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Posted by John Scalzi

Krissy and I are playing hooky today because we’re going to the Alison Moyet concert in Chicago, which necessitated a bit of a drive. Well, we’re here now, and the view from the hotel is lovely, nary a parking lot in sight. How is your day?


Fun fun fun

Sep. 19th, 2017 02:15 pm
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[personal profile] tina_black
Well today, once more, I fell.  Missed a step and hit the deck.  I am bleeding in spots, black and blue in others.  I think it is a turning point.

So I called Weight Watchers.  Those buggers lied.  When I got to my goal, it was a given that if you got there, and then gained weight, you would be charged a maximum of your beginning fee.  For me this would be 4.00 per meeting.  And you had a lifetime membership for getting to goal.  When I called they could not find my membership THROUGH THREE INQUIRIES. You know what those pirates say now?  14.50 per meeting, or more depending on the location. Liars.  Liars.  Liars.

Then I called Jenny Craig.  They found my membership just fine.  The only problem I have with them.is the evil cheesecake, and the young, skinny "counselors".  No warm fuzzies there, but the food is good.

So as of Monday, I am back to a food program.  I need it.

In which the Bittern is pissed

Sep. 19th, 2017 02:16 pm
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[personal profile] twistedchick
This so-called article is a piece of crap. It purports to provide the results of a study and conflates the numbers in the study with society as a whole in ignorant ways.

For example, second paragraph:

Just ask college students. A fifth of undergrads now say it’s acceptable to use physical force to silence a speaker who makes “offensive and hurtful statements.”


A fifth of undergrads? No. A fifth of the 1500 undergrad students they surveyed. That's 300 or so.


Villasenor conducted a nationwide survey of 1,500 undergraduate students at four-year colleges.


Nationwide? There are far more than 1,500 four-year colleges (for those of you not American, the word includes universities). How were the colleges chosen? How were the students chosen? How many were chosen at each university? How many overall were from the same discipline? There's no way to know. We don't even know if he chose accredited schools, or those pay-for-a-degree places. Did they ask at Ivy League schools, the majority of whose students come from well-off families? Did they ask at places like City College of New York, where the tuition is much lower and people who are there are from a variety of backgrounds, not wealthy? Ag and tech colleges, out in the countryside, or only urban colleges?

Further down it says the margin of error is 2-6 percent, "depending on the group." Oh, really? Which group is 2% and which is 6%? We aren't told. It appears we are to be grateful that a margin of error was even mentioned.

The whole thing is supposed to be about undergrads' understanding of First Amendment-protected free speech. Since we are not told the exact wording of the questions asked, it's impossible to know if the responses were appropriate to them, or if the questions were leading the students to a specific response.

And then there's this:

Let’s say a public university hosts a “very controversial speaker,” one “known for making offensive and hurtful statements.” Would it be acceptable for a student group to disrupt the speech “by loudly and repeatedly shouting so that the audience cannot hear the speaker”?

Astonishingly, half said that snuffing out upsetting speech — rather than, presumably, rebutting or even ignoring it — would be appropriate. Democrats were more likely than Republicans to find this response acceptable (62 percent to 39 percent), and men were more likely than women (57 percent to 47 percent). Even so, sizable shares of all groups agreed.

It gets even worse.

Respondents were also asked if it would be acceptable for a student group to use violence to prevent that same controversial speaker from talking. Here, 19 percent said yes....


Let's look more closely, ignoring the editorializing sentence for the moment. Half of who? Half of 1500 people is 750 people, scattered across the US. And then again -- 19% of who? Everyone? Women? Men? Democrats? Republicans? We aren't told.

Meanwhile, the entire other side of this survey is ignored. By stressing the minority and ignoring the majority, the minority's views are inflated and made more important. Let me turn this around for you: more than 80% of undergrads say that violence is not acceptable in dealing with an unwanted speaker. Try turning around all the other numbers, and the story falls apart. Instead of "students" substitute "students surveyed", and it also falls to pieces. Who cares what 1500 people out of 200 million think? If we don't know why those 1500 were specifically chosen, why should we care?

I have worked with surveys, written surveys, conducted and analyzed surveys. It is possible to have a statistically perfect survey with 1500 people surveyed, but only if the respondents are very carefully selected to avoid bias. There is no way to tell if that was done with the evidence given in this story. For all we know, those respondents could have been selected from the same departments or majors at all the colleges. The colleges could have been technical schools or enormous state universities or religion-affiliated schools. There is no way to know. Why does this matter? Liberal arts, political science and pre-law students are more likely to have read about the First Amendment than optics majors or engineers, for instance. I'm not saying the optics majors or engineers would be more conservative or liberal -- but they are less likely to have discussed free speech in a class. Improper choice of respondents can provide very slanted results -- for example, the survey that said Dewey would win over Truman was conducted by telephone, and the calls went to houses on the corners of two streets; this meant that people who were wealthier (because corner houses pay higher taxes, based on road frontage) were questioned, while their less wealthy neighbors (who voted for Truman) were ignored.

Also, by not including any context relative to current events, there is no way to know if the small percentage who thought violence was acceptable was the same as during the Vietnam War, for instance, or Desert Storm. I guarantee you, it was not the same percentage as during the Revolutionary War, when those who spoke against any prevailing view to an audience who disagreed would have been lucky to have been ridden out of town on a rail, if not tarred and feathered. (Feel free to do the research if you wish; be sure you have a strong stomach for the details of what happens when boiling tar is applied to skin.)

What it all comes down to is this: this story is written poorly by someone who does not understand how statistics should be used, and was not properly edited. It was published in order to scare people, although the publisher may not have realized its propaganda value. By not including the whole story, and by allowing editorializing in the middle of it, it slants the results.

This would not have been published during the time when Kay Graham was publisher. Editor Ben Bradlee would not have let this story pass. He would have told the reporter to rewrite it, clean it up, and get more depth into it.

And the reason I am writing this is that this is not the only paper that misleads with statistics, and you need to be aware of this, and of what to look for when someone is quoting a study, badly, misleadingly, in a way that bids fair to be used for propaganda. Be cautious and critical when you see numbers and statistics, and look for whether the writing is made personal/editorialized. It matters.

The Big Idea: Annalee Newitz

Sep. 19th, 2017 11:26 am
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Posted by John Scalzi

In her debut novel Autonomous, former i09 editor-in-chief and current science and tech writer and editor Annalee Newitz gets under the skin of the healthcare industry and thinks about all the ways it’s less-than-entirely healthy for us… and what that means for our future, and the future she’s written in her novel.

ANNALEE NEWITZ:

There’s a scene from the Torchwood series Miracle Day that I will never be able to wash out of my brain. After humans stop being able to die for mysterious reasons, our heroes tour a hospital full of people who are hideously immortal: their bodies pancaked and spindled and melted, they lie around in agony wishing for oblivion. For all its exaggerated body horror, that moment feels creepily realistic in our age of medicine that can keep people alive without giving them anything like quality of life.

Torchwood: Miracle Day wasn’t my first taste of healthcare dystopia, but it made a huge impression because it distilled down one of the fundamental ideas I see this subgenre: some lives are worse than death. This is certainly the message in countless pandemic films, where the infected are ravening, mindless zombies. Killing them is a mercy.

This idea takes a slightly different form in books like Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and Paolo Bacigalupi’s Windup Girl. Both narratives toy with what it means when people are turned into medical experiments, like futuristic versions of the Tuskegee Study. We see some ruling class of people deciding that another class should serve as its organ donors or genetic beta testers. What if somebody were treating us like lab rats, as if our lives didn’t matter?

And then there are the false healthcare utopias, which I find the most disturbing because they remind me of listening to U.S. senators trying to sell the idea that they have a “much better plan” than Obamacare—even though I know people who will die under these “better plans.” Politicians have probably been pushing false healthcare utopias since at least the 19th century, but in science fiction its roots can clearly be traced to Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World. In that novel, everyone is medicating with Soma just to deal with how regimented and limited their lives are.

False healthcare utopias can take many forms, and they overlap with more familiar dystopias too. Some deal with surveillance. In the chilling novel Harmony, Project Itoh imagines a future Japan where the government monitors everyone’s microbiomes by tracking everything that goes into and out of their bodies (yep, there’s toilet surveillance).

Sometimes the false healthcare utopia is just a precursor to a more familiar zombie dystopia like 28 Days Later. Consider, for example, our extreme overuse of antibiotics. Though it appears that we can cure pretty much any infection with antibiotics, we’re very close to living in a world where antibiotics no longer work at all. One of the most terrifying books I’ve read this year is science journalist Maryn McKenna’s book Big Chicken, which is about how the agriculture industry depends on antibiotics to keep animals “healthy” in filthy, overcrowded conditions. This is creating antibiotic-resistant bacteria that are coming for us, pretty much any day now. That’s right–penicillin-doped chickens are the real culprits in I Am Legend.

I’m fascinated by how many false healthcare utopias depend on coercive neuroscience. Often, brain surgery is involved—we see this in John Christopher’s Tripods and Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, both about so-called utopian worlds created by neurosurgical interventions that restrict freedom of thought. Maybe these stories focus on brains so much because these are fundamentally stories about lies, and brains are, after all, the organ that we use for lying.

When I started work on my novel Autonomous (out today! yes it is!), I knew I wanted to explore the lies of the pharmaceutical industry and its gleaming ads promising a better life to those who can afford a scrip. One of the protagonists, Jack, has become a pharmaceutical pirate so that she can bring expensive, patented medicine to poor people who need it. But she also sells a few of what she calls “funtime worker drugs” on the side, to fund her Robin Hood activities and keep her submarine in good repair.

Those funtime drugs are why things go sideways for Jack. She sells some pirated Zacuity, a “productivity” drug that I loosely based on Provigil or Adderall. It gets people really enthusiastic about work, but it has some unexpected side-effects that the pharma company Zaxy has suppressed. Now Jack has to stop the drug from killing more people, while also evading two deadly agents sent by Zaxy: a robot named Paladin and a human named Eliasz.

So Autonomous is chase story with some hot robot sex, but it’s also very much a book about how pharma companies sell us an idea of “health” that is actually really unhealthy.

Today pharma companies market drugs the way Disney markets Star Wars movies, and for good reason. Drugs like Adderall and Provigil are supposed to make us feel better and more competent—or at the very least distract us—for a few blissful hours. Just like a movie. I’m not trying to say there’s a problem with taking drugs (or watching movies) to feel good. Nor am I saying that people don’t need anti-depressants and other meds to treat psychological problems. The issue is when these drugs are overprescribed for enhancement, and “feeling really good” becomes a terrible kind of norm. Pharma companies want us to believe that if we aren’t incredibly attentive, productive, and happy every day, there must be something wrong. This paves the way for an ideal of mental health that almost nobody can (or should) live up to.

There’s another, deeper problem that’s caused by selling medicine as if it were a form of entertainment. Nobody would ever argue that going to see the new Star Wars movie is a right. It’s just a luxury for people with disposable income. If we see medicine like that too, it’s easy to fall for the lie that our healthcare system is great even though it only serves the richest people in the U.S.

In the world of Autonomous, the pharma companies are full of guys like Martin Shkreli, jacking up the prices on medicine because they can. They get away with it because so many people in the U.S. believe that anyone can get medicine if they really deserve it. Only a lie of that magnitude could make it seem fair when working class people can’t afford to treat AIDS-related complications. Or cancer. Or a heart infection.

Autonomous is a book about lies. But more importantly, it’s about what happens to the people who see through those lies and try to do something about it. Everyone deserves to have medicine. It is a right, not a privilege. Until we recognize that, I’ll be hanging out with the pirates.

—-

Autonomous: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.


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Posted by John Scalzi

Well, specifically this silly person said I would never earn out [x] amount of money I got as an advance, and also that I would in fact never see [x] amount of money, because of reasons they left unspecified but which I assume were to suggest that my contracts would be cancelled long before I got the payout. As [x] amount of money seems to suggest this silly person is talking about my multi-book multi-year contracts, let me say:

1. lol, no;

2. [x] was not the sum for any of my contracts (either for individual works or in aggregate) so that’s wrong to begin with;

3. It’s pretty clear that this silly person has very little idea how advances work in general, or how they are paid out;

4. It’s also pretty clear this silly person has very little idea how advances work with long-term, multi-project contracts in particular, or how they are paid out;

5. Either this silly person has never signed a book contract, or they appear to have done a very poor job of negotiating their contracts;

6. In any event, it’s very clear this silly person has no idea about the particulars of my business.

Which makes sense as I don’t go into great detail about them in public. But it does mean that people asserting knowledge of my business are likely to be flummoxed by the actual facts. Like, for example, the fact that I’m already earning royalties on work tied into those celebrated-yet-apparently-actually-cursed contracts. Royalties, I’ll note for those of you not in the publishing industry, are paid out after you earn back an advance.

How am I getting royalties on a work tied to contracts that this silly person has assured all and sundry I will never earn out? The short answer is because I’ve earned out, obviously. The slightly longer answer is that my business deals are interesting and complex and designed to roll money to me on a steady basis over a long period of time, but when you are a silly person who apparently knows nothing about how book contracts work (either my specific ones, or by all indications book contracts in general) and you have an animus against me because, say, you’re an asshole, or because of group identification politics that require that I must actually be a raging failure, for reasons, you are prone to assert things that are stupid about my business and show your complete ignorance of it. And then I might be inclined to point and laugh about it.

In any event, this is a fine time to remind people of two things. The first thing is that I have detractors, and it’s very very important to them that I’m seen as a failure. There’s nothing I can ever do or say to dissuade them against this idea, so the least I can do is offer them advice, which is to make their assertions of my failure as non-specific as possible, because specificity is not their friend. I would also note to them that regardless, my failures, real or imagined, will not make them any more successful in their own careers. So perhaps they should focus on the things they can materially effect, i.e., their own writing and career, and worry less about what I’m doing.

Second, if someone other than me, my wife, my agent or my business partners (in the context of their own contracts with me) attempts to assert knowledge of my business, you may reliably assume they are talking out of their ass. This particularly goes for my various detractors, most of whom don’t appear to have any useful understanding of how the publishing industry works outside of their (and this is a non-judgmental statement) self-pub and micro-pub worlds, which are different beasts than the part I work in, and also just generally dislike me and want me to be a miserable failure and are annoyed when I persist in not being either. Wishing won’t make it so, guys.

Bear in mind speculating about my business is perfectly fine, and even if it wasn’t I couldn’t stop it anyway. Speculate away! People have done it for years, both positively and negatively, and most of the time it’s fun to watch people guess about it. Even this silly person’s speculation is kind of fun, in the sense it’s interesting to see all the ways it’s wrong. But to the extent that the unwary may believe this silly person (or other such silly people among my detractors, and as a spoiler they are all fairly silly on this topic) knows what they are talking about with regard to my business: Honey, no. They really don’t. They have their heads well up their asses.

Or, as I said on Twitter:

And actually the dog has been in the same room as my contracts, so in fact she might know more. Keep that in mind the next time a detractor opines on my business.


The Big Idea: Douglas Wynne

Sep. 18th, 2017 02:18 pm
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Posted by John Scalzi

In Cthulhu Blues, author Douglas Wynne wants you to catch the waves. Or perhaps more accurately, to appreciate the fact that the waves already have you — and show something else between them.

DOUGLAS WYNNE:

Back when I was studying music production and engineering at Berklee College of Music, I had a mystical epiphany that didn’t even involve recreational chemistry. It came to me in the classroom while looking at a handout the instructor had passed around. She was about to present an overview of AM and FM radio technology and wanted us to take a look at the wave spectrum within which those broadcast frequencies are nested. On the left, the diagram showed the subsonic vibrations elephants transmit through the ground to communicate over long distances. Moving to the right, it worked its way up through the octaves of audible sound waves and then on to ultrasonic, radio, microwave, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, x-rays, and gamma rays.

My education up to that point was far more focused on playing guitar than on physics, but I had read about how even matter is essentially composed of waves—or particles, depending on the method of measurement—vibrating at high enough rates to create the illusion of solidity. Still, seeing it all laid out like that, bottom to top, made a profound impression on me. It reminded me that all human perception is just a glimpse through the slats of a fence, a fragmentary picture of a reality we can only experience with a biological bias and a crude, albeit ever expanding, set of tools to fill in the blanks.

It’s a humbling idea. One that I later remembered I’d first encountered in the horror story “From Beyond” by H.P. Lovecraft. In that tale, a scientist discovers alien life forms writhing in the air all around him by tuning his perception with a resonator device he calls “The Ultraviolet.”

When I set out to reimagine the Cthulhu Mythos for the SPECTRA Files trilogy, this idea of exposure to special frequencies opening up human perception to other dimensions and entities was a major element I wanted to explore. After all, the closest thing to real magic I’ve experienced in my own life is the way that music—invisible wave patterns in the air—has the power to open the human heart to unexpected dimensions of feeling.

Music plays a major role in the SPECTRA books. There’s a cosmic boom box that houses a lab-grown larynx, a grand piano that acts as a portal to infernal realms, and a sea organ borrowed from a real architectural instrument in Zadar, Croatia, that plays haunting chords when the waves roll into its chambers. But the main character, Becca Philips, does her work higher up in the wave spectrum. She’s an urban explorer and photographer who shoots infrared photos of abandoned buildings in flood-ravaged Boston. Becca finds an eerie spirituality in the ghostly light emitted by weeds and vines in that range. But when her photos pick up fractal tentacles seeping into our world from an adjacent dimension, she is caught between cultists employing weird tech to evoke monstrous gods and a covert agency that suspects she might be one of them.

From water to sound to light, there are waves rolling through the entire trilogy. But the wave spectrum isn’t the big idea, perception is: how we see the world and our place in it.

Becca Philips is a character defined by her sensitivity. She experienced loss at an early age and continues to suffer from recurrent depression compounded by Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s her sensitivity to light and shadow, her unique way of looking at the world, that makes her a great photographer. And it’s her unique perception that entangles her in the unfolding apocalypse and puts her in a position to do something about it. In book one (Red Equinox), she willingly exposes herself to the harmonics that align the human plane with that of the monsters, an act which makes her more vulnerable even as it dispenses with the illusion of a benign reality so she might be empowered to save others from what lurks just beyond that thin veneer. Becca chose this vision as an act of heroism and chose to keep it when offered a drug that would make it go away. But sometimes the cost of courage is that your contact with dark things changes you and makes you one of them.

I knew from the start that as a sensitive, Becca would also be susceptible to the telepathic dreams of Cthulhu slumbering on the ocean floor sooner or later. I knew she would struggle with her sanity and ultimately have to make a judgment about the sanity of mankind at large and whether our supremacy on the planet is ultimately for the best. As a vegetarian and animal rescuer, Becca sees the value of all life. But when you look long enough into the abyss, the abyss looks into you, and in Cthulhu Blues Becca finally has to grapple with the question of whether or not the Great Old Ones might be better for life on Earth than mankind in the long run. The crux of her crisis is that the same empathetic eye that drives her to save animals, children, and civilization, also opens her to the possibility that the cultists might be right to topple the human race from its throne. She has to ask herself what it is in the spectrum of consciousness that sets humanity apart. If we’re not at the top of the food chain anymore, what makes us unique and worth saving?

I’ve always thought it’s our capacity for compassion. Our ability to see others, even the wretched and subhuman, the animal and the alien, with a kind eye. But if we retreat into the tunnel vision of fear at the first scent of crisis, then what do we have left that makes us the good guys? When you’re caught between a militant covert agency and a radical religious cult, are dark gods really worse than white devils?

—-

Cthulhu Blues: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|JournalStone

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.


The weekly ketchup

Sep. 16th, 2017 12:48 pm
rolanni: (Default)
[personal profile] rolanni

. . .bearing in mind, as always, that, in my accent, "ketchup" rhymes with "catch-up".

So, let's see. . .

I finished the story I was working on, in first draft; it's resting at the moment, titleless, and with a page of notes.  I'll get back to it, oh, early or mid-October; plenty of time for a mid-November hand-in.  I'm anticipating that the finished story will be about 10,000 words.  Including, yanno, the title.

On the mundane side of life, Steve came home from Maryland; I celebrated my 65th birthday quietly, and managed to miss yoga two weeks in a row because Reasons.  I shall endeavor to do better this week.

Fifth of Five is moving along. . .slowly.  Clean-up books are hard.

I've gotten in a couple more fountain pens -- demonstrator pens, so called, which take ink in right from the bottle via a piston mechanism -- and some fun colored ink:  Noodler's Borealis Black; Noodler's Wampum Purple; Diamine Ancient Copper; Diamine Sherwood Green.  The company I bought the demonstrators from, included a bonus eyedropper pen -- no piston, you fill the barrel via an eyedropper.

One of my new pens has a bold nib, which I'm tentatively preferring over what has been my go-to, the medium-nib Pilot Metropolitan.  The ink flow seems smoother -- granted, this may be the difference in the inks; the Metropolitan uses a cartridge.

While I was ordering things in, I also committed a new coloring book:  The Art of Cursive, which looks like a lot of fun.

Let's see. . .my new glasses arrived, so, yay! new glasses!

On Thursday, Steve and I drove three hours one way to the Burlington Mall in -- surprise! -- Burlington, Massachusetts, there to sign books at the BN (which is technically across from the Mall), and also to test drive a pair of Bose Hearphones.  Frequent auditors of this journal will recall that I'm starting to lose my hearing, as one apparently does, especially if one spent a Large-ish Chunk of one's life, earphones in, typing copy from a Dictaphone.  Anyway. . .hearing aids not required at this point, says the last person who evaluated my hearing, right before the insurance companies decided they weren't in the ear bidness.  However! More than a few studies now have indicated that people who have uncorrected hearing loss are more likely to develop dementia; and! that for the best results from hearing aids, one ought to start using an assist before the loss is so significant as to be disabling.

Thus, the Hearphones, which Bose is very careful to say are not hearing aids; they merely assist in direction hearing, and in blocking out background noise.

I did a test drive at the store with the trainer.  He asked me what I would be using them for, and we briefly discussed the fact that writers spend a lot of their time in bars, and I can no longer hear my tablemates in that setting.  So we did that scenario first -- he pulled up a recording of a 250-people restaurant, and had me adjust the gain on the Hearphones, until I could hear him speaking directly to me.  I could still hear the background noise, if I concentrated, but it was a whole lot easier just to listen to him.

One of the weird things is that you also hear yourself, sorta like using a microphone. . . which, actually, I guess you are.

The trainer then asked if there was anything else, and I said, yes -- movies, television.  I can't hear dialog any more.

So, he pulled up a clip of The Theory of Everything, where Eddie Redmayne is explaining Life, the Universe, and Everything to the nice young lady, and I heard every word, clean and clear.

When the clip ended, the trainer asked how that had worked for me, and my answer was, "I watched Fantastic Beasts and I did not understand one word that man said during the whole movie!  This -- I got everything."

So, I brought the Hearphones home.  They are not cheap, and they are getting a rigorous field testing, because they can be taken back to a Bose with no penalty within 30 days.  And the Extra Good News Is? We don't have to drive 6 hours round trip to take them back, if that proves necessary.  They can be returned to the Bose store in Kittery (which doesn't sell the item, sigh), a mere hour-and-a-half down the road.

Today's test was to be Fantastic Beasts, but, when I put on the Hearphones, I was told that the charge was dangerously low; which is a little scary because I charged them yesterday. It's certainly possible that I forgot to turn them off after my tutorial session yesterday, but a device with a two hour charge isn't going to be as useful as it might be.

In any case, after the Hearphones are charged -- Fantastic Beasts.  If we pass Mr. Redmayne, then Steve and I will take ourselves out to a noisy bar, and I'll see if I can hear him through the din.

. . .I think that about catches us up -- Oh.  No.  I am remiss in reporting that I purchased a blue Totoro at the BN.  Yes, I am weak.

Everybody have a good weekend.

New Books and ARCs, 9/15/17

Sep. 15th, 2017 07:23 pm
[syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed

Posted by John Scalzi

If you were wondering if any new books and ARCs have come to the Scalzi Compound recently, the answer is, why, yes, they have. And here they are! Tell me which titles here intrigue you, down in the comments!


A Spiderweb Collection

Sep. 15th, 2017 03:04 pm
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Posted by John Scalzi

This morning was dewy and we have quite a lot of spiders around the Scalzi Compound (it being a rural area and full of bugs, you see), so I went out with my camera and took pictures of some of the webs, and occasionally, the webs’ architects as well. The collection of images is here, if you’d like to see them. Obviously for the spider-sensitive, this collection will feature arachnids, so be aware. I’m making this its own album and will probably add to it over time, so if you like spiders and spiderwebs, check in from time to time.


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Posted by John Scalzi

Here in the US, our fate and fortune was tied up in Iraq for many years. But what does the future hold for that country now? Iraq + 100, an anthology of Iraqi science fiction, offers several views of possibilities. Now, the acquiring editor and three authors from the anthology talk a bit about the book and the futures therein.

Claire Eddy, Senior Editor at Tor/Forge

I got a submission last fall from a small UK publisher and once I started reading I couldn’t stop. The editor of the anthology, Hassan Blasim, asked a simple question–how could you imagine your nation 100 years from now?

The question posed to Iraqi writers (those still in their homeland and those who have joined a world-wide diaspora), has produced an amazing project, a roadmap of what their country might look like following the disastrous foreign invasion of 2003.

Simply put, I believe that Iraq+100 is a piece of fiction that has the potential to make a difference.

I don’t say this lightly.  I am very passionate about all the projects that I take on, but Iraq + 100 has a particularly special importance to me. These writers have given us not just wonderful stories, but the collection itself has a unique voice that I think deserves to be heard. Storytelling has always had the power to not only entertain, but to inform and change hearts. I truly believe that this project has the ability to do these very things.

I think a project like Iraq + 100 would do well at any point in time. In the environment that we find ourselves now, however, I think this book has a much bigger potential.

Ibrahim Al-Marashi, author of “Najufa”

My story “Najufa” is based on my first trip to the Iraqi Shi’a shrine cities of Najaf and Kufa as an adult with my father and mother in 2010. The tensions that drive the relationship between the narrator and his grandfather in the story is based on the tensions I had with my own father during that trip. My father was born in the east African island of Zanzibar, as a result of his father escaping Najaf during the British occupation of Iraq in 1920 for taking part in an insurgency then. My father returned to Iraq in the sixties, went to medical school in Baghdad, and would visit Najaf and his relatives there often.  However, my father did not travel to Iraq when Saddam Hussein was in power from 1979 to 2003.

I expected the trip in 2010 to be a nostalgic “home coming” for him, but as an old man in his seventies, he seemed oblivious to the whole place or experience. He was more concerned with drinking tea and relating his life experiences to any random person in the tea house than visiting the shrines.  I compared his indifference to the spirituality inside the shrine complex to my observations at the same time of the younger pilgrims there, some who wanted to leave after a few minutes of praying, since their mobile phones are not allowed within the confines of any shrine, as terrorists use them to detonate explosives remotely.  Everyone had to check in the mobile phone outside the shrine, like a coat check, and without phones, that generation became fidgety.  After 2003, regardless of whether one was from Iraq or the “West,” what united us all was addiction to technology. In the story I wanted to project the evolution of how we will become the technology 100 years later, even in an ancient shrine city in Iraq.

Anoud, author of “Kahramana”

Kahramana is a slave girl in a story from A Thousand and One Nights which originates from the Abbasi Era in Mesopotamia, a golden age of enlightenment after which the region fell under conqueror after conqueror and women were further marginalized.

A Thousand and One Nights is one of the few literary examples I recall from the region where women are strong, dangerous characters that move a plot. Usually we’re either ‘damsels in distress’ needing the actions of men or we’re ‘conniving’ and ‘seductive’ inspiring men to act. Women did not swing a sword, not exactly. No surprise there, most of the authors are men.

A Thousand and One Nights did reflect on the norms of its times in the sense that women were spoils of war and slavery existed and was accepted. But women and slaves in those stories, like Kahramana, could be dangerous, independent, smart. Their husbands or keepers were their subordinates in the plot. They had little or no power to move the story along.

My story is more of a pun on A Thousand and One Nights. I make fun of the status quo between east and west, refugees and those on the receiving end. I chose her simply because Kahramana resonated with me as a child. I often passed by a fountain in Baghdad’s Kahramana Square that fascinated me. The fountain was built by a famous Iraqi sculpture in the 1970s to depict Kahramana (sometimes called Morjana) the slave girl from the story of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves.

Kahramana was standing tall on top of a pile of large jars holding a jug and pouring down onto the jars underneath her feet. According to the story the slave girl was slaying the thieves by dousing them with boiling oil on then sealing each jar shut. We, as Baghdadis, were celebrating a woman slyer. We, in a country where women need men’s permission for anything. And I, the push-over little girl, found her both disturbing and amazing. She just stuck with me.

Though I have come a long way from the timid ‘good girl’ I was raised to be and I like to think I can stand up for myself, I still get pushed around because I’m of the wrong gender, I behave inappropriately for my social class, am of the wrong nationality, standing on the wrong side of a border. It’s fucking endless. And when I want to fly off the handle I remember Kahramana standing over the heads of thieves in a Square in Baghdad, killing them all, indifferent.

Dr. Zhraa Alhaboby, author of “Baghdad Syndrome”

The idea for Baghdad Syndrome was unclear at first, thinking about it brought hopes and fears together. Hence, I began to imagine a future in which Iraq heals with a scar, the scar is the syndrome.

Baghdad Syndrome is a collection of physical and mental symptoms reflecting what people in Iraq are going through. Inspired by my last visit to Iraq, I looked more worried about the future than people living there, I saw the syndrome in almost everyone! The heart rate increases with every sudden explosion, and fear of loss. The depression comes from uncertainty, where people do not really know whether they will return home if they went out. Hallucinations and nightmares, due to the verge of reality with unbelievable events. Yet, their faces were smiley, living the moment and kept smiling to survive. Amusingly the painful reality was turned into humour. The blindness in the Syndrome is a metaphor to the endless electricity cuts in Baghdad, leaving a city that loves lights in darkness. Another darkness is the sudden loss of beloved ones, a point in life where nothing else could remain the same afterwards.

The inspiration to link the syndrome with genetic mutations came from my work. During that year (2014), I was writing a report about health-related human rights in Iraq. Revising international reports showed that health was underrepresented. Back then I contacted the Ministry of Human Rights in Iraq, it was a hopeless attempt because having no internal governmental connections means the request will be overlooked. Yet, I received a prompt reply from a local employee striving to share internal reports from several parts of the country. These reports demonstrated increased rates of congenital malformations in newborns in areas still compiled with war wastes. However, the symptoms of Baghdad Syndrome are far away from being a relatively immediate physical impact.

Writing about the future was not an easy task, I needed a link to tell the story. My style of writing is through the lenses of ancient history and riddles. My emotional link with Scheherazade’s statue in Baghdad had always inspired me, I had the sense she was watching and telling stories about what’s happening around her. With my admiration of A Thousand and One Nights, I thought Scheherazade could be my witness and say my riddle this time. When I had the context, the syndrome, and Scheherazade, I could write part of myself in each character in the story to finalise it. After finishing the story I realised, I always sketched the statue with a background of buildings and a pigeon around! Looks like my version of the future was in my sub-consciousness after all!

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Iraq + 100: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|IndieBound|Books-A-Million|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Follow Dr. Zhraa Alhaboby on Twitter. Follow Ibrahim Al-Marashi on Twitter.


Fogbow!

Sep. 15th, 2017 12:51 pm
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Posted by John Scalzi

The conditions are not usually right around here to capture a fog bow in a full arc, but this morning I got lucky and also had my phone camera with me. It records panoramas, which was useful because the fog bow was just too wide to be captured in the usual 16:9 frame of the phone camera. So here we are: a fogbow, which I am posting here for posterity’s sake, and also because it’s pretty. Good morning, world.