extreme sportsmen and notice a lot of them got hella depressed at some point in their life and you think, did they just decide they didn't really care whether they live or die anymore?. And it's in the subtle way he distances himself from people—not deliberately putting a distance there, really, but how in moments his smiles seem to only go skin-deep, how it seems like in his falling-out with Jet in "Jupiter Jazz" that, somehow, after being bounty hunters together for so long, this had never ever come up before.

There's similar things going on with the other folks on the ship. Like, Jet's a grump, I guess he could also be the stoic-badass ideal Firefly's going for, but he comes across as actually grumpy/stodgy rather than snappish, he's got these charming soft edges to him, and yet still there manages to be so much unsaid between him and Spike. In general, rather than an aggro-Mal-type thing, folks on Bebop tend to retreat inward.

So yeah, it's not that Cowboy Bebop doesn't have characters. But they're quieter personalities. And by that I mean: more reserved, more guarded, a little more damaged. Which means that Bebop ends up with wry, dry, understated humor, and if you're never gonna like that as much as sitcom-y big-personalitiy humor then you probably won't like Bebop that much.

Which also got me to wondering if Cowboy Bebop could be successful in another medium. When your characters' personalities aren't big, you need the setting to do a lot of work. I can't tell you the difference between one setting in Firefly and the next. Whereas the setting is all I can remember of some Bebop episodes—and the setting does so much speaking for the characters. The blue shores of Ganymede, the yellow mists & floating isles of Venus—okay, yeah, that would be a whole separate essay, so just consider the thought thrown out there.

in conclusion i still really love cowboy bebop

1 I'm pretty sure, last time I rewatched Firefly, I wrote a Tumblr-rant about how Mal is just kind of a dick and the other characters are way too reverent toward him and why the hell is he calling Inara a whore in every other scene, but I can't find that rant, so, y'know, just know that if you've heard me bitch about this before, you're not just experiencing deja vu :P

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