Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net


Archive for the 'Meanderings' Category

“…to the exclusion of all emotional experience”

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

This morning, a post from last summer on women and hard SF got resurrected in my twitter stream. The title: Being male is not a prerequisite for hard SF.” Well, duh?

Written by Damien Walter, and published in The Guardian, the piece begins:

Despite protestations to the contrary, hard SF is a boys’ club that is undermining its own potential by resisting the contributions of women writers.

It goes on to say:

Women writers are more than welcome in hard SF, assuming they have a background in the hard sciences and value hard logic to the exclusion of all emotional experience.

Wait…what? All my hard SF novels have just been insulted! By this definition, we must conclude that there is no emotion in my work. Shame on me. And there seems to be an implied corollary that men wouldn’t read my books if there were any emotion to be found in them — which is not remotely my experience.

Update: Comments here and on twitter have made me realize that these quotes I’ve picked are leading to a misunderstanding. There is a tired old meme that says hard SF is emotionless writing. Damien is taking this meme as truth. He’s not advocating emotionless writing; he’s railing against it. So my first objection to the piece is that I simply don’t agree that hard SF is emotionless writing. But Damien says that it is, and goes on to say that the work of women is accepted by hard SF readers if it values “hard logic to the exclusion of all emotional experience.” I feel my work has been accepted as hard SF, but I don’t feel it’s devoid of emotion — so I find the argument quite insulting on multiple levels.

The tone of the piece seems intended to provoke a reaction — “hard SF” is redefined as “chauvinist SF” and on we go from there — so it’s successful in that.

I’ve been working on my own post on hard SF. I guess I should finish that up and publish.

The Term is “Ma’am”

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

Occasionally I hear women complaining about being called “Ma’am.” It makes them feel old. Or something. Personally, I like it. If you don’t know who I am, if you don’t know my name, “ma’am” is a perfectly respectful way of addressing me. There are far worse alternatives.

This afternoon I was flying from Honolulu back to Maui. I had an aisle seat and got up to allow the window-seat passenger to sit down. He changed his mind at the last second, and went forward to trade seats with someone else. I was left standing in the aisle. Hawaiian Airlines takes their “on time” reputation very seriously and a flight attendant immediately appeared behind me, asking if something was wrong.

“I don’t know,” I said, waving my hand to indicate the young man. “He was going to sit here.”

“If you’re going to switch seats,” the flight attendant called to him, “you need to do so right now.”

The group sent someone back to take the window seat, and the flight attendant told me, “There you go, sweetie.”

There you go, sweetie? Seriously?

The term is “Ma’am.”

“Sweetie” is an infantilizing term. You can probably safely use it with young children, or with your sweetheart (if this isn’t safe, you’ll hear about it), but do not use this form of address with strangers. I don’t mind “sweetie” quite so much if an older woman uses the term in a very general way, but when a younger person uses it, the implication is they are addressing someone in their “dotage”–childlike and infantilized. Sorry, sweetie, I’m not quite there yet, and even if I was, you should still address me respectfully, and save the intimacies for intimate relationships.

The term is “Ma’am.”

Some Photos From Launchpad Astronomy Workshop 2012

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Last week I was in Laramie, Wyoming for the 2012 Launchpad Astronomy Workshop. I heard about the workshop from Vonda N. McIntyre and Deborah Ross, who both attended in earlier years and were very enthusiastic about their experiences. It’s described as a semester of astronomy crammed into a week. Sounds like fun, right? I applied in the spring almost as soon as the application period opened, though I didn’t really expect to get in.

Launchpad is a workshop designed by Mike Brotherton and Jim Verley to educate writers, film makers, game developers, etc. in real astronomical science and space technology, in the hope that what they learn will be reflected in their work, and will in turn help to educate the general public. Naturally, the bigger a writer’s audience, the bigger the outreach effort. I assumed other writers, with larger readerships, would be ahead of me in the selection process, but to my surprise I was offered a slot, and I eagerly accepted.

It turned out to be a great week of fascinating lectures by Mike Brotherton, Geoffrey Landis, and Christian Ready, enhanced by group dinners, and two field trips. This year’s workshop was funded by the National Science Foundation. Funding for next year is uncertain, but hopefully it will come through. If it does, and if you’re a writer/film maker/game designer with an interest in astronomy (and if you don’t mind living in a college dorm for a week, at elevation of 7000-feet!) then you should apply.

Here are a few photos:

Here’s the lecture hall where we spent many hours (and where we were very well fed by the Launchpad staff — thank you, Nicole!)

It’s been a long time since I was in college. During the lectures I learned of a new way of taking notes–photographing the power point slides!

The University of Wyoming has a beautiful campus, with lots of native plantings that were thriving in midsummer.

There is even a menacing T-rex on campus!

A view of Laramie’s old-style downtown. Laramie itself is a terrific little town, with a vital downtown, full of good restaurants.

We went on two field trips. One was an evening expedition to WIRO, the Wyoming Infrared Observatory, and the other was to Vedauwoo, a forest service area with amazing rock formations. From left to right in the photo above are Jodi Lynn-Nye, myself, Matthew Rotundo (in back), our fearless leader Mike Brotherton, and guest lecturer, Christian Ready.

And here we are all together for our group photo.
Row 1 (kneeling): Geoffrey Landis, Christian Ready, Mike Brotherton, Jim Verley.
Row 2: Doug Farren, Mary Turzillo, Nova Ren Suma, Farah Mendlesohn, Ellen Datlow
Row 3: Jodi Lynn Nye, Christi Yant, Tiffany Trent, Robin Wasserman, myself, Sandra McDonald.
Row 4: Robin Christian Peters, Matthew Rotundo, Merrie Haskell, Matthew Kressel, Jake Kerr, Michael Kurland
Photo courtesy of Ellen Datlow

If you’re going to DragonCon you can sign up for a mini-version of Launchpad.

And don’t forget to check out Mike Brotherton’s science fiction novels: Spider Star and Star Dragon.

Spider Webs

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Long, long ago I read a short story that still sticks with me. I have no idea who wrote it, or where I read it, but it involved a colony of human telepaths who’d been stranded for years and years on a planet, with no outside contact. They weren’t worried about it. They were happy and things were fine. Then one day a new expedition arrived, and suddenly they were forced to see themselves through the eyes of others—literally, because they were telepaths, remember—and the consensus reality they’d enjoyed for decades exploded. They looked at each other through new eyes and realized they were no longer those sexy twenty-year-old beauties they’d once been. Instead they were seriously old, and the beautiful home they’d made for themselves was basically falling apart and filled with spider webs.

I don’t remember the conclusion of the story—I think it ended well enough—but I cannot shake the image of this consensus reality—or if we narrow it down, our personal realities, because it’s true: so much of our success and joy and self-satisfaction depends on who we think we are and, often, on how good we are at resisting some of life’s cold reminders that “it ain’t necessarily so.”

When my Dad was eighty-one and suffering from many disabilities, he turned to me one day and said, “You know, I’m getting old.” I blinked. I bit my tongue. No one, looking at my dad, would have any doubt that he was old, and that he’d been old for a while, but he had such a determined nature that I think he hadn’t quite realized it until then. The man he perceived himself to be was not the same man that other people saw. He had his own vision of himself and it kept him going for a long time.

A few months ago I was leaving the gym just steps behind an elderly couple who were both still quite spry. He said to her, “You know, eighty isn’t old.” She seemed startled for a moment, but then she emphatically agreed, “Of course, eighty isn’t old at all!” I suspect they hadn’t been together long, but I loved their attitude, and their consensus reality.

Of course it works the other way too and consensus realities aren’t always positive–but it’s the healthy side of delusion that fascinates me, and the way it can perpetuate joy, hope, and vigor—though we should all probably bring in fresh eyes now and then to check for spider webs.

If anyone recognizes the story described above, I’d love to hear about it.

Born To Wander

Monday, January 9th, 2012

“Not All Those Who Wander are Lost” — JRR Tolkien

On the other hand, some of us are — lost, that is. Oh, I don’t mean that we don’t know where we are in the world, it’s just that we don’t know where we are in the grand scheme of things. But then, maybe there’s a very good reason for that.

Not long ago, in a random conversation, a friend mentioned the name of a race car driver—I have no recollection of why we were discussing race car drivers—but he felt this particular driver was a natural. “He was born to drive race cars.”

You hear this expression all the time. “He was born to be a blogger.” “She was born to climb mountains.” Or sing arias, or be a politician, or be an engineer… The expression indicates the perfect convergence of inborn skills and inclination, with a challenging task or a creative endeavor. When you’re “born to do something” the least encouragement will launch you on a lifelong mission to gather the necessary skills, to make the contacts, and to meet the mentors who will help you along the way to becoming a master of your craft. It’s synchronicity in action, and a glorious thing to witness.

But when my friend mentioned this man who was born to drive race cars, I found myself replying, “It’s lucky for him he wasn’t born in, say, 1602.” Which led me to wonder: What if the race car driver had been born in 1602? Then he never would have found his ideal life’s task. What would he have done instead? What do all those people do who just happen to not be born at the right time (or the right place or in the right circumstances) to discover and find fulfillment in their ideal life’s task?

At a guess I’d say a lot of them wander through life trying their hand at different things without ever truly meshing with any of them. Do you know any people like that? Are you someone like that? Hesitantly, I raise my own hand.

All through college I thought I wanted to be a wildlife biologist, then I wanted to be a writer, then I spent nine years as a programmer. Now I’m a writer again, but I’m also a publisher, and this combination makes me feel like I’m as close as I’ve ever come to the thing I was “born to do.” And still…I can’t escape a nagging suspicion that there is or was or will be something else for which I would be ideally suited—or maybe some of us are just never satisfied?

As for those of you who know why you’re here, realize that we envy you. And please don’t take it the wrong way when we wander around in middle age saying things like “Someday I’ll grow up and figure out what I really want to be.” We’re not trying to be annoying; it’s just that we really don’t know.

Aloha to 2011

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

Here in Hawaii we’ll get around to the New Year in a few more hours. Most everyone else has already rolled over into 2012, but we like to linger. I don’t mind. For me, 2011 has been a good year. I learned a lot, and not just about how to run my own little publishing company. I learned how to write again, and I learned that I really do want to be in this business after all, so long as I can do things more-or-less on my own terms. That’s not asking too much, is it? 😉

Happy New Year to everyone out there! May 2012 prove a terrific year for all.

For myself, I’m looking forward to tomorrow.

Daylight Savings

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

We don’t do daylight savings in Hawaii, and given that I haven’t lived in the mainland United States since I was nine, it was a new — and disorienting! — experience to undergo the “conversion” last weekend while visiting in the great state of Washington.

The concept is easy for those of us sitting out here in the middle of the Pacific. After the winter change, the west coast is only two hours away, and the east coast only five. (It’s a three and six hour difference in the summer.)

But when one actually undergoes the change…what time is it, anyway? All clocks immediately become suspect. Did someone reset that digital display? Did someone adjust the analog dial on the wall? And who resets all the clocks in hotel rooms? I expected the staff would do it, but that didn’t happen at our airport hotel. Who resets the clocks in all the rental cars? That’s probably a crowd-sourced effort, but after the switch I just ignored the clock in our car. I was a bit unsettled when, on our flight back to Maui, the pilot kept saying we would arrive at 1:40pm when in fact we were due to arrive at 2:40pm, and did arrive at 2:40pm. Seriously, who resets the pilots? Isn’t time kind of important to navigation? (I’m sure they navigate with GMT, or GPS, but still…)

Both my Netbook and a wristwatch that I carry in my purse are set to Hawaii time, so I could always calculate the proper time, but those are crutches. There is one, true reference that I trust to provide me with correct local time, and that is Verizon Wireless, of course! Thank goodness for my cell phone, which is clever enough to reset the time when driving from one timezone to another and has no problem at all with daylight savings.

The winter conversion did illuminate a minor mystery to me. During the first part of our trip I was marveling at how long daylight lingered, given that it was so late in the year. Then on Sunday night, darkness suddenly fell an hour earlier, and all seemed normal again.

Personally though, I’m glad to live in a state where clocks can keep the same time all year round.

Aliens Among Us?

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

Along the little country road down to South Point, on the island of Hawaii, are isolated homes surrounded by windblown pastures–and then there is this:

We’ve all seen eccentric homesteads, but this looked like a bit more than even the most devoted communications hobbyist might come up with. Fortunately for our curiosity, there was a small sign on the corner of the property identifying it as part of the “Universal Space Network.”

Being a science fiction writer I’m inclined to take such claims literally. Naturally, my first comment was, “Wow. Impressive. The Universe is a really big place.”

Sadly, the Universal Space Network does not seem to be truly Universal. The network doesn’t seem to include alien worlds, but only this familiar one. According to the website, it’s a US-based company, evidently specializing in satellite tracking…which makes a nice cover story anyway! Personally, I find it more fun to imagine aliens huddled inside that little green house, communicating with their home worlds across the star lanes.

Exercise & the Creative Brain

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

If you follow me on twitter, you’re probably aware that I like to exercise. I’ve always been into fitness, I’ve just gotten more consistent and have pushed myself harder in the last couple of years. In a recent article at Fast Company, The Creative Brain On Exercise, Jonathan Fields tells us why fitness for writers and artists is a good idea:

…exercise isn’t just about physical health and appearance. It also has a profound effect on your brain chemistry, physiology, and neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to literally rewire itself). It affects not only your ability to think, create, and solve, but your mood and ability to lean into uncertainty, risk, judgment, and anxiety in a substantial, measurable way

Consider me a sample of one. Lately I’ve been asking myself, “Why am I in such a damn good mood?” It’s not like I’m a Joe Konrath/Bob Meyer indie-publishing success story. Nevertheless, I am in a good mood most of the time, and 2011 looks like it will be one of my most productive years ever. I think exercise has a lot to do with that.

I’m not all that disciplined. I don’t exercise everyday, but I do a lot more now than I did a couple years ago. If you’re interested, here’s an older post on the book that got me going again.

Let me know if you exercise, if you’d like to exercise, if exercise is a drug that works for you. It’s good to have a sample size larger than one!

(Hat tip: I found the Fast Company article via Andrew Sullivan’s blog.)

Notes to Self

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

I was looking ahead a week or two on my Google calendar and saw an entry that read: “Follow up w/Hawaii [Whatever]” (name changed to protect the innocent).

My first thought, of course, was “Who in the world is Hawaii [Whatever]?

So I clicked through to the entry and read this:

Originally emailed them on May 17. If this is all a mystery, try contacting again.
http://Hawaii [Whatever] domain name

Evidently my past self fully anticipated the mystified state of my present self. I admire that.