We’ve finally finished watching all three seasons of Avatar: The Last Airbender. I’m going to go ahead and say this is one of the best shows I’ve ever watched. Here’s the official show description from the website, for anyone who’s unfamiliar with it:
Water. Earth. Fire. Air. Only the Avatar was the master of all four elements. Only he could stop the ruthless Fire Nation from conquering the world. But when the world needed him most, he disappeared. Until now…
On the South Pole, a lone Water Tribe village struggles to survive. It’s here that a young Waterbender named Katara and her warrior brother Sokka rescue a strange boy named Aang from a cavernous iceberg. Not only is Aang an Airbender–a race of people no one has seen in a century–but they soon discover that Aang is also the long lost Avatar. Now it’s up to Katara and Sokka to make sure Aang faces his destiny to save the tribe–and himself. Did we mention he’s only 12?
I don’t know how best to talk about a three-season, 61-episode show, so I’m just going to randomly celebrate some of the things that made it work so well for me.
The Characters: Almost without exception, every character has his/her own personality and story arc. The Big Bad Fire Lord was pretty much the only one who struck me as one-dimensional, and that’s partly because he barely even shows up until the very end. Everyone else felt fully human. They struggle. They make mistakes. You can connect and sympathize with almost everyone, even the villains. These are interesting people, and I wanted to spend more time with them.
The Animation: This is a beautifully animated show, from the background artwork to the various spirit creatures to the different cultural styles of dress and architecture to my particular favorite, the gracefulness of the four styles of bending. It’s gorgeous to look at.
The Joy: Aang’s backstory is incredibly painful. He’s the last of his people, a hundred years out of his time, and is tasked with saving the world. At the age of twelve. Yet he never loses his joy in the world. He jokes, he laughs, he plays, he dances. He believes in people … but not to the point of foolishness. The show hits notes of both very real pain and ridiculous silliness (poor cabbage guy), and the full range in between. That’s a hard thing to do well, and incredibly powerful when done right.
I’m putting the rest behind a cut tag, because of spoilers…
I just posted this over on Tumblr, but wanted to share it here as well.
I’ve criticized The Big Bang Theory for things like its ongoing obsession with fat jokes, its casual sexism (OMG, girls don’t read comics/play D&D/etc), the handling of Sheldon’s autistic/OCD issues, and an ongoing sense of laughing at geeks instead of with us.
But I want to give a shoutout to something the show did recently in “The Itchy Brain Simulation.” Leonard discovered a DVD he had forgotten to return for Sheldon, and started worrying about how Sheldon would react. Because we all know Sheldon can’t let anything go, and would be completely annoying and freak out about the unreturned DVD, right? And then we the viewers can all laugh at the neurotic genius and ask why his friends put up with him.
Only it didn’t play out that way. Sheldon countered by asking why Leonard didn’t consider how annoying and difficult these things were for him. As far as I know, this is the first time Sheldon’s ever stood up for himself in this way. He took it a step further, saying he’d remain calm about the DVD … if Leonard wore an itchy sweater he had gotten as a gift until the DVD was returned.
Animated gifs ahead. (I did say this was being copied from Tumblr…)
I don’t know about you, but I’m tired and ready for some things to smile about.
Yesterday afternoon, Twitter called my attention to the following comment on a listserv of SF/F conrunners:
“Instead of insulting us, [Hines] could be using whatever influence he has in social media to help recruit more PoC into our circles. They need to know they’d probably be much more welcome here than they might be elsewhere. (After all, many of us would love to befriend extra terrestrials or anthromorphs.)”
I’m told that others on the listserv quickly pointed out how messed-up it was to compare people of color to aliens and monsters, and that the individual apologized, so I don’t want to spend much time rehashing that part of the comment. I doubt it was deliberately intended to be racist or offensive. But I think it’s worth emphasizing that this kind of unintentional and unthinking hurtfulness is, in my opinion, a big part of our problem.
I did post a snarky and sarcastic comment on Twitter in response to that “recruiting” comment:
Knock, knock. “Hello, I’ve come to spread the good news about fandom, where we love aliens, monsters, and even PoC!”
For the record, I consider myself part of fandom. I love our community. I love the friends I’ve made here. I love this part of my life. But I’m not going to ignore the serious problems we continue to struggle with when it comes to sexism and racism and inclusiveness and so on. And when individuals made racist remarks, or conventions botch their handling of sexual harassment, or another convention chair congratulates themselves on their “colorblindness” when their convention is 97% white, I’m going to keep pointing that out.
On Twitter, I was accused of driving people from SF/F fandom, and making our community look bad. I admit to being rather baffled by this. I thought things like conrunners making ignorant racist remarks were what made the rest of us look bad, not the acknowledgement and criticism of such remarks.
This bugs me a lot. It resonates with the dynamics I’ve seen in abusive families, where the most serious crime isn’t the abuse, but talking about the abuse outside of the family. So yeah, this hits a big old button for me.
Then there’s the complaint that I’m not using my “influence” to recruit other groups into fandom. Which got me thinking more seriously about the suggestion that hey, maybe I should work to try bring more diverse fans into fandom.
I’m sorry, but what the hell do you think I’ve been trying to do???
There are a lot of ways to try to make fandom and conventions more welcoming, and to try to encourage others to join our community. Which do you think is actually going to make people feel wanted — comparing them to aliens and monsters, or publicly denouncing the people who make such ignorant and hurtful remarks? You’ve got voices in fandom saying black people don’t come to cons because those people don’t like SF/F. Then you’ve got voices in fandom saying, “That’s racist bullshit, we don’t all believe that, and we as a community need to do better.”
I know which category I’d prefer to belong to.
Some of the ways I see to try to build a more welcoming community include:
I’m not asking for cookies, and I’ll be the first to admit I don’t always get it right. I’ve messed up plenty of times. But yeah, my goal is, in fact, to make fandom a more welcoming place, and help it become a community that a broader range of people will choose to be a part of. Not by going door-to-door so I can drag a token black woman to my local con, but by trying to address the underlying problems making so many people feel unwelcome.
You know what isn’t going to encourage people to be a part of fandom?
I’m rather fond of this quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.“
There are a lot of good people trying to make fandom a better and more welcoming place. Some of them are on that listserv I mentioned in the beginning, where I’m told there has been some good and productive conversation lately. I’ve worked with some great people at cons and on panels. I’ve linked to some of them online. These are folks I believe are working to bring a broader range of people into fandom. Not by dragging or ordering them to attend, but by trying to acknowledge and fix our flaws, and to reshape fandom into a thing more people yearn to be a part of.
I reviewed Myke Cole‘s first book, Shadow Ops: Control Point, back in January of 2012. Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] is the sequel, and if you liked the first book, I suspect you’ll like this one even more.
Book two picks up where the first one left off, but switches to the perspective of Colonel Alan Bookbinder, a military man more comfortable behind a desk than in actual combat. He’s a quiet, nervous, even timid man, but when he comes up latent (displaying magical abilities), all that changes. He’s drafted into the Supernatural Operations Corps, and ends up on the FOB Frontier, another world filled with magic and goblins and more.
While “write what you know” is generally a silly rule, Cole shows how it can work, using his own military background to create a solid, believable military fantasy. One of my favorite parts of the book was watching Bookbinder learn to move through his fears and develop his own leadership abilities.
Oscar Britton, the p0rtamancer protagonist from book one, also gets some point of view time in the book. It can be odd switching perspectives after spending so much time with one character, but I think it worked here. It was important to see what he’s been doing since book one, and how those events have changed him.
I enjoyed meeting the naga, learning more about the creatures of the Source, and seeing how other nations are dealing with magic and this fantastic frontier. And I appreciate that Cole went back to address the potentially deadly mess Oscar Britton left behind in book one.
In some respects, this is very much a middle book. (The third book, Breach Zone, comes out in January of 2014.) While relatively self-contained, the larger story arc about how people with magical powers are treated and mistreated, as well as the secrets of the magical frontier — “the Source” — are left unresolved. Indeed, this book ups the stakes in a number of ways. Assuming book three is the last one, I expect quite the crescendo.
You can read an excerpt of the first book at Tor.com, here. If you like the excerpt, you’ll probably like the first book. If you liked the first book, you’ll almost certainly enjoy the second.
I’ve written many times before about reporting sexual harassment in SF/F, and about the problem of harassment at SF/F conventions. While I think it’s important to talk about the problem, and to hold conventions and individuals accountable when they mess up, it’s also important to recognize the things folks do right, and to help groups improve. To that end, and with the help of some friends, I’ve tried to put together a “starter kit” for conventions wanting to create or improve their harassment/safety policy.
1. What’s the goal of a convention harassment policy?
The existence of a clear, published harassment policy sends a message. So does the lack of such a policy. Harassment is a real and ongoing problem, whether you’re talking about a huge media-oriented con or a smaller “professional” event. Choosing not to publish a policy on harassment can suggest that your event doesn’t take sexual harassment seriously, and may turn a blind eye to such incidents.
Defining harassing behavior sets a clear expectation of what will and won’t be tolerated, and can help to prevent common excuses like, “He’s just socially awkward and didn’t know he was harassing her.”
A sexual harassment policy lets attendees and volunteers know how seriously your event intends to respond to incidents. Having a written policy in place beforehand also makes it simpler for people to know how to report, and gives staff the information they need on responding to reports.
2. What should a convention harassment policy include?
The Geek Feminism Wiki has several sample harassment policies that may be helpful to review. No one policy is appropriate for all conventions, but typical policies should include:
Cheryl Morgan suggested the following, which I hadn’t considered, but agree with: “The policy should make it clear that the victim’s wishes will be respected. It is better to have incidents reported and to take no action, than to have the incidents not reported because the victim has reasons not to want action taken.”
From a sample policy at the Geek Feminism Wiki:
“Harassment includes offensive verbal comments [related to gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion, [your specific concern here]], sexual images in public spaces, deliberate intimidation, stalking, following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention. Participants asked to stop any harassing behavior are expected to comply immediately.”
ISFiC’s harassment policy includes the following statement of potential consequences:
“Windycon and ISFiC reserves the right revoke the membership of anyone failing to conform to the letter and spirit of these policies, those of our hotel, and the laws of the City of Lombard and the State of Illinois.”
Readercon’s website includes a list of possible consequences, up to banning the harasser from the con and from future events. The same page provides information on how to report harassment, as well as a link to their internal procedures for handling reports.
3. Where and how should the harassment policy be published?
The nice thing about a website is that you have more room to work with. You can lay out the full details of your policy, as Readercon has done. Many people will check out your website when deciding whether or not to attend your event. As many in the SF/F community saw with the run-up to the 2013 World Fantasy Convention, if your website lacks a harassment policy, people will notice.
The program book should also include your convention’s harassment policy. If you don’t have as much space, you might choose to print a summary with a link to the website for more information. But the program book should include the main points.
Of course, lots of people don’t read the program book, which is why it’s a good idea to mention the harassment policy elsewhere. Reference it during opening ceremonies. Post flyers at the convention. (There are some slightly blurry sample flyers from CONvergence here.) Include a copy of the policy at the registration desk
If you have a central phone number and/or email address for reporting harassment, make sure that’s publicized as well.
4. What should the convention do if someone reports harassment?
I’m not a conrunner, and have less information about the behind-the-scenes operation of conventions, so I’m drawing heavily from the Geek Feminism Wiki’s page on how to respond to reports of harassment and input from friends for this section. (Any mistakes or omissions are my own.)
Before the Convention Even Starts:
After the Convention:
Some of this seems obvious, such as finding a safe place to talk. But there have been had instances where someone was assault at a convention, and the con staff basically interrogated her in the middle of the lobby. Don’t do that.
If there’s a problem with a particular individual, the con staff need to be aware of this. If additional reports come in while an incident is being investigated, the fact that this isn’t a first report can affect how staff respond.
Finally, if you have a policy, follow it. Many of you are probably familiar with the incident at Readercon where they received multiple, verified reports of an individual harassing others, but responded in a way that ignored the consequences set out in their own policy. This damaged the trust of attendees and resulted in the entire Readercon board resigning. (Readercon has since done a great deal of work to try to repair the damage done by this decision.)
5. Where can I find examples of convention harassment policies?
There are many more conventions with good harassment policies out there, and more groups are creating and publishing such policies each year. But these should be enough to get you started thinking about how to write or update your own.
6. Do harassment policies really work?
It’s true that publishing a policy doesn’t guarantee your event will be harassment-free. Just like laws against theft and vandalism didn’t stop someone from smashing the window to my wife’s van a few years back and stealing everything they could grab. However, the existence of those laws sends a clear message about what will and will not be tolerated in the community, and establishes consequences for anyone choosing to violate those rules.
Creating and publishing a harassment policy for your convention will help reduce the behavior, let your members know you take harassment seriously, and help you to respond more effectively when it does happen.
If all goes well, I’m still sleeping right now, after getting up to try to see Comet Lovejoy. (Since it sounds like Comet ISON may not have survived its close encounter with the sun )
Anyway, here – have some links of fun and niftiness!
I wrote the introduction to the first Velveteen collection, Velveteen vs. the Junior Super Patriots, so I was very thankful (do you see what I did there?) to get my hands on book two. In this book, bunny-eared superheroine Velveteen, with the power to animate toys, continues her battle against the the forces of the Super Patriots, Inc.
I emailed Seanan after I finished reading the collection, telling her she was awesome, and that I was honored to be her friend. She wrote back to say thank you, but that she wasn’t sure what about her silly superhero stories had inspired such a response.
That’s a fair question, and it’s taken me a few days to try to put it into words. Because sure, there’s a fair amount of silliness going on in these stories. There’s a superhero who’s basically a Disney princess come to life. There are Velveteen’s green plastic army men shooting tiny plastic bullets at bad guys. There’s a whole story about getting trapped in a typical horror flick.
But despite the silliness, the characters are always treated with respect. They feel like real people, even when they’re flung into rather odd or absurd situations. Their struggles and their love and their pain are real, and you very quickly start to care about them all. I think that’s one of Seanan’s superpowers.
There’s more going on here, though. These stories, this book, felt … unfiltered in a way most books don’t. It felt like Seanan McGuire had written these stories purely for the fun and joy and love of it. Knowing her as a friend, I could see her shamelessly indulging her love of parallel universes and toys and twisted holidays and fairy tales and horror films and so much more, and it works. This collection is an invitation to join Seanan in celebrating everything she loves.
Now sure, if you don’t like the same things she does, then the stories may not work for you. No book works for everyone, after all. And not everyone has the same tolerance for the fun/silly factor in stories.
But I like it. I like the random-but-carefully-thought-out superpowers combined with the all-too-real corporate overlords of the Super Patriots, Inc. I like that she never forgets that all victories come with a cost. I like that the individual, mostly-standalone stories don’t feel repetitive. I like the character revelations we get in this book.
I liked the first collection, but by the end of this one, I felt like Seanan had accomplished something magical.
Go forth and read and buy. For justice!
I’m thinking I should take a lesson from the Internet and promote my books under different titles to try to attract more attention. What do you think? Would you buy any of the following?
The Goblin Series:
The Princess Series:
Magic ex Libris
The sad thing is that it was slightly easier to come up with the joke titles than it’s been thinking of the real ones :-/
Legend of Korra