Category Archives: Entertainment

Capsule Reviews – Short SF and Fantasy Stories

In addition to writing short stories, I also enjoy reading them – just haven’t had much opportunity recently. That changed over the weekend, when I found out that I can subscribe to magazines over Kindle. (I know. I know. I knew in theory. Stop laughing.) So I did.

Here are a handful you might enjoy.

Analog Science Fiction & Fact, September 2015

Racing to Mars by Martin L. Shoemaker
A ship makes a trip to Mars to drop off some supplies, and one of the people along for the ride is the son of the company’s owner. Along the way, the spoiled brat is forced to grow up, and the narrating character – a woman whose medical career is on the ropes because she blew the whistle on medical negligence at an old job – watches it happen. Interesting because of what it says about how learning – sometimes forced – can overcome ignorance.

The Crashing of the Cloud by Norman Spinrad
Short, but I liked the twist at the end. Can’t say much more than that without giving it away.

Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine, july 2015

Johnny Rev by Rachel Pollack
The tone of this story (and several others in the magazine) reminded me of China Mieville, Charles de Lint, or Neil Gaiman. To do with dreaming and mysticism. Interesting plot and characterization, though the general shape of the story is fairly familiar. Very entertaining and I liked the ways Pollack built her world. Vivid.

The Deepwater Bride by Tamsin Muir
I liked this one a lot. A weird, dreamy sort of language that was also forceful and specific as needed. The protagonist is a seer from a long line of seers, trying to find her way through a prophecy of death and destruction. Characters were well-drawn and vivid, and while I probably should have seen the final twist coming, I didn’t – and I loved the story all the more for that.

Dixon’s Road by Richard Chwedyk
An engaging concept, well-told. The home of a well-loved poet is run as a visitor center, there’s some interesting stuff done with time travel and relativity, and the narrating tour guide gives some insight into a well-constructed world that quickly becomes enjoyably familiar. Another one with a final twist – and not the one you think is coming midway through.

The Silicon Curtain: A Seastead Story by Naomi Kritzer
I’m not a reader of Kritzer’s series, so I’ve never encountered this world or characters before. It was still a fun adventure, though I feel like there were nuances to the tale that I would appreciate more if I had more familiarity with her world. Industrial espionage plot. I wasn’t entirely sure of the ages of the characters – teens or young adults or thirtysomethings – but this might be because I was reading on a plane. I might look for more of the books at some point.

There were other stories in each magazine, but I wasn’t particularly taken by them. Some were boring, some were borderline offensive, and more than a couple weren’t worth finishing. But I’d be interested in reading more from any of these writers, so even if you don’t feel like picking up the magazine, keep an eye out for their other work. And if you do, let me know what you think of it.

 

Wizard World Philly 2015 Recap (with more over at AgentCarter.net)

Yesterday I mentioned that I’d try and post a recap of the convention, and only minutes later arranged to do a write-up for AgentCarter.net. That piece can be found here.

Other than gaining a whole new level of respect for Hayley Atwell (who plays Peggy Carter), I also got to attend the David Tennant/Billie Piper panel, get a photo taken with them both, then get autographs. High points of the con included:

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  • Finding out Billie Piper stole bits of the TARDIS and Margaret the Slytheen’s ring from the set!
  • Screenshot_2015-02-20-05-40-26David Tennant complimenting my red fedora as I walked into the photo booth (“Nice hat!”).
  • Getting an incredible deal on a pair of custom-painted knee-high sneakers – I’ll try to post photos once I receive them, which should be at some point in June. They’re going to have the Exploding Tardis pattern on them and I’m pretty damn excited about that.
  • Eating at Reading Terminal Market, which I’d never been to but which was delicious.
  • wpid-0509151749.jpg“That’s an obscure one!” from Mr. Tennant when I handed him the play I’d brought for him to sign, which I saw him in way back in 2002 – before I even knew who he was. Just coincidence that I happened to buy the script; it wasn’t till I saw and reviewed Look Back in Anger several years later that I realized I’d seen him performing before. (The rest, as they say, is history…)

 

  • wpid-img_20150510_170943.jpgBuying a little ID badge for my Peggy Carter cosplay (which I’m hoping my mom will help me start cutting fabric for this weekend)…
  • Going to a FANTASTIC Greek restaurant with my friend and her daughter after Friday at the con – it was out of Philly a ways, I think the town was called Yardley? I can’t remember the name but holy crap best tzatziki ever.
  • The entire weekend going more or less flawlessly, after a somewhat rocky trip down there (took five hours instead of ten, but I’ll trade a long drive at the start for smooth sailing at the actual con!).
  • Being able to stop at a Trader Joe’s on the way home and doing my grocery shopping for the week, which was way better than having to shop at WalMart this week.

I’m exhausted, I’m happy, I’m not thrilled to be back at work after such a fun weekend, but what can you do. Except bask in the memory and write a blog entry about it.

Two links to check out…

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Volcanic, 16×20″, acrylic on canvas panel. By me.

Hey! So I’m just home from a weekend at Philly’s Wizard World Comic Con, which I fully intend to do an entry on later, but for now here are two pieces I’ve written recently which you may enjoy reading.

The first is a piece that I wrote last Tuesday about John Krakauer’s latest book, Missoula: Rape and Injustice in a College Town. A friend of mine (from Missoula) brought the book to my attention, and when Krakauer came to Missoula to answer to critics offended by the book, she organized a group to support both his book (which unmasks the failures of a legal system that finds it easier to believe rapists than the survivors of their crimes) and survivors themselves. Go check it out to find out more about the hashtag #MissoulaBlue, and why you might want to support it. (And a shout-out to my friend Madelyn for pointing me in the direction of SkirtCollective.com – what a fab site!)

The second is actually a blog by a friend of a friend, Jason Mical, where he quotes some of my thoughts on Black Widow, Age of Ulton, and the feminism of Joss Whedon. It’s over on his blog, so click here.

And finally, I’ve been doing a lot of painting lately, and the featured image for this blog is a close-up of one of them. It and others are for sale on Etsy, if you’re interested in checking that out.

Update: OMG IT’S (sort of but not really) DONE!/The Peggy Carter Project

It’s been a while since I updated you on what’s going on with #thepeggycarterproject. So here goes:

I just finished sewing the test skirt in muslin!!!!!!!

Okay, so maybe I didn’t *exactly* finish – I did something funny along the way and the waistband extension didn’t come out long enough – but I’ve now gone through the process and can put the skirt together. I’ll have to be a little more careful with the zipper, and the button hole will likely be a challenge, but at this point I’m pretty confident that I can make a skirt, and that it will fit.

It was harder than I’d anticipated, mostly because sewing takes a lot of patience and as each step advanced I got a little more nervous about moving on to the next one. (The next step now is actually cutting up my beautiful fabric, so hopefully I’ll be able to screw up the nerve soon.)

wpid-wp-1430574952317.jpegAt last update, I was in the process of cutting the fabric out. Now, it was time to stitch things together. With the exception of one seam, which I sewed the wrong way round (didn’t bother to go back and take it out because this isn’t the actual skirt, the sewing went pretty well – aside from a major tension issue that popped up midway through. (And no, I don’t mean the part where I cried.)

0420152125 0420152125aWhen I took my sewing machine home to show my mom, we decided that the best thing was really to buy a new sewing machine (because why wouldn’t that be the best thing, right?). It was more than I wanted to spend (this project is fast becoming a money pit in its own right) but it made a huge difference in sewing the last few seams. When it arrived, I sewed a few lines and sent her a photo; she approved. The old machine, she said, wasn’t punching the thread through the fabric on both the top and bottom, and given the price and time involved in getting the machine a professional tune-up, the newer machine just made more sense. Here are the photos I sent her; they’re much tighter and more uniformed than what I was getting from the older machine. The new machine also controls the speed of the needle more precisely, which was nice because sometimes you don’t want to go super fast or super slow but somewhere nice and comfortable, in the middle.

I won’t post close-ups of the zipper because the zipper is a travesty and something I will be practicing a few more times before I do it on the actual skirt, but here’s what it started to look like:

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You may notice – or you may not – that while this looks skirt-sized, it is also a bit smaller than you might expect, given the size of my waist. Well, kids, this is where I learned something important about sewing: read the directions. Like, always. Like, four times. Then read everything actually written on the pattern. Like, always. Like, four times. Because sometimes it turns out that just because you only cut two of one pattern piece, it doesn’t mean you don’t cut four of another pattern piece. Who’d’ve thought, right? You need two side panels on EACH side of the skirt, not just two side panels in all.

wpid-0419151229.jpgThat realization came to me, unfortunately, AFTER I had bought a roll of permanent pattern paper because I thought that I was going to have to size the entire pattern up significantly. It was while doing the math required to figure that out that I went back and looked at the pattern again. And realized my mistake. The things writers will do to avoid doing math, you know? But it worked, in the end:

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Next, it was time for the fusible interfacing. After doing a lot of math (this math was unavoidable), I had figured out that it made more sense just to buy a bolt of the stuff (about eight bucks from Joanne Fabrics, though the prices I saw varied WILDLY depending on where I was sourcing from). Interfacing is used to make sure parts of the suit keep their form – so it gets used on bits like the waistband and eventually the suit lapels (eep!). You don’t need loads of it for the project, but if I keep this hobby up it’ll be nice to have on hand.

0420152149For the skirt, the interfacing is fused to the waist band, then the waist band is folded over onto itself and then sewn to the bottom panels of the skirt. The process was a little tricky. The first step was cutting and fusing the interfacing. By this point in the project I had moved on to a “let’s just get it done” mentality, so I wasn’t super careful about cutting it out to match – all that caution is going towards the final product. I placed the fabric on a towel (I don’t have an ironing board, judge not) then laid the interfacing down on top of it. Then you put another towel on top so you don’t get the interfacing glue stuck on your iron, and gently press the interfacing down with the hot iron. Eventually, you pick the iron up and put it down on the next bit of fabric.

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0420152157aNext, you have to press up the seam of the waist band so that you can eventually sew that to the skirt band. This was kind of annoying because you have to make sure the seam is going to be even, and it was sort of confusing to read the directions and figure out what was supposed to be getting pinned facing what. But I soldiered through it and got it done!

Finally, the nightmare of sewing the waist band to the skirt. I didn’t even take pictures of that process, it was so miserable, but once I did that and ran it through the sewing machine, look what happened!
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It might be a little bit messy, but it’s served its purpose, and you know what that means…the next time you hear from me on this project, it will involve real fabric, having to work methodically and carefully, and maybe even a finished skirt!

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Gotta stay inspired, you know?

For more on this project:

Make sure to get updates – subscribe to the blog by entering your email in the upper right hand subscription box,

 

GUEST POST: Slaughtering The Sacred Cow // (The Hugo Awards Fiasco)

If you’ve been here for a while, you’ll remember contributing writer Matthew Lyons from his yearly film analysis, “That Said…”. Today, he’s delivering his take on the current fiasco surrounding this year’s Hugo Awards and the legitimacy of industry accolades.

Slaughtering The Sacred Cow:
The Hugo Awards, Sad Puppies, and Our Current SFF Atmosphere of Total Shitbirdery

By Matthew Lyons

In 1996, Nick Cave wrote a letter to MTV, thanking them for their support and politely asking them to withdraw his name from competition for “Best Male Artist” in their annual Video Awards, citing the fickle nature of his muse and his own desire to avoid visiting “the realms inhabited by those who would reduce things to mere measuring” upon his art.

“I am in competition with no-one,” he said.  His art was his own, independent of some tawdry award that lacked prestige and debased his artistic vision.  It was a brave thing, and the right thing to do, given the situation.

Remember this.  We’ll come back to it.

The current, drama-filled saga of how the Sad Puppies so successfully gamed the Hugo Awards has been well-documented by men and women who are far better writers  and reporters than I, so I’ll spare you yet another three or four pages telling you what you already know. Still, some context is woefully necessary; so let’s do a quick sum up:

  • Socially and politically conservative voting blocs operating under the collective groupname Sad Puppies successfully gamed the Hugo Awards this year, securing three of the five Best Novel nominations, all five Best Novella nominations.
  • This isn’t exactly a stop-inclusivity-in-its-tracks thing, but it’s not exactly not: two of the SP’s most loudly championed authors have gone on record as supporting a certain non-inclusive online hate group, and as this whole fervor seems to be centered around resistance to inclusiveness, no matter what certain people may say to the contrary.
  • They’ve been trying to game the system for three years, and only now have they really succeeded in making a real, visible impact.
  • Everyone’s shitting their pants about it.

The question I want to ask is, why?  Why do we go out of our way to act surprised and outraged when people do this shit?  They’ve been trying to get this over on the Hugos for three fucking years.  So they finally succeeded.  Big shock.

Look at it critically, friends: you’ve had these people banging at the walls of your so-called sacred institution for three years and you act all aghast and shocked when they finally break through?

Please.

You do realize that all we’re doing by acting this way is legitimizing it, right?

Honestly, I’m really asking – do you understand that?

Why put up just a big stupid stink about it?  Is it because the Hugos are an institution?

They’re only an institution because we treat them like they are.  Fifty years of tradition is one thing, but those fifty years only carry the weight we assign them.  The voting only happens at Worldcon because we all sort of, kind of agree that it should.  Prestige is a concept of perception, and if you don’t like people bloc voting, fine.  Fuck them.  You don’t have to sit there and take it.  Have another ceremony and give out another award.  Have the nominations at DragonCon or something, develop special categories for whatever art form you like.  Get weird with it, fuck, make it a party.  No one says the Hugos are the only game in town.  Stop treating them like they are.

But still we’re outraged.  A noted, publicly avowed homophobe got three nominations in the Best Novella category? So what?  No one says that nomination has to mean a fucking thing.  It only means as much as we all think it should mean.  Everybody just needs to fuck off the end of everybody else’s dick.

The stupid, ugly truth is that they’re well within their rights to vote bloc.  That needs to be said.  They can do that.  The system as it exists in its current form is perfectly accommodating of that sort of thing.  It’s not wrong, it’s just kind of a dick move.  Nobody’s disputing that, not even the folks behind Sad Puppies.

And yeah, it’s an easy thing to say If you don’t like it, don’t pay attention.  Don’t let it affect you.  You know what, though? The people that these Sad Puppy assholes are rallying against get that shit time and time again.  “Ignore the haters?” Fuck you.  These assholes have made themselves impossible to ignore.  Pay attention to what they do and how they do it.  Beat them at their own game or go play your own.  They’re going to keep making the same moves over and over and over, expecting shit to change.  Last time I checked, that’s the definition of something.

Don’t ignore them, but maybe be reasonable with your expectations of people.  Because motherfuckers are always going to do dumb motherfucker shit.  The poorly behaved kid in class is pretty much always going to shout “LOOK AT ME!!” before pulling his pants down so everyone looks at his dick.  The best thing you can do in that situation is not fall for that fucking trick.  Stop coddling needy people who insist on throwing public tantrums.  Stop legitimizing them by acting like they’re a bigger deal than they are.  We all know you have a dick, Trevor.  Nobody’s impressed.  Just sit down and listen to Miss Wallace talk about long division, the rest of us are trying to learn here.

You might not be able to ignore them, but you sure as hell can delegitimize the thing they keep trying to stick in your face.

That brings me back to Mr. Cave’s refusal:

Perhaps, if this were a better world, the authors who aren’t part of the Sad Puppies’ slate would politely but firmly withdraw their names and works from consideration in protest.  Wouldn’t that be a fucking revelation?  If this is how they’re going to run the Hugos, maybe you don’t want that sort of recognition.

I mean, it’s nice to be honored for your art, but do you really want to be honored by an award system run by these people?  Again: seriously, I’m asking.

If the answer’s Yes, great, carry on, have fun.  Seriously.  I don’t begrudge anybody the pursuit of recognition for their art.  Really, I don’t.  People are allowed to art and live and believe however the fuck they want.  I just reserve the right to not pay attention if your methods make you a shitbird.

But if the answer’s No, then just why in the fuck do you insist on playing by their rules?  As far as I can tell, the Sad Puppies have been nothing but clear and vocal about what their aims were, and they kept their promises.  You think they won’t do it again next year?  Or the year after that?  It finally worked, after all. Why would we count out a repeat performance?

All I’m driving at here is maybe we all need to take a step back and consider what’s important.  Is it the recognition of your peers, and the public?  Or is it that fancy laurel seal your publisher gets to stamp on your reprints, that cute little tag you get to stick in your Twitter bio: Hugo Award Winning Author/Novel/Tweeter/Whatever.  Consider why this matters to you, because you need to know that the Sad Puppies sure as fuck have.

And if you decide you don’t want to compete with their behavior and tactics?  Then maybe consider taking your name out of the running.  Consider taking some of the widespread prestige away from the awards.  Delegitimize them. Just like engaging with these sorts of dicks on any other platform, the only way to win is not to play.  We can all agree that the Hugos got hijacked, and we as a community would rather our awards be about recognition and community than tradition and prestige.  The Bill Schuckley’s Backyard Barbecue Awards would carry just as much weight as the Hugos if we all decided they did.  Probably even more, because there would be barbecue involved.

Let ‘em have the Hugos if they want them so bad.  But if the ship’s been taken by mutiny, nobody’s making you sail with them.  There’s enough ocean for everyone here, and plenty of able and like-minded sailors to help you build yourself a new ship.  An awesome one.  With flames painted on the side and a bejeweled Santa Muerte for the figurehead.  And a sweet sound system playing nothing but The Clash.  Everybody loves The Clash.

Abandon ship.  Let the barbarians have the temple.  Take the sacred cow out back and put a fuckin’ bolt through its holy fuckin’ head for steak dinner.  If it’s not working, nobody says you have to keep it.

These awards only ever meant what we wanted them to mean, after all.

Matthew Lyons can be found listening to Tool records and old Bill Hicks routines while scorning basically everything and everyone on Twitter at @goddamnlyons. He occasionally writes fiction that is somewhat less pissed off than this guest post.

Other guest blogs by Matthew:

THEATRE REVIEW: Why Torture Is Wrong and The People Who Love Them

Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them
By Christopher Durang
Directed by Thomas LaChiusa
Subversive Theatre Company

Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them by Christoper Durang, has a plot that unfolds – at first – quite neatly. A young woman (Felicity, played by Andrea Andolina) wakes up in bed with a man (Zamir, played by Michael Votta) who she doesn’t know. Who, as far as she can tell, she’s married by accident. As the action develops, it begins to take a strange veer away from reality, heading into an absurd – yet frighteningly possible – world.

Feicity is, throughout the first act, constrained by the barely-restrained violence of combating Alpha males Leonard (her father, played by Victor Morales) and her new husband Zamir. Her mother Luella (Christopher Standart) has disassociated from the world, relying on absent-minded discussion of Broadway hits (Wicked, A Chorus Line) and is at odds with her daughter’s desire to tackle problems in the here and now. Namely, the problem of Zamir. He might be a danger. Or a terrorist. He’s already shown some tendencies toward violence – if not physical, yet, the certainly verbal – and while Felicity wants her parents’ help in getting an annulment, she also doesn’t want Zamir hurt. It’s a pretty morally admirable decision, given Zamir’s actions towards her early on. Still, one cheers a little when he and Leonard stand off. The delicious whiff of mutually-assured destruction is in the air.

The play strikes the same cheery, sick satirical chords as something like Torben Betts’ The Unconquered, or (if I’m giving his an even darker comparison) Sarah Kane’s Blasted (if Blasted were played for laughs without any on-stage violence). Some cultural force has warped our male leads, and one almost hopes the dystopia of the outside world is bad enough to justify the chill that runs through Durang’s script when it comes to his character’s brutality. One suspects that world might be reality, while hoping that isn’t the case.

Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them is a funhouse-mirror post-9/11 dark comedy. The metaphors for punishment without trial, racial profiling and next-generation “patriots” (the kind who take selfies flanked by flags and guns and government conspiracy theories) and domestic violence are present. It asks us, as viewers: how does a person cope with all that? Can we, as society, stand our ground and demand the ability to effect change (Felicity’s stance, in the first act), or disassociate into a disengaged enjoyment of our Marxian opiate of choice?

Luella, we see, has chosen the latter. While her husband waxes poetic about “Father Knows Best,” exploring the taste of calling his daughter the pet names from the kids in the classic TV show, Luella wears matching floral house dresses and insists on lighthearted conversation about the Theatre and French Toast. While she develops into an ally for Felicity as the play moves on, one can never be sure of when Luella’s small-chat fog may be sliced open by razor lucidity.

As for Leonard, everything we hear about his contact with the government? We hear it from him, or from one of his co-conspirators. In other words, it’s not hard to imagine that his Shadow world is, just like Luella’s also turtles all the way down. It might as well be self-contained. If Luella has floated away, maybe Leonard and his fellow nutjobs aren’t far behind.

If so, then what can be made of the final movement of the script, where Felicity’s compassion for Zamir – a man who has threatened and intimidated her – allows her to finally wrest away control of the situation’s swiftly deteriorating violence? She takes charge and the axis of Durang’s play starts to twist. A voice that’s been speaking to the audience throughout the play – Becky Globus, who also takes on several other roles – smashes through the 4th wall, and Felicity wills a feat of metatextual narrative timetravel. Her drive to change what’s happened drags the whole cast, including a pornographic priest (James Cichocki) and one of Leonard’s whackadoo comrades (Mike Seitz), back to a point before the play even started: the night Felicity and Zamir meet.

Conjured back to their ground zero, Felicity searches for a way in which the best aspects of herself and Zamir can be together – while also setting clear and entirely reasonable boundaries about what she wants as the end result: a world where things turn out differently. She directs the conversation carefully, laying out boundaries and guidelines, until she’s coached both herself and Zamir to what might be their “best aspect”. Zamir wonders if this even leaves him as the same same person, but Felicity’s insistence carries the day. Have they truly time-traveled, and will they now create a better future? Or has Felicity just experienced just had a disassociative snap, her mind creating a false reality to protect her from the world’s harsh truths? Has Felicity just found her delusional opium?

That I’m left with questions like these (and more) is a testament to the quality of Durang’s script, Thomas LaChiusa’s direction, and the cast’s ability to seamlessly integrate the two. Subversive’s production is tight and focused, an achievement for a show gets farther “out there” than normal. It’s easy for a play that toys so much with fantasy and reality (including metatextually) to drift aimlessly, but Why Torture Is Wrong…keeps its feet on the ground. And that makes a huge amount of difference in its ability to hold the audience over the course of two hours, as well in its ability to spark thought afterwards.

While John Kennedy and Michael Lodick’s set doesn’t quite evoke the luxury the script indicates, it’s unclear if that’s because the wealth isn’t translating physically, or if – like Zamir’s insistence on being somehow Irish – it’s yet another place where character’s perceptions and reality diverge.

Why Torture Is Wrong… is at the Subversive Theatre in Buffalo, New York through April 12, 2015, and I hope you make the time to see it.

Tickets were comped for this production.

Also of interest:

Update: Cutting Out Fabric #ThePeggyCarterProject

wpid-0316152218.jpgJust a quick update re: my progress on The Peggy Carter Project. After one unsuccessful attempt at cutting out my design in cotton muslin, the second attempt went much more smoothly. This time, I knew to cut out the little notches, and properly cut along the fold – so that my earlier panic about the fabric not encircling my ample waist proved to be a result of my learning curve, and not of the pattern being screwy.

wpid-0321151431.jpgThe next step is stay-stitching the tops and bottoms of each panel. Which will require finding the instruction book for my sewing machine, since in the couple weeks since I did my mini-project I’ve forgotten how to make the needle go backwards.

I’m also waiting for the lightweight interfacing to arrive, since my local sewing shop doesn’t appear to stock the right weight.

I also ordered some ribbon for my hat.

And started a Pinterest board for this project.