Holiday Travel Reading

I do better with short stories than novels when I’m on the road. Working my way through the 2016 Tor.com collection.

“The Caretakers” by David Nickle
An interesting suspense story that leaves you guessing until the final scene.
“Your Orison’s May Be Recorded” by Laurie Penny
A story of theology, faith, sex, and angels working in call centers.
“meat+drink” by Daniel Polansky
Not my favorite in the collection. An interesting vampire story though.
“Hello, Moto” by Nnedi Okorafor
Okorafor blends urban fantasy with cyberpunk.

The Bridge (Bron/Broen) Series 3

the bridge series 3 cast

Spoilers

Ended up binge watching this over the weekend after a long wait for an Amazon video release.

For people unfamiliar with the series, The Bridge also titled (Bron|Broen) is a joint Swedish/Danish mystery production centered on the Øresund Bridge between Copenhagen, Denmark and Malmö, Sweden. A central theme of the series involves boundaries of different sorts, the crimes cross national jurisdiction, so each series pairs Swedish and Danish detectives. In the third series Saga Norén (Sofia Helin) leads Malmö team, while Henrik Sabroe (Thure Lindhardt) is the Copenhagen liaison.

My strong suggestion is to watch Series 1 and 2 first. Saga continues on as the possibly autistic and brilliant detective. She understands people as a set of connections and statistical tendencies, but struggles with empathy and emotional intimacy. She’s not intentionally cruel, but often blunders into saying the wrong thing in an attempt to get at the truth. Much of Series 3 depends on building Saga’s character from the previous episodes.

Previously, Saga had been complemented by an ever-patient supervisor, Hans Petterson (Dag Malmberg) and partnership with a more affable partner, Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia). A significant subplot of the series forces the detectives to self-destruct under pressures. Series 3 starts with Martin in prison for a Shakesperian revenge-murder, and takes Hans out of the picture in the second episode. From there, things get worse for Saga as Hans is replaced by an unsympathetic boss, her father dies, and her mother starts a campaign of harassment.

On the Danish side, replacement detective Henrik is haunted by the ghosts of his missing wife and daughters. He wrestles with their imaginary presence through chronic drug use and casual sex. Both detectives are predictably set up to fall to pieces by the end of the series. The conclusion may not be as bleak as Martin’s breakdown through Series 2, but still can be a tough watch.

The mystery itself was binge-watchable but not as solid as the previous two Series. As before, the murders are staged to be showy and stylized. There’s misdirection, copycats, and a frame job. Both suspects and victims in the series have their own dirty laundry: drug dealers, adulterers, suicides, stalkers, gambling addictions, and a surrogate parenthood plot.

It all doesn’t feel quite as solid as previously. Helin and Lindhardt’s brilliant work as the mismatched detectives struggling with their own inner demons doesn’t quite carry us through the extended scenes where they don’t appear. With the supporting cast mostly replaced or reduced, the station scenes feel weaker. But it’s still a worthy watch if you’re familiar with the first two Bridge series.

Star Trek: Discovery: Not Impressed by the Tyler Subplot

Spoilers and tw: sex abuse

Tyler in Star Trek: Discovery

Ok, let’s talk about Tyler for a minute.

The timing of this episode is interesting even though it’s likely been in the can for months. Lt. Badass Ash Tyler suffers a serious PTSD episode and confesses to being a sex abuse survivor as part of his torture as a prisoner of war. The Discovery episode comes out on the heels of Anthony Rapp (and a half-dozen other people) blowing the whistle on Kevin Spacey sexually harassing younger men as a producer. Generally I’m in favor of increased visibility for male survivors. So why am I unimpressed by this sub-plot?

First, Discovery is strongly foreshadowing that Tyler may be a Klingon sleeper agent, if not Voq who’s been conspicuously missing since episode three. So Tyler is already a somewhat untrustworthy narrator. We’re looking at the distinct possibility of a reveal that Tyler’s sexual abuse was really consensual and not coerced.

Second, it feels very much like a kick-the-puppy detail, something added to make L’Rell look even more evil or alien than they’ve already established. I’m uncomfortably reminded of a plot development in Cyteen where a major character deliberately traumatizes a young man in order to undermine familial bonds and brainwash him.

Third, the presentation of this development relies on body-horror cuts mixed with sex-scenes including (among other things) Klingon breasts. I think this undermines Tyler’s narrative in two ways. Unlike Lorca’s PTSD, Tyler isn’t given credibility as a survivor talking about his own story without flashbacks. And second, the use of erotic images in the scene allows for interpretation that the relationship was just “kinky sex” and not abuse. It’s not a good look for the series.

The combination of presenting Tyler as a rape survivor while also describing him as potentially unreliable, the sensationalism of those events, and the eroticism of the scenes isn’t all that good for survivors. And that’s really disappointing from a show with high aspirations.

Link Post: Sara Ramirez and Jane the Virgin

Sara Ramirez

Sara Ramirez received the Trailblazer award and spoke about bi+ visibility.

“Jane the Virgin” Tackles Biphobia and Bi Men

CW Show Jane the Virgin brought a major character out as bi. Showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman says:

And also, it felt like an interesting place to explore because Jane would think she’s very progressive and Jane would think she’d have no issue with it — that would be the place she wants to come into the story with, but then she has to unpack a lot of stuff. Some of it is residual [because] she grew up in a very religious house and has certain ideas in her head that are based in telenovelas and based on romance writing. And she had to struggle with her own discomfort and get over it. It was more about Jane realizing that even though on paper she should be totally fine, there’s no issue, she had to accept the fact that things did not go down as smoothly as she wished it did. She had to confront what that meant and ask questions — and feel safe enough to ask questions because sometimes you feel like your questions are silly and you should know better, but ask them! So it gave her a chance to [do that] and then continue on with Adam, who is her romantic hero right now.

screenshots from jane the virgin

The Importance of Jane the Virgin‘s Bisexual Character Reveal @ The MarySue

Thor: Ragnarok and Valkyrie: A Missed Opportunity

Minor spoilers for Thor: Ragnarok You have been warned.

still from Thor: Ragnarok with Valkyrie

If you’ve been following bi news for a while, you’ve probably seen the blurb that Tessa Thompson has confirmed in off-screen interviews that Valkyrie was written and performed as a bi woman. However, a scene that confirmed this was cut.

Having seen the movie, I found this a missed opportunity. Valkyrie appears as a scrap collector on a junk planet where she’s content to capture refugees for gladiatorial conflict and drink heavily. Her tragic backstory confronting Hela, the villain of the movie, is ambiguously described through a series of freeze-frame flashbacks. Fully understanding the tragedy shown in those frames requires having read the off-screen entertainment news regarding Thompson’s interpretation of the script.

The stated reason for the cut was that it took time away from other exposition, which somehow included a statement on Thor’s relationship status (single), Thor’s sexuality (I like women), a “no-homo” comic moment involving Hulk, a reference to Hulk’s relationship with Black Widow, and over a dozen easter eggs and callbacks to previous MCU movies. It’s a movie that devotes an awkward scene to Tony Stark’s wardrobe, and he doesn’t appear in the film.

One of the themes of Thor: Ragnarok is the danger of familial secrets. (Especially when the family in question happens to be the ruling gods of a nation of superhumans.) Clarifying that Odin’s “family squabbles” destroyed Valkyrie’s family would have gone a long way for explaining why she initially refuses to help Thor. And it could have happened with a very quick dialog moment. Also yesterday, I saw Star Trek: Discovery which explained in a few seconds the conflict of interest between Stamets and Culber as lovers and engineer/doctor. The result of adding those few seconds to Thor: Ragnarok would have been a more strongly rounded character with sympathetic reasons for both denying and joining Thor.

Elite Dangerous: Jumping into a System and Get This

Also, self-portrait with Asp:

Screenshot of character in spaceship.

The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag

pages from The Witch Boy

Molly Knox Ostertag ended up one-upping one of my ideas. As with most things, I didn’t have more than three files of material about a child superhero who tries to do better in college, so Ostertag and Mulligan have done more with it than I could imagine. When Ostertag announced the release of her first solo graphic novel, The Witch Boy I decided to pick it up.

Aster is one of the younger boys in a magical clan. All the men are shapeshifters. All the women are witches. Aster has an interest and natural talent for witchery. The other familial exception is the crazy and possibly evil uncle who ran away from home generations ago. The Witch Boy is a middle-grade graphic novel about gender-nonconformity and acceptance.

It’s a nice graphic novel, if a bit predictable in parts. Aster finds his counterpart with a human girl his age who wants to play baseball. Everything is mostly resolved at the end. Aster feels a bit vague in parts, and the story evades many of the typical identity questions. But it’s a good graphic novel after all, and a worthwhile read for starting discussions about gender roles and conformity.

EDIT: Corrected Molly Knox Ostertag’s name.

Pride Savannah, 2017

photo of crowd at pride Savannah 2017

Things to bring next time:

  • earplugs
  • weights for fliers
  • snacks.

Star Trek: Discovery: That Bridge Design or Props are not "Canon"

Star Trek Discovery Bridge Display

One of the criticisms of Star Trek: Discovery and Abrams’ Trek that I find to be a bit unfair are the updates to the bridge design to include dynamic human-computer interface (HCI) graphics (likely produced using digital compositing). I’ll argue that in terms of story the HCI standards of the Enterprise have always been written as dynamic and computer-driven. If the script demanded that Scotty and Kirk interact with each other, (for example, “The Corbomite Maneuver”) Doohan would perform his lines from the bridge while looking at a blinking light. Clearly in terms of plot, that blinking light prop was intended to represent complex information within the limits of 1960s prop design. Similarly, Spock can access almost any arbitrary information accessible from the computer from the console. “The Corbomite Maneuver” also clearly used the concept that the viewscreen was not a window, it was a display that could show any arbitrary magnification or ship-to-ship communications. “Tablet” computers also made an appearance in TOS, although they were not frequently referenced in the script.

As with a lot of period science fiction, the props are an evocative representation of what the future might look like, and not “canonical” that the future will look like the 1960s, 1980s, or 2010s. When the Star Trek movies were released in the 1980s, the set design was retconed to include CRTs and early 2D CGI. See the Wrath of Khan footage at 1:34, 2:01, and 2:10, specifically for the CGI. And the full sequence involves members of the Enterprise describing complex information obtained from consoles that are loaded with data displays.

Search for Spock established that the Enterprise could be run on a minimal crew by rerouting information to different consoles. By the time we got to The Next Generation the HCI was performed as including both touch screens and mobile devices, both of which worked much better in the Star Trek: TNG world than in 20th century Earth at the time. 20 years after TNG, both the iPhone and the Android are introduced, becoming the most popular operating systems in the world in a few years. Looking back in time, it’s hard not to see Vannevar Bush’s memex behind the HCI described in Star Trek.

But in terms of performance and writing, the HCI in Star Trek had a number of characteristics that forshadowed contemporary real-world HCI and that were only fully visualized within the Abrams and Discovery production designs:

  1. dynamic display of arbitrary information
  2. ability to direct information to different stations
  3. speech-activated interface (inconsistently used)

Set designers for Trek visualized this within the constraints of budget and available technology, and each iteration of Trek incorporated new technologies into the stage design to better express those concepts. TOS has a particularly “theatrical” production feel about it, with the props supporting the performance of the screenplay, which often involved actors working around limitations of the set design to introduce information through dialog.

The end result is that we shouldn’t treat the limitations of stagecraft for a particular production as a “canonical” view of what those objects are supposed to look like.

Bi Link Post, October 22

Cara Delevingne

In retrospect, that boss was following the same playbook that Delevingne alleges Weinstein was, though in a less extreme, more subtle way: doubting my queerness, signaling that I should stop talking about it already; then, in private, twisting it into something for him to consume. Lesbians have gotten this same message over and over and over again: It’s bad and wrong and gross for you to be gay, unless you’re putting on a show for the pleasure of men.

Cara Delevingne’s Allegations About Harvey Weinstein Feel Awfully Familiar @ Buzzfeed

Writing Bisexual Characters

Well, first in terms of character, in the modern-day that Evelyn is telling her story, she’s 79 and she’s spent some time observing how the world is changing. And she’s seeing that there are now words that exist that, had they been more popular when she was younger, might have helped her make sense of herself.

I certainly feel that way about some of the ideas that we’re embracing today. I was always made fun of for not being feminine enough. I was called a boy, told I had penis envy, called sir, etc. I was told many, many times that I was gay and must be in denial about it. So I tried very hard in my teens and twenties to balance being true to myself with not doing anything that someone might tell me was “wrong.”

Now I see teenagers who have no hang up about gender at all. There is such freedom in that. I think, “If people were talking about this stuff in the 90’s and 2000’s, I might have had an easier time finding myself.”

So, Evelyn has that same level of interest. She’s the only bisexual person in her life, really. The love of her life was a lesbian, her best friend is a gay man. But now, in her old age, she sees herself reflected in the conversation. And she feels found. She now has a word she feels comfortable using that describes this part of her. She’s eager to use it.

Writing Nuanced Queer Protagonists: A Q&A with Taylor Jenkins Reid, Writer of “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” @ bi.org

Robyn Ochs

FM: Now I want to shift to labels. Some people are challenging the term “bisexual,” saying it affirms the gender binary. Why do you claim that term?

RO: I think that term has historical value and what bi activists have done is redefine it. The “bi” in bisexual for me now is “attracted to genders similar to my own and different from my own.” So the “bi” is not men or women, it’s similar and different. That’s an adaption that has allowed that word to exist as we’ve found new frames. It’s an adaption that’s allowed me to continue to use this word and incorporate our increasing knowledge that gender is not binary. I also identify as pansexual and queer, I think all these words heavily overlap. What I don’t want to see is that horizontal hostility. I don’t think it’s productive for bi and pan people to be at odds with one another. I think we should be fighting together for that middle sexuality space and for the right to hold nonbinary identities.

Professional Bisexual: A Conversation with Robyn Ochs @ The Harvard Crimson