desk lunch – 2015-04-30

Brought to you this week by #BaltimoreUprising.
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Historical romance is often (though not always) shorthand for a romance set in England, with the Regency era being the most popular setting. In these books, the duke/earl/viscount hero is usually white (with bronzed or golden skin—because the British Isles are known for their great tanning weather and tawny-skinned inhabitants). The heroines are usually fair—like, really fair—with milky, lily-white skin mentioned often enough to cause concern about their health.

So, you read romance novels or you sometimes think of reading historical romance novels, but the optics of said novels don’t hold much appeal for you: everyone is white; they’re probably rich and if not rich then privileged and literate enough to pass for rich; they claw at each other for titles; and the plot follows the attempts of an emotionally repressed people trying to process an insult hissed at them during a slow dance with a lot of pressing of hands. So, that doesn’t sound like Your Thing. Consider The Toast‘s roundtable featuring black authors of historical romance as they discuss the flawed optics of historical romance and how they’re working to change that. I’ve already preordered out their upcoming anthology of historical romance novellas, The Brightest Day.

Narrative can be oppressive. We fall straight from the womb onto a plotline: the world ushers us to see ourselves as protagonists and map out a lifelong plan…. I’ve always treated the imperative of a trajectory with anxious reverence; this is how an identity is made. But I feared the ambiguity of the process, the impossibility of knowing what narrative would be “correct.”

I think this is the first entry I’ve read in Jezebel’s Fake Friends series, but wow. Wow. This essay on the Frances/Sophie friendship in Frances Ha hits the movie’s points better than the movie did. Ultimately, I’m not sure how much I appreciate Frances Ha on its own terms. While I love Rachel Vorona Cote’s look at friendship/identification in this piece, I don’t know how to feel about the conclusion: that the best a Mature Adult Friendship can offer—should offer, if they want to remain Mature Adult Friends—is a lingering glance across the room.

There are some big debates still underway, not least of all what one might caricature as the battle between Dante and Gladiator, or the question of what makes a cultural artefact worth studying; those classicists who work on SF are usually of the opinion that both ‘high art’ and popular culture are equally worthy of examination. However, this division hints at the second possible reason behind the rise of theory in classical reception generally: in order to defend looking at things like film or SF, it helps to have a really intimidating theoretical justification to back you up.

Hey! It’s an overview of the recent scholarship surrounding recent interpretations of classical influences into science fiction! It’s a general overview with a good, recent reading list of sources, if this sort of thing appeals to your interests (how could it not!!!)

And if you haven’t read Ta-Nehisi Coates on Baltimore, here’s an excerpt and a link:
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desk lunch – 2015-04-23

Brought to you this week by the ENDLESS RAIN on the East Coast. I learned that printer paper crumpled into wet leather boots will soak up the damp caused by sloshing through three or four literal rivers to catch a trolley. As I write this, the rain’s taking a break, probably until I have to step outside again.

We either have to make spaces for ourselves – often unsustainable and without funding – or push past one another to get into positions of opportunity. And even our victories face outward. The acknowledgment serves to prove that we matter to people in power, even if we know that these are our stolen resources handed back to us. I’m not ignorant of the ways oppression sets us against our own, but how do we work against the impulse to covet and tear each other down?
The problem with letting capitalism dissolve the social contract between worker and employer, though, is that social relationships more generally suffer as well. In a precarious environment, where you can only rely on yourself, independence becomes the only virtue.. this means treating personal relationships with the same logic that employers treat workers—i.e., abandoning them when they are no longer useful.

Surprise! The two essays above are about the ways to measure how money changes you. Thinking back on tons of old stories, so many of them are about money, but money portrayed as this hilarious, overblown, written-from-privilege caricature; an awful character, like an Agamemnon, Judas, Wickham, Karenin, any dude in a Henry James novel, wanders onto the scene and flaunts their obsession with money, how their greed for material wealth transforms them into soul-sucking voids that pull at the Good Decent People around them. Greed (a deadly sin, guys) pulls and pulls until the GDP (OH! I AM CLEVER!) find the strength to overcome that pull and, I don’t know, die and retreat to the great agrarian commune in the sky. Money Equaled Greed, and I accepted that narrative because money made my life possible and I didn’t understand the cost of obtaining it, being all of like, 20 years old and comfortably middle class. Now I’m a self-sufficient adult who quantifies every transaction, commercial and personal, because I’ve learned no other way to exist! Remember: there’s no one in your life who wouldn’t fight you to the death in a cage match for $10,000. A Happy Thursday to us all!


“It’s not for you to relate to!” Write that in the sky. And it’s true – often, as writers of color, to portray our stories in all their vibrant authenticity, all their difficult truth means we’re not writing for editors and agents, we’re writing past them. We’re writing for us, for each other.
Setting as crisis — the street and its many offerings of knowledge and myth, the politics hidden in daily happenstance – is really a question of context. This is what we sci-fi/fantasy people call worldbuilding, but every genre has work to do in constructing layers of universe around a narrative.

I’m the idiot who wasn’t following Daniel José Older on twitter until this week. In these two pieces, he takes two different angles on the same issue: how do you portray the world? For writers, it’s worldbuilding- not the naming of places and sketching of maps, but how to make the world you live in (and by extension, worlds of your invention) authentic places. These authentic places are shaped by history, circumstance, every instance of force that constitutes the fabric of reality itself. Are you good enough at reading the world to understand the texture of where you live?

All of that applies to publishing. The industry of publishing is itself the disseminating of stories: this is an industry we made to get stories out further, faster than anyone could have dreamed centuries ago. Older’s BuzzFeed essay draws up the most basic ethics of publishing: get different stories out there. We’re too smart with too many resources and too long of a reach to keep publishing and buying the same ten novels every year. We need stories from everyone and everywhere, and if there isn’t 1:1 cultural correlation between writer and reader? That’s the point. See someone and understand them on their own terms. Do you really think teens extorting their community for money to watch their kids was a universal experience? I still loved it.


The study also found that these women experienced “similar themes to ‘traditional’ intimate relationships, such as emotional growth and identity development fostered by friendship, jealousy, break-ups, and shifts and changes in the relationship.”

There isn’t enough writing about nonconventional relationships. There isn’t enough straightforward discussion about all the ways that people fit together. Here’s a start.


Once per calendar year, I have to watch Will Smith’s video for Wild Wild West. This year, the original video was taken off youtube- the original seven-minute masterpiece featuring Salma Hayek, Will Smith in longjohns, a giant flaming W (for THE WEST, as you know), cameos by STEVIE WONDER and ALFONSO RIBEIRO (3:00 mark), and a thorough rapped synopsis of the Will Smith/Kevin Kline steampunk western I’m too afraid to rewatch for the first time since 1999. Instead, I found the live awards show performance above. It opens with Will Smith in a violet three-piece suit riding a horse into an auditorium. Then it gets… weirdly forced, almost hollow, as if Kenneth Branagh (WHO PLAYED THE VILLAIN IN THIS FILM) found the magic mirror that made Wild Wild West possible and destroyed the dream world where they all existed. TL;DR – THE MUSIC VIDEO IS TREMENDOUS.