Sunday, June 28, 2015

On Marriage: Liberal Celebration? Radical Critique? Why Not Both?

On Friday, the US Supreme Court revealed their decision that all 50 states must allow same sex marriage.  The news was greeted by many, including myself, as a long overdue recognition of basic rights for millions of Americans.  But the decision was also met by some as an expansion of an inherently unjust system.  I also think this group has a point.  Let’s call the first group the Liberal Celebration group and the second the Radical Critique group.  (I won’t engage with conservative religious opposition here; I do think they’re worth engaging, but doing so requires a different strategy).

The first legally married same sex couple in my home city

Liberal Celebration

The Liberal Celebration group (hereafter, “liberals”) consists of many Americans who vote for Democrats, but also many “independents” (whatever that means), libertarians, and some conservatives (I lump everyone together merely on account of their overlapping opinion on this particular issue).  The liberals are right that the expansion of rights for same sex couples is worth celebrating.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Doof Warrior and the Value of Subtle Humor

Let us begin by beholding the Doof Warrior in all his splendor.  

The Doof Warrior, AKA, the Guitar Guy
For more on the Doof Warrior, see my review of Mad Max: Fury Road.  If you haven't seen the movie, the Doof Warrior plays a guitar/bass rigged with a flame thrower while riding around the post-apocalyptic desert on a truck with amplifiers and drums, all in service of an evil warlord.  Yes, it's just as awesome as it sounds.  I'd make a pretty poor post-apocalyptic warlord, but I'd do one thing right: I'd hire a Doof Warrior on my first day.

As fun as the Doof Warrior is, I want to make a serious point about humor. In the face of the terrible things going on in the world that can easily drive us to depression and despair, humor is one of the few things that can keep us sane.  It might also reveal something profound about the human condition.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Charleston and White America

The murder of nine people in Charleston, South Carolina last Wednesday is both horrifying and deeply disturbing. I am inclined to agree that this was an act of terrorism.

But we cannot call this act surprising or unthinkable.  Not in a country with a troubled history of racism and violence, the legacy of which continues today in racial discrepancies in healthcare, education, incarceration, etc. Not in a country where the horrific actions of angry young white men are always buried in sympathetic narratives. Not in a country where these angry young white men have easy access to weapons that kill people efficiently. Not in a country that continues to experience an undercurrent of racial fear and hatred that bubbles to the surface in the use of words like “thug” or phrases like “we must take our country back” (From whom, one wonders…).

Addressing white America

From here on, I want to specifically address my fellow white Americans, as I did in a previous post, “Nonviolence for White Americans.” 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Multi-Media Review of Reviews: Sense8, Tomorrowland, Oryx and Crake, Pandora's Star

I thought I'd try a multi-media review of reviews focusing on a TV show, a movie, and two books.  There's no music here, although I have written a post on sci-fi music with a second, all metal edition.  Maybe I'll say something about video games in the future (like the amazing Portal games), or maybe I'll discuss other media like board games, roleplaying games, live theater, podcasts, radio, YouTube videos, etc.  So many media, so little time!


I love the Wachowskis.  I'm a big fan of The Matrix.  I also loved Cloud Atlas, based on the excellent David Mitchell novel.  I even defended Jupiter Ascending!  I've also finally been watching J. Michael Straczynski's Babylon 5 (I'm in season three: no spoilers, please!).  When I heard that the Wachowskis and Straczynski were teaming up to make a TV show filmed in several locations around the world, I wasn't sure what to expect, but I had high hopes.

I've watched the first seven episodes, out of twelve in the first season.  (The whole season was released simultaneously on NetFlix - I know, I know, I'm a bad binge watcher.) I'm happy to report that the show has so far lived up to my hopes.  I especially love the diverse cast of characters and international locations.  Especially in the sci-fi/fantasy world, with its diversity-phobic Sad Puppies, it's good to remember that not all humans are American, nor is everyone straight, white, or cis gender.

The deepest philosophical point so far is that we are all connected, but that this connection doesn't erase our differences, either.  Sense8 dramatizes this idea through the idea that the sensates feel each other's feelings and have each other's thoughts.  The American political and moral landscape has turned more to a sort of hard hearted individualism in recent years (and maybe also in other countries, especially those undergoing austerity measures). Given this context, it's refreshing to see something that reminds us of what should be an obvious fact about human beings: we're all in this together.

I have a feeling (and if you're a sensate, maybe you have my feeling, too) that I will be writing more about Sense8 after I finish watching the first season.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Death and Utopia: Reflections on the Culture

As I've promised in some recent posts, here are my reflections on the Culture series of Iain M. Banks.  It's appropriate to post it today, the second anniversary of Banks's death. You can read his final interview here.
One of those Big Ideas: An orbital

The Culture series has become one of my favorite series over the last few years, securing a place in my personal pantheon of science fiction series along with Asimov's Foundation seriesClarke's Space Odyssey seriesHerbert's Dune universe, Le Guin's Hainish Cycle, and Butler's Earthseed series.  I wish I had started reading the Culture books sooner!

Aside from the quality of writing and (literally) awesome Big SF Ideas to be found, what I love most is the idea of the Culture itself.  There's far more to be said about the Culture than I could say in one reasonably sized blog post, so let me concentrate on two major issues: utopia and death.  Sadly I won't say much about the subtle humor of the series, although I hope to take up the value of humor in life and fiction in a future post.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Culture Round Up: Reviewing the Culture series by Iain M. Banks

I recently finished the last book in the Culture series of Iain M. Banks, and I've been working up to a post on my overall thoughts on the series.  But before I do that, I want to say a little bit about each of the ten books.  I'll even rank them at the end (although I should reiterate that I love all of them).

I decided to read the books in publication order.  Doing so is not in any way necessary, since none of them are conventional sequels to the others.  In particular, getting into the first book, Consider Phlebas, can be hard, so you might want to start with The Player of Games or with one of the newer books (Matter even has a handy glossary!).

Still, I enjoyed seeing how Banks developed his ideas about the Culture over time.  If these books sound like your type of thing and you're ready to commit, I say publication order is the way to go.