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Aug 8, 2012
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Read this. Go.

#322 & #323 “My friend group has a case of the Creepy Dude. How do we clear that up?”

This is one of the best discussions of sexual harassment and assault I have read.

I find it interesting that in the past five years I’ve shifted my social circles so that I am predominantly hanging out with other women. Because, see, I spent two years at school doing this: “Some of the woman decide to just quietly put up with [being sexually harassed], because they’ve learned that no one will really side with them and it’s easier to go along than to lose one’s entire community.” And I don’t really want to do it again.

Aug 7, 2012
Alex Dally MacFarlane

let’s sing a song about a woman’s rage

I semi-jokingly mentioned wanting to write hypatia fanfiction (derived from Umberto Eco’s Baudolino) in a previous post. I know there’s nothing to stop me writing fanfiction and posting it here – but what about getting it professionally published? Am I allowed to do that?

I ask because this opening paragraph pretty much wrote itself right now:

“We lost our names on the journey to our new home. We could not say where: not on the stones of Alexandria as we fled, not in the long reaches of the Sassanid lands, not on the shores of the Sambatyon, the river of stone. Oh, how it churned. Oh, how it pulverised anything soft that fell in it — but we did not cast our names into those stones like an offering.”

And there is a title: “We, the Hypatias, Have a Story to Tell”.

I suspect I will write it whatever the answer is, but I would like it to get more exposure than just here, if I’m allowed.

Aug 7, 2012
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Thoughts About Anger

I see this question a lot: “Why are you so angry?” It appears in arguments online and offline, typically accompanied by the question: “Why can’t you just calm down?” Implied – sometimes stated outright – is the idea that if only we stopped being angry, other people would listen to what we’re saying.

That’s bollocks – I’ve seen plenty of calm, well-reasoned arguments completely dismissed – but I think this refusal to acknowledge angry statements goes beyond derailing tactic and into a wider problem: lack of respect for anger.

I can only speak for British culture (but I think this is loosely true of many other cultures too) when I say that there’s an emphasis on being polite, on being “civil”, on not “rocking the boat”, not “causing a stir”. Talk too loudly about something and you’ll be tutted at. It’s just not the done thing. This idea certainly exists in the English-speaking internet culture and it is policed rigidly by people from the UK, the US and other countries, and it is fucking us over so much.

~

We need anger. It is powerful. It is loud and it refuses to be ignored.

We need the word “fuck” and phrases like “shitstain”. We need to talk about the things that hurt us with strong language.

We need to make people feel uncomfortable.

Anger is not the only thing we need, but it is a tool in the complex arsenal of dealing with all sorts of problems. It is not everyone’s preferred tool. It is some people’s best tool. Using it should not invalidate the things they are saying.

~

There is depth and complexity in anger, there is thought. It is not a knee-jerk reaction that we’ll get over as soon as we’ve calmed down. It is not everyone’s reaction, but it is many people’s. As Veronica Schanoes said in the recent Readercon discussion about sexual harassment: “Anger is the rational response to being systematically attacked and harassed.” We will not calm down.

And I wonder:

Do they think we enjoy being angry? Do they think anger comes from a place of joy and delight?

Anger comes from hurt, from feeling that there is nothing left to do except scream. Do they think that’s fun?

Do they really think we strive to feel this way?

I would love not to be angry. If I could wake up tomorrow and never again be angry at sexism or homophobia or sexual harassment or our government – I would be so fucking happy, you have no idea. I would get on with my life without a repeated, persistent source of stress and hurt.

~

It seems to me that those who try the hardest to place restrictions on anger end up perpetuating the very thing(s) that caused the anger.

~

We need to respect anger. We need to acknowledge and understand why people are so angry, even if – especially if – it makes us uncomfortable. We need to listen. We need to focus on the sources of anger, the hurts – the forms of bigotry and discrimination that remain in our various communities – and sort our shit out.

Aug 6, 2012
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Science! Doggerland! 600,000-year-old stone tool!

At the beginning of July I went to the Summer Science Exhibition at the Royal Society, which presented the findings and developments of a wide range of current scientific projects.

I was particularly interested in the Drowned Landscapes exhibit, which is about the now-submerged land between Britain and continental Europe that used to be dry, settled land: Doggerland.

I already knew a little bit about this land from an unrelated TV show (Coast on the BBC?) where fishing trawlers in the North Sea talked about regularly bringing up mammoth bones and other decidedly non-aquatic remains from the glacial period.

The exhibit was small but really interesting. An interactive game allowed people to guess the best location for a village in an era of rising sea levels. (Those sea levels did not always rise gradually over Doggerland: it is believed that there were several tsunamis as well, with evidence for this including the presence of water-related items like shells in certain levels of excavation in otherwise dry areas of present-day Scotland.) A map showed the greatest extent of Doggerland. One thing I didn’t know is that Doggerland remained some time after the recent glacial period ended, hence some visualisations of it looking quite temperate rather than icy cold.

I talked to one of the men running the exhibit for some time and one thing he said was that these really quite recent discoveries in Doggerland are dramatically changing our knowledge of prehistoric Britain and rendering a lot of our published, widely held theories out-of-date – particularly the question of migration waves into Britain and when agriculture was brought in from Europe. He pointed me to the following books as starting points for exploring this new prehistoric landscape:

Gaffney V, Fitch S and Smith D, Europe’s Lost World: The Rediscovery of Doggerland (CBA Research Report 160), CBA Press: 2009.
Benjamin J, Bonsall C, Pickard C and Fischer A, Submerged Prehistory, Oxbow Books: 2011.
Bailey G and Spikins P, Mesolithic Europe, Cambridge University Press: 2010.

Hopefully the KCL library will have copies of those so I can read them this autumn.

It sounds like it’s a really exciting time to be studying prehistoric Britain and Western Europe.

But the most awesome thing about the exhibit was getting to hold a 600,000-year-old stone tool. The real thing. Not a replica. It was black and quite big (almost the size of my hand – not that I was allowed to hold it with just one hand) and had worked edges that allowed it to cut and it was 600,000 years old, which is older than our species by several hundred thousand years.

Aug 5, 2012
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Poetry sale!

My poem “Tadi” will be appearing in Strange Horizons. This too fits into the future setting; specifically, it’s about the wife of Falna from “Sung Around Alsar-Scented Fires”.

Jul 30, 2012
Alex Dally MacFarlane

o the bomb dreamed the fuse and the drowner dreamed the sea

I’ve sold not one but two stories recently!

Hannah Strom-Martin and Erin Underwood have announced the list of authors in Futuredaze: An Anthology of YA Science Fiction – and it includes me! Specifically, my story “Unwritten in Green”.

It takes place in the same setting as “Sung Around Alsar-Scented Fires”, four generations later. I’m really excited to be sharing more of this future! It’s also a combo breaker: the main character is male AND the narrative is linear. I know. I know.

Futuredaze is due to be released in February 2013.

Appearing much sooner and set in the same future – in a very different part – is “The 17th Contest of Body Artistry”, a very short piece that will be appearing in the next issue of Expanded Horizons. It’s set in one of the wandering cities: city-sized spacefaring craft that wander between the worlds and moons and other outposts of the (as-yet-unnamed) star system. As the title hints, it’s about a contest of body modification, and it has fun bits like this:

– for Ashah Pear hollowed himself out, and walked around the exhibition hall in his typical combat trousers and boots and sleeves, daring people to put their heads inside him, like a knife into a sheath.

“Listen,” he said as each person rested their chin on a softness almost like flesh.

Proclamations of love in every language and dialect spoken in Goldchair whispered from exactly 67 audio-nodes.

Eventually, in all this writing about this future, I will reach the story of the main novel. Chronologically, it’s still to come. (Naturally the next three stories in this future are set alongside-and-after “Unwritten in Green” – and 100 and 200+ years earlier.) In the meantime, it’s a big setting: there’s plenty for me to write about!

Jul 28, 2012
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Readercon

At Readercon this year, Rene Walling sexually harassed and stalked Genevieve Valentine. (Warning for descriptions of that behaviour.) Readercon had in place a zero-tolerance policy for harassment, stating that offenders would be banned from the convention for life. What happened to Rene Walling? A mere two-year ban. Why? Because he aologised nicely to the board.

That third link is not to the board’s response (right now I can’t read it) but to a post that links to it and also provides some past evidence of Rene Walling’s attitude towards harassment.

It’s not a positive, supportive view, nor does it suggest that his apology came from any other place than a self-centred desire not to lose out on Readercon attendance.

Especially when you take into mind what Genevieve says in her second post: “My harasser this year was named elsewhere, and since then I have been made aware, via private correspondence, I am not the only person he has harassed.”

No, she does not give names. Demanding them is no one’s right. However, one person has come forward with a statement of the harassment she has experienced.

Given the behaviour that Rene Walling exhibited towards Genevieve and Kate, I believe 100% that he has done this to many other women and will continue to do this to many women at whatever cons he is permitted to attend.

When you take into account the fact that Rene Walling is a known person within fandom (a recent Arisia Guest of Honour, has chaired a Worldcon, and writes for Tor.com), don’t you start to wonder why he was treated so leniently? Why his apology counts for more than Genevieve’s report of harassment? Because when you add “rape culture”* to “slightly famous dude”, what you get isn’t nice.

*What makes rape culture work also causes harassment such as this, even where no rape is involved. (Warning for discussion of rape at that link.)

I was hoping to go to Readercon next year, because I enjoyed Readercon 2009 so much. Now I don’t feel comfortable going. Not because I think I’m particularly likely to be harassed, no more or less than anywhere else, but because I know that if I – or anyone else at the con – is actually harassed, and I or anyone else comes forward, an act of bravery in itself, my or their report will not be taken seriously.

And it’s not just that, because in most places reports of harassment are not taken seriously – but at Readercon we have just witnessed that seriousness and support pulled out from under our feet and used to coddle the harasser and tell him that it’s okay, it’s fine, he’ll be able to go back, two years isn’t long.

And here’s the thing about harassment: it makes you feel helpless. It makes you feel like there is nothing you can do to stop it. In certain situations, there really is nothing you can do. (My experience at school. A lot of other people’s experiences, too.) In certain situations, you might know that there is a con policy in place to support you. You might not feel helpless, or you might feel less helpless, knowing that the harasser will be kicked out of the con for a long time or forever.

Well, Readercon just made victims of harassment feel helpless there, too.

Jul 26, 2012
Alex Dally MacFarlane

but I feel like a waterfall

Two snippets of recently-read poems that are sticking to me:

Patient scholar, half tourist, hunt
for gentians in the thunder-haunted hills.
You will not find our ghosts.
Write: Huddled round campfires, the women felt.
By day, the women attempted.
The women often.
The women must have.
The women were.

Our ghosts are elsewhere.

— Sofia Samatar, Burnt Lyric in the latest issue of Goblin Fruit

Listen, girl-woman,
shining woman, still woman,
skinwild woman, dreaming-fast woman—

— Rose Lemberg, Between the Mountain and the Moon in Strange Horizons

Jul 25, 2012
Alex Dally MacFarlane

it’s the house telling you to close your eyes

A few very disparate links.

He, Once a She, Offers Own View On Science Spat

A transgender scientist who has experienced the scientific world first as a woman and then, after transitioning, as a man, offers a damning critique on the various opinions for why there are not many women in science. It’s a fantastic article – I really recommend that you read it.

The final paragraph is especially cutting:

Which may account for what Prof. Barres calls the main difference he has noticed since changing sex. “People who do not know I am transgendered treat me with much more respect,” he says. “I can even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man.”

BOOM.

Readercon: The Bad and the Ugly

Genevieve Valentine talks about bad experiences at this year’s Readercon: first being talked down to and patronised as the only woman on a panel, then being sexually harassed and stalked through the con by a man. She provides an excellent manual for not being a harasser:

A brief conversation is not an opportunity to try your luck.

When someone moves away from an overture you are making? You are done.

When someone indicates something you have said makes them uncomfortable and then turns their back on you? You are done.

When someone turns to you and tells you in no uncertain terms that you are not to touch them again and moves off at speed? You are so incredibly done.

And when you have offended a woman with boundary-crossing behavior, you do not get to choose how you apologize.

If a woman has indicated you are unwelcome (see above, but also including but not limited to: lack of eye contact, moving away from you, looking for other people around you, trying to wrap up the conversation), and especially if a woman has told you in any way, to any degree, that you are unwelcome, your apology is YOU, VANISHING.

The rest of the post contains detailed context. As Genevieve points out, this is not isolated activity. This is not a one-off. This kind of behaviour remains commonplace and needs to stop right now.

Onto lighter matters.

weirdfictionreview.com reviews The Moment of Change, saying:

This is a stunning collection of poetry, of deeply felt, painstakingly crafted expressions of doubt, hope, fear, courage, transformation, transgression, and other emotions and experiences that beg to be given form. More than that, though, it’s also a strong, undeniable collection of voices, all of which make their own individual cases to be heard.

My poem is mentioned as one that provides a lingering image: “the woman who sews the gold candle-holder into her wrist in Alex Dally MacFarlane’s ‘Beautifully Mutilated, Instantly Antiquated’”.

“Little Talks” by Of Monsters And Men is an awesome song with an even more awesome video. Watch here:

I am also very fond of their “Slow and Steady”, although it’s pretty depressing. Their album is out this August.

io9 has a piece about 10 civilisations that disappeared under mysterious circumstances, which includes one I find very interesting: Çatalhöyük in Turkey, which thrived between 9,000-7,000 years ago, and is architecturally very interesting, as it “contained no roads as we know them, and was instead built sort of like a hive, with houses built next to each other and entered through holes in the roofs. It’s believed that people farmed everything from wheat to almonds outside the city walls, and got to their homes via ladders and sidewalks that traversed their roofs.”

I vaguely recall finding out about Çatalhöyük in the big museum in Ankara, but it had slipped from my memory until I read this.

Curious, I went over to the wikipedia page about Çatalhöyük and found the following: “In some cases, graves were disturbed and the individual’s head removed from the skeleton. These heads may have been used in rituals, as some were found in other areas of the community.”

THIS IS SO INTERESTING.

When I was researching the story set 16,000 years ago in the Kebaran culture with interesting fox burials, I encountered this, as skulls of humans (and foxes!) were moved between graves for a presumably specific reason. This grew more widespread in the Natufian culture, which followed the Kebaran – but that’s still a lot of millennia before Çatalhöyük! I need to go bibliography-searching to find out more about this.

I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to specialise academically beyond ancient (and very ancient) history. It’s all too interesting on this side of the Common Era.

Jul 18, 2012
Alex Dally MacFarlane

Fuck the Olympics

Fuck the Olympics. Fuck them so much. They are bringing nothing but exploitation and suppression to this city and country.

Some recent links:

UK police raid homes of retired graffiti artists
“Some of the people who were arrested had stopped painting graffiti without prior permission over a decade ago, and now paint commissioned artwork for corporate clients, while others haven’t touched a spray can at all in many years. … After being briefly questioned about these seemingly irrelevant matters, they were told that they were to be bailed until November on the condition that they did not use any form of railway in London (overground, tube or tram), carry spray paint (or other graffiti tools, presumably) at any time, or travel within a mile of any Olympic area. That includes the Olympic Park, the ExCel center and other Earls Court locations, Greenwich park, Hampton Court Palace, Hyde Park, Lord’s Cricket Ground, North Greenwich Arena, The Mall, The Royal Artillery Barracks, Wembley Arena, Wembley Stadium, Wimbledon and a host of out-of-London locations.”

That’s a lot of London they’ve been barred from, not to mention the transport restrictions. All because, in the past, they sprayed graffiti. And these restrictions are totally legal and fine and… what the fuck is wrong with this picture?

Ten to a room and one shower for 75 people: Inside the ‘slum’ camp for Olympic cleaners
“Cleaners at the Olympic Park are being housed ten to a room at a huge temporary compound. The campsite in East London, hidden from public view, has 25 people sharing each toilet and 75 to each shower. They sleep in portable cabins, some of which have been leaking in the rain. … On arrival, some were horrified to be told there was no work for two weeks. But despite this, they were made to pay the cleaning company £18 a day in ‘rent’ to sleep in the overcrowded metal cabins, which works out at more than £550 a month.”

I don’t normally link to the Daily Fail, but… fuck. The link has a picture. It’s fucking awful. Just a data point: I don’t pay much more than £550 a month. Needless to say, my flat is decently sized, does not leak, has a shower and toilet shared between just 2-3 of us, and my rent includes bills and internet and council tax. (Also, I could pay less than that and still live in a very comfortable conditions.)

Britain flooded with ‘brand police’ to protect sponsors
“Almost 300 enforcement officers will be seen across the country checking firms to ensure they are not staging “ambush marketing” or illegally associating themselves with the Games at the expense of official sponsors such as Adidas, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and BP. … Olympics organisers have warned businesses that during London 2012 their advertising should not include a list of banned words, including “gold”, “silver” and “bronze”, “summer”, “sponsors” and “London”, if they give the impression of a formal connection to the Olympics. … At the 40 Olympics venues, 800 retailers have been banned from serving chips to avoid infringing fast-food rights secured by McDonald’s.”

Seriously, read this article, it is like some kind of near-future SF satirising the Olympics except that it’s not satire.

A bit more ridiculousness around the corporate branding involves our famous Boris Bikes, the rent-a-bike system in central London. Well, it’s sponsored by Barclays, who are not sponsoring the Olympics, so you can’t ride your Boris Bike into the Olympics areas.

Hmm, what else? Oh yes, you’re not allowed to wear protest t-shirts anywhere near the Olympics sites. Even if it’s got nothing to do with the Olympics. Also if you wear branded clothing that’s not a sponsor’s brand, you will be charged with commiting a criminal offence.

I also saw someone say on Twitter that even if the Olympics makes a profit (it won’t), the rules of the organisation mean the money can only be put into sport, not schools or health or anything like that. Meanwhile, in some news articles I’ve edited at work I’ve seen reports that a high percentage of businesses think they will make losses during the Olympics. Then there’s all the contracts during the construction and commercial phases of development that have gone to overseas companies.

Let’s look at the police. The Official Protestors did a site visit recently, where they learnt this about Westfield (the main Olympic site):
“One little nugget that they let drop however was that there is in fact a Westfield Police Force, with its own Westfield Police Station on site. Westfield pay the Metropolitan police to provide officers on the ground to police their land. This is private land where the usual laws for protest do not apply being policed by Police Officers who are paid for by a multinational corporation. I’m sure there’s no chance of a conflict of interest there at all.”

That’s not terrifying at all.

I also read that the costs of the Olympics are exempt from Freedom of Information requests (ie the public can’t find out about the costs of this farce), but I can’t find confirmation of that.

Remind me how this is meant to benefit London and the UK?

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