Pixel Scroll 3/9/16 Pet Symmetry

(1) REMEMBERING HARTWELL. Rudy Rucker has one of the best personal tributes to the late David G. Hartwell that I’ve read.

In 2005, Dave got me invited to give the keynote talk at ICFA, the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts, held in a brutally cold motel Florida. One of the organizers quipped, “We don’t come here for the sun, we come here for the air-conditioning.”

Dave told me that a member of the committee had said, “We can’t invite Rucker, he’s a difficult drunk,” and Dave told him, “Not any more.” By then I’d been sober for nearly ten years. I said to Dave, “I wonder if my drinking years had a bad effect on my career.” Dave said, “I don’t think so. Even now, I still talk to people who are very disappointed when they see you at a con and you aren’t swinging from the chandeliers.”

(2) JEMISIN DISCUSSES ROWLING’S NEW WORLD MAGIC. N.K. Jemisin’s verdict on Rowling’s magical North America is: “It could’ve been great.”

…I’m still careful, even with “dead” faiths, because I don’t know how playing with these things might hurt real people. Nations have been built upon and torn down by the concepts I’m playing with. The least I can do is research the hell out of a thing before I put a toe in that ancient water.

It’s even more crucial for religions that are alive, and whose adherents still suffer for misconceptions and misappropriations. But these are easier to research, and it’s often much easier to figure out when you’re about to put a foot right into a morass of discrimination and objectification. All the evidence is there, sometimes still wet with blood. You just need to read. You just need to ask people. You just need to think….

Anyway. This is just to say that there’s a number of ways Rowling could’ve made her Magical North America work without causing real harm to a lot of real people. That would be for her to have treated American peoples — all of us — with the same respect that she did European. Pretty sure she would never have dreamt of reducing all of Europe’s cultures to “European wizarding tradition”; instead she created Durmstrang and Beauxbatons and so on to capture the unique flavor of each of those cultures. It would’ve taken some work for her to research Navajo stories and pick (or request) some elements from that tradition that weren’t stereotypical or sacred — and then for her to do it again with the Paiutes and again with the Iroquois and so on. But that is work she should’ve done — for the sake of her readers who live those traditions, if not for her own edification as a writer. And how much more delightful could Magic in North America have been if she’d put an ancient, still-thriving Macchu Picchu magic school alongside a brash, newer New York school? How much richer could her history have been if she’d mentioned the ruins of a “lost” school at Cahokia, full of dangerous magical artifacts and the signs of mysterious, hasty abandonment? Or a New Orleanian school founded by Marie Laveau, that practiced real vodoun and was open/known to the locals as a temple — and in the old days as a safe place to plan slave rebellions, a la Congo Square? Or what if she’d mentioned that ancient Death Eater-ish wizards deliberately destroyed the magical school of Hawai’i — but native Hawai’ians are rebuilding it now as Liliuokalani Institute, better than before and open to all? …

(3) BAR’S NEW NAME. SF Site News, in its story “Geek Bar Rebrands”, reports that Geek Bar Chicago has changed its name to SFCO.

The rebranding will also bring in an influx of video consoles, late night programming, and new hours, Sunday and Wednesday from 5pm to 10pm, Thursday and Friday from 5pm to Midnight, and Saturday from 3 pm to 2 am. The bar will be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. In addition to their game selection, SFCO will continue to offer a rotating menu of geek-themed signature cocktails and a pop culture reference-filled menu items. The news of the rebranding was followed by former CEO David Zoltan announcing that he had resigned from Geek Bar in January.

(4) JULIETTE WADE’S FANCAST. Juliette Wade’s TalkToYoUniverse is a great place to find regular coverage of “linguistics and anthropology, science fiction and fantasy, point of view, [and] grammar geekiness.” Wade is often joined by a guest writer, as in the latest installment, “Andrea Stewart – a Dive into Worldbuilding”.

Something that makes Wade’s project exceptional is that every episode is accompanied by a post fully detailing what was discussed. Here are the first few paragraphs about her visit with Stewart –

We were joined for this hangout by author Andrea Stewart, who told us a bit about her worldbuilding and her work. Her work has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, IGMS, and Galaxy’s Edge.

We started by talking about a piece she had in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Set in a psudo-Chinese culture, it featured an opium den with magical smoke, in a place where the land surrounding the city was dying and this had become the people’s escape. Very cool story! Andrea explained that her mom is a Chinese immigrant, so half her family is Chinese. One of the key differences, she says, is in conversational interaction style.

I asked her about her series, the Changeling Wars. She told me that it had begun as a writing exercise, where every person in a group picks a word, and then each member has to write a piece that uses all the words chosen by the group. She describes this series as being part of a move from dark fantasy to a bit lighter fantasy. The first book begins when a woman walks in on her cheating husband, and her emotion is so powerful in that moment that it awakens magic in her. It turns out she’s a changeling, and not just adopted, as she believed.

Andrea has very warm words for writing exercises, which she says can spark ideas you might not otherwise come up with.

There are 101 Worldbuilding hangouts in the index, 25 featuring special guests, including Aliette de Bodard, N.K. Jemisin, Ken Liu, Myke Cole, Usman T. Malik, Cat Rambo, Sofia Samatar and Isabel Yap.

(5) IN FOR A DIME. Sonia Orin Lyris tells how she “Will Build Worlds for Spare Change” at The Fictorians.

The next week my inbox was filled with indignant treasures, among them this: “No, no, no! This is NOT a D&D game. Coins have names! Coins have histories!”

I instantly knew how right she was. Knew it like the contents of my own pocket.

Pennies. Nickels. Dimes. Not “coppers.” Not “large silvers.”

I dove back into my research and emerged soaked in currency-related facts, from minting to metals, from Greece to China. The facts went on and on, as did the likeness of people and horses and birds and insects, of ships and buildings, of angels and flowers, of myths and monarchs.

So many coins, each symbolizing their culture’s prosperity and priorities. Its very self-image.

I now understood that not only did coins have names and histories, but they were keys to wealth and power, to trade and politics. Coins affected everyone, from rulers to merchants to the poorest of the poor. Coins mattered, and mattered quite a bit.

Coins had names and histories. They had faces. Coins traveled.

That’s when it hit me: Coins are stories.

(6) EVEN MORE WORLDBUILDING ADVICE. Coining words is the focus of “This Kind of World Building :: An Interview with Sofia Samatar” at Weird Sister.

Kati Heng: One thing that always amazes me is when a writer is able to make up not just a story, but also an entire language behind it. Like all creative writing, there must be rules you set for its creation. Can you tell me a little bit about the inspiration behind Olondrian, and especially how the names of characters were created?

Sofia Samatar: Making up the languages was one of my favorite parts of creating the world of Olondria. The biggest influence on the Olondrian language is Arabic, which I had studied before writing A Stranger in Olondria, and was speaking daily while writing the book in South Sudan. I was inspired by Arabic plurals, for example, to devise a complicated system of plural patterns for Olondrian. Olondrian pronouns resemble Arabic pronouns as well. And, like Arabic, Olondrian has no P sound (any word with a P in it has been imported from another language).

The creation of the language was closely tied to the development of names. I don’t have anything close to a complete Olondrian vocabulary, but I do know what the names mean. “Vain” means forest, for example, so there are a bunch of “vains” on my map — Kelevain, Fanlevain, and so on. “Kele” means hunting. “Fanle” means apple.

To invent the names, I chose small chunks of sound that seemed pretty to me and played with combining them. Few activities can be more self-indulgent. It was wonderful

(7) VALLEY FORGE SHARES CoC DRAFT. The Valley Forge in 2017 NASFiC bid’s “Progress Update 2” links to its draft Code of Conduct and other policies. (They also unveiled their mascot, Proxie the Celestial Raccoon.)

Next, we have had a number of queries about what our code of conduct will look like if and when we win the bid. Like I mentioned in the last progress update, we’ve been working on a draft of the CoC for a while now, and it has been a whole heck of a lot of work for the entire team. After many, many hours of sweat and toil by all of us, we’re happy to be able to share version 1.0 of the Valley Forge 2017 Code of Conduct (html version) with you.

Now obviously, calling it “version 1.0” implies that we expect updates, and we do. The convention is a long way (and a successful vote) away and there are some details that we just can’t get in place until we have more structure, like phone numbers and room locations and websites. A lot can change in a year and a half, so what you see here may not be exactly the same thing you see if and when you show up at our door – but substantively, we are happy with what we have and are proud to put our names behind it. If you have any feedback, we’d love to hear it.

We’re also elbow-deep in the guts of an internal procedures manual for how to deal with a variety of scenarios, including what to do if we receive a report of a code of conduct violation. That’s not quite ready for prime time yet, and may not be ready until we have a more formal concom structure in place of our current bidcom (in other words, until and unless we win the bid). If we can whip something into releasable shape before then, we will publish that as well.

(8) THE KESSEL RUNS. It is alleged the full title of Kitbashed’s “Complete History of the Millennium Falcon” is “The Complete Conceptual History of The Millennium Falcon or How I Started Worrying and Lost My Mind Completely Over a Fictional Spaceship Someone Please Do Something Send Help Why Are You Still Reading Someone Do Something.”

The Pork Burger

The ILM model shop built the new Pirate Ship model, and quickly found a way to distinguish it from the old one in conversation, namely by adopting Grant McCune’s nickname for it: The Pork Burger.

And if you want my theory, that’s where the myth of the design being based off of a burger Lucas was eating got started.

(9) FURRY CUSTOMS. The Independent learned from Twitter that “Syrian refugees in Canada got housed in same hotel as VancouFur furry convention and the children loved it”.

The fifth annual VancouFur convention, in which people dress up as fictional anthropomorphic animal characters with human personalities and characteristics, was held at the same hotel where a number of Syrian refugees are currently being housed.

A message was given to all attendees at the convention that the hotel had been chosen as one of the temporary housing locations for the Syrian refugees in Canada, and that “a major concern that VancouFur has is ensuring that each and every one of the refugees (and attendees) feels welcome and safe and the fact that this is likely to be a major shock to them”.

“Keep in mind that they likely will not want to interact with you and consent is important to everyone,” the message added.

But luckily for everyone involved, the refugees – especially the children – loved it.



  • Born March 9, 1911 — Clara Rockmore.

Rockmore was a master of the theremin, the world’s first electronic music instrument and first instrument that could be played without being touched.

On what would have been her 105th birthday, Rockmore has been commemorated with a Google Doodle. The interactive game teaches you to play the theremin by hovering your mouse over the notes to play a melody.


(11) PROPHET IN HIS OWN LAND. Even George R.R. Martin won’t be allowed a hometown premiere of Game of Thrones Season 6.

And yes, it’s true. After last year’s unfortunate leak, HBO is not sending out any press screeners this year, to try and cut down on the piracy.

They have also eliminated all the regional premieres, including (sob) the one we had scheduled at my own Jean Cocteau Cinema. This year the only premiere will be the big one in LA at Grauman’s Chinese.

The Jean Cocteau will, however, go ahead with our season 5 marathon. Admission is free, so watch our website and newsletter for show times.

(12) LESSER OF TWO WEEVILS. Joe Hill brings his skills as a professional horror writer to bear on the Presidential race in his latest “Perspective”.

I asked my three sons and a cousin what would be scarier: 8 years of a Trump presidency, or two kaiju attacks, one on Washington D.C. and one on L.A., separated by 8 years. Assume standard kaiju size (20 stories, 80,000 tons), atomic breath, acid blood, probably the ability to produce subsonic blasts with one whap of the tail. Immune to conventional nuclear weapons. Highly aggressive.

By a vote of 3 – 1, they agreed two kaiju attacks would be much worse for the nation than if Trump were to become President of the United States. So if you feel depressed by Trump’s toxic mix of misogyny, xenophobia, and bullying, look to this for a cheer-up. It could be worse. You could be jellied beneath the trampling scaly feet of a salamander the size of a skyscraper.

Admit it. You feel better all ready.

(13) THIS JUST IN. “New Survey Finds 92% Of Evangelicals Would Have Supported Genghis Khan” reports Babylon Bee.  

Genghis Khan, the genocidal warlord who conquered most of Central and Northeast Asia during the first part of the thirteenth century, enjoys widespread support from twenty-first century evangelicals, a new CNN poll revealed Tuesday.

“The level of support for the Supreme Khan of the Mongols is off the charts,” explained Malcom Johnstone, the pollster who conducted the survey for CNN. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Clearly, there is a strong correlation between being pro-God and pro-Genghis.”

Still, many Christians question the accuracy of the new findings.

Like Buddy Buchanan of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “I’ve been in a Bible church my whole life, and I’ve never met anyone who likes this Genghis fellow,” Buchanan revealed to sources. “I just don’t get it. I can’t think of a single person who supports him. I remember there was a cool-looking Khan in one of those Star Trek movies, but I don’t think that’s the same guy.”

(14) SHARKNADO FOUR. “Syfy and The Asylum announce Sharknado 4 casting”Sci-Fi Storm has the story.

Syfy and The Asylum announced today that Ian Ziering will slay again in Sharknado 4 (working title), reprising his role as shark-fighting hero Fin Shepard, while Tara Reid is set to return as April Wexler to reveal the outcome of the fan-voted #AprilLives or #AprilDies social campaign. The fourth addition to the hit global franchise also sees the return of David Hasselhoff as Gil Shepard and Ryan Newman as Claudia Shepard.

(15) FOREVER FANS. Future War Stories presents the case for picking Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War as the best military sf work.

In 1974, Joe Haldeman, armed with his bachelors in Physics and Astronomy along with his experiences in the Vietnam War, would craft a military science fiction tale of UNEF soldier William Mendella. This book, The Forever War, would go on to win every major award and prize, rocketing Joe Haldeman into the realm of sci-fi literature. Since its original publication, The Forever War would be re-edited, translated into every major language, and be adapted into various forms, including an major studio film has been in the works since 2008 and the effort seems to be active. The book’s legacy is being hailed has the best military science fiction book of all time and it has been a source of inspiration for decades. In this installment of the continuing Masterworks series, we will explore and explain why Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War is the best literary military science fiction work. A word of caution: this blog article contains spoilers on key moments of the book. Read at your own risk!

(16) STROSS INTERVIEW. Charles Stross, in an interview at SFF World, thinks magic might be a better metaphor for one of sf’s typical tropes.

And what of newer authors? Are there any personal favourites?

In the past year, I’ve read and been incredibly impressed by Seth Dickinson’s “The Traitor” (US: “The Traitor Baru Cormorant”); grim, harrowing, and deeply interesting for his use of secondary world fantasy as a tool for interrogating kyriarchy. I’ve also been impressed by Alyx Dellamonica’s “Child of a Hidden Sea” (and sequel “A Daughter of No Nation”), V. E. Schwab’s “A Darker Shade of Magic”, and Naomi Novik’s “Uprooted”—secondary world/portal fantasies for the most part. SF … I find myself having a knee-jerk reaction against most of what comes to me as highly-recommended or highly popular SF these days; I think this is partly because—for me, these days—magic works better as a metaphor for depicting alienating technology than actual ham-fisted attempts at describing the thing in itself. (And also because so much of the exotic tech in SF is basically warmed-over magic wands.)

(17) VINESPLAINING. In this GEICO commercial, Tarzan and Jane get into an argument about asking for directions. (I may have linked this before, but I can’t find it…)

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, James H. Burns, Will R., and Michael J. Walsh for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Will R.]

291 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 3/9/16 Pet Symmetry

  1. @Xtifr, PJ: You try to tell kids these days that, they won’t believe it.

    I’d still rather drive for weeks in either LA or the Bay Area than one day in Boston.

  2. @Lurkertype
    After driving in Manhattan a couple of times my dislike of driving in Boston went way down. Although in general MA drivers aren’t as polite as they used to be out on 495 and country roads. Each visit back home they seem to get more like NY/NJ drivers. I used to love visiting because driving would be relaxing when except the rare visit to Boston. But it’s not like that anymore.

  3. @Tasha: I never found any drivers anywhere in MA to be polite. I’d never drive in NYC.

    I had some friends from Boston and the outlying areas near NYC, who, when we all met up in Los Angeles, exclaimed so happily how POLITE and CAREFUL the drivers in LA were — and couldn’t figure out why everyone not from the Northeast began laughing hysterically at the very thought.

  4. Late to the party (catching up!), but:

    @Lexica: Yes, I mentioned the Tor.com Season 1 audiobook. I’m still surprised it’s not more than one credit, given it’s IIRC $40+ without a membership/credit!

    @GSLamb: Eek, very sorry about your illness! ;-( FYI Tor and Baen sell DRM-free books on various platforms, as do others. I have an ever-evolving list of non-DRM SFF publishers, if you’re interested; I’ve posted it here before. It’s not 100% straightforward, since some publishers (like Angry Robot) sell DRM-free direct but not at the various e-bookstores.

    @Oneiros, @JJ, & @GSLamb: SF Signal regularly posts lists of a ton (like hundreds?) of ebooks selling for $5 or less. They use Amazon, and prices of course are subject to change, but a lot of them are priced the same elsewhere, like iTunes and Kobo. Here’s the latest one. Caveat: Items are listed based on price, not length+price, so occasionally I click through and find it’s a novella for $4.99 or something, which is not a sale price. As with anything, caveat emptor.

    Speaking of ebook sales, Radiant by Karina Sumner-Smith is on sale at Amazon for $1.99. It’s not on sale at Kobo or (psniff) iTunes, so I don’t care, but FYI, Amazon afficionados! And, coincidentally, @Vasha just mentioned it to @Peace.

    @Dawn Incognito: Oh, wow, thanks. For anyone who doesn’t click through, the priceless quote from the letter-writer, talking about how Wendig F’d up Star Wars with gay cooties, was where they complained about him doing it to “something so pure as Star Wars.” Right, it’s too pure for teh gay, how dare you – but the letter-writer totes isn’t a homophobe. Riiiiight. Also: I love the link at the end to a picture of heterosexual love. 😉

  5. Flatlanders. Grids don’t work nearly as well in hill country. Not that people don’t try to impose them anyway. In my town that leads to discontinuous streets (Oh, you couldn’t find this address on 25th? Hmmm…did you go around the hill to the other section of 25th?), odd little named streets tucked between the numbered ones (I live on one of those. It doesn’t help that the streets it’s between end on Scioto Trail, but it ends on an alley parallel to the Trail), and weird little squiggles. Having all those nice neat sequential numbers is a snare and a delusion.

  6. @Xtifr,

    That’s why it can be a good idea to use a qualifier like Logical North for a road’s direction, or its related alternative Virtual. Though I personally always thought of “virtual” as simply short for the phrase “… that I wish I could afford to buy”, especially when relating to computers: “virtual memory” becomes “memory that I wish I could afford to buy”, [many more computer-specific examples elided], and even “virtual reality” becomes a “reality that I wish I could afford to buy”, which I think rings far too true …

    // Christian (who has also finally joined the Gravatar generation)

  7. RedWombat on March 10, 2016 at 7:20 pm said:

    Phoenix, Arizona cannot lay claim to being an attractive city, but by god, it is a GRID. The only city I’ve ever lived in where I never got lost. You get confused, just drive long enough and you’ll hit Baseline or wind up in Guadalupe and you can figure it out from there.

    [goes to Google maps and has a look] Good grief, its like graph paper. The city is probably plagued by giant Pac-Man.

  8. You haven’t had navigation nightmares until you’ve been to Atlanta, where every fifth street and several key landmarks are “Peachtree.”

  9. Petréa wrote (about grids)

    Oh, yeah? Does it have a prefix on every street name so you know what quadrant of the grid you’re in? Does it number the north-south streets and arrange street addresses so you can count how many blocks you are from the origin point? Huh? Huh??? Portland, OR has all that, so there!

    (Except for this one bit downtown where the original landowner was a sea captain and laid out his part of grid according to magnetic north instead of geographical north and apparently everyone just felt too awkward about it to talk to him until it was too late.)

    I grew up in the southwest hills area of Portland and wow this is so different from the Portland that I knew.

    Though downtown did have a grid (and furthermore a lot of it was one way)–but most downtowns do, don’t they? Except that Sandy Boulevard runs on the diagonal but I didn’t spend much time on that side of the river.

    But in the part of the city where I grew up the blocks were in a precancerous stage where they had lost contact inhibition and were growing over each other any old way. The combination of hills and trees meant you didn’t get much in the way of landmarks besides the occasional glimpse of downtown or Mt. Hood, if the weather was good.

    It just goes to show that cities are actually a bunch of neighborhoods stuck together and the neighborhoods can be very different.

    (Salt Lake City–now *that* had a grid. However it didn’t have prefixes on the streets, so in a worst case scenario there were four places a given address could be.)

  10. Bah! Perfect grids are for bomber bait!

    Henderson, Nevada was built during WW2 as home for the major magnesium plant of the United States. Magnesium was a war critical material.

    When I was a kid we were told Henderson’s odd road layout was intentional. The lack of straight lines, the weird partial frontage roads, etc were all there to make it difficult for Japanese aircraft to just follow the road network to the plant.

    Of course I can’t find a single thing online to back that up right now. Whether that makes it an urban myth or just means my GoogleFu is weak this morning I don’t know…

    It feels more comforting though to think it was screwed up intentionally 🙂

  11. I started driving about six years ago, and yeah, Boston drivers are largely asshats. Guys: honking isn’t going to make me go faster than I’m comfortable with, I’m already going five over the speed limit, you’re only going to get there maybe a minute faster, so unbunch your shorts. And use your goddamn blinker if you’re changing lanes. Asshats. I don’t believe in Hell, but for you I’ll start.

    On a trip to Pittsburgh, Mom (who grew up in Boston) and I (who live there) were trying to cross a street. So we stood at the crosswalk, waited for the oncoming car to go past, and…wait, he’s slowing down? He’s…slowing down to let us pass? Is this some kind of *ruse*?

    The non-grid thing here (there’s a meme with a picture of New York and the legend “because we want you to know where you are and where you’re going” and then a picture of Boston and the legend “because fuck you”, and it is correct) is not helped by the fact that the city does not believe in street signs, and only grudgingly puts them at every third intersection.

  12. @Camestros Felapton,

    [goes to Google maps and has a look] Good grief, its like graph paper. The city is probably plagued by giant Pac-Man.

    You know, that could be read as a suggestion that someone organize a Pac-Man LARP (though of course that has been done already elsewhere) …

    // Christian

  13. lurkertype
    I’d claim the same difficulty for myself, but then it would come out that we left California when I wasn’t quite three, and I wasn’t really noticing much of anything yet. (I have had thirty years of living in mostl places where people keep claiming that foothills are mountains, though.)

    Politeness of drivers is an interesting thing. We’ve lived in Houston and in Hampton Roads, Virginia, both of which have a driving base of mostly snarling, feral beasts. The interesting bit is that when a traffic light would stop functioning in either place, the drivers would suddenly go into a cooperative mode and politely take turns and wait for the other drivers. It was like the veneer of hostility had come off. Temporarily, of course. (If you want to see the scariest traffic I’ve witnessed, and I’ve seen Boston and NYC and Rome, go give Beijing a shot. I took movies to look at later. Cars, motorcycles, buses, trucks, bikes, and pedestrians all share vast intersections with everybody just doing whatever it takes to go another few feet, and nobody seems a bit fazed by it. In Guangzhou, I took a picture of an intersection with lanes painted to indicate “straight or left” — there were three of them, side by side. Never heard a horn honk.)

    Camestros Felapton
    Chagrined I am to find that Google Maps Pac-Man went away almost a year ago. It was worth a hundred Google doodles. You could call up any map, click an icon, and play Pac-Man on it. Make that a thousand Goodle doodles.

    Grids. I was always so irritated by developers who platted out their places with curvy, dippy little streets and dead ends and cul-de-sacs. Terrible for navigation. I guess they might be better to live in (if perhaps hell to bike around), as they might force drivers to slow down a bit. Fort Collins has a 45° twisted Old Town area because there were two competing downtowns. The north-south axis won out, but the NW-SE area remains. Denver has something similar. I remember Proctor and Bergman in their livecast from Ebbetts Field, talking about how part of the town was laid out by the Bent Brothers, who twisted everything 45 degrees.

    {edited to break post up into two bites}

  14. Stoic Cynic
    Reminds me of how Jack Warner got in trouble for painting a whimsical sign on the roof of a studio sound stage, directing enemy bombers away from the studio lot and pointing over to the aircraft plant. Ho ho.

    Isabel Cooper
    Though I never lived in Boston, I bought a copy of the unofficial driver’s manual, Wild in the Streets, which explains why Boston streets are the way they are (they were laid out by cattle), and useful things like how to win the psychological came (get some dents), how to turn left from the right lane, and how to declare a parking space wherever you are.

    Massachusetts always seemed to me to assume that if you’re on a street, you already know the name of it. This is so wrong. I’m seeing it in other places, too.

    Christian Brunschen
    By a patented process of mental association, I’m reminded by your post of what has to be the greatest ping-pong video clip ever. Now in its thirteenth year, please be honorably amazed by Matrix Ping Pong!

  15. @Camestros: Well, now I have another element to the eightiespunk fantasy novel, if I ever get around to writing that.

    @Kip W.: I need to get that. (Stupid cows. I will feel a sense of well-earned vengeance whenever I eat a steak from now on.)

    I myself don’t care much about dents/the paint job, but I always rent, and they’re finicky. I wish Rent-a-Wreck or similar was nearby; there should logically be a market for road-safe but crappy-looking cars that you can rent more cheaply and don’t have to worry about backing into a dumpster with.

  16. The thing I love about the Boston area is it’s got a bunch of these things called “squares” which are not, in fact, square. Or even quadrilateral.

  17. Growing up in MA some 40-15 years ago (this applies from 495 and outside it did not apply if you were inside 128/Boston)
    1. People knew how to merge
    2. People stopped to let you cross the road
    3. People got out of the left lane for faster traffic passing on the right didn’t happen much

    15 years ago these things slowly stopped being true although there are still holdout towns due to cop enforcement. Since my parents moved I’m having to learn new towns & local etiquette.

  18. “if you want to see the scariest traffic I’ve witnessed, and I’ve seen Boston and NYC and Rome, go give Beijing a shot. I took movies to look at later. Cars, motorcycles, buses, trucks, bikes, and pedestrians all share vast intersections with everybody just doing whatever it takes to go another few feet, and nobody seems a bit fazed by it. In Guangzhou, I took a picture of an intersection with lanes painted to indicate “straight or left” — there were three of them, side by side. Never heard a horn honk.

    I’ve been to Beijing a few times and find trafic relatively benign. Cars stop and are careful for pedestrians. It is possible to cross the roads without risk for your life.

    For me, it is Beirut in Lebanon. Cars drive fast, only a few meters between. Almost impossible to find somewhere to cross and the cars do not slow down when they see you. Some people care about traffic lights, others see them as some kind of funny lightshow.

    Only place I’ve been really scared when crossing the road.

  19. You should try walking/driving around Edinburgh which seems to have a street plan devised by M C Escher.

    ETA: @Hampus sounds much like Cairo

  20. Xtifr
    I forgot about those. But then, I spent a number of years in that area, before 280/680 were built, and got used to the idea that ‘north’ was kind of fuzzy.

    For that matter, San Francisco is northwest of Los Angeles, Sacramento is north-northwest, and going due north from L.A. will put you somewhere near Fallon, Nevada. (Thus the joke about the largest city east of Reno and west of Denver….)

  21. Frisbie described Boston (and Massachusetts generally) as “the only laws governing drivers are Newton’s”. (I’ve been to Boston. I wouldn’t try driving there.)

  22. @Tasha Turner

    On your item 3 that would be a “California Fast Lane”. When we lived in the SF Bay Area my girlfriend and I found the right lane was invariably the faster lane as everyone tried to crowd leftwards…

  23. Scary traffic: My current employer has an office in Hyderabad, India, and a sort of exchange program that lets people from the US go to India or vice versa and work from there for a few weeks. A coworker who got to go last year came back with a few traffic videos he took after realizing that we’d never believe him if he didn’t have videos. I have no idea how it compares to Beijing, but it was certainly orders of magnitude worse than anything you can see anywhere in the US.

    One of the perennial entries I see on lists of “Things That Surprise Foreign Visitors to the US” is, “People actually follow traffic laws!”

  24. I remember one of Dave Barry’s books describing MA as “the only state where the driver’s ed manual tells you how to give someone the finger.”

    Which…I will say that my moment of considering myself A Driver For Real was realizing that I could flip someone off with one hand while steering accurately and maintaining speed. Boston Skillz.

  25. Re: City grids

    Oh, yeah? Does it have a prefix on every street name so you know what quadrant of the grid you’re in? Does it number the north-south streets and arrange street addresses so you can count how many blocks you are from the origin point?

    Well, there’s always Bellevue, WA where you have the intersection of NE 12th Street and 100th Ave NE.

    I lived for years in Kitchener-Waterloo, which has a street grid. Actually, it has two, one in Waterloo and one in Kitchener, and the two are angled some 30 degrees differently from each other. Also, the dividing line at which the roads tend to change direction is not the actual city dividing line. And some of the streets continue their names but change directions, so the road that is King Street N/S in Waterloo becomes King Street W/E in Kitchener, and 244 King Street S and 980 King Street W are next-door neighbours. And that’s not getting into things like the multiple intersections of King and Weber at opposite ends of the twin cities.

  26. I believe these tales about Boston drivers, if only because of my experience riding in a cab from Logan to Noreascon 4. It was so harrowing I spent two paragraphs on it in my conreport —

    I didn’t tell my taxi driver I was on the way to a science fiction convention, so I don’t know why he seemed to think I’d appreciate a re-enactment of the way Luke and Biggs chased womp-rats through the canyons of Tatooine. He hurtled into the Big Dig tunnel toward downtown Boston on the bumper of another taxi, matching the other cab’s randomly swerving course, then changed lanes to pursue freight trucks at speeds that only made sense if he really did have a way of disintegrating them at the last second to avoid collision.

    It all nearly ended within sight of my destination. The driver rushed upon two cars blocking our path, then braked so tentatively he must have supposed at the last second he was going to rotate the cab 90 degrees and drive between them. Apparently this was just a special effect, for we actually stopped before crashing. A few moments later I was in front of the Sheraton Boston standing on wobbly legs. Getting there was not half the fun of this Worldcon.

  27. Petréa Mitchell
    Video I’ve seen of driving in India seems scarier than Beijing or Guangzhou or Shanghai. Still, it was alarming to be a passenger in China. My first day there, we were on a two-hour drive from the airport to our first destination (and a bathroom), and I remember the driver going into the left lane to pass someone, and thinking, “Isn’t he going to go back into the right lane now? Here comes a car. Isn’t he going to go back into the right lane now??”

    They all seem pretty calm about it. That driver sure was calm. Way calmer than I was feeling at the moment.

  28. @ Mike; wow that sounds scary.

    I was in Boston for Arisia a number of years ago. I handled Boston traffic by shutting my eyes and assuming I wouldn’t die. I paid for a taxi specifically so I would be able to do that.

  29. The phrase I was told about Boston drivers for years was “turn signals are a sign of weakness”.

    I thought it was exaggeration, until one particular cab driver I had whose driving made me pale.

  30. Take public transportation in Boston don’t use taxis. I learned to drive in Boston because I dislike someone else at the wheel or, in the case of public transportation, someone else in charge ot travel times. I’d be shot in the head before getting in a taxi in Boston.

  31. My husband, who is fairly well travelled, said that everywhere he’s been, people swear their drivers are the worst. “And they’re all wrong,” he concludes. “Except Cairo.”

    But I don’t think he’s been to Boston.

  32. @tasha I wouldn’t dare try a taxi in Boston again, that’s for sure

  33. I learned to drive in Iowa, the land of wide, flat, straight roads. Where we drive in the center of the lane. And where my social psychology professor, just moved from Boston, was swearing and flipping off the driver of a vehicle in front of her, who had stopped quite unexpectedly, to let pedestrians or squirrels or some such cross safely. And that driver turned on his hazard lights, got out of the car, and walked up to my professor — and she was very careful to say, there was nothing angry or aggressive about his demeanor. He just looked at her for a few moments, and said, very calmly, “You’re not from around here, are you?”

    She replied that, no, she’d just moved from the east coast.

    And apparently he nodded, and said, “Well, we just don’t do that here.” And having passed on that information, he got back in his car, and left. She used it as a springboard to a lecture on group norms. Story has stuck with me fir over 25 years.

    I think all y’all drive like maniacs, though. In the nicest way possible.

  34. @Greg Hullender

    At the other end of the spectrum, this is the first time I’ve seen an outstanding Castalia nominee; What Price Humanity? by David VanDyke is genuinely Hugo-quality (or so I would argue). It’s definitely military SF, but, surprisingly, it doesn’t seem to make any sort of political statement at all. It didn’t make my personal list of nominees, but only because there are so many very strong novelettes this year.

    I’ve had some friendly interactions with David Van Dyke and have read some of his fiction (not this story, though) and he can clearly write. No idea how he got mixed up with Castalia House, but I think a lot of writers outside VD’s usual circle of dead elks submitted to the Jerry Pournelle anthology on the strength of his name.

    Regarding Boston drivers, I’ve been to Boston exactly once and tried to drive there. Not making that mistake again.

    Regarding street grids, from a European POV, cities that look like chessboards with roads drawn by rulers are this very weird thing that Americans have.

  35. @Isabel Cooper:

    On a trip to Pittsburgh, Mom (who grew up in Boston) and I (who live there) were trying to cross a street. So we stood at the crosswalk, waited for the oncoming car to go past, and…wait, he’s slowing down? He’s…slowing down to let us pass? Is this some kind of *ruse*?

    This was very nearly exactly the reaction a friend from Philadelphia had upon seeing a Boulder pedestrian step into the street at a crosswalk. “OMG stop them they are going to get killed–” “Dude, chill, they’ve got the walk light.” “THAT DOESN’T MATTER.” “Where you come from, maybe…”

    On grids and hills: I learned about street grids when I went to college in Seattle. I got very used to the street grid system, to the point where I stopped bothering to map my directions before I biked anywhere because the address, with its numbered street and its directional prefix/suffix told me exactly where my destination would be. Then I learned about what hills do to the street grid system when the numbered street I was traveling on came to an unexpected end at the top of a twenty foot drop, at the foot of which I could clearly see a street sign for the same numbered street, just picking right up where it left off but with no guidance for me as to how to safely get there. The grid worked; the topography of the grid, not so much.

    Speaking of Seattle, the University District was very confusing to this gal from the New Orleans area. Eighteen years of my life, I knew two things: the lake is to the north, and you have to go up a levee to get to the water. Then I went to college where Lake Union was not to the north at all, and one had to actually descend to get to water level. That was weird.

    And speaking of Lake Union, upon first clapping eyes upon it I asked a friend, “What’s the name of that pond there?” and was promptly embarrassed like hell about it. But my formative impressions of the category bodies of water were Lake Pontchartrain (not on par with any of the Great Lakes, of course, but, still, the bridge crossing it is 24 miles long) and the Mississippi River (at its darn near widest point), so what do you expect?

  36. I saw the driving test for a major Indian city on a PBS show and it basically involved the driver starting the car, driving down a straight road, making a turn or possibly avoiding an obstacle, and stopping. Took about a minute.

    ETA: This discussion suddenly reminds me of Virgil Samms going to the planet of the crazy drivers in search of Lensman candidates.

  37. @Paul Weimer: In fairness, are there cities where taxi drivers are known for their legal, calm, safe driving? No doubt, but that’s not the case for any cities I’ve been to. 😉

  38. LunarG: my social psychology professor, just moved from Boston, was swearing and flipping off the driver of a vehicle in front of her, who had stopped quite unexpectedly, to let pedestrians or squirrels or some such cross safely… He just looked at her for a few moments, and said, very calmly, “You’re not from around here, are you?” She replied that, no, she’d just moved from the east coast. And apparently he nodded, and said, “Well, we just don’t do that here.”

    I lived for a few years in a smaller city in the Northeast U.S. which consisted of a lot of educated, liberal transplants in what was otherwise a generally rural state. I had my car in at the Saturn dealership for a service, and noticed a woman driving a gold Saturn with many dents and black scrapes into the repair bay, after which she came into the waiting room. “My god,” I said, “Your car’s really been in the wars, hasn’t it?”

    She laughed and said, “I moved here last year from Washington, DC. I got invited to a party by someone I work with, and when I got there, the parking on the streets was pretty tight. So I did the parallel-parking thing, where I inched my car forward and back, forward and back, edging into a space and nudging the cars in front and back of me as I did it — which is what you do when you park in DC.”

    She said, “When I got out and walked up to the front porch of the house where the party was, everyone was sitting there with their jaws dropped — and I realized that maybe that’s not the ‘done’ thing here”.

  39. P J Evans on March 10, 2016 at 8:40 pm said:

    The highways around here do not help–I’ve gone north to go south, and east to go west, more than a few times.

    There’s a section of freeway in Berkeley (CA) that’s both 80-East and 580-West. At the same time. (The other direction is, of course, 80-West and 580-East.) And 101, which is a north-south highway, includes about 120 miles that’s actually running east and west, from North Hollywood to Gaviota.

    There are lots of highways with long stretches perpendicular to their general orientation.

    For a long time I didn’t realize I-94 was overall an east-west highway because the only part of it I knew of was the north-south stretch between Milwaukee and Chicago.

  40. While you’re all having fun bashing Massachusetts drivers, remember not to look up the insurance industry’s actual annual reports on the various states’ accident statistics. You’d be very disappointed. We’re pretty consistently at or near the bottom in per capital traffic accidents, per capita traffic injuries, and per capita traffic deaths. Not always dead last, but close, every year.

    Most of our roads were built long before automobiles. Most cities in the US have been substantially rebuilt since the invention of the automobile, or were built in Flatland where a grid is logical and practical.

    We have roads built for horse and carriage, and in the main urban areas, there isn’t enough room to significantly widen and straighten them.

    We are often aggressive drivers, and not only early polite by the standards of other parts of the country. And just the layout of the roads, in Boston and the urban suburbs, is stressful enough if you didn’t grow up here.

    But we effing well know how to drive, and we pay attention when we’re doing it.

    All of which should not be taken as a recommendation for visitors to Boston to drive in the city. I meant it about the layout of the streets itself being stressful, there’s a severe shortage of parking, and fromore the perspective of other parts of the country, barely room to drive.

    Take public transportation! You’ll have a lot more fun. Seriously.

  41. Lenora Rose on March 11, 2016 at 2:50 pm said:

    My husband, who is fairly well travelled, said that everywhere he’s been, people swear their drivers are the worst. “And they’re all wrong,” he concludes. “Except Cairo.”

    I haven’t been to Cairo but I’d say:
    Beijing: not so scary
    Bangkok: moderate scary
    Hanoi: mainly scary
    New Dehli: AAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

  42. were built in Flatland where a grid is logical and practical.

    Mostly. The northwest San Fernando valley has a nice street grid, with interruptions for the railroad (or ex-railroad, in the case of the Orange Line) and for flood control channels. And sometimes just because.

  43. Re traffic in South East Asia: most countries have their own systems that work totally fine. Bangkok and Chiang Mai are actually really easy to deal with. Traffic in Vietnam scared the crap out of me when I first got here but I’ve learnt how to cross the road safely now and it’s all good.

    Seoul might be the worst city I’ve had to cross roads in. Everybody follows the rules… Except when they don’t. Makes it harder for everyone.

  44. Bangkok and Chiang Mai are actually really easy to deal with.


    Though, mind you, I’m typically a pedestrian, so *everywhere* in South East Asia that’s not Singapore is a nightmare for me.

  45. @Lis Carey: Well, when it works. (The Orange Line has had “mild to moderate delays” the last three days this week.) And isn’t your-elbow-in-my-spleen crowded with either rush hour or tourists who for some reason decide to be out and about *during* rush hour (WHYYY?) and don’t remove their backpacks in the process. And actually goes where you need it to go at a reasonable time. (Malden to Newton/Somerville: twenty minutes on the map, two hours when you have to fuck around changing buses/lines/etc.)

    I mean, I live here, and I use public transportation most of the time, and yet. And while we probably can’t do anything about the roads (although, y’know, Napoleon did a decent job of that in Paris), we could pretty easily have more than one street sign per three blocks, not to mention put up some kind of advance warning when a lane’s suddenly going to become turn only, not to mention actually paint the highway lane markers.

    And as drivers, yeah, maybe safe but the aggro bs still makes for pretty awful human beings. Not as bad as either New Hampshire (a good seventy percent of the non-turn-signal-using assholes I’ve encountered have NH plates) or Connecticut, though. (I am not going ninety, especially when we have to slow for an accident every three miles; there’s a reason we have to slow for an accident every three miles; fuck you, CT highways.) I’ve started going just a little bit slower every time someone honks at me for letting someone merge/slowing down to find my turn/etc, and it is immensely satisfying.

    ETA: Also, in addition to driving horribly, our taxis don’t know where the hell they’re going half the time. It’s better now that GPSes are a thing, but I had at least two or three incidents where I got into the cab, gave the address, and had the driver ask how to get there: like, if I knew that, I probably wouldn’t be taking a cab.

    I like the city, but there is no way to get around that doesn’t make me hate all of humanity on a semi-regular basis..

  46. I am not recommending tourists ride the T during rush hour–though even that would be better than driving in Boston during rush hour.

    And frankly, I think killing or maiming people because you can’t be arsed to pay attention is rather worse than being testy but safe on the roads.

  47. True enough–but it’s not exactly an exclusive binary, is it? 🙂 I feel like people can pay attention to what they’re doing and drive safely while still being decent and realizing that, you know, ten miles over the speed limit only gets you there about a minute faster, so relax already, and the world will not end if you don’t go through the light the second it changes.

    And yeah. Really, my advice to tourists re: rush hour is to stay where you are. You’re on vacation, for God’s sake: have a leisurely brunch and come in at 11, have a few drinks or appetizers or whatever and leave at 7. You’ll have room, we won’t hate you, it’s all good. (Also, if you’re not in town specifically for a big event, avoid downtown as much as you can when it’s happening.)

  48. @Snowcrash: I lived in Chiang Mai for 11 months. Got pretty used to the traffic etc there. Found myself wandering over roads without paying too much attention. And they *will* stop at traffic lights if they see someone crossing – it was usually other farang that didn’t/couldn’t manage that.

    Nha Trang is taking a bit of getting used to but I’m getting the hang of traffic here as a pedestrian. It’s similar to Chiang Mai but there’s more of it and fewer lights. Lots of zebra crossings but they’re largely meaningless and seem to just be here to comfort the western tourists 🙂

  49. Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little on March 11, 2016 at 4:05 pm said:

    Speaking of Seattle, the University District was very confusing to this gal from the New Orleans area. Eighteen years of my life, I knew two things: the lake is to the north, and you have to go up a levee to get to the water.

    I grew up on the West Coast and then moved to the East Coast. It was weird. I knew where the ocean was, but all my directions were backwards. The ocean was there, therefore that was West. I kept getting lost for years.

    Camestros Felapton on March 11, 2016 at 9:54 pm said:

    Beijing: not so scary
    Bangkok: moderate scary
    Hanoi: mainly scary
    New Dehli: AAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

    We were being driven by a professional driver and a professional tour guide in St Petersberg, Russia. While in the oncoming lane of traffic, when the cars came at us head on, the driver moved to the sidewalk. That was after we drove thorough the flooded street with water halfway up the door, then had a flat tire but they wouldn’t let us get out of the car while they changed it. That was an unforgettable drive.

Comments are closed.