MMAcevedo (Mnemonic Map/Acevedo), also known as Miguel, is the earliest executable image of a human brain. It is a snapshot of the living brain of neurology graduate Miguel Álvarez Acevedo (2010–2073), taken by researchers at the Uplift Laboratory at the University of New Mexico on August 1, 2031.
Welcome to the Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction. This work-in-progress is a comprehensive quotation-based dictionary of the language of science fiction. The HD/SF is an offshoot of a project begun by the Oxford English Dictionary (though it is no longer formally affiliated with it). It is edited by Jesse Sheidlower. Please explore the menu links to learn more.
Aja Romano: Just how racist was H.P. Lovecraft? (Vox)
H.P. Lovecraft was one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. He was also one of its most racist.
Still, there’s an extent to which all of this discussion has been taking place within Lovecraft’s niche community of genre writers — still well below the mainstream radar, away from the broader influence of his work. (As late as 2014, it was possible to read Lovecraft explainers in media outlets that made no mention of his racism.) That might finally be changing with HBO’s Lovecraft Country now spotlighting the conversation around the author’s racist legacy — but it also inevitably yields frustration because Lovecraftian imagery and themes are so embedded within the pop culture landscape.
[Victor LaValle] also stressed capitalizing on Lovecraft’s love of fanfiction of his own stories to overwrite that legacy into newer, more progressive visions of horror. For instance, his award-winning Lovecraftian horror novel The Ballad of Black Tom largely revolves around the underlying premise that much of Lovecraft’s horror is predicated on ridiculous white privilege. That horrific realization that all Lovecraft’s characters undergo that the universe doesn’t revolve around them? That’s not a problem any Black character would ever have.
John McWhorter: The Dehumanizing Condescension of ‘White Fragility’ (The Atlantic)
And herein is the real problem with White Fragility. DiAngelo does not see fit to address why all of this agonizing soul-searching is necessary to forging change in society. One might ask just how a people can be poised for making change when they have been taught that pretty much anything they say or think is racist and thus antithetical to the good. What end does all this self-mortification serve? Impatient with such questions, DiAngelo insists that “wanting to jump over the hard, personal work and get to ‘solutions’” is a “foundation of white fragility.” In other words, for DiAngelo, the whole point is the suffering. And note the scare quotes around solutions, as if wanting such a thing were somehow ridiculous.
A corollary question is why Black people need to be treated the way DiAngelo assumes we do. The very assumption is deeply condescending to all proud Black people. In my life, racism has affected me now and then at the margins, in very occasional social ways, but has had no effect on my access to societal resources; if anything, it has made them more available to me than they would have been otherwise. Nor should anyone dismiss me as a rara avis. Being middle class, upwardly mobile, and Black has been quite common during my existence since the mid-1960s, and to deny this is to assert that affirmative action for Black people did not work.
In 2020—as opposed to 1920—I neither need nor want anyone to muse on how whiteness privileges them over me. Nor do I need wider society to undergo teachings in how to be exquisitely sensitive about my feelings. I see no connection between DiAngelo’s brand of reeducation and vigorous, constructive activism in the real world on issues of import to the Black community. And I cannot imagine that any Black readers could willingly submit themselves to DiAngelo’s ideas while considering themselves adults of ordinary self-regard and strength. Few books about race have more openly infantilized Black people than this supposedly authoritative tome.
White Fragility is, in the end, a book about how to make certain educated white readers feel better about themselves. DiAngelo’s outlook rests upon a depiction of Black people as endlessly delicate poster children within this self-gratifying fantasy about how white America needs to think—or, better, stop thinking. Her answer to white fragility, in other words, entails an elaborate and pitilessly dehumanizing condescension toward Black people. The sad truth is that anyone falling under the sway of this blinkered, self-satisfied, punitive stunt of a primer has been taught, by a well-intentioned but tragically misguided pastor, how to be racist in a whole new way.
A story about a pandemic written in 2015 that is eerily resonant with our current pandemic.
Some days it’s hard to imagine that this will ever be over, that we’ll ever be able to get things back to normal at all. When everyone is sniping at each other it feels like you’ve always been trapped in the middle of a half-dozen bickering children and always will be. When you’re in the midst of grief, it’s hard to imagine spring ever coming.
Compiled by Lisa Allardice: Tiger King and a bloody mary: Hilary Mantel, Simon Armitage and other writers on lockdown life (The Guardian)
Worth it for this quote primarily:
Honestly, there is a lot to be said for tooling about all day, looking up recipes and not making them, not bothering to paint the living room and failing to write a novel. In the middle of the messy non-event called your mid-afternoon, you might get something – a thought to jot down, a good paragraph, a piece of gossip to text a pal. Boredom is a productive state so long as you don’t let it go sour on you. Try not to confuse the urge to get something done with the idea that you are useless. Try not to confuse the urge to contact someone with the thought that you are unloved. Do the thing or don’t do it. Either is fine.
Naomi Kritzer: Didn’t I Write This Story Already? When Your Fictional Pandemic Becomes Reality (Tor)
Sometimes, you’re haunted by your own stories. I wrote “So Much Cooking” in 2015: in it, a food blogger describes cooking in quarantine during a pandemic, feeding an ever-increasing number of children she’s sheltering at her house with an ever-decreasing supply of food.
Researching the story in 2015 was when I first encountered the phrase “social distancing.” Obviously, you’d close the schools, and public gathering spaces like movie theaters; you’d have everyone telecommute who possibly could. How would you get food? Would grocery delivery services be instantly overloaded? Would restaurants continue to serve take-out? What are the ethics of ordering delivery if you’re just outsourcing your own risk to someone more financially desperate?
I’ve been struggling to end this essay—I think because we’re still in the midst of the crisis. But I think part of what appeals to people about the story is that it ends with the crisis unresolved. There’s hope; the protagonist absolutely believes that she’ll see her household through to the other side; but it’s not over, any more than it’s over for us.
Maris Kreizman: Woody Allen’s book could signal a new era in the publishing industry (The Outline)
Dozens of Hachette employees walked out after learning the company planned to publish Allen’s memoir. Their protest worked.
Allen has not been censored or denied the right to publish in any way. He has merely lost a deal that came with an advance on royalties and a corporate marketing machine to help him to sell his book. To be published by a major publisher is not a right covered by the First Amendment; it is and has always been a privilege.
By simply listening to and evaluating the concerns of lower level employees — a recent study by found that the industry’s interns are significantly more diverse than the industry as a whole — publishers have the opportunity to avoid making bad business decisions before contracts are even signed. And, if those employees are valued more, both in their opinions and their salaries, the publishing industry has a better shot at retaining them and becoming more diverse at higher levels.
Lingering with a moment, operating in the dark, and moving through membranes.
Renee Gladman: In Ana Patova the city becomes a three-dimensional embodiment of writing, a world propelled by sentences. Sentences, thus, become both propellants and consequences of the events of Ravicka. Ana Patova writes so that she can act in the world. The writing is the site of that action. What happens in between, where she’s actually walking down the hill, is unmappable. I don’t believe that there is any language without narrative, but there seems to be (in Ravicka and in Providence, RI) plenty of language without events. In Ana Patova, I’m trying to follow the line of thinking, letting it pass through these sentence-corridors that are bridges, and I’m doing this because something is being produced through this particular shape. A crossing reverberates, something being crossed. One consciousness crossing another. One’s books crossing others’ books. One’s walking with another’s walking. One attempt to see the crisis with every other attempt, and not only by the one person but also every other person in the city. I think of narrative as the story of our thinking and of language as that material.
J.W. McCormack: Nebulous Geography: On Renee Gladman’s Houses of Ravicka (BOMB Magazine)
The imagined city from Gladman’s Ravicka series is as elusive as human self-hood.
What Gladman’s work does have in common with the aforementioned works is a faith that language creates the thing it describes. As opposed to the commercial novel, which gestures at the consensual reality beyond the page, Gladman begins with the internal and constructs her world from the ground up, finding meaning in negative spaces. Jakobi proposes that streets should be built according to “qualified voids” and muses that “You can design a flag and name a country, then design another flag and name another country, years before you have to bring that country into existence,” which might have been Gladman’s process with Ravicka—a coherent imaginary place, slowly solidified book to book.
It’s possible to read the novel without being aware of how much of it Gladman intends as a dwelling against “the atrocities of the political and social present,” but what comes across in all of Gladman’s work is that there is a world worth discovering and which lives both outside and within us, a place “changing all the time” where “there is too much to say about it, too much to see to want to keep seeing.”
In the past year-ish of my life, it’s become a minor goal of mine for people to discuss Ada Palmer’s debut novel, Too Like The Lightning, from now and until eternity. It’s just that kind of book. Here I’m collecting my own thoughts and musings on Too Like The Lightning.
Jenny Odell: The Myth of Self-Reliance (The Paris Review)
I saw that I had absorbed from my family and my upbringing a specific brand of individualism, valorizing and transmitting it unknowingly. I’d done this throughout my entire life, but especially in How to Do Nothing. Around my favored versions of contemplative solitude, so similar to Emerson’s, a whole suite of circumstances appeared in full relief, like something coming into focus. The women in the kitchen made the mens’ conversation possible, just as my trip to the mountain—and really all of my time spent walking, observing, and courting the “over-soul”—rested upon a long list of privileges, from the specific (owning a car, having the time), to the general (able-bodied, upper-middle-class, half white and half “model minority,” a walkable neighborhood in a desirable city, and more). There was an entire infrastructure around my experience of freedom, and I’d been so busy chasing it that I hadn’t seen it.
Maria Bustillos: The failures of Ayn Rand (Popula)
For those who are inclined to find such ideas ludicrous, the book will fail, and utterly; its premises betray a bottomless ignorance of the deep interconnectedness of humankind, the needs — economic, social, emotional, intellectual — of human beings for one another, and of the ultimate inalienable reality of life on Earth as a whole, the totality of which each is a part, and our need to live in this wholeness.
Rand is 100% pro-inequality; she preaches the intellectual and moral superiority of wealth, and scorn and hatred of those who have “less.” Objectivism actively praises inequality. But nobody has “less,” because all have the same, of the only thing that matters—life, for a moment, and then?—something, nothing, nobody knows. Equality is not a fantasy, nor even a goal; it is just a fact.
Rand’s books have sold nonstop from the moment they were published because people love hearing how not only can they get away with being totally selfish, it’s absolutely the right way to be. The best way to be, as in, morally the best.
The real looters, it increasingly appears, are the self-styled Objectivist “elites,” rabidly pursuing their own “happiness” at the cost of our social safety net, the prosperity and well-being of the world’s people and even, quite possibly, of this planet’s capacity to sustain life. So much for the triumph of individualism.
Joshua Rothman: Ted Chiang’s Soulful Science Fiction (New Yorker)
In the course of our conversations, he and I discussed various theories about his writing—about what, in general, his project might be. At lunch, he proffered one theory—that his stories were an attempt to resist “the identification of materialism with nihilism.”
Siobhan Leddy: We should all be reading more Ursula Le Guin (The Outline)
Her novels imagine other worlds, but her theory of fiction can help us better live in this one.
Le Guin’s carrier bag is, in addition to a story about early humans, a method for storytelling itself, meaning it’s also a method of history. But unlike the spear (which follows a linear trajectory towards its target), and unlike the kind of linear way we’ve come to think of time and history in the West, the carrier bag is a big jumbled mess of stuff. One thing is entangled with another, and with another.
As well as its meandering narrative, a carrier bag story also contains no heroes. There are, instead, many different protagonists with equal importance to the plot. This is a very difficult way to tell a story, fictional or otherwise. While, in reality, most meaningful social change is the result of collective action, we aren’t very good at recounting such a diffusely distributed account. The meetings, the fundraising, the careful and drawn-out negotiations — they’re so boring! Who wants to watch a movie about a four-hour meeting between community stakeholders?
We will not “beat” climate change, nor is “nature” our adversary. If the planet could be considered a container for all life, in which everything — plants, animals, humans — are all held together, then to attempt domination becomes a self-defeating act. By letting ourselves “become part of the killer story,” writes Le Guin, “we may get finished along with it.” All of which is to say: we have to abandon the old story.
We are still learning how to tell stories about climate change. It is fundamentally a more-than-human problem, one that simultaneously affects all communities of people, animals, plants — albeit asymmetrically. The kind of story we need right now is unheroic, incorporating social movements, political imagination and nonhuman actors. In this story, time doesn’t progress in an easily digestible straight line, with a beginning, middle and end. Instead there are many timelines, each darting around, bringing actions of the past and future into the present. It collapses nature as a category, recognizing that we’re already a part of it. In a climate change story, nobody will win, but if we learn to tell it differently more of us can survive.
Regarding David Foster Wallace, who Maria argues simply dismissing as “problematic” is not quite the answer.
The artist of special gifts who is also a “hideous man” is a deeply valuable source of information for a society seeking to better itself.
This piece doesn’t do enough—it says simply dismissing DFW is unrealistic, but doesn’t offer any of its own ideas about how we’re expected to extract special value from reading the work of a serially abusive man, only that it’s possible and that his work is so good we can’t ignore it. We can learn from troubled people who weren’t abusive, so what makes David Foster Wallace so special?
Jenny Zhang: They Pretend To Be Us While Pretending We Don't Exist (Buzzfeed)
It may seem totally nuts now, but as far as who gets credit for simply being affected by black pain, it doesn’t seem very removed from our current world where we heap lavish praise on someone like Jon Stewart for announcing on the Daily Show that he was too heartbroken to make jokes after the Charleston church shooting, as if all throughout this country’s present and past, black people and people of color have not been so heartbroken and so violated that we were left humorless, or worse, dead. To praise Stewart as excessively as he was praised is to say to black people: Your pain is unexceptional and does not matter until a white man feels it too.
What I want is to get paid for my labor and be credited for my excellence. What I want is to not have to be made aware that because most publications only ever make room for one or two writers of color when those publications publish me it means another excellent writer of color does not get to have that spot, and yes, we internalize that scarcity and it makes us act wild and violent toward each other sometimes instead of kind.
Why are we so perversely interested in narratives of suffering when we read things by black and brown writers? Where are my carefree writers of color at? Seriously, where?
Maria Bustillos: The Center Held Just Fine (Popula)
Joan Didion, First Lady of Neoliberalism
Didion’s work is an unrelenting exercise in class superiority, and it will soon be as unendurable as a minstrel show. It is the calf-bound, gilt-edged bible of neoliberal meritocracy. The weirdest thing about it is that this dyed-in-the-wool conservative woman (she started her career at the National Review) somehow became the irreproachable darling of New York media and stayed that way for decades, all on the strength of a dry, self-regarding prose style and a “glamor shot” with a Corvette. The toast of Broadway and the face of Céline, decorated by Barack Obama himself, Didion is the mascot of the 20th century’s ruling class (both “liberal” and “conservative”)—that is, people who “went to a good school” and know how to ski and what kind of wine to order, and thus believe themselves entitled to be in charge of your life and mine, and just… planet Earth.
For all their hanging out among the counterculturalists and jazz musicians and rock stars and hippies and desperately trying to be cool, I don’t think Joan Didion, or Capote, Updike, Wolfe, et al., ever wanted an egalitarian society. American writers like to pretend that their work is apolitical; it’s hard to imagine what the American equivalent of Marquez or Václav Havel might be. But no writing is apolitical. Didion and her cohort wanted a society where people like themselves could keep comfortably chronicling the interesting inferiorities of those in the classes below their own.
Didion and co. produced fake cultural leadership for the comfort and protection of the well-heeled and powerful. Better people, better writers, would have connected with the youth movement and the working class to protect and expand democracy—say, by putting their bodies upon the gears, and upon the wheels of the machine. Instead, they kept it running.
Octavia Butler’s ‘Rules for Predicting the Future’
How many combinations of unintended consequences and human reactions to them does it take to detour us into a future that seems to defy any obvious trend? Not many. That’s why predicting the future accurately is so difficult. Some of the most mistaken predictions I’ve seen are of the straight-line variety–that’s the kind that ignores the inevitability of unintended consequences, ignores our often less-than-logical reactions to them, and says simply, “In the future, we will have more and more of whatever’s holding our attention right now.”
So why try to predict the future at all if it’s so difficult, so nearly impossible? Because making predictions is one way to give warning when we see ourselves drifting in dangerous directions. Because prediction is a useful way of pointing out safer, wiser courses. Because, most of all, our tomorrow is the child of our today. Through thought and deed, we exert a great deal of influence over this child, even though we can’t control it absolutely. Best to think about it, though. Best to try to shape it into something good. Best to do that for any child.
Simini Blocker #The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet
Sissix and Rosemary, again from Becky Chambers’ ‘The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet.’ I finished the second one last week as well, which has another cast of excellent characters. I love how cozy and lived in these books feel, while still being really thoughtful on challenging your perspective—it’s not something I’d come to expect from science fiction.
Maria Bustillos: How Staying Small Helps New Directions Publish Great Books (The New Yorker)
The size of the company, which is held in trust, is dictated by the terms of Laughlin’s will. There are, and will be, just nine employees, and the number of books the company may publish each year is also fixed. Profits are generally reinvested, and the relatively low salaries paid to staff are balanced out by policies like an annual bonus system—which alone might make up ten or fifteen percent of a year’s earnings—and a retirement savings plan. These constraints were baked into New Directions’ business model in the interest of quality and longevity. “We’re expected to make our own way financially,” Epler told me. “The trust is just how he left it to make it safe, so we couldn’t be bought by a larger corporation.”
As intended, those constraints have factored deeply into the company’s acquisition strategy. Its employees leverage connections, taste, a worldly sensibility, a capacity for risk, and thrift in order to bring revenues to the company and fine new books to a global readership.
Longreads Member Exclusive: 'The Nature of Social Evil'
Maria Bustillos picked Ernest Becker’s ‘Escape from Evil’.
Becker won a Pulitzer for his previous book, The Denial of Death, but this one, published posthumously and building on ideas from that earlier work, is far, far better, to my mind, more compact, more advanced, more compelling. This book is pragmatic synthesis of multiple disciplines in the science of man, the place where humanities and science collide. Theories about Becker's work abound, but for me his great gift was the way he seemed to have led us to the threshold of a new enlightenment, clear-eyed, undeceived, ready to take the next step. It's a step the reader may be able to intuit, and perhaps even gain, and make practical use of in his or her own life: '[W]e have to take a full look at the worst in order to begin to get rid of illusions. Realism, even brutal, is not cynicism.'
Vajra Chandrasekera: ‘Binti’ by Nnedi Okorafor (Strange Horizons)
A brilliant piece of literary criticism for a novelette I loved and am looking forward to the next installment of.
As a metaphor for acculturation into empire, this works almost too well. You can walk in the halls of empire, yes, as long as you're willing to accept invasive alien tentacles into your mind, to put alien needs above your own, to allow yourself to be instrumentalized.
Vajra Chandrasekera: Which This Margin Is Too Small To Contain
Some thoughts on "diversity" in sf/f and discovering that I'm apparently a "writer of colour" and all that. I never actually use these words myself, whether to refer to either myself or anybody else. Though at the same time I don't object to their use to refer to myself or anybody else either. It's complicated.
If essentialism is the pernicious idea that categories are more real than people, strategic essentialisms are a rhetorical technique when you’re aware that the essentialism in question is bullshit but you temporarily accept being identified with a category in order to achieve something, even if that something is just making a point. There are all sorts of good, practical reasons to collectivize identity in this way, but I think it works best when it’s goal-oriented and time-bound. Because when it’s not, then it can also mean just signing up to be reduced to a category for somebody else’s convenience.