12 November 2011

Nervous anticipation

Lois McMaster Bujold recently posted that she's finished the near-final draft of her next book, which focuses on Ivan. Since Ivan is my favorite character in the Vorkosiverse (though Cordelia rocks, and Elena Bothari is awesome, and Laisa's pretty darn cool, too, and... yeah, it's hard to pick just one), you'd think I'd be jumping for joy at a book finally focusing on him.

I'm awaiting the release with trepidation. As much as I love Bujold's books (especially Memory), the constant backbeat of "happiness = man + woman + babies" is really frustrating to me. It's so darn heterocentric.

Not all relationships are man + woman. Not all man + woman relationships result in babies. (I have none, and no plans to do so!) Not every person who is single is desirous of and pining for a marriage/other long-term relationship.

Yeah, the Vor have the excuse of needing to carry on the family line because they're basically inherited nobility, but there's precedent in the text (and, you know, actual Earth history...) for nephews or cousins, etc, to inherit.

I'm sure I'll read it, and I'll enjoy it, but I'll be saddened by Ivan, who has spent the last 14 books avoiding marriage but having plenty of girlfriends and otherwise enjoying the bachelor lifestyle, succumbing to marriage fever. The explanation that he's "grown up" or "matured" and finally realized he needs to settle down and get married isn't all that great. It assumes that the only way to be a real grown-up is to get married (and, of course, have babies), which bothers me on a visceral level.

People say that you should write the book you want to read. That's why my characters reflect my experience. There are happily married people with children, happily married people without children, happily unmarried (single or partnered) people with or without children, unhappily married people (with or without children), and unhappily single people. That's a fairly reflective cross-section of people I know in real life (though I don't think I know any people who are currently unhappily married; I know some who were, but divorced and are in happier relationships now).

Fiction reflects (or should reflect) reality. Reality is pretty diverse and awesome.

06 November 2011

So you like male writers. So what?

A writing pal of mine recently wrote that he figured he ought to read more books/short fiction by men, because he realized his shelves were mostly full of books by women. Cool, whatever.

My shelves are mostly full of books by women. They're mostly full of books by two authors: Lois McMaster Bujold's entire bibliography (including The Spirit Ring) and a sizable fraction of CJ Cherryh's bibliography. My shelves are a good 4' wide, and her books take up two of them. The only other author whose books come close to the same amount of space? Terry Pratchett. Lynn Flewelling comes in fourth place, with seven books.

That doesn't count the random selection of Literatyoor from high school or college and assorted non-fiction, nor the extensive manga collection (mostly by women, except the large Naoki Urasawa section).

Apparently, it's brave for people to say they like male authors, or that they plan to read more male authors. I disagree with another writing pal that the drive to promote women in fiction has evolved into open season on men, as if a predominately male field of writers in the past means that men writing now must all be assholes.

I didn't talk up male writer TC McCarthy's debut novel Germline, because I hate male writers and think no one should talk about them. Oh wait, I blogged about it and wrote a really positive review of it for a magazine, and I've talked it up to everybody I know who enjoys military SF.

I didn't review books by Mark Van Name, David Drake, Eric Flint, Tom Standage, or Patrick O'Brian in the last three months, either. The feminist anti-male-writer conspiracy has me silenced!

But, apparently,
This is what we’ve done, readers. We’ve allowed ourselves – as a community of writers and readers – to think that talking about women (in a positive way, of course) is right and good, but liking men leads to shady behavior.

As they say on wikipedia, [citation needed].

It is good to expand one's reading horizons. It is good to find books written by people who come from different backgrounds than you, because they often have different perspectives than you do. If you are reading books by only one type of person, you are limiting yourself. If you say that only men can write SF, and women don't belong in the SF clubhouse, you may be sexist.

No one is saying that reading books by male writers makes you a bad person prone to "shady behavior." What people are saying, and this comes up more often than it should, frankly, is that readers should expand their horizons.

Isn't expanding horizons and exploring different perspectives what science fiction's supposed to be about? Why's there such a push-back, then?

03 November 2011

Book review: A History of the World in Six Glasses

A History of the World in Six Glasses, Tom Standage, 2005.

I often enjoy reading pop histories, especially if they have a sort of gimmick to them. In this book, Standage looks at how beverages shaped world history.

He starts out with beer, which was invented/discovered by the Mesopotamians around the same time humanity was working out agriculture. The Hymn to Ninkasi was a recipe for beer, and a brewery in California made some based on it. I'd be interested to try it! (The Mesopotamians made a bread of sorts with the malted barley and used that as their beer starter. No hops, at that point.)

Then the Greeks started making wine, which the Mesopotamians called "beer of the mountains," and that became fuel for Greek philosophy. The Romans and early Christians adopted the drink, and wine became important for ritual.

The Age of Sail and colonization brought sugar plantations, which brought molasses, which brought rum. Rum bought slaves in Africa, slaves produced sugar, and the byproduct of sugar refinement--molasses--was turned into rum. The colonists in the inland US, where buying molasses was too expensive, turned to corn and rye to make whiskey (bourbon and rye, respectively).

Coffee was very popular in the Muslim world, where alcohol was forbidden, but with the advent of rationalism in the 17th century, people wanted a drink that increased their mental acuity rather than make them drunk. Coffeehouses became clearinghouses for news (the internet of its time), and people held discussions in them. The London Stock Exchange grew out of a coffeehouse!

The Chinese kingdoms and empires of the tenth century had spread tea throughout Asia, but the British Empire popularized it through the world. Tea became the drink for the masses in England.

The sixth glass is Coca-Cola, which, for better or for worse, parallels the rise of American power. (Standage entitles one chapter "Globalization in a bottle.") Unsurprisingly, Coke became popular in the US during Prohibition. It went to Europe and North Africa with the troops in World War II, and after that, there was no stopping it.

As an epilogue, Standage asks what the next beverage to shape human history will be. Water, he says. He's probably right; much conflict today is about water use and water rights, and that's not going to go away.

I enjoyed the book, and if you like pop histories, you may, too. It's not extremely in depth (at just over 300 pages, including endnotes, index, and references), but there are always the sources he drew from.