Saturday Storytime: The Breath of War

Aliette de Bodard has been featured here before. This time, it’s a story that’s been nominated for a Nebula Award.

Rechan watched her niece from a distance. The discussion was getting animated and Akanlam’s hand gestures more and more frantic. “Help me up,” she said to Mau.

The stonewoman winced. “You shouldn’t—”

“I’ve spent a lifetime doing what I shouldn’t,” Rechan said; and after a while Mau held out a hand, which she used to haul herself up. The stonewoman’s skin was lamsinh—the same almost otherworldly translucency, the same coolness as the stone; the fingers painstakingly carved with an amount of detail that hadn’t been accessible to Rechan’s generation. Mau was Akanlam’s breath-sibling; and Akanlam had put into her carving the same intensity she always put in her art. Unlike most stonemen, nothing in her looked quite human, but there was a power and a flow in the least of Mau’s features that made her seem to radiate energy, even when sitting still.

“What is going on here?” Rechan asked, as she got closer.

Akanlam looked up, her face red. “He says the nearest repair point is two days down.”

Rechan took in the herder: craggy face, a reflection of the worn rocks around them; a spring in his step that told her he wasn’t as old as he looked. “Good day, younger brother,” she said.

“Good day, elder sister.” The herder nodded to her. “I was telling the younger aunt here—you have to go down.”

Rechan shook her head. “Going down isn’t an option. We have to get to the plateaux.”

The herder winced. “It’s been many years since city folks came this way.”

“I know,” Rechan said, and waited for the herder to discourage her. She’d gotten used to that game. But, to her surprise, he didn’t.

“Exhalation?” he asked. “There are simpler ways.”

“I know,” Rechan said. He’d mistaken Mau as her breath-sibling and not Akanlam’s—an easy mistake to make, for in her late stage of pregnancy, having a breath-sibling at hand would be crucial. “But it’s not exhalation. She’s not my breath-sibling; she’s hers.”

The herder looked from her to Mau and then back to Akanlam. “How far along are you?” he asked.

Too far along; that was the truth. She’d waited too long, hoping a solution would present itself; that she wouldn’t need to go back into the mountains. A mistake; hope had never gotten her anywhere. “Eight months and a half,” Rechan said, and heard the herder’s sharp intake of breath. “My breath-sibling is in the mountains.” Which was… true, in a way.

The herder grimaced again, and looked at the bulge of her belly. “I can radio the nearest village,” he said, finally. “They might have an aircar, or something you can borrow, provided you return it.”

Rechan nodded, forcing her lips upwards into a smile. “Perfect. Thank you, younger brother.”

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“The Ten Ways Heaven Would be Hell”, Valerie Tarico on Atheists Talk

Believers sacrifice so much of their worldly lives in order to get to Heaven and to avoid Hell.  What if they get there, after forswearing Sex and Drug and Rock and Roll in this mortal life only to find that Heaven is Hell except with angels instead of demons?  Dr. Valerie Tarico has examined the ten ways that popular conceptions of Heaven would, in reality, be Hell and spelled them out in a blog post.

Dr. Tarico is a pyschologist who is a former evangelical and returns to our show this Sunday for a Hellish look at Heaven.

Related Links:

Listen to AM 950 KTNF this Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to radio@mnatheists.org during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

Follow Atheists Talk on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates. If you like the show, consider supporting us with a one-time or sustaining donation.

On Friends and Allies

Greg Epstein has written a post on the topic of men’s unmet needs for intimate friendships and emotional support. The parts of the post that are about the topic are good. The phenomenon has been observed for a while, but he presents research that systematically confirms the observations.

However, Epstein’s post takes a dive off the rails when he tries to use this research to explain a lack of gender parity at the Harvard Humanist Hub and, by extension, in atheist spaces in general. [Read more…]

Religion and Atheism in Geek Spaces

I was talking with a friend a couple of weeks ago about religion and codes of conduct for geek spaces. Geek spaces are unusual in the U.S. in that they lean toward majority-nonbeliever populations without explicitly being organized around a lack of religious belief. This can create some unusual dynamics that organizers might want to consider, one of which my friend was trying to figure out how to deal with. I’m sharing the outcome of me thinking about this, reading up on prior discussions, and talking with other friends here as a framework for others thinking these questions through.

The first thing to remember in spaces where a minority becomes a majority is that, while the power structures that exist outside these spaces may be attenuated within them, they don’t disappear. To use an example people are familiar with, men may unconsciously expect and even be allowed to disproportionately interrupt and talk over women even in feminist spaces. Their words may carry more weight. We carry the habits of a lifetime with us even into groups that are created to oppose them.

Those of us who are involved in organized atheism see proofs of this all the time. It’s trivial to find atheists telling atheist activists–in activist spaces—that they need to demonstrate more respect for the phenomenon of belief or religious tradition or the role that religion plays in society. Though atheists themselves, these people have internalized the demands of religious power and impose them on others.

If the concerns of the dominant religion can intrude into explicitly atheist spaces, they will intrude into spaces that are incidentally majority-atheist. They will continue to be found in geek spaces.  [Read more…]

Saturday Storytime: The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family

Often in horror, it is the fantastic element we’re supposed to be fascinated by and fear. This is not so true in the stories of Usman T. Malik. This story was also nominated for a Nebula.

“I know you,” she whispered to the Beast resident in her soul. “I know you,” and all the time she scribbled on her flesh with a glass shard she found buried in a patrolman’s eye. Her wrist glowed with her heat and that of her ancestors. She watched her blood bubble and surge skyward. To join the plasma of the world and drift its soft, vaporous way across the darkened City, and she wondered again if she was still capable of loving them both.

The administrator promised her that he would take care of her children. He gave her food and a bundle of longshirts and shalwars. He asked her where she was going and why, and she knew he was afraid for her.

“I will be all right,” she told him. “I know someone who lives up there.”

“I don’t understand why you must go. It’s dangerous,” he said, his flesh red under the hollows of his eyes. He wiped his cheeks. “I wish you didn’t have to. But I suppose you will. I see that in your face. I saw that when you first came here.”

She laughed. The sound of her own laughter saddened her. “The world will change,” she said. “It always does. We are all empty, but this changing is what saves us. That is why I must go.”

He nodded. She smiled. They touched hands briefly; she stepped forward and hugged him, her headscarf tickling his nostrils, making him sneeze. She giggled and told him how much she loved him and the others. He looked pleased and she saw how much kindness and gentleness lived inside his skin, how his blood would never boil with undesired heat.

She lifted his finger, kissed it, wondering at how solid his vacant flesh felt against her lips.

Then she turned and left him, leaving the water and fire and the crackling, hissing earth of the City behind.

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“GMO Revisited!” Anastasia Bodnar and Greg Laden on Atheists Talk

Genetic Engineering, or Genetic Modification, is a process that creates a shortcut method to crossbreeding and hybridizing crops and livestock for favorable traits. Technologists create genetically modified organisms, or GMO’s, by inserting genes into the chromosomes of the target DNA. Sometimes the transplanted gene is from an organism in the same species as the target species, other times the gene is from a different species or it may be the case that an animal’s gene is spliced into a plant’s gene. In a recent show, Dr. Anastasia Bodnar and Mike Haubrich discussed the difficulties of spreading the news about the science of GMO’s due to rancor in the social media.

On this show, Dr. Greg Laden will join us to continue the discussion in a more positive light. We will go through the positive benefits of using genetic engineering to meet the growing demands of an ever larger population with a shrinking land area for raising the food to feed billions of people. We will address the ways in which the technology will adapt our food to help cope with the effects of climate change and help reduce other threats to the environment as well.

Related Links:

Listen to AM 950 KTNF this Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to radio@mnatheists.org during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

Follow Atheists Talk on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates. If you like the show, consider supporting us with a one-time or sustaining donation.

Right Where Dr. A Pinched

I received a comment on my post about Isaac Asimov’s habit of sexually harassing women at conventions yesterday. I’ve seen and received other comments like it, but this one hits all the buttons. Because of that, I figure it’s worth responding to.

The commenter arrived via a Google search. There’s no indication that this person is who she says she is, but I’ll extend the benefit of the doubt for the purposes of this post. I’ve certainly seen these sentiments often enough from people I do know belong to old-time fandom. I’ve seen them as recently as the WisCon debacle, when some of these people were forced to confront the fact that a friend of theirs had harassed many women over the years (me included) and the fact that other friends of theirs had ignored and enabled the problem.

In fact, if I hadn’t seen that behavior, I probably wouldn’t bother with a response to this comment. To me, the problems with it are transparent. Apparently, however, that isn’t the case for everyone. [Read more…]

Saturday Storytime: When it Ends, He Catches Her

This is another Nebula award nominee. Eugie Foster died the day after it was published. Though she was much mourned, that isn’t why this story was nominated.

Act II, scene III: the finale. It was supposed to be a duet, her as Makira, the warlord’s cursed daughter, and Balege as Ono, her doomed lover, in a frenzied last dance of tragedy undone, hope restored, rebirth. But when the Magistrate had closed down the last theaters, Balege had disappeared in the resultant riots and protests.

So Aisa danced the duet as a solo, the way she’d had to in rehearsal sometimes, marking the steps where Balege should have been. Her muscles burned, her breath coming faster. She loved this feeling, her body perfectly attuned to her desire, the obedient instrument of her will. It was only these moments that she felt properly herself, properly alive. The dreary, horrible daytime with its humiliations and ceaseless hunger became the dream. This dance, here and now, was real. She wished it would never end.

The music swelled, inexorable, driving to its culmination, a flurry of athletic spins and intricate footwork, dizzying and exhilarating. Snowbird’s Lament concluded in a sprinting leap, with Aisa flinging herself into the air just above the audience–glorious and triumphant at the apex of thunderous bars of music. But she had to omit it. There was no way to even mark it, impossible to execute without Balege to catch her.

Out of breath, euphoric but dissatisfied, she finished on one bent knee, arms outstretched, head dramatically bowed in supplication. The score in her head silenced. This was where the curtains were supposed to come furling down and the audience was supposed to leap to its feet in a frenzy of adoration. But there was no one to work the ropes and pulleys, and the rows of benches in the theater were all empty.

It didn’t matter. She didn’t dance for the accolades and applause. When the last stages and theaters in the artists’ district had barred their doors, when all the performances had gone forever dark, Aisa had found this place, this nameless ghost of a theater. So ramshackle to be beneath the Magistrate’s attention, so ruinous that no one had bothered to bolt the doors, it had become her haven, the place she fled to so she could dance by herself in the darkness and the silence. No matter that the world had turned to chaos, in the end, a dancer danced. It was the only peace, the only sanity that remained.

A pair of hands softly clapping in the wings intruded upon her reverie.

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“Breath of Wilderness: The Sigurd Olson Story,” Kristin Eggerling on Atheists Talk

Sigurd Olson was a conservationist and writer and a driving force in preserving the solitude and quiet peace of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. A native Wisconsinite who moved to Minnesota to teach biology, he faced the displeasure of many around Ely who wanted to have fly-in resorts and roads through the pristine natural wonders in Northern Minnesota. Kristin Eggerling has written a biography of Sig to illustrate for children the importance of fighting to save the quiet places and to instill a love of the natural world around us.

Kristin Eggerling is a conservationist and a writer who lives in Northern Minnesota. She will be in the studio as our guest for this show, talking with Mike Haubrich about the inspiration of the wilderness and how it gives her breath.

Related Links:

Listen to AM 950 KTNF this Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to radio@mnatheists.org during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

Follow Atheists Talk on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates. If you like the show, consider supporting us with a one-time or sustaining donation.