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The Internet

On whether loving SF/F makes us childish

If you pay any attention to popular media you may be aware that actor Simon Pegg got a bit of an outcry hurled at him for remarks that gave the impression that he thought love of science fiction is making us childish. Enough of an outcry that Pegg has since clarified his position, and I have to give the man credit for being eloquent about what he actually meant.

I mention this not because I want to argue with (or about) what he has to say necessarily, but rather, because it provides context for what I do want to talk about: i.e., why society at large deems SF/F, comic books, etc., as “childish”.

IO9’s article and Pegg’s post both point out quite correctly that there are innumerable examples of genre work that tackle very weighty themes, thank you very much. Yet this perception of genre as childish still remains. The notion of a lover of SF/F, a nerd, a geek, whatever you want to call him or her, as being a loser still living in the parental basement is still very prevalent. And more than once, I’ve seen ideas and tropes that are common parlance among genre authors get roundly dismissed by the broader public–until a literary author comes along and does something with them, at which point suddenly they’re worth taking seriously. (Justin Cronin’s The Passage and Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, I’m looking at YOU.)

Time and time again, geekdom is accused of not being aware of the real world, because we happen to love stories with giant robots in them. Or superheroes. Or fellowships banding together to escort a hobbit to Mordor so he can throw a magic ring into the only volcano that’ll destroy it.

We continue to be stereotyped as socially inept. Find the nerd character in any popular television sitcom and chances are very, very high that that character will be shy and awkward. Ditto for any character who’s a scientist. You never see the beautiful characters lighting up with eagerness at the thought of going to see the next Marvel movie release, or being prepared to debate the merits of Tolkien. You never see a serious scientist character–a character doing actual science on screen, as opposed to a character who’s just wearing glasses as a shorthand for ‘Hi, I’m smart!’–also being perfectly capable of handling herself in a social situation.

We’re dismissed as politically ignorant, too. Which is particularly maddening, given the political divisiveness I’ve seen within geekdom itself over the last several years, a microcosm of the political divisiveness of society at large. (Look no further than the Hugo controversy this year for a very telling example of this.)

Geekdom absolutely is politically aware. Go take a look at how Tumblr, for example, responds to political issues. And yes, Twitter too. If you’re on either of these sites and you’re not seeing geekdom talking about these things, you’re not following the right people or reading the right hashtags. I guarantee you, the conversations are there. But all too often, if we speak up about any given political topic, we’ll either get shouted down as “social justice warriors” who apparently care about the wrong political topic, or that we care about it in the wrong way.

It’s all maddening, and it’s all almost entirely bullshit. I won’t deny geekdom often has its collective head in the clouds, oftentimes because we need to as a coping mechanism; there is, after all, a very well known filksong called “Rich Fantasy Lives” that addresses this very topic.

What I want to know is, this is bad why, exactly?

What, exactly, are grownups supposed to be thinking about? The whole narrative of “spouse, house, car, 2.3 kids and a dog and a cat?”

I look around the geek community, and I see a whole bunch of people who struggle to achieve these very goals–not because they aren’t paying enough attention to them, or because of what they love to read or love to watch, but because these goals are fucking difficult to achieve. Houses are expensive. Cars are expensive. Particularly if you have to juggle acquiring them against the craptastic state of the American healthcare system (because I’m tellin’ ya, when people have to turn to GoFundMe to raise money for their own medical care, something is seriously fucked up), and the craptastic state of the American job market, and the craptastic state of the American political climate. (See previous commentary re: geekdom as a political microcosm.)

And then, when we geeks fail at fulfilling this narrative, we get blown off as “oh, clearly you’re not successful because you read too many fantasy novels.”

Fuck that. In the words of the immortal Adam Savage, “I reject your reality and substitute my own.”

And my reality is, if I want to go watch a movie about giant robots fighting kaiju, then I’m going to damn well go watch that movie. Sometimes it’ll be because I’m tired from a long day of using my brain at work. Sometimes it’ll be because I’m exhausted from all of the aspects of today’s society that I am bloody well paying attention to, thank you, and I need to go do something else or else I’ll give myself high blood pressure from all the things I’m angry about. Sometimes I just want nothing more than to watch robots fighting kaiju.

And that’s okay. Also: robots fighting kaiju is awesome.

And if that makes me childish, so be it. I submit that more so-called grownups could stand to be reminded of some of the finest things about childhood are: i.e., the sense of wonder, the imagination, the joy.

Our world would be a happier place for it.

The Internet

One last buzzing beehive for 2014

Surprisingly exactly no one, the right-wing contingent of SFdom have taken exception to the Legend of Korra finale. Jim Hines takes this to task right over here. And on cue, the individual with whom he takes exception has brought a coterie of followers to come take reciprocal exception in Mr. Hines’ comment thread.



Caveat: Dara and I both appear in this comment thread, Dara more often than I do, as she takes potshots at several of the typical anti-queer propaganda points as well as the specific objections that the ending came out of left field. (Note: It didn’t, as Dara points out, with quite a few high-profile sources noting how the setup for Korrasami was not remotely subtle.)

Me, I’m mostly there to celebrate the ending of the show. But there is one thing in there that I want to call attention to, and that is this: how the gentleman with whom Mr. Hines is disagreeing pronounces in the comments that he “did not call for the extermination of people, but ideas.”

This would be chilling coming out of anyone. But it’s particularly egregious coming out of an SF writer.

Science fiction is, after all, the literature of ideas. None of us in the genre, writers or readers, should be calling for their extermination–even the ideas we might personally find reprehensible. It is as treacherous a slippery slope as slopes of that ilk get, because all too often, advocating the extermination of an idea leads to advocating the extermination of people who have them.

You need look no further than Uganda or Russia, where being queer of any stripe is essentially a death sentence. Even right here in the United States, queer people of all kinds continue to be the targets of prejudice, hate crimes, and bullying. Certain states have taken it upon themselves to pass laws legalizing discrimination against queers on religious grounds.

Nor is this limited to queer people. As the entire GamerGate debacle this year demonstrated, any woman who dares speak up loudly enough on the Internet risks getting doxxed, getting rape threats, and getting death threats. Just because she spoke up.

And all of this boils down to “I don’t like your ideas so I’m going to make your life as miserable as I possibly can for having them.”

For the record, I’d just like to say that even though there are indeed ideas I find personally reprehensible–like, say, the idea that queer people should be discriminated against, bullied, or punished with death, or the idea that women should be shouted down off the Internet with doxxing, rape threats, or death threats–I’m not going to tell someone they can’t have those ideas. I defend their right to have them.

But at the same time, I defend my right to call them utter horseshit. And if those ideas are put into actions that harm me and my loved ones or others like us, I defend my right to stand against them.

And here’s another idea I find reprehensible–the idea that Legend of Korra, by ending with two women walking off into the sunset spirit world together hand in hand, is somehow Harming the Children. As if anything that might demonstrate to queer children–and queer adults!–that yes, there are role models in fiction for them too might somehow make straight kids’ heads explode. It’s the same destructive logic I see in the assertions that boys wouldn’t possibly be interested in girls as lead characters, an assertion which, I recall, was launched against Korra for even existing as a character long before she became interested in Asami.

I’m pretty damn sure kids’ brains can take it.

As we move into 2015, I hope this year to come will bring us fewer of these particularly toxic beehives. I’m not betting on it. I’m not going to be pulling off the gloves any time soon, since I’m no fan of my hands getting stung.

But for once, it’s a pleasure and a delight to know that Mr. Konietzko and Mr. DiMartino have our backs. It makes me proud to be on Team Avatar.

Merry Korrasamimas to all!

The Internet

Bye Firefox, it was nice knowing you

Those of you who follow Dara, either via her Crime and the Forces of Evil blog, her LJ or Dreamwidth mirrors, or her social networks, will have already seen her post Mozilla and Firefox Careen into a Ditch, in which she recounts going into it a bit with Mozilla’s OpenStandards Twitter account–about why in gods’ names they chose to show some support for Gamergate.

Since Dara put that post up, the Daily Dot picked up on it, and y’all may note–some of Dara’s tweets are in fact cited in that article.

The Mary Sue’s picked up on the story as well, right over here.

It shouldn’t take any of you all much of a stretch of the imagination to guess that I’m with Dara on this. The whole Gamergate debacle is something many, many other people besides me have decried, so I’m not going to get into that here–I have nothing new to contribute to that that y’all haven’t probably already read.

What I will say is that Mozilla has disappointed me here. While I cannot bail entirely on using Firefox, due to having to keep it around for purposes of day job testing, I can and have decided to make Safari and Chrome my primary browsers for personal use. Firefox had already irritated me with its constant memory leaks on OS X, as well as its breaking of Disqus-based comments on several sites I regularly visit (like the Mary Sue, Kevin and Kell, and Ensign Sue). Way back when, when it first launched its system of fast updates, it also made my life difficult at work since Selenium had trouble keeping up with its rapid-fire changes. Which is a pain in the ass when much of your job depends upon automated browser testing.

On the other hand, I liked Firefox’s smart bookmarks, which was a handy way for me to hit RSS feeds of a couple of sites like the BBC and the Seattle Times, whenever I wanted to read news–I could pick and choose which articles I wanted to read. And I had been planning to switch my primary browser on my laptop back to Firefox if I saw any sign that they’d fixed the Disqus problem, despite the memory leaks being annoying enough that I’d had to install a plugin whose express purpose was to alert me to restart Firefox once it passed a certain level of memory consumption.

(Pro tip: if your damn browser needs its user community to write a plugin to fix an ongoing problem FOR YOU, you’re doing your development wrong.)

But now? I’m done. Safari gets to be my permanent main browser now.

The Internet

Open letter to Goodreads

Dear Goodreads staff,

As many people who read me on this blog and on my social networks know, I’ve been a Goodreads user for many years. I’ve got a whole lot of reviews of other people’s books that I’ve posted there. Now that I’m a Carina author I’ve backed off a bunch on posting full reviews–I tend to be leery of publicly reviewing other people’s work, just because I know that that way lies drama. But I’ve been rating books still. And I’ve always found Goodreads an excellent way to keep track of the massive number of books I want to read, in general.

I’ve also had Librarian status on the site, which I asked for shortly after creating my account, because it didn’t take me long at all to rack up the requisite 50 books on my shelves. Since then, I’ve used this power mostly to do things like add covers to books that were missing them, fix typos in stuff when I saw them, and such. I also employed that power to make new records in the database when I deployed the second edition of Faerie Blood, and to add notes to the prior edition that that version was now no longer available.

Recently, a couple of my fellow authors in NIWA asked me if I’d update the covers for their books for them, because they were changing the cover art and they wanted to have the books’ data on Goodreads be up to date with the new covers. I was happy to do this.

Two nights ago, however, I got mail from a Goodreads Librarian mod informing me that my Librarian access had been revoked. I was told that I had been “working at cross-purposes”, “creating work for others”, and that being a Librarian was a “privilege”, which, if used “inappropriately”, would be revoked. I was further informed that Goodreads policy was to create an alternate cover edition for a book changing covers, rather than updating the cover for existing records, and that all Goodreads Librarians were expected to know and abide by this policy.

And to put it bluntly, Goodreads staff, I was infuriated by this mail. Not because I was told I’d done something wrong, per se–because I will grant that yes, the mod was correct in telling me that I should have remembered that policy. I’d abided by it when creating the new data for Faerie Blood, even. Updating the covers for the two books by my fellow NIWA authors and NOT creating alternate cover versions instead, like I’d done with Faerie Blood, was a simple, honest mistake on my part.

I received no warning about this. No notice to the effect of “hey, we saw that you did this thing, Goodreads policy is actually that you should have done this other thing, and we need you to fix it.” Had I received such a notice, I would happily have done the work to fix what I’d done, with an appropriate “oh gods, I’m sorry, I’ll fix that right now, my mistake”, and then nobody would have had to do the work for me. Because that’s what grownups do–own up to their mistakes and fix them.

Let me repeat that and bold it for emphasis–I’m publicly acknowledging here that I made an error.

But I was given no opportunity to acknowledge that and to take necessary steps to fix it, and to therefore learn from the experience, and continue to therefore be enthusiastic in spending some of my time to help Goodreads continue to be a useful site for all.

Instead, I was summarily dismissed from Librarian status, in a tone that made it sound as if as if I were an errant teenager who’d snuck out in her parents’ car for a joyride and smashed it up–or as if I’d been deliberately vandalizing the site, rather than just trying to help out a couple of fellow authors by getting their data up to date for them.

And frankly, Goodreads staff, this dims my enthusiasm considerably for continued use of your site. I’ve put a lot of my time into it. I’ve put a lot of my money into it. I’ve given Goodreads several hundred dollars this year, running ads to promote Faerie Blood, Valor of the Healer, and Vengeance of the Hunter.

You’re apparently quite happy to take my money. But you’re not happy to take my help unless I never make mistakes in giving it–and that’s impossible. We all make mistakes. All of us.

I’m hearing now that the two books I changed covers on are apparently not the only ones that had changes reverted, and that hundreds of authors are now showing up on the Librarian group asking what happened to their covers. I’ve heard from at least one other fellow former Librarian that she, too, was booted for doing nothing more than changing her own cover.

I submit for consideration that if other Librarians have been booted off of Librarian status the same way I have, with the same sorts of dismissively toned emails, that you, too, are making a mistake.

Those of us who’ve asked for the status are volunteering our time and our enthusiasm, because we love books. Yes, we need to be aware of how Goodreads prefers to enter data on books, I freely and completely acknowledge that. But to give volunteers helping update your site no room whatsoever to account for simple human error is, in my respectful opinion, unnecessarily harsh.

I don’t actually want Librarian status back. And I’m still considering, in all honesty, whether I even wish to continue using your site as a reader and as an author. But I do ask that you think twice about how you treat your remaining Librarians–and to please remember that all of us at our computer keyboards are, in the end, fallible people. But the majority of us are also reasonable people, and a simple “hey, we need you to fix this please” will go a long, long way in accomplishing your policies on how to handle your data and your site.

Thank you.

Angela Korra’ti

The Internet

U2 album on iTunes followup

For those of you who, like me, were startled to have an unwanted U2 album show up in your account library on iTunes, Apple apparently has received a lot of flak for this. Because the BBC is now reporting that they’ve released a tool to remove it.

I’ve just tried it and can confirm that it removed the album from my list of hidden purchases, so the tool does appear to do the trick. If you want to completely nuke the album out of your library, go to the link mentioned in the BBC article and follow its instructions.

I hope now that this will be a lesson unto Apple about not messing with user data like that in the future. And hopefully next time they want to do a massive promotional giveaway like that, they’ll actually, y’know, tell people. As I said before, if a massively famous band like U2 wants to give their album away for free, more power to ’em, but they need to make sure that recipients actually know it’s going to come to them BEFORE it shows up in their libraries, and they should make sure the recipients actually WANT it.

The Internet

This is not encouraging me to listen to U2

So there I was reading my feed of articles coming off the Mary Sue when I saw they’d put up this: “101 Things We Wish Apple Gave Us Instead of That U2 Album and How to Get Rid of It”.

And my immediate reaction was “wait, WHAT?” And I found another article on Ars Technica, here.

Because apparently not only did U2 hand their album out for free over iTunes as part of Apple’s big event this week, the album’s also now been added to everybody’s iTunes libraries.

And sorry, Apple, sorry, U2, but that’s just obnoxious. If the band wants to hand out their album for free, dandy, more power to them. Promote the hell out of it and tell everybody on iTunes ‘hey look! A free thing! Click here to get the free thing!’ And stand back and watch the downloads roll in, because sure, people like free things.

But you know what people don’t like? Editing their online data without their consent.

I just logged into my iTunes account and clicked on ‘Purchases’, and yep, there it is, right there at the top of my recent purchase list. Except I didn’t ask for the damn thing. I don’t want it. Even aside from the matter of how I’m not a fan of this particular band or of most rock in general–’cause as you all know, if your band doesn’t have a fiddle player and at least one bouzouki, I do not care–the thing that annoys me here is the editing of my account data. And giving me no way to delete it, either. It’s useless data to me. It’s taking up space in my purchase history, and okay yeah fine I can apparently ‘hide’ it, but my point is, you shouldn’t be messing with user data like that to begin with.

And okay yeah sure fine, the album does not appear to have actually shown up on my phone; I’ll need to check my computer to see if it showed up there. And I’m aware that there’s an easy answer here: “if you don’t want the album, Anna, don’t download it or listen to it”.

Thing is? If that album shows up on my computer without me having asked for it in the first place, that’s pretty much the equivalent of Apple not only standing on the street yelling FREE ALBUM GET YER FREE ALBUM HERE, but actually walking up to people and stuffing CDs into their pockets, no matter how you try to say “NO THANK YOU”.

It’s not a big problem in the grand scheme of things. It’s absolutely a petty first world problem.

But dammit, have some respect for the integrity of your user data, Apple. Don’t go stuffing things into our pockets that we didn’t actually ask you for. You wouldn’t do that if we walked into your Apple Stores in person, would you? (You’d BETTER not.) So don’t do it online either.

ETA: Okay, further investigation shows that this album does not appear to have actually invaded my iTunes library, no doubt because I do not actually have Automatic Downloads turned on. I am however hearing from friends that THEY have had it show up. userinfoscrunchions tells me it startled her quite a bit because she KNEW she hadn’t purchased any U2, and for a long bit there she was afraid she’d gotten hacked somehow until she saw the news going around about the promotion.

The takeaway here: I don’t care what you’re promoting. I don’t care if it’s the finest album in the history of music. Any promotion that alarms your users and makes them think their account security might have been compromised is seriously not cool.

The Internet

Amazon vs. Disney: FIGHT!

Amazon is already not looking good on the Internet this weekend, thanks to trying to corral KDP authors into their slapfight with Hachette. BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE!

Dara discovered that Amazon is apparently ALSO in a dispute with Disney right now. So if you were looking to preorder copies of Muppets Most Wanted or Maleficent or Captain America: The Winter Soldier on disc from Amazon and found that you can’t, this would be why.

And I gotta say–seriously? I mean, picking a fight with a book publisher is one thing, but going up against the Mouse? And by extension, all the Disney and Marvel fans who want to order their movies? Captain America’s fandom, who have Winter Soldier about to drop on Blu-ray and DVD and who have the money to slurp up hundreds of thousands of copies? You want to piss all these customers off, Amazon?

Amazon even pulled this stunt with Warner earlier this year, too, according to the link above. And when you take all these examples together, and add in Amazon’s dispute with Macmillan a few years back as well, they start making quite the trend. If they keep it up, it’ll become a trend of making themselves unreliable to their customers.

‘Cause see my previous commentary on the Hachette post I put up yesterday. At the end of the day, if a customer comes to Amazon looking for Winter Soldier and sees that they can’t get it, if they REALLY want the movie right then, they’re going to go elsewhere to buy it. Target. Or Best Buy. Or Walmart. Or hell, even the video section of the nearest grocery store.

At the end of the day, all the customer knows is that they want to buy a thing. And if Amazon can’t provide that thing on a reliable, regular basis, eventually they’re going to start taking their business elsewhere.

Best comment I’ve seen on this was in the thread on userinfojames_nicoll‘s post about it, to wit:

Reports from Amazon distribution warehouses show massive Rodent Infestation chewing through stock.

Because YEAH. Pass the popcorn.

ETA: The NY Times has picked up the story!

Whedonesque has also noticed, which brought to my attention that yes, this impacts orders for the first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., too.

Which of course leads to the obligatory second best comment I have now spotted, this time on Facebook: “Hail Hydra!”

ETA #2: The Mary Sue has the story now. And another NY Times article goes into both of the Amazon news items from over the weekend here.