(no subject)

At the urging of goodvibes_mag, I'm taking this survey on attitudes towards lube. It is rather silly.

Let me see if I can paste some of it over here...

17. Who approves of you using lubricant alone during masturbation? What people or groups of people might support you?

18. Who disapproves of you using lubricant alone during masturbation? What people or groups of people might not support you?

19. What makes it easier or might make it easier for you to use lubricant by yourself?

20. What makes it harder or might make it harder for you to use lubricant by yourself?

I'm getting the distinct impression that I don't particularly conform to the prejudices of the survey designers.

Velociraptors with Hoverboards a phrase that I believe originates with XKCD, a webcomic I'm actually not all that into. I admire it plenty, I've just somehow never made the leap to checking it regularly.

It's become a odd little writing mantra for me, shorthand for the project of striving to load stories down with Neat Stuff, to reward myself and my readers with goodies, surprises, new amusing events and people and objects and ideas in play. Velociraptors with hoverboards don't need to be plot-necessary, don't need to be plausable, they just need to be ridiculously awesome. Which they are.

Certainly there are pitfalls to going too far in that direction. But, I'm working to remind myself, that's what second drafts are for.

Another day, another social media bandwagon

A few weeks ago, I gave in and got a Twitter account after a year of all the cool kids at Circlet sneering at me for not getting with the program. I'm not putting a feed of my tweets here on account of I kind of hate that. Twitter is its own odd little ecology (I admit I've been enjoying it rather more than I expected), and reposting chunks of tweets out of context rather denatures them.

Oh, by the way. Past tense of tweet? Totally twote. You heard it here first. And I'm not even going to charge you royalties.

Genre geeking

Readercon was fun and very intense. This isn't a report on that experience--it's an essay I started to prepare for the event. I was on one panel, entitled Traditional Genre Boundries are Melting, and I wanted to clarify my own thoughts on genre as preparation. I'm not sure I actually achieved all that much clarity, but I did manage to bring together some thoughts worth sharing.

This writing is very much in the shadow of con attendee Samuel Delany, whose book of critical essays
Shorter Views galvanized my thinking about genre and writing. I met him briefly this weekend, and managed to stammer out a couple of sentences of admiration before slinking off to feel stupid in the lobby for a while.

I love categories; categories are useful, categories are fun, categories are enormously convenient. Categories support community. The question, as Humpty-Dumpty said, is who's to be master?

Rather than "What is science fiction? What is fantasy? What is literary fiction?" I've spent most of my brainpower and pixels on the related questions, "What is erotica? What is pornography?" My short answer to that one is that marking a distinction between those two categories is useless at best and harmful at worst. Strikingly, much of the response I've gotten to my essays on the topic has been people not addressing the arguments I made, but taking their own stabs at defining that dividing line.

One can compare a description of a word's meaning to a map. It attempts to show how a word is used--to reproduce what it describes faithfully--but it is always a reduction and simplification of the original. A definition strives not to be a map but a blueprint--a full description of how the word must be used--to be definitive.

Now, some of the people who want to define pornography and erotica say, I belong to this established school, or that established school. But more interestingly, many offer a fresh definition of their own.

This is weirder than it looks.

These terms--erotica and pornography--at the risk of belaboring the obvious, are human terms. They were devised by humans, and have been used by millions of humans, in something like their current senses, for something like a century (the words themselves are much older, of course. Meanings do evolve). When you propose a new definition, either you are proposing that your own new meaning replace the old one, or you are arguing that your definition was the one that everyone, unknowingly, was meaning or trying to mean all along. You have accessed intellectually what everyone else had only known instinctively.

I hope this underscores how futile attempting to make definitions of most human terms is. But if we let go of definitions, especially of trying to find fresh definitions of established experiences, how can we talk about categories?

In terms of experience and expectations.

Lets take "That's not science fiction!" a popular complaint leveled against The Time-Traveller's Wife, Dhalgren, The City and the City, and many other books. The person with that complaint picked the book up in the SF section of the bookstore, expecting that shelving decision to guarantee a certain sort of experience, and then was disappointed. It's easy to sneer here at that reader for being an old stick-in-the-mud, but the discomfort and disappointment were real and legitimate, and worth complaining about. If you order a cheeseburger and get an ice cream sundae, you have a right to complain, no matter how good a sundae the sundae was. And although novels are art, buying novels is commerce.

The problem with "that isn't science fiction!" is the terms in which it was cast. The speaker has made it a debate on the absolute meaning of science fiction. Either the book is outside that immutable definitition, in which case it was mis-shelved, or it's inside, in which case the complaint was just wrong. The speaker has framed SF as something impersonal and immutable.

A more accurate and productive complaint would be, "That's not what I look for when I buy an SF novel."

Delany argues, persuasively, that literary experience depends on the play of expectations fulfilled and expectations violated. A work that violates all the reader's expectations registers not as a story but as white noise--a random scattering of words on the page, or a roast beef sandwich, or a punch in the nose. A work that fulfills all expectations cannot make an impression beyond vague and tepid satisfaction.

One of the ways to look at a genre is as a particular body of expectations.

The experience of drinking milk when you were expecting orange juice, or vice versa, is notoriously jarring. The taste, pleasant in itself, is rendered uncomforable by clashing so strongly with your expectations.

Many of the negative reviews of The Prestige (the movie) on are from viewers who objected not to its SF elements, but for the fact that they didn't feel adequately prepared for those elements. They felt that they had been lead to believe that there would be some naturalistic explanation for the movie's events, and felt betrayed by the revelations at the end.

The first time I read (Readercon attendee) John Crowley's Ægypt (now retitled The Solitudes), I was fresh off of Little, Big, had bought the book in the SF section of the bookstore, and thought I was reading a fantasy novel. The tone of the book did nothing to dissuade me. I made it to the last page still holding out hope that the narrative was about tho shift into the fantastic. This didn't mean that all the pleasures of the book were closed to me, but it did mean that I was badly positioned to receive what Crowley was trying to transmit.

The City and The City was also sold to me as a fantasy novel, and likewise endlessly deferred the resolution into clearly fantastic events. The effect, however, was intentional, and Mieville uses it to play with the reader in a way that felt entertainingly tantalizing rather than frustrating. That pleasure may have something to do with the reader being two decades older, but I also think it has a lot to do with control. Is the author in control of the effect he's having, or is it n accident?

When we assume categories to be immutable and rigid, we relinquish the freedom to play with them. When we pretend that they don't exist--that we should approach each work as blank slates, empty of expectations or desires, we're perpetrating an even bigger fiction, and we're again reqlinquishing control over the effects that those expectatons--both fulfilled and denied--will have.


Readercon is in one(1) week. How the hell did that happen?

I will be reading solo at 7 PM on Friday the 15th, and participating in a panel at 8.

On Saturday the 16th, I'll be attempting to MC a Circlet Press group reading. The lineup, though still not entirely certain, is approximately, and depending on traffic and such: myself, Cecilia Tan, Andrea Trask, Sacchi Green, Frances Selkirk, and Renata Piper.

LJ's own genrereviews gave a very nice review to Erotofluidic Age this week.

I'll also be around more generally both days. Ping me if you want to hang out.

What else have I got? I gave in and got a Twitter account. Feel free to Friend me or Follow me or Like me or whatever this weeks fashionable verb is.

There will be some actual essays here soon, rather than all these fussy little updates. I've actually been working on one to clarify my thoughts on genre in preparation for the panel.


News bits

* The schedule for Readercon in Burlington, MA has been tentatively announced. I'll be doing a solo reading at 6 PM7 PM on Friday, July 15, and appearing on a panel about genre boundaries at 8 that night. On Saturday the 16th at 8 PM is the Circlet Press group reading, where I'll be appearing with ceciliatan and several other writers to be named shortly.

* I've been reposting Victim/Victorian to, and gotten some lovely bits of feedback. I'm also re-reading the story myself, and I find myself still rather proud of it.

* I can't resist checking my Amazon rankings daily. Still no reviews there, though. I urge those of you who've read Erotofluidic Age to consider writing something about it.

Ebook buying guide--draft

One thing that came up at the book club meeting last night is that ebook formats and readers are daunting cacaphony of inconsistently-named overlapping systems. For example, Erotofluidic Age is available on the Circlet site as a PRC, EPub, .lit, HTML, or two different types of PDF. That's a lot of alphabet soup if you're not used to it. I just attempted to write a roundup of the major formats, and found that it still looked more daunting and confusing than it ought to. So I'm going to try organizing the data in a user-centered, rather than technology-centered way. I'm not an expert, so please correct any errors you see, and suggest any optimizations to make it clearer or more complete.

You have a specialized e-reader
The manual that came with your device lists what formats you can use. The manufacturer has probably made it easiest to buy books from their own online store, but, in all cases I know of, it's still possible to buy elsewhere and load the books onto your device.
You want to print books out to read them.
Buy PDFs. They are optimized for printing.
You have a computer or smartphone, and you don't want to download any special software to read books on them.
Buy books in HTML or plain text (TXT). Many people buy PDFs for this purpose, but I don't think it's actually a very good idea.
You have a computer or a smartphone you want to read books on and you want the simplest experience possible.
Get the Kindle app for your device. It's straightforward, attractive, and it will sync your Amazon books to all the devices you attach your Amazon account to.
You have a computer or a smartphone you want to read books on, and you like open formats, you dislike DRM, you want more control of your reading experience, or Jeff Bezos peed on your lawn once.
You will generally want to read ePub books. You have lots of options for good free readers--some cross-platform, and some platform-specific. Nook Reader is a good cross-platform option; I like Moon+ Reader on Android, and there's a kazillion others if you want to experiment.

Feminist men and feminist porn

Professor Sarah Whedon interviewed me for the Good Vibrations blog this week. I was very pleased with the piece (I do come across as a bit pompous, but that might be because I'm a bit pompous), but it did leave out what I thought was one of the more interesting bits of discussion

So, I'm going to inflict it on you guys here. She asked me whether I consider my writing to be feminist pornography. I answered:
I would describe myself as feminist, and i would describe my work as informed by that.

I enjoy and support a lot of feminist porn, and I'd love to claim that label for my own work, but I think it's best reserved for that subset of smut that actually expresses female sexual perspectives and desires.

I have some aesthetic and sexual tastes that can look like feminist ideological positions--the women I'm most attracted to tend to be feminists, and so the female characters in my smut tend to be feminists or proto-feminists--but I try to resist taking any sort of credit for that. They're my tastes, and I didn't get to choose them.

Before I get too self-abnegating here, I do think that there is a lot of value in declaring, "This is what I like, this is what turns me on" in a culture that has such an absurdly narow model of who may be considered attractive, or even just looked at. This, once again, connects with that trying to see and be skeptical about the recieved models--in this case for attractiveness.

Subsequent thinking has me wondering if a slightly broader label of "sex-positive porn" might be useful to describe smut by people who are trying to expand past a narrow prescriptive model of gender roles and sexual expectations. Could such a thing be useful, or is it insupportably vague?

Update: linkrotted GoodVibes URL fixed. Hopefully.

Of Faith and Facts

The most effective argument for atheism (or at least against against religious doctrine) I ever heard is Voltaire's famous "if God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him."

Bear with me. This is not actually a post about religion--it's about gender roles, it just takes me a bit to get there.

As an aphorism, the Voltaire line is perfect as it is, but to discuss its significance to me, it's unfortunately necessary to pin it to the dissecting table and cut it to pieces. What I really took away from the quote is the notion that religion is fully explainable in terms of human tendencies.

Let me put it more verbosely: it's impossible to account for more than a tiny sliver of world religion by objective true. Too many contradictory things are believed, by too many different people. So where does it all come from? It looks remarkably like what you might expect people to come up with if you dropped them into the world not knowing how it worked, and let them just make shit up.

So we have two choices: It's all made up, or 99% is, and 1%, superficially identical to the rest, is absolute cosmic truth. (there's actually a third possibility-that the other 99% is made up not by man but by the devil, cunningly designed to entrap people, which makes the similarity camouflage, rather than coincidence. I'm ignoring it here.)

Occam's Razor suggests that if you have one explanation that sufficiently accounts for the evidence, busting your ass to insert another explanation, in the absence of compelling evidence, is bad practice. My experience of human beings suggests that an insistence doing so tends to be indicative of a personal agenda behind the push.

Now we come to gender roles. We know for a fact that there have been millennia of vigorous, often deadly, enforcement of those roles in our culture. People who failed to conform to their neighbors' gender expectations were scorned, ostracized, disenfranchised, or killed. This is beyond any dispute.

There may also be hormonal and genetic factors that produce gendered behavior. That is an elusive, wispy possibility, hard to pin down, extremely hard to prove, and nearly impossible to disprove.

Given these choices, when I see those same behaviors that we worked so hard and so ruthlessly to enforce for so long (and that effort is by no means completely over, even in the most liberal and enlightened parts of the world), my first thought isn't, "Oh, it must biologically determined." And when someone else's is, I have to wonder what is leading them to ignore the certainty in favor of the conjecture.

You can't spell "Immense Media Fame" without ME-ME-ME

There's been a bit of coverage of Erotofluidic Age lately. In particular, Dr. Faustus of EroticMadScience.oom posted an extensive review, and today, Sarah Whedon at the Good Vibration blog has posted an interview with me that focuses a bit more on the theory and ethics of writing smut, rather than the book itself. Go check 'em out and leave lots of comments!