Pixel Scroll 11/26/17 I Can’t Believe I Pixeled In Front Of The Dean Of Science Fiction

(1) PRONOUNS AND ROCKET STACK RANK. Bogi Takács wrote a series of tweets criticizing Greg Hullender’s statements in reviews about the usage of pronouns for non-binary characters in stories reviewed at Rocket Stack Rank, adding many screenshots of examples. Takács also pointed out the reviews are given a certain implied authority because Rocket Stack Rank is linked from the official The Hugo Awards site as a “Third Party Recommendation Site.”

Get into the thread here:

The Hugo connection is illustrated here:

The comments on the Hugo linkage include one from Patrick Nielsen Hayden:

For those who are unfamiliar, here is Bogi Takács’ brief bio from Patreon:

I’m Bogi Takács, a Hungarian Jewish agender trans person (e/em/eir/emself or singular they pronouns) currently living in the US as a resident alien. I write speculative fiction and poetry – I have had work published in various professional venues like Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Apex and Strange Horizons.

Other comments on RSR, Hullender’s views, and their impact included —

(2) COCO CASHES IN. On opening weekend in the U.S., “Pixar’s ‘Coco’ feasts on ‘Justice League’ at box office”.

Pixar’s “Coco” sang its way to the fourth best Thanksgiving weekend ever with an estimated $71.2 million over the five-day weekend, a total that easily toppled Warner Bros.’ “Justice League.”

“Coco” rode strong reviews and an A-plus CinemaScore from audiences to the top spot at the domestic box office. According to studio estimates Sunday, it grossed $49 million from Friday to Sunday. Centered on the Mexican holiday Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), “Coco” has already set box office records in Mexico, where it has made $53.4 million in three weeks.

(3) BSFA AWARDS. The British Science Fiction Association invites members to “Nominate for the BSFA Awards” between now and December 31:

The BSFA awards are presented annually by the British Science Fiction Association, based on a vote of BSFA members and – in recent years – members of the British national science fiction convention Eastercon. They are fan awards that not only seek to honour the most worthy examples in each category, but to promote the genre of science fiction, and get people reading, talking about and enjoying all that contemporary science fiction has to offer.

…Nominations are open until 31st December. This will be the first round. Then from 1st January to 30th January the opportunity for members to vote for their shortlist from the collated suggestions will be provided. This will be the second round.

To nominate in the first round, fill in the form here: http://tinyurl.com/BSFA2017nominations

or email your nominations to awards@bsfa.co.uk. A form and process for the second round will be made available on this page after the first round has closed.

(4) FLORIDA EXPANDS RIGHT TO CHALLENGE TEXTBOOKS. The Associated Press has the story: “New Florida law expected to increase textbook challenges”.

A parent in Florida is citing profanity and violence in trying to get the local school to ban Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” — itself a cautionary tale on the banning of books. Another wants to remove Walter Dean Myers’ “Bad Boy” for using the word “penis” and a homophobic slur.

Elsewhere in Florida, some say global warming and evolution are a hoax and should not be taught in textbooks unopposed. Others say their local school’s textbooks shortchange Islam’s role in the world, while their opponents argue it’s the danger posed by Muslim terrorists that’s underexposed.

Under a bill passed by the Florida Legislature this year, any district resident — regardless of whether they have a child in school — can now challenge material as pornographic, biased, inaccurate or a violation of state law and get a hearing before an outside mediator.

The mediator advises the local school board, whose decision is final. Previously, challenges could only be made by parents to the school or district. There was also no mediator and fewer mandates. Districts must now also post online a list of all new books and material by grade level to make monitoring easier.

(5) THANKSGIVING AT THE ISS. A day like any other day, only turkey was there: “Happy Space Thanksgiving: How the Food-Stuffed Holiday Went Orbital”.

One Thanksgiving party will literally look down upon them all, as the crew of the International Space Station (ISS) continues its longstanding tradition of observing the festive harvest holiday from orbit. This year’s menu includes irradiated smoked turkey, rehydratable cornbread dressing, green beans and mushrooms, broccoli au gratin, mashed potatoes, candied yams, sweet tea, and thermostabilized cherry blueberry cobbler for dessert.

Space.com says “Thanksgiving in Space Means Turkey, Work and Football for Astronauts”:

“They don’t actually have the day off on Thursday,” NASA spokesman Dan Huot told Space.com in an email, adding that the crew has “a lot of cargo-unloading tasks to complete” with the Cygnus spacecraft that arrived last Tuesday (Nov. 14). However, the astronauts will at least have Friday off, Huot said.

Along with over 7,700 lbs. (3,500 kilograms) of supplies and science equipment, the Cygnus cargo craft delivered the crew their Thanksgiving dinner and some other tasty treats, like pizza and ice cream. Holiday gifts and care packages from the astronauts’ families also shipped with Cygnus. With that trove of holiday goodies just waiting to be unpacked, the astronauts have plenty of incentives for working through the holiday

(6) AFTER THE STUFFING. Here’s how it looks from the Batcave:

(7) ANTHOLOGY APPEARANCE. Cora Buhlert highlights her recently-published story: “New science fiction anthology with a new “In Love and War” story available: The Guardian, edited by Alasdair Shaw”.

The Guardian includes eleven science fiction stories by international authors, all featuring guardians of some kind. My own story in the anthology, “Baptism of Fire” is a prequel story to my In Love and War space opera romance series, so all you fans of Anjali and Mikhail (come on, I know there are some of you out there) rejoice.

(8) ALAS, POOR ALANTIM. Motherboard invites you to “Watch a Robot Eulogize Its ‘Brother’ at Moscow’s New Cemetery for Dead Machines”; video at the link.

The sad news is that this Alantim could not be revived after the attack. But the silver lining is that its death inspired Olga Budnik, a spokesperson for the Muscovite tech hub Phystechpark, to create the world’s first dedicated robot cemetery.

“Alantim was a really good robot,” Budnik told me in an email. “It was supportive, always polite, always happy to see you. You know, like a pet. And [the cemetery] was an idea to bury it like a pet. Not disassemble or carry it to the trash. To say good-bye.”

On October 31, Alantim’s Earthly remains were placed at the Phystechpark cemetery site next to a box for collecting other dead robots. He was eulogized by another Alantim, who honored his dearly departed “brother” for being “very useful to your people and Russian science,” according to a Russian-to-English translation of the ceremony as seen at the top of this article.

(9) COURT IS IN SESSION. Lauren Davis briefs io9 readers about “Six Strange Cases of Science Fiction Trademarks”.

J.R.R. Tolkien
Ownership Claimed by: The J.R.R. Tolkien Estate

The J.R.R. Tolkien Estate owns numerous trademarks based on Tolkien’s works, as well as registered trademarks on Tolkien’s name. Last year, a fellow who sold buttons reading “While you were reading Tolkien, I was watching Evangelion” through Zazzle was contacted by Zazzle, who said that they were removing the buttons at the Tolkien Estate’s request. Later, Zazzle restored the buttons, saying that they had been removed erroneously due to a miscommunication, but it shined a light on the estate’s ownership of Tolkien’s name and left lots of folks wondering where the line was. When are you invoking Tolkien the brand and when are you referring to Tolkien the man?

The estate also owns the right to publicity for Tolkien’s name and image, which they used to challenge the publication of Steve Hillard’s historical fiction book, Mirkwood: A Novel About JRR Tolkien. Eventually Hillard and the estate settled, with Hillard agreeing to make some changes to the book’s appearance to make it look less like one of Tolkien’s novels. A Mirkwood movie is in the works.

Bonus Round: Like any other trademark holder, the Tolkien Estate has to be vigilant about enforcing their trademarks. But some are stranger than others. In 2004, the estate issued a cease and desist letter to the owner of the domain Shiremail.com, claiming the estate owned the trademark on the word “shire.” The word “shire,” which means an administrative subdivision, such as a county, has been around since the 12th century.

(10) BOARDMAN OBIT. Perdita Boardman (1931-2017) died November 26 after a long illness. Mark Blackman writes:

Perdita was best-known in Northeast Fandom for hosting Lunarians meetings and running the Lunacon Con Suite for many years, and with her husband, John, hosting a monthly fannish gathering called First Saturday. For their long service, she and John were voted Honorary Members of the Lunarians.

Her younger daughter, Deirdre, shared the following on Facebook:

I wanted to share with family (& friends) about the passing of my mom this morning peacefully in her sleep.

Many know she has been suffering from severe dementia well over a decade now, but she became very sick about two weeks ago and moved to hospice care.

Born Dec 27, 1931 in Baxter Springs, KS she grew up outside of Detroit, bounced around a bit living in Chicago, San Francisco, Virginia and finally settling in New York City about 1960, first in Manhattan, then Park Slope and finally her well known home in Flatbush. She spent her final years in Frederick, MD to be closer to Karina & I.

She has loved science fiction & fantasy (as well as mysteries & regency romances) novels since the 50s and was an avid reader.

She was a talented artist, master seamstress and knitted the most amazing sweaters!

I could go on all.

One of her funny quotes from the other day after being annoyed by nurses prodding her was, “I am Perdita Ann Lilly Nelson Boardman and I am going to sleep”

Good night mom.

(11) LE GUIN AS CRITIC. Ursula K. Le Guin reviews You Should Come With Me Now by M John Harrison – stories “for the uncommon reader” in The Guardian:

One of these brilliantly told stories, “The Walls”, begins: “A man, let’s call him D, is seen digging his way out through the wall of his cell. To help in this project, D has only the thinnest and least reliable tools: two dessert spoons (one stainless steel, one electro-plated nickel silver); half of a pair of curved nail scissors; some domestic knives lacking handles; and so on. The cell wall, constructed from grey, squarish cinder blocks about a foot on a side has been carelessly mortared and laid without much attention to detail. But this lack of artifice makes no difference; none of the knives is long enough to reach the last half inch of mortar at the back of each block, and the more D uses them the shorter they get. Each block must, eventually, be loosened and removed by hand, a task which can take several months, and which leaves him exhausted.”

A close attention to detail characterises this story and contributes much to its effectiveness, and yet, like the careless mortaring of the cinder blocks, it makes no difference in the end. Why and how does D have two dessert spoons? What does he live on during these months (which become years)? Who brings it to his cell? We have nothing with which to fill in unstated facts, as we’re used to doing when reading fiction, because the story is consistent only in pulling the carpet out from under its own feet. It is a play of imagination in a void. Its power is that of a dream, in this case a bad one, the kind that keeps repeating itself with variations in an endless loop of frustration.

This holds for all the stories collected in You Should Come With Me Now. Some of them are surrealistic, some are spoofs, some are fables; many are funny, all are inventive; none entirely escapes the loop….

(12) 25 WAYS TO RUB YOUR LAMP. A Yahoo! Movies piece, “Disney’s ‘Aladdin’: 25 magical fun facts for 25th anniversary”, has lots of trivia about Aladdin, including how Patrick Stewart nearly played Jafar but couldn’t get out of his Star Trek: The Next Generation commitments and how there is a hidden Aladdin reference in Hamilton.

  1. The animators crafted the Genie around Williams’s rapid-fire improv. Co-director Ron Musker said Williams did 25 takes for the movie’s first scene, “and they were all different.” The entertainer would stick to the script for the first few takes, “then he would riff.” Musker said Williams recorded 16 hours’ worth of material, forcing the creative team to piece the character together “like a ransom note.”

(13) COMICS SECTION.

  • Mike Kennedy quit groaning at the Tolkien pun long enough to send a link to today’s Brevity.

(14) HE’S DEAD ED. The Smithsonian covers nine theories about “The (Still) Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe” (2014 article.)

On September 27 [1849] —almost a week earlier—Poe had left Richmond, Virginia bound for Philadelphia to edit a collection of poems for Mrs. St. Leon Loud, a minor figure in American poetry at the time. When Walker found Poe in delirious disarray outside of the polling place, it was the first anyone had heard or seen of the poet since his departure from Richmond. Poe never made it to Philadelphia to attend to his editing business. Nor did he ever make it back to New York, where he had been living, to escort his aunt back to Richmond for his impending wedding. Poe was never to leave Baltimore, where he launched his career in the early 19th- century, again—and in the four days between Walker finding Poe outside the public house and Poe’s death on October 7, he never regained enough consciousness to explain how he had come to be found, in soiled clothes not his own, incoherent on the streets. Instead, Poe spent his final days wavering between fits of delirium, gripped by visual hallucinations. The night before his death, according to his attending physician Dr. John J. Moran, Poe repeatedly called out for “Reynolds”—a figure who, to this day, remains a mystery.

(15) MISSING FROM THE MARQUEE. The project loses some name cachet as “Adam Nimoy Steps Down From Directing Deep Space Nine Doc, Release Pushed Back” – story at TrekMovie.com.

On Saturday there were two announcements from What We Left Behind, the upcoming crowd-funded Star Trek: Deep Space Nine documentary.  Adam Nimoy, while remaining involved, will no longer be directing, and the release date  is likely being pushed back.

Nimoy stepping back

In a statement posted on Facebook Saturday, Adam Nimoy revealed he was stepping down as director for What We left Behind, but he will continue to be a producer and advisor on the doc. The reason given for the change was that he needed more time to focus on other responsibilities. From the statement:

“The real creative force behind the DS9 documentary was well in place before I came along. I was happy to lend them support and guidance to push the project along so that it could be completed in time for the 25th anniversary of the show which is coming up in 2018. I wish the creative team all good things as they Boldly Go!”

(16) WINDOW ON THE UNIVERSE. Motherboard’s article about the “Casting of a Giant Mirror for the First Extremely Large Telescope” has a good infographic comparing the relative sizes of all the existing large telescopes, as well.

(17) HARD SF. Down these mean starlanes a man must go…. A Twitter conversation begins here:

(18) COMPLETE HORSESHOE. Here’s another statistic I never knew anyone kept – the record for world’s largest horseshoe sculpture: “Camberley artist’s dragon ‘could obliterate’ world record”.

Mr Poolman’s sculpture is described as “not just a dragon but a tableau”, telling the story of a village bringing a dragon from the sky with arrows and stones.

“It’s partly collapsed,” Mr Powell said, “brought to the ground, in its death throes.”

Tens of thousands of old horseshoes were provided by farriers in Hampshire – some of them were used whole and others cut into smaller pieces.

“A complete horseshoe is quite limiting in what it can be made into,” Mr Poolman said.

(19) NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER. Brandon Sanderson isn’t just on the list, he’s #1 —

(20) UNDER THE TREE. We continue our cavalcade of holiday presents with –

(21) MULTITASKING. It’s a Jedi thing: “Elle UK Interviews Daisy Ridley While She Builds A Lego Millennium Falcon”.

She’s talented and beautiful and she plays Luke Skywalker’s new padawan, Rey, in one of the most anticipated “Star Wars” films of all time, but now comes the true test: Can Daisy Ridley build the Millennium Falcon with Legos?

Elle UK interviewed the “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” actress, asking her things like when was the last time she cried, what color her lightsaber would be, and if her father still prefers “Star Trek” (ouch) ? all while she’s tasked with building the Millennium Falcon out of Legos.

(22) VIDEO OF THE DAY. Happiness by Steve Cutts is a cartoon on Vimeo about rats trying to survive the rat race as commuters, consumers, and at work. I’m having trouble getting it to embed, so here’s the link — https://vimeo.com/groups/motion/videos/244405542

[Thanks to JJ, John King Tarpinian, DMS, Carl Slaughter, Cat Eldridge, Martin Morse Wooster, Mark Blackman, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories, Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Andrew.]

99 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 11/26/17 I Can’t Believe I Pixeled In Front Of The Dean Of Science Fiction

  1. (1) Really good documentation of a bias from Greg Hullender. Personally, I find pronoun use to be a spot of high tension in the ways language and identity are constructed.

    (4) This is only tangential, but to me it seems that there is an implication that kids should only get to know what their betters tell them, ie they should never be allowed to surpass their parents or teachers. It seems to be common within home-schooling circles too. (Personally, I would like my daughter to surpass me in knowledge.)

    (11) Le Guin is that rare breed of critic who also is a top-notch author and makes even abstract discussions and qualities of the stories approachable and sensible.

    (17) Only good worthwhile discussion of hard SF EVAR! (Alex Acks’ “I think I’ll call it a 1 If I can scratch it with my fingernail and find the impossible economics beneath” is a gem.)

  2. (9) *sigh* It was established at the time that the Tolkien Estate had nothing whatever to do with the Zazzle takedown notice. Zazzle did that all on its own, employing boilerplate language claiming that the intellectual property owner objected, even though they never actually contacted the owner about this. All the denunciations of the Tolkien Estate and of Christopher Tolkien personally for this were totally misplaced, but except for the above link I never saw any subsequent apologies for this rush to the isle of conclusions.

    I believe the Hilliard novel was a different situation. Here the objection was to the packaging and advertising which made the book look authorized. Once that was changed, the novel went ahead and was published. I believe that was what happened, though I’m open to correction on this one.

  3. If a reviewer repeatedly states that nonbinary pronouns in a story are an automatic -1 star, that reviewer does NOT get to claim to be a trans ally.

    Did Greg actually state that? It seems a tad barking.

  4. @NickPheas Yes. There are multiple screenshot examples in the Twitter thread Mike links above, starting from the third tweet down, where it is explicitly stated that a reader should add or subtract 1 star from a review if they love/hate third person singular. I doubt it’s written in some explicit RSR review policy but it clearly happens regularly enough to be to be treated as a trend.

    On a wider note, the really fundamental thing to me here is that this isn’t some detached, debatable linguistic issue for a lot of people; it’s their identity. Treating it as the former and then forcing people to defend their existence against the Chicago Manual of Style (or whatever other historical authority about grammar you want to cite) is horrible behaviour, and at the very least precludes someone from writing an “objective” review site about SFF in 2017. (As if such a thing were possible at all).

    🙁

  5. “Did Greg actually state that? It seems a tad barking.”

    Agree on that one. There does not seem to be support for that one. Actually, some screenshots show almost the opposite.

    But here is my problem with some of the comments.

    “”The nonbinary element didn’t work for me. The pronouns are distracting and add nothing to the story, and Rho comes across as very male.”

    First, this implies that some type of behaviour is typically male and other typically female. Which is one of the things that is directly against nonbinary thinking. Second, as an observer taking the power to judge another person to decide what gender they should have, even when they reject it, is wrong. Thirdly, there is no reason why a person being nonbinary should add anything to the story. More than a person being male or female should add something.

    Now, I understand where Greg is coming from. I can also be thrown out of a story with a nonbinary protagonist. Just as I was the first time I read a fantasy book with a gay romance (a book not pandering to me!). This because I have to stop and think of possible implications of the nonbinary gender.

    But the more I read these kind of stories, the less I see any reason to stop for this. I do not have to judge someone if they should be seen as male or female. I do not have to think of impact on plot until I see impact on plot. And if no impact on plot, that is ok.

    I can understand having a line about this. But putting it as a con that a person is nonbinary? Not ok.

  6. I guess some people think in terms of Chekhov’s Homosexual.

    where it is explicitly stated that a reader should add or subtract 1 star from a review if they love/hate third person singular

    Third person singular though doesn’t strike me as being a non-binary thing, it’s more about an internal/external character viewpoint. “The secret agent covered his face with black gunk and then he started to sneak closer to the enemy base” vs “I took the black gunk Q-division had provided me with and applied it to my face before starting to sneak in towards the enemy base.”

  7. 1) Yeah. Greg doesn’t outwardly state a bias but shows it in a clear pattern, and the whole “add one star if you aren’t upset by pronouns” bit was a showing of the hand.

    I suspect that if this was Random B. Random’s blog, there would be less of a hullaballoo, but given its a previously Hugo-nominated blog (and one linked to on the Hugo site, as noted by PNH), a voice put forward as important saying it is especially impactful, in a negative way.

    Learning to read the more frequently encountered nonbinary works has been a challenge for me, but one I am trying to learn to do, and learning to accept and embrace pronouns, particles and other markers of gender identity of all kinds.

  8. @Nickpheas Sorry, that was an error on my part – the sentence should read “third person singular ‘they’ “. I was writing to a friend about third person limited vs. third person omniscient narrators just before that comment, so my technical circuits were clearly a getting bit scrambled…

  9. 1) On at least one of RSR’s reviews it says, underneath the two star rating:

    Add one star if you can tolerate heavy use of “singular they.”

  10. @ULTRAGOTHA

    1) On at least one of RSR’s reviews it says, underneath the two star rating:

    Add one star if you can tolerate heavy use of “singular they.”

    Yes, that one’s definitely a mistake. Thanks for pointing it out. However, the story in question, “World of the Three,” by Shweta Narayan, doesn’t actually contain any non-binary characters. The author chose to use singular “they” for clockwork automata.

  11. @Hampus
    Actually, the issue is that when I read a story I usually have very vivid pictures in my mind of the characters and the settings. Often these images turn out not to be based on anything concrete in the story. (E.g. why does he have a gold ring in his left ear?) For a lot of stories, I used to depend on that to tell me the gender of different characters, and that was obviously a mistake.

    So that’s where “Rho comes across as very male” is coming from. Not a great explanation, but it’s all I’ve got. I’m disappointed to see that’s actually in a 2017 review. After reading the feedback on “The Worldless,” by Indrapramit Das, I finally decided I just couldn’t trust those images, and I quit depending on them, but that’s more recent than I’d thought it was.

    Instead, now when I read a story on the Kindle, I make a mark in the text when I find something that indicates things like the name, age, race, gender, etc. of the protagonist, rather than just trusting my gut feeling.

  12. @Hampus Eckerman

    I can understand having a line about this. But putting it as a con that a person is nonbinary? Not ok.

    Almost missed this one. That’s definitely not what that was supposed to mean. Yikes! I can see how it’s hard to read it any other way, though. This is probably an issue of just getting in too big a hurry writing that particular review.

    An author can certainly choose to use the fact that LGBT people (or any other minority) face challenges that other people don’t face. Conflict is how you develop strong characters, for the most part. But there’s certainly no obligation for an author to make use of that. In SF in particular, it makes little sense to put today’s conflicts into a story set 1000 years in the future (for example). It would be a really sad commentary on humanity if we made no progress in those areas in that amount of time.

  13. Here’s a question I’d really like an answer for: Should we go through and fix all of these things? Regardless of any arguments, it’s clear that they’re creating an impression we don’t want to give. However, we also don’t want it to look like we’re trying to cover something up. My personal preference is to fix them.

    It’s also true, as JJ points out, that I took quite a while coming to terms with the non-binary phenomenon, largely because it just wasn’t part of activism during the 30 years I was involved with the movement. However, I’ve made a serious effort to educate myself on it, including chatting with non-binary people from a local trans support organization, readiing /r/nonbinary /r/transsexual /r/lgbt and /r/ainbow for a few months, etc. I still don’t believe I have a complete understanding, but I no longer have any problems with it.

    Except that I still can’t “flow” when reading any story with lots of “singular-definite they’s” in it. That may come with time, and it may not.

    So, going forward, since I already have a strategy for rating a story fairly (I think) despite the flow problem, I’ll keep using that, but there’s no reason to keep mentioning the “they” issue. (Unless I finally manage to read a whole novella like that; then I’ll brag about it.) 🙂 If I find I’m getting frustrated (e.g. 10,000 words into a 40,000-word novella), I’ll break it up and read some other things in-between.

    Other suggestions would be very weclome.

  14. Should we go through and fix all of these things? Regardless of any arguments, it’s clear that they’re creating an impression we don’t want to give. However, we also don’t want it to look like we’re trying to cover something up.

    Fix, but with a “this review was edited to avoid the impression of transphobia” or something like that. Perhaps reach out to Bogi and ask for their preferred way of expressing things? Though they may currently be too narked to want to engage.

  15. I do think the best would be to fix them. And if you think it would look as if you wanted to hide something, you can always add a note explaining why you changed them.

  16. Bogi’s pronouns are e/em/eir, just for future reference, in this thread and elsewhere.

    The problem here is a consistent pattern which has been defended in the past, and is now being admitted to as a mistake; but… I actually see no evidence of any change of heart or beliefs. As Greg notes himself, some of these transphobic elements are in reviews from earlier this year; see, for instance, Greg’s reviews of JY Yang’s novellas, which go so far as to conflate gender and genitalia (which requires something of a misreading of the actual book?); and surely whether singular they “breaks the flow” isn’t a marker of the quality of the TEXT, but of the READER, so stars shouldn’t be subtracted for it?

    That review, by the way? Less than two months old. Plus ca change, huh?

  17. “Bogi’s pronouns are e/em/eir, just for future reference, in this thread and elsewhere.”

    What does “eir” mean?

  18. I think it would be a lot of fun to have a discussion about the gender system in “The Black Tides of Heaven,” by JY Yang. I liked and recommended the story, but the author seems to have been unhappy with what I took from it, for reasons I don’t really understand. I don’t see anything there that could fairly be called transphobic, though.

  19. Hampus, “eir” is the possessive form of the pronoun. He/him/his, she/her/hers, e/em/eir.

    Eg. E picked up the book Partner had bought em, and opened it at eir bookmark.

  20. 11) I liked YSCWMN better than LeGuin did, though that doesn’t make her criticism less perceptive. It helps that I really like dry humour. The “flash fictions” are often very slight but I think they combined well with the longer stories, which might otherwise have been too much of the same kind of thing. (And it’s that sense of too much of the same kind of thing that stops me really enjoying his novels, though I approve of them.)

    Also, I will now never be able to listen to a sword enthusiast without wanting to call a hilt “the handle”.

  21. Greg, I’m going to go through your review line by line.

    *”Subtract one star if the singular-specific “they” breaks your suspension of disbelief”. Saying that the literal existence and identity of nonbinary people like myself and the author of the novella breaks your suspension of disbelief.

    *”Children are magically kept gender neutral until they choose a gender of their own free will, at which point different magic physically converts their bodies to match the gender they chose”. Sex isn’t gender, and gender neutral childhoods doesn’t mean genitalia-less childhoods. To suggest the two are the same is… well, transphobic! Also, the concern with the genitalia of children raised gender neutral? Welcome to transphobic tropes 101.

    *”Readers who can’t tolerate the use of “they” to refer to a specific person will struggle with the first 50% of the book”. This is the first con you list. Readers who can’t tolerate the actual identity of the author of the book, you mean? I’m certain pandering to their sensibilities as if they’re anything more than prejudice (whether linguistic or transphobic) twice in one review is totally fine…

    *”If children are neuter does that mean no penises and no vaginas at all?”. Gender neutral doesn’t mean without genitalia. Just to repeat myself, because you have. Any more than my being nonbinary means I have multiple sets of genitalia, or none, or changing.

    *”How does reproduction work in this world when Mother seems never to have been involved with a man and Akeha and Yongcheow discuss children but see no need for a woman?” Gender. Is. Not. Genitalia. I mean, I’m going to have to repeat this a lot, because you appear to have decided otherwise throughout this review. Gender. Is. Not. Genitalia.

    I mean other than the absolute lack of willingness to accept nonbinary people’s pronouns, and the complete insistence on genitalia as gender and gender neutrality meaning genitalialessness… nothing transphobic at all in this review from October, Greg!

  22. Oh, and I’ve just made the mistake of reading your comments on that review, Greg. Discussion of the singular indefinite they included this little gem from you:
    “What I like about “he or she” is that it explicitly mentions women. I don’t think you can include people by leaving them out”
    Totally not transphobic to say that he or she is completely inclusive, is it… No one could possibly be excluded by that. And yes, you did say that.

  23. (Bogi does also say that singular they is an acceptable alternate; noting not because I wish do disrespect eir wishes but only to say people using they for em are falling within eir stated preferences.)

  24. Greg Hullender on November 27, 2017 at 4:17 am said:

    Yes, that one’s definitely a mistake. Thanks for pointing it out. However, the story in question, “World of the Three,” by Shweta Narayan, doesn’t actually contain any non-binary characters. The author chose to use singular “they” for clockwork automata.

    Greg, the story contains non-binary characters because the author says they’re non-binary. Their pronoun is ‘they’ not ‘it’. You don’t get to gaslight us, the readers of your review, by stating they’re ‘it’. We can see ‘they’ right there in the story.

    Greg Hullender on November 27, 2017 at 6:00 am said:

    I think it would be a lot of fun to have a discussion about the gender system in “The Black Tides of Heaven,” by JY Yang. I liked and recommended the story, but the author seems to have been unhappy with what I took from it, for reasons I don’t really understand. I don’t see anything there that could fairly be called transphobic, though.

    I re-read through your review and also your responses in the comments. If you can’t see why trans and non-binary people would have hella problems with that then I recommend you take three big steps back, stop digging this hole, and listen. Also research. Do some reading. Think a lot.

  25. I’ve been around and at the edges of both Gender Studies and gay activism since the early 90s and my own understanding is constantly changing and updating. It always distresses me when I find myself on a side that’s stepping on feet and I try to figure out why so I can stop doing it.

    But part of that learning is from having it happen, and I admit this discussion is making me go back and reconsider some pronoun choices in a story in an unhappy way myself. Our understandings of and discussions of gender and sexuality are expanding and deepening in a way that I know I, when growing up bi in the very place where Stranger Things is sited, early 80s Indiana, would never ever have predicted.

    So – I think Greg and I are of a generation and perspectives that sometimes coincide, if not here, and I want to say – listening and participating in the discussion is sometimes hard when you’re the target, particularly when you’re poking your own beliefs and maybe finding stuff there you weren’t aware of – and I really appreciate that he’s here in this thread, speaking and listening.

    Greg, sometimes you can come off as a bit less sympathetic than you perhaps want to be, and yeah, maybe sit back and listen for a bit before jumping in again?

    I hope that doesn’t come off here as patronizing to anyone, that’s not my intent. Looking forward to the discussion. Cheryl Morgan and I did a class that touched on some of this lately and I learned TONS, so I’m going to go mail her about offering it again.

    oh jesus the time window is running out and I must stop tweaking sentence structure pray for my soul

  26. He may be using polite, conciliatory language, but I find it incredibly disingenuous for Greg to come and offer a bunch of excuses for prior posts (notably without an actual apology), and express regret that one misgendering review was published this year – then immediately link an even more recent review with more examples of the same behaviour (shoutout to @D Franklin above!) and claim he doesn’t think there is anything in it “that can fairly be called transphobic”. Sorry, but that doesn’t add up to someone genuinely listening and learning to me.

  27. Personally I am thrown out of stories that flagrantly violate physics with completely ridiculous nonsense such as faster than light travel. Einstein was right! And they keep proving it! Argh. Then I have to bribe the bouncer to let me back in and I try to appreciate the story on its own terms.

  28. I’m actually going to come back because there are some more unsubtly transphobic comments and reviews from Greg even limiting myself to the two JY Yang Tensorate posts. Thanks to Carl Engle-Laird for pointing me at the Red Threads review!

    So, another comment from Greg on his Black Threads review:
    *”It leaves me wondering why Yeongchow would bother with compression bandages, though. Or why Akeha wouldn’t offer to get that fixed for him.” Interesting assumptions about body and dysphoria made there! Especially in the context of knowing that Yeongchow had no interest in medical (magical) transition!

    *”If people had such an easy method to make body changes, you’d expect them to make more use of it and to have much lighter attitudes about it than we do”. Massive assumptions that one-time transition magic means ALL body changes are easy. With no basis whatsoever except ‘Obviously if transition is easy everything else has to be’.

    *”If the idea is that the society just doesn’t care about genitals, I think that’s silly. If nothing else, it has a big effect on what kind of sex it’s possible to have”. Are you kidding me? Society doesn’t care about genitals. That’s why trans women get misogyny and trans men, at least ones who ‘pass’, don’t. I mean. Society doesn’t know what anyone’s genitals are, only their presentation! This is BASIC STUFF, Greg!

    *”The big issue in our world is that surgery still cannot produce a satisfactory penis for a female-to-male transsexual person, hence the insistance that “gender has nothing to do with genitals.”” There is so much to unpack here. The big issue in our world is about trans women (they’re the ones under far more attack than any other trans group), so gender affirmation surgery for trans men is hardly the biggest issue. Furthermore, trans men (that’s the phrase you’re looking for, not FtM or female to male transsexual) do now have access to perfectly satisfactory penises. Perfectly satisfactory, nowadays; your information is dated and misleading in a transphobic way. Finally, not every trans person wants genital surgery, and that’s why gender aren’t genitals. I mean.

    And now, the ‘joy’ of Greg’s Red Threads review. EXTREMELY STRONG content warnings for transphobia and discussion of abuse.

    *”the story’s treatment of Rider makes them seem either not-quite-human or else not-quite-adult”. This is said of a nonbinary person. There is no way in which the story does this, unless using the singular they of a character is the problem, in which case HI TRANSPHOBIA.

    *”having sex with a person who uses “they” is like having sex with a child”. Because in one culture, people use ‘they’ until they have chosen a gender. The character who uses they is explicitly from a different culture with different understandings of gender. Having sex with a nonbinary person is, oddly enough, NOT PAEDOPHILIA.

    *”This feeling is exacerbated by sections of the story where Rider seems very childlike (e.g. when they cower in fear at Mokoya’s anger).” Rider is explicitly an abuse survivor. Apparently, the learned behaviours of survivors of abuse are childlike. At least according to Greg. And when the survivor is an enby.

    *”we learn that Rider actually did chose a gender and was really “she” not “they.” And this is where the gender ideas from our world intrude; Rider apparently rejected “her” chosen gender and went back to “they” for some reason that’s never disclosed”. Rider is “really” a woman, are they? No! Their identity is their business. They don’t identify as a woman therefore they are not “really” a woman. They stopped identifying as a woman because a) that option became available to them and b) they were not a woman, what more reason ought there to be? What, you want some trauma to make trans people trans? NOT HOW IT WORKS, GREG.

    *”(and with lots of stigma, given how one child refuses even to play with another who is too young to have chosen gender yet)” Because that’s about gender. Not about arbitrary age markers. I mean kids play across grades all the time, right? No? I guess this is just Greg’s transphobic assumptions then? Well!

    *”no one ever asks for explanations when Mokoya corrects them”. Oh no! People are polite and considerate and don’t assume they’re entitled to a discussion of another person’s identity! How worldbreaking! And you’re criticising JY for bringing in issues from our world? How adorably hypocritical, Greg.

    *”Her obsession with getting pronouns correct is also an import from our world; in her world there’s no reason why anyone would be bothered by misgendering errors”. You do realise that gender is a fundamental part of someone’s identity, right? That not respecting their gender is not respecting their identity, their personhood, their self? It’s not transphobia that makes us care about being misgendered, it’s that you’re mistaking our identity.

    *And of course there’s the obligatory ‘singular they throws me out it just isn’t good’ comment in there. Again, I remind you that the author of the novel, one of the characters in the novel, and your (un)humble correspondent here all use singular they pronouns. It’s who we are.

    But of course, Greg totally respects trans people. He’s totally on board with us. And in 30 years of queer activism and science fiction it’s only recently come to his attention that people identify as nonbinary, despite that occurring in a Marge Piercy novel 30 odd years ago and people identifying as nonbinary and using nonbinary pronouns since literally before I was born. Definitely a great excuse there, that we’re a new phenomenon, not a common transphobic talking point at all!

    Oh, and Cat? I know you’re trying to keep everyone happy, but it’s really not your place to tell trans people how to feel about transphobia or someone being transphobic. Please don’t. It’s not just patronising: it’s hurtful.

  29. Reading the Red Threads comments; If Greg thinks nobody gets uptight about getting their name wrong in this world, or about misgendering unless they’re trans or non-binary, he isn’t listening. Misnaming, especially names perceived as “exotic” by White North Americans, is a huge issue in many communities – but even I, an exemplar of North American white cis middle class privilege, regularly have to correct people about my name, and I do get uptight about it. And misgender a cis guy sometime to see real fragility. So “Correcting people” in that review is perceived as obsession because the correction is to the non-binary, but it sounds from the review like it’s correcting on the same level as a long-haired guy in our world correcting others when called “miss”.

  30. @Lenora Rose I really enjoyed them both! I seem to be unusual in that Red Threads excited me more than Black Tides (see the Novellapalooza comments for some grouching about the deliberate lack of suggested reading order, which might have affected my feelings about it), but both are easily among the top 2017 novellas I’ve read so far.

  31. Franklin D: I do appreciate your comment, it goes through everything that is wrong with Gregs comments, but do not agree that it is basic stuff. I would have been totally clueless about this six years ago before entering the kinky community. And most of my friends outside are still totally clueless.

    I tend to think of everything with regards to kink, gender or queer theory as advanced. Which is kind of sad.

  32. Hampus, there’s a difference of standards here, though; you a) aren’t claiming three DECADES of activism to your past, b) setting yourself out as a trans ally very publicly in response to criticism, c) setting yourself up as an objective and integral judge of the quality of fiction, or d) treated as an authority by key figures and organisations in our community.

    As far as I know, anyway.

    Also my existence and identity aren’t advanced, we’re regularly discussed across the media nowadays, there’s no excuse any more, ESPECIALLY if you want to publicly talk about books with us in!

  33. …these sound like books I want to read.

    Me too.

    It’s not unusual to find new (or reclaimed) usages a bit grating until you get used to them, but continuing to do so after the first few encounters is failing as a reader. To make your personal discomfort a basis for public criticism strikes me as, at best, shockingly rude. That’s before we get to the part about erasure, which goes far beyond rudeness.

    I get being old and stuck in your ways, because I am, but I have known trans people my entire adult life and non-binary folks for about half that long, and the only part that is even remotely new is the lovely explosion of chosen pronouns with which to enrich language.

  34. Meredith moment: The collection of the first three World of Tiers books by Philip Jose Farmer is currently $1.99.

  35. Pingback: A Brief Word on the Rocket Stink | Cheryl's Mewsings

  36. I’ll admit to being uncomfortable with non-binary pronouns.

    But here’s the thing, at least as I see it: This is a result of the fact that I am sixty years old, raised by parents who were older than average for a first child when I was born. I’m uncomfortable with non-binary pronouns because using them a)violates some of the rules of what I was taught was polite when addressing or talking about people, and b) involves new rules that I don’t yet fully understand.

    Seeing them used in fiction is helpful, in that it lets me see how they work. It gives me a chance to get used to the look and sound of them.

    And even though I’m not comfortable with them right now, I think they’re a step toward what will be a better world for another generation.

    When they are used in fiction, the most I want to know about them from a reviewer is that they’re there. I don’t want a reviewer setting me up to view them negatively in a story. I want to form my own reaction, on my own, while reading the story.

  37. Thanks to D Franklin and others, especially Lis, for the comments. They are very informative to someone who needs education in this area as much as I do.

    @ Greg
    I agree with Nick Pheas – update the objectionable stuff but make the updates and the reason for them easily visible.

    I’m sympathetic to people who find new usages grating. But in decades of copyediting I learned that usage changes and writers and the people who package or comment on their work must learn to deal with it.
    I was delighted to give up “he contains she”, because that’s untrue, including orthographically. I dislike plural pronouns for singular people, but that matters less than using inclusive language. And calling an individual they has a long history; it can’t be called newfangled. Various invented/new pronouns are fun opportunities, and have never thrown me out of any story. Objecting to them seems as useless as trying to stop “data” from becoming singular.
    The Last Ditch I’m currently willing to figuratively die in, is opposition to the retail apostrophe. But my career is marked by the last ditches in which I died and was buried, and then had to dig myself out of, like Reg Shoe, before shambling off to the next one.

  38. Your regular reminder that the singular ‘they’ goes back to the Middle Ages and that we have examples of its use by Lord Byron, Thackeray, Emily Dickinson, and George Bernard Shaw, among others.

    It’s also, in my experience, nearly unnoticable in spoken use. The players in my regular Traveller RPG spent half the session dealing with a non-binary NPC without ever noticing I was using “they” pronouns or gendering them correctly out of character.

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