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Becca Stareyes
12 June 2017 @ 02:09 pm
So, one of the notes about SF as genre is it explores humans' relationship to technology. I saw a post recently about how Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series has the effects of reproductive technology (especially the uterine replicator, an artificial womb) woven through most of her Vorkosigan Saga. With the exception of the early Miles books (The Warrior's Apprentice and The Vor Game), usually that plays some role, even if it is minor (like in Komarr, where Ekatarin notes that some of her family's current predicament may have been avoided if they had opted to use the modern uterine replicator with genetic screening for disease, rather than the old-fashioned way). Which actually works well in what amounts to a family drama that went from two nice 30-40-somethings from different cultures when their respective homeworlds both wanted to colonize the same planet, to their son having a family of his own and the eldest kids starting to figure out their own identities.

The other big example I keep thinking about is the webcomic Schlock Mercenary. The first few story arcs as the artist/writer, Howard Tayler, switches from just a gag-a-day webcomic to serious continuity, involve a change up in faster than light travel from a network of wormholes run by a single organization to a drive that can let a starship jump from anywhere to anywhere (and the resultant technological scramble to deal with the defensive implications). The more recent arcs have been about a technology that essentially uses nanites and biotech to allow for backups to be grown if you die, and what that means now that it is very, very hard to have anyone stay dead.

(Also now I want to dig out my Schlock Mercenary books and do a reread.)
 
 
Becca Stareyes
12 May 2017 @ 04:38 pm
So, I've dome some reading. I finished the Memoirs of Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan, and got into The Alpennia series by Heather Rose Jones, and I'm rereading Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys. So, between them they pinpoint thing I like in fiction.

The first two series have a common theme of female scholarship in sexist societies. Lady Trent's books were all about how she became a famous dragon naturalist (she lives in a no-magic fantasy world where dragons evolved, and while analogs to many cultures and religions exist, Christianity doesn't (though religions like Judaism and Islam do)). After the first book, a big deal is made about how Isabella (our protagonist, she who becomes Lady Trent) does do a lot of interaction with other female scholars, even those in fields she doesn't care about or know much about, because of how many times her own career could have been stillborn due to what society expected of her as a married upper-class woman.

The Jones books are also historical fantasy (paired with lesbian romance), though set in a fictional country in Europe and with magic rooted in real-world beliefs (the first book involves 'miracles' that come through religious veneration of the saints, and the second book involves alchemy). The plot of the first book is propelled when Margerit, a young woman, gains a giant amount of money from the death of her godfather, and sits down with his financial planner and says 'I want to go to the university, how do I do that', and he spells out the only three ways women can audit lectures without dooming their reputation: be a rich widow who can pull off 'eccentric', be in the right social class that you can aim for a job as a clerk or tutor, or be an unmarried bored rich girl who isn't taking it seriously. By the third book, Margerit is sponsoring lectures specifically to advance female scholars' careers, and is opening a school for women. Even if one sets aside that to write lesbian romance is to require a cast of female characters, the books come off as profoundly homosocial. I'm reminded of a phrase from The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, when Vedero is talking to her brother, Maia, about the community of upper-class female scholars who couldn't get family permission to university because it might damage their hopes of a good marriage. Vedero talks about her friends' varied interests, then explains that when she means friends, she means 'members of the community of female scholars, regardless of whether I like them or know them all that well', because Vedero considers the community Important. (Maia then says that he would be happy to meet all her friends, both the ones she likes and the one she doesn't, with the implication since he is Emperor now, and one of Vedero's friends is engaged to him, that maybe the three of them can slowly break down the stigma of well-educated daughters of the nobility.)

Anyway, so communities of scholars is a thing I like, especially when in concert with beating down stupid sexism. The other book I read was Winter Tide, which a cover blurb describes as "Wicked for the Cthulhu Mythos": basically it assumes "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" had an unreliable narrator, and led to the US government rounding up the town and throwing them in an internment camp that would be later used for the Japanese during WWII. The protagonist, Aphra Marsh is one of the few survivors and is trying to rebuild her life with her found family, since all of her other family (besides a younger brother) are dead, or living in an underwater city off the Atlantic coast. The book keeps the sense of 'the universe is an uncaring place full of things that can swallow you up without even noticing' that influenced Lovecraft, but unlike a writer who seemed to be profoundly afraid of everything (partially manifesting as racism, sexism, anti-semetism, etc.), Winter Tide seems to be patterned after the Carl Sagan quote: "For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love."

(Come to think about it, you do get a bit of the first theme, as we meet Misatonic University's first female professor, and find out a lot about Hall, the university's sister school (as this is before all-male universities were disallowed in the US).)

So, basically taking the 'you are a tiny speck in terms of space and time, and your good fortune or bad fortune can come from things way beyond your control' part of Loftcraftian horror, but then focusing on how people cope with that. (And that even if you are likely to spend your middle age metamorphosing into an unaging amphibious fish-person, you still are human.)
 
 
Becca Stareyes
09 May 2017 @ 09:43 am
I dreamt I was in this fantasy world with two groups of people. Mine were having a spat of poor luck, and we discovered our neighbors had this ritual thing performed on a certain date at an unknown place, and we thought maybe if we did it instead we'd get better or something. So first we were sneaking through a university, but misjudged when everyone would be asleep and got into a giant fight. things got disjointed for a bit (since I think we surrendered after realizing how many people we'd need to kill to escape), when me and another person were wandering through the wastes and happen upon a really high tech science station. The two scientists who run it are happy to help us get where we need to get going... only then we run into monsters that petrify people and it turns out my fantasy species can shrug that off and the other ones can't. So, my companion and I try to continue on, only she gets caught in collapsing woodwork and tells me to leave her. I do, and stumble upon the person who is doing the ritual who is surprisingly reasonable about letting it benefit both groups. I take home a lot of seeds for next year's harvest, and discover that my companion (who was family or something) did survive.

My brain is remarkably good at piecing together a narrative out of dreams. I never do much with them, but I like thinking that I could (with a lot more work to make this make sense in terms of motivations).
 
 
Becca Stareyes
06 May 2017 @ 11:47 am
So, someone posted a meme that involved a D&D party crossing a mountain pass in a blizzard, and the dwarf critically failed his climb check. When the GM asked the player what he was doing, the player responded 'my character is going to flap his arms and pray', and two critical successes later the GM was all '... you see your dwarf somehow staying level by flapping his arms'. Which is a hilarious example of luck, but the first bit was probably in the examples of 'how NOT to handle failure'. (Well, to be fair, the GM was probably expecting the dwarf to try to catch himself or something.)

Basically, in gaming, you generally want character deaths to be proactive and cause some kind of emotion at the table (either feel meaningful or hilarious). Dying after one bad dice roll on a climb check isn't meaningful. Dying after you fall onto a narrow ledge, and the party's attempts to save you fails is slightly more because it means you chose it. Heck, dying because you found something important on that ledge and needed to make sure your friends got the thing, even at the cost of your own life is the sort of thing that makes the GM bust out the roleplaying rewards (transferred over to your next character).

I just think of the last game session I was in. My character, Rowan was bit by a were-spider and her dreams were turning from anxiety dreams to 'I suspect the next full moon is going to start with me growing extra legs'. Another character (Bri) was hit by mummy rot (a curse carried by mummies) on the way to getting my character (and various other victims) back to civilization. (The GM had to fudge the rules a bit for the mummy rot, as a D&D edition change made it a tad more lethal than he'd assumed.) This meant that not only did we have to race back to civilization before Bri died (Rowan had a slightly longer timetable), but we now owed the local cleric a favor for curing the party, and we had to make a trip for him. So, even if we had bad luck on saving throws, it was less about death and more about the risk of death and furthering the plot.
 
 
Becca Stareyes
05 May 2017 @ 11:06 am
So, yesterday we had both the award luncheon for students, and a faculty-only reception at the department chair's house. I actually attended both! (Well, for the former, my TA was getting an award that I nominated him for, and I was recognized as new faculty. Plus, lunch was delicious: enchiladas brought in from a Mexican restaurant in town.) The good thing was that for the latter, I stayed the whole time and only left because I was tired enough that I didn't want to drive home if I stayed later. I always feel awkward at large parties, but it helps that a lot of the senior faculty seemed to make it their job to help me meet people. And I actually spoke to some of the junior faculty (aka the people who didn't have me as a student).

I have this undercurrent of fear about my job because it requires renewal every few years, so I do feel obligated to go to events, and then I go and remember that most of the people here want me to succeed (mostly because they like me and understand that new professors are still learning to teach, partially because no one wants to go through the hiring process again*).

* No one likes faculty job searches. The existing faculty find that it disrupts their schedules for several weeks even if they aren't on the hiring committee (who has to go through hundreds of apps, a good percentage of whom would do just fine). Everyone applying is nervous as all hell, and then the lucky few selected for second-round interviews have to carve out days at a time for that. (Seriously, my interview was a day and a half long, and you maybe get snatches of five or ten minutes to collect yourself during the day.) And the business office and various admins aren't happy because they need to carve out funds to fly people in, and pay for meals and hotels. And someone has to deal with flight delays. (Over my interviewing career, I've had at least two. One was the interview for my current job, made worse as I was coming into the airport an hour away and renting a car.)
 
 
 
Becca Stareyes
01 May 2017 @ 07:33 pm
So, I kickstarted a tabletop RPG book based on the Schlock Mercenary webcomic, a comedy space-opera about a group of mercenaries that has been running since 2000 (and it turns out you can do a lot of worldbuilding in 17 years, even with a newspaper-strip format and a goal to be funny). The book is written under the conceit that is was released in-world by an arms dealer to help mercenary companies with training their infantry> That's cool, but the Dresden Files RPG also did that.

The neat thing is that the Game Chief (GM) section has a section on "Player Accessibility", and it does two things. The first is that out of game, it suggests tips both for accommodating visual, audio and mobility issues, as well as social anxiety/shyness, poor improvisation skills, inability to read social cues, and triggers. Like, acknowledging 'hey, if you have a deaf/hard of hearing player, make sure information is also conveyed visually' as well as 'triggers are no fun, so talk to a player experiencing discomfort and see if knowing the plot twist ahead of time helps'. Generally acknowledging that it is hard for everyone to have fun if they have to deal with difficulties in parsing what is going on or contributing to it.

The other thing is, since the book is an in-world document, is to convey the idea that the 31st century Milky Way Galaxy is a place where multi-species gathering places find accessibility concerns normal. While some of the aliens and various uplifted species in setting are bipedal, roughly 1.5-2 m tall and have all the same senses as humans, many are not. And some require accommodations to exist in human-dominated space (or just don't bother and telecommute from somewhere that is not a hostile alien environment). One can easily set a tone for how cosmopolitan some place is by noting what species have trouble (if any). (Individual setting descriptions do comment on places large species, or even larger species might have trouble.)

So it's writing that is both useful out of game and in-game. Which is another reason to celebrate it.
 
 
Becca Stareyes
My mother's cat, Geno, died today. He was about 2 months out from turning 21, and arthritic and had kidney problems, and quite possibly mostly blind and losing his hearing. But we'd had him since I was a teenager. (We got him in summer of 1996, right before I entered high school. Mom called him her 'divorce cat', since Dad didn't want more than one cat in the house.)

This is the first time my mother hasn't had a cat since the early 1990s, when we first moved to Nebraska. She's said she wouldn't get another one, but that changed when my nephew came along and loves cats so much (but my brother-in-law isn't fond of cats).

Cut for cat picturesCollapse )

In less serious news, I am probably going to stop crossposting to LJ due to their recent decisions. One can find me on Dreamwidth and Insanejournal, under the same name.
 
 
Becca Stareyes
01 April 2017 @ 07:18 pm
Last Friday, we opened up the old observatory for an open house. Despite the clouds, we had a few busses of high school students to entertain. The physics undergrads did a large amount of entertaining. I gave one talk, then we went to see if anyone wanted a second round of it an hour later, and the physics students were showing some high schoolers momentum and energy transfer. With a hammer.

The downside was that I was back nearly at midnight. It's a good 45 minute drive to the old observatory, the last 2 miles on dirt roads across fields and pastures. At least I arrived at twilight, when you can see the signs. And the roads had dried out enough from the rain we've been getting.
 
 
Becca Stareyes
30 March 2017 @ 10:25 am
Suddenly today I felt like journaling. I don't know who all still reads the various journal sites, but what the hey.

I guess I should update where I am. So, Our Hero, Becca Stareyes, having spent two satisfactory years in the wilds of California academics, received an offer of employment from her alma mater, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln as an Assistant Professor of the Practice of Astronomy. Basically that means I don't get tenure, but it's intended to be a permanent position (as opposed to lectureships, which in theory are temporary as the demand waxes and wanes*). Basically, UNL wanted someone on hand to teach upperclassman astronomy classes and help students with research projects.

So, I started that last fall. This spring, I am on teaching release (which is another perk of being a professor: your first year, you are on a half load so you can set up courses and research and so on), which I am spending on improving what I hastily put together last fall for courses, trying to get my dissertation work published and so on. UNL has basically three astronomers: Mr. S, who is the lecturer who handles our general course, Dr. L who has been working for the National Science Foundation for the last few years and is mainly interested in education**, and me. (Dr. L has been around long enough that he taught me Intro Astronomy.) Plus the Lab Manager, who helps handle telescopes, and Dr. S-Emeritus who is retired and occasionally helped out.

Next week, Dr. L and I need to sit down with the Undergrad Adviser and finalize course plans for next year. The main problem right now, was that since everyone but Dr. L retired or left***, the department made a lot of the astronomy courses count as electives, which lowers enrollment, and now that they can teach them, they have to figure out how. (And presumably once we start teaching them, they can go back on the books.) Well, that and figuring out if Dr. L will be back next year. (He likes the NSF, but the federal government has a hiring freeze so who even knows if he can stay.)

As for family stuff, I continue on as I have been. I am the aunt to two nephews now, and I can see them more than once or twice a year. I am slowly regaining my ability to pursue hobbies, as full-time work really burned me out. I have also read a lot of books. Like, seriously, a lot.

* In practice, not so much. Lecturers are cheaper than professors.
** And has a sort of weird appointment with the university.
*** Basically, it is hard to get tenure-track posts at a university that doesn't want to take astronomers as grad students. Creating a Professor of Practice position that was explicitly undergrad focused was seen as a way to have astronomers who aren't going to get penalized for having few to no graduate students.
 
 
Becca Stareyes
04 December 2015 @ 07:20 am
I'm always interested in classification schemes, and via Seanan McGuire's tumblr, I discovered this one as an expansion of Harry Potter's. I like it because:

1. It does a lot of work on defining all four houses as places where both heroes and villains can come from.
2. It uses a scheme that I was already using in my head for sorting: which is to look at what people value and how they approach problems.

So, if you don't want to click the link, here's the basics:

Your 'Primary' House is the House that related to why you do things: not quite morals but how you arrive at your morals. Your 'Secondary' House is the House that details your preferred methods of doing things. They also did a lot more fleshing out of Slytherin to make it a lot more viable as something other than 'Evil Jerk House': the Slytherin Primary trait is loyalty to select individuals; while the Secondary trait is adaptability and improvisation.

They also add some complexities ('a Burned Primary/Secondary House' basically means your motivations suffered a critical failure and don't trust your moral system or your methods; Modeling a Primary/Secondary House means you can understand/use that House, even if it's not the one you default to or value most; Performing a Primary/Secondary House means you appear to use that House, even if you don't understand it). It's fascinating and I'm totally nerding it up about this.

The way I'd put myself in this system:

Primary Hufflepuff. First off, Gryffindor and Hufflepuff are the 'felt' Primary Houses: they trust their gut (Slytherins do this to a small extent as well). I've watched how I reason right and wrong in my head, and I noticed that if my head gets different answers than my heart, I get unhappy until my head gets its act together. The big distinction between Gryffindor and Hufflepuff is that Lions attach themselves to ideals and Badgers to groups of people: a Gryffindor has far less problem striking off on their own if the group is wrong. (See: me and conflict avoidance. I might think you're wrong, but disagreeing with others is physically painful, as is any thing that threatens group cohesion, even if it's for a long-term good. A Hufflepuff Primary might join a revolution, but I suspect we are shitty at starting them.)

I expect I model Ravenclaw, though. When there's not an obvious 'be kind to others' or 'hey, why can't people all get along?', I'm pretty darn interested in truth and finding it and making a nice model of the universe that lives in my head and lets me predict people. Just, my gut feeling is comes back to avoiding people getting hurt.

Secondary: Ravenclaw. I make plans. I write lists. I hate doing ANYTHING on the fly, and the only time I can is if I have been secretly planning it. I read things and learn things and will google/wikipedia things because it randomly occurred to me that I didn't know something, and I should go check on that.

Also, see above comment about nerding it up whenever someone comes up with things like this. When I see things, I want to poke them, take them apart and put them back together so I understand how they work and can use them for my things.

This confirms with my typical ID on HP Sorting: someone who has Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw traits, but the Hufflepuff ones are the ones I value more.

And now I want to apply this to characters. Onward!