R.I.P. Ursula Le Guin

Author Ursula Le Guin is no longer with us.

Eileen Gunn Ursula-39-small

One of the most poignant remembrances I’ve yet seen is by author Catherynne Valente on Twitter:

I’m most fond of Le Guin’s Earthsea stories, some of which I’ve read and re-read in Finnish and in English over the years. I’ve only managed one of her science fiction books so far, though. Time to rectify that.

Forever read, Ms. Le Guin. Your intellect, inner fire, and vision will be deeply missed.

(Hat tip to Nnedi Okorafor for the phrase “forever read” in lieu of “rest in peace”.)

Image by Eileen Gunn via Ursula K. Le Guin website

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Altered Carbon Teaser Trailer

There is now a teaser trailer for the tv adaptation of Richard K. Morgan’s cyberpunk novel Altered Carbon:

Altered Carbon | Date Announcement [HD] | Netflix

Looking very slick! Favorite actors among the cast include James Purefoy (Rome, Mansfield Park, Sharpe’s Sword), Dichen Lachman (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Torchwood, Dollhouse), Tamara Taylor (Bones, Serenity), and Ato Essandoh (Elementary). Joel Kinnaman as Takeshi Kovacs is almost entirely new to me (I’ve seen him in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo but have no recollection); however, I’m glad to see another northener in a big world production.

I wonder whether I have time to re-read the Takeshi Kovacs trilogy with all the other books on my TBR pile… 🙂

More short clips at Twitter @AltCarb. The series debuts exclusively on Netflix February 2, 2018.

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Quotes: Believing All That Matters Is What They Want

On his blog, author Jason Sanford talks about story submission and publication data, specifically with SFF genre in mind. He refers to an essay, an interview, and his experience as editor, and talks about how men tend to submit many more stories than women, even when their stories were “totally inappropriate” (in Jason’s words). His conclusion?

“In the case of why male authors are far more likely to not read a magazine or their guidelines before submitting, and are more likely to submit multiple stories in a short time frame, I think it ties in with them not seeing the motivations of others and believing all that matters is what they want.

“But if you’re submitting your stories to an editor, what you want isn’t what lands the acceptance. It’s what the editor wants. Otherwise, an author is merely wasting everyone’s time.”

– Jason Sanford

I’ve no comment on the data and survey side of the post, being a not-numbers person. What struck me was that this is the strongest-worded remark I’ve seen—and note that it really isn’t—saying a number of male authors behave in a blatantly self-centered manner and suggesting they change.

Sanford, Jason. “The Submissions Men Don’t See.” Jasonsanford.com, September 24, 2017.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.

Quotes: Little Moments of Being Sure

One of Anne Corlett’s characters in the novel The Space between the Stars grasps at the meaning of life:

“Was this how it was for everyone? Little moments of being sure, of fitting into the world around you, all strung together on a flimsy thread of doubt and confusion and not belonging?”

– Jamie, The Space between the Stars by Anne Corlett

On one hand, sounds legit; on the other, not entirely, but when it does it’s terribly sad…

Corlett, Anne. The Space between the Stars. New York, NY: Berkeley, 2017, p. 310.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.

Octavia Butler to Be Adapted for TV

I missed this when it was first announced, but here it is nevertheless: Octavia Butler’s novel Dawn is to be adapted for tv!

Dawn (originally published in 1987) opens the Xenogenesis trilogy (also known as Lilith’s Brood), where the Earth is mostly uninhabitable and humanity almost extinct until the alien Oankali intervene. Writer / producer / director Ava DuVernay and Charles D. King (Macro Ventures) are slated for executive producer posts, and writer / director Victoria Mahoney for the adaptation itself.

I first read the trilogy in the early 1990s in Finnish translation. The books have stayed with me, although over the years it became clear I’d forgotten quite a bit. Some 20 years later, I got my own omnibus in English to (re)read, and the trilogy was just as excellent as I remembered.

Looking forward to seeing what the team makes of Dawn! (Also, note to self: read more Butler!)

Know Your Barbarians

The word “barbarian” today conjures a fairly specific image: a large, muscular man or woman wearing leather or furs hefting an enormous weapon. They are ragged and dirty and if they have any kind of organization, it is as a rabble of warriors following whoever happens to be the strongest. This image has its roots in classical Greek and Roman literature, but Greco-Roman ideas about barbarians were broader and more complicated than this.

Greeks and Romans both had complicated relationships with the outside world. The economy of ancient Greece depended on foreign trade, especially with Egypt, but Greece was also on the northwestern frontier of the Persian empire, which often threatened Greek cities or interfered in their internal politics. Rome was an expansionist empire with ambitions of conquering the whole world, but the strength and stability of the empire depended on integrating conquered peoples into Roman culture.

Out of these historical experiences, Greek and Roman writers, artists, and philosophers developed a wide repertoire of narrative models for describing other peoples. These narratives ranged from the nuanced and admiring to the stereotyping and pejorative. “Barbarian” could mean many different things in different times and contexts. Among this repertoire, there were conventional archetypes that authors and artists could draw on and expect that their audience would recognize them.

These archetypes were nebulous conglomerations of tropes and stereotypes, not always consistent and liable to be manipulated, tweaked, and subverted in individual works of art or literature. They could be reduced to caricature or filled out with individual details. They functioned much like modern national and ethnic stereotypes. Imagine the caricature version of a British gentleman, replete with bowler hat and umbrella. We might expect such a character to have certain typical qualities, both positive (unflappable, chivalrous, witty) and negative (stodgy, proud, insensitive) and engage in typical behaviors (sipping tea, playing polo, driving a Jaguar). Of course, stereotypes don’t have to be followed. A Brit in a bowler hat with an umbrella may also turn out to be a tongue-tied chocoholic who raises miniature goats and likes to watch telenovelas, but the author who creates such a character and the audience that encounters them will recognize how the standard tropes have been played with.

Greeks and Romans had two principal archetypes for barbarians. One was based on small, materially poor, less well organized cultures mostly found to the west or north, such as Scythians, Thracians, Gauls, Germans, Iberians, Britons, and Dacians. The other was based on large, wealthy, sophisticated cultures mostly found to the east or south, such as Egyptians, Persians, Phoenicians, Lydians, Carthaginians, and Etruscans.

The northwestern barbarians are the ancestors of the modern “barbarian” image. They were portrayed as violent, ignorant, savage, and lacking in technology and social organization. They had no idea how to behave in a civilized society and were almost like wild animals. They lived in poverty and with barely any kind of government except the ability of the strong to impose their will on others. They could also be shown with good qualities, such as generosity and honesty. The were the original “noble savages,” ignorant of the benefits of civilization but also uncorrupted by its temptations.

The southeastern barbarians were the opposite. They were portrayed as weak, decadent, devious, overwhelmed by luxury and tangled in arcane social hierarchies. They had given in to the corrupting effects of civilization and overindulged in every kind of physical pleasure. They lived like slaves under the rule of despotic tyrants, but they were so accustomed to the comforts of luxury that they lacked the will to resist. They could have positive qualities as well. Their cultures were ancient and sophisticated, rich in accumulated knowledge. We don’t have a good term for the opposite of “noble savages,” but we might call them “depraved sophisticates.”

Central to both of these archetypes is one of the key values of Greco-Roman society: self-control. The southeastern barbarians displayed too little of it, giving in every kind of indulgence and unable to resist the rule of a tyrant. The northwestern barbarians, by contrast, were too willful, unable to subordinate themselves to the structures of law and social order. By creating these archetypes, Greeks and Romans positioned themselves in the middle—sophisticated enough to enjoy the benefits of civilization, but strong enough to resist its corrupting effects.

Both of these archetypes have come down into modern literature. The northwestern barbarian has become the standard modern “barbarian,” but aspects of it can also be seen in modern Western stereotypes of Africans, African Americans, and Native Americans. “Darkest Africa” stories about wild cannibal tribes dumbfounded by modern technology and scientific knowledge play upon the same images of violence, savagery, and technological ignorance that Romans applied to the Gauls and Germans. The southeastern barbarian formed the basis for romanticized Western depictions of the Islamic world, China, and India. “Arabian Nights” fantasies of scandalous harems and treacherous palace politics, ancient secrets and fabulous treasures hidden in the twisting back streets behind markets filled with spices and gems evoke Greek tales about Egypt and Persia.

These archetypes have also found their way into fantasy and science fiction. Tolkien’s Elves reflect some of the more positive southeastern qualities of wisdom and sophistication while his Orcs display the violent, fractious, bestial traits of the northwest. Star Trek‘s Klingons and Romulans represent the tropes of warlike honor and treacherous sophistication. The people of Westeros in A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones face the rugged, wild, disorderly peoples of the north and the rich, old, devious kingdoms of the east.

Once you know your barbarians, you’ll recognize them everywhere.

Images: Hyboria, by Yan R. via Flickr. Sultan from the Arabian Nights, by Rene Bull via Wikimedia.

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.

Quotes: Women’s Emotional Lives Do Not Revolve around Men

“It strikes me as unusual and as noteworthy that we should see two such dissimilar films [Moana and Arrival] foreground so strongly connection between women across generations within a family. To acknowledge that women’s emotional lives do not revolve around men, and also acknowledge a strong family component, without reducing the female characters to people who have no emotional lives outside their family concerns.

“These films are also really good speculative fiction. So I recommend them.”

– Liz Bourke

ALL. OF. THIS!

SO. MUCH!

Bourke, Liz. “Sleeps with Monsters: Intergenerational Female Influences in Arrival and Moana.” Tor.com, May 23, 2017.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.

Hugo Awards 2017 Voter Packet Is out

Since last Wednesday, I’ve been like:

Twitter Adam Holisky Picard Full of Win

And:

Kermit Flail

And:

Lady Fancifull reading-film-gif

As members of Worldcon75, we are participating in this year’s Hugo Awards voting. Last week, the con released a packet of reading and visual works to help voters access materials on the finalists list. (Note to self: We have until July 15, 2017, 2:59 am EST to get our votes in.)

Apparently this year’s packet is larger than ever before in the 10 years it’s existed. While definitely not the reason for our memberships, it’s an invaluable bonus.

In addition to the official packet, JJ at File 770 did a huge favor for readers and collected a comprehensive list of finalist works published free online.

With all of this reading, I definitely will have no problems with how to fill my days in the foreseeable future!

Thank you, various creatives and rightsholders, thank you, Worldcon75 Hugo Awards staff, and thank you, JJ and Mike Glyer / File770.

Images: Kermit flail via Walker—Bait on Tumblr; Captain Picard Full of Win via Adam Holisky on Twitter; Reading film: radicktv via Lady Fancifull

Ending of Rogue One Seamlessly Connected to A New Hope

This nine-minute video by Barre Fong combines the very ending of Rogue One seamlessly to A New Hope:

“Rogue One” Spliced with “A New Hope” by Barre Fong

Nice job! It was pretty clear from just seeing Rogue One in the theaters how well the team not only wrote but propped, set-dressed, and costumed their movie to match the George Lucas -led original. This merger makes it very explicit, though. A hat-tip to all involved.

In general, I really enjoy comparing originals and recreations (or originals and adaptations), and the pleasure is multiplied when the successor is expertly and thoughtfully made. That’s one reason why Peter Jackson et al.’s making-of documentaries for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies are still the gold standard for movie extras—hearing about the design process is fascinating.

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.

Quotes: In the Hopes that They Will Be Able to Pass for One of the Glintelligentsia

“The Merita hotel chain offers rooms at a steep discount to people whose Information shows that they are interesting: as cocktail-chatter counterparts, as connections for enterpreneurs, as potential romantic partners. It’s a strategy to convince wealthier, duller clientele to pay a premium in order to share some sparkling conversation, or in the hopes that they will be able to pass for one of the glintelligentsia themselves.”

– Malka Older, Infomocracy

I just love the word glintelligentsia! It should be in mainstream use already. 🙂

Older, Malka. Infomocracy. New York, NY: Tor.com, 2016, p. 77.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.