If I wrote something glorifying a society which had committed multiple atrocities

…including but not limited to active disenfranchisement, displacement of indigenous populations, causing a preventable famine, covering up death tolls, etc, you’d think I was insane, delusional, or simply a horribly socially inappropriate, reactionary type of person.

And yet a subgenre has risen up around a culture which systematically, over the course of hundreds of years, helped drive multiple indigenous cultures to the verge of extinction, perpetrated massacres against the natives of various territories, and whose effects have directly contributed to conflicts continuing within those formerly invaded territories to this day. (And, yes, those things above, too.)

I’m talking, of course, about steampunk.

I feel a little bad saying this, because I do enjoy the aesthetic (gears! buttons! flounces!), but it’s not okay.

Rewriting the narrative so that everyone is empowered and the minorities aren’t treated like third-class citizens in their own country is about as useful as whitewashing a rotten wall. Sure, you might be able to sell the house now, but it’s still a shitty, rotten house. You should expose it for what it is, and then tear it down and build a new one.

And this wouldn’t be even close to okay if we were discussing the Nazi regime (I keep wanting to add other genocides here, but the Serbian massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys was recently denied status as a genocide, so how many of those other incidents are really known? Armenia, Cambodia, various Latin American regimes, various incidents in the Balkans, Rwanda, Sudan…for a good overview of genocide and the man who helped push the term into the UN’s official lexicon, see ‘A Problem From Hell,’ aka light reading per my AP US teacher.)

So why is it okay to paint over the egregiously mercantilist, self-aggrandizing policies of Victorian Britain, and a society that was both internally and externally repressive?

It seems to me there are two reasons regarding the latter.

a) America doesn’t do a particularly good job of teaching how devastating the impact of colonialism was – after all, this is the country which fought off the British (never mind that the people fighting happened to have helped eradicate the original inhabitants) – and frankly, a lot of the real human impact from that era still isn’t out in the open, because it was underreported by the entities in power during that era. (You could make a case for the fact that native collusion undermines the purely negative impact of colonialism, but I would point out that’s only at the outset, and does nothing to change the fact that the society itself was extremely biased. Rudyard Kipling, anyone?)

Since Americans dominate the English-speaking market, we have to be a major focus of change.

b) The countries in which these events occurred are still, by and large, still marginalized. I mean, the last time I recall a strong discussion of post-colonial impact was when the events of the Rwandan massacre were coming into full light – in, what, 2004, ten years after they had actually happened. (Yes, I’m aware that was Belgium, not Britain.) Anyway, we just don’t have it pushed in our face the way the Holocaust was and is – which isn’t to say there should be less of the Holocaust but rather more of everything else.

And there’s no reason that everyone who was affected by it should move to the Western world and enter Western industries to make a point.

They shouldn’t have to.

It is important to own a legacy.

Trying to reinvent a time period which was certainly not pro-woman or pro-minority is not owning that legacy.

(As far as glossing over the internal repression goes…that seems an attempt, albeit one which also does the disservice of failing to explore how strong women during that time period really found power, to criticize reality.)

If we aren’t willing to take an honest look at an era, then why is that era in the picture at all? I understand taking elements from things that exist – I do it myself; who wouldn’t – but not attempting to grab all the trappings of an oppressive time period and treat them as something wonderful, when that society’s rigid morals and classism influenced those trappings, too. I’m not sure anyone would take seriously a setting which looked exactly like ancient Athens and then try to set it up to have equally empowered citizens who only entered age-appropriate dalliances while still writing homilies to the lovely shape in the sand when a boy sits down and where the wealthy women remained inside the house – and even layers and layers of clothing. (Aristophanes’ ‘Frogs,’ I think, unless it’s ‘Clouds.’)

Social history is not independent of politics. Writers should not treat it as such.

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Now that she’s back in the atmosphere….

I feel like I should say something to explain where I’ve been, but I don’t really have an explanation, or for that matter excuses. I still managed to read something like 50 books in 2014, I’ve already read 4 books this year—I’m scaling back other stuff so I start paying attention here again properly.

At this rate, I might even finish editing a piece and send it out for publication. O:

Five good reasons to shut up about your Nano plans

1. They don’t matter. NaNo novels aren’t finished products. They’re hideous messes. Yet, it’s a popular activity that many published authors engage in (probably). Why? Because they prove something to you. The social aspect of having a website and hashtag and, well, Interweb just obscure the fact that NaNo is as personal a venture as anything can be. It doesn’t take a village to write fifty thousand words.

2. Remember that “writing” thing? There’s no reason to write nothing until November. If anything, now is a perfect time to figure out your voice and practice with sketches or exercises so you don’t fizzle out and spend the rest of your month whining or looking for prompts on the forums. Plus, speaking from experience, you need a certain amount of detail in mind to reach novel length.

3. Performance anxiety. NaNo is about quantity, not quality. If you get everyone and their mom hyped up about your idea, how easy will you find crapping out the first draft of that story?

4. You need to be excited through November. Okay, maybe you are self absorbed enough (or… fine, have a long enough attention span) to still be excited and fresh on November 29. But for the rest of humanity…. Make yourself anticipate. Rev up the engine, don’t burn half your fuel half a month out.

5. No, seriously. I don’t care. Finished products are where it’s at. If you can’t deliver, don’t make the promise… and it’s not deliverable until it’s done.

Book Review: ‘Them’ by Jon Ronson

Them: Adventures with ExtremistsThem: Adventures with Extremists by Jon Ronson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t like conspiracy theories. I think the notion that even a powerful group of individuals can control world events is absurd, given how inherently unpredictable people are.

But….
Continue reading

Book Review: ‘Up Jumps the Devil’ by Michael Poore

Up Jumps the DevilUp Jumps the Devil by Michael Poore

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

The premise is straightforward: Mr. Scratch—better, and more frequently, known as the Devil—has just been shot up a bunch during a filming of his hit reality show, soooo how did he get there? Continue reading

Stop Talking About NaNo

…and get writing already!

There are Tina Fey GIFs everywhere in this because Tina Fey is my lady-hero and that’s just something we all have to live with.

Okay, so I know NaNo isn’t for me, but I don’t think it’s wrong for others.

At least, I didn’t think it was wrong for others. Like, hey, if motivation is something you struggle with a lot—and for me, it’s all about the extrinsic rewards, the firm conviction that I can produce publishable work—then why not jump on the community support and get yourself revved up that way? Continue reading

In which a vocal minority ruins it for the rest of us, and nothing changes anyway

I would be okay with every movie featuring non-white stars turning out like Harold and Kumar.

At times I think I should drop the whole ‘stop calling me a “person of color” I am not my skin’ thing…after all, the sudden pervasiveness of that term, and a demand for characters and authors who fit that term (well, except whites, sorry I guess you’re not a color anymore) in publishing is more a result of outside pressure than some weird new cult of exoticism. Continue reading

Book Review: ‘Five, Six, Seven, Nate!’ by Tim Federle

Five, Six, Seven, Nate!Five, Six, Seven, Nate! by Tim Federle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(ARC version. Official release is January 2014.)

This sequel to ‘Better Nate Than Ever’ is more serious—and way more about the inner workings of theatre—than the predecessor. Nate’s no longer on the cusp of puberty, he’s actually experiencing it, and with that go certain ‘grown-up’ notions such as having a secret admirer (you’ll be happy to know he doesn’t stop being completely adorable) and, on more serious notes, things like the intense pressure of a fast-tracked Broadway production that’s a huge friggin’ gamble because it’s being directed (produced?) by a videogame dude (yay, videogames! Yes, I relate way more to the ‘normals’ Nate feels alienated from), a considerbly more serious cancer situation, and also it’s show business! with the mandatory exclamation mark. Continue reading

Link

Zak Smith’s Illustrations For Each Page of Gravity’s Rainbow

This is super awesome. I think he nailed the claustrophobic, constant sense of WTF I remember that book giving me. (Especially the bits with the coprophilia. I have no idea how those related to the plot at all, but I think the guy was a general?)

I love looking at the Library of Congress listing for ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ because it is just the most confused thing ever. It’s in like a trillion different sections. Continue reading