Ashni's Journal
20 most recent entries

Date:2014-05-12 23:57
Subject:Welcome Post
Event type:Sticky
Security:Public

Hello, and welcome.  You've reached my irregularly updated Livejournal.  A sampling of reasons why it is irregular:

1) I write fiction: you can find some of it online at Strange Horizons and Drabblecast--and on this journal, where I reprinted a story from Analog for Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day.  My most recent stories, The Litany of Earth and Seven Commentaries on an Imperfect Land, are available at Tor.com.

2) I write non-fiction: you can find some of it at Green Minds, my irregularly updated blog on the psychology of sustainability.  With Anne M. Pillsworth, I also co-write a Tor.com series on rereading Lovecraft.

3) I have a large, complicated family.  They're hard to count because they move so quickly, but I'm fairly certain there are at least 2 children, at least some of the time.  I definitely have a wife, who is wonderful and the main reason I ever have time for all this other stuff.





Date:2014-10-16 05:05
Subject:The next day, Mr. Earbrass is conscious but very little more
Security:Public

It's 5 AM, and that's a draft.

Mr. Earbrass is also conscious of the fact that he has let his inbox get kind of out of hand during the last couple of weeks.

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Date:2014-09-20 23:36
Subject:Better Ideas
Security:Public

As I get older, I've learned to appreciate people who actively work on their shit--as opposed to ignoring potential problems and pretending everything is just fine.

The extremely diverse DC suburb where I live is planning a series of community discussions about whether we have any cop-civilian tension, and what to do about it if so.  I haven't noticed any, but I'm female and pretty white-looking--I plan to sit in the back of the room and listen.

Apparently our police department did receive a humvee through that horrible military-surplus-for-police program.  The city council had just said no to a bunch of things that cost money, and felt like "free equipment" was an easy thing to say yes to.  We use the humvee for snow removal, so we don't just want to get rid of it.

One of the proposals on the table, therefore, is to repaint the humvee as an art car in order to reduce the potential for testosterone poisoning.  This, explained the neighbor who's planning to host one of the discussions, would "better reflect community values."

Which is true.  I do love this town.  It's far from perfect, but it's actively working on its shit.

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Date:2014-08-29 08:41
Subject:Cultural shifts
Security:Public

Okay, it's time to do a pass for smoking, and for the minefield that is women's choices of hats (or no hats) in 1949.

Does anyone know:

...whether smoking would have been permitted in a library--in this case an ivy league academic library?

...in bookstores?

My instinct is what the hell are you thinking, but I can only just remember what it was like to have everyone smoking inside in the first place?  (It sucked, that's what I remember.  But people mostly got used to it.)

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Date:2014-08-25 01:21
Subject:Writing Progress
Security:Public

Good: The rest of the Aphra novel is basically outlined, and I know most of what happens...

Bad: ...except for the climax, currently listed as "and then they do a thing."

Good: I like writing by the seat of my pants, and if I thought I knew what the climax looked like I'd be wrong anyhow.

Good: I've finished writing the annoying-but-necessary transitional bit before sh*t hits f*n for the rest of the book.  (Annoying to me, hopefully not annoying to readers.)

Bad: I've looked over how long scenes have taken on average, so far, and have counted up remaining scenes, and that's a longer book than I thought.  Which means either busier writing nights, or a busier editing season--because Baby M's birth date is not going to be affected by whether I've finished my other big projects.

Good: I find deadlines very motivating.

Fingers crossed.

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Date:2014-08-21 23:03
Subject:Sale: The Deepest Rift
Security:Public

To Tor.com, and due out early next year.  Aliens, AIs, and academic politics.

...and that actually basically clears out the short stuff queue, except for the lesbian steampunk mad science epistolary story.  The entire genre should be embarrassed that there aren't more markets that are obvious targets for a 2700-word lesbian steampunk mad science epistolary story.  In any case, I must write more shorts, but not until after I finish the novel.

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Date:2014-08-20 20:59
Subject:Seven Commentaries on an Imperfect Land
Security:Public

Seven Commentaries on an Imperfect Land is up today on Tor.com.  Those of you who've been here for a while may remember the first couple of sections: the early drafts were created as, um, commentary, on the question of whether there's a Jewish Narnia and what it would mean if there were.

The issue of what it means to have a homeland may have gotten more political since I wrote the story.  No regrets; it still says what I want to say on the topic.

Lest I make it sound like a heavy read, this is probably the nicest story I've ever written.  It has magical mint and dolphin alliances and bread baking and cross-cultural friendships and a really good library.

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Date:2014-07-06 01:01
Subject:Functional Definitions of Genre
Security:Public

Sarah and I were talking in the car today, on our way to the "visit a place that's too expensive" step of furniture-buying.  (This was not an intentional step, just a necessary one.) We started by arguing about the appropriate box for Charlie Stross's Laundry books, and moved on to the more interesting question of why it's worth putting them in boxes at all.  We came up with two ways of looking at genre that are useful for something other than organizing a book store. I hasten to add that these are not the definitions in common use, and I'm not claiming they are.

1) Genre as conversation.  A genre or subgenre consists of a set of stories in conversation with each other, or with the same set of tropes.  The Laundry books are in conversation with Lovecraftian horror, but also with a particular set of spy novels, and also with Dilbert et al.  They are mostly not in conversation with, say, urban fantasy, even though they involve supernatural/extradimensional beings living in modern London.  Anita Blake sees the Laundry and crosses quietly to the other side of the street.  Marla Mason, in conversation with both urban fantasy and Lovecraftian horror, gets along with it splendidly.  (Crap.  I just thought about one particular Laundry character getting ahold of that cloak, and I'm going to cross the street and keep right on going as fast as I can.)

2) Genre as shared reading protocols.  This gets a lot more discussion, and actually is a useful way of thinking about genre--it explains why people who normally read SF are more likely to enjoy, say, Gillian Bradshaw's historical fiction than The Road.  Or at least it explains why I am--Bradshaw's worldbuilding rewards exploration and investigation much as a good SF novel does, while McCarthy frustrates it.  The people who enjoy McCarthy are reading for the language and the mood and the allegorical familial relationships, and don't care what caused the apocalypse and why the characters can breathe with no plants.  I love a story that plays with language and mood, but my reading protocols won't leave those questions alone.

(papersky does something amazing with this--she goes ahead and reads books with protocols that the author never intended, and then writes books of her own with the results.  Among Others is about someone doing this--about someone with science fiction protocols trying to deal with living in a fantasy.)

This is also relevant to a particular reflex of mine that I'm trying to make more nuanced.  When I read that a new book or story "breaks down the walls of genre," "is groundbreaking and genre-bending," or similar, I tend to put it as far from my reading list as possible.  And I think it's because many books described in this way are not in conversation with other books and not amenable to any existing set of reading protocols.  But there's another kind of genre-breaking that's really interesting--books like the Laundry books that are in conversation with more than one genre and amenable to more than one reading protocol.  Instead of a guy sitting in a room talking about how awesome this party would be if anyone else was cool enough to come, it's a gorgeous shindig where you invite your knitting friends and your writing friends and your filk-singing friends and your work-snark friends and at 2 AM everyone is sitting around the living room arguing about medieval Spanish convents while playing Cards Against Humanity.

I want to read more books that are like that party--books that combine protocols and conversations to give you new and wonderful perspective on everyone in the room.

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Date:2014-06-16 00:54
Subject:Continuing research
Security:Public

Things I've successfully learned today:  40s car models, history of "first aid" as a thing that exists, how a man could end up separated from his family at the start of the WWII Japanese American internment.  I already knew that George Takei was awesome, but am reminded of it as I go through his autobiography. Clear, honest, unadorned descriptions of his time at Rohwer and Tule Lake, along with historical context and some serious blunt truth on the things you miss when you're four.

Things where I have failed at search: Can anyone recommend good resources on civil rights and interracial dynamics in late 40s Massachusetts?  I'm looking for fairly practical stuff: how much trouble will this character (who is African American) have getting into libraries, restaurants, or stores?  How segregated are most settings?  How much fuss are bystanders likely to make about an obviously interracial group wandering around?

Any insight into how people in the northeast would slot a Japanese American woman into those laws or cultural restrictions would also be awesome, but that may be something I'll need to try and infer from experiences in New Jersey.

The past is another country.  A country that is deeply fucked up.

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Date:2014-05-21 00:46
Subject:Possibly less of a longshot? Possibly not.
Security:Public

1) Lovecraft wrote quite a lot about Miskatonic University, and many of his stories featured professors from the school.  Am I missing a story in which he actually describes the school, or shows classes, or includes academic interactions between professors and students?  Or does it just sit there as an invisible background while people read scary letters from elsewhere?  (And yes, I know that Mount Holyoke gets used in the Whisperer in Darkness film.  I'm trying to figure out if there's anything in the original mythos I need to worry about.)(I'll probably end up using Mount Holyoke too, since Hampshire would be clearly inappropriate. Also since the library is awesome.)

2) Miskatonic is the next thing to an Ivy League.  Given the time period, and also given Lovecraft, it was obviously men-only for quite some time.  Has anyone ever speculated as to its sister school?

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Date:2014-05-20 19:50
Subject:Longshot request
Security:Public

We own the CDs of the NPR broadcast of Star Wars (which is awesome, if you haven't heard it you should).  Alas, Episode 13 has been missing for several months and we haven't been able to find it.

Does anyone out there own it, and if so would they be willing to share an MP3 of just that episode?  It would make S very happy.

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Date:2014-05-17 11:08
Subject:Right, that was the other thing I wanted to ask.
Security:Public

Would anyone be willing to beta read a 7800-word science fiction story?  Possible first contact, poly families, xenolinguistics, and dysfunctional academic politics.

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Date:2014-05-16 23:43
Subject:The Internet is Full of Knowledge, part 53 million
Security:Public

There is still no inspiration quite as inspiring as a story request from an actual person.  In related news, I'd be grateful for suggestions about any of the following:

1) Sources on Japanese American food just post World War II--either descriptive or actual recipes.  So far I've got this NPR piece on Weenie Royale, which is pretty cool even if it doesn't sound particularly tasty.  Cookbooks for modern Japanese American food are easy to find--anything prior to the general introduction of sushi in the US, not so much.

2) Sources, either fiction or non-fiction, for mood in the US in response to the start of the Cold War.  I have a pretty good handle on what it felt like after everyone got used to it (as much as one can get used to the looming shadow of nuclear war), but could use a better idea of the balance between post-war techno-optimism and oh-god-what's-that-thing-on-the-horizon in the late 40s.

3) When did commercial cross-continent air travel actually start to be a thing?  That is, at one point did it switch from one-offs for ridiculously rich people to regular flight schedules available to the merely well-to-do? Thank you, Wikipedia--looking up the actual airports I want to use gives me the information I need.  (As opposed to searching for general histories of air travel, which did not.)

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Date:2014-05-14 13:31
Subject:The Litany of Earth
Security:Public

The Litany of Earth is now up on Tor.com!

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Date:2014-04-12 16:59
Subject:Disability After the Singularity
Security:Public

Elizabeth Bear (matociquala) has an excellent guest post on SF Signal, about disability in science fiction--why it's worth including, how to do it right, and how to do it wrong.  I read it with interest, both because it's a topic that interests me in general and because it's a topic that shows up in my own stories.  I like playing with how deficits get defined, and by who, and how much trouble comes from an actual physical or mental issue versus how much comes from the way society handles it.

But, so, anyway.  The first comment--actually, the first 3 or 4 comments--is S.M.Stirling "pointing out" that within a hundred years we'll have a perfect understanding of biology, and therefore we won't have disabilities, so why should we write about them.

Obviously one could argue with every assumption in that very weird statement.  From a purely scientific standpoint, for a start... since we've never reached a perfect understanding of any other field of inquiry, we have no data points to infer how long it will take in biology.  Nor do we have any reason to suppose that perfect understanding equals perfect control.  We understand computer programs pretty well, after all, having created them.

Also, I just went to a seminar on neuroscience data, and we were all really excited by a database that mapped the physical shape of 13 neurons in the hippocampus.  They had 2000 human neurons total.  Not all from the same human, you understand, or connected to each other.  I'm sure we'll get better at this over the next few years, but from a Bayesian standpoint I would bet a fair amount that perfection will take longer than a century.

But, so anyway.  Circumstances did not permit me to get in a neuroscience slapfight on Tuesday merely because someone was wrong on the internet, and by the time I got back someone else had done it.  Instead, I decided to take Stirling's scientific postulates for granted--we will have a perfect understanding of biology, and perfect understanding allows perfect control--and asked what disability would look like under those circumstances.
Read more...Collapse )

ETA: S.M. Stirling, not Steve Brust. Apologies to Brust, whose name was in my head because I just got excited about the publication date for Hawk.

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Date:2014-03-02 15:31
Subject:Illustration Squee!
Security:Public

The illustration for "The Litany of Earth" is up at Tor.com's Facebook page.  Coming out in May!

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Date:2014-01-28 21:05
Subject:Five Things Make a Post
Security:Public

1. I've started a more public, and more regularly updated, blog on the psychology of sustainability--also on portable sensors, games for change, local foods, and my various other sustainability-related obsessions.

2. Speaking of local foods, our CSA for the past 2 weeks has been full of mushrooms.  This on top of the entirely non-local dried porcini and preserved truffles that showed up for the holidays. There has been mushroom quiche, and mushroom pasta, and cow-share steak with porcini butter.  And I still have to find something to do with the last truffle and a bag of shitakes.  This is not a hardship.

3. I just read Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel.  Fairies in Dust-Bowl-era Kansas, magic based on folk and blues and swing and jazz music, and honest explorations of racial politics.  Many thanks to mrissa for the recommendation.

4. I am now reading Ascension: A Tangled Axon Novel by Jacqueline Koyanagi. This appears to be Firefly fanfic with the serial numbers heavily filed off and replaced by better world-building.  And set in a universe where the unmarked state is dark-skinned lesbian.  If you wanted a novel like that--and don't pretend you didn't--this is totally the novel that you wanted.

5. This item is self-referential.

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Date:2014-01-19 13:40
Subject:Signal Boost for Daughters of Frankenstein anthology. In unrelated news, a request for beta readers.
Security:Public

Lethe Press is seeking short stories and novelettes for Daughters of Frankenstein: Lesbian Mad Scientists.  Pro rates.  You know you want to.

The original deadline was January 31st.  Melissa Scott says they're extending to July 31st, though there's nothing up on the official site yet.

In other news, I appear to have written a 2700-word epistolary mad science love story with giant mind-controlled grasshoppers.  If you'd like to volunteer as a research subject--sorry, I mean beta reader, just reading, absolutely no untested mind-control devices involved, I promise--please let me know.  I'm aiming for the January 31st deadline, just in case.

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Date:2013-11-14 22:39
Subject:Where the story is going, I cannot afford to follow
Security:Public

Tell me awesome, worrisome, trivial, or terrifying details about modern Rome?

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Date:2013-10-07 16:07
Subject:Will Travel for Art
Security:Public

Retrieved from a conversational tangent, last, night, that went in a different direction.  What art are you willing to travel for--that is, spend longer on the road than you do experiencing the art?  For me, this usually means that something is not only transcendently wonderful, but relatively rare.  The three that I can think of are


  • Live performances of Spem in Alium, Tallis's 40-part Motet. I've managed to stumble into a performance once, looking for free things to do on my birthday one year in Amherst, and haven't managed to come within 500 miles of one since.  Recorded, the motet is a particularly beautiful example of multi-choral singing, and doesn't come remotely close to the experience of sitting in a circle of 40 voices weaving in and out and around each other, creating a complete universe out of song.  I haven't yet tried Janet Cardiff's 40-speaker installation, currently at the Cloisters.

  • Live performances of Sassafrass's Sundown opera.  I've caught parts of it live, most notably at last year's Vericon, which I actually went to instead of a Spem in Alium performance the week before.  Sassafrass comes across more fully in recording than the motet, partly because the lyrics are a larger part of the point, but live still makes a difference.

  • Dale Chihuly installations. Chihuly does things with blown glass that are beautiful and eldritch and possibly batrachian and gibbous.  But in a good way.

I would travel for Cirque du Soleil, but the barrier is more often money than distance.  I would travel for Shakespeare if I had to, or for Hudson River School paintings, trilobite fossils, or new books by my favorite authors.  Fortunately not all beautiful things are rare.  However, there's a particular delight in managing to track and experience something that still is. 

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