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Friday, March 20, 2009

O HAI IN UR GENRE AGAIN

photo credit, once again: Holly Black/Kelly Link/Gavin Grant model: Holly Black's cat

Cory and I made the Hugo Ballot for True Names!

There's also a sort of secret thrill in seeing works you critiqued on the ballot -- "Little Brother" and "Pride and Prometheus" in this case, and earlier stories in the series of which "The Political Prisoner"(which, by the way, rocked) was a part. And it is fun to be on a ballot with Scalzi and Paolo and Mary Kowal and Ted Chiang and Aliette de Bodard, GVG and Ellen and Lou and Sheila and Nick and so on.

Congratulations to all the nominees!

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Ant King peers over the shoulders of his purple-fedora'd Social Networking Hench(wo)men and waggles his antennae in approval

Hey! My book has a Facebook page!

Created by the able and fantastic Jeanne Kramer-Smyth a.k.a. Jeanne, Jeanne, The Street Team Queen!

If you are all into that Facebook thing and becoming a fan of things on Facebook and are, you know, a fan, well... encodify your fannicality in the Facebookitron, friend!

(The multitalented and indefatigable Jeanne, a woman of many quests, is also responsible for audio review site Books for Ears, an informative site on C-Section Recovery, a chronicle of archival adventurism Spellbound Blog, blows glass, re-enacts the Bronze Age and plays a mean game of Settlers of Catan.)

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Identity and Othering in "The Ant King and Other Stories": An Analysis

I've been learning and thinking a lot while following the RaGoogle, don't index this as white people have authored the pages in the first goddamn seven hits of the relevant searchceFail '09....

The other night, inspired by Mary Anne's latest post chez Scalzi, and also, and in particular, by nojojo's analysis of her own work in her post "we worry about it too" -- and being that I am a statistics-lovin' geek like that -- I skimmed through my own short story collection, The Ant King and Other Stories, trying to get a sense of how I handle race, ethnicity, and other kinds of difference.

Excluding all the Other Cities except The White City, because they're not really character-based (there could be a separate analysis of how multicultural each of those cities reads as), I counted

  • 121 characters in the collection who are either named, or take some specifically described action on their own initiative. Of these:

    Race


    • 66 read as almost certainly white people
        of which
      • 59 are either explicitly white, or so "unmarked" that white is the obvious assumption

      • 3 are probably white, but they are a bit othered so as to make it unclear -- The Ant King himself, the Snotboy, and S. L. Kermit (the fact that the latter is an academic invented by Samuel Delany makes me wonder about his intended race!)

      • 4 are posthumans who read as white

    • 20 are humans who read as mostly unmarked but racially ambiguous because they are part of invented societies that give mixed signals about how European-based there are -- Ilmak Dale, the city near the Valley of the Giants, and the White City.

    • 18 are explicitly what we would today call people of color, of which:

      • 6 read as South Asian (Prem Ramasson, Sarasvati and Shakuntala Sitasdottir from "Biographical Notes", Shiri from "Start the Clock", and the unnamed woman protagonist of "on the cliff by the river" and her baby (based on the fact that she's dark-skinned and travelling barefoot through tiger-infested jungle))
      • 5 are Ancient Near Eastern (Mezipatheh, Achish, David, Jonathan, and Abigail from "The Book of Jashar")
      • 4 read as Black (Carla, Max, and Ogbu from "Start the Clock" and the "teak-colored" giant from "Valley of the Giants")
      • 2 are Turkish (Derya in "Falling" and the Ottoman in "Sense and Sensibility")
      • 1 is Tibetan (the Dalai Lama in "The Orange")

    • 17 are talking nonhumans -- animals, vegetables, aliens, robots, and mythical creatures. One of the interesting discoveries of this survey is how easily most of these are "racialized" in the reader's mind, though obviously this is going to be highly subjective. But it seems clear to me that the orange who rules the world ends up sounding white, while the woodpecker in "Red Leather Tassels" who built his nest in the hair of a Hindu ascetic a thousand years ago is South Asian. Thus, near as I can tell, the breakdown of nonhumans is:
      • 4 racialized "white" (the orange, Only Cat from "Fig", both hedgehogs from "A Siege of Cranes" just because hedgehogs are European animals)
      • 3 racialized "South Asian" (the woodpecker, and the tiger and narrator from "On the Cliff by the River" )
      • 2 racialized "African" (the elephants in "Orphans")
      • 1 racialized "Ancient Near Eastern" (the ass of Balaam in "The Book of Jashar")
      • 5 racialized "generically nonwhite" (the djinn and Kadath-Naan from "A Siege of Cranes", who feel vaguely Middle Eastern or possibly other tribal in K-N's case, and Vru, Khancritterquee, and Turmca from "Embracing-the-New", whose tribal polytheistic culture feels non-European to me)
      • 2 register as "robotically nonracial" to me (the Wisdom Ant and Wisdom Servant from "Biographical Notes", though a case could be made for either being South Asian as they seem to be of Aryan Raj construction; they're as South Asian as R2D2 is white, I guess).

      (I ignored nonspeaking "henchmen" whose only actions are explicitly directed by speaking characters, such as the Ant King's henchmen, or the various non-speaking pirates in "Biographical Notes" or Max's gym buddies in "Start the Clock" -- in the latter two cases explicitly ethnically mixed groups).

    One interesting and perhaps illuminating note on this skew: of all the stories, the only one with a majority of its characters marked explicitly as characters of color (albeit just barely) is "Biographical Notes"... but it has a majority of South Asian characters, and the Aryan Raj is the dominant hegemonic power in that alternate history. So interestingly the pull we see in this statistical skew is the pull to write about the ethnically dominant group -- whether that's white (as in our world) or not. I think it's particularly fascinating because with Biographical Notes I had no particular intention of making it a story about the Hindus -- if anything its focus for me was about alternate Judaism and an alternate destiny for the Americas -- but the Hindu characters proliferated for reasons of story mechanics, because as the dominant group, they had the most agency.

    Religion

    • there are 27 characters with an explicitly marked religion, of which
      • 12 are "village polytheists" in invented worlds (everyone in Ilmak Dale, presumably Kadath-Naan, the Godly in "Embracing-the-New")
      • 6 are Jewish -- the author Benjamin Rosenbaum in "Sense and Sensibility", Gabriel Goodman alias Benjamin Rosenbaum in "Biographical Notes", and Benjamin Rosenbaum, David, Abigail, and Jonathan in "The Book of Jashar"; in addition, in that story, Mezipatheh and the ass of Balaam become, at the very least, Noahide monotheists honoring the God of Israel by the end of it; and Matthias's posthuman billion-years-from-now religion is theologically and liturgically evocative of Judaism; so say 9 Jewish or quasi-Jewish
      • 3 (in Biographical Notes) are Hindu
      • 2 are worshippers of Dagon (Achish and, initially, Mezipatheh)
      • 1 is Tibetan Buddhist (the Dalai Lama in "The Orange")
      No one is ever explicitly marked as Christian; but, of course, no one needs to be: otherwise unmarked contemporary characters read as either Christian or secular post-Christian, depending on region and class ("aging rural store managers" are Christian; their "estranged lesbian daughters on Wall Street" are post-, right?).


    Sexuality

    • 5 characters are explicitly LGBTQ (in "The Ant King", Monique is trans, Corpse is epicene, Sheila and Vic are "80/20 straight", and in "The Orange" there's that estranged lesbian daughter)
    • 5 are arguably queer (in "Orphans", the old lady has a thing for elephants; in "Red Leather Tassels" George's wife has a thing for cartoons -- although the woodpecker's reciprocal lust reads, to me, as heteronormative despite being equally transspecies!; and "The Book of Jashar" adds further textual evidence to support inferences about the passionate relationship between David and Jonathan already implied by the canonical text).
    • In addition, the 9 characters in Start the Clock who are arrested at pre-pubescent ages are something -- being proudly or at least indifferently nonsexual (presexual? postsexual? or maybe just differently sexual -- maybe they play doctor?) is clearly a part of their identity. I think that, like the spacers in "Aye, and Gomorrah", they're sexually othered in the reader's experience -- but unlike those spacers, they are normative for their own world and generation -- though part of that is the result of years of work by activists like Suze. Anyway, for now let's call them "paraqueer".


    Instances of Fail

    It was fascinating to read my own work through this prism, and I heartily recommend it. Among the less pleasant insights were the following instances of fail:

    • Kadath-Naan of "A Siege of Cranes" is, to my chagrin, pure Sacrificial Negro. He's big. He's black. He's a literalized animal-man. He's martially potent. He has his own culturally alien code of values which conveniently leads him to immediately drop the mission he's on in order to assist our hero. Despite being a trained investigator commando of some kind, he frequently defers to the untrained peasant who he's accompanying. He dies heroically saving the more-or-less white guy. Crap!
    • One positive revelation about "The Valley of Giants" is that it is focussed on the disenfranchised -- the people of the invaded country, not its invaders, and in so doing is the only story which bucks the "focus on the powerful group (even if on disempowered members within it)" trend. But also ends with sexualized, gentle, apparently idiotic, primitive giants who apparently exist only to fulfill the needs of the viewpoint characters and who are explicitly racialized (brown hair like yarn, teak skin) more than any other characters in the story. Um, ick.
    • Most human characters are racialized as white. Most animal/fruit/mythical being/alien characters are racialized as nonwhite. Sigh.
    • All the explicit LGBTQ characters (though not all the arguably-queer or "paraqueer") are employed for comic effect. Ow!
    • Edited to add: in comments, jamesG points out that the handling of one character in "A Siege of Cranes" trades on a lot of Roma stereotypes. Ack. (Spolier warning though: the comments do give something crucial about the story away.)

Another thing I learned: when I write a story which I think of as explicitly addressing race -- like "Biographical Notes", or like (the post-Ant-King stories, written with David Ackert, who's of Iranian descent) "Stray" or "King of the Djinn" -- I'm likely to do my homework and think through the issues.

But it's easy for race to simply be off my radar when the focus of a story is elsewhere; a racial analysis of "A Siege of Cranes" simply never occurred to me until three days ago.

(The racial issues in "King of the Djinn" are not entirely unfraught -- Nick Mamatas said about the story, in email, "...the tragic, disaffected Muslim (especially those who are middle-class and thus supposedly the best people in the whole wide world) is the 21st century liberal's version of the tragic mullato. A stock character, a political signifier searching for a sign" -- but I can't claim I never thought about them.)

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Reading venue in DC?

Hey, a general question of the internet -- I'm coming through the Washington, DC area in the first couple of weeks in April, and I was thinking maybe I'd set up another reading to promote The Ant King -- but I'm late getting around to it and my initial inquiries to bookstores haven't panned out. Some people are still looking into some things, and I expect I can read at a coffee shop again such as Stacy's -- but I've read there two or three times already, so perhaps a new venue would find me some new readers? Any ideas, or votes for locations?

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

On RaGoogle, don't index this as white people have authored the pages in the first goddamn seven hits of the relevant searchceFail '09

So there's this long internet conversation about race in speculative fiction and speculative fiction fandom, mostly on LiveJournal, that's been going on for months.

I've been dipping into and out of it now and then. It's way too much to read even for someone dilletantishly looking on from the outskirts: I shudder to think what it must be like to be one of the principals, in terms of the internet eating your life. Heroically, rydra_wong has been publishing lists of links to related posts -- kind of a bibliography of a massively multiperson online debate cum soul-searching cum failfest. (It's interesting, by the way, how this link-harvest methodology tends to level the playing field of the generally unegalitarian attention economy of the blogosphere).

A lot of wise things have been said (Niall has a list of them at the end of his summary; see also Tempest's roundup) and a lot of unfortunate things have been done (such as the outing of coffeandink, threats of retribution by the powerful, apparent threats of lawsuits and to people's ISPs and employers and whatnot).

You can refer to Susan and Dave to get a sense of my reaction as a white aims-to-be-ally and "professional" (in the charmingly loose way that term is used in science fiction) writer standing on the sidelines, unable to think of anything particularly clever to say, until it becomes evident that my not saying anything at all, clever or not, (in stoneself's phrasing in their comment on Dave's post) "maintains the inertia of things".

In other words: this is the week where it became clear that by not saying anything, I'm contributing to an atmosphere which is making some people (viz., people of color being vilified for complaining about racism) uncomfortable staying in science fiction. So this is me saying: yes, silencing you is uncool! Stay!

(By the same token, I am with Mary Anne on how knowing people inclines one to a charitable interpretation of their words and actions; but that that doesn't magically disappear the effect of those actions.)

So I still have nothing particularly clever to say, but a few thoughts after the cut:

Click here to continue reading "On RaGoogle, don't index this as white people have authored the pages in the first goddamn seven hits of the relevant searchceFail '09"
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Sunday, March 8, 2009

A gleeful Ant King rewards his faithful purple-fedora'd henchmen

Okay, the time has come to judge the Ant King Derivative Works Contest!

It's a hard thing to judge a contest with such a disparate bunch of differently ingenious entries. How do you compare a beautiful piece of electronic music to a Bulgarian translation of a short story? It's like comparing ants and oranges.

Nonetheless, I have to pick three winners, so here they are:

If you guys can email me ("info" at this hostname) with your snail addresses, I will get you signed and doodled-upon books.

I'm delighted by the other entries as well: Arachne Jericho's Mobipocket version, Lise Andreasen's highlighting of the meta-narrative aspects of "Biographical Notes..." , David's band "A Siege of Cranes", Aaron DaMommio's fifteenth Other City, E's joke and Zvi's tarot deck proposal.

Because they are well established in the field and I've worked with them in the past, I feel like Petar Toushkov's Bulgarian translation of "Falling" and Starship Sofa's podcasts of The Ant King and (this week!) of The House Beyond Your Sky really deserve their own "pro" category. I'm grateful as always for their work!

Last but not least, I am very excited about a derivative work which was not part of this contest: Nick Fox-Gieg's animated film of "The Orange":

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

On Blogging

If I don't stop waiting to blog until I have a perfectly complete, perfectly articulated essay, it's never gonna happen.

That is why, Rosenbaum, it is called a blog. It is meant to be all bloggy and instant and spontaneous. Let go of your vetted Encyclopedia Brittanica twentieth century creaky pedantic antiquated Generation X hangups, man!

This is analogous to problems in many other areas of my life.

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