Monday, March 28, 2011

In The Future There Will Be No Chicken Pox

(X-Posted at FanSci)
(Edited for total incoherence -- apparently I was more tired than I realized!)

I just spent the past two days in various walk-in clinics, the Wal-Mart Pharmacy (because the pharmacy we use, where Everybody Knows Our Name, is closed Sundays), dental clinics and dental surgeries, all to deal with an abscess that suddenly ballooned up on Herr Dr. Delagar's jaw Saturday night -- Friday he was fine, Saturday it started hurting, Saturday night he was in agony.

In the Kafkaesque labyrinth that is America's useless modern medical system, I had plenty of time to speculate what medical systems might look like in the future.

I would love it if these future worlds and their health care systems were as pretty as they appeared in some of the SF books I read in my adolescence: where bright children asked their daddies what cavities were, and it is revealed that cavities were things children used to get before the vaccine was invented against them.

Or Octavia Butler's Xenogensis series -- just don't create kids that will have problems; and then if anything happens to go wrong afterwards, the Ooloi fix it!

Or her other series, the Patternist series, where those who have the talent can reach in and teach the body to heal itself.  Very cool.

Or on Star Trek: McCoy and his tricorder, just a few passes of the remote control, and ipso facto, Dr. McCoy knew what was wrong.  (Unless for plot reasons he did not.  Actually, I never did figure out how medicine worked on Star Trek.  There was that episode where Whorf had a spinal cord injury, which apparently no one could fix.  But WTF?  Aren't we like hundreds of years in the future?  I guess that ban on stem-cell research really worked.)

Or Iain Banks' Culture Worlds, which are post-scarcity, and also have the ability to manipulate human biology so completely that -- so far as I can tell -- almost nothing is fatal.  (A mixed blessing, surely, given what happens to some characters because they can be kept alive so endlessly.)  

Or John Varley's early novels, where no surgeon need her hands before cutting into people, because no harmful bacteria made it off earth -- and also where surgery is so simple any ten year old can replace his own liver with a kit, and people pop in for cancer cures like we pop in to have our oil changed.  Full-body sex changes take longer!  And are also so common everyone has them dozens of times throughout their lives.  But the point is, medical care is available to everyone, very high quality, and very low cost. 

But even if none of these bright futures await us, surely we can dream of a nice future like Sweden or Denmark, where medical needs are met sensibly, rather than being a for-profit industry -- where those without a six figure income aren't forced to decide between staying alive and having a life.

True story:  as I'm waiting in line at my friendly neighborhood pharmacy last year, the one where Everybody Knows My Name, where sometimes when my insurance company is being a Butt, as it often is, my pharmacist will work with me: on this one spring day, this guy in front of me, his kid has some horrible bacterial infection, apparently, resistant to most antibiotics.  So he needs an uncommon antibiotic.  Only his insurance company won't cover it, because, get this, it costs $3000 for ten pills.  Luckily, dude is from Fianna Hills, the rich bit of Pork Smith, and he just whips out his debit card and pays $3000.  

In my broody dark days I suspect future medicine will be like that:  drugs and life for those who can whip out a debit card and pay.  Suffering and misery for those who cannot.

Kind of like now, yes.

That's the future I speculate about when I write SF, for obvious reasons (obvious, because, as I frequently tell my students, no one actually is writing about the future when they write science fiction).  

When I write about medicine or medical situations in my SF stories, almost invariably I find myself writing about that two tier system -- or, well, really, as I know, it's actually more complicated than that.  (Everything always is!)  The two tier system is really four or five or more tiers.

  • The topmost tier, which we never see.  They own hospitals, in the sense that they are major donors, major lobbyists, have funded chairs, so on.  Do they make appointments, wait in line, fetch scripts from pharmacies?  Sit in waiting rooms outside MRI machines?
  • The upper tier, the really rich (but not that 1% who own the country): rich enough to jet across the country to get to the best doctor.  They'll never do without an abortion or a specialist. Plus they have the money to buy the treatment.
  • The middle tier.  We can treat abscessed teeth, and broken legs, but we better hope nothing really serious goes wrong.  
  • The lower middle tier.  They drive five or six hours to get to free clinics.  These are my students, some of them.  I keep tablets of cold medicine in my desk drawer to hand out to them, winters, and Tylenol.  They're mortified, but they take it.
  • The lowest tier.  They never see doctors.  Like the upper tier, they're invisible. They look twenty years older than they are, usually, and are usually dead before they're sixty. 

One of the clinics I visited was filled with the middle tier.  The other was filled with the lower middle tier.  And here's the thing:  I want to believe in a bright future.  It's why I do what I do, why I teach and keep teaching.  Why I write science fiction.  I want to believe the world can change.  But watching the receptionist haranguing the suffering poor of Fort Smith, Arkansas -- people clutching their aching jaws -- demanding 1/3 of the price of having their teeth removed up front before the surgeon would  even think about relieving their pain, and these were people with insurance, well, yikes.

Did I mention Christian music was playing in the background?

What other future could I write, living in this land?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Conservatives Lying Liars -- What A Shock

This post at the Language Log, and its attendant links to a tempest in AZ, brings to mind a reoccurring fuss that arises in my first-year writing classroom every so often.  We'll be talking about immigration, or high school curriculum, or language acquisition -- something, who knows -- but someone will burst out, in fury, exclaiming how "It's not fair!" that they had to study Spanish in high school.

"We had to study Spanish!  Why?  They," usually pausing at this point shooting glares at the Hispanic students in the classroom, "came here, we didn't go to their country.  They should learn English!  Why do we have to learn their language?"

"Actually," I always say, at this point, really tired of making the point, but it has to be made, "you don't have to learn Spanish in high school.  You have to learn some foreign language in high school.  It's just that you," I always pause at this point to stare pointedly at the complaining student, "came from a very small and very poor town.  Is that the case?  One of those little tiny Arkansas high schools that didn't want to consolidate because that way you would lose your football team?  Do I have that right?"

They have shut up by now and are looking sullen.

"Well, when that is the case," I say, "usually such small high schools only have the resources to hire one foreign language teacher.  And when that's the case," I say, "they usually hire a Spanish teacher, because Spanish is most useful for most students in this area.  Don't blame immigrants.  Blame your community, which is poor and broke and refused consolidation."

Sometimes I add a little riff on NCLB, which is taking what funds exist and spending them on idiotic testing, but usually I move on at this point.

But!  Not what this post is about!

Not exactly anyway.

This post is about those links at LL.  Go read those links!  This guy, Tony Hill, writes a letter to his legislator about how these "Mexican" students "told" him they hated white Americans and hated America and were planning to take America back from Americans who stole it from them.  How they tore pages from the textbooks and threw the books at each other and how when he taught those "Mexicans" and black students (love how he inserted blacks in there -- racist bingo!) they didn't want to learn and how if "we" just got the illegal immigrants (cause he could tell by looking at those "Mexicans" they were all illegal, I guess) the class sizes would all go down to nice small classrooms (full of white kids who would read books instead of ripping them up and throwing them) --

Anyway, my point is, apparently the idiots in AZ believed this story Tony Hill fed them.

Conservatives make up lying lies and other conservatives believe them.

No wonder that Jesus thing plays so well in their community.

Friday, March 25, 2011


This story here, on Strange Horizons, by Zen Cho.

I loves it.

(Full disclosure: I became a fan of Zen Cho when I edited another of her stories, "Prudence and the Dragon," for Crossed Genres.  That one is also a wonderful story.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hey! Wow!

Two bits of news from Crossed Genres today.

(1) One of our stories, "Drag Queen Astronaut," by Sandra McDonald, made the Tiptree Honors List, which, wow, this is a big deal.  I'm very pleased.  

(2) The conclusion to Broken Slate is up.  Now you can see how it comes out!  

Print copies available starting in July.

Too Good to Leave in the Comments

From the comments, of my previous post, Athena Andreadis points me to her essay on this topic: The Double Helix: Why Science Needs Science Fiction.

Go read!

Monday, March 21, 2011

What is it Good For?

(X-Posted at FanSci)

Nah, this isn't another political post.  (Athough...)

I was at a conference a couple years ago, I can't even remember which one this time.  Might have been the PCA, might have been the CEA.  

But as always, I went to all the panels that had anything to do with science fiction, because that's pretty much all I even mildly care about these days.

This one featured a professor who promised to explain to us what science fiction was for.

Which -- cool! -- because up to that point, I have to admit to you, it hadn't occurred to me that science fiction had to be for anything.  So I got my coffee (the best thing about this conference, as I remember it, was that between sessions there was free coffee and sometimes also tiny packets of shortbread cookies) and cookies and settled into the back row with my notepad.

Sadly, my notes from the session do not survive.  So I can't tell you the professor's name. I do remember it was a good session, and that she did not actually come to conclusions -- so I can't, in fact, tell you what science fiction is good for.

I do remember that she had some general ideas, based on her years of reading and teaching science fiction.

Science fiction, she said, often seems to be for some of the following:

  • introducing new technology (the way-cool effect)
  • increasing hunger for new technology and new ideas 
  • challenging common perceptions of our culture (you thought this was true, but no, look, this is actually the truth)
  • opening the door to new ideas -- either cultural or technological
These last two might look like the same, but (as I recall) they are not: the third is reactionary and the fourth is progressive.  That is, the third takes new aspects of our culture that the writer finds disturbing and shows why these changes in our culture, which many in our culture might find favorable -- gay marriage, for instance, or the use of birth control, or polyamorous relationships -- and writes fiction in which those changes are shown to be destructive or foolish.

The last is progressive.  It takes changes in our culture, or changes that haven't happened, even, yet, to our culture, and shows how those changes might benefit our culture.  I'm thinking now of works like Eleanor Arnason, or Joanna Russ, or the early novels of John Varley.  (His latest stuff, not so much.)

Of course, my students, when I start all of this, like to explain to me that science fiction is just for fun.

Ha! I tell them.  Ha!  We're working for heaven and the future's sakes here, lamb chops, I tell them.

Mortal stakes!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Aw, rly?

Alas, poor Walker.

The judge says no.

Where Are My Cookies?

Each month lately -- and by "lately" I mean the last 18 months or so -- Herr Doctor Delagar and I run out of money just a little bit sooner.

The last few months we've started running out of money on about the 8th or 9th of month.

By "running out of money" I mean the money is nearly gone. I have paid the bills, I have paid the rent, I have paid off the credit cards, and now I am looking at what is left in the bank and counting down the days to the end of the month. So it's 21 days until the end of the month and we have two hundred and sixty dollars left and we have to buy food and gas and pay for all the emergencies that might arise over those 21 days as well and I'm thinking, well, if we eat a lot of split pea soup and nothing horrible happens, maybe....

Then gasoline rises to $3.45/gallon, and WTF.

Oh, yes, and I still haven't filled my prescriptions, which I couldn't fill last month, because we didn't have the $211 dollars last month either, and now I'm down to about eleven doses of each, despite the fact that I've been skipping doses every sixth or seventh night. So I really have to refill fill the presciptions. Or, well, I could just die I guess.

And when I drop by the store for milk and eggs, food prices are skyrocketing again. Which goes with the skyrocketing gas prices, I know, but you know what is not skyrocketing? My salary. My salary, if we factor everything into account, despite a couple of tiny, tiny COL raises, has actually gone down over the past four years (because I've lost summer teaching gigs, because this administration has stopped paying us for extra work, because we're paying more now for health insurance).

So less money to take home. And everything I need to buy with that money costs, I'd guess, about three times as much. And the solution from our state and federal government is to give the top one percent more tax breaks.

And why am I angry again?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Yeah, Now!

It's been a long time since I link to Twisty, but that's not b/c I've quit reading her.

And here she is again, with another brilliant post: how performing feminity impedes the revolution.

I loves me some Twisty.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Who Has What Now?

So despite all the trumpeting about percentages of wealth, and all the pie charts everyone's been passing around the blogosphere, this is still how Americans think our wealth is divided up.

All I got to say about this is WTF?

Also, no wonder Scott Walker and the TeaBaggers can pull their con off.  What are my fellow citizens doing with their time?  Not fucking well paying attention, apparently.

Watching Dancing With The Stars, I guess.

Democracy.  You get what you deserve.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Oh, Big Shock

James O'Keefe edited the NPR video into lies, lies, lies, making Schiller say exactly the opposite of what he actually did say, over and over again.

This is the same game the Right keeps playing.

Why does anyone keep buying?

And here's my second question: will anyone pay half as much attention to this revelation as they did to the O'Keefe's big reveal? Oh, I think we know that answer.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

WHAT time is it?

Somehow I missed the approach of daylight savings time this year.

I've been staying up until two and three in the morning lately anyway, working on the current novel -- see, I go through shifts in writing schedules.  For awhile, I'll work best waking up at six and writing like crazy for three or four hours before I go to work.  And then I'll work best coming straight home after classes and writing five or six hours.  And then (like now) I'll work best during the five or six hours from ten p.m. until I'm literally so tired my eyes are crossing.

This last shift is not the best shift for someone who has to function in the modern world, especially on those days (only three of them this semester, but still) when I have to wake up in time to make 9.30 office hours.

Anyway.  Today I woke up, rolled over, and said, ah.  Ten o'clock.  Plenty of time to clean house before the writing group arrives.  (My writing group is coming today.)

But ha!  But no!  It was actually eleven o'clock!  The Gods of Time are mocking me!

WTF.  Why do we even still have these time shifts?  So far as I know, the notion that this saves fuel has been disproved, and it clearly fucks up everyone's schedules, and is it just that once we've DONE something, we can't STOP doing that thing?  Because that's not true.  Scott Walker just said so.

I'm grumpy.

Friday, March 11, 2011

This Is Why I'm Depressed

So...I'm chatting with one of my students today, about this and that and nothing much, and I happen to drop into the conversation that I'm feeling a little gloomy just now.  Oh, why, he says.

"Oh," I say, "all this with Scott Walker, up there in Wisconsin, I'm angry about it, and that's got my mood a bit dark."

"Who's Scott Walker?" he asks.

Which, see, this, I just -- how in shit, how are, how do we even start to win against the Koch Brothers and all the rest of them?  How?  When 80 or 90 percent of the country isn't even fucking awake?


Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Hey, Look!

It's Martin Tuesday --

Chapter 15 is up.  We're on the second to last chapter now.  Closing fast!

Obscure Book Review

...over on FanSci.

Otherwise I got nothing for you.  It's midterm, I'm still (obviously) obsessed with Wisconsin, I'm trying to get my submission packet in shape to submit to Angry Robot Books, I'm getting a migraine every six minutes it seems like lately, we're really really broke (yes, like everyone else in America, I know, but that doesn't help) and I have about six projects due and only one even started.

Sad me.  Is that violins I hear?

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Update on the Revolution

Even the Rasmussan Polls admit the truth now.  Walker's losing it.  60% hate his lying ass.

Here's what First Draft has to say.

Oh -- also?  That big fat lie the RW Noise Machine has been pushing about the 7.5 million dollars worth of damage the protesters did to the capitol building?  Yeah, more like 0 dollars worth.  Think any of them will change their story now?  (Color me doubtful.  I'm still hearing the story about how Clinton's staff took all the W's off the keyboards in the White House before they left, when George W. took office.)

Here's Mother Jones on the whole issue.

Indiana and Ohio are planning to pass similar laws, with very little fuss as far as I can tell.  Here's hoping the unions in those states gin up and take a clue from Wisconsin.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Update on the Revolution

Walker, as you probably know, locked the Capitol building yesterday.  Only people with "official" business were being let in, and, oddly, that didn't include protesters.  Unless a protester left, no other protester was being let in.

Now a judge has ordered that the Capitol (being a public space) has to be unlocked and opened to the public.  Ha!  And yay!

(Not that Walker has complied yet, apparently.  Apparently he's claiming the building is open to the public, since people can get in if they have business there. Here's the twitter from the MadisonACLU Twitter: "Govt perspective says Capitol is open, one-in-one-out is sufficient. Order is invalid. Law enforcement is complying.")