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Nonflict.

Rachel Manija Brown on story without conflict.

I’m always really (a-har) conflicted by these sorts of posts, because on the one hand I agree—I love quiet scenes and cutrainfic and so on—but, on the other, I think in some respects they sell the notion of “conflict” itself short. Yes, there is an over-emphasis on superficial external conflict (e.g. violence, arguments) in a lot of media nowadays, see pretty much every action movie, for example. But, also, I think it’s possible for subtler forms of conflict to exist within a narrative, including metatextual conflict between the narrative and itself, the narrative and other works, or the narrative and the reader.

Brown mentions the “secret garden” genre, for example, as one that tends to be without conflict. But I’d argue that the attraction of the secret garden is, in fact, rooted in a metatextual conflict in this latter sense. That is, it’s the conflict between the reader’s unfulfilled desire for their own secret garden and the fact that the protagonist has one that the reader, by the very action of reading, intrudes upon and eventually takes over (by subsuming the book, and thus the garden, into their own memories).

Curtainfic, meanwhile, is a work that’s almost always in conflict with its own source material. A solid third of all fics tagged curtainfic on the AO3, for example, are in the Supernatural fandom, with the next biggest chunk coming from the MCU. These are not canons known for their fluffy domesticity! As someone who loves a curtainfic, and particularly loves its Villains Out Shopping subtrope, I can assert the fun in both reading and writing these scenarios is definitely in exploring the conflict their quiet mundanity presents against either the canon or the characters. (See also: why villain/antihero/antagonist fandoms tend to be full of “fluffy” memes.)

Like Roadhog and his pachimari.

For another, related, example, see any time anyone trots out kishōtenketsu as a “story without conflict” trope… and then proceed to give a handful of examples all of which include some kind of conflict. The fact that the conflict is usually framed as the story presenting contrasting narrative elements, with the conflict between them occurring within the reader’s head as a kind of dialectic—as opposed to direct “on the page” action—does not, in fact, actually mean the narrative is “without conflict”. But, like. Good luck getting anyone to admit that.

“But, Alis!” you might be thinking. “What you’re describing is contrast, not ‘conflict’. You’ve even used the word multiple times!”

Yeah. And what I’d argue is that, in almost all circumstances, when people talk about “conflict” in the context of narrative what they actually mean to talk about is contrast (a.k.a. tension). Two random characters having a fight is conflict, but it isn’t narratively interesting unless you’re one of those people who nuts to mechanized descriptions of fight scenes.1 Two characters having a fight over differing ideologies, on the other hand, is interesting, particularly when each side has some valid points and the audience themselves is engaged with attempting to determine who to root for and why. This is also why so many “popcorn villains” are so flat and kinda bullshit.

Think about, say, Strickland in Shape of Water, for example, who is pretty much the epitome of an uncompelling antagonist. This isn’t the fault of Michael Shannon, who does great; it’s because in the context of the narrative Strickland is just a one-note bad guy. He’s a bigot who hates the fish man! Okay, well… good on him, I guess. But the reality is Strickland could be replaced by literally anything else—including nothing at all—and the film’s conflict would remain the same. Why? Because the conflict in the film isn’t “oh no gubba gonna getcha fish, gurl”. It’s “ahaha in every other story like this the fish guy is either evil, or dies, or turns human at the end”. It’s a metatextual conflict, in other words, between the audience and their expectations for the genre. This is also, incidentally, why I thought the film was kinda meh; because I read a lot of monster romance, I have no genre expectation of the narrative going in any way other than “girl fucks fish man”. Because that’s how monster romances work!2 Which means the actual narrative itself felt empty in the “superficial conflict no contrast/tension” way.3 Also, the romance was really flat. Like, really flat.

I did look pretty, though. So… there’s that I guess.4 Also, it won a bunch of Oscars, which just goes to show why narrative conflict is such a minefield, since it leans so heavily on being able to anticipate the mental/emotional states of your audience…

  1. No judgement, you do you. ^
  2. Except when they’re, like, “boy fucks fish man”, or “girl fucks eldritch horror”, or “enby shares non-sexual intimacy with demon”, or whatever. ^
  3. Also see: the Obvious Hints that Sally is also, in fact, a fish monster. Meaning the story isn’t even “girl fucks fish man”, it’s “fish woman fucks fish man” which… eeeeeh. ^
  4. Though don’t get me started on the whole “sassy Black best friend with deadbeat husband” and “tragic queer uncle” tropes because, ugh. What is it about del Toro films and throwing intersectionality under the goddamn bus? ^
2018-07-27T14:30:20+00:0023rd September, 2018|Tags: fandom, fanfic, film, pop culture, writing, xp|0 Comments

Wyrdverse, Conflux, and Kickstarters (oh my)!

Oh no. It’s That Time of the Year again, the time when… (looks around nervously) … things happen.

Thing #1.

I formatted a book! Wyrdverse: Tales of the Wyrd is an anthology of short stories from the, well. Wyrdverse. These aren’t new—you may have previously read them on my website—they’re just now… collated better.

Wyrdverse is currently available super-cheap from Amazon, although if you’d like to snag yourself a free copy you can do so from the princely sum of your email address, by signing up to my book news mailing list.

Oh, and because the whole purpose of this exercise was to practice using Indesign, a print version of the book (in all its extensive, 80-page glory) should be available sometime in the next few weeks. So… keep an eye out for that.

Thing #2.

Speaking of awesome books you should buy (or, rather, back) right now, Crossed Genres’ Resist Fascism speculative fiction anthology is in the final days of its Kickstarter. From the official description:

RESIST. ANY WAY YOU CAN.

The world is in turmoil. The world is always in turmoil, but in recent years, people have seen violence and hatred become proud instead of ashamed. What meager rights we’ve fought for are being deliberately eroded. And the vulnerable have any help stripped away. All of this is happening openly and without fear of reprisal. And the worst perpetrators are some of the largest governments of the world.

Resisting the spread of fascism is as important now as it was 75 years ago. And there are many effective ways to resist.

For full disclosure, friend-and-all-round-awesome-person Rivqa has a story in this anthology, and I have read it and it is boss. So if you, too, would like to read a boss story about found family and Jewish jujitsu IN SPACE, then you should go smash that pledge button, as the kids on teh YouTubes say.

Thing #4.

Oh, and while you’re in the spending money mood,1 Mother of Invention is on sale! From the blurb:

Knit robots, build spaceships, and shape the future.

Extraordinary short stories about gender, artificial intelligence and the art of building something new. Mother of Invention features the work of Seanan McGuire, Ambelin Kwaymullina, Nisi Shawl, John Chu, Justina Robson and more.

Awesome? Yes. So what are you waiting for? Buy like a hundred copies and you’re set for presents to give out to all your friends, enemies, and loved ones at every birthday, anniversary, and culturally appropriate religious celebration for the indefinite future. Let’s all knit a softer, warmer robotic future together.

Finally… Thing #5.

Conflux! It’s coming, and I will be there. You can even come hear me blather on about narrative in the panel Play to write: what tabletop and video games can teach writers of fiction. And by “me” I mean “Rivqa and Elizabeth“, and by “blather” I mean “make interesting and intelligent points while trying to ignore their drooling co-panellist (i.e. me).”

Sound great? Of course it does! See you there.

  1. … I know, I know. ^
2018-09-12T08:15:44+00:0012th September, 2018|Tags: book news, books, conflux, cons, fandom, gonzo author stories, sff, wyrdverse, xp|2 Comments

Just who does win the Campbell?

So, apropos of yesterday’s post I decided to see who does, in fact, actually get nominated for (and who wins) the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

Note that the data below was primary collected from Wikipedia. The “unknown” slices in the pies are because I didn’t go “deep doxxing” for biographical details, in the cases where nominees didn’t have obvious internet presences (e.g. Wikipedia pages, well-known social media profiles, etc.).

At least 76% of all Campbell award nominees are American.

All Campbell award nominees by nationality.

42 American winners, 4 Canadian, 1 British.

All Campbell award winners by nationality.

So, in other words: Who wins the Campbells? Americans, basically.


Other bonus fun facts (all caveats about unknown details applying):

  • The Campbell has been awarded since 1973.
  • In the first decade of the award, there was one Canadian winner (Spider Robinson in 1974), and one British nominee (James P. Hogan in 1979).
  • The first nominee I could find outside of the “US-UK-Canada” triad was Tobias S. Buckell, in 2002 (although note he currently lives in the US).
  • All known non-US-UK-Canada nominees are from the 2000s.
  • Nominees are about 37% female-identified to 49% male-identified (with 12% unknown, 2% nonbinary-identified).
  • Winners are 51% female-identified versus 49% male-identified.
2018-09-05T13:25:50+00:0027th August, 2018|Tags: fandom, sff, worldcon|7 Comments

Morality plays.

For example, the idea that Captain America as presented in the MCU (or any character in big, colourful PG rated popcorn flick for that matter) is a new, revolutionary, un-problematic kind of hero is how we saw so many people unblinkingly and uncritically swallow ‘The Winter Soldier’ as some politically rebellious masterstroke of leftist defiance when it was actually a very careful, very safe, very neoliberal script that took tepid aim at something everyone agrees is bad (the Patriot Act) without offering any substantial commentary or praxis and while *still* stroking off American exceptionalism and perpetuating the inherently reactionary message of superhero vigilantism.

That’s my take at least. So why should I accept that people who like Steve Rogers are “better” and “more moral” than people who like [hot villain of the week], when I think that the entire thematic foundation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is suspect and against my personal politics?

cephiedvariable on “ethical consumption”.

Literally the next line in this post is “I’m not saying ‘The Winter Soldier’ is bad” which is why I’m cutting the quote off here, because actually I think The Winter Soldier is bad, not just as a moral statement (see above), but also as a film (I literally watched it while trapped on a plane with unlimited free alcohol and nothing else to do and it still bored me so badly I spent the entire running time playing Minecraft on my phone… and I don’t even really like Minecraft), and also as part of the terminal disease of soulless hypercapitalist paint-by-numbers superhero franchises taking over literally every film genre (and thus not making room for other works).

I mean, don’t get me wrong, you’re still “allowed” to like The Winter Soldier—I like tonnes of shitty and/or objectively bad things—only that this whole Kids These Days fandom nonsense of busting a gut trying to prove your “favs” are “unproblematic softboi cinnamon rolls uwu” is really kinda… not good for a lot of reasons, including your long-term critical thinking skills. You can like Captain America all you want but Captain America1 is the literal physical incarnation of violent, post-colonialist neoliberal attitudes including-but-not-limited to American exceptionalism, Pax Americana, and the Truman Doctrine (and its descendants)—all of which have served to cause untold suffering to millions across the world for two-ish generations—and deluding yourself into believing tepid, rightwards-Overton-window-shifting “critiques” a la literally anything offered up in an MCU film are The Discourse is a train ticket straight to Centrist Apologeticsville, not actually Progressive Revolutiontown. Which, yanno. Is more-or-less oligarchic capitalism’s working-as-intended model, because Mammon forbid the Kids These Days figure out what real revolution looks like (hint: it’s not about what backpack you wear to ComicCon).

None of which is to say that progressive praxis in media consumption isn’t A Thing, only that y’all gotta start being a bit more self-reflective about honest with yourselves about when you’re doing it versus when you’re not. And stop using that shit as a Moral Cudgel to beat other kids over the head with in shipping wars on Tumblr because, trust me. That shit? That shit ain’t doing anyone any good, least of all you…2

  1. Or, in fact, most superheroes for that matter. ^
  2. In other news: gods I miss the days of metafandom. Whatever happened to you? ^
2018-08-06T07:47:43+00:004th August, 2018|Tags: culture, fandom, pop culture|Comments Off on Morality plays.

Oh, WorldCon, no.

Foz Meadows has a write-up of the current WorldCon 76 drama.

This all feels very much like people used to running a small-town parochial con1 with an established member-base suddenly getting in a twist because they have to accommodate (gasp) outsiders.

I do think it’s maybe indicative of the fact that WorldCon is finally starting, in the last few years, to live up to the “world” part of its name. In other words, you can’t just have your local con grab the host spot and expect to be able to run things in the same way you always run them…

Edit: Another write-up.

  1. I know San Jose has a million or so people in it… but on the other hand, Melbourne has about 4 million and it took me like two years to feel like I knew, at least by sight, most of the regulars at Continuum. ^
2018-07-25T13:45:50+00:0025th July, 2018|Tags: cons, fandom, sff, worldcon|2 Comments

Oh, Worldcon, no.

… Worldcon sweetie what are you doing?

FWIW the only SMOF-y conspiracy theory I’ve ever heard about Worldcon is that there’s a SEKRET CABAL of people in the US who rig the host bid vote to make sure any non-US con is immediately followed by a US-hosted one intentionally crafted to be small scale/only for the Worldcon old-guard. I’d never really put much stock into that (because lawlz conspiracy theories), but man the current concom seems to be working damn hard to try and convince me it’s true…

2018-09-10T14:55:42+00:0023rd July, 2018|Tags: fandom, sff, worldcon|1 Comment

Using “pure” as a positive adjective to describe things really is insidiously awful and needs to stop, like, yesterday.

2018-07-09T07:53:29+00:007th July, 2018|Tags: culture, fandom|9 Comments

Continuum XIV!

I’m back! I survived!

So this is my third Continuum in four years, and even in that short time the con has changed quite a bit… for the better. The programming this year was especially excellent, moving into more meaty takes on topics and the “Deep Dive” stream, which was basically two twenty-minute single-person presentations back-to-back, followed by a Q&A.

For panels this year I decided to combine my habit of sketching during the talking with my general desire to take notes/livetweet. I’m not entirely sure the end results are legible in any way, but I’ve included them below, with advanced apologies to all the panelists I attempted to draw…

(more…)

2018-06-26T13:50:10+00:0012th June, 2018|Tags: cons, continuum, continuum 14, fandom, sff, xp|6 Comments

What is up with all the AO3 concern trolling on Tumblr recently?

2018-05-14T14:32:52+00:0010th May, 2018|Tags: fandom, tumblr|Comments Off on