Sunday, December 29, 2013

Monday, December 23, 2013

A-List Stars

Phil Plait's Best Astronomy and Space Pictures of 2013.

Christmas Justice

Alan Turing has received a posthumous pardon. Finally a quantum, if a small one, of justice for him and all the other men whose lives were ruined by unjust laws.  

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Lord of the Rings Is Not Just Climactic Battles Anymore

The climate of Middle-Earth as derived from Tolkien's maps. (Also, much love to The Guardian's pun title. Perfection.)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Best Science Fiction of 2013

It's the time of year of  "Best of..." lists, and here is a list of the best science fiction books. I read five of those books, BTW, and wholeheartedly agree with their inclusion. Three of them were reviewed in Bourgeois Book Club. Clearly, I have great taste.

(Via Tor)

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Pets in Antiquity

Dogs, fish, monkeys, the ancients were as pet-obsessed as we are!

Skimpy Sunday

(Via Bill in Exile [NSFW]; Roids and Rants [NSFW])

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Diversity and Review

As the annual "Year in Books" posts begin to take form in my head, and with it the realization that once again my VIDA score for this year will be rather less than ideal, this conversation about reviewing and gender is of great interest.

I honestly do take into consideration the author's background (gender, mostly, because the issue of pseudonyms aside, it's usually hard to tell sans author pictures and in-depth bios things like race or sexuality) when considering both what books to read and what to review on Bourgeois Book Club. I'm a white male, but by virtue of being gay not quite the "default," as well as being what I hope is a strong feminist and believer in racial justice, I like to think I'm committed to diversity and allowing all people's voices be heard. I'm far, far from perfect, however. We live in the society we live in, and it can't help but influence us, often unconsciously. The fact is that despite being aware of the issue, I continue to read and review male authors to a disproportionate degree.

Because of the usual lack of time resources, I've become incredibly picky in what I buy. Using various "Upcoming Releases" sources, especially that of, I go into bookstores with a list of books already filtered and vetted. (Of course, I look at more than just the books on my list, but in general it determines what I'm looking for.) If a book doesn't grab me in the first chapter in the bookstore, it just doesn't get picked up. Is this a problem with my tastes? Am I too narrow in my reading habits and unwilling to range beyond them? Are the compilers of upcoming release posts too narrow in their own reporting? Is it a failure of the book industry that fewer women are published in my favored genres than men? Probably a whole lot of "all of the above," all of which is directly related to the persistence of systemic sexism in our society.

As for reviewing: writing Bourgeois Book Club is an ultimately extremely rewarding, but, frankly, torturous, activity. As I've stressed before, what I write about is not all I read, or even all I read that I enjoy, but only what I, for one reason or another, feel I have something particularly to talk about. Even then it sometimes takes me literal months between reading a book and the review being posted (due to perfectionism, preference to review several books in one post). Therefore, due to the previously mentioned "all of the above" filters that seems to skew my reading towards the male side, my reviews are weighted towards male authors.

This topic has particular resonance for me at the moment because I've recently noticed that  I've grown disenchanted with urban fantasy/paranormal romance, a genre that is actually female author-dominated. The genre has developed various tropes and forms that I simply do not care for, particularly in regards to romance and sex, that I can't help but fear are my gender-biases showing. Writers such as Laurell K. Hamilton, Kim Harrison, and Karen Chance, who I once enthusiastically read, have fallen by my wayside as their series have continued, and developed in these "womanly" ways. It makes me disappointed in myself.

In the end, I like what I like, and since it's not goat snuff scat porn involving trafficked children, there's nothing "wrong" with it. And I admit I'm weak, and lazy, and shy of venturing from my comfort zones. Therefore, I'm not sure how much, despite all this soul-searching and occasional writing, I'm going to change my reading habits, certainly not to the gender-swapping extreme of those in the Tor post. And that's "fine," but it isn't anything to be proud of, either. When the Revolution comes, I'm not sure how much mercy "But I wrote some blog posts and felt really bad about it!" will get me, but I suppose it's better than nothing. Not very much, though. I can only hope I can somehow at least contribute to the conversation, try to do better, and perhaps spark others to look at and evaluate their own reading habits.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Friday, November 15, 2013

Next Will Be "237 Nerd Sex Positions"

Yesterday, nerds, even divine ones, were the worst; today, they're totally dreamy! They must have read the book overnight.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Nice Guy of Olympus

I don't know whether this is entirely fair to Hephaestus, since there are so few myths really about him that we don't get as much psychological insight (for lack of a better term) into him as with some of the other gods. For instance, we don't actually know if he loved Aphrodite because we're not told if he loved her or not. That's not "Hephaestus's" "fault." (But then there are those golden statue-women he made to help around the forge... Sex-bots?)

In any case, it's an interesting angle on Greek mythology and modern issues, and I'm all for that!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Bourgeois Book Club

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

For millennia the Radch have dominated human space through the use of "ancillaries," AIs comprised of both ships and thousands of human bodies stripped of their individuality and used as totally loyal and fully synchronized soldiers. Using these implacable troops, bound by an endlessly syncretic religion and moral code concerned with purity, dominated by oligarchic Houses under the command of the clone-hive of the Lord of the Radch Anaander Mianaai, the Radch is an utterly ruthless expansionist empire fueled by the forcible annexation and cultural hegemonization of surrounding worlds.

But when cracks begin to appear in the seemingly immutable Radchaai system -- mutinies, an end to annexations, treaties with alien species -- and the mind of the Lord itself seems divided, a minor incident on a newly-conquered world spirals unexpectedly out of control, leaving one ancillary of the ship Justice of Toren the sole survivor. Thrust into sudden individuality, "Breq of the Gerentate" is left with nothing but a thirst for vengeance against the Lord and empire that betrayed it. 

I learned in college that, according to some French feminist theorists, we will never have a truly equal society until we have a truly gender-neutral language. The languages we speak now are based on and shot through with theories and assumptions of patriarchy that in turn shape our very minds in sexist ways. For instance, the use of the male pronoun as the "default" or some languages use of different endings for males and females of the same profession. Whether or not that theory is true, I don't know, but this novel highlights the assumptions we make about gender without even realizing it. Breq has difficulty discerning gender in the humans around her, and her native language of Radchaai does not distinguish gender in any way in its grammar or vocabulary. Therefore, her default pronoun is "she/her." This leads the mind to imagine every character is female, even when it is sometimes revealed that they are in fact male. It is a surprisingly disconcerting mind-bend. I couldn't help but envision an all-female cast, even though I knew that several of them were male. How easy it is to play tricks on our perceptions through such minor inversions of language convention. It was quite the eye-opener for me. I've read about the phenomenon in nonfiction, but to see it in action in narrative form is something else entirely.

Beyond the thought-provoking language, Ancillary Justice is just an excellent read, with solid world-building and great action. According to the interview with the author that appears at the end of the book, it's the first in a "loose trilogy," and I am eagerly looking forward to the next installment.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sunday, November 03, 2013