This'll be a bit of a short newsletter this week. I did something to my back, and it's been painful to sit for long periods of time. I've been spending this week trying to avoid sitting or lifting things, which seems to be helping.
Two programming notes:
- With the migration to Ghost, I've sent out updates of the move to the folks who subscribed on both Substack and TinyLetter, and backed up the members from both subscriber lists. If you had unsubscribed at some point, you might have slipped back onto the list by mistake. My apologies for the oversight.
- Secondly, the migration messed with TO's paid subscriber list: that should be straightened out now, and folks who were affected have had their membership periods calculated out and comped. I've had folks ask about resuming their paid memberships right away, and weirdly, it doesn't look like there's an easy way to do that. If you're in that situation, just let me know: I can toggle off the comped setting, which solves the issue.
Okay, onto this week's topic.
This week in SF/F
Read AAP / Asian Authors
The last couple of years have seen a spate of horrific attacks against Asian and Asian-Americans throughout the country, culminating in a shooting spree that left eight dead in Georgia. It's been horrible to see the attacks in cities; individual assaults to paint a larger picture of bias, racism, and bigotry in the country.
It's not hard to see how and why these attacks have been taking place. Researchers point to President Donald Trump's tweets placing the blame for the Coronavirus on China for causing an immediate spike in hate crimes, ultimately amounting to a 149% surge in attacks against Asians in the US. The origins of this doesn't lie just with Trump's deliberative and bigoted messaging in the early months of 2020: it extends to his rhetoric against China amidst a trade war that he fomented throughout his administration, and even before that: US history is rife with anti-Asian sentiment, going back centuries. It's not a new thing, and it'll take a lot to undo.
I firmly believe that there's a place for reading in any sort of solution to this: reading expands our horizons and points us in new directions, introduces us to new concepts, views, and worlds. But there's a danger in tagging books with some sort of overt motive or that books from marginalized groups must hold some hidden meaning or lesson for their readers. All they need to be is a good story.
I don't have much to add to the larger discourse that the attacks have prompted, but I can point people to books that I've enjoyed, and authors who I think deserve readers and support. I've put together a list of books that I've enjoyed over the years from Asian and Asian-American authors, and I'd recommend adding them to your TBR pile:
- The Sacred Era by Yoshio Aramaki (translated by Baryon Tensor Posadas)
- Redemption of Time by Baoshu (translated by Ken Liu)
- Exhalation by Ted Chiang
- The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang
- The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho
- Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
- Gene Mapper by Taiyo Fujii (translated by Jim Hubbert)
- Vagabonds by Hao Jingfang (translated by Ken Liu)
- The Fat Years by Koonchung Chan (translated by Michael S. Duke)
- Ascension by Jacqueline Joyanagi
- The Poppy War / The Dragon Republic / The Burning God by R.F. Kuang
- Jade City / Jade War / Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee
- Ball Lightning by Liu Cixin (translated by Joel Martinsen)
- The Three Body Problem / The Dark Forest / Death's End by Liu Cixin (translated by Ken Liu / Joel Martinsen)
- To Hold Up The Sky by Liu Cixin (translated by various translators)
- The Grace of Kings / The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu
- The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu
- The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu
- Ash by Malinda Lo
- Warcross by Marie Lu
- Waste Tide by Chen Qiufan (translated by Ken Liu)
- United States of Japan / Mecha Samurai Empire / Cyber Shogun Revolution by Peter Tieryas
- The Black Tides of Heaven / The Red Threads of Fortune / The Descent of Monsters / The Ascent to Godhood by Neon Yang
- Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu
No list is ever comprehensive: this one certainly isn't — there are books that I'm looking forward to discovering, like Xueting Christine Ni's upcoming anthology Sinopticon: A Celebration of Chinese Science Fiction (coming out in November), and Xia Jia's collection A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight, as well as others that I'll cross paths with down the road.
Some additional, important pieces to read for some broader context that I think are useful:
- Kathleen Hou's piece in The Cut: Swallowing Our Bitterness
- Charles Yu's Op-Ed in the LA Times: The cruel plot twist in the Asian American story
- Li Zhou's piece in Vox, The long history of anti-Asian hate in America, explained
- Stop AAPI Hate, a list of resources to help if you see something happening.
Being stuck on the couch for a couple of days is useful for getting through one's reading list. I finally finished up Martha Wells' Murderbot novel, Network Effect, which I really enjoyed. I'll be delving into it a little more deeply in the nearish future (I want to read Fugitive Telemetry first), but as I noted on Twitter: if the first four novellas were like small TV arcs, this was like the big-budget movie that follows. Lots of snarky action, fun dialogue, and introspection about the human condition.
With that over, I've been working on the same stack: I've been focusing on Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction by Michelle Nijhuis and 2034: A Novel of the Next World War by Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis, and started Jeff VanderMeer's Hummingbird Salamander. (True Believer by Abraham Riesman and Star Wars: Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule are still on the list, and I'm making my way through them.)
The next priorities are Arkady Martine's A Desolation Called Peace (just downloaded the audiobook), as well as The Last Watch by J.S. Dewes, The Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers, and The Effort by Claire Holroyd.
- Civilization collapse. Writing for The Washington Post, Annalee Newitz has a great piece out that accompanies their recent book, Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age, about the appeal of apocalyptic stories and lore. "In truth, our apocalyptic stories are far too simplistic to capture what actually happens when a society melts down," they write. "As I argue in my book “Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age,” a civilization is not a single, monolithic entity, nor does it disintegrate during a momentary crisis. Instead, as we’re witnessing in the United States today, it changes without ever breaking completely from the past. It is far from obvious that a society ever really dies."
- Don't worry about it. Adam Rogers writes about the growing pile of stuff that typically accompanies the Star Wars / Marvel / DC projects for Wired. What character was that that just popped up? What lore do you need to know? Should I pause this and look up the backstory on Wikipedia? He reassures viewers: don't worry about it, just go with the ride:
"The evidence that you don’t need the backlog of backstory to have fun is in the ur-text of modern sci-fi worldbuilding: Star Wars. The first one. That universe felt “lived in” not only because the tech looked beat up, but because the characters refer to stuff from the past like we viewers remember it, too. No one knew what Clone Wars, Kessel Runs, or Galactic Senates were. They all happened off screen. The movie wasn’t compelling despite that—it worked because of it. The audience had to fill in with hunches, guesswork, and personal head canon. It’s that energy that makes someone a fan, not their ability to rattle off the Fett clan’s genealogy."
- More Justice League fallout. With the release of Zack Snyder's Justice League director's cut on HBO Max, there's been a lot of attention directed at Joss Whedon's handling of the project after he took over. In particular, actor Ray Fisher has been the most vocal, calling attention to Whedon's behavior. Up until now, we haven't had too many specifics as to what he did, but talking to The Hollywood Reporter, he provided some details: Whedon cut out huge swaths of the film that would have focused on Fisher, told Gal Gadot to "shut up and say the lines," and so forth.
That's not all: Justice League screenwriter Chris Terrio had some choice words with Anthony Breznican over at Vanity Fair, calling Whedon's work "an act of vandalism."
The two pieces paint a dysfunctional picture for what went down. On one hand, there's efforts from Warner Bros.' corporate owners to shape a film without understanding how to do that (cut X minutes / characters / themes out of the print), and brought in a director who they thought would salvage it, who ultimately didn't. The whole thing is quite the mess.
- Oral histories for Hobbits. Are you a Tolkien fan? Marquette University might want to talk to you about it: its archives are collecting oral histories of Tolkien fans and how they got hooked on Middle-earth. I've got an interview with them next week.
- Pandemic noveling. With a lot of people stuck at home during the pandemic, apparently a lot of would-be writers began joining online writers groups to work on long-thought-about projects and novels. Sophia June has an interesting look at the trend in The New York Times.
- Technicolor Folios. The Folio Society has a very pretty set out: The Complete Short Stories of Philip K. Dick, which looks pretty, even if it's prohibitively expensive for average fans.
- Top of the streaming pile. Over on Vox, Emily VanDerWerff talks about her favorite streaming service: Apple TV+, and chalks up its success to the fact that it doesn't have a franchise to fall back on like its bigger cousins. When the streaming service launched, I saw a lot of eye-rolling and takes along the lines of "this is a dumb thing that Apple's doing." But I think it's best to take the long view on these things, and I think that's what Apple is doing: they're building up a catalog from scratch (almost), and in doing so, they seem to be putting an emphasis on quality over quantity. As VanDerWerff says, Ted Lasso is fantastic, as well as For All Mankind (I'd throw in Mythic Quest as well), and I'm very eager to see how Foundation turns out.
That's all for this week. As always, if you like this newsletter and want to support it, please consider subscribing. I'm going to go enjoy the fact that it's finally sunny and warm, and work on whittling down that TBR pile. Have a good weekend,