Heath Fogg Davis is a trans man and associate professor in political science at Temple University, and his book, Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter? suggests that there are many situations in which clinging to gender categories is not necessary and even counterproductive. The context appears to largely be USAn, although I only got a little way into the book so that might not be true of later chapters.
The book opens with the case of a public transit system in Philadelphia that used to issue passes in both male and female variants. It begins with the dilemma of a trans woman who bought a female pass, only to be bounced off the bus because the bus driver judged her not to be a "real" woman, so she bought a male pass, and was bounced off the bus for not being male. At that point, she's screwed--what does she do? But trans people weren't the only one hit by this--a lot of cis people who didn't match certain bus drivers' preconceptions of gender presentation/appearance were also sometimes denied passage.
Davis then goes on to examine the reason why bus passes even had this designation to begin with. Apparently the stated intent was to reduce fraud--basically, each person was supposed to buy their own pass, and they were trying to prevent husbands and wives from sharing a single pass. Except, of course, if you look at the problem and the "solution," it makes no sense--you could easily still have fraud with two people of the same "sex" (whatever that means, a topic Davis takes up later) sharing a pass. So basically the "solution" screwed a lot of people, was intrusive and humiliating, and didn't even solve the problem.
The chapters in this book are:
Introduction: Sex Stickers
1. The Sex Markers We Carry: Sex-Marked Identity Documents
2. Bathroom Bouncers: Sex-Segregated Restrooms 
3. Checking a Sex Box to Get into College: Single-Sex Admissions
4. Seeing Sex in the Body: Sex-Segregated Sports
Conclusion: Silence on the Bus
Appendix: The Gender Audit: A How-to Guide for Organizations
 I lived for two years in a dorm in undergrad that had co-ed restrooms. Nothing bad happened. My dad would have blown a gasket if he had found out, though. :p
I only got through the intro and the very beginning of chapter 1 and what I saw looked encouraging and thought-provoking, but please don't ask me what's in the rest of the book because I genuinely don't know. I'm going to return this and hope to check it out later when I have more brain so I can think about the issues properly; it's good knowing the book exists so I can return to it at some later point.
The last book that got its hooks into me struck at Chinggis Khan airport in Ulaanbaatar. A friend and I were returning from a long stay off the grid with Kazakh nomads in Mongolia’s far west. We were saddle sore from a trip across the Altai mountains in a Russian jeep, suffering from intestinal parasites, and reeking of yak dung. But we had Kindles, and something passing (in Mongolia) for Wi-Fi. “Read this,” my friend said, and stuck this opening under my nose:
“If I could tell you one thing about my life it would be this: when I was seven years old the mailman ran over my head. As formative events go, nothing else comes close.”
Thank God for books. They can take you from anywhere, to anywhere. Not all of them do it as precipitously as Brady Udall’s The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint—there are ways to be transported that don’t involve such a dozy of a first step—but as an author myself I swoon over such writing.
I swoon mostly with envy. Beginnings are hard. Or, at least, beginnings are hard for me. For instance: the first scene in my new book, The Scorpion Rules, depicts a small classroom full of hostages pretending to discuss history, while actually watching the slow approach of a horsemen who’s coming to kill one of them. I must have redrafted that scene a dozen times, and I’m still not sure of all of it. But I like the moment where the narrator turns her head and sees, out the window and across the sweep of post-apocalyptic Saskatchewan, a faint plume of dust.
It’s not easy to hang a world off a smudge on the horizon—but it’s much, much harder to hang a world off a single sentence. Here are five YA science fiction and fantasy books that succeeded.
Feed by M.T. Anderson
Sometimes—often—it’s all about voice. Of course there’s world building happening here too. This single sentence suggests a society advanced enough to make travel to the moon on par with a drive to Vegas. It shows the extremes of jaded you can get when you combine teen and tech. In fact, it encapsulates the novel in perfect miniature, which is (to use a technical author term) a hell of a thang.
But really, what I fell for in this single sentence is the voice of the narrator, Titus. By the end of the first page, his fumbling reaches beyond the shallow, beyond the world of himself and his brain-implant-facebook, the titular Feed, already had me. I was ready for him to break my heart.
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Another world contained in a single sentence. Another voice to love. Oh, Todd. It’s been years since I first read this book, but I have not yet recovered enough to be coherent about it. With a backstory involving a plague of involuntary telepathy, Knife is about voices, essentially. About who gets to speak and who doesn’t; about what’s understood and what’s misunderstood; about the difference between what one thinks and what one does; about connections; about power. About speech itself.
Or to put it another way: There’s a sweet kid. He has a talking dog. Obviously things go well for them.
Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve
My husband read this one out loud to me. He read the first sentence and I said: “excuse me?” and he said: “you heard me.” Mortal Engines is not the Reeve book I’m over the moon for—that would be Larklight—but I cannot think of a better exemplar for the kind of science fiction opening that says: “buckle up, kids.”
I mostly come to science fiction and fantasy looking for character-driven stuff with the occasional dragon attack, but there is no denying the pleasure of the occasional whirlwind tour of a genuinely new world. Mortal Engines promises such a ride, and delivers.
Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
I once heard Joseph Boyden say one key to keeping readers is making them a promise on the first page. He spoke of his own book, in which one character has an addiction to morphine, a two-day supply, and a three-day journey home. Three-Day Road, it’s called. I dare you not to read it.
I also dare you not to read Hale’s Book of a Thousand Days, which is a Mongolian-flavored retelling of the fairy tale Maid Maleen: a princess defies her father, who seals into a tower for seven years. One faithful servant refuses to leave her lady’s side. But seven years is a long time, and the food is running low…
Call a book a Book of A Thousand Days, and open day one with the only window being bricked up slowly? Do you promise? Because I’m yours.
Chime by Franny Billingsley
Talk about swooning. Here is a first line that has it all. A voice—I have an unfortunate thing for well-spoken murderers—a promise, a slow-building world. If you like the first page, you’ll like the book. If you don’t, well… we probably can’t be friends.
Top image: Fanart of Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines by Julia Zhuravieva.
This article was originally published in September 2015.
Erin Bow is the author of three novels: Plain Kate, Sorrow’s Knot, and the science fiction thriller The Scorpion Rules, which opens: We were studying the assassination of the archduke Franz Ferdinand when we saw the plume of dust.
It has been a week. It's been a busy week, but a week none-the-less.
We have Nico this weekend because Jenna's gone to Florida to go get her dude and drive with him back so they can get Nico registered for school. School started a week and a half ago, but he couldn't be registered because the school district can't accept the notarized paper stating that Jenna lives in the house that doesn't have her name on it.
Weird, I know, the utility folks accepted it.
My meds have given me back my ability to eat. It's distressing because it's hard to feed yourself with a minimum of effort. I see a lot of oatmeal in my future. (It's easy to cook. It's easy to eat, especially if I put a glug of maple syrup in it.)
I did cookie balls so they can baked off at will and did up the five ingredient biscuits from Budget Bytes that require heavy cream instead of butter. They usually work pretty well. I like them. They're tasty and easy.
I have grapes, kiwi, a cantaloupe of some sort (it's got a fancy name), we'll have corn on the cob tonight and I need to figure out something for these beets.
From 2008-2011, Marvel Studios provided an excellent blueprint for setting up what we now refer to as the Marvel Cinematic Universe: two Iron Man films, a Hulk film, a Thor film, and Captain America: The First Avenger. All standalone movies, but with various common elements and through-lines (the Stark family tree, S.H.I.E.L.D., the Infinity Stones) to come together in Avengers, which remains the gold standard. It works as the first Avengers movie as well as the next movie for each of the above characters.
In 2015, Marvel went back to that blueprint for their more ground-level Netflix television series based in New York. Two seasons of Daredevil, and one each of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, culminating in The Defenders, now live on Netflix.
Here’s a quick look at the first three episodes and whether or not they bode well for history repeating itself. (There will be a full review on Monday.)
SPOILERS for The Defenders, as well as Daredevil seasons 1-2, and the first seasons of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist.
The four characters don’t actually come together until the climax of the third episode. In fact, no two of the quartet actually meet until the very end of the second episode, when Matt Murdock shows up as Jessica Jones’s lawyer while she’s being interrogated by Detective Misty Knight.
Prior to that, the show does an excellent job of picking up where each of the four series left off. Jones is at loose ends, not actually moving forward with her life in the months since she killed Kilgrave, despite the best efforts of Trish Walker and Malcolm. She hasn’t even fixed the broken glass on her door or the big hole in her wall. What gets her back into the swing of things, unsurprisingly, is someone coming to her with a case and someone else warning her off it. She wasn’t actually going to take the case until she got that warning. Best way to get Jones to do something is to tell her not to do it…
After ending Iron Fist with the disappearance of K’un-Lun, Danny Rand and Colleen Wing have been traveling all over the world trying to track down the Hand. Their first lead after months of searching leads to a person who is killed by someone everyone in the audience recognizes as Elektra (well, okay, I recognized Elodie Yung, she was cloaked and shrouded), but his dying words send them back to New York City.
Luke Cage is out of prison and back in Harlem, reunited with Claire Temple and wanting to help people. Mariah and Shades appear to be laying low, but Knight puts him on the scent of someone who is hiring kids in the neighborhood for hush-hush work that is getting some of them killed. Knight just wants Cage to reach out to the kids and help them, like Pop did, but Cage, naturally, goes further and tries to investigate.
Murdock is done with being Daredevil, though temptations keep rearing their ugly head. He’s doing lawyer work, mostly pro bono (which makes you wonder how he pays his rent and feeds himself), and Foggy Nelson throws some side work from his new employer, Jeri Hogarth, at him. (This includes representing Jones, which Hogarth instructs Nelson to do off the grid.)
Cage and Rand come together when the Harlem kids turn out to be working as cleaners for the Hand. We also learn that the head of the Hand—the person from whom Madame Gao herself takes orders—is a seemingly immortal woman named Alexandra (she keeps referring to historical events as if she was there, and she mentions dying and coming back to life).
What’s most impressive about the first two episodes in particular is how director S.J. Clarkson (who directed both) uses colors to differentiate each of the threads. Murdock’s scenes are all tinged with red, Cage’s with yellow and gold, Rand’s with green, and Jones’s with blue. All dark and muted, too, in stark contrast to Alexandra’s scenes, which are all incredibly brightly lit.
That mostly gets dropped in episode 3, directed by Peter Hoar. Alexandra’s scenes are darker, as we open with a flashback to her resurrection of Elektra, dead after Daredevil season 2, and with Jones and Murdock thrown together and Cage and Rand thrown together, there’s less distinctiveness among the parts. But it’s okay, because by this point, we’re reintroduced to everyone. If you haven’t seen one or more of the individual series, or you don’t remember details, enough has been done to fill in and bring you up to speed.
The first episode is called “The H Word,” that word being “hero,” and it’s fascinating to look at how each of the foursome approaches heroism. For Jones, it’s something she hates (“the H word” is her phrase, cutting Trish off when she tries to get Jones to embrace her fame for taking down Kilgrave to become a superhero), but her instinct to help people does kick in eventually whether she wants it to or not. Cage wants to help people, though he refuses to take any credit for what he does. He uses his rep up to a point, but refuses to cash in on it. Rand is mostly focused on atoning for his abandoning his post as K’un-Lun’s protector, so he’s more in this out of revenge and guilt than heroism.
And then we have Murdock, who is addicted to the violence. We saw this in two seasons of Daredevil, but we also saw the cost, as his friendship with Nelson and his relationship with Karen Page were both badly damaged, though he is now working to repair both. He’s tempted by the red suit more than once, but he doesn’t put it on. When an earthquake hits Manhattan—the first stage in Alexandra’s plan that will apparently spell doom for New York—Murdock is unable to resist the temptation to help people, and he breaks up a robbery. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go quite as he expected, and he regrets it later. He’s acting exactly like an addict, in fact, down to Nelson giving him work to distract him.
Of course, that leads to him encountering Jones, and the two of them wind up in the same place as Rand and Cage, who separately all arrive at the headquarters of Midland Circle, the bank through which the Hand does business.
Just as with the four individual series, the weak link in these first four episodes is Finn Jones as Rand. Iron Fist is still a whiny twerp, and it’s hard to be invested in his rather self-centered quest to stop the Hand, as he’s more interested in assuaging his guilt than in actually helping people. Jessica Henwick does the best she can as Wing, but she’s reduced to being Rand’s sidekick, which just isn’t that interesting. (It’s telling that Henwick’s two best scenes in the first three episodes are when she’s paired up with Temple in another room while Cage and Rand get to know each other and when Stick shows up at her dojo, her only two scenes so far without Jones.)
Luckily, the others make up for it. Mike Colter’s earnestness and casual heroism is perfectly played. Murdock’s internal struggle is magnificently etched on Charlie Cox’s face and in his body language. Krysten Ritter’s superlative smartassery lights up every scene she’s in. And while Henwick is stuck trying and failing to prop Jones up, Simone Missick as Knight, Eka Darville as Malcolm, Carrie-Anne Moss as Hogarth, Elden Henson as Nelson, Deborah Ann Woll as Page, and especially Scott Glenn as Stick are all spectacular in supporting roles.
Sigourney Weaver is quietly menacing as Alexandra, and it makes her scarier than the other effective villains of the Netflix corner of the MCU. Vincent D’Onofrio’s Fisk, Mahershala Ali’s Cottonmouth, and Alfre Woodard’s Mariah all had the calmness but it was leavened with their tendency to fly off the handle at any second. Alexandra, at least in the first three episodes, only has the calm, and it’s frightening as hell. Probably the best compliment one can give her performance is that you actually believe that Madame Gao—who has quietly been the nastiest and scariest presence in the Netflix MCU so far, thanks to Wai Ching Ho’s understated brilliance—takes orders from her. Gao has never been subservient to anyone prior to this, but you buy it with Alexandra.
Of course, the big star of The Defenders remains Rosario Dawson’s Temple, the Phil Coulson of the Netflix series, as she’s the glue linking everyone. She’s the one who brings Cage and Rand together, and tries to get them to talk. It fails, mostly because Cage is disgusted with Rand’s oblivious privilege (a nice commentary on one of the many flaws in Iron Fist‘s first season), but Dawson remains a delight. It’s also fun to watch her nudzh Cage about the fact that he has to actually make a living somehow (possibly eventually becoming a hero for hire?).
Thus far, The Defenders has done an excellent job of bringing these four characters—and these four series, particularly Daredevil and Iron Fist—together. Monday, I’ll have a more in-depth review of the entire eight-episode season.
SPOILER ALERT! Please try to keep the comments as spoiler-free of episodes 4-8 as possible.
Keith R.A. DeCandido writes “4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch” for this site every Tuesday. He has also written about Star Trek, Stargate, Batman, Wonder Woman, Doctor Who, and other Marvel Netflix series. In addition, he’s the author of a metric buttload of fiction, most recently the Marvel “Tales of Asgard” trilogy featuring Thor, Sif, and the Warriors Three, three Super City Cops eBook novellas about cops in a city filled with superheroes, and short stories in Baker Street Irregulars, Aliens: Bug Hunt, Nights of the Living Dead, TV Gods: Summer Programming, The Best of Bad-Ass Faeries, and Stargate SG-1/Atlantis: Homeworlds.
There is some debate over ribbing, so I steer clear for demos.
Good idea. This group has turned up some earlier examples of ribbing, but the earliest clear example of “ribbing at the upper edge of stockings” that I can point to is in the source for School Sock from 1817. And it’s likely at that point that the ribbing was to help the edge lie flat, rather than to be elastic and hold the sock up, because it’s only six rounds.
Earlier stockings did sometimes have special patterning at the top edge, probably to stop it rolling too much. I’ve seen a few rounds of knit followed by a few rounds of purl, then the same repeated. There’s also a stocking that has 2 or 3 rounds of k1-p1 followed by rounds of plain knit, IIRC. But for demo purposes, no ribbing is a good idea. (Clearly I was writing this at the same moment as neen!)
( Some general stuff about my tastes: )
( Wiedźmin | The Witcher - All Media Types )
( Alpennia Series - Heather Rose Jones )
( Dragon Age - All Media Types )
( Crossovers: Arya Stark (ASOIAF)/Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon (The Witcher), Éowyn (LoTR)/Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon (The Witcher), Irene (Invisible Library)/Tina Goldstein (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) )
Thank you so much, dear writer or artist! And if you have any questions, please do go through the mods - I promise to answer.
In January, Orbit Books announced that it had acquired three new novels from N. K. Jemisin, including a contemporary fantasy “dealing with themes of race and power in New York City.” In a recent interview with Playboy, Jemisin—who just won the Hugo Award for Best Novel for The Obelisk Gate—shared more about how the novel will grapple with “basically Cthulhu” and the legacy of H.P. Lovecraft.
The as-yet untitled novel, which Jemisin plans on being the first in a trilogy, is based on her Tor.com original short story “The City Born Great”: the story of New York City’s rebirth at the hands of a reluctant midwife into battle against ancient enemies. Jemisin discussed expanding the themes of the story:
What’s your next project? What are you working on now?
I’ve already broken ground on my next series, which I’m planning to be a trilogy, but we’ll see. It will be based on a short story I did through “The City Born Great”. It’s going to be set in New York, so I need to do a lot more research on New York. To boil it down, it’s about a group of people who embody the spirit of the city of New York. And they raise the city up into a kind of metaphysical entity that will help to fight against basically Cthulhu.called
So if you’re using Cthulhu, are you an H.P. Lovecraft fan?
Oh, hell no.
This is deliberately a chance for me to kind of mess with the Lovecraft legacy. He was a notorious racist and horrible human being. So this is a chance for me to have the “chattering” hordes—that’s what he called the horrifying brown people of New York that terrified him. This is a chance for me to basically have them kick the ass of his creation. So I’m looking forward to having some fun with that.
It sounds as if Jemisin’s novel will join an ongoing conversation re-examining Lovecraft’s works in the context of their creator, a conversation that currently includes Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom, Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country, Ruthanna Emrys’ Winter Tide (as well as the Lovecraft Reread), and other recent works engaging with and challenging Lovecraft’s mythos.
A release window has not yet been set for the novels.
The Louvre Museum in Paris is an architectural marvel, a palace built upon, renovated, and expanded from its origins as a fortress. Even awe would be an understatement to describe the feeling exploring its vast wings, its incredible Pyramide du Louvre, not to mention the most epic collection of artwork on display in the world. The first time I visited, I got completely lost, in part, because it’s one of the world’s largest museums at over 652,000 square feet. In between trying to track down the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, and the Egyptian antiquities, my legs gave out after a half a day of hapless wandering.
The second time I visited (which was almost ten years later), I had a much better experience, knowing exactly where I wanted to go, even getting a good grasp of its layout. This wasn’t the result of having learned my way around during my first visit, but rather because I had the official Nintendo DS Louvre Guide to lead me, complete with a GPS and 3D Imaging designed specifically for the museum—on rent for just five Euros at any of the booths.
My perceptions were more attuned with gaming than I’d realized, where spatial relationships in the real world were more intuitive rendered through the map on the 3DS. The Whorfian Hypothesis on cognitive development describes how language shapes our perceptions. Whether subconscious or not, I was relating to the visual language of gaming in a way that was surprisingly familiar, particularly in terms of the way I interfaced with the museum. The 3DS Guide made my experience not only more manageable, but (and I feel a little silly saying this in retrospect) it made the whole Louvre resemble a Zelda-esque labyrinth ready to be explored.
A couple years back, there was all the hoopla from critics stating that gaming could never be considered art. Even if I found the statement uninformed—all it took was just a peek at some of the galleries of concept art behind the games I’d worked on to convince me otherwise, not to mention the talented artists behind them—the incorporation of a game into the Louvre experience was especially surprising as I considered it a cultural bastion impervious to the sway of gaming. When I first saw tourists carrying the 3DS around the museum, a part of me felt annoyed that they couldn’t put away their gaming console for one day (‘What’d you do and see at the Louvre?’ ‘I leveled up my The World Ends With You character.’). When I found out its actual purpose, not only was I intrigued, but it got me thinking about my own prejudices about what the traditional museum experience entailed.
As the official guide of the Louvre, the “game” contains more than 600 photographs, 30+ hours of audio commentary, and “high resolution images, 3D models and video commentaries” about the artwork. That means you can zoom in on the details of the paintings, the digital magnifying glass focusing on background images via your screen. You can rotate and spin around sculptures from different angles (like above), all to the tune of a narrator informing you of a work’s history, significance, and interesting trivia. Rather than clash or even supplant the artwork, the 3DS increased my appreciation, visually pointing out specific approaches employed by the artist I would never have known about otherwise. The option to analyze or maximize any painting is invaluable, particularly on the large-scale images. You can search out favorite pieces and mark them on your map, which will then show you the quickest way there. It’s convenient being able to track your position on the 3D map and plan out your entire journey, especially because of how huge the grounds are.
There are limitations to the game; it doesn’t cover every exhibit, though they incorporate software updates as well as analyze user data and give feedback to the museum they can use to optimize and improve future visits. It also doesn’t take questions, and while it comes in several different languages, it lacks a Mandarin version, a feature many of my acquaintances bemoaned. Finally, the GPS isn’t perfect, and from time to time, it’ll get confused about your next destination.
These complaints are rather trivial considering it’s still far more convenient than any app, audio tour, and paper map I’ve used at other museums because of the way the 3DS integrates audio, visual, and tactile control into one package. It’s as close to getting a human guide as you can get without actually having one, but with the added benefit that you can travel at your own leisure, go off the beaten path, and stay in one location for as long or as briefly as you want. I’ve often felt like a herded sheep in tour groups, hitting bullet points on an unseen list, rather than being able to explore the more obscure and stranger pieces on display.
As I’ve mentioned, the Louvre is massive, and it’s both awe-inspiring and overwhelming being surrounded by masterpieces like Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People or David’s Coronation of Napoleon. The collection never seems to end and I felt like I could have spent a week there and still not appreciated more than a quarter of it. Many castles, just by their grand nature, are designed to make you feel insignificant, particularly in this instance. You’re in the presence of the king. Kneel, fool.
The 3DS was an equalizer and it felt like I was wielding my own personal tricorder (all it needed was a sensor beam). It helped tabulate the enormous gallery so that I could focus on the works on display, from the profound to the more playful.
I can’t think of anyone better to have created the Louvre Guide than Nintendo, the makers of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Ocarina was my first real introduction to an immersive 3D environment (even more so than Super Mario Bros. 64 or Crash Bandicoot on the PlayStation) and a huge part of that was because of the way it naturally adapted the 2D sprites I’d grown up with into a space that was not only traversable, but became as important a character as the main protagonist. The world was a puzzle to be unraveled and the additional dimension breathed an authenticity into the architecture that holds up to this day. The Deku Tree level was a revelation for me, and gaming space was changed irreversibly once I’d finished. I’ve heard stories about Shigeru Miyamoto’s intuitive grasp of camera and player controls, his dedication to perfecting the user experience.
For me, art is platform agnostic and can find expression in any medium, as long as it gives me a different understanding of the world, independent of whether I agree or disagree. Art in gaming isn’t just limited to the visual, but includes gameplay, design, and sound as well, all working in conjunction to create a unique experience. I still remember the sense of wonder at the Deku Tree level as I uncovered each of its secrets, all the way to the climactic plunge which was the coda to a brilliant level. In the same way, the 3DS creates a sense that each work in the Louvre is a puzzle, exhibitions with unique origins where even a dash of paint or a hint of a smile can have revolutionary implications based on the context in which it was created. This isn’t just art in a stuffy setting, only understood by the connoisseur, but something vibrant, exhilarating, and accessible. Ensconced in an interface familiar to gamers, the 3DS guide broadens the audience in a way that combines the favorite pastimes of the past with the present—as evidenced by many of the kids wielding their 3DS’s in front of classical paintings.
Nintendo’s creativity and consideration of the user experience in the 3DS Louvre Guide is what makes this seemingly quirky pairing work so well—so much so that a few weeks later, when I visited the Vatican Museum, I got lost, unable to find many of the exhibits I wanted to. I longed for a corresponding 3DS guide and found the accompanying audio tour primitive in comparison.
The only thing holding the experience back from being seamless was the fact that the 3DS was a separate object that I held and had to constantly refer back to.
This, of course, got me thinking about virtual reality and its significance for art. VR promises perfect immersion, but there’s also gear designed to augment reality. I tried out the Oculus Rift at Siggraph a few years back and even in its early stages, its potential for immersion held a ton of promise. With Microsoft, Sony, Valve, Google, and Facebook working on their own gear, each with their own distinct take, I couldn’t help but wonder specifically what it signified for the future of art. I’ve spent a lot of time playing with the Unreal engine, which is what some of these kits are using in their creation of their 3D worlds, and some of the better demos don’t just look indistinguishable from real life, but even more graphic. The duller palettes of actual cities seem muted in comparison to the vibrancy of art-directed worlds teeming with refractions, perfect sunsets, global illumination, and the complexity of a polygonal metropolis.
Will there one day be a virtual Louvre you can visit in your living room? Every work of art, every sculpture, even the hallways replicated with impeccable verisimilitude? No noisy tourists and no need to exhaust yourself finding a specific work of art (unless you wanted to). I realize it’s not the same as actually going (there are all the intangibles of traveling) and even in Star Trek, Captain Sisko wistfully notes that a holodeck baseball game isn’t a substitute for the real thing. I don’t want the virtual to replace the real and make the world a matrix-like MMORPG, and even if I did in other instances, that’s beyond the scope of this piece. What I’m more focused on is how a collaboration would work, the virtual gear functioning as an easel to paint even more fantastic landscapes than either could conceive of by themselves.
One practical example where this would have been very helpful is the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican Museum. It’s gorgeous, but hard to see from almost sixty feet below, even though Michelangelo intentionally used bright colors to make them more visible. I had a hard time enjoying my time there as I’d forgotten to bring my glasses and the chapel was packed to the brim with tourists, all pushing and tugging against each other. Imagine if you could use the virtual gear to zoom your view into the ceiling, visually gorging on the frescoes from below, swinging the camera around, actually seeing the stories in each character, the way they interconnect the Great Flood with the Garden of Eden and so on. Unlike a binocular, constrained to your location, this could actually let you see every detail up close. Goethe once said, “Without having seen the Sistine Chapel one can form no appreciable idea of what man is capable of achieving.” But the truth is, when we actually get there, the most we’ll see are general outlines that we try to decipher in the cacophony of the Biblical panoply.
I hope the 3DS Louvre Guide is a preview of the type of hybridization that will become more and more commonplace. The fusing of the real and unreal to create something innovative but familiar is going to change the artistic experience. Into what? That’s an exciting prospect to ponder.
While in Paris, I imbibed of some of Sartre’s work at a cafe (with a croissant and hot chocolate milk) and one of the passages that struck me were his musings on imagination and feeling:
“When the feeling is oriented toward something real, actually perceived, the thing, like a reflector, returns the light it has received from it. As a result of this continual interaction, the feeling is continually enriched at the same time as the object soaks up affective qualities. The feeling thus obtains its own particular depth and richness. The affective states follows the progress of attention, it develops with each new discovery of perception, it assimilates all the features of the object; as a result its development is unpredictable, since it is subordinate to the development of its real correlative, even while it remains spontaneous. At each moment perception overflows it and sustains it, and its density and depth come from its being confused with the perceived object; each affective quality is so deeply incorporated in the object that it is impossible to distinguish between what is felt and what is perceived. In the constitution of the unreal object, knowledge plays the role of perception; it is with it that the feeling is incorporated. Thus the unreal object emerges.”
I can’t wait to see what emerges in the years to come.
This article was originally published in March 2015.
Peter Tieryas is a character artist who has worked on films like Guardians of the Galaxy, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, and Alice in Wonderland. His novel, Bald New World, was listed as one of Buzzfeed’s 15 Highly Anticipated Books as well as Publisher Weekly’s Best Science Fiction Books of Summer 2014. His writing has been published in places like Kotaku, Kyoto Journal, Tor.com, Electric Literature, Evergreen Review, and ZYZZYVA, and he tweets @TieryasXu.
We want to send you a copy of Pierre Christin’s Valerian: The Illustrated Treasury, available now from Titan Books!
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I wrote a piece for Bloomberg View this week, here’s how it starts:
We’re having the wrong conversation about women in tech. We need to decouple two very different issues that have arisen amid the commotion about diversity at Google: biological differences between genders, and bias against females working in tech and more generally in well-paid, prestigious jobs.
For the whole article, go here.
For all of my Bloomberg View posts, go here.
Eclipses are pretty darn cool even in real life, so it’s fitting that in science fiction and fantasy they get their due as legitimately monumental events. Dragon’s blood shed, the sapping of powers, aliens invading under cover of darkness… a lot can happen when planetary bodies pass between the sun and Earth—or whatever world our heroes inhabit. The six eclipses in these SFF stories mean serious business, with the power to change laws, avoid executions, and break spells. Grab your eclipse glasses!
Little Shop of Horrors
Most of the time your average eclipse occurs to bestow power or some kind of magical event. And then every once in a while a total eclipse of the sun happens to help an alien race deposit a bunch of their agents around your world for the purpose of total domination. Seymour Krelborn learned this the hard way when looking for new strange and exotic plants for his little horticultural hobby. Mr. Chang sold him a plant he had never seen before, one that just showed up among his other wares, right after an eclipse. A dollar ninety-five bought Seymour an unknown varietal that he christened the “Audrey II,” after his coworker and longtime crush.
And then the plant got a lot of attention in the flower shop where Seymour worked, and business started booming. And then Seymour discovered that the only way to keep the plant alive was by feeding it blood. And then the plant could talk suddenly? And then it didn’t seem like that big of a deal to murder Audrey’s abusive dentist boyfriend for the sake of keeping the plant alive… and it all sort of snowballed from there. Depending on the version you’ve seen, this either resulted in Seymour and Audrey’s deaths, or it resulted in a happily ever after that ominously ends with the appearance of more tiny Audrey Twos. The point is, don’t feed the plants, and also maybe don’t buy unknown flora during solar eclipses.
The White Gryphon
When the sun comes at midday, then change comes to the Haighlei…
Don’t like a particular law in the Haighlei Empire? Every 20 years, during the Eclipse Ceremony, you have the chance to change it. Assuming you’re an emperor, of course. And that the ramifications of various political marriages, foreign alliances, and advisor appointments haven’t altered Haighlei society so drastically as to render new social rules moot.
In the second installment of Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon’s Mage Wars trilogy, an embassy from White Gryphon attempts to negotiate an alliance with the people of Haighlei—conveniently during the timing of the Eclipse Ceremony. But when members of King Shalaman’s royal court begin turning up dead—members who opposed said treaty—protagonists Skandranon and Amberdrake come under suspicion. They have until the end of the Eclipse Ceremony to clear their names, and perhaps change the laws, before they will lose their chance for two decades.
Avatar: The Last Airbender
Also know as “The Day of Black Sun,” solar eclipses in the Avatar universe are notable for one reason: they severely limit the power of firebenders, who draw their energy from the sun. When Avatar Aang is looking for ways to defeat the Fire Nation and bring some balance back to the world, the eclipse offers the perfect opportunity to get some much needed high ground.
Of course, getting the information about the eclipse wasn’t easy. Aang and company had to find a great library buried in a desert that was guarded and kept by a giant owl spirit. He wasn’t keen on humanity using the knowledge in his library for the purpose of war and destruction anymore, so when he found out what the kids were looking up, he was understandably peeved and left with this entire library for good… almost taking the Avatar and pals with him. They escaped only to find that Aang flying bison Appa had been stolen by marauders. And when they went to contact the Earth King at the capital of Ba Sing Sae, they found an entire city kept in the dark about the ongoing war, and no one who would help them. So if you guessed that the Day of Black wasn’t that much help to the Avatar, you’d be right.
But it helped Prince Zuko’s emotional arc! He got to confront his crappy dad and stuff. So, you know. Eclipses are good for character development?
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
When 19th century everyman Hank Morgan receives a blow to the head and wakes up just outside Camelot, he is assumed to be a threat because of his odd manner of dress and speech. Arthur sentences him to be burned at the stake on June 21st—and by a fantastic stroke of luck, Hank remembers that June 21, 528 C.E. was the date of a solar eclipse, and so warns Arthur and Merlin that he’ll make the sun go out if they execute him. He’s a little off on the timing, but Hank manages to improvise and convince them he’s doing it with his superior magic. The court releases him, but he earns the undying hatred of Merlin, and spends the rest of the book trying to modernize Arthurian England, with mixed results.
Ladyhawke is arguably the greatest of all ’80s fantasies. What is inarguable is that it features the best cinematic eclipse in movie history. Etienne Navarre is the knightiest knight who ever knighted, and his ladylove, Isabeau, is witty, beautiful, and a secret badass. Their love is pure and true, but unfortunately an eeee-villll bishop is also in love with Isabeau, and sells his soul to Satan in exchange for a curse on the couple. They are to remain “always together, yet eternally apart”, with Isabeau transforming into a hawk each morning at sunrise, and Navarre turning into a wolf as the sun sets each evening. And the only way to break the curse? To appear as man and woman before the Bishop himself. As you might well imagine, trying to live life a half-day at a time, while caring for either a hawk or a feral wolf, is not fun, especially not in Quasi-Medieval Fairy Tale Europe, and neither Navarre nor Isabeau can think of a way to escape this dire situation.
Luckily for the star-crossed pair, they run into a thief called The Mouse and an alcoholic monk named Imperius who work out a solution: when is it neither fully day, nor fully night? Why, during a solar eclipse of course, and one just happens to be coming up. Now all they have to do is smuggle a wolf-man and hawk-woman across France and into the Bishop’s church before the eclipse blots out the sun’s rays…
When your planet is surrounded by six suns, darkness itself is akin to the bogeyman: this creeping threat that you’ve never experienced, and never want to experience. How can you imagine such vulnerability, in a darkness that can neither be perceived nor fathomed, without going mad? If you’re the inhabitants of Kalgash in Isaac Asimov’s short story-turned-novel Nightfall, you sleep with night lights; you make darkness the big jump scare in theme park rides; and you fear the very real and very alien eclipse foretold to occur every 2,049 years.
Historical texts warn that every two millennia, the total eclipse has caused the downfall of civilization—surely when the inhabitants of Kalgash were plunged into darkness, they simply went insane? Not so, as the current society discovers: The eclipse not only blots out the suns, but it also reveals the stars. The stars that the Kalgash people had no idea existed. The hundreds of thousands of stars that force them to confront their own insignificance in a universe they used to believe they were at the center of.
It’s enough to send anyone spinning out of orbit. But hey, they have 2,049 years to rebuild…
The Wheel of Time
Twice dawns the day when his blood is shed.
Once for mourning, once for birth.
Red on black, the Dragon’s blood stains the rock of Shayol Ghul.
In the Pit of Doom shall his blood free men from the Shadow.
Wow! That’s one hell of a mission statement to give your epic fantasy hero. In the second book of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, Rand al’Thor is still very much coming to terms with being the Dragon Reborn, the prophesied savior of the world, when he asks about prophecies that detail, you know, Next Steps. One of the prophecies includes this demoralizing stanza, letting Rand know that at some point he’ll probably find himself in the worst place in the world, exploding like a depressurized intestine.
Naturally, readers parsed this endgame-esque prophecy for clues, quickly determining that “twice dawns the day” probably indicated a solar eclipse. The imagery was apt for the series, which concerns itself with the decisive struggle between humanity (the Light) and an unequivocally evil metaphysical force (the Shadow) determined to end time itself. If a literal eclipse occurred at a key moment, it would have a symbolic effect upon the forces of the Light; a window where the Shadow held sway over the Light. The primal fear that would instill within the Lightside combatants could prove just enough to turn the tide of the conflict towards the Shadow. The “twice dawns the day” line is so important to the aesthetic of Jordan’s epic, in fact, that the final book in the series is titled “A Memory of Light”, with the cover itself featuring the very moment the prophecy proves true.
So it’s a bit of a puzzler that the eclipse just turns out to be a…cloudy day?
Above them, dark clouds spun, the peak of Shayol Ghul their axis. Darkness assaulted the sun until it was nearly gone, entirely covered, in total oblivion.
In the sentence following that, both the forces of the Light and the Shadow pause. Then the clouds pass in the sentence after that, and everyone resumes fighting as before. No eclipse, no ominous pauses the world over (yeah yeah we know that eclipses do not work that way), no sinking feeling from our favorite super-characters that they’re fighting a force of nature itself and none of this may be enough.
A bit of a cosmic shrug, all in all.
So I guess what we’re saying is that you can feel free to take “demoralizing eclipse” off your plate of woes. Phew!
It’s fitting that the subtitles on the first teaser for Marvel and Netflix’s The Punisher includes a lot of “[muffled grunting]” because that about sums up what we see: Frank Castle wielding a fearsome sledgehammer while voiceover-ing about painful memories and the past being the devil you sold your soul to.
It’s a short teaser but definitely sets the tone for a series about avenging lost loved ones:
Hannibal’s Steve Lightfoot will serve as showrunner. The series stars Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle/The Punisher, Ben Barnes as Billy Russo, Ebon Moss-Bachrach as Micro, and Amber Rose Revah as Dinah Madani; Deborah Ann Woll will also cross over Marvel series to appear as Karen Page, building on Frank’s role in Daredevil season 2.
The Punisher is expected to premiere on Netflix this November.
Last night, instead of gym, I did this week's laundry so when I come back with a suitcase full of dirty laundry, I will...have more laundry. But new laundry, not old laundry.
I think I'm finished packing, as well. My big suitcase has everything from my clothes to my laptop; hopefully, I can get it down all the stairs without trouble. I suppose I could move the laptop and such into a knapsack if I had to.
A break will be good.