Bottleneck

 

Been quiet here lately, yes.

Not that there hasn’t been stuff going on: I’ve been dying to weigh in along a hundred axes from the time they revived those disembodied pig brains right up to this very morning, when Isabel Fall’s brilliant story was pulled (at her own request) from Clarkesworld thanks to the frenzied grandstanding of rageaholics who decried it as transphobic. (Turns out Fall is trans herself, but why let that get in the way of a good virtue signal?) The deaths of influential figures, only one of which I can celebrate. There’s even some mildly celebratory news on another front, but for now at least I’m not allowed to talk about it.

I didn’t weigh in on any of that stuff because I promised myself I’d update the galleries first. You remember those: that whole other wing of rifters.com, housing book covers and fan art and various other visual tie-ins to whatever it is I do here. I’ve fallen into the habit of updating the galleries around the end of each year, as a kind of atheistic Christmas gift to you all; I shy away from doing it more often because while fan art is very cool, too many such posts run the risk of tipping the ‘crawl a little too far into self-aggrandisement. So I let the artwork pile up over the year.

This year there were over sixty new items to curate. Sixty-plus new book covers and fan paintings and videos and tattoos and AR models and even music for chrissakes. It was enough to necessitate a restructuring of the Blindopraxia wing— the category once known simply as “Fan Art” has now been split into subsections by artist and medium and (in one instance) subject (“Vampires”). It also necessitated rescaling originals for upload, and building dozens of thumbnails, and tracking down artists and sources so I could provide proper accreditation.

I thought it might take a day or two. It took—significantly longer. I started before Christmas.

Now, finally, the damn things are up and ready for viewing. What you see here is but a sample. The Blindopraxia wing weighs in with the greatest number of new acquisitions by far (52), but you’ll find another seven over in the Rifters gallery; three in Sunflowers; and four in Assorted Shorts.

So check ’em out, if you’re so inclined. They range from brilliant to frankly bizarre. And to any of you who might have been waiting for me to post something with more heft to it, apologies for the bottleneck. We’re about to return to our regular programming.

Next up: an exploration of the exchange rate between extinction and genocide.

 

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Wednesday January 15 2020at 09:01 am , filed under art on ink . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

21 Responses to “Bottleneck”

  1. Fall’s story is still viewable in the Wayback Machine, thankfully, so it hasn’t been totally memory-holed. It is kind of darkly comedic how often outrage culture ends up targeting the same people it ostensibly meant to protect. Live by the sword, get cancelled by the sword, I guess.

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  2. These people are not rageaholics. The Trans community are currently being used by the far right as a rasict cudgel (among others) to destroy my country at the moment. They are very concerned about how they are portrayed and being used. Many Trans people are divided over the story and are both grateful and saddened that the author had to remove the story. “Virtue Signaling” “SJW” are the weapons of the right and I am dismayed to see this discredited GamerGate tactic being used here this way.

    I myself actually enjoyed the story very much but I also listened to my Trans contacts and how they interpreted the story. Many were non-plussed by the story (Author really, really liked helicopters as opposed to character development) to focusing on the title which, when you think about it, sounded like the start of a common and crude joke about gender identity. Some enjoyed it. A story well told. Some hated it.

    Like any group, they are not monolithic but as diverse as the rest of us.

    My apologies for the dump but this just seems atypical on this blog. Or, I just haven’t been paying attention when I should have been.

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  3. Oh, they’re rageaholics all right—but I’m not talking about people who simply hated the story. I’m talking about people who decided, on the basis of that story, that Isabel Fall was a right-wing troll and a transphobe. People who somehow concluded that she was a Neonazi based on a 1988 birthdate (no, I don’t understand that either—but my source is on the front lines of this particular shitstorm so I’m trusting the claim). I’m talking about people who explicitly targeted Isabel Fall for harassment. Basically, I’m talking about the Requires Hates of the world crawling back out from under their rocks (one of the more vitriolic attacks, in fact, hailed from someone who has RH listed in their Twitter byline, although of course they use the more publicly-acceptable Benjanun handle).

    It’s probably true that I don’t have nearly the insight into the trans community as you and your contacts. That argument loses a bit of steam, though, in light of the fact that I—who never even considered the possibility that Fall was a Neonazi or a transphobe, and who simply stood in awe of a terrific story doing exactly what science fiction is supposed to do—appear to have been right, while so many self-proclaimed experts trumpeting their trans-positive credentials turned out to be so vehemently and destructively wrong. As I understand it, insight and expertise are supposed to increase the validity of one’s opinions.

    One last thing: “virtue signalling” was not invented by the right. The right only weaponised a universal trait of Human Nature. There’s a reason why panhandlers and flower-sellers specifically target people who are accompanied by partners. There’s a reason why, if you give some charitable volunteer a choice between being altruistic in the presence of witnesses (say, working in a soup kitchen) or in isolation (say, cleaning litter out of a secluded ravine), they’re far more likely to opt for the more public display. As a species, we are wired to crave social status. The way to get that is to reinforce community standards in front of as many witnesses as possible.

    Virtue signalling. It’s a thing. It’s a real, widespread, ethological thing. I’m not entirely sure why it’s perceived as a predominantly left wing phenomenon, when it occurs along the entire axis. I guess we just got outplayed by the opposing team.

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  4. That Isabel Fall’s story was pulled is sad but unsurprising.

    What was surprising — extremely surprising — was that the shrill harridans of “Woke SF” hardly waited 24 hours before they started dancing on the grave of Mike Resnick. (May he rest in peace!)
    I don’t think that I could possibly be more disgusted; I can’t recall ever seeing anything in more appallingly poor taste. Everything they accused him of… not only is he wholly vindicated, but his accusers are guilty of far, far worse.

    It wouldn’t surprise me to see the pendulum swing back hard the other way. The “Dangerous Visions” of the near future might be explicitly right-wing and anti-woke SF.

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  5. It’s good that you stood up for Fall’s story, Peter, and you’re absolutely correct that it did what real science fiction is supposed to — and what most of what’s marketed as SF these days hardly ever does.

    But I think there’s a bigger cultural problem here than mere ‘virtue signaling’ or ‘rageaholics.’ I read an interesting essay last year by a mainstream lit writer called James McElroy called ‘Literature as Flattery’ that’s stayed with me —

    https://americanaffairsjournal.org/2019/05/literature-as-flattery/

    McElroy begins with some technical observations about ‘free indirect style’ — both 1st or 3rd person — and develops his argument from there. I’m not entirely sold, but some of his central points are absolutely plausible. A sample of his argument —

    ‘Zadie Smith’s “Now More Than Ever” is a polemic disguised as a short story about modern Twitter virtue signaling, and how the #MeToo moment feels increasingly like The Crucible. The story pokes fun at those who interpret the sins of the past through the specific lens of the present, and mocks those who need to constantly affirm that they have enlightened views. As a polemic, it correctly excoriates all that is wrong in today’s culture. As a short story, it is embarrassingly didactic….

    ‘The New Republic, however, criticized the story for not being didactic enough. The primary criticism was that Zadie Smith’s personal views are not explicit enough to judge the work. “There’s not so much a lack of nuance here as a big privacy curtain erected around the way that Zadie Smith actually feels.”
    ‘…Hence the New Republic doesn’t know how to read the story: “In the end the reader is left in a forest of signs pointing in conflicting directions. Which way is the right way? . . . Is this the conclusion—that we walk through a big dark wood of moral ambiguity? It’s not wrong, but I’m lost.”

    ‘…A literary critic criticized a piece of literature for making her think. This is the state of literary discourse in America. Today, readers are so used to fiction that flatters their assumptions that they don’t know how to read any other way … This mirrors how the university teaches students to read while cataloguing all the moral failures of the past … So we are left with critics who are paid professionally to read and write, but who have difficulty reading outside the prism of their worldview.’

    There’s more, and it’s worth a read. The point is, Peter, you and I read Isabel Fall’s story as a brilliant piece of SF ideation about what might be possible as we increasingly learn to manipulate our own neurobiology — and how the State and the MIC might exploit that.

    Conversely, the critics of Fall’s story find it artistically bad and ‘problematic’ precisely because it doesn’t go down a checklist of approved, non-ambiguous trans-positivist and LGBTQ points as they’ve been taught ‘art’ is supposed to. And they believe — with absolutely certainty — that it’s you and I who are the ‘bad readers’ because we think any other interpretation, based on the SFnal ideation, could be relevant. And I know that because I followed up and read some of these people’s critical complaints i.e. ‘the story is well-written, but it’s much too ambitious’ (!) and ‘it’s not really about LGBTQ/trans issues, so why is everybody talking about it’ and ‘it’s too ambiguous.’

    In reality, of course, these people are neoliberal wannabe-fascist dullards who should stick to — and, in fact, are happiest when — analyzing which upcoming Marvel film will feature this or that LGTBQ superhero/heroine. But they’re also the proud recipients of university educations in the neoliberal era, when students are first of all consumers paying large sums for their educations and therefore entitled to be taught what they want to be taught.

    It’s somewhat depressing for an artist or a science-fiction writer, I agree. God knows what would happen if Ballard tried to publish CRASH today.

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  6. The whole thing about the birthdate is a reference to this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourteen_Words

    I would guess that people saw that and some other details and misconstrued them as dogwhistles and didn’t check further, the extremely online right does like to do shit like that and evidently this caused certain pro-trans factions to go on the (counter)attack.

    “I sexually identify as an attack helicopter.”

    This is literally the Internets number one anti-trans ‘joke’. The legendary ‘one right wing joke’, as it’s known amongst leftists.

    It’s a pity that this story got shitcanned, while not in the best of taste, the concept looks like one hell of a powermove, dissecting the derision and repurposing it for a better purpose.
    _________________________________________

    On the subject of virtue signalling a person smarter than me pointed out that there is Critical Theory the academic discipline and Critical Theory the evil Jewish plot, with the fact that the former exists used to support the existence of the latter.

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  7. Malenfant: It wouldn’t surprise me to see the pendulum swing back hard the other way. The “Dangerous Visions” of the near future might be explicitly right-wing and anti-woke SF.

    Nah. “Anti-woke” types among today’s speculative fiction writers aren’t capable of producing anything of the caliber of ‘Dangerous Visions’. Barring a few exceptions, most of them are reduced to self-publishing, seething with envy and feeble social media attacks on successful “woke” authors. Not to mention, the audience for such a collection would be rather limited.

    Marshb: Many Trans people are divided over the story and are both grateful and saddened that the author had to remove the story.

    Jim: It is kind of darkly comedic how often outrage culture ends up targeting the same people it ostensibly meant to protect.

    It is my impression too that the Trans community is divided, not just over this story, but what constitutes transphobia, Trans right in general, etc. Generally, the issue seems to have split online progressives, with several prominent figures recently getting mauled in the process. Needless to say, all accompanied by loud cheers from the Nazi-lite (and not-so-lite) dregs of teh Interwebz.

    I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing. It’s to be expected, to some extent. People who try to think things through rationally and empathize with others will often arrive at different conclusions. Hate, on the other hand, is fairly monolithic. Weak losers from very different walks of life will easily agree to hate or blame [insert minority group]. This IMO contributes to the considerable online profile of alt-righters, far out of proportion to their actual numbers.

    “Outrage culture” sometimes has the unfortunate drawback of attracting attention to obscure garbage-peddlers who really don’t deserve any (see: Jordan Peterson), but it has had considerable positive effect in deplatforming vile scum and promoting movements like #MeToo. There is, however, some danger in alt-righters exploiting outrage culture to drive a wedge between their opponents.

    My guess is that virulent harassment from the anti-TERF camp will abate over time and that tensions will settle, but who knows?

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  8. “God knows what would happen if Ballard tried to publish CRASH today.”
    … or Burroughs Naked Lunch. That was a fucking revelation in my early 20s. I hadn’t known you could do that on paper.

    Fall’s story is available here https://web.archive.org/web/20200111194207/http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/fall_01_20/
    I haven’t read it yet, but to paraphrase Ballard, anything that fucks with the establishment is good with me. Judging by the reaction, this qualifies…

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  9. @ Peter-

    By the way, whatever happened to INTELLIGENT DESIGN, in the iteration where it featured sapient stock markets and genetically-engineered giant squid?

    I hope my asking this doesn’t seem rude, intrusive, or frustrating. I was just reading an old interview with you and it sounds kind of an interesting idea.

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  10. I was not a fan of the story in question, for reasons almost entirely removed from any political content, but it’s horrible that the author was subject to abuse online because of its publication. There’s been a movement recently to portray virtue signalling as somehow a Right-only problem. As if tribalism, while MORE of a problem on the Right, doesn’t exist everywhere. As if Left-on-Left violence hasn’t been an issue for decades.

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  11. I bought the new Russian edition of “Firefall” (“Огнепад”) when it caught my eye on a bookstore shelf, as I was attracted by the covers shamelessly borrowed from Danil’s work. I also very much waiting for the movie project to become complete, whatever will come out in the end. Too bad it is all hinged on enthusiasm as it is impossible to imagine such adaptation as commercially viable full-length film.

    Phil: Fall’s story is available here

    Very much thank you for providing the alternative source. I’ve read it, I liked it – not all of it, though, and I would make some jabs at it in different circumstances. That is to say, the style is very reminiscent to something I already saw before. I have zero idea why the certain community would be so mad about this, probably because they are not taught how to behave in ambiguous situations? If the “virtue” part of “virtue signalling” boils down to identifying and destroying external or even internal threats to community (i.e. other people) this is a very sad sign indeed, “left” or “right” ideology notwithstanding. Something has been broken in the American society as of recently, and people are too quick to put the blame on their opponents rather than search for reason and logic.

    But without political talk, I recommend to watch a video I found recently, rather entertaining, it’s called “Hellfire redux” by Zetarius, which can be found of YT. Or, so to say, “Project reality: Operation Desert Hawk” by Mora. Naturally, they are all about helicopters. Although I no longer play simulation games that often, much less military sims, I can very much relate to the feeling of flight and action (aka flow state), as well as teamwork and learning. But I can’t relate the same to the “gender” context of the story, it seems about as virtual to me as everything else piled on top. My own take is rather different, and it is driven by [some personal things], and brings up a hyper-attention to details, that puts your mind to a state that is only relates itself towards the tactical situation and instantaneous reflexes and none of the usual feelings of the attraction or repulsion. No pleasure and no suffering inside, as if you are becoming the artificial intelligence, self-awareness is disappearing/moving to a different level. I guess it’s a simulation of most basic survival instinct.

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  12. You always get the best fanart.

    By the way, noscript detected some “potential xss cross site attacks” from the gallery, it was trying to talk to twitter and facebook, I’m assuming something left in the gallery by default , social media button type stuff you might want to scrub out.

    The story was good. It seems people just read the title, which is a common jab against trans folk, yeah, and saw red. It’s all very tiresome, and I’m glad I personally can just close a tab and be rid of it. I’d hate to be someone who has to deal with this sort of shit.

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  13. Peter: I think you may want to reassess your opinion of self-publishing, as the market has changed quite considerably since 2008, and a lot of tradpub authors are getting their copyrights reverted to self-publish.

    On the matter of “virtue signalling” my experience is that it’s mostly a left wing phenomenon, but as you say, both sides of the political spectrum use it.

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  14. I thoroughly enjoyed the story when I pulled it out of the wayback machine. It’s really dangerously good actually. It communicates a lot of ideas with clarity and convincingly. It has certainly opened my ideas to some new ideas and I hope has given me a new window into the lives of my trans-friends who I sometimes struggle to understand.

    listedproxyname:
    Very much thank you for providing the alternative source. I’ve read it, I liked it – not all of it, though, and I would make some jabs at it in different circumstances. That is to say, the style is very reminiscent to something I already saw before. I have zero idea why the certain community would be so mad about this, probably because they are not taught how to behave in ambiguous situations? If the “virtue” part of “virtue signalling” boils down to identifying and destroying external or even internal threats to community (i.e. other people) this is a very sad sign indeed, “left” or “right” ideology notwithstanding. Something has been broken in the American society as of recently, and people are too quick to put the blame on their opponents rather than search for reason and logic.

    My current explorations into revolutionary history suggest to me that many groups on the fringes of politics often attack each other when unity would appear to be more effective. It is interesting how this can sometimes be advantageous and sometimes be disasterous for the interests of those fringe groups. I think of the socialists and communists fighting in Germany weakening both sides so they could not face the growing threat of the Nazis. On the other hand the Bolsheviks had a great deal of success betraying everyone, but I am less confident with that since I haven’t explored the Russian revolutions in depth.

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  15. Finally read the Fall story. Struck me as an interestingly framed exploration of gender norms in a post-gendered world. Well-written and thought-provoking. It didn’t strike me as anything to get upset about, but then I’m not part of a marginalized community.

    That the community in question (however defined) is divided, suggests to me that some people read more thoughtfully than others. Another possibility is that some of those decrying the story, regardless of reading ability, are actually nefarious actors attempting to polarize public opinion.

    On the subject of the actual post, that artwork is fantastic, and I like that each piece comes with an authorial annotation.

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  16. Mark Pontin: I read an interesting essay last year by a mainstream lit writer called James McElroy called ‘Literature as Flattery’ that’s stayed with me —

    https://americanaffairsjournal.org/2019/05/literature-as-flattery/

    Thanks for this link: an interesting piece. I hardly ever read this kind of criticism. I should probably correct that…

    Wattsfan#2948: “I sexually identify as an attack helicopter.”

    This is literally the Internets number one anti-trans ‘joke’. The legendary ‘one right wing joke’, as it’s known amongst leftists.

    Apparently Fall used that title specifically because it was the Internet’s #1 anti-trans joke: she was hoping that—assuming the story took off— the title would displace the transphobic meme from its #1 spot on search engine results, directing people instead to a more substantive and trans-literate work. Thanks to the wokescolds, that’s unlikely to happen now.

    Mark Pontin: By the way, whatever happened to INTELLIGENT DESIGN, in the iteration where it featured sapient stock markets and genetically-engineered giant squid?

    Nothing much, sadly. I still want to write it (I have a ton of notes and a chapter-and-a-half of actual prose), but other, more lucrative gigs keeps getting in the way. Also I planned on setting it ten years in the future and I’ve been meaning to write it for ten years, so a fair bit of upgrading is gonna be necessary before I proceed. Also my agent quit on me last month, and and I’m starting to wonder about the role of agents in the current publishing climate anyway, beyond the unassailable fact that most publishers don’t accept unagented manuscripts. So at this point I’m not quite certain of the road forward even if I do write the damn thing.

    It’s still in the hopper, though. The perennial next-project.

    listedproxyname: I bought the new Russian edition of “Firefall” (“Огнепад”) when it caught my eye on a bookstore shelf, as I was attracted by the covers shamelessly borrowed from Danil’s work.

    Not entirely without shame. I’m pretty sure Danil got paid, and is properly credited for the work.

    Too bad it is all hinged on enthusiasm as it is impossible to imagine such adaptation as commercially viable full-length film.

    I’m a bit less certain of that than I used to be, actually…

    Nestor: You always get the best fanart.

    I really do. I love these people.

    By the way, noscript detected some “potential xss cross site attacks” from the gallery, it was trying to talk to twitter and facebook, I’m assuming something left in the gallery by default , social media button type stuff you might want to scrub out.

    Fuck. I had no idea. I’ll go back and check the code— but I certainly didn’t put anything like that in. I used to use Google Analytics but I’ve been going through my pages as they come up for editing, scrubbing that pernicious shit out. Maybe I missed something.

    Thanks for the heads-up.

    Ashley R Pollard: Peter: I think you may want to reassess your opinion of self-publishing, as the market has changed quite considerably since 2008, and a lot of tradpub authors are getting their copyrights reverted to self-publish.

    My opinion of self-publishing was never especially negative— in fact I’ve been mulling it over as an option ever since Blindsight— but so far I haven’t been sufficiently dissatisfied by my current situation to make any real moves. Still, things are changing all over the map. Maybe it is time to reconsider.

    Phil: Another possibility is that some of those decrying the story, regardless of reading ability, are actually nefarious actors attempting to polarize public opinion.

    I suspect you’re right on that score. It also seems apparent that the majority of said nefarious actors hail from the left end of the wading pool.

    On the subject of the actual post, that artwork is fantastic, and I like that each piece comes with an authorial annotation.

    Hey, someone puts that much work into something, making a comment is the least I can do.

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  17. I thought Fall’s story was powerful and really well-written, and I hope we get to see more fiction from her. I can’t imagine now traumatizing an experience this must have been.

    Echoing Nestor, you really do get the bext fanart.

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  18. While reading what I took to be a fine first piece by a new author there was a distinct risk that I could have followed along her its zeys Fall’s delicately nuanced considerations of gender and well, agreed with them, or had my mind opened or something.

    Fortunately, friendly fire from Fall’s own side has taken Fall out of the picture and no other impressionable persons need worry about having their thoughts about gender being brought out for review & consideration. Crisis averted!

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  19. PhilRM,

    That might actually have been its undoing. An author with no social backing stepped into a niche occupied by some dedicated specialists with not only a well-written story, but a story that didn’t fit into their themes and style. An obvious competitor for which the only logical reaction is attack and removal, whatever the rationalization behind it. Quite a few writers in the specific subgroup walked away with a feeling of “mission accomplished”.

    Parties with “skin in the game” using moralistics to attack others is not new in any group. I also hope the author writes more, it was a genuinely beautiful and challenging read, but I don’t blame them if they walk away from this with a deep dread of crossing “taken territory”. They might have just have gotten off lightly, before they had a public persona to act as a target.

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  20. Ashley R Pollard: On the matter of “virtue signalling” my experience is that it’s mostly a left wing phenomenon

    This is a widespread misconception, mostly due to the successful campaign to smear “virtue signalling”. Right-wingers signal their own virtues with even greater gusto. It’s just that their “virtue signaling” is racism, homophobia, etc. – what passes for “virtue” among these types.

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  21. Peter Watts,: “Still, things are changing all over the map. Maybe it is time to reconsider.”

    When you do, please feel free to hit me up for my experience of what’s required if you need to.

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