Monthly Archives: June 2009

Science Fiction and Politics at Think Galactic

It was my first time at Think GalactiCon. And I must admit, it was my first time at any Sci Fi con. And I must further admit that it was my first time really talking about the convergence of science fiction and politics in any real and sustained way. And my final admission is that the combination of these factors resulted in me actually talking very little (or at all) in the panels and discussions, though I certainly talked up a storm in smaller venues, between panels, over lunch and dinner and beers. I realized there is so much I haven’t read and need to read, so much I’ve only vaguely thought about, but never sharpened into real coherency by translating it into the concreteness of actual words.

And it was brilliant, of course.

I don’t think I’ve ever actually been in a room where everyone seems to have read and loved Octavia Butler and Ursula Le Guin. Where radical politics are related back to zombie wars and the struggle for life on Mars. I think I’ve been wanting a room like that for some time without consciously realizing it, much less looking for it. My own great loss. There are two things I love about…what should I even call it? Speculative fiction is the term  I think. I admit I have a wee bit more love for fantasy over straight sci fi, though I think much of the distinction between the two rather absurd. Still, I love those splendidly feral worlds of the imagination, rich tapestried language, monsters, magic, places where no one has the same rules, or they have invented new ways of breaking them. I’m the kid who heard fairies outside her window growing up, and hasn’t given up on them yet. And of course you have authors like William Gibson who take technology into places where my experience can’t follow, and it all comes back to what might as well be magic again (for me, I don’t mean to cause any controversy by labeling cyberpunk magical, which I know it’s really not!). Still, fantasy leans towards the callings of destiny, the great kings, the happiness that comes from feudalism…I don’t like that at all. But there are those novels like the Gormenghast trilogy that have brought so much wealth to my world through their very existence, and books by authors like M. John Harrison and China Mieville where I see some of my own politics echoed back at me, even amplified.

I love things like Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy too, but they don’t make me hold my breath until the page dims due to lack of oxygen.

For so many years I never consciously brought that together with my love of social justice and my struggle for a better world… as an organizer the books didn’t seem to have the same importance and I stopped reading so much. Of course, that wasn’t just true of speculative fiction, it was true of absolutely everything. Sleeping itself was cut down to below the minimum needed, much less literary exploration. It’s been nice to emerge from the fog of living emergency to emergency, political moment to political moment, meeting to meeting.

And what a joy to come back to these books, to re-read things in light of all I’ve learned, to hurl myself into the world as it was or could be or is now with some (monsterific) modifications, all through the words of some of the greatest writers bar none. At its best the genre allows so much scope for playing with ideas, for turning ideals and theory into things that are alive on the page. It is a genre for dreaming, for analyzing, for theorizing, for experimenting… all the things that turn me on the most when paired with imaginations that spark my own.

Friday night I saw Eleanor Arnason reading an exquisite little story about a silly king and a statue and the little hatmaker…I sadly missed the other reading as it was a long train ride home to the place I was staying. But Eleanor is a facsinating author dealing with so many issues of class, race and gender in her work, and always a pleasure to read. Even more of a pleasure to meet in person, we talked quite a bit over the course of two lunches, and I am proud to say that we at PM Press will be publishing one of her stories and an in depth interview with her next year, Mammoths of the Great Plains.

I also spent a great deal of time with Josh MacPhee, who brought a load of incredible prints and posters from Just Seeds. PM will also be publishing his next book Paper Politics, which is exciting. And it was nice to have someone else in the same boat more or less…the perilous dinghy of being a fan but much more of an activist, with little experience in combining the two. I think both of us felt we were in a little deep! But It was great to finally meet someone I’ve worked with and chatted with over email face to face…And there were so many more people I talked with, but I’ve limited mention to people who I know enough about to give a plug for and a nod to their work!

And the panels? Oh, they were great. They covered race, class and gender in the genre, looked at the future of food, the role of science and technology in the world we are building, the place of the superhero in comics…and so much more. Everything ran smoothly, the food was delicious, the stencil and print workshop was brilliant, the games mightily enjoyable…and Roosevelt University an incredible space. All in all I enjoyed myself immensely. Everyone there seemed amazing and I’m just sad it wasn’t longer, as there were a number of folks I didn’t talk to at all (I’m still a bit shy as well!). But what I have taken away is the compilation of a massive reading list, and the percolation of a million great ideas. The extraordinary women who put everything together deserve an immense amount of credit, and I definitely hope that it continues long into the future…

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Michael Jackson…

My thoughts on his death are so conflicted and complicated and he’s been on my mind a bit since I saw the exhibit of his stuff up for auction from Neverland…it was unforgettable. And unsettling.  I’m in Chicago for a conference and am staying with friends, funny how different people’s reactions have been. We went to a bar to see another friend of theirs play, and he played Billie Jean on his base just before they started the second set, and sang and we sang, and it was fitting.

This is Michael Jackson as I like to remember him, and I think it is heart breaking how he ended up… He was incredible. No one danced like him, no one sang like him…Thriller is unbeatable as an album. And now he has entered the halls of legend.

Tom also took me to the cemetery where the Haymarket martyrs and Emma Goldman and Lucy Parsons are buried…but more on them when I have had a chance to upload photos.

Frida Kahlo on the streets of LA

She’s an amazing figure, and has become an icon of feminism and revolution… so a quick review? Born in 1907 as Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderon in Coyoacan on the outskirts of Mexico City, she was  3 when the Mexican Revolution  broke out. She suffered from polio, and then had her body almost entirely broken  in an collision between trolley and a bus. She wrote “Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?” Yet she lived her life in almost constant pain, of body and I think mind, you can see it in her paintings…

frida-kahlo

She married muralist Diego Rivera, and they had an incredibly stormy marriage of passion and mutual infidelity, with Frida a lover of both men and women. Of him she said “There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the trolley, and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.” Their politics were radical, and I think almost everyone knows that Trotsky stayed with them after he left Europe for Mexico. They are a couple found everywhere on LA’s streets

The above is off of Glendale just round the corner from my house, one of Diego Rivera’s most inconographic images alongside Frida’s… her face.

During her lifetime, Frida was too often known simply as Diego Rivera’s wife, but she has come into her own, and her face is found everywhere.

I found these three images of her in one day of biking the city to a distant meeting and back, the above is on Venice Blvd, and below on Pico (though the city has painted over almost all of the graf on Pico…sadness! Still, I’m glad they left this one)

My favourite I think. It is nice to look up and suddenly see her…there are many more of course. And the quote I’d like to leave off with, having known the feeling?

“They are so damn ‘intellectual’ and rotten that I can’t stand them anymore….I [would] rather sit on the floor in the market of Toluca and sell tortillas, than have anything to do with those ‘artistic’ bitches of Paris.” [on Andre Breton and the European surrealists]

A glorious week in and around LA

There are two parties on the block tonight, so I’m hunkering down with some wine and my headphones…it’s been an amazing week really, I should blog more maybe…

Tuesday I went down to San Diego, and headed over to Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore with China Mieville. I hadn’t seen him do a book reading…I think I’ve said everyone should read The City and The City before, it is spectacular. He was funny and humble, incredibly intelligent and articulate and everyone there loved him. And you could see how much he respected and liked them right back (that’s character for you) and everyone lined up so he could sign the 3 or more books they were buying and I was amazed (that doesn’t happen at our book signings I’m afraid…), and he chatted with all of them and enjoyed it and they left beaming. And I loved him for that. I have been to many book readings in my time, and this was among the best. But who else can combine my love of monsters and politics and sense of fun? Not many.

I also learned something that has been puzzling me for some time, and that is that while I have incredibly geeky tendencies, I am not in fact a geek. Though I sometimes aspire. And I realized that is because I am not OCD, and therefore not worthy. Or perhaps I’m just geeky in an extraordinarily broad sort of way that would elevate me to a true geek after about 200 years (If I planned to be cryogenically frozen, would that qualify me? But then I couldn’t keep reading). Because I am fascinated by everything, and therefore cannot concentrate or be overly obsessive about any one thing. I almost never read anything twice for example, from my Tuesday conversations it appears that this does not at all conform to the sense of what is normal. Of course, I have been keeping a list of books I want to read since I was 20. It has now reached epic proportions, and I never delete anything off this list but steadily mark things off as I read them. How on earth could I find time to read anything twice? Nor does the fact that I like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle mean that I have read everything the man has ever written…and so, I feel I must bow from my pretensions and remain unaffiliated to any tribe. Except in solidarity.

Anyway, that was a night of pure unadulterated magic, and I shall never more be tempted to say it doesn’t exist.

Wednesday, my friend woke me up from my nap and I headed out for drinks and dinner with three of my favourite girls in the world. We’re all ex-organizers, and life is so good when ex-warriors get together. Not that we talk about the glory days, what a waste of time that would be. Instead I got all of the juiciest gossip on the latest union drama, HERE and SEIU and UNITE and it was actually incredibly horrible and infuriating and I would like to give Andy Stern a bloody nose. At the least. It’s too juicy to repeat in a blog for damn sure, but apalling. Still, I feel I’ve been through worse and what can you do? And the drinks were good and strong. And then we talked about life and love and laughed and laughed some more and I went to bed happy to have such friends.

Thursday now…went to the Getty to see Alain de Botton talk about his new book. And I felt bad for both Alain and Beverley. It was a place and a crowd expressly designed to bring out the hater in me, and oh, but it did. To be in a place like that where everyone is white and wealthy in this city makes my skin crawl. I always wonder where that immense reservoir of rage comes from…I am not as a rule an angry person, being too caught up in enjoying the world. But it makes me physically uncomfortable, and it is only slightly better for me than others of my friends, if only because I look like I might belong there. And the talk was on the joys and sorrows of work, and I did appreciate the intellectual curiosity and questions. But I must confess that given I believe labour is the crux of the world’s problems, to talk about the curious aspects of how people end up being accountants is vaguely interesting. Yet infuriating if it does not do so within a context of structural inequality. Or mention the fact that only a tiny percentage of the world’s population has the luxury of choosing their occupation…or worrying about that choice and thinking about what they’d rather do instead. So I was steaming at the end.

And tonight? Bev and I went to see Food, Inc. And I cannot recommend it highly enough, it was fantastic. And I’m winding down…but it looks at how food is produced and how it comes to us. And it has the shots of cows with holes in their sides from eating only corn, the chickens who can’t walk, the screaming pigs headed to slaughter. And I am a vegetarian because of those things…and the hormones, the antibiotics, the disease (e-coli will break your heart in this movie). Not because I think killing animals is intrinsically wrong, but because how we do it is so unutterably horrible. And there are so few alternative sources of meat, and at a cost most of the population cannot afford. And, well, I do like animals. Let those who want to eat meat eat meat, but I don’t want to anymore. Though bacon remains a severe temptation.

Of course it also looks at corn. And a little at soy. Given corporate practice and cash crops and the evils of monoculture, being a vegetarian really isn’t that much better for the planet of course, I wish most vegetarians would click on that. But what I LOVED about this movie was that it actually looked at structure, corporate power and government, and labor…it actually talked about the exploitation of the workers, and how companies work hand in hand with ICE. It talked about how many of the immigrants working in meat packing plants were actually displaced corn farmers from mexico, put out of business by NAFTA.

And the farmers who spoke were incredibly courageous and smart. And they had all been sued and been forced to settle and that hit me hardest of all, next to the workers being chained up by Ice. It’s how my family lost our home after all, and I cried. I don’t know how this illusion that courts disperse anything resembling justice can hold up. Courts are about protecting private property of course, and whoever has the most money and can afford the experts, the lawyers, the interminable process before a case even gets to court…well, they always win. Oprah made a comment about how she’d never eat another hamburger after mad cow, and spent 6 years and $1 million in litigation, it took that much to defend herself. Regular folks can’t do that. Mo settled with Monsanto and lost his business, just getting sued lost him that, and the tears were pouring down my cheeks. They are winning and I am so angry and I feel like breaking things again. I guess I know where the rage comes from.

But it was brilliant, go see it…

And maybe in your movie theatre, if you’re lucky enough to live in a big city where it is playing, you’ll also be lucky enough to have a woman wearing a purple turban…