Monthly Archives: March 2013

Airing Out the Closet

Spoilers ahead for mid-nineties TV shows. You have been warned.

By the end of middle school, I’d hit a couple of Star Trek conventions with my parents. They were both long-time fans of science fiction. I’m not going to go so far as to suggest a literary genre has inherent political stripes. After all, the novel most entwined with Tea Party politics is ostensibly science fiction. I think it’s fair to say there’s a certain progress streak in a lot of science fiction, including Trek that’s always resonated with my family. The appearances of DOMA and Prop. 8 in the U.S. Supreme Court this past week remind me of how perceptions have changed just within the past ten years. The court decision will be important in some ways, but in others, almost incidental. The fact of the matter is, today the majority of Americans support marriage equality. I don’t normally pay much attention to what Rush Limbaugh says–except when it’s, “We’ve lost.

So it looks like, come what may, Americans will almost inevitably be able to marry a person of the same sex sometime, somehow. This is a big deal.

So looking back, how did our favorite futurists do?

Star Trek is like many others in that LGBT characters were either absent or… well… metaphorical.

There’s a blog by Adam McGovern at TOR about representations of sexual minorities in science Fiction. McGovern writes,

Star Trek producer Rick Berman used to answer gay and gay-positive fans’ calls for more representation of sexual difference in that franchise by saying the creative team would rather provoke thought by dealing with the issue metaphorically, and it wasn’t just a matter of “having two men or two women in [the Enterprise lounge] holding hands”;

A later episode of Star Trek’s Deep Space Nine depicts a taboo relationship between main character, Jadzia Dax and a former flame. Both characters are women, but that’s not why the relationship is taboo. It’s taboo because their race, the Trill, a symbiotic species, are forbidden from revisiting relationships from their past. It’s silly and arbitrary and that’s kind of the point. Almost beautifully, the fact that they’re both women is never even made an issue.

Of course in the end, it doesn’t work out. It can’t. Society just isn’t ready. Hm.

We establish that same-sex relationships are theoretically possible in the world of Star Trek, but they just aren’t depicted–this from a franchise that brought America one of its first interracial kisses. What’s problematic in the case of Trek is this–forget tokenism. Most Americans know someone who is LGBT. At the very least, how many people haven’t at least seen a same-sex couple holding hands somewhere?

How many crowd scenes are there in the history of Trek?

I’ve been working my way through Babylon 5 and, as much as I love it, I’m struck by how terribly… mid-nineties it can seem. Creator and executive producer, J. Michael Straczynski was quite progressive at the time with regards to depictions of sexual minorities. What stands out is how nonchalant he was about same-sex relationships and marriage (and yes, gay marriage did exist in the B5 universe). Same-sex couples appear to meander around the station and the first couple of seasons are loaded with Commander Ivanova and Psi-corp. operative, Talia Winters subtext.

And now for the mid-nineties part: the episode in which the subtext becomes main text ends with Talia Winters going nuts. She’s dragged off and, as is later implied, killed off-screen.

Talia and Ivanova

On right: Babylon 5’s Mad Woman in the Attic

This happens. And let’s not even talk about lesbians going nuts in media (yes, I’m looking at you, Joss Whedon).

I don’t necessarily fault producers who kill the lesbian with heterosexism in the same way I don’t fault most of them with overt racism in killing the black guy. The black guy and the lesbian are quite often noble, positively-depicted characters. They’re just not the hero or heroine. They tend to be incidental characters: “people-we-kind-of-care-about-but-hell-we’ve-gotta-kill-someone.” In short: marginalized. Andrea Thompson left the show in part due to Talia’s relative lack of screen time. Yes, the show depicts same-sex relationships, but in a peripheral way. And yet, it was something at a time when the rest of American television had nothing.

So here’s the question: will history more harshly judge problematic depictions of sexual minorities or their long stay in the closet?

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Flour, Water, Salt, and Speculative Fiction

As photogenic as I could possibly make it.

As photogenic as I could possibly make it.

I mentioned last post that I took a shot at making demi-baguettes again recently. Baguettes and I haven’t always been BFFs. They never quite turn out like I would hope. Even within the same batch, they turn out differently. This last time, I followed the Bread Baker’s Guild of America 2008 Coupe du Monde formula to the letter–scaled down such that flour in the main formula was 250 grams (disclosure though–I could not find and therefore did not use malted barley powder). The results were good and after having made demi-baguettes periodically for over a decade, I’m still learning nuances to shape and crumb and texture. The more hydrated the dough, the more open and attractive the crumb, but the harder it is to shape and score (65-70% hydration seems to be the sweet spot). I usually add too much water in the initial mixing and too much flour for the shaping. I learned from this last attempt that if the dough is not a little tacky without being too sticky, it is almost impossible to make the finished bread look as it should. This dough used a tiny amount of levain and a lot of poolish to give it that extra kick.

All that to say flour, water, salt, and maybe a little yeast can yield an incredible range of flavors. That’s what I love about baking.

What I love about writing is that arrangements of letters can yield even greater diversity.

I’m a little late to the party, but the Nebula Award Nominees for 2012 are out there. Furthermore, many of them are available to read for free online, including all of the short stories. I can’t help but feel like this is an exciting time to be a reader of speculative fiction.

Robot” by Helena Bell gets props in my book for successful use of the second person.

Ken Liu’s “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” defies conventional plot structure and manages to be meta in the process.

I appreciated Aliette de Bodard’s “Immersion” and couldn’t help but think of my own bicultural family through this sci-fi lens. Oh yeah, and more second person!

I found “Fragmentation” by Tom Crosshill beautifully poignant, especially for a story evocative of mobile operating systems.

Maria Dahvana Headley’s “Give Her Honey When You Hear Her Scream” is the only fantasy story in the mix–to me, not very relatable (disclosure–I think “love at first sight” is silly) but so beautifully wrought.

Leah Cypress’ “Nanny’s Day” is a whole different animal–almost plausible–and it resonated with me like none other. I can’t help but feel like it takes the easy way out in the end, but then it goes to a very real, vey uncomfortable place for many readers–myself included.

Cat Rambo’s “Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain” is a fascinating speculative story and gets props in my book for being one of only stories not published in ClarkesWorld or Lightspeed.

I didn’t really read short fiction until not long ago. I always imagined stodgy, contemplative works in the tradition of Chekhov. These nominees make a fascinating study of how tense, tone, plot structure (or lack thereof) interplay–like a simple lean bread, complexity from a simple foundation. My favorites were “Nanny’s Day” and “Give Her Honey.” Curiously, the former is the most realistic of the bunch and the latter: the most out-there. I appreciated their places on different dimensions of pleasurable writing.

So, reader, if you have not read this year’s nominees, you are doing yourself a disservice. Any other thoughts on the the nominees for this year? Favorites?

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