kaigou: life would be easier if I had the source code. (3 source code)
Per yet another dinner discussion combined with the need to produce some displayable code for upcoming interviews, I decided it was time for yet another insightful and elegant solution to yet another non-existent problem.

Lo, I have created a conlang word generator. Except it doesn't simply spew randomized letters at you, because that wouldn't be elegant at all, would it. No, as befitting my status as a nerd of the first order and a geek of the second, this word generator requires that you enter actual rules for your language.

(As in, whether a word can start with a vowel or a consonant, and the phonetic patterns of syllables, and what vowels can be doubled and whether a word can end with a single vowel or a doubled one, or maybe doubled vowels only occur in the middle of a word and doubled consonants only ever occur in the last syllable.)

Go forth and have fun, if you're easily linguistically amused. Do let me know if you run into problems, though, since I've only tested a little, and not nearly as obsessively as I hear you're supposed to. Or something.

kaigou: Edward, losing it. (1 Edward conniption)
From an interview with the author:
Q: I’ve studied Japanese for six years and been to Japan yet still may not have been able to execute a Japanese-inspired world as real and sensational as yours. What was the research involved in bringing the world of Stormdancer to life? Or did you drink some magical sake and try your luck?

A: I’ve had a few people say that, and it’s really flattering, but honestly I think most of my research was done via osmosis. I’ve always had an interest in Japanese cinema and manga, so I absorbed a lot of knowledge through that over the years. Wikipedia was really my go-to source for information, plus a few specialized sites dealing with the Tokugawa age.

The cool thing about writing a setting that’s inspired by Japan, but not actually Japan, is that you can take what you want from history and mythology and leave the rest. Take thunder tigers, for example – there’s nothing close to griffins in Japanese folklore. But without thunder tigers, there would be no Stormdancer.

My theory has been that if you want a place inspired by Japan (or anywhere) that's not actually Japan (or wherever), then you must avoid all non-English words that are not long-standing loan-words, for starters. At the simplest level. Otherwise, you're obviously writing about a certain place because the non-Englishness is going to act as a red flag, and pull people back into the concrete this-place that's the analogue to your wherever. This is why authors make up their own words & phrases in fantasy and science fiction, except in those cases where they specifically want you to be thinking France, Japan, Mozambique, or wherever.

But I'll let other folks do the talking, since that's hardly the only thing wrong with this story. Oh, Goodreads, why do you recommend stuff that just makes my blood boil?

Discounting manga/anime, I can count on two fingers how many Asian-inspired fantasies I know of. Stormdancer gets the middle one.

Have a small link roundup. )

And some useful posts, for you guys and also for me:
kaigou: No, seriously. (2 No srsly)
It occurred to me that you can't really refer to something in a story as a D-ring, if your characters don't use an alphabet that contains the letter D.
kaigou: Skeptical Mike is skeptical. (1 skeptical mike)
Went through a spate of books recently. A few got DNF'd, but I finished more than half, which is decent. But still.

One notable exception: a story I liked, wanted to like, until the point of an attempted-rape. Now, that's not the issue (and I should note, it was considerably less triggery since the characters were in wolf-form at the time, which tends to distance things slightly). No, the issue was that when the cavalry came charging in to save the day, the accusation they leveled at the would-be rapist was that he'd attempted to rape a mated wolf.

At which point my brain said: so, if she was single, it would've been okay?

I have no idea whether the author was just tooling along on her own train (we all do that) and didn't realize the implications. I would certainly hope that she didn't really intend to say that rape is far more rape-y if you're in a relationship than it is if you're single, but on the other hand, I don't actually care what she intended. There, on the page, the characters make no bones about it (and then proceed to repeat the same phrase -- attempted to rape a mated woman -- several more times).


Less disgusting but equally annoying in different ways is the use of intro paragraphs in epic fantasy. Also, a bit on the evolution of fanfic into profic. )
kaigou: Jung-In (Kim Jae-Wook) looking very please-no (1 oh dear heavens no)
I've been on a recent tear through a slew of non-European-inflected high/epic fantasy, and I'm starting to wonder if it's just me. Am I finding the cultural mixes in some stories to be awkward or badly-done because I know too much (or even only a little more than nothing!), or is it because I'm not fluent enough in the cultures to be comfortable with mixing them up?

In a three-way tie for most egregious, there's Shea Godfrey's Nightshade, which has this visual within the first few paragraphs. The numbers are me, counting the ways.
Jessa walked straight among them, a dark green sari[1] wrapped about her lower body in turns of silk and draped forward over her left shoulder with a long-sleeved golden choli[2] blouse beneath it. She wore a burka[3] that covered her head and face, though it was not quite long enough to hide the ends of her hair[4].

The men lounged upon the dais. The raised platform curved about the head of the vast oval room like a horseshoe and closed in on the wide aisle that led to the throne at its deepest point, the Jade Throne[5], which was the seat of all power within the land of Lyoness[6]. ... Jade was the province of the throne and these were the chairs for the sons of King Abdul-Majid[7] de Bharjah of Lyoness.

This was my brain's reaction as I read:
1, 2. Ah, okay, an Indian-inflected setting.
3. Why a burka? Wouldn't you just pull the end of the sari to drape over your head? Or maybe this is Pakistani-inflected, with a Muslim touch?
4. There is something really wrong with this burka. It's missing like, the rest of it. Or her hair is past her ankles. Wait, does the author actually mean she's wearing a chadri? That would make more sense.
5. Uhm, like the Jade Emperor? China's in here, now? Or Guatemala. (Mayans being the other major culture that had jade mining and prized the rocks highly.) Unless the author's thinking serpentine, which isn't jade, but gets mistaken for it often -- and serpentine was prized in the middle east.
6. ...Except for the French-styled name, whut.
7. Looking pretty middle-eastern, there.

I'm not saying I have an issue with middle-eastern-inflected stories, even if it sounds like name-dropping on Indian and Chinese. (I'll let it go with only a mention of the author portraying a quasi-middle-eastern family -- with their chained dogs two inches away from outright dog-fighting -- as barbaric and cruel. I think the only adjective missing here was 'swarthy'. Hello, typecasting 101.) Regardless, maybe if I didn't know there's a difference between a burka and a chadri, or didn't realize that not everyone east of the Tiber dresses like Gandhi extras, maybe I wouldn't be bothered. Or maybe if I knew costume and dress far better than the smatterings I do know, I wouldn't be under the impression that these things don't mix.

But then there's a different type of egregious; four of those, and two less so, behind the cut. )

But still, I could forgive a lot more, I think, if the names weren't so atrocious.
kaigou: (1 Izumi)
I remember awhile back, someone on a blog indicating the preference for "ou" as pronoun (rather than zie, s/he, etc). That one was completely new to me, and there was no indication of how you'd possess-ify it ("our" seemed like recipe for trouble, so "ous" maybe?). Then I came across this, the other day:
In 1789, William H. Marshall records the existence of a dialectal English epicene pronoun, singular "ou": "'Ou will' expresses either he will, she will, or it will." Marshall traces "ou" to Middle English epicene "a", used by the 14th century English writer John of Trevisa, and both the OED and Wright's English Dialect Dictionary confirm the use of "a" for he, she, it, they, and even I. This "a" is a reduced form of the Anglo-Saxon he = "he" and heo = "she"
—Dennis Baron, Grammar and Gender

That's pretty cool. Obsolete now to all but linguists, but pretty cool. Still not sure how you'd possess-ify it.

The same wiki entry found me this, which is also very cool, and makes more sense in terms of how you'd possess-ify it (probably similar to the possessive form of "it", I'm thinking). It's also a form that came closest to some kind of broad usage/acceptance, seeing how it made it into the dictionary:
According to Dennis Baron, the neologism that received the greatest partial mainstream acceptance was Charles Crozat Converse's 1884 proposal of thon, a contraction of "that one" (other sources date its coinage to 1858 or 1859): "Thon was picked up by Funk and Wagnall's Standard Dictionary in 1898, and was listed there as recently as 1964. It was also included in Webster's Second New International Dictionary, though it is absent from the first and third, and it still has its supporters today."

Though of the ones mentioned (in English or elsewhere), I think I rather like the method of just dropping the "sh" or "h" and making it 'e. (I guess possessive would be 'ir.) But maybe that's because I'm used to certain accents in which the "h" of "he" is dropped to the point that 'e is pretty much what's already said, in everyday speech.

But that leads me back to my previous thoughts, and the fact that although I'm sure it wasn't intentional, the reply that it's okay to use "they" as gender-neutral third-person singular pronoun felt slightly like derailing. Because the point wasn't really what we can use in speech, or in colloquial, but in fiction. And in the narrative of fiction, unless it's first-person or the narrative is strongly colloquial, I'd be hard-pressed to think of any published fiction where the copyeditor would let you get away with what is really mangled grammar in terms of pronoun+verb construction. In dialogue? Certainly. In narrative, I doubt it, which is why the very few works I've read that attempt gender-neutral pronouns felt a) really awkward, because it drew a lot of attention to the narrative voice itself and made it obtrusive, and b) weren't published by major houses, who give me the impression of being much more conservative on these things.

[There's also a bit in the wiki entry for generic antecedents, which lists various constructions and a critique of each. I guess it's no surprise to anyone that I personally would rather take the time to rephrase a given sentence to use "they" without it reading awkwardly, if at all possible. Then again, I know so many crossplayers (cosplaying the gender you're not) that I've learned the knack of how to speak about a third person without ever using a pronoun -- because some people have preferences about whether they get male pronouns when cosplaying a male character, or prefer female pronouns regardless, or whatever. And since I can never remember who wants which, I've gotten fairly decent at avoiding pronouns altogether. Which is one way to avoid this whole discussion, I suppose!]

All that said, the notion of using "that one" as a pronoun-substitute might work, in the narrative. Although I'm guessing the rest of the narrative voice might have to flex, a little, towards a greater formality, to make the inserted formality of "one" less obtrusive. Hmmm.
kaigou: this is what I do, darling (Default)
Continuation of yesterday's ruminations, because you had to know they wouldn't end there.

For starters, I'm well-aware that the previous post may have sounded like I was arguing for a gender binary (masculine/feminine), but I ended up going with that for the first go-round of thoughts, with intentions to address the underlying parts (the binary) in a second post. Go easier on you folks who aren't up to dissertation-length in one go, y'know.

Thing is, gender isn't always the means by which we 'position' a person, upon first meeting. I get the impression that in our Western/anglo so-called egalitarian society (where according to some people, we're post-class and post-race) it's just one of the easier ways to pigeonhole other people into expected behaviors, dress, manners, reactions, what-have-you. But there are instances where we use other means -- like whether someone is an officer or enlisted, an academic doctor or a medical doctor, or blue-collar versus white-collar. Or, it could be a caste-system, such as picking up the clues on whether someone is Brahman, Kshatria, Vaisia, Sudra, or untouchable. When you get into fiction, there's no reason you have to remain within a gender binary. You could sort people based on profession (academic, military, medical, craftswork, service, etc), whereby a military man and a military woman are more likely to have similar behaviors and dress (genders, if you will) than between a military man and a medical man. Or by religion, or musical style, or whatever else. Gender doesn't have to be the baseline.

For that matter, gender itself could be (and if you ask me, should be, at least minimum) tripartite -- male, female, third. Me, I prefer 'third' rather than 'other', because 'other' acts /reads as though it encapsulates 'all that is not male or female'. Third leaves the door open to a fourth, fifth, or sixth, whatever form those may take. There are indigenous societies which include a third sex (I'm thinking specifically of the Navajo, but there are many others), except that it seems to me that even these conflate the sex/physiology with the gender/construct. In other words, a woman who's just fine being sexed-female but prefers a masculine-coded dress or behavior is third sex, same as a man who feels distinctly at-odds with a male body and adopts a feminine gender-construct as a way to re-balance herself. In fiction, the author can have the freedom to make one third-sex and the other fourth-sex. Or give them, idk, directions (north, south, east, west, up, down) instead of implied hierarchy via cardinal order. But anyway.

More thoughts on binary language, political identity, and the big divide in romance. )
kaigou: (1 olivia is not impressed)
I've touched on this before but this weekend I read several novels that brought it back into focus for me. Then I came across a short blogpost about when a character defines herself as butch, and decided it was time to post. If you haven't read any of these titles, I recommend each (not unreservedly, but still more than mostly).

Sword of the Guardian -- Shannon, Merry )
Branded Ann -- Shannon, Merry )
Lady Knight -- Baker, LJ )
Backwards to Oregon -- Jae )

Click the cuts to see the summaries. Mostly I'd been trying to track down stories, any stories, which dealt with crossgender or crossdressing, stumbled on the first one, liked the author's voice enough to read the second, got the third recommended by virtue of the first two, and had to seriously google-fu to find the fourth, and read a little of a few others while looking.

(Warning: I DNF'd on the third due to warnings from reader reviews that the story not only doesn't HEA, it barely HFAs, and I'd pretty much hit my limit anyway from reading a warmed-over retelling of the Crusades, complete with Saladin's Arab world being cast as this side of barbaric, unintelligible devil-worshippers. Thanks, but I've done my time studying Crusades history, and if there were barbarians at the gates, it was the Christians. If you're equally skeptical about seeing the Christian Crusades as anything other than ambitious land-grabs by hordes of unwashed, uneducated masses, then expect this book to hit that annoyance button, hard.)

Along the way, I DNF'd on Shea Godfrey's Nightshade (the first three pages manages to fantasy-world-mashup India, the Middle East, and a bit of East Asia, and I like mashups but not quite to the degree of having to disconnect multiple culture clashes in my head while reading). I also DNF'd within a chapter on D.Jordan Redhawk's On Azrael's Wings because "worshipful slave falls in love with owner" is not, and hopefully never will be, a kink of mine. ("Recalcitrant and fiesty lower-level character fights back and gains equal standing in relationship with, and respect from, higher-level character," though, yes, but that didn't seem to be Redhawk's story.) Oh, and I started and stopped on Malinda Lo's Ash, too, mostly because I wasn't in the mood for YA; I wanted to read about adults in adult relationships with adult baggage. (Huntress remains on my TBR list, though, even if it is YA.)

Anyway, outside of the obvious that all these works focus on lesbian relationships, the other major factor is that at least one-half of every relationship is a woman claiming, or who has claimed, significant earthly power and respect. In all but Nightshade and Ash, I'd say, this respect is also military or naval, with rank. In other words, women in positions of power, either able to kill or trained to kill. Those two exceptions I didn't read far enough to meet the 'other half' of the intended relationship pairing, but of those I did read, in all but one, this powerful/respected female character is, at first, mistaken for a man.

And a bit more about each, along with how each character defines herself, versus what the text gives me. )
kaigou: (1 olivia is not impressed)
Been watching Fate/Zero, which seemed (so far) intriguing, so I thought I'd watch some Fate/Stay_Night, just so I'm not completely lost.

TL;DR: just read the wiki entry and save yourself the pain.

Let's see. Where to begin, and yes, here there be spoilers. Technically. Me, I think the premise's treatment already stinks, so hard to spoil it any further.

Well, for starters, the hero -- Shirou -- is a textbook case of TSTL. I mean, we could teach entire semesters just on his stupidity alone, he's that textbook. Granted, it's not entirely valorized in that other characters voice their annoyance with his stupidity, but at the same time, the instant he tries to lift even his teeniest finger he's praised as being very good, a natural at something. Someone mentions spell-casting spots, and he identifies one immediately. He gets attacked by a champion, picks up a baton, and changes it into a weapon, first try ever. He tries sparring and he's a natural with powerful moves and assurance! It just makes his stupidity the rest of the time even more painful. I mean, if he at least struggled with what he can't do, then I'd be less likely to see his TSTL traits as, well, so damn stupid. Instead, he just comes across as naively unthinking, and I don't mean that in a cute way.

In the wiki entry, one of the antagonists -- Shinji -- is characterized as narcissistic (he is, definitely) and chauvinistic. Not sure about the latter, but I can say that Shirou is without a doubt one of the most sexist characters I've come across in awhile. He's facing the spiritual embodiment of King Freaking Arthur (aka Saber), and because (in what could've been a cool twist) King Arthur is more like a Joan of Arc character -- being female -- Shirou is adamant that she, uhm, shouldn't fight. Because girls are to be protected. And it's not like she's even facing death; as a non-corporeal entity, if she loses a battle, she just fades back into oblivion until the next time someone summons her. I'm not seeing a major issue here, in terms of the final cost of omg-death kind of cost.

But no, Shirou's got to jump in the way of a major baddie and get himself almost killed, because he's that adamant that girls should be protected. If Saber just hauled off and smacked him, I'd be all for it, but this story is more of the transitional same: the writers gave the girls guns, but took away all the ammo. Makes for a female character, like Saber, being a lot of talk but nothing to back it up. She tells him she's trained for combat, but caves almost immediately and agrees to let him (the untrained TSTL twit) fight; she hares into battle but the script makes sure to trip her up. Either it's her opponent calling a halt (like you didn't see that coming), or it's the script's setup that Shirou doesn't have enough "energy" to feed her spiritual needs. She's rendered helpless because the hero is a loser, but the result's the same: presented as a great hero, King/Queen Arthur is a lot of flash and not much kicking ass.

My reader-writer-analysis brain finds it all so frustrating... )
kaigou: (5 flowers on brick)
There were several issues with Paper Butterfly (Diane Wei Liang), one being that the voice was rather dry and distant, the other being that it couldn't seem to keep my attention. The reason for losing my attention, though, wasn't from the book but from my reaction, and I'm still trying to put my finger on it.

A few weeks ago or so, I recall linking to this essay [thx to [personal profile] soukup!] that discussed -- well, lots of things but this was one of the sub-themes -- the issue of works written for the insider group and works written for an outsider group. A significant point was that of the texts mentioned, some of them (which had been highly lauded in the West) were stuffed to the brim with a certain kind of sell-out, catering, mindset. The intended audience was clearly Western, and that audience's viewpoint was valorized over the insider/non-Western view.

That's fuzzy, but it's a jumping-off point into a critique of Paper Butterfly, and why I stopped reading. )
kaigou: this is what I do, darling (1 Edward armor)
Current status:

Done Wrong — Eleanor Taylor Bland (mystery)
Dropped. Not really where my brain is at, right now, and this title is fourth in the series, I think it is. Going to try and find the one with the summary/case that was more interesting.

The Steel Remains — Richard K Morgan (fantasy)
Dropped... for now. Just not doing it for me. Story is okay, characters have potential, but it wasn't holding me.

Havemercy — Jaida Jones & Danielle Bennett (fantasy/steampunk)
Dropped. See this exchange for an uncharacteristically (for me) succinct review.

The Hero's Walk — Anita Rau Badami (literary)

GET THIS BOOK. READ IT. It's not slow, it's dense, but it's rich. Emotional without being melodramatic; introspective without drowning in navel-gazing. It's a story of mourning, grief, loss, and how even inside a family, we can still be strangers.

It's about an upper-caste (but hardly wealthy) man who disowned his daughter for marrying a Westerner and ditching her arranged marriage, who after nine years of distance learns his daughter and her husband have died in a car accident -- and his is the only family able and willing to take in the orphaned grand-child. It's about an eight-year-old girl who's lost her parents, her voice, her culture, and her moorings, in that order. It's about a grown woman who's lost repeated chances at marriage thanks to her mother's selfishness, but might not have lost her chance at love. It's about a life-long obedient daughter-then-wife who realizes she's had it up to here and it's time to start declaring, and chasing, what she wants. It's about a younger son, shadowed by his older sister and desperately wanting to make the world better but getting nowhere. It's a lot of people getting nowhere, but that's to be expected when you're not sure how to get there, or if you even have the courage to try. It's a gorgeous, thoughtful story, sometimes-sad, sometimes-wryly-humorous, always human and respectful and ambiguous towards its characters.

This is not a story to swallow whole, or even to chew up in large bites. It's a story to be savored, and a story that lets you in to be the observer in complex and burdened personal histories that make up this strange new land for an orphaned child. It is also not, I should note, saccharine, in any way at all: the grand-daughter is not some bubbly Westernized child who shows up and delights, charms, and changes everyone. The grand-daughter is suffering and struggling with her own grief for her lost parents that's just as deep as her grandparents' grief for their lost daughter.

Honestly, I can't speak highly enough of this story. The plot is simple, though the story gets right into it very quickly -- and then backs up, circles around, to give you a bigger picture to understand each character's reactions and fears -- so it's both slow and quick-moving at the same time. It's written without overly-purple pretensions at poetry; it's just deft and assured writing that carries you along, giving enough description to create the place and time. The craftsmanship in the writing is just that good, that you never stop to say, oh, how the author must have labored over this description! -- which is what I mean by 'pretentious'. The author trusts the power of her story and has the confidence in her own voice to give you the story as it needs to be given, at the pace that works, with the details that belong.

Really. Find a copy, read, and enjoy.

The Devil in the Dust — Chaz Brenchley
Currently reading. Figure it'll kill some time while I wait for the interlibrary loan books to come in, even if I'm less than crazy about the alternate-history/reality version of the Crusades. (The mention of 'Catari' in the first few pages as one of the heretical groups was slight giveaway; the next four pages' details confirmed it.)

Also: commentary on Water Touching Stone, Companion to Wolves, and The Hero's Walk. )
kaigou: first I'm going to have a little drinkie, then I'm going to execute the whole bally lot of you. (2 execute all of you)
Yesterday I read Warchild, then Burndive, and quit a chapter or so into Cagebird, and then read reviews to see if I was the only one feeling the lack. (Far as I can tell, I am.)

When I was a teenager, I read Majipoor Chronicles, which was a collection of short stories within a framework (honestly, the only kind of short stories I'll tolerate; entirely unconnected short stories just aren't my thing). Several of the stories in that book dealt with, or implied, things like child prostitution, rape, and/or abuse -- as have other SFF books I've read over the years. While I've rarely read full-on-id all-the-details page-time in mainstream SFF, I've also rarely read truly oblique glossing. A good writer can let you know that two characters had sex (consensual or not) without wallowing in it.

I've learned to ping on when a work is ex-fanfic (or the author is). The id gets page-time (often deep emotional)... and then it's wiped with no warning. It's like the story's voice/flow was suddenly truncated by an embarrassed author, censoring lest the story show its idtastic origins or influences. The narration loses its honesty; it becomes evasive. The author doesn't just require me to read between the lines; I'm being forced to insert lines that aren't there, before I can even read between those deleted lines.

Unreliable narrators, storytelling pattern-breaks, Barbara Cartland, word of god is not my canon, aliens vs Asia, and geisha as the final straw. )

Now I'm reading Eleanor Taylor Bland's Done Wrong. It's not the first book in the series, but I already have five books reserved on interlibrary loan and I really wanted to read Bland's series, so I picked the earliest in the series that was actually on the shelf. It's another genre-jump, as Bland writes present-day Chicago homicide investigator mysteries, but already I'm sucked in. Will report back, next time I come up for air.

(After this, it's onto Anita Rau Badami's The Hero's Walk.)
kaigou: this is what I do, darling (Default)
Rereading Rain Fall by Barry Eisler, and I'm reminded of one of my favorite nonfiction reading topics (other than architecture, that is): travelogues of places I've been, written by non-natives. Specifically, works like Ciao, America (written by an Italian attache stationed in Washington DC). There's something intriguing to me about what people notice, when they arrive as adults to an unfamiliar culture, things I take for granted as a native.

I don't mean in the sense of romanticizing the locale (although that is a risk), but in the little things. It's part of the tone, but also part of the details noticed. It's gotten to the point that I treasure a writer (of any origin) who can do the same in fiction, and one reason that many SFF books disappoint me, because these details are often left out (or just as bad, read like they could be from anywhere).

My travelogue-books are all hardcopy (and in the library, at that, and I'm too lazy to go digging for them), but this copy of Rain Fall is electronic, so it's handier as example. It's a scene very early in the book, where John Rain is trailing his most recent assignment. Long, but I think worth it as illustration.

The light at the bottom of Dogenzaka was red, and the crowd congealed as we approached the five-street intersection in front of the train station. Garish neon signs and massive video monitors flashed frantically on the buildings around us. A diesel-powered truck ground its gears as it slogged through the intersection, laborious as a barge in a muddy river, its bullhorns blaring distorted right-wing patriotic songs that momentarily drowned out the bells commuters on bicycles were ringing to warn pedestrians out of the way. A street hawker angled a pushcart through the crowds, sweat running down the sides of his face, the smell of steamed fish and rice following in his zigzagging wake. An ageless homeless man, probably a former sarariman who had lost his job and his moorings when the bubble burst in the late eighties, slept propped against the base of a streetlight, inured by alcohol or despair to the tempest around him.

The Dogenzaka intersection is like this night and day, and at rush hour, when the light turns green, over three hundred people step off the curb at the same instant, with another twenty-five thousand waiting in the crush. From here on, it was going to be shoulder to shoulder, chest to back. I would keep close to Kawamura now, no more than five meters, which would put about two hundred people between us. I knew he had a commuter pass and wouldn’t need to go to the ticket machine. Harry and I had purchased our tickets in advance so we would be able to follow him right through the wickets. Not that the attendant would notice one way or the other. At rush hour, they’re practically numbed by the hordes; you could flash anything, a baseball card, probably, and in you’d go.

The light changed, and the crowds swept into one another like a battle scene from some medieval epic. An invisible radar I’m convinced is possessed only by Tokyoites prevented a mass of collisions in the middle of the street. I watched Kawamura as he cut diagonally across to the station, and maneuvered in behind him as he passed. There were five people between us as we surged past the attendant’s booth. I had to stay close now. It would be chaos when the train pulled in: five thousand people pouring out, five thousand people stacked fifteen deep waiting to get on, everyone jockeying for position. Foreigners who think of Japan as a polite society have never ridden the Yamanote at rush hour.

The river of people flowed up the stairs and onto the platform, and the sounds and smells of the station seemed to arouse an extra sense of urgency in the crowd. We were swimming upstream against the people who had just gotten off the train, and as we reached the platform the doors were already closing on handbags and the odd protruding elbow. By the time we had passed the kiosk midway down the platform, the last car had passed us and a moment later it was gone. The next train would arrive in two minutes.
kaigou: Roy Mustang, pondering mid-read. (1 pondering)
Last week (after we got back), I was bored enough and hadn't read a book in awhile, felt like, so thought I'd check out what new ebooks were on offer from the publishers I like (read: who seem to be somewhat consistent in decent quality). One area I almost always check out is "multicultural", but this time I noticed something and I'm not sure whether it's me, or if it's not me.

When I say "multicultural", I mean as in: where the two (or more) main characters come from a variety of cultures. Kinda culture-clash, even if on a superficial level the characters may have a lot in common, visually. Someone from Australia and someone from Britain might look like they have distant-distant-distant kin, possibly, but culturally they're going to have some differences. The lack of a language barrier meaning the differences may be less than, say, Australia and Peru, but still, culturally it's still not quite exactly the same. Still, that's what I'd consider a watered-down multiculturalism, because between language, ethnicity, and culture (on a very broad scale), there's still a lot in common between the two characters, more than there's difference.

When I say, multicultural, I mean, lots of cultures, coming and going and complex and textured. )

If it seems like it's an odd request, it's because I've realized that we can extend that meme about "if you don't like panels with only white guys, as a white guy, don't agree to be on panels with only white guys". If I don't like books with only white characters, stop agreeing to read/purchase books with only white characters -- and to be honest, settings in which the white culture dominates quietly, in the background, as an unquestioned assumption, is part of that refusal.

I'm thinking it's time to paraphrase the Dalai Lama: read the change you want to see in the world. I'm ready to read. Throw some titles at me!
kaigou: under this playful boyish exterior beats the heart of a ruthless sadistic maniac (2 charming maniac)
This is partially leading off my post from this morning. I had the pleasure of chatting with someone, yesterday, who does the same thing I do, job-wise. If you realized how few of us are actually around (for all that our job may sound awfully necessary, most corporations don't seem to agree), then you'd realize also what a rare pleasure it was to talk to someone who totally gets it.

Think of web application creation as a balancing act between two extremes: there's the design (what it looks like, what it does on the page, all the way to colors and fonts and whether you get a thank-you note when you're done), and there's the development (the code, basically). Designers don't code, and coders don't design, for the most part, and IMO/IME this has less to do with any integral dislike between them... so much as the fact that both sides require a lot of expertise. It is not half as easy as you may think it is, to code the backend of an application, or even to do a nicely-turned out page of CSS and Javascript on the frontend. Nor is it half so easy as you might think it is to come up with the buttons and the corners and the logos and the whatever else in Photoshop or Illustrator or Fireworks or whatever is the in-thing this week. These are areas that, to do well, do require a fair bit of training and experience -- and by then, you're probably firmly into the perspective of your area of expertise.

I'm the person in the middle. )
kaigou: (5 flowers on brick)
One of my biggest issues with application development is when any driver in the development (whether programmers, designers, or the corporate decision-makers) declare that "users can just get used to this". I end up arguing the opposite, every single time. Like arguing that users do need a halfway button that says "save and continue" on a really long form, or that we can't drop the red asterisk for colorblind users who won't see the red outline on a text-box, or that a series of steps aren't obvious or intuitive. I don't believe you can force users -- or that you even should -- into changing their own perceptions and patterns just because you think it's easier to not include that second button, or because you believe asterisks will "mess up" your pretty styles.

Since an application's purpose is to help someone work more efficiently (whether at a new task or just redoing an old task in a new format, like in-browser), making the users slow down to learn a new pattern-language seems counterproductive. You have to fit the application to the users, and any changes must be slow and subtle. We're all old dogs, really, when it comes to how we interact with patterns.

I see the same argument in fiction, where users (readers) argue for things like "pronounceable names" or dislike settings or conflicts that don't mesh with their expectations. Things like female characters who are androgynous enough that an unfamiliar character might, at first, not be sure of the female character's sex/gender. Or hierarchies that don't work in the same way as those the reader knows. Or even just value systems that aren't in-culture for the reader: different priorities, like setting one's family/parents above one's personal ambitions. Those kinds of stories are the opposite of the application-design style above, because they don't bend to the user's conventions, but expect the reader to bend to mesh with the story.

[paragraph above is badly-phrased, see comments for discussion/elaboration]

Maybe such unfamiliar-named, unfamiliar-setting stories might reach a wider audience if they worked more to meet with reader non/familiarity? Like taking a non-English name and anglicizing it a little differently to make its pronunciation more obvious, more understandable to English-familiar readers? (I am suddenly thinking of Korean names, which seem to be anglicized in any of a variety of ways, and frequently have vowel-combinations that would be one way based on English rules, but are pronounced quite differently.) Another is cultural, where the protagonist notes things that would be taken for granted in the protag's own culture (ie, family over individual or vice versa), but are distinctly different from the reader's culture, and thus are tagged or lampshaded solely for the reader's benefit. (Characters who note the side of the road driven is a huge, if rare, example: who the hell ever stops to think about what side of the road they drive on, if they grew up with that understanding/assumption?)

I recall someone on my dwircle was discussing/reviewing a book set in Japan, I think it was, where the main character noted such cross-culture differences. Those familiar with Japanese culture found it off-putting, it seemed, because these seemed like things a Japanese person would never think to randomly compare. I mean, how often do you go around your native/home culture and say, "I'm getting cucumbers and okra, but you'd never see these in a Russian supermarket"? Those who not quite familiar with Japanese culture seemed to be more forgiving, maybe because they were glad of being given some handle on the differences. It can be hard to assess what's "strange" for a character when the entire setting is strange to you, as the reader.

Bend to the user/reader, or expect the reader/user to bend to the story? What do you think?
kaigou: under this playful boyish exterior beats the heart of a ruthless sadistic maniac (2 charming maniac)
I was writing a reply recently and stumbled at a description. "Straightforward," I started to type, then paused, backed up, and pondered for a bit before coming up with "forthright". When rereading before hitting the post button, it occurred to me that I do this rather often, with the following words and phrases, and use alternates instead.

straight up => right out
straighten out => clear up, set right
go straight => go forward
setting someone straight => correcting, telling clearly
a straight answer => succinct answer
straight through => all the way through
___ straight [period of time] => ___ unbroken [time], ___ uninterrupted [time]

They're not all perfect synonyms, and sometimes I can see I've done a bit of a sidestep around my kneecap to get to my elbow, just to avoid the word. It's not like I'm trying to be PC, only that I think I took it to heart the joke a gay friend used to make, when I was in college: "never go straight, go crooked." (Though if feeling cranky, he'd say, "don't go straight, get bent.")

My sensitivity to the word and its connotations means I'm equally sensitive to reading the word in anyone else's writing. Not that I judge when I see it, only that I think, here is someone not sensitive to that, the way I am, sort of like when you're surprised that someone doesn't get hay fever like you. Neither good nor bad, just a bit of ah 'oh' observation. If someone else also avoids the word... that's harder to assess, because unless it's a really obvious one (where 'straight' would be kind of the default term, so to speak), there are different ways to say just about anything, so the absence isn't proof of anything.

But am I the only one who goes out of the way to avoid certain, specific words? And not even words that necessarily politically loaded, either -- because I also avoid 'overt' and 'sublime', whenever I can.
kaigou: this is what I do, darling (1 iguana)
I recall that when Sita Sings the Blues came out, there were some rumblings (might've been louder, but I only noticed rumblings) about the issue of appropriation. The story retells Sita's story, contrasting it with a Westerner/American's story of heartbreak, and mixes it up with songs from a now-less-known blues singer. The story doesn't entirely cast Sita as a feminist -- I don't think you can do that without really butchering the original -- but it does call out the assumptions that Rama is such a great guy, seeing the way he treats the alleged love of his life (and the mother of his children). To me, what saves the story from being complete appropriation is that the bulk of the narration is provided by three Indian expats discussing the legend, the characters, the stories around them, colored by their own take on things, sort of like a gentle critique within a critique.

cross-cultural critique: Sita Sings the Blues, and (yes, really) D.Gray-man )
kaigou: I am zen. I am BUDDHA. I am totally chill, y'all. (2 totally chill)
Sometimes I think the best thing about the internet is the edit button. Sometimes I think it's the worst thing.

Awhile back, I remember someone making the suggestion on DW's suggestion-comm that edited posts get a notation of some sort. This post was edited on ___. Either in the original suggestion or the comments, someone had the idea that wouldn't it be better to have a notation for every edit? This put the absolute fear of the intarwebs into me, and not because I'm all that bothered if people know I edit, but because no one would ever read my posts again. The pages would never load, because the last quarter of any page would be nothing but:

post edited: day/month/year
post edited: day/month/year
post edited: day/month/year
post edited: day/month/year

...for like twenty lines, probably concluding with:

this post has been edited so many times the database has run out of rows and now the INTERNETS ARE BROKEN and you know EXACTLY WHO TO BLAME.

Okay, that's a rather tongue-in-cheek poke at myself (because while I do edit, I'm not quite that bad, err, I think), but the issue of editing missives is one that I've tangled over privately many, many times. Read more... )
kaigou: this is what I do, darling (4 usual suspects)
Joel Chandler Harris' home is in Atlanta, and I just came across some of the storytellers who tell the various Brer stories -- because there's not just Brer Rabbit, there's Brer Coon, and Brer Vulture, and Brer Lion, even. I have no idea whether we actually saw a storyteller at The Wren's Nest, though I thought it had been at the High Museum. And all of the storytellers are much too young to have been the one I saw, but if you imagine a deeper voiced Akbar Imhotep, then you'd be getting close. His accent's a little softer, but still.

To hear the story of how Brer Coon gets his meat, click on the first link on this page from the Wren's Nest site (audio only). There are some clips from several of the other storytellers, as well. (I also recommend swinging by the biographies for the staff.) Then scroll down to the bottom of the storyteller's page and listen to Woodie Person's telling about the time Brer Gator Meets Trouble. It's a classic, and one more example of how each of the critters in the various stories have their own personalities. (Me, I like Brer Gator. Not as much as Brer Rabbit, but very close.)

They've started doing videos of some of the stories being retold. Click here for Mr. Imhotep retelling Brer Terrapin Learns to Fly or go here for Curtis Richardson retelling Brer Lion Meets Mr. Man. I have no earthly idea why the youtube embedding isn't working.

If you're wondering, Mr. Imhotep speaks with the Georgia accent I heard for most of my childhood. Listening to him talk is like a short visit back home.


kaigou: this is what I do, darling (Default)
锴 angry fishtrap 狗

to remember

"When you make the finding yourself— even if you're the last person on Earth to see the light— you'll never forget it." —Carl Sagan

October 2016

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