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Jo Walton, Among Others fantastic, but what to say about it? It comes the closest of any book not Gaudy Night to being in the same genre as Pamela Dean's Tam Lin, with which, as long-time readers may recall, I am somewhat obsessed. Do you like explorations of wounded people learning unorthodox ways to thrive, or girls who read a lot coming of age and finding community, or people coping with the world after they've saved it? How about subtle and deniable magic? This is a book for people who respond to those things, though I wouldn't rule out others.

I posted about this xkcd on my facebook, but it feels more like a weblog entry so I'm going to reproduce it here. Seeing it again the other day I was struck by what a familiar narrative it is, and I've been thinking about what that says about the kind of sexual advice that's given to men.

So then I go on about that for a while. )
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Leaving to Oregon tomorrow morning! Meanwhile, here's some more detailed stuff about the current state of the the Transgressive Sexuality in Science Fiction class, for those who are interested in following that. First here's the finished, or nearly so, reading schedule, divided into 'parts' because it's my class and I can be as pretentious as I want.

Recognisably descended from my original plan. )

Second, a prospective student wrote me a while ago and asked me, among other things, about my vision for the course. I interpreted this as a question about what I wanted to deal with theoretically and went on about it at moderate length, which I reproduce (with minimal editing) here.

A rather obscure discussion I'd like to have about genre and discourse... )
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I have this university class I think I'd like to teach; I've been fiddling with it as a thought experiment in a lot of the time that I ought perhaps to be devoting to the classes I'm taking. (But now it's the reading break, extra-long so that my city can draw campus into its bright and public post-apocalypse.) My interest in it has been steady enough that I'm looking into sticking around to do something in UBC's student-directed seminars program, but in the meantime this post is still about the thought experiment rather than whatever real things might come of it.

The course would be called "Transgressive Sexuality in Science Fiction". It comes originally from my noticing that all the polyamorous people I know are SF fans*, which is not a coincidence -- there's a definite subcultural current in that direction in fandom, which may not have had its origins in Heinlein but he obviously didn't hurt -- and which got me thinking further about how science fiction has this narrative about itself as politically and culturally progressive while at the same time often coming across as very reactionary, and how both of these things are true. SF is a broadly counterfactual genre, so it has the potential to show us what it would be like if social or even biological norms were radically different, but at the same time it is obviously written by people whose expectations and opinions about what is possible have been shaped by the political discourses available in the society they are writing in. So I want to explore both the successes and the failures of imagination, and argue about which are which, in a bunch of works of written science fiction, where it comes to presenting alternate possible worlds around sex and sexuality in particular. The focus on sex is for a number of reasons, including that it's a big thing that I'm interested in right now and that it's something just about nobody is ontologically apathetic about; another nice thing about doing these two topics together is that both sexuality and genre are prime sites for humans fractiously trying to shove difficult edge cases into one or another of our somewhat arbitrary categories.

(* When I shared this realization with my Sociology of Sex class last summer, the professor loudly booed me; she later explained, mortified, that she'd thought I was taking a cheap shot at someone. This is pretty much my favourite way that a professor has ever responded to me in class.)

People keep saying when I describe this idea that it's kind of narrow, but actually I've had to narrow it still further in order to come up with a reasonable imaginary reading list. I've ended up putting four extra restrictions on inclusion: 1) Written science fiction, 2) SF rather than fantasy, 3) written and consumed in the subcultural milieu of English-speaking science fiction fandom, and 4) written somewhere between 1960 and 2000 (so with a focus on New Wave-ish stuff). Here follows that reading list, which it ought to be just about feasible to shoehorn into 12 or 13 weeks. It comprises three novels, ten-ish short stories, and three guiding works of theory (which aren't actually in the draft list here but I'll talk about them after).

In here, I mean. )

The theory would include one major reading each about sex, gender, and genre -- my current plan is for the first 50 or so pages of Michel Foucault's History of Sexuality, vol. 1, something by Judith Butler, and some of Delany's literary criticism, respectively -- and a smattering of smaller stuff relevant to specific works (like this!).

So there you go. I originally planned to post about this and ask for suggestions for additions or alterations to that list, but I put it off for a while and in that time got more set in it as it appears. Nonetheless if anybody does have an opinion I'd be happy to hear it.
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A couple of days ago I was eating Chinese food, and I became aware that I like the taste of onions. I used to find it unpleasant, and for some years now I've considered it inoffensive-but-boring, but now I am to the point where eating a bite with an onion in it was an unexpected pleasure; the sort of thing I might seek out, rather than just tolerating. The strangest thing about this is that I remember and recognise this taste I now enjoy from back when I didn't like it, and it's exactly the same taste. I always subconsciously assumed that there was something inherent that determined whether something tasted good or not -- I mean, not that the quality of 'tasting bad' was an integral part of any given food (despising cheese, which everybody else in the world is delighted by, made it impossible ever to make this mistake), but that the subjective sensory experience of it included a sense of its being either pleasant or not-so, so that 'badness' was part of the taste I experienced. I guess I kind of supposed that other people eating cheese were tasting something different. But no; there is nothing changed about the taste of onions now, except how I react to it. So the thing that caused me to find onions objectionable wasn't in my sensory perception of them at all, even though that's the thing I clearly didn't like.

It strikes me how much of the work of interpreting inherently neutral stimuli my brain is doing outside of (or rather, presumably underlying) my conscious mind. I've been thinking for a long time about the role of completely chemical-contingent (even by human standards) involuntary affective reactions in my experience of the features of people that I find physically attractive (that's what this poem is about), but clearly I still have some adjusting to do toward applying this sort of understanding more generally.

I keep feeling like I read a book that I forgot to write down, but if so I've since forgotten more than that, since I can't call it to mind. I might be getting a false positive from the Iain M. Banks book that some of you saw me with, which I put down not far in because I didn't feel like I was in a space to want to read about the protagonist's making stupidly self-destructive decisions. I'm sure I'll get into the Culture books eventually.
Madeleine Robins, Point of Honour
Steven Brust, Jhegaala
Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind
Madeleine Robins, Petty Treason
Ekaterina Sedia, Alchemy of Stone
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A lot of rhetorical time seems to be spent emphasizing the insufficiency of language -- that there aren't words for the most important things, that actions speak louder, et cetera. Every once in a while, though, usually in some way to do with my dog, I'm reminded of the obvious fact that language is way better at communication than anything else we have; it's either necessary or a huge timesaver in getting across emotional subtleties, complex abstracts, and organized plans requiring the cooperation of other individuals than the speaker, and without it we'd be a lot more alone. Hooray for language!

Today, a fortune cookie told me, "Your reputation for honesty will bring rewards," and the first thing I thought was, "Oh, good, I have a reputation for honesty." Then I remembered that I had read this in a fortune cookie rather than had it said by someone who actually knew who I was. That's how fortune-telling gets you, I guess, ricocheting off your hopes and expectations.

I have been listening to Leonard Richardson's new album a lot. (Long-time readers, of whom there are very few, may remember that Leonard's example is a large part of the reason I first started having a weblog.) It's like a more focussed version of what first drew me to his older stuff: extremely low-fi, nerdily esoteric, and surprisingly affecting.
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I am continually fascinated by the notion of having to outwit one's future self, though I don't have the sort of cunning, puzzle-oriented mind that I'd need to be very good at the problem. It's surprisingly easy, if all you need is to do something you think you'll regret later ('all', I say, as if that really weren't so dangerous or powerful), but much harder to set things up so that later you'll be forced to perform some action that you want to now, but know you won't want to then. The you afterward knows all of your tricks.

I've tried a lot of tactics, for instance, over the years, to convince myself to get up in the morning - moving the alarm clock around in the room so that I have to wake up to find it, pinning sticky notes to the clock face exhorting compliance, setting it to earlier than I need, so that I'll keep putting it a little bit forward and get used to waking up by degrees - but I've never found more than a temporary solution. Possibly the only real fix would be to develop a routine like I used to have at 16 or so, up every day at seven and into the shower before I can even consider alternatives, but that in itself would require a lengthly and difficult battle with myself to implement. As it is, I still go through periods where every morning finds me rushing through my breakfast or skipping it altogether to catch the last bus that might possibly get me to school on time.

I'm in such a period right now, but it was hard to hurry, this morning, once I got outside. It felt too good just to walk. The sun has remembered what it's like to be warm, and the air smells lovely, like spring, all plants and pavement, and distant, happy noises.
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My impression has long been that Libertarianism, as a political philosophy, is based on principles of ethical egoism (of which Ayn Rand was the most famous proponent). Is this true? Can you be a libertarian without being an ethical egoist?


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Andy H.

February 2013

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