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Posts Tagged ‘linkage’

Perpetuating the Cult of the Badass — Or Not

I know some of you have started to read A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry, either via my rec or elsewhere, so you’ll have already seen Devereaux’s sequence of posts about the idea of the “universal warrior.” (If not, then tl;dr — he thinks the notion is absolute bollocks.)

But I want to particularly highlight the last post in the series, about the “Cult of the Badass.” I’d picked up this general vibe before, of course: the idealization and idolization of a certain kind of tough masculinity that we see all the time in books and movies, in TV and video games, and in real life (at least aspirationally). And it isn’t hard to miss flaws like the toxicity of that concept, or the sexism baked pretty much into its core.

What’s new to me is the extent to which the Cult of the Badass maps to the values of fascism.

I’m not going to recap Devereaux’s points in that essay; you can go read them for yourself (the part about fascism is under the header “Echoes of Eco”). The reason I reference his argument — apart from the fact that it’s a good one — is because recently I also read an essay by Ada Palmer that . . . okay, has vanished from her blog in the time since I read it, and I’m not sure why. I guess this is what I get for not posting about this until now? Anyway, it was her transcribed remarks from (I think) a convention she was a guest of honor at, talking about how we commonly teach the Renaissance as being about these few visionary guys who knew what the future could look like and tried to bring that vision into reality, which — surprise! — is a massive misrepresentation. They were trying to change the world, sure, but not to look like the world we have now. And much of what we have now is the product, not of a few visionary guys, but of huge quantities of people having their own little conversations all over the place. The essay had a great example of this, in the form of how the unknown individuals who wrote the printer’s forewords to various editions of a particular Greek philosopher (I can’t remember which one, dammit) led to this philosopher being taught all over the place, in ways that very much influenced the change in culture.

Anyway, here’s my point, somewhat undermined by not having Palmer’s piece available for linking. When she talked about lots and lots of people having their conversations about things and the power of that to change society, I found myself thinking about Devereaux and the Cult of the Badass and fascism. Because the more we tell and consume stories about how awesome it is to be a warrior at heart, the more we repeat and reify the notion of a particular kind of strength (and implicitly, screw all the people without that strength) . . . the more we nudge society in that direction. But by telling other kinds of stories, by reading different books and watching different movies and recommending them to our friends, we dilute that trend.

I got tired of those stories a long time ago. But now I’m more than tired of them: I reject them. I don’t want to give them my time, my money, or a place in my skull. War is not the metaphor around which we should be organizing our lives. There are better ways, and I’m going to try to have the conversations that lead to them.

more on ACOUP

I know I’ve recommended A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry here before, but I wanted to remind people of its existence, because it continues to be an excellent source of military history of the sort that looks at how military matters interface with culture and society, with a non-trivial overlap into specifically SF/F matters. Most recently that’s shown up in a four-part series on the Dothraki (as depicted in both the books of A Song of Ice and Fire and the TV series Game of Thrones), looking at Martin’s claim that he based them on the Mongols and the Plains Indians. Spoiler: whoa nelly is that not true. Devereaux isn’t an expert in either of those regions, but he’s done enough of his homework to show how they’re not like each other, and furthermore how in most places the only connection they have to the Dothraki is through the worst of racist stereotypes. You may well have already noticed how offensive the depiction of the Dothraki is, in both the books and the show, but . . . folks, it’s even worse than that. And it’s a salutary lesson in how not to do things, because as Devereaux points out, those stereotypes are still used today to justifice the oppression of real-world ethnic groups.

And speaking of real-world relevance . . . back in October, he posted about the Greek concept of stasis (which means not “everything staying the same,” as we use it now, but rather a recognizable cycle of instability). There are pretty clear parallels between the stasis ancient Greek democracies went through and what the U.S. is doing these days — and, though Devereaux doesn’t say it, I think it applies equally well to the Civil War. He followed that up more recently with a piece on insurrections, showing how strongly what happened at the Capitol on January 6th parallels history. The fact that so much of the invasion there looked stupid doesn’t change the fact that it was a real insurrection; some historical ones looked equally stupid, but they still could have overthrown their governments if they’d succeeded.

It’s good, chewy stuff. If you like history and looking at both the parallels and differences between cultures, you really ought to be reading that blog.

If you have a gift-giving holiday coming up . . .

. . . then this year, even more than most, please do consider buying from local businesses as much as you can. They’re hurting badly in the pandemic, whereas Amazon is in no danger of going under. And if what you want to buy is books, and you also want to support independent businesses (whether they’re local to you or not), I highly recommend Every time you buy from them, a portion of the proceeds goes to supporting independent bookstores.

(While I’m offering up good links: Ecosia is a search engine that both doesn’t track your data, and works to plant trees around the world. I’ve been using it for several months now.)

A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry

I have a new blog crush. And if the phrase A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry makes you perk up, you just might find it interesting, too.

I can’t remember who I saw linking to this guy’s analysis of the Siege of Gondor, but it’s an entertaining read — all six parts of it. And in the course of reading it, I noted that he linked to various other posts he’s written, many of which sounded interesting. But the nail in the coffin of me walking away was realizing he had a link at the top titled Resources for World-Builders.


Bret Devereaux turns out to be a military historian specializing in the Roman Republic, but with interests ranging around the ancient Mediterranean and into medieval Europe, plus at least some awareness of other parts of the world like India and China. His seven-part takedown of Sparta is gloriously scathing, and has single-handedly ensured that if some unknown force ever tells me I have to choose where and when in history I’m going to be sent back to, Sparta’s going to be at the rock bottom of my list. Or the three essays tearing apart the claim that Game of Thrones is a “realistic” representation of medievalism — with bonus essays like “The Preposterous Logistics of the Loot Train Battle” (tl;dr: Dany could have saved herself the trouble of attacking, because Jaime’s entire force would have starved to death even after eating all the food they were supposedly transporting to King’s Landing). But what really sealed the deal for me was probably the Practical Polytheism series, which digs into how Mediterranean polytheism worked, and how it’s different from the kinds of assumptions we tend to make today.

It’s a new enough blog that if you don’t mind falling down a rabbit hole for a while, it’s not that difficult to read the entirety of the archives. (I know because I’ve, uh, done it.) As the Practical Polytheism essays and the two most recent posts on ancient writers show, the focus is not entirely on military matters — in part because, being an Actual Historian of these things, he’s well aware that you can’t properly discuss armies without paying attention to things like agriculture or religion. The two Lonely Cities essays crossed my screen just in time to influence the current New Worlds Patreon topic, and I’ll definitely be swinging back to some of his military writing when I get around to that subject myself. So I highly recommend the blog to anybody who’s interested in worldbuilding or military history . . . and I know there’s at least a few people around these parts who fit that label. 🙂

Smart people saying smart things (II)

This interview is fascinating to me because I know basically nothing about cinematography, except insofar as it’s related to photography. So I love it when somebody gets down into the nitty-gritty details about how decisions regarding lenses and focus contribute to inequality, e.g. the fact that women on average speak about 25% of the time in a film + cinematographic technique that puts only the speaker in a shot in focus = not only are the women on screen silent more often than not, but they’re probably blurry as well. Backlighting, specific camera angles — she compares it all to the practice of airbrushing magazine covers, only there isn’t the same degree of public awareness that this stuff is being used to erase women’s flaws and present a constantly-idealized image. Plus lots of interesting discussion on how the relationship between a director and a director of photography differs between movies and TV, male directors and the YA film genre, etc.

On the deep and poisonous stream of anti-Semitism that runs through far too much of white evangelical Christianity. Key quote:

And it doesn’t really matter which “theory” a conspiracist starts with — Moon-landing hoaxers, anti-vaxxers, flat-earthers, young-earthers, chemtrails, fluoridation, Planned Parenthood, Antichrist OWG, blue helmets, black helicopters, whatever — the belief that the Key to Everything is “the startling news that the media isn’t reporting!” always leads, ultimately, to anti-Semitism.

This got me reflecting on my own childhood. My elementary school had a large Jewish contingent; I’m not sure how many, but my mother estimates somewhere between a quarter and a third of my class. It got watered down as we fed into junior high and high school, joining other elementary school catchment areas, but overall, they were almost certainly the largest minority in my area. Large enough that Jewish kids didn’t stand out as unusual to me — at least, not until those two years where they were all going through their Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations and I learned that being Jewish meant you got a special birthday party. (I probably went to more parties in junior high than any other period of my life.)

But at the same time, we were also in the neighborhood of this church. (In opening that page, I note that a section which used to detail a sexual abuse scandal within the church’s leadership has been removed. A scandal which, for all I know, could have involved kids in my class or my brother’s — the timing was right.) I don’t know how much of that anti-Semitic ideology is present there, or was thirty years ago. But it makes me wonder how much, despite the large presence and general acceptance of Jewish families in our neighborhood, there were still incidents that happened out of my sight or flew over my head. I know the guy I went to prom with gave me the first Left Behind novel to read; I didn’t get more than about ten pages into it because the writing was so execrable, but later I learned that boy howdy are those books anti-Semitic. And there were enough Baptist and evangelical Christians around that I have to imagine some of that was an issue in my community.

Short of randomly calling up my Jewish friends from sixth grade and asking them whether they got shit from our fellow students, I’ll never know. But it’s a sobering thing to consider.

Smart people saying smart things

The blogger Slacktivist has a periodic series of posts he titles “Smart people saying smart things,” where he links to and quotes from a handful of solid pieces by other writers. I’ve happened across several great posts recently, so I’m going to steal his approach and modify it a bit here.

A really good discussion of how things change when you got published, and how to bear in mind that meeting you may be a really big deal for a reader of yours — yes, even if you don’t think of yourself as being all that famous. If they love your work, they love your work, and it doesn’t matter if you haven’t sold as much as Author A or won as many awards as Novelist N. And while trying to be extraordinary for them may be daunting, you don’t have to be; simply meeting you is out of the ordinary. All you have to do is be a good kind of out of the ordinary — i.e., remember that this may mean more to them than it does to you, and don’t be a jackass. Also, if somebody’s a fan of your work, respect that; don’t grind down their joy by grinding yourself down in front of them. They may love a short story you’re embarrassed by. They may praise the exact thing you wish you could revise out of your last novel. That’s okay. Accept their delight as the gift it is.

I also want to call out one specific thing Mary Robinette said, about taking advantage of people. We see this cropping up a lot in allegations of sexual harassment: some guys are knowingly and maliciously using their social power to get what they want, but others are the equivalent of that guy with the enormous backpack who turns around without first checking to make sure there’s clearance for it. They don’t realize the pressure they’re applying simply by opening their mouths — and because they don’t realize it, they may apply it harmfully. We’re social monkeys; we like to do favors for the shiny monkeys, because then some of their shine rubs off on us. If you’re a published author and you ask a fan to do something for you, pay attention to what you’re doing. Don’t exploit their goodwill. Don’t ask them to do things that will be burdensome, or if you do, make sure you compensate them fairly. Always thank them.

A potted history of the different ways internet culture has dealt with trolls across its brief history, and why it keeps on burning us out. What she says about the internet changing so fast — I honestly hadn’t even heard the term “cancel” used in that context yet, because I am out on the very edge of the social media pond, and those ripples hadn’t yet reached me. But this lays out very clearly how we haven’t yet figured out a good way of dealing with social interaction online, and the effects that’s having on other parts of our lives, including the way we interact with narrative media. I don’t know what the solution is, but I hope one exists, and that we find it sooner rather than later. Because the anthropologist in my looks at what we’ve got and wonders how long we’re going to lurch along in a car that’s on fire before we either fix it or decide as a society that getting where we’re going faster isn’t worth the third-degree burns we suffer along the way.

Palmer means stoicism in the specific philosophical sense, not a general “grit your teeth and bear it” approach. I don’t know much about philosophy, so the majority of her post was news to me, and very interesting — tangentially the part about stoicism as a metaphysics, but more to the point, stoicism as ethics. She makes some good points about why it is well-suited to being the philosophy of those in power, and why even for the downtrodden it can be both a wonderful lifeline and a dangerous trap, encouraging us simply to accept the world the way it is, rather than striving to change it. And it also makes me think about writing fiction, and the unexamined assumptions that can be hard to get around in your worldbuilding . . . like the idea that we can change the world, not just in a localized sense, but a general progress one. Humans didn’t always have that idea, and it’s easy to forget that.

What happens when the “Tiffany problem” isn’t about small things like plausible medieval women’s names but rather the lived experience of people around you. I like her point about physical intuition, and how reading broadly can help us build up the kind of instinctive understanding that helps us process what is and is not likely to be true in other people’s lives. It’s an angle on the subject of empathy I haven’t seen before, and reminds me of a thing I’m still flailing at in the New Worlds Patreon, which is how to explain the instinctive feeling I have that some kinds of worldbuilding hang together plausibly and others don’t. Fundamentally, the answer is that I’ve read a lot about a lot of different cultures, so I have that intuition about the ways they work; I’m not sure it’s possible to boil that intuition down to a checklist of questions to ask, without doing the reading first.

(Also, this essay gives me some additional vocabulary to talk about what skills I still lack in the kitchen, so hey, bonus.)

BORN TO THE BLADE: “Fault Lines”

This week I enter the field of combat with the second episode of BORN TO THE BLADE: “Fault Lines”!

BORN TO THE BLADE horizontal banner

If you haven’t already checked out the pilot episode, “Arrivals,” that’s free to read or listen to. In “Fault Lines,” Michiko deals with the fallout from the Golden Lord, someone new comes to Twaa-Fei, Penelope has some momentous news, and Bellona seeks to drive a wedge between Quloo and Rumika in advance of the Gauntlet.

Last week I discussed collaboration at Book View Cafe, because 2017 really was the year of me jumping into it feet-first, between my work for Legend of the Five Rings and Born to the Blade. I also have a piece up at All Things Urban Fantasy on “post-cynical optimism,” which was our mission statement for this series: telling a story in which people face hard choices and sometimes bad things happen, but things like honor and friendship and trust are more than traps for the guillble. Our lead writer Michael Underwood wrote about fight scenes (of which we have more than a few) at Barnes and Noble. And if you’d like to check out some reviews, Primm Life has covered “Fault Lines,” and Paul Weimer at Skiffy and Fanty has reviewed the whole serial.

You can find “Fault Lines” (as well as “Arrivals”) here!

Kaiju, Tuckerization, and tornadoes

Strange Horizons is running a prize drawing as a fundraiser for the magazine. Enter for a chance to be Tuckerized in the book I’m writing right now, the sequel to the Memoirs of Lady Trent! Given the nature of this book, the most likely prospect is that you’ll wind up being some kind of expert on the Draconean language or other such nerdy topic, but there are a few other possibilities as well.

The Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters II anthology is nearly halfway to goal. If you missed it before, this anthology will feature a short story from me based on the micro-setting I wrote for the Mecha vs. Monsters expansion for the Tiny Frontiers RPG, which took that concept and smashed it full-speed into the idea of high school science competitions. The story is one of the most gonzo things I’ve ever written, and you can help it become a published reality!

This is a very long article, but very worth reading if you want to get a sense of how terrifying tornadoes can be. I’m lucky that I never experienced one, despite living in Dallas for eighteen years; I did experience huddling in the back hall of our house, waiting to find out if we’d lose that particular game of meteorological Russian roulette.

(Juxtaposing that with the previous item: gonzo as my story is, it doesn’t come close to approximating the sheer destructive force of a tornado. But it’s also meant to be a moderately funny story, and there’s nothing funny about annihilation on that scale.)

Finally, not so much an item as a teaser for something upcoming: stay tuned to this space for some exciting news on February 6th!

“Can one use a dragon to light a candle on Shabbat” and other important questions from Lady Trent’s world

My husband, to me: “You probably want to see this.” <sets his laptop down in front of me>

Me: <reads the best tumblr conversation I’ve seen possibly ever in my life>

Seriously — “Can I use my pet dragon to light candles on Shabbat?” is an actual debate religious leaders would have to have in Isabella’s world. Because they have dragons, and a sizable percentage of Anthiope is Segulist (i.e. Jewish), so that scenario is a thing that could actually happen. Probably has. And now I’m regretting that I’m not conversant enough with Judaism to write a short story that is entirely about Segulist magisters arguing over something like using a pet dragon to light a candle on I don’t think I ever came up with a replacement term for Shabbat (it would run from sunset on Eromer to sunset on Cromer, i.e. Friday-Saturday, but there ought to be another word for it). I had enough trouble writing “The Gospel of Nachash”; this would be harder, especially since I don’t think I can ethically yoink the things people said in that Tumblr thread for my own commercial purposes, and figuring out how to turn it all into a workable story would require me to go beyond what’s there into the wilds of stuff I don’t even know enough about to ask the right questions.

<wanders away from half-finished blog post for a while, thinking>

<comes back>

Okay, screw it. We’re doing this thing.

And I do mean “we,” because I am actively soliciting ideas from people who know Judaism better than I do, that you’re willing to let me use to write a Lady Trent story about religious debates concerning the proper role of dragons in pious Segulist life. I have no idea what form this is going to take; right now in my head it reads like a “Dear Abby” column, with some magister who is here for all your dragon-related religious queries, but it would be hard to give that enough shape to pass for a short story rather than just a novelty piece. Really, I can’t plan the story itself until I know what material it’s going to be built around, because that will probably suggest to me a context for why and how and of whom the questions are being asked.

So toss me some suggestions, people. Other than using a dragon to light a candle on Shabbat (probably a sparkling or a Puian fire-lizard; I don’t recommend desert drakes for the purpose), what other questions might come up? I know enough about kosher laws to be pretty sure dragon meat does not qualify, assuming you would even want to eat it, which you probably would not. After that, I don’t know what would be interesting to consider. Any thoughts?

that whole “tikkun olam” thing

I’ve been making these tikkun olam posts for about half a year now, and responses to them have been slowing down, which I suspect is in part a sign of fatigue. It’s hard to keep on working to repair the world when so many people seem determined to break it, and when it’s hard to see any result for your effort.

But sometimes you can make a very real difference to a very specific person. Chaz Brenchley has put out a call raising funds to treat his wife’s multiple sclerosis. If we lived in a country where this was covered by insurance, they wouldn’t have to worry; instead we live in a country where Republicans are trying to take away even the insurance we already have. Karen is the primary earner in their family, and she doesn’t know how soon she’ll be able to return to work. Helping out, either by donating directly, or by subscribing to Chaz’s Patreon, can make all the difference in the world to these two people, and to their friends and family.

And while you’re at it, call your senators and beg them to oppose Trumpcare. Because I’d like to live in a world where things ranging from anxiety to surviving sexual assault don’t count as “pre-existing conditions,” and where health insurance companies are required to cover things like doctor’s visits.