Friday, July 10, 2015

The Rough Dreams

I've decided to start doing the Chuck Wendig flash fiction challenge, which this week involves a random title generator (thank you so much for the generator!). As this is flash fiction, it is only 670 words. Enjoy, and watch this space weekly!

The Rough Dreams
Morlynn loved her job. She loved being a Rougher, taking the raw Dream-Stuff her Harvester friends gathered, and shaping it into a general form, a school or work building, the sensation of flight or of drowning. She loved watching the Refiners take her sketched-in form, and turn it into a fully-realized dream, full of color and sound and heightened emotions. Most of all, she loved the thought that she was part of the process of making people's lives and minds more interesting, of showing to each of them some hidden part of themselves.
But sometimes, before she could pass a dream on, it would escape, lumbering off through the Curtain, to the waking world. They were often the hardest to work even before they went rogue, twisting and turning and straining under her hands, and each time it happened, her curiosity grew as to where they went, and why they tried so hard to get there. One day, Morlynn made the snap decision to follow one, to finally learn the answers to her questions.
The Curtain was strange, almost sticky, and she had to force her way through, where the dream had slipped through lightly. The waking world on the other side was bright, the colors sharper than anything Morlynn had ever seen, and it was loud, and smelly... Morlynn was regretting her choice, but she'd taken the biggest step, and now she felt she had to follow through. As she adjusted to the assault on her senses, she figured out that she was in a park, in the midst of a crowd, many of whom were waving signs or chanting something angry.
The people around her didn't seem to be able to see or feel her, which was eerie, but it did make everything a little easier. The dream, too, seemed invisible to them, but they still turned toward it, seeking for it. To Morlynn it glowed so bright its light shone through the people, and she found it simple to trail it through the crowd, that restless, churning mass of humanity, to a young woman standing near the edge of a stage.
The dream gathered itself and leapt into the young woman, the glow spreading out to fill her skin, to shine out of her eyes. She jumped up onto the stage and grabbed a microphone. She began to speak, passionately, gesturing and pacing, and with each word, a puff of glowing Dream-Stuff popped out of her mouth and drifted into the audience, who had turned toward her at her first word. The puffs landed on one person or another's face or hair, their shoulder or hand, then sank in and spread out under their skin.
Morlynn was transfixed. All around her, the waking people were starting to glow. Each glow was faint, but there were more and more of them with every passing moment, and the crowd looked to her eyes like moonlight on water. The people were now moving restlessly, turning to each other to share ideas and glow, waving their signs more energetically, throwing their fists up to agree with some point or other the woman on the stage was making. Her speech finished with a feeling like a silent thunderclap, and the crowd scattered, leaving in every direction with intense purpose.
Morlynn wanted badly to follow them, or the woman, but she felt herself being dragged back. A painful moment later, she was standing in The Boss's office, his luminous eyes fixed on her, though, she was glad to see, not with ire. He rose, came around the desk, and led her over to a sofa, where they sat. She looked down at her hands, then up at him, nervously.
He smiled gently, giving her a sense of calm. “And so you see, my dear. For their ordinary lives, people need sleeping dreams, to let their minds explore. But sometimes, every so often, they need waking dreams too, to let their hearts expand.“ Morlynn smiled back. She really, truly, absolutely, loved her job.

Friday, May 29, 2015

A Request for Rainbows

Game of Thrones is very nearly the only tv show (/movie) that I have watched without reading the associated book first. In general, I like to be able to picture the characters and settings for myself before seeing how someone else interpreted them. This, however, is not a post about the hits and misses of page-to-screen adaptations. This is a post about how authentic we should want our authenticity to be.
Something else I am not addressing with this post is the idea that rape was appallingly commonplace in feudal societies, and so we should have no problem not just talking about it but graphically showing it in a fantasy setting like Thrones. That idea seems to me to be disingenuous at best, and an excuse for gratuitous sexual violence at worst. Though, to be fair, that idea and this one are intertwined quite a bit. Because, for me, it's about agency, and femininity vs. masculinity, and how a created society treats those inferior in some way.
What I'm trying to say here, is that the treatment of and attitude toward Loras Tyrell bothers the hell out of me. I know the Dornish are much more comfortable with open sexuality, and many of them are openly bisexual, but we actively see very little of that on-screen. What we do see is Loras and Renly and "boy-lovers" who are mocked for being less manly than the warriors around them (though Renly was actually shaping up to be a good and decent king for a minute there). We see followers of The Seven- lay people, priests, and Faith Militant alike -being cruel or even violent to those who contradict their apparent view of the way the world works. But why should their world work that way?
Why make a fantasy world, and import these tired old tropes? If you're asking us to accept warging and fire magic, and *dragons*, if you're crafting a society with not just seven Gods, but Old Gods and New, why not have them be more accepting of "alternate" sexualities? You'll note also that all of the homosexual men we've seen have played into the effeminate stereotype to some degree, and even bisexual Oberyn was occasionally flamboyant; why not have queer men who are large and butch, or wily players of The Game? Why not have queer women who....
Ah, yes, the other half of this worn old coin. Where are the homo- or bi-sexual women? Aside from Oberyn's primary partner, Ellaria, and the extremely performative "whores kissing each other for the titillation of the customers," we see absolutely zero women who are sexually attracted to women. (We also see very, very little genuine affection between women, except a scattering of mother-daughter (type) interaction, but all that is a separate post.) Why erase even the possibility of those sorts of characters and stories from your world? Why, in fact, would any author recreate such stifling social mores in a fantasy work?
These are genuine questions to me. I genuinely do not understand why, when creating a world fantastical in so many other ways (even if molded on historical reality), one would confine oneself to historical attitudes. Why not have a society in which a small but significant percentage of the population prefers the romantic company of their own sex, and, here's the important part now, no one is bothered by it?!?! Why not have loving, committed same-sex couples, marrying in the same way as opposite-sex couples, raising children together, even ruling towns or countries together? Wouldn't that be an interesting boundary to push?
Now, this would of course have implications for the rest of society, but that just makes for better stories. Some possible things to explore: if noble couples cannot necessarily reproduce on their own, fosterage/adoption and inheritance become more complex (and interesting); naming schemes, separated from patrilinear conventions, could be quite convoluted; most basically, even words for spouses, parents, and noble hierarchy might be completely rethought. (OK, yes, one quick note about rape: this is another knock-on effect, that people who are comfortable with a range of sexualities and their expressions are also probably less likely to resort to sexual violence as casually as those of Westeros seem to.) Maybe I'm the only one, but it seems like the genre that used to be "sci-fi/fantasy" and is now "speculative fiction" is about exploring the ways the world could be different, and the implications of those differences.
Instead, in Thrones, we have another iteration of the (relatively modern) (Christian) idea that homosexuality is a sin and blasphemy, that its practitioners are dissolute and weak, and degenerates who deserve nothing but punishment in this life and the next. Frankly, it feels like a giant step backward, in this day and age, and it does a disservice to the show's viewers.
And so this is a call. To the established writers, the studio execs, the production companies seeking the next cultural phenomenon: Let it reflect our culture, and the positive direction we are heading. Let it be multicultural (which is something Thrones has had hits and misses with); let it be multi-gendered, and multi-sexual, without backlash; let it remind people that with or without magic and dragons, we can still change the world. Let people have agency, let women make choices without being punished for them, let that fantastical society evolve and improve by the works of its characters. In short, let us have hope again.    

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Genetic Engineering And You: a guide for those who eat

One of the biggest fights in politics today is over genetic modification of our food. Unfortunately, this is such a fraught issue that many people find themselves taking a hard-line position at one end of the opinion spectrum or the other, and the world of nuance in between is lost. I would like to clarify some middle ground that I think deserves to be explored.

Now, in principle, I have nothing against modifying or even recombining the genes in food plants and animals to increase yield or decrease the resources that go into something. I am certainly aware that part of terraforming alien worlds will inevitably involve genetic manipulation of not only living resources but also potentially humans ourselves. Heck, some of my favorite stories/worlds have this as a basic foundation! (See: the Pern series by Anne McCaffery) In fact, most food that we eat in the 21st century has been at the very least cross-bred to increase desirable traits. This is the beginning and ending of some people's argument: we have always tinkered with our food to make it more edible in some way, and modern methods are just the next step in that.

But there are issues with modern methods that simply did not arise in more traditional husbandry. Breeding two wheat plants or two cows together to produce a better version of the same species has predictable results, with at worst one or two mutations to be accepted or rejected (i.e. bred into another generation or culled). Taking a cow embryo and splicing in gene sequences from jellyfish or milkweed or elephants could have a whole cascade of side effects and/or unintended consequences.

Which is not to say that such splicing should never take place, just that it should be done in controlled circumstances. Raise that cow in relative isolation, and two or three generations (at least) of its offspring under close watch. Do not, whatever you do, set the first cow loose into a random field and let it wander off for a decade or so, at which point you have no idea how many offspring there are or how to identify and contain them. Not only is that bad science, it also makes the lives of everyone more difficult: the cattle farmers who might unexpectedly have jellyfish-cows, the meat inspectors who have to certify that this is in fact beef, and the consumers who eat something officially labeled 'beef'.

The ripple effect shows more potential problems. Often the experimental organisms and their offspring grow more quickly, or gobble resources more thoroughly, and overwhelm the native population of whatever. The spliced-in genes might mutate in unexpected ways, or cause strange mutations in the organism's native genetic code. Worse, the gene sequences might cause serious problems for consumers, like allergic reactions or the breaking of religious dietary laws. And without any sort of labeling or transparency about their process, the company cannot technically be held accountable.

We must also consider the intent, the end goal, of splicing in genes from an unrelated species. If your goal is to improve a tomato, you might want to add a gene sequence that increases its vitamin content, or one that extends its shelf life. Unfortunately, it seems that many corporations do not have the goal of improving the food itself. The aim of their tinkering is, far too often, to make the plant more compatible with their own fertilizer or pesticide, or less compatible with potential cross-breedees. (The larger goal of which, of course, is to increase their own profits without regard for who loses thereby.) One day we might conceivably even see animals which can only gain nutrition from plants created by a particular company, making farmers completely beholden to that company. This profit motive also leads these corporations to release organisms that have been minimally tested, or tested only in lab conditions, not in the wild.

This is the main problem I, and many other people, have with corporations like Monsanto. They seemingly do not care about the long-term consequences of their manipulations, nor about the short term effects on their own farmers, other farmers, or those who actually consume the food in question. Their methods and materials are functionally inscrutable, and they have bought enough politicians and regulatory bodies that they effectively face no consequences whatsoever. Worse, they simply keep growing, reaching deeper into our lives and our shopping carts every year, with little to nothing seeming to stand in their way.

As I've stated before, I don't have a problem with people pursuing this branch of science. In fact, I suspect that it will be necessary to our survival as a species (even before we start colonizing other planets) that we engineer plants and animals to be more fruitful/hardy/efficient. I just believe that this is work best done by universities and government research bodies, with data published in peer-reviewed journals before the resultant organisms are considered for distribution to the general public. These are institutions which (ideally) hold to a standard of public good, with an eye toward long-term implications of this still relatively untested technology. 

In the meantime, of course, it is important that we the citizens have not only labels on our food, telling us which organisms in it have been genetically modified, and with what genes, but also transparency at every level of creation, including what potentially-engineered plants have been fed to our food animals. We must have greater government oversight into the methods and practices of these monolithic corporations, and stricter laws about what can be modified (and why and how it is modified), and/or what sorts of genes can be spliced in. 

Genetically modified food will only become more common as history moves forward, but with a thoughtful outlook and a light touch, it can provide a higher standard of living for the entire global population. Let's chart that middle road.    

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Your song is ending, Doctor

There's a reason Time Lords only get a certain number of Regenerations. (Yes, yes, it's been forever, where have I been? Does it matter? Moving on...) I've heard plenty of theories: the cynical, that the Council of Time Lords doles them out; the logical, that it's a biological restriction; and the intriguing, that it's actually due to some law of conservation of Vortex energy or something, and that with the rest of them locked away, the Doctor has access to all those unused Regenerations.

But I think it's simpler than that, and more interesting, especially for someone like the Doctor. Hell, he's even said it himself- he's tired, old and tired. He's getting on towards 1,000 years old, and it's been a life of near-constant chaos, danger, and intrigue. It's very much like the Heinlein-Martian idea that a city can fill with memories and need to be left behind. For other Time Lords, by the time they get to that 13th Regeneration, they've probably lived closer to four or five millennia, maybe even more; they get into a lot less trouble, overall, than he does. They've still got an enormous amount of experiences and memories, and they all get a bit tired. I think that, after everything he's seen and done, even if he had the option to take on everyone else's spare Regenerations, he wouldn't, not if he had any other choice.

Which is part of why I think they need to bring back Romana. For one thing, I think it would do the Doctor a world (or two) of good to have some family again, a friend who understands about Gallifrey and the loss of a people, an ally who can always keep up with him. Also, he's gotten a bit reckless, and I think she would rein him in expertly, keep him alive just a bit longer. But the other side of that coin is that he would have an heir, someone who can continue his work when he uses up his lives and can finally stop running. She has plenty of experience keeping up with his quick-turns, both mental and physical, and she believes in the goodness of sentient beings and in giving everyone one last chance to mend their ways. There's no one in the Universe he's more likely to trust to continue his legacy, and no one more qualified.

Lastly, one thought on a slightly different topic. Interspersed with the Eleventh Doctor stuff I've been watching, I've also gone back and watched some First Doctor, and I'm intrigued by the similarities. Anyone else with me in thinking that, before we ever met him, the Doctor was as much of a poker and a pryer and an annoyance as Amy ever found him? Granted, he was likely a bit less wacky, what with being surrounded with other Time Lords, but some of his current oddness may be senility anyway. Or at least the weight of age... *This thought inspired by Teenage Rebel by Chameleon Circuit, from the album Still Got Legs.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The virtues of a reboot

So I just saw the new Star Trek movie. To be fair, I never really watched the original series, and while I enjoyed TNG when it first ran, and will willingly watch reruns (likewise DS9 and Voyager), I'm not terribly invested in the mythology or backstory of the Trek universe. So I think they could do well rebooting with either a movie franchise or a tv series, and I think they set up the premise and ending quite well for sequels on either the large or small screen.
But what I want to talk about is the idea of the reboot itself, and what this reimagine, forty years later, says about changes in our culture. (Note that in some ways George Lucas was trying to do this sort of reboot with the Star Wars prequels, but he's lost touch with his audience. That post is coming) The original Star Trek was bursting with promise, the idea that humanity were the great explorers, the great nation-builders. After all, the very idea of a Federation of Planets, a hugely diverse group that could nevertheless work together to do great things, was revolutionary in the age of Martin Luther King. Sure, there were enemies, conflicts, but there was also plenty of barter of goods and knowledge, and of course sexual openness. Nearly any problem could be solved with either ultra-modern technology or good old-fashioned diplomacy (whether it WAS solved that way is another question). And they were always learning new and interesting things about the universe! A strong metaphor for JFK's America...
In the reboot, we have a diverse group that works together a little uneasily (the Vulcan children certainly consider Vulcans as better than humans), but still fairly well. They face an opponent who saw, granted, a terrible tragedy, but he has vowed to retailiate with ten times the force, killing a dozen worlds for the one he lost. (Never mind that with the time travel/dimension hopping/whatever he's done, he could just SAVE his own planet and family.) He will not be reasoned with, he just wants vengance. While the bridge (and the rest) of the Enterprise herself is shiny and gleaming and ultra-modern, we also see plenty of areas that are grimy, run-down, or ill-kempt. The sexuality does ring very true to modern relative-openness, and they even managed to make Kirk's womanizing both realistic and central to the plot, which is impressive. A strong metaphor, overall, for the Bush years (since that's when it was written) and the Information Age.
I saw an episode of CSI recently (I believe it was from the new season) in which the victim of the week was a writer/producer who had done something similar, rebooted a favorite old chrome-future show with a darker and grittier theme. However, in that the fans of the original hated the reboot because the main character was confident and positive and diplomatic in the original, and in the reboot he was whiny and defeatist. The writer claimed this was more realistic, but it really went too far in the other direction. Abrams has avoided this by making all of his characters flawed but still likable, true to the originals but more realistically drawn. (Original Kirk was brash and remarkably charismatic, the new one charming but obviously reckless; original Spock the epitome of the cool-headed scientist [generally], the new one reaching for the ideal of perfect, cool logic, but falling short at times.)
I must admit myself disappointed on one front. The first time we see the space battle from outside a ship, there is silence, and I found myself excited that Abrams was aiming for realism. However, in later battles, the shots from outside the ships have the sounds of proton torpedoes and such firing. The silence was instead repeated inside, for a dramatic moment, and I realized he was using it as a dramatic device, not adhering to actual physics. I'm a little let down. We should require our science fiction to have better science, in this the Information Age.
The original Star Trek was full of hope and starry-eyed wonder. The new one is practical, but still positive and proactive. I say bring on the franchise, we could use more of that sort of hope.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Something to tide us all over

Holy Hannah, it's been forever since I've posted. I should do something about that. Well, to tide you over in the meantime, here's a different blogger I've just discovered, who has many interesting things to say. This particular post is tangentially relevant to the things I say here, so enjoy!

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Spike, the Wolf, the Ram and the Hart

Random late-night thought: Spike being bound to Wolfram & Hart, and furthermore to LA as it goes to Hell. Angel's team all agreed, for various reasons sufficient to each of them, to join the new staff of Wolfram & Hart. However, as has been revealed in the comics, WR&H were playing a very long game, and they now have the whole team right where they want them. But they wanted Spike, too, and he never would have agreed to join them of his own free will. They knew, though, that he would insist on wearing an amulet designated to be worn by 'a champion, souled but stronger than human', especially to save Buffy. Passing it from Lilah to Angel to Buffy to Spike ensured both that Spike would insist, and that there would be no way for him to understand where/who it came from. Any one of a dozen spells would ensure that the amulet returned to the LA office, and once conjured there, Spike would be bound to the offices, and whether or not he recorporialized, he would then have ties that would keep him in town for a year, which is all they needed. They played him just as much as the rest of the team, just at one more remove.