Monday, April 24, 2017

Hugo Novelette: Touring with the Alien

Tomas Diaz beat me to the punch on this review, and more power to him for that. My review was written without peeking at his.  As you'll see, he takes a far more cerebral approach to his review, and I highly recommend giving his blog a read. Where I deal with the brass tacks of this story's inherent contradictions, he delves into the actual philosophical conundrum that arises whenever a nihilist starts flapping their gums.

Onwards and up(?)wards!

Carolyn Ives Gilman takes a stab at Lovecraftian fiction with Touring with the Alien.  Like the alien-human-road-trip film that likely inspired this short story (see left), while the tradesmanship is fine, the pointlessness and meaninglessness of the tale result in nothing more than a few fleeting moments of enjoyment that as forgettable as the story itself.

Reading Touring with the Alien was a much more pleasant experience than my last foray into Hugo territory.  Unlike Alyssa Wong, Gilman sticks to tried and true prose and narrative structures that work.  Her descriptions of a cross country tour evoke the drifting way that time seems to expand as the miles fly by, the terrain outside the window changes, and the towns stay the same, and then contract for the memorable slices of Americana like a downtown café or a county fair.

Her descriptions of a mother's grief at the loss of a child are strong and poignant, with every aspect of the story from the gray weather to the wet grass to the broken terra-cotta angel left on her daughter's grave lending itself to instilling a feeling of sorrow in the reader.  This aspect of Avery, the point-of-view character, humanizes her with a fullness that you don't see all that often in today's 'female bad ass secret agent' characters.

It's tight and compelling writing.  Shame its wasted on such a pointless story.  Carolyn Ives Gilman continues the Hugo Award trend of failing to understand the difference between a trade and an art.  Gilman masterfully strings together sentences that pile up into a pointless heap of garbage the way a master carpenter might lend his talents to this monstrosity:

The phrase "point-of-view character" used to describe Avery sounds clunky, but it's as good as it gets.  For all that she is presented as a sympathetic victim of fate, she is no hero.  She consigns humanity to the dustbin of history, regretful only that she wasn't given the free choice to do so, but was tricked into it by the slave of the alien slavers come to conquer the earth:
Gilman knows which side of the Hugo bread is buttered, and right out of the gate, she checks that all important box without which no story can be considered for the silver rocket:

With that passage, as pointless as the rest of the story, we are two for two in the 2017 Novelette category for tacked-on virtue signaling.  Gilman stops the narrative before it has even begun in order to wave a red flag of GoodThink around the arena to distract the ever-present bulls of the thought police.  She knows full well that without this signal the rest of the story becomes as pointless as, well, as the rest of the story.  She knows that without the first sentence of that paragraph, this story would not have been a Hugo Contender.   Of course, given the SJW penchant for quoting out of context and utter lack of reading comprehension, every sentence of this paragraph after the first will be ignored by them, but the struggle is the glory.  Once again, the objection here is not the inclusion of a homosexual character, but the hamfistedness manner in which its done.  The character of Lionel is expressly written as Hispanic, an important check mark in the racial inclusivity box, but unlike Blake and Jeff, the fact of Lionel's race is presented seamlessly and organically.

There is a second passage that once again showcases Gilman's insular provinciality.  This is a woman so steeped in her own culture that she paints the Other with a brush that reveals more about herself than those whom she writes:
The complete and utter lack of self-awareness of these authors never ceases to amaze.  Desperate to signal her GoodThink and inclusivity, she writes off whole swathes of people with whom she has only the most passing familiarity.  Her egotistic vie of herself as an urbane and sophisticated auteur dispensing deeper truths stands on a foundation of utter ignorance and profoundly crude assumptions about rural Americans. 

And that sort of shallowness of thought doesn't limit itself to descriptions of 'flyover country', it that permeates Touring with the Alien.  Avery is presented as a smart and tough operator who outwits the CIA, but who then gets fooled by her boss and the inexperienced and naïve alien slave, Lionel.  Avery bounces from caring sister to hard case to grieving mother to indifferent genocidal maniac with head snapping speed.  The aliens are presented as all-wise, then know-nothing - eating raw cats makes you sick, bro - with the same sort of disregard for continuity or sense.

Then there's the complete disconnect between the story's main theme of "Nothing really matters," and the constant reminders that we are surrounded by big deals.  All of these disconnects slowly pile up the thoughtful reader's mind, making this story a complete and utter hash.

It's well written hash, and it's hash that the empty headed will enjoy, but in the end, Touring with the Alien is as pointless as the worldview it illustrates.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Cora Lyin'

Cora, Cora, Cora, why you gotta play like dat?

I was goggling about searching for Tomas Diaz's excellent analysis of the Hugo Novelette-ettes, which is excellent.  My own review of Touring with the Alien will be published tomorrow, so check back to compare.

It's a little old, but Cora Buhlert posted a nice long summary of the reactions to the Hugo Awards in which she dwells mainly on those who lament the provinciality and insularity and non-inclusiveness of the award.  It turns out my observation that the wooden anus lickers spent more time talking about authors nominated than the works nominated.  My point was that they didn't really have conversations about the works.  She proved me wrong by concluding:
Comments are still off and passive aggressive e-mails will be deleted unread. Grumble elsewhere.
Heh.  You got yourself a deal.  Welcome to elsewhere, toots.

Cora does make a few predictable objections about past conversations (without providing evidence) and a promise that conversations will be forthcoming once voters receive their packets (a fair point, but I remain skeptical that they will talk about the work rather than the author).  The real impetus for my post is a throw-away line tacked on to the end of hers:
*Does anybody else find the idea of a rabid puppy taking inspiration from Jonathan Livingston Seagull of all things as funny as I do?
Of course she thinks it's funny.  She doesn't know what you're talking about.  Jonathan Livingston Seagull is the story of a seagull whose unwillingness to conform to the demands of the crowd results in his expulsion from the flock.  It was adopted by the hippy-dippy movement in the 1970s as they struggled to escape the conformity provided by hard work, the Christian faith, and showers.  Cora still operates under that out-dated mindset, clinging to the notion that true rebels write works that conform to the demands of the university system, major publishing houses, Hollywood, every major media outlet, and most major businesses like Target, Google, and Starbucks.  Jonathan Livingston Seagull is the story of a seagull whose unwillingness to conform to the demands of the crowd results in his expulsion from the flock.  Her mirth makes it clear that she either has not read the work in question - which is largely agnostic on matters of politics, hewing closer to  a 'you be you even if it means going against the majority' message than to her assumed 'stick it to the man, and once you are the man, stick it to those who want to stick it to the man' message.  Proving once again...

These people don't read.

My comments are open.  I like talking about books.  My place is a place for conversations about books, even difficult ones.  It's neither echo chamber nor bully pulpit.  But then, as a member of the distinct minority pushed out by the powers that be, my pulpit is small, my reach short, and my faith in their weakness and lack of desire to discuss books secure.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The High Cost of The Narrative

Earlier this week two similar, yet very different, murder sprees cost the lives of innocent Americans. In fine Fake News fashion, the AP originally reported...well, take a look:

Note that the correction doubles down on the misleading story.  The man shouted, "Allahu Akbar," and even after being caught out in a deliberate misrepresentation, the AP apologized and promised to correct the half-truth with a different half-truth.  This sort of deception is so commonplace that viewers now assume any reports on terrorist acts will be white-washed by the media.

Case in point, the Facebook Killer:

My own introduction to this story came by way of the always reliable Twitter, and featured a thread in which an argument had broken out regarding whether or not the Facebook Killer was a terrorist.  It seems in the aftermath that he was not.  Maybe he was, and maybe he wasn't. 

Either way, notice that part of the cost of the mainstream press's utter abdication of reporting in favor of proselytizing is the immediate suspicion that any random act of insanity must be motivated by the current bête noir that the media so diligently sweeps under the rug.  Their lack of integrity and foolish pride have actually resulted in a world where the ideology they want to protect is now far more likely to be falsely accused of motivating crime than it would be if they simply honored their word and stuck to reporting the facts.

Nice bed you made there, media.  Hope you enjoy lying in it - you're going to be there for a long time.