Sep 19

Short stories: a progress update

So. Story #1 may not get its second draft until after these four weeks are up.

It’s pretty close to done, but it doesn’t really have any strong solarpunk elements. Like, the plot of this story is basically “Protaganist gets kicked out of home, walks for a very long time, then arrives at the solarpunk village,” but once there, the story’s pretty much over. I’m going to have em get a tour to give an idea of what, exactly, the resolution e has come to is, but that’s not the depth I want to get into.

So I’m thinking these 4 stories are going to have to come together as a single, coherent piece — because I don’t want to spend another whole story establishing the place’s existence, so I think I’m just going to jump over to another character and tell their story for a while. It’ll be like Bordertown, but with genderqueer kids with magic powers doing cool things with renewable energy.

Sep 18

Poorly distributed complexity: stuff isn’t fair

You know the phrase ‘life isn’t fair?’

That’s true, but it’s an incredibly hard thing to wrap your head around. The universe isn’t set up to serve the interests of living things. The ecosystem isn’t set up to serve the interests of humans. Human institutions aren’t set up to serve the interests of all humans equally. Even personal, individual relationships aren’t always set up to optimize for the well-being of all parties.


I spend a lot of time thinking about un-fairness as a founding principle of understanding life. I want things to be more fair — and I think that’s a goal that can be pursued with meaningful success.

I could do a whole series on this,1 but one of the unfair things that bothers me most, and most frequently, is that there is absolutely no set of relationships between:

  • How important it is to understand something,
  • How easy that thing is to understand,
  • How easy it is to get help in understanding that thing.

Like, the United States legal system is literally so complicated that it takes an advanced degree to be able to deal with it with a significant level of competency, but that degree is very expensive, the ideas that you have to learn in getting it are complex, often contradictory, and usually counter-intuitive, and everyone in the US is nonetheless required to behave in a way that corresponds in a certain way to those ideas.

Or, understanding the suffering of a marginalized group requires accepting that they face a constant barrage of microagressions, but any attempt a marginalized person makes to testify to those experiences sounds very much like cherry-picking and can rhetorically be neutralized by actually cherry-picked experiences that a privileged person has had.

Or, we’re taught to understand money in terms of a static value — a millionaire is a person who has a million dollars, you can get rich by winning the lottery and being given a big pile of money — when the actual functionality of money is more like a rate of flow — a million dollars is 20 thousand a year if you want it to last 50 years, which is like having an extra household member with a poverty-level job, not like being a millionaire at all.

And, importantly, to all three of those examples you could criticize my summary by pointing out that it’s actually way more complicated than that. Which is my point.

Stuff like this reminds me why stuff like Voltaire’s famous quote, “The perfect is the enemy of the good,” is so important. These problems are all fundamentally un-solvable, because the universe is unfair and we’ve got brains shaped by evolution and there are lots of people who stand to keep a lot of money and power if these ideas stay confusing.

But knowing we can’t solve these problems doesn’t mean trying would be bad. The difference between any of them being 0% solved or 10% solved or whatever2 and being 50% or 80% solved is a difference of a huge amount of suffering or well-being. Even individual actions by individual people contain a degree of significance that is both trivial and meaningful.

Which is a confusing idea that seems complicated or self-refuting and is hard to express using language, but it’s also really important.

  1. Other examples: it’s not fair that purchasing goods and services can lead to supporting anything other than the existence of those goods and services; it’s not fair that there’s no way to choose political neutrality without siding by default with the current power structure; it’s not fair that Western culture on the whole systematically misrepresents adulthood to children to make adults feel good about their idealized notions of the world; it’s not fair that it’s impossible to use language to communicate ideas clearly without leaving out important details.
  2. And calculating percentage-solvedness of these problems is another impossible thing that is nonetheless useful.

Sep 17

Long- and short-term causes of the French Revolution

I have an assignment due for Western Civilization II on Friday — a short essay on the long- and short-term causes of the French Revolution.

I forgot about this assignment.

Fortunately, today, the professor went over the sort of thing he was looking for in an essay, and he used as an example “Describe the long- and short-term causes of the French Revolution.”

Here’s a photo from the board:

Photo of a whiteboard. Text reads: 1. Long-term A. Enlightenment B. Am. Rev. (American revolution) C. Class Injustice D. Poor Leadership 2. Short-term A. War Debt B. Estates Gen. (Estates General) C. Oath (The Oath of the Tennis Court) D. Bastille (The storming of the Bastille)


So, here’s my assignment.

Causes of the French Revolution, Short and Long-term

I. Long-term causes

  1. The Enlightenment
    1. The Enlightenment was a movement in Europe towards ‘rational’ understandings of the mechanisms of every aspect of human civilization. Politically, as explored by writers like John Locke, this meant challenging the narrative that governments ruled by divine mandate, and instead beginning to construct a notion that governments ruled by consent of the people. Locke argued that if a government failed to protect its people’s basic rights — to Life, Liberty, and Property1 — then the people are morally entitled to overthrow that government, and install a new one.
  2. The American Revolution
    1. In an effort to gain European support, the American independence movement used the language of Enlightenment-style revolution in the propaganda they sent out across Europe. Consequently, the success of America’s war for independence lent a narrative of legitimacy to the idea of an Enlightenment-style revolution.
    2. Also, the French support of the American war for independence contributed to significant war debt, which according to the whiteboard isn’t important until section II:a.
  3. Class Injustice
    1. French society at this point had begun to drift into the capitalist style of stratification: the people who controlled the production and sale of goods were becoming significantly more powerful. But according to the pre-industrial class structure, which was still the formal system of organization in French politics, those capitalist upper-class were still members of the less-privileged Third Estate, after the First and Second Estates — the Church and the Nobility. The newly powerful members of the Third Estate chafed against the institutions that gave special privileges to the First and Second Estates, whose pre-industrial advantages had become less and less valuable.
  4. Poor Leadership
    1. Louis XV, the king prior to the revolution, had been largely irresponsible, and took advantage of the prosperity of France at the time to enjoy kingship and leave the consequences to Louis XVI — who inherited a nation severely in debt and without any particular mechanism for repaying it. While he may have been somewhat sympathetic to the revolutionary cause and the needs of the Third Estate, he wasn’t very good at making use of his political power, so his governance consisted mainly of the inertia of the status quo.

II. Short-term causes

  1. War debt
    1. I’m actually pretty sure the war debt is a long-term cause? Anyway, France had been in several wars, including losing one against the Americans then winning one on behalf of the Americans — during both of which they took on a lot of debt, and following neither of which they acquired any significant economic assets. Because of the aforementioned privileges of the First and Second Estates, about two thirds of the people with the money — the Catholic Church and the nobility — were almost-or-entirely exempt from taxation, and the newly emerging upper class within the third estate weren’t happy about the whole burden of the war debt being placed on them in taxes — especially since they’d done a fair amount of the lending.
  2. The Estates General
    1. Louis XVI convened an old institution in which representatives of all three estates would gather and try to make decisions about the future of the country. Unfortunately, nobody was really sure how it was supposed to work — especially how the voting would go; Estates 1 and 2 felt that each estate should get one vote, because that would mean they controlled two thirds of the vote, while Estate 3 felt the vote should be representative of the population, because that would mean they controlled about 95% of the vote.
  3. The Oath of the Tennis Court
    1. After being locked out of the meeting room (the hall of mirrors, I think) representatives of the Third Estate got fed up and found an empty room to have a meeting in. It was a tennis court. There, they (along with some members of the first and second estates) took an oath not to leave Versailles (where the Estates General had convened) until France had a constitution.
  4. The Storming of the Bastille
    1. The Bastille was a fort and political prison in Paris, where lots of weapons were stored. After the Oath of the Tennis Court, members of the Third Estate (meaning: just tons of people from all over Paris) stormed the Bastille (which is where they got the name) to assemble weapons with which to fight a revolution, should one arise.  This is generally considered the official start of the French Revolution.


Dear friends here and on Twitter and Tumblr — I know a lot of you know way more about the French Revolution than me, probably in significantly more depth than this class is going to cover. If I’ve got anything really wrong here, please let me know!

  1. and also health, but that one usually gets left out.

Sep 16

Let’s Plays: the Sims 4: Legacy Challenge

My partner is a big fan of the Sims. She’s got the Sims 4, and she watches a bunch of Let’s Plays, and has been considering recording one herself.

I, also, watch a ton of Let’s Plays (mine mostly Minecraft) and have thought about doing one. And I, also, like playing the Sims.

Tonight, both of us found out about The Legacy Challenge — a method of playing the Sims in which you play the same household, in lineage, through 10 generations.

My partner recently got some recording equipment in order to explore the possibility of making Let’s Plays, and I do sometimes play the Sims on her computer.

This may be a thing that’s happening.

Keep an eye out for two new Let’s Play series — the 2014 Legacy Challenge of the Caitlin and Watson Household! (Caveat: I cannot in any way guarantee that this is going to happen. Prolly you shouldn’t even keep an eye out. I’ll let you know if it’s getting plausible.)

Sep 15

Solarpunk — implementation

Solarpunk neighborhood

This illustration represents a profound act of procrastination, having taken up nearly all of my Saturday evening, when I had a substantial pile of work I definitely ought to have been doing instead. (Including, but not limited to, actually getting some work done on the short story set in the city this illustration depicts.)

I’m working on building some solarpunk into the present-day-ish setting I’m already using. It’s an urban fantasy setting, and the majority of my worldbuilding has gone into a place called Victory City (V.C.) — a city with a history that sets it up to be profoundly hostile to the needs of citizens who don’t fit its founder’s idea of ‘useful.’

I’m excited about bringing solarpunk into this setting, not because it fits neatly, but exactly because it’s such a radical separation from the nature of the setting. I think solarpunk is going to fit well in V.C., or at least the small bastion of a solarpunk community partially pictured above, because for the people who’d be investing in this kind of movement, the city very badly needs it.

I keep talking about accessibility as a solarpunk value. In Victory City, all the buildings constructed before 1960 are raised off the ground by a full story. If you can’t use stairs, you can’t use most of the city. So in the solarpunk village, they’ve bricked- or walled-in all the first floors, maintained the elevators they have and put in new ones where they can, and built a second floor to the outside of the neighborhood, too — so everybody can get to all the buildings, even the ones that are completely blocked off in isolation.

Speaking of access, though, there’s another aspect of that here: restricting access. The people in this community (for which I should really come up with a name) have erected false building sections to wall off the alleyways and streets that used to lead into their area. They can be opened up, but are not freely traversable. The point of that is so the marginalized citizens of [the village] aren’t limited and threatened by the free movement of oppressors through their space, the way they are everywhere else in V.C.

I had the thought while I was working on this picture, too, that they might be deliberately creating inconsistent design themes, using technology and plant growth in conventionally ugly ways, to keep the property values down — so their community building doesn’t trigger gentrification and end up pushing them all farther out than they were before. I don’t actually know much about the mechanics of gentrification, though, so I don’t know if that would work or how.

(I know there ought to be a railing on the walkway in front of the second floor, but I worked so hard on the picture I was scared I was going to ruin it drawing in rails and bars across the middle. For the same reason, it’s also not painted, despite that being the original plan.)

Sep 12

Good free audio short fiction

I’ve been catching up some more on my favorite speculative fiction podcasts, and I have a few signals to boost.

This story is short (the whole podcast episode is about 15 min. long) and poetic and I don’t want to spoil it but heads-up for emotional pain.

I listened to this one a couple weeks ago, actually, and it’s kept floating back into my mind since. It’s a really interesting alien invasion, with really interesting aliens. The characters really bring the world to life, too. (Not in a happy way — I mean, it’s about grief.)

This one was really fun to listen to. It’s kind of a folk tale in the process of being recorded. Not nearly as sad as either of the prior two, if you’re looking for something that is unlikely to make you cry.

Cool magic, assassins and lots of candy. This story was a lot of fun to listen to, and gave me a bunch of ideas for my own magic setting. (All pretty tangential to the content of the story, but still.)

Sep 12

Bounce rate

blog bounce rate


Either my blog this week has been literally the most interesting it’s ever been, and today it’s just starting to slip, or there’s something wrong with the way my blog is calculating bounce rate.1

  1. Bounce rate is the percentage of people who visit one page on a site then immediately leave instead of clicking on any other pages.

Sep 12

New writing project: 4 Solarpunk stories

(Reposted from Tumblr last night because I’ve been reposting solarpunk stuff here but also because I feel like stating my writing commitments here makes them more real)

So, workshop application season is coming up and I spent the last couple months working on a novel draft, so I’m going to need some fresh short stories soon

And I am obsessed with solarpunk right now and would like to be spending time with that artistically

And in the past, arbitrary challenges have worked really well to motivate me to get writing done

SO: for the next 4 weeks I will be writing 2k-4k short solarpunk stories — one per week, at least two drafts. Weeks end Sunday night; I’m starting now so story 1 gets a few extra days.

They will be themed: Earth, Fire, Water and Air. Because that seems like a reasonable arbitrary rule.

I won’t be publishing them here or anything, but if anyone following me is interested I would like to share them with beta readers. And, for that matter, if anybody else wants to do this with me, we could swap critiques. (No promises on critiquing everybody if this post is absurdly popular.)

Sep 11

More solarpunk thoughts — competing ideologies

definitely adding a Solarpunk category to my blog.

So, the near-future -punks are usually named for the kind of technology they use — cyberpunk, biopunk, nanopunk, etc. and the recent-past -punks are often named for the kind of power they use — steampunk, dieselpunk, clockpunk, etc.

Solarpunk sort of fits the second category, because solar is a kind of power. And it sort of fits the first, too, because it’s about alternative energy technologies.

But solar power is (almost) the root of all other kinds of power. Plants get straight solar power, and animals eat plants for their fuel. Wood fuel is a plant’s stored solar work rendered into heat. Oil is solar-generated plant and animal matter that’s just had a long time to sit. The weather cycle comes from the sun heating up the oceans, which gives wind power as well as hydroelectric.


There are two other kinds of power, too, that don’t come from the sun. Geothermal, the use of the Earth’s own core heat, and nuclear, the manipulation of fissionable elements to release atomic energy.

Atompunk is already a thing, but it looks like geopunk might not be. And I’m not really proposing giving them their own genres, anyway. Rather, I think they’d make cool antagonistic ideologies within a solarpunk setting.

The atompunks are the folks who still think it’s a good idea to maintain a top-down, centralized power grid. They recognize the need to get off of fossil fuels, but they want to retain a 20th century style infrastructure. If solarpunk is a setting just after the whole world is on board with climate change being real and fossil fuels being a serious problem, the atompunks are the social conservatives. Still digging-in-the-earth to operate big power plants. So, not really -punk at all.

The geopunks are a lot more interesting to me, actually. These are the people who don’t think the world is saveable. They’re sold on the apocalyptic future and are looking for a way for humankind to survive despite destroying the planet. They’re looking to burrow underground and live off the heat of the deep earth, Matrix-style.

I can imagine it being a Libertarian movement — the Underground City where Everything is Legal and Unlimited Power is Free because LAVA. (In my mind, this goes horribly, and the present state of the movement is “Years since last natural disaster triggered: 0.”)

Sep 11

Kameron Hurley on the future of spam?

I really wanted to title this post “Kameron Hurley on marketing folks becoming self-aware,” but that seemed needlessly mean, especially since she’s talking about herself and her colleagues in her day job.

At Charles Stross’s blog, Hurley wrote DO YOU ‘LIKE’ THE SUN? The Content Casino vs. the Long Game. She talks about the fact that successful1 algorithms are causing some folks in advertising to re-think the spam approach:

The widespread hatred of what’s happened with Facebook, in particular, is a constant gripe not just for users (I finally deleted my personal Facebook account, and kept only the fan page) but also marketers, who have developed huge followings that they now have to pay to reach. But as was pointed out by a speaker at the conference, this is all the fault of myself and my colleagues:

“We’re the problem! We broke Facebook. They had to switch to promoted content because we were spamming people with garbage. ‘Here’s a picture of the sun! Do you YOU like the sun? ‘Like’ this picture of you like the sun!’ WE ARE THE PROBLEM.”

All that daily editorial calendar garbage we’re spewing out to clutter up the web has given both us and everyone else who uses it information fatigue.

DO YOU ‘LIKE’ THE SUN? The Content Casino vs. the Long Game by Kameron Hurley at Charlie’s Diary

  1. to a morally ambiguous definition of ‘successful’

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