Ferretnibble 3 - Two Different Frontiers, One Class, and Four Text Adventures

by Robinson L

Robinson and Arthur offer reviews of two short stories, a Doctor Who spinoff series, and a grab-bag of interactive fiction pieces.
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Editor's Introduction: Sometimes you want to jabber about something on Ferretbrain to an extent which would be unwieldy for a Playpen post, but not necessarily make for a full-blooded article. To encourage contributors to offer up shorter pieces when the mood strikes them, here's another set of Ferretnibbles - pocket-sized articles about all and sundry.

This time around, two of the three nibbles are written by Robinson L, so I've tossed them under his byline. Nibbles are always welcome at the usual editorial address.


“Remembering Turinam” and “Forests of the Night” (Robinson L)


Multiple author anthologies are always a mixed bag for me in terms of my interest and enjoyment. I have little or nothing of substance to say about the majority of stories from the 2013 postcolonial speculative fiction anthology We See a Different Frontier, edited by Fabio Fernandes and Djibril al-Ayad. This being the case, I’m going to ignore Ekaterina Sedia’s excellent advice in the Afterword that the anthology is best read as a whole, and concentrate on my two personal favorites from the collection. Keep in mind my tastes are subjective, and the stories I like most probably aren’t the best of the bunch. With that stipulation, let’s have a look at the stories.

Remembering Turinam

“Remembering Turinam,” by N. A. Ratnayake, follows Salai, a brown-skinned Turian scholar going to visit his dying grandfather. For decades, the Turian culture has lived under the boot of the imperialistic Rytari, their language outlawed, their schools of learning put to Rytari use, their very philosophy of knowledge warped by Rytari utilitarianism.

In a mere eleven pages, Ratnayake paints a vivid picture of both Turian and Rytari cultures. The Rytari are monstrous and despicable, but they’re no cartoon Empire out of Star Wars; they have their complexities and their elaborate institutions and codes which give them an illusion of legitimacy. The former Turians, too, while clearly portrayed as morally superior to the Rytari because of their scholarly pursuit of knowledge for its own sake and their rejection of violent warfare, are never romanticized as some idyllic people.

“Remembering Turinam” is a story about colonialism, a story about genocide. Not so much genocide in terms of wholesale slaughter, but in terms of tearing the heart and soul out of a culture, destroying its language; its values; its sensibilities and its ways of conceptualizing the universe, what matters, what’s real, what people are and can be.

It’s also a story of downfall and complicity on the part of the Turians. We see the way Turians like Salai and his grandfather have had to serve and perpetuate the Rytari oppression of their people in order to survive.

But “Remembering Turniam” is also a story of survival, resilience, and the potential for redemption and liberation. Turians like Salai and his grandfather might be complicit in their own oppression, but they may yet be able to subvert it.

At first, Salai thinks to drive the Rytari out violently, but Grandfather urges him not to, citing the fall of Turniam, when “We turned our backs on everything our elders had taught us about the fruits of violence being illusory and temporary at best.” Violent resistance will not avail, but neither does Grandfather—or the story—counsel acceptance of Rytari domination, and abdication of resistance.

The key to Turian liberation, if it ever comes, is in the seed of Turian culture which Grandfather passes on to Salai. Turian culture, the ending suggests, with its more enlightened and humanistic beliefs and philosophies, may yet survive and flourish.

As Walidah Imarisha writes in the Introduction to Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements: “the decolonization of the imagination is the most dangerous and subversive form there is: for it is where all other forms of decolonization are born. Once the imagination is unshackled, liberation is limitless.”

Forests of the Night

“Forests of the Night,” by Gabriel Murray, tells the story of a young man who grew up with his Malay mother, but has now been taken on as valet by his Anglo father, Captain Lyons, to live on the Captain’s rural Yorkshire estate. But all is not well in this particular county, as several sheep have been found dead, and the killings quickly spread to encompass dogs and eventually humans. Paw prints are found by the scene of the killings which resemble those of a large tiger. But how could a tiger have found its way into the middle of 19th Century Yorkshire?

This story does a great job of depicting the protagonist’s ambivalence about his white father—a man he admires despite what he recognizes as an often patronizing attitude—and discomfort living in rural England, with all the attendant unthinking Orientalist racism. By the end of the piece, it also evolves into a riveting family drama and an impressively intense thriller story.

The language is both rich and economical, using precision and inference to impart a wealth of information and ideas with only a small amount of words. The explanation of the cat’s true nature takes only a single paragraph clocking in at 29 words total, but between the information already presented in the story and some very basic knowledge of folklore, that’s more than enough to tell the reader everything they need to know.

The story expertly raises tension bit by bit until the reader is galloping up to the climax. The ending is cleverly foreshadowed early on, setting up one of the most perfectly appropriate last lines I’ve read in ages.

Class (Robinson L)


I’ve previously savaged Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy, and while I stand firmly behind everything I said in that review, in the interests of fairness I feel I should also give my thoughts on Class. For those not already aware, Class is a Doctor Who spin-off, whose eight episode first series aired in late 2016, and was written by Ness.

Class takes place in Coal Hill Academy, the fictional secondary school where Ian and Barbara taught Susan back in the First Doctor’s run, and where Clara Oswald and Danny Pink taught more recently. Apart from Clara’s and Danny’s names on a plaque, and a reappearance by a minor character who only hard core Who fans (harder core than me, anyway) will recognize, it has little direct overlap with the Coal Hill Academy we’ve seen in recent seasons of the parent show.

The main connections to Who are an extended Capaldi cameo as the Twelfth Doctor in the first episode to help the protagonists out of a bind and establish the status quo for the rest of the series, and the tone; the aliens the protagonists encounter and the types of problems they get into feel like they’d be right at home on the new Who. (And if one is sufficiently nerdy, one would be tempted to conclude the living shadow which killed Elton Pope’s mum in the backstory to “Love and Monsters” was one of the villainous Shadow Kin.)

Despite being mainly about secondary school students, Class skews a bit more mature than Doctor Who, content-wise. Some of the deaths are more brutal and gory, the themes are sometimes a bit more intense, and there’s a brief sequence of rear nudity in the second episode (from a teacher, not one of the student characters).

Our protagonists are a group of sixth form students, one of whom is an alien, and their teacher Miss Quill, also an alien. Together they witness the opening of a tear in spacetime in the middle of their school, which the Doctor tasks them with protecting. (The students are almost as quick as your humble reviewer to make the “tear = Hellmouth from Buffy” connection.)

The first three episodes are okay, made more watchable for a number of really effective character moments. Starting with the episode 4 & 5 two-parter, though, the plot begins to catch up with the characterization, and delivers some exciting and emotionally compelling stories—until the finale, but we’ll come to that presently.

The characters are complex and engaging; of the three I had the lowest hopes for, two wound up becoming my favorites, and even Charlie, the alien prince, has some genuinely effective moments.

While I’m hardly an expert, I feel like Ness does a decent job of portraying his Sikh and Nigerian characters, as well as a homosexual romance between two of the white characters, with complexity, sensitivity, and no obvious racist or homophobic f**k-ups. I'm not arguing these depictions are absolutely and necessarily above board, just that they’re at least not wrong in such a blatant way that I could point at them and say “Hey, that isn't right.”

Also, knowing the writer is Patrick Ness—plus the fact that it’s a new Who spin off produced by Steven Moffat—I’m frankly astonished the series made it a whole six and a half episodes into an eight episode run before breaking out the cheap melodrama, and even then it’s pretty brief. The finale, sadly, is more standard fare in terms of melodrama, with a couple supporting characters getting fridged to make the point that This Time, It’s Serious, and the climax revolving around multiple warmed over moral dilemmas. Even here, the melodrama is only at moderate levels compared to the heights both Who and Ness have delivered in the past.

To give the finale credit, the murders of Ram’s father and Tanya’s mother enhanced the tension and created genuine concern about the fates of April’s mother, Tanya’s brothers, and even the main cast later in the episode. This is a claim often made for character deaths in fiction, and the Class series finale is one of those rare instances where it actually worked that way. However, the two recurring characters who get killed are the two primary PoC parents, which is pretty dodgy. Then again, there aren’t too many other recurring characters the show could kill off to achieve the same effect, with the prime candidate being a physically disabled white woman, so I guess it’s a no win situation there.

The series also has a running theme debating the ethics of genocide—xenocide, to be precise—ultimately coming down in favor. This would be immensely problematic on its own, but the characters never even ask whether the Shadow Kin are all evil like the Daleks, or whether they just happen to have an asshole King whom they’re obliged to obey; we’re just supposed to take it as read that it’s the former.

Finale aside, most of the moments of sadness, tragedy, and drama depicted on the show feel earned. And even the points of highest melodrama don’t really break out the Themehammer, which again was a pleasant surprise coming from the author of the Chaos Walking trilogy. (He does have a minor go with it in the first episode, but that’s a brief annoyance at worst.)

I found Class genuinely smart, enjoyable, and engrossing, and even the irritating finale didn’t put me off the show, though it makes me worry for future series. If not for the finale, I could give Class a wholehearted recommendation. As it is, I still tentatively recommend the show: if future series don’t amp up the melodrama, they’ll probably be worth watching, if not as good as I was led to expect based on the first seven episodes alone.

Tiny Text Adventures (Arthur B)


Lately I have been poking at a number of text adventures, largely because the interactive fiction database has been refined to the point where it's really nice and easy to find good ones. Whilst some can be true epics, others can be wrapped up extremely quickly - here's some I quite enjoyed recently.

9:05: This bite-sized nibble of text adventure goodness from Adam Cadre is a gentle, easy introduction to the format. There are no real puzzles beyond getting out of bed in the morning, leaving the house and driving where you need to go - except if you do all that as expected of you, you run into a twist which prompts you to immediately replay it and puts a whole new spin on all the descriptions so far. Brief yet fun, and an interesting exercise in how the limited descriptions offered in text adventures can blinker the player.

Lords of Time: Written by Sue Gazzard, this was an early time travel game, commercially published back in 1983 by Level 9 Computing (both as a standalone and as part of the Time and Magik trilogy, though the games in the latter series didn't have much of a connection). It has an interesting central mechanism - a grandfather clock with nine cogs inside gave access to nine different time zones, allowing you to travel about until you reached the endgame as you tried to collect the essential items needed to repair the structure of time for… reasons. It was let down, as were many games of its era, by the extremely limited text descriptions, which resulted in the premise of the game being a bit heavy-handed and the experience not seeming especially rich compared to later efforts. In its era, it was probably pretty good, but the rich standards of post-1990s text adventures have rather spoiled it for me since it cannot help but seem a bit threadbare in comparison.

Three-Card Trick: Chandler Groover’s pocket-sized adventure gives the player much less freedom than it at first appears, but if you pay attention to the descriptions it yields not just useful hints for progress, but also hints as to a deeper horror to its world. In principle, you’re just an award-winning stage magician annoyed at your rival improving on your signature trick; in practice, something much darker is happening. Making the protagonist a fabulous woman stage magician in a dapper tuxedo is the final bit of polish that makes it perfect, and the clever tricks it pulls with the standard IF parser format are fun.

Anchorhead: You and your husband Michael have moved to the New England town of Anchorhead, where Michael has unexpectedly inherited a family mansion and been given tenure at the local university. Of course, this was as a result of his relative Edward Verlac abruptly killing his wife and children and then committing suicide - but it’s beyond credibility that a sinister ancestor would reach out from the past and try to possess Michael as he tried to take Edward and his family, with the aim of invoking dark gods to end humanity’s pitiful reign on this planet, right… right?

Anchorhead bills itself as a Lovecraftian text adventure, but it’d be more accurate to call it Derlethian - it uses August Derleth’s Standard Narrative as used in his Mythos pastiches to the hilt. That said, it is much more enjoyable than those stories in part because designer Michael S. Gentry is a much better prose engineer than Derleth, and in part because it casts you not as the possessed inheritor of a sinister house but as the inheritor’s wife, which opens up a new take on the old story. Various flavours of real-life abuse are thematically touched on, making this a story more comfortable with dealing with real-life horror than Derleth ever was, and in some respect more than Lovecraft ever did. It is rendered a little tough going by the ease with which you can get the game into an unwinnable state inadvertently, however.
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Comments (go to latest)
http://cheriola.livejournal.com/ at 16:35 on 2017-08-04
Sorry for putting this here - I can't remember the password you issued me once upon a time to post in the playpen (and my computer for some reason can't remember it either). And I don't want to bother you with a re-registering procedure just to make a brief drive-by post.

Anyway, I read this, and thought it might interest the people still reading this site:

https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/08/04/a-redpill-against-racism-the-matrix-as-a-vaccine-against-fascism/

It's an intersectionally feminist / marxist interpretation of the Matrix trilogy held up against an apparently current drive to use the movies as a propaganda tool by the U.S. extreme right. (Which, even ignoring the actual content, seems mind-boggling to me. I mean, the movies were made by the famously transgender auteur writer-directors that more recently gave the world the Sense8 series. Even if the Wachowski siblings have made the occasional public misstep on race issues, you'd think the whole anti-feminist / white supremacist dick league wouldn't want to be associated with them in any way.)

As for the article, I think the writer might be leaning way too much out of the window regarding the supposed marxist message. (Though, admittedly, I understood maybe half of the article where it covered that, since I haven't been forced to study marxist-leninist politics as my parents were, so I'm not very familiar with the terminology and references to other authors.)

However, the intersectional-feminist part I can believe was genuinely intended by the Wachowskis, especially considering their later coming out as female. And that part also completely passed me by when I watched the movies way back when they first came out. (I thought the latter two movies were supposed to be some half-baked Gnostic / Buddhist allegory, and thus found them dissappointingly confusing or, if not exactly confusing, not thought through properly or perhaps like the creators' vision was strangled by executive meddling. From what little I remember of the latter two movies, the article writer's interpretation makes more sense.)
Arthur B at 17:13 on 2017-08-04
Re: Password - are you still using the e-mail you originally registered with? If so I can get a password reset done for you fairly quickly and painlessly.

Re: the actual content of your post - very interesting.

Sadly, I suspect the extreme right are keen on appropriating The Matrix precisely because it was produced by the Wachowskis, and the Pepe Front are exactly petty-minded enough to get great joy out of snatching things trans women have made away from them.

To be fair to the article's point, an intended Marxist message isn't a requirement for the movie to have a valid Marxist reading. Though I think it would be a misreading to assume that the Gnosticism/Buddhism was something that only showed up in the sequels, rather than being hardwired into the very premise from the beginning - it's done more artfully in the original but there is no getting around the fact that the Matrix is essentially the Gnostics' material world of the Demiurge or the Buddhist veil of Maya given a post-Singularity aesthetic.
http://cheriola.livejournal.com/ at 17:26 on 2017-08-04
Also, I'm currently listening to an audio version of "Aurora" by Kim Stanley Robinson, and while I don't entirely agree with its message, I would still recommend it. Both as an antidote to the current flurry of overly optimistic space-colonization documentaries, and for its unusual stylistic choices. (The narrator for most of the book is the ship's A.I. which only slowly gains genuine sentience over the course of the decades-long narrative. This makes maybe not for the most engaging reading at times, but it is different from anything else I've ever read.) Also, the author does deserve major kudos for being one of the few scifi writers to take climate change seriously, for really going "hard scifi" on reality-relevant biological / environmental topics instead of getting off on imagining the function ouf fantastical technology (The book is perhaps more accessible to me than the average reader because I've studied microbiology and am just as interested in the art and science of permaculture as the author is.), and for embracing a positive, non-state socialist vision of the future in contrast to the usual capitalism-on-steroids crapsack world extrapolation from current affairs (as evident in all the current scifi TV shows, even if they have a "big corporations are evil" message). (I suspect this political stance is the reason they never invite the author of the famous Red / Blue / Green Mars trilogy to speak in these current Mars mission / terraforming documentaries, instead always interviewing the loyally capitalist Robert Zubrin.) Though this political issue doesn't figure into this novel much, since for the most part the novel deals with a population of only a couple thousand peole. It's more evident in "2312", which seems to take place in the same narrative universe but deals with the development of the solar system, not extra-solar colonization.

I explicitly recommend the audio version - the narrator makes an effort of making her voice sound a little "robotic", and, as always with Kim Stanley Robinson, it helps immensely to be able to just zone out for a little while someone else sloughs through the detailed scientific explanations and pages-long tangents about linguistics, philosophy or advanced maths. (These tangents are less numerous in "Aurora" than usual for KSR, though. It's a fairly short book, compared to for example "2312", where I've ran out of patience twice now about 1/3 of the book in, due to the interminable tangents about the characters' interest in classical music and whatnot. Even though that novel is more interesting from an intersectional standpoint, and its plot is much more optimistic than that of "Aurora".)
http://cheriola.livejournal.com/ at 18:51 on 2017-08-04
"Re: Password - are you still using the e-mail you originally registered with? If so I can get a password reset done for you fairly quickly and painlessly."

Thanks, but I don't even remember which email I was using to register... And I haven't used any email address in years, other than a quick dummy account that I never check and also have forgotten the spelling for. Hmm... I have only recently managed to get my internet access fixed (For the last few years, it only worked a few minutes at a time, every half hour or so, because my provider wanted to force me to buy a new DSL splitter, which I couldn't afford, and/or switch to a newer, non-flatrate contract. Greedy bastards.), so I might comment more often again in future. Though I admit that the discussion on this site is usually beyond my level of understanding, never mind participating meaningfully (me not having a background in social / literary sciences and all), or else the topics are outside my particular fanish interests. On the other hand, you guys are pretty much the only adult, straight men I've ever found to talk to about fanish things, who can be trusted to have a discussion about intersectional issues without blowing up in an aggressively-defensive rant. (A little aside on that topic: The prefered spelling is "trans women". Making it a noun is considered somewhat othering, just like "the gays" instead of "gay people" or "Blacks" instead of "people of colour". It also makes it look like you think trans women aren't really women, but rather a sort of special category, which tends to remind transgender people painfully of the whole TERF crowd. I don't mean to nag, just to help you avoid giving offense you don't want to give.)

I'll get back to you if I bother to set up a new email account, okay?


About the Matrix:
I didn't mean to argue against the validity of "Death of the Author" type interpretations. Just that the writer of the article was perhaps giving the Wachowskis rather too much credit, regarding the "deepness" of those action flicks.

And yes, of course the religious allegories were there in the first movie, too (though perhaps more in a classical Christian Messianic sense, set up to be then subverted later). I just remember the trilogy (dimly) to get a lot more mystical and harder to interpret in the later movies. Though perhaps that is unavoidably inherent in switching from a more familiar (clichéed?) narrative and mythological allegory to more original (or at least non-western) mythological references and story structure - which you kind of have to, if your intent is to subvert the common way of thinking, as the article writer asserts was the goal.

I just wish that this could be presented in a way that doesn't require a lot of pre-existing knowledge from the audience about cultures they didn't grow up in (both in terms of Buddhism and Marxism). I only caught the Gnostic bits because I had an interest in that mythology in my teens. (First inspired by the Angel Sanctuary manga series, I think.) I mean, how many people going to watch an action flick franchise are realistically going to have that kind of obscure education? No wonder the latter two movies bombed. It's sad - this is probably why we can't have nice things. Considering the money needed to make movies that reach a large audience (as opposed to art films), you can't really put in any message that conflicts majorly with the usual stereotypic narratives that most of the audience has been primed to understand and expect.
(Sense8 also was cancelled by Netflix because,, while the broadcaster realises that it's a good, unusual and important show, it just didn't attract the mass audience needed to fund it.)
http://cheriola.livejournal.com/ at 19:39 on 2017-08-04
Oh, and since you were discussing the Wonder Woman movie (which I haven't seen and thus can't comment on). There was a similarly political critique on the theme of that movie's anti-peace and therefore anti-feminist message:

https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/07/25/feminism-co-opted/

Be warned though that the writer of the article belongs to the old Trans-Excluding Radical Feminist generation and for some reason (not relating to the movie as far as I can see) can't resist going on a short rant against instersectional feminism in the article. It's mostly the last paragraph - which isn't quite as transphobically hostile as usual from TERFs, but still makes me think she believes that being transgender is a choice and that transgender people are oppressed / threatened much less than cisgender women. Which is just ludicrous, and betrays a remarkable lack of empathy. (For example, a much higher percentage of trans women than cis women ends up being survival sex workers due to transphobic job hiring practices; trans women are the subgroup most likely to get raped in the U.S., with only maybe Native American women facing a similar level of threat among the cis-het population groups - Why can cisgender people not understand that protecting trans people from getting outed in a vulnerable place where they're surrounded by Schroedinger's Rapists is exactly what the supposedly so insignificant bathroom access issue is about?!) Also, that line about female superiority is just throwing oil on the fire of misogynist claims that feminist don't want equality. *sigh* I can only hope that writer is elderly and really out of touch with the movement for the last few decades.

Still, her analysis of the militarist co-option of a movement supposedly aimed at promoting social justice is valid, I think. Skim-reading the Playpen discussion, I think the article might be of interest to Robinson L in particular.
Robinson L at 22:00 on 2017-08-04
Good to hear from you again, Cheriola.

Re: The Matrix
I haven't revisited the original film since I saw it on VHS back when it came out, and I never watched the sequels. I can't really comment on the Wachowskis' philosophical depth in terms of storytelling. However, I've always felt the red pill conversation between Morpheus and Neo in the first movie ("you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind") does not so much invite a Marxist reading as break down the door and demand it at sicklepoint.

And I'm not the only one to think so, as evidenced by the existence of this film. (Don't bother watching the actual movie; it's typical talking heads stuff, with only one or two more of the creative animated sequences.)

That said, I can unfortunately see how, in the warped understanding of an MRA, the Matrix framework applies to the oppression he experiences by feminism and political correctness (I wish you could see how hard my eyes are rolling right now). And, as Arthur says, those guys probably get off on appropriating the work of progressive trans women to fuel and propagate their reactionary delusions.

I also finally got around to watching the first season of Sense8 just before they announced the cancellation. Very disappointed about that last part, because it's every bit as good as you said. I love the overarching theme of coming together and collaborating to help each other with their problems, and the plot about escaping the machinations of a powerful, malevolent, top-secret organization is always nice. (It's also great to see Martha Jones from Doctor Who in more stuff, but Martha Jones doing an American accent will never not be weird.)

I'm really glad they have a genuinely international story, rather than just the US, UK, and maybe a token PoC-dominant country (though really, four white main characters out of a total of eight? Four?), but I can also see how that must be hideously expensive unless the show is a mega-hit, and I think it may be too counter-cultural in terms of PoC/LGTBQ-inclusivity to be a mega-hit.

Very relieved they're at least producing a special to serve as a finale and hopefully give the series a satisfying conclusion.


Re: Aurora
It comes recommended from one of my new favorite book reviewers, Chris Moriarty. I'm afraid I'm burnt out on Kim Stanley Robinson at the moment, having finally completed both Green Mars and Blue Mars earlier this year. Those ones are a slog even on audio - I'm sure I couldn't have made it in print.

Still, I'll keep Aurora on my radar for when I recover; thanks for the recommendation.


Re: Wonder Woman
Thanks for sharing this, too. I look forward to reading it, and I may pass it on to my sister and my step mother (with the appropriate caveats). And thanks for the warning about the transphobic commentary - I'll be sure to brace myself for that part.
http://arilou-skiff.livejournal.com/ at 23:35 on 2017-08-04
Ye gods, my OpenId works again! Praise the llandllord!

Anyway: Ekaterina Sedia is a weird one for me. I loved her Moscow book about the soul-stealing mafioso. It was great, touched upon at least some cultural commonalities (When I was a kid they were still airing reruns of east-bloc Children's Programming on SVT) and I loved how banal and weird it was.

Then I read her other stuff, and nothing of it has been very good. Heart of Iron is a mediocre pastische (I get what she's trying to do, but it's just not interesting enough to make me care, and it kind of whitewashes all sorts of issues) and I've kind of stayed away from her since.

RE: Matrix

My philosophy teacher used The Matrix as an illustration of Plato, so the themes aren't exactly subtle :p

http://arilou-skiff.livejournal.com/ at 23:42 on 2017-08-04
Also RE: Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman's history is itself incredibly fascinating, considering Marston's.... General Marston-ness. But the weird tensions between war, feminism and pacifism was there from the start. (Marston's combination of seemingly genuine feminism, weird kinks and just plain odd beliefs are fascinating to read)
Robinson L at 05:00 on 2017-08-05
Congratulations!

Coincidentally, I'm currently reading Sedia's House of Discarded Dreams, because I heard it recommended once as an example of a white woman writing a black main character and apparently doing a good job of it; not that I'll really be able to judge on that score, even when I finish it.

As for We See a Different Frontier, however, she didn't contribute a story or anything, she just wrote the afterword, so I wouldn't stay away from the anthology on her account.
Arthur B at 15:20 on 2017-08-05
@Cheriola:
A little aside on that topic: The prefered spelling is "trans women". Making it a noun is considered somewhat othering, just like "the gays" instead of "gay people" or "Blacks" instead of "people of colour".

Thanks; I have edited accordingly.

I just wish that this could be presented in a way that doesn't require a lot of pre-existing knowledge from the audience about cultures they didn't grow up in (both in terms of Buddhism and Marxism)

I think for the purposes of the first movie that was the point - you didn't need Gnosticism or Buddhism or another background to understand it on its own terms because it introduced its ideas to you as you went along, and then if you looked into the ideas in question deeper they'd be reminiscent of The Matrix and you'd be able to see where the ideas came from but you didn't need background reading to unpack what they were doing.

The sequels, on the other hand, seem to have lost that knack.

@Robinson:
That said, I can unfortunately see how, in the warped understanding of an MRA, the Matrix framework applies to the oppression he experiences by feminism and political correctness (I wish you could see how hard my eyes are rolling right now). And, as Arthur says, those guys probably get off on appropriating the work of progressive trans women to fuel and propagate their reactionary delusions.

Yeah, the thing about Morpheus' red pill speech is that taken in isolation and out of any other context, you can more or less apply it to any criticism of ideology (or, for that matter, culture as a concept). If it is part of your ideological framework that everyone is brought up in a ideological or cultural framework hostile to yours, then the red pill narrative fits.
http://cheriola.livejournal.com/ at 05:33 on 2017-08-06
hat said, I can unfortunately see how, in the warped understanding of an MRA, the Matrix framework applies to the oppression he experiences by feminism and political correctness (I wish you could see how hard my eyes are rolling right now).


From the article I linked, I got the impression that the extreme right is co-opting the "red pill" metaphor not primarily for anti-feminist goals, but more for distinctly anti-social economic / political ideology, which I assume goes more along the lines of Randian libertarianism. (On the other hand, I have read that Bannon and his ilk are also big fans of Lenin. At which point I hit a wall of "Does Not Compute" - though probably just because of my aforementioned lack of any detailed knowledge of what the various strains of Communism-associated "isms" actually entail. I just know that my country once subscribed to an ideological system called "Marxism-Leninism", whose mere existence to me implies that Leninism has more in common with Marxism than with the kind of ideologies the Western right-wing normally are subscribing to.)
That said, maybe it's both in equal measure. The (staunchly leftist, but mostly white, straight, male and older) writers on Counterpunch usually don't care to analyse stuff from a feminist (especially not intersectionally feminist) perspective, often only caring about the class struggle and critcising "identity politics" as distracting from that. (Though Andrew Stewart, the writer of the Matrix article, is more concerned than most Counterpunch contributers with this matter, what with being relatively young and openly gay.)


Sense8 has some proplems (stereotypical presentation of non-Western cultures, and even Wolfgang is basically a German stereotype about Russian immigrants; that absolutely cringe-worthy first part of Will's storyline, especially the way all the law-abiding people of colour around him advocate for cruelty against people of colour who are criminals, while he, the white cop, is better than that; and let's just say that gay viewers were not amused about the show condoning straight female fetishisation of gay people through the character of Daniela), but where the Wachowskis wrote from personal experience (i.e. Nomi and Amanita; and Lito's struggle with masculinity expectations), it really shines. And in retrospect I really liked what they did with Riley, too: Yes, she seems useless, motivationless and mopey and you're kind of invited to look down on her for that and wonder why her family is handling her with kid-gloves - at best she seems like a mild subversion of the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl trope. But then it turns out she's clinically depressed and it suddenly all makes sense - and the negative reaction of the audience is exactly the kind of judgmental attitude depressive people face in real life, so her storyline serves to educate people not to judge as long as they do not know what is 'wrong' with others. That the biggest thing she achieves all season is to just stay alive, and this is treated as equally important and difficult as Lito's coming out or Sun's overcoming of her patriarchal family/duty indoctrination was also a really nice touch. (Even if the whole flashback showing the reason why she's suffering from depression is really stupid; and in real life depressive people often don't have big traumatic reasons for their mental illness.)

And while you're right about the disproportionate whiteness of the show, I did like that while they apparently had to have the standard while, male, straight(ish) audience surrogate in Will, his actual plot-line just involves being exposited to and continually helping the others, and the show uses him to lampshade that a saviour complex is not necessarily a good or healthy thing. I was also surprised how lovely and great an actress Freema Agyeman can be when she finally gets a role in which she doesn't have to play miserable. (I'd only seen her in Doctor Who and a Dickens movie.)
And yeah, I gather the on-location shots (which also had locally hired filming crews, hence partly the different filming styles reminiscent of Bollywood / Latin-American telenovelas / etc.) were the main problem, with season 2 apparently raising the number of different locations from 8 to 16.

But please don't spoil the Christmas special or the second season for me - I haven't got around to watching those yet. (When I really love a show or book, I'm sometimes so scared that the sequel will be disappointing or even ruin what was great about it in the beginning, that I can't bring myself to watch the rest...) The cancellation is sad, yes, especially since the other creator, J. Michael Straczynski, is famous for actually planning out several seasons of plot instead of just making stuff up as they go (which usually leads to the Chris Carter effect ) Netflix didn't handle it well (not giving reasons; announcing the cancellation during Pride week...). But at least there will be a movie conclusion.


Ha, yes, I haven't even managed more than the first book of the Mars trilogy on audio. As far as I could tell, those books don't even have the benefit of having interesting female or non-heteronormative protagonists (which "2312" does have), what with having been written so long ago. And from what I remember, one of the main protagonists of Red Mars was really unlikable. (I remember going back and forth on whether we were supposed to think he's a sociopath. And he had some pseudo-feminist, but really just anti-communist ideas about Russian women, which just didn't square with what I know about about my mother's generation. (Okay, maybe there's a big difference between Eastern German and Soviet Russian society that I'm not aware of, but still.) I couldn't tell if that was part of the characterization or really KSR's opinions.)




By the way, Arthur, I played "9:05" on your recommendation last night, but i found it rather disappointing. I mean, I noticed some discrepancies in the narrative you're supposed to fall for at first (No TV in the living room? Why am I covered in mud? Why is the lock on the door broken?), and I still didn't figure out the real reason. (I just thought the protagonist was a burglar on the side to improve his meager income, and that he had perhaps spent the night burying someone in the desert.) But in retrospect, the REAL storyline doesn't work, and I get the feeling that I only didn't figure it out because it doesn't make sense and I wasn't treated fairly by the writer. (
What kind of idiot goes to sleep on a crime scene instead of fleeing before the neighbors might get suspicious about the noise of the fight? If he was surpised in the act of burgling the house, and didn't yet bury the corpse, why is he covered in mud? If the protagonist isn't usually violent, as he claims, how can he be so cold-blooded as to sleep in the same room as the corpse? How did someone living in a crappy neighborhood and in a house with very sparse furniture, eating cheap junk food, own a gold watch and a fancy car? (This was why I assumed the stolen stuff came from somewhere else.) The whole plot point of going to the victim's workplace without the protagonist even thinking that this might be a bad idea only works if he's amnesiac, which he clearly isn't.
) And the feature of withholding crucial information from the player is frustrating if it's handled unfairly / unrealistically.
Hiding the corpse under the bed and never mentioning it was sort of realistic. But who looks at somebody else's ID photo without registering that it's not one's own license? This might even have worked, if the protagonist had been in a Memento-style situation upon awaking (perhaps after getting a concussion during the struggle, also providing an explanation why he absolutely needed a lie-down right then and there) - there was no mirror in the bathroom to compare, so if he didn't know who he was, he could reasonably assume that the license is his.

http://cheriola.livejournal.com/ at 06:43 on 2017-08-06
Oh, by the way, Robinson:
If the "A.I.-controlled generation ship gone wrong" subject matter with seasonings of writerly socialist political leanings of "Aurora" appeals to you, I can recommend the Jacob's Ladder trilogy by Eliztabeth Bear. ("Dust", "Chill" and "Grail".) Though the writing style is very different than KSR's hard scifi (and it certainly does not share the denial of sex mentioned in the review you linked), and the situation on the generation ship in "Dust" is much more derailed and dystopian until the protagonists take control. (Primarily because the people setting out to the stars were not KSR's well-meaning leftist scientist, but basically the right-wing U.S. elite fleeing ecological collapse on Earth, with some lower class Christian extremist people to do the actual work - the result after several hundred years being an unholy amalgam of religious anti-science magical thinking and libertarian social-darvinism evolving into feudalist structures.) The first book's genre is bio-punk / transhumanist scifi as told in the style of an Arthurian questing romance. You've get stuff like an A.I.-infused radioactive coolant leak being described as if it's a high fantasy monster. It's really quite weird. Plus, lots of queer and genderfluid characters, and one of the very few intentionally asexual protagonists. (Even if I suspect that this choice was made by the author just to take the squick out of said character's romace with the first-book POV protagonist, who turns out to be
her long-lost half-sister.
)

The socialist political leanings show mostly in the last book, when the crew reconnects with the rest of humanity, who without the elite have actually managed to weather the crisis fairly well and set up a sort of Eco-Communist-Democratic utopia. And I do mean real Communism here, not the Soviet-style one-party state-socialism that is reffered to as "Communism" in the West. (Though I give the author major credit for being one of the few leftist Westerners who realise that "Communism is a wonderful idea - but the people who can live by its ideals have yet to be created", as my father used to say. Basically, the society she writes only works because people have removed all sociopathic / greedy / religious impulses from human nature, through education, indoctrination, mandatory therapy and even brain surgery. It's not as awful as it sounds, nor as unusual - all human societies indoctrinate their population with their moral values and try to limit antisocial behaviour through sometimes drastic means, and what else is education / aculturation if not an effort to make children fit into the society they are born in?)
http://cheriola.livejournal.com/ at 07:41 on 2017-08-06
Also recommended (with caveats): "Carnival" by Elizabeth Bear, which is more in line with the second book described in the Moriarty review. Except that in Ms. Bears vision, the "Great Winnowing" was fair - because it was conducted by leftist eco-terrorists, not by the elites selfishly leaving things to 'survival of the fittest' (read: richest). Of course, giving those who haven't wrecked the world a chance to inherit it doesn't necessarily lead to an utopian or even fair society...

The caveat I mentioned refers to the way the extra-solar matriarchal counter-culture (as opposed to the reactionary, patriarchal society on Earth) that is the main setting of the plot is set up, which leaves the reader to conlude that the author really thinks rapists rape because of high testosterone levels, not because social inequality breeds sociopathy and abuse. (The society enslaves all straight men for public safety reasons. And there are no women shown to ever abuse their power over the men. And the men rebeling against this system are ultimately condemned by even the male Earther protagonists as too violent and untrustworthy, with a female elite moderate reformer (not total abolitionist) being held up as the good side.) And that society could also only work in a universe where transgender people and bisexual men don't exist. Plus, the author seems to believe the "wind turbines kill lots of birds" nonsense. (The novel was written in the early 2000s - she may have learned better by now.) Besides that, the author kind of chickens out of the hard consequences and quite literally uses alien magic to resolve the central problem of real world energetic / ecological population constraints. (IIRC, it's called "zero point energy" in the book, but really, it's basically magic.) Which was dissapointing, but to be fair, if she could havbe thought of a realistic way out of the dilemma, she would be a strong contender for a Nobel Prize, and I don't mean for literature.
Arthur B at 21:33 on 2017-08-07
Cheriola: just got a password reset request for your account. Are you able to post the first three characters of that e-mail address here to reassure me that the request is from you and not some sneaky hijacker?
http://cheriola.livejournal.com/ at 07:09 on 2017-08-08
Ha, thanks for asking. That should be "avc".
http://cheriola.livejournal.com/ at 07:12 on 2017-08-08
Uh, sorry, you wrote 'characters', not 'letters'. Then it's "a.v"
Arthur B at 10:32 on 2017-08-08
I am satisfied that neither solution would be guessable to a random opportunist. :)
Cheriola at 18:03 on 2017-08-08
Well, it probably would, if I had an evil sibling or colleague who wanted to ruin my online reputation by impersonating me, or something. But still, thanks for checking.
Robinson L at 20:30 on 2017-08-08
Arthur: If it is part of your ideological framework that everyone is brought up in a ideological or cultural framework hostile to yours, then the red pill narrative fits.

Good point.

Cheriola: I got the impression that the extreme right is co-opting the "red pill" metaphor not primarily for anti-feminist goals, but more for distinctly anti-social economic / political ideology, which I assume goes more along the lines of Randian libertarianism.

I can believe it. I’ve been aware of this stuff going on, but haven’t looked too closely to see exactly what flavor of bullshit they’ve attached to it.

I have read that Bannon and his ilk are also big fans of Lenin. At which point I hit a wall of "Does Not Compute" - though probably just because of my aforementioned lack of any detailed knowledge of what the various strains of Communism-associated "isms" actually entail. I just know that my country once subscribed to an ideological system called "Marxism-Leninism", whose mere existence to me implies that Leninism has more in common with Marxism than with the kind of ideologies the Western right-wing normally are subscribing to.

Lenin definitely considered himself a Marxist, though many people would argue he went off the rails even before Stalin took over.

This phenomenon is apparently nothing new, though. Michael Parenti has pointed out (and he probably wasn’t the first) that Mussolini and Hitler co-opted a lot of left-wing rhetoric about revolution and fighting corrupt elites to sell fascism in the 20s and 30s. And Thomas Frank (and probably others) have pointed out that in the 2016 US presidential election, Mike Pence’s catspaw* invoked left wing talking points by pandering to working class outrage and anti-elitist sentiments—blended, of course, with rampant xenophobia—to sell his reactionary populism.

*I call him that because according to Naomi Klein, it hurts his brand to insinuate he’s not the one calling the shots.

Maybe Bannon and his ilk admire Lenin for his authoritarianism and vanguardism rather than his critiques of capitalist society and imperialism.

I’ve had a chance to read out the Matrix article now, and it’s an interesting analysis, regardless of to what extent the Wachowskis planned this reading—and it’s in line with the political sensibilities of their other works that I know of.

As for the article itself, I had to stop for a minute when I reached this part:

The film makers have rather ingeniously used the venue of a science fiction action picture to articulate a praxis that contains within its coordinates the requisite dialectical critiques of prior failed praxis, including Althusser’s theories of ideology.

Coincidentally, I finally read Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language,” and I think I hear his ghost laughing its spectral ass off at that sentence. (As an aside: I snoozed my way through audio recordings of both 1984 and Homage to Catalonia, but I’ve found “Politics” and the other essays collected in All Art is Propaganda deeply engaging, despite usually having a lower tolerance for print format. Figure that one out.)


Re: Sense8
No worries about spoilers, I took a break after Season 1, because I want to savor it for a little while. I won’t be watching the special or second season until at least October.

When I really love a show or book, I'm sometimes so scared that the sequel will be disappointing or even ruin what was great about it in the beginning, that I can't bring myself to watch the rest

I hear that, and I am a bit worried about Sense8, but I’m hopeful they’ll manage to pull it off.

But as you say, the first season was far from perfect.

stereotypical presentation of non-Western cultures, and even Wolfgang is basically a German stereotype about Russian immigrants

True enough (well, I don’t know enough about that last one, but I can believe it), but to be fair to the series, while it does depict the non-Western cultures in stereotypical ways, it doesn’t depict them, or their inhabitants as flat—which in an ideal world would be taken for granted, but in the world we actually live in is an accomplishment.

that absolutely cringe-worthy first part of Will's storyline, especially the way all the law-abiding people of colour around him advocate for cruelty against people of colour who are criminals, while he, the white cop, is better than that

Ouch, yes, I was forgetting about that part; borderline fascist apologia. Uck.

and let's just say that gay viewers were not amused about the show condoning straight female fetishisation of gay people through the character of Daniela

Doesn’t surprise me. There’s also the double standard over the way Daniela’s initial attempt to seduce Lito is played for laughs, where if their genders were flipped, it would be clear sexual assault. I was also disturbed by the way their subplot ends: Lito has to be the big person and risk getting outed (which clearly scares him immensely) to save Daniela, even though she was the one who screwed up and jeopardized them all with her carelessness in the first place. In general, it feels like the writers either minimize the harmfulness of Daniela’s actions, or the extent to which they’re her responsibility.

That said, I find Daniela as a character utterly lovable, especially the oddball friendship she forms with Hernando and Lito (especially Hernando), and the way she does things like help them go out in public together without raising gossip about their relationship. The way those three play off each other is adorable.

in real life depressive people often don't have big traumatic reasons for their mental illness

Yeah, I have some people I’m close to who are depressed (and one or two more who’re bipolar), and while some of them have had difficult lives, I’m pretty sure there’s nothing as traumatic as Riley’s backstory. I don’t claim to understand what causes depression, but trauma clearly ain’t it in all cases, and my impression is that it’s not even in most cases.


Re: the Mars trilogy
Part of the problem for me was that I didn’t find any of the characters particularly compelling, though Maya and Anne are pretty important by the end of the first book and through the second and third, and they’re not any worse than the others as far as I’m concerned.

I listened to Red Mars like, a decade ago, and haven’t revisited since, but yes, Frank is really unlikeable, and I honestly couldn’t tell what the story expected me to think about him as a character. Maybe that’s the point, that he’s an ambiguous figure, but again, I wasn’t interested enough to figure it out.


Re: Elizabeth Bear books
I’ve talked already elsewhere about Dust—another book where the story and setting are pretty imaginative, but I just could not get interested in the characters at all. I made it all the way through, though, because I’m stubborn and I didn’t actually hate it.

I didn’t realize there were sequels, but I suppose maybe I’ll check them out sometime if I can find them readily accessible on audio.

I do mean real Communism here, not the Soviet-style one-party state-socialism that is reffered to as "Communism" in the West.

Don’t worry, I grew up in a leftist family, and went to one of the most left wing colleges in the United States, I know what you mean.

Basically, the society she writes only works because people have removed all sociopathic / greedy / religious impulses from human nature, through education, indoctrination, mandatory therapy and even brain surgery. It's not as awful as it sounds, nor as unusual - all human societies indoctrinate their population with their moral values and try to limit antisocial behaviour through sometimes drastic means, and what else is education / aculturation if not an effort to make children fit into the society they are born in?

Hmm, I suppose that makes sense.

I’ve followed a lot of David Graeber’s stuff, ever since I encountered his theoretical work on the nature of debt. He was also an organizer of Occupy Wall Street, and wrote a book about it, The Democracy Project, and either there or somewhere else he remarks that in the protest camps like Zucotti Park, communism (equitable management of space and resources) seemed to come to people naturally, whereas they found democracy (grassroots decision-making, rather than top-down) incredibly difficult.

(I think removing all sociopathic and greedy impulses is impractical and overkill; probably building a culture which discourages those impulses rather than encouraging them would suffice. And I still don’t quite understand why Western Marxists and liberal progressives take such a hardline anti-religious stance. Sure, like any human institution it can and often has been abused and put to oppressive purposes, but it’s also inspired people throughout history to do a lot of good in the world. And while I am an atheist and a philosophical materialist, I believe religious practices can give people an opportunity to tap into aspects of existence which most secular practices generally don’t.)

which leaves the reader to conlude that the author really thinks rapists rape because of high testosterone levels, not because social inequality breeds sociopathy and abuse. (The society enslaves all straight men for public safety reasons. And there are no women shown to ever abuse their power over the men.

Yeah, that’s pretty wonky, but not necessarily a dealbreaker. (Privilege: when you can shrug off a story which seems to call for the enslavement of people from your demographic in the certain knowledge that the negative consequences for you and people like you will be effectively nil.)

And that society could also only work in a universe where transgender people and bisexual men don't exist

Yeah, I’ve found it a little startling over the years to reflect how many speculative fiction premises would be problematized if not rendered incoherent or nonviable if you posit the existence of bisexual people and/or transgender or intersex people . One more piece of evidence of how deep the gender binary outlook goes, I guess.

if she could havbe thought of a realistic way out of the dilemma, she would be a strong contender for a Nobel Prize, and I don't mean for literature.

Ha! Nicely put.
Arthur B at 20:45 on 2017-08-08
Well, it probably would, if I had an evil sibling or colleague who wanted to ruin my online reputation by impersonating me, or something.

Then they wouldn't be random though. ;)
Cheriola at 04:07 on 2017-08-09
@Arthur:
Huh? But they're not random. The email handle is my first name initials and family name.


Michael Parenti has pointed out (and he probably wasn’t the first) that Mussolini and Hitler co-opted a lot of left-wing rhetoric about revolution and fighting corrupt elites to sell fascism in the 20s and 30s.


Oh, yes, definitely. "Nazi" is short for "National Socialist Worker's Party of Germany", even if it wasn't in truth much anti-capitalist at all. From what I've been taught, the capitalist / aristocratic elites in the 20s and 30s supported him specifically because they (rightfully) thought he would co-opt all the anger among the working class (the Great Depression was even worse in Germany than in the US, leading to runaway hyperinflation), and so prevent an outbreak of Communist/Socialist revolution like in Russia. And of course, the Communist Party in Germany came right after the Jews on his hitlist. Hence blaming them for the false-flag Reichstag burning (as if they were terrorists), and putting every Communist sympathizer who didn't manage to flee to the Soviet Union (as was the case with the people who were later set up as the goverment of East Germany under the Soviet occupation) in a concentration camp. This part of the Holocaust usually gets ignored in the West (along with the Romani, mentally disabled people, 'vagrants', lots of slavs, and the gay people - the last of which the Allies didn't even free but just put in another prison, because the US / Britain had never taken the buggery laws off the book the way pre-Nazi Germany had had already, thanks to the forcible implementation of the Code Napoleon in most German states a few generations earlier), but obviously the East German government made sure people here didn't forget.


I guess I can see American Neo-Nazis with no indepth experience of this historical baggage of Communists vs. Fascists rivalry sort of cherry-picking what they like from various revolutionary writers with any even vaguely matching authoritarian bend to their philosophy. Like, take all of the "dictatorship", but none of the "of the proletariat". This approach to politics doesn't really compute for me, but it wouldn't be the first time that I get the distinct impression that the people to whom the whole right-wing authoritarian worldview appeals, must somehow be immune to the feeling of cognitive dissonance.

But around here, the hard-left Socialist party that's based on the old East German goverment elite (who were not exactly democratically minded...) is definetly the side who most stridently fights against the populist right. When there are Neonazi-with-a-figleaf demonstations in the streets, there usually will be a Socialist hardliner counterprotest, and the police has their hands full keeping the two from meeting, because both sides are quite willing to start throwing stones. Shame I can't square it with my conscience to actually vote for the Socialists - at least not for another 10 years or so. They have good ideas (and in my state, at least, they aren't refusing to work with all the centrist parties in a coalition, the way the West German wing does, mainly out of personal spite), but I need anyone involved with the East German one party dictatorship, even as junior staffer, to have retired before I can vote for the party. Thankfully, Germany has a viable Green party which isn't seen as a case of "wasted votes" in a coalition-based system, even if they aren't exactly lefty hippies anymore on issues of economy and military.

...Sorry, this went off on a tangent. We're having a major election next month and campaigns are revving up, so it's kind of forced to the top of my mind.


*I call him that because according to Naomi Klein, it hurts his brand to insinuate he’s not the one calling the shots.


Uh... Are you talking about Trump or about Bannon here? If it's Trump, I agree. Though I'm not so sure it's Pence pulling his strings. (Bannon seems much more dangerous to me, what with scheming his way into a position of high power that is not in any way accountable to The People, nor even much to industry donors. I get the disturbing feeling that he's set up both Trump and Pence so that when Trump gets pushed out of his office (all Bannon would need to do is hack his Twitter account and pretend to have a complete meltdown - at this point, who'd believe it wasn't Trump speaking unfiltered?), Pence, who unlike the opportunist Trumpster actually has political convictions, and which Bannon seems to share, will seem like the 'sane', 'moderate' and 'competent' alternative that everyone is desperate to work with just to get something done at last...)


As for the article itself, I had to stop for a minute when I reached this part:


Because you agree, disagree, or because your eyes glazed over at the string of incomprehensible terminology, like mine did? ;P
Sometimes I wish social science academics would realise that they're not getting their point across to anyone but other social science academics if they don't even try to explain things in layman's terms. (Also, it makes you sound pretentious twit.)

I don't remember 1984 being that bad. Though of course I read that in a German translation. (In highschool, as part of the obligatory "anti-Fascism innoculation trifecta" of 1984, Fahrenheit 400-something, and Brave New World. Sadly we only had time for Animal Farm in the movie version.)


Sense8:


Wolfgang and his storyline also have a few more problems other than him being a Russian-heritage career criminal, though mostly not in ways that are offensive, just... misinformed. Like, his ease with public nudity (which the actor does not share, despite having largely the same personal background as the character, minus the mafia family, of course) would be a lot more believable if he were 20 years older. (Yes, many East Germans were fans of Free Body Culture - but that attitude was mainly part of my parent's generation, and Wolfgang would have been a toddler when the Wall came down and society changed.) And while anti-East German kid bullying may really be a thing deep in West Germany, it doesn't really make sense 10 years after the reunification and in Berlin, of all places. (West Berlin was also heavily subsidised by West Germany, otherwise it wouldn't have been viable; and West Berlin people were practically the only West German people really happy about the reunion, because it meant reuninon with family members in East Berlin, as well as not being a cut-off island in foreign territory anymore.) That whole plot-point would have made much more sense if Wolfang had moved to Munich as a kid.
And Conan the Barbarian was never that much of a thing here in Germany. It's far more likely that little Wolfgang and Felix would have sworn "blood brotherhood" after Wolfgang introduced Felix to Karl May movies. (Though I'm kind of glad they didn't go that route. While these East Bloc westerns are less intrinsically awful than the US western genre, what with The Powers That Be automatically siding with the 'Indians' in their struggle against the budding capitalist empire, they're still based on a 19th century Noble Savage stereotype, contain lots of utterly clueless depiction of Native American culture (Karl May never actually visited the Wild West or even just America), and of course there are lots of European actors in Red-face involved. Which would all have been hard to explain to contemporary audiences, especially the primary audience in the US.)
Also, his free use of weapons is really, really silly in a country with stringent gun control, even for someone who might believably have connections to Russian illegal arms dealers. I laughed my ass off when he used that rocket launcher - within line of sight of an office building of the federal police right across the river.

And unfortunately, in their well-meaning effort to make Berlin look as multicultural as US cities, the creators have made it look like Wolfgang has some sort of fetish for women of colour, which gives his budding romance with Kala a bad aftertaste. (Yes, there is a large Turkish minority in Berlin. But most of them would not run around unveiled or even naked in an unisex bathhouse. They're here partly because Turkey outlawed wearing hijabs in public buildings in the 1990s. So the fact that Wolfgang manages to meet so many westernised women of colour makes it looks like he's actively and exclusively seeking them out.)
As for Felix... Well, let's just hope he was meant to come across like a vaguely sexist and casually racist embarrassment.


From what I've read, the plot-point about Chicago 'ghetto' hospitals refusing to accept gunshot wound victims is actually true. (They don't have the funding to keep a 24/7 emergency team of trauma surgeons on staff.) But having that injustice presented the way it was, by an African-American nurse no less, was a really bad idea. And this was all filmed right at the time as the Black Lives Matter movement was picking up speed, too. What were they thinking?!


I agree about most of what you wrote about Lito and Daniela, but regarding the plot resolution: I came away with the impression that Daniela's endangerment was just the spark that finally made Hernando face up to what had been bothering him for a long time: That Lito is hiding him like something to be ashamed about. And that's why he broke up with him. (Which I gather is not an unusual type of conflict in gay relationships. That part did resonate with a lot of people.) Lito came out for Hernando (and for himself, to finally stop leading a double life), not for Daniela. It's just that, in the context of the telenovela style of this storyline and Lito's way of associating masculinity with the macho roles he plays in movies, it was necessary for him to bravely save a girl, and thus prove to himself that being gay doesn't make him any less of a man. This was why there was the "I'm not a fag!" line, which seemed to come out of nowhere for many viewers living in societies that are less misogynist than Mexico. But for Latin Americans, it was kind of understood without saying, that even though his happy sex life proved that he wasn't self-hating (anymore) for being attracted to men, he still would be ashamed for "feeling very Whitney Housten" sometimes. Apparently this all makes more sense from a Latin American macho culture perspective than it does from our Western-liberal worldview where outing oneself and particularly showing one's feminine side (which Lito only ever does in private with Hernando, up to the end; and note that Hernando is his first boyfriend, and that Lito is always topping) is considered plenty brave in and of itself.
And as far as I remember, Daniela does take responsiblity - she's voluntarily resigning herself to a lifetime of domestic abuse - to make up for her stupidity and invasiveness. It's what redeems her character. (Well, that and the fact that hating her would be like kicking a puppy.) The problem is more that before that whole plot-line started, the show depicted two gay men happily performing sexually for the gratification their female 'friend'. The only thing they objected to was being filmed. Which: NO. (Lito might be bisexual, but Hernando isn't and it's Hernando who quickly embraces Daniela in their life.)

Another problematic thing I had forgotten: The orgy scene in "Demons" was awesome in its audacity (and for contributing to the whole up-front-and-center treatment of LGBT sex scenes on this show, which is the inverse of the treatment it gets on every other show). But it does get kind of squicky when Fridge Logic sets in. The Sensates themselves enjoy it and presumably only people already aroused get pulled into the clusterfuck (Capheus wasn't in the mood so he only got a little physical backwash, not the full stereo mindmeld - I like to head-canon him as asexual, for his reaction in that scene and a few other reasons), so it's not exactly non-consensual. (Even if Nomi was like "Why did it have to be men?!" the morning after.) Anyway, it's just part of who they are now, so they have to live with it - nobody ever said having superpowers would be all kittens and rainbows. But what about their partners, who were never asked if they wanted to share "carnal knowledge" of their body with some random strangers? I mean, Amanita is probably bisexual (she has the bi pride flag colours died into her hair), but that doesn't mean she'd automatically be okay with Lito seeing her naked and knowing what she tastes like. And as far as I remember, Lito never talked to Hernando about the fact that he now has several other people looking through his eyes on occasion, so for all we know, Hernando still has no idea he was humped by 2 mostly straight guys and a woman.


I don’t claim to understand what causes depression, but trauma clearly ain’t it in all cases, and my impression is that it’s not even in most cases.


Yeah, I was speaking from personal experience in my critique of the show's presentation of depression, though my case isn't so bad that I'm driven to self-medicate with party drugs. On the one hand, the big trauma is necessary in the show for the audience to feel guilty for judging her earlier. On the other hand, this presentation kind of implies that all the many people who develop their mental illnesses spontaneously (due to hormonal imbalances or whatever) don't have a 'legitimate excuse' to have the difficulties with life that they have. It should have been enough to show her having been diagnosed with depression, and maybe refer back more indepth to her blink-and-you-miss-it suicide attempt scars that were already shown in an early episode. But that probably wouldn't have been enough for most neurotypical people in the audience to feel sorry for her and retroactively realign their mental picture of her to cut her some slack.

Cheriola at 04:08 on 2017-08-09
Mars Trilogy:

Part of the problem for me was that I didn’t find any of the characters particularly compelling,


Yeah, that's what I meant. The one guy just stood out for being memorable for all the wrong reasons. KSR is just not very good at compelling characterisation. I'm not quite sure what the problem is exactly - it's not like there isn't enough detail to the characters (at least in the later books I've read by him). They're just not... much fun to be around, or even fun to loathe. They're just very ordinary. Which may be the point, since the books are usually about how communities deal with their problems, not about singular heroes, like in more libertarian scifi.

(Hm... perhaps that's why 2312 is so hard for me to get through even though I should like the characters a lot more in theory. That book only shows communities from the outside and never for long, so it doesn't play to KSR's strengths, and the reader is forced to spend most of their time with the two characters who visit all these communities while on a sort of tour of the solar system. Unfortunately, these two come across kind of like hipsters, without having the excuse of actually being young. For example, the main heroine made me think she's in her 20s from her whole internal narration - until the author dropped the info that she's already had a child who died of old age. I mean, I'd be the first to admit that I'm suffering from arrested development myself, and I realize that perpetual re-invention and even serious body/brain modification is this character's whole stick, but it still feels rather alienating.)



There is an audio version of Chill and Grail, yes. And obviously they follow a different protagonist (or rather, several) than the first book. Though I don't remember having any problem with Rien's characterisation, as such - more with the stylistic choices that made it hard to identify with her instead of second-guessing all the time what she's really talking about behind her filter of magical thinking. It's been some time since I listened to this trilogy, so I can't remember for sure, but I think the stilted "medieval questing romance" style gets dialed down a lot for the sequels, so maybe you'll find them more accessible. (Especially the last book is half told from the perspective of a man and a woman living in the communist society I described above, who have a completely different, more 'normal' way to relate to the world around them. Both of them also have problems with the society they live in, mainly because for unfixable neurological reasons they can't quite fit in, even if their society doesn't actually oppress them. The narrative doesn't work like a total Communist utopian screed, if that's what I made it sound.)

Carnival unfortunately has a similar stylistic problem. Deception is a big part of the plot and two of the three protagonists are professional spies, who despite working intimately together have to keep secrets from one another. I don't know if it was intentional, but sometimes even their internal monologues were so vague that I had trouble figuring out their motivations, plans or what was going on. There was a sort of persistent barrier between me and the characters that I'd never experienced before while reading fiction. (Though to be fair, I normally don't read much spy thrillers - I prefer to read the kind of cloak-and-dagger story where at least the main protagonists trust each other absolutely, like in the Nightrunner fantasy series, to name one that has some more similarities with Carnival.)




(I think removing all sociopathic and greedy impulses is impractical and overkill;


Yes, that's partially the point in Grail. The backstory is that people started out just finding a way to fix actual antisocial personality disorder and fanatical religious zealotry (let's ignore for a moment that that's probably impossible), because those are the roots of wars and attrocities. But over the centuries they took a harder and harder stance on how much selfishness is permissable, with the result that one of the characters, who suffers from inoperable temporal lobe epilepsy and gets visions like Joan of Arc, can't find anyone willing to have kids with him, even though he's perfectly rational and knows full well that it's not God talking to him in those episodes. And the other character is a woman who must retain a certain level of sociopathic capacity to harm others for her primary job (security officer), but that also alienates her somewhat from her society, so she spends a lot of time on her own, flying shuttles. And the society as a whole just cannot deal with / fight off / reintegrate the people on the generation ship, who for all their transhumanist body modifications still mostly think like 20th century human beings. (There's also a bit of a fantasy aesop that it turns out that the epilepsy gives the guy the ability to communicate with telepathic aliens. I think the intended meaning is "Don't try to constrain and control evolution too much, you don't know where it might lead if left alone.")

But what I meant to get across is that in this book, the communist society is neither presented as a total and easy-to-achieve utopia, but also not as a dystopian society with a deep dark secret of oppression. The indoctrinaton and therapy is there precisely so there doesn't have to be any force - people lead altruistic lives because they want to, and are mostly happy with that. Sure, if they had grown up in a different culture, or without the brain modifications (mainly hormones, I think), then they might want to live different lives. But so would a boy in our culture who wasn't told over and over again that it's wrong to hurt animals, or take what he wants from girls without asking, and that, if he doesn't fit himself to these expectations, he'll be punished with prison one day.

Personally, I think it would be really nice if there was a way to cure full-blown sociopathy, at least. (Antisocial personality disorder is the only mental disorder that's completely incurable in the real world - all you can do is lock these people away to protect the rest of society). Especially now that our systems to control the behaviour of the maybe 5-10% of the population who are sociopaths are breaking down. (That's what the threat of Hell was always about. The threat that even if you can hide what you did well enough not to face consequences from other humans, someone will always punish you instead. But this only works if people believe in Hell.) In the real world, all we can hope for is to break the cycle that makes kids turn into sociopaths in the first place - i.e. removing child abuse (including parental beatings), severe childhood trauma (wars etc.), and doing our best to remove the various social oppressions and otherisations that lead to partial sociopathy. (I mean for example when a man is perfectly capable of having empathy with other men, but at the same time is not capable of empathising with the woman he's sexually harrassing / assaulting.)
Besides that, removing social structures that inherently encourage sociopathic behaviour (e.g. shareholding companies, or badly supervised prisons, or the CIA) would help a lot.

But in the end, there's a reason that Communism (the true, elite-less kind), while appealing to most people, doesn't work in groups larger than the small tribes we had for most of our evolutionary development. Our brains and instincts just aren't evolved for societies of a size that doesn't allow for face-to-face accountability. If you want, I can do a whole song and dance routine on why Socialist states are doomed to always end up with a dictatorial government, no matter how well-meaning the people who set up the system were originally. And the reason for that ultimately is ordinary, personal, I-want-the-best-for-my-family type greed that almost everyone is guilty of because it's just human nature.

And I still don’t quite understand why Western Marxists and liberal progressives take such a hardline anti-religious stance.


Because, as soon as a cult (Jesus and his diciples were probably as close to the true Communist ideal as you can get without being an atheist and while living in a deeply patriarchal society) reaches the organizational size of a Church, oppression and maintenance of social inequality aren't the result of abuse of the religion, but the whole raison d'être of the religious rules. See central concepts like "the great chain of being", or patriarchy for that matter. (Which probably existed first, as a necessary result of the development of agriculture, with the patriarchal religions formed precisely to justify the oppression and squash dissent with "because God said so!") Even Buddhism is somewhat patriarchal. Also, telling the poor and oppressed that their suffering is the result of bad behaviour in their previous lives (Hinduism, Buddhism), or that what really matters is only the afterlife and "the meek shall inherit the world", is a pretty good way to suppress any revolutionary fervor against your privileged elite of economic parasites. (Hence the phrase "opium of the masses".)

However, while Communism is incompatible with organized religion, I don't see a reason why it can't co-exist with basic spirituality. As long as the believers don't insist that their belief system is the only valid one, that is - which is a rather tall order for almost all major world religions. (As far as I know, Buddhism is the only large religious system that is free of this claim, and of the drive to convert people. A while ago, while watching a documentary on some poor kid in the US whose Tibetan-immigrant parents had decided that as a US citizen he'd make an excellent future ambassador for the independence of their home country once the Dalai Lama dies of old age - uh, sorry, I mean: who are totally convinced that their son, of all the human babies in the world, is the reincarnation of some other Buddhist leader - I finally realised why Buddhists have this seemingly ridiculous custom of making mere children their leaders. Because, as cruel as it might be to the boys who have to spend their childhood getting indoctrinated in a monastery far away from their parents, the alternative to this system of picking future leaders at random is getting leaders who actually want the job - either out of true religious fanatism, or because they're cynical, ambitious manipulators who just want the power (see: almost all pre-modern popes). Only very, very rarely you'll get a well-meaning wide-eyed idealist like Jesus or the Buddha, and they're much more likely to want to overthrow the old hierarchy and start a new religion - where their well-meaning rules will be immediately co-opted by the next generation of ambition-driven politcal leaders as soon as the Great Teacher is dead. The system of choosing ordinary, random people for their leaders and then just educating them in everything they need to know (which is unfortunately far easier with young children who still absorb knowledge like a sponge) is precisely the reason why Buddhism is such a peaceful, tolerant religion.

(Incidentally Grail suggests a similar system for choosing political leaders: There's a citizen lottery for who gets to be a candidate, then a democratic election to weed out the truly unsuitable. And it's your civic duty to serve your term as best as you can if your number gets called up. You don't get to opt out. Basically, it works much like jury duty in the US. Though the size of political units in the setting is about that of a large town (200.000 people, IRRC), so these randomly elected leaders are more like majors, not "Commanders in Chief" with huge military powers. I don't know if it was stated in the text, but it was implied that there are no armies anymore.)


(Privilege: when you can shrug off a story which seems to call for the enslavement of people from your demographic in the certain knowledge that the negative consequences for you and people like you will be effectively nil.)


Ha! XD
To clarify: I don't think the author meant to call for the enslavement of men (the female protagonist's storyline is all about how horribly unfair it is that her sweet, genius little son will not be allowed to do anything but breeding and physical labor in his life). It's just that she didn't really think her setting through all the way, focussing too much on her apparent goal of subverting the "conflict-free matriarchal utopia" trope from older feminist scifi. There's no-one stating in the text that no abuse ever happens, and the female elite characters are hardly all nice people. But the reader isn't shown any abuse either, and there should have been some just to show that the premise the society was built on - basically the "boys will be boys" excuse - is wrong.
The book's seeming condemnation of the concept of "the revolution will not be civilized", I can't excuse, though. Not when it's a rebellion against slavery.

Cheriola at 04:09 on 2017-08-09
@Arthur:
Oh, nevermind. I'd lost the thread of our conversation.
Cheriola at 15:38 on 2017-08-09
Re: Karl May movies:

Sorry, I got confused. The Westerns made on the basis of Karl May's novels were produced for a short time in West Germany in the 1960s. Their runaway success then inspired a series of "Indianerfilme" (Red Westerns) produced in the Eastern Bloc, which ran until the the 1980s. Partly this was also because Karl May's books were outlawed in East Germany, because the Party elite thought that he'd been presenting the colonisation of America by the White man too positively, ignoring the genocide of the Native Americans, which may have been a reason why Hitler (like most men grown up in his time) was a fan of the books.

The West German Westerns were treating some Native American characters with respect (such as the famous Winnetou, friend and "blood brother" of the German expat hero Old Shatterhand), due to Karl May's heavy use of the Noble Savage stereotype. But otherwise they worked much like American Westerns, even if they were generally less violent, because they were made for a PG audience.

The Eastern Bloc Westerns, in contrast, actually made the Native Americans the heroes and the White cowboys the villains, for anti-American propaganda purposes. The result is movies like "The Sons of the Great Bear". This was apparently based on a series of novels by a female professor of literature who'd been a Communist under the Nazis (the books weren't published until the 1950s, of course), and who actually did study Lakota culture as best as she could, even going to far as to live among the tribes for a while. (I remember my mother also having a handful of other Young Adult adventure novels with a similar bend, which were published in her youth.)

However, today in Germany, the Karl May movies are far more famous and nostalgia-soaked than the more progressive "Indianerfilme". Because everything made by Socialists is bad, don't you know?
Arthur B at 16:03 on 2017-08-09
Cross-article connection: Hitler's admiration for Karl May westerns is featured in the last Colonel Pyat book.
Cheriola at 18:38 on 2017-08-09
Hm... from what I understand, the reason the Nazis didn't outlaw the Karl May books despite their representation of people of colour as possible heroes, is primarily childhood nostalgia overriding adult political opinions, not the idea that Germans should identify with the Native Americans in their struggle for "Lebensraum". Kind of the evil mirror verse version of when we say "Yes, the Indiana Jones movies are racist and sexist as hell... but they're just so much fun!"
Also, as far as I've read, the depiction of Native American culture in those books had really more to in common with 19th centruy ideas of what ancient germanic tribes were like, than with actual Native American cultures. (For example the blood brotherhood thing is much better established as a part of germanic culture, and there is only little evidence that it ever was a Native American custom.) So obviously, this version of the Noble Savage trope appealed to the Nazis, who were already big on making up myths about Germany's tribal origins.

Though I do think that the Communists had a point in that the Nazis' idea that they have the right to conquer new land for the German people no matter how many other, supposedly inferior people have to die to acchieve this goal, came from the same ideololgical source as the British / French colonisation drive, especially as justified through "Manifest Destiny", with Native Americans and Aboriginal Australians being viewed maybe not as outright "sub-human", but as a "dying race" that could and should be pushed aside and supplanted by White people.


Though while this analysis work as an explanation for why Karl may books appealed to Germans in the early 20th century, I think it's unfair to call him "the Cowboy mentor of the Fuehrer", as some Communist critics did. For his part, Karl May seems to have had an attitude not unlike that of many liberal Westerners who are looking from the outside onto the Israeli/Palestinian conflict: "Colonization has happened and can't be taken back. So try to get along and share the land." Hence the great central friendship of Winnetou and Old Shatterhand. Unfortunately, this recommendation of "make up already" requires ignoring that the colonized population has very real and serious grievances that need to be addressed, even if the major atrocities happened generations ago. It's not okay to treat it as a conflict of equals, nor of people who are equally "in the right".
Robinson L at 22:00 on 2017-08-11
gay people - the last of which the Allies didn't even free but just put in another prison

Yikes, now that part I didn’t realize—that the gay people in the camps were imprisoned again by the Allied forces. Given what I know of the state of homophobia in the US and Britain at the time, it sadly doesn’t surprise, but I’m a little surprised I hadn’t heard about it before.

Good luck with your election next month.


Robinson: I call him that because according to Naomi Klein, it hurts his brand to insinuate he’s not the one calling the shots.

Cheiola: Uh... Are you talking about Trump or about Bannon here? If it's Trump, I agree. Though I'm not so sure it's Pence pulling his strings.

Sorry, I meant the President. The one with the atrocious hairdo. The United States’ answer to Silivio Berlusconi (to paraphrase a friend of a friend).

Klein also named Bannon when she gave an example of a hypothetical puppetmaster. I just went with Pence because I try to avoid palace intrigue on principle, and from my limited knowledge he seemed a more plausible candidate than Bannon—I wasn’t trying to be particularly serious with it.

Robinson: As for the article itself, I had to stop for a minute when I reached this part:

Cheriola: Because you agree, disagree, or because your eyes glazed over at the string of incomprehensible terminology, like mine did? ;P

Definitely the third. I brought up Orwell because that sentence is a textbook example of the kind of unintelligible intellectual gibberish he criticized in “Politics and the English Language.”

I don't remember 1984 being that bad. Though of course I read that in a German translation. (In highschool, as part of the obligatory "anti-Fascism innoculation trifecta" of 1984, Fahrenheit 400-something, and Brave New World.

I didn’t find it bad—I just found the totalitarian society it explored the only interesting character in the story.

I’m a little surprised you were taught 1984, though, considering Orwell was fairly explicit about specifically satirizing Stalinism.

Also, his free use of weapons is really, really silly in a country with stringent gun control, even for someone who might believably have connections to Russian illegal arms dealers. I laughed my ass off when he used that rocket launcher - within line of sight of an office building of the federal police right across the river.

I’m pretty sure that part would have raised eyebrows even here in gun-crazy USA.

This actually brings up one of my biggest criticisms of the first season—an inevitable result, perhaps, of two of the showrunners being primarily action movie directors. While the protagonists aren’t supposed to be saints or anything, one of the themes of the show is about exploring the best in humanity, and in one of the later episodes, Jonas explicitly cites ordinary humans’ proclivity for killing each other* as something which makes sensates their ethical superior. And then we have sequences where not one, but two of the main characters slaughter upwards of a dozen nameless minions, and we, as viewers, are clearly not supposed to experience the merest twinge of cognitive dissonance about it. (Sure, Wolfgang is a “monster” for taking it too far, but Capheus, whose actions are slightly less harsh than Wolfgang’s, was entirely reasonable in the context of the show.)

*Conveniently ignoring the fact that most human beings are not killers, and, if not outright sociopaths, have to be pushed to some extreme limit or subjected to practically cult-level indoctrination before they can kill another person.

the creators have made it look like Wolfgang has some sort of fetish for women of colour, which gives his budding romance with Kala a bad aftertaste. (Yes, there is a large Turkish minority in Berlin. But most of them would not run around unveiled or even naked in an unisex bathhouse.

Oh man, I completely misread that scene at first. Because it was a unisex bathhouse, and we didn’t get a super good look at the woman’s face, I thought she was supposed to be Kala doing the sensate visiting thing (a bit of “they all look alike” racism on my part, I guess), and I couldn’t understand why it was never brought up again.

From what I've read, the plot-point about Chicago 'ghetto' hospitals refusing to accept gunshot wound victims is actually true. (They don't have the funding to keep a 24/7 emergency team of trauma surgeons on staff.) But having that injustice presented the way it was, by an African-American nurse no less, was a really bad idea.

Unfortunately, I can easily believe they have that policy; it’s the same fucked-up prioritizing which leads to atrocities like the Flint Water Crisis. But yes, having the black nurse and cop partner defend the practice (“what are you going to do if that kid grows up and kills a real personcop?”), while the white police officer is the only one to push against, it is hella reprehensible. Not to mention the fact that even he never questions or challenges the practice in general or the mindset or social structure behind it—he just argues for making an exception.

Clearly Martin Luther King Jr.’s maxim “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it understands that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” does not apply for the purposes of this subplot.

I came away with the impression that Daniela's endangerment was just the spark that finally made Hernando face up to what had been bothering him for a long time: That Lito is hiding him like something to be ashamed about. And that's why he broke up with him.

That’s certainly a more palatable interpretation. I guess I’d have to watch that part again to see if it makes sense to me—if I’m wrong, it would hardly be the first time. Or the hundredth.

Lito came out for Hernando (and for himself, to finally stop leading a double life), not for Daniela.

I dunno. To me, part of the reasoning seemed to be, “she’s our friend, you should help her.” And obviously, I’m all for friends helping each other out when and as they can—it’s one of the things I love about the show—but I read it as saying it was Lito’s responsibility to do so. Again, that could’ve been my mistake.

And as far as I remember, Daniela does take responsiblity - she's voluntarily resigning herself to a lifetime of domestic abuse - to make up for her stupidity and invasiveness. It's what redeems her character. (Well, that and the fact that hating her would be like kicking a puppy.)

I agree it’s a redemptive gesture, but it also puts her friends in the position of knowing she’s going through that domestic abuse for their sake. It was also a rash decision, without even attempting to work things out with Lito and Hernando. (If I’m remembering correctly, while they’re angry with her, they don’t stop speaking to her or anything, so the three of them could have tried to come up with a plan together.) To me, it came across more like a self-centered—though not selfish—attempt just to have the problem fixed and absolve herself of guilty feelings than a mature bid to repair the damage she caused.

If my reading of the situation as presented in the show were accurate, and the implication was indeed that it’s Lito’s responsibility to fix the problem caused by Daniela agreeing to marry Joaquin (rather than something he does out of friendship or solidarity), that to me further implies an erasure of Daniela’s responsibility, not only for the phone debacle, but also for creating the situation where—in this logical framework—Lito is obligated to step in and make things right. Sorry, that looks complicated even to me, but I’ve turned it over several times in my mind and that’s the best way I’ve come up with to explain what I mean.

Re: orgy scene
The Sensates themselves enjoy it and presumably only people already aroused get pulled into the clusterfuck (Capheus wasn't in the mood so he only got a little physical backwash, not the full stereo mindmeld - I like to head-canon him as asexual, for his reaction in that scene and a few other reasons), so it's not exactly non-consensual.

Well, just being aroused doesn’t count as consent, so I found that scene disconcerting even on account of the sensate participants (which certainly isn’t to imply that you’re wrong about Hernando or Amanita).

I found it best not to take that sequence too literally, and view it more on an emotional and symbolic level; which I realize requires a certain amount of denial on my part, but I think it’s the best way to interpret it.

Unfortunately, I doubt the showrunners share your sensibility about Capheus being asexual—I’m almost certain he’s not aromantic, given the ship-teasing we get between him and Sun later in the season.

It should have been enough to show her having been diagnosed with depression, and maybe refer back more indepth to her blink-and-you-miss-it suicide attempt scars that were already shown in an early episode. But that probably wouldn't have been enough for most neurotypical people in the audience to feel sorry for her and retroactively realign their mental picture of her to cut her some slack.

I’m afraid you’re probably right. Though I wonder if it could have worked for her to have depression, and a tragic history, but to make clear there was no direct cause and effect relationship between the two.


The one guy just stood out for being memorable for all the wrong reasons. KSR is just not very good at compelling characterisation.

That was my conclusion, and why I need a break before I’ll be prepared to give Aurora a try.

I actually think his characterization is okay, just not sufficiently compelling to keep me engrossed and invested through a mammoth-sized book whose plot progression is generally in the continental drift range. If the books were shorter, or the plot moved quicker and without the boring asides, I’d probably find them a lot more engaging.

They're just not... much fun to be around, or even fun to loathe. They're just very ordinary. Which may be the point, since the books are usually about how communities deal with their problems, not about singular heroes, like in more libertarian scifi.

That may be so, but even in communitarian stories, it’s possible to have characters who are vivid or eccentric, or otherwise compelling, without making them superhuman.


There is an audio version of Chill and Grail, yes.

Okay, well, if I can acquire those audio versions through my library system, maybe I’ll give ‘em a listen some day. I’m not curious enough to go out and buy them.

I didn’t hate the characters in Dust, but I also found them kinda boring, for whatever reason.


In the real world, all we can hope for is to break the cycle that makes kids turn into sociopaths in the first place - i.e. removing child abuse (including parental beatings), severe childhood trauma (wars etc.), and doing our best to remove the various social oppressions and otherisations that lead to partial sociopathy … Besides that, removing social structures that inherently encourage sociopathic behaviour (e.g. shareholding companies, or badly supervised prisons, or the CIA) would help a lot.

Well yeah, but if we achieve that—and I don’t think it’s impossible—we’ve completely changed the way the society functions anyway. Not a total utopia by any means, but maybe close from where we’re standing.

If you want, I can do a whole song and dance routine on why Socialist states are doomed to always end up with a dictatorial government, no matter how well-meaning the people who set up the system were originally.

No need. There’s a reason I favor a decentralized, anarchic model for societies. You can’t have social equity without democracy, and you can’t have democracy if your society is too big for every member to be meaningfully informed about the needs and life situations of every other member. (Apparently, US Founding Father Alexander Hamilton agreed with this assessment, which is why—Hamilton being an elitist prick—he favored a vast republic where participatory democracy would be impossible.) Plus there’s the fact that states by definition are institutions of organized political violence, which in practice always means warfare—actual or potential—abroad, and oppression at home.

And the reason for that ultimately is ordinary, personal, I-want-the-best-for-my-family type greed that almost everyone is guilty of because it's just human nature.

I dunno. I mean, that’s certainly true, but there’s also the argument that the best possible safety net is one which applies to everybody, without exception. If I want the best for my family, then logically, I ought to be working to ensure that everyone’s family has a decent standard of living—enlightened self-interest, if you will. I think a society organized around that principle would have a lot of human nature on its side.

As for religion, I’m familiar with the history of co-optation, and being put to use for oppressive purposes, but that’s only part of the story.

I just don’t see these oppressive tendencies as being inherent to religiosity in the same way I see them in, e.g., monarchism or stateism.

So if it were only hostility to organized religion, I’d find that understandable. But a lot of progressives and radicals seem to view any belief in the supernatural or religious practices—including those of native African or indigenous belief systems around the world, which don’t have the same history as organized religions—as being either inherently oppressive, or misguided superstitions which they’d grow out of if they only learned better. (Thinking of stuff like Star Trek and Anne McCaffrey’s “Pern” series.) It’s that kind of blanket, hardline anti-religiosity I can’t quite comprehend.

Incidentally Grail suggests a similar system for choosing political leaders: There's a citizen lottery for who gets to be a candidate, then a democratic election to weed out the truly unsuitable. And it's your civic duty to serve your term as best as you can if your number gets called up. You don't get to opt out. Basically, it works much like jury duty in the US.

Interesting. Graeber also talks about lottery systems as historically being the democratic alternative to elections, which he claims are an aristocratic institution.

To clarify: I don't think the author meant to call for the enslavement of men

Oh no, I didn’t get that impression. From your description, it sounded like an unfortunate implication of the author not thinking through the premise fully … Or it would be an unfortunate implication if the people in question were literally any other demographic.

The book's seeming condemnation of the concept of "the revolution will not be civilized", I can't excuse, though. Not when it's a rebellion against slavery.

Sorry, I’m not sure I followed that. Are you saying she depicts a civil revolution or a nasty one? Because I’m all for rebellions against slavery, but the accounts I’ve heard of, say, Nat Turner’s Rebellion here in the States, or the Haitian Revolution, get pretty gut-churning at times.


Unfortunately, this recommendation of "make up already" requires ignoring that the colonized population has very real and serious grievances that need to be addressed, even if the major atrocities happened generations ago. It's not okay to treat it as a conflict of equals, nor of people who are equally "in the right".

Yeah, that’s a phenomenon you see at work a lot here in the States among well meaning liberals, including directed at Palestinians.
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