Interesting Links, April 2024

I keep reading things, thinking “I should link to this on my blog,” and forgetting about them. Here are some I remembered.

Adri Joy reviews John Wiswell’s Someone You Can Build a Nest In

A review of a recent cozy fantasy romance starring an adorable Shoggothy creature who murders people for their organs. Adri Joy’s review gestures towards what I think is a minor trend in SFF—stories whose empathy only extends so far, as does their characters’ responsibilities towards others, and whose underlying moral logic is based more on vibes than on coherent ethics. The protagonist’s actions are good because the protagonist feels like a good person.

If the logic of the story requires they do something nasty to someone, the author gives the gift of a conveniently nasty person to do it to. Often it feels like these stories’ minor characters and extras aren’t just different in story-function but are different classes of people within the story; the main characters know it’s okay to treat them differently.

Zachary Gillan, “The H Word: Bartleby and the Weird”

The last time I read “Bartleby the Scrivener” what struck me was its weird-adjacency, how naturally it would fit alongside the work of Robert Aickman and Shirley Jackson. It’s metaphorically the story of a haunting. Zachary Gillan has noticed this, too, and here he teases out the story’s weirdness:

If we take “weird fiction” to refer to horror that focuses on dreadful unsettlement, “Bartleby” is a prime early wellspring, an initial example in a genealogy of the weird that begins not with Lovecraft or Poe but with Melville.

The Breakfast in the Ruins podcast on Robert Sheckley’s Options

Robert Sheckley is one of the most underrated SF writers and Options is one of his most underrated novels, my favorite of his works. It’s a shambolic metafictional plea for SF to abandon cliche and embrace play; I reviewed it here a few years back. It’s great to see someone else notice it and give it a solid ninety minute discussion.

Typebar Magazine

There’s not enough really thoughtful SFF criticism on the web, so I’m happy to see Typebar Magazine—which covers both SFF and general pop culture—show up. Highlights include J. R. Bolt on K. J. Bishop’s oddly forgotten New Weird novel The Etched City, and Gwen C. Katz’s exploration of how SF writers have imagined the death of the sun. The latter examines the history of a SF concept in tandem with the history of the science that inspired it, a surprisingly rare approach.

I’m not as sold on Simon McNeil’s Nobody Wants to Buy The Future—the comments on non-literary SF media don’t really come together; and, folks, no one is using the term squeecore “often,” stop trying to make squeecore happen. But McNeil’s main point is spot on: if SF has lost cultural capital to fantasy, one major reason is that the most SFnal parts of reality are also the crappiest. The long-promised environmental collapse is here, the entire tech industry is based around selling us the apartment door from Ubik that charges you to walk through it, and everybody has novum fatigue. “We got to one of the futures Science Fiction proposed,” says McNeil, “and it sucked.”

Speaking of the future sucking, some politics:

Samantha Hancox-Li, “How Movements Win”

One of my most dispiriting political frustrations is that left-wing politics feels almost entirely disconnected from civic maintenance, the pursuit of institutional power, or any attempt at real material progress. Politics is instead a form of personal expression—it’s about curating your opinions and expressing them through posting, demonstrations, and consumer choices. The effect is that even though the left has the correct moral take on most issues, it has no effective response to any of them.

Which is why Samantha Hancox-Li’s essay feels like the most cogent political analysis I’ve read in a while. In Hancox-Li’s terms, we don’t have an inside strategy:

The overall strategy was best theorized by ACT/UP. They called it the “inside / outside strategy.” The movement had two components. The first was the outside component. This was protest, die-ins, the AIDS quilt—dramatic public acts that worked to raise awareness of the issue and create a sense of urgency—that something must be done. The inside strategy was more boring. It was the people who would show up at city hall at 3pm on a Wednesday to explain the specific policy changes they wanted to regional hospital management. Presentations to the FDA explaining the ethical calculus behind allowing AIDS patients to access experimental medicines. White papers and pocket protectors, speaking the language of policy and evidence. “Something must be done? Here is something you can do.”

Speaking of politics, Hancox-Li’s discussion of outside and inside strategies led me to remember:

A comment on MetaFilter (where I sometimes read the discussion threads) that I often think about.

Sometimes I read comment threads on MetaFilter. I still remember a comment by someone calling themselves “Jane the Brown” who has thoughts about “Entrophic Labour vs. Heroic Labour.” As Jane describes it Heroic Labor is work you can finish definitively; it gives you a sense of accomplishment. Entropic Labor is the cyclic infrastructure maintenance that’s never done but keeps the world from deteriorating—cleaning, laundry, doing dishes, repairs. Entropic labor is less fun, and we treat it as lower-status work.

I often remember Jane’s comment when I think about politics. A lot of the most basic and effective political work—much of what we need to support Hancox-Li’s “inside strategy,” in fact—is entropic labor.

But back to art:

John Coulthart’s Feuilleton Blog

John Coulthart’s Feuilleton has long been an amazing source of links to surrealist art; I mention it now because it recently introduced me to another blog:

The Unquiet Things Blog

Unquiet Things is an art blog dedicated to fantastic and surrealist art. The post that first caught my attention was one on an artist named Anna Mond, who paints work that looks like forgotten 1970s children’s books for goths, but there’s lots of interesting stuff here.

The Time Wayne Douglas Barlowe Designed an Action Figure Line

I had a few weird and nightmarish Power Lords action figures as a kid; I was reminded of them recently when I saw someone post an old ad for the things on social media. What’s interesting is that they were designed by Wayne Douglas Barlowe, the prominent SFF illustrator who wrote Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials. In fact, according to the linked article the figures came about after the toy company came to Barlowe wanting to make figures based on the Guide and he had to explain to them he didn’t have the merchandising rights to fifty different SF novels.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.