A Belated TLJ Review

I picked up The Last Jedi and Rogue One from the library last night, so as usual, I’m ready to understand the conversation around these movies just in time for nobody to be talking about them anymore. Oh, well. A review follows anyway.
 
So far, I’ve just watched TLJ. Here’s what I thought:

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I’m Not Woke, and I’m Not Your Ally. Yet.

I’ve been uncomfortable for sometime with the left’s two most common terms for the “good kind” of privileged people: Woke (usually used for white people who aren’t shitty), and Ally (used in all sort of contexts, but my first exposure to the term was in high school in reference to “straight allies” who supported gay rights). It has taken me some time to really put my finger on why I don’t like the way these terms are used.

After all, the language of alliance is deep and descriptive, and the metaphor of wokeness is evocative and powerful. Who can argue that mainstream white culture’s inability to perceive black humanity and all but the most stylized black pain isn’t in some ways like being asleep, and that those who break free from that slumber don’t come out shocked and disoriented? Who would disagree that if we’re on the same team, we’re therefore allies?

Well, first let’s talk about “woke.” To my mind, the term implies that those of us who are woke see what’s going on, but how can anyone ever really see and understand what’s up without being there? Hell, some people aren’t “woke,” don’t get it, even though they ARE there. To accept the term “woke” feels like accepting the idea that a white person can truly, deeply understand all the ins and outs of white supremacy and oppression without having experienced them on the receiving end.

Okay then, but what’s my problem with the language of “allyhood?” I think again it’s the notion that you can be an ally as a noun and retain it as part of your identity, as opposed to the more accurate notion that alliances are things we construct that frequently fall apart. The US and USSR were allies. Then they weren’t. Alliance is something you do toward some shared goal. If your goals aren’t shared, you’re not an ally anymore. I’ve seen white people claim to be allies of people of color in the same breath that they demand that members of that community abandon their goals. That is, frankly, not an alliance by any means.

I like ally better as a verb. White liberals can ally with people of color to elect certain officials, pass certain legislation, effect certain cultural changes etc. Jews have in the past allied with black Christian church leaders and Muslim leaders  to combat white supremacy (hopefully we can keep that going). When you and I ally with each other, that relationship is inherently one of action, and is assumed to be temporary unless proven otherwise. Sometimes such an alliance can also lead to friendships. Great! But you’re only an ally to my cause, and I’m only an ally in yours, if we’re working TOGETHER. If I go ignoring your needs or prioritizing my wants over them, I can no longer consider myself your ally. Our alliance is over.

Readercon!

*UPDATE: The panel Rethinking the Dangerous Victim, originally scheduled for Friday at 10am, has been moved to Saturday night at 8pm. I will still be there, and I hope you will too!

ORIGINAL POST:

Hey, are you going to Readercon this year? What if I told you that the first night is free?

Yes, indeed! This lovely con runs from Thursday, July 12 through Sunday the 15th in Quincy, MA, and if you’re interested but unable to spend the whole weekend/registration fee, you can check it out for free on the evening of the 12th! You can even (gasp) come hear me read from my books!

I’ve been scheduled for a half-hour solo reading at 9pm on the free night, Thursday the 12th, and for two absolutely fascinating panels later in the con:

On Friday the 13th at 10am, I have Rethinking the Dangerous Victim 
Panel Description:
“Many SF stories hinge on distress calls that turn out to be scams. In the real world, under 10% of felony reports are false; the number is even lower for false reports of general distress. Why do we return to the dangerous victim story—the story in which the person who claims to need help is not only lying but actively malicious—again and again? What exciting adventure stories can we tell about helping those who are genuinely in need?”

Then on Sunday the 15th at 1pm, there’s Our Bodies, Our Elves: Sexual Awakenings in Epic Fantasy
Description:
Starting in the later 20th century, the bildungsromans of epic fantasy began to include sexual awakenings. Some are raunchy, some are awkward, and almost all are self-directed; the wise elders of the genre are mysteriously silent on this crucial topic. When authors can imagine elves and dragons, why is it so hard to also imagine decent fantastical sex ed? How do today’s writers and readers approach this aspect of adolescent self-discovery stories?

These panels are going to be great, and so is the whole convention. We’ve been going to Readercon ever since our daughter was born, as our weekend off for child-free intellectual conversation. It’s a great, thoughtful convention full of great, thoughtful people, no costumes required (or even expected). Come check it out!

Note: If you’re looking for me on the program and can’t find me, it’s because they have me listed under my real last name, Beit-Aharon.

Review: Stay Crazy

I don’t get enough time to read nowadays, and by “not enough time,” I mean that I can basically only read on the odd Friday night when I manage not to fall asleep after both kids have already succumbed. So when I purchased Stay Crazy, I was relieved to find that it was such a slim volume. Maybe sixty, seventy thousand words tops? I can manage that in one sitting! If I don’t sleep much, anyway.

It took me until 2:30am, and I enjoyed every minute. Satifka doesn’t waste too much time getting us to Savertown USA, the Walmart-like superstore where all the action happens, but by that time she’s already established our main character Em well enough that we understand where she’s coming from and can usually tell a hallucination from reality. Usually.

The plot is fun if occasionally predictable, but the greatest strength of Stay Crazy is its incredible depiction of paranoid delusions and the way those delusions mix with the sci-fi element to keep both Em and the reader off their game. Once we’ve accepted that there is an interdimensional being talking to Em, and another one making people kill themselves, every subsequent delusion becomes at least somewhat plausible. Escodex says there’s an evil mind-controlling entity around somewhere, but he doesn’t know exactly where. Could it be the TV quack psychiatrist Wes Summersby? Maybe! The reverend who leads Jackie’s cultish church? Quite possibly! Is Em being paranoid? Absolutely.

I don’t have much experience with schizophrenia, but working with dementia patients I have witnessed plenty of clinical-level paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations up close and personal. I have also been present for manic episodes among friends. At least from my limited experience as a witness and caregiver, the depictions in Stay Crazy ring true. There are plenty of times when Em sees and hears things that aren’t there, and she knows they’re not there, but that doesn’t make them any less distressing. Boy have I seen that with some Parkinson’s patients. There are times when her practical concerns are overwhelmed by mania and magical thinking. I’ve seen that too, and at least from the outside, Satifka’s writing looks spot-on.

The premise is great, the execution is great, the book is great. Highly recommended.

What is Activism For?

This will be a short one, I promise. I just want to take a moment to point to tonight’s huge wins for the Black Lives Matter movement. In Illinois, state attorney Anita Alvarez lost her reelection bid by big margins after gaining notoriety for shielding Chicago police after their killing of Laquan McDonald. In Cuyahoga County, Ohio, it looks like County Prosecutor Tim McGinty will lose his reelection bid too, after coming under fire for refusing to prosecute the killer of 12-year-old Tamir Rice.

Put simply, THIS is what activism is for. The little races are often the ones that matter the most, and local government has in many ways a lot more power over people’s day-to-day lives than the federal government does. Building a protest movement is sometimes deceptively easy, and many movements have failed because of an inability to focus on those places where real change is possible.

Black Lives Matter, for all that it is decentralized in its leadership, seems to understand this on a basic level. Their ability to influence the next president more or less ends once the the Democratic primary does, but the problems that BLM seeks to address are primarily state-level problems (ignore the headline and read the whole article – you’ll be glad you did). The vast majority of state- and county-level races have so little public attention that a modest bit of organizing can go a very long way. And those races matter a LOT. DAs and county prosecutors, for example, have practically absolute power over whether police are held accountable for criminal behavior.

When Occupy Wall Street was at its height, its most obvious flaw was that it functioned much more as an expression of left-wing rage than as a driver of alternative policies. Black Lives Matter isn’t falling into the same traps, and that means it’s also much less likely to fall into the same memory hole.