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Help me find someone from MileHiCon!

Off the fucking chain

Had a great time at MileHiCon, and talked to a lot of people. One of them is a mud logger, who gave me his e-mail address… which I promptly lost. Mr. Mud Logger, I’m sorry! Please contact me, I feel like such a jerk.

Otherwise MHC was awesome. My favorite panel was definitely the Greatest Female Action Hero EVER challenge panel. I used the nuclear option right off the bat by claiming Ellen Ripley, and was undefeated despite being challenged many times. At the end, Ripley mostly won, but it was such a close race with Twilight Sparkle I suggested that Eneasz and I just share the win and agree that Ripley would ride Twilight Sparkle into battle with the Queen Alien.

Also, the steampunk group reading on Saturday night was awesome. A big thank you to David Boop for taking over as moderator, he did a fantastic job and I was more than happy to weasel my way out of it.

Sorry I haven’t blogged much lately. I’ve been busy doing Boring Adult Shit(tm). But hopefully there’s some excitement on the horizon!

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

The Young Ones trailer makes me :/

Off the fucking chain

Saw the trailer for this movie right before Dead Snow 2. (Which was AWESOME by the way. AWESOME, My review for that will be doing up on the Skiffy and Fanty blog too and I’ll try to remember to link it here.)

On its face, there’s a lot of stuff that I should like. Draught apocalypse! Climate disaster! Science fiction! Western genre cues! But… ugh.

“She’s a flower. Someone needs to appreciate her for more than cookin’ and sewin’.”

Wouldn’t that be revolutionary. Or wait, you know what would be even more revolutionary? If instead of men talking about how a woman should get to be so much more than her stereotypical qualities, she actually got to fucking be more than that.

The men in this trailer do stuff. They seethe with manpain and point guns at each other! The women are pretty much objects in the trailer. We get mom, who is literally tethered to some kind of mysterious device (looks interesting, I admit I’m curious), and sister, who is apparently there for the men to squabble over. She pretty much never speaks for herself, just shouts at dad about his dad failings and then says a line I couldn’t quite catch at the end, but the men certain talk about who gets to have a claim to her.

Obvious metaphor alert! Blonde girl in white dress (possibly pregnant) that men are fighting over while they simultaneously clash over bringing life to the barren land!

Barf. Barf barf barf.

I’m just… aggravated. Just this entire trailer aggravates me. You know what’s just amazing and revolutionary? Women exist in the world as people. We are not just sister or wife or mother. We’re fucking people. We have an existence outside of whatever proprietary relationships men can claim.

Women characters should also be people.

This isn’t a new problem. And you know, sometimes I could even be on board about the walking metaphor if it weren’t just one. More. Goddamn. Thing. I’m just so sick of it that my tolerance has hit zero. Maybe I’ll change my mind about Young Ones after I see another trailer where Elle Fanning gets to do more than stare blankly at the camera. As it is, I have a feeling I’ll end up leaving the theater pissed off because I’m tired of seeing white dudes having manpain wars over a metaphor with flowing hair and tits.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

Off the fucking chain

I’ve realized that one of the reasons I’ve become increasingly frustrated with the whole you can tell she’s a strong female character because she spends all of her time rolling her eyes and threatening to punch the boys (as seen in The Maze Runner, for example) is that as a teenager I basically was that character. I spent a lot of my time threatening to punch people and hanging with the guys by being pretty aggressive.

You know what that got me told? You’re not like other girls. You’re cool.

And in a sort of chicken and egg feedback loop, that made me willing to laugh at and tacitly encourage some incredibly misogynist joking and “pranks.” Which also, by the way, apparently later fed into the idea that I was a butch lesbian and it was totally cool for guys to engage in some pretty sexist banter about various other women with me.

I’m ashamed of a lot of that in retrospect.

I obviously don’t think there’s anything wrong with being butch or having a masculine presentation. (Duh.) But the more I think about how that so often translates out into buying in to the most toxic aspects of masculinity:

  1. Casual violence
  2. Casual misogyny
  3. Belief that the masculine is on its face superior to the feminine
  4. Being not like the other girls or cool means abandoning other women and considering them inferior

…the more it really upsets me.

I’d like kids who were like me, struggling with being a girl while finding the feminine an ill-fitting societal construct, to be able to read about characters like them. I pretty much stopped reading books about girls/women at that age because I was reading adult SF/F and there weren’t a whole lot of female main characters to begin with, but also because in all honesty, reading about female characters putting on makeup and dresses and carrying their vampire killing guns in their purses—all of which are perfectly okay things, please don’t get me wrong here—made me feel inadequate and like an outsider. Like my books were telling me I was doing the whole being a girl thing wrong. And at that point, I generally defaulted to reading about men, because at least men got to wear trousers and sensible shoes.

(Nowadays, I do not have a problem with this any more. Probably because I’m no longer an adolescent, self-hating hot mess, and I’ve also developed a lot more empathy as a reader; I like reading about people who are very different from me.)

So basically what I’m saying is that I want to see female characters who are strong in a lot of different ways. And I want to see female characters who get to be “masculine” without doing it in a toxic, hurtful way. I want to see “masculinity” used as a character trait, not the marker that a character is different and better and strong.

Because as I’ve pointed out before, not threatening to punch people actually takes a hell of a lot more strength.

(Was going to tweet these thoughts. Realized I had way too much to say. Apparently 500 words of way too much to say.)

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

[Convention] FenCon Schedule

Off the fucking chain

A bit over a week until FenCon! Here’s where to find me:

Fandom after Dark (M): Friday 10:00 PM – 11:00 PM Live Oak

With the increasingly mainstream nature of genre entertainment and the internet savvy of children, gone are the days when graphic fanfics can only be seen in obscure zines. With adult fan content being produced for just about every series out there, does fandom have some responsibility to keep the overly dark or sexual fan works away from their canon counterparts?

You Got SF in my Mystery! (M): Saturday 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM Addison Lecture Hall

There is a long tradition of mysteries solved by science in hard science fiction. Our panelists discuss some of the best ones.

Reading: Saturday 11:30 AM – 12:00 PM Pecan

I read something out loud. You know how this works. There will be cookies.

Getting the Geos Right: Saturday 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM Live Oak

Geology and geography and how they should shape your fictional society.

Climate Change: Now what?: Sunday 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM Red Oak

Assuming climate change is real, what do we do now? Can we stop it? Should we try? How bad can it get?

Why Worldcon?: Sunday 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM Trinity I – IV

The World Science Fiction Convention was held in San Antonio last year. Our panelists discuss what you missed and if you attended, why you might want to go go another Worldcon.

Three Bladed Blaster Swords?!?: Sunday 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM Trinity I – IV

Some of the coolest weapons and fight scenes would never work in the real world. However, many stories wouldn’t be nearly as much fun without their crazy weapons. Let’s talk about some of our favorite bad weapons from movies, TV, games, and novels.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

Why I parted ways with Authors United

Off the fucking chain

As with so many blog posts, it begins thus:

Screen Shot 2014-09-17 at 4.09.49 PM

Storify: accomplished. Pissy blog post: engaged.

I haven’t made a big deal out of the Amazon v Hachette thing mostly because I do not have a LOOK HOW HUGE MY SALES ARE WHY ARE YOU NOT IMPRESSED BY THE SIZE OF MY SALES FIGURES BOW DOWN BEFORE ME dong to wave around, but back when the Authors United thing got started, I signed on to the first letter. Because I’m a slave to a corrupt and terrible system spineless sheeple teetotaler when it comes to Amazon kool-aide fucking human being who can make my own decisions, thanks. My reasoning is not the point of this blog post. (Really, just go read this thing Scalzi wrote or this thing Chuck Wendig wrote and basically yeah, what they said.)

The point of this post is why I ended up asking to have my name taken off the most recent Authors United letter. The letter you now see there is actually not the letter as originally conceived, which is what I read when I said no, thanks, I don’t want to be on this any more. However, after reading this new version, I still don’t agree, and I don’t put my name on letters with which I have disagreements.

The original point of contention was this line here:

Amazon has every right to refuse to sell consumer goods in response to a pricing disagreement with a wholesaler. We all appreciate discounted razor blades and cheaper shoes. But books are not consumer goods. Books cannot be written more cheaply, nor can authors be outsourced to China. Books are not toasters or televisions. Each book is the unique, quirky creation of a lonely, intense, and often expensive struggle on the part of a single individual, a person whose living depends on that book finding readers. This is the process Amazon is obstructing.

Which has been replaced with:

Amazon has every right to refuse to sell consumer goods in response to a pricing disagreement with a wholesaler. But books are not mere consumer goods. Books cannot be written more cheaply, nor can authors be outsourced to another country. Books are not toasters or televisions. Each book is the unique, quirky creation of a lonely, intense, and often expensive struggle on the part of a single individual, a person whose living depends on his or her book finding readers. This is the process Amazon endangers when it uses its tremendous power to separate authors from their readership.

Courtney Milan wrote an excellent blog post about the yick factor of the original paragraph.  And basically: word, sister. Her post was actually what prompted me to go and read the letter carefully in time and ask to have my name removed.

Though I do want to be clear here, that while Douglas Preston and I obviously have some disagreements (upon which I will expound shortly) he is operating very much on the up and up on this thing. He sent everyone involved an e-mail with a link to the proposed letter in it so we could give feedback and ask to have our names taken off if we wished, and when I responded negatively to him he was very polite and didn’t fight me. I’m just such a lazy piece of shit I wouldn’t have gotten around to reading the letter if I hadn’t seen someone else set their trousers on fire first and gone huh, I should probably look in to this.

Shame on me.

Anyway, while I think the new draft of the letter is better, I still don’t agree with it, and I’m glad I asked to have my name taken off. My problem stems from the entire argument that books are not mere consumer goods because of the artistic struggle of the writer. (I’m also not a fan of that outsourcing writing to another country comment for reasons mentioned in Courtney’s post, even if we’re no longer specifically throwing shade at China.)

Now, trust me. I don’t for a second buy bullshit arguments that posit forcing book prices lower will cause people to buy more books. You know what’s stopping me from buying new books? Not having the time to read the ones I already own. I’m not going to consider two $9.99 ebooks interchangeable because they both have unicorns on the cover; they won’t be the same book. And let’s not forget that authors have followings; I’ll run out and buy something by Naomi Novik because I’ve read and liked her other books; I’m not going to pick up something with a dragon in the description just because it’s cheaper.

So books are arguably consumer goods that might resist quite the same models as toasters and candy bars, but they are still consumer goods. Writers, editors, and manufacturers produce the books so that consumers can buy them and read them. And we sure want to market them like they’re consumer goods, don’t we? It’s capitalism, man. Charge what the market will bear.

Arguing to a retail company that books should get some kind of free pass from their shitty, strong-arm tactics because books are special, artistic butterflies? You’re kidding me, right? Courtney Milan made this point in her post already, and better than I could, I think. I’ll just say in short that I think making a non-economic argument at a company that is acting purely out of economic self-interest (no matter what it claims) is a weak position that we’re ill-served by. And kind of makes us sound like assholes, besides. While I think art holds a unique and important place in culture, I’m really not comfortable trying to justify special treatment for books on the backs of the toaster makers. We all deserve to make a fair wage for our labor, whether we’re slapping “hamburgers” together behind the counter at McD’s or writing the Most Important And Transformative Novel Of This Century, and I will not support tacitly abandoning other workers under the suspiciously ego-wanky notion that my skill is way more special.

Anyway if you signed on to the original letter, make sure you read this one and see if you agree with it. It’s important, man. That’s your name on it. (And hey, if you read it and agree with Douglas where I disagree and are a published writer who hasn’t signed on to it, I’m sure he’d like to hear from you.)

I actually want to step past the entire Amazon/Authors United thing and address a much bigger issue, because this is really just another episode in the ongoing adventures of oh hey look we’re getting fucked by corporations again.

Being an artist in a capitalism-obsessed society like America kind of blows. Or really, no kind of about it. It blows. Even producing commercially viable art isn’t any guarantee of being able to make a steady living without a side job, and that makes it a hell of a lot harder to practice one’s craft. But frankly, appealing to the better natures of companies is not the way to fix this. Companies, with rare exception, don’t have better natures.

Now, I’m fond of pointing out that companies are composed of people, and run by people, and excusing corporate malfeasance by shrugging it off as “hey it’s a corporation, what do you expect?” is accepting the most banal sort of evil as part of life. We should expect more from our fellow humans. And hey, we know that it’s possible to have a successful company that doesn’t act like it’s run by total shitlords. (Hello, Ben & Jerry’s.)

Shrugging off corporate evil indicates a profound lack of responsibility and vision for society. It indicates either a conviction of helplessness or an unwillingness to expect better out of ourselves. But you know what? So does expecting corporations to fix our problems our of the goodness of their non-existent hearts. I don’t want to live in a world where corporations are our social conscience.

Capitalism is arguably one of the motors that run our society. But it’s not some kind of miraculous fix-all, and every time a politician (or anyone else) talks about how the magic of the free market is going to swoop in and save us (presumably while riding pillion on a unicorn with Jesus) I just really want to scream. And flip tables. And bite things. We’re not here to serve capitalism. It’s supposed to serve us, and we managed to lose sight of that somewhere along the way.

The real problem here is that we as a society treat artists like shit, and art like it’s widgets, and scorn what is ultimately skilled and important labor. Then those values get reflected back to us by the economy we supposedly own and we go wow that’s ugly could you please not?

Artists aren’t the only profession that gets offered either the shitty end of the stick or no end at all. We don’t even value what we claim to value, or else teachers, soldiers, and artists wouldn’t need government and community assistance in order to survive. Somewhere along the way we allowed ourselves to be convinced that there is such a thing as a person who does not deserve to make a living wage, no matter what their profession.

Companies are not going to value us or our work as long as we treat it as a thing without value. This is our problem to solve, because we let this happen. When corporations shit on people, that’s not because they’re corporations and that’s just what they do. It’s because we’re too fucking cowardly and blind as a society to smack them with a rolled up newspaper and say NO. And asking a corporation nicely to please just stop shitting on people is like asking the doberman with diarrhea to kindly not poop on your rug.

We claim that science is important, creativity is important, that teachers are important, that soldiers are important, and they are. Art is important too. Art is the heart of our society. It’s time we started acting like it instead of effectively praying to Zeus for help and hoping he kisses us before he fucks us and ruins our lives.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

The one truly creepy thing in Ghostbusters

Off the fucking chain

Happy 30th birthday, Ghostbusters!

I saw the 30th anniversary rerelease of Ghostbusters last week and man, that movie is still freaking gold. It’s hilarious. Catch your chance to see it on the big screen while you can. I’d even go so far as to call Ghostbusters one of the formative movies of my life. It’s had a very definite effect on the development of my sense of humor, for sure. I watched it when I was still young enough to think the ghost in the library was the scariest thing in the world, but it was just. So. Funny. My whole family still quotes lines from it at each other. My older brother’s ambition was once to attain a coffee mug that said Back off man, I’m a scientist.

There’s one thing bothering me about it now, though: the way Venkman just creeps on Dana. Venkman basically makes it clear from moment one (“I’m going to go to Ms. Barrett’s apartment and check her out. I mean check it out.”) that he is trying to get up her skirt. Dana throws him out of her apartment, (“Mr. Venkman, would you please leave.”) and is very obviously not interested… at first. And then, inevitably, she ends up finding him charming as he refuses to go away and by the end of the movie Venkman basically assumes she’s his girlfriend and there’s no indication to the contrary.

I think it says a lot about the amazing timing Bill Murray and Sigourney Weaver have that it’s all pretty darn funny and charming. And really, there’s a lot of creeping that goes on in that movie, to hilarious effect. Louis also creeps (very unsuccessfully) on Dana. Janine, frankly, creeps on Egon.

But Venkman gets the girl.

I mentioned how I felt icky about this to my housemate as we left the movie, and she said “Yeah, that didn’t age so well.” Except it’s not an age problem for Ghostbusters. The creeper model of relationship development is still a mainstay in film. I’d almost argue the average creepy relationship in movies has, if anything, only gotten creepier.

Ghostbusters was always like that. The movie didn’t change, I did, and now it just bothers me. Now I can’t help but think, Jesus, if someone was that resistant about leaving my house after I told them to go, they’d get pepper sprayed or put in an armlock. It’s not okay behavior. It’s creepy. And yeah, you can excuse a lot of this stuff as comedy. Except for this: I remember how I felt about this movie when I was a kid. I thought Dana and Venkman were super romantic (as super romantic as you can get in a comedy movie that involves a giant, evil, marshmallow man at least) and an amazing couple.

Confession: I was a total creeper, in high school. I basically tried to hang around guys (because I didn’t realize or admit girls were an actual option, not that I would have been less creepy at girls) and refused to go away under the belief that if I just stuck around long enough they would suddenly realize just how wrong they were to not want to kiss me. I even complained about how boys only wanted to date bitches instead of nice girls like me. No really.

Movies aren’t reality. I get that. They’re art. They’re commentary. They’re a reflection. They’re wish fulfillment. They’re a lot of things. Movies—stories—also have a lot more meaning than we like to admit. Stories instruct, and stick with us, and in ways we don’t necessarily realize. In reality, you do not obtain a significant other by refusing to go away until they decide that maybe they do like you. Relationships are not created by erosion.

So why do we keep telling ourselves stories where they are?

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

Off the fucking chain

I keep complaining that I’ve got serious dystopia fatigue. All the big popular properties right now—particularly in film—tend to be set in dystopias. I’m still intensely upset that Star Trek, which arguably had utopian elements in it, has been rebooted as more of a dystopia. You know. Assuming you could pull a coherent plot out of the hot mess that was the second movie I’m still totally pretending didn’t happen except for the bits with Simon Pegg.

It’s come up a couple of times recently, the question why there aren’t more utopias in writing these days. David Annandale linked to this article on Twitter a couple weeks ago. Andrea Phillips mentioned utopias and the intense difficulty of writing them on (I think) this week’s The Cultures podcast. Personally, I took a stab at trying to write a utopian shot story a couple years ago. It didn’t go well. Which is why I’m sort of shame-facedly admitting it on my blog rather than humblebragging about it.

The thing is, the more I think about it, the more it kind of pisses me off that we’re having such problems coming up with utopian fiction. I think part of the problem is the way we’re defining a utopia. If it’s a perfect society where everyone is absolutely perfectly happy and nothing ever goes wrong then… yeah. That would be a pretty tall order when it comes to trying to come up with a decent, gripping story. There’s a lot more dramatic tension you can easily harvest out of a complete hellhole where everyone is constantly fucking miserable.

I think dystopias are also really tempting because a lot of the suffering faced by real people right now, and a lot of the problems we have are based upon societal failings becoming less and less easy to ignore, thanks in part to social media. If what happened (and is still happening) in Ferguson doesn’t make you want to run out and start writing cautionary tales about the militarization of the police, you have not been paying enough attention.

Though the point also cannot be made strongly enough that if you turned down the hyperbole on dystopias just a little, you could point to that being the every day reality of a great many people in so-called “first world” countries. They just don’t tend to look like the people who write the YA novels and get sweet movie deals out of it.

Maybe that’s why dystopias have become the easy write and the easy(ish) sell at least until the market became glutted. It’s not hard to look around and imagine “this, but a million times worse.” Every dystopian book has its evil, mustache twirling, despotic leader, but the ultimate villain is the society itself. And the attraction of reading dystopian books is also pretty clear, because for the most part the message ends up being that yes, everything is total shit, but a few brave souls going through an admittedly rough heroic journey can still fix it.

It makes great escapist fiction for modern misery, because we’d all really like to believe, say, that climate change could be stopped by a single young person with perfect skin if they just get pushed hard enough. It’s a much nicer idea than the incredibly depressing reality. Society is the evil dragon, and a hero will rise to slay it, and then we can handwave off the question of what happens next because our hero’s personal journey is complete and presumably everything that follows is boring.

One would hope the boring bit that happens after is the utopia. But you never know, because no one ever writes one. And I’m starting to really think that’s a problem, because we’re writing over and over and over again about slaying the dragon of the broken and malicious social order, but not coming up with anything to fill the resulting vacuum.

And I think it’s very important that we try. I’m with Charles Stross on this one:

We need — quite urgently, I think — plausible visions of where we might be fifty or a hundred or a thousand years hence: a hot, densely populated, predominantly urban planetary culture that nevertheless manages to feed everybody, house everybody, and give everybody room to pursue their own happiness without destroying our resource base.

So now that I’ve bitched about why I think we’re here for 700 (sob) words, what do I want to do about it?

I think the first thing is, we need to stop saying that the utopias have to be perfect. At this point, I’d settle for a society that’s pretty darn good but still has some cracks in it. Like Starfleet in old-school Trek. Or even what we saw in Her, which was not explicitly a Utopia, but you get the distinct feeling that certain things just aren’t problems any more and at least everyone has enough to eat.

How about instead of imagining a society where everything is somehow perfect, we just imagine a society where everything is better. Where the society is not actively malicious and hurting its citizens? A society where everyone has enough to eat and somewhere to live and doesn’t have to be afraid of getting randomly shot by the police. How about that? At this point, those things sound quite Utopian to me.

I think perhaps because of the dystopia glut, we’ve gotten into this mindset that the society needs to be the story, when we’re writing social fiction. Because yes, The Hunger Games is about Katniss, but her antagonist is the fucked-up dystopia. In a utopian story, the utopia by definition is not and cannot be the antagonist. Hell, maybe it should even be the hero! But at the least it can be the backdrop for the story you do write.

But if the antagonist isn’t the society, where does the conflict come from?

Just a bit of brainstorming:

  • There’s always the threat from outside. You shouldn’t assume that the utopia is global, right? Though this is one that would need some real caution and deep thought, because utopia deserves better than bullshit that boils down to they hate us for our freedom. Barf. Forever. But maybe the threat is economic. Maybe the threat is a nasty colonial power that wants your resources.
  • Go for the threat from way outside and have an alien invasion? How is a utopian society—one that has presumably been at peace for a while—going to deal with suddenly needing a defense budget and soldiers? Or has your utopian society been at peace?
  • Non-sentient exterior threats also exist. There will still be diseases. Utopia doesn’t mean they will be instantly cured, or even that the resources will exist for immediate, excellent research. What kind of sacrifices will people have to make in order to come up with the necessary resources?
  • Environmental disasters will still happen. Global warming will probably still be a thing. Extraterrestrial objects might still wander into our orbital path. How will utopia deal with refugees? (Lots and lots and lots of refugees.)
  • Does curing a lot of the malignancies in society mean that there will be no crime whatsoever? Will there still be thievery, or serial killers? I have no idea, really. But unless your utopia is also a perfect surveillance state (yet still a utopia), I’d argue there might still be room for a murder mystery. And crime might be even more shocking because presumably a lot of the criminal activity that isn’t motivated by pure sociopathy will have ended once people have enough to survive and thrive.
  • Or heck, what about less violent crimes, but things motivated by ego? What about corruption and fraud? (Particularly scientific fraud!) Will there still be charlatans? Remember, sometimes the worst medical charlatans are people who believe their own dangerous nonsense. Even if money is no longer in the pictures as main motivation, what about the lure of fame and praise? In a densely populated world, I can’t help but think there’d be a big draw to feeling special and respected and well-known. Because I don’t honestly think utopia is going to cure the desire to feel special.
  • If your utopia is one with minimum basic income but money still exists, wealth can also still be a motivator for malfeasance. Why just live in your small, shitty, free apartment and eat normal food when you could get better digs and have meat that’s not grown in a vat! That stuff’s for plebes, man.
  • Is the economic system still going to be nominally capitalist? Are companies going to suddenly stop trying to be dicks to their employees just because society is awesome? Hey libertarians, here is your opportunity to write me a convincing libertarian utopia that doesn’t involve saying fuck everyone else, let ‘em crash.
  • And in that vein, there’s always the threat to society from within. Not because someone is politically opposed to no one starving, say, but because maybe people still have a tendency to be vain, selfish, and cruel. Or at the least corruptible. Just skimming a little off the top won’t hurt anything, will it? So how is your utopia going to combat that creeping threat? Who will watch out for it, and who will watch the watchers?
  • Are there sentient machines in your utopia? Genetically engineered, sentient non-humans? How does your utopia treat them? Or how does your utopia deal with other nations that aren’t utopia developing those things?
  • Will your utopia still have religion? Will there still be political disagreements? A lot of utopias seem to posit that everyone will believe the same things, but is that really the only path to utopia? Is that even possible?
  • And as a continuation of that, you see so many utopias where in many ways people have all become the same. (They even dress the same in Future Society Jumpsuits.) Can you make a utopia that’s entirely about accepting and celebrating differences? How will that even work? Will distinctive cultures survive and still be passed on between generations? Will old ways of doing things be preserved, yet still fit in to utopia?
  • Will there still be prejudices? If your utopia is completely perfect, maybe not. But if you’re going for a society that has a minimum basic income, housing for all, and good education, would those things necessarily combine to root out the shitty human desire to be mean to others who aren’t in their in-group?
  • What about the arts? What about music? What about parties? Are people still going to get drunk and end up in a field without their trousers? Oh god what if you drunk-called that appealing person of indeterminate gender from work and now they think you’re an idiot god why do you always listen to Jen, they have the worst ideas.
  • What about roadtrips? What about discovering yourself? Wouldn’t it be great to get to go on a journey of self-discovery when you don’t have to simultaneously worry about the specter of crippling credit card debt?
  • What about drugs? Will addictions still exist at all? Is everyone suddenly going to become super healthy? Is everyone going to suddenly agree on the best way to be healthy?
  • What about disability? Is the utopia for all of the able-bodied people still going to be a utopia for anyone who isn’t? Is trying to avoid this issue by waving your hand to cure all genetic conditions and fixing or preventing all injuries not only cheating but also a bit evil? If disability is incredibly rare, what is it like to be the only person, say, with amazing robot legs in utopia? Even if in utopia people aren’t shitty about it, it’s still going to be a different experience, isn’t it?
  • What about teenagers being teenagers and asserting their independence in the most frustrating way possible?
  • How about population control? Will there have to be some kind of limiting factor on population? Can you manage that without creeping toward dystopia?
  • I’m pretty sure people in utopia will still want to explore space. Or if they don’t want to, you’d better explain yourself.
  • You’ve got to be kidding me if you think people aren’t going to still feel alienated or lonely or insignificant or like no one in the world understands them.
  • Even if much of the above is invalidated because the culture is perfect, people are still going to be people. There will still be interpersonal conflicts, and romances, and just not knowing what the hell you want to be when you grow up. Are those stories worth telling? I would argue yes. Ultimately all of our stories are about people and their journey. Utopia isn’t stasis.
  • Your suggestion here. Let’s keep brainstorming about conflicts in utopia in the comments! (And please, if I have screwed up anything horribly, feel free to chew it up there.)

The conclusion I’m coming to is that it’s not that conflict can’t exist in Utopia, it’s just that maybe we’re all too damn lazy as writers. Or lazy might be too mean. I think there is a certain mental groove we get caught in, when we’re getting exposed to the same kinds of stories over and over again across the media, it’s hard to convince ourselves that other kinds of stories can be interesting.

It kind of reminds me of the profound shift in thinking I experienced when I started writing original fiction. I wrote fanfic for years and years, and as is common, I wrote fanfic about the male characters in the various series I liked, because let’s be honest. For the most part there are more male characters, and they get the interesting backstories and development. So when I first started trying to write more original fiction, almost all of the characters I wrote were male, I think because that’s what I had been so exposed to. Sometime in my second year of writing mostly original fiction, I had this epiphany that holy shit, you can write interesting stories about women too. (And then a couple years later, I had a similar holy shit moment when I realized that not everything has to have a massively explodey, action-packed finale.)

So maybe we’re not writing Utopias because they’re hard, and we’re complacent, and we’ve bought into the poisonous idea that it’s not a story worth 90,000 words if no one gets shot. Maybe it’s time we all get the dystopia out of our system, take a deep breath and say okay, now that I’ve screwed up the world, how am I going to fix it? And not just fix it, make it better.

Challenge yourself as a writer. You don’t even have to write us a book about perfect utopia. I’d settle for you telling us how to get there.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

More divorce thoughts

Off the fucking chain

Now that the cat is out of the bag, there are some more kind of nitty-gritty things about divorce that I want to talk about, because I think they’re dumb or annoying or just kind of funny.

It’s okay that we’re okay.

While we were going through the whole process, we kept having these weird conversations, just randomly. Mostly in the car, since thats when our housemate isn’t around. Where one of us would just say something like, “We’re not arguing about anything. I feel like there’s something wrong with us.”

Mike and I never did much arguing before, but there is this mental image you get of divorce, where there is shouting and tears and throwing things perhaps. There was a little crying while we were figuring things out. There’s always crying when something ends, just because endings are always sad even when they lead into new beginnings. But there weren’t hard feelings. There wasn’t shouting. And it felt… kind of weird that there weren’t, in a way. Like we were somehow doing it wrong.

We had a lot of conversations that started like this, going in both directions:

“Are you still okay?” “I’m okay.” “Why does it feel weird that we’re both okay?”

It’s okay that we didn’t want to argue. It’s okay that there are no hard feelings. (In fact, it’s better that there are no hard feelings!) It’s okay that we’re okay. I figure not a lot of people get to be in this position, but it’s a place that exists. And if you find yourself in that place, don’t feel weird about it.

And everyone, I know it’s super weird when someone tells you they’ve gotten divorced, and you’re not sure how to respond. And it’s probably even weirder when the people in question are both happy and okay with everything. It feels weird to congratulate people on something society in general says is a terrible thing.

But hey, you can always congratulate us on the fact that we’re still BFFs. We don’t feel like us getting divorced was a bad thing. We don’t want anyone else to feel that way either.

It’s way easier to get married than divorced

The more I think about this, the more it annoys me, to be honest. Like, I get that there are certain things that make getting divorced way more complicated than getting married; the division of property, and heaven help you if you have kids. (And I’m glad we didn’t have kids, because that’s a whole other set of people who you really have to put first… but anyway.) But it is just materially much more difficult to get divorced than married.

When Mike and I got married, we went to the DMV to get the license, didn’t have to wait at all, paid $30 and answered a few questions (eg: are you brother and sister?) and that was it. Then all we had to do was sign the thing with witnesses and there you go. Married. If you don’t count the big party we threw for signing our piece of paper, getting married was cheaper than dinner and a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse. We also didn’t even have to even be residents of Colorado.

Filing for divorce was exponentially harder. And I mean that in a literal sense as well; we had to pay nearly ten times as much just to file the paperwork. (Now if we’d gotten married in Houston, we would have had to bay $71 for the license, which is around 1/4 of the divorce filing fee.) We had to have lived in Texas for at least six months and Houston for at least three, thankfully not a problem for us. And then there was a sixty day waiting period, between when we filed the original petition and when we could even go before the judge to get the final decree approved.

Like I said, I get that a lot of that has to do with just the legal messiness of untangling property, which is why you need to drag a judge into things. I even get keeping the judge in the uncontested divorce loop and wanting their approval on the final decree, because they’re there to make sure someone doesn’t get totally fucked because of a mistake or malicious design.

But a sixty day waiting period? Why isn’t there a sixty day waiting period for marriages? Even states that have “cooling off” periods for wedding licenses, they’re nothing like sixty freaking days.

This is not to say my marriage to Mike was some kind of mistake and we wouldn’t have done it if we’d had to wait two months. At that point, we’d been living together for over five years. I’m just saying that making people wait the same amount for a marriage as they have to wait for a divorce just seems a lot more fair. And it also feels really wrong to me, to make it super easy to get married, to the point that you can quite literally get married on a whim in many states, and then make it difficult and much more expensive and humiliating to end a marriage.

Anyone who is against no-fault divorce is either severely misguided or downright evil.

Considering Texas’s hyper conservative reputation, it might come as a surprise that it’s a no-fault divorce state. (Actually, according to Wikipedia, the whole US has been no fault since 2010, which is cool.) But that meant when I went before the judge and asked for a divorce, the reason I provided was quite literally:

My marriage to my spouse has become insupportable because of a discord or conflict of personalities that destroys the legitimate ends of the marriage relationship.

Which basically means “this marriage isn’t working out for reasons that aren’t anyone’s fault, please let us out.” And that is so. Incredibly. Important. For Mike and I, this was precisely the reason for our divorce. We’d grown to a place where we just didn’t feel that way about each other any more and no longer wanted to be married.

I don’t want to get too melodramatic here, but this is important. We’re  still incredibly good friends because we were able to decide that we didn’t want to be married any more, and then the state accepted that as a reason. This meant that neither of us felt trapped. Neither of us got put in a position where we could resent the other person. This allowed us to end that part of our relationship on incredibly good, cooperative, friendly terms.

If no-fault divorce wasn’t allowed, we would have needed a reason like abuse (not gonna happen) or adultery. And even when you’re both on the same side, being legally forced to blame someone for something that really requires no blame… I don’t think that would have felt very good for either of us. It wouldn’t have been fair. Sometimes things happen that aren’t anyone’s fault. There’s enough baggage on the entire word of divorce without the state forcing you to point the finger at someone and legally shame them.

I want to point this out because I remember in Colorado, political ads for certain candidates expounding upon the evils of no-fault divorce. There’s ongoing backlash and a definite sector of people in this country who would like to get rid of this kind of divorce, and their reasoning is total bullshit. Divorce is already difficult enough. Legally forcing Mike and I to remain married would not have caused us to somehow start loving each other in that way again. But it would have been a great way to destroy our friendship.

Everyone expects you to want to have nothing to do with each other any more.

I guess maybe because that’s the way it most commonly goes? But it’s been kind of weird in that respect. We actually ended up paying a lawyer to write up our final decree for us even just because if you download the form and want to fill it out yourself, there’s an assumption that everything is going to belong to either one person or the other. We wanted to keep one of our bank accounts jointly owned (so we could pay rent and bills out of it since we’re still housemates) and also keep the house we own at 50/50 while not having to just sell it and split it. They don’t make that easy to figure out.

And yes, we’re still housemates. We’re BFFs. We’re just really relieved to be sleeping in separate rooms. I know it’s kind of weird considering how these things normally go, but it’s worked for us.

My ties are incredibly powerful.

They tell you to dress nice for court. So I did, which included one of my power ties. I needed the confidence boost, man. Going in front of a judge is a nerve-wracking thing even if you have no-fault on your side. During my time at court, I got mistaken for a lawyer countless times (I guess only lawyers wear ties?) and caused several people some severe gender confusion.

It kind of made my day.

(Bonus: I was on crutches the entire time.)


Because yes, there was divorce cake. It was not as awesome as the wedding cake.

Like we murdered a fairy on top.

Yes. A funfetti cake. That’s right.

wpid-wp-1409675529754.jpegBut it was our divorce cake, and it was good.



Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

Off the fucking chain

I tend to be very careful, out here on the internet, about when and how I speak about my personal life. Ridiculous bitching about my period? Sure, why not. Navel-gazing about weight and body image? Sure. But all of those things are about me. When it comes to the people in my life and how I relate to them, I am ferociously protective of their privacy. Their lives are not for me to talk about.

I’m going to make an exception here, with Mike’s permission. Because I think this is important.

This is about failure.

I’ve never dealt well with failure. In university, the first time I ever failed an exam, it resulted in a near-hysterical crying jag because I was certain my academic career was over and I was completely without worth as a human being. I am not someone who fails with grace.

This is about divorce.

Last week, on August 26, a judge granted Mike and I a divorce. This will come as a surprise to pretty much everyone, because we chose to not talk about it publicly until everything was finalized. A lot of that was because, in our opinion, our relationship and its workings (or not-workings) were no one’s business but ours. We decided together to get married, and we decided together to end that marriage. But I think a lot of it was also because the word divorce carries a lot of highly dramatic emotional baggage.

I think nearly everyone in America knows someone who’s been touched by a really horrible divorce. Growing up, I had a lot of friends with divorced parents, in a myriad of different arrangements. And there’s also the image of divorce in the media, where it’s largely this dramatic thing that involves screaming arguments, and crying, and throwing dishes, and trying desperately to hurt someone else over stuff.

The specter of failure was what made things the most difficult as Mike and I talked and talked and ultimately came to the conclusion that this chapter of our lives was at an end. I kept thinking over and over, that because I couldn’t find a way to fix this, to fix me, I had not only failed myself, I had failed our friends, our families, and worst of all, I had failed Mike, who is still my best friend in the world.

I haven’t failed Mike. Mike didn’t fail me. And I don’t want to hear anyone characterizing our relationship, our marriage, our divorce, that way. There is this is this societal meme that deems divorce a failure of marriage, a failure of a relationship. As if finding someone compatible with you, who will grow and change as you grow and change and always maintain that same compatibility, is a simple and easy prospect that defaults in success. As if finding a single person who can ceaselessly put up with your shit (and the shit they have to put up with grows and changes too) and still love you just as much until one of you dies is the norm.

Maybe divorce sometimes is about failure. But I don’t think that’s the only potential meaning. It can also be just about ending. Failure is only one way of a multitude for something to end. And if I’d allowed myself to think about it that way, this process might have been a little less agonizing.

Mike and I have taken care of each other and supported each other through a lot of good times and bad times.We’ve shared our lives. But the thing about life is that it changes you, inevitably. The day you stop changing is truly the day you’ve ceased to live, even if you don’t get around to dying for a while after. And for nearly a decade, the changes life wrought on us kept us on the same path, and it was good.

You don’t really have control over how life is going to work that magic on you. And at some point we stopped growing together and started growing apart. That’s not anyone’s fault. That’s life. Mike isn’t the same person I married four years ago, let alone the same person I started dating five years before that. I’m not the same person he married. And if you gave it to us to do over again today, we’d say thanks, but no. But let’s have some cake anyway. Cake’s always good.

We’re not a failure. Our relationship is not a failure. Because we made each other stronger, better people. We loved and supported each other through thick and thin until we reached a place in our lives where we couldn’t support each other in that same way any more. It’s time to continue loving and supporting each other in a different way.

And you know what? That’s okay. We walked along the same path for close to ten years. But now it’s time for those paths to diverge.

When I think of it that way, in terms of the fullness of our lives and the way’s we’ve grown, I can’t really call our relationship, our marriage anything but a success. We are both greater, stronger people than we were when we started. And if it’s going to end, then let it end. Holding on to something that is no longer supporting either of us would be the real failure.

There are a lot of people in the world. A lot of people. I feel lucky every time I meet someone with whom I can connect on an intimate level of any kind. Maybe there is someone (heck, ten someones, fifty, one hundred!) who will by some miracle of statistics be that perfect one for me, who will always match me and be matched by me. I don’t know if I will ever meet that person, and I won’t know if I’ve met them until I’m on my deathbed. And that’s okay.

I am incredibly lucky to have met Mike. We have been best friends for nearly ten years now, and for a bit less than that we were more. Mike has been an amazing, integral part of my journey to where I stand now. He has made me who I am today. And he has had the courageous soul and boundless generosity of spirit necessary to keep cheering me along on my own path, just as I’ve been cheering him along on his. Even as those paths have taken us farther and farther apart.

We haven’t failed. Because wherever we end up, we will still love each other.

Friends til the end.


Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

Ridley Scott explains nothing, actually

Off the fucking chain

Okay, someone hold my hat, I am about to come unglued here.

So yeah, by now you might have heard that Ridley Scott is making a movie called Exodus: Gods and Kings, which is based off the Bible story. Which takes place in Egypt.  Allow me to illustrate, briefly, where Eqypt is located:

Egypt: It's a place in Northern Africa.

Egypt: It’s a place in Northern Africa.

Okay? Now. Some people, including me, are kind of pissed off about some of the choices he’s made. Allow me to summarize why with a picture:

Notice anything, here?

Notice anything, here?

And here, have a bonus:

Even Christian Bale looks unimpressed.

Aw, they’re building a statue.

Just for reference, in reality land:

Here, some actual Egyptian statues. (Per source, Ramesses II, even.)

Here, some actual Egyptian statues. (Per source, Ramesses II, even.)

Now, if those don’t explain why a lot of us on the internet are breathing fire, just… tell you what. Go read this.

All right. We all caught up now?

So then Ridley Scott “explained” his casting decisions. Which he described as careful. (Hoo boy.) Like, to a certain extent I get, hey I like this actor and want to work with them and they are perfect for this role. Trust me, I now totally get that urge. And as many people have pointed out, if the casting seemed truly colorblind (Ken Watanabe as Nun! Benicio Del Toro as Rameses II! Viola Davis as Tuya!) I could go for it. I really could. But let’s look at the first ten actors listed on IMDB:

  • Aaron Paul – white (American)
  • Christian Bale – white (British)
  • Joel Edgerton – white (Australian)
  • Sigourney Weaver – white (American)
  • Ben Kingsley – non-white (British)
  • Indira Varma – non-white (British)
  • John Turturro – white (American)
  • Ben Mendelsohn – white (Australian)
  • Maria Valverde – white [spanish (literally from Spain)]
  • Emun Elliott – white (Scottish)

I would like to say, first, I feel gross and horrible after writing that list out, and awkward, and ugh. But I also feel it serves an important point, which is basically, out of the first ten people on the case list, there are two actors who could really be considered non-white (both Ben Kingsley and Indira Varma have an Indian parent) and Maria Valverde, who as an actual spanish person from Spain to my understanding should be considered white for the purposes of what we’re talking about. The point here is that the top listed actors are 80% white. If you go with the actors that are really being used to advertise the film, which would pretty much be the top five, you’re still at 80%.

In a movie. That takes place in Egypt.

Scott was not asked about the racial component of his casting decision, but he did answer a question about how he formed the international cast — which has been criticized for only featuring colored performers in small roles, such as servants, thieves and assassins.

“Egypt was – as it is now – a confluence of cultures, as a result of being a crossroads geographically between Africa, the Middle East and Europe,” Scott said. “We cast major actors from different ethnicities to reflect this diversity of culture, from Iranians to Spaniards to Arabs. There are many different theories about the ethnicity of the Egyptian people, and we had a lot of discussions about how to best represent the culture.”

Yeah, all different ethnicities. You know. American, British, and Australian.

If you want to actually see most of the different ethnicities Scott’s talking about, when you go to the IMDB page, click “see full cast list.” Most of them are hidden in there. Which indicates much, much smaller parts. But we kind of already knew that from the pictures, right?

Oh and?

There are many different theories about the ethnicity of the Egyptian people, and we had a lot of discussions about how to best represent the culture.

I did a little googling around because I was curious. And yeah, there’s controversy, most of it seeming to stem from much more openly racist times when people couldn’t handle the idea that someone who wasn’t snowy white made something white people think is awesome, like the pyramids. While at this point the science apparently boils down to:

There is no scientific reason to believe that the primary ancestors of the Egyptian population emerged and evolved outside of northeast Africa.

While that’s no doubt an oversimplification considering yes, the area is a major crossroads, using that as an excuse to justify the vast majority of your principle actors looking like they didn’t mind the gap on the Tube and fell through a rip in space and time to land in ancient Egypt is pretty fucking disingenuous.

(Actually, that’s a bad joke on my part, since apparently London is ~60% white and thus would not be well-represented by Ridley Scott’s casting.)

I imagine when you’re a director of Ridley Scott’s caliber, you can end up getting a lot of your principle actors by just calling them up on the phone and telling them you have a script you want them to read. So it’s really on him to take a step back and ask himself why most of the people he thinks are the best man or woman for the job are white rather than doing elaborate mental gymnastics to justify it later.

Because I really, really am not down with the implication that somehow, the best actor for the job is almost always white. Because there are amazing actors out there who aren’t white, and I’d bet you anything even more amazing actors who are just waiting for a chance to shine, if people would just fucking give them that chance.

And it’s not hard to do, by the way. All you do is write a casting notice like this:

[Gender], 20s to 40s, non-white

Or if you don’t want to close the door all the way, fine:

[Gender], 20s to 40s, preferably non-white…

And trust me. You will get a response, from amazing actors, and I bet you anything one of them will be the right person for the job.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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