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 story, The Litany of Earth, is 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.

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:2014-07-06 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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Date:2013-09-27 23:41
Subject:Holidays
Security:Public

Happy belated Stanislav Petrov Day!  One does appreciate the world still being here, however fubarred it may occasionally seem.

Today is my birthday, and also Google's.  Every year I go through approximately 15 seconds of being creeped out by the "personalized" Google doodle until I remember this.  Oh my god, this evening they do have a personalized doodle that says "Happy birthday Ruthanna" when I mouse-over.  Happy birthday, Panopticon.

My family, chosen and otherwise, are an awesome family.  I had mushroom leek tart that I did not have to cook, and chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting that I did not have to bake.  And I am now the proud owner of a Tam Lin t-shirt (with Janet wrestling the lion), and a mint copy of the "Peter Principle" game in which the goal is to avoid promotion.  I am also the even prouder owner of the 1983 Avalon Hill catalog that came with the game, including gems like Amoeba Wars and Empire of the Overmind, and a chart of which games can be played on which computers that also carefully explains how to read a chart.  1981, you had your points but I do not miss you.

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Date:2013-08-29 19:32
Subject:The Jester's Child
Security:Public

The 2nd issue of Crowded Magazine is out, with "The Jester's Child" available within.  Transhuman starving artists take in a stray mortal child, and have to decide where their priorities really lie.

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Date:2013-05-31 11:29
Subject:The Internet is Full of Wisdom: climate change and SF
Security:Public

I'm trying to come up with a list of SF authors who write frequently about climate change, communications technology, or both--and preferably who connect these to justice and societal change. I need the info for an upcoming conference on climate communication, scheduled for August in DC.  (Yes, I know.  But it's our mosquito-infested swamp.  And it will be cool inside!)

I'm quite positive that this conversation already took place at Wiscon and I missed it, probably while I was at the Imaginary Book Club or something.

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Date:2013-05-28 19:20
Subject:Wiscon short report
Security:Public

Home from Wiscon after a wonderful but exhausting weekend.  Nameseeker drove, and is continuing on now into the depths of Texas for an epic rescue mission with robling_t.  I flew out on my own and flew back with pageofswords, with whom there was much hanging out over the course of the con.

We were delighted to room with papersky, which resulted in much fascinating conversation and not much sleep. The entire room was obsessed with the Sundown Kickstarter, so we would walk in to happy cries of "Nine thousand one hundred twenty five!" and so on. (And congratulations to gaudior and rushthatspeaks on what we hear was a stunning theatrical performance--not being there was the one thing we regretted about being at Wiscon.) We also got to hang out with brynnya & Gary, natlyn, almeda (mostly in the car), oracne, redbird, truepenny, and a wide variety of other people whose LJs I can't remember just now because I haven't had much sleep.

Excellent panels on urban planning and justice, creating when busy, the difficulty of actually ripping a bodice, unusual family shapes in fiction and real life, and awesome medieval women who don't show up in enough history books--Black Agnes, OMG.  The Imaginary Book Club, with several books that I rather wanted to read--elisem's "classic Mpreg military SF" Cradle Corps was a standout.  The Haiku Earring party resulted in the usual haiku, the semi-usual sonnet, and a few hundred words added to the novel in progress on which I'd been stuck.

More after I've had more sleep.

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Date:2013-05-17 19:38
Subject:In Which I Fangirl Shamelessly and Point You at an Awesome Kickstarter
Security:Public

The best music you've never heard that some of you have never heard, in spite of the fact that I've been playing it for everyone I know whenever I get the chance, is Sassafrass's Norse Myth song cycle.  They've taken all the soap opera and hidden themes and secretly-rooting-for-Loki in the eddas--and turned it into amazing, thoughtful, passionate a capella, with harmonies that would challenge the cast of Rent. I drove 10 hours in March to listen to them give a one-hour concert.  I did this instead of driving the same 10 hours to hear Tallis's 40-part motet the previous week.  This is transcendent stuff.

And at last, at long last, the Kickstarter is open for Sundown: Whispers of Ragnorak.  CD, DVD, and full-on costumed opera.  Go, listen to the samples, and sacrifice some silver to Loki.

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Date:2013-04-06 18:37
Subject:Books Read: January-February 2013
Security:Public

Bound for Canaan: the Epic Story of the Underground RailroadCollapse )

Caleb's Crossing, by Geraldine BrooksCollapse )

Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal.  Pride and Prejudice, with illusion magic and gender politics.  Good stuff, even if the ending felt a little too pat.  Recommended.

Are You My Mother? by Alison BechdelCollapse )

Shadow Unit, Volume 1Collapse )

Shoggoths in Bloom, by Elizabeth Bear.  New short story collection.  Some of the older stories have a little too much random unnecessary self-sacrifice, but the newer ones are brilliant and dark and thoughtful.  Highly recommended.

Discount Armageddon, by Seanan McGuire. Reread in preparation for the new one coming out.  Funny, snarky urban fantasy that doesn't take place in Not-the-World-of-Darkness.  Highly recommended.

Talking Man, by Terry Bissom.  There are some brilliant images in this--I will never take a road trip again without thinking about the Mississippi River Canyon--but ultimately, it turns out that I don't like magical realism regardless of whether it takes place in South American or southern Appalachia.  I like things to happen for reasons.

A Planet of Viruses, by Carl Zimmer.  Freebie at the AAAS conference.  Awesome freebie.  This is a bunch of short essays, by a brilliant science writer, about how you probably know a lot less than you think you do about viruses.  They are weird.

Total Books: 9
Recent Publication: 6
Rereads: 1
Recommendations: papersky recommended the Bissom, and the entire internet recommended the Kowal.
New Music: None.
New Media Created: Some intensive work on the urban infrastructure fantasy, and I actually finished the Jewish Narnia drabble cycle.  Anyone have any idea about markets for a Jewish fantasy drabble cycle?

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