Sunday, March 30, 2014

But That Tree! Lookit That Tree! And This Cathedral! Plus Stars!

Over at Rod Dreher's blogs he speaks highly of some bit of twaddle by our favorite faux intellectual, Charles Murray, in which Murray opines earnestly that y'all kid today should get off his lawn give religion another spin.

See, cause Murray was an atheist too, back when he was a youngster at Harvard.  Then he grew up and got married and 40 and starting thinking deep thoughts.  And doing intellectual work.  And that intellectual work led him to realize that by jeezly these religions had some deep stuff in them.

Taking religion seriously means work. If you're waiting for a road-to-Damascus experience, you're kidding yourself. Getting inside the wisdom of the great religions doesn't happen by sitting on beaches, watching sunsets and waiting for enlightenment. It can easily require as much intellectual effort as a law degree.

Even dabbling at the edges has demonstrated to me the depths of Judaism, Buddhism and Taoism. I assume that I would find similar depths in Islam and Hinduism as well. I certainly have developed a far greater appreciation for Christianity, the tradition with which I'm most familiar. The Sunday school stories I learned as a child bear no resemblance to Christianity taken seriously. You've got to grapple with the real thing.

Start by jarring yourself out of unreflective atheism or agnosticism. A good way to do that is to read about contemporary cosmology. The universe isn't only stranger than we knew; it is stranger and vastly more unlikely than we could have imagined…

Rod backs this sophomoric drivel up with earnest drivel of his own.  He too when he was a young jackanape, see, he too thought he knew all about this here world. But then there he was in Chartres Cathedral one time!

See, here's the thing.  When I was a young professor just starting out, at my first TT job, my students discovered I was an atheist.

"But what does that mean, dr. delagar?" they demanded.  (It was a Southern school, and they were all deeply religious.)

 "But how can you believe that?  That tree out there--"  They pointed at the oak tree in the yard. "Where do you think it came from, if there's no God?"

And that's the thing, see.

To me, the real story of how that oak tree got in the yard, and the real story of how Chartres Cathedral arrived in France as well, is far more interesting than "God put it there," or even "Faith makes wonders!"

Trees are indeed a wonder.  So are social movements that create Cathedrals.  I'm interested in science, because I want to know the real story of how that tree got in the yard.  I'm interested in history, including the history of religion, and of social history, because that's really how that cathedral got in Chartres.

I'm also interested in religion as one of the things that humans do, and because of the wisdom literature it produces.

Why this would mean I have to pretend to believe in supernatural beings, much less supernatural beings that enforce various strictures to punish those who don't (odd how it works this way) support the dominant hegemonic class of the moment, I cannot fathom.

Rod and Charles Murray, though, belonging as they do to the dominant hegemonic class of our time, gulp down this camel with no trouble at all.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Ancillary Justice: Review

Or, well, not exactly a review.

I have just finished Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, and was going to review it, but Alix over at The Other Side of the Rain said everything I wanted to say, very brilliantly.

My favorite graphs from her review hit on some of my favorite bits from the novel:

Leckie also has a gift for clarity. She’s writing in first person for a being that is simultaneously a single individual in the present, a ship’s AI in the past, and hundreds to thousands of additional human-like bodies called ancillaries. In an individual scene, from one sentence to the next, the action might move from an ancillary serving tea on the deck to an ancillary listening to treason on another floor to the ship’s knowledge of each human’s medical status and back to the ancillary serving the tea. And it’s not confusing.Writing like this has none of the lyricism or juicy embellishment of a Valente or a K.J. Bishop, but the clean, elegant bones of it are just as gorgeous to read.

And the other has to do with what's probably been the most talked about aspect of the novel, Leckie's use of pronouns (the Radchaai don't distinguish between genders, at least linguistically; in the text, Leckie demonstrates this by having all those who are Radchaai use only the pronouns "she" and "her" and "hers"; everyone is referred to as "woman" or "daughters" or "girls," regardless of gender).

First and most obviously, the confusion of character gender challenges the reader by making them abruptly self-aware of their near-obsessive need to know a character’s gender. That, I assume, is what makes people react so strongly to Ancillary Justice—realizing their own dualistic social constructions makes them feel tricked, irritatingly uncertain. If a character is crying, for instance, do we interpret it as a man showing himself to be emotionally vulnerable? Or a woman in hysterics? Or, god helps us all, a human experiencing a powerful emotion? It also, of course, neatly combats the baseline assumption of masculinity that has plagued science fiction (and the rest of fiction, and real life) for so long.
But it also does that thing so fundamental to good science fiction: It plucks us out of our constructed culture, and plops us down uncomfortably into someone else’s. It makes the Radchaai feel alien and inscrutable, and the process of getting to know them—through their gods and philosophies, their uniforms and client-based romances—is the process of immigrating to a foreign world.

Read the whole review: it's excellent.  And read Ancillary Justice.  It's probably the best new SF novel I've read in a long time.

See this review as well, by Liz Bourke over at Tor.


Writing for me is like sneaking up on a butterfly.

Or maybe a sleeping kitten?

I have to get everything just right.

The room has to be right.  My music has to be right.  (Gangstagrass has been my favorite for some time.) The level of caffeine in my blood has to be perfect.  And then...and then...and then....I open the file of my current story and...maybe --

But this is an insane way to function and I know it.  I don't do anything else this way.  This is not how I prep to teach, this is not how I do committee work, this is not how I write new courses, or blog posts, or anything else.  Every other kind of work I have to do, I just get to it, and work until it is done.

Surely writing should be the same?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

It's Official!

Just got this via email:

I am pleased to inform you that your promotion from Associate Professor to Professor was approved by the University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees on March 22, 2014.  This promotion will be reflected in your 2014-2015 contract.  Congratulations! 

Yippee-Ki-Yay, Y'all!

New Post at Grounded Parents

My new post is up at Grounded Parents.


On Being The Grown-Up.

Artwork by our own illustrious Kid.

Monday, March 24, 2014

In Which I Bring You a Toast Article

Re the comment from Contingent Cassandra on my previous post, Aargh!, I bring you this post, from The Toast, by my hero Mallory Ortberg:

"Dialogue I Pray Will Be Featured In  Darren Aronofsky's Noah."

Don't skip the comments!

Saturday, March 22, 2014


I just checked the movie listings, kind of hoping there might be something I could go see over the break, and these two movies are currently playing in my town.

I'm just making this post for those of you who doubt me when I piss and moan about living here.

We also have 300, 300:3D (on several screens), Need for Speed, and Three Days To Kill.

Okay?  Believe me now?

Spring Break

...and can I say, just in time?

Last night I went to bed at ten o'clock.  I slept until 1:00 this afternoon.  I think that's a record, even for me.  I will add that I was awakened three times, once by the dog barking to go out at about midnight, once by the cat demanding to be let in my room, maybe an hour later, and once by the kid, hollering because there was a cockroach in the bathroom.

I am the Slayer of Cockroaches in this here particular household.

For the next eight days, though, y'all, nothing to do but write and read.

And maybe I will clean up this holy wreck of a house a bit.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Read This

If you are not reading the link days over at Radish, you are missing out.

Today's links are especially good.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

From Zami

A quotation from Audre Lorde's Zami:

"As infants, we had grown up in the subliminal echo of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's determinedly optimistic fireside chats.  We each had absorbed some of his prescription for progress: When times are hard, do something. If it works, do it some more.  If it does not work, do something else. But keep doing" (228).

Good News / Bad News; Or, The Silver Lining Edition

The washing machine is busted (again), and we are currently too poor to even call in the repair guy and see how much it might cost to have it repaired.

This means hours at the laundromat, like in the olden days when we were even poorer than we are now.

That's the bad news.

The good news!  Laundromats in Fuck Smith do not have Wifi, which means while I am there, all my craptop lets me do is write.  While this is somewhat annoying, it also looks to increase my productivity amazingly.

Plus, if you go on Thursday morning, early, as it develops, no one is in the laundry at all.  Very nice.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

More on Audre Lorde

We're still doing Zami in Women's World Lit.

Today we were on about Intersectionality, and about Lorde's use of the transitional nature of her relationships.  "What, actually," I asked, "is up with this?  The first relationship, the one she has with Gennie, obviously ends badly for factual, plot reasons.  But plot and meaning don't always converge."

We considered this deeply for a moment.

"And this sets the pattern for the rest of the text," I added.  "That is, Lorde will continually have relationships like this -- she will love women who will not remain: who she will not be able to keep (in all senses of that word)."

I made a list of the women on the white board: Ginger, Eudora, Rhea, Bea, Muriel, Afrekete.  They filled in a few women I had forgotten.

"This is not your heteronormative pattern," I noted. A few muted laughs from the classroom.  I grinned at them, and added, "In your normal heteronormative piece of literature -- Shakespeare, Donne, Sidney -- this would be a trope that would aim us toward God."

I had taken them around the curve too fast and lost them, so I backed up.

"Like with Sir Philip Sidney?" I said.  "Whatever fades, but fading pleasure brings?"  I recited the stanza for them:

            "Leave me, O Love, which reachest but to dust;
             And thou, my mind, aspire to higher things;
             Grow rich in that which never taketh rust;
             Whatever fades but fading pleasure brings."

"See, for these guys, earthly love, mortal love, is only a shadow, a kind of teaching tool.  It lures us toward the real love, the eternal love, God's love.  Plato talks about this too."  I drew them a quick sketch of Plato's ladder of love. "Plato said you needed mortal love, but that it was only so that you could be drawn upward toward real love, the eternal love."

"But! Is this what Lorde is saying?"

They thought this over.

"She doesn't talk about God at all," one of them said eventually.

"I don't think she mentions God even once," said another, "except when she says she has hair like Jesus's mama."

"Which," another hesitated.  "What does that mean?"

"What does it mean?" I agreed.  "If love isn't eternal love, and it doesn't exist to draw us up to God, then what is it?"

"It's that," another student said, pointing at the board, I thought at where I had written the title, Zami, but then I realized she was pointing at the list of names; although come to think of it she might have been pointing at both. "It's community."

I looked at the board and then looked at her.

"You don't have to have one person, forever, for all eternity, who is responsible for giving you everything," she explained.  "Or who you have to be everything to.  You have a community.  We get what we need, and we give what's needed.  But from lots of people, and to lots of people.  The community is eternal."

Like I was saying.  Such smart students.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Crossed Genres Makes The Big Time

Well, look at this.

Crossed Genres is now a SFWA qualifying market.

The air up here is pretty rarefied, y'all.

Best Science Fiction Writer Ever?

So the kid is currently reading Ursula K. Le Guin's collection The Birthday of the World for her school reading.

If you haven't yet read this collection, you should.  It's one of the strongest of Le Guin's collections, and one of the strongest collections of SF stories ever, bar none.

Further, it contains two of the best SF stories I've ever read: "The Matter of the Seggri," and "Paradises Lost."

The first is from Le Guin's Hainish cycle, the universe that posits multiple civilizations seeded by some remote ancestor, with various variations on each planet.  On Seggri, the variation is that very few male babies survive pregnancy, or infancy.  And what happens next?  (Hint: not what you expect.)

"Paradises Lost" is that old SF chestnut -- a generation ship.  Again, the strength of Le Guin is that she always takes the reader where the reader does not expect to go.  This is not your typical generation ship story.

So -- the point to this post, besides telling you that you should acquire and read The Birthday of the World at once, is that the kid and I were discussing, as we do, her reading of Le Guin's stories, and how much we like reading Le Guin, and ruminating over which Le Guin story or book we like best (The Word for World Is Forest?  Dispossessed? The Lathe of Heaven?) and I came out with, "You know, Le Guin just might be the best SF writer in the world."

"Better than Eleanor Arnason?" the kid said, who knows me well.

"Ooo," I said.  "Tough call."

Good thing it's not actually a contest.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Promotion Update: One More Hurdle Cleared

The Provost and Chancellor have both approved my promotion to Full Professor.

Now it goes to the board.  That's the final hurdle.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Freedom Road Updates

I've added new installments to the Freedom Road novella.

Freedom Road 4.

Freedom Road 5.

You can get the earlier installments here:

Freedom Road 1

Freedom Road 2

Freedom Road 3

You Said What Now? or, Teaching Audre Lorde

Yesterday I used the word "fuckable" in class for the very first time.

Mind you, it's not that I keep my word choice PG in the classroom anyway.

(In fact, part of my first-day lecture includes the comment, "Any questions?  Any problems?"

They all gaze at me, some in bright anticipation.

"Worried I'ma say fuck in class a lot?" I always add.  "Don't worry, I will.")

We have reached Audre Lorde in my Women's World Lit class, and before we started Zami, I had them read Lorde's speech on The Master's Tools, which, if you've taught it, you know students always need some help with.

So I was outlining on the board just what sort of tools the patriarchy might be using, and asking them which tools Lorde specifies white upper-class heternormative feminists were using in their attempts to destroy the master's house.  And one of the tools, obviously, is by erasing the existence of anyone who is not a white upper-class heternormative feminist.

"This isn't always done deliberately," I said.  "In fact, Lorde implies that she understands the erasing is not willful.  That is, these white upper-class heternormative feminists have failed to include anyone of color, or anyone who is LGBTQ, not out of malice, but out of ignorance.  They tell Lorde it's not their fault; that they just don't know any black Lesbian feminists.  Well, is that okay?"

"Why don't they know any?" one of my students demanded.  "That's the point."

"Exactly," I said.  I've got excellent students in this class, btw.  "It's like the people who claim they aren't racist, that they don't even see color.  What's wrong with that statement?"

"It's bullshit," another student said.

I grinned.  "That's true, too," I agreed.  "Almost everyone who says they don't see color just happens to also be a racist.  But besides that, what do you mean when you say you don't see color?  You mean you don't see people of color.  You mean you're erasing the existence of anyone who isn't a white upper-class heternormative feminist."  I paused.  "Or, you know, a white upper-class heteronormative rich guy, if you're really in charge."

They thought this over.

"It's like that guy," I explained.  "John Derbyshire.  Who said that women over 20 were past their sell-by date* -- what did he mean?"

"Women over 20?"

"He really said that?"

"He means women over 20 aren't useful to him," I said, "because they're not fuckable anymore."

This got a big laugh.

"And a woman who isn't fuckable," I said, "well, what is she good for?  Derbyshire and guys like him erase women they don't want to fuck from the world entirely.  Why aren't you publishing essays and short stories by women? you ask them and they say, oh, we just don't know any women writers.  Well, that's because they've erased women from their landscape."

They thought this over, too.

"And that's what the white feminists were doing -- to some extent, still tend to do -- to anyone who isn't white, and upper-class, and heteronormative, and from their neighborhood: erase them."  I spread my hands.  "You don't build with the master's tools and get anything except the master's house."

I would have gone on, but we were already two minutes past the hour.  So I sent them off to read Zami instead; or tried to.  About half the class wanted to hang around and talk about the speech.

These are such good students.

*Obviously, I am not quoting Derbyshire precisely here.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Freedom Road Updates

I've posted part 2 and 3 of Freedom Road over on delagar's pit.

Freedom Road 1

Freedom Road 2

Freedom Road 3

For those of you just tuning in, this is a novella set in the universe of Martin's War, the series I am currently at work in.  Broken Slate, the first book of Martin's War, is available from Crossed Genres Press and via Amazon.

Theory of the Leisure Class

I sit down to write.

  • The cat wants fed.
  • The dog wants out.
  • The kid wants a grilled cheese sandwich, which I make better than anyone.
  • The dog wants in.
  • The laundry wants folding.
  • The dog wants out.
  • The other cat wants water (she will only drink out of the faucet, set to trickle).
  • The dog wants in.
  • The kid says the sandwich was wonderful, could she have another?
  • The laundry wants moved to the dryer.
  • The dog wants out.
  • The cat is bored.
  • What about all those midterms I still have yet to grade?
  • The dog wants in.
  • Dr. Skull wonders what we're having for dinner.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Martin's War: Bonus Material

Over at my writing blog, delagar's pit, I am going to be posting over the next few weeks a novella which is part of the bonus material for my series Martin's War.

Go here for the first post: Martin's War.

Go here for the second: Freedom Road: Part One

No Drugs For You; or, More Whining

I have vicious migraines, as long-term readers of this blog know.  But for about nine years now, they have been (mostly) controlled by a combination of drugs my neurologist prescribed for me.

One of these, Frova, is now off the list of drugs my insurance company has decided they will cover.  Their justification is that another, much cheaper drug, Imitrex, works just as well -- so say the clinical trials. So they will cover that and not Frova.

Of course, I've already tried Imitrex, and it did not work for me.  Pretty much no other drug worked as well as Frova.  But Frova is pricey.  And in the normal run of things, I use eight or nine packets of them a month.

So -- you know -- I understand this decision on their part.

OTOH, I just took the last of my hoarded Frova (they stopped covering it in January) and it worked, as usual, like a charm.  My migraine is totally gone.

The next one?  I guess I go to the ER, sit for four hours, and get the shot.  And lose a day of work.  Which is how I used to handle the migraines, which come three and four times a month.

I really can't see how this saves them money, is what I'm saying.

Friday, March 07, 2014

How To Make Sure You Never See Your Fifteen Year Old Artist Again

(This one simple trick!)

Install Flash on her computer.

She's making some great animations, though.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Yet Another Time Suck!

Here's an app for you"


You go there, clear the screen, paste in your own writing, and hit edit.

It will tell you how much your writing is like Hemingway's.

Mine is 100% Hemingway.  I am 20% pleased, 80% dismayed by this.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Yer Can't Have Any Pudding

Photograph by kellyhogaboom, WikiCommons
Over at Grounded Parents, my new post is up: You Can't Have Any Pudding If You Don't Eat Your Meat.

Other posts by me found here: My Posts.

(Photo by kellyhogaboom via WikiCommons) 

Monday, March 03, 2014

Here's Your New Time-Suck Link

A couple of quizzes from Mirriam-Webster to eat up your copious spare time.

Name That Thing (a visual quiz).

Vocabulary Quiz.

True or False: Basic knowledge.


New Issue of Crossed Genres

The new issue of Crossed Genres is up.  Excellent stories this month!

My Life as a Lizard
by David Stevens
Tell it Slant
by Joanna Hoyt
Sic Semper 
by Kristopher Reisz
Spotlight interview:
David Stevens
- See more at:

Go, read!  Also, don't forget the subscription drive is still ongoing.  Donate or subscribe to keep SF alive.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

What's That You Say?

Classes cancelled tomorrow due to weather?

O no!

In related news, this makes me laugh.

Why Is Everyone In This SF Story Twenty-Four Years Old?

...or frequently even younger.  And usually male, of course, without any family ties. (where are the aunts and mothers?  The cousins and brothers and sisters?  The grandmothers?)

Athena Andreadis, over at Astrogator's Logs, writes an excellent post: "Where Are the Wise Crones in Science Fiction?"   

Bonus story in the post, also!