Saturday, January 31, 2009

Quote of the Day

Though I am black and gay, I am as much a racist, a sexist, an anti-Semite and a homophobe as any right-wing Christian bigot: I must be; it’s desperately important that I be; if I am ever to be able to talk to such people and effect some change in their beliefs and behavior, I have to be. To be what I would hastily call a civilized man with a civilized sense of democratic fairness is something you do on top of that. It’s a refinement of that, if you like. It only gets to seem, with the blindness to basic processes that comes from practice, something you do in place of it. But the other is always there. I’ve always talked with such people whenever I’ve had a chance. Even more so I listen to them—long and carefully, about their feelings and experiences, as well as many other topics—whenever I’ve found myself next to them in bars and on Greyhound buses or I have one as a seatmate on some air-bus to Detroit or Denver or San José, or when they’re taking out their kids in the park. But I will never be able to effect any meaningful change other than one or another form of terrorism by fooling myself into thinking I can do anything by “standing outside” some hegemony.

. . . . .

My beliefs are based on firm convictions about hegemonic discourse in general and even more on some theoretical precepts about what discourse actually is: It’s an associational linguistic structure that we all inhabit—specifically the one that constitutes the world. If we didn’t inhabit the same discourse, we couldn’t understand racist jokes when we heard them nor could we find others’ use of them offensive when the contradiction with our own situation is too painful to allow us to laugh. While the part of us that we consider our “self” may each be positioned differently within it, none of us is outside it. That is particularly true for those of us who are black, or disabled, or overweight, or Asian, or women, or gay, or part of whatever group we have been socially assigned to, because if we didn’t know that discourse down in our bones, we’d be dead.

People have noted for years how fast racism or sexism or classism reasserts itself as soon as a certain vigilance is allowed to relax. That’s because they don’t come in from outside. They are a necessary underlying factor within the egalitarian behavioral structure itself. Such a behavioral structure is not about ignoring differences. It’s about noticing them, valuing them, realizing that there are certain situations, cultural and defined, when these differences are important—and realizing that they are crashingly irrelevant in others. (That’s what valuing means.) If the structure of when and where they are relevant and irrelevant gets loose or generalized, you have racism, classism, and sexism all over again. If you’re lucky, you can enlist habit on your side, especially with the young. But (to put it in Lacanian terms) you’re still fighting the Imaginary—and history is always settling the Symbolic into the Imaginary, even as theory is always untangling the Imaginary into the Symbolic. Until the properly stabilizing Symbolic discourse is in place, you’re particularly vulnerable.
---Samuel R. Delany (from The Wiggle Room of Theory:

Sunday, January 25, 2009

"Supermarket Picnics"

The forms that political direct-action take can vary widely from culture to culture. This is less a matter of temperament, I think, or even of habit and tradition, than the cultural context in which those actions mean or signify. The same goes for innovations in direct-action. In the US, shifts in policing attitudes resulted in a lot of changes for street activism in the 1990s. And then the watershed event of the Seattle WTO actions (which itself featured a lot of innovations) plus the prevalence of cell phones created another wave of change that made particular use of the Internet. Over the last few years, the Internet, text messaging, and now Twitter have become increasingly important for political activism in the US.

As you probably know, there's been a huge upsurge of direct action in Greece (labeled a "social uprising" by a majority of people) as well as in Sweden and France in the last couple of months, largely driven by the frustration and rage of young people, trapped in an economic and social system that offers them no hope of ever being able to make a decent living. The parties of the left in Europe are basically submitting to (if not actively embracing) the policies that serve the wealthy (just as both of the US's dominant parties have been doing for many years now), abetted by unions, which in Greece have been among the institutions targeted by the street activists. Last month, in Patras, a large urban center in Greece, the local trade union headquarters was occupied by protesters demonstrating against the pro-government policies of the unions and calling for an indefinite general strike. The previous day the headquarters of the General Confederation of Workers of Greece (GSEE) in Athens had been occupied. Here are a few links to old reports, in case you missed them when they first appeared: The Independent; EuropeNews; Z Magazine; Infoshop: anarchist news, opinion, and much more; The Boston Globe(this one has a lot of great photos).

This morning, though, I read about an innovation that made me think about how differently such a tactic would be understood and read were activists ever to use it in the US. An article in today's Sunday Observer focuses on a new political group in France, "L'Appel et la Pioche" (The Call and the Pick Axe) and its "supermarket picnics":

In exactly a week's time, in a supermarket somewhere in or around Paris, a couple of dozen young French activists are going to choose an aisle, unfold tables, put on some music and, taking what they want from the shelves, start a little picnic.... fruit and veg, dairy or the fish counter will have been transformed into a flash protest against global capitalism, rampant consumerism, bank bail-outs, poor housing, expensive food, profit margins and pretty much everything else that is wrong in the world.

The "supermarket picnic" will go on for as long as it can - before the security guards throw the activists out or the police arrive. Shoppers will be invited to join in, either bringing what they want from the shelves or just taking something lifted lightly from among the crisps, sweets or quality fruit already on the tables.

L'Appel e la Pioche call the media just before they strike, so that their action is rec
orded and reported. (Their website features a couple of videos.)

"Everyone is bored of demonstrations. And handing out tracts at 6am at a market is neither effective nor fun," said Leïla Chaïbi, 26, the leader of the group. "This is fun, festive, non-threatening and attracts the media. It's the perfect way of getting our message across."

Linked to a new left-wing political party committed to a renewal of politics and activism, Chaïbi's group represents more than just a radical fringe and has been gaining nationwide attention.

Chaïbi, who works on short-term contracts in public relations and is currently looking for work, told the Observer that the group's aspirations were limited. "I am not asking for thousands and thousands of euros a month as a salary or a vast five-room apartment. Just something decent."

In recent years, the problems of France's "Generation Y" or "babylosers" have made headlines. As with many other European societies, after decades of growth, this is the first set of young people for centuries who are likely to have standards of living lower than their parents. According to recent research, in 1973, only 6% of recent university leavers were unemployed, currently the rate is 25-30%; salaries have stagnated for 20 years while property prices have doubled or trebled; in 1970, salaries for 50-year-olds were only 15% higher than those for workers aged 30, the gap now is 40%. The young are also likely to be hard hit by the economic crisis.


New ways of working mean new ways of demonstrating, too. "We are already on precarious short-term contracts, so there's no point in going on strike," said Chaïbi. "But a supermarket is very public and we make sure the media are there to cover our actions."


With the French Socialist party in disarray, alternative forms of political protest on the left, particularly a breakaway communist faction led by charismatic postman Olivier Besancenot, have made inroads. Protests about the homeless or against the expulsion of immigrants have largely taken place independently of the Socialist party, which is mired in feuds and ideological incoherence.

I'm struck by the reported responses to these actions: checkout workers applauding, security guards "friendly." I ask myself what kind of response they'd get in the US, and I almost at once imagine security guards shooting the demonstrators for "looting" and the media going on a rampage, outraged by what they'd bill "a war against property." (Property, after all, is far more sacred in the US than the lives and welfare of human beings.)

In the meantime, I read an article in the Seattle Times this morning, reporting that the 16 banks in the Pacific Northwest who've received more than 1 billion dollars of Bush Administration's "bailout" bill are not using any of the funds to prevent foreclosures. In fact, they're not lending it at all, but sitting on it. I suppose that's better than lavishing it on bonuses for the executives who've done so much damage to our economy (as some recipients of bailout dollars have done), but giving money to banks to hoard was not what we were all told was the purpose of the plan Congress passed in the teeth of full-scale voter opposition. But we know "trickle down" policies of old, no? It's been one of the chief means of "creating wealth" for a few at the expense of the majority since the Reagan Administration brought the phrase into common parlance.

Friday, January 23, 2009

. . . And The White Rage Never Ends

Following some of the outrages of the Great Cultural Appropriation Debate, I came across a discussion at Micole's of the infuriating things this one novelist has said about class trumping race in the Oppression Pinochle Tournament. I was struck by a couple of insights:

First, the novelist is totally cribbing from The Trouble with Diversity. I'd suggest that this insight means his position is worth contesting, because Michaels has a pretty substantial following.

Second, if there wasn't a gay black aristocrat with a 130K salary in the SF world, we'd have to invent him. Evidently this novelist has used the old "But . . . But . . . Chip is more privileged than I am! Hah!" argument to derail the conversation. While I like the idea of, say, calling Chip out on his class snobbery (Marilyn Hacker's been doing that since 1960), I gotta say: a gay American born in 1942 has had to fear for his life, health, and sanity in ways that this novelist and I would have to work hard to imagine. It's not Merely Cultural: it's not even the equivalent of being, say, a wealthy but politically disenfranchised Jew in the U.K. of a couple centuries ago.

As to being obtuse about the reality of race relations, we've seen that in recent days as tv, radio, and internet commentators say "Obama owes the world an apology, because Joseph Lowery's benediction was part of a longstanding tradition of oppressing white people!" I can see a reasonable argument being made that Lowery's witty conclusion to that benediction sounded anachronistic for the occasion: black, at this event, is not being told to get back, whatever may be the case for African-Americans in other settings. But who can fail to be charmed by the heroic old man? My atheist immigrant white mother called my even whiter wife on inauguration day and said "I theenk he was referring to eh song by Beeg Beel Broonzy!" declaring it her favorite part of the inauguration.

Is there a connection between the two instances of White Rage? There's a certain ressentiment, a certain trauma envy, a certain Kerouacian worry that the black guy is having a good time, and Heaven help us, a certain "identity politics" in both cases: there's an implicit "As a white man . . . " at the start of the provocative novelist's claim of underprivilege, and an explicit use of that phrase in many denunciations of Lowery (not Michelle Malkin's, but perhaps most others). I'm reminded of Baldwin's "As long as you think of yourself as white . . . " i.e. as long as you depend for your sense of self, of pride, of integrity on defining yourself as the oppressed other's other, your potential for the depth of love and understanding that the human race needs to survive is going to be limited. "My social identity is not being recognized" can be a legitimate gripe, but to claim "whiteness" as that wounded or traumatized social identity, as the Rev. Lowery's detractors do, is to take leave of social reality in some pretty scary ways.

Emended to clarify that I'm not making an argument for "color-blindness" or against self-awareness of white privilege.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Cultural Appropriation Debate of DOOM 2009: Update

A few people (Liz Henry, I know, but also others independently) observed that this is more like Round III than Round II of the Cultural Appropriation Debate, if not actually Round 300. So I'm re-titling this Cultural Appropriation Debate of DOOM 2009 to avoid sticky numbering issues. There have been many, many updates and participants; once again I am indebted to Rydra Wong for her comprehensive link dumps. This is simply a selection of the posts I found most relevant, thought-provoking, or moving.

I am grateful to the women of color who gave me permission to link to their posts, despite previous bad experiences with influxes of hostile commenters, and I hope that anyone going through these links will consider their words carefully when commenting.

Avalon's Willow has posted several updates on the (disappointing and infuriating) responses to her Open Letter to Elizabeth Bear:

Sparkymonster sums up the exchanges in a question posed in Bear's blog:

I have some questions for you. Why haven't you actually called out any of your defenders who were being racist? You name checked nojojojo in the context of her post, and kenscholes as someone who can handle direct criticism. Why not say "hey, medievalist it was awkward how racist you've been in defending me from a criticism I agreed with" or "Hey truepenny and coffeem it sucked how you didn't notice the racism that was happening while discussing reading texts closely." Or how about cdguyhall began comments on this post of yours by saying racist things, and went pretty much unchecked despite you ending that post by saing "And make damned sure you are being both polite and respectful of others when you do. Or I will close comments."

Or your lack of response to the next comment by rolanni which says "So, all storytellers should shut up because they can never tell everyone's story for them, correctly and exactly as that person would tell it, if they could? And we shouldn't even try, because we'll only Get It Wrong?

*is depressed*

Going back to bed, now. I shouldn't read LJ when I'm sick."

By not freezing those threads, or clearly saying "cut it out", you are implicitly telling people reading the post that you think those are acceptable types of arguments to make. And that people making them are somehow being polite and respectful.

Basically, you set off a bomb which resulted in a lot of PoC being hurt and wounded. I understand you may not have realized you were setting off a bomb, but after it happened I didn't see you doing much to protect or help PoC that were injured by the shrapnel.

Yes when I burrow into comment threads I can see you having discussions and going "oops I didn't realize my privilege goggles were still on" but at that point there has already been a ton of people saying and doing hurtful things who believed they were helpful, and doing things you were OK with.

What I'm seeing a lot of in comments to this post are white people praising your insight and strength in apologizing. What about the strength of PoC who have been engaging in this discussion while having their intelligence insulted and their humanity belittled? What about the time and energy PoC and white allies have put into this discussion only to receive complaints that things weren't phrased nicely enough? What about mentioning that this imbroglio has resulted in the comments and posts by PoC being referred to as "Orcing" (apparently a racist step above trolling). Orcing, as in a reference to dark skinned, mindless savages who live to destroy things. Nothing racist there. Nope.

Apologizing for making a mistake is good. Acknowledging the fullness of what happened is better.

Delux Vivens dissects the idea that

Text is always an innocuous beam of pure starlight which personal experience *never* has any sort of bearing on; it merely enters through your ajna chakra and slips down slowly into your throat, from which elegant and suitably academic explications de texte flow like the finest lavender honey made by lissome elven beekeepers.

Oyceter explains why IBARW will not be participating in the Diversity 2009 project proposed by participants in the debate.

And several women explore the implications of decolonizing the mind:


It hasn't been uncommon for people who meet me on the Internet to tell me that they thought I was British.... I don't find this especially pleasing, but there is a kind of satisfaction in it, and it's the satisfaction of having pulled something off. That 'something' being -- talking right, writing right. IRL it is impossible for me to pass as white; I look pretty definitively East Asian and my accent is obviously Malaysian (though more on that later), but in writing ... I'm not saying that anyone who writes in grammatical English of a certain flavour will sound white, but there are Englishes and there are Englishes, and I've become aware that the English I adopt in writing is basically the equivalent of the Queen's.

Deepa D.:
I do not want to be blind to race.

I want to see the glossy dark brown skin of the new President of the United States, as his beautiful smile dazzles the world.
I want to see the epicanthic folds that crease as Lucy Lui laughs.
I want to see the nose that Jon Stewart points to as he calls himself Jewy McJewson.
I want to see the blue eyes in a a close up of Cameron Diaz.

Oh, I do want to see race. Dreadlocks and thin straight hair and thick springy hair and silky straight hair and wavy hair, and nappy hair and oily hair and black and brown and reddish-golden and white and gray hair. Hirsute and hairless chests, brown and pink nipples. Noses straight and curved and tilted and flattened and lips broad and narrow and everything in between.


I don't remember the first time that I was walking down the street and someone yelled at me to go home, but I remember not understanding. At first because I usually was going home, and then because I didn't see how they couldn't understand how much I wanted to. I do remember my mother holding my hand and pulling me after her, crossing the street, keeping her head down and moving faster while people shouted abuse after us. Safety is an illusion. I may not wake up to the sounds of gunshots anymore, but there is always someone willing to remind me that I'm not safe, that being who I am makes me unwelcome. A man shouting a racial epithet at me as he walks by. A woman pulling at my headscarf. A drunk man stopping from walking by him while his friends stand by and laugh. You soon learn that no matter how crowded the street is, no one will help you if someone decides to become violent.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Historic Moments and Alternate Histories

Eight years ago, I stood in the cold at the Federal Building in Seattle with 5000 other people, registering a protest against the inauguration of George W. Bush. Today, finally, he and (most of) his minions are gone. And today people gathered all over the country to celebrate the inauguration of Barack Obama-- in vast numbers in Washington D.C., in more modest numbers in a variety of public places everywhere else.

While Eileen Gunn and I were at Victrola this afternoon for our writing date, a local Fox news team moved around the cafe from table to table, interviewing people about their sense of change, their expectations, their own priorities for what the new Administration should do first. The interviewer cited a list of 500 promises Obama made over the course of his campaign. My impression was that she was hoping to get sound bytes of people naming this or that particular item as the job Obama ought to accomplish first. Eileen, when interviewed, refused to be pinned down to such a narrow framework for discussion. Still, the interviewer was mightily taken with Eileen's statement that she had spent three hours today Twittering about the inauguration. (Technology vis-a-vis politics is very sexy just now.) Afterwards, during our brief postmortem of the interview, Eileen realized that in quoting a president ("I forget which president said that"), she had actually been quoting President Goldwater, in her Tricky Dick alternate history story.

It felt, truly, like a classic science-fictional moment.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Winter Sun (with two reviews)

After suffering through a horrible temperature inversion, we've now seen the sun here in Seattle for two consecutive days. And so I just had to take a break from editing to walk with Tom in Seward Park this afternoon. I'd assumed there'd be the usual runners and dog walkers and bicyclists and maybe a few fair-weather walkers like us. But the place was jammed, as though it were a hot weekend in August. I half expected to see people swimming in Lake Washington. By the end of our walk, the sinking sun had stained the horizon with thick lashings of burnt orange, casting a delicate alpine glow over all the mountains (which included both Baker and Rainier) and lighting up a lot of windows miles away across the lake in Bellevue and Bothell. Oh the glories of a fine winter day!

Lyndon Perry's review of Nisi Shawl's Filter House is up at The Fix.

My review of M. M. Buckner's Watermind has been posted at Strange Horizons.

I haven't been posting because I've been working hard. Real hard. But I'm making such headway that I'm hoping I can ease up a bit later this week and bring out an interesting piece an Aqueductista recently sent me and a conversation with a feminist activist and scholar I taped last month.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Great Cultural Appropriation Debate of DOOM, Part II

There have been a number of recent posts, mostly on LiveJournal, revisiting topics raised in the Great Cultural Appropriation Debate of DOOM (see also Cultural Appropriation Revisited). If I had to single out one post as most critical, it would be Deepa D.'s I Didn't Dream of Dragons:

When I was around thirteen years old, I tried to write a fantasy novel. It was going to be an epic adventure with a cross-dressing princess on the run, a snarky hero, and dragons. I got stuck when I had to figure out what they would do after they left the city. Logically, there would be a tavern.

But there were no taverns in India. Write what you know is a rule that didn’t really need to be told to me; after having spent my entire life reading books in English about people named Peter and Sally, I wanted to write about the place I lived in, even if I didn’t have a whole bookcase of Indian fantasy world-building to steal from. And I couldn’t get past the lack of taverns. Even now, I have spent a number of years trying to figure out how cross-dressing disguise would work in a pre-Islamic India where the women went bare-breasted. When I considered including a dragon at the end of a story, I had to map out their route to the Himalayas, because dragons can be a part of a Tibetan Buddhist tradition—they do not figure in Hindu mythology.

There are far more eloquent writers who have pointed out how difficult it is to growing up reading books (and watching movies) about a culture alien to you, and how pernicious the influences thereof can be. I am lucky in that Indian culture is more widely represented in Western media than other colonised regions—when I talk about Bollywood in the yuletide chat room, there are people who have an idea about what I might be referring to, bastardised ideas of ‘pundit’ and ‘caste system’ and ‘karma’ and ‘reincarnation’ are present in the English vocabulary. Yet still, my ability to connect fannishly with people from different parts of the world is mediated through the coloniser’s language and representation. Enid Blyton, with her hideous caricatures of African tribal boys helping the intrepid British children is read from Johannesburg to Jaipur—Iktomi stories are not.

These imbalances of power are what frustrate me in several discussions regarding issues of representation and diversity in writing that I’ve seen recently. I am summarising some positions that I have heard, and my responses to them.

One of the most frustrating arguments I’ve encountered is—If you hate it so much, stop bitching and write your own.

This naive position stems from the utopian capitalist belief that all markets are equal, and individuals are free to be what they can driven only by their inner divine spark.

Other posts, roughly in chronological order (with much reference to helpful index posts by Rydra Wong):

Jay Lake, Another shot at thinking about the Other
Elizabeth Bear, Whatever you're doing, you're probably wrong
Micole, I blame Tempest
Avalon's Willow, Open Letter: To Elizabeth Bear
yeloson, The Remyth Project
Elizabeth Bear, Real magic can never be made by offering up someone else's liver
Micole, Resistance and Individuality
She Who Has Hope, Cultural Appropriation and SF/F
Deborah Kaplan, Race and reviewing
Cryptoxin, Cultural appropriation
Sarah Monette, race-(class-sex)
She Who Has Hope, Cultural Appropriation and SF/F (Once More, with Feeling)
Friendshipper, Cruel little lies
Yeloson, Othered, Only Because You Say So
Betsy, Getting called on your white privilege
Deepa D., White people, it's not all about you, but for this post it is
Vassilissa, About the Current Racism and Othering Discussion
The Angry Black Woman, What Is Cultural Appropriation?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

WisCon 33 Call for Programming Ideas

Now's the time, folks, to send your ideas for programming to WisCon's program committee. Here's the call (which I found on WisCon's LJ blog):

The WisCon 33 program committee is excited to announce that program idea submissions are now open!

WisCon gets its best programming ideas from you. We invite you to submit programming ideas for WisCon 33 through January 31, 2009. To submit an idea, please go to the WisCon programming page and click on the link to the program idea submission form. We eagerly await your suggestions!

Please note that this web page is part of a new programming database system. We've tested it extensively, but please bear with any unexpected bugs as we implement it.

Joanna Lowenstein and Cat Hanna
Co-Chairs, Programming, WisCon 33.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2008, Part Nineteen: Oyceter


I spent over two months in Taiwan for 2008 (and am writing from there now), more than I've been here since freshman year of college. All hail grad school vacation! That helped a great deal with my goal of reading and watching more by POC, although there are pluses and minuses to consuming POC culture in a setting in which that culture is the majority, as opposed to consuming Asian-American culture. I also mean to focus more on non-East-Asian cultures in 2009, along with continuing to try to focus on other POC cultures as well.

2008 is the year I got further sucked into kdramas (Korean television dramas), and the year I watched tons of Hong Kong martial arts fantasy movies to try and prep for the Not Just Japan: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy Wiscon panel. I also tried to read more manhwa and manhua (comics published in Korean and Chinese, respectively), with a particular focus on trying to find manhua. Manhwa at least gets slightly more exposure in the US, whereas before this summer, I could not have named a single manhua writer or series off the top of my head. Or even known where to start looking.

I decided to focus on non-Japanese Asian media because I consume a LOT of manga already, and plan on creating a best-of list for that on my blog in the near future. My apologies for the US-centricity of the availbility of the following media!

So here are my picks of the year out of Chinese and Korean media, in alphabetical order:

The Bride with White Hair (1993) - I watched this Hong Kong martial arts movie five years ago, but a rewatch improved the experience considerably. Birgitte Lin plays Lian Nichang, a girl who was raised by wolves and later taken by a martial arts cult ruled by insane conjoined twins (minus points for ablism) and trained as the ultimate assassin. She eventually meets up and falls in love with Leslie Cheung's Zhou Yi-Hang, a promising swordsman from a martial arts clan at war with her, and tragedy and betrayal result.

This may not be the best introduction to wuxia movies for people unfamiliar with them, given the amount of cracktastic plot involved, but the core story about star-crossed lovers is wonderful, as is Birgitte Lin as the vengeful bride. I was particularly fascinated by a sequence in which Lian Nichang crawls over hot coals and is whipped by all the members of the cult as an example of unsexualized violence to the female body as a means of showing the woman's strength (of body and of will), as opposed to making the woman a thing to be ogled at and victimized at the same time.

Available on DVD.

Chungking Express (1994) - And as an abrupt change of pace from the above movie, this is a lovely Wong Kar-Wai film that's very slice-of-life and meditative and quirky. Takeshi Kaneshiro and Birgitte Lin star in the first section, in which a heartbroken cop buys canned pineapples with his birthday as an expiration day and a mysterious woman tries to get out of a smuggling operation alive. In the second, Tony Leung is another heartbroken cop, and Faye Wong is the girl working at the take-out place he frequents. Both sections are small and quiet and melancholy, despite the occasional gunshots in the first, and they're about loneliness and connection in the modern jungle that is Hong Kong.

Available on DVD.

Dal Ja's Spring (2007) - This is one of my very favorite kdramas out of all the ones I've watched so far. Oh Dal Ja is a thirty-two year old career woman when she meets the younger Kang Tae Bong. This is at heart a romantic comedy, but I particularly love it for its focus on various women's careers, from Dal Ja's to severeal of her colleagues'. Like many other kdramas, it has a strong portrayal of intergenerational bonds, and one of my favorite relationships is between Dal Ja's mother and her paternal grandmother, both of whom learned to live with each other after Dal Ja's father's early death. Although there are some annoying plot points, and though the drama isn't consciously feminist, I still love having the example of so many different Korean women of varying ages. And the romance is extremely, extremely cute.

This sadly is not available via Netflix, although you can get the DVDs from YesAsia or get the episodes via other sources.

Gourmet/The Grand Chef (2008) - My other favorite kdrama this year, since I counted Coffee Prince as something I watched in 2007. Unlike most of the other dramas I watch, this is not a trendy drama (romantic comedy). Instead, the drama is about Un Ahm Jung, a fictional Korean restaurant that creates gourmet meals based on the court cooking of the Joseon Dynasty. The owner of Un Ahm Jung has two sons, one adopted and one not, and the story follows adopted son Sung Chan as he makes his way through the world. I've only seen 10-some episodes of this so far, but I absolutely love the food talk. I do wish there were stronger women, although some of them may develop further with time, but oh, if you enjoy food, you will love this.

This is available from Netflix (whoo!) under the title "The Grand Chef."

Kim Yeon-Joo, Nabi: The Prototype - This is a lovely manhwa compilation of short stories, all of which are interconnected and presumably take place in the same fantasy world. If you ask me, I can't even reconstruct the content of half of the stories, but it's the overall mood and the art that struck me the most. First, the art is gorgeous. I could stare at it all day and am in fact tempted to buy more of her manhwa in Korean just to look at it (I sadly only have one semester's worth of Korean so far). Second, Kim writes stories about extremely charming children, some of whom turn into lonely adolescents. Everything is delicate and wistful, and I wish there were more.

Available in bookstores.

Mars (2004) - Ling is a rebellious college student who wants to be a motorcycle racer, and Qiluo is a shy and solemn artist. The two seem absolutely wrong for each other, but both of them have past traumas, and despite their seeming incompatibility, they fall in love and stay in love.

Soryo Fuyumi's Mars was one of the first shoujo manga series I ever read, and despite its many flaws, I still love it. Mars was also one of the earliest Taiwan idol dramas (usually romantic comedies, but not always) filmed, and I was afraid to watch it for the longest time because I loved the source so much. To my surprise, the drama is incredibly faithful to the source while improving on it in minor ways. Yet, all the tiny tweaks add up so that many of the irritating factors from the manga are softened, particularly the manga's focus on the hero Rei/Ling over the heroine Kira/Qiluo and the power dynamics in their relationship.

Not sure about US availability.

Nan Kongyuu, assorted manhua - The Chinese language manhua industry is still in its infancy, as most comics read in Chinese are translated from Japanese. But I managed to find Nan Kongyuu's works, which I love. Her art is reminiscent of CLAMP: sparkling eyes and flowing hair and a slightly goth aesthetic. Her stories tend to focus on the bittersweet and melancholy, on people who love too late because they are afraid, on how people accidentally hurt each other while meaning well, and on how people find each other and slowly heal. My favorite of her works are Lonesome Eden, which is about God's favorite doll living alone in a magical garden, and White Garden, about human-looking dogs who need owners. The latter in particular is much less sketchy than it sounds, and it always makes me tear up when I read it.

These sadly don't seem to be available anywhere except Taiwan, which is a shame, because they are gorgeous.

So Close (2002) - This Hong Kong action movie is about an assassin (Lynn), her computer hacker sister (Sue), and the cop going after them (Kong Yat Hong). It's a fairly standard action movie, very slick and pretty with many slo-mo moves done Matrix-style, but what sets it apart is that it's focused on the three women. I'm not sure if I like Lynn and Sue's sisterhood, Lynn and Kong Yat Hong's game of cat-and-mouse, or Sue and Kong Yat Hong's relectant alliance better, but I'm glad I get to pick among the relationships and the characters, as opposed to having the sole woman in an action movie being relegated to the love interest. Fun and stylish, with a lot of cool fight scenes.

Available on DVD.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Not Even Wrong. . .

A few weeks ago I responded to Niall Harrison’s call for items for his Year’s Best of 2008 column, over on Strange Horizons. As an opening, I made a comment some readers may have found either puzzling or inflammatory: “too many ever so clearly labelled girl-books and boy-books; too many notable books that I know I must not review, because I'm prejudiced, and my views (which were always leftfield, and I didn't mind) have become not even wrong....

Timmi’s asked me to expand, so I’ll try. You see, I’m what’s known as a “seventies feminist”. (I didn’t have an sf novel published until 1984, but I can’t seem to shake the label). What was different about the genre’s “seventies feminists” was that they didn’t write for feminists. They claimed to address the whole audience. Yes, this story, this novel, is about sexual politics; or has a sexual politics strand. No, it isn’t a form of chick-lit, no, it’s not just for bleeding-heart girlies. It’s the mainstream. Those days are gone, and I don’t regret them. There’s a limit to my desire, as a writer or a reader, to concentrate intensely on any single topic. What I do regret is the polarisation that has replaced our hopeful attempts to reach a new balance, so that (sigh) absolutely anything I write gets read as “feminist”, just because the whole genre has shifted so far over towards the masculine.

But there’s another point, which isn’t about feminism (honest!). As a critic, these days, often I can’t admire the books that are the height of fashion, but I no longer feel I should be the one taking them apart. There’s a younger generation, negotiating different boundaries, or negotiating the same boundaries (eg feminism) in different ways. There comes a point when you realise you could be stomping your horrible old elder statesman (or woman) dinosaur foot on the really interesting, different, and fragile blue-sky research of the genre, the kind of work that will never be mass-market but instead will nourish and inspire the mass-market. . . just because it doesn’t look the way you think it ought to look.

So that’s what I meant by “not even wrong”.

And maybe in 2009 I’ll teach myself how to recalibrate.

I do that trick all the time with music.

It can’t be rocket science.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Leslie What's Crazy Love

My review of Leslie What's imaginative, sharply observed collection of short fiction, Crazy Love, is now available at The American Book Review 's LineOnLine.

(Warning: the review must be accessed through a PDF file that takes about a minute to download.)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2008, Part Eighteen: Cat Rambo

I tracked my reading this year, which was an interesting if somewhat obsessive, experiment. I learned, mainly, that I read a lot more crap than I'd like to think.  But among the more elevated reading highlights from 2009 were the following:

The Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Family Stories by Joan Aiken
I was delighted to see an Aiken collection coming out that included four! new! Armitage stories. These pieces are funny and charming, and manage to have a dark edge at times in the tradition of the best children's literature. Any of Aiken's short stories are worth seeking out, I've found, which makes this book a bonanza for readers of children's fiction.

A Companion to Wolves, by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette
I read a number of Bear's books this year, and would heartily recommend many of them, including Dust, Undertow, and any of the Promethean Age novels. But this was one of my favorites, taking the trope of humans bonded with companion animals and having sex when the companion animals have sex to a logical and yet inexplicably hitherto unexplored direction. 

Triplicity, by Thomas Disch.
Tom Disch's death this year was a tremendous loss to the field. I picked up Triplicity in a used book store and remembered what a major talent he was. Three sharply distinct novellas that showcase his talent, his sense of humor, and his incisiveness.

From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain, by Minister Faust
So far this is my favorite superhero book EVER. And it's a genre I like very much. Faust's book is clever and funny and wonderful and does fabulous things. I have said this elsewhere, but I loved this book. I blogged further about superhero lit here. (And hey, this is a good point to send a shout out to David DeBeer, who is consistently putting out great stuff on the Nebula awards blog, whose RSS feed is well worth subscribing to.)

Wild Life, by Molly Glass
This was not marketed as speculative fiction, and yet it featured Bigfoot and 19th century suffragists in the Pacific Northwest. Lovely and engaging and sweet. The book shifts in tone halfway through, and yet the shift manages not to be too jarring, and ends up providing a new lens through which to look at the first half.

The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch
This was a -fun- traditional fantasy read, just terrific.  For some reason, I'd thought Locke Lamora was actually Loch Lamora, and that it was some sort of geographical fantasy. This did not turn out to be the case. I pass along a small amount of what I read to my partner Wayne, and this (as well as its sequel) both ended up on his shelf.

Dragonforge, by James Maxey
I'd read Dragonforge's predecessor, Bitterwood, last year and had no idea where James might be going with the books next. Dragonforge takes Bitterwood and makes origami out of it, turning an already excellent world and characters into something truly original and interesting. These aren't traditional dragons, by a long shot.

I was introduced to a new genre this year, bizarro fiction, when I read (and highly enjoyed) Carlton Mellick III's The Egg Man. It's indescribable and wonderful and full of fabulous weirdness. I see a new magazine featuring bizarro fiction has opened up recently, and I'm looking forward to reading more of it.

About a quarter of my reading this year was urban fantasy. Favorites included Patricia Briggs, Charlaine Harris, T.A. Pratt, and Carrie Vaughn. But above and beyond those, I ended up reading all of Lilith Saintcrow's work and putting it top of my list. I'd write more about urban fantasy, but Saintcrow, Vaughn, and Elizabeth Bear have all written about it more eloquently than I could recently. Go check their blogs.

Catherynne M. Valente's The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden rocked my socks off with the lusciousness of its prose and the intricacy of its construction. Reading it is a bit like eating gold-encrusted chocolate truffles - you don't know whether to pay more attention to the taste or the artistry of the construction, but you can't lose either way.

The indefatigable Ann and Jeff VanderMeer produced a number of anthologies in 2008. Of them, my favorite was The New Weird, which combined all sorts of tasty fiction along with some critical nuggets. I will admit some of my fondness may be spurred participating in a round robin exercise for the book that I found enjoyable as well as instructive. Also notable were their Steampunk anthology and the best of a recent swarm of pirate anthologies, Fast Ships, Black Sails, which included what may be my all-time favorite pirate story: Katherine Sparrow's "Pirate Solutions".

The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Wall
This memoir chronicles a highly unusual childhood being raised by parents who seem little more than children themselves, dragging their offspring through a life that is described with candor, affection at times, and an astonishing lack of anger. By the time you reach the moment where the author, now a successful career woman, encounters her parents as homeless on the street, you understand (although you may not agree) how they've reached that point. Not through bankruptcy or bad financial decisions, but a resolve not to get caught up in a soulless system.

I dissed Twilight this year, and so I'll supply some titles of a couple of this year's authors that I think would better suit YA readers: Libba Bray and Cassandra Clare. But frankly, if I had a teen reading at the Twilight level, I wouldn't be restricting their choices to the YA section only, but would be steering them towards some of the adult urban fantasy out there. I got my first ideas about sex from reading a James Bond novel -- I'm not sure learning about it from Laurell K. Hamilton would damage anyone's psyche too much. But then again, I'm not a parent.

Cat Rambo writes speculative fiction that has appeared in such places as Weird Tales, Asimov's, and Strange Horizons, as well as serving as Fiction Editor for Fantasy Magazine. Her collection of short stories, Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight, appears from Paper Golem Press this year.

Quote of the Day

Government authority and the law represent at any given time not the progressive ideals of liberty of which the people are capable, but the amount of liberty the forerunners of the people have been able to wrest from earlier and equally unwilling governments.--- Teresa Billington-Greig, "The Militant Policy of Women Suffragists" (1906; written in Holloway prison)

Monday, January 5, 2009

Aqueductista News

Over at The Fix, Val Grimm reviews the latest volumes in Aqueduct's Conversation Pieces series-- My Death: A Novella by Lisa Tuttle; and De Secretis Mulierum: A Novella by L. Timmel Duchamp. It's a long, thoughtful review.

Over at the UK feminist site the f word, Jess McCabe reviews Vandana Singh's collection, The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet, just out from Zubaan Books. You can check it out here.

The Preliminary Ballot for the Nebula Awards has been announced, and I see that two Aqueduct authors have entries: In the novella category, Kelley Eskridge's "Dangerous Space" (which appears in her collection, Dangerous Space, from Aqueduct); and Gwyneth Jones's "The Tomb Wife" (which Aqueduct will be reprinting in a new Conversation Pieces volume to be titled The Buonarotti Quartet, due out this spring). Congratulations, Kelley and Gwyneth. The full ballot is available here.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Nancy Jane Rants on the Radio

By Nancy Jane Moore

NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday program let me rant on the radio this morning -- they aired my comment criticizing Isaac Mizrahi for advocating high-heeled shoes.

I notice that my comment was preceded by one from a doctor who treats women suffering from the damage inflicted by high heels. His instruction to avoid heels in any situation where you might need to walk or stand is great advice.

However, they left out one line of my commentary -- my observation that high-heeled shoes make women more vulnerable. That's at the heart of my rant. If your shoes put you off balance, and keep you from walking far or running at all, they keep you from taking care of yourself in a tight situation.

Wearing high heels makes a woman a little bit helpless, but the myth persists that women look "sexier" in heels. I've asked before and I'll ask again: Do you really want a lover who is attracted to you because you look helpless?

Friday, January 2, 2009

Nisi Shawl reads tomorow in San Francisco

Heads up, all you Bay-area folks: Nisi Shawl will be reading and signing at Borderlands Books tomorrow from 1-2:30 p.m. It's a wonderful bookstore run by people who love science fiction, and it accommodates events very comfortably. I read there back in October 2004 with Eileen Gunn and Gwyneth Jones. After each of us read for about fifteen minutes, we conducted a panel-style discussion with the audience, which was stimulating and enjoyable. The audience was great, and when a bunch of us went out for wine and tapas at a neighborhood place afterward, we took a piece of the discussion with us.

Borderlands is located at 866 Valencia Street. (Phone: 415.824.8203) The store's website provides directions, for anyone who needs them. Oh, and just so you know, they carry lots of Aqueduct's books.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

R.I.P. Donald E. Westlake

Very sad. Westlake was a great artisan, capable of wit that's rare in U.S.ian novels. I rank his novel Dancing Aztecs alongside Delany's Motion of Light in Water and Ellen Raskin's The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues as exemplars of the "love letter to New York City" genre. Readers of this blog might like his more overtly anti-misogynist novels, Trust Me on This and Baby, Would I Lie?. And the two dozen novels he wrote as Richard Stark stand as refutations to the old canard that genre fiction written to a strict formula is artistically inferior to other kinds of writing: indeed, I have twice heard someone challenge that claim with "What about Richard Stark?"