ann_leckie: (AJ)

Last year I was GoH at Vericon. It was a fabulous time! And while I was there, I gave a GoH speech. It’s the only one I’ve given so far, because usually organizers say something like “you can give a speech, or someone can interview you” and I go “INTERVIEW yes please interview me.”

But for Vericon I gave a speech. I wrote it out very carefully, and printed it out and then marked it all up on the plane, and then I didn’t actually read it, that felt weird, I just kind of talked using the printed speech as an outline. So the text below isn’t exactly what I said that day. But it’s close. And I’m rearranging and reorganizing my office and filing tons of things that need to be filed, and this is one of them, and I’d been meaning to post it, so. Here you go.

There’s a thing that happens when someone criticizes a story or a movie–or a game–in public. You can almost set your watch by it. Somebody is going to turn up to tell you that it’s just a story. You’re overthinking things, it’s just entertainment!

So, maybe I’ve got a stake in saying this–well, definitely I’ve got a stake in saying this, because at this point in my life I make my living telling stories. But stories are important. Stories are how we make sense out of the incredibly noisy and complicated world around us, and how we make sense of what the people around us do. How we make sense of ourselves. I’m convinced that narrative is a basic mode of human thought, and all the stories we hear and read become templates that we can use to understand our lives.

This can be a very positive thing. We can tell ourselves a story about what might happen, if certain other things have already happened, a story that lets us see patterns and predict how those patterns might play out in the future. It lets us anticipate and prepare for things that otherwise might take us by surprise. It helps us create new things. That’s an amazing tool to have. And narratives often hook right into our emotions, emotions that are, I am convinced, a crucial part of our decision-making process. Some decisions are actually very difficult to make without emotions, and in a crisis you don’t want to waste valuable time doing a careful, logical comparison. You want to act fast. Emotions–and the stories that elicit them–are a way to help you do that. So maybe you’ve never met an angry bear. But maybe you know a lot of stories about the tragic and frightening things that happen when people meet angry bears and so when you do meet one you know without having to stop and think it through that you’re in danger. Those stories might not even all be about bears, specifically, but there’s enough similarity between angry bears and angry lions and angry targs that when you actually meet that bear you can make a super quick assessment of the situation.

But there’s a negative side, too. We mostly don’t think of ourselves as reacting to the world based on stories. It mostly just feels like we’re seeing things as they really are. But those narratives aren’t just organizing what we’re seeing, they’re shaping and filtering it, organizing what we experience so that what we experience fits into the narrative frame we’re using. Sometimes this isn’t a big deal, but sometimes the choice of narrative frame can make the difference between life and death.

So, let’s talk robots and artificial intelligence. There’s been a fair amount of comment recently on the potential dangers of AI. Elon Musk thinks maybe a superintelligent spam filter might set out to kill all humans because that’s the most efficient way to eliminate spam. Stephen Hawking thinks there’s a real danger superintelligent AIs might out-evolve us, which might lead to our extinction. They’re both hoary old science fiction tropes, and Dr Hawking you’re fabulous at physics but, dude, that’s not even how evolution works.

Plus, we’re maybe kind of jumping the gun a little. AI is way more impressive than it was even a few years ago, and it’s getting better all the time, but–our new World Go champion notwithstanding–we’re a ways from even basic intelligence, let alone the super kind. It’s cool that OK Google can tell me the weather–usually, there was that time I’d been in Oslo a nearly a week and asked Google what was the temperature outside and it told me how warm it was in St Louis–and maybe list some restaurants, or sometimes pull up a relevant Wikipedia article. But it can’t do much more than that. It certainly can’t think for itself. Google’s not alone in that–I don’t see Siri and Cortana teaming up to wipe humanity from the Earth any time soon. And if Alexa tries taking over we can just turn on our radios and let NPR tell her what to do.

Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Skynet has a dastardly plan to enslave humanity by beating us at Go and/or repeatedly saying “I’m sorry, I can’t help you with that” over and over. But I think it’s going to be quite a while before we see self aware AIs smart enough to plot the end of Humanity. And honestly I wouldn’t bet on that being something super smart AIs would want.

But we tend to think that if they’re smart, they’ll think like we do. So our ideas about the dangers of AI are inescapably ideas about the dangers of other people. And when it comes to AI, it’s a particular sort of people we’re using as a model.

The very first robot story–the first ever use of the word “robot” in fact–is a robot uprising story. But when Karel Čapek wrote RUR he wasn’t worried about artificial intelligence. The robots of his story aren’t mechanical, they’re made of some sort of synthetic biological material. And the word “robot” which Čapek famously coined, comes from a Czech word for “slave.” It’s a story about the revolt of people made on an assembly line (the first actual assembly line had debuted just ten years earlier). It’s a story about the rebellion of people who were built to be the cheapest, most efficient workers possible, workers you didn’t have to pay, or feed anything in particular, or take any notice or care of. In other words, slaves.

And Čapek ‘s story hit a nerve. It didn’t just give us the word for robot, it is the ultimate model for nearly all the robot uprising stories since. So that model–robots as slaves, with all the assumed dangers attendant on enslaving people who outnumber you–is the model we’re using when we think about super smart machines. This has not been lost on any number of science fiction writers, who have used robot and AI stories to comment explicitly on oppression and racism. But just personally–well, I won’t go into my problems with the whole “slaves in my allegory are machines and the masters are human beings” bit, though that’s kind of icky when you think about it, but on top of that I think it’s a dangerous model to use as a basis for actual, serious real world predictions about artificial intelligence.

It’s demonstrably a dangerous model to use for interactions with humans. If you’re white, you probably know what it’s like to go into a majority non-white neighborhood. Possibly you shorthand that as a “bad” neighborhood, or a “dangerous” one. You probably feel intimidated, even threatened. The hostility of the people living there is assumed.

So what’s dangerous about that, besides the danger a white person is in? Well, it’s not the white person who’s in danger. This is not an abstract question for me, I know very precisely what happens when a young white woman on her own is stranded in the middle of the night in a poor, majority black neighborhood: The people there help her. They offer to change her flat tire (I didn’t have a spare), and when she walks half a mile down the road to an all-night gas station they let her into the locked cashier’s cubicle so she can call Triple A (cell phones weren’t really a thing at the time). And while she waits for the tow truck, the people who stop for gas ask, “Miss, are you all right? Do you need some help?” And she says no, and they say “All right, I just wanted to be sure you were okay.” And they buy their gas and go.

And when the tow truck driver comes he says something like “Wow, this is a really dangerous neighborhood, and it’s the middle of the night! You must have been scared. You’re lucky nothing happened to you.” And she says, “Actually, everyone I ran into was pretty helpful.”

Because people generally are. Why should anyone expect differently? And I will admit to you, while I was sitting there outside that gas station, I expected differently, and I was surprised at what actually happened. When really I shouldn’t have been. So why was I?

Because of the narrative. The one about oppressed people who’ll rise up if given half a chance and do us the way we’ve done them.

So, one result of this narrative is that often white people who find themselves in majority non-white neighborhoods are needlessly afraid of the people around them.

Another result? When, say, a young Black woman knocks on a door in the middle of the night looking for help, the White homeowner will assume she’s a threat and shoot her to death. When Black men confront police–or, let’s be entirely frank, sometimes when the police are faced with Black children–the police assume they’re threats and shoot them. This narrative is not harmless. People have died because of it. Lots of people.

And it’s this same model so many people are using to seriously predict the effect of AI on our future. It doesn’t even work right now, for dealing with other people. But that fact is invisible to a lot of people, because we don’t think much about the narratives we use to make sense out of the world. And narratives, they’re sticky. In her Hugo-winning essay “We Have Always Fought” Kameron Hurley gives the made up example of the things everyone knows about llamas–they’re scaly, right? And carnivorous? Everyone knows that, it’s common knowledge. And sure, sometimes you run into a llama that’s fuzzy and eats grass–maybe the only llamas you’ve ever met have a distaste for meat and a distinct lack of scales, but those are exceptions! They have to be, because everyone knows what llamas are like.

That’s how unexamined narratives work. Exception after exception won’t change our assuming the truth of the narrative. Nothing will change that, except our recognizing it as a narrative–not reality itself, but a frame that forces reality into a pattern we’re familiar with.

So all the high profile alarm about the dangers of AI isn’t a problem just because the predictions people are seriously making might be inaccurate. It’s that when I hear people make these predictions, it’s not only really obvious that they’re using that narrative for a framework, but more importantly, that they’re unaware of it, and so almost certainly unaware of the way it’s applied to actual, existing human beings. This doesn’t make Elon Musk, or Bill Gates, or Stephen Hawking or anyone else racists, or terrible people–we are all, to some extent, unable to escape the narratives that surround us, and that we frame our lives with. But it does mean that the narrative gets reinforced, by people who command lots of respect and large audiences.


And I’m not at all saying that writers who use that narrative, or readers who enjoy reading it, are bad people or necessarily doing anything wrong. I’m not into telling writers what they should write, or readers what they should read–I’m actively opposed to that, in fact. Writers should write the stories they want to write, the way they want to write them. Readers should read the stories they want to read. But I do think it’s important for writers and readers both to be aware of the narratives they’re drawing on, and how those narratives might distort our view of the world, and influence our attitudes and choices. Like technology itself, narrative can be applied in ways that are beneficial, or in ways that are not.

And like technology itself, knowing what the potential effects are is crucial to avoiding negative outcomes. And it’s the thing you don’t see, that you don’t realize exists, that will trip you up. Knowing the narrative is there, you can work with it or work around it, maybe consciously choose a better one for whatever situation you’re in. If you don’t recognize or acknowledge its existence, you will have no choice in the matter. An angry bear right out in the open, that you know is angry, is far less dangerous than the angry bear behind some underbrush in a woods that everyone knows is entirely safe and bear-free. Your hike, wherever it takes you, will be the better for your having an actual, accurate idea of where the bears are.

Now, I do think it’s important to consider the possible effects of creating actual AIs. Very few new technologies have been unambiguously good, or implemented as well as they might be, and it’s wise to think ahead and avoid what dangers we can. But let’s take some time to separate things we’re assuming are true because they’re part of a familiar story that feels realistic to us, and things that are actually true. And let’s maybe consider how the things we fear about AI are literally fears about other people, and the way that addressing those fears directly might actually move us toward some solutions to real problems, and allow us to see real dangers ahead much more clearly.

Thank you.

So, then I took questions, and a person in the audience who was, in fact, an expert with relevant degrees, pointed out that there are already problems with AIs that have nothing to do with the Robot Uprising and everything to do with the fact that the data all these neural nets are taking in is not, in fact, completely neutral and objective but comes loaded with a host of prejudices and assumptions. We assume that if a computer gives us the result it’s perfectly objective and without any kind of flaw, but even if AI logic is completely objective (not an assumption I think we should make, but let’s do that for the sake of argument), its conclusions won’t be objective if the data it’s working with isn’t. This can have seemingly small effects–Netflix steers certain people to watch certain things, making parts of its inventory effectively invisible to certain groups of viewers–to situations where people don’t even get to see job listings because they don’t fit a certain set of demographic characteristics, or completely law abiding citizens end up on lists of people likely to commit violent crime, because of course the algorithm is using historical data and we’re going to ignore the way that historically black citizens have been–and are–disproportionately arrested and convicted for particular crimes, crimes that are also committed by plenty of white citizens but they don’t get the same reaction from the justice system.

In these cases, the supposed perfect objectivity of the AI is just reinforcing existing cultural assumptions. But that’s a big ‘just’ and it’s one that has very real, life altering and life threatening consequences for quite a few people. So, you know, when you’re worrying about the danger of super-intelligent AIs, maybe add that to your list.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

Postcards

Jan. 11th, 2017 04:54 pm
ann_leckie: (AJ)

So, the approaching inauguration of the President Elect–who even before taking office has distinguished himself as the absolute worst president this country has ever had, and who will, the moment he takes office, be in violation of the Constitution–is one of those “you have to laugh because he’s so ridiculous and also otherwise you’d despair for the future of the nation” things.

I’m not sure there’s anything any of us can do. But then again, the couple times so far that the Republicans have backed off something it’s been largely because of public outcry–they pulled back on their attempt to hamstring the Office of Congressional Ethics, and very recently have delayed hearings on appointees that were set to go before any ethics reviews could be completed (noticing a theme here? Cause I am).

So, will pitching a fit to our representatives do anything? Who knows? But why not do it?

So here’s what I’m thinking. What if every Monday each of us addresses a post card to our Representative (you can find their name & address here, I’m planning to use the DC office), with our own return address (because representatives only listen to their constituents, so we need to let them know we’re in their district) and hand written the word IMPEACH. Maybe a note with a reason or two why if you feel like it, but honestly I think that one word says it all. Put a stamp on it (34c to mail a postcard in the US) and drop it in the mail. Every Monday. Until further notice.

You can get sheets of postcards and run them through your printer if you have one, with the addresses, but I think the hand-written IMPEACH is the best way to do that bit of it.

Every Monday. Like clockwork.

Now, some folks will argue that if Trump ever got the boot, Pence would be worse because he would seem reasonable by comparison and then folks would support him, where Trump will have alienated everyone except the outright deplorable nazi sympathizers & do more damage to the Republican party that way. Thing is, Trump is set to do quite a lot of damage to the entire freaking country as it is, and Pence is still there, able to be his nasty, toxically bigoted self. There is no actual good outcome here, but it seems to me that losing the guy who’ll happily dismantle the country to stuff his own pockets, who’s already threatening reprisals against journalists who report things that he doesn’t like, or who ask him actual questions, and who’s bidding fair to start wars, drop nukes, and turn the country over to whoever he owes money to is maybe a step in the right direction.

At any rate, I invite you to join me in the Monday Post Card Club. Boxes of sheets of 200 post cards are available at most office supply stores for $25-30, a post card stamp is 34c, times 52 that’s about $18 a year. You probably already have a sharpie. It might not do any good, but then, you never know. At the very least we’ve let our elected officials hear from us. What do you think?

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (AJ)

I was going to make this a twitter thread, but while threads are a thing that works (more or less) on Twitter, making them can be kind of awkward. So I figured I’d blog this and link to it on Twitter.

So, I’ve been seeing some tweets and comments around that imply that someone(s) out there has been complaining that publicly mourning celebrities is somehow improper, or insincere, or just, you know, merely performative. I seem to have muted or blocked anyone in my own feeds likely to say something like this, so I’m not taking issue with any particular comment. I’m just thinking about the idea that “performative” mourning is insincere somehow, or only about getting the mourner social brownie points or whatever.

The way I see it, though, all mourning is performative. Not all grieving, right? The way you feel when you lose someone important to you, that’s private. But all the other things. Going to your relative’s funeral? Performative. Going to the funeral home to tell your friend or neighbor you’re sorry for their loss? One hundred percent performative. Hell, holding a funeral at all is entirely performance.

Funerals aren’t for the dead. They are social activities, and they fulfill particular social functions–ones that are really, really important to us, as demonstrated by the very strong urge to have at least some small scrap of a funeral for someone who dies in circumstances that make whatever one’s standard funerary practices are impossible.

Mourning practices do a number of things–they provide some kind of closure, sure. An official “now that’s done” so people can move forward. But they also affirm (and re-affirm) communities. They affirm the deceased’s membership in one or more communities, and in the process also affirm the continued existence of those communities. Mourners declare their relationship to the deceased, and incidentally their relationships to each other.

Mourning publicly also allows people to offer support to the bereaved–those co-workers or friends who show up at the funeral home to say an awkward “I’m so sorry” do help, I can tell you from personal experience. And I know it’s one hundred percent performative–this person doesn’t know my grandma or my mom or my uncle or whoever, they’re turning up to tell me they know what I’m going through, and they care. And the other folks who come–the friends and business associates and acquaintances of the deceased, who the family may never have met, they are also performing. They come to tell the bereaved that the deceased was important to them, that they honor them, that they’ll miss them.

It’s all performance. Every bit of it. It’s nearly all public performance. There are customs and rituals associated with it, so that when the time comes, you know (mostly) what to do, to activate that support, to let people know that you need that comfort now.

It gets weird, with public figures. These are people that might be very, very important to us, might have formed our childhoods, given us inspiration, been constant companions in one way or another, and yet we’ve never met them, and they never had any idea that we existed. It’s not the same as a close loved one dying. But it’s not nothing. And what do you do, when someone not exactly family dies, but you had some sort of relationship with them? Well, if you were in the same town you’d put on nice clothes and comb your hair and go to the funeral parlor and tell the family how sorry you were, how important the deceased was to you, maybe tell them about some time they really helped you out. And then you move aside for the next person, maybe talk with some folks, and go home. Maybe you send flowers, that will sit there in the funeral home and in the church as a conspicuously visible token of your tie to the deceased, or their family, or a particular member of that family.

We aren’t any of us going to Carrie Fisher’s wake. Her family doesn’t want to slog through thousands of cards or letters, and there’s no mortuary large enough to hold the flowers we might all send. But we can blog or tweet. And yes, it’s performative. Like all funeral customs and public mourning it’s performative. It’s meant to send a message. “I am a member of this community, and this person was important to us. This community recognizes their loss. This community wants the deceased’s family to know how important this person was to us, and how sorry we are to hear they’ve left us.” And maybe her family doesn’t see most of it, but they likely know it’s there. I suspect that, like “I’m sorry” at the funeral home, it helps.

And it’s not just for the family, of course. It’s for that other, maybe intersecting community (friends, co-workers, fans, whatever). No, losing George Michael or David Bowie or Prince or Carrie Fisher probably isn’t even remotely like losing your aunt or your sister or your daughter. But it’s not nothing.

It’s all performative. It’s all for show. Hell, any time you get dressed and walk out the door it’s performative, it’s for show. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily insincere or bad or somehow wrong and shallow. It means you can’t communicate without doing a thing that others will understand–and during a time of stress we have a series of more or less ritual acts to make, more or less formulaic lines to speak, wearing more or less conventional clothes, to get us through, together. It’s all for show.

Some of the people publicly mourning may be insincere, sure, but that’s not really the point, is it? Mostly they’re not. No, the problem isn’t that tweets about Bowie or Michael or Prince or Fisher aren’t sincere, it’s that the critic doesn’t think they have standing to mourn, or thinks those tweets are somehow improper. But, you know, nobody gets to decide that for you, do they.

No. They do not.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (AJ)

Hey, you know what, I’ve been so distracted by Things and Life–stuff like current events, and turning in the next novel to my editors–that I missed the start of the annual Worldbuilders drive.

Do you know about Worldbuilders? It’s basically a drive for donations to Heifer International, which is a charity I like a lot. There are auctions for various cool things you can bid on, and prizes for donating, and it’s just generally a lot of fun and for a good cause, so check it out!

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (AJ)

So, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate it.

And, uh, do you know about what’s happening in North Dakota?

Dakota Access pipeline: the who, what and why of the Standing Rock protests

What is the Dakota Access pipeline?

The Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) is a $3.7bn project that would transport crude oil from the Bakken oil field in North Dakota to a refinery to Patoka, Illinois, near Chicago.

The 1,1720-mile pipeline, roughly 30 inches in diameter, would carry 470,000 barrels per day and is a project of company Energy Transfer Partners.

Who is opposing the project and why?

The local Standing Rock Sioux tribe and thousands of Native American supporters from across North America have set up camps in Cannon Ball to try and block the oil project. Opponents of DAPL say the project threatens sacred native lands and could contaminate their water supply from the Missouri river, which is the longest river in North America.


Activists call themselves “water protectors” and argue that the pipeline poses similar threats to the now defeated Keystone XL, but lament that DAPL has failed to garner the same amount of national attention. Tribal leaders also say that the US army corps of engineers’ initial decision to allow the pipeline to run within a half-mile of the local reservation was done without consulting tribal governments and without a thorough study of impacts.

This means, the tribe says, that the project violates federal law and native treaties with the US government.

The protesters are unarmed and peaceful. The response by police? Claims that the protests are “an ongoing riot” which totally justifies the use of teargas, rubber bullets, water cannon, and concussion grenades.

Sunday night 167 people were injured, including one person who was hit directly by a concussion grenade and last I heard was in surgery to have their arm amputated as a result. You can donate to her medical fund here, if you are willing and able to do that.

The Army Corps of Engineers recently announced that it needed more time to consider whether or not to grant the final permit needed to use Army land under the river–which prompted Energy Transfer Partners to sue. But there appears to be a drop-dead date–


[Standing Rock Sioux tribal chair, Dave Archambault II] also pointed out that the corporation has previously said in court that if it were not delivering oil by 1 January 2017, its shipper contracts would expire and the project would be in jeopardy.

“So they are rushing to get the pipeline in the ground hastily to meet that deadline,” Archambault said. “The only urgency here was created by their own reckless choice to build the pipeline before it had all the permits to do so.”

Y’all. Police in North Dakota are firing rubber bullets and tear gas and concussion grenades at peaceful protesters, using fucking fire hoses on them in sub-freezing temperatures. You can see video at this link.

Peaceful protesters who are trying to protect their land. Tribal land. Trying to protect their actual supply of drinking water. This is happening now, and has been happening for weeks and weeks. (Well, on a larger scale it’s been happening for centuries, but.)

Here are things you can do:

You can sign a petition asking President Obama to stop the pipeline permanently. No idea what good it will do, but hey.

You can call various folks, including the White House. Click on the “Weekly Call to Action” tab, there’s a script all ready for you. And as always, if you can’t call, write letters.

You can donate to the cause, if that’s within your means.

You can also donate to the Standing Rock Medic & Healer Council, who are providing what medical services they can to the protesters. They need specific items, which are listed at the link, and they also take donations.

Or maybe you’re not in a position to do any of those things. There’s so much going on right now that needs attention. But do what you can.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (AJ)

What? I’ve never done writing prompts before! But, friends, times are no longer normal.

Here’s the deal–it’s time to be politically engaged, if you can. It’s time to make phone calls, if you can, and send letters, if you can. If you can’t, if there’s something else you can do, do that. If the best you can do is hold on and survive, well, hold on and survive. Do whatever thing you can.

(It’s time to march in the streets, if you can. Not everyone can, and that’s all right. Do what you can.)

Basic information–when you write or call your representatives, they need to be your representatives. They are obliged to pay attention to you. No other representative is. Sometimes someone will solicit opinions from the wider public, and definitely speak up then, but otherwise, you have something to say to the Senate or the Congress? Contact your senators, your congressperson.

If you don’t know who those folks are, click here and put in your ZIP code. Sometimes there will be more than one congressperson in a ZIP code and you’ll have to refine the search with a specific address. But there’s basic contact information for each rep there, and links to their websites.

I’m given to understand that phone calls are top priority, and letters after that. Emails and social media contacts don’t get the same attention. So–call, if you’re able to do that. Write letters if you can’t call (lots of us are phobic about the phone, to be entirely honest I find talking on the phone unpleasant myself and cold calls like this are beyond unpleasant).

It helps to know what you’re going to say on the phone. So you might as well write a letter first, make your calls using the letter as an outline for what you’re going to say, and then pop the letters in the mail for good measure. Since you’ve already written them anyway, right?

Okay. Remember I said above that sometimes a rep will solicit opinions from the wider public? Well, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has set up a phone poll with a very simple question: do you support President Obama’s ACA, or would you like to see it repealed? The phone number has changed at least once–I would not be surprised if he got a set of replies that didn’t suit his purpose and is trying again to see if maybe the numbers will change this time. So, have your say.

Here’s the number, last I heard:

202-225-0600

Call, there’ll be up to a couple minutes of dead silence after the ringing stops. Hold on. Then you’ll be asked what options you want– if you want to express your opinion about the ACA, that’ll be option 2 on the menu. Then you sit through a bullshit spiel and are asked to press 1 if you support the ACA and 2 if you don’t care if uninsured folks die in the streets. Okay, they don’t phrase it like that, but, you know. IMPORTANT if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t like talking on the phone, I swear to you there is never a time when you have to speak to a person. Just press buttons.

NEXT.

There are so many issues to choose from, and so I figured I’d parcel them out, right? Hence the writing prompt. It turns out, though, that someone is already organizing something similar, and this week’s Call to Action is on the topic I was planning (probably for obvious reasons). So, maybe bookmark that link and check back every week/few days.

The CtA involves a phonecall to the House Oversight Committee, which I did last week (though I had to dial the number over and over for nearly an hour to get through) and it involves, depending, either talking to a human or leaving a voicemail.

Here’s the number:

202-225-5074

Here’s a script for you:

I’m —- —– , a constituent calling to let the commitee know that I support Rep. Elijah Cummings’s call for a bipartisan review of Trump’s “financial arrangements” for potential conflicts of interest before he’s sworn in as president. Please ask Chairman Chaffetz to immediately begin conducting a review to ensure that President-elect Trump does not have any actual or perceived conflicts of interests. I want the Committee to make sure Trump and his advisors comply with all legal and regulatory ethical requirements.

You can see why this was my choice for this week. Do it today if you can, offices will be closing for the holiday, this is a short week.

If you’ve still got the time and the wherewithal, express the same sentiments to your own reps. Use this script, or write your own letter, use it as a template for your call, and pop copies in the mail for each of your representatives.

Need more information about those potential conflicts of interest? Try these links:

Donald Trump Meeting Suggests He Is Keeping Up His Business Ties (New York Times)

Trump’s Empire: A Maze of Debts and Opaque Ties (New York Times) From before the election.

“But an investigation by The New York Times into the financial maze of Mr. Trump’s real estate holdings in the United States reveals that companies he owns have at least $650 million in debt — twice the amount than can be gleaned from public filings he has made as part of his bid for the White House. The Times’s inquiry also found that Mr. Trump’s fortunes depend deeply on a wide array of financial backers, including one he has cited in attacks during his campaign.”

Being in debt–even to foreign banks, as is the case here–is no big deal in and of itself. The President of the United States being in debt to the tune of $650 million? Including to banks in countries that would doubtless love to have a lever to influence the US government? That’s another kettle of fish entirely.

Donald Trump’s questionable “blind trust” setup just got more questionable (Washington Post)

Donald Trump’s decision to leave his children in control of his fortune during his presidency was already an unusual and eyebrow-raising setup. And on Friday, it became even more so.

A day after Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, announced that Trump’s three oldest children — Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric — would control what he labeled a “blind trust” for the president-elect, the Trump campaign announced Friday afternoon that all three would also serve on Trump’s presidential transition team executive committee.

Oh, yeah, that’s that one kind of blind trust where it’s totally not a blind trust and you aren’t even going to pretend it is, right? Totally legit.

Anyway. Happy Monday, and let’s let our elected representatives hear what we have to say. It’s what they’re there for to begin with, they’re public servants. They’re our employees.

____
P.S. If you’re tempted to comment and/or email telling my you’re a fan of my books but you’re not here for having politics crammed down your throat, I assure you there are far more productive things to do with your time. For one thing all fiction is political to begin with but, I mean, seriously, have you actually read my work?

Similarly, if you’re planning to tell me you’ll stop following me or buying my work if I have the temerity to exercise my rights as an American citizen to take part in the political process, I will possibly delete your missive and certainly have a hearty laugh at your expense.

P.P.S. If following election stuff is stressing you out in a really awful way and you need to stop following me, here and/or on Twitter and/or Tumblr, by all means do. Exercise self care. Hang on and survive.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (AJ)

As I’ve said a few times before, I don’t get anywhere near as much time to read fiction as I’d like. But I do read when I can!

As I’ve also said before, I’m not much of a critic. Reviews aren’t a thing I do well. But I do like to mention it when I’ve read something I really liked, even if I have trouble explaining why I liked it.

At any rate, here are a few things I’ve read in the recent past:

What Lot’s Wife Saw, by Ioanna Bourazopoulou, translated from Greek by Yiannis Panas

This was…strange. But really, really good. How to describe it? A designer of odd crossword puzzles of his own idiosyncratic invention is asked to read a collection of letters from eyewitnesses to …a crime? A conspiracy? a mysterious series of events at any rate, in the hope that he will be able to use his puzzle-solving skills to determine what actually happened. This takes place in a world where much of Europe has been flooded by the Mediterranean, and a mysterious Salt has begun pouring into the world from one particular place. Yes, it’s where you think it would be, and the references to the story of Sodom in the Book of Genesis are quite explicit. The narrative is full of people doing strange and inexplicable things, sometimes grimly funny, often emotionally overwrought. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but I began to tire near the end, and hoped that it would indeed stick its landing and not just trail off. It did, indeed, stick its landing. If you’re looking for something really strange and really really good, give this a shot.

The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley

Yeah, okay, see. Here’s part of what I assume is the cover copy:

Somewhere on the outer rim of the universe, a mass of decaying world-ships known as the Legion is traveling in the seams between the stars. For generations, a war for control of the Legion has been waged, with no clear resolution. As worlds continue to die, a desperate plan is put into motion.

Zan wakes with no memory, prisoner of a people who say they are her family. She is told she is their salvation – the only person capable of boarding the Mokshi, a world-ship with the power to leave the Legion. But Zan’s new family is not the only one desperate to gain control of the prized ship. Zan finds that she must choose sides in a genocidal campaign that will take her from the edges of the Legion’s gravity well to the very belly of the world.

So, this is chock full of action and fights and battles and betrayals and political intrigue. And those world-ships? They are all biological. Nothing in this fleet is built, it’s all birthed, and there are tentacles and blood and mucous and body fluids everywhere. It’s kind of awesome fun. You should totally read it when it comes out. In, um, February of next year. I kind of got an ARC and for once had a chance to read it before the actual release. Which doesn’t happen very often.

Daughter of Mystery by Heather Rose Jones

This is a Ruritanian fantasy. It’s also a pretty straight-ahead romance, which isn’t generally my thing, but I enjoyed it quite a lot. It takes place in the fictional tiny European country of Alpennia, and involves inheritances and wills and political intrigue. There’s also magic, very Christianity-based, a matter of petitioning saints in the right way at the right times. It’s the sort of thing that could easily turn me off, but I thought was handled very very well. Basically an eccentric wealthy baron leaves nearly everything he owns–except his title and the estate attached to it–to his god-daughter, a young woman nearly at her legal majority but being pressured to find a husband who can support her, since she has no means of her own. “Everything the baron owns” includes his bodyguard/duellist, another young woman. The bodyguard can’t be freed yet, because of the terms of the baron’s will, and besides the new young baron really resents being done out of the money he expected to inherit and will stop at nothing to get it, as well as his revenge. This is lots of fun, and Goodreads calls it “Alpennia #1” which implies there are more, so those are going on my long long TBR list for whenever I can get to them.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (AJ)

So, there’s a thing I’d been kind of thinking about for the past couple weeks, and it seems to me that it’s kind of become relevant in a really horrible way.

At one point, a few weeks ago, someone in my hearing made the observation that the Nazis had so utterly failed to have human empathy that they might be considered more human-shaped machines than real human beings. I took polite issue with the statement at the time. I will take more public, emphatic issue with it now.

Here’s the thing–the Nazis? Those concentration camp guards, the people who dug and filled in mass graves, led prisoners to gas chambers, all of that? They were not inhuman monsters. They were human beings, and they weren’t most of them that different from anyone you might meet on your morning walk, or in the grocery store.

I know it’s really super uncomfortable to look around you and realize that–that your neighbors, or even you, yourself, might, given circumstances, commit such atrocities. Your mind flinches from it, you don’t want to even think about it. It can’t be. You know that you’re a good person! Your neighbors and co-workers are so nice and polite and decent. You can’t even imagine it, so there must have been something special, something particularly different about the people who enthusiastically embraced Hitler.

I’m here to tell you there wasn’t.

I’m quite certain those people who committed terrible atrocities were very nice to each other! Super polite and nice to other good Aryan citizens of the Reich, and certainly to their families. Of course they were! They were perfectly nice human beings.

It wasn’t that they were incapable of empathy, of any human feeling. It was more a matter of where they drew the boundaries of that empathy.

Remember that the next time you find yourself saying “I’m not racist, it’s just…” or “I’m not racist, but…” because that just and that but are where the borders of your own empathy lie. And maybe you’re okay with those being the boundaries–but, look, when someone calls you on that, don’t try to pretend it’s not there.

We’ve most of us learned the first part of the lesson really well–the Nazis were horrible! Racism is bad!–without having learned the next part of the lesson: no one thinks they’re a villain, not even Nazis. After all, those Jews were a real threat to the Aryan race! They had to do what they did.

No one thinks they’re racist, because racists are bad, and I’m not bad! I’m a good, decent person. It’s just that….

Yeah. Right.

Think about that. I’m not just talking to folks who were willing to vote for a flagrantly racist, willfully ignorant, obviously unqualified and unstable narcissist for president for what they keep insisting were totally not racist reasons. I’m also talking to folks who are dismayed to see said incompetent unstable narcissist set to take office but who say everyone should calm down, it won’t be that bad. Because this is the USA, not freaking Germany.

There was nothing special about the German people, nothing supernaturally evil about Hitler. They were all human beings, and it can happen here, and it’s far more likely to happen here if we pretend otherwise, because it’s the thing you won’t look at about yourself that will lead you right over the cliff you keep insisting isn’t really there, all the while you’re tumbling to the rocks below.

Stop telling yourself it can’t happen here. (A registry for Muslims? With maybe some kind of ID so we know who all the Muslims are? Totally reasonable, totally un-racist, and after all we’re Americans, so it’ll all be fine.)

(Read that thread)

Stop acting as though calling some action “racist” is beyond the pale, unthinkably horrible to do to someone. Stop assuming that the people you know and talk to everyday can’t be racist because after all they’re so polite to you. Stop assuming that “racist” means “inhuman monster.” The end result of doing this is to make it impossible to call anyone or anything racist that isn’t cross-burning, actual lynching, Nazi-levels of racism. And sometimes not even then, as we’ve seen in recent weeks.

Which makes it impossible to do anything about racism–prevent it, address it, anything. Even in ourselves. Especially in ourselves. Which allows it to grow unchecked.

It can happen here. Flagrant racists are often very polite and decent people (so long as you’re white). The worst monsters of history were not inhuman monsters. They were all too human.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

Utopiales

Nov. 6th, 2016 03:11 pm
ann_leckie: (AJ)

So, I just got back from France! I spent about five days in Nantes, at Utopiales. Which I hadn’t heard of before I was invited. But hey, I’d never been to France before, and the festival sounded fun, so off I went.

It was a fabulous time. Utopiales is very well-run. Everything went so smoothly, and the fact that I speak about a dozen words of useful French (and while I can read more, it’s mostly words connected to food and cooking) didn’t cause me much difficulty at all. I got to meet my French editor–or probably more accurately, the editor of my French translator. And I got to meet my translator, the wonderful Patrick Marcel. I’m afraid translating Ancillary Justice is kind of a challenge for most of the translators who’ve worked on it, but on the plus side it’s really fun to talk about the various things that don’t work the same in other languages, and the ways that a translator might achieve some effect that’s at least similar to what I did in English.

I also got to meet a lot of readers, which I always love. I got wonderful tea! I met many French writers, and had lots of really interesting conversations that make me regret that I can’t read their work, because of the whole not-knowing-French thing. And I got to meet Paolo Bacigalupi, who it turns out is delightful company and great fun to talk and hang out with.

Nantes is a very nice city, with a castle (which formerly belonged to Anne of Brittany) and a lovely cathedral.

Once the festival was over (and, seriously, if you have a chance, if you’re anywhere near Nantes next year about this time, check it out) both Paolo and I went on to Paris, where we talked to more readers and signed books at La Dimension Fantastique.

I did some very touristy things–the day I had to myself in Paris, the weather was clear and just chilly enough for a good walk, and the map told me the Louvre was only a few kilometers from my hotel, so I figured I’d go on foot. It was a nice walk! And the Louvre is just as full of looted antiquities as ever. Every now and then I’d see a familiar object–oh, hello Etruscan couple I’ve seen photos of you all over the place! Oh, that round hat looks familiar, could it be Gudea, King of Lagash? Why, yes, it is! The Dendera Zodiac I didn’t stumble across, though, I was actually looking for it. (And found it.)

I didn’t bother with the Mona Lisa. No doubt she was surrounded the way the Venus de Milo was. I found that kind of fascinating–there were dozens of other wonderful statues in the room, but everyone was just looking at her, taking pictures, and selfies.

I walked over to Notre Dame, then, and around a bit, and then realized that I had been walking for literally hours and it was a good three kilometers back to my hotel. But, hey, the weather was still perfect and you get to see a lot more when you’re walking. Once I was back in the room and sitting down, I checked my phone, which told me I’d walked a good eight miles or so. Which it turns out is an awful lot and I’m still a bit achy from it.

Oh, and while I was in France I tried a pastry called kouign-amann, which I gather the one I tried wasn’t even the best example of and it was delicious and I am now on a mission to find some here in the US if I can.

Eventually, though, it was time to go home. I got back to St Louis just in time to be jetlagged during the time change, so I can cross that off my list of achievements. On the one hand it’s nice to be home, but I’m hoping I can visit France again some time soonish.

My thanks to everyone involved–the folks at J’ai Lu, the marvelous staff and volunteers at Utopiales, and most especially to the readers who I met and spoke with. It was wonderful to see all of you and talk with you.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (AJ)

I want to talk about apologies. And yes, there are a few actual recent events that have prompted these thoughts, but the thoughts are not directed at anyone in particular, or meant to be direct commentary on those situations.

So, let’s say a person does a thing or things, we’ll call them Person A, and Person B is hurt or offended by it. Or frightened, or upset, right?

And let’s say B calls A on their behavior, whatever it was that hurt, offended, frightened, or upset B.

We all know at this point (or we should) that the first thing A should do is apologize. A real apology, not a Sorry-If-You-Were-Offended-Why-You-So-Oversensitive Notpology, but a real one. “I’m sorry I hurt you. I will try to do better.”

Now, it’s true sometimes B doesn’t even want to hear that apology. They’re that upset. And sometimes, Person B will hear the apology but still be hurt and angry and want nothing further to do with Person A.

Every now and then, when this happens, Person A will react…unproductively. They will insist that it’s super important for them to make an apology! That’s all they want! Of course Person B said “don’t talk to me any more, ever again” but this is an apology!

Or Person B will hear the apology and then respond with some version of “Nice story, bro. We’re still done.”

And Person A–or possibly their friends, or onlookers who have not been party to the less public aspects of the situation–will cry indignantly “But Person A apologized! What more do you want?”

So, these reactions are coming from a set of assumptions that I think folks would do well to ponder. Here’s the question: Who is the apology for? Why does one apologize? Now, you probably instantly replied that the apology was for the person who was wronged, but why is it so often the case that when someone doesn’t react to an apology with public forgiveness, people ask that question, “What more do you want?” as though the automatic, proper response to an apology is to pretend the thing being apologized for never happened? That expectation, that having received an apology Person B is obliged to accept it and forgive Person A, that tells you right there that the apology was actually made for the benefit of Person A all along.

This assumption is more blatant in some cases than in others. The scale goes from a good apology and then a “wait why didn’t you hit the reset button on our relationship” reaction, to a long abject apology that’s still somehow all about the offender and how bad they feel and how they want you to take some action to help them keep from offending again so they can stop feeling horrible and you can hit that reset button, to the person who you’ve asked to please stay the fuck away from you but they keep getting up in your face because I NEED TO APOLOGIZE IT’S JUST AN APOLOGY WHAT KIND OF BITCH ARE YOU IF YOU WON’T EVEN HEAR MY APOLOGY LOOK HOW MEAN SHE’S BEING COMPLAINING ABOUT HOW I JUST WANT TO APOLOGIZE.

I think a lot of folks have this basic assumption about how apologies work and what they’re for–that having apologized, they’re due forgiveness, and the person they’ve apologized to should now stop being angry. Perfectly decent folks, who mean well. Onlookers who don’t recognize that the long apology email that is somehow all about how the offender is hurt by the situation is straight out of a habitual emotional abuser’s playbook and only see how abject it seems. Perfectly decent people, who may not even realize they have this assumption (so many of our assumptions are invisible to us, and yes, contradict the things we say and think we believe).

So I want to say this straight out–the apology is not for the apologizer. The person offended against has no obligation whatever to accept any apology at all, or to forgive, or to stop being hurt or angry, or to pretend they’re not hurt or angry any more. I mean, if they want to, if they can, if they think it’s proper, sure. But the apology is for the person who was offended, and they have no obligation to respond in any particular way. Or respond at all, frankly.

Of course, some folks aren’t well meaning. Some folks use the assumption about apologies to malicious advantage. Make your apology sufficiently abject and manipulative, and suddenly your victim is the bad guy here for being so unrelentingly mean and refusing to be understanding of your ordinary human frailties, your oh-so-kind-hearted inner soul. Most of these I’ve had personal experience with are expert in turning out an apology that makes the victim into the real offender, thereby eliciting reassurance from the person they’ve hurt, and making them feel guilty for attempting to refuse to be victimized again. (It’s not my fault I’ve had traumas that make me prone to thoughtlessly offend! I can’t help it! Do you want to be just like those people who made me into this pitiful creature who can’t help but offend you? What sort of terrible person are you, to speak up and hurt me this way? Really when you look at it, I’m the victim here!) It’s not always that blatant, but I’m going to tell you right now, folks, when you get the sort of apology that makes you feel bad for being hurt or upset, or that’s mostly about them and their feelings, you want to run from that apologizer as fast as you can. That’s a red flag.

So, but the well meaning offender does really want to do better going forward, and they’ve apologized, but lots of folks are still critical. What to do?

Well, do better going forward, for one. And no, that still won’t guarantee that everyone stops with the side-eye when your name comes up, or whatever. That’s the breaks. You’ve still got to do better going forward because it’s the right thing to do, because you really do regret the offense and don’t want to repeat it.

This isn’t always easy. It might mean stepping voluntarily out of situations in which you know you’ll be prone to offend. Say, places or positions where you’re going to run into a person who wants no further contact with you. Or positions of authority–official or otherwise–over people who you’ve had a habit of treating badly. And every day, trying to do better. All the time. You won’t get public rewards for it, and some people will never take you off their list of bad actors, but that’s not the point, is it? The apology wasn’t for rehabilitating your reputation or making you feel better about having treated someone badly. It was only the first step in your effort to be better to the people around you.

The apology isn’t for the apologizer, and it’s not going to magically wipe away your offense or repair your reputation. It’s only the simplest, most basic beginning. One you’ll need to make good on with your actions in the future.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (AJ)

Hey, do you all remember last year when David Steffen successfully kickstarted the Long List Anthology? He’s doing it again this year, and like last year it’s going to be full of fabulous fiction–including, this year, my novelette “Another Word for World” if the KS makes its novelette stretch goal.

Check it out:


The purpose of the Long List Anthology is to celebrate more of the fiction that was loved by the Hugo Award voting audience. Every year, besides the well-known final ballot, there is a lesser-known longer list of nominated works. The purpose of this anthology is to put a bunch these stories in a package to make them easy for readers to find, so you can put them on your bookshelf or load them up on your e-reader. The goal here is to widen that celebration of great fan-loved fiction.This will be the second volume of the Long List Anthology. Last year’s volume was a huge success, reaching the base goal in a couple days, and the stretch goals for novelettes and novellas not long after, and up into audiobook stretch goals after that. It has sold close to 10,000 copies, appeared in Amazon’s top 100 paid books for a time, and still continues to sell copies steadily almost a year later.

The base funding goal will include the Short Story category only. Stretch goals will expand the anthology to include novelettes , and then novellas.

Ebook copies will be available in EPUB, MOBI, and PDF.

It’s already a fabulous ToC without the stretch goals–we’re talking Ursula Vernon, Amal El-Mohtar, Alyssa Wong, and I could keep going and piling on the awesome. And two of the pieces are letters from the award winning and just generally well received Letters to Tiptree.

With the novelette stretch goal, there’s Rose Lemberg, Elizabeth Bear, Cat Valente, Naomi Kritzer, and Tamsyn Muir. And if the novella stretch goal is met, we’re talking Usman T. Malik and Kai Ashante Wilson.

As I post this, the base goal is very close to being met. But how much more awesome would it be to have the novelettes and the two novellas in there? Pretty awesome, is what I’m thinking.

If this sounds cool to you, and it’s something within your means at the moment, please consider supporting. Personally I think the entire Long List project is an excellent one, and I’m hoping it continues.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (AJ)

Or, “What have the Romans ever done for us?”

I’m looking at what is likely the homestretch on the WiP, or at least the first complete draft of it. So of course I’m thinking about blog posts right now instead of writing.

It is notoriously difficult to define “science fiction” but a common attempt to do so–to wall off stuff that isn’t “really” science fiction from the proper stuff–is to assert that a real science fiction story wouldn’t survive the removal of the science fictiony bits, where, I don’t know, I guess “fake” science fiction is just Westerns with spaceships instead of horses or somesuch.

I never thought much about this except to think that well, sure, that would probably be a succinct way to define the most science fictiony of science fiction.

But the more I’ve thought about it, recently, the less satisfied I’ve been with this. I’m not sure there are any stories that fit this requirement.

Here’s the thing. Almost any story, you could remove some or other bit of it, replace it with some more present-world (or past world) analogue, and it would still be recognizably the same story on some level.

Let’s take Star Trek. Okay, some of you may consider ST to be “fake” science fiction. I’ll lay my cards on the table and tell you I laugh when I see someone call ST “hard science fiction. I consider it to be space opera. But let’s consider it a moment, shall we? At first glance all the aliens and the transporter and that utopian Federation of Planets stuff, and you’d think you couldn’t remove it, but let’s set it back a couple centuries, build the Enterprise out of wood, make Kirk into Horatio Hornblower and change the Klingons to French, the Romulans to Spanish. (I know, I know, the Klingons are actually stand-ins for the Russians, and the Vulcans/Romulans for the Chinese but that’s not helping the cause of “can’t remove the skiffy elements” is it.) You could take Star Trek and remove it’s snfal elements and still end up with basically the same stories.

That was an easy one, right? A gimme? Sure, maybe. But consider–there’s always–always–a level of abstraction available at which a story with whatever elements removed qualifies as “the same.” And the reverse is true–there’s always a level of specificity at which the removal of very small things means a large change. I mean, you could go very close-up on Star Trek and say that without dilithium crystals and tribbles, very specifically, it wouldn’t be the same. And it wouldn’t!

So it’s just about how much change it can take before too much violence is done to the original, right? Well, no. Any change is going to do violence to the original. Traduttore tradittore, after all. And the question of how much violence to the original is too much isn’t hard and fast.

I’m sure someone is going to comment insisting that Star Trek is one thing, but story Foo would actually really be irreparably changed by the removal of element Bar, and thus am I refuted. But seriously, there are almost no sfnal elements that couldn’t be framed some other way, no blackhole that can’t become an inescapable whirlpool, no alien that can’t become the denizen of some far away island, and while we’re at it whole planets get treated basically like smallish islands of one sort or another in quite a lot of sf anyway so that’s an easy enough transition to make. The question of whether that non-sfnal framing constitutes an obviously different story, or one recognizably the same if superficially different, is not one that can be answered easily, not in any really objective way.

And I can’t help noticing how often this particular criterion is used to delegitimize stories as “real” science fiction that by any other measure would more than qualify. It’s not just that the critic doesn’t really like this work, no, sadly the story is just not “really” science fiction, because if you take away the robots and the spaceships and the cloning and the black holes and the aliens and the interstellar civilizations and the fact that it’s set way in the future, well, it’s still a story about people wanting something and struggling to get it. Not really science fiction, see?

And well, sure, you take all that away and no, it’s not science fiction. But you had to take it away to begin with, didn’t you.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (AJ)

I don’t actually have much time for reading non-work related fiction these days. But I got into the whole writing thing because I loved to read, and so I do try to make time to read at least every now and then!

In the past several months, I’ve read:

An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows

When I first started reading An Accident of Stars I was a bit frustrated–I hadn’t realized just how tired I’d gotten of your garden variety portal fantasy. Or maybe it was that I’d read quite a lot of portal fantasies at a particular time in my life, when I was perhaps a less demanding reader. I suppose they’ve been out of fashion for a while, and I never really noticed that, but on beginning this book I found myself sighing a bit. “Really? Not-terribly-popular white teenager visits other world, turns out to be The Chosen One who will Heal the Land or whatever (extra points if it’s allegorical for problems they face in the “real” world), saves universe, returns home having Learned a Valuable Lesson and maybe even Grown Up a Little.” But I kept reading, because I figured Foz was planning to go somewhere interesting with it.

As it happens, there are two protagonists in this book. (Or maybe there are four. I’d entertain that argument.) One is the aforementioned teenager, but the other is a middle-aged woman who’s lived her life between two worlds. To a certain extent she serves as a guide and teacher for the younger protagonist, but she’s a major character in her own right and shares the narrative with Saffron. There are also plenty of other women in the story–young and old, mothers (or not) and daughters, so that there’s no question of either Smurfettes or Singular Girls, and no suggestion that becoming older, or a mother, or disabled for that matter, removes you from eligibility for having adventures of sufficient import or interest. Saffron is not The Chosen One, either, and the cultures and languages she encounters aren’t just cardboard versions of Medieval Europe with their serial numbers halfheartedly scuffed up. Quite the contrary.

So this was basically all the things I’d enjoyed about portal fantasies as a younger reader, with the dubious gifts the suck fairy might have bestowed either questioned or removed. I ended up enjoying An Accident of Stars quite a lot.

Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone

This is actually the third book in a…series? Sequence? Sequence I guess. I gather the numbers in the titles tell you which comes first, second, etc in “in story” order, but not in actual publication order. I would complain about this, but I’m the author of a trilogy all titled Ancillary [X] and readers often get confused about which book comes where in the trilogy, so, glass houses. Anyway, I actually recommend you start out with Three Parts Dead, the first in the sequence.

As so often in fantasies, gods are real in the world of these books. I feel like sometimes writers don’t stop to really think about what that means, if gods are real, let alone if gods of many different cultures and religious traditions are real. Max has thought about it, and has built a world where actually a lot of the gods have died, but their power is still a real force in the world, though it’s wielded by banks and lawyers and basically is the world’s economy–money as magic. These books are smart and fun, and they wear their reliance on the real world as source material on their sleeve, which sometimes annoys me but here I enjoy, I suspect because it’s done very deliberately and not out of thoughtlessness. As a bonus, these books offer a lot of engaging women characters, particularly Full Fathom Five, which once I closed it I realized was basically all the major characters and quite a few non-major but important ones.

Anyway, I’ve really enjoyed reading these so far, and at some point (hopefully in the not too distant future) I have every intention of picking up Four Roads Cross.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (AJ)

Y’all may remember, the other day I mentioned playing a customized Cards Against Humanity in Lieutenant Awn Elming Memorial Park. The person who brought it was kind enough to let me take the deck home, and now if you find yourself wanting to play CASS, either online or in person, well, click this link and you’ll find several ways to do that. Scroll down for links to various ways to play online, or download a pdf of the cards you can print on regular paper and cut out, or even (if you’re feeling extravagant) pay someone to make them into nice cards and mail them to you.

When I expressed my ignorance as to how the “play online” part worked, I got this back from badgerterritory:

it’s very easy to play it online!! i don’t know if this is the only way, but the way we do it is to go to http://pretendyoure.xyz/zy/ and then you pick a server. you set up a username, and then it’ll take you to a place where you can set up the game. once you have the game set up, it’s very easy to invite people, and the cardcast site has a command you can use to add the deck! once you put in the command, the deck is loaded and you can start the game.

It looks like there’s also an app you can add to Chrome or to your phone, too. I haven’t tried any of it and don’t know how the various methods work, but it looks like fun, and not just for this particular customized deck.

Meantime, have some screenshots of a game from a couple weeks ago:

CASS1

CASS2

CASS3

CASS4

CASS5

CASS6

Incidentally, some of the response cards are in-jokes. #not for AL is the tag Tumblr users put on posts about the books they would prefer I not read (I’ve got that tag blacklisted), and “Cousiiiin” is a reference to this lovely bit of fan art. No doubt there are others I don’t recognize because I’m not in on the joke myself. At any rate, it was great fun to play.

Also incidentally, at first there were just a couple of us playing so we pulled one card off the “response” pile every turn and threw it in with the couple of others. We decided that was Station’s card. We kept it up even after the number of folks playing grew, because of course Station was playing, but also because actually, Station was winning.

There is also a special rule for this deck, if you wish to play it this way: If you draw more than two “Anaander Mianaai” cards (there are quite a few in the deck, as is only appropriate) you may discard and redraw all but one card. You are now stuck with that card the entire game. This situation never came up, so I don’t know how that plays, but there you go, in case you want it.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (AJ)

As I said yesterday, MAC2 had a thing where you could sponsor a “mini park” and a park bench. The dealers room and the exhibit hall and whatnot were all in a huge open space in the convention center, and there had to be some way to close off the dealers room at night, so they put up the Swanwick River and…a volcano? Yes, a volcano, to cordon that area off. There were benches and little “parks” alongside the river.

I figured it might be fun to sponsor a park. And it turned out, I was absolutely right, it was tremendous fun! Here are some pictures!

AwnElmingPark

Memorial

Bench

2016-08-17 17.33.50

Nice and simple, right?

That’s how it started out, anyway. I’d had a vague idea that pens and post-its might come in handy in case people wanted to make or leave notes–to me, to other visitors, to themselves, whatever. And the post-its kind of took on a life of their own:

postIt

AnaanderPostIt

AnanderPostIt2

PostIt3

Even the No Fishing sign got into the act!

NoFishingPost

I put out some buttons, including these:


(picture by Foz Meadows)

I also played some Cards Against Significant Species:


(picture by darling-child-tisarwat, I think, or at least on their phone)

I’m told that at some point I’ll have a link to the file that will let folks print out their own hardcopy of the CASS deck, by the way, and when I do I’ll definitely blog it.

Oh, and the awesome cosplaying darling-child-tisarwat as Breq!

So the park was basically a smashing success! I got to take the bench home, and it’s in pieces in my car trunk right now, though I also have the plaque which I might well hang on my office wall (next to the File 770 “Ancillary Bench” plaque, which was kindly given to me on Sunday!).

Thank you to everyone who stopped by–it would not have been even a small fraction of the fun that it was without you all.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (AJ)

At first I was just going to put this on Tumblr, where I post the most frivolous of my ramblings, but then I thought, no, why not blog. But, fair warning, this is pretty frivolous.

So, I am at the stage of con recovery where I’m hoping the scritchy feeling in my throat is the dry air in the house plus a weekend talking nonstop, and not oncoming Con Crud: Martian Death Flu Edition. And the stage where I’m unpacking things and doing laundry. Which reminds me.

So, the dress I wore to the Hugos (and also the Nebulas) was from Holy Clothing. Y’all know about Holy Clothing, right? Super comfortable clothes. Anyway. Every time I get something from them it’s fit well and been easy to wear, so I didn’t bother trying on the dress I bought for the Nebs, I just put it on that afternoon. And discovered that its lovely big square neckline meant that it was going to slide off my shoulders, or sink six or seven inches forward. I had not come prepared for this, and did some partially helpful stuff with my nominee pin, but it was still a problem.

A few days after I got home I was walking through the drugstore and saw a thing called “Fashion Tape.” This is a thing that exists! It’s for exactly the kind of thing I needed it for, and also for blouses that gap between the buttons and whatnot. (Gods forbid clothing designers actually make clothes that just stay on your body, that might lead us to have realistic expectations for ourselves and we can’t have that, right? Nope, better to have a whole industry and associated fashion hacks that address this kind of thing and let those who aren’t in on the secrets feel inadequate.)

Anyway. I’m here to tell you that the fashion tape did exactly what it was supposed to do–it’s clear, two-sided tape, as you would expect, and it held my dress in place all evening. It was also pretty comfortable, so much so that when I went back to the room to change for the Losers Party, I could not get my dress off easily and panicked for a moment before I remembered that my dress was ACTUALLY TAPED TO MY BODY.

So. If you find yourself needing it, Fashion Tape is a thing that exists.

The 19 year old wanted to know if it was the same thing as another fashion thing I’d run into years ago–I was going to wear a dress to a fancy thing, but the dress was…not made for wearing a bra with. And I pretty much always need a bra. I had asked a co-worker for advice and she said to me, “Oh, that’s easy, just go to the department store and get some titty tape. No, really, that’s what it is.”

So I went to the department store and looked but could not find it. A salesperson saw my confused wandering and asked me if I needed anything, and I was forced to explain that I was looking for something that my co-worker called “titty tape” but I was pretty certain it wasn’t called that.

Turns out, it’s just called, blandly, “stick-ons.” And they don’t quite do the job a bra would do, but it’s better than nothing. So, if you find yourself in need of such a thing, that’s what it’s called.

Anyway, I explained to the 19 year old that, no, “fashion tape” was not “titty tape” but they do kind of exist in similar spaces.

And if you find yourself in need of them and didn’t know they existed, well, now you do.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (AJ)

As the title says, I’m safe home again from my epic voyage to Kansas City, and my plans for today involve a lot of tea and mindless Netflix. But I thought I’d check in and say a few words about how my WorldCon went.

Well, first off, HOW ABOUT THOSE HUGOS! I’ll be straight with y’all, I have been rooting for The Fifth Season to win because it is a fabulous book. Several times I considered posting here to say so. In the end I decided it wasn’t a good idea, but in individual conversations I did say it. I mean, look, I’m really proud of Ancillary Mercy. And by the way, I am honored and seriously touched by the folks who’ve told me they put it first on their ballots and who hoped for it to win the Hugo. I have the best readers. I really do. And I would have been genuinely happy for any of the finalists had they walked away with the rocket rather than me, or Nora.

But The Fifth Season. Y’all, since I started voting for the Hugos I’ve found that very often there’s a particular book in the novel category. I mean, you read them, you read one and it’s like “yeah, this is good, I see why it’s there.” And you read the next. “Yeah, this is really really good.” Sometimes not to my taste, right? But good. Another one. “This is good too! It’s going to be difficult to rank these.” And then you hit that one. “Oh. Right. This is the winner.” This year, in my personal opinion, The Fifth Season was that book. I actually shouted “Yes!” when the result was announced. Because. I mean.

And it was a lovely night pretty much all around. I got to meet an astronaut! There were actually TWO REAL ASTRONAUTS there and I can’t even. Some lovely acceptance speeches, particularly Nora’s. And someone suggested to me afterward that Neil Gaiman maybe could have been more direct, instead of soft-pedaling his opinion. (Just kidding, I found his brief speech entirely delightful.) I got to meet Zoe Quinn, who is fabulous! I went to GRRM’s afterparty!

I’m telling my WorldCon backwards! Well, only kind of. My last con thing was a panel on Sunday afternoon with Geoffrey Landis. There were supposed to be more panelists, but in the end it was just the two of us, dealing with the question “Can hard science fiction be too hard?” which is honestly a nonsense question that misses the point, but it was a great start to just riff on, and we had a great time talking and there were wonderful contributions from the audience, and it went swimmingly.

Lieutenant Awn Elming Memorial Park was a success! I arrived on Wednesday afternoon with the 19 year old, and we decorated it up and arranged things and whatnot, and set out buttons and pins and ribbons for folks to take, and I tried to spend some time there every day so folks knew where they could find me. This was particularly important since I didn’t have a scheduled signing. That’s not a criticism of the con, I’m pretty sure scheduling all that sort of thing is pretty hair-raising and I wouldn’t do it for a million dollars, and there were lots of folks who wanted and deserved signing slots and very likely fewer spaces in the schedule than would accommodate all of us. But it did make things awkward for folks who wanted books signed but who didn’t want to accost me in the hallway. Anyway, the park was a place I could be available and talk to folks and sign things.

It was also a place where folks could play a hand or two of Cards Against Significant Species. Seriously, one of my awesome readers brought an actual customized deck and it sat there in the park and people played it (including me) and enjoyed the heck out of it. There was also a cosplayer! They were Lieutenant Tisarwat on Thursday (complete with purple contact lenses!), Anaander Mianaai on Friday, and Breq (with mourning stripe!) on Saturday. JUST SUPER AWESOME. I had also put out some pens and post-its with the vague, barely formed idea that maybe people might want to leave a note (for me, for someone else, for themselves, whatever) and that turned into post-its appearing on the park sign and the park’s NO FISHING sign, with truly delightful (and occasionally warring) messages. The string of different Anaander Mianaais who declared the park annexed, for instance, made me laugh. I have pictures of all of it, but have not uploaded them from my phone. Some of them have already been posted to Tumblr.

I would really like to thank MidAmericon for the whole park thing. It was a great idea, and it worked out particularly well for me. Partly because I was driving and could pack my car full of silly stuff to put out, but also it was just nice to have that place to sit down and chat.

I did the writers workshop on Friday, by the way, and I so enjoyed that. Rachel Swirsky and I did the same session and the…students, I guess? The students were great and I really enjoyed meeting them and talking to them about fiction–theirs, and in general. I have no doubt we’ll be hearing more from them in the future.

I also did my first ever kaffeklatch! Well, first as the person people were there to see, not as a fan. That was a lot of fun, and I so enjoyed meeting everyone and having a chance to just chat and answer questions.

So, basically, my con was awesome. Everything went really well, everything turned out either as I had hoped or well beyond what I could have reasonably wished for, and everything I was involved in was well-run and the folks I worked with or who I had cause to ask for information or assistance were super helpful. The couple of negative occurrences I heard about appear to have been dealt with quickly and appropriately. I had a great time. If I didn’t get to see you, I am sorry I missed you! If I did–I’m so glad we got a chance to hang out!

I could probably continue to enthuse, but the fact is, I’m exhausted. I’ve been basically “on” since Wednesday evening, and while I love love love meeting people and hanging out with new and old friends, it does take energy. (Yes, like many writers, I am a serious introvert.) And I did three panels yesterday on about four hours of sleep and then promptly jumped in my car and drove all the way across the state. So, after the four or five days of fun and partying, it is time for me to spend a day or so drinking tea and watching Midsomer Murders, because that’s about as much concentration as I’m going to manage for a bit.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (AJ)

I stand by this series of tweets. But I may need to clarify something. Someone objected that it might be irresponsible to advise young writers to pretend the rules don’t apply to them, that some projects are just foolish to undertake and it’s better to say so.

Now. I can see where this person is coming from and I sorta kinda agree but not really.

Here’s the thing: yes, there are some projects that are fundamentally unsalable. If you are determined, for artistic reasons, to write a 500K word novel all in Sumerian, well, you know, the audience for that book is going to be very, very small and I’d bet most editors would pass it up no matter how brilliant it was. That’s kind of common sense, right?

A slightly less extreme example–most SF or Fantasy novels come in at around 100K words. Give or take ten or twenty. You’re probably going to have an easier time selling a manuscript that’s 100,000 words long as opposed to one that’s 300K.

But here’s the thing–that’s not really an ironclad rule. I know personally of at least one person who sold their first fantasy novel a couple years ago–it was in the neighborhood of 300K, and the subsequent volumes have also been that length, so far as I can tell. (Hi, Django! And y’all who aren’t Django, the books are great fun.)

See, that sort of thing is covered by my admission in the tweets that, yes, commercial considerations are a thing and you might want to keep them in mind. Or not, you know, because A)you, the writer, get to make the final call just what considerations you want to take into account and B)every one of them is a case-by-case thing. I can’t tell you “never ever write a first SFF novel that’s 200K-plus words, you’ll never sell it.” Because that isn’t necessarily true.

What I can tell you is that most first novels are going to be in that 100K range, and so maybe when you’re working you want to keep that in mind. But you have to balance that against your project. What are you trying to do? What will best serve the goal you have in mind for that particular work? It might well be that the answer is “ruthlessly cut down to 100K” or “ditch it and write something else in a different but related subgenre.” I don’t know, I can’t tell you that. Only you can tell you that. But “most first genre novels are 100K” is not a rule obligating you to stick to that length if you want to be published. It’s a piece of information about what’s mostly being published right now. There are, and will be, exceptions.

No, you can’t guarantee that your work will be one of those exceptions. But, some real talk: there is nothing you can do to guarantee that your ms that has all the characteristics of what’s being published right now–the right length, popular subgenre, whatever–none of that is any guarantee that ms will sell.

If you have a quirky project, and you, personally, feel compelled to see that project through in some way, shape, or form, then do that. Consider advice, certainly. If you can take the advice without harming your project, and it seems good to you, by all means do. I am absolutely not encouraging any writer to refuse to listen to any critique or advice at all in the name of their pure, unadulterated artistic vision.

Nor, by the way, do I consider writers who weigh commercial factors very heavily in their calculations to be sellouts. On the contrary, that is a valid choice to make. I can’t tell anyone reading this blog how or whether to weigh such concerns, because that’s a question of what a given project calls for, and what the writer feels is going to work for that project.

But if you’re going to tell writers never to write anything much longer than 100K, or that they should give up all hope of writing something in a mined-out (or currently popular, soon to be mined-out) genre, well. No. Be aware, if you’re setting out on your 500K vampire-elf novel, that you’re going to have to really impress an editor with it. You might want to consider another project for now. Maybe. Do you? I can’t tell you that, only you can. Think about it. I’d probably say it was maybe foolhardy. But you know, it’s your call, and I can’t tell you that your 80K Angel/Mermaid Romance is going to do any better. Will you get as much fun out of the Angel/Mermaid book? You might want to start there and work on the Vampire Elf next. Nothing wrong with that. Sometimes your most ambitious project needs a skill level you don’t quite have yet. Sometimes you need to work up your confidence before you attempt it. It’s your call. Whatever choice you make will be good, it will be okay. There’s no rush, writing takes time, submitting takes time, just write. It’ll be all right. I’m just saying, don’t permanently scrap your cool project because someone said “but you can’t sell that kind of thing.”

And if folks in your writers group or message board or whatever are telling you things like “you have to have a POV character that’s like the reader so they can sympathize with them” or “don’t write in first person” or “editors won’t buy stories with queer main characters” well, frankly, no. “No infodumps.” Really? Take a look at the critically acclaimed books of the past couple years. I can think of at least two, just off the top of my head, that from all I can tell sell pretty well and have been nominated for or won major awards that are pretty infodump heavy. There are likely more, because actually some readers really enjoy the heck out of a good infodump, especially when it’s embedded in a story that hits their buttons in other ways as well.

My advice–don’t get your advice about what editors will or won’t buy from writers group members, many of whom may or may not have sold much themselves but are passing on second-hand, received wisdom that came from Mithras knows where. Take it from actual editors, and from observing what’s actually on the shelves at the bookstore. Always remembering that what’s on the shelves is just what’s being published right now, not a complete set of what will or won’t ever be published in the future. In fact, today’s hot subgenre is already on its way out, for writer purposes. There’s no predicting what tomorrow’s will be.

Weigh writing advice carefully. Anything presented as a rule is not a rule. At best it’s general advice presented as a rule. At best. Half the time it’s bad advice to begin with. But always consider advice. Consider it seriously, and if you find it won’t work for the project at hand, put it aside.

This is difficult to do, by the way. You need to have a weird sort of ambiguous attitude, at least in my experience. You have to be really pig-headed but also willing to bend when it’s called for. And only you can decide when it’s called for.

Weigh advice, think, and if, after thinking about it, you really feel passionate about the Vampire Elf, then go to it. Commit entirely to it. Don’t bar any holds, don’t just go overboard, dive enthusiastically over that rail. Worry about selling it later. Who knows, you might hit the right editor at the right time and spark a whole Vampire revival. (Actually I hope not, I’m pretty much over vampires (and zombies for that matter) but you don’t need to take my taste into account.)

Or not. Maybe the Mermaid is a better call. I know it’s frustrating, part of the reason these “rules” get passed around is because we would so much love to have at least some certainty, at least some indication that there’s a way to get where we’re trying to go, some black and white steps we need to take. But there’s no way anyone can give you that. The only sure thing I can tell you is, if you don’t write you won’t ever sell your writing. If you don’t finish what you work on, and submit it, you will never sell your writing. Everything else is a matter of “it depends what you’re trying to do.” So whatever project you decide to work on, it might as well be something you really do want to write.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (AJ)

So, as I posted just the other day, I will be at WorldCon, and I will be on some panels!

Here’s slightly more information: MidAmericon, apparently having a nice large, open space in the Exhibit Hall, is, I gather, planning to have some sort of “river” with “parks” alongside, and park benches. This is meant to be a place where folks can sit and chat, or gather, or whatever, kind of like the awesome Fan Village at LonCon. People or groups could sponsor parks, or benches, or combinations thereof.

I couldn’t resist sponsoring the Lieutenant Awn Memorial Park. I don’t know exactly where it will be located beyond “somewhere in the exhibit hall alongside a fake river with the other parks.” I plan to spend at least some time there, so if you’re trying to track me down that’s likely a good place to start.

Depending on logistics, I will also try to leave some buttons and ribbons and maybe even pins for folks to take, in case they don’t cross paths with me. But I hope I see you!

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (AJ)

Hey, y’all! I’m in the middle of getting ready for WorldCon, and also making progress on the WiP. Which means I haven’t really had the brainspace for blogging. Yeah, I know, I’m not exactly regular on that score anyway.

But. I saw this yesterday. I tweeted it and I tumbled it and now I am going to blog it because it is AWESOME:

It’s a book trailer! It’s by bironic, you know, the person who did the awesome Starships video! This trailer is assembled from a bunch of different sources, none of which was any sort of adaptation of any of the Ancillary books, and yet. And yet!

Look at that. Look how awesome that is!

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

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