Do You Know How Patronizing ‘The First Time a Woman Translates Homer Is a Big Deal’ Sounds?

On a podcast, I heard a translator talk about translating from a ‘post-colonialist/de-colonised’ stance. He said:

To readers who question whether that sort of thing is important… well, it actually is. As folks probably remember, it’s a big deal when Homer is translated for the first time by a woman translator into English… it’s a big deal, because depending on the political approach, and the stance as an interpreter which the translator brings to the text, lots of things which seem to be unquestionable or assumed to be true – are changed.

You’re a woman who has read Homer in Ancient Greek. Surely this makes you feel included?

Wrong. It alienates me.

Continue reading

What’s Missing from the Controversy over Who Translates Amanda Gorman into Dutch?

What’s missing from the controversy over who translates Amanda Gorman’s poetry into Dutch?

Context.

Okay, now that I have the answer, I’m leaving without reading the rest of this post.

Suit yourself.

You don’t care?

I can’t force you to read the rest of this blog post.

Fine, I’m curious enough to keep reading. What are we talking about? Continue reading

Someone Put Japanese Names in the China-Coded Fantasy Fiction I’m Reading. Why Am I Surprised? (not a rhetorical question)

Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of anglophone (i.e. originally written in English) fantasy fiction set in pseudo-China. The prevalence of Japanese-sounding names and obvious analogues for Japan strikes me.

The first question is: why do so many anglophone fantasy writers put (pseudo-)Japanese in their (pseudo-)China?The second question is: why do I find this surprising?

Since I am a thousand times better at reading my mind than reading other people’s minds, I’ll start with the second question.

Before I learned Mandarin, I read a few fantasy novels in China-coded setting (such as Dragon of the Lost Sea by Laurence Yep). However, the overwhelming majority of speculative fiction I’ve read with any kind of Chinese setting has been wuxia, xianxia, xuanhuan, and qihuan originally written in Chinese. Since ‘wuxia, xianxia, xuanhuan, and qihuan’ is a mouthful, I’m just going to lump them all under ‘fantastical fiction’. Thus, in my mind, fantastical fiction written in Chinese sets the standard for what I expect for a fantasy story set in (pseudo-)China.

Guess what: references to Japan, Japanese people, or recognizable analogues are rare in what is written in Chinese. Continue reading

Review of The Heretic Peacekeeper by Jeremy Bai

Book cover of The Heretic Peacekeeper by Jeremy Bai

Wang Fan, a peacekeeper in the Third Earth, wants to protect the people from crooks. The worst crooks, he believes, are evil cultivators. Protecting the public becomes rather difficult when-

Hold on, this book has not even been published yet. How come you’ve read it?

I have an advanced readers’ copy. (UPDATE: the book has been published).

So you’re going to do that song and dance about how you got a free copy in exchange for an honest review?

No.

Huh?

It’s not true. I did not get a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

You got a free copy in exchange for a dishonest review?

No, I did not get a copy in exchange for a review at all. I am under no obligation to review this book. Continue reading

Pricing Follows Power

In San Francisco, most people spend much more on housing than food. Does this mean that housing brings much greater value to people’s lives? No. If I were forced to choose between housing without food and adequate food without housing, I’d rather have enough food and take my chances as an unsheltered homeless person. In reality, I might decide that temporarily lacking food but keeping my housing would be better for my social status and prospects of improving my situation (the stigma of being homeless makes it harder to improve one’s socio-economic standing). But if I believed the situation would last over three months, I would choose food.

Why is housing drastically more expensive than food? Simple – people who control housing have more power to increase prices than people who control food.

Housing is much more than physical shelter. Climate-appropriate tents are cheap and provide sufficient shelter for survival. If physical shelter is all that is needed, that’s the solution. Sometimes, that IS the solution; many people in San Francisco lived in tents after the 1906 earthquake and fire.

Another part of ‘housing’ is the social consensus that someone may reside in a particular spot. Away from others, social consensus does not matter; wherever there are others, social consensus is necessary. Otherwise, it’s dangerous to live there. Immediately after the 1906 earthquake and fire, the social consensus was that (some) people may live in tents. Now, there is a general social consensus that someone can pitch a tent on private property with the owner’s permission (but what is private property?) or in the safe sleeping villages (though some neighbors object). Otherwise, someone living in a tent pitched in San Francisco, lacking the protection of social consensus, is at much higher risk of being assaulted, robbed, or being forced to move. Continue reading

The Bizarre Impacts of TV Commercials

My mother was in her 20s the first time she saw a TV commercial.

At first, they baffled her. At some dramatic moment, the TV… abruptly started talking about a frivolous consumer product. What a bizarre way to tell stories.

Having watched lots of television growing up (I watched far more television as a child than as a teenager or adult), I took it for granted that commercials broke up shows.

In some DVDs of shows originally made for broadcast TV, it’s obvious where the commercial breaks were written into the script. If I’m watching such DVDs with my dad, he’ll say something like, “Commercial time – not!” They are artifacts of commercial breaks woven so deeply into the show’s fabric that, even when they are in a new context without commercial breaks, they shape the viewers’ experience.

The term ‘soap opera’ comes from the commercials aimed at homemakers. The genre’s name has outlived the original marketing to prospective soap buyers (though I suppose soap operas still come with the occasional ad for soap).

At least the old broadcast TV shows accommodated commercial breaks in the script so they did not feel random (indeed, viewers can feel them even when there are no commercials). Not so with YouTube.

The method I used to suppress YouTube ads finally broke (I’m surprised YouTube let it work for so long; a loophole which allows people to watchYouTube ad-free without payment does not serve their interests). Now that I’m taking part in a Mandarin listening challenge, guess where I can get lots of interesting Mandarin-language audio content for free? YouTube, that’s right. Right now I’m watching The Story of Yanxi Palace, the first multi-episode TV show I’ve started watching since I lost the ability to suppress YouTube ads. The ads usually come at some interval of 5 minutes, sometimes in an inappropriate moment. The lack of smooth-commercial-break-transitions and the jarringly-out-of context ads help me appreciate how my mother felt the first time she saw a TV commercial. (YouTuve algorithms are bad at choosing ads for someone watching a Chinese palace intrigue drama in the United States).

If I were watching these TV shows in an ad-free format, I would not notice scripted-in commercial breaks because they don’t exist. In this sense, these TV shows are more flexible; they adapt well to ad-free viewing.

Lately many people have been talking about the relationship between ads, content, and algorithms on YouTube. This is merely the latest chapter in the history of advertising interacting with TV content. That, in turn, is part of the greater saga of storytellers’ economic supporters shaping the stories which are told.

Revenge & Survival Fantasies > Power Fantasies

Revenge fantasies, fantasies of surviving in the face of imminent death, not power fantasies, appeal to me.

I’ve tried to read I Shall Seal the Heavens (ISSTH) by Er Gen (here’s the English translation of the novel), and I think I got more than a hundred chapters into it, but…for me, it was a chore to read. Yet it’s a really popular novel, which means it engages a lot of people other than myself.

I was reminded of this when I recently read (the beginning of) A Thousand Li: The First Step by Tao Wong. The first few chapters drew me in, I thought the protagonist’s situation was really unfair, being injured by the bully-young-rich-dude and almost dying because of the injury, and all of that. But once the protagonist joined the cultivation sect and studying, my interest flagged, and I did not read the book (following my new practice of Not Finishing Books). I noticed, at the end, that Tao Wong said that ISSTH was one of his main influences.

These aren’t the only novels I’ve tried reading in what I will dub the ‘ISSTH/A Thousand Li’ vein, I’m just using them as my examples because a) ISSTH is the best known of this type and b) A Thousand Li: The First Step is the one I most recently tried to read. What puts novels in this vein, at least to me, is if they are primarily about the protagonist cultivating/developing magical powers/whatever the heck awesome skills mainly so they can excel in that, not because of strong external pressure. Continue reading

Why Are There So Few Grey-A Characters in Ace Fiction?

This post is for Ace Week.

Grey-A (greysexual, greyasexual, etc.) characters are under-represented in ace fiction. I am not just saying they are under-represented in fiction in general, I am saying that, even among the fictional works which do have at least one ace character, grey-a characters are under-represented.

According to the Asexual Community Survey’s 2017-18 summary report, about 12% of aces who responded to the survey identify as ‘grey-A’. I can tell you that a lot less than 12% of canon ace characters I’ve encountered in fiction were grey-A. Granted, some of them could be interpreted as grey-A, but it’s also possible to interpret them as not-grey-A without going against canon. Whenever I’ve checked other lists of ace characters in fiction that list grey-A as a separate category from demisexual, I’ve always seen that grey-A characters are under-represented relative to asexual and demisexual characters. And there is one case where I thought that a particular character was grey-A based on how he was written, but the writer claims that he was demisexual.

I cannot know for sure why there are so few grey-A characters relative to asexual and demisexual characters since I am not a mind reader, but I think the reason is the greyness of being grey-A. With asexual and demisexual characters, it is relatively easy to contrast them with allosexual characters to show that they really are not allosexual. But grey-asexuality is too grey for sharp contrasts. It’s harder to demonstrate that a grey-A character is not ‘just’ allosexual or ‘just’ asexual. Continue reading

I’m Learning How to Not Finish Books

Before now, I was one of those readers who only occasionally dropped books even when it became apparent that they were not giving me enough to justify the time/energy I was pouring into reading them.

Does this have something to do with formal education, where students are pushed into reading books they otherwise would not read because of academic pressure? Perhaps. I think it has more to do with some of my favorite books which I read before the age of 20 being books which I initially dropped, only to return to them later and discover they were awesome. After discovering that some of these books which I had initially dropped were wonderful, I lost trust in myself in figuring out if a book was really good before I read the whole thing. That does not mean I never dropped books before finishing them – I think that is practically impossible even for the most committed of readers. I did, however, charge through a lot of books that failed to engage me, simply because I had already started them and I was not sure that they would not turn around.

Then I realized a huge flaw in this approach: my life is finite. Continue reading

Book Review: “The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water” by Zen Cho

After watching this review, I was just curious enough about “The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water” by Zen Cho that I decided to read it myself. So what did *I* think?

What Is This Novella About?

In Malaysia, there is a group of Tang (i.e. Chinese-Malaysian) ‘bandits’ running around, trying to survive as the authoritarian government oppresses Tang people. After they rescue a nun at a coffeeshop from sexual harassment, the nun insists on joining them as they travel to deliver their, um, “black market rice”.

Can you be more helpful in telling me what the Novella is about?

Okay. When I wrote this book review, I used Libbie Hawker’s formula for writing book blurbs (which I think is helpful for writing spoiler-free summaries in book reviews, not just selling books).

That formula (with answers for “The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water” is) :

Who is the main character? Tet Sang

What do they want? To stay alive and to stay with the group of bandits. Except, near the end (as in, within the last 10% of the novella) it turns out that Tet Sang wants something different that came out of the blue for me.

What or who stands in their way? The bandits are wanted men and the Protectorate’s people are hunting them.

What will they do, or what must they do, in order to get what they want? Safely deliver the goods and get paid.

What is at stake if they fail? They get captured or not paid enough money to survive as a group.

That does not sound like such a bad story.

It doesn’t, but I think Libbie Hawker’s formula tends to flatter stories (probably because it’s supposed to sell books). One of the problems is that it’s not actually that hard for the bandits to evade the Protectorate’s people. Even when their plan falls apart, somebody gives them good advice, and all they have to do to get the money they need and avoid capture is to follow the advice.

Is following the advice hard?

No, following the advice is totally doable. Continue reading