Ignoring the dystopia

This is a repost of an article from 2015.  I selected this one because it mentions Never Let Me Go, a book by Kazuo Ishiguro, who is now a Nobel Laureate.  He is a great writer, and I recommend the book–but not the movie.

Instead of committing any words to my own novel, I spent the last month or so reading Pride and Prejudice.  It was research, I say.  Research!

Pride and Prejudice of course takes place in the dystopia that is Georgian England.  True to the dystopian genre, there are multiple fantastical constructs which are slowly introduced to a horrified audience.  For instance, there’s the idea of an “entail”.  I don’t really get the purpose of it, but apparently it’s a restriction on whether an estate can be passed on in your will.  And then there’s “elopement” which just means that a woman runs away with her lover.  It doesn’t sound like there’s anything wrong with that, but within the dystopia it’s a horrible thing to do, and a complete disgrace to the entire family.

There are also many neat world-building details.  I like how the servants are always there, but no one ever thinks about them much, because that’s just how wealthy people in this universe think.  At the same time, rudeness towards servants signals an unsympathetic character, and kindness towards servants signals a noble character.  That’s the only way the lower classes are ever important: in relation to wealthy people.

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Maybe literary fiction is just bad fiction

Earlier I mentioned this Gamasutra article which I disliked, and one thing I disliked about it was its discussion of literary fiction. According to the author, literary fiction was the epitome of cultural elitism, defining itself as simply better than “genre fiction”.

As someone who likes literary fiction and dislikes genre fiction, the discourse around literary fiction constantly annoys me. Hey, maybe I just like it because I like it, not because I think I’m better than you. Why does it always have to be about elitism? Why can’t it just be about differing tastes?

I am also complaining as an aspiring author of literary fiction. I do not consider myself to be very good at writing fiction. I have barely made it into writing the novel I started three years ago. I’ve encountered two obstacles: First, nobody I know likes to talk about literary fiction, so I don’t get the ideas I need. Second, there’s an expectation that literary fiction is “good” and that it’s hard to write. At this point I’m writing it for myself and don’t care if it’s good–why can’t I write “bad” literary fiction, what makes people think that’s a contradiction in terms?

But I realize that the elitist image of literary fiction often comes from lovers of literary fiction themselves. I wish to turn that on its head, by reframing literary fiction as bad fiction, bad fiction that I happen to like.

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Ethnicity in Xenoblade Chronicles X

This is an article I wrote in 2015 about a video game.  My commenters had some insightful responses, so a few of their insights are now incorporated.

In my apartment, free time has recently become dominated by Xenoblade Chronicles X, epic Japanese RPG. The premise is explained in this video:

Quick summary: In 2054, Aliens destroy earth. Earth sends out colony space ships. One of these, New Los Angeles, crash lands on an alien planet.

Xenoblade Chronicles X offers an interesting case study of ethnicity in Japanese video games, because unlike other games which take place in fantasy worlds, this one takes place in our world (although a different planet). What’s more, it takes place in a future version of Los Angeles. Los Angeles, of course, is very ethnically diverse, so by looking at the cast we can see a Japanese interpretation of ethnic diversity.
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Storybook endings

I recently saw a movie about two people chasing their dreams. The main theme of the movie was pragmatism vs idealism, and the main conflict in their relationship was when the two people drifted apart from each other on that scale. (Yes, the movie in question was La La Land, but this isn’t about that particular movie.)

The thing about this kind of story is that the interpretation depends a lot on the ending. Do the people in fact achieve their dreams? Or does it turn out that their dreams were unrealistic, and that they were better off pursuing more realistic goals? In effect, the ending of the story is an expressed opinion about whether it is better to be pragmatic or idealistic.

As critical viewers, we might disagree with the story’s opinion. For example, if the ending were too idealistic, we might consider it implausible, because we believe most people with such pipe dreams are never able to achieve them. Or if the ending were too pragmatic, we might criticize it as too dark or cynical. Generally, we wouldn’t accuse an unhappy ending of being implausible. We take for granted some optimism in our story endings, and a cynical ending tends to defy our expectations long before it defies belief.
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I used to think Santa was a myth

I know I said I’m on blogging break, but I still want to do my monthly repost thing.  This is a classic I wrote in 2011.

‘Tis the season for anecdotes…

I didn’t ever take Santa very seriously when I was younger. Or at least, not as far as I can recall. And I thought that no one else took Santa seriously either.

I mean, kids believing in Santa, that’s just something that happens in the movies, right? There are countless movies depicting little kids who believe in Santa Claus. They’ll write letters to Santa. They’ll wait excitedly at the stairs for Santa to come, deliver presents, and eat the cookies and milk. Kids believe in all these elaborate legends and rituals, sometimes even in the face of disbelief from their parents or older kids.

Of course, in these movies, Santa also happens to be real. But Santa isn’t real. So why should I think that belief in Santa be real? For me, belief in Santa was all part of the mythos, along with the elves, reindeer, and red suit. [Read more…]

Ace webcomics you should read

Today’s the last day of Asexual Awareness Week.  I don’t do many things for AAW, except this survey thing.  There’s a sample of AAW activities in this linkspam.

But today, I have a small bonus: webcomics with ace characters.  Although ace characters in fiction are in general quite sparse, webcomics have been an exception.  There are more webcomics with ace characters than I can keep track of!  This is great for me, because I am occasionally picky.

For a more complete list of webcomics with ace characters (including much more obscure examples), I recommend the LGBT webcomics list.  To avoid “archive binge”, I use Comic Rocket to bookmark pages and generate custom RSS feeds.

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Review: Hits and Mrs.

Content note: this is a spoiler free review. The book depicts rape, which is briefly discussed here.

PZ Myers brought to my attention to Hits and Mrs., a new novel by Karen Stollznow. The book is about Claudia Cox, and her efforts to expose her ex-fiance Gil Godsend, a famous psychic medium. This book was of particular interest to me, because of its topical nature, and because PZ mentioned its negative view of organized skepticism. Although, as it turns out, the negative view of organized skepticism plays only a very minor role.

The first thing that struck me about the book was its similarity to TV series Jessica Jones. Jessica Jones is a former superhero, currently working as a private detective specializing in cheating husbands. In the series, she faces off against an abusive ex slash supervillain with the power to control people. In Hits and Mrs. Claudia Cox is a former skeptical activist, currently working as a private detective specializing in cheating husbands. In the book, she faces off against a manipulative ex slash villain with the power to read people.

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