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An NYC community venue I've gone to a number of times for the New York Review of Science Fiction book reading series, the Brooklyn Commons, hosted a 9/11 Truther for a lecture last night. That's bad enough- Trutherism is completely untethered from truth and spreading lies about an event as personally painful as 9/11 is pretty morally awful in my book. But the particular Truther they hosted is of the sort who blames a Zionist Jewish conspiracy for causing 9/11. And who may also dabble in a little Holocaust denial on the side. When confronted about this, the Commons doubled down, issuing a letter defending their decision on the grounds that they don't vet speakers, and arguing that giving a space to racists is important because it teaches people the valuable lesson that racists exist- all the while continuing to claim the Commons was a 'progressive' space.

I was planning to go to a NYRSF event there tonight, with an awesome guest list including Keith DeCandido, Steven Barnes, and Emily Perrin-Asher to talk about Star Trek on the 50th anniversary of the first episode airing. I'm torn, but I've decided not to go. On the one hand, the organization that runs the NYRSF readings is not anti-semitic, not at all affiliated with the Truthers, and has condemned Brooklyn Commons for hosting this speaker. And I've been going to NYRSF events for more than a decade, they were one of my first entrypoints into organized SF fandom and I don't want that to be ruined because of decisions made by people they don't have direct control of. On the other hand, they rent the space from the Brooklyn Commons and so my money if I attended would be going ultimately to the group that has condoned and welcomed this vile anti-semite, given him this platform within my own community.

A friend of mine organized a protest at the venue last night. I wish I could have joined, but I already had plans- the whole situation came up suddenly. And the whole situation makes me sick. It's bad enough to combat anti-semitism in the general world, but when it creeps into your own communities, that's a whole additional level of difficult.

Tonight, [personal profile] freeradical42 and I are just going to watch Star Trek TOS episodes on our own instead.
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A few flisters have been posting lately about short story reading in anticipation of Hugo nominations next year. I don't really believe in making this deliberate kind of effort- I kind of firmly feel that the 'right way' to do the Hugos is to read whatever you read over the course of a year and then nominate whatever you thought was the best. Not that I think that a deliberate effort to read potentially Hugo worthy stuff poisons the process- I just think it's a waste of time and effort.

Nonetheless, I wanted to mention that the best new SF short story I've read this year was Benjamin Rosenbaum's "Tractate Metim 28A", published in Tidhar and Levene's amazing anthology Jews vs. Zombies.

Rosenbaum writes deliberately in the style of the Soncino translation of the Talmud- an antiquated, academic translation that's generally out of favor these days. In its place stand the relatively recent Artscroll and Koren translations, both more readable and more religiously oriented. Nonetheless, for many years Soncino was the only translation available, and it remains the most internet-accessible, so it has been for many people, myself included, the gateway to Talmud. Then, too, the Soncino is more pluralastically oriented, less likely to shape the translation away from theologically problematic ideas, more likely to present the stranger of the Talmud's stories without trying to interpret them.

Linguistic choices matter in storytelling, and Rosenbaum's choice, at least for me, shades the story away from the straight comic tone that a Artscroll parody zombie story would have, to something with truer impressions of secret history: this is the Talmud your Rabbis wouldn't teach you, were afraid to teach you.

The meat of the story is quite lovely. Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus was one of the more important Tannaim, the Rabbis whose knowledge and wisdom inspired the Mishnah. He was beloved and respected, however eventually he was excommunicated for some combination of heretical ideas that appear to us to be relatively minor, and he spent the end of his days a man apart- a separation that many of the other Rabbis of his generation clearly felt was a great loss to the community.

And so Rosenbaum asks, does death end excommunication? What if Rabbi Eliezer came back as a Zombie, what gifts could he bring back to the Jewish community, and what would the costs be? It is a lovely and bizarre question that Rosenbaum takes dead seriously- which is why he has pages of footnotes full of obscure and cryptic jokes taking the piss out of the Talmud. And yet Rosenbaum doesn't go fully elegiac or fully comic- he never forgets that zombie stories are horror stories, and fills his narrative with understated horror.

For those who need further context, look no further than Rosenbaum's amazing and fully accurate post about magical cucumbers.
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Finished James S.A. Corey's Leviathan Wakes yesterday. I hadn't figured on getting so far so fast. Monday night was supposed to be spent relaxing and watching the Ranger-Devil game, but there was a blackout, so I curled up with a good ebook. And then I discovered that Leviathan Wakes is a fucking addictive page-turner and soon I was 500 pages in and it was 12:45.

As I mentioned in my last post, the book is as conventional as it gets. The author apparently willingly applies the term 'old-school' to it. I found a reviewer who tears into the book for its conventionality here, and... I can't disagree with any of this. Embassytown was much more enjoyable, much richer, just an overall superior work of space opera, because it builds on 20 years of expanding the space opera tradition by Moore and Eick, Lois Bujold, Elizabeth Moon, Charles Stross, Ken MacLeod, and numerous others. Leviathan Wakes reminded me of mediocre '80s fare like Ben Bova or Joe Haldeman, stuff that hovered between wanting to be full-blown space opera and wanting the street-cred of hard SF. It's regressive on gender politics, regressive on style (yet again, the SF noir detective makes his rote appearance), regressive on its ideas about heroism.

There's something attractive about that. With the cancellation of Caprica and SGU, we've had to endure the first year without a single space SF show on television since... since I don't know, at least the '70s. Leviathan Wakes is a callback to a time when it was okay to make mediocre space SF anchored by bad writing, wooden acting, and terrible special effects. And I miss shows like Andromeda, even though I know they were awful! I got invested in them for the way they blended camp and scientific aspiration. But at the same time that there's something attractive about nostalgia for the SF of the past, we have to recognize that there's a reason we put this stuff behind us. We can do better.

So there's, for example, a point fairly early in Leviathan Wakes where you realize that the main character's girlfriend has died, there's only one female character left in the book, and so the book is going to start pushing toward the main character getting together with the one female character. It is a tiresome and predictable storyline the book could have done without. It is rare in SF that we get female engineers as awesome as Naomi Nagata, and it is not necessary for them to boff the main character for them to be awesome.

That notwithstanding, the book is an addictive pageturner. The story is well-paced, full of great action and convincing science fiction. The characters are really full-bodied and deep, their reactions are convincing, and as I mentioned, Naomi is one of the best engineer characters I've read lately in anything.

The politics is... okay, now I have another rant. The SFF Chronicles review also touches on this briefly, but I don't quite line up with his conclusion. The novel's political plot revolves around an act of corporate sociopathy so immense as to be bewildering. It's hard to process just how evil this act is, it's just so vast and coordinated. Corey, recognizing this, attempts an Sfnal explanation: The corporation took all of its scientists and brainwashed them into sociopaths in order to allow them to complete their work. This is fascinating, and deserves a novel of its own to explore. Sadly, Leviathan Wakes is not that novel. Sadly, Leviathan Wakes is scared of that novel, so convinced it is in the value of heroism in the battle between good and evil.

What is it like to be a scientist brainwashed into completing a project an order of magnitude worse than the Manhattan Project? Do you volunteer for that brainwashing or are you conscripted? Is there ever a point where you realize what you've done? What kind of interpersonal relationships do the scientists on Thoth Station have? If you're the army charged with stopping Thoth Station, how do you handle processing and imprisoning an army of genius sociopaths?

That is the SF novel I wanted to read. Leviathan Wakes is just a good action-adventure in SF clothing.
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The Hugo Voters packet arrived this weekend, which is awesome. I paid for my membership so I could go to the Con- to get a bunch of free ebooks as a bonus is pretty nifty.

I'm unlikely to read A Dance with Dragons by the voting deadline, and I need to read Feed before I try Deadline (Season McGuire seems to be following the goofy Cory Doctorow playbook of naming stories after past SF stories. For the longest time I didn't understand that her Feed was different from M.T. Anderson's YA cyberpunk marvel), but I started poking at Leviathan Wakes, and so far it's pretty excellent. Classy, action-packed hard SF space adventure. Nothing at all genre-breaking or genre-bending, which is among the many reasons I'm certain that when I'm done with it I'll still prefer Mieville's gloriously complicated space opera Embassytown, but it's a really gripping story thus far. Oh, and for whatever reason I didn't quite connect with Among Others the first time around, but will probably give it another shot.

I'm not sure I ever posted my review of Embassytown up here, but if I didn't, it's probably Mieville's best novel, and certainly his best novel since The Scar. I know people who were bothered by the implausibility of its central science-fictional conceit, but I just loved so many of the characters and I love the situation that the wonky linguistics put them in. There's a line between metaphysics and physics that Mieville skates maybe a little too thinly, but there was never a moment in the narrative where I didn't feel completely immersed in his world. I especially loved the immer, which could have just been a standard hyperspace drive but instead helped drive Mieville's theme that when we go Out There, there's no telling how we will be forced to cognitively reinvent ourselves as a species.


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