Saturday Storytime: Midnight Hour

I usually try to find a new writer for these stories each week. It’s easy to do. F&SF has no shortage of talented short story writers at the moment. Quite the opposite in fact. So it tells you something about how this story from Mary Robinette Kowal hit me that I know it’s not going to leave me alone until I share it, even though I’ve shared another of her stories before.

The Nameless Queen sipped her port, rolling the blood–dark liquid in her mouth. The night’s rain pattered against the tall leaded glass windows of her sitting room in a gentle susurration. On the mantel, the clock ticked four minutes until midnight.

The door burst open, bouncing against the paneled wall. “… must be planted in winter so that they can grow snow. You see? Grow snow. It is so delightfully simple that I am not certain why no one has thought of it. Grow snow! Then we shall have relief in the heat of the summer.” Her husband strode into the room with his hands tucked behind his back and his brow knit in concentration. Beneath his dark green robe, King Lennart of Stromhold’s broad shoulders presented the picture of a man of action, so long as one did not listen to the irrationality of his words. “Who is next, well? We have not got all day. Unless we stop the clocks, then we would of course, but meals would never come and one should get frightfully hungry. Yes? Who is next?”

One of the ministers who trailed him leaped forward. “What should we do about the ambassador from Itodia? Prince Volis has brought favorable trade terms for the everwood but wants to meet with you directly. We have not given the details of your situation, of course, but he has heard the rumors.”

The queen drew her feet up into the chair and pressed into the high winged back, praying that the king would not notice her until the clock struck twelve.

He tugged at his sandy beard. “Bugger him. Bugger, bugger, bugger. We shall not sell him any everwood at all. Shall we? No. Sell him the wood from the snow trees and then his ships shall freeze and they can skate upon the seas. That will be enough advantage. Who is next? Well? Who is next?”

She closed her eyes. It was bad enough to be with him when his hour of lucidity ended, but she rarely had to face his full raving energy.  Another minister slid into place. “We have narrowed the architectural candidates to three and I have their portfolios for you to look at. The first is the one I recommend.”

“Let us see, let us see—” Pages rustled, and then fluttered to the floor. “No, no. There are no ponies here. I distinctly asked for ponies. How shall we have the miniature jousts if there are no—” His voice caught on the word.

Lennart coughed, gagging on the torrent of speech. The next breath was ragged, but the words that followed were clear and lucid. “Your clock is slow.”

As if in response, the clock on the mantel chimed, counting the twelve strikes of midnight. The queen put her feet on the floor and rose to face her husband. “I will have it fixed.”

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Rules of Disengagement

This is the most recent essay I delivered to my patrons. If you want to support more work like this, you can sign up here.

Sometimes the conflicts between people working toward the same goals are important and in need of serious hashing out. If you’re battling inequality, it’s important to make sure that you’re not perpetuating other inequalities in your fight. That’s not something about which you can simply agree to disagree.

Don’t take my word on the subject. Here’s Greta Christina talking about how not fixing these problems early creates more problems.

The early LGBT movement was very much dominated by gay white men. And the gay white male leaders of that movement had some seriously bad race and sex stuff going on: treating gay men of color as fetishistic Others, objects of sexual desire rather than members of the community… and treating lesbians as alien Others, inscrutable and trivial.

And we are paying for it today. Relations between lesbians and gay men, between white queers and queers of color, are often strained at best. Conversations in our movement about race and gender take place in a decades-old context of rancor and bitterness, and they can be a minefield, in which nothing anybody says is right. We still have a decided tendency to treat gay men of color as fetish objects, and lesbians as sexless aliens. And we still, after decades, have a decided tendency to put gay white men front and center as the most visible, most iconic representatives of our community.

That makes it hard on everybody in the LGBT movement. It creates rifts that make our community weaker. And it has a seriously bad impact on our ability to make effective social change.

There are disagreements we have to come to terms with and settle. However, that doesn’t mean that every dispute needs to be viewed this way. Not every disagreement has a right side and a wrong side. This is particularly true when we get into the area of priorities and processes. [Read more…]

Saturday Storytime: Bearing Fruit

I’m catching up on some writers I really shouldn’t have missed over the last several years. Based on this story, Nikki Alfar is very much one of those writers.

Despite the general, dismaying, though not unsurprising atmosphere of disbelief, it is hard for even the most determined of pundits to gainsay the unorthodox rapidity of your gestation; and so no one argues very much, really, when you announce that you are departing on a quest to uncover the unknown father of your unborn child. Your parents, you suspect, are not-so-secretly relieved—in fact, even before your departure, the very same male cousins who were once tasked with safeguarding your purity have been redirected to the construction of a new shelter for the family carabao. The shifting valuation of commodities is not lost on you, but even you are forced to admit that everyone has a use for milk, which therefore gives worth to the carabao. Whereas mangoes, it has become clear, are not to all people’s taste.

Accompanied, therefore, only by Dideng and Aguing, you set off, following the river along its meandering path upstream. Your triumvirate is armed with one sharp bolo, one stout stick, and your own sharp tongue and stout wits, which you hope will suffice since not one of the three of you knows how to wield either of the first two anyway. Fortunately, it seems that bandits, beasts, and all other living hazards of the wild—which is not all that wild, being mostly composed of field, sparse forest, and riverbank—are leery of women impregnated by supernatural means, for you are left unmolested, or at least no more so than you have already been.

When you are slightly more pregnant than you were—it is difficult to estimate, since the actual passage of time and the tumescence of your belly steadfastly refuse to coordinate—you come upon a mango tree some distance from but within sight of the river, with a young boy several years younger than you diligently loosening the soil about its roots. You are mortified at the very notion that this spratling might be the father of your child, and are perfectly prepared to give up, turn tail, and go back the way you came, except that Aguing has already hailed the little fellow with a wave of her stick, so that there is nothing to be done except to try and discern what you came to learn.

“Is this your mango tree?” you ask, critically eyeing the boy’s scrawny frame and filthy fingernails. This, of course, is highly unjust and judgmental of you, given that you live among farmlands and farming is a good and noble occupation for an honest man; so why not, for an honest boy? But you are some—days? Weeks? Months?—pregnant, after all, and might therefore be forgiven a modicum of irrationality.

“Oh, no,” says the boy, “this tree belongs to the wealthy widow in the valley below. I tend it for her, and she lets me keep any fruit in excess of what she needs.”

“And might you have dropped some of this excess into the river,” you say, “where the offending fruit might have floated downstream, severely inconveniencing, not to mention impregnating, any innocent young maidens hapless enough to have encountered it?” You have been rehearsing several versions of this little speech in your mind for some time, though of course you had anticipated delivering it to someone more able to appreciate your exquisite sarcasm.

“What? What!?” yelps the boy, nearly severing his toes when he drops his trowel—well, who would not be shocked, after all, following an oratory like that? “No,” he says, shaking his head with mildly alarming vigor. “No, no! Can mangoes do that?! No!”

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“Fortney Road”, Jeff Stevenson on Atheists Talk

So, what really happened at Fortney Road?  In the late 1960’s and during the 1970’s, Christianity was adding a large new movement of former hippies and drug users and other young adults.  They referred to themselves as “Jesus Freaks.”  It was a movement of communes and music, of revolutionary ideas that brought The Word to people who were bored with and couldn’t relate to conventional evangelical Christianity.  Larry Hill was the charismatic preacher and leader of one such church based from a farm on Fortney Road.

Our guest, Jeff Stevenson, spent seven years researching the goings on of a cult whose members were run through an ordeal that few can understand.  They lived through sleep deprivation, corporal punishment and sexual abuse at the hands of Hill.  Things looked great from the outside, and sounded great, too.  The church sponsored a musical group that has produced some of the most unusual blues/rock Christian music ever heard and featured the talented guitarist Glenn Schwartz, who had come through The James Gang and Pacific Gas And Electric before joining Hill’s church and helping to form the All Saved Freak Band.

Freethought House has published Stevenson’s book and we welcome the author to the show.

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.

Mock the Movie: Misandry Edition

To be fair, we try to sneak a little misandry in every Mock the Movie. In this one, however, we have a full 50 feet of it, or as close as they manage to get in any individual shot. That’s right, we’re doing the Darryl Hannah television remake of Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman. We’ll have to see how much Daniel Baldwin causes the rest of us to Hulk out by the end.

This one is available on YouTube. [Read more…]

Pitposting

Yesterday, I put up a post urging the CONvergence board to listen to their volunteers regarding something they screwed up during con. Shortly after the post went up, it received a longish, bizarre comment:

I am so sorry to hear about how you were treated, and disappointed to hear what ASSHOLES the convergence organizers are. The fact that they let asshole dudebros sexually harass you without consequence is completely fucking inexcusable. I am so glad that I didn’t get to go this year, and I am damned sure I will never be back to their shitty con again.

I wasn’t sexually harassed, and no one “let” it happen. [Read more…]

Volunteers Are Awesome

CONvergence was this past weekend. It was generally wonderful. I was finally able to meet people I’ve admired and interacted with for years. I was able to take some time with old and dear friends and some with newer friends I only see in Beigeland. I enjoyed a parade of cosplay that were works of art and imagination and absurdity, including the tiniest Harley Quinn, who lives only in my memory because she wasn’t there to have her picture taken. I had great discussions with complete strangers that other people seemed to find helpful. I entertained and educated.

I also missed some people I really wanted to see entirely and got to speak only a few words to others. I left a wedding reception early. I let some ugly and harmfully wrong things that were said pass or be marked only with a broad disagreement. I missed out on other discussions I know would have been fascinating. I dealt with a remarkable number of men who implied I was worth more if I didn’t look my age, one of whom–a complete stranger–put his hand on my shoulder “comfortingly” while saying it. I went with little sleep and came home with minor injuries.

All that happened because I volunteered. [Read more…]

“Stay”, Jennifer Michael Hecht on Atheists Talk

After losing two friends to suicide just over a year apart, Jennifer Michael Hecht was looking for answers. As she usually does, she turned to philosophy, but she found herself dissatisfied with the reactive individualism of Enlightenment and modern secular philosophy. Out of that dissatisfaction came Stay: A History of Suicide and the Arguments Against It. Stay chronicles the history of Western reasons for committing suicide and the reasons philosophers have given for people to hang on through bleakness and despair.

Hecht joins us this Sunday to talk about the book and to talk about why would should be grateful to those who chose to remain with us.

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

Find Me at CONvergence!

Oh, goodness. CONvergence is just one day out, and it’s going to be a busy weekend. In addition to the FtB party room in the evenings (plus set-up and tear-down), I’m on six official CONvergence panels and running a salon in the FtB room on the side because we all decided we just weren’t doing enough already. Or something like that.

So here’s where you can find me talking at con. You’ll also find me at the Caribou Coffee next to the main conference hotel every morning, but I probably won’t be talking much at that point. [Read more…]

Saturday Storytime: What We’re Having

Time travel stories are tricky. As this story by Nathaniel Lee demonstrates, they’re tricky even when you sort out all the potential paradoxes.

I wondered about the bacon all day. Eventually I went and bought the package anyway, put it in the fridge. I want to do right by you, Frankie, even if I’m crazy and it means I’m wasting five bucks. I don’t want you to have cooked imaginary bacon.


Grilled Cheese, Turkey, and Tomato Sandwiches on Sourdough

That was when I was sure of it. The tomatoes had been in the fruit bowl for a week already and you kept saying we had to do something with them before they went bad.

(They were okay, Frankie. You didn’t need to worry. Maybe a little squishy, but that could have been the whole pan-­frying thing.)

Anyway, the point is, the sandwiches were there, butter­-hot and smelling like purified joy, but so were the tomatoes, still in their bowl. It wasn’t the right day for pan-­frying anyway. You only make sandwiches on your day off, when I’ll be up by afternoon and we can have a little time together before my next shift, because they’re no good once you let them get cold.

(Except they are good, Frankie, I don’t tell you that enough. Even if they were frozen they’d be good.)

So that was that. Today wasn’t your day off, so they weren’t today’s sandwiches.

They were tomorrow’s.


Beef Stroganoff, Same as Yesterday

I kind of enjoyed having tomorrow’s food. It felt special. It was like having a window on you when you didn’t know I was looking. I think about you a lot, Frankie, even if I’m quiet when we’re together. I like to know what you’re thinking about. Mostly I feel like I don’t. That’s why I’ll take whatever advantage I can get.

You never seemed to notice, Frankie. I’m not sure why. You ate those meals, too.

Didn’t you?

(Well, obviously the stroganoff, but honestly, why did you make so much of it? I swear that week lasted a year.)

Maybe you did, but you ate them at the right time, with the right version of me responding to your actual notes and e-­mails and not whatever you’d said the day before or what I thought you might say tomorrow. A lot of times I feel like I’m talking to you a day late anyway, even when we manage to get into the same room at the same time. (I try, Frankie, I really do, but I’m always so tired and half the time I don’t even know what you’re talking about. I’m not good at techie stuff. You just kind of assume I’m keeping up with you.)

Maybe it wasn’t the skillet that was out of synch. Maybe it was us.

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