Two Years of Co-Geeking

The Two Towers

Epsiode II: Attack of the Clones

Our two chief weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency…

… and two years of Co-Geeking.

We’ve been at this now for two years since we started on June 1 of 2015 and we’re still having fun. After our first year of figuring out what we want this blog to be about and how we want to do it, in our second year we’ve used our site to do what we can to promote some projects that are important to us, like the publication of Hidden Youth and the upcoming Worldcon 75 in Helsinki.

Here’s a look at what’s been important to us in the past year:

Favorite posts

Eppu: Appropriately, I have a twofer: 20 Fantasy Worlds to Visit and Down with Dull Dystopias. The former lists historical and fantasy novels I’ve liked or would like to try; the latter is a rant-ish opinion on the lack of humanity and empathy in my (then) recent reading.

Erik: Why Hidden Youth Matters to Me. I’m very proud to have a story included in Hidden Youth, but I’m also proud to have been a part of making that collection happen, regardless of my participation in it. In this post I talk about why, and why inclusiveness is important to me as a historian and a professor.

Our two chief weapons

(a favorite geeky thing that happened this year)

Erik: I’ll admit, I’m going to be predictably selfish on this one and say the publication of Hidden Youth. Not only is it a wonderful collection with a tremendous scope in style and setting, it’s my first professionally published fiction. How can I not be excited about that?

Eppu: The release of Arrival. It was doubly welcome because it’s a thoughtful adaptation of a nuanced story (the 1998 “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang) and because it’s regrettably rare to see science fiction movies with actual, full-time female leads who are not defined by motherhood, full-blown badassery (and nothing else), or their relationships with men.

Image: Monty Python’s “Spanish Inquisition” via Giphy

Announcements from your hosts.

Happy New Year 2017!

Happy New Year, everyone!

New Year 2017

May 2017 both delight and challenge you.

Ours definitely holds promise: Apart from some significant personal events, 2017 is also the 100th anniversary of Finnish independence. Hooray! I’m so thrilled to be alive when a big anniversary like this rolls around. And, coincidentally, Worldcon 75 will be in Helsinki August 9-13, 2017. Not yet sure what kind of a trip we could manage, but it sure would be fantastic to go. Might we see you there?

Image by Eppu Jensen

Top Five Posts for 2016

Go-Geeking is a year and a half old! Like last year, we looked at the posts that got the most eyeballs. For 2016 they are as follows:

  1. Race and Culture in Hannibal’s Army Erik responds with an ancient historian’s perspective to a Tor.com post about Hannibal’s army from the point of view of historical wargaming
  2. Hogwarts Dueling Club Tablecloth Transformed into Wall Hanging Eppu shares an eye-catching Harry Potter craft project found online
  3. Putting Trigger Warnings on my Syllabi Erik lays out An Opinion
  4. Arrival Recap Eppu’s first thoughts on the movie Arrival
  5. Fantasy Religions: Sacrilege, Blasphemy, and Heresy In a History for Writers piece, Erik discusses religion from the point of view of early history and what to consider while worldbuilding

Overall—taking the whole year-and-a-half block—we get a slightly different list:

  1. Do-It-Yourself Fantasy Place Name Generator Erik’s basic system for creating fictitious place names wins the top slot by a wide margin
  2. Race and Culture in Hannibal’s Army Erik responds with an ancient historian’s perspective to a Tor.com post about Hannibal’s army from the point of view of historical wargaming
  3. Sean Bean on the LotR Joke in The Martian Eppu shares a short transcript from an interview with Sean Bean by Yle, the Finnish national broadcast company
  4. Hogwarts Dueling Club Tablecloth Transformed into Wall Hanging Eppu shares an eye-catching Harry Potter craft project found online
  5. Putting Trigger Warnings on my Syllabi Erik lays out An Opinion

It’s fascinating to compare our favorite posts with what other people find interesting. Cool cool cool. 🙂

Messing with numbers is messy.

Hidden Youth Illustrations Roundup

The anthology Hidden Youth, with Erik’s story “How I Saved Athens from the Stone Monsters”, is expeced in November. We don’t know exactly when yet, but we know that the file has been sent to the printer. It’s very exciting—almost there!

I rounded up some of the artwork commissioned for the collection, but first here’s my headcanon picture for “Stone Monsters.”

In the beginning of “Stone Monsters,” there’s a scene where Mnestra, one of the protagonists who works as a flute girl, uses her veil to try and attract customers. I don’t think it was Erik’s intention, but the scene immediately brought to my mind this amazing, dynamic Greek statue we’d seen years ago at The Met:

The Met Bronze Veiled Masked Dancer

Bronze statuette of a veiled and masked female dancer, c. 3rd-2nd century BCE.

When thinking about “Stone Monsters,” this is the image that I connect with the story. Unfortunately the dancer’s veil is drawn so close that we can’t see her face. That’s where the Hidden Youth artists come to the rescue. I just happened to see this sneak peek by Paula Arwen Owen of her papercut illustration for “Stone Monsters” on Twitter:

Twitter Arwen Designs Stone Monsters Papercutting Sneak Peek

That’s eggplant and egg, all right, with a herma in the background. 🙂 Love it!

Then I was curious and went looking for Hidden Youth art. Others have also posted glimpses of their work in progress. For example, Ellen Million:

Instagram Ellen Million Hidden Youth

(She’s shared a slightly bigger photo as well.)

Two girls by Veleries / Thio Wina Oktavia:

Twitter Veleries Hidden Youth

Kat Weaver’s dormitory(?) sketch:

Twitter Kat Weaver Hidden Youth

A sneak peek by A. D’Amico:

Twitter A DAmico Hidden Youth

A glimpse of Jay Bendt’s piece:

Tumblr Jay Bendt Hidden Youth

And, finally, Charis Loke’s almost finished illustration:

Twitter Charis Loke Hidden Youth

They all look so great—can’t wait to have the book in my hands!

Images: Bronze statuette by Eppu Jensen (Greece; c. 3rd-2nd century BCE; bronze). Papercutting by Paula Arwen Owens via Twitter. Attic room by Ellen Million via Instagram. Two girls by Thio Wina Oktavia via Twitter. Dormitory by Kat Weaver via Twitter. Street seller by A. D’Amico via Twitter. Leaning girl by Jay Bendt via Tumblr. Under clouds by Charis Loke via Twitter.

In Making Stuff occasional feature, we share fun arts and crafts done by us and our fellow geeks and nerds.


Representation Is for Everyone

Monday is when I write, from a historian’s perspective, about some interesting or useful tidbit for writers, especially writers of genre fiction. I’m doing that again today, but from a different angle. Today I want to talk about representation, specifically the representation of people who are not straight white cis men in books, television, movies, games, and other media.

First things first: I’m a straight white cis man with no significant mental or physical challenges. I am a native-born citizen of the country in which I live and a native speaker of its majority language. I am financially secure and socially comfortable. I am not, as far as I know, heir to any titles of nobility, but other than that, if a privilege exists in the world, I’ve probably got it.

Yeah. I’m about to talk about representation. If anyone wants to get off this ride, now’s the time.

When creators and fans talk about adding representation to popular media, the refrain from people who look like me is often: “Why do we have to have X in this story? What do you mean you can’t identify with the characters? Why can’t all you Xes identify with people who aren’t exactly like yourselves?”

I understand where this response comes from. There are white guys all over the place in popular media, but I’ve never identified with a character just because he was a white guy.  There are so many of them that I couldn’t identify with them all if I wanted to. When I look at a character and think Hey! That’s me! it comes from traits other than outward identities. Here are some of the characters I’ve felt connected to over the years:

Spock (Star Trek), Guinan (Star Trek: The Next Generation), Brother Cadfael (Cadfael novels and Cadfael tv series), Minerva MacGonagall (Harry Potter novels and films), Gil Grissom (CSI), Sister Monica Joan (Call the Midwife), Mr. Bennet (Pride and Prejudice), Cora Crawley (Downton Abbey), Tuvok (Star Trek: Voyager)
Spock (Star Trek), Guinan (Star Trek: The Next Generation), Brother Cadfael (Cadfael novels and tv series), Minerva MacGonagall (Harry Potter novels and films), Gil Grissom (CSI), Sister Monica Joan (Call the Midwife), Mr. Bennet (Pride and Prejudice), Cora Crawley (Downton Abbey), Tuvok (Star Trek: Voyager)

They’re not all the same gender, race, age, or even species as I am. Two of them are members of a religious order, and I’m not religious at all. Most of them don’t even (fictionally) live in this century.

What can we learn from this collection? (Other than that I have a thing for Vulcans and a rather inflated sense of my ability to dole out wise advice to young ‘uns.) That representation is an aspect of privilege even when you’re not being represented. Having white guys all over the place frees me to look at the characters in my media and identify with them not based on the outward categories they fall into but because they’re thoughtful, introverted, curious, even-tempered, and passionate about knowledge.

On the other hand, I am a member of a very small minority who is rarely represented in media, and then usually in a dismissive, stereotyped, even offensive way: history professors. According to most books, movies, and tv shows, we are boring, joyless pedants in tweed jackets with elbow patches who obsess over minutiae and care only about names and dates.

“Easily the most boring class was History of Magic, which was the only one taught by a ghost. Professor Binns had been very old indeed when he fell asleep in front of the staff room fire and got up the next morning to teach, and left his body behind him. Binns droned on and on while they scribbled down names and dates, and got Emeric the Evil and Uric the Oddball mixed up.”

– J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s / Sorcerer’s Stone Ch. 8

We always wear period clothes and are at best dimly aware of what century we actually live in, if not actively in denial about it.

160815RizzoliIsles
Professor Dwayne Cravitz from Rizzoli and Isles s. 2 ep. 6 “Rebel Without a Pause”

(Not to mention that we make our (black) graduate students do unpaid labor so that they can have the “authentic slave experience.”)

Oh, and if we’re medieval historians, we’re indistinguishable from renfaire performers. (I can’t find a link to it now, but the memory is seared in my mind of an NPR interview with a scholar attending the annual medieval studies conference in Kalamazoo which made it clear the interviewer thought it was basically a fantasy convention.)

Come on by my history class sometime. I won’t be wearing a costume or droning on about names and dates. I’ll be deep in conversation with my students about social structures, economic forces, multicultrual interactions, source analysis, and all the other interesting parts of history.

Now, history professors are not, by any stretch of the imagination, a historically oppressed or marginalized group. I know how aggravating it can be to be badly represented even as a comfortably privileged middle class white man, but I can’t really imagine what it must be like to be, say, a Native American woman, or a gay man who uses a wheelchair, or a Muslim teenager with Asperger’s, and have to deal with not only the weight of the social disadvantages that come with that and seeing people like myself so rarely and poorly portrayed in media.

Of course we can all identify with people who aren’t like us. That’s not the point. The point is that, no matter who we are, we all deserve to see enough people outwardly like ourselves in books, television, movies, and other media that we don’t have to identify with them just to feel like we’re there.

Images: Spock via Memory Alpha; Guinan via Memory Alpha; Cadfael via Heroes Wikia; Minerva MacGonagall via Harry Potter Wiki; Gil Grissom via CSI: Wiki; Sister Monica Joan via PBS; Mr. Bennet via Jane Austen variations; Cora Crawley via Downton Abbey Wiki; Tuvok via Wikimedia; Rizzoli and Isles “Rebel Without a Pause” via Sidereel

History for Writers is a weekly feature which looks at how history can be a fiction writer’s most useful tool. From worldbuilding to dialogue, history helps you write. Check out the introduction to History for Writers here.

Top Five Greek and Latin Poems that Read Like Teenage Facebook Updates

Woot! We made it! Hidden Youth has gotten funded! Thank you so much to everyone who contributed, spread the word, or expressed support over the past few weeks. I am so thrilled to be part of this anthology.

And now, as promised, I give you: The Top Five Greek and Latin Poems that Read Like Teenage Facebook Updates

5. #CRUSHINGSOHARDYOUCANTEVEN (Sappho, frag. 31)

He’s lucky as the gods,

any man who sits by you,

listening close to your

sweet voice

and lovely laugh. It just

makes my heart tremble in my chest.

When I glance at you, words

won’t come,

my tongue shatters, a thin

flame runs under my skin,

I can’t see,

my ears ring.

Sweat pours, I break out

trembling, I’m paler than a

flower. I could almost die.

But I can take it all…

 

4. #THATONEGUY (Horace, Satires 1.3.1-3)

The trouble with all these musical types is when you’re out with friends

and you beg them to sing, nothing will open their lips,

but when you don’t want them to sing they won’t shut up.

 

3. #DTMFA (Catullus, Poems 85)

I hate and I love. Maybe you wonder why I do this?

I don’t know, but I feel it happening and it’s torture.

 

2. #YOLO (Archilochus. Elegies frag. 232.8)

Aisimides, no one who listens to other people’s

criticisms ever gets to have a good time.

 

1. #BESTFRENEMIES (Martial, Epigrams 1.32)

I don’t like you, Sabidius, and I don’t know why.

All I know is: I don’t like you.

 

Announcements from your hosts.

Why Hidden Youth Matters to Me

There are just five days to go in the Kickstarter for Hidden Youth, the anthology of speculative fiction about marginalized young people in history. As I posted before, my story, “How I Saved Athens from the Stone Monsters,” is one of the stories in this awesome collection. I wanted to post again to thank everyone who has contributed to making Hidden Youth happen and also to say something about why this collection is so important to me, and would be even if I didn’t have a story in it.

160701frescoI teach ancient Mediterranean history at a state university. Ancient Mediterranean history is the dead-white-guy-est of all dead-white-guy history. It’s filled with the sorts of dead white guys that people make white marble statues of and that living white guys like to point to as the pinnacles of western literary, artistic, and philosophical achievement. We’ve basically had two thousand years of white guys burnishing their white-guy cred by laying exclusive claim to the legacy of the great dead white guys of the ancient Mediterranean. So successfully have they done this that a lot of people have a hard time imagining an ancient Mediterranean world that isn’t all white guys.

Now, I’m a white guy. I’ve always had the comfort of seeing myself in history. Even as a professional historian, doing my best to be objective and fully conscious of how complicated, contingent, and constructed such identities are, I can never really know what it is like to look at history and not see people who look like me. That’s a barrier I can’t cross, but I have a lot of friends who live on the other side, especially my students.

Half my students are women and a lot of them are black, Hispanic, and southeast Asian kids from working-class towns. They’ve lived their lives in the shadow of other people’s histories. They have been shown the dead-white-guy-marble-statue version of history and told—sometimes subtly, sometimes not so subtly—“This is ours. You don’t belong here.” I consider it my job to say: “Yes, you do. You were always part of this history.”

160701kantharosThe ancient Mediterranean world was multicultural, multi-ethnic, multilingual, and full of connections both within itself and to the larger world beyond. Like in my story, there were Egyptians in late classical Athens with their own Isis temple. A Sri Lankan king sent ambassadors to open diplomatic relations with Rome. And it wasn’t all a bunch of men, either. The queen of Halicarnassus was a military adviser to the Persian king. A wealthy woman of African ancestry was buried in style in late Roman York. The evidence is everywhere once you start to look for it.

The power of dead-white-guy-marble-statue history is strong and it needs to be challenged. I confront it in the classroom and my scholarly work, but we also need books like Hidden Youth out there to send the message: history is for everyone, not just people who look like me.

If you’ve already supported Hidden Youth, thank you so much. If you haven’t, please consider it. You can give as little as a dollar, and if you can’t do that, please spread the word.

On a less serious note, let me offer an added incentive to give: if Hidden Youth meets its funding goal, in honor of the collection’s theme I promise to translate and post my picks for The Top Five Greek and Latin Poems that Read Like Teenage Facebook Updates.

UPDATE: Hidden Youth got funded! Hooray! So, as promised, here you go: The Top Five Greek and Latin Poems that Read Like Teenage Facebook Updates.

Images: Bull leaping fresco (restored), photograph by Nikater, via Wikimedia (Knossos; 1550-1450 BCE; fresco). Janifrom kantharos, via People of Color in European Art History (Etruria, currently Villa Giulia; 6th c. BCE; ceramic)

Announcements from your hosts.

Hidden Youth Kickstarter

Life is tough as a flute girl working the streets of Athens—and that’s before the monsters attacked. When the city’s guardian statues suddenly come to life and start rampaging through the city, Mnestra, an Egyptian girl, and her Thracian friend Lampedo get separated in the chaos. Can Mnestra find the courage to rescue her friend and confront not only the monsters tearing up the city but also the most powerful man in Athens?

My short story “How I Saved Athens from the Stone Monsters” will be published this fall in the anthology Hidden Youth, a collection of 22 short fantasy and science fiction stories about young people from marginalized groups throughout history. This anthology follows the previous collection Long Hidden which told the stories of people who are often left out of speculative fiction.

I am honored to have my work chosen for Hidden Youth, but this anthology needs our help to make it out into the world. Check out the Kickstarter for Hidden Youth and consider supporting this work.

Announcements from your hosts.

One Year of Co-Geeking

One ring to rule them all…160601ring

The chosen one shall rise…

Rogue One

… and one year of Co-Geeking.

It is one year since we started Co-Geeking on June 1st, 2015. It’s been a year of figuring things out, trying out different kinds of posts and discussions, and beginning to reach out our fellow geeks out there. We’ve taken our first steps into a larger world.

Here’s a few thoughts on what the past year has been like for us:

Favorite posts

Erik: “The Celts” and the Victorian Hangover. Of all the posts I have written in the past year, I think I am proudest of this one. It looks at some important aspects of how we think about history and why historical theories matter today. I would like to think that I took a confusing topic that it mostly discussed by academics and helped make it understandable to people outside the academy.

Eppu: The Glory of Library and Museum Materials. As a visual person, I really love being able to do image searches online for things to edit or use as-is. For historical research, library and museum websites are the best. For speed, I tend to stick with languages and sites I know best (e.g. NYPL, Library of Congress, The Met). For this post, I looked up institutions elsewhere in the world and learned quite a bit. Hopefully also the list of libraries and museums in my post is helpful to others.

One thing to rule them all

(a favorite geeky thing that happened this year)

Eppu: The fact that the Helsinki in 2017 campaign won the bid for Worldcon 75. Having a major international con in Finland, during our centennial of independence to boot, is just amazing. As a Finn and a supporter of the bid, I’m very, very, VERY happy.

Erik: The revival of Star Wars. It’s awesome to see new Star Wars movies come out that feel like they belong in the Star Wars galaxy but also give us a fresh take on what that galaxy could look like. (And no Jar-Jar Binks.)

160601TFA

Images: One Ring, by Шатилло Г.В. via Wikmedia; The Force Awakens still via IMBDb

Announcements from your hosts.

Who’s That Guy?

In the course of my life, I’ve become aware that I experience mild face blindness. It’s nothing I’ve ever been diagnosed with and it isn’t severe enough for me to seek any kind treatment for, I just know that, compared with other people, I have trouble recognizing faces that I haven’t seen a lot of. I mostly identify people by their hair, their clothing and movements, and, especially, their voices. In day-to-day life it’s not much of a problem. (Learning a hundred new students every semester is a challenge, but I have the advantage of getting to take attendance at the start of every class.) When it bothers me the most is in entertainment.

When there are multiple characters with similar appearances, I tend to get them mixed up. (Especially middle-aged white men, since they’re all over the place.) I also have trouble recognizing people we’ve seen before in different settings.

160505buckyFor example, there’s a moment in Captain America: The Winter Soldier when the Winter Soldier’s mask comes off revealing that it’s the Captain’s best friend and fellow soldier Bucky Barnes. It’s a powerful moment and a shocking reveal, but the first time I saw the movie, I had no idea who that guy was. Even having seen the first Captain America movie, and having Bucky reintroduced via the museum exhibit/infodump earlier in Winter Soldier, I didn’t know who I was looking at on screen. As the movie went on, it became clear to me that the Winter Soldier was someone Captain Rogers knew from his past, an old friend, but I still couldn’t connect the character with Bucky. (Cap said his name, but it went by too fast for me to catch.) It wasn’t until I rewatched the movie on DVD that I finally realized who the Winter Soldier was. Even today, looking at the two characters on screen, I can’t visually tell that they’re the same person.

It’s an odd way to watch movies and television, knowing that there is information up there on the screen that I can’t interpret. I’m lucky to have a co-geek to turn to and ask: “Who is that guy?” One of the many pleasures of being married to someone who loves nerdy stuff as much as I do!

We’re off to see Captain America: Civil War on opening night tonight. It looks like there’s going to be a lot of familiar faces in this movie. I might even recognize some of them.

Images: Bucky Barnes via tvtropes; Winter Soldier via playbuzz

In Character is an occasional feature looking at some of our favorite characters from written works and media to see what drives them, what makes them work, and what makes us love them so much.