Another Pile of Books I’m Reading in the Second Half of 2020

It’s been a while. I didn’t have any spare cash for a bit, then I had slightly too much (as far as the Finanzamt is concerned), and then I realised I’d decided not to blog for a few weeks (thanks pandemic and enragingly piss poor response by Berlin, Germany, Europe, and so very very many str8wyt men in all those places), and now see me trying to make an effort like showing up for the exam and everyone knows I didn’t do the work.

Yallah, a pile of books I’m reading (pretending to read) in the second half of 2020, to which I’ll add another pile because I dunno, not enough money to buy anything substantial but just enough to incur a hefty tax bill if I don’t spend it. Weird how poverty is emplaced through institutional, structural and legislative punishment.

All the poetry, and I do mean all the poetry is entirely because of Omar Sakr. Him and Sunny Singh (of the Jhalak Prize) on Twitter are responsible for a large chunk of my reading, whether directly or retweeting interesting people who turn out to be writers and poets.

So, Aria Aber’s Hard Damage, Ellen Van Neerven’s Throat, Sue Hyon Bae’s Truce Country, all poetry that moves me. It still feels odd to be reading poetry, though it’s been a year since Sakr’s The Lost Arabs and Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan’s Postcolonial Banter — just a year! Feels heaps longer. Yeah, poetry is hitting me right.

Also poetry, semi-poetry, poetry-ish, with a history in a festival, Rachel De-Lahay’s My White Best Friend: (And Other Letters Left Unsaid), mainly because I read anything with Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan in it.

Continuing the theme of books recommended by other authors, or cited in their bibliographies. Olivette Otele’s African Europeans: An Untold History, which I already blogged, but these six-monthly book dumps seem to deserve all the books. No idea where I heard about this, but either Twitter authors or one of the blogs I read. And from that, Geraldine Heng’s The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages. Real-time internet archaeology as I write here, I likely read about both on In the Middle, the medieval studies blog, where, on Monday, Geraldine Heng responded to the hit-piece on her and this book.

Which reminded me of the double bind I periodically find myself in. The first time I personally experienced it was with JT LeRoy, who I read in the early-’00s and thought was a trans femme who I could relate to. Turned out JT only existed as a fiction of a white, cis woman, and she’s still making a profit and career off our lives. Funny how consequences slide off them like teflon. More recently it was Medieval PoC – who I used to contribute photographs of Black and Brown people in art when I was on my museum bender – and a deeply messy history going back years of her claiming Native, Roma, and other ancestry. And this year it’s been a regular feast of white cis women in academia and the arts getting sprung for building their careers on false claims of BIPoC ancestry. On the other side of the double bind, it’s white supremacy trying to flip medieval European history to its own agenda, and a ceaseless barrage of racism, misogyny, transphobia, and all the other shit against cis and trans BIPoC authors, academics, artists, very regularly from white, cis women in academia and the arts, like the 46-page (!!!) hit-piece Heng responds to.

I mean, I just wanna read books and have a good time and learn shit and be amazed and generally chill the fuck out with a bunch of words and instead it’s white people colouring up or white people doing hit jobs.

Last couple in the non-fiction pile, then. Peta Stephenson’s The Outsiders Within: Telling Australia’s Indigenous-Asian Story. The one she wrote before Islam Dreaming: Indigenous Muslims in Australia, which it turns out I may not have blogged either. That latter was a big one for me. And keeping on the Islam history thing, John M. Steele’s A Brief Introduction to Astronomy in the Middle East, recommended to me by Dr. Danielle Kira Adams of Lowell Observatory, and responsible for Two Deserts, One Sky — Arab Star Calendars (novel research things there).

Fiction, then. Science-fiction mostly. Becky Chambers, who I’ve been reading for the last few years and pretty content at the moment in reading another one from her, To Be Taught, If Fortunate. Another also from Charles Stross, Dead Lies Dreaming, though after fifteen years this might be the last I read from him, just not really doing it for me and the trans character is very written by a cis. Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth, which I’ve already read, and the sequel Harrow the Ninth, which I’m currently reading / wading through it’s corpsey gore. Claire G. Coleman’s Terra Nullius, Indigetrans colonial invasion sci-fi but not really sci-fi. And speaking of trans, Juno Dawson’s Wonderland, which I kinda liked but wished the literary fixation on Alice in Wonderland stories didn’t exist (same like I wish dance fixation on ‘reimagining’ Swan Lake and the classics didn’t exist).

Lucky last. Fiction but more like Chingona autobiography ghost story, Myriam Gurba’s Mean. Recommended to me by Vass. Thanks babe, she’s fucking with me.

That’s a lot, eh. Piling up, getting partly read then left, words look smaller than they used to and I need glasses but that means organising shit like ophthalmologist appointments and shelling out cash and fuck it I can squint. Though I wonder if the reason why I’m not reading as much as I used to is ’cos words in book form’s blurry all the time.

Damn. Turns out I’ve been pronouncing and spelling…

Status

Damn. Turns out I’ve been pronouncing and spelling “demonstrably” wrong for a very long time. It’s not “demonstratably”, chica, couple too many t’s and a’s there.

Some time later realised I missed an oppo to make a joke about me loving T&A getting in the way of spelling 🤦🏻‍♀️

SecreT(uring)ly

Georg, with whom I worked on co-writing The Station, asked me if I’d like to do another piece of co-writing with him, this time an opera libretto. I said yes (duh!). Last Friday, we had a three-way chat with Henry Vega, the composer, about Alan Turing, neural networks, science fiction, queer stuff, and all, for a sharp hour (Georg’s good like that with his one-hour meetings).

Today I spent a couple of hours (after some dipping of toes last night) in installing TensorFlow-Char-RNN, a “a character level language model using multilayer Recurrent Neural Network,” as made wildly lovable by Janelle Shane of Letting neural networks be weird. That involved installing TensorFlow. I went for the direct MacOS approach (after toying with either a Vagrant VM or Docker container) of the Virtualenv flavour. Plus Python 3. And pip. Dependencies. We have them.

A bit of faffing around, and out is spat a ‘Shakespeare’:

t ‘vkdwsa avf
neu irot rS
, mvuaeea giCsouo aed renat rs
;iiweszteseooiiWhe thrr l st !htt :hsre

I mean, I was expecting a single, long ‘aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa’, so this was progress.

More faffing, fans to 6000rpm, CPU to 500%, and some short while later, ‘Shakespeare’!

Before we proceed any further,
Or each doth now foul branch with thy preser’d up
Young to devise me him;
But in my jewities rebeeve me to this,
Your soul than daggers and breeding
some abrother Arms
What will be pronound with a husband; he’s beauty much or a slaughter,
But I’ll wring my false find than how ill.

Nailed it.

Spellcheck the Shell Way

I was reading this awesome book (about which I shall soon blog) and there was this moment of, “Fark! What a brilliant line!” like I actually said that ’cos it was so good, followed by, “Fark! Spelling mistake of spacecraft’s name!” And I thought wouldn’t a good way to deal with spellchecking (besides my favourite cmd-;) be to take the entire text, do something fancy command-line to it, and output all the words alphabetically by frequency. Then you could just spellcheck that file, find the weird words, go back to the original document and correct the shit out of them. So I did. Brilliant!

# take a text and output all the words alphabetically by frequency
# spaces replaced with line breaks, lowercase everything, punctuation included (apostrophe in ascii \047)
# http://unix.stackexchange.com/questions/39039/get-text-file-word-occurrence-count-of-all-words-print-output-sorted
# http://tldp.org/LDP/abs/html/textproc.html
# http://donsnotes.com/tech/charsets/ascii.html
find . -name "foo.txt" -exec cat {} \; | tr ' ' '\012' | tr A-Z a-z | tr -cd '\012[a-z][0-9]\047' | grep -v "^\s*$" | sort | uniq -c | sort -bnr

Causa Creations: The Station

About 18 months ago, I got an email from Georg Hobmeier. We’d met late the previous year and realised we know all the same people, courtesy Freiburg and other Germano-Austrian places filled with dancers. Georg wrote:

I’m sitting in a room making games. I might require your particular skillset. It’s the story of a woman who’s supposed to activate an unruly missile defence station on an orbital station. There’s drones involved, vending machines and a lot of death in space.

I replied, “… death in space? I say yes!”

And so, in May 2015 I became something of a copy editor, proofreader, translator, fact checker / researcher (just how big would a standard-ish Oort cloud object of slushy comet nucleus type, or d-type asteroid need to be to flatten a city?), co-writer of Georg’s text for Causa Creations’s and Gold Extra’s interactive sci-fi novella The Station. Which was released on Tuesday.

Which makes me a published sci-fi writer / game writer. I think. Woo!

What started out as a quick-ish proofread turned into a few weeks of ever more involved discussion on identity, feminism, colonialism, 500 years in the future. You know, my usual gear, the parts of my particular skill set you get when you require my particular skill set. Some people think they can get me without the politics, like it’s optional. Not Georg! He knows what I’m about.

Which led to me thinking about the main character — already a woman — thinking about utopian-ish futures, and deciding she was bisexual and brown. Georg replied, “So, did I get this right, our hero is an umber-skinned bisexual? Somehow I picture her now as Deborah Dyer aka Skin!” Or Hannah John-Kamen, or Korra, both of whom were in my sci-fi imagination around then. So when you play The Station you have three handy references for who you are.

You’re in space! But why? And how did you get there?

“The Station” is an interactive sci-fi novella set in turbulent times, which the protagonist has a hard time remembering. It’s an orbital rabbit hole tale developed by gold extra with Causa Creations’ support. Text by Georg Hobmeier and Frances d’Ath, Code by Patrick Borgeat, Sound by Juan A. Romero.

Featuring:

  • lasers
  • brain damage
  • lots of accidents
  • vending machines
  • zero gravity horror
  • one rather short labyrinth
  • visually compelling feature list
  • linux puzzles, but not too hard ones
  • a full menagerie of quirky & annoying maintenance machinery

Please also enjoy a full hour of magical space drone music with deep space bass. Available soon.

Available on: App Store and Google Play.

Reading: Caroline Walker Bynum — Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages

The third of seven. I am reading Caroline Walker Bynum the way I read Iain M. Banks. Of the remaining four, one is decidedly unaffordable, so let’s pretend I’m half-way through her opus with Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages.

As with Fragmentation and Redemption, this is a collection of essays, and was published in the same year: 1992. I’m reading it disorderly, in part because I have an agenda, in part because it surpasses my limits of comprehension. Bynum became a phenomenally better writer over the two-ish decades between these two collections of essays (some of which in Jesus as Mother go back even further to the 1970s), starting as she did from quite celestial heights; she also reveals her true abilities in longer works, where she can cut loose with ideas developed and returned to over hundreds of pages.

I realised I was out of my depth when I inadvertently returned to reading the first essay, The Spirituality of Regular Canons in the Twelfth Century and had entirely no idea what she was talking about. No. Idea. Word porridge. I was being sneaky anyway, and jumping forward to the last essay, Women Mystics in the Thirteenth Century: The Case of the Nuns of Helfta.

(I also intend to read Did the Twelfth Century Discover the Individual? and the other two, maybe returning to that first one later.)

There should be one of those brooding, shirtless highland miniseries about the nuns of Helfta. Gertrude the Great of Helfta, Mechtild of Hackeborn, and my favourite, Mechtild of Magdeburg. The others around or near them like Gertrude of Hackeborn, or preceding them like Hildegard of Bingen. There is no way I can do these incredible women any service in writing anything here, but wow are they impressive.

I wish I had more focus at the moment for reading, mostly it’s a couple of pages over breakfast, very much out of rhythm. This isn’t my favourite of Bynum’s which might by why I’m trudging through, but the detail and care—and joy—in her research and writing, and the beauty of the subjects, definitely I’ve turned mediæval in the past year because of her and people like Mechtild of Magdeburg.

Fest — 6 (and other things)

Another week gone, into the fifth week in Vienna, and yesterday it seemed we found the show, Ramadan is into the second week, and I discovered Orphan Black. Yesterday was also our last day for the moment in Kasino Theater. The ImPulsTanz party is there tomorrow, so we’ve scooted back across town to Volks Oper for the next days, hopefully moving back to Kasino early next week as it’s empty and it makes much more sense to be using that space seeing we’ve arrived at set-costumes-lights-sound stage (and with that, Giacomo is also arriving).

Today Ivo veers off to rehearse X-on, which is being performed on Sunday, so my morning and early afternoon is unexpectedly free. Another arrival later this afternoon, is Dasniya, who is teaching Yoga & Shibari this weekend and next week. Hopefully rehearsals will fit that I can turn up also.

The last week in Kasino, then. We’ve made and discarded so many scenes, found several endings and similarly discarded them. Sometimes an idea would work sublimely once and then each subsequent time become more and more forced. The script has been progressively hacked shorter, though still sits around eighty minutes, but for the moment it’s only one part of the third act that falls over. Still, it’s a reliable occurrence that when we get one problem scene sorted, it affects other scenes, usually in different acts requiring more surgery.

Yesterday, Christian Bakalov arrived and watched us run through the whole thing. We’d been working on some ideas all day for delivering the text in the third act in an especially grotesque manner, and somehow – perhaps the desperation of an audience of one – caused everything to fall into some kind of order that for the first time looked like a performance. A very intense, occasionally hysterical performance.

And speaking of performances, Tuesday I got to see Ultima Vez’ What the Body Does Not Remember. Twenty-seven years since its premiere and not looking dated, which is a marked rarity in dance. It was well-impressive also, much throwing around of selves in the way Garry Stewart does at ADT — actually it reminded me of his stuff quite a bit, though more if it was mashed together with mid-’90s Frankfurt Ballet. It was also not infrequently annoyingly heteronormative, which I expect from Wim anyway, but it’s still tiring to watch. I did wish though I’d had that kind of training when I was at VCA in Melbourne, instead of the American Modern (and occasionally Post-Modern) Dance fixation, which never interested me and has had no bearing on what I do (other than avoiding it). Oh, and the dancers were fucking insane, just bloody brilliant, and keeping up that relentless intensity till the end … most impressive, especially from the front row.

Another event in the week was running out of books to read. I finished off Iain Banks’ last one, The Quarry (haven’t blogged it yet), which led to the discovery of Orphan Black. This came about on Sunday courtesy the wonderful Charlie Jane Anders on io9 (yes, I somewhat regularly read this site, but to be fair, mostly I look forward to what Charlie writes), and in the comments was a mention of this series, referencing Torchwood, and seeing I’ve already worked my way through Arrow, I thought, OK, perhaps just one …

Ten episodes later (and four of them last night), and this is now my favourite show. The science is mostly accurate and well-done – far better than most – the ethical and moral issues are handled very cleverly, and the script, the acting … it’s not Game of Thrones, the  universe isn’t that large so it doesn’t require such a monstrous budget, but really it’s the best science-fiction show I’ve seen since Firefly. Better than recent Doctor Who episodes also (and filmed in Toronto!).

I’m especially enjoying it because the lead role goes to a female which is still – especially in science-fiction – depressingly rare, and the main supporting role to a beautiful, makeup-wearing, femme-butch gay boy, Felix. I don’t think I’ve seen a role like his that hasn’t either been written as a caricature or as tragic, especially in the last few years when everyone ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ on TV is trying so very hard to show how very much ‘just like you’ they all are, desexed and only interested in marriage. And he even has sex with a large, black bear of a man; he’s the best bent role since Captain Jack.

Back to Sarah/Beth/Alison/Cosima/Helena/Katja/Rachel/etc, she’s a clone so that explains that, and all the clones are played uncannily by one actor. It’s disconcerting, especially when one plays another, which happens often. Obviously I have a thing for Cosima, who is the best queer-ish female I’ve seen on TV, super smart and so sexy (and her lover Delphine also, and yes, this is the second decade of the 21st century, we see bed action!), and maybe it’s just me, but somehow I think her character, dress, mannerisms, glasses, is based a bit on Lana Wachowski.

Anyway, Ramadan is into its second week and I’m still performing it in a pretend way, fasting as much as I can, doing Iftar, reading some about Islam, and yes, it’s basically Christianity (in any of its forms) or Judaism with the names changed, and the adherents behave in much the same way, mindless fixatation on social policing, obsessional literalism, hegemonic absolutism, the usual amounts of misogyny, heteronormativity, xenophobia … religion, basically. Amidst all this pathetic dross is something beautiful, an attentiveness to life, to self, the people around one’s self, to the physical world, to the philosophy of being, to restraint, humility, care, to pleasure, to joy. Ramadan carries this within it precisely because it’s an act that’s been performed in a codified manner by billions of people for thousands of years, which is why just doing this at any old time doesn’t have the same weight; it’s the sense and awareness of social participation that makes it such a profound personal experience. It’s also caused me to cook far more diligently, seeing there’s only one chance in the day to stuff my mouth.

Off to rehearsal now.