Books read, October 2018

Shadow of the Fox, Julie Kagawa. YA epic fantasy with a Japanese-inspired setting, reviewed here at the New York Journal of Books. I liked the premise of this one, but it didn’t really deliver on the character front, which was a pity.

So You Want to Be a Wizard, Diane Duane. Somehow I missed these books back in the day. I’ve been hearing about them for years, but only just recently picked up the first one. It reminds me a lot of Madeleine L’Engle — a similar feeling to the magic, a similar vibe to the cosmological threat, and a similar impression of kindness and compassion on the character level. My library has all of them in ebook form, which really facilitates mainlining the whole series; I anticipate reading at least several more, though I’ve gotten the impression from friends that there’s a point at which the quality really tapers off.

(I’m also given to understand that the books were revised in recent years. Since I’m reading ebooks, I’m pretty sure it’s the revised version, but I don’t know what changes were made.)

Once and Forever: The Tales of Kenji Miyazawa, trans. John Bester. Another one read for the New York Journal of Books, but that review isn’t live yet. It’s a collection of short stories by an author who lived in the early twentieth century; most of them have the feel of animal fables. On the whole I found them fairly slight, but as with the Duane, there’s a feeling of compassion that was very pleasant spend time with.

The Black Tides of Heaven, JY Yang. First in a series of epic fantasy novellas. I really liked the setting in this one, and the overall shape of the story, but . . . it read to me like the Cliff Notes of the story itself. There were so many things that got disposed of in a single scene, with no setup beforehand or development afterward, and things that got dropped in without prior context — like when one of the characters had to fight someone from their past, except this was the first we’d ever heard of that person, so it really didn’t carry much weight. The plot here elapses over a period of decades, and there’s enough raw material that it easily could have filled a novel. I didn’t dislike the novella, but that’s the problem: because I liked it, I wanted to see all the things in it get properly developed, rather than done on fast-forward.

A Night in the Lonesome October, Roger Zelazny. Been meaning to read this one for ages, but I’d gotten it fixed in my head that I had to read it in October, and furthermore that I had to read it in “real time” — each chapter takes place on a different day in October, and I wanted to read it at that pace. Which is silly and unnecessary, and in fact I screwed up a few times and had to read two or three days’ worth in a sitting. But on the whole I (finally) accomplished what I wanted to. And I enjoyed the book; as my husband says, it does a lovely job with its canine protagonist (and does so while also having a decent feline character, which is a thing not all authors can manage), and I was glad it kept the Lovecraftian stuff mostly alluded to rather than shoving it up in your face. There were some amusing twists, too. And now I have read it, and there’s that small life goal checked off the list.

After elections, chop wood, carry water.

It would be too much to say I’m relieved. That would imply a more sanguine outlook on the next two years, the next four, the next decade than I actually have. Given the path this country has been on, it’s going to take a long time to truly turn it around.

But I’m not crushed, either. And given how I feared I was going to feel tonight, I’ll take that. There are a lot of things to be pleased with from the election results. If there are some to be disappointed by . . . well, that was always going to be the case.

Either way, the next step is the same. We keep organizing. We keep shouting. We keep voting. We keep protecting the vulnerable, the marginalized, the people the Republican Party is determined to wipe away, by violence or law or just plain disregard. We keep striving for that more perfect union, because it ain’t gonna happen without a lot of work. And nobody can do that work but us.

Please.

If you can vote . . .

If you have not already voted . . .

Then please vote.

And if you have already voted, or you cannot vote, or you’re going to vote and haven’t done so yet — tell your friends to vote. And your family. Drive someone to the polls, if they need the extra nudge.

We need everybody today.

Empowerment Self-Defense seminar in Oakland

Here’s a thing that’s . . . well, not directly related to the Arisia mess, but not unrelated, either.

My fellow Book View Cafe author Nancy Jane Moore, a highly experienced black belt in aikido, will be teaching a free self-defense seminar for women and non-binary people in Oakland on November 17th. It’s being sponsored by Fodada, and is in honor of International Women’s Self Defense Day. You can go here to register — but it’s limited to 15 people, so if you’re interested, make sure you act soon.

On Arisia, Pt. Last-for-Now

I know this blog has kind of been All Arisia, All the Time lately; I promise it won’t stay that way forever. But, well, when a friend of yours is the one who’s brave enough to finally tear the covering off a festering wound . . . you wind up following the story pretty closely. And there are three recent developments I want to specifically discuss.

The first is the simplest: the acting president of Arisia has found a way to finagle the bylaws so that anyone who attends the corporate meeting on November 11th will be able to vote. (Normally voting rights come at the end of your first meeting, i.e. you have to show up to a second one in order to vote.) I don’t know who the people are who have stepped up to the plate to run for office, replacing the members of the board who have resigned, but I know some people have done so, and I hope more will join them. If you’re local and you care about fixing Arisia rather than just letting it die, consider going to the meeting.

The second is this rather astonishing statement from the founder of Arisia, Matthew Saroff. He hasn’t been involved with the con since 2005, but he’s apologizing anyway, because he believes his own actions back then — especially in the final six months, when he refers to himself as a “legendary asshole” — contributed to the problems Arisia has today.

I don’t know if he’s right. Thirteen years is quite a long time, especially in con history; lots of other people have come and gone and left their mark on Arisia. Even if he did set things on a bad path, it isn’t like he’s wholly to blame, and everybody else can wash their hands. But that’s the thing about rape culture, and white supremacy, and all the other systemic ills of our society: they are simultaneously bigger than any one person and built by individuals, one brick at a time. Saroff recognizes that he did something wrong, and he’s apologizing for it, years after the fact, at a point in time where quite possibly nobody other than himself would think to point a finger of blame at him.

Good on him. And good on Cody Lazri, who was briefly on the executive board and has resigned as staff for A’19 and apologized (with some insight into Arisia’s internal politics). I’ve been pleasantly astonished by the amount of support I’ve seen for Crystal Huff, Maura Taylor, and everyone else who has come forward with their stories, and the lack of the usual accusations against them — though such statements always come with the asterisk of “I haven’t seen all the conversations about this” — but there’s still been a dearth of those responsible apologizing in a meaningful way. Neither Saroff nor Lazri is at the epicenter; those who were have, so far as I know, remained silent. And that part’s still not good.

The last thing is that the Olders have made a firm decision not to attend Arisia as the Author Guests of Honor this year. The Artist GOH, Elizabeth Leggett, will still be attending, but will be donating proceeds from one of her pieces of artwork to the Boston Rape Crisis Center.

I’m going to be very interested to see what Arisia does about the Author GOH void — or, to put it another way, to see who steps into that void. Anybody who does so runs a high risk of having half of fandom fall on their head: it’s going to look a lot like they wanted the spotlight badly enough that they were willing to hold their nose and ignore the stench. I don’t know if Arisia’s setup means they can limp along without a GOH at all; doing so might very well be the best course of action. But if not, then I sincerely hope whoever does take that slot does so on terms that make it less about them and their own prestige, and more about keeping the focus on the problem. A keynote address, a panel — one or more somethings to make it clear that GOH isn’t there to put a smiling face on the situation, but to help with the soul-searching.

We’ll see how it turns out. But for now, this is where things stand.

On Arisia, Pt. 3

So, one thing I find heartening: the overwhelming majority of the response I’ve seen to the Arisia blowup has been “this is bad and needs serious fixing.” I’m sure there are corners of the internet where that isn’t true, but the usual handwringing replies of “but won’t anybody think about how we’re ruining this poor man’s life” or “can’t we all just have a nice con” haven’t been in evidence.

In case anybody needed further nails in the coffin, though, the former head of Arisia’s Watch (their con safety team) has spoken up. They quit after last year’s con, not because of what happened to Crystal, and the mis-handling of the “investigation” there — but because Arisia’s leadership so thoroughly cut them out of the loop and made them feel belittled and demeaned for no perceptible reason that they just couldn’t take it anymore. They didn’t even know about Crystal’s situation until last week, because Arisia changed its procedures in order to keep them ignorant.

When we talk about Arisia’s board having lost all claim on people’s trust, this is what we mean. Keeping your own head of con safety in the dark about an issue of con safety? Is not a sign that you’re acting in good faith and have merely fallen a little short.

But back to heartening news: four members of the board have resigned, including at least one Crystal specifically called out as having aided and abetted this entire disaster. That one has quit entirely; the other three have resigned effective upon their replacements being voted in at the upcoming meeting on November 11th. Looking at this page, it seems there are three voting members remaining on the board (not counting the three who have resigned), plus four non-voting members whose involvement with these problems I’m not at all sure of.

This is a big step in the right direction, and I’m glad to see my pessimistic assumption that it wouldn’t happen is at least semi-unfounded. I hope the trend continues.

On Arisia, Pt. 2

Rather than attempting to round up all the links myself, I recommend you read File 770’s posts on the topic, particularly “Arisia Announces Rosenberg Out” and “Arisia Bans Rosenberg, Authorizes Membership Refunds.”

The good news: Rosenberg has resigned. (With absolutely no recognition that he’s done anything wrong, much less apology for same, but I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise on that front.) Subsequent to that, the board has banned him. Also, Arisia is suspending their usual policy of not refunding memberships, so that people who want to back away from the trainwreck this year can do so without having to worry about that sunk cost.

The bad news: Not yet convinced that anything material is going to change.

See, here’s the other totally unsurprising thing: after Crystal posted about her experiences, I saw numerous other people coming forward and saying, yeah, I had X problem at Arisia, and the response I got from staff wasn’t good. Complaints that took months upon months to be addressed, unsatisfactory action (often consisting of “well, just stay away from him and that should solve the problem”), or even complaints being dropped entirely, vanishing into the void. I’m not going to try to link to them all, especially since I’m not certain that all the people making those comments want them blasted all over the internet, but this one is detailed, public, and tagged #MeToo, so I feel perfectly comfortable sharing that as a data point. There are others, linked in the File 770 posts, describing other kinds of incidents, but Maura Taylor’s is the most similar to Crystal’s.

I said this in my original post, and I said it on Twitter, and now I’ll say it again. Rosenberg is only part of the problem. The rest of the problem is Arisia itself — its executive board, its process for handling harassment complaints, its wholesale failure to walk the walk when it comes to enforcing its own code of conduct. Its repeated tendency to protect Arisia staffers when complaints are brought against them, because those people matter to them. (And when it comes to a confrontation between two staffers? They choose the one at fault.)

So Rosenberg is gone. But if you were wondering whether I think Arisia has fixed the underlying problem, the answer is a resounding no.

Their first announcement said “we are going to acknowledge and apologize for our failures,” but they haven’t yet. The closest they come to apologizing to Crystal for what they did to her is to say that they failed her by disclosing her name publicly and that they apologized for it at the time. What about all the ways in which they gaslit her, the times they made promises and then broke them, the ways they closed ranks to protect her rapist even in the face of countless pieces of public evidence that he was stalking and harassing her? And that’s just Crystal’s experiences; it doesn’t touch on all the other people who have been through similar trials. The failures the Arisia announcement lists are woefully abridged. And they can pledge all they like to do better in the future . . . but so far it isn’t at all clear that they truly understand everything they did wrong in the first place. Until that part gets settled, how can anyone really believe they’ll improve?

Now, I will also note that they seem to not be done yet. I’m willing to grant that they may still do more, and better. But let’s be clear on what “better” means, and not let one resignation/ban and some refunded memberships obscure the work that still needs to be done. Sonya Taaffe’s message to Arisia compares this to the Readercon incident some years back, with good justification. I don’t think anything less than the eventual Readercon response — the resignation and replacement of the entire board, alongside an overhaul of their incident response approach — is going to suffice here. Right now various lower-level staffers have been resigning in droves, but the real problem lies with the Arisia board, which has for years been enabling and protecting not just one offender, but several. They have thoroughly demonstrated that their guests and attendees cannot trust them. Arisia needs fresh leadership, not tainted with the sins of the past. It needs a renewal.

For the sake of all the attendees who have long-standing loyalty to Arisia, I hope that happens. But whether the board will do it . . . we’ll have to wait and see.

New Worlds: Faeries

Wrapping up the New Worlds Patreon tour through the supernatural world, we have faeries! Which are often said to come out to play at this time of year — but that’s a very Celtic concept. What happens when you try to talk about faeries in other parts of the world? Is there even any such thing?

Comment over there!