Pieces of media I finished consuming today

I finished three longish narrative pieces of media today, all of which were very good. The first was the podcast Serial. I had only heard of it because Mike Rugnetta of Idea Channel said at the end of the last two episodes that an episode on Serial was upcoming, so viewers should get started on listening to the 12 hours of material in the podcast.

Serial is a 12-episode series about the circumstances surrounding the conviction of Adnan Syed for murdering his ex-girlfriend in 1999. I'm probably going to blog about this again after the Idea Channel episode, so I'll hold spoilers until that point. (If anyone so obsessively reads my blog that you can't bear to miss a day, new Idea Channel episodes appear to come out on Wednesdays.)

The second thing was Episode 29 of Hello, Internet, the podcast hosted by CGP Grey and Brady Haran, two professional YouTube content creators. (When I say 'hosted' -- the format of the show is Grey and Brady talking about pretty much whatever they feel like for two hours every couple weeks.)

I had wanted to finish Serial in time for the Idea Channel episode, so I put off listening to the new Hello Internet until I had finished that -- and I'm glad I did, because they spend a fairly large chunk of the end of the episode talking about it. (Apparently they had mentioned it at the end of the previous episode, but I had forgotten, or not recognized it as being of any significance.)

They also talked about texting etiquette, including discussing what someone (it was me) brought up in the Reddit thread for the episode -- the idea of semi-synchronous communication. (I'm not bragging you're bragging shut up)

The third thing actually had nothing to do with Serial, which was unusual for stuff-that-happened-today. It was the short story Lawful Interception by Cory Doctorow, which I started reading yesterday and finished about a half an hour ago.

It takes place in the same setting, and stars the same protagonist, as Little Brother and Homeland, Doctorow's Young Adult novels about technological resistance to the totalitarian elements of the United States government.

There are no other things I finished today! (yaaaayyyyy.....) I'm going to go work on a short story then sleep.

not the thing I said I was gonna do

I didn't start the villain thing. It's not that I don't want to. It really does sound like a fun story to write, it would be an interesting challenge, and it would produce a lot of valuable insight for the plot of that story.

But right now I don't wanna do a complicated challenge. I'm tired. I'm struggling at work and my school semester is about to start. I'm not in a good place to take on a project that's going to be a real demand on my emotional and intellectual energy, every day, for months.

I haven't been writing. I've dismissed the "work on a story" alert on my phone every day for over a week. It's starting to get really upsetting, but I couldn't convince myself to sit down and work on a project I've got started. I don't want to work on the second draft of Depression Buddy right now. I don't want to start on the villain's POV of my novel. And I don't want to start trying again to write a Solarpunk story while I still don't actually have a specific Solarpunk story I want to write.

So, instead of doing any of that stuff, I decided to grab a handful of the fun-looking ideas from my Google Keep folder and run with them.

Today I started a Sherlock Holmes pastiche about a detective who investigates magical crimes, formatted as a feature news story written by a journalist who tagged along on a case. The case is going to be about a magician who uses riddles to cast spells.

Petunia Dursley: Single Mom

I was going to post this way, way earlier and write things about it with words and stuff, but I'm really sick and I forgot. I read this last night, maybe an hour after midnight, and cried a whole bunch in a quiet corner of a party.

What if, when Petunia Dursley found a little boy on her front doorstep, she took him in? Not into the cupboard under the stairs, not into a twisted childhood of tarnished worth and neglect—what if she took him in?

Petunia was jealous, selfish and vicious. We will not pretend she wasn’t. She looked at that boy on her doorstep and thought about her Dudders, barely a month older than this boy. She looked at his eyes and her stomach turned over and over. (Severus Snape saved Harry’s life for his eyes. Let’s have Petunia save it despite them).

Let’s tell a story where Petunia Dursley found a baby boy on her doorstep and hated his eyes—she hated them. She took him in and fed him and changed him and got him his shots, and she hated his eyes up until the day she looked at the boy and saw her nephew, not her sister’s shadow. When Harry was two and Vernon Dursley bought Dudley a toy car and Harry a fast food meal with a toy with parts he could choke on Petunia packed her things and got a divorce.

Keep reading -- it's long, but worth it

Over The Garden Wall -- a procrastination

This entry is coming to you at just shy of midnight because I'm starting writing it at 11:30, and I'm starting writing at 11:30 because I just binge-watched the 10 episodes of Over the Garden Wall[1. Which, every time I have typed, I have almost spelled "Guardian," because that just seems more like a word that belongs in media titles right now I guess?] -- and, honestly, I'm a little disappointed. Not in the show -- which was great -- but in the fact that I have basically nothing I want to say about it. Not before I've had some time to think about it, anyway. I was told that I should try to watch it the first time through without any kind of analytic effort, so that might have something to do with it. I'm not sure if it's (VAGUE THEMATIC SPOILER) something to do with Wirt's romantic life, and some heart-wrenchingly familiar teenage experiences, or if it's just because I'm fried from finals. (Definitely didn't have an essay I should have been writing during the two hours I spent watching this series. Nope. Nuh-uh.)

So unfortunately, having invested a couple hours into something I expected to turn out a decent blog post, I'm left with this vague and slithery mess. But it's almost midnight and I don't have another skip day until February. So, here's 250 words on the fact that I don't have anything interesting to say about Over the Garden Wall.[2. Which I am now misspelling as 'guardan' because my brain is dead.]

Repetition of phrases in music and literature

So I've been listening to a bunch of OK GO in the past couple weeks, and one of the things I really like about their songs is the repetitiveness -- more than pretty much any other music I listen to, OK GO songs repeat the same moments and phrases throughout songs, often in slightly different ways or after different kinds of build-up. Importantly, they're not like those artists who just sing the chorus twice whenever they sing it, or get to the end and repeat two lines over and over again until the music fades out. OK GO seem like they're finding the climactic moments in their songs and rebuilding the songs to hit that point as many times as they can, without sacrificing meaning. They justify the moments, every time. If the goal of a piece of art is to achieve a heightened emotional state, then art that takes place across a space of time has a problem: building to a climax means the work comes in a shell; the long bit before, and the long bit after, the climax isn't really the art, it's context.

Note: At this point in the train of thought, I'm not thinking about music anymore, I'm thinking about writing. Although I am still listening to OK GO.

In American literature, the answer to this problem tends to be "Fine, just cut all that other stuff off." Edgar Allan Poe argued that the short story was the ideal format for story, exactly for this reason. American poetry is noticeably short and informal more often than not.

Maybe pop music is an example of this, two-to-three minute long chunks of sound that focus intensely on a particular moment, but I'm not totally sure about that. I can't think of any examples off the top of my head (because I hate songs that do this and so never listen to them) but I've heard dozens of songs in my life that build all the way through to one moment of perfect, climactic engagement, but take two thirds of the song getting there and never return to it.

There are a lot of ways to answer this problem. Poe's answer, obviously, is that if the song takes a minute getting to the point then meanders for a minute after it, it's probably about two minutes too long. (That is, if Poe's philosophy of writing translates to 21st century pop music, which I can't say with confidence it would.)

OK GO seems to me to bring an alternate approach to the conversation: take that climactic moment, and drop it back in several times in the beginning, and throw it in a few more times at the end, and make it work. That means the narrative of the song is at least a little non-linear: the moment of climax is happening the whole way through.

I spent some time trying to figure out what that would look like in literature. My first thought was action novels -- beat-for-beat action-packed thrillers -- but that was an unsatisfying answer.

Then I remembered Fight Club, and Chuck Palahniuk's "chorus lines" -- phrases that repeat throughout the book, accumulating meaning and significance and resonating backwards through the story as their context comes together. "I am Jack's raging bile duct." "Paraffin has never worked for me."

Of course, those repetitions don't need to be ominous and increasingly disturbing throughout the narrative the way they are in all of Palahniuk's books.[1. For the record: I've only read two, "Fight Club" and "Survivor."] Comedy is a fantastic place to look for this kind of thing, because not only do running jokes pretty much always make a story funnier, but in a good piece of comedic fiction, I think, the humor tends to agree: it all represents a coherent thrust of a worldview. In Terry Pratchett, a fair amount of the jokes say "If it's working, that's as good as true." In Douglas Adams, it's "Literally every part of this is a bad idea pursued for flawed motives and will have disastrous consequences."

None of those works are non-linear, though, in the way I initially suggested. (With the possible exception of Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, but I won't say anything more about that except go read it right now.)

The non-linearity comes from the way that the repetitions reflect the outcomes they foreshadow. It's like dramatic irony -- the kind where the audience knows something the characters don't -- but the audience doesn't know, either. We're being told, but we don't, as a consequence of having been told, know the thing the author's telling us.

That makes the second-readings of these books amazing, for one thing. But for another, we start to pick up on the feeling of that climax far, far before it actually takes place. These chorus lines and running gags, placed at thoughtful and appropriate places throughout the books, light up matching moments so that we can start appreciating and enjoying those thematically vivid beats long before we fully understand how they all come together.

google keep story notes

It still hasn't been quite two months since I promised not to write a non-post for at least two months. It's been a busy, stressful, complicated week that involved a huge number of things that I don't currently want to publish on the internet. I scrolled through my Google Keep files looking for a topic, and I found two posts in the color I use for fiction ideas.

One of them says

Promises, broken and unkept

The other says,

Riddle magic

Whale fire

The first one, I just had a mental image for. A little shop that sells broken and unkept promises. They'd be little symbolic objects vested with 'pataphysical meaning. A ribbon with a pin in it, a cracked circular mirror, a pair of clock hands, stuff like that.

Riddle magic is a plot device idea that I'm still excited about, and I'm sure I'm going to use it in a story eventually. It's magic that's cast by reading someone a riddle, then the spell that follows is based on the solution to it, but the target of the spell can break it by solving the riddle.

I'm not actually much good at writing riddles, although I think I could probably get better at it, but, like, if the answer were 'water,' the room might start flooding, and the target of the spell would have the advantage of the really blatant hint about the subject, but also the disadvantage about being literally about to drown and so presumably panicking and distracted.

Whale fire was an idea for flashback chunks of my magic setting -- from when people were still using whale oil for lamps. I don't know anything about how that industry worked, but I like the idea of a kind of magic where there's something deeply embedded in the spell that's angry at, and hostile to, the people casting it. In this case, whales being pissed that they got murdered to be lamps.

An open letter to the writers of Arrow

[warning]SPOILERS for "Arrow," season 3 episode 1.[/warning] Dear writers of Arrow:

Y'all are assholes.

You couldn't let it go for just one whole episode? Seriously? You couldn't let just one episode go by before Oliver nuked his personal life with Vigilante Angst, and you had to do it by (1.) finally getting Oliver and Felicity together, (2.) literally blowing up their first date, and (3.) ending their relationship, on that basis, later in the same damn episode?

And. Also. Introducing a new potential love interest for Felicity, and bringing back her last one, at the same time. (BTW I swear to god if Felicity switches from being primarily a character on Arrow to being just on The Flash, I am going to -- like, definitely start watching The Flash, but be pretty annoyed about it.)

I expect this sort of bullshit from the Supernatural writers. And, frankly, I guess I had no good reason to expect better from you.

But still.

I'm pissed.

Sincerely,

T.X. Watson

Bruce Banner in The Avengers: a counter-nitpick

I don't think anybody has brought this up for like two years now, and I'm sure there's been plenty of discussion about it already. But I want to talk about Bruce Banner's hulking-out in The Avengers. Specifically, I want to respond to a criticism I heard of the movie a few times shortly after it came out: that it was a cop-out, that it didn't make sense that, on the helicarrier, he would hulk out accidentally and be unable to control his violence, but in New York, he can do it on purpose and is in total control.

First of all: I don't even understand the "he shouldn't be able to just hulk out at the end" argument. Like, being sometimes unable to stop yourself doing a thing and being able to do that thing when you want to are obviously compatible. Insofar as the Hulk is a metaphor for anger management problems, (which, like, obviously?) it wouldn't make sense for that not to be the way it works.

Secondly: On the helicarrier, he was violent towards people who were antagonistic towards him. I'm not saying the Hulk's responses are justified, but it makes sense that it would be infuriating when the person who manipulated you onto the ship tries to manipulate you into calming down out of obvious self-interest. Bruce was already in that headspace: it was bullshit for Natasha to try and get him not to respond in a totally predictable way to a situation he wanted to avoid, but that she did her very best to put him in.

As for Thor, he hit him with a hammer then told him to "Try to think." He wasn't exactly tactful. (Again, not ethically justified, but makes narrative sense.)

And the planes? They were shooting him.

In New York, on the other hand, there was a clear and easy target for his violence: the invading army. Being consistently provided with targets to funnel his anger into, the Hulk was totally capable of choosing to damage the people he was particularly pissed at in that moment, and not the people who were also attacking his chosen targets.

I've seen a lot of quotes floating around Tumblr of the book "Why does he do that?" by Lundy Bancroft. In it/in them, (because I haven't read the book itself I can only speak to the content of the quotes) he points out that violent and abusive men are generally entirely aware of and in control of what specific harm they're doing. They act the way they do because, deep down, they think it's rational and okay.

The Hulk isn't incapable of thinking. He isn't incapable of directing his violence. He's a fully conscious agent who thinks that extreme violence is acceptable in any scenario where he feels it could possibly help him.

Firefly and existentialism

Caitlin's been re-watching Firefly on her tablet, so I've been passively re-watching Firefly in the background when I'm at her place for the last few days. Which is cool, because I like Firefly. A few years ago, and so I'm pretty sure before the great blog-breaking of 2013, I did an independent study called Exploration of Fringe Genre Fiction. I read books like The City and the City by China Miéville, Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link, and a bunch of other cool stuff.

For one week, I also watched and wrote about Firefly. And since I was, at the time, also taking a class on existentialism, the parallels between the content were easy to see. Spoilers follow, mainly for the movie.

Most or all of the characters in Firefly are existential heroes. Mal is the most textbook -- an atheist independent person who defines and lives by their own standard of morality regardless of the expectations of the culture around them.

But more than is common in real life, everyone in the Firefly ensemble has a clear set of consistent life goals and values that they pursue unapolagetically. Mal's is independence. Simon's is other people's wellbeing, River's especially. Jayne's is money.[1. Okay, that's reductionist and unfair. Jayne's is power, and money is, to him, the obvious route to power.]

The profound exaggeration of qualities of personality is one of the main themes of Firefly.[2. Themes might be the wrong word. Ingredients?] The Reavers are a good example of that: their whole thing is that they're people whose sense of rage was artificially maximized. I think River is an example of that, too -- her sense of empathy and intuitive talents, already on the level of peak human ability, have been science-fictionally exaggerated to the point where they resemble the ability to read minds.

But it's also true of everybody else, and the people for whom it's not true tend to die quickly.

Firefly is about people on the edge in just about every way Joss Whedon could think of. They're on the edge of the universe, they embrace fringe politics, they're outliers in talent and skill, and they're basically avatars of a philosophy that consists of staring out into the void.[3. I can't actually think of any tangible way that's true, but it's a common metaphor in existentialism, and in Firefly, so I'm taking it.]

Man, this post meandered a lot more than I had intended. I tried to re-create some more of the points of that essay from several years ago. I remember being proud of the points I had made about Kaylee and Inara. But I can't remember what they are now, so oh well. And I know I didn't think of the stuff about River until after that class.

If I have any readers who were or still are obsessed with Firefly, too, please chime in.

The Water That Falls On You From Nowhere

Today, I listened to the end of The Water That Falls On You From Nowhere, by John Chu, read by John Chu, on EscapePod. (I had been in the process of listening to it yesterday, but finished this morning.) And holy crap this story is fantastic.

I'm not sure if it's exactly science-fictional, but I wouldn't call it fantasy, either. And definitely not urban fantasy. It strikes me as sitting in a category adjacent to "The City and The City" by China Miéville, which I guess makes it slipstream.

It reminded me a lot of The Contemporary Foxwife, by Yoon Ha Lee, which I've blogged about before, for two reasons.

One, because it had a similar balance of extremely consequential and unambiguously relevant and affecting genre elements, and a story about relationships that played out -- not independently of those features, but immersed in them so deeply that the strangeness of them was just about perfectly absent.

And two -- it was similarly thick and deep in absolutely perfect moments of squee. And, like, deep and consequential moments of angst and drama that made the squee much, much more richly earned.

But seriously. So much squee.

Also: it won the Hugo this year for best short story.

The Water That Falls On You From Nowhere, by John Chu.

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.)

Solarpunk thoughts -- accessibility

I wrote this yesterday for Tumblr but I like it so I'm reposting it here So I've been kind of obsessing over Solarpunk lately, and one of the keywords that's been highlighted as important is Art Nouveau. So I was browsing the results of Art Nouveau in Google Image search, and I started to notice something.

Art Nouveau fonts struck me as really similar in appearance to fonts designed for people with dyslexia, like OpenDyslexic. Like, they bulge in different places and stuff, and that's a really big deal when it comes to these fonts, but the point is that it looks like it'd be easy to take the principles of accessible font design for dyslexia and apply them to graphic design for a new generation of Art Nouveau inspired work -- like Solarpunk.

I love the thought that an aesthetic movement could have accessibility baked in like that -- not placing aesthetic over usability, or even working accessibility in despite the aesthetic goals -- I mean using the art style as the mechanism for accessibility.

Art is, at least partially, about taking up space in the world to make room for human experience as a priority. In this case, with this movement, that could be very literal.

And that got me really excited, because Solarpunk is so obviously equipped to be totally all about that -- I love the idea of Solarpunk planners and designers and architects keeping in mind as a real priority making their spaces deliberately pleasant, comfortable and helpful for people with disabilities, not just tolerably navigable to meet code. I love the idea of a basic principle of Solarpunk design being "Every human is worth the effort of significant care in design choices." The idea that accessibility is a form of beauty that the Solarpunk art movement prioritizes.

And it fits right in with the punk part of the movement, because it screams "Disability is what happens when you build a city to use its people, not for the people to use the city."

Solarpunk: a plausible, optimistic near-future SF proposal

EVERYBODY: Go check out this post, "Solarpunk: Notes toward a manifesto." It's short, you have time. Look at the Tumblr post that inspired it, because that's mostly just images that suggest a really cool proposed genre. Not sure how late to the party I am on this, but it's really exciting -- this is the first concrete suggestion I've seen for optimistic SF in the 21st century.

Solarpunk is about finding ways to make life more wonderful for us right now, and more importantly for the generations that follow us – i.e., extending human life at the species level, rather than individually. Our future must involve repurposing and creating new things from what we already have. [...]

[...] There’s an oppositional quality to solarpunk, but it’s an opposition that begins with infrastructure as a form of resistance. We’re already seeing it in the struggles of public utilities to deal with the explosion in rooftop solar. “Dealing with infrastructure is a protection against being robbed of one’s self-determination,” said Chokwe Lumumba, the late mayor of Jackson, MS, and he was right. Certainly there are good reasons to have a grid, and we don’t want it to rot away, but one of the healthy things about local resilience is that it puts you in a much better bargaining position against the people who might want to shut you off (We’re looking at you, Detroit).

running out of memories?

I had a nightmare the other night that my little brother had turned into some kind of monster and was creating a sort of wintery post-apocalyptic hellscape evocative of World War I imagery in which I had to fight to survive, and, hopefully, prevail over his destruction. After getting over the terror, when I woke up, it was actually pretty reassuring.

Right now I'm working on a draft of a novel into which I'm pouring a ton of my anger about the circumstances of my childhood and early adulthood, and the people I ought to have been able to trust, and by whom I was instead threatened, gaslighted, and occasionally physically harmed.

And I've had what I know is a kind of anxiety writers I admire would recognize (because they've talked about it) -- The fear that there's no more story in you after this one.

It barely even begins to make sense, but I've been afraid that I'm going to use up all the sad in my life, write one good book, and then never be able to accomplish anything written down again. So it was a pretty reassuring experience to have a nightmare reminding me that there are yet-untapped avenues of pathological fear and mistrust in my mind.

The Girl In The Road

Africa is the new India, after India became the new America, after America became the new Britain, after Britain became the new Rome, after Rome became the new Egypt, after Egypt became the new Punt, and so on and so fourth. Now we're back to Punt.

That's how Monica Byrne describes the movement of cultural centers throughout history in her novel "The Girl in the Road."

I had never heard of Punt before. It was an ancient kingdom, which at some point was contemporary to Egypt. It's part of the bits of history that just don't get taught, I guess. Clearly it's important, but I'm pretty sure I've never even heard it referred to.

This is one of my favorite things about science fiction -- learning new bits of information that are minimally emphasized, if at all, in the narratives of 21st century America, but which could be drastically more important in another context. And, in particular, reading SF about perspectives that are marginalized in 21st century America. "The Girl in the Road" follows the stories of two women, one Indian and one from northwest Africa, both travelling through a world that thoroughly does not revolve around Europe or the United States of America.

I have such a good story idea you guys

Or, maybe I don't. I'm not sure. It feels exciting, but sometimes really bad ideas feel that way for the first few hours. The idea is a new treatment for people with mental health problems, who can benefit from therapy. It would be kind of like a drug, but more like additional behavioral therapy outside the therapist's office.

The story would have to take place in a near-future, where augmented reality is becoming truly viable but not yet widespread. The protagonist would be offered a trial therapy for her invasive thoughts and self-destructive habits: maybe a chip or a brain implant, or maybe something as simple as an app. I imagine it would probably be something semi-intrusive, but it could be an add-on to the protagonist's pre-existing augmentations. (That could explain why she's a good candidate for the trial.)

The treatment would be a sort of helpful psychological buddy -- a voice, or visual entity, or both, possibly more -- probably responsive to what tends to work with the patient -- that monitors the environment and the patient's physiological and emotional state, and gives advice on how to respond in a healthy way.

It would be more effective, a better AI, than the first level of problems I could come up with as a writer. It wouldn't just try to make her happy all the time. It wouldn't, for example, undermine a grieving process to make her feel superficially better, but it would discourage unhealthy expressions of that grief, like drinking heavily or lashing out at other people.

It would remind her to drink water, to take a shower and brush her teeth, to do laundry -- but it would be more conscious than a to-do list of what she needs to hear in the moment. When she's perfectly motivated to get up on time and eat a good breakfast and wash up, it wouldn't nag her about it. And it wouldn't issue commands. It'd just remind her, stuff like "You'll feel better today if you take a shower," or "I know you're feeling down, so now's the time to take extra care of yourself, to help get through this rough patch."

This story would be hard to write, because every instinct I have when I think about how to add conflict is that the AI would screw things up, but that approach defeats the purpose of the story -- then it's just "Psychiatric technology is bad, mmkay?"

The best conflicts I've come up with so far today are that the device starts to influence her in ways that obviously make sense to program, but that conflict with her personal goals for treatment, and not just in an "I identify with my illness in a self-destructive way" kind of way; or, that the company goes live with the commercial version of the drug, and she notices herself being encouraged to make more questionable decisions that clearly benefit the pharmaceutical company and its connected companies. The voice might say "That hat looks really good on you, it's okay to treat yourself once in a while." And she might notice, later on, that the company that makes the hat is owned by the same umbrella company that makes the AI.

Or it could just be conflict with people who think that Augmented Reality therapy is inherently bad -- they don't have to be right. Maybe it could be about one or more toxic relationships disintegrating as she starts to notice how often the AI points out that her friend is making her feel shitty or saying hurtful things on purpose.

I can't write this story right now, but I'm probably going to eventually. In the meantime, if anybody wants to steal it, go for it. I've got no problem writing about stuff that other people also write about.

So I guess I have an OTP

I watched the first Captain America movie last night, and so today I've spent a ton of time thinking about the Avengers and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I realized, on the ride home from work today, that I ship Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson really hard. A tumblr I follow, Fandoms and Feminism, has spent a fair amount of time on the subject of why Steve Rogers should be bisexual, and there are a lot of awesome bi!Steve headcanon posts under her bisexual Steve Rogers tag. There have been some pretty long posts that I can't easily find right now about Rogers being from a place in NYC that at the time he was there would have been an epicenter of gay culture. Some folks have pointed out that Sam and Steve's relationship in Winter Soldier is played beat-for-beat like a romantic comedy. And Samuel L. Jackson has said that Chris Evans is the first LGBT Captain America.

I realized the particular importance of this ship, to me, today, because on my drive home I was thinking about the possibility, however distant, of the new Avengers movie next year featuring a canonical relationship between Steve and Sam, and I got choked up. I literally almost started crying.

For the record: my other OTP is Felicity and Oliver in Arrow.

Trans magic

In the story I'm currently working on, magic is a cultural force -- that is, fields of magical ability grow out of specific cultures and subcultures. I'm doing it this way for two reasons: One, because it's an alternate-present real-world setting, and this way magic can't be an organized, industrialized, capitalized system, so it break the implicit world building of just having most of the real world intact; and two, because this way the use of magical abilities or magic-species things as a metaphor for representation can't ever be done without having actual, real-life representation. So, my protagonist (a trans woman) just met one of the 'earth children' (name possibly to be changed later) -- a subculture of teenage nonbinary people, who mostly know each other through the internet, and who are mostly homeless, having been kicked out of their homes when their magical status became undeniably evident. The earth children, around when they would normally have gone through puberty, grew and matured in a more-or-less androgynous way, and acquired earth or plant-like characteristics.

The earth child my protag, Zooey, met is called Hollyseed, and sie grows a fine, dark, long grass instead of hair. Other earth children I have in mind are a kid with patches of bark on zir arms and chest, a kid with stone-like skin, and a kid with soft bioluminescence.

There are, or are going to be, other kinds of trans, queer, LGBTQIAP+ and MOGAI magics, but apart from the earth children all I've come up with so far is strong disguise magic for kids staying in the closet. Anybody got any other ideas?

The Contemporary Foxwife, by Yoon Ha Lee

I've started listening to short stories again. After a long period where I found myself failing to pay attention to them every time I got in my car, I had given up on audio fiction for a little while. But now I've come back to it, and that's good news, because I want to strongly urge all my followers to go read or listen to "The Contemporary Foxwife," by Yoon Ha Lee, on Clarkesworld. Because it's adorable.

Not that there's nothing in it but adorableness, but it's kind of a platonic-magical-romance story with strong themes of the struggle of retaining cultural identity within a hegemonic culture.[1. Note: I'm white, so I'm very much speaking from outside the realm of experience of clashing with European ethnic identity.] And it takes place in the distant future, and in space.

Also, there's a nonbinary character! Osthen-of-White Falcon (whose name I thought was Austen through the whole story, because it was audio -- I only just discovered it isn't) is the roomate of  Kanseun Ong, the protaganist. They are really well written, and not at all made out to be entirely defined by their gender.

Again, the story is "The Contemporary Foxwife," by Yoon Ha Lee, and it's available for free as text or audio at Clarkesworld Magazine's website.

Journal of Unlikely Cartography: How to recover...

[warning]Heads up phobia warning: the website I'm going to link to has pictures of ants on the header and a spider in the sidebar.[/warning] There's a lot of stuff I learned about at Readercon, and stuff I did, and stuff I bought, that I really want to gush about, but I'm doing my best to take my time and have sensible things to say about the stuff I'm excited about. So that means, among other things, reading stuff before I blog about it.

One of those things is the Journal of Unlikely Cartography, the most recent edition of a free online magazine called Unlikely Story. The only story I've read so far is How To Recover A Relative Lost During Transmatter Shipping, In Five Easy Steps, by Carrie Cuinn.

Potential, vague spoilers: The map in this story is beautiful.  I mean, actually not, because it's a textual story and the map is never actually visually depicted, but I can't not imagine it as an incredible work of art.

The story itself was funny, with undertones of sad but not so much that I'd call it a sad story. But the moment with the actual map seemed to me to sidestep into a different kind of magical place.

There was some talk of maps as a kind of fetish object in the SF/F community at Readercon, and I think anyone in the genre fandoms can basically agree that there's something implicitly magical about a map. There were three panels on maps this year, and they were all well-attended. (I know because I went to all of them.) I'm looking forward to the other stories in the Journal of Unlikely Cartography, because I'm hoping for more of those magical moments.

About the phobia warning, btw: I didn't know about the spider when I read this story because I read it on mobile -- I will be reading the rest of the stories on mobile, too. Also, request to everyone ever: unless there's literally a spider and you're trying to warn me, don't put pictures of spiders on things.