What I’ve Read This Week (with links)

I read a lot of news, articles, and essays, but rarely remember to share the ones I find interesting. I’m making an effort to be better about that. This week, I read…

Fiction:

Ken Liu’s “Cassandra“, at Clarkesworld (review forthcoming)

Non-Fiction:

On New Orleans’s Mardi Gras Indians: “A Once-Guarded Tradition Spills Open In New Orleans’ Streets” by Eve Troeh (NPR)

  • Looks at the evolution from the black Indians as mysterious strangers, to the recent focus on community and youth outreach programs. Includes 5 min podcast. Short, but it might intrigue you enough to read a little more. Wiki, Houston Cultural Crossroads, Mardi Gras New Orleans, are places to start, and photographer Eric Waters has some beautiful images here. As a corollary, you might also be interested in the Baby Doll dance clubs and the Skull and Bones Gang (both articles via Nola.com). Also, this article on Big Chief Bo Dollis’s passing includes video from his funeral, and music from other Indians.

When KKK Was Mainstream” by Linton Weeks (NPR)

  • Less than 90 years ago, the KKK was considered a major part of life and culture in America — so much so that they sponsored charity events, weddings, funerals, baseball games, and parades — even though they were outspoken about their racist beliefs, and had over 4 million members on the rolls. They walked around the streets in their robes and regalia. They were considered “just another club”; accepted as they enforced as “whites only” spaces the whole of a community.

About the Forbidden City and other Asian-American Nightclubs: “These Nightclub Entertainers Paved The Way For Asian-Americans In Showbiz” by Heidi Chang

Charlie Low opened Forbidden City in 1938, and from exotic dancers to comedians to acrobats, he made sure the club had it all. It was even featured in major media outlets, including Life magazine. But that didn’t shield performers from the mostly white audiences’ racial taunts. According to music writer and broadcaster Ben Fong-Torres, “Even while they were entertaining — not unlike the blacks who entertained in New York City at the Apollo [Theater] and the Cotton Club — they would still be subjected to racism. So even though you are the stars of the show, to which these paying customers have come to attend, they still feel superior to you and make … racist remarks to your face, or shout it out from the audience. And I think that was pretty difficult for most of these entertainers to take. But as [singer] Larry Ching said, ‘I had to. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be in the business.'”

“Twenty-One Dresses” by Pari Dukovic, Jessamyn Hatcher (New Yorker)

  • A look at what it takes to preserve antique clothing — in this case, from the illustrious Bell Epoque fashion house “Callot Soeurs”. Includes photographs.

Interviews:

Alejandro Jodorowski, “A Hundred Years Is Nothing” by Camilo Salas (Vice.com)

 

Reviews:

Juan Vidal’s review of the English translation of The Dead Mountaineer’s Inn by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky (NPR)

  • I loved what Vidal has to say about the book, which sounds as if it’s perfectly nestled in the center of that Venn diagram that describes my love for SF, literature, and detective stories. I bought it immediately! (Right now, Amazon has the paperback on sale here, and if you buy it that way, you can read the beginning online for free.)

T-7 Days Until Surgery: A Countdown of Thoughts and Concerns

In a week, I will get up before dawn, leave my sleeping son, and drive out to the hospital. He’ll be watched over, woken up, and then put on the school bus around the same time as I will be wheeled into the surgical theater. If I’m lucky — if everything goes right — I’ll be awake before he has his lunch. I’ll spend a couple of hours recovering, and get to go home around the time that he gets off of school.

I had my pre-surgery phone call today, the one where someone asks you, in a dozen different ways, if there’s any reason to suspect the surgery might kill you. This is standard operating procedure*. The questions cover a huge range of diseases you may have ever had, allergies you have ever been afflicted by, with the vague, “Is there anything we didn’t cover?” at the end so they and you are certain you’ve said it all. No, I don’t have cancer. No, I don’t have epilepsy anymore; I grew out of it when I was a kid. No, I’m not allergic to anything.

And I’ve just remembered that I’m somewhat allergic to bees, but forgot to tell them.

I did let them know that I have a health care proxy, someone I trust to keep me alive by whatever means necessary, who they’ll contact in case of an emergency. He and I have a Darth Vader pact, where we’ve agreed that living is more important than being made entirely of flesh, provided our brains still work pretty well. I know that he’ll make the right choices, should the unthinkable happen. “Unthinkable” in this case meaning the thing that of course I’ve thought about, we all think about every time we’re told that we’re going under, under anesthesia, under the knife. (Though in my case, there’s also a laser.) Unthinkable means that I don’t wake up from the anesthesia, or I wake up broken in some devastating way, and my person has to be called. And someone has to figure out how to explain it to my son.

I can’t think nothing will go wrong. That’s when things do go wrong. But what I’ve been telling myself, and now I’m telling you too, is that this particular surgery doesn’t tend to result in death. Almost never, as far as I can determine from my extensive late-night Googling. The possible bad-effects** include, in order of most-likely to least:

  1. Mild to moderate vertigo (less than a week)
  2. Debilitating vertigo (less than a week)
  3. Mild to no improvement in hearing
  4. Cancellation of surgery, because they discovered another problem when they opened the ear
  5. Permanent deafness (dead cochlear nerve)
  6. Long-term vertigo (weeks to months)
  7. Requires additional surgery
  8. Bell’s Palsy (facial paralysis on 1/2 face due to a cut nerve)
  9. Severe infection/death

My surgeon tells me that it’s the first five that are most likely, including permanent total deafness. The others have a less than 5%, down to less than .1%, chance of occurring. I’ve been given a prescription for steroids to take the week after surgery, because they think that the people who go completely deaf in the opened ear suffered extreme inflammation of the affected area — basically it swells up so much it crushes the Organ of Corti. The steroids should combat that.

I don’t mind that it will probably take several months for my hearing to come back as far as it’s going to, if it is going to improve. I don’t mind that I’ll probably have vertigo, feel awful, need to spend the week I have off for recovery on actually recovering. (There’s a part of me that is annoyed I have to take time off of work for something other than writing/editing/conventions, but we’re ignoring that part right now.) They’re cutting into my head, destroying my seized-up stapes with a frickin’ laser, and replacing it with a metal copy. Essentially, I’m cyborging out, and I understand that it will take a little time to heal.

I don’t so much like all of the things that could go wrong.

I want my person, any of my people really, in there, holding my hand while the surgeon works, making sure I’m okay… Which isn’t an option.

What I can do is what I only ever do, in situations like these: I looked at my options, I chose to have this surgery, I accept and am being open about my concerns, but I can’t let it change that I still need to go in next week, and take whatever comes from it. Once you’re informed and prepared, all you really can do is move forward until there’s something new to react to.

Questions, thoughts, comments all welcome.

* Dear Nemesis: that pun’s for you.

** The worrying ones should be called “bad-effects”, I think, because “side-effects” is accurate but unintended consequences really only matter when they’re bad; we mostly worry about rashes or heart attacks, not developing perfect pitch or the uncanny ability to get discounted car insurance.

#SFWAPro

HOW TO FAIL AS A WRITER

1. GIVE UP IN DESPAIR, AND STOP WRITING. FOREVER. PERMANENTLY.

2. Or, keep writing but:

  • Stop trying to improve. Focus on racking up publication credits, or sales, or reprints, rather than whether this story is noticeably better than the last one.
  • Refuse to listen when your writing is criticized, regardless of the quality or thoroughness of the critique or review. Only listen to your fans, the people who tell you how great you are, and suspect — quietly, to yourself, or loud and indignantly to your loved ones — that your critics just didn’t “understand” what you were “going for”.
  • Stop sending your writing out for feedback (either to alpha/beta readers before you consider it done, or publishers afterward).
  • Stop trying new things, whether it’s different genres, different styles, different markets, or different character types.
  • Complain, constantly, that your work isn’t selling enough. Post on social media that people you know, your friends and family, “clearly” don’t love you enough because they’re not forcing your work on enough people. Publicly dismiss or insult markets or editors who rejected your writing, regardless of why. Insist that your kind of writing — novels, short stories, genre, stories with a certain kind of characters, whatever — must not be marketable anymore, since you’re not profiting enough from it.
  • Tell yourself you’re a failure, every day, regardless of what anyone else says about your work. Use  your certainty that you’ll never be any good as an excuse to take out your sad/bad/angry feelings on the people who care about you most.
  • Ignore your editors, rebel angrily against them, argue with every suggestion, or decide that okay fine, this one change you’ll make and then never submit to their market again.
  • Be desperately impatient. Demand respect, sales, an answer to every email you send a prospective editor… if you think you need it, expect to get it immediately.
  • Stop reading other people’s work. Stop reading anything. Stop learning.
  • Stop living your life. Only write, and forego family, love, school, hobbies, friends, experiences — the sort of thing one generally writes about.

If you’re not doing any of the above, then don’t worry. Keep writing. Keep growing. Keep submitting. You’ll be just fine.

#SFWAPro

 

 

Review: Beneath Ceaseless Skies #168

Steady on Her Feet, by K.J. Kabza

3/5*

Starts a little slow; the presentation of the placard would have been better a little farther down, once we’d already had a taste of Kabza’s delightful world to bite into. Still, it picks up slowly over a few paragraphs, and then suddenly you’re off and running, fully immersed in a genuinely (darkly) entertaining adventure. Like being chased down alleyways at night, when you only think you know where you’re going, the story moves along through the expected twists and turns, until it curves too sharply into its finale. The end makes a sort of sense, but the character reveals aren’t well-established, and require a lot of disbelief to keep you from tossing the whole thing out when the kind and/or stupid suddenly become gleefully malevolent. Too bad, because until then, the story was quite good, but it’s clear that Kabza had an end in mind when writing, and was going to get there regardless of whether or not the rest of the story supported it.

A Screech of Gulls, by Alec Helms

5/5*

The story begins with the listing and naming of things, and in the explanation of those names, the story unfolds. This is a lovely, languid, way to infodump, and I’m always glad to see it done well. It carries on with details and objects, setting the scene by telling you about the things in it as they come up, instead of all at once. This is a worldbuilding sort of fantastic reality, the kind that clearly takes place somewhere and somewhen else, but Helms never overwhelms with useless prose. There are new words in the dialogue that make sense because of context, rather than relying on an explanation, and that shows Helms thinks we’re smart enough to understand — a respect I always appreciate in an author. In the end, the story is so simple, but it’s beautifully told, with the weight of realism and solid emotional impact. Worth reading even if you’re not a fan of “fantasy” because this one isn’t, really (there’s little to no magic, it’s just not a story from our world) but it is extremely well-written.

 

A Quick Update on the State of Me, March 2015 Edition

Dayjob: A usually-grumpy colleague called my boss yesterday to tell her what a great job I’m doing, and apologized today for being gruff before. She’s standoffish with administration because she’s used to them (in her words) clocking in, clocking out, and not caring as much about the patients & procedures as the clinical staff does, but she feels I’m actually here for more than just a paycheck, and that I’m excellent at my job. In addition, I’ve been asked to start attending some of the weekly meetings with the forensics staff, and I have been “promoted” (more work, same pay/title) to oversee one of our floors when the current primary staff member retires in the fall. Given the politics and personalities involved with government health work, I think I’m settling in really well.

School: It’s been suggested to me that moving up at work would be easier if I got at least an AAS degree in human services, so I’m going through the process to start at the local community college. I have enough transfer credits to cover the liberal arts part, so I just need a couple of years of part time classes in the main coursework, and most of them are available online. Further updates, soon. (more…)