Friday, March 31, 2006

A feminist take on "classic" Sci fi

I like science fiction. However, when it comes to the "classics" like Heinlein and Asmiov, I can't usually get past the first 5 pages.

To help me write a paper I was working on for the class in science fiction I was taking, I went to a panel at ICON, one of the largest science fiction / fantasy conventions in the Northeast. The panel was about "Favorite Sci/Fi and Fantasy books." Of course almost all the books they talked about were written by white men. This in itself is not a bad thing, except when it shapes the story to such a point that I can't relate to it.

All writers have an agenda, and a writer's personal experience shapes one's world view, as well as their writing. Classic science fiction tends to be very white and male (not that there aren't exceptions like Mary Shelley), and reflect the times in which it was written.

I'm not saying that this is bad or a writer should censor themselves to be more politically correct. But if you are trying to include universal themes, and write a book that you want everyone to read, you need to be aware of your own biases. For me, I will likely never pick up any more Heinlein or Asimov, because I just can't get past female characterization. I'll come across something and just think "no woman, would EVER do that or think that."

Of course it cuts both ways too. I think Sheri S. Tepper is one of the finest science fiction writers out there. But her male characters can be very cardboard (she's a very feminist scifi writer), and as a result, I have male friends who can't read Tepper for the same reason I can't read Heinlen. In both cases, any message is lost.

Yes this is an odd criticism to make for a field of literature based on speculation and imagination. But alot of classic scifi has very subversive social critiques about the society and times in which it was written (Fahrenheit 451 for instance). Those messages, however, are lost upon a growingly diverse audience.

I guess the key is to just focus on the story. Good stories, like that of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, the epic of Gilgamesh, or the Ramayana, I think will remain read as long as people can read.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Foreign News Sources

Today, more than ever, it is so important to understand how the world views us, and perhaps, more importantly, how news in our own society is filtered. All news comes through a filter; what kind of filter depends on where you are. Rather then accepting what our media says about how people see Americans, why don't you see for yourself.

The inclusion of various news sources in this list is in NO WAY an endorsement or statement regarding their credibility. These sources have been largely been selected for the numbers of their readership (although a few government outlets have been included here for contrast and comparison purposes). Regardless of truth, these news sources are the lens with which millions of people see the world and which shape their ideas and perceptions. In some most cases, the news outlets are just like ones in America, free presses in a democracy based in a market economy. However, there are some news sources funded by other governments. (Can you tell the difference?) In any case, this list is compiled so that you may examine and analyze how other peoples of the world may see themselves, and see us.

I've tried to list at least 10 sources from each major region of the world. (Africa was particularly hard; if anyone finds any good reliable African news outlets, please let me know). Also if any links are broken, or direct you to the wrong place, please let me know.


West Africa News

The Eastern Standard

The Daily Nation
“Kenya’s Premier Newspaper”

South Africa
The Dispatch
A major news outlet of South Africa

The Daily Mail and Guardian
“Africa’s first online newspaper”

China View
The English language outlet of the official government news agency (Xinhua)

China Daily
English version of a major newspaper in China

Bangladesh Observer
“Premier English Daily since 1949”

The Japan Times
"The World's Window on Japan"

The Asahi Shimbun
A major English-language newspaper of Japan; affiliated with the International Herald Tribune

Hong Kong
The South China Morning Post
Hong Kong's leading English language daily

The Daily Telegraph
One of India's top English-language newspapers based in Calcutta

The Times of India
A major newspaper

The Straits Times
Major English news outlet in Singapore

The Nation

Pakistan’s largest publisher of English and Urdu language print media

South Korea
The Korea Herald
South Korea’s largest English language newspaper

The Taipei Times

The Bangkok Post
Thailand’s premier English language daily

Czech Republic
Radio Prague
“The International Service of Czech Radio”

“Greece’s International English Language Newspaper”

The Budapest Sun
“Hungary’s Leading English Language Newspaper”

English page of a major Italian news outlet

The Irish Independent

The Warsaw Voice
“Polish and Central European Review”

The official government Russian news agency

Moscow Times
Affiliated with the International Herald Tribune

A new source with an interesting history behind its name (see the “about” page).

St. Petersburg Times

“Switzerland’s News and Information Platform”

“Turkey’s First and Only English Daily”
Turkish Daily News

United Kingdom
BBC World Service
British Broadcasting Corporation

Latin America and Caribbean

Latin American Post

Buenos Aires Herald

The Royal Gazette
Bermuda’s main newspaper

The Santiago Times

Costa Rica
The Tico Times
“Central America’s Leading English language newspaper”

Cuba’s government controlled news outlet

The Jamaica Gleaner
Jamaica Newspaper “Established in 1834”

Merco Press
“South Atlantic’s News Agency”

Venezuela’s Electronic News
“100% free independent of all political factions”

El Universal

Middle East

The Bahrain Tribune

Egypt Today
“The Magazine of Egypt”

The Tehran Times
Iran's major English newspaper

The Jerusalem Post

Jordan Times

The Beirut Daily Star

Palestinian Territories
The Palestine Chronicle

Qatar / Regional
Al Jazeera
Major Arab News network

Saudi Arabia / Regional
The Arab News
The Leading English-language daily of the Middle East

United Arab Emirates
The Khaleej Times

Liberal flack

Lately, I’ve gotten some flack from my liberal colleagues for my critiques of what’s wrong with the Democrats, and the problems with progressives in America. I’ve also been critiqued by some for trying to stay on top of the “conservative” media.

And yet, they ask, “why are so many people deceived by Bush and the Republicans?”
They are baffled, by the fact that half the country leans right. And yet, conservatives are just “crazy ignorant uneducated religious people.”

They’re not.

Republicans have a message, that reaches and resonates with half of the American people. If you think that all those people are crazy, and that there’s no use reasoning with them, well then, what’s the point in trying anyway? Save your breath and other people's time.

Liberals would do well to study the conservative message. What are the values and beliefs behind them that people find so appealing? What is it in the Republican message that is so much more convincing than ours? We need to respond to these values and these beliefs, because clearly, if no one is being convinced by “so-called clearly superior” liberal arguments, than we need to change our tactics. And if you are so convinced of your own righteousness that you think that people should change to suit your beliefs, well that’s the definition of a close-minded person.

When I heard that Bush was re-elected, I was furious. Absolutely furious. But not at the Republicans; they did exactly what they needed to do. I was ashamed to be a progressive, because clearly, we did not get our message out.

If I were a were a wise old Chinese poet scholar, I’m sure I could find something pithy to say, like, “Do not criticize your neighbor’s house until you fix your own.”

I hold liberals to a higher standard for the same reasons I hold Americans to a higher standard in world affairs. We should know better.

More on that later.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Baghdad Burning

It is really amazing how the internet is creating a global community. Tired of reading filtered news? Well with the internet you can find out exactly what people are thinking almost anywhere in the world. "River" is an Iraqi woman who has been blogging from Iraq for the past 3 years.

According to this article over at the English page of Al-Jazeera the blog has been nominated for the British Samuel Johnson prize in nonfiction, which is the world's richest nonfiction prize.

Of course, remember, blogs are stories from one person's point of view. Regardless of whether you think this is true or false, it represents and reinforces beliefs that are commonly held, beliefs, that citizens in a globalized world will have to reckon with.

You can read her blog here:

Thanks to Amitava Kumar, a professor at my old alma mater.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Writers: Researching NYC?

Here is an excellent list of NYC-related blog links from the Gotham Gazette . Some of the more interesting ones include:

NYPD Rants - where cops go to let off some steam

Overheard in New York - hilarious; snippets of conversations overheard on the streets

Gothamist - Everything and anything about NYC

Gawker - media gossip

I love New York and am so addicted to these sites. For anyone who is writing anything set in NYC, you NEED to look at these sites!

Monday, March 20, 2006

Happy Equinox!

So I had actually never heard that myth that only during the Spring Equinox, eggs can be made to stand on their end. Apparently, that's only a myth: you can make eggs stand up any day of the week.

Bad Astronomy: Eggs standing up!

Thanks to Gothamist for posting this link!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Hoy es Adios

I like listening to alot of modern foreign music. It doesn't matter to me if I don't understand Japanese or Spanish or Hindi because if the tone and voice of the artist does the song right, you don't need to understand the words. (I can't understand half the songs sung in English on the radio these days anyway.)

Lately I've been listening Carlos Santana / Alejandro Lerner's "Hoy Es Adios." Now I had no clue at all about what was actually being sung, but the sorrow in the singer's voice was just so amazing, that I kept listening to it over and over to help me write a really key scene in my novel. There was just something so sad in his voice that I had to keep coming back to.

Here are the lyrics in the original Spanish from Lyrics Depot

Él se fue con el invierno,
Él se ha ido a trabajar,
No me ha escrito en mucho tiempo,
Él dijo que volverá.

Pero el tiempo pasó
No preguntes porque,
Él ya no regresó a nuestro hogar
La frontera marcó
Su destino final.
Y a mis brazos jamás volvió

Hoy es adios,
Mañana quizás,
Sé que tu vas a volver
Hoy es adios
Mañana quizás
No hay fronteras en nuestro querer

Ya ha pasado un nuevo invierno,
Es de que te ví marchar,
No hay un mundo mejor que el nuestro,
Sé que undía volverás,

Pero el tiempo pasó
No preguntes porque,
Él ya no regresó a nuestro hogar
La frontera marcó
Su destino final,
Y a mis brazos jamás volvió

Hoy es adios,
Mañana quizás,
Sé que tu vas a volver
Hoy es adios
Mañana quizás
No hay fronteras en nuestro querer

Now I asked a couple friends who speak Spanish to translate it for me, and one of them told me that I could just use an onine translator like I googled the song and something popped up on googled that said "Translate this page" and this is what I got:

It went with the winter,
He has been going away to work,
It has not written to me in long time,
He said that he will return.

But the time happened
You do not ask because,
It no longer returned to our home
The border marked
Its final destiny.
And to my arms never it returned

Today it is good bye,
Tomorrow perhaps,
I know that your you are going to return
Today it is good bye
Tomorrow perhaps
There are no borders in ours to want

It has already spent a new winter,
It is of which ví to march to you,
There is no a world better than ours,
I know that undía you will return,

But the time happened
You do not ask because,
It no longer returned to our home
The border marked
Its final destiny,
And to my arms never it returned

Today it is good bye,
Tomorrow perhaps,
I know that your you are going to return
Today it is good bye
Tomorrow perhaps
There are no borders in ours to want

So I guess this a song about migrants crossing the American border? A song about death? Spanish speakers, how reliable is the online translator from the original Spanish?

In any case, it's funny, because as I noted before, main character is essentially an undocumented immigrant in the United States. This song works in so many ways.

What songs have especially touched you and made you keep listening? What was it about those songs?

Saturday, March 18, 2006


Two good friends recently went off to Africa (one for Peace Corps, another for a 6 month corporate version of Peace Corps). I must admit, were I to hear this while working in my past office cubicle jobs, I would feel trapped in comparison. Now that I'm back in school (and enjoying myself for the most part), I simply tell myself that my turn to travel will come again (Senegal 2007!). I tell people that I get antsy if I'm stuck in the country for too long. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't love America, it's that I love traveling and having new experiences, seeing new things, meeting new people and trying new foods. The more third world the better. (Trust me, there is NOTHING like fresh food in the third world; everything is ALWAYS hand done).

With that said, when I don't have money (like now), I try and satsify my wanderlust via travelogues. "Motoring with Muhammed" by Eric Hansen is one of my favorite travelogues of all time. You can read more about my thoughts on it here On the Road. This article also includes my take on "A Year in Provence" by Peter Mayle, "Looking for Lovedu: A Woman's Journey Across Africa" by Ann Jones, and "Sorcerer's Apprentice" by Tahir Shah.

Playing on the ipod now: "Mr. Brightside," The Killers.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Aliens among us

So the main character of my novel is an illegal alien. Yes although I've positioned myself as a science fiction/fantasy writer, no it's not the space-travelin' kind of alien. I mean, undocumented-no-papers kind of illegal alien. The story begins with a brown-skinned girl, found unconscious in the desert of New Mexico. So I've been collecting details of how illegal immigrants are treated and perceived in this country.

Actually, by my main character being illegal, it solves a few major plot problems. You know, how when you're reading a mystery or a book sometimes, all this stuff happens and you're just like, why don't you just tell someone or go to the police? (Well if they did, there would be no story.) Someone breaks into my MC's apartment? Beats the crap out of her? There's no going to the police; too much fear of being kicked out of the country. She can't go to the hospital; fear of being deported. If she's raped or robbed, there's no authority she can rely on for help.

I didn't mean to write her that way, but in alot of ways, my MC is writing her own damn story. Too bad she's not telling me how she works through her situation on Chapter 16; I've been trying to figure how she ends up 10 stories underneath Grand Central Station in the first place.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

A different kind of traditional values

The NYTimes has a fascinating article today about a new video that Dutch immigration officials have put together to help immigrants (who are largely from Muslim countries) pass the Dutch citizenship exam. The film features nude beaches with women sun bathing topless, men kissing men, among other things.

From the article:
"The film is meant for people not yet in Holland to take note that this is normal here and not be shocked and awed by it once they arrive," said Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born member of the Dutch Parliament."

I find this fascinating because this is essentially an attempt to force the cultural values of one society, on a minority. If a similar video was made here to display "traditional" American values to minorities applying for citizenship, my leftist leanings have an automatic gut reaction of saying "NO" and calling this cultural imperialism.

But the anti-immigration homosexual Pim Fortuyn was most afraid of socially conservative immigrants swamping the Netherlands. If these new Dutch citizens achieved a majority voting bloc in a democracy, they could conceivably outlaw homosexuality, making him a criminal for who he is.

This is what religious red-state America is afraid of. Faith is so central to their lives, that they're afraid of being marginalized in their own country. That's what's driving some religious conservatives: fear. And at the same time, historically oppressed minorities are afraid of returning to a time in which yellow, brown, and non-Christian was not American; essentially fear is what's driving them too.

We have to stop being afraid of each other, and start talking to each other as human beings, and recognize the validity (no matter how cracked up you think their reasoning is) of each other's feelings.

A Dutch Film Warning: Nudity and Gay Kisses Ahead

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A place for an Indian Doris Day?

Recently, I saw the Canadian movie “A Touch of Pink,” an old Hollywood style romantic comedy about a gay Ismaili (Shiite) Canadian man. It’s one of the most wonderfully refreshing movies I’ve seen in a long time, escapist and funny and yet multi-layered. Like movies like the Taiwanese “Wedding Banquet” the movie is about Alim’s relationship with his mother who is convinced that Alim needs to get married to a nice Indian girl, and his struggle to tell her about his relationship with his boyfriend Giles. Throughout this, Alim is guided by the imaginary spirit of Cary Grant, played by one of the actors from “Sex in the City.” But what’s nice about this movie is that it doesn’t tell just the story of Alim’s modern identity in a secular world, but also of his mother. There is a fantastic scene between Giles (Alim’s boyfriend) and Alim where Giles, angry at their hidden relationship, accuses Alim of thinking of his mother as “an uneducated brown Paki.” We find that Alim’s mother had gone to London when she was young, hoping to be like Doris Day, only to find that there was "no place for an Indian Doris Day." I loved this movie and I highly recommend it on many levels. It’s a great escapist romantic comedy, but at the same time introduces themes of crossing generational, and cultural boundaries.

Here’s the link to it on so you can check out the reviews:

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Is everyone getting their own reality show?

Apparently, Osama Bin Laden's niece is going to have her own reality show. The American Wafah Dufour Bin Ladin has:

"appeared in GQ magazine last December reclining on satin sheets wrapped in feathers and posing in a bubble bath wearing nothing but a necklace.

She cites U2, the Cure and Depeche Mode among her musical influences."

Hey, if I say I'm related to a terrorist, can I get my book published? See, I'm not even asking for a tv show or anything...

See bin Laden's nice on TV!

The new teenage heroines

Naomi Wolf has an interesting article in the NYTimes about young adult novels being published today. Rather than being told from a traditional teenage heroine's point of view (the not-so-popular girl trying to find her identity or some riff on that theme), these heroines ARE the Mean Girls. Not only do these middle schoolers tote Prada bags filled with cell phones and Sidekicks, they're poppin' E, Viagra and doin' public "Semi-sex" because Oral Sex "is so over." These are the girls you used to be afraid of in high school, and were the traditional villain in the young adult novel.

Yuck. Give me "Are you there God? It's Me Margaret" any day.

Young Adult Fiction: Wild Things

When Handmaids live amongst us

I just finished re-reading "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood for a science fiction class I'm taking. Atwood presents a new vision of dystopia, of a closed, totalitarian society that is cut off from the rest of the world, one in which women are considered "baby-makers." The things that go on seem unimaginable, and yet, I found this novel the very frightening of all because it seemed so anchored in today’s world. The references to Islamic terrorists, the taking away of rights due to a lockdown for safety and security, and the religious aspects of the novel make for something that is horrifyingly real.

Reading this after the Chanrithy Him’s memoir “When Broken Glass Floats: Growing up Under the Khmer Rouge” (which is excellent by the way) I found the fear, the lying, risks of betrayals, and all-seeing spies, the sumptuous violations for people in charge to be very similar. Although there are definitely aspects of "The Handmaid's Tale" that are unique, I found myself thinking about North Korea. In particular, North Korea and Gilead (the society in Atwood's book) are similar in that both are closed societies. We don’t know much about North Korea, except for the few straggling refugees in China, and occasional academics and humanitarian groups that lament their situation, much like the "Historical Footnote" at the end of "The Handmaid's Tale."

It's amazing what types of societies can exist parallel to ours, ones that we have little inkling about, and yet which influence each other in remarkable ways.

Bad physics, Good Fantasy

There’s an interesting article in the NYTimes today about how some ideas from quantum mechanics have been totally co-opted by New Agers. Essentially the idea is that
“based on the insights of modern quantum physics, that reality is just a mental construct that we can rearrange and improve, if we are enlightened or determined enough.”

For those of you who might have forgotten, one of the things about quantum physics is that the simple act of observing something, changes it. So your powers of perception shape what you see (I think: I might be getting into bad physics here). This is all tied up with Schroedinger’s Cat and the Heisenberg Principle.

Yes it is probably bad physics. But it’s a great premise for magic in an urban fantasy :)

Far Out Man, But is it Quantum Physics?

Monday, March 13, 2006

Argue with me!

I think one of the best things about American society is the ideal (note I say ideal) that you can argue with people, have completely different points of view, and yet still be on a cordial basis. Unfortunately, I don’t think this is emphasized enough in schools. Even in my graduate classes, I find many who tend to back away from a lively spirited debate. Are they afraid of upsetting people? Of being personally attacked?

Unfortunately, it seems that we're not teaching students to debate or really discuss issues in a civil manner. I once worked in a office that was solidly working class, where any disagreement with the boss was viewed as a challenge to her authority. It was not uncommon for workers to be fired for expressing points of view different from the points (you weren't considered a "team player"). And as this gets perpetuated, well, no wonder there's such a divide between blue states and red states. As frustrating as it is for either side, we need to recognize that the other side has a valid point of view before we can even get them to consider our points of view. Even if there is a culture against dissent (being ever so helpfully fostered by the Bush administration).

In any case, I think it’s dangerous not to disagree.

Talk about crossing borders

I don’t know if anyone caught the article in the NYTimes magazine a couple weeks ago, but the former spokesman for the Taliban is now a Yale undergraduate. You now have to pay to get a copy of the article on the NYTimes site (but I saved a copy of the article, so I can email it to those interested in reading more), but you can read a brief piece about it from the Hartford Courant here.

I understand Yale’s decision to let him in. If we can get someone like that to understand our way of thinking, while at the same time learning how ideologies espoused by radicals like the Taliban are so popular, maybe we can prevent coming to a point where violence is seen to be an option. It’s a test for the West and America: and if we succeed, Rahmatullah Hashemi will be a great “cultural ambassador” to those who we most need to reach.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

25 Books to Remember

The New York Public Library released its list of top 25 books of 2005. I have to admit I haven't read any of these, but some of them look really good. I'm looking forward to picking up "Japanland: A Year In Search of Wa," by Karin Muller, "Luck is Luck: Poems" by Lucia Perillo, and of course "A Year of Magical Thinking" by Joan Didion.

Thanks to the esteemed Miss Snark for posting this on her blog. She rocks.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Why Science Fiction?

The following is something I wrote for a class I took called "Themes in Science Fiction."
The earliest stories of humanity were told in an attempt to understand the world around them. What is now considered our ancient mythologies were once religions; attempts to seek meaning in life and understanding in how the world works. I believe that science fiction and fantasy continues this tradition.

It is in science fiction and fantasy that we can convey our anxieties and fears about scientific progress, using our imaginations to probe the unthinkable. As Alan E. Nourse stated, science fiction is "[p]redominantly a speculative literature in which the reader is invited to ponder in some detail the effect that a given advance, change discovery , or technological breakthrough might have upon society as we know it and upon human beings as we know them.”

For example, what might happen if there was a nuclear war? What if the polar ice caps melted? What would we do if a killer virus devastated the population? Since humanity turns to technology to solve problems, it is only logical that we would write science fiction to speculate problems we might face, as well as how to fix them.

Science fiction is different from fantasy in that it tries to imagine the worlds that humanity might create by extrapolating and imagining the futures of existing research and technology. The difference between science fiction and fantasy is not necessary the story telling, but rather the methodology and the setting used to convey the themes.

I also like Harlan Ellison’s definition of science fiction:" Anything that deals in even the smallest extrapolative manner with the future of man and his societies, with the future of science and/or its effects on us, with fantasy as an interpretation of the realities with which we are forced to deal daily."

Often, when Olympic athletes are asked about the techniques they use to prepare for competition, they often talk about how they “imagine” themselves successfully, making that jump, achieving that pass, scoring that goal, etc. It turns out that this “mental preparation” helps contributes to the results of successful athletes. In a similar fashion, I think that is what science fiction is for society. It helps us ask questions about the future, mentally preparing us for the challenges that are to come.

However, as much as science fiction is used to explore the unthinkable, in creating new worlds, asking subversive and disturbing questions, I believe that part of the reason that it has such a bad reputation is that many science fiction writers focus on the ideas and the situations, sometimes to the detriment of plot, character, narration etc. (I can think of several “classic scifi books” that fit into this category). When academia teaches literature they focus on the techniques used to tell the story. A lot of times, I think this can be lacking in science fiction.

Regardless of how science fiction is perceived, I think it plays an essential part in helping our society plan for the future. Like others have said on the board, much of what was once science fiction is now science. Who would have thought that humanity could’ve gone to the moon? Or that we could “stop” light? Science fiction really is our future.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Why blog?

I don't want to be just any writer. I want to be like Hemingway. I want to travel, and live an amazing adventurous life, traveling, seeing, and experiencing new things. Ultimately, one is a product of their experiences; I still want to change the world, but I hope to do that through writing; to convince people to step outside of their comfort zones, outside of their boundaries, and to look at things from a different point of view. And by doing so and helping people look at things through another lens, maybe I can contribute to a greater understanding. In these times, though I guess, in all times, humanity could use a little more compassion and understanding