Susan’s Salon: 2020 August 30/31

The last open thread for August! Hey! You got through to August! Good for you!

Please use the comment section to just chat about whatever you want. Susan’s Salon is posted early Monday (Sydney time which is still Sunday in most countries further west) . It’s fine to be sad, worried, angry or happy (or all of those things at once). Please feel free to post either troubling news or pleasant distractions in the comments for this open thread. [However, no cranky conflicts between each other in the comments.] Links, videos, cat pictures 🐈 etc are fine! Whatever you like but be nice to one another 😇

Wear a mask or face shield while posting a comment.

I should have used google sheets a long time ago

I think I tried Google sheets a couple of years ago and found it annoying for reasons I didn’t document and can no longer remember. Sometimes you just need a sustained project to get the feel of an application and I’ve started to warm to it. It’s certainly vastly better than Apple’s Numbers spreadsheet which is what I have installed on this Mac (I use Excel on a Windows machine which I don’t use for blog stuff).

Here’s a neat but not very illuminating chart I made from the great-big-hugo sheet I made. It shows the age of finalist (where we have that data) in the year a story of theirs was a finalist.

IGNYTE Shorts: Canst Thou Draw Out the Leviathan by Christopher Caldwell

John Wood is a carpenter on-board a 19th century whaling ship sailing out from Nantucket. A former slave, John finds love and companionship in the form of fellow sailor William Harker.

‘No light but the moon, but John could walk the length of the Gracie-Ella’s decks eyes closed and barefoot without placing a wrong stop. She was named for the daughters of two men who held her title, and at sea she belonged to the captain, but John reflected that she was his as much as anyone’s; his hands had shaped her and healed her, cosseted her and kept her afloat. He ducked down below decks. In the dark he made his way midship to a space he and the cooper shared. The smell of sawdust and resin was a comfort. A few strikes of a flint and the lantern overhanging his workspace was alight. John set about arranging his tools. The work here was sweet. He ran his hand over words he had carved on the underside of the vice-bench. “I hereby manumit & set free John Wood. He may go wheresoever he pleases.”’ Uncanny Issue 28

The story leads off with a title from the King James Bible quoting the Book of Job, framing the story within the scope of humans facing both greater primal forces (here the ocean and the whales they are hunting) and divinity.

The divine appears in two forms. Firstly, the pious harpooner To’afa (known to the crew as Gospel) who acts as self-appointed judge of the crew’s morals and as an amateur chaplain for the ship. Secondly, the cabin boy Pip, who has some sort of spiritual connection with a quite different form of divinity:

‘John lifted the boy up and staggered against sudden weight; in an instant Pip felt heavier than one of the blanket pieces. He kneeled under the tremendous burden. Pip’s eyes snapped open. The boy’s expression was hard and made him look far older than his fourteen years. His voice was like thunder. “John Wood. You know me not. But you I know. Your kin called to me for safe passage across my waters.”
John groaned struggling to keep the boy upright. “Pip, this ain’t sensible. You struck your head.”
The boy’s look was pitying. “Pip? No. I am the storm and the wind hard behind it. I am the wave and the darkness below. I, the white foam and the shifting sea sand. Do you know me, John Wood?”
John whispered, “Agwe?”
“The blood remembers. Destruction follows your present course. You have until the moon waxes full and wanes again.” Pip shut his eyes. John felt the weight vanish from the boy.’

The interplay of quasi-divine forces (the sea, the massive creatures that the ship hunts) is a familiar setting. A prophecy of disaster goes unheeded but given the the nature of the trade and the violence of the seas, the inevitability of disaster is guaranteed with or without divine intervention.

Like many a ghost story, the central character is more of an observer of events than an instigator of change. John is helpless in the face of powers far beyond his capacity to influence or control. However, it is within his smaller deeds of kindness and consideration that his fate is set.

It’s a strong story that uses a familiar setting and familiar themes within that setting, to tell a smaller ghost story and love story painted within a canvas of bigger themes of vast powers.

IGNYTE Shorts: Dune Song by Suyi Davies Okungbowa

The village of Isiuwa is ringed in by a bamboo fence and beyond its borders are endless dunes containing the remnants of past civilisations. Nata is determined to escape from the confinement and control of the Chief and the Elders.

“Isiuwa knows the Chief is right because he bears a cross on Isiuwa’s behalf, along with the troupe of Elders, sentries, and novitiates: the cross of going beyond the fence and seeking solutions, praying to the gods and asking them to stop moving the dunes closer. The troupe sometimes returns with strange things they’ve salvaged from the sand, things that look like they belong to another time, and the Elders keep them in the archive. The Chief reminds us that this is not a privilege but a burden, for it is impossible to look upon the face of the gods and live; and every time the troupe returns home intact is a blessing from the whistling gods. Isiuwa nods and remains behind the fence; remains grateful.” Apex Magazine May 7 2019

The story featured in Apex Magazine’s last issue before it went on hiatus in 2019. It is an adept mix of the familiar and the unusual, taking a look at a post-apocalyptic community that is self-sustaining (it seems) but also authoritarian and controlling.

The story delves into but leaves unresolved the tensions between the supernatural explanation of the encroaching dunes and a scientific one. The ‘rational’ here is represented by Nata’s absent mother:

“Nata blamed Mam in the beginning, believing it was her fault, that she could’ve just stopped arguing with the Elders, telling them that there were no whistling gods, that the civilization under the sand was just swallowed by an extreme ecological disaster. She insisted there were thriving civilizations out there and she was going to find them, that the whirlwind of time would take her there. She insisted she had seen it for herself.”

Of course, madness and the irrational is also defined in terms of social expectations and cooperation with norms and the opinion of the village of Isiuwa is that Nata’s Mam was a mad woman.

Gods of the sands or even Mam’s whirlwind of time, whatever the source of the dunes besieging Isiuwa, they are home to powerful forces beyond the villagers current understanding, as well as secrets and gifts.

The ending is necessarily ambiguous. Do the dunes contain gods, time-whirlwinds or just violent storms? A short story isn’t going to answer those questions but instead leaves the reader’s imagination to run away with the possibilities. The story, constrained by the village it starts in, escapes into the sands beyond.

This is a very nicely put together story that evokes in quick steps a sense of the village as a thriving community rich in produce and trades but also leaves not doubt as to why Nata is desperate to escape its claustrophobic restraints.

IGNYTE Shorts Week

Voting for FIYAH magazine’s IGNYTE awards closes on September 11. That’s just enough time to cover at least one maybe two of the shorter fiction categories.

I’m going to start with Short Story.

The finalists are:

I’ve read two of these and so I’ll lead off in a subsequent post with Suyi Davies Okungbowa post-apocalyptic Dune Song.

Timothy and I Watch Patriotic Submarines

[Garbled but extensive spoilers for “Hunter Killer” 2018]

[Scene: the palatial personal movie theatre underneath Felapton Towers (remodelled from the second wine cellar). Timothy the Talking Cat and his amanuensis Camelback Freshwater are sitting down for Movie Night.]

  • Camestros: I feel that after we introduced “Movie Afternoons”, we may have watched too many crappy movies.
    • Timothy: It was “Movie Breakfasts” that really made the difference.
  • Camestros: There is literally nothing I want to watch here…
    • Timothy: We could…
  • Camestros: No, no, we are not watching Cats again. Look, maybe it’s time to go outside?
    • Timothy: No way! It’s a hellscape out there! A seething dystopian nightmare! Woke mobs are cancelling cats for not wearing masks! It’s EU commissioners herding us inside our borders and stealing our holiday homes in the South of France and forcing us to use metric! It’s Attack on Titan but with giant buck naked Boris Johnsons eating people! There are SCOTTISH people about!
  • Camestros: Could you not just stick to one wildly inflated conspiracy theory at a time?
    • Timothy: Oh, that’s EXACTLY what THEY want us to do!
  • Camestros: OK, ok…how about this then. Hunter Killer starring Gerard Butler and Gary Oldman.
    • Timothy: Oh I like Gerard Butler. He was very Spartan in that film Oh Look At Us Big Manly Spartans! Will he be wearing a shirt this time? Oh, will he be a CGI cat this time? Will he? Will he be a big manly Spartan cat with CGI fur? Will he be a be a big manly Spartan cat with CGI fur but he is in an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical about the battle of Thermotherapy?
  • Camestros: 1. Thermopylae and 2. no and 3. please stop singing “This is Sparta” to the tune of Rum Tum Tugger. It doesn’t even scan right.
    • Timothy: Look, look Camerawarehouse! It has submarines in it!
  • Camestros: Well now it has my interest! Submarine films are the best!
    • Timothy: Better than Star Trek films?
  • Camestros: Star Trek films ARE submarine films! Wrath of Khan in particular! Submarine films are all science fiction films even the ones that aren’t science fiction. You could shoot a documentary on a submarine and it would still be science fiction. That’s just how genres work.
    • Timothy: Hoorah! We found a film! Submarines for you and jingoistic American militarism for me!
  • Camestros: You know Gerard Butler isn’t American right?
    • Timothy: Obviously. He’s Spartan not American…but America is the modern day Sparta. That is why Americans eschew all luxuries and wear only loin cloths and bandoliers.

[The film starts]

dive! Dive! Dive!

Cartographer Catch-Up

The serial mega-novella Homunculus Cartographer continues on twice a week over here:

We are into the final weeks of the story with just four more chapters to go.

The story so far

Cartographer Homunculus is an artificial being created by alchemist bears to gather data for maps. Carto’s mission is to journey across the bowl shaped world called the Unfolded Hades to discover crucial data needed to make a map of the paths between worlds. Carto is accompanied by a bodyguard, Sir Pangolin (a pangolin).

Their journey has taken them across a crystallized sea, through a magical door and into the secret tunnels that join worlds. Now they find themselves under the control of a demonic being who has taken them to London in 2015. Their only route back home again requires them to find a pathway to hell itself…

Still to come: a journey through Hell and obligatory big cliche epic fantasy final battle!

Baen, publishing and authors

There is an interesting piece at Mad Genius Club today by Sarah Hoyt. I haven’t visited there for a long time and the post is by Hoyt, so it inevitably wanders into aggrieved persecution theories. Even so, there are parts of the analysis that make sense. It also touches on an aspect of post-puppy history regarding the estrangement between some MGC authors and Baen Books, that they’ve hinted at but never really described directly.

I’ve no additional comment on it other than, ‘look, that’s interesting’.

A Big Hugo Finalist List

I am primarily a machine that turns carbohydrates into spreadsheets. I’m OK with relational databases but they are not my natural territory. I prefer my data in great big lists of everything and if I want lots of little tables then I’ll pivot it.

I’d started rationalising some of the throw-away spreadsheets I made for blog posts and I’d started with the sheet I’d made for my Hugo Window posts [ ] As Google Sheets now has pivot tables and other features that make it a reasonable alternative to Excel I’ve put all that data there. You can see for yourself here

Now, I was also working on a new sheet for the IGNYTE awards (which I need to get back to) but I got diverted by a query over Twitter, which was sufficiently interesting and which led to some extra oomph to the Google Sheet listed above.

Yasser Bahjatt is a fan from Saudi Arabia who was part of the JeddiCon bit and is a Guest of Honour at FIYAHCON. He’s also trying to collate Hugo data and looking at diversity across awards. I said I’d share what I had and see what I could add to my great-big-spreadsheet.

I started asking a few other people who had collected Hugo data what they had (and thanks in particular to ErsatzCulture for tips on getting stuff out of ISFDB efficiently) but then life and work got in the way. There’s other people I meant to hassle but time etc…(so don’t feel left out that I didn’t bug you!)

I’m still think about categories that could help inform analysis and track diversity and inclusion in awards. One issue is that some of the most relevant fields are not easily collated – in particular ethnicity. A second issue is that once you step away from data that is easily found on Wikipedia or an author’s public bio, you start shifting towards collecting personal data about living individuals, which is an ethical and legal minefield.

Here’s a list of categories and some thoughts on them:

  • Year: Already have this in my sheet (note my great big sheet only has the main story categories)
  • Award: I have Novel, Novella, Novelette and Short Story but not other Hugos
  • Name of Nominee: I had names but I augmented this with ISFDB data to help match pseudonyms
  • Number of nominations: available and I’ll add this progressively. I do have the number of times the author was a finalist as well.
  • Number of Votes: available and I’ll add this progressively.
  • Gender of Nominee: I’ve done pronouns instead because it is quicker to collect and data is more reliable. I’ll probably need an extra column for the pronouns of the named author v the pronouns the author uses aka James Tiptree v Alice Sheldon.
  • Year of Birth: Imported from ISFDB
  • Age of Nominee when nominated: Age at finalist based on the ISFDB data. Approximate as I’m not taking time of year into account (i.e. which side of the award announcement their birthday fell on)
  • Ethnicity of Nominee: Tricky, tricky. I need to think about this more because you really need a personal identification of ethnicity here and it’s relative to the country the person lives in and the the general USA-context of the Hugo Awards.
  • Religion of Nominee: Less ambiguous than ethnicity and sometimes public but one of those categories that is on the border between public data and personal/private data.
  • Country of Nominee: ISFDB has country of birth (which can be complex for pre-WW2/WW1 births) but nationality may be more relevant.
  • Original language of the Nominated work: ISFDB has this.
  • Nominated language of the Nominated work: I think all the Hugo finalist stories have been nominated in English translations, so possibly redundant.
  • Profession(s) of Nominee: This is interesting and I’ve looked at this kind of info before when looking at the number of academics nominated for Hugos. It’s largely on the public side of the public/private divide I think. However, it’s very mutable and really what is most interesting would be “profession at first time finalist”, so that the column isn’t just “writer”

Anyway, a work-in-progress.

Missing Moments in Movie History: Batman (1955)

Alfred “Pennyworth” Hitchcock’s one foray into the superhero genre was scrapped after the famed directors attempt to film Gary Grant in costume carrying a giant bomb (labelled “bomb”) around the French Rivera in a single long take, proved impossible. Grace Kelly also objected to the acting coach brought in to teach her “feline like movements” to aid her role as Catwoman. Later, reminiscing on his long (and yet surprisingly unfruitful) career in film, Timothy the Talking Cat concedes that he possibly was the wrong choice — he regards climbing over rooftops as “uncouth” and a negative stereotype of cat behaviour. “I prefer sitting down to be honest,” he says.

Having bought the film crew and actors all that way, Hitchcock quickly improvised a wholly different film and had Grant play the cat burglar.