Tag Archives: LGBT

Hopeful Science Fiction: Machine of Loving Grace

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter.

Last winter I discovered the Better Worlds series, a science fiction anthology of short stories and films about hope that was published at The Verge two years ago. This is the tenth story from this anthology I’ve covered here, and I will eventually blog about all of them.

Machine of Loving Grace

Content warning: sexual harassment, cyber bullying, and sexism. I will be discussing these things in my review.

A close-up photo of a circuit board. Katherine Cross’ Machine of Loving Grace showed what happened when an AI designed to moderate video games took on a life of its own.

The content warning for this short story might make some potential readers pause. These are some pretty heavy topics, and they’re things that women, non-binary people, and members of the LGBT+ community can often be inundated with online.

With that being said, I encourage everyone who has the emotional bandwidth for it to dive into this tale. Ami, the AI mentioned earlier, was created to permanently end this abusive behaviour in video games. Imagine being able to play any video game you wish without ever needing to worry about other players mistreating you in these ways!

That idea was so remarkable that I had to find out how Ami’s reaction to these interactions evolved over time. She was programmed to be highly empathetic, so reading abusive chat logs was as disturbing for her as it would be for you or I to read them.

The cool thing about the world building in general was how realistic it felt. While we don’t yet live in a world where AI is capable of moderating video games so precisely, this sure seemed like something that we could all live to see happen. The explanations of how she was created and why Phoebe, the programmer in charge of her, was so surprised by Ami’s actions were well done.

So, too, were the reactions of the higher-ups at Rhombus, the company that employed Phoebe, when they realized how Ami was reacting to a problem that has been around since the Internet was in its infancy.

There are so many things I want to say about later plot twists in relation to the differences between how they reacted to online harassment and what Ami thought should be done about it. This truly is something that all of you should experience for yourselves, especially if you’ve ever been in a situation where someone told you to be patient or to not overreact to something that you knew was wrong and never should have been permitted.

Sometimes hope thrives in places you might be least likely to expect it, and that’s beautiful.

Hopeful Science Fiction: Skin City

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter.

Earlier this year I discovered the Better Worlds series, a science fiction anthology of short stories and films about hope that was published at The Verge two years ago. This is the eighth story from this anthology I’ve covered here, and I will eventually blog about all of them.

Skin City

Kelly Robson’s Skin City was about a street performer named Kass who got into trouble after falling for a radical privacy devotee.

The futuristic world Kass lives in is set about 80 years in the future in a time when climate change has become strong enough to seriously damage cities. Toronto and any other city that wished to survive had long since erected domes over themselves to keep violent, seasonal storms from flattening their historic buildings.

woman wearing virtual reality goggles
They might have looked something like this but larger.

This naturally meant that humans were crammed into much smaller spaces than many folks know in 2020.

To compensate for constantly being surrounded by strangers, some wealthy people in this universe have decided to wear a sort of electronic helmet over their head when they leave home that digitally erase other people in their line of sight and hide the owner’s facial expressions from strangers, too.

The reason why people who wore visors would want to hide their facial expressions is something best discovered by new readers for themselves. It was explained thoroughly and satisfactorily.

I enjoyed reading about these sociological and technological changes. They seemed like things that could easily happen to future generations given what life is like in 2020. I’ve known some people who gave up on social media for privacy reasons and many others who are painstakingly careful about what they post there.

Given the right technology, I can see a lot of people opting out of being seen by others, especially if they’re living in a cramped city that no longer has the resources to give people much personal space at all.

As for Kass? She wasn’t one of those folks who were wealthy enough to afford a status symbol like that by any means. Her income barely covered the necessities, and she definitely wasn’t someone who was thought of highly by the authorities. In fact, when the audience first met her she was in jail and looking at the possibility of spending the rest of her life there.  That’s the sort of detail that will keep me reading for sure!

The ending was well done, too. I would have liked to see more foreshadowing done for it so that readers would have a hint of what was to come when the earlier scenes continued to grow bleaker, but I enjoyed the twist when it was finally revealed. Honestly, it was the only logical outcome of everything that had been established about Kass and her society earlier on.

Now I know you’re all wondering how a story about a character who was incarcerated and deeply in love with someone who ordinarily would never interact with her could possibly be hopeful.

There was a time right before the final scene when I was tempted to stop reading. It didn’t seem possible for there to be a cheerful ending when Kass had so many things stacked against her pursuit of happiness.

The beautiful thing about the Better Worlds series is that it doesn’t require perfection from its characters, settings, or plot twists. In fact, some of the best stories in this online anthology so far have come from the most unlikely places in my opinion.

While this wasn’t my favourite story in this collection, it was a solid one.

Hopeful Science Fiction: St. Juju

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter.

A few months ago, I discovered the Better Worlds series, a science fiction anthology of short stories and films about hope that was published at The Verge two years ago. This is the fifth story from this anthology I’ve covered here, and I will eventually blog about all of them.

There are mild spoilers in this post. 

St. Juju

A mushroom growing on a patch of grass. In Rivers Solomon’s St Juju, a young woman must choose between her secure enclave and the one she loves.

The characters in this book lived in a world where everyone scavenged in order to survive. Specifically, they visited ancient landfills to harvest mushrooms and other foods that grew there.

There wasn’t as much time spent on the world building as I would have liked to see, but the audience was given glimpses of the strict society that the main character and her girlfriend, Enid, lived in. Everyone was required to work hard in order for their community to have enough to feed all of its members.

On the positive side, the landfills they visited generally had food for them and they seemed to live pretty peacefully due to the strict laws that governed them and the low population density of humans in general.

What you and I consider to be trash these days has been transformed into treasure for this future generation for reasons that I’ll leave up to other readers to discover for themselves.

There were also some fascinating references to certain genetic mutations that had taken place in some people in order to help them adapt better to this environment. I love the idea of humanity and the Earth healing and adapting together like this.

The romance was handled nicely, too. Would the main character stay home or would she remain with her girlfriend and go explore parts of the world that neither of them had seen yet? That question pushed the plot to move forward while still leaving plenty of space for her to reflect on what she’d lose and gain with either choice.

I’d recommend St. Juju to anyone who likes mixing genres.

Safe Haven: A Review of Everfair

Book cover for Everfair by Nisi Shawl. Image on cover is of a pair of hands holding a globe that's illuminated by gold light and surrounded by flying birds. Title: Everfair

Author: Nisi Shawl

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date: 2016

Genres: Fantasy, Alternate History, Steampunk

Length: 384 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 3 stars

Blurb:

From noted short story writer Nisi Shawl comes a brilliant alternate-history novel set in the Belgian Congo.

What if the African natives developed steam power ahead of their colonial oppressors? What might have come of Belgium’s disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier?

Fabian Socialists from Great Britain join forces with African-American missionaries to purchase land from the Belgian Congo’s “owner,” King Leopold II. This land, named Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven, an imaginary Utopia for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated.

Shawl’s speculative masterpiece manages to turn one of the worst human rights disasters on record into a marvelous and exciting exploration of the possibilities inherent in a turn of history. Everfair is told from a multiplicity of voices: Africans, Europeans, East Asians, and African Americans in complex relationships with one another, in a compelling range of voices that have historically been silenced. Everfair is not only a beautiful book but an educational and inspiring one that will give the reader new insight into an often ignored period of history.

Review:

Content warning: Racism and sexism. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

Strap in for a wild ride.This book has a bit of everything!

Ms. Shawl did a very good job of explaining the political and historical landscape of the setting. I didn’t know a lot about how Belgium colonization of the Congo went so horribly wrong in our world, so I was grateful for all of the details the author provided about why Belgium made that decision and how they expected to make it work before she imaged how things could have turned out much differently for the Congo if they’d already had steam technology when this conflict boiled over.

The cast of characters was massive. Rather than telling this tale from the perspective of one or even a few different people, there were dozens of narrators and other protagonists to sort out as I read. Given the fact that each chapter was written in a form that was pretty similar to a short story and that previous characters often weren’t revisited until many years after their previous entry, I had lots of trouble keeping up with everyone and the plot at the same time. This felt like something that really should have been separated out into several novels or many more novellas. There was so much going on in the plot that nobody got all of the attention they deserved.

There was a list of characters, their relationships to each other, and approximately when and where they lived included before the story began. I was glad to have this information and would highly recommend taking a look at it before beginning the first chapter. As I mentioned earlier in this review, the cast of characters is humongous. Having a basic idea of everyone’s identity and when they lived is crucial in order to understanding the plot, and this list did help with that even though I still believe the plot would have been better served if it were divided into a series and no more than three or four narrators were included in each instalment.

Anyone who loves alternate history speculative fiction should check this book out.

Hopeful Science Fiction: Online Reunion

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter.

Recently, I discovered the Better Worlds series, a science fiction anthology of short stories and films about hope that was published at The Verge two years ago. This is the second story from this anthology I’ve covered here, and I will eventually blog about all of them. 

There are mild spoilers in this post. 

Online Reunion

Close-up of a computer keyboard. The "enter" key is pink and has a red heart on it. Leigh Alexander’s “Online Reunion” was about a young journalist chronicling a vintage e-pet reunion who gets more than she expected.

One of the things I found most interesting about this tale was how little time it spent on the world building.

The Internet had changed society in some pretty profound ways over the decades, but this wasn’t something I fully appreciated until I read it for the second time. I’d definitely recommending reading this slowly in order to catch every hint about what’s really going on here.

Human Nature

Fashions may come and go, but human nature remains constant from one era to the next. The best portions of this story were the ones that quietly highlighted what has changed, and even more importantly what hasn’t changed, over the past few generations since people began using the Internet heavily.

Jean, the main character, thought she had a good idea of what to expect when she went to Mrs. Marchenstamp’s house to interview her. I was amused by the assumptions she made about the first generation who used the Internet heavily, especially once Jean realized that she might have underestimated her interview subject.

There was also something comforting in the thought of people finding new ways to connect with each other in a futuristic world where something similar to Internet Addiction Disorder is much more common and dangerous than it is today.

I can’t go into detail about that topic without wandering into serious spoiler territory, but I was pleased with how familiar this tale felt. Yes, the characters had access to technology that you and I can only dream of, and there were plenty of social problems the plot hinted at that seemed to have grown worse over time instead of better.

But I still felt as thought I could sit down and have a cup of tea with any of the characters. Other than the occasional slang term that would be used differently in their world than in ours, they seemed like people I already knew. There was a familiarity with their problems and their triumphs that made me want to get to know them better.

As much of a cliche as this is to type, people are people everywhere. I loved seeing all of the similarities between them and us.

It made me look forward to the future. What could be better than that?

Hopeful Science Fiction: A Theory of Flight

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter. Recently, I discovered the Better… Read More

Unexpected Love: A Review of The Shape of Water

Content warning: racism, sexism, a few brief scenes involving blood, death of a pet, and sexual harassment. I will only mention the first three items in this list in my review. The Shape of Water is a dark fantasy romance about a lonely janitor who falls in love with an amphibious humanoid creature who is being… Read More

Suggestion Saturday: June 30, 2018

Happy Pride! As a member of the LGBT community, it was especially fun for me to put together this week’s list of pie charts, blog posts, and other LGBT-themed links from my favourite corners of the web. Things You Should Never Have to Do. All of the sections in this pie chart were beautifully true, but I… Read More