Monday, December 31, 2012

Short Fiction Round Up, December 2012

It's the last day of the month, which means it's time for the monthly rundown of "best stories I read this month, but were not necessarily released this month." Yeah!

I usually hate speculative (and non-speculative for that matter) Xmas stories. There's one by China Mieville I really like, but other than that, I can't think of a single holiday story that I didn't find ultimately cloying. But now I guess there are two Xmas-themed short stories I like, now that I've read In the Late December by Greg van Eekhout. An immortal being traverses the universe, giving hope and toys to the remaining consciousness clusters as they are swallowed one by one by the process of entropy. This should be an Xmas standard.

I don't know whether the timing of Your Final Apocalypse by Sandra McDonald was decided because of the "Mayan apocalypse" or not, but it's a far better end-of-the-world story than 99% of disaster porn out there. The cold, clinical POV (my favorite kind) describes an alien intelligence extracting Earth experiences, then leaving them behind like empty husks. The chilling fate of the protagonist is something that will stick with you far beyond the first read. More like this, please, science fiction.

I enjoyed most of the stories in Terry Bisson's collection TVA Baby, but if I have to pick one to feature (and according to the arbitrary rules I just made up, I do), then I'll select the title story, a neat little bit of ultra-violence that follows the escapades of a clearly insane person, with a nod to television culture. Really hilarious in places, like most of Bisson's work. Read it online, then pick up the collection at PM Press.

Earthrise by Lavie Tidhar, over at Redstone Science Fiction, is a very good latter-day cyberpunk story set in a world dominated by a social media web called the Conversation. A collection of tropes -- the outlaw terrorist artist, the domed cities, the uploaded minds -- somehow turns out to be more than the sum of its parts. I have Osama on my reading list for January, and reading this story makes me really look forward to it. Tidhar's prose just sings.

That's it, I'm tired of writing! As always, if you have any stories that you think I should feature in January, please leave them in the comments.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Not Knowing What Else to Do, Woman Writes Blog Post

One of the things I hate whenever a tragedy happens (and I don't need to specifically name the tragedy here, because a) you all know which one I'm talking about; and b) it's going to happen again at some indeterminate point in the future, so this is a multi-use blog post, like a greeting card that says "I'm Thinking About You") is the refrain of "don't politicize it!" Because the only thing that makes survivors feel better about the senseless pain they are going through is if people they will never meet tiptoe around and never try to change the parameters in order to help prevent someone else from undergoing senseless pain.

I would agree with not politicizing tragic events if you're directly related to the event in question. If you're actually living in Newtown, you probably shouldn't be railing about gun control today. If you're taking a casserole to a grieving mother, it's best not to drop in a note saying "by the way, what's your opinion on mandatory commitment for the mentally ill?" If you do those things, you are a stone cold asshole.

But if you're on the outside? Yeah, no. It's okay for you to politicize events, and in fact it's your DUTY as an observer to politicize events.

So, here's the particular political axes I've come to grind:

1) Guns. We've had 223 years with free and open gun laws, and we've proven time and again that we can't be trusted with them. So it's time for those laws to be changed. Suckers act like the Constitution hasn't been amended multiple times. We change that thing all the time, whenever we decide that it's wrong to own other people or feel like nobody should have a drink or when we want to drink after all. The original ten amendments aren't unbreakable; in fact, we routinely break most of them all the time! Not that that's a good thing, after all. But it is curious that the same people who talk about the Second Amendment as a sacred right often don't have a thing to say about grand juries or military tribunals or capital punishment. Either that, or people just get bored around the Sixth Amendment or so and stop reading.

"But most gun owners don't commit crimes!" Yeah, and most people who drive drunk get home just fine. Running with scissors is a fun pastime that only very rarely puts out someone's eye. We make laws to protect us from the exceptions, not the rule. If most gun owners wanted to shoot people, the rivers of western Pennsylvania would run red with blood. Unfortunately, sometimes it is necessary to remove a freedom from law-abiding people when the public well-being demands it, and in this case, I believe it has.

And that Constitutional amendment you're all so hot for? Includes the word "well-regulated." Nothing well-regulated about buying a Glock with no waiting period at a convention from a guy with swastikas tattooed on his cheeks.

It's time to beat our guns into plowshares, or maybe small replica guns that we can use as paperweights.

2) Involuntary Treatment of the Mentally Ill. I knew -- knew -- that it wouldn't take more than a few hours for people on my Facebook feed to start posting links to editorials about how mentally ill people are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of crime, and "we can't know whether Adam Lanza was mentally ill or not" (because killing 25+ people isn't enough evidence to support it, ~*skepticism!*~). I am glad to say that my predictions did not disappoint.

Look, I have "issues" too, but I also believe that people are smart enough to differentiate a person with garden variety depression or anxiety from someone with a serious thought disorder or antisocial personality disorder (i.e. sociopathy, not introversion). Mental illness is a very, very wide spectrum/constellation and pointing out that Lanza or James Holmes or Jared Loughner are or were probably crazy doesn't reflect at all on my feelings about the rest of the 20% (this is probably a conservative estimate) of human beings with a mental illness.

And yeah, I agree with forced treatment, although before we can even start talking about that we need to have a system in place. There aren't enough resources even for the people who want and can afford to get treatment.

But when that system is in place? Then we need to start identifying people with serious mental illness, and implementing medical treatments, both for their good and for the good of others. What causes more stigma, forced treatment or a mentally ill person shooting up a school?

I believe in forcing vaccinations, too. This is no different, it's only different because people choose not to see mental illness as a physical, medical problem. And that's something I think current stigma-fighting rhetoric actually contributes to, not helps (but that's a post for another time).

In closing, The Onion says it best, as it often does.