Tag Archives: politics

The politics have always been there. You just refuse to see them.




I was honestly going to stay out of the whole Hugo Thing, in part because almost everyone else I know in the community has articulated exactly my feelings about it better than I could because my articulation of my feelings is BLAARGHARARRAGGHHHH, and partly because I’m just fucking tired of this whole business, which is also why BLAARGHARARGHAAARGHHAAAH. But then there was this putrid thing in USA Today (donotlinkified courtesy of Natalie Luhrs) and it just kind of broke the entire camel for me.

I’m going to say this very, very clearly, in bold, because I feel like it can’t be emphasized enough:

Science fiction and fantasy is political and has always been political.

In fact, you know what?

Writing is political and has always been political.

In fact, wait.

Stories of all kinds everywhere at every point in human history are political and have always been political.

Storytelling is a political act. It’s making sense of the world and ourselves, and like every other kind of sense-making, it’s as political as it is personal and vice-versa. There is no distinction to be made between the political and the personal. Writing of any kind is political. It’s claimsmaking regarding reality and how to interpret it. Because whenever we’re faced with these things, we’re faced with fundamental truths regarding how creation makes and unmakes the world, regarding whose voices are amplified and whose are lost, between who gets to speak and who is literally silenced. Yes, the Hugos are just one award, and you can argue all you like about how much they actually mean in the long run. But this isn’t even about the Hugos. This is about everything, about every fucking time we have this conversation.

I don’t know where this whole “politics doesn’t belong in [insert genre and mode of creative output here]” came from but I have some ideas and regardless I want it to die in flames.

If you can read something “on its own merits” and judge it accordingly, entirely separate from its misogynist white supremacist author, bully for you, but please take a look at who you are and why you can say that. Because you’re in a position where, I would imagine, you haven’t been swimming in cultural toxic waste for your entire life, where you’re subject to millions of constant microaggressions that batter at your heart like tiny hammers until you’re sore and bleeding and have to build up scar tissue like armor, where the world of imagination that has provided a refuge for you in hard times and even moments of great liberation all too often feels like hostile territory full of enemies who at best don’t even see you as a human being, and who otherwise want to do you actual literal harm.

If you can judge something on its merits, if you can say that you want politics kept out of something, then you do not see and are refusing to imagine the experiences of people who are having the politics of this thing – the endless, violent, hateful politics – stomped into their faces forever.

So enjoy your fucking Hugo ballot, I guess.

I am lucky – and I need the ACA


Trigger warning: This post contains descriptions of chronic illness.

I remember the days before my sister Emma was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune disease that attacks the GI tract. We didn’t know what was wrong with her. It was terrifying. Perversely, discovering that she had a severely unpleasant chronic disease that increases the risk of all kinds of fun complications was a relief – we knew what the problem was. We could start to do something about it.

That’s the key here: We could do something about it. We could afford to. For us, it wasn’t a heart-rending and potentially bankrupting choice. We were lucky. She was lucky.

Normally this is a blog devoted mainly to writerly things, but right now we’re at a crucial point in how health care is dealt with in the United States – a point in time with immensely important implications for writers and creative types as well as all the other people who simply can’t afford the care that keeps them safe and alive.

This matters to all of us. Or at least it should. So here is why it matters, personally, to me. I’ll let her tell you.


When I was a junior in high school, I started getting sick.  It began as just sporadic abdominal pain, but once summer arrived things got worse.  I was losing weight, making numerous trips to the bathroom every day, and the pain went from sporadic to chronic.  My primary care doctor tested me for everything she could think of – giardiasis, parasites, other bacterial infections – but nothing came back positive.  I had to start cutting certain foods out of my diet in case it was an allergy or Celiac disease.  I stopped eating gluten, and then I stopped eating dairy, but it didn’t make a difference.  While the rest of my friends were attending theater camp or working summer jobs, I was in bed, curled around my laptop, downing a rotating cocktail of ibuprofen, Tylenol, and Pepto Bismol in a futile effort to get my body under control and curtail the worsening pain.

So I was referred to a pediatric gastroenterologist.  He was the best doctor I’ve ever had – he was thorough and no-nonsense, but he talked to me like an adult.  He knew that the only person who could give me accurate details about my condition was me, so he listened to what I told him and respected my input.  He ordered all the same tests again, just to be safe, and said we would go from there.

My senior year of high school started.  I had been so excited to go back to school and do all of the things I was normally involved in – soccer, chorus, theater, and art – but my body wasn’t strong enough to carry me through the day.  I was missing day after day of class.  I was benched even more than usual during soccer games because I couldn’t play for more than ten minutes without needing to rest.  The pain was nearly constant, with occasional bursts of agony that were so bad I had to stop whatever I was doing to focus on riding it out.  I walked through the hallways bent double, with one arm protectively guarding my midsection.  Between the chronic pain and the frequent trips to the bathroom, I couldn’t sleep through the night.

In retrospect, it was probably at about this point that my parents began worrying about cancer.  It wasn’t the likeliest option, but we had already ruled out bacterial infections, Celiac disease, food sensitivities, and parasites.  I had my first x-ray in the middle of October, and when it came back negative, I’m sure they were relieved, because as far as anyone could tell there were no tumors in my GI tract.  But to me it was another defeat.  It meant more tests, more time, and still no diagnosis.  I was so tired of being sick and so ready to find out what was wrong with me that I was distraught over a clear x-ray.

The next step, and arguably the biggest hurdle, was a combination endoscopy/colonoscopy.  I would be out of commission for three days; one to prepare for the procedure, one for the procedure itself, and then another to stay at home and recover.  The prep was terrible.  The purgatives were the worst thing I’d ever tasted, and by the end of the day I felt even weaker and more drained than usual.

The procedure itself was the easiest part, and the best thing of all was that when I woke up out of my drug-induced haze, we had a clear answer.  The camera showed clear signs of ulceration on the lower part of my GI tract.  We had to wait for the biopsies to come back, but my GI doc was almost certain that I had ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune disease that attacks the colon.  I could start medication immediately.  But even that wasn’t easy.  My first medication didn’t kick in right away, so even though I had a diagnosis and I was in treatment, I was still getting worse.  So I began taking prednisone, which worked wonders for my colon but wreaked havoc on the rest of my body.  I even experienced the mania and irritability that characterize roid rage.

After over a year of tests, medications, and anxious waiting, I finally began to return to what was more or less normal.  Two (giant) pills two times a day was all it took.

I am lucky in that respect – my medication doesn’t always work so well for other people who have ulcerative colitis, and other medications are more expensive and time-consuming.  Some cases are so resistant to treatment that the only recourse is colostomy, which involves removing a portion of the colon and re-routing your GI tract so that your waste is expelled through a stoma in your abdomen.

It’s a strange thing to say, after going through what I did.  I am lucky.  I am lucky.  I responded to treatment.  I have relatively few flare-ups.  I’m covered through my father’s HMO, which is comprehensive.  My copay for my medication is only five dollars.  All of my procedures were covered.  I lived outside of a major city that was home to one of the best pediatric hospitals in the region.  Both my primary care doctor and my GI doctor were spectacular.  My teachers were completely understanding when I had to miss class and went out of their way to make sure I got the help I needed to stay caught up.  My parents were both willing and able to take care of me throughout the entire process.  My mother was able to miss work to help me get ready for my colonoscopy/endoscopy, and she and my dad stayed in the hospital with me for the whole day.  I got sick while I was still a minor and in school, which meant that I still had a massive support system in place.  When I took a year off after college and my coverage lapsed, my grandfather stepped in to cover the costs of COBRA.  After that I got into a good college, and being a student allows me to remain covered under my father’s plan.

I am lucky.  I am lucky.

In less than a year, I’m going to graduate from college.  I’ll need to find a job, and it’s almost a necessity that I find one that provides with me with health coverage.  And not just because of my medication.  If my condition worsens, I might need a colostomy – and not only will I need to pay for the procedure, I’ll have to pay for the colostomy bags and other medical supplies that come from such a surgery.  But that’s not the worst part.  People with ulcerative colitis have a much greater chance of getting colon cancer, and doctors usually recommend that sufferers of UC begin getting yearly colonoscopies eight years after their diagnosis in order to screen for cancer.  Even if I don’t get cancer, the cost of my disease will be considerable.

Under the Affordable Care Act, I’m covered under my father’s HMO until I turn 26 (I just turned 23).  The ACA prevents health insurance companies from denying me coverage based on my disease.  In the (likely) event that I can’t find a job that gives me coverage, I have an option outside of employer-provided health insurance.  I need the ACA, badly.  And I am one of the lucky ones.  I benefit from all kinds of privilege that other people in the United States don’t experience.  As much as I need the ACA, there are countless other people who need it far more desperately.  In truth, they need something much more comprehensive, but the ACA is worlds better than the current state of healthcare in the US.  Only the most fortunate people in the country are foolish enough to believe that the status quo is acceptable.

When “Tea Party” Republicans throw a hissy fit and shut down the entire government because they don’t like the ACA, what they’re essentially doing is communicating that their maniacal passion for small government trumps my need to not slowly starve to death.  What they’re doing is putting one poorly-informed ideology above the countless sick and dying people in the country who, without the ACA, have no recourse but to fall into massive debt or wind up homeless without much-needed insulin or other treatment.

I am one of the lucky sick people.  I need single-payer health care, but if the best my government can do right now is the Affordable Care Act, I will take that in a heartbeat.  As for the countless sick people who are far less fortunate than I am, the ACA could save their lives.  For us, it’s not about an abstract political ideology – it’s about a terrifying reality that no one should have to face.

Emma is on Twitter – @diegosafety.  She also has a music blog that will be opening its doors very shortly.

Image courtesy of Images Money

So what the hell is with all the drones, anyway?

art by Christopher F. Smith for Murmuration

One of the cool things about how I do fiction is that the boundary between my SFF life-segment and my academic life-segment is extremely permeable, and things often move back and forth across it. I write about technology in my fiction (sometimes) and I write about technology in my academic work (most of the time), and often I write about fiction in my academic work as well. But I feel like that’s been happening even more lately, and in more dramatic ways. I think these ways are worth taking a closer look at. I also think those movements across the boundary have a tremendous amount to do with drones.

Those who follow my Cyborgology writing already know that I was writing a lot about drones before the current issue of Clarkesworld came out, which features – as I’ve been yelling about all day – “I Tell Thee All, I Can No More”, a story about humans having sex with drones. But those who don’t may be wondering what the hell I’m doing in the story in that issue (true confession: I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing in the story in that issue) and even those who are aware of some of the writing I’ve been doing on drones may be wondering why I seem so fixated lately on that particular topic, so I think it might be worth addressing that directly at this point.

Why the hell am I writing all this stuff about drones? There are several reasons, all of them involving both my writer and theorist hats (they’re floppy).

Drones are fictional. Most of my own conceptual approach toward drones has its origin in a fantastic piece written by Adam Rothstein (one of the minds behind Murmuration) for The State. In his essay Rothstein makes the provocative argument that when we talk/write/think about “drones” what we’re really talking/writing/thinking about is “a cultural node–a collection of thoughts, feelings, isolated facts, and nebulous paranoias”. In other words, drones are fictional, a construction created by us to try to capture hundreds of different things that we attach to some roughly agreed-upon idea of droneness. Rothstein continues:

A drone is a literary character–it is an archetype of uncanny and deadly technology, spread out around us in the geopolitical world in such a way that they are nearly invisible to our non-fictional sense of fact, and yet around us all the time in fiction, invisibly hiding in the clouds, with as much reality as a paranoid delusion. And yet a drone is a literary character with the actual power to kill. They are related to the world of fact as surely as a bullet fired out of the pages of a novel, hitting the reader in the face. The substance that we use to create the fictional character of drones is drawn from a world where these are not speculations, but every day fact.

So when I write about drones, I’m not writing about the MQ-1 Predator or the RQ-4 Global Hawk or the Wasp III. I’m writing about that archetype, that nebulous concept that can accommodate any number of assumptions and ideas about what a drone is. That’s why, in my Clarkesworld story, I write:

Hovering over your bed, all sleek chrome and black angles that defer the gaze of radar. It’s a cultural amalgamation of one hundred years of surveillance. There’s safety in its vagueness. It resists definition. This is a huge part of its power. This is a huge part of its appeal.

I think one of the reasons why we find drones so powerful as a concept is that vagueness, that potential for massive accommodation. It’s also one of the things that makes a drone powerful as a literary device. It’s something that can be written about, but not directly; one writes through it in order to write about other things. So when I – or others – write about drones, don’t let the drones distract you too much.

Drones are loci of power. When we consider a drone, usually what we think of is warfare, surveillance, or some combination of both. Warfare and surveillance are both ways in which power is exercised, and historically that power has been characterized as state power, though with the rise of corporations and NGOs that’s no longer reliably the case. But drones kill, and drones watch, and there’s power in that, and I can think of very few things to write about more interesting than power (or the absence of it).

I think most of us are writing about power most of the time. Regardless of what we’re actually trying to discuss or what stories we’re trying to tell.

So there’s a particular kind of power in drones. But increasingly that power is difficult to locate with any certainty. Who has the power in the human-drone-human arrangement? The operator (I have some issues with the term pilot)? The target? The drone itself? Where is the power coming from, regardless of who’s actually in possession of it? A state? A small institutional pocket within a state? A corporation? This is one of the reasons why drones used by protestors (as recently in Turkey and less recently within the context of Occupy) are so fascinating to me: they completely fuck with that dynamic, turning surveillance back on itself. They call into question normative arrangements of power and control.

Power is worth writing about, in any form.

Drones fuck with agency. One of the most interesting and most frustrating things about how we talk about drones is the presence – and more often the absence – of human agency. We often talk about drones as if there were no human operator at all; they simply fade into the background. The removal of human agency and its corollary human responsibility – which Nathan Jurgenson issues a great argument against here –  is a fundamental part of our existing drone fiction.

Speaking for myself, this has actually gotten me into trouble with some readers, and I get the sense I Tell Thee All” might confuse some people for the same reason: Why aren’t I writing about the human operator? Why are all my drones in full possession of their own drone agency?

Because I’m trying to call attention to the fact that that’s what we do, a lot of the time. That’s how we talk about drones. You absolutely should be going “Wait, whoa, where’s the operator in this story?” That’s the point.

Again, it comes back to power: Who can act and how? What consequences do those actions have – or not have? What actions don’t we see, or do we interpret in strange ways? What can people get away with? For which actions are we prepared to look the other way?

Locating the human in the machine and vice-versa is also a puzzle that we’re constantly trying to figure out. A huge amount of the history of SFnal writing has been focused on that problem. I and a number of my colleagues have taken up the argument that there ‘s much less of a meaningful difference between the two than we like to think, but it’s still something that – socioculturally – we still seem to all be grappling with. Drones are profoundly mechanical and profoundly human both at once, but the human gets discursively lost  – often the targets as well as the operators. In the end there’s only the drone.

We are human machines and mechanical humans. This is always – always – worth writing about.

That’s all some of why I’m doing what I’m doing. That’s all some of why it matters. I and many others think this is a conversation that needs to be had. And I think it’s going really well so far.

(And you should check out Murmuration if you haven’t.)

Sunday linkdump: Drive it like you stole it


Things Occurred.

  • Antidote to all the dismaying SFWA sexist bullshit: “Doctor Blood and the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron”, by A.C. Wise.

    For this mission, they’ve chosen strictly retro-future, which means skin-tight silver, boots that come nearer to the knee than their skirts, bubble-barreled ray-guns, frosted white lipstick and, of course, big hair. CeCe the Velvet Underground Drag King called in sick with the flu, so it’s lamé all the way.

  • One of the best pieces of short fiction I’ve read this year is a flash story presented as a Twitter bug report. Read it. Trust me.
  • Stand with Turkey.

    People who are marching to the center of Istanbul are demanding their right to live freely and receive justice, protection and respect from the State. They demand to be involved in the decision-making processes about the city they live in.

    What they have received instead is excessive force and enormous amounts of tear gas shot straight into their faces. Three people lost their eyes.

  • When you’re dealing with highly abstract concepts like states and corporations, what does it mean to grapple with the material?

    We have the ability to fight them in the streets to a degree. We can still burn the buildings down, block the lanes of traffic, and cut the cables. But to do this, we must be able to see these material capillary beds. We cannot fight corporate cops that don’t exist, or boycott nation-state products that don’t need our business. There is a material reality to both states and corporations, but we can easily miss it, distracted by the allusions we have created in our minds for rhetorical simplicity.

  • I did kind of a bit of commentary for Cyborgology on the Kindle Worlds thing.

    The practical implications of this are that traditional tie-in writers might no longer be needed at all. Instead of having to pay authors advances and higher royalty rates, Kindle Worlds presents a dystopian future where media tie-ins are entirely produced by poorly compensated fandom content-serfs, where traditional writers of original fiction are simply no longer needed.

  • “Melancholic Damage.” Rhianna’s new album and racist-sexist discourses of acceptable recovery. Long but so worth it.

    In a multiracial white supremacist partriarchy like ours, resilience distributes racial privilege: “good” black women who “overcome” are granted some of the privileges of whiteness, while women who fail to overcome are racially darkened. To maintain white privilege, one has to keep optimizing one’s human capital. Those who can’t keep up will fall behind, ever closer to precarity, which is racially nonwhite. Whiteness is thus increasingly indexed to resilience, and non-whiteness to precarity. This is actually a vicious cycle — privilege makes it easier to “bounce back” from crisis.

  • Murmuration has begun and this poem is stunning.

    Edward said their thereness is just
    a shadow on the sky. Before depredating colonies
    of pests, the selfish herd moves
    with all the precision of an equation, unraveled
    by game controllers north of Tampa. Of starlings,
    bats, and drones, only drones are native to Florida.

Do like they do.