Much Ado

Last night I went to a play.

It is the second play I have been to lately. The first, The Elephant Girls, I saw on the recommendation of Amal El-Mohtar while it was showing in Dublin, and that was excellent. This was a showing of Much Ado About Nothing at the Lir Theatre: a friend had got tickets through work and couldn’t go, so she passed the tickets along. So my girlfriend and I stroll along last night up by Grand Canal Dock at the hottest day (so far) of the year, to see the young people of the Lir National Academy of Dramatic Art DO SHAKESPEARE.

Wow. What a show.

It was a modern staging and a very high-energy one, at that: Much Ado About Nothing reimagined as the eighties/disco house party from hell, complete with high heels, shirtless men in hot print shorts and fur coats, Claudio lathering Don Pedro in sunscreen, and Beatrice reading Caitlin Moran. It was a small cast: Beatrice, Hero, Leonato (cross-cast as Leonata), Don Pedro, Claudio, Don John, Margaret, and Barachio, whose actor also played the Friar. There was some compression of characters and scenes but it did not detract from the play.

There were musical numbers. Scene changes were signalled by the lights going down and a couple of bars of thematically-appropriate pop music. Leonato cross-cast as Leonata is a change that works really well, and allowed the play to play with the idea of Leonata and Don Pedro having an understanding.

Beatrice delivered her lines amazingly well. She and Margaret, I think, were the best performers in the cast, though I suspect when they have a little more age and experience, the actors who were playing Leonata and Benedick and Don Pedro will be able to bring more presence to their performances. (Leonata leapt in presence once she had some pathos, rather than comedy, to play with.) Don John had little enough to do, but did it really well. And the stage business, the physical comedy, was exceptionally well done.

This staging of the play understood the misogyny that is at the heart of Much Ado About Nothing, and did not seek to minimise it: there is drinking and drug-use shown during the play, and this, juxtaposed against Claudio and Don Pedro’s vile over-reaction to aspersions cast on Hero’s sexual virtue, plays with the hypocrisy that is at the heart of the play. And at the scene break immediately after Claudio and Hero are agreed to be married the first time, members of the cast handed out invitations to the wedding.

Wedding invitation of Hero and Claudio

The text inside the cover?

“Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.”

Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them

There is also a particularly telling bit of business at the very end of the play. All the cast are celebrating – with the exception of a hooded and bound Margaret. The cast exits, all bar Margaret, who is left in the middle of the stage, saying plaintively into the silence, “Hello?”

And then the lights go down.

They understood their Shakespeare enough to stage it well and faithfully and hilariously — and also critique its attitudes at the same time. An excellent play.

Testimonial

 

My first research client seems to have been satisfied!

Breakfast on an ill-omened morning: a text-based adventure

You discover the milk is dead only after you’ve made your porridge with it

– abandon the porridge with curdled milk

In the fridge, there is
a protein bar
cheddar cheese
apple juice.

– open the cheddar cheese

The cheddar cheese smells like feet. Two different colours of mold decorate its surface. Eat the cheddar cheese?

– no

In the fridge, there is
a protein bar
cheddar cheese
apple juice.

– open the apple juice.

The apple juice fizzes slightly as it opens. Drink the apple juice?

– yes

The apple juice is fizzy. The apple juice has become cider. The cider is tasty, but it is not a morning drink. Continue drinking the apple juice?

– no

In the fridge, there is

a protein bar
cheddar cheese
apple juice.

– open the protein bar.

It is a mint chocolate flavoured protein bar. There is nothing wrong with it, except that it is a protein bar. Eat the protein bar?

– yes

The protein bar is breakfast.

Strange saints.

Everything I know about Saint Ijanel comes from Frances Weller’s 1978 book, Saint Ijanel: A Forgotten Holy Woman of Early Christianity. I think she’s kind of fascinating, so I want to share her with you.

 

The first mention of Saint Ijanel comes from a late sixth century ostracon from Edessa, shortly before the Muslim conquest. Her name in the Greek alphabet is rendered   Ιδζανηλη, and we find here didomai tei osioei Idzanelei, “I give to holy Ijanel” – but what’s given isn’t specified.

 

Ijanel’s name obviously derives from Armenian. It’s form of the Armenian verb to arise, and it seems possible that Ijanel the saint is a composite figure, around whom several stories — some plausible, some occurring in the lives of other saints — accreted over the course of time. While there are occasional mentions of Ijanel — in Greek as Aghia Idzanela or Izanele or Idzaneleia — as asides in other manuscripts, or once as a church in Armenian records, she is far from well known.

 

The earliest literary mention of Ijanel comes from a 9th century collection of sayings, the Apophthegmata of Armenian Saints. (Where we’re also informed in an aside that fragments from the spear of her martyrdom are miraculous relics, whose efficacy the author has seen with his own eyes.) By the 10th century it is clear her popularity is increasing, with an anonymous Greek hagiography, the Life of Saint Ijanel, in Byzantine circulation. This survives in substantial fragments, including an epitome translated into Arabic, and includes an invocation similar to the Irish litany of Saint Patrick:

 

“Holy Saint Ijanel, let me arise and go forth by day without hindrance. Holy Saint Ijanel, let me arise and go forth by night without fear. Let me rise up into battle with good courage. In peace, let me arise into wisdom and understanding. Let me rise up against tyranny with justice in my heart. Let me rise up in the morning. Let me rise up at noon. Let me rise up at the going-down of the sun. Holy Saint Ijanel, guard me and guide me until the last day, when all shall arise into glory.”

 

The author of this Life of Saint Ijanel mentions an “Emperor Constans” contemporary with Ijanel, but otherwise has — as far as can be told from the fragmentary text — very little concern with chronology. (And even this mention of Constans is not much help, since there were at least three emperors by that name.) In some ways, this hagiographical life is extremely subversive. Ijanel is – unusually for holy women – not a holy virgin, but a married woman who follows her husband to war, where she has a miraculous encounter with the angel Gabriel and receives a call to spread the gospel among the women “of the land of the unbelievers.”

 

The surviving text does not preserve what happened to her husband, but several stories — an encounter with an amorous nobleman in which Ijanel is miraculously saved when she calls on God and he “caused the land to rise up against him;” a village that Ijanel convinces to convert by miraculously causing a church to be raised overnight; another village where Ijanel is preserved from being burned alive because she calls on God to cause the waters of the nearby river to rise up, and they do; an encounter with a king who oppresses his people with heavy taxation in which Ijanel’s prayers cause “the stones of his chamber to rise up around him” — are preserved in entertaining detail. So too is a story of Ijanel healing a woman with broken legs, who got up and walked.

 

Confusingly, the Arabic manuscript epitome of the Life preserves a different account of her martyrdom to the Greek text. In the Greek text, Ijanel is faced with an unbelieving king who commands her death by impalement; in the Arabic epitome, she is — bizarrely — suspended by hooks from the walls of a city, but rescued by the apparition of an angel, who causes her to be bodily translated into heaven.

 

There also exists a short 12th-century Armenian Life, which includes elements of the Greek one, but returns to the spear mentioned in the Apophthegmata for Ijanel’s martyrdom. Or rather, spears: pierced clean through by one, she rises up and continues to engage in theological debate with the king who means to murder her. Pierced by a second, she gets up again and keeps talking. Only when she’s run through with a third spear does the king finally succeed in making her stop. The writer adds, in what may be a humorous aside playing on the Armenian derivation of Ijanel’s name, that those who wish to rise up (arise, get up, raise things up) should pray to Ijanel to aid them.

 

After the Turkish conquest of Byzantium, evidence for the continuing veneration of Ijanel disappears. Apart from one intriguing snippet, a footnote to her story: in 1773, a French traveller in Turkey, a doctor and naturalist by the name of Alexandre De La Boutière, recorded that he stayed in a small Christian village in Ottoman Armenia, where he was shown the relics of a saint in a gold-chased lead casket: the fingerbones of Saint Ijanel, which were said to have miraculous healing powers and also to move on the anniversary of her martyrdom, which De La Boutière said his hosts told him was the same as the Feast of the Dormition of Mary.

 

There you go.

Crusader Kings II: Queen of Oman

I recently started a new game of CRUSADER KINGS II, and since I’ve been enjoying Django Wexler’s write-up of his, I thought I’d do my own.

But unlike Django, I’m a cheating cheater who cheats.

Meet Karima Jamalid, a Levantine Karaite Shaykhah in the lower Arabian peninsula. There are no Levantine Karaites in the Arabian peninsula, you say! I say, I CHEATED.

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Thanks to the Ruler Designer Unlocked mod, Karima is a Strong Genius, Brawny and Shrewd, a Sayyid, poet gardener scholar mystic and so on, the healthiest woman on earth and so fertile that she only has to look at a man to fall pregnant.

Case in point: Shaykhah Karima of Dhofar produced a daughter almost exactly nine months after her first marriage:

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I also cheated my way into 50000 troops and a few thousand bits of gold. Just to get Karima started.

Karima is a vassal of the Azd Umanid Emirate, so her first cunning plan is to start a faction to weaken her liege’s power.

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Our second daughter is a genius. That’s useful!

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A bout of Slow Fever shortly after her second daughter’s birth results in Karima’s court physician cutting out her eye. It works! Cure! Now she’s one-eyed and badass… and still very fertile.

Several years pass. Karima forges a claim on Jask, on the other side of the Persian Gulf, and adds it to her desmesne. She has many children by many different fathers – some of whom she even married.

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Karima eventually declares independence, and after her former liege dies, claims another county, this time on the very tip of the Arabian peninsula.

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She gives Jask to her eldest daughter’s husband, and institutes elective monarchy, nominating her genius daughter Nastaran as her heir. A claim on Berbera and two quick Holy Wars later, Emira Karima is sitting pretty on a pretty piece of real estate.

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It’s stressful being a ruler. Next step, conquer the Arwadids and swear fealty to Harun al-Rashid, the Abbasid caliph, to stop him gobbling us up…

Where Do We Go From Here?

D Franklin’s post-Women’s-Marches post  (Women’s March: Where Next?) has reminded me that I meant to write my own post about Where We Are and What We Do Now.

I’m Irish, so American authoritarianism and the inauguration of a racist, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, transphobic, queerphobic, Islamophobic, xenophobic, hateful, science-denying, world-wrecking bigot as President of the United States of America? That’s not something that I can do much about, practically speaking. (Neither is the UK’s determination on self-immolation through Brexit.)

But it’s a hell of a wake-up call for local civic engagement.

So, What Do We Do Now, from an Irish perspective?

First, take a deep breath

Twitter is a firehose of information, most of it from the USA, much of it accompanied by anxious commentary, catastrophising, and urgency that frequently approaches — and sometimes spills over into — panic. Panic is exhausting, and will leave you with very little energy for meaningful action. Ration your exposure to things that inspire you to anxiety and panic, rather than inspiring you to act.

For information, sign up for mailing lists from organisations like some of these:

Friends of the Earth Ireland is one reliable place to get information and action items for environmental matters, while the Irish Wildlife Trust has a quarterly newsletter. For the right to choose, the Abortion Rights Campaign has monthly open meetings and sends regular updates. The Irish Refugee Council sends occasional updates, while the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland updates via its Facebook page. Amnesty International’s Irish branch will update you on local opportunities for activism. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties wants you to print out and post in a form for membership, but it, too, will update you on the issues. TENI, the Transgender Equality Network Ireland, will keep you up to date on trans and nonbinary issues.

There are more organisations, but these are the ones I know will actually provide updates and Things For You To Do.

Speaking of Things For You To Do – this is a second piece of advice on What To Do Now. If you aren’t already familiar with your TDs and county councilors, now is the time to get familiar with them: sign up for their newsletters, check out their Facebook feeds, know what their parties are and what they stand for. Email them and ask them which way they’re voting on issues that affect you.

The website for the Houses of the Oireachtas, oireachtas.ie, is a great resource. Not only does it tell you who your TDs are, and their official emails, but you can find the order papers – that is, the published order of business, what the Dáil and the Seanad will actually be doing, for each day in the week – here, on Tuesday every week that the Houses are in session.

You can also find the Weekly Schedule – the timeline of when things will happen – here.

You can find transcripts of the proceedings from the Houses and from the committee meetings here.

And if you want to watch or listen to the proceedings – say you’ve spotted something in the Weekly Schedule and you want to know in real-time whether your TDs are arguing your corner – you can do that from here.

Also, if you want to call and leave a message by TELEPHONY with your local TDs, you can ask for their office through the Oireachtas switchboard, the number for which you can find on the Oireachtas contact page.

Your local county council has a webpage. It lists your local councilors and their official contact details. It should also have a “Service Delivery Plan” or something similarly titled, which tells you what your local council has planned for you and your area. At a local level? This is information that will be useful for you to know, if you want to lobby for change.


This is what I’m doing:

  • I’m volunteering with the Abortion Rights Campaign and going to meetings.
  • There’s a weekly check on my to-do list for “write TDs about $issue,” where the issue changes by week. Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill, Anti-Fracking Bill, homelessness, ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, accessible public transport, the Moneypoint coal-fueled power plant, water, refugees, ending the Direct Provision system: I don’t want my TDs to get bored.
  • Every so often I ask them to ask a question of the Minister for something: if they do, and tell me about it (which only one has so far, three cheers for Clare Daly TD), I put it aside to think of how to ask more questions from there.
  • I’m getting familiar with what my local county council actually does, and what I might be able to lobby my councilors about with some hope of them acting in useful ways.
  • I’ve started an LGBTQ+ bookclub at my local library, the first meeting of which is to happen this month. Because building community remains important.
  • I’m investigating other avenues for local action, community- and capacity-building: it might be possible to start local monthly “coffee evenings” to bring together people on issues like lobbying for climate action or lobbying for accessibility issues (particularly with regard to public transport), but that will require a bit more knowledge and context than I have right now.
  • I’m keeping an eye out for other opportunities to volunteer in useful ways, and to throw my shoulder behind other people’s wheels.

Small acts. Local connections. Discrete things that you can do. Start small, build capacity. Build connections. Do the thing in front of you. Do what you can with what you’ve got.

(I am terrified about doing some of this, by the way: I’m insecure about my competence to start with, and interacting with humans is terrifying. But, as the great Carrie Fisher said: “Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action.“)

In Ireland, the next local elections for the county councils are scheduled for 2019: we have two years to start building the capacity to make local change.

 

Hugo Nominations 2017: thoughts part one

Hugo nominations are open for the 2017 Worldcon in Helsinki. So I’m thinking that you all could, if you really wanted to, nominate me for Best Fan Writer. (I’d really like another shiny rocket nominee pin.)

 But that’s not why I’m writing this post. (I wasn’t really on fire last year, and I know it.) I’m writing because there was a lot of excellent work published in 2016, and I want to share my thoughts about what I’m — probably — nominating. This post is for the prose fiction categories: I’ll probably make another later for the rest.

Novel:

1. Yoon Ha Lee, NINEFOX GAMBIT. Solaris/Rebellion/Abaddon.

A glittering, compelling and brutal science fiction novel, with an ongoing thematic argument about free will, conformism, and the cost of empire. Everyone should read it. Brilliant in several respects.

2. Foz Meadows, AN ACCIDENT OF STARS. Angry Robot.

A portal fantasy of a different hue. With consequences, and found family. When Saffron Coulter stumbles through a hole between worlds, she’s not a chosen one, or a hero, or anything other than a girl who ends up in the middle of things she doesn’t understand, and tries to survive them. While making new friends and enemies along the way. It’s a fabulous novel, one of my favourite things.

3. Hillary Monahan, SNAKE EYES. Solaris/Rebellion/Abaddon.

 The most extraordinary fun gruesome touching urban fantasy novel that I’ve read in years. A thriller, a story of family, and a novel about monsters: it’s utterly great.

4. Nisi Shawl, EVERFAIR. Tor.

 A brilliant alternate history of the Congo, liberally dashed with myth and a touch of magic. Deeply invested in interrogating people and systems of power, small compromises and hypocrisies and larger ones, it is a sweeping novel of nation-building and relationships.

Possible contenders for the final slot: Gladstone and Smith et al, THE WITCH WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD (Serial Box); Palmer, TOO LIKE THE LIGHTNING (Tor) — but I’m not convinced the first half of a duology that closes no arcs should hit the awards — Isabel Yap’s HURRICANE HEELS (Booksmugglers Publishing) if it qualifies; No Award.

Novella

 All my favourite novellas are out of Tor.com, and Laurie Penny’s Everything Belongs to the Future, Cassandra Khaw’s Hammers on Bone, and Marie Brennan’s Cold-Forged Flame are basically my top three. EDITED: I though Kai Ashante Wilson’s The Taste of Honey was novel-length but I was wrong, so IT IS NOW NUMBER ONE.

I should get Kij Johnson’s The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe read in time to consider it for addition to the list.

Novelette

 Fran Wilde’s The Jewel and Her Lapidary (Tor.com).

All the novelettes in Isabel Yap’s Hurricane Heels – dammit, don’t make me pick just one.

SL Huang’s The Little Homo Sapiens Scientist (Booksmugglers Publishing).

Meredith Debonnaire’s “The Life and Times of Angel Evans.” (Booksmugglers Publishing).

 

 Short Story

Alyssa Wong’s “A Fistful of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers” (Tor.com)

Aliette de Bodard’s “Lullaby for a Lost World” (Tor.com)

But mostly I don’t read short stories. Recommend me some?

What A Year

Well, people. It’s been a year.

Not a particularly good one for me, even leaving international politics aside. (Although it’s fairly impossible to leave international politics aside right now, between the rump nationalism of Brexit and the regressive fascism-in-prospect of Trumplandia: looking either east or west from Ireland, the immediate view seems gloomy.) You may have noticed a certain lack of my blogging presence on these here tubes. I got a job, you see.

Ordinarily, that’d be good news. Unfortunately, it turns out that the job and I were fairly well unsuited to each other: I’m apparently not made for the kind of government work I found myself doing. In early October, I had my worst bout of suicidal ideation in about ten years. Combined with improbable amounts of fatigue, exhaustion, and continuing anxiety – I tried, I swear, so many prescription drugs. It took two months, but I recovered enough to return to work – long enough to give my notice.

So that was last week.

The events of the past while have made clear to me just how very little time there is to waste. I want to do work I’m good at and that I (at least for the most part) enjoy – and I want to advocate for the causes I believe in, which I could not do in the civil service job, which as a condition of employment forbade anything that could be construed as partisan political activity. So! You’ll probably be hearing a little bit more from me on Irish politics, the importance of green energy, climate change mitigation, #repealthe8th, social housing, ending Direct Provision, welcoming refugees, combating racism, building better public transport, and so on, as I harangue my local TDs (that’s the equivalent of an MP, but in Irish) and try to figure out where I can throw my weight in with political activism locally.

In the next while, I should be reactivating (under somewhat different terms) my Patreon page, writing more reviews for Locus and Tor.com, figuring out whether I have a theme for 2017 for the Sleeps With Monsters column, and looking at the practicalities of setting up a freelance biz in editorial consulting/proofreading. (I have mad skillz… but not necessarily in self-promotion.)

That is, I think, all the news that’s fit to print.

News, views, disillusions

I have finished my third week at a RealJob. The paycheque is nice, but I woke up this morning sick as a dog. Ah, well. It could be worse.

There’s a lot of news to catch up on. In my case, the most exciting piece is that, along with Mahvesh Murad, I’ll be editing Speculative Fiction 2016:

Call for Submissions: What You Need to Know

The Speculative Fiction series is a not-for-profit publication. All net proceeds will be going to charity.
The anthology seeks non-fiction reviews and essays (“works”) specific to some aspect of Speculative Fiction (science fiction, fantasy, horror, and everything and anything that falls under the broad genre umbrella), including but not limited to: books, movies, tv shows, games, comics, conventions, genre trends, and so on. No short stories or original fiction, please.
The works MUST have been originally published online during the calendar year 2016.
Any pieces chosen for the publication will be paid a flat fee of $10 per work (in lieu of payment, contributors may choose to donate their fee to charity in their name).
Nominations are accepted for works published by anyone online. (This includes bloggers, friends, bloggers who are friends, authors who blog, bloggers who are authors, alien life forms, cats, etc…)
People may submit their own work or someone else’s.
People may submit as many works as they like. (There is NO limit on submissions!)
Submitted works ideally should be between 800 and 1500 words (but that’s not mandatory, we may consider longer and shorter pieces).
While submitted works can be from anywhere in the world, although we do need an English translation for consideration.
Submissions are open through December 31 2016.

Submit your nominations here. Deadline is 31 December 2016.


There are some links hanging out in my tabs:

The Church’s Lingering Shadows On Sex Work In Ireland.

Jane Austen to Cassandra.

Lesbians of 1916 are the Rising’s “hidden history.”

Carrie Fisher interviews Daisy Ridley.

Wonder Woman, Amazons, armour and history: the best thing on Tumblr.

Poem: “Questions to Ask Yourself Before Giving Up.”

Database of Public Monuments in Roman Greece. Lovely searchable database.

Doctoratus in Philosophia

Yesterday I attended the commencements ceremony for my Ph.D. I wore a waistcoat and bowtie.

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The Ph.D. robes are red and yellow silk, and very swish. I had a great day, for the most part. My mother and my academic supervisor both attended the ceremony, and I had dinner with them and some other people, and then cocktails. TWO WHOLE COCKTAILS.

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There is a downside to attending a formal ceremony in gender-noncomforming formal garb, though. Perhaps more than one.

Ph.D. graduands must line up and process in to the Public Theatre. The line is alphabetical by last name, and a person goes down the line with a clipboard checking that one is in the right place. This exchange occurred when that person — by appearance a woman — got to me:

“Elizabeth Bourke?” said they.

“Yes,” I said.

“Nooooo,” they said.

“Yes,” said I.

“Nooo – Oh,” they said, and wandered off further down the line, causing the person next to me to remark, in commiserating fashion: “I expect you get that a lot.”

During the ceremony itself, when the pro-chancellor went to hand me the parchment, he said, “Mr. Bourke, congratulations -” and the professor sitting next to him pointed out his error, since the name on the paper was Elizabeth – “oh, I’m sorry. Ms. Bourke, congratulations.” Mic’d live to the whole hall.

It would’ve taken a lot more than that to put a damper on my enjoyment of the day, but, y’know, I could’ve lived without either. Although being contradicted when I answered to my own name was extremely irritating.

Still. I am DR. BOURKE now. For good. No one can take it back.

Long overdue update!

Before anything else, there’s a new post about The 100 over at Tor.com.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve caught up on the second season of The 100, the post-apocalyptic murder-fest television show of our time. Somewhere around halfway through, and definitely by episode 2.12, “Rubicon,” I started having a vague niggling itch: it was reminding me of Xena: Warrior Princess. “But that’s not right,” I said to myself. “They’re completely different: tonally, stylistically, structurally, in all ways. Have you been sniffing glue, self? Just because people are bringing Xena back is no reason to have it on the brain!”


I’ve been silent here for quite a while. February was A Month, friends, full of Interesting Life Things All Happening Close Together. (I joined a social club, went back to rockclimbing, had some developments happen that might change the shape of my life for at least the rest of the year. Etc.)

I haven’t been blogging because I haven’t been reading: reading for an award jury (the Clarke Award, which I’m not really supposed to talk about much?) has about killed my ability to not hate fiction.

It’s not so much fun taking about books when you read the first three pages and just hate everything, even if it has obvious merits.

I’ll probably be continuing quiet here for the foreseeable future, with the odd update when I have something new over at Tor.com or somewhere else online.

In the meantime, I entertained myself over the weekend by watching THE SHANNARA CHRONICLES and tweeting about it. Here are some of those tweets:

In conclusion, only watch that show for a drinking game.

Linkpost!

From “The Journal”: “Britain to return 1916 banner seized as war trophy.”

[T]he Na Fianna Eireann banner which was seized from Countess Markievicz’s home by the British army as a war trophy will be returned to the Irish State for the 1916 centenary.

 

From “Fusion”: “Hiring managers are less likely to call an LGBT woman back.”

After sending out 1,600 resumes to apply for more than 800 jobs, the study found that women with an “LGBT indicator” on their resume (represented in the study as work experience at an LGBT advocacy group) were about 30% less likely to receive a call-back than women who didn’t have those indicators.

 

From Al Jazeera English: “Hip Hop Hijabis.”

By inhabiting the intersection between cultures whose values on the surface seem so conflicting, Poetic Pilgrimage challenge a plethora of dearly held convictions from all sides of the cultural spectrum. Many Western feminists believe that promoting women’s rights from within an Islamic framework is a futile exercise, while in the eyes of some Muslims, female musicians are hell-bound.

 

From Foz Meadows: “PSA to people who menstruate.”

If anyone tries to make a dumbass sexist joke about your being more [insert stereotypically negative feminine quality here] while on your period, you can tell them that actually, menstruation raises testosterone levels, not oestrogen. (Telling them to go fuck themselves with an angry cactus can also be therapeutic.)

 

From Max Gladstone at Tor.com: “On Alan Rickman, Loss, and Mourning Our Heroes.”

No one among us exists as a thing in herself, alone and complete as she appears from the outside. We’re all collages of art and memory and friendship and family, struggling and striving together. Places and people we’ve encountered endure within us. And when those places or people pass away in the outside world, within us something changes too. When we mourn, we trace the shape and magnitude of that change. We find, sometimes—often—to our surprise, the depths at which we were formed by others. There’s little logic to the architecture of our souls; we like to think blood matters, and time, but sometimes a glance or a touch, a half smile on a movie screen, a cover song, a piece of lightning bolt makeup, a Christmas card, an afternoon’s conversation, a book read once in childhood, can be a pillar on which the roof of us depends.

 

This article at Buzzfeed will make PERFECT sense to a lot of people I know:

Click on the image for the link to the article, “13 charts that will make perfect sense to people with imposter syndrome.”

 

From the Economist: “Referendum madness.”

ONE dodgy referendum lost Ukraine Crimea. Another threatens to lose it the European Union. On April 6th the Dutch public will vote on the “association agreement” the EU signed with Ukraine in 2014. The deal cements trade and political links with one of the EU’s most important neighbours; the prospect of losing it under Russian pressure triggered Ukraine’s Maidan revolution. But last summer a group of Dutch mischief-makers, hunting for a Eurosceptic cause they could place on the ballot under a new “citizens’ initiative” law, noticed that parliament had just approved the deal. Worse luck for the Ukrainians.

 

And finally, Foz Meadows again, this time on: “UPROOTED: Abuse & Ragequitting.”

Tonight, I started reading Naomi Novik’s UPROOTED. It was a novel about which I’d heard only good things from people I trust; a novel I was hoping would break me out of my current reading slump, wherein I’ve started a great many books, but am struggling to finish any of them. To borrow the parlance of memes, cannot tell if too depressed to read or just fed up with exclusionary, derivative bullshit – or, alternatively, if reading so much fanfiction has utterly wrecked my internal yardstick for length, structure and content.

 

And that’s all the news that’s fit to print…

Well, no, it isn’t, but I have to keep some links for next week. *g*

Passion

I’ve been thinking about passion. (Not in the erotic or romantic sense: minds out of the gutter, people! More on the line of intellectual passion.)

I had an interview today for a job in an area that is, at best, tangentially connected with my degree (either of them). One of the interviewers said to me, “It’s obvious you have a lot of passion for your degree subject,” or words to that effect. And I might be reading too much into that, but the implication seemed to be that passion was a finite thing, that having one compelling interest meant having less capacity to be passionate about other things.

I’m passionate about ancient history because that’s where I ended up. But I ended up with a specialism there as much by accident of circumstance as design: it was in front of me, and there would always be more to learn.

I like knowing things, understanding how they fit together, making sense of people and themes – I’ve been known to spend hours learning how volcanoes work, or geomorphology, or the genesis of the space programme, or 19th century medical science; about medieval China and India’s North-Western Frontier under the Raj, about Dutch and Portuguese mercantile colonialism in South-East Asia and its effect on European market capitalism; about social relations in modern Malaysia and the anthropology of taste and class in 20th-century France. About economic relations between states and between people – economists rarely make it legible to ordinary people, but once you relate the numbers to relationships of people and interests and power, it becomes fascinating.

I like language. I like knowing how it works, the varied language groups with their different grammatical structures and the way different languages encode different ways of viewing and interacting with the world in their own ways. I like science, the way new developments have different ramifications for human life and experience and potential, for individuals and communities.

My capacity for passion is no more limited than my capacity for love, or grief. It’s limited only by time and resources. There is very little with a human element I find boring, for crying out loud.

(Data-entry is boring. But you have to do the boring shit to get to the good parts: if a PhD taught me anything, it was that as the prime law. Also the importance of organising your logistics in advance.)

I know there are people who are only interested in one or two things, and the rest of the world can go hang. But I don’t know many people personally of whom this is true. The capacity for passion – for enthusiasm – for taking delight in the topic at hand – seems to be a key component of geekiness. We constrain our passions according to how much time there is in a day, and the ratio of effort:reward, but still.

…I guess I might be passionate about the capacity for passion. Who’d have thought?

Linkpost!

Here are some things that have been hanging out in my tabs:

 

Max Gladstone, “A Year of Reading Differently.”

 “Why the hell,” sez I on the train, gasping, exhilarated, overcome with awe, “did it take me this long to read To the Lighthouse?”  “The Fire Next Time is every bit as brilliant as people have been telling me for a decade, and it’s only like eighty pages long.  Why did I not—”  Midnight’s Children!  Fucking Midnight’s Children, which is a groundbreaking, critically acclaimed literary novel about the X-Men, what was I waiting for.  I knew I loved Woolf.  I loved Satanic Verses.  So why did I read [stack of mediocre novels] before these?

… Oh.

Oh.

oh.

One exists, of course, within a karmically determined universe.  One’s choices, even at the most minute level, are shaped by overlapping fields of power arising from the movements and injustices of history.  If we’re not conscious in the way we engage with those fields and manipulate them, we perpetuate them.  But it’s scary to see that face to face, to recognize its presence in one’s migration of one’s library.  (I owned all the books I mentioned in that paragraph already, and had for at least five years.  I just hadn’t read them.)

 

Max again, with a magnificently geeky piece on Star Wars: The Force Awakens: “The Force Awakens RPG Madness.”

I think part of my excitement stems from how open the universe feels.  A lot of the setting power of the Original Trilogy rises from its focus on the Imperial Periphery.  We see the edges of power, where the Empire projects force and interesting stuff happens, where the destinies of nations hinge on a single battle or moral choice, rather than the metropole, which corners more slowly if at all.  The prequel trilogy’s political ambitions tangled its story with the engines of power that drive the Galaxy Far, Far Away—and limited its characters to maneuvering within those engines, rather than “taking the first step into a wider world.”

 

A friend of mine has written a glorious CYOA fanfic for Sunless Sea (I don’t even play Sunless Sea! I haven’t played Fallen London in years!) which you should all go look at: “The Virulent.”

I can’t remember who passed me the link to this piece on Dorothy Arzner, a director in the early years of Hollywood, but it makes for fascinating reading: “Dorothy Arzner, Hidden Star Maker of Hollywood’s Golden Age.”

Type the name “Dorothy Arzner” into Netflix’s search bar and you’ll get zero results.

It’s an odd outcome, considering Arzner, a prolific golden age film director, has 16 feature films—among the most of any woman in Hollywood, ever. She gave Katharine Hepburn one of her first starring roles. She navigated the transition from silent films to talkies with panache, inventing the boom microphone in the process. And yet, she is largely unknown today.

 

And finally: the best picture on the internet:

  Is this not the most magnificent red carpet image ever?

Happy 2016!

How long has it been since I updated? Not since 24th November last, which is quite a while. In my defence, I spent December rather thoroughly distracted by trying not to die of the Chest Infection From Hell.

(No, really. From hell. I couldn’t stand up or talk for a week. And then I could only shuffle slowly for another two. It was the nineteenth before I was capable of going for even a short walk.)

And then there were the Mandatory Togetherness Times, which worked out unusually well this year. And, of course, the Briefly Returned Emigrés got together with those of us still living here for a bang-up evening of gossip. And the occasional exchange of gifts.

My friends, apparently, know me as well as love me.

But I have goals! And plans for this space – for example, to be more regularly entertaining in the coming year.

We shall see how well I succeed…

Books in brief: Alexander, Hunter, Stark

There is nothing I can do about the news. So I may as well talk about books.

Mardi Alexander, Spirits of the Dance. Bold Strokes Books, 2015. E-ARC courtesy of the publisher.

Lesbian romance. Better than many of its ilk. Set in Australia, on a cattle ranch/in a small town, starring a leg-amputee ex-military officer and a young local with an abusive father. Lots of horses. Extended description of attempted (hetero) rape. (And when the barn goes on fire, I asked myself – homophobic foul play, or just Australian summer?) Somewhat off-balance in terms of pacing and structure, but nonetheless rather satisfying.

Cari Hunter, Cold to the Touch. Bold Strokes Books, 2015. E-ARC courtesy of the publisher.

Crime novel set somewhere around about Sheffield, as best I can tell. Starring lesbians, because Bold Strokes Books. It’s a pretty solid crime novel: with this and her last novel, Hunter has taken a step up in terms of structure, pacing and tension. There is murder, winter, relationship drama, and occasionally kissing. It is a very enjoyable novel.

Nell Stark, The Princess and the Prix. Bold Strokes Books, 2015. E-ARC courtesy of the publisher.

Lesbian princess romance is apparently a subgenre of its own now? Formula 1 driver meets Monagasque princess! Hijinks ensue! Batshit, and yet a ridiculous amount of (ridiculous) fun.

Gender and Genderqueerness

If you’re here for the talking about books, this post is going to bore you. Fair warning.

I spent part of the weekend at Octocon, the Irish National Science Fiction Convention. (It was supposed to be the whole weekend, but I got home on Saturday night, slept 15 hours straight, and woke up still unsure which way was down. I think no one would have got any sense out of me on Sunday.) I participated in four panels, and had an immense amount of fun with all of them – even the last, “Genderqueerness as a Marker of the Other,” about which I was perhaps excessively anxious.

That panel was very interesting. It also brought me to a realisation about my own attitude to gender, my own relationship to gender identity. It is really weird talking about gender, and gender identities, because I can’t escape the feeling that other people experience gender-as-a-property very differently than I do.

Because for me, gender is not an inherent property of selfhood. It doesn’t inhere in the body, but neither does it attach to any other part of being. It’s a social construct, not an objective entity; a performance whose rules change over time and from context to context. When I think of myself, I only think of gendering myself when it involves interacting with a social context that requires a kind of performance, that genders bodies. Gender is play. Gender is roleplay. (Performing femininity – now that’s a role whose rules I’ve never been able to figure out.)

I speak of myself as a woman because the social context is unlikely to ever open up to me the role of man. (I don’t particularly want to perform manhood, either.) And it’s still easier to chafe at the confines of woman-as-role than to define myself as different to either. I don’t want to have to define myself in gendered terms – even if those gendered terms are “I reject your categories entirely!” – in order to live as myself.

(Let us do away with all the fraught baggage attached to gendered roles! Be rid of it completely! Let us tear down the patriarchy and default to singular-they.)

I don’t know how common this view of gender is, or selfhood. I don’t know how odd this makes me, or if it’s more ordinary than I know. It’s something the panel brought me to articulate to myself about how I see the world and my place in it, though.

Recently arrived review copies

Note to self: do not photograph books with reddish covers against the reddish rug. This is bad strategy.

Seven? Seven.

Seven? Seven.

Courtesy of DAW Books (which reminds me that I must get in touch with the nice person at DAW Books who has been sending me things to thank them, and perhaps make one or two more specific requests), Jacey Bedford’s CROSSWAYS and Phyllis Ames’ FROZEN IN AMBER.

Courtesy of Angry Robot Books, Alyc Helms’ THE DRAGONS OF HEAVEN, Danielle L. Jensen’s HIDDEN HUNTRESS, Ishbelle Bee’s THE CURIOUS TALE OF THE BUTTERFLY GIRL, and Susan Murray’s THE WATERBORNE BLADE and WATERBORNE EXILE.

Another year older and still not dead!

Today I’m twenty-nine years old. Another year older and still not dead!

It has been my habit on my birthday, the last couple of years, to send messages to people telling them how much I appreciate their presence in my life. This year, I think, there are too many people to make that entirely practical – and I don’t know all their emails. So I’m just going to write here what I want to say.

Dear friends,

It’s been a tricky year, since this time in 2014. Without you, I wouldn’t be here. Without you, I wouldn’t have a PhD all but in hand. Without you, my life would be so much poorer and smaller, and contain so much less joy. I am honoured by your acquaintance, and your friendship, your hospitalities and your support: your presence in my life is a gift and a blessing, and it humbles me.

Thank you. Never stop being awesome.

Books in brief: David W. Anthony, THE HORSE, THE WHEEL, AND LANGUAGE

David W. Anthony, The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped The Modern World. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ, 2007.

This is a lot less populist than its title implies. It is a solid and engaging work of scholarly synthesis that brings together evidence from historical linguistics and archaeological excavation to investigate the geographic origins of Proto-Indo-European, and the spread of Indo-European languages, and what kind of material culture Indo-European culture groups might have had.

The first section concentrates more on the historical linguistics, and is a lot more accessible than the latter sections, which requires one to keep track of the names of a lot of archaeologically distinct culture-groups, type-sites, and other sites. And pottery, and bones, and a gloriously detailed treatment of prehistoric steppe cultures. I liked it a lot, but it’s not my period or area and even though I’m used to keeping track of these kinds of details in other contexts, I did find it quite hard to follow in places. (This might be, in part, because I was reading it a little at a time over a long period, and not making notes.)

It’s a lengthy tome, and detailed, and more readable than this sort of detailed survey often is. I enjoyed it, and I recommend it if you have an interest in prehistoric steppe cultures.