Saturday Storytime: Restore the Heart into Love

The editors of Uncanny Magazine are a particular source of frustration for the Sad and Rabid Puppies. Whether it’s stories they’ve bought or anthologies they’ve edited, they seem to be standing right there whenever people talk about the forces destroying science fiction. (You can help with that, by the way.)

However, I’m sure that this story by John Chu will be everything the Puppies of Varying Dispositions are looking for. Set on a spaceship, with a hero sacrificing to bring valued tradition into a high-tech future? What more could they ask for?

The ship needed him more often these past few decades. Readers failed and had to be replaced. Connectors shook themselves loose and cables cracked over time. He repaired his crew mates’ pods and woke to find they had repaired his. Too often, grinding noises came from vibrating pods warm to the touch. All he could do was keep those corpses frozen to bring home. The hibernation system had killed most of the Byzantium Library’s small crew by the time those still alive had successfully diagnosed and fixed it. He had to push that away and focus on the archive though to complete the mission.

The archive was holding up well. That one dye lot had been the only large scale failure so far and Max had copied all of the affected data to chalcogenide glass in time. He’d never been prouder of his team. Their legacy lived on in the Byzantium Library. The ship wasn’t perfect. The last few times he woke, it seemed barely functioning. The archive, however, had remained intact.

So when the chalcogenide glass began to fail, Max finally cried. The errors scrolling up the terminal display blurred in his gaze. He clamped his mouth shut and held his breath even though no one could hear him. Again, the ship had alerted him in time. It could still recreate the data using the error correction bits he had layered in. The chalcogenide glass, though, was already the back up.

The wall panel that protected the data modules vibrated before Max. Maybe cables had failed or solder joints had crumbled. Maybe the data hadn’t decayed; the ship just couldn’t access it. He wanted the problem to be something he could fix. They could no longer afford the energy to re–burn the data into the glass. Power from the ship’s photovoltaic arrays dropped every year at a rate consistent with space debris pitting the array’s outer surface.

He set the panel next to him. The modules embedded in the walls looked as they did the day they were installed. Rows of cards sat in racks screwed to the floor. Ties bundled floating cables together. He ran continuity tests. Signals sent down the cables had no problems reaching the rest of the ship. He tested the modules themselves. The electrical resistance of the chalcogenic glass’s amorphous states had increased enough to blur the distinction among its various possible states. Everyone on the team had expected that would happen over time, just not on the order of decades. The memory was slowly confusing everything Max had burned into it.

The runners on his overalls tugged against the walls. Max tapped furiously on the terminal’s keyboard. He had a data scrubber to write and he didn’t know how long he had before the chalcogenic glass would fail so badly that he wouldn’t be able to recreate the correct data from the error correction bits.

The ship had only one type of data storage he hadn’t tried, the volatile short–term memory that it operated on.

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Who Is an Activist?

The Minnesota Atheists and Humanists of Minnesota held their National Day of Reason event at the state capitol yesterday. Most years, they’re in the rotunda. This year, with the capitol under construction, they were moved to the capitol steps.

This was my first year attending. I’m usually working and in the wrong city to make it just an extended lunch. This year, though, I spoke to promote our conference.

I had planned to provide some straightforward information in the brief time I had allotted to me, but I changed my mind. My inspiration was the theme for the event–Atheists and Humanists at the Capitol–and the fact that it was raining. Yes, the two were connected.

As I stood at the podium with rain dripping down my nose (the canopy protecting the electronics had blown up in the wind as I waited to speak and dumped a good few tablespoons of water straight onto the top of my head; the pictures will be glorious), I asked people to put up their hands if they considered themselves activists. [Read more…]

“What Are Morality and Ethics?” Dan Fincke on Atheists Talk

In denigrating atheists, theists will often claim that we have no basis for morals nor a grounding for ethics.  We don’t have a book; we don’t have a source; we don’t have commandments that tell us, as atheists, how to be good.  Engaging the issue, atheists often make the mistake of listing all the good things that we do as citizens and generally altruistic human beings and rightly we are proud of our efforts.  But we aren’t necessarily more moral or ethical than anyone else, and so, if we take credit for the good things we do, we have skipped a crucial step in argumentation: We haven’t defined our terms.  Asking Christians to define ethics and morals based on the actions we take and contemplate in our daily lives, we often discover that it really comes down to their belief that they are “saved,” and we are not.

Dr. Dan Fincke is a professor of philosophy and has written several articles discussing the issues of ethics and morality. He returns to Atheists Talk to explain empowerment ethics and how we can use objective, non-religious means to develop ethics and morals.

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.

Writing Women Activists Into History

Yesterday, I published a post talking about how women get pushed out of spaces as those spaces become more valued. I wrote the post more than a month ago, planning to look for a paying home for it. I posted it because I didn’t want it to languish while I waited to find the time and energy to pitch it. This is a topic that’s been on my mind a lot lately.

Nor am I the only one. Talking to someone from Secular Woman about where I wanted to turn my attention now that the code of conduct battle is largely won*, I discovered that they already had a project in the works to make sure the history of freethinking women gets written down rather than lost. [Read more…]

We Have Always Been Here

It was 1981. I sat in a corner of my pre-teen bedroom, hiding. The book was Andre Norton’s Lore of the Witch World, full of dark bargains, sacrifice, and betrayal. It was still preferable to the world outside its covers. It was the book with which I graduated from the myth and fairy tales that children read without any idea of genre alliance to “grown up” F&SF. It was the book with which I became a fan.

I went on to read the classics and eagerly wait for new releases. I discovered cons, attended, cosplayed before the term was common in U.S. fandom, was an extra in an attempt at a fan-made film before the days of digital movies or YouTube, sat on panels, moderated panels, hosted room parties, wrote original fiction, worked it through with a writers group, read it live, was published in a professional SF venue.

It was 1982. [Read more…]

“Humanism in Indiana”, Victoria Gipson on Atheists Talk

A lot has been going on in Indiana in the recent news. Govenor Mike Pence and the Indiana RFRA – the Religious Freedom Restoration Act – have many of us in a tizzy, and rightfully so.

The 1993 federal RFRA signed in to law by President Bill Clinton prohibits the government from substantially burdening a person’s ability to practice his or her religion — unless the government can show it has a compelling interest to do so, and in those cases, they must use the the least restrictive way to achieve those interests. Amidst similar state level RFRAs springing up all over the country in recent months, Indiana has made headlines by passing a much more broadly-worded bill which has, among other indignities, opened the door to protecting flagrant bigotry in business practices.

But as usual, there are good people speaking up about bad laws. Victoria Gipson is a board member of Freethought Fort Wayne, the first chapter of the American Humanist Association. Victoria recently wrote an article for TheHumanist.com in which she discusses the passage of Indiana Senate Bill 101, and how humanists and other opponents of the bill are fighting back.

Join us this Sunday when we have Victoria Gipson on Atheists Talk to discuss the RFRA and humanism in the Hoosier state.

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.

Saturday Storytime: Nine Thousand Hours

It’s worth remembering, as this story by Iona Sharma tells us, that sometimes you screw up because you’re good at something. And there may be nothing you can do to fix it.

Cally made tea and put biscuits on a plate; I didn’t do too much of anything. Without even looking at me she got her phone out of her pocket, dialled a number and said, “Yes, this is Calliope Norwood. At the light, yes. Can you send up—mmm, cheese and pepperoni. Thanks.”

I thought about that for a minute, and then said, “You know the pizza delivery phone number by heart?”

She ignored that. “Drink your tea.”

I drank the tea and ate a couple of biscuits, and slowly the world came into a little better focus. When I was a child the kitchen in that house, with its cast-iron range and big white-painted rafters, seemed enormous: as enormous as the possibility of one day being grown up, of my being a practitioner of the Salt and Cally’s being the lighthouse keeper. We knew, I think, that that’s what Cally would be, some far-off day—but then Commander Norwood died suddenly, of a heart attack in the middle of the night, and that was that. My father still lived in the cottage in Weymouth where I was born, but he understood, more than anyone, why home was the house under the light: it was my father’s people who built the tower.

On the table, stark against the stripped oak, were a handful of bare sheets of paper and a pen. I motioned towards them a little ruefully, and asked, “What did they used to be?”

“Tide tables,” Cally said. “It’s all right for me, I can remember them, mostly. But I tried to write them down for the others, and . . .”

“Yeah.” I’d tried to write down lists of magical logarithms, and phone numbers, and then just my name, over and over. We all had. I picked up a pen and attempted to write “Amal” and then “Salt” on the page. My pen formed the letters, but a millimetre above the surface; when Cally took it from me and tried, she couldn’t force it into the sweep of the C without it leaping from her hand. Above us, I noticed for the first time the neatly arrayed spice jars, now with blank labels, and the cookbooks on the shelf by the door with bare spines. “I really am sorry, Cally. I’m so sorry.”

Cally glanced at me. “I guess you’re apologising to a lot of people, right now.”

I nodded. Having been right in the focus of the blast, I had been stumbling aphasic for a while, dimly fumbling through the confusion; after that cleared, sorry was the first word.

“Okay.” Cally seemed to consider. “It’s time to check on the light. Do you want to come up with me?”

I nodded and followed her up the spiral steps. “I thought it was lucky,” I said, as we went round and round, round and around, “that the light magic can still be done.”

“Yes,” Cally said, “but luck has nothing to do with it.”

I wasn’t sure what she meant by that until we emerged into the lamp-room, greenish with daylight. And it was strange that I’d never seen it before, but then, perhaps I’d never really looked.

“Two power sources,” Cally said, tapping the glass. “Magic, for when the power goes out, and electricity, for—well, for things like this.”

I bowed my head. “I can still do it,” I said. Because my magic comes from seawater and salt, it tends to the deep, wordless workings—heat and cold and calm and light. Not all the people of the Salt want to take time for the learning, the way I did—Cally was taught all she needed in primary school and then by Commander Norwood, for the upkeep of the light—but the power is in all of us, brought with us when life crawled out of the sea, or so I’m told.

Cally nodded. “I’ll get you to help, then, when the time comes”—and then there came the ring of the bell from downstairs, so we finished up and went back down. Cally fetched in the pizza and paid for it over my protests—it’s a good thing that sterling banknotes are different colours, because there wasn’t a word on any of them—and set it down in front of me and watched while I ate it, and then I did help her with the light at dusk, and after that, went to bed before nine o’clock.

You must understand: there wasn’t anything to do, at that time. You couldn’t go online, or read a book. You couldn’t check your email or read the news. You could sing if you knew the words; you couldn’t do it for the first time unless you were doing it by ear. Offices and schools and universities were closed, waiting. So many people took up running that there were two London Marathons that year. And magic had become a primal thing—you could do it if you knew the working so well it was part of your body; you couldn’t look it up. And I remember people didn’t even do that: they were frightened, because of me, because of what I had done.

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With Room to Learn

There has been a lot of talk in the last few months about how “call-out culture” causes problems. Some of it is ridiculous, as when writers take to large magazines and newspapers to complain of being silenced. Some of it is not, as when those already marginalized note that dealing with fierce blowback for mistakes as they enter and acclimate to activist spaces is one more barrier than they have energy for.

I want to deal more with the latter as I get back into writing more regularly. There are things I want to say about languages of power once I’m comfortable that my views are fully fleshed out. In the meantime, however, there are a couple of posts contemporaneous with my earlier writing on the topic that I want to highlight, both from Angus Johnston on the Student Activism blog. [Read more…]

Their Own Neighborhoods

When you ask why people would burn down their own neighborhoods*, I hear you tell me that you don’t know:

  • That people living in subsistence-level poverty move frequently to escape unlivable housing and predatory landlords or because their financial status has improved or deteriorated and have little chance to put down meaningful roots.
  • That people in impoverished neighborhoods would often choose to live somewhere else if discriminatory housing, lending, and transportation policies didn’t make that impossible.
  • That policies of non-investment in segregated, impoverished neighborhoods means that a lot of property is already unused or unusable.
  • That the businesses that will operate in these neighborhoods often apply a premium using their local monopolies, both to their customers and to their employees.
  • That people who have been abused for years have been trained to turn their anger on themselves, because trying to punish those who abuse them will get them injured or dead.
  • That you don’t begin to understand what desperation is, much less what it feels like.

Are these necessarily the reason anyone would tear down their own neighborhood? No. But that’s still a lot of ignorance to be showing off with just a few words, so maybe you want to knock that off.

*Note that even this premise is wrong in some cases. Reports are that at least one fire in Baltimore was started by a tear-gas canister landing in trash.