Divvying Up

So, I have this idea. It’s probably a bad one. And it’s entirely possible that its outcome would be one I find undesirable in the extreme. But I keep going back to it and wondering what if….

What if the Republicans nominate Cruz, and Trump sulks off in a huff to run as an independent candidate? And then, what if the Democrats nominate Clinton, and Sanders also does a flounce? It seems to me that this could very well deal the death blow to the two-party system that has had a stranglehold on our elections for…I don’t know…ever? But then I start to wonder if that would actually signal the imminent death of the United States of America.

I should point out here that this is not intended as a political post. I am not a political expert, and while I am not afraid to tell you that I identify as a Berniecrat (and am pretty much done with the DNC), I have no interest in discussing politics per se, not even my own, not even with people who agree with me. So any comments to that effect will be summarily deleted.

No, this topic interests me as a writer (and reader) of alternate history. I’m constantly mucking about with the 19th century, trying to figure out things like what 1858 would be like if I were to go back and tromp on the butterfly that is the Missouri Compromise. So now I’m playing future historian, and I’ve decided that the USA might be more interesting as a squashed bug circa 2016. “Interesting” in the Chinese-curse sense of the word. I sure as hell don’t want to live in this reality I’m summoning.

But no, really, what would we get in November if we had four candidates of similar robustness on the ballot? With only three such candidates, the side with the split voting base would lose by a landslide to the party that remained unified. (That’s why I think the DNC is not properly appreciative of Bernie’s decision to run as a Dem.) But with two strong candidates on each side, I think the American voters might finally run the risk of voting their hearts. Sure, their party might be split as a result, but so’s the other one. And those who don’t like any of the Big Four will be less apprehensive about voting for their long-shot candidates. I’ve often voted against a candidate instead of for one, but when you’re trying to vote against two or more candidates by choosing the least evil of four, it seems far more like throwing away a vote than just voting for the candidate you really want.

So now the question is what happens when Americans vote honestly? The Republicans and Democrats will both lose more supporters than usual to those long-shot and fringe candidates, whose respective parties may then actually find themselves being taken seriously on a decent scale. And those of us who feel strongly about Trump or Sanders will be delighted that our independent votes could make a real difference for the first time in pretty much ever. ::pausing briefly to consider and dismiss Ross Perot:: This election cycle has also shown that pollsters are essentially clueless, so what we would have in November is one hell of a crap-shoot.

Clinton would probably be our nation’s most stable option. Though that really isn’t saying much. She’d be all about maintaining the status quo, but say it with me, kids, “The status is not quo!” She might slow our descent into the freakshow of history, but not by a whole lot. I (obviously) like Sanders, but I’m not sure how much actual success I would expect him to have, at least in the crucial first stages. I mean, he already has both parties cock-blocking him.

Trump bothers me — don’t get me wrong, he bothers me a lot — but he strikes me as being far too lazy to actually do any of the stupid bullshit he shouts about. (Speaking of which, does any of these candidates have an inside voice??) I think Trump would spend a few weeks being all smug that he won, then he’d figure some way to wriggle out of the whole deal. So now I have to figure out who his running mate is if I want to predict the future. Damn, ain’t nobody got time for that. And Cruz? Well, if you’ve read The Handmaid’s Tale, you have a pretty good idea what he’s shooting for.

So my point, ultimately, is this: What if Lincoln was wrong? As a nation, we’ve been teetering on this divisive edge for well over a century, much like a couple who stay in a shitty marriage “for the kids’ sake.” Well, our spoiled brats (the DNC and the GOP) are now snotty teenagers with their very own hellspawn, so maybe the Union has outlived its dubious usefulness and it’s time to call it quits. But yeah, this is going to be one insanely messy divorce.

Fortunately, dismantling and reassembling history is my idea of fun. I’ve never tried it with future history, but this could be entertaining. Want to comment? Tell me how you think the Americans of this particular 2017 will carve up the nation, its assets, and its liabilities.

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Review: Paper Valentine

Paper Valentine
Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book #14 for 2016
PopSugar Reading Challenge Category: A book that takes place during Summer

A big thank-you to Victoria Schwab for introducing me to Brenna Yovanoff when they did an event together at the local library. (Emily Hainsworth was also there, and I look forward to reading some of her books as well.) I don’t tend to seek out YA on my own, so I might otherwise never have heard of her. I enjoyed hearing her describe her writing process (“unhinged” — her word, not mine, I swear) and I’ve enjoyed her voice throughout this novel. I’d be very surprised if Yovanoff is not a Pretty Little Liars viewer, as some of the elements were reminiscent of the show, but she clearly has her own style and her own take on teen life.

I do wish something more had been done with the dying birds. It felt like there was an entire subplot there that got yanked out at the last minute. And parts of the resolution of the serial killer mystery (no, I won’t spoil it by saying what) seemed unrealistic, or at least oddly paced. But Yovanoff did a great job with the Hannah/Lillian relationship, the development of Finny’s role, Hannah’s personal growth, and the character of Hannah’s sister Ariel. Seriously, I want Ariel to get her own book.

I can see how some readers would not like how the story dealt with a lot of different issues. I liked the broad view of Hannah’s various troubles, though, and I thought Yovanoff captured the feel of teen stress very well. I would recommend this to any teen who likes mysteries, and I certainly plan to read more of Yovanoff’s work.

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I Am the 1 Percent

On Goodreads, anyway.

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If you say so.

I’m still not entirely sure how they calculated this, though, and chances are they will never reveal their algorithm. They’re Amazon, remember? And I still remember how Amazon’s recommendations algorithm used to think, based solely on my age and gender, that I was a rabid fan of all things Barney the Purple Dinosaur. It’s a bit ironic that I called them out on this in one of my most-liked reviews. With a whopping four likes, it’s tied with my review of Garfield Minus Garfield.

But I won’t pretend that I’m not pleased with this bit of recognition for something that has become an important part of my literary life, so thank you for that, Otis & Elizabeth. I’ve long kept a private reading journal, and I enjoy having this platform where I can share (some of) my (hopefully properly filtered) thoughts with and connect with other book people.

And they have stats!! I love stats. They are so much fun to play with. (One of my favorite grad-school reading assignments was a book called How to Lie with Statistics.) I’m sure I knew before today that there were various personal Goodreads stats available to me, but this is the first time I clicked the little link at the top of my “My Books” page and looked around. Interesting stuff. And it’s given me some ideas for adjusting how I enter and maintain my data there in order to make the stats cleaner and more useful to me.

I’m also a little more committed now to clicking the like button without overthinking it. My brain is a huge fan of overthinking, so this will take some effort, but it will be worth it. I think.

Drinking Tea Ironically

Recently I attended AnomalyCon in Denver. I think it’s one of the best sf/f cons out there, but for a raging introvert with crippling social anxiety, it’s still exhausting. As part of my recovery process, Monday morning I fixed myself a cup of tea. I selected one of my all-time Dryad favorites, ShadowCat. IMG_20160328_114948 Besides being a tea blend, ShadowCat is a member of the fabulous faeriepunk band Pandora Celtica

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At AnomalyCon 2016, we bade a fond farewell to Pandora Celtica at their final show. Though we can always hope for reunion gigs. And I totally want to copy Rubiee’s hair-color scheme.

and is also talented artist Chaz Kemp. Tuesday morning I selected Rubiee for my tea blend, but she does not pack the same ironic punch.

I should explain what I mean by that. One of the writing panels I chose to attend was titled “But Where Did This Chocolate Come From?” It was mainly about dealing with artifacts that wouldn’t normally exist in the world you’ve created for your characters. Like, say, chocolate in, say, a galaxy far, far away (not to mention long, long ago). But the topic wandered a bit (which is normal), and there was significant discussion of cultural appropriation and why it’s offensive. And since chocolate was already on the menu, talk soon turned to the inappropriate use of food words to describe the features and skin tones of people of color.

Fortunately for me, I don’t think I’ve made this particular mistake. I wish I could say it is because I am a paragon of cultural awareness, but no, it’s just that I’d always thought it was lazy writing. And it is lazy writing. I mean, if you describe a white person’s skin as being “peaches and cream” or “milky smooth,” you’ll come across as a hack who depends on clichés. (And just for the record, I sincerely doubt anybody wants their complexion described as “tofu.”) So why should “chocolate,” “café au lait,” and “caramel” be any better? But it turns out, it is so much more than that.

First of all, it’s dismissive, reductive language. It tries to describe a human being in terms of a consumable or a commodity. I think this was completely lost on a few of the audience members, one of whom staunchly defended “café au lait” as the only way to describe a certain shade of brown skin. I honestly think she felt it was better because it was in French. But it’s so not. Considering that France was a pretty big player in the colonial slave trade — which was fueled by these very commodities — the language choice just makes it that much worse.

One of the panelists, Delilah S. Dawson, also pointed out that this connection to slavery (which, I might add, is not a concept that has been completely relegated to the past) adds a layer of ick to using “almond-shaped” to describe Asian eyes. This is something I’ll admit I’d never even thought about before, so I’ll need to pay extra attention to that. Bearing this in mind, I will also pay attention to the use of wood colors (mahogany, ebony, and so forth), which is something we did not get around to discussing there. Sure, Stevie Wonder sings “Ebony and Ivory,” but that’s Stevie Wonder. He’s allowed. I’m not. And while the use of “ivory” there makes me squirm a little bit as my brain shoves mental images of mangled elephants in my face — and reminds me that my own piano does indeed have ivory keys — I understand that he is going for a specific contrast rooted in the properties of an actual physical object. Poetic license granted, Mr. Wonder.

But this also brings us back around to fetishization, this focus on a single physical aspect of somebody who should be a living, breathing character, not just some token non-white filler to tick off the diversity box on the ol’ character creation to-do list. “Oh, but I’m complimenting the character by giving him or her a desirable trait,” you might say. “Chocolate is sensuous. Coffee is stimulating. Mahogany is expensive.” But you are still talking about a person’s skin color. That’s it. Melanin content, pure and simple. It makes one wonder what happened to the days when a man sized up a woman’s intellect by staring at her boobs.

I feel I would be remiss if I did not go back to that one woman’s defense of “café au lait.” Remember how she insisted on the importance of describing that exact shade of brown? Yeah, I have a problem with that. Two problems, actually.

1. There is nothing precise about the color of café au lait. What color was the coffee before adding milk? How much milk was added? Me, I like a splash of coffee in my mug of milk. My café au lait likely differs radically from your café au lait. Other food words suffer from similar problems.

2. Why on earth do you need to describe anybody’s skin tone so precisely? Chances are that you don’t. In that case, the solution is simple: don’t do that. And if you really do need to get across the importance of a character’s skin color? Well, think long and hard about that why. That should suggest to you much more creative and germane ways to make your point. Instead of telling readers my skin is the color of birch bark or a raw chicken breast, perhaps you could explain my motivation for staying out of the sun and describe in graphic detail the horrific burns I sustained that one time, at band camp.

And if you don’t want to pause for a bit of mindfulness (NB: “mindful” and “politically correct” are not synonyms) before you proceed with your offensive descriptions, well, it’s certainly not my job to force you to do so. But Ms. Dawson summed a lot of this up well in a Twitter rant, and I encourage you to read it. TL;DR: “Write better shit.”

So, does this mean I’m going to stop drinking ShadowCat? No, but I’ll explain why. I am confident that Rubiee consulted her bandmate about his feelings as to being described as a black tea, chocolate, and raspberry beverage. And I am equally confident that Mr. Kemp was at least somewhat pleased at the thought of his drum kitty faerie persona being immortalized in this complex and flavorful blend that brings pleasure to his fans.

Review: The Under Dog and Other Stories

The Under Dog and Other Stories
The Under Dog and Other Stories by Agatha Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book #13 for 2016
PopSugar Challenge Categories:
– A book set in Europe
– A book that takes place on an island

This is an all-Poirot collection of short stories, and of course, they are not arranged in publication order. I know for certain that the titular story had the latest publication of this bunch, and it features Poirot’s valet George (a Jeeves sort of character) instead of Hastings as his assistant. (Personally, I prefer George to Hastings.) I liked this locked-room puzzle, and I found it interesting that Christie used hypnosis as a plot device and snuck in some discussion of the subconscious and “feminine intuition.”

“The Affair at the Victory Ball” seems to be the first Poirot story after The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Here we see the beginnings of Christie’s fascination with the Commedia dell’ Arte, which I should probably read, considering how much I like her Mr Quin stories. Not knowing much about Harlequin and Columbine and company, I’m sure I missed a lot, but I still was able to pick up on some of the clues.

After this, the publication order seems to be roughly this:
“The King of Clubs” – I found this one generally confusing. Possibly because I know nothing about the game of bridge, and possibly because of some intentional ambiguity on Christie’s part. Didn’t I just read another story set at a villa named Mon Désir? I will have to look back through them and see if I can locate it.
“The Plymouth Express” – Possibly her first train-based story. Christie employs some good misdirection here.
“The Market Basing Mystery” – Another good example of misdirection, with some additional twistiness.
“The Submarine Plans” – Overly convoluted and muddled, I think.
“The Adventure of the Clapham Cook” – Lots of great twists in this one. Quite possibly my favorite of the lot.
“The Cornish Mystery” – A bit of a sad tale, but with a neat trick at the end.
“The Lemesurier Inheritance” – This is another story that makes me wish I had a better grasp of English estate law. But at least I was able to suss out what direction Poirot’s mind was going with the “curse.”

The quality was a little uneven in spots, but overall pretty solid. I would definitely recommend reading “The Affair at the Victory Ball” first and “The Under Dog” last, but I don’t think it much matters what order the others are read in.

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