Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sneaky Costume Hint

My Halloween costume is almost finished and it's going to be awesome.

I'm not going to say, yet, what I'm going to be, but I'll give a hint:

Book Review: The Parasol Protectorate

Steampunk is all the rage at the moment, and has been climbing in popularity for the past few years and moving into the mainstream. In 2008, the New York Times did a piece on the subculture. Last week, the network murder mystery show Castle featured steampunk in the episode "Punked".

In the literary world, the publication of steampunk novels has been steadily increasing and becoming more frequent. (And may I just express my sincere gratitude that Stephanie Meyer's badly written faux-vampires and their clones are finally starting to move out of the limelight?) As a genre, steampunk combines Victorian-era culture with futuristic technological advances and gadgetry (this combination can occur in various forms).

I've fallen headlong into lust with a set of books called The Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger that have been getting a fair amount of press among the sci-fi/fantasy set.

The basic premise is that the supernatural exists and has been integrated into British society. One can be turned into a supernatural (a werewolf, vampire, or ghost) if one has excess soul. Alexia Tarabotti is the opposite, a preternatural, one born without a soul. Along with a lack of creativity, she has the ability to negate supernaturalness with a touch, temporarily turning vampires and werewolves back into mere mortals, and (more permanently) exorcising ghosts. While London society is aware of the supernatural, it is blissfully ignorant of the preternatural.

In the first book, Soulless, Alexia stumbles into a plot in which someone is manufacturing vampires. Which brings her into contact with Lord Conal Maccon, the Alpha of the local werewolf pack and head of the government's Bureau of Unnatural Registry (BUR) which has jurisdiction over all things supernatural.

The second and third books takes the readers onto a dirigible ride into Scotland, and a mad dash into France and Italy, respectively. Along the way, Alexia learns more of her preternatural heritage and picks up odd companions to make up her Parasol Protectorate.

If you're looking for high literature, these aren't it. What these are are just plain fun. They're tongue-in-cheek, witty, full of a hodge-podge of eccentric characters, and enough political machinations to shake a parasol at. Plus, fantastic world-building (I'm a world-building junkie) of the supernatural/human culture. Each successive book is better than the last, and I'm eagerly awaiting the publication of the fourth book next July. (Is it July yet?)

"A vampire, like a lady, never reveals his true age."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Some Thoughts on Elizabeth Moon and Wiscon

SF3 has formally announced that it has withdrawn it's Wiscon 35 Guest of Honor invitation to Elizabeth Moon. While there is no explanation of why, it's pretty certain it's related to her blog post "Citizenship" from September 11th.

I find myself conflicted over this. I understand where SF3 is coming from. Many found Moon's posting deeply offensive, including some of the Wiscon staff. On the other hand, it does create ill-will and paint the con in a bad light for many, including those who have already pre-registered and paid looking forward to seeing Moon there as GoH.

But yet, when I think though this I find I ultimately agree with SF3's action. This was not a kneejerk, spur-of-the-moment decision. Moon's post was on September 11th. SF3 made their public announcement on October 21st. It is fairly obvious there was a long internal conversation about this (with some staffers threatening to quit if Moon remained GoH). Ultimately, I think SF3 decided that given the public conversation about Moon at the moment, that was not the particular conversation they want framing their con. Which is solely in their right.

If you go back and read Moon's post, she makes the point that new immigrates must assimilate to survive, and that is their duty as a good citizen. On the surface, this is a fairly innocuous statement -- until you probe deeper. The United States is a melting pot in which different cultures have come together to create a new, shared culture. But new cultures are continually entering into the pot, and rather than embracing and accepting them into the mix, American discourse has focused on excluding them. This is the case with the immigration debate, and the anti-Muslim hysteria that has undertaken our nation. I find this extremely disturbing and hypocritical.

Focusing on Muslim-Americans for a moment, I have to ask Who cares? Muslim hatred is no different than anti-Semitism or anti-Catholcism, or racism, or any other form of -ism out there. It is the painting of an entire group based on the actions of a subset of that group, or the belief in a stereotype that is not entirely true. We don't associate all Baptists with Fred Phelps, and we shouldn't associate all Muslims with Al Qaeda. Then there are those who not only continue to believe that President Obama is a Muslim, but say it as it's a bad thing -- by spouting such rhetoric, they are only exposing themselves as the bigots they are. But they are only the tip of a larger anti-Muslim voice that has been steadily gaining traction in the country.

The thought that "assimilation" is their only hope of success is deeply offensive when you consider what such assimilation would entail. For many, religion and culture are intrinsically intertwined, and to do without one is to do without the other. In France, this mindset has led to a law banning the burqa. While I would like to believe that something like that would not happen here, I would have never believed it would happen in France, either.

Moon's post sounds very reasonable, but it is indicative of moderate America, believing that the immigrant has a responsibility to compromise their culture but that those who are already here do not have the corresponding responsibility to accept this new culture. This speaks to a deeper societal issue of intolerance that needs to be addressed in order for America to continue to be the America founded on the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Happy Genocide Day

It's been a while since my last post, and I have a number of half-written, half-baked ideas floating around ye ol' drafts folder. But instead of finishing one of those, I wanted to speak out about something: Columbus Day. It's a federally recognized holiday in which the federal government and many other businesses take off, school districts around the country are closed, and about which children are taught about the "discovery" of America by Europeans.

Growing up, my school district never got the day off; perhaps this was a political decision, as we were more liberal than most. Perhaps it was just logistical, giving us that day somewhere else like after Thanksgiving. But yet, I still learned "In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue" and the story of the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa María. It was the cookie-cutter history that every other school child learned, and has learned since.

Yet having a day devoted to a man who was, to be frank, not very nice and was the poster child for the near annihilation of the native peoples of two continents never sat well with me, even as a child. I guess my liberal roots sprouted early in life. On the scale of human history, I sympathize more with the Lakota, Arapaho, and Cheyenne than with Custer.

In college, I made a conscious, somewhat tongue in cheek, decision to refer to Columbus Day as "Genocide Day." It was supposed to be a humorous and not very serious declaration. This year, I'm continuing with that, but making it more serious.

So this year, and every year from now, I'm going to celebrate Columbus Day as "Genocide Remembrance Day" and take a few moments to think about all those who have been victims of genocide throughout history, and even today. And I will start with the American Indians, who really, are overlooked, marginalized, and not even thought of on this day.

I think when I get home, I'll pick up my copy of Custer Died For Your Sins by Vine Deloria, Jr.