Monday, June 29, 2015

Manhood and the gender-parity inflection point

Ack. Here's an article on manhood, with many not-what-I-expected statistics that women are out-earning men, adapting to new social and economic standards, and leaving them behind. Yes, that's right.

It's interesting and befuddling that, in low-income settings, women are so outperforming (and outnumbering) men, while in high-income/status settings (the technology sector comes to mind, as well as higher education) women are discriminated against and an extreme minority. Is there an inflection point,* somewhere on the socioeconomic scale, where men and women have achieved parity?**

I recoil at the suggestion that school needs to be made more "boy-friendly", probably because every other article in my inbox is about how science education needs to be made more "girl-friendly". Dissonance! Although I am soothed by the author's explicit mention that suggested changes to the classroom are "all helpful, and all things that might be appreciated by girls, too."

The article jumps all around, from broad and depressing statistics to accessible anecdotes and prescriptive suggestions from Sweden***. The takeaway message was bafflement, and the unusual and welcome thought that my worldview had been slightly widened to include a world with the statistics and anecdata of this argument. I'm also puzzled why the article is  framed as if gains for women equals (necessitates, requires, produces) losses for men.**** Why must it be a zero-sum game of employment?

This post's theme word is inosculate, "to join or unite." It's intransitive. Who would want to inosculate home, health, and fate with an unpleasant, violent, ill-mannered, uneducated partner?

*An intermediate-value-wish like this one seems unlikely, because the statistics probably aren't dense enough to be continuous. Big discontinuities at: high school diploma, college diploma, parents' socioeconomic indicators, etc.

**On the one hand, I'd like to live at that point, where men and women are equally employed, equally caretakers, equally-represented, equally successful. On the other hand, I probably don't want to move down the socioeconomic scale to reach that point, if I am currently above it.

***This is the parallel of Godwin's Law for articles on issues of economy, family, employment, education, health, or any other aspect of society: the article will, eventually, hold up Sweden as an example.

****On the other hand, the article illustration of a see-saw has a man on one side and no one is playing with him on the other side; yet he is still, inexplicably and in defiance of physics, up.

Friday, June 26, 2015

One Bright Star to Guide Them

In many novels, the plot reaches a point where the main character(s) must explain everything that has happened so far to a new character who is unfamiliar with the plot. Usually it happens like this: "Then Mary-Sue told Robert about the entire adventure,  focusing on important plot details X and Y. 'Wow!'  Robert said, 'Let me help you achieve Z!'" That is, the novel usually excuses the novel-reader from re-reading a description of the previous chapters of the novel.

"One Bright Star to Guide Them" by John C. Wright consists almost entirely of characters reporting what has just happened. Sometimes the action chapters are themselves excluded from this novella (another 2015 Hugo nominee), so that one chapter of a character summarizing action can be followed by another chapter of the same character summarizing the actions he did after the last time he summarized them.

This is torture to read. It's a novella, but it took me several weeks to force my eyeballs across all the pages. A torturous horror, an affront to the literate English-reading portion of the world's population.

What, in particular, was bad? Aside from the lack of action, the prodding prose, and the completely shallow and unengaging two-dimensional hero and villains? Those elements alone certainly made this an atrocious nominee. In addition, the author at various points demonstrates a baffling lack of knowledge about basic things, like: how boats work, basic anatomy, and physics.

Outward appearance exactly mirrors standing on the good/evil axis: "good" characters and items are infused with light, warmth, intelligence, honesty, truth, Capitalized Nouns, and well-tanned muscular good health; "bad" characters and items are dark, black, shadowy, gaunt, hollow-eyed (oh, so hollow-eyed!), hunched, draped in black robes, blind, lying, devious, clever, evil, and unhealthy. Nothing plot-relevant combines traits from both lists; good is turned up to 11, and bad is turned up to 11, and the entire story careens madly from 11 to 11, with no smaller integers available. The laziest sort of storytelling and symbolism, relying entirely on stereotypes, abounds. The level of diction ranges from painfully "street"-wise to archly ornate, often within the same sentence, although overall the story tends to be written as if it is Bible verse (which is to say, has been translated through many languages with no care for the fluid readability of the resulting sentence). The author cannot decide if the main character is "Thomas" or "Tommy", even within a single paragraph. Overall, the prose is so stiff it is mentally painful to read.

After the hero achieves his objective (defeating Evil on Earth! not bad!) and Catholically feels guilty rather than relieved, the (sigh) expected god figure (basically Aslan) descends from on High to make the hero feel a little better. This talking, golden-light-exuding giant lion gives all kinds of Good News about redemption, future heaven awaiting, etc.... and inexplicably mixes in some bits about how terrible suffering also awaits some of his Good friends, the main character accepts all this news (wretched future suffering!) with a Glad Heart, and so on. Elsewhere in better literature, Gollum is also stolen to appear in one (largely expository) scene, then be immediately defeated.

At some early point, I added a margin note that "all this summarizing had better be a joke, or else this story is a garbage attempt at an outline of a novel." Unfortunately, the entire story was straight and no ironic wink waited at the conclusion to acknowledge the horrible, trite sentences, the boring tropes, the unexciting fight scenes, the painful non-scanning rhymes which were necessary to do any Good Magic.

In conclusion: yuck.

This post's theme word is obtest, "to invoke as a witness, to implore, to beseech" (transitively), or "to protest, to plead" (intransitively). I obtest thee, read not this abominable collection of concatenated sentences.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

A giant mobile brush?

I guess it's art, but my imagination is reaching for a use-case for this giant metal brush on a tripod of wheels.
Somewhere, there is a giant who wants to clean underneath his toenails and is sorely disappointed by the lack of this tool.

This post's theme word is filipendulous, "hanging by a thread." Some artworks derange the viewer until sanity is filipendulous.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Championship B'tok

Edward M. Lerner's Championship B'tok is a nominee for a 2015 Hugo. The story is about an alien colony in our solar system (they are our prisoners). Everyone in the story has a scheme: the aliens want to escape their human containment, the humans are involved in various plans against each other, the aliens, and shadowy organizations. The titular game is an alien chess (with pieces possessing dynamic powers, on a mutable 3D board, etc.), with complicated strategy, which is an obvious-but-not-beaten-to-death metaphor for various situations in the story.

It was readable and interesting. Decent! My only complaint is that it seemed short, but I see now that this "novelette" is part of a larger multi-piece project from this author. So perhaps the novel-length story I would enjoy exists and includes this and is already written. This little piece is the only bit nominated for a Hugo.

This post's theme word is catawampus, "askew, crooked, diagonally positioned." Your knight is catawampus and your munitions supply is vulnerable, sir --- you are bad at playing chess and organizing defensive military installations.

Thursday, June 4, 2015


Arlan Andrews, Sr.'s Flow is nominated for a 2015 Hugo award. It is short, but I tried to read it three times and couldn't get further than 1/3 of the way through it. It just does nothing for me; it doesn't pull me in, it doesn't push me away. It frontloads maybe 10 characters, all with similar names, some of which are twins of others; others are in father-son relationships. This is boring, and difficult to follow in a completely unrewarding way. The world is not interesting, and is drawn with a heavy authorial hand, as if perhaps a (metaphorical) Sharpie were the only tool available --- no shading, no light touches, no variance of style or level of description.

So: I surrender. I abandon, I bail, I won't finish this one.

I've been reading Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, and next to that sparkling gem, this is eminently ignorable dust.

This post's theme word mantissa, "an addition of little importance," or "the decimal part of a logarithm or the positive fractional part of a number." This is a mere mantissa to the Hugo nominee list.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

On A Spiritual Plain

"On A Spiritual Plain" by Lou Antonelli is a short story nominee for the 2015 Hugo awards. It's a double-puppy, although it does not feature any good-old-times space military. Instead, it is the brief tale of a minister to the first human base on a planet where the spirits of the dead are consistently observable and eternally preserved after death (because of magnetism!).

Short stories are: short. I have read that authors try to make every scene, every utterance, every sentence in a short story serve two or even three purposes, to squeeze meaning and significance into such a small package. Good short stories stay with the reader, unpacking in the mind, a long while after the action of reading is complete.

This story doesn't do that. It was very straightforward, it presented no special challenges, it was not particularly memorable. I'm not sure it even had a conflict, nevermind a resolution. I will not be thinking about it for a long time, or even for much longer than it takes to post this.

Also, he misstated the golden ratio. Others have noted this. It is certainly not rational.

This post's theme word is betide, "to happen" (intransitive). Ghosts and magnets betide.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Day the World Turned Upside Down

This novella by Thomas Olde Heuvelt is one of the 2015 Hugo nominees. It's a cute little story where the title reveals everything you need to know about the heavy-handed metaphor for how the narrator feels after his girlfriend dumps him. And also, gravity reverses so that everything (except rivers and ponds) falls up off the surface of the earth and into space. But really, the narrator focuses mostly on how he feels so bad.

It's just not a very interesting story; I know that he can write a good story, because The Ink Readers of Doi Saket was delightful: charming, with an engaging voice and great characters and interesting things happening. This story does not have those features.

Because of the Puppy-storm around the 2015 Hugos, I considered the story in the light of Social Justice Warrior ideas. I might otherwise have let it slide, have written it off as not as good as The Ink Readers... and left it there. Instead, I thought about how this story focuses on the narrator's feelings, how he constantly expresses the totality of his love for his ex-girlfriend, but when he finally sees her, he describes her only in physical terms and thinks only of his outrage that she would have sex with someone else after dumping him. It's all about his hurt feelings and her body. We don't even get to learn many details about their relationship, so the reader is left to fill in details (how did they meet? what did they like doing together? how did they emotionally connect to each other? did they have good conversations?) around the one-sided authorial depiction of the ex-girlfriend as a body which has hurt this man.


This post's theme word is cicatrize, "to heal or become healed by forming a scar." The narrator needed to psychologically cicatrize and explore the new and fascinating world around him.

Monday, June 1, 2015

They said it couldn't be done...

Today an attempt to add more [e]books to my magical futuristic pocket-library, and I received the shocking message that the device is full. No more space! Egads! I thought it couldn't be done; it turns out it can be done.

FYI, I have read just over 50% of the books, according to my digital library software. Each time I add  n fresh and unread books to my magical device, my library informs me that I have read n/2 books since the last influx.

On the one hand, I am losing ground! On the other hand, the two numbers are only a factor of 2 apart. So I am holding steady, at a ratio that theoretically-minded people like myself usually regard as "basically equal" (precluding a catastrophic reading event: my stranding on a desert island with unlimited USB recharging capabilities OR my unexpected and sudden inheritance of a digital copy of the Library of Congress).

This post's theme word is vade mecum, "a book for ready reference, such as a manual or guidebook." My magical ereader is the vade mecum to fulfill my childhood fantasies.