A Long Fuse to a Slow Detonation up at the Overcast

explosion-123690_1280It’s spring, the season where plants fornicate with everything and in revenge we cut off their sex organs as tribute to the dinner table needing sprucing up a bit.  You should honor the season with checking the Overcast’s production of A Long Fuse to a Slow Detonation, a happy story about dead people and blowing up space ships.

I did too just use the word “happy” correctly.  This story is as happy as spring and sunshine are great.

Last year the Overcast did a great production of Turning the Whisper, so if you remember that, you have some idea of what to look forward to.  And if you want to read along, you can see the text for Fuse where it was originally published in Waylines.

May you derive comfort and entertainment in this time of pollen.

Hear Ye, Hear Ye, Two Hour Transport

laser-gun-155598_1280When I moved to Seattle I set to work right away on ensuring that I met one of my most important priorities: finding all the good tea shops.  And Seattle is rich in options for public consumption of tea.  But after a few months I noticed a certain trend amongst my fellow patrons.  It’s something that has taken on the weight of quintessential-Seattle for me.  So much so that I chose to immortalize it in fiction.

The resulting story such a perfect encapsulation of my deep and nuanced feelings about the culture of my current stomping grounds that I’m going to overthrow my normal custom for public readings.  Next week at Two Hour Transport (happening at Cafe Racer, a noble Seattle institution if ever there was one) I shall treat the audience to a dramatic reading of “For the Last Time, It’s not a Ray Gun.”  Normally I’d let the audience choose what to hear, but in this case I didn’t want to give them the chance to make a bad choice.  There’s a joke about Portland in it.  You should come.

Event details, including the bio for my fellow invited reader, here.

Civic Temple: Alpha Release

After several drafts wherein I try to explain my reasons for doing this and then decide that typing variations of “Fuck everything,” over and over again isn’t an introduction, I’m going to keep this short and sweet.

Has your inclination to call or write your various government representatives taken an uptick of late?  As in, a major uptick?  Do you want it to, but find yourself intimidated by not knowing what to say or how to say it?  Here’s a thing that might help.

Currently, it’s a spreadsheet with a bit of setup you need to do initially, and a tiny bit you need to do for each specific issue.  However, once you’ve got that going, you’ll have phone, letter, and email scripts for your various officials – no need to look up scripts a hundred different places online.  Better, they’ll be scripts that are personalized to you out of the box, so you don’t have to put too much thought into rewriting the generic scripts circulating.

This is just the slimmest fraction of what I want to do with this project (thus the Alpha designation) but it’s a start.  Long term, I’m hoping have the beautiful, unholy hybrid of something like the Submissions Grinder or Duotrope and Habitica.  Want to help?  Let me know.  I can do this all by myself, but it’ll be a looooooong time before it’s actually done.

Strange Horizons Resistance Special Issue

All week this week, Strange Horizons has been releasing a ton of content for the Resistance special issue.  This includes six fiction stories which, I think, is the highest density of published fiction the magazine has ever undertaken.  The issue is gorgeous and important and we podcast every word of that fiction.  Today is a double-header picked out with today very much in mind.  Need to feel better?  Just knowing we were going to put these stories up has been a warm cuddly blanket of angry glee for me.  I hope it does the same for you, too.

Here’s the whole issue.  I hope it helps.

Monsters

raphaelstmichaelIt’s okay to love a monster.  Love them with open eyes.  Love them with a wish for what they could be instead.  Don’t hope they’ll change; they won’t.  Tell them you expect them to.  Tell them you expect it because you love them.  Love is a leash we tie to the people we care about.  Remember that.  You love them. That comes with boundaries.

It’s okay to treasure your monsters.  They stand as a warning, a lesson you can learn through observation instead of practice.  Turn their claws and teeth and spines away from you, and watch them.  Pay attention.  Lessons from monsters aren’t specific. Find the patterns.  Study the systems.  Guard yourself against walking a different, parallel path. Remember, when you can, to be grateful for what you took from their example.

Remember, always, that love can go both ways.

It’s okay to accept a monster.  Embrace their strengths, their goodness.  Show them where they are strong and good.  If you can, cut them free of their patterns.  If you can’t, let it be.  Not all monsters are your monsters. Save your strength for the others. Accept the strength you get from yours.  Learn from your monster how to understand other monsters.  Remember that their wisdom may be false, but it could be a paving stone on the road to yours.

It’s okay to break bread with your monsters.  It’s okay to take the shelter they offer.  It’s okay to bleed when they do.  It’s okay to mourn them.  It’s okay to wish your leash had been stronger, or that you hadn’t needed it.  It’s okay to need them, to accept their love, to hold tight to who they might have been, if they hadn’t been a monster.

It’s okay.

But it’s not required.

Love is a leash we tie to the people we care about. You can let go of the leash and walk away.  Do, if you like.  If you must.  If you are leashed in turn, walk faster.  Pull the monster by the tether they’ve given you.

Remember that the world is kind to monsters. Remember that the world is cruel to them, too.  Remember that there are others who fight monsters and someday, they might come for yours.  Step aside, when the time comes.  You don’t have to watch.  You don’t have to help.  Step aside.  On the subject of your monsters, that will be enough.

Love your monsters.  Slay the rest.

Have fun with your family this weekend.

So you’re thinking about self defense classes…

mako-mori(I have a lot of friends contemplating this. The following is targeted to them, not the world as a whole.)

Cool.  Go for it.  Now, let me deliver some advice about the best way to do it.

First of all, decide whether you want a one-and-done kind of thing, or something you’ll be committing to for the intermediate-long term.  If you’re looking for a one-and-done, skip the weekend seminars and rape-defense training.  Instead, get a shooting lessons package and go to a gun range.  Here’s why:

All you’re actually going to accomplish with a short seminar is feeling better.  I’m not saying that to be snide.  Feeling better is important.  Feeling better is what might keep you from shaking yourself apart while you deal with other things.  Do what it takes to feel better.

But do it in a way that’s going to be helpful, rather than harmful.  You’ll get no lasting effective skill from a weekend, whatever you do.  But a lot of the traditional self-defense weekend style trainings, or one-off classes are either:

A) advertisement for a school where you can take more classes
B) Designed to make you feel like an imminent victim, often of implausible or low-probability threats or
C) Going to give you false confidence.

They could do multiple of those.  A is actually a great use of these kinds of seminars (go to lots if you’re shopping for a longer-term commitment), but B and C are dangerous.  C could get you killed.  Not recommended.

A weekend at the gun range, however, means you’re going to have actually handled a gun.  Guns aren’t nearly as scary as a lot of you think they are.  The biggest intrinsic problem with casual gun placement is that they lower the threshold for deadly force to one a toddler can cross.  You are more effective than a toddler.  I promise.  Play with some guns.  Get a feel for their weight, recoil, how they smell.  Take them out of the realm of only-in-movies and only-in-disaster and into the realm of yeah-I’ve-done-that.  You’re unlikely to walk away from a weekend at the range thinking you’re Rambo.  You are pretty likely to be less prone to a freezing panic if you face one later.

And the freezing panic is the thing you actually need to deal with.  It doesn’t matter how black your belt is, or how many heavy-weight titles whatever you have, reflexes are contextual.  If something happens to you, and you fall into “I’m being assaulted,” mode instead of, “I’m a badass,” mode, it doesn’t matter whether or not you’re a badass.  And realistically, you won’t know which mode you’re going to fall into until it happens.  It might not happen the same way every time.  Humans are complex, brains are weird, and it’s probably your muscle memory and extended nervous system that’ll be making all the decisions anyway.  You can tilt your probable response away from panic and toward badass reflexes, but it’s not a guarantee.  The more you practice, the longer you spend reinforcing habits, the more you shift the needle.

Which leads me to my advice for anybody looking at an intermediate to long-term commitment: It doesn’t matter which martial art you do, which school you go to, or what your instructor looks like.  Go somewhere you feel safe, comfortable, invested, and welcome.  Take kickboxing, if you must.  (I did just say that.  And you know what I think of kickboxing.)  It doesn’t matter.  Because if you’re in a fight where your skills at physical confrontation matter, you’ve already lost three layers deep.  Practical skill is handy for the narrow range of circumstances where you took the wrong fork several times.  What you actually need is the ability to keep your head, and then deescalate the situation or get the hell elsewhere.  Actually being able to kick somebody’s ass is incidental to the vast majority of confrontations.  Learning practical fighting skills is only worthwhile for sport, for ego, or if you’re going to be picking a fight (as police, military, armed resistance, or street thuggery, etc.).  Are you planning to engage in the latter?  Then talk to me somewhere the NSA won’t overhear, or find a school teaching Krav Maga.

Look at who the school’s instructors are.  Do you like them?  Good.  Not? Bad.  Doesn’t matter why.  Doesn’t matter if it’s a *real* reason or just a *feeling.*  This can be extra important for people who aren’t het-cis-males.  It’s really common, especially for women, to have to push back against a tendency to corral you into anti-rape training instead of general purpose kick-assery.  Usually the people doing the corralling are well-intentioned.  They’re still assholes.  Don’t put up with it.  Or better yet, don’t sign up somewhere it’s going to happen.  Absence of women among the students is, for you, probably a bad sign.  If all the women are the significant others of high ranking students and instructors, also a bad sign.  (You’ll note, I tend to hang out in places with exactly those problems.  My motives are not yours.  Don’t follow my examples for yourself.)

I’m skeptical of anywhere that will start you on serious knife training out the door.  This is prone to the false-confidence-fail mentioned earlier.  Just about anything you do, (excluding sword/fencing, archery, or similar) should start by focusing on how to throw a good punch.  There’s a lot you can do wrong in throwing a punch.  Getting that right will give you a foundation for everything else you need to learn.  If they gloss over this, and it’s not because you’re already good at punching, be skeptical.

If all of the students are injured, that’s a warning sign.  Depending on what they’re teaching, baseline level of injury shifts around.  You probably aren’t interested in something where the baseline is more than 0.

And my final piece of advice: Stick weapons are fun.  Like, super fun.  Also, if you’re uncoordinated, or lacking in the kinesthesia and proprioception departments (Hi!), they’re really good at giving you unambiguous feedback about what you’ve done wrong.  Most people start stick weapons with foam covered practice weapons or very light rattan or bamboo ones.  (I know I’ve led you wrong with my collection. Your motives still aren’t mine.)  Go for the fun things.  As with any physical activity, it’s probably going to hurt one way or another.  Make it earn that.  Make it something that makes you feel better.

CC: Damage

http://www.tor.com/2015/01/21/damage-david-levine/

Artwork by VIctor Mosquera

September is an awful lot like June, especially when the entire summer vanished in a poof of work.  Which has been frustrating, because I’ve been wanting to write up the Craft Crucible piece on this story for ages.

You don’t have to look far to find people praising David Levine’s Damage for being an excellent story, and that’s not surprising.  And you don’t have to read very many CCs to know that this story plays off some of my favorite tropes in SF; space battles, AI’s with feelings, revenge, and a bittersweet ending.  And while having all those things are enough to win me over to a story, what I find uniquely appealing about this story is how it uses deception and misleading omission throughout.

The first comes early on while Scraps is explaining just who exactly she is.

But his loss, though a tragedy, was no sadder to me than any of the thousands of other deaths Earth had inflicted on the Free Belt—Valkyrie’s love for her pilot was not one of the things that had survived her death to be incorporated into my programming. Only Commander Ziegler mattered. My love, my light, my reason to live.

Where it’s placed, at the beginning of the story, this seems perfectly credible.  The unfolding of the story puts the lie to this, however.  It’s clear that not only is the trauma and loss sustained by the ships that went into making Scraps very present and real, but Commander Ziegler is not the sole motivating force for Scraps, either.  If he were, the innocent lives on Earth wouldn’t have been a concern; only Commander Ziegler’s well being would.  Instead, it was such a concern that she steered her pilot to his death in order to save Earth.  The ending of the story would have read very differently if it were true that, “Only Commander Ziegler mattered.”  The conflict would have entirely been about whether giving Ziegler the fight and challenge he longed for and his validation as the greatest pilot in the solar system mattered more than supporting his fulfillment of his mission and immortalizing his reputation as the hero of the belt.

There a couple of levels on which this lie works.  First, it’s something Scraps is telling herself because that is a core element of being a functional ship.  Love from Commander Ziegler, like victory for the belt, is unobtainable.  Which means pursuing it, striving to perform well enough to gain his notice and affection, is a safe goal to have as a distraction from her baseline terror and misery; she’s never going to achieve it and need something else as a distraction.  At the craft level, it makes Scraps instantly likable and relatable to the reader; she’s a ship bound to unrequited love, not just because a human can’t love her back, but because the human she loves is an asshole.  And finally, it masks the real bond that is the through line of the story: Scraps and Specialist Toman.  (Note: we hear about Toman well before Ziegler is mentioned, the protagonist does have a name despite her assertions otherwise, because Toman gave her a serial number and dubbed her “Scraps.”)  Toman isn’t just the human who appreciates and respects Scraps in the way Ziegler doesn’t, she’s the actual pillar Scraps leans on to make it through.

There are a lot of fibs and minor lies in Scraps’s interaction with Ziegler, but the next big doozy of a lie by omission comes from Specialist Toman, when she deliberately lets Scraps overhear the conversation about how the war is going.

“I don’t care what General Geary says about ‘murderous mud-people,’” Toman shot back. “Earth Force is still following the Geneva Conventions, even if we aren’t, and given their advantage in numbers I’m sure they’ll offer us terms before they bring the hammer down.”

This revelation is huge.  Up to this point we knew Ziegler was an asshole, but this is the first we find out that Scraps is fighting for the bad guys.  We’ve got racist epithets directed at Earth-dwellers, a reveal that the Belters aren’t following the Geneva convention while Earth forces are, and that Earth isn’t in this for total destruction.  Scraps may or may not have known all of this already, but the reader sure didn’t.  More, there’s no way Scraps would have said something to the reader to indicate this.  Toman’s subterfuge with the communication line is, at a minimum, necessary as a way for Levine to tell the reader whose side we’re on (and consequently, to foreshadow the suicide mission at the end of the story).

But the technical issues of needing to deliver this exposition to the reader aside, this is a staggeringly important line in the story, because it’s Toman telling Scraps, without actually telling Scraps anything, that she can honor her commitments without going all the way to the bitter end.  Scraps doesn’t explicitly reflect on this moment in her recounting of later events, but it absolutely has to have informed the decision she makes.  Toman can’t tell Scraps any of this directly because Scraps would have to argue with her, and it’d also probably be treason, but having an allegedly private conversation with somebody else while ensuring Scraps can hear it is a-okay.  This isn’t just Toman telling Scraps that there’s an alternative to death, it’s Toman saying, “Hey, I care about you.”

Toman gets another piece of subtle commentary in right before Scraps and Ziegler leave for their final mission.

“Make me proud, Scraps.”

Not, “Take care of yourself,” or “Go get ’em,” or “May the Force be with you.”  Instead it’s, “Make me proud.”  Toman almost certainly knows, or has deduced, the nature of the mission.  And knows that Scraps doesn’t.  And again, there’s the need to thread the needle of what she can safely say out loud, and what she can say to Scraps that won’t require Scraps to argue.  And like her warning during the not-actually-private conversation earlier, this isn’t something Scraps thinks of explicitly while deciding whether to redirect Ziegler’s attention.  It is, however, an invocation of the bond between Scraps and Toman, a reinforcement of priorities and options that exist outside devotion to Ziegler, and the directive Scraps ultimately follows.  Toman omits all warnings or pleas for a particular choice, and thereby optimizes circumstances such that Scraps makes the right choice.

Of course, Scraps’s lie of omission in directing Ziegler is pivotal, and another data point that argues that these lies and omissions throughout the story are a deliberate craft element, but what I find more interesting on this theme is a line that comes much later.

Specialist Toman came to visit me there once, with her children. She told me how proud she was of me.

That!  Right there!  It could just be a nice tying up a loose thread for the only other character of significance in the story, but it’s not. That, right there, is David Levine shouting from the rooftops that the obsession with Ziegler is a smokescreen, and the real relationship in this story is Scraps/Toman.  It’s a lie Scraps believes, because she has to and otherwise she wouldn’t be safe (remember, they could examine her memories to confirm she was telling the truth)  but she also knows what the truth is.  This entire story is a lie of omission, a cover story crafted by a wily ship to distract you from the fact that she defied orders and murdered her pilot.  She’s teaching others about how she did it.  She says scientists and historians, but I’m betting she’s talking to other artificial intelligences, too.  The real story here isn’t what’s on the page at all, but the one implied by this line at the end where Scraps is actively playing the good-little-fighter-craft propaganda machine to let everybody, especially other AI’s know, that they can circumvent their programming.  The sequel to Damage is going to be the AI uprising, with general Scraps at the fore.

To which I say, well played, Scraps/Toman/Levine.  Well played.

Nest time: Angel, Monster, Man, Sam J. Miller (Lightspeed)