Fund Drive Season

I have an office again, and soon, it’ll even have internet and I’ll be back to blogging.  But, in the mean time, it’s a very special time of year and I want to make sure you remember it.  That’s right, the annual Strange Horizons fund drive has started.  You give money to fund another year of a fantastic magazine, and in the process you get entered to win fabulous prizes and unlock bonus content.  What’s not to love?

Unlike last year, where I was scrambling to make sure I recorded the extra content faster than we were raising money, I got all the bonus podcasts done early.  Hurray!  Then again, I managed that because I was (correctly) expecting to be more or less out of commission for the entire month, so you won’t be able to check with me for our current status.  Fortunately, you can check the fund drive page for all the information you need.  Fill up the rocket, because a full rocket is a happy rocket and happy rockets are full of kittens.

Ken Liu Will Make you Cry, and I Helped

Quie a while ago something really nifty happened: I got an email from Podcastle asking whether I’d be willing to read a story they bought from Ken Liu.  I read the email while out to dinner with friends, because I’m the sort of rude jerk who does that.  

“Is something wrong?  You seem to be pondering this very seriously,” one of my dinner companions said.

“I’m trying to figure out how many exclamation points to put after the ‘OMG, hell yes,'” I replied.

I like Ken Liu stories because they’re really good at making people cry.  He’s got a knack for the well delivered emotional gut punch.  And this story of his at Podcastle?  There will be tears, people.  Many, many tears.

Because it’s hilarious.

You should go check it out, unless of course you don’t like laughter and joy.  In that case, since I’m usually against them myself, I’ll understand.

Podcast Anecdotes

A few weeks ago Scarab, the 10inch netbook I’ve been using as a desktop for two years, starting showing serious signs of imminent death.  I’ve been meaning to replace it with an actual desktop for ages and ages, but it’s been so long since I bought a desktop that I wanted to do a lot of research to make sure I made a good choice.  I’d been meaning to do that for about a year, and between being behind on everything and needing to get ahead of stuff before going to LA for WotF, I wasn’t going to get that time before Scarab was likely to give up completely.  So I did the next rational thing and went for the cheapest desktop with a decent processor I could find.  He’s named Miles and shortly after I got him, I was making huge leaps and bounds toward catching up on things.  Apparently all those minutes I was losing every time I wanted to open a PDF really add up.

Part of what was awesome about Miles is that he’s powerful enough that I can actually run programs under Wine, which means the few things I had to boot into Windows to do no longer require any such reboot.  Hurray!  So I started doing my recording for the Strange Horizons podcast under Linux, in Audacity.  And the Audacity interface is massively superior for podcasting to the software I had been using, per my roommate’s recommendation.  I should have known better – his recs are coming from music recording, so his needs are not actually all that similar to mine.

Then I recorded a bunch of podcasts, including today’s, put them up, and ran away to LA for a week.  I was ahead! It was a miracle!  I’d just have to edit the file when I got home, not find time when I could be alone in the house with no road traffic and a quiet cat to record. (This is very hard to accomplish in the spring)

Shortly after I got home from LA, the concerned emails started trickling in.  They came down to very polite, tactful variants on, “So, your sound quality just took a huge face dive. You having problems, or just stricken by sudden incompetence?”

[Insert record-scritching noises here]

I’d been smug because the files all sounded SO MUCH BETTER.  This was, apparently, because even on the same headphones, the output from Scarab was not representative of how it sounded on other things, Miles improved the sound, but it was objectively less good.  I had no idea until I took some files over to a different device, at which point anybody who’d been there to see would have had a rare opportunity to point and go, “Hey look, Anaea’s deeply embarrassed!”

Deeply, deeply embarrassed.

So did some reading.  And some re-mastering.  And then I applied what I learned to the file for today’s podcast.  It was going to sound great!

Except, no.  For the first five minutes, you can hear the roommate who came home rihgt as I started recording talking on the phone.  The next ten minutes are full of Idi yowling in the background. These were sounds from downstairs, which the mic doesn’t usually pick up very well, but they were very clear now.

I completely gave up when I could hear the neighbor’s leaf blower start.

And then re-recorded the whole thing from scratch Saturday night.

Dear whole world: I’ve learned now.  Sorry about the rough patch.  I’m going to look into what I can do to fix it.

This story has a happy ending, though.  You see, Strange Horizons got nominated for a Hugo!  This is utterly fantastically awesome news which I didn’t actually expect for reasons involving me not paying enough attention to the world. Since I had to re-record this week’s podcast anyway, I got to announce our nomination at the beginning of the podcast, which I wouldn’t have done if we’d used the file I recorded two weeks before the news came out.  Happy ending!  Hugo noms! Everything is awesome!!


Podcast: October Poetry

This month had some awesome poetry to go along with the awesome fiction.  Also, there’s a lot of poetry since Septemer had an extra Monday and that poem got rolled in with the October poetry.  More content for you!  Because we love to give you things!  Check it out.

Some of the features making this month’s poetry podcast particularly special: 3/5 poems read by the poet, mermaids (!), skulls, birds…the content is basically a long list of things I like.  It’s really neat when that happens since nobody cares what I think when it comes to picking the content.  It’s a present nobody even meant to give me, and I get it anyway.

Happy Monday, y’all.

Review: The Legend of Korra

I liked Avatar: The Last Airbender, though with reservations.  Most of their comic relief for most of the show was annoying, not funny.  The whole first season was fluffy and full of too much kiddie-show filler.  They fumbled the ending.  But they did plenty of things really well, and overall, I liked it.  So much, that I was pretty enthusiastic about getting to see the sequel.

Man, did they ever learn from the first series.  The pacing was tight and relentless.  Possibly too tight, there were a couple episodes where I felt like an extra minute or two would have given them room for the characters to believable draw the conclusions or make the decisions they wind up making instead because PLOT.  But I was willing to take it in exchange for the extremely lean, intense viewing experience.  Having the main cast of characters a few years older was a huge improvement, too.  Not only did I take their agency and emotional lives more seriously, but since they were older, I trusted the threats of danger against them more.

The lesson they seem to have learned most well, though, is villain control.  The secondary villains aren’t allowed to steal the show from Amon, and Amon is both clever and powerful enough to be convincingly threatening.  He also has a point – is anybody on the city council not a bender? And yes, the degree of worship centered around bending athletes are problematic, especially when you see the attendant bullying tied in there.  And teaching chi-blocking is illegal, flat out? What the hell?  I can see assaulting somebody via chi-blocking being illegal, but the skill set entirely? Uhm…not cool, Republic City.  Not cool at all.  Of course you have a fervent anti-bending movement on your hands.  You deserve it!

And that’s half my big complaint about the show.  It doesn’t, at any point, acknowledge that Amon has a point and concede that things do need to change. Instead, they go for and extremely ham-handed, clunky, unconvincing, “Hey, since Amon is a bender he’s not at all credible, and his entire movement turns on him even though that’s not remotely how it would go at all but the writers couldn’t be bothered to come up with a better solution.”  How many socialist and communist movements had kids of privilege at the forefront?  MOST.  It’s a fact of history that the downtrodden are often a little busy being downtrodden, and movements get enough legitimacy to get noticed when somebody with better resources/mobility/freedom gets involved.  Amon being a bender wasn’t the least bit surprising – my early theory was that he had a shard of Avatar soul or something something, and after the reveal about Tarrlock’s blood bending switched to, “Super-advanced blood bending, also, not actually permanent.”

My other big beef is with the Korra-Mako-Asami triangle.  They were doing so well, and then when Asami figures out that Mako is fond of Korra she starts doing the obnoxious, pouty, “Oh noes!  My boyfriend has feelings for another woman, therefore I must be all rejected and feel like he doesn’t actually have feelings for me even though he’s chosen to be with me.” Argh!  And then, instead of having a conversation about it, or pointing out that while she respects that he’s chosen her, not telling her about swapping spit with another person is a serious relationship-foul, she gets catty.  Because that is the only response a woman has available to her.  Or something. Bolin can do a dignified mope and get over it, but Asami, who has less reason to be upset, has to behave poorly for some reason. The reason is, I suspect, shoddy writing. With the resolution of the series was chock full of.

Look, I don’t expect a kid’s cartoon to suggest polyamory as the solution to anything.*  I don’t expect American television to do it anywhere except, perhaps, HBO, and then they’ll do it with too many tits.  But watching my peers tear themselves apart because they were interested in more than one person at a time and sincerely thought that made them bad, deceitful people was what got me thinking about the issue in the first place.  I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a kids cartoon to say “Hey, it happens.  All the feelings are real, legitimate things.  What counts is the choices you make, and whether you deal with them well.” Telling kids that what they’re going through as kids is normal and acceptable and here’s a good model for how to deal with it is the point of media targeted at children, if we must give it different goals from other media.

If I come across as extraordinarily irritated by the show, it’s because it was so, so very good, right up until it decided to stop trying, stop making interesting choices, and turn into just another kids cartoon full of bad relationship models and anti-communist propaganda.  None of the kids in the demographic the show was targeted to were even alive while there was still a Soviet Union.  Could we find a new lazy short hand for evil, please?

I still strongly recommend people who liked the first series watch it, and people who didn’t like the first series might want to check it out anyway, depending on their reasons for not liking it.  But they fumbled the ending, hard. Hopefully with the next three seasons they’ll learn how to fix that problem, too.

*And it’s not the solution to this issue, either.  Mako-Korra is a terrible romantic relationship. Korra and Bolin have much better long term potential, even if Mako is way, way sexier.

Sentient Domain: Chapter 16

This chapter is eligible for winning bonuses in the Sentient Domain Game. An index of all relevant posts can be found here.

 “Captain Dessik is on a call coordinating the other captains. She says to come on over to deliver the program and she’ll meet you then,” came the voice of the Harper’s mate.

Pavi rubbed her eyes and pulled herself up from her chair. She’d been coding almost nonstop for two days. She was looking forward to getting underway to slip through the blockade. While everybody else dealt with the actual piloting and fighting, she was going to be asleep. But they couldn’t do that until Pavi had all of their computers synced with the same code and she didn’t trust Linda to transmit it faithfully.

The hack she’d put together was particularly clever, even if she was the only one around to appreciate it. The computer on the Harper’s Cry was a pseudo-extension of Mike. It wasn’t quite awake because Dessie didn’t want an undomesticated AI running her ship and Pavi couldn’t bear to domesticate even a fission branch of Mike. Pavi had spent six months nursing the hardware on the Harper’s Cry into its state of semi-sentience, then frozen it there, dreaming just below the threshold for consciousness The only code she’d borrowed came from Mike, there was nothing of the Aydan-machine in it. It helped that most computers, including the one on the Harper’s Cry, had everything they needed for sentience except awareness of it. Continue reading “Sentient Domain: Chapter 16”

Sentient Domain: Chapter 15

This chapter is eligible for winning bonuses in the Sentient Domain Game. An index of all relevant posts can be found here.

“Welcome back, boss,” Linda said when Rita reached the top of the canyon.

“Thanks,” Rita said.

Pavi and Donegal’s shuttle waited just twenty meters from the edge of the canyon.

“Didn’t you have to stop at the tarmac?” Rita asked.

Pavi shrugged. “Didn’t have time to hike and figured if we lost the shuttle you’d give us a ride back.”

“Sure, as long as that means you’re giving us a ride to our shuttle now,” Rita said.

“Leave it. The Whimper can’t take an extra shuttle anyway,” Pavi said.

“As you wish, Admiral,” Rita said. Continue reading “Sentient Domain: Chapter 15”