Friday, March 27, 2009

Science Fiction Conventions

I have my schedule for the year pretty well set. I'm attending four cons in the Twin Cities area -- Minicon, Convergence, Diversacon and Gaylaxicon. I missed Marscon, because I wasn't paying attention and was still getting over penumonia. Most likely I won't go to Arcana, since it is devoted to horror. I am not a horror writer or fan.

There will be six cons in the Twin Cities this year. I can remember when there was only Minicon. Of course, Minicon -- at its height -- was as big as all six put together.

I forgot Fourth Street Fantasy Con. I'm not planning to attend.

Right now, it looks at if I'll be going to two out-of-town conventions: Wiscon, the gonzo feminist con in Madison, and Think Galacticon, a new convention in Chicago which looks very promising.

I'd like to go to Worldcon, which is in Montreal and has the wonderful Elisabeth Vonarburg as a guest. But I suspect I won't be able to manage that.


The Red River is due to crest at 43 feet, which is about the height of dikes built in Fargo. People are still working in the snow and sub-freezing weather; and people are evacuating.

I like Fargo. Patrick knows a lot of people up there and is crazy about the town. He'd like to live there. He's stuck in the Twin Cities while the legislature is in session, and is feeling bad about not going up to help. Given his age and back and joint problems, he would not be able to sandbag. But there are doubtless other jobs.

For those who may not know, there are two reasons for Red River flooding. The river runs north to Hudson Bay. This means the lower reaches are still frozen when the upper reaches begin to fill with spring melt. So the water can't simply run down the river into the bay.

The other problem is the Red River Valley, which is the bed of the old glacial Lake Agassiz. The river is tiny when it isn't flooding, with low banks, surrounded by an absolutely flat plain until you reach the low hills that are the lake's old shore.

(Patrick and I were at the science fiction conference in Grand Forks years ago. As a treat, the conference arranged an excursion on the Red River. The boat -- a little pretend river steamboat -- had to find a wide spot in the Red River to turn around. In most places the river wasn't wide enough, or deep enough, for the boat to make its turn. This is the same river that was 19 miles wide back in 1997.)

So you have a river that is going to back up, if there's enough water in it, running through a region with no high ground.

Because Fargo got through the last big flood in pretty good shape, it doesn't have the dikes that were built in Grand Forks and Winnipeg.

North Dakota is the only state in the union that is losing population, and they welcome a fair number of refugees. In the last big flood, there were stories about Kurdish refugees who had ended in Grand Forks. This time, I read a story about an Iraqi family in Fargo. The father was helping with the sandbagging. He said he wasn't that disturbed about having to deal with a flood. The people in North Dakota were nice. He liked helping them. "We have troubles back in Iraq too."

Somehow, that sounded like the perfect North Dakota response.

Patrick said volunteers had come from as far away as Florida to help with the sandbagging.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

RaceFail Again

I posted the following at Timmi Duchamp's blog:
I was hoping Timmi would pick up this discussion. Here are a couple of posts I added to Oyceter's Live Journal. I figured once I found out about RaceFail, I should prove that at least one silver-haired, old-time SF writer was paying attention.

(The anti-racist bloggers felt the old-time. established SF readers and writers were being too quiet. Most of us had not yet heard of the controversy.)

I found out about RaceFail this evening, which is one reason I haven't commented before. I've read the comments here, but I am not sure I want to go through all the posts on all the journals. It does not sound pleasant. It also sounds like a good Wiscon topic. I don't know if it's possible to get it onto programming this year. If not, a group discussion in conference or hotel room would be worth doing.

The questions asked here -- where does fandom and the SF community stand on racism and other kinds of prejudice -- what should people who care about these issues do -- would make a good starting point.

If you want a con other than Wiscon, you might consider Diversacon,which happens in the Twin Cities in August. It bills itself as multicultural and multimedia, and it is deliberately affirmative action. GoHs have included Nalo Hopkinson, Sharee Thomas, Andrea Hairston, and the Laotian American poet and horror fan Brian Thao Worra.


I went to my first science fiction convention in 1961. There were 4 or 5 males for every female. Everyone was white. The sf community was as homophobic as the rest of America.

The first fan of color I met was Samuel R. Delany at a New York con sometime in the middle or late 1960s. He had a huge afro and a gold ring in one ear, and he stood out.

The sf community does change, although slowly. It changes because people insist that it change. It's hard work, and I can understand why people might figure they have better uses for their time. But women came into fandom during the late 1960s and 70s and insisted that their issues were important and needed to be addressed. GLBT people did the same a bit later. As the country changes, and more people of color come into the science fiction community, they will have to make the same arguments and have the same fights.

As Frederick Douglass said, "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."

This is true even of the petty centers of power in fandom.


I heard a new bird song this morning -- not entirely new, but something I hadn't heard all winter. I looked around and finally saw a house finch in a tree.

The temp was in the 40s today. When I got home, sunlight was pouring into my apartment, and it felt as if the heat was on, which it wasn't.

The snow is gone, except for a few grey lumps.

I finished the first draft of my Brer Rabbit story.

Friday, March 13, 2009

RaceFail and "Writing the Other" # 2A

Mary Anne Mohanraj was done two awesome essays on race, fandom and fiction. They are posted on John Scalzi's blog.

Go there at once and read them!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

And This I Wrote This Morning

Thanks to daylight savings, I am once again rising in the dark. There's fresh snow outside and a full moon in the sky.

This is a Post I Wrote Last Night

I bought a Herman Miller scooter, which is a small computer table, and set it up in the living room next to Patrick's Adirondack chair. I've always kind of wondered why we had an Adirondack chair in the living room. Turns out it's very comfortable, if you are having back trouble. I spent most of February with pneumonia and a nasty backache, and I sat in the chair a lot. While I was sick, I played computer solitaire. I wasn't up to anything else.

Tonight, I have been sitting in the chair and working on my Brer Rabbit story. I would like it to be done in time for the Wyrdsmiths meeting this Thursday. I don't think I'm going to make it, though I'm close to the end.

Anyway, a nice way to spend the evening.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

RaceFail and "Writing the Other"

There is a heated discussion about racism in science fiction on Live Journal at the moment. It's too complex to describe here. The best overview I have found is by Oyseter on Ambling Along the Aqueduct.

rydra wong is keeping a list of links to RaceFail posts at her Live Journal.

As far as I can tell, the discussion/argument/fight began with a discussion of "writing the other." In SF this does not mean writing about aliens, but writing about humans who are not white and American and probably male and straight.

The best essays on this I have found are by Mary Anna Mohanraj and (via a link from Mary Anne) at Deepad's Journal .

Deepad's post is especially stunning. It's a description of what it's like to read SF while living in a non-western culture and then wanting to write SF and F. How do you begin a fantasy in a tavern, a classic fantasy starting place, if India does not have taverns?

How are you true to yourself and your experiences, while being true to the genre?

Now, there is much in fantasy that is not in the typical American city: dragons, barbarian warriors, wizards, trolls. (Sounds like Ankh Morpork, doesn't it? Which I have always assumed is London.) None the less, the typical fantasy landscape and culture is western.

So, that is one question. How do non-westerners, non-Euro-Americans write F & SF? And how do we make F & SF a place that is open to people of every culture, when the field at present is so white American?

We need to make SF more open. If it does not change, it will end by being a weird white enclave, like gated suburbs or the Aryan Nation.

The other question is -- how do I, a white American, write about other people and cultures? When is something cultural appropriation?

Having asked the question, I am now going back to writing a story about how Brer Rabbit gets trapped in a human body and ends as a black auto worker in Detroit...

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Antidote du Jour

This is from Naked Capitalism, an economics blog. Every day the blogger Yves Smith posts an "Antidote du Jour" among the dire economic news and grim analysis. It is always an animal photo, usually adorable. I find this particular photo especially wonderful.

My brother and I had a babysitter who worked at the University of Minnesota medical labs; and she used to take us to the labs to play with the animals. As a result, I have positive childhood memories of rats. The mice were too small to play with. The rabbits were kind of boring. The monkeys were either mean or sad. But the rats were wonderful.

A cute picture of a rat makes my heart melt.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

A Sign of the Times

This was on the java jacket I got with my coffee this morning:

Like losing your job isn't enough. I just checked out the price of COBRA and thought I'd swallow my tongue, but heard that there's

It's an ad for medical insurance. I think it fits well into our new economy. Though I would check into the government's new COBRA co-pay first.

Monday, March 02, 2009

More About Bill

The photo and the following quote are from the Star Tribune article on Bill Holm:
Holm was a graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter and went to grad school at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

"I noticed him before I met him," said Rezmerski, a writer who lives in Mankato. "I had just arrived in town and was walking down the main street, and along the sidewalk comes this huge red-haired guy. He didn't have the beard in those days; he actually looked quite boyish, so tall, and wearing a bright red jacket and carrying a bottle of bourbon under one arm. I thought, 'Oh, interesting local characters here.'

"And then the next day I went to the first meeting for new graduate assistants, and there he was."

Per the article, he collapsed in the Sioux Falls airport after returning from Arizona and died from complications of pneumonia. His wife said he probably hadn't noticed that he was sick. He didn't pay attention to how his body felt. Always take repiratory illnesses seriously.

I didn't know him well, but John Rezmerski always kept me up to date with what Bill was doing and thinking. I will miss him a lot.