Review: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

The cover of Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

My place in the library hold queue came up much faster than I expected, so this is the second book I’m reviewing for Mystery Grab Bag Ace Fiction Month.

What is this novella about?

Once upon a time, Nancy went through a doorway, and ended up in the Halls of the Dead. She stayed there a while, and then ended up back in her native world. Her parents send her to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, a school for children who have returned from various magical worlds. Like most of the students, Nancy wishes she could go back to ‘her’ magical world.

Then one of the students at the school dies. Since Nancy has already been to an Underworld, death is not as disturbing to her as it is to most people. But it is not just a death. It is a murder. And a lot of people suspect that Nancy, the new girl, is the culprit.

What sexual and/or violent content is there in this novella?

There is very little sexual content. There are multiple murders, as well as some gory descriptions of various acts of violence. In other words, it’s like Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

Tell me more about this novella.

The premise of this story is basically “What would it be like for an Alice who had visited a Wonderland when she returns to this world? How would they be changed, and would they be able to re-adapt?” Of course, each child/teenager goes to a different ‘world’, and the story says at one point that each child is attracted to a magical world which fits them in some way.

The character I found the most enjoyable to read about, the mad scientist who went to a horror-inspired magical world, known as the Moors, and enjoys working with human bodies/corpses. Even thought most of the students consider the Moors to be, well, horrible, it suited Jack quite well. A lot of students suspect that Jack is the murderess, and Jack responds that, while she is not offended by the thought that they think she would murder someone, she is offended that they would suspect her of committing such pointless murders. Then again, I tend to like fictional characters who are … the best word to describe it is 邪, but unfortunately there is no direct equivalent of that word in English (邪 is sometimes translated into English as ‘unorthodox’ ‘evil’ ‘mischievous’ ‘demonic’, etc., but 惡 is another Chinese word for ‘evil’, and I generally enjoy reading about 惡 fictional characters less than 邪 fictional characters).

Overall, I thought this novella was a good modern extension of traditional fairy tales and children’s fantasy literature.

Asexuality?

On the asexuality content scale (1 = least asexual content, 10 = most asexual content), I would rate this as a 2.

Asexuality first comes up in this scene, when Nancy says that she is asexual:

“No. Celibacy is a choice. I’m asexual. I don’t get those feelings.” She would have thought her lack of sexual desire had been what had drawn her to the Underworld – so many people had called her a “cold fish” and said she was dead inside back when she’d been attending an ordinary high school, among ordinary teenagers, after all – except that none of the people she’d met in those gloriously haunted halls had shared her orientation. They lusted as hotly as the living did … She shook her head. “I just … I just don’t. I can appreciate how beautiful someone is, and I can be attracted to them romantically, but that’s as far as it goes with me.”

It does not come up again until much later in the story:

She didn’t mind flirting. Flirting was safe, flirting was fun; flirting was a way of interacting with her peers without anyone realizing that there was anything strange about her. She could have flirted forever. It was just the things that came after flirting that she had no interest in.

And then, a few pages later, there is this bit:

Nancy set her hand in the crook of her elbow, feeling the traitorous red creeping back into her cheeks. This was always the difficult part, back when she’d been at her old school: explaining that “asexual” and “aromantic” were different things. She liked holding hands and trading kisses. She’d had several boyfriends in elementary school, just like most of the other girls, and she had always found those practice relationships completely satisfying. It wasn’t until puberty had come along and changed the rules that she’d started pulling away in confusion and disinterest. Kade was possibly the most beautiful boy she’d ever seen. She wanted to spend hours sitting with him and talking about pointless things. She wanted to feel his hand against her skin, to know that his presence was absolute and focused entirely on her. The trouble was, it never seemed to end there, and that was as far as she was willing to go.

First of all, looking at those excerpts again, it seems that this writer seems to consider the dividing line between ‘romantic’ and ‘aromantic’ to be enjoying kissing and hand-holding. There is discussion of this trope in this comment thread.

Also, Nancy’s asexuality does fit thematically with the story. This is a story about children / young adults who travelled to magic worlds, and as a result, their families / native communities can no longer relate to them. Likewise, in these excerpts, Nancy describes how her experience as an asexual makes it hard for her to relate to her peers, and for her peers to relate to her. These theme is drawn out even more explicitly when it comes to Kade – Kade is not ace, but he is trans. His parents, on the other hand, believe they have a ‘daughter’. Just as many parents cannot accept their children the way they are after they travel to magical worlds, and are intent on fixing them so that they are like the way they were before, Kade’s parents do not accept him as a boy.

Was this written by an asexual?

No. Seanan McGuire is bisexual. Yes, Seanan McGuire is a bi demisexual.

Sara, do you like this novella?

Yes, I do like it.

Review: This Song Is (Not) for You by Laura Nowlin

The cover of This Song Is (Not) For You by Laura Nowlin

So, this is the first review for my Mystery Grab Bag Ace Fiction Month.

Hi Sara. What is this story about?

Two teenagers, Ramona and Sam, go to the same elite high school, and make music together. Ramona is in love with Sam, but does not tell him. Sam is in love with Ramona, but assumes that if she loved him romantically, she would have said so already, and is afraid to confess his own romantic feelings because he is afraid of ruining his friendship.

Then Ramona meets Tom. She decides immediately that they must get him to join their band. Tom does in fact click with Sam and Ramona, and their band becomes better than ever. Ramona also falls in love with Tom, even though she is still in love with Sam, and deals with being in love with two guys at the same time. She asks Tom if he will be her boyfriend, and he says yes. This makes Sam feel bad because Sam wishes he were Ramona’s boyfriend. Tom loves Ramona and wants to be her boyfriend, but his previous girlfriend broke up with him because he was not interested in having sex with her, and he’s afraid that Ramona will want to break up with him when she figures out that he is not interested in sex…

That sounds like a love triangle, Sara.

Yep.

What sexual and/or violent content is there in this story?

There is no sex, though there is brief descriptions of kissing and hand-holding. A character does kill goldfish (not so much because he wants the goldfish to die, as that he wants to do something which has the effect of killing goldfish).

Sara, please tell me more about this novel.

First of all, it’s set in St. Louis. Even though I have only spent a little time in St. Louis, I do think the fact that I have been to St. Louis helped me appreciate this novel a little better. It particular, it helped me visualize some of the scenes.

It’s an easy, breezy read, and it took be a little while to get engaged. It did, eventually, engage me. One thing I really like about this novel is that it captures a sense of what high school and teenagerhood felt like for me which I find missing in most fiction about high school / teenagers (another work of fiction which I feel captures this sense is the manga Flower of Life by Fumi Yoshinaga). What am I talking about exactly? A sense of creativity and adventure and the exploration of which rules are necessary and which rules are made to be broken which I associate with high school life. I certainly found the arts (not music in particular, though I definitely attended more classical music performances as a high school student than at any other time in my life) much more interesting and a part of my life as a teenager than romantic drama. I realize that most teenagers are not as artsy as I was.

I caught the metaphor of Ramona having two instruments that she is dedicated to – the piano which she started playing at the age of four, and the drums which she started playing during her last year of middle school. It’s a metaphor for her being in love with both Sam and Tom. Just as she can love and be devoted to two different musical instruments, she can love and be devoted to two different guys.

I also related a lot with this part:

I want to be educated. I want to read books at the time of my choosing … I don’t want a career, just to be able to find work when I need it.

As it so happens, I did go to college, but when I was near the end of high school, I actually gave serious consideration to the possibility of not going to college. I have never had the slightest interest in attending grad school. While I will not say that I regret getting a bachelor’s degree, I think that if I were to do it over again, I would have stopped at getting an associate’s degree and not bother with a bachelor’s degree. And after I left college, I did in fact travel at lot. I also don’t want a career, just work when I need it. Education is important to me, but I prefer to educate myself by reading lots of books and experiencing the school of life to educating myself in a classroom.

There is also, throughout the novel, examples of lyrical language.

And here is a bit which really hit me in the feels:

Twice I had screaming meltdowns because Dad wouldn’t let us go to the hospital until I’d done that day’s reading.

Mom stopped responding to treatment, but there was an experimental drug doctors wanted to try.

When I told Mom about playing piano, she didn’t respond as eagerly as she always had before. She always wanted to know how reading was going. Stressful, upsetting reader – it seemed like that was all anyone cared about anymore.

Finally, Mom and Dad told me that the doctors were moving her to hospice. Hospice wasn’t a new way of fighting cancer. The fight was over; cancer had won.

Mom was still alive, but her life was over. She’d toured Europe as a professional musician; she’d had a husband and child. It wasn’t a bad life, but it was over, and it was all she would ever have.

Yes, I know that a lot of people ‘graduate’ out of hospice care (as in, their condition improves, and it turns out they are not going to die so soon after all). I think of this as a beautiful expression of what this felt like from a child’s perspective, rather than an absolute statement that the life of anyone who goes to hospice is over.

Asexuality?

The word ‘asexual’ is never used in the novel, but it is very clear that it is a part of this novel. This is the first scene where asexuality comes up:

“But you’re gay, Tom. And that’s okay, but-”

“I’m not-”

“We need to break up.”

“I’m not gay,” I said. I put my hands on her shoulders to steady both of us. “I just don’t feel that way about anybody.”

There.

I’d said it.

I’d told Sara what I had never said aloud to anyone ever before.

“You don’t…” She frowned and shook her head.

“I’m not gay. I’m not straight. I just don’t really care about sex.”

“You don’t care. About sex.” She said it like I’d said I didn’t care about curing cancer.

“I don’t know why,” I said. I tried to gather together my years of puzzling over this and lay it all before her. “I just never developed this obsession with sex that everyone else has. It’s never interested me, and it just seems to cause everyone else a lot of trouble. But I love you, Sara. I think you’re so smart and beautiful, and I love being with you. I just don’t want to have sex with you.”

I looked at her, and she looked at me, and I hoped that she could accept me.

“No, Tom,” she said. “That’s not possible.”

“It’s true, I-”

“You need to do some thinking, Tom,” she said. It was starting to annoy me how often she was saying my name. “Everybody’s sexual. You’re in denial about something, and it’s not fair to either of us to keep up with this charade of a relationship.”

Sara, you big meanie! How dare you say something like that to a guy who all but came out to you as asexual!

HEY! The ‘Sara’ is the novel is not me, okay? There are plenty of people in the world who go by the name of ‘Sara’. Some of us are ace, and some of us tell people who all but come out as ace that they are wrong and just in denial. Do not confuse the ace!Sara people of the world with the TellAcesTheyAintAces!Sara people of the world.

Fine, back to talking about asexuality.

On the asexuality content scale (1 = least asexual content, 10 = most asexual content), I would rate this novel as a 4.

Other than that … well, it’s pretty much what the excerpt above suggests. A big part of Tom’s plotline is being afraid that Ramona is going to dump him the same way Sara dumped him once Ramona finds out that he is not sexually interested in her. Worse, he’s afraid that Ramona will tell him that something is wrong with him, just as Sara did.

Tom feels like an authentic ace character to me, with struggles that many aces have.

Was this written by an asexual?

I don’t know.

Hey Sara, do you like this novel?

YES. I liked this novel. I really liked this novel.

Mystery Grab Bag Ace Fiction Month

So, as planned, this is the last month I plan to do this ‘ace fiction from [publisher/publishing platform] month’ thing. The them for this month is:

MYSTERY GRAB BAG!

Great, so what books are you going to review?

It’s a mystery! But if you are reading this after I have already posted reviews, you can see a list of what I have reviewed so far here:

This Song Is (Not) for You by Laura Nowlin
Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Clariel by Garth Nix
Kindred Spirits by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel
Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate
Deadly Sweet Lies by Erica Cameron

It’s never been a mystery before.

Well, I did not quite announce it in advance for the the novel(las) I reviewed for Asexual Awareness Week in October. By even that was predictable once one saw the first few titles.

So why aren’t you announcing it in advance?

Because I want to do something different this month?

Also, though I have a pretty good idea which books I’m going to review this month, I am not entirely sure, for three reasons:

1) I am not sure how many ace fiction books I will manage to read before the end of the month.
2) There are a couple books which I suspect might have an ace content rating of ‘zero’ and if I discover it is so I want to be able to quietly not review them.
3) There is one book which I suspect I may not be able to get my hands on in time.

Aha, I get it, you put a hold on Every Heart a Doorway at the library, but you’re not sure when it will become available to borrow.

Shush! It’s supposed to be a mystery! UPDATE: I got the book much earlier than I expected.

And isn’t one of those novels which you suspect has an ace content rating of ‘zero’ a NOVEL YOU HAVE ALREADY READ???!!!

Yes. However, it has been almost twenty years since I read that novel, and when I read it I did not really have a clue about asexuality, so it is entirely possible that I completely disregarded its ace content at the time. I was really surprised when I first saw it appear on lists of ace fiction, because I thought ‘hey wait a minute, I’ve read that! I don’t remember much about it, but I read it!’ Astonishingly, even though it has been so long since I’ve read it, it was really easy to find my old copy of it, which is convenient.

Can you give us any more hints about what is in your MYSTERY GRAB BAG?

Well, there is nothing from LGBTQ+ publishers. I think it is fantastic that Less Than Three Press, Dreamspinner Press / Harmony Ink Press, and Riptide Publishing have published a significant amount of ace fiction, but right now, I am saturated with the type of ace fiction the LGBTQ+ small publishers put out, and want to read ace fiction from other kinds of publishers.

Will you FINALLY review ace fiction from a mainstream publisher?

Yes, I will. Even though I am not completely sure of the list, I can say that I will review at least one novel published by an independent publisher, at least one novel published by a mainstream publisher, and at least one self-published novel.

Is it too late to offer suggestions?

It’s almost too late? I will accept recommendations of ace fiction to read in general (not necessarily this month), and if multiple books on my tentative list fall through for whatever reason, I might pull from a suggestion to make a last-minute substitution, but … yeah.

Anyway, I look forward to the quirkiest month of ace fiction yet!

Only you would consider the month which includes mainstream fiction to be the ‘quirky’ one.

After reading a pile of ace fiction published by LGBTQ+ publishers and a self-publishing platform, yeah, the mainstream stuff starts to look like the quirky stuff.

Reading Formosa Betrayed on 2/28

I am in the middle of reading Formosa Betrayed. I had hoped to finish today, but it did not happen. That’s partially because it is about a destruction of society, economy, and mass violation of human rights which was completely preventable.

I wished I had read this book years ago. I knew the broad outlines of what had happened, but there is a big difference between knowing the general flow of events, and knowing the details.

Today, of course is Èr-Èr-Bā, which is Mandarin for ‘2-2-8’ as in ‘February 28’. This is a public holiday in Taiwan, and I am sure many Taiwanese people have enjoyed their four-day weekends. (I briefly mentioned Èr-Èr-Bā in this post).

This is also the 70th anniversary of the February 28th Incident, also known as the February 28th Massacre. That is why this is a public holiday in Taiwan. To this day, new information and documents about the ‘incident’ continue to be released. For example, just recently, a letter sent among the main perpetrators of the massacre has been made public.

Formosa Betrayed is one of the best historical documents of the ‘incident’. I remember a Taiwanese man in Chiayi explaining to me how important Formosa Betrayed is. For decades, any Taiwanese person who dared to talk about the ‘incident’ would be, at best, censored, and at worst, would be tortured and killed and have their family members punished as well. To this day, there are Taiwanese people who are reluctant to talk about what their families experienced during Èr-Èr-Bā. That is why no Taiwanese witness has written a book like Formosa Betrayed. George Kerr, as an American, was safe from censorship and threats of violence, and that is how he, as a firsthand witness of Èr-Èr-Bā, was able to write and publish a book about it.

As an American, George Kerr does have a pro-American bias. I suspect that, if some Taiwanese witness had managed to write a book, it would not have been as pro-American as Formosa Betrayed. However, as an American, George Kerr had a better understanding of the U.S. government’s role in Èr-Èr-Bā than a Taiwanese witness would have been likely to have. And one of the new insights I am getting from Formosa Betrayed is just how badly the U.S. government messed up this situation. And that is one of the main reasons why this book is relevant to Americans, not just Taiwanese.

The U.S. government continues to make the same types of mistakes which are described in the book. Sometimes it makes those mistakes with regards to other countries, but since this is February 28th, I am going to focus on U.S.-Taiwan policy. Living Taiwan and observing how American media reports on Taiwan was eye-opening … in the sense of learning just how much fail there is in American media (both mainstream and alternative media, though mainstream media can do much more damage to Taiwan). I was in Taiwan when the New York Times decided to spew this load of dangerous crap (and if you do not understand how that editorial is dangerous crap – you really, really need to read Formosa Betrayed, though if you do not have time to read it, accepting that Taiwan belongs to Taiwanese people, and that Taiwanese people ought to decide what happens to Taiwan, not the United States and especially not China, is a step in the right direction).

In U.S. politics, there is a narrative that the United States is always the imperialist bad-guy, that the United States is uniquely responsible for international wrongs, etc. Sometimes the United States is the bad guy, and is responsible for international wrongs, but to present the United States as uniquely evil is as much a form of American exceptionalism as the line of thought which presents the United States as uniquely good and never wrong. Formosa Betrayed lays out how the ‘China-Firsters’, who kept on insisting that the United States ought to give Taiwan to China in spite of the lack of a solid sovereign claim, and that the United States ought not to intervene in the way China administered Taiwan in 1945-1947 because China was an oppressed Third-World country, actually enabled the Chinese war-criminals who pillaged and looted Taiwan, and stripped the Taiwanese people of even the limited legal rights they had under Japanese rule.

There are still too many ‘China Firsters’ who have influence in the U.S. government today. And there are too many people in the U.S. media, mainstream or alternative media, who want to enable China to annex Taiwan again. To them, it is not a problem that the overwhelming majority of Taiwanese do not want to be annexed by China. They do not want the mass looting which happened in the 1940s to be repeated. They do not want the massacres which happened in the 1940s to be repeated. They don’t want a repeat of the White Terror. And yes, I think those things are entirely possible if China were allowed to annex Taiwan again.

Even when I was living in Taiwan – specifically, the part of main island which likely be targeted first if China ever invades Taiwan (the first line of defence, of course, are the outer islands, not the main island) – I was never at risk the way my neighbors were. If an invasion had happened, I would have run back to the United States as quickly as possible, and option not available to most Taiwanese. I would not have had to live with the long-term consequences of an annexation. However, even though I was at less risk, spending years living in a place with the threat of military invasion hanging over one’s head … has affected the way I think about war and politics. Living among people who have lived with this type of threat all their lives, who believe the question of a China-Taiwan war is a question of ‘when’ not ‘if’ also had an impact. It is not easy to describe the shift which happened, aside from saying that it has made me more skeptical of mainstream American politics than I would have been otherwise.

This post is not the most brilliant thing which will be said about Èr-Èr-Bā. It’s not even as worthwhile as this this speech by a Taiwanese-American addressing other Taiwanese-Americans at UC Berkeley. But it what I have to offer.

I don’t know what to call this post, but this post discusses anti-Jewish bigotry, anti-atheist bigotry, rhetoric, Steve Bannon, and at the very end, asexuality

This is for the February 2017 Carnival of Aces.

This is related to asexuality (or at least I think it is, you are free to disagree with me) but it is going to take a while for me to bring asexuality into this post.

I am Jewish. My mother’s family is Jewish (my father’s family is not Jewish, but that’s beside the point). My Jewish family has very diverse political views, and as such, we do not all agree about recent political events in the United States (for one thing, some of us are Americans, and some of us are not, which in itself tends to cause some differences in opinion). However, as far as I know, none of us has felt threatened as Jews because of the election of Trump. Furthermore, even given our varied political opinions, to the extent that I know my relatives views, we consider attempts to present Trump, whose daughter and grandchildren are Jews, and whose Jewish son-in-law is one of his most trusted advisers, as specifically an anti-Jewish bigot as something which delegitimizes the critique which is making that claim. Specifically speaking of myself, when someone lists ‘antisemitism’ as a reason to oppose Trump, I take that as a sign to consider their arguments which increased skepticism. And when a non-Jew tells me personally that I ought to feel scared as a Jew because of Trump without backing it up with reasoning, and especially without listening to me as a Jew … well, I don’t know how to describe the feeling, but it ain’t a good feeling.

Around the time of the election, I encountered a lot of claims that Steve Bannon is ‘antisemitic’. Even though I think most people who say this are claiming that Steve Bannon is bigoted against all semitic people, not just Jews, I am going to use the term ‘anti-Jewish’ rather than ‘anitsemitic’ for clarity, except when I am quoting somebody else.

As a I Jew, I was very interested in learning about Steve Bannon’s ‘antisemiticism’, so I did research. It was very frustrating that most of the people who were claiming that Steve Bannon is anti-Jewish did not present evidence. Sometimes, when I clicked a link which presumably would present evidence of Bannon’s anti-Jewish bigotry, it was just another website claiming that Steve Bannon is ‘antisemitic’ without presenting evidence (to be fair, the online essay I had intended to use an example has apparently made an edit an no longer says anything specific about Steve Bannon).

Ultimately, the evidence I did uncover was:

– During a divorce proceeding, Bannon’s ex-wife said that Bannon did not want their daughters going to schools with Jews, and Bannon denied the allegation. I think the allegations that Bannon committed domestic violence are more disturbing than the part about choosing a school for their daughters.
– Breitbart News has a lot of anti-Jewish bigoted readers, and a lot of anti-Jewish bigotry in the comments. I admit that I have, at most, read one article on Breitbart years back, so I have not looked at this evidence first-hand. However, I know that I have sometimes seen anti-Jewish screeds in the comments of progressive websites which I do not consider to have an anti-Jewish slant. I’m not going to judge a publication just based on its commentariat. Furthermore, during my attempt to find evidence of Steve Bannon’s anti-Jewish bigotry, I learned that Breitbart News was founded by Jews and has hired a lot of Jews so … it is going to be really difficult to convince me that a news organization which has so many Jews working for it is bigoted against Jews.

Mind you, my conclusion at this point is ‘the evidence that Steve Bannon is bigoted against Jews is insufficient’ not ‘Steve Bannon is *not* bigoted against Jews’. I think it is still possible that he is, and if anyone is aware of further evidence, feel free to bring it to my attention.

I also find it amazing that people are focusing so much on Bannon’s (and by extention, Trump’s) anti-Jewish bigotry when there are so many firmer grounds to critique them. I am going to bring up a grounds to critique Bannon which a) is much easier to substantiate with evidence and b) which almost nobody in the media I read has brought up – I discovered it on my own.

A few months back, I read what Steve Bannon said at a Q&A at a conference in the Vatican in 2014, and I re-read it while preparing this post. Anti-Jewishism? Steven Bannon does use the term ‘Judeo-Christian’ repeatedly, which is a problem because, well, I am going to quote the essay “The Superseded Jew”:

“Judeo-Christian”, of course, is a nonsense phrase that is 100% Christian and, where it does happen to overlap with Jewish perspectives, does so completely by accident. And where Jewish ideology clashes even a little bit with Christian hegemony, it is immediately jettisoned from the pantheon. So we get Katherine Harris telling folks that adhering to “Judeo-Christian values” means only electing Christian legislators (presumably, not Jews), and Duncan Hunter explaining that the reason Israel can have gay soldiers but America can’t is because the latter’s combat troops have, you guessed it, “Judeo-Christian values.” Effectively, the “Judeo-Christian” concept nails Jews from both ends: conservatives get to claim Jews (against our will) to obtain faux-diversity, liberals happily cede us to them so they can bash us as part of the oppressive Christian/conservative power structure they’re warring against. What’s lost in all of this is the simple fact that Christians and Jews are different. Ask 100 people about the “traditional Judeo-Christian position” on abortion or the death penalty. I guarantee 90% of the time you’ll get an answer reflective of traditional Christian conservatism – but one that will have nothing to do with the way those issues are treated in classical Jewish texts … Ultimately, the refusal to situate Jews inside their own narrative and experience, instead defining them as mere extensions of Whiteness or Europeaness or what have you, is a replication of the supersessionist ideology in which Jews were stripped of their subjectivity as human actors.

If anyone wants a longer-form explanation of the problem with the term ‘Judeo-Christian’, there is the essay “There Is No Such Thing as Judeo-Christian Values”.

However, the term ‘Judeo-Christian’ is also often used by people with good intentions who are simply uninformed, so the use of the term is not sufficient for me to label someone as ‘anti-Jewish’.

Here is a quote from that Steve Bannon speech (bolding is mine):

But the thing that got us out of it, the organizing principle that met this, was not just the heroism of our people — whether it was French resistance fighters, whether it was the Polish resistance fighters, or it’s the young men from Kansas City or the Midwest who stormed the beaches of Normandy, commandos in England that fought with the Royal Air Force, that fought this great war, really the Judeo-Christian West versus atheists, right?

Here’s another quote:

The other tendency [which is very disturbing] is an immense secularization of the West. And I know we’ve talked about secularization for a long time, but if you look at younger people, especially millennials under 30, the overwhelming drive of popular culture is to absolutely secularize this rising iteration.

This is clear anti-atheist bigotry. It is not at all subtle.

I admit, these days I pay almost no attention to atheist media/blogs, so for all I know, they are discussing this in depth (or screaming their heads off about this, which I think is justified in this case). However, a lot of the claims that Bannon is ‘antisemitic’ is not coming from Jewish media. And when I read/hear many ‘liberals’ and ‘progressives’ list all of the vulnerable groups which Bannon and the new administration threaten, such as Muslims, immigrants, LGBT people, Jews, women, disabled people, etc. – I do not recall any listing atheists as a vulnerable/targeted group.

I have spent months pondering this – why exaggerate the case that Bannon (and the Trump administration) is bigoted against Jews, and ignore the case that it is bigoted against atheists? Ultimately, I cannot read minds, but I do have a hunch.

People who oppose Bannon and his ilk want him to be an anti-Jewish bigot because then they can rhetorically tie him to the anti-Jewish bigotry of the Nazis and the Holocaust. In other words, they are trying to invoke Hitler as Boogeyman, rather than actually consider the implications for Jews alive today (if these people have solid evidence of Bannon’s anti-Jewish bigotry that I am completely unaware of, then I retract this comment).

It is true that some Jewish media publications are among those claiming that Bannon is an anti-Jewish bigot. To me, that smells just like when Jews who defend Israel’s far-right policies claim that anyone who critiques those policies is an anti-Jewish bigot. Those right-wing Israelis (and allies) are also trying to invoke the legacy of the Holocaust to silence their critics. I find it sad that some left-wing Jews are now sinking to their level.

By contrast, including atheists as a vulnerable group who is specifically targeted by Bannon’s rhetoric does not bring any such rhetorical advantage. On the contrary, many Americans (mistakenly) believe that Hitler was an atheist, and (not-so-mistakenly) associate atheism with Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong.

The Democratic Party (and ‘liberals’ in general) only took up the cause of black people, LGBT people, disabled people, etc. because those people forced the Democrats/liberals to take their concerns seriously. And the Democrat establishment still only take those concerns seriously when marginalized people hold their feet to the fire. For whatever reason, atheists have not pulled this off yet. I think that is why atheists are not typically in the lists of vulnerable groups who Democrats and/or liberals supposedly intend to protect. This is not to say that atheists are any less deserving of protection than other marginalized groups, simply that we (yes, I am an atheist) have not gained the symbolic protection of the liberal elite yet (and LGBT people only got that ‘protection’ very recently, and that protection is still very … shaky).

Okay, I think it’s finally time to explain what the heck this has to do with asexuality.

Though more and more ‘social justice’ types are including aces among the marginalized groups they stand with, it is still more of the exception than the rule in ‘social justice’ circles. Mostly, we are still ignored, and sometimes deliberately excluded. And we are not even on the radar of mass political movements/ideologies. Often, asexuals do not conveniently fit into the rhetorical paradigms which people are used to using, such as the paradigms of ‘sexual liberation’, just as atheists do not fit as well as Jews into the rhetoric which some of Bannon’s critics want to use.

Also, a lot of the rhetoric used by trolling ‘alt-right’ types, such as calling people who were devastated by Trump’s election ‘special snowflakes’, is rhetoric which I first became aware of when people, often people who identified as ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’, were using it against aces. I do not know where this type of rhetoric originally came from, but I see common patterns.

I almost decided to sit out of this Carnival of Aces for various reasons, and I still feel that this post is rougher than I want it to be. And I feel bad about posting it on February 28 (even though it is being published on February 27 in my timezone) and wished I had finished this a little earlier. I hope I will at least be able to write a post more appropriate for the 70th anniversary of the February 28th Massacre and publish it before February 28 ends in my time zone. However, I decided it was still better to put this out in its flawed form than to keep these thoughts stewing in my mind unexpressed.

Review: Finding Your Feet by Cass Lennox

The cover of Finding Your Feet by Cass Lennox

This is my final review for Asexual Fiction from Riptide Publishing Month.

What is this story about?

Evie, at the beginning of her two-week visit to Toronto, ends up unintentionally auditioning to appear in the performance by a queer dance company for Toronto Pride. During the practice sessions, Evie and her partner, professional dancer Tyler, become emotionally closer. However, given that Evie is asexual, and Tyler is a heterosexual recovering from a very emotionally abusive relationship with a girlfriend who shamed him for being trans, are they compatible?

What sexual and/or violent content is there in this story?

There is discussion of characters’ sex lives/histories, but no sex scenes. IIRC, there is no violence, but I will not swear to that.

Tell me more about this novel.

The bit of this novel which I remember best is:

She walked to her bag as Gigi imitated an inept Mark. “‘Bro, I’m, like, bugging. Dude, I’ve, like, never danced with a dude before.’ I swear to God, if he calls me ‘bro’ one more time, I’m going to grand jete his nuts into Lake Ontario.”

“He’s trying to be nice,” Tyler said. “That’s how straight guys act when they want to be friends.”

“How the fuck would you know?”

Tyler exhaled sharply. “Jesus, Gigi. Who the hell tied your panties in a knot?” Tension filled the room as the two men stared each other down.

Bloody hell.

The context of course is that Tyler is a straight man. He is ‘eligible’ for belonging to a ‘queer’ dance company because he is trans, not because of his sexual orientation (and he does say in the novel that he would rather that dance companies did not cast him just so that they can tick off the ‘trans’ box, but he’ll take professional opportunities where he can take them).

This is also the first work of fiction I have read (IIRC) in a contemporary setting where the trans character’s family is very supporting of the character’s transition, and even though they don’t understand everything, they sincerely try to do what is best for him.

Generally, though, this novel felt like it was a series of scenes put in chronological order rather than a story. Okay, I know the overall story was about how Evie and Tyler get together but … they simply seemed so compatible, and the ‘obstacles’ to their getting together just seemed false to me. I mean come on, Tyler does not know that Evie is planning to return to Toronto for school because when she said so he did not hear it / forgot about it, even though everybody else present remembered it. Seriously?

Asexuality?

On the asexuality content scale (1 = most asexual content, 10 = most asexual content), I would rate this as a 5.

First of all, Evie is asexual. Tyler has to get some idea of what being asexual means to Evie, just as Evie has to get some idea of what being a trans man means to Tyler.

Evie states that she has had sex before, and that even though she does not seek sex, she does not mind doing it sometimes.

This novel is also one of the more notable instances of the Ace Group trope. Evie is an ace who is active on Tumblr, and she met her host, Sarah (who is gaybeard-the-great, a Tumblr user mentioned in Blank Spaces) via the ace Tumblr network. There is a meetup of Tumblr aces in Toronto during the novel, and someone at the meetup tells Evie that she is doing it wrong because she has not come out to her family as ace.

Vaughn, the ace protagonist from Blank Spaces, is also a significant supporting character in this novel. He gives Tyler a reason to feel insecure/jealous, because he clearly gets along well with Evie, and Tyler is afraid that, because Vaughn is asexual, Evie is going to prefer going out with him than going out with himself.

Was this written by an asexual?

Yes, Cass Lennox is asexual.

Hey Sara, do you like this novel?

I definitely like parts of it but … after reading Blank Spaces, I had high expectations, so I was so I was disappointed to find that this novel is less cohesive and tightly written. Do I like this novel? Yes and no.

Reflections on Overshoot by William R. Catton Jr., Part 1

I have tried to show the real nature of humanity’s predicament, not because understanding its nature will enable us to escape it, but because if we do not understand it, we shall continue to act and react in ways that make it worse.

– William R. Catton Jr., from the Preface of Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change

First, I shall summarize the main ideas of Overshoot

– Humans are part of the local ecosystem, therefore to understand human society one must use the ecological paradigm, that is, look at humans the same way one would look at any other species in an ecosystem.
– All species, including humans, have a carrying capacity within the ecosystem. The carrying capacity is the largest possible stable population of that species the ecosystem can support.
– According to the ecological paradigm, humans have been able to greatly increase the carrying capacity of the ecosystem for humans by the takeover method, that is, taking biological resources which were previously exploited by different species. For example, when humans figured out how to use fire to make food more digestible, they used wood which otherwise would have gone to feed fungi. Thus, humans took a part of the biosphere which previously had been occupied by wood-consuming fungi.
– Many technological advances have increased the ecosystem’s carrying capacity for humans via the takeover method
– The takeover method is sustainable because it is about seizing a share of renewable resources from other species. Because the resources are renewable, the increase in carrying capacity is semi-permanent.
– In the year 1492, European technology allowed them to have a much higher carrying capacity per acre of arable land than the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Thus, the discovery of the Americas meant a dramatic increase of carrying capacity for Europeans, creating the ‘Age of Exuberance’. By contrast, since the indigenous human population of the Americas was already at the carrying capacity of the Americas ~with indigenous technology~, the coming of the Europeans meant that they would be crowded out of their ecological niche.
– Humans can use an increase in carrying capacity to either increase their population and/or to increase their material standards of living
– There is a limit to how much life the Earth can sustain, thus the takeover method is ultimately limited. Humans cannot use more than 100% of the biosphere, and in practice, trying to get even close to that would cause such ecological damage that it would actually decrease the ecosystem’s long-term carrying capacity for humans. In short, there is no second Earth full of resources to exploit.
– Some species use drawdown rather than takeover to TEMPORARILY increase their carrying capacity. Drawdown is when a species uses resources much faster than they can be renewed. These species drawdown the renewable resources until the resources are exhausted, which leaves the species with a population that greatly exceeds the carrying capacity. This leads to a mass die-off.
– Humans have also used drawdown during the industrial revolution – we have used nonrenewable resources such as fossil fuels, mineral deposits, etc, to enable a population boom.
– Humans have mistaken drawdown for takeover, and temporary increase in carrying capacity for a permanent increase. This is why people speak of ‘producing’ fossil fuels, when ‘extracting’ fossil fuels is a more accurate description of what is happening.
– With the use of drawdown, some humans have increased their material standards of living so much that they are now ‘homo colossus’ rather than ‘homo sapiens’ (Catton does not mean that ‘homo colossus’ is biologically a different species, it’s just a phrase he uses to distinguish high resource consumption humans from low resource consumption humans)
– Humans are already in overshoot (when a population exceeds its carrying capacity) (note: this book was published in 1980), and there is going to be a mass die-off. It is too late to prevent this.
– When a species is near or above its carrying capacity, there is great deal of intra-species competition. Humans are experiencing this with their many human-on-human conflicts.
– However, even though it is too late to stop human overshoot, there are still things humans can do to make the overshoot less bad. For example, humans can reduce their resource usage, can reduce births so the overshoot is less extreme. However, the most important thing humans can do is understand that this has been caused by ecological forces which affect all species, and is not caused by a malignant, evil Other. By understanding this as the work of fate (Catton has a nice definition of fate which does not depend on belief in theistic or supernatural entities) rather than the work of the Other, humans might be able to avoid great wars and genocides.
– People are at various stages of accepting the ecological paradigm, namely, Ostrichism (There’s nothing wrong!), Cynicism (None of this matters!), Cosmeticism (we can fix this with birth control, recycling, and environmental protection laws), Cargoism (technology will fix this!), and Realism (overshoot is here, and we must adapt as best we can). Adopting ‘Realism’ will lead to the best outcome for humans (I have to note the neat rhetorical trick of labelling people who agree with the writer as ‘Realists’ and everybody else as, er, look at the labels yourself).

This summary is long enough to be a post in itself, so I will start discussing what *I* think about all this in the next part (well, I already expressed some of my thoughts in this post).