The Key, 31 January 2011

This week we’re offering up links about Chosen Ones, an interesting blog by a Locus short fiction reviewer, new (amusing) terms for sf criticism, sf in Romania, zombies and what people have done with them, “The Secret Feminist Cabal”, what the hell is mythpunk, toxic language, toxic architecture, and belief and imagination.

  • The Chosen Jerk: Jam Session with N.K. Jemisin
    Sam Sykes / N.K. Jemisin
    Awesome analysis of a common trope in fantasy (and some sf: hello Star Wars): the Chosen One, a hero who will Save The Day and Kill the Evil Guy:

    Chosen Ones are toxic if you think various flavors of authoritarianism are a problem . . . . And Chosen Ones who are “select people” or have some birthright to leadership are even more problematic, because then you get into eugenics. If some people are *meant* to be rulers, then that means some people are meant to be ruled . . . .

  • The Elephant Forgets
    Richard R. Horton
    The Elephant Forgets
    This is the Livejournal of one of two short fiction reviewers for Locus. Lately (on LJ, anyway) he’s been doing summaries of what happened in a variety of short fiction markets in 2010, as well as old magazine reviews. I really like how he’s counting percentages of women writers in his yearly summaries of current magazines. ( :

    I often joke that it was a law that every issue of a ’50s magazine had to have a story about atomic war or its aftermath. (I say I joke, but try it sometime — it really does seem like very nearly every SF magazine issue from the ’50s had at least one such story.) Now I’m thinking that from the mid-60s through the early ’70s there was perhaps a similar law about overpopulation.

  • The Science Fiction Dictionary of New Criticism
    Lavie Tidhar
    The Science Fiction Dictionary of New Criticism
    Lavie Tidhar was recently having a lot of fun playing at creating snarky, hilarious new terms for sf literary criticism, or “cluting” as he puts it. Some of these are quite amusing. I hope he does it some more; one reason I’m posting this here.

    Dystopalyptic n. Condition afflicting many authors, leaving them unable to imagine or create an actual working future.

  • Science Fiction in Romania since the 1990 revolution
    Laurentiu Nistorescu, Antuza Genescu, Dorin Davideanu, Silviu Genescu; translation Antuza Genescu
    A continuation of an earlier article, A brief history of Science Fiction in Romania up to 1990:

    The main trends of the Romanian SF community in the last decade of the 20th and the first of the 21st centuries was that a number of the fans within the SF movement gradually gafiated (gafia: got-away-from-it-all), while the writers became editors in publishing houses, or worked in radio and TV stations and also on mainstream cultural periodicals where they started promoting SF, or turned professional and became members of the Romanian Writers Union. Meanwhile the fall of the Iron Wall also enabled Eastern and Western European writers and fans to travel.

  • Zombies: A Not-So-Brief Literary History
    Kristopher Reisz
    Guys Lit Wire
    A link from Elizabeth Allen. I don’t agree about the “veneer” concept, and to be honest I’m getting sick of zombie stuff for various reasons, and I’m not sure whether “powerless” is the best word there, but I like the connection to Hurston’s work for a change . . .

    Hurston held up the mute, helpless zombie as a symbol for the powerless position of Africans in both Haiti and America. That metaphorical level of her writing was largely lost on her audience, though. Instead, they were drawn to the idea of zombies for its strangeness–the mingled fascination and fear of the unknown–and the delicious horror that it might be real . . . . The best zombie stories aren’t really about zombies at all. They’re about survival, about what makes us different from the monsters, and who we are beneath the thin veneer of civilization.

  • The Secret Feminist Cabal by Helen Merrick
    Brit Mandelo
    A link from Elizabeth Allen. A review of a recently published cultural history of science fiction feminisms.

    It’s important to note, straight away, the use of the plural in the title: feminisms, not feminism. Merrick’s work doesn’t try to deal with false monoliths of culture, women or what could be called, at any point in time, Feminism . . . .
    The text also makes an effort to engage with the intersections of race, class and sexuality in feminism, though Merrick acknowledges throughout the text that there are many more stories to be told on those fronts than she has managed to collect . . . . I appreciate the fact that she keeps those issues in the forefront of her arguments. It’s important to acknowledge the failures as well as the successes of feminism, both within SF and without. One of those failures is its attitude toward women of color.

  • Mythpunk: An Interview with Catherynne M. Valente
    JoSelle Vanderhooft
    Strange Horizons
    A link from Elizabeth Allen.

    I’ve always considered the appending of -punk to whatever other word to indicate that X is not merely being explored or ruminated upon, but in some sense broken, harmed, and put back together again with safety pins and patches, a certain amount of anxiety, anger, and messy, difficult emotionality expressed in the direction of X.

  • I Can’t Really Help It: A Conversation with Ben Marcus
    Colin Winnette / Ben Marcus
    A link from Elizabeth Allen with an interview wherein an author discusses his novel in which language becomes toxic. I will note a disagreement with Marcus’ use of the word “cults” in one particular sentence.

    I’d been thinking for years about language as a toxic substance. Language itself making people sick. Speech and text, all of it poisonous . . . . a story sort of bloomed fast out of that: a husband and wife who are sickened by the speech of their daughter. Literally. So sickened that they have to leave her. A situation so bad you’d have to abandon your child.

  • A rapist in every Jefferies tube: Detroit, design, and our dreams of space
    Madeline Ashby
    Dangerous to those who profit from the way things are
    What’s most interesting here is the last paragraph, as well as the idea that architecture as much as punitive social policy can do toxic things to community. I’m not sure what I think of the title, though. I’m tired of shiny futures and of slum futures both. Reality most often looks like a combination of the two, and the interesting thing is who lives how and where and why, and the methods activists and scholars use to bring together this information and make change with it. Although starting with the word “colony”, I can’t help but think of colonialism, and narratives of space exploration as compared to the toxic American myth of Manifest Destiny, let alone other, older justifications for theft and murder.

    Now you get to build a colony. How do you keep that dream of colonization from turning into a Le Corbusian nightmare of suffocating closeness, with trash everywhere? How do you respect the limitations of resources and the requirement for sustainability while still respecting the basic human needs for cleanliness and space?

  • The Horsies Upstairs
    Ursula K. LeGuin
    Ursula K. Le Guin’s Blog
    Interesting musings on belief and imagination.

    To me what’s awful is not — as it is usually presented — the “loss of belief.” What’s awful is the demand that children believe or pretend to believe a falsehood, and the guilty-emotion-laden short-circuiting of the mind that happens when fact is deliberately confused with myth, actuality with ritual symbol.


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