Tags: interpretation

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Book titles and implicit promises

This won't be a review, exactly, but rather a note on books' titles and openings and how those affect expectations.

I just finished the Star Trek (TOS) novel Uhura's Song. The first chapter throws us right into a tense situation: a horrible plague is decimating a planet, and Uhura is especially affected because one of her friends is among those suffering the "Long Death" (the disease takes a painfully long time to kill its victims). However she soon realizes that some ancient, taboo songs her friend taught her may hold the key to finding a cure, and the Enterprise is soon off on a desperate mission, using clues in the ancient songs to try to locate a planet they're not even sure exists for a cure they're not sure exists either--but it's the best chance they have.Collapse )
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And one day I'll get around to reading more of the genre itself

I'm still trying to figure out steampunk. I haven't, obviously, so here's what some other people say instead.

Steampunk Abstractions: The Inevitability of Imperialism "My question, then, is this: beyond critique in some literature today, how are steampunks performing anti-imperialism, if at all? Is imperialist imagery inevitable, or can they be visibly subversive?"

The hard edge of empire Charlie Stross doesn't like steampunk. He says, "We know about the real world of the era steampunk is riffing off. And the picture is not good," and argues that steampunk doesn't engage the dark side of the Victorian era (among other things). Some commenters pop up with counter-examples of works which do engage with the problems. He also complains about the science in steampunk, although I don't see anyone complaining that HG Wells didn't explain his time travel technology well enough. Not everything wants or needs to be hard sf!

"Get off my side" Part of a discussion about steampunk, in which most of the commenters don't like it either, but think Stross dislikes it for the wrong reasons. For instance, "complaining about the technology is just daft." And, "One of the many, many wanky tropes of Steampunk is *exactly* the kind of excessive grittiness that Stross insists people would never ever write about." Plus a correction to Stross's definition of "totalitarianism." Maybe once you get to the point where people disagree over the right reasons to dislike a literary fad, it really is a subgenre?

Blowing Off Steam Catherynne Valente says, "think, for just a precious second, about what punk means, the rage and iconoclasm and desperation, the nihilism and unsentimental ecstasy of punk rock." (And lest anyone worry that her insistence on having seriousness in fantasy means she wants books that are no fun, let me reassure you that The Orphan's Tales has plenty of fun.) She also argues that without steam-powered technology, it's more accurately gearpunk or clockpunk.

Here I Stand, With Steam Coming Out of My Ears Valente again: "I'm not going to talk about what a joke it is to call something so inherently nostalgic, conservative, and comfort-oriented 'punk.'" She will talk about how "steampunk isn't really alternate history and it isn't really science fiction. It's adventure stories wrapped up in a very slight veneer of common tropes. And adventure stories, historically, have never even tried to be very good." (For the record, she knows of a few steampunk stories she likes.) Other noteworthy quotes: "Most of the books are not just part of a genre, they are just a bag where airships, goggles, 19th century England, 19th century America, gears, corsets and zombies are shaken and pulled out at random [...] Steampunk is starting to look a lot like the endless dragons and maidens covers of old extruded product fantasy."

Toward a Steampunk without Steam And now from someone who likes steampunk! "I love what I see at steampunk’s core: a desire for the beautiful, for technological wonder, for a wedding of the rational and the marvelous. I see in it a desire for non-specialised science, for the mélange of occultism and scientific rigour, for a time when they were not mutually exclusive categories." When you put it that way, it does sound fun! She has an interesting point about our steampunk being equivalent to the Victorian fetish for medieval stuff, too. And she uses her experience writing a story for Steam Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories to raise the question, is steampunk only possible in England? Because her story is set in Syria, which "you may be aware, is a fairly arid country. There are better things to do with water than make steam." Finally, "I submit that the insistence on Victoriana in steampunk is akin to insisting on castles and European dragons in fantasy: limiting, and rather missing the point." I'd love to see a discussion on steampunk between her and Valente.

And as a bonus, here's the China Mieville essay about Tolkien which Stross mentioned, since it's about the same nostalgia for past-ness without the dirty bits.Collapse )

In which someone provides massively insufficient information

Don't you hate it when you're reading a perfectly innocent-sounding article about information-seeking behavior and motivation and come across something like this?

"Interestingly, 25% of the women claimed the right as part of a diverse community to not have their opinions challenged at all, as opposed to only 6% of the men. In fact, other statements in the study suggested that the men fully expected that their views would be challenged by others. This ability or inability to accept dissonance will be seen in other research among students as well and is attributed by researchers to students being at various stages of cognitive development."1

This article is only briefly summarizing someone else's study before moving on, so it does not answer crucial questions such as "how were those survey questions framed, exactly?" Because that makes a difference. Did these 25% of women [Grinnell students] actually mean, "I think I have the right not to have to hear pesky facts from other people that might contradict my opinions," or did they mean "Certain groups of people continue to treat my opinions as invalid no matter how well I support them, and I have the right not to listen to their vitriolic and utterly predictable rants"? It is possible to have your opinions challenged with arguments you've heard a million times already, rather than by a new argument which merits consideration every time. Did the study take that into account? Without knowing the exact questions asked, we can't really be sure that this data supports the idea that Grinnell women are on average at a lower "stage of cognitive development" than Grinnell men.

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1Weiler, A., “Information-seeking Behavior in Generation Y Students: Motivation, Critical Thinking and Learning Theory,” Journal of Academic Librarianship 31:1 (2005): 46-53.
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The big Deathly Hallows reactions post

On Saturday, I experienced a thrilling story of flight, pursuit, redemption, and the power of love. I am, of course, talking about the Sacramento Music Circus's production of Les Miserables. I can't recommend this enough. The actors playing Valjean and Javert are amazing - the first has played Valjean nearly 2000 times, so you know he knows what he's doing - and by the time they walked off arm in arm after the bows, I was too choked up to talk for a minute. This production is also the first time the musical has been performed in the round. The combination of the round (and sometimes, rotating!) stage and the small theater made the performance feel even more powerful and immediate. We were there.

There was also this book I read on Saturday when I wasn't at the play. I'm putting my reactions behind a cut. Well, two cuts: one for the parts I liked, and one for the parts I didn't. Warning: long! It's a long book, and I have lots of comments.

Positive things first.

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Movie Misconceptions

When I was little, I had some peculiar interpretations of things that happened in movies. For instance, there is a scene in Little Shop of Horrors where Seymour sings about being trapped in Skid Row while standing behind a chain-link fence. Somehow I got it into my head that he meant this literally. As in, that fence surrounded all of Skid Row, and the people inside were locked in. Maybe I assumed that in a musical about a man-eating plant from outer space, anything was possible. I'm really not sure.

Another example: shortly after I saw The Empire Strikes Back for the first time, I read something which mentioned the Rebels' terrible defeat at the Battle of Hoth. My reaction was, "Defeat? But they got away!" It hadn't occurred to me that getting discovered and having to flee in the first place was a defeat. Or that just because one transport, the main characters, and Wedge Antilles got away, that does not mean everyone else did. Or even that Luke blowing up one AT-AT hardly made a dent in the Empire's forces, whereas the Rebels had fewer people and material (and moreover had to leave a lot of the heavy equipment behind).

Anyone else come up with quirky readings like this as a kid?