The Neglected Language

Audio Edition Coming Soon!

“I do not play this instrument so well as I should wish to, but I have always supposed that to be my own fault because I would not take the trouble of practicing.”

— Elizabeth Bennett, from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

 

Math is a language. It’s often referred to as the “universal language,” and many science fiction stories use math as the primary means of communication between humans and an alien intelligence. Stephen Spielberg’s film Close Encounters of the Third Kind uses music as the mathematical medium of communication between humans and aliens. The number “3” plays an important role in the novel Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke and the film Mission to Mars. The right angles of geometry cause grand-mal seizures in the brilliant novel Blindsight, a story of first contact by Peter Watts. While sapient beings may have developed different linguistic concepts, counting and other mathematical concepts remain more or less the same. (At least with humans on Earth. Turns out the entire idea of using math to communicate with aliens is actually far more complicated.)

Characters who are good at math are usually stereotyped as cold, analytical thinking machines with poor social skills, hyperfocus towards their given subject of interest, and a lack of empathy or connection with fellow human beings. Sometimes this is played for laughs like in the TV show The Big Bang Theory. Sometimes it is played for sympathy, with the implication that they live lonely, unfulfilled lives because of their obsession with numbers and logic. Or it is portrayed as sinister. Math is used by evil geniuses to create weapons of destruction like Lex Luthor, or creates sentient killer robots who consider emotion an abomination like Skynet and its Terminators. Usually these math-centric characters are male; if a woman gets into the role, she is portrayed as unfeeling and unfeminine who needs to be softened by the sweet madness of romantic love. It’s rare to see a character who likes or who is good at math presented as a real, normal, functional human being.
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A Matter of Honey and Vinegar

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When it comes to persuading people to change and adopt your point of view, I do believe that how you present your argument is just as important as the points within your argument. There’s an old saying that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. And it’s true. People are more likely to listen, truly listen, if you treat them with respect, or at least civility. Humans rely on emotions a lot and often generate rationale to support those emotional reactions after the fact. Relying on tactics that inspire fear or anger only serves to short-circuit the rational parts of our brains.

You don’t convince people that your view is correct by insulting them.

Sometimes it might seem that way, but in truth, most of the time the people who seem to be convinced that you are right when you start insulting the opposition aren’t from the other side at all.  Chances are they were already in your camp or leaning that way; they just weren’t vocal about it.  Very, very, very few people with an opposing viewpoint will switch sides after being called stupid.  After all, if you refer to them, or people who share similar traits, as stupid, evil, morally bankrupt examples of humanity, why would they listen to a word you have to say, regardless of how fact-based or valid your points are?

If you insult people, you are only preaching to the already-converted choir.  Those who are firmly in the other camp will become even further entrenched, convinced of their own righteousness by virtue of your vitriol, while those on the fence or with only mild leanings one way or another will not be swayed.  In fact, insulting the opposition might only serve to drive them away from you!  After all, one can become “guilty by association,” and who wants to be associated with unpleasant bullies? (I can’t tell you how many YouTube videos I’ve stopped watching, because the stream of insults and profanity obscured any validity the creators may have had.)

For example, say you don’t agree with the views that generally seem to be held by people who like the color pink. And then you go around telling other people how stupid or evil or intolerant those people who like pink are. Chances are that there are plenty of people out there who like the color pink who don’t share those views or might have views that aren’t as radical. Maybe they never even thought about the issues you are bringing up and don’t understand what the big deal is. But the more hatred or disdain you express about people who like the color pink, others who also happen to like pink might start to think like this:

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Inspiration vs. Appropriation: Where is the Line?

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There’s a term that’s been popping up a lot lately in regards to story-telling which has caused a great deal of friction online: “cultural appropriation.”  The strict dictionary definition states that: “cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of elements from one culture by members of another culture.”  When you put it like that, it doesn’t sound so bad.  I mean, cultures all over the world have adopted from one another via trade or conquest since the dawn of human history.

But now this term is being seen and used in a completely negative fashion.  Worse, it seems to have no limits or boundaries.  It seems that one can come under fire for celebrating Cinco de Mayo if you’re not Hispanic, wearing Native American costumes (especially the admittedly tasteless and stereotypical Halloween versions) if you are not a Native American, or for wearing cornrows if you are not of African descent.

Those are fairly benign modern examples, although there are more disturbing ones.  Like the wearing of blackface, which was used to reinforce negative stereotypes about blacks to maintain segregation in post-Emancipation America, or Hollywood continuing to cast Caucasians into roles that really should be given to someone else.  (See the controversies over having Matt Damon save the Great Wall of China or casting Scarlett Johansson as the Japanese cyborg Motoko Kusanagi in the upcoming live-action version of Ghost in the Shell.)  So, obviously there is negative cultural appropriation that has happened in the past and continues to happen now.  But where do you draw the line between legitimate concerns and people making a mountain out of a mole hill?
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Rejuvenating “Freedom”

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Freedom is a word that has been bandied about to a point where it’s become almost meaningless.  It’s used in political rhetoric, as a banner to shield bigotry, and, ironically, as justification to take freedom away.  Using a word too often, too freely, too ambiguously, drains it of significance.  The concept of “freedom” is already so vast and amorphous that it’s difficult to define, even at the best of times.  Words like “love” and “change” and terror” are tossed around like common ingredients in a salad rather than as carefully chosen seasoning.  Some definitions restrict “freedom” to a carefully regulated nanny state while on the opposite side it becomes a free-for-all of Darwinian anarchy.

Freedom is both very broad and highly personal, so I’m not going to attempt to define it when far wiser and more experienced minds have written whole volumes discussing its nature.  But I think we need to keep that in mind and be very specific when we talk about freedom because it means so many things to myriad people in disparate circumstances.  I do think that the majority of people agree than an important component of freedom is the ability to strive and improve one’s lot or one’s self uninhibited by artificial societal or cultural constructs.  That doesn’t mean it will be easy or that one will succeed, but we should all at least get the chance to try.  We should each be able to establish our own independence.  So as this Fourth of July comes to a close, I recommend going to YouTube and watching the TEDxConejo talk with Erin Gruwell, founder of the Freedom Writers Foundation.  The best place to start planting freedom’s seeds is within the garden of one’s mind.

Happy Independence Day.

Does Diversity Hold Back Space Exploration?

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DISCLAIMER:  This entry is only a thought exercise!  I am not proposing that one stance is better than the other, nor do I condone extreme positions either for or against the diversification or homogenization of any culture(s). 

Project Orion: one of the coolest ships that was never built. (Artwork by Adrian Mann)

Project Orion: one of the coolest ships that was never built. (Artwork by Adrian Mann)

I recently read an article about NASA testing equipment and programs that will theoretically carry humans to Mars.  Part of me was really happy about it, but at the same time, I was also disappointed because the federal space program is pretty much dead due to lack of funds.  NASA is getting just enough to play around with ideas and reinvent the wheel, but not enough to actually do anything substantial.  The private sector may yet succeed with companies like SpaceX, but the lack of interest in space exploration is so discouraging that I sometimes fear we’ll never reach beyond our planet before the next great extinction.

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Donating to the Arts

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Greetings everyone!  How are those New Year’s resolutions or goals coming along?  Yeah, it’s been hit-or-miss with me too.  Feels like I am sleeping way too much, which kind of wreaks my morning schedule.

Still, I did manage to finish the first original short story I’ve written in a while: “Handsome and the Hag,” a gender-swapped retelling of Beauty and the Beast.  Eventually, I hope to rewrite it and expand into a more detailed short story, but I wanted to have a more traditional fairy-tale feel for the version posted on The Fellowship of the King.  Also, I’m almost, almost done the initial draft of All’s Fair; my goal is to have it ready for beta readers by the end of January.  Hooray!  Aside from that, none of my other writing goals have really gotten underway, especially with the Audio Editions.  Gods, I am so behind…

But there is something I wanted to bring up.  It’s been kicking around in the back of my mind for a while, so I wanted to share my thoughts on it:
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False Dichotomies

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Greetings to everyone from the end of National Novel Writing Month!  Wow, it’s really hard to believe that a month has gone by and, for once, I actually have an almost complete rough draft of a novel.  It still needs work and some scenes, but I think I’ll be able to progress to the editing stage this December and January.  And I’m actually looking forward to it!  My creativity has come back, I’m eager to work, and I’ve been writing over 2,000 words a day more often than not.  Which, like, never happens.  So, I’m really pleased with my progress and hope to have a finished product to show for my effort sooner rather than later.  (Then I’ll go back to Ravens and Roses, I promise.)

Now, on to a topic that has been percolating in the back of my mind for some time:  false dichotomies.

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Where Are the Ladies? Female Protagonists in Fantasy

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One of my friends mentioned that, when she was a kid, she couldn’t find any female characters she liked or could relate to.  In fact, she became misogynistic herself for a time because the only examples of women were weak, whiny, helpless bimbos.  Not exactly the best role model for a growing girl.

But oddly enough, I don’t remember there being a deficiency in heroines during my childhood years of reading.  But then again, I read fantasy and it seems that fantasy has a higher prevalence of female protagonists (and women in general.)

I’ve heard about several studies that speculate on the lack of female characters in children’s and young adult literature.  Granted, this has been changing over the last few years, especially in teen literature, but I still find that female characters, when they are present, tend to fall into the emotional/romance category.  There are fewer examples of (dare I say it?) “strong” (or rather, “well-rounded”) female characters in children’s fiction.

Since my last entry, “Character Charisma,” was so heavily skewed towards male characters (9 men to 1 woman), I wanted to explore some of my favorite female characters in fantasy novels. Unfortunately, in the video games I’ve played so far, there are very few, if any, female characters who left much of an impression, and even fewer who were the star of the show. The only two that come to mind are the sun goddess Amaterasu (Ammy) from Okami and Aurora from Child of Light. (Both of these are beautiful games with unique designs and gorgeous musical scores, and I highly recommend playing them.) Or maybe I just haven’t played enough games, but either way I’m going to focus on books that I read with interesting, unique, or kick-ass protagonists… who happen to be girls.  (I apologize in advance for any mispronunciations.)

 

WARNING: THE DESCRIPTIONS BELOW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS!

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Are You A Fake Fan? (Comics Edition)

In light of recent developments in the comic, gamer, and cosplay worlds, I plan to do a series of entries about “fake fans” and how established fandoms treat newcomers, women, and minorities.  This first entry is the Comics Edition, wherein I focus on the comic book community.

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How do you decide if someone is unworthy to be part of your fandom?  How do you label someone a poser, a noob, or a fake?  Whom do you invite into a fandom and why?  Whom do you reject and why?  What are the criteria to go from noob to knowledge-master?  How does someone graduate from being a “fake geek girl/boy” or “fake fan” into a “true fan”?  Is such a thing even possible?  

I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately about how unfriendly the nerd culture can be to newcomers, or even to established members if they start commenting on flaws with the status quo… especially if those members are women.  (Yes, #GamerGate, I’m looking at you.)  It seems like there are two prevailing extremes:  either the fans are portrayed as the most friendly, knowledgeable, welcoming group around, or they are seen as the most close-minded, antagonistic, sexist group alive.

So far, I’ve been fortunate to escape the fake geek label, but a lot of people, especially women, haven’t been so lucky.  And I have yet to learn of a standard for judging someone’s relative geekiness.  Is it the number of comics you read?  The variety?  The age?  The popularity?  Do you have to be super-obsessed with one particular facet of comics or do you have to have the entire history of Marvel and DC, or every plot contrivance of Batman on the tip of your tongue to qualify as a true fan?

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Feminism in Fiction

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(click image for source)

(click image for source)

Feminism is not a dirty word.  (I actually read a book recently with that statement in the title, and I stand by it.)  A lot of people shy away from the term “feminist” because they think it means “insane man-hating career/sex obsessed woman (who may or may not be a lesbian.)”  Even I’m careful hen using this term, lest my meaning be misconstrued.  While such people do exist, they are the extreme end of the spectrum and have no bearing on what I consider feminism.  That is, that women should be treated politically, socially, and economically as equals to men.

Fantasy and science fiction are wonderful because you can break so many stereotypes.  With a lot of realistic fiction, especially in historical fiction, there are certain limitations, certain expectations and roles that people play that can be difficult to change without losing a sense of authenticity.  But science fiction is usually set far into the future, often on other planets.  Fantasy deals in alternate realities and fairy tales.  The potential to explore and turn traditional gender/racial/economic/sexual roles upside down is all around!  And I’m sorry to say that a lot of writers who deal in science fiction and fantasy don’t take advantage of that potential.

Since a lot of fantasy is set in medieval look-alike worlds, we tend to get medieval values.  Women are passive objects to be won while men do all the fighting, rescuing, political maneuvering, and pretty much anything else interesting.  Science fiction often has male military leaders, male soldiers, male explorers…  Women are very often not present at all, or, if they are, they get regulated to sexual roles or are presented in a very wooden or unrealistic manner.

Obviously this isn’t the case for every fantasy or science fiction story.  And I should point out that while there is nothing inherently wrong with having characters fill traditional gender roles, that shouldn’t be the only role that they can play.  (And that goes for men as well as women.)  Older science fiction and fantasy often get a pass from me because the social mores of the time necessarily colors the way the plot and characters are presented.  But even in modern stories, I rarely see the envelop pushed.

We can be so much more than this.

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