Film and theatre

In the last ten days or so I’ve had a birthday, seen Hamilton, seen The Last Jedi for a second time, and got another couple of episodes of Black Sails in. All of these things are excellent and I heartily recommend them. (More Hamilton London tickets going on sale at the start of next week!)

(TLJ spoilers upcoming.)

The Last Jedi was, I think, better the second time around, because I was less anxious about Were They Going To Fuck This Up and could get on with enjoying it. And with spotting the bits and pieces I missed last time. Like the books in the drawer in the Falcon at the end; and, close to the start, Luke saying irritably to Rey, “What, did you think I was going to march out with a laser sword and face down the First Order single-handed?”. The final scene with Luke and Kylo Ren — and the cut at the end to Rey, the real Last Jedi — was even more epic second time around. I still think it was a smidge too long, but I enjoyed all of it regardless.

And now I’m about to have a virtual film night watch of Rock of Ages. I feel in need of popcorn 🙂

Plotting and planning

The thing I find hardest about writing is plot (or possibly structure, or possibly both); so this year my main aim is to get better at constructing a story which hangs together well, especially at novel length.

Historically I’ve tended to just get on and write, and then fix everything in editing; but that means that editing can wind up looking like a full rewrite, by the time I’ve corrected the structural issues that result (for me) from writing that way, and fixed up all the gaping plot holes. I do really love the thing that happens when I’m getting words down onto the screen at speed and letting my brain carry me away; but I’m also fed up with a first draft that looks quite so unformed.

So I’ve been reading a lot about plot and story structure (best book so far: John Yorke’s Into The Woods, though ‘best’ here may just mean ‘fits best with my brain’, and trying to use all of it to write an outline for my next project, which involves London and dragons and too many secrets. After an initial flaily period it’s starting to come together, and I’m looking forward to getting cracking on the writing. But I’m determined to sort out the holes I can still see first, this time, rather than putting them out of mind and ‘just writing’. So it might be another few days yet.

Tackling the TBR pile

This morning I went through my Kindle and discovered, somewhat to my horror, that I have no fewer than 78 books on there that I haven’t yet read (including the handful that I’ve started but not finished). Plus 13 hard-copy books piled up by the bed; 16 on the shelf downstairs; and 10-20 short-story magazines also on the Kindle. (We will leave aside the matter of the hundred-odd samples on the Kindle which act as a sort of ‘perhaps I would like to read this’ list.)

So. New plan for 2018 reading: get through all of those (or officially DNF them) before I buy anything else new (with exceptions for new releases of series I’m already following). Having just tidied up my Goodreads records from last year, that comes out at 175 books (which still misses a few from the library and an awful lot of fic). So 107 books plus magazines should keep me going til the summer. So far I’ve read 10 books in 2018, but several of those were novellas or shorter; also quite a few of the TBR pile have stayed as TBR for a while because I anticipate them being slightly harder going.

Recommended so far from 2018 reading: the Belladonna University novellas by Tansy Rayner Roberts (Fake Geek Girl, Unmagical Boy Story, and The Bromancers, all fluffy Australian magic college stories with a big dollop of geek-culture), and Dreadnought by April Daniels (trans superhero YA).

Generation Ships & morality

I went to a panel at Worldcon on the morality of generation ships, and have been thinking about it since.

(I’m also going to take this opportunity to recommend this Jo Walton story set on a generation ship, which is great and has something to say about choice and decisions.)

So, the question under discussion at the panel was: is it morally acceptable to board a generation ship (i.e. a ship that people will live on for multiple generations on their way to another planet), given that you are not just making a decision for yourself, but for your future children, grandchildren, etc etc. The two main categories of moral problem that the panel identified were:

  • the risk of the voyage itself;
  • the lack of choice for every generation after the one that gets on the ship in the first place.

The ‘risk’ issue seems reasonably strong. It’s very unlikely that anyone would have a really clear idea of what the planet was like that they were going to. If you’re using a generation ship at all, then you probably don’t have any other form of fast travel, so any information that exists about the planet will be scanty, very out of date, or most likely both. (See Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora, which is also great.) So it’s not at all a reliable bet that your descendants will truly be able to settle where they’re headed to, even if it looks good from here.

There are also the risks of the voyage itself, including but not limited to radiation issues, the possibility of running into something else, and the likelihood that the ship will genuinely be able to maintain a workable ecological system. We don’t have good on-Earth comparisons for small closed systems; what experiments have been conducted have been very short-term and not terribly promising. What about the social dynamics? What are the risks of, say, a totalitarian system arising? If the risks on Earth are very high, or humans on Earth are facing imminent disaster, then this might be an acceptable trade-off, but how high is ‘very high’ and how disastrous does a disaster have to be? Does it need to be Earth-wide? If your current home is, for example, sinking under rising waters, and you know that any alternative will mean becoming a refugee in poor circumstances — how much risk is ‘reasonable’ to accept then?

Which brings us on to the issue of ‘choice’. One could argue that a kid living in a refugee camp without enough food or warm clothes has, notionally, some future ‘choice’ or ‘opportunity’ to escape that. A child on a generation ship is stuck there.

But why is “can’t leave generation ship” morally different from “can’t leave Earth”? Which is of course a situation into which all children are currently born and which we do not consider morally problematic. And how realistic is the ‘choice’ that the average Earth-born child has? This was where I thought that the Worldcon panel fell down a bit. They threw the word “choice” around a lot but didn’t at all interrogate what realistic “choice” is available to which children in which situation on Earth. There are many kids born without very many realistic ‘choices’; children who are unlikely to go more than a few miles beyond where they were born, children whose projected lifespan is short, children whose lives are likely to be very difficult. How different is that, in reality, from a generation ship? In fact, if the generation ship does work, it might be a better life than on Earth: guaranteed food, shelter, and useful work (making the ship run).

The panel talked about limiting the choices of children born on the moon, because they might not be able to go back and live on Earth — but why is Earth necessarily better than the moon, or Mars, or the asteroid belt? Why isn’t it immoral of us to have children who are stuck down here in the gravity well?

More generally: we’re constantly making choices for our children, and through them for generations beyond; we’re constantly giving them some chances and removing other options, every decision we make. Is that immoral? It’s not avoidable, however much privilege you have, although most certainly more privilege generally means more options.

Would I get on a generation ship? Well. Not without a really good perusal of the specs. But I’m not convinced that it’s immoral to do so.

Worldcon Recs

Here is a list of the recs I picked up from various panels I attended at Worldcon. (These are likely not complete, but they’re the ones that I wrote down.)

In Defense of the Unlikeable Heroine:

  • We Who Are About To – Joanna Russ

Non-Binary Representation In Fiction:

  • Transcendent: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction – ed K M Szpara (anthology)
  • The Black Tides of Heaven / The Red Threads of Fortune – JY Yang (forthcoming in Sept)
  • Provenance – Ann Leckie (forthcoming, but read some on her website)
  • Jacob’s Ladder – Elizabeth Bear
  • River of Teeth – Sarah Gailey
  • Pantomime – Laura Lam
  • Killing Gravity – Corey J White
  • Interactive fiction Craft phone games (Choice of Deathless/City’s Thirst) – Max Gladstone (you can play an nb character)
  • “Masculinity is an Anxiety Disorder” (essay) – David J Schwartz
  • Rose Lemberg
  • Foz Meadows
  • A Merc Rustad

Beyond the Dystopia

(This one should be complete as I moderated the panel and made a point of writing them down to tweet afterwards.)

  • Two Faces of Tomorrow – James P Hogan
  • Culture series – Iain M Banks
  • Dragonlance
  • Too Like the Lightning and Seven Surrenders – Ada Palmer
  • The Postman – David Brin
  • A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and A Closed And Common Orbit – Becky Chambers
  • Hospital Station – James White
  • Malhutan Chronicles – Tom D Wright (panelist)
  • Orbital Cloud – Taiyo Fuji (panelist)
  • The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison

Older Women in Genre Fiction:

  • All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses An Eye – Christopher Brookmyre
  • Blood Songs series – Anthony Ryan
  • Remnant Population – Elizabeth Moon
  • Barbara Hambly

Also, Catherine Lundoff keeps a bibliography of books with older women protagonists.

Colonialism and the Space Opera:

  • Praxis – John Williams

Moving Beyond Orientalism in SFF:

  • Black Wolves – Kate Elliot
  • Vixen and The Waves – Hoa Pham
  • Isabelle Yap
  • Ken Liu
  • Stephanie Lai
  • Zen Cho

(Plus one from Nine Worlds in which the MC has Borderline Personality Disorder: Borderline – Mishell Baker)

Me at Worldcon 75

In two weeks I will be off to Helsinki for Worldcon 75! About which I am very excited.

I am also in some programme items, so if you’re going & any of these are of interest, come along:

Now I need to start making some notes so I will have something to say…

Eastercon highlights

Slightly belatedly — I had a splendid time at Eastercon. I was on four panels (Emotional Storytelling Through Music; Mystery, Fantasy, and Romance; Writing With Disability, Writing About Disability; and In Search of Optimistic SF). My co-panellists were all great, and all four panels seemed to go well as far as I could tell. I was pretty entirely wiped out by the end of the last one on Sunday evening though.

I also went to lots of other panels; spent all my spare cash on books in the Dealers Room[0]; hung out talking to splendid people (old and new) in the bar and the fan lounge; and drank rather too much caffeine.

I especially enjoyed the Women In Star Wars panel, the BSFA Hamilton lecture (with impromptu singalong), the Vorkosigan Law talk (especially the bit where they acted out the scene in which Ivan and Tej attempt to divorce 🙂 ), and the Populism in SF panel on Monday morning that wound up happening in the bar due to Technical Errors[1]. I had vague thoughts of putting some of my notes from them here but on re-reading them, I think turning them into anything comprehensible to anyone else is beyond me.

Looking forward even more to Worldcon in August now (and indeed to next year’s Eastercon, for which I am already signed up).

[0] I’ve been talking about Kindles lately and I do love my Kindle, but I want to support the small press folks and book dealers at the con too; buying directly from the author as in a couple of cases is awesome as well.
[1] Risk of being on fire due to mains cable problem. Being on fire generally considered unwise.