Archive for the ‘General Musings’ Category

Newsflash: I just got an invite to my 10-year high school reunion. AND I STILL DON’T HAVE ANYTHING TO BRAG ABOUT!

We have officially reached DefCon 1, people.

Okay, so I have a college degree and a stable job that pays well and a loving marriage and a home of my own. In the larger social context, these are huge accomplishments. In fact, most people, even the ones who share my demographic, don’t have these things all at once. I am well aware that I am one lucky son-of-a-bitch. But, as always, context rules. I mean, for goodness’s sake, I had people expecting me to be president by now (an expectation I always thought was odd and not a little demonstrative of the failure of public education). And my hair still bends in weird ways, even with product in it. And I lack a sexy six-pack. And I still get acne for chrissake!

(I wonder: Do guys have to worry so much about physical adequacy when it comes to school reunions? I certainly hope so because this shitty feeling needs to be shared, dammit.)

More importantly, I feel as though I’ve fallen pitiably short of all expectations that I would be a wunderkind of some kind at this point. And despite my professional accomplishments that I take great pride in, I still feel like they’re only take-pride-inable in the context of the office drone life.

Where are the daring adventures?

Where are the tattoos and illicit substances?

Where are the life cakes made of success and ultimate happiness?! I WAS PROMISED CAKE!*

Have I really been lulled into the life of a drone? Do I wake up every morning just to put my nose to the grindstone for projects that are ultimately small and unimpressive? Am I growing steadily softer as my life becomes more and more sedentary?

My first feeling (which can tend to be the most malicious) to all of these questions is, “Yes, you piece of rotting monkeymeat on maggot-filled driftwood.” But if I look honestly at the things I do and how I live my life, I have to answer in the negative. Okay, so the close-up might seem that way, especially to someone who might be looking to denigrate my life and accomplishments (i.e., me). But in reality, I’m still actively pursuing the adventure in my life that I’ve always wanted:

  • I have half a novel done and am chipping more and more at it every day. One day soon  it will be a whole novel!
  • I’m scheduled to begin archery lessons next month.
  • I’ll start running races this year (already signed up).
  • This summer, I’ll start earning a pilot’s license.
  • I’m even looking seriously into starting a PhD program in the next couple of years.

Of course, it’s not as easy as all of that sounds. Why do I have half a novel done? Because I write late and wake up early. How will I have enough time to take up archery? Because I wake up early on the weekends and clean my house while the sun is coming up. How am I preparing to race this year? By being conscious about what I eat and making time every day to go to the gym and train my body. Why am I earning my pilot’s license? Because it’s a thing to do, and I have a few free hours in the week. And why the hell am I considering a PhD program? Because I’m smart and I have something to offer and I’m curious and I want to explore that.

So, yes. I have an office job, and I’ve made office-job accomplishments. But, if there’s one thing I’ll be able to brag about most, it’s that I’ve persevered. I’ve persevered in my writing, no matter how slow my progress. I’ve persevered in my health, no matter how much cheesecake has tempted me. And I’ve persevered in my curiosity, no matter how much my schedule has tempted me with more sleep and easy mornings filled with reading books for fun.

My life lets me read great stories, write my heart out, and explore new skills.

My life sounds pretty fucking great to me.

I think I’m ready to start bragging now.

*Insert obligatory Portal reference here.

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Yesterday, I had a shower thought—you know, when you’re still sleepy and your thinking hasn’t settled into its normal structure, resulting in ideas that are often very weird but sometimes kind of amazing—and I discovered an answer to a question that has plagued me off and on for well over a decade: In the novel Jane Eyre, what is the relationship between Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester (known as “Edward Fairfax Crazypants Rochester” to some) and his household manager, Mrs. Fairfax? Not so much, “How do they get on?” More like, “Why is Mr. Rochester’s middle name the same as Mrs. Fairfax’s married name?”

Short answer: She’s his aunt.

But let’s back this up. Because we know that Mrs. Fairfax is Rochester’s household manager, we can reasonably assume that her late husband, Mr. Fairfax, was Rochester’s steward (i.e., the person who keeps the books, collects rent, and otherwise manages his employer’s properties). Stewardships, like so many other ranks in England’s history, were (usually) inherited. The steward and his family (usually) enjoyed distinction and a comfortable living, but they were by no means considered gentlemen. They were strictly servants. So how did a servant’s family name come to be mingled with a gentleman’s name: “Fairfax Rochester”?

You could say that the Rochesters and Fairfaxes were close and wanted their children’s names to reflect this friendship. You’d probably be wrong. That’s not how naming conventions worked in 19th-century England. Names were for showing pedigree, especially if you had one to show like the Rochesters did. They were not for showing the parents’ creativity or nostalgia or affections for other people*. One common convention for showing pedigree on the mother’s side was to bestow her maiden name onto sons as a middle name (sometimes the first name, like Fitzwilliam Darcy in Pride and Prejudice). If we allow this convention to inform our extrapolations about Rochester’s origins, we can draw few other conclusions than that his mother was a Fairfax, a daughter of the Rochester family’s steward and therefore the sister of the late steward, Mrs. Fairfax’s husband.

THIS MEANS THAT ROCHESTER, SR., MARRIED AN EMPLOYEE, TOO! (Or, at least, the daughter of an employee. Same thing.)

You might think that this is a trivial point to make, but let’s take a look at some possible consequences of such a match:

  • Rochester’s mother knew what it was like to come from the servant class and would not likely want that life for her children, especially if they had access to a much better life.
  • Rochester, Sr., would be extra conscientious about his children sliding back down the social ladder and not climbing it.
  • Edward Rochester was the youngest son and therefore had little or no inheritance coming to him.
  • The fears of both parents were likely to be realized to some degree in Edward.
  • It’s suddenly a lot easier to understand why Rochester, Sr., would be so reckless and single-minded in choosing a very rich woman for his son to marry.
  • This reckless decision making results in Edward marrying a (so-called) crazy woman.

The rest is history, but another layer emerges when you consider how his parents’ socially reprehensible match might’ve affected Rochester’s worldview and behavior. Edward’s parents’ story and whatever social jabs and setbacks they suffered was likely a cautionary tale to him, but it was also likely an important piece of personal history that informed his eventual decision to accept his love for Jane and marry her (i.e., “Well, Mom and Dad did it, so why can’t I?”).

All of these conclusions are very cold-casey and fun to think about, but we should remember that Mr. Rochester and whatever family history he has are part of a Gothic novel. And Gothic novels were nothing if not socially conservative and didactic. So the question remains: What moral can we conclude from Rochester’s checkered family history? The answer is fairly obvious: All who upset the social order by marrying outside their social sphere will bring punishment on themselves and on their children.

The Rochester men’s penchant for marrying women well below their station—employees, no less!—has only ever resulted in pain and suffering. Edward’s marriage to a (so-called) crazy woman was the old Mr. Rochester’s punishment. Not only did he have to live with the knowledge of having ruined his son’s life, but he also had to know that he had ruined the chances for the continuation of his family’s name and legacy through Edward. If I remember correctly (it’s been a few years since I reread the novel), the old Mr. Rochester died before his older son did, but I don’t doubt that he would’ve been any less pained by the fact that his youngest son would have no progeny and that his legacy would be that much weaker. Then, of course, Edward gets his comeuppance when he gets caught in Thornfield while it burns the ground, which blinds and partially cripples him. We can easily read his disfiguring as a punishment for a number of more obvious sins, including adultery and attempted bigamy, but in the context of his family’s history, I believe his disregard for social custom by marrying down was also more than enough reason for the story’s universe to seek revenge on him.

Now, let’s consider the ending through the lens of a family history that continues even still to ignore social mores. Jane is understandably elated and happy just to be married to the man she loves; however, Jane is also a teenager and naïve. Strong willed and principled, but still naïve. Of course she would be happy in her love. But I wonder what Mr. Rochester thinks. Is he still defiant against God and man’s judgment? What does he plan for his son’s future marriage prospects? Would he manipulate him the same way his father did? Or would he step outside that cycle? Even if he does step outside that cycle, will the punishment for Edward’s sin of marrying below his station still be visited upon his son eventually? Will his son also seek love in the arms of someone well below his station?

If the story’s universe takes a steep toll on all those who upset the social order by marrying down, then the ending of Jane Eyre can be read as a failure to learn the right lesson and as the beginning of a new family that is doomed to more tragedy. Jane just doesn’t know it yet.

So, yeah. Jane Eyre’s ending was really a tragic one because Mrs. Fairfax is Edward Rochester’s aunt.

(Also, this tidbit means that Mrs. Fairfax is to Rochester what Mrs. Reed is to Jane! I don’t know what this parallel relationship means, but I think it’s probably important!)

*Fun Fact: In Vietnam, it is traditionally considered extremely rude and disrespectful to name your child after anyone you know, especially a family member or someone older than you. The assumption is that you will eventually scold your child and that while doing so, you’re also “scolding” the person they’re named after.

Things Assholes Say

Posted: September 7, 2012 in General Musings, Rant
Tags: , , , ,

“Well, of course you agree with him. He’s your husband!”—Every asshole ever

The funny thing is that even though this statement is insulting and dismissive of my ability to think critically and independently, if I call the asshole out on his bullshit, I get to be the cunt. It’s totally cool for him to say this kind of shit to me, but how dare I even suggest that he has been uncritical of his misogyny. I was just supposed to take it on the chin, good-naturedly and smiling—hell, I should even have agreed, because of course it’s true and I have nothing genuine or of value to say unless I’m disagreeing with my husband. Apparently, I signed away both my right and my ability to think and speak for myself when I signed my marriage certificate.

Oh, and I love this similar one too: “Of course you agree with her. She’s your wife.”

The amazing thing about these statements is that I lose in both cases. In the first one, I’m a brainless wife with no identity beyond the one her husband has assigned her. In the second one, I’m a ball-and-chain bitch who clearly withholds sex if my husband even considers revolting by having an original thought—in public no less! No matter how you put it, I’m the worse person. That is absolutely amazeballs.

And, yes. That’s exactly what those two statements mean.

So, guys—forgive the finger-pointing, but I’ve never heard a woman say either of these statements, while most men I know have said some version of them—if you wish to avoid asshole-hood, keep this in mind: if someone, especially a woman, is giving an opinion and it doesn’t coincide with yours, don’t dismiss it based on that person’s current romantic relationship. Even if this happens to be the case—I have witnessed this kind of relationship dynamic before—you’re still responsible for the verbal vomit you choose to share. Most likely, no one wants to share your vomit. Keep it to yourself.

/rant

For those who don’t know, simultaneous submissions (simsubs) are exactly what they sound like: stories submitted to more than one publication for consideration simultaneously. As an unpublished writer at the beginning of her career, I’ve always found the “no simsubs” requirement annoying. Essentially, “no simsubs” means I’ve written and revised a story that I think is ready for publication, but I have to wait three, six, nine months (sometimes longer) just to hear “Thanks, but no thanks” and move on to the next market, only to wait the same amount of time for likely the same answer. All just to see a single story in print. To say the least, it’s inconvenient. YOU’RE DELAYING MY ROWLING-ESQUE FAME AND FORTUNE, PUBLISHERS!

But I’ve also understood the necessity for “no simsubs” because I’ve worked with a literary journal before. When I was in college, I interned with Hayden’s Ferry Review, and both the journal and the experience were awesome. HFR is not an A-list journal—though it definitely deserves to be—and the slush was still monstrous. Thousands of pages, people. Thousands of pages read by volunteers who had day jobs and lives. And there were always more pages coming in—”hydra” is a better term than “slush.” My time with HFR was invaluable, if for no other reason than because I gained insight into the frantic lives of editors and publishers. I learned that patience is indeed a virtue for writers to have when it comes to editors. We are, after all, in this together.

Then I came across a heated Twitter debate over the value of requiring “no simsubs.” Wow. I never thought that was a convo that would get out of hand.

Here is the breakdown: It is inconvenient and even expensive (time-wise) for writers—especially writers who are new to the community—to have to wait long periods of time for responses. It is also inconvenient (not to mention frustrating) for editors and publishers to finally get to the perfect story only to have it withdrawn because it has been accepted elsewhere. It was also expressly suggested that requiring no simsubs necessarily places an editor’s convenience above a writer’s—to the extent of being called anti-labor. One participant summed up the conflict pretty well:

Competing business interests

I agree with the first statement, but I don’t understand the necessity of being required to choose a “side.” Competing business interests don’t have to result in an us-vs.-them mindset. (Game theory, yo.)

It is in the interest of editors to respond quickly to writers because doing so shows respect and professionalism, which is usually reciprocated. It is also in the interest of writers to be patient with editors where necessary, including response time.

This doesn’t mean a writer has to take it lying down when a market promised to respond in six months nine months ago; it just means writers should respect the needed (as opposed to convenient) time frame a given market has been honest enough to communicate—in fact, it benefits writers to do so. I have a feeling that way more writers* wouldn’t get their fair shake if all editors and readers had a response time of about a week instead of having the breathing room that a “no simsubs” caveat affords. For many publications, that would mean the readers and editors reviewed pretty much only the first page of the story, or just skimmed the text. Demanding that readers and editors push the bounds of what they are reasonably capable of reading in a given time period (either to simply respond quickly or to beat an imaginary competitor to the proverbial punch) can only result in a disservice to the authors who submit their work, the reputation of the publication that backs that work, and the readers who (usually) pay to see what the editors deem the best work. I’ll channel Neil Gaiman here: Editors are not your bitch.

Moreover, only the editors of a given market know what they are capable of handling because they happen to be the ones who know exactly what their submission volume and reading speed are. Editors have a responsibility to build their business—and it is a business, even if they don’t make any money—around what they are capable of producing and to communicate as honestly as they can what that capability is. Doing so is not privileging the editor’s convenience (a word that sounds to me like a charge of laziness) over the writer’s: it’s giving an honest depiction of what one is reasonably able to do and asking for professional courtesy in return (okay, requiring it, not just asking for it). As far as I know, there is no tech that will substantially mitigate the time it takes to read a given work critically and determine its suitability for publication in the target market. It’s the nature of the industry, so far, and no one has ever been shy about sharing this information.

When the word “anti-labor” made its entrance, the whole conversation deteriorated quickly. Frankly, I think the debate was doomed the moment it started because it was being held over Twitter, not because either side was unwilling to compromise or engage in intelligent discussion on the matter. Bandying the term “anti-labor,” however, hastened the conversation’s demise for two reasons.

First, the term assumes that the relationship between writer and editor is necessarily one of conflict—“us vs. them,” “pro- vs. anti-.” This assumption lives right down the street from WHY DO THEY DESTROY MY WORK OMG THEY DON’T UNDERSTAND MY VISION!—an attitude the helps no one, least of all writers, because it inhibits valuable communication and constructive progress.

Second, it denies the labor that the editorial side of publishing demands. Editors are not managers, either in function or in name (unless they’re managing editors and above, of course). They are the creative people who collaborate with writers on the next stage of a story’s life (less so in short-form markets, but still). Writers definitely do the bulk of the work throughout the creative process, but this fact does not diminish the quantity and value of the creative work required of others, namely editors.

Understanding all of this doesn’t make me any less impatient when I have to wait after submitting a story, but that doesn’t mean the problem originates with the editors and the markets they represent. I make the choice to submit to markets with long response times because those markets also have a larger and more consistent readership, which translates into visibility for me. I’ve always had the option to submit to markets with shorter response times, but those markets tend to be smaller and are often “untested” in my estimation. Then again, I’m also “untested” in the eyes of the more popular markets, which have a stricter image and aesthetic they need to consider. It might behoove me to rein in my ego and submit to a smaller market that can respond faster and has greater freedom to take a chance on a newbie like me**.

*“Way more writers,” of course, being a highly reliable statistic of the scientific variety. Science.

**Or I could just write better. That might help, too.

Of all the ending scenarios, I chose Synthesis. This isn’t to say that I thought or think it was the perfect ending—since, you know, still no blue children—but it was the one I felt achieved most of my goals. While Destroy would’ve also fully removed the threat of the Reapers, Synthesis allowed everyone the chance to actually live as well. Everyone, including the geth and EDI, survived. It was important to me that they survive, especially EDI. They had only just reached full self-awareness; it would be a tragedy not to be able to live and explore what it means to live. It just didn’t seem fair that they should have to pay with their lives for the aggression of the Reapers.

Nonetheless, Synthesis left a mosquito bite on my conscience. (The one for gaming, not IRL, silly.)

By forcing everyone to transcend their current stage of evolution, did I rob them of their right to evolve on a more natural path? Is synthesizing organic and synthetic life without anyone’s permission essentially the same thing as rewriting the geth heretics to agree with the non-heretics (another icky decision)? And to what extent was life in the galaxy “synthesized”? Did it apply only to the species who had achieved space flight and were participants in the greater galactic community? Did it include plant life? Single-celled organisms? Non-space-faring civilizations like the yaag? Has everyone, everything, everywhere in the entire Milky Way galaxy suddenly jumped forward to the final stage of evolution (itself a problematic concept because since when has evolution been leading up to anything at all)?

Those last questions are probably getting too nitpicky and might be answered fairly with, “It’s just a story. Get over it*.” But the first two bring up fair points. Personally, I would answer no to both of them.

No, synthesizing organics and synthetics did not rob anyone of a better, or “more natural,” evolutionary path. The evolution of any species depends entirely on that species’ suitability for survival in a given environment. This suitability is determined by a number of factors, but the most salient one is “not dying.” Given the predated nature of the environment (i.e., that there were Reapers in it), synthesis enabled the most number of people to survive and continue their lives as they saw fit. And I don’t accept any suggestion that the evolution of one’s own species either is or should be beyond that species’ capacity to influence or even determine—especially when that species has reached the level of technological advancement present in the Mass Effect universe. In other words, synthesis between organics and synthetics as an evolutionary path is just as natural as the path that has brought humans to our current stage of evolution.

No, synthesis is not the same as rewriting the geth heretics. When/if Shepard rewrote the geth heretics, she took something away from them: their perspective. Synthesis actually gives new perspective. More accurately, the new perspective is a bonus of synthesis. Rewriting the heretics took away their right to free thought in the interest of removing conflict. Synthesis, on the other hand, elevated and enlightened organic and synthetic thought and nature to the point that martial conflict was no longer necessary. The galactic community is still as diverse as it ever was, and everyone still has free will in their own lives. But now there’s a common thread that binds everyone. This thread is what has allowed everyone to surpass the limitations in understanding that make war an inevitability.

Or maybe I’m an optimist who’s splitting hairs because I want to justify my choice.

One last thought on Synthesis and then we’ll move on to Refusal.

A lot of people have voiced a complaint that’s somewhere along the lines of, “Um, how exactly is metal supposed acquire DNA?” I’ll move right past the response of “Who said synthetics were metal?” to say I don’t know the answer to this question, and frankly, I’m not interested in it. After all of the impossible things we’ve accepted about this story—faster-than-light travel**, explosions and sound in the vacuum of space, and a magic “element” that gives people telekinetic powers in addition to solving a plethora of other inconvenient physical improbabilities like Earth-like gravity on spaceships—this is the one point where we’re going to cease suspending our disbelief? Really? That particular line of criticism holds no interest for me.

So. Refusal.

Good on Shepard. Trillions of lives were brutally snuffed out, but this way she doesn’t have to feel morally presumptuous. Principled self-sacrifice for everyone, on the house! And hey, look! We get to have an ending in which the Reapers win. Of course, they only win because you’ve chosen to let them win, but beggars can’t be choosers?

Not much can really be said about this ending because there’s not much there. It was created as an attempt to appease a fan base that felt cheated, not as a legitimately considered ending for the story. The producers bet that people wouldn’t want or expect an ending in which Shepard lost, and they bet wrong. Refusal met the demand but only at face value. They would’ve had to rewrite the entire game (the moral-choice algorithm, that is, not just the narrative) to get an ending in which the Reapers won. I think the producers just got so wrapped up in the ability of the player to make decisions that they lost sight of the fact that players were more interested in seeing the consequences of those actions. Losing to the Reapers should’ve been a consequence, not a decision.

I am curious, however, about the Stargazer at the end of the game with this decision. How did this new civilization achieve peace exactly? What made them so special that they heeded the warnings of past cycles when every other species has only ever either ignored or not found them? And we know what Shepard’s choices were at the end. Were they different for the next organic who activated the Crucible? What choice did that organic make?

Like I said: bandage. BioWare would’ve done better to stand by its original endings (including the extended cuts) than to try to shoehorn a (non)solution into the story that really just creates more confusion.

 

*And if I tried to answer them here, I’d be writing a book, not a blog post.

**Until those results can be replicated and supported more thoroughly, I’ll stick with Dr. Einstein and his homies on this one.

Here are a couple of simple logical syllogisms:

  • Red = Renegade. Red = Destroy. Renegade = Destroy.
  • Blue = Paragon. Blue = Control. Paragon = Control.

BioWare spent the entire franchise establishing the red/blue color system, so I don’t think quibbling over that particular point is worthwhile. However, I am willing to consider that these colors were not properly assigned in the final choice of the game.

Ostensibly, the definitive marker for either path is the body count: the more people you kill/hurt, the more Renegade you are, and the more people you save/spare/help, the more Paragon you are. A Renegade Shepard is also xenophobic, generally paranoid, and completely unhindered by that pesky social thing called consideration—she likes to let her fists do the talking. A Paragon Shepard, on the other hand, is touchy-feely and wants to save everyone all the time and would, let’s face it, out-naïve even a five-year-old. So, on the surface, the endings seem appropriately colored. The kill-em-all, show-neither-mercy-nor-quarter ending seems to fit perfectly within the paradigm of a Renegade Shepard; the but-we-don’t-have-to-kill-them, and-we-get-bonus-tech ending seems like something a Paragon Shepard would do. Or so it would seem.

The most obvious clue that not everything is as it should be is visual. The developers chose the Illusive Man to act out the Paragon choice and Admiral Anderson to act out the Renegade choice. Wuh? First of all, no. The Illusive Man is a renegade in every sense, including the dictionary definition (the second one). And Anderson? He’s brave, self-sacrificing, diplomatic (though lacking in political gusto), and even a little naïve—clearly, he was created to be part of the Paragon tradition. Why the sudden change?

Let’s go back to those definitions we were just talking about. Maybe that will provide some clarity.

The Destroy ending definitely racks up a body count. Depending on your EMS, it’s entirely possible that killing the Reapers also results in killing everyone on Earth. And of course, regardless of your EMS, all the Geth and EDI (poor Joker!) end up being the unfortunate collateral damage in the genocide (synthecide?) of the Reapers. However, destroying the Reapers also stops the cycle of “harvesting” and doesn’t necessarily have to result in the deaths of everyone and everything on Earth. Furthermore, choosing to destroy the Reapers leaves the lines of FTL communication and transportation damaged but reparable, which at least partly preserves the galactic economy. The peace following the defeat of the Reapers may be ephemeral*, but at least our destruction would be our own**, not the will of something that claims to know what’s best for us. The catalyst claims to have created the Reapers to protect organic life (Three Laws gone astray, anyone?); destroying them to protect free will—even if it is ultimately destructive to our long-term survival interest—is a Hobbesian cry of “Liberty or death!”

The Control ending on the other hand, was always off-putting to me, even without the overt association with the Illusive Man. While “destroy” is a pretty cut-and-dried word, “control” has more nuance that I find sinister. After all, didn’t the Reapers seek to control organics through indoctrination? And didn’t every indoctrinated slave think it was still in “control”? Didn’t the Reapers, in fact, want the Illusive Man to “control” them, or at least to believe that he could? Oh, and the only thing she has to give up to do it is her life. AND HER ENTIRE IDENTITY. And what about Shepard’s epilogue? Those were not the notes belonging to a benevolent government and a harmonious society and the fluffy bunnies and rainbows that run things. Those were the notes that introduce a villain. The “peace” that the galaxy knows now is not the result of a concerted effort on all sides to work together with mutual respect and dignity. It’s a result of the fact that the Shepard-Reaper fleet is pointing a lot of huge fucking guns at them and saying, “Play nice.” She may have been “the one to save the many” (I see what you did there, BioWare), but what kind of salvation is that? It sounds a bit more like tyranny to me. And how long will it be before she decides to “protect” everyone by harvesting and archiving them all over again. Because then at least they wouldn’t be killing each other.

Furthermore, the prospect that controlling the Reapers would advance our own technology by leaps in bounds makes me suspicious. It sounds a bit like the snake trying to sell the apple to me. It smacks at hubris, and we all know what happens to everyone with that particular tragic flaw. (If you don’t know, I’ll give you the CliffsNotes version: Your shit gets fucked sideways.)

So, basically, I think that BioWare got the colors wrong. Destroying the Reapers should’ve been the Paragon option; controlling them should’ve been the Renegade option. In the long run, the former has a much smaller body count than the latter.

And it’s not that I’m trying to dumb down the complexity of the final choice. I loved it. It was hard, and I don’t think it should’ve been easier to make. That complexity was a good thing for a game trying to work on the principle of having players make difficult moral choices. I think BioWare got the colors wrong because the choices are inconsistent with the type of character that would’ve chosen them. I believe a Paragon Shepard would’ve seen allowing the Reapers to remain as they are (even with a little Shepard-juice infusion) was dangerous for the entire galaxy, just as the lure of ultimate control and vast technological power would’ve been too great a temptation for a Renegade Shepard to resist.

Or maybe the developers just didn’t want to make it that cut-and-dried, that obvious, that easy. If that’s the case, the obfuscation of the two main choices reveals either inartful writing (if I’m being harsh) or the shortfall of our current gaming technology in its ability to support the myriad narrative outcomes that are necessarily a part of taking different moral paths (if I’m being generous). It’s probably a lot closer to the latter.

 

*On a side note, I figured out why the Destroy ending is the only one that allows Shepard to live! Galactic war, though distant, is an eventuality in this universe, not just a possibility. Where there is war, there are warriors and heroes. The world still has a place for Shepard and people like her! (Yay theory!)

**“I hold it to be the inalienable right of anybody to go to hell in his own way.” Robert Frost

ME3 FemshepHere there be spoilers, mateys. (But really, what else would you expect?)

Overall, I think the game was good. The effects were gorgeous. And the soundtrack? Stirring. Emotional. Beautiful. I could listen to it all day. Seriously. I even made a Pandora station around it, and I’m listening to it right now. Most of the new enemies, especially the Banshee and the Brute, were a pleasant challenge. (“Pleasant challenge” meaning, of course, that the Banshees freaked the shit out of me with their—apt—shrieking and the Brutes had me running terrified most of the time.) The pacing, which has always been a nagging issue in the franchise for me, was pretty good in this game.

The narrative was also good, though problematic (to say the least) at points. Many people seemed to be upset that pretty much nothing you did could avoid Shepard’s death (which isn’t entirely true, but true enough). Personally, I think it was fairly predictable given the number of hints that were dropped during the game, not to mention the game developers’ continued insistence that this installment would definitely be the full-stop end to Shepard’s story. And then there’s the hero’s name itself: Shepard. The highly religious symbolism that accompanies this name is hard to miss. We end up with a character who is a leader and a unifier, who brings peace through self-sacrifice. Could the story really have ended any other way with such contextual trappings? Without the Reapers, Shepard has no purpose. She becomes Frodo, wasting away in the Shire, hollowed out from an experience that was just so much bigger than she was. The Mass Effect world didn’t need her anymore, so it was necessary to cut her out of it.

Mostly, I was just disappointed that I wouldn’t get to have a bunch of little blue children.

Shepard’s nearly unavoidable demise, however, is only a symptom of the most disappointing (and ironic) aspect of the game: that ultimately your choices don’t matter, or at least they don’t obviously matter much. They matter in building your Effective Military Strength and in whether less than a handful of side characters survive, but not in the fundamental narrative of your Shepard’s story. Did you kill the Rachni queen in ME? That’s okay, the Reapers got a replacement. Did you choose Anderson to join the Council? Udina takes his place anyway so that he can serve the story by betraying them. Did you destroy the Collector base? Meh. The Illusive Man still got some of it anyway. To me, any one of these events should have forced the narrative in distinctly different directions. That the game more or less “corrects” your decisions undermines the entire gaming model, which is supposed to be based on choice. At the eleventh hour, the game shifted gears and becomes about the inexorability of destiny—the antithesis of free will and making choices of any kind, moral or amoral. I would have been perfectly content if at any point it became impossible to beat the Reapers due to past decisions. That’s war, especially when the opponent is so vastly superior in every way. If BioWare had taken that direction, I have a feeling they would’ve actually gotten a few backslaps for being ballsy enough to make a game with the possibility of being unbeatable.

And let’s talk more about this war thing. The game is overt in its value of Paragon character decisions. Literally. You gain way more EMS points, in general, for overall Paragon actions than you do for Renegade ones. I find this system lacking in nuance and sophistication because, frankly, being a nice person doesn’t win a war by itself. It might win charisma and support, which could translate into a victory, but you get a good dose of charisma and support in the game no matter what—it’s just written into Shepard’s character, regardless of your actions. Critical military decisions, though, don’t always reward goodness—because people lie and have ulterior motives and change their minds when their situations change. From a military perspective, there is no reason to allow the Rachni queen to live. Cold as it might be, saving the Council was not mission critical and could very well have resulted in losing the battle against Sovereign. And yet killing the queen and letting the Council die are designated Renegade (translation: “asshole”) actions, even though they would be perfectly defensible from a martial standpoint. Furthermore, these decisions are punished in the third installment, most commonly through the awarding of fewer EMS points.

All that being said, I’ve always found it difficult to choose anything but the Paragon actions. Because I’m a sap, I guess. I saved the queen. I spared Wrex. I saved the Council. I trusted Grunt. I trusted Legion. I protected Tali’s secret. I destroyed the Collector base. And so on. By the time I got to the Crucible, I’d maxed out my EMS with all the extra points I’d gotten for being such a good person—just like the game wanted me to be. So WHY THE FUCK is surviving only an option for the Destroy—i.e., Renegade—ending?! I feel like I did everything the game wanted me to do, had trained me to do, and got shit on for it. I feel like the Prodigal Son’s brother. Where the hell are my goddamn little blue children?!

Despite my misgivings, I really thought the game was excellent. The game itself was wicked fun to play, and I absolutely love the story. BioWare did a fantastic job if only in the spirit and not exactly the delivery of a moral-choice game. They’re doing something relatively new by blending the free will inherent to sims with the structure and engaging narrative of good RPGs. They’ve made colossal strides toward achieving a true synthesis of the two platforms (for loners like me, that is, who don’t play MMOs). I can’t wait to see what’s next from them.

Ever since its first release date was announced back in December 2010, I’ve been eagerly awaiting Mass Effect 3. Mass Effect was great; Mass Effect 2 surpassed its predecessor in every way. My expectations for Mass Effect 3 were considerably high—enough so that I knew I had to bring them down a notch or disappointment would be the only outcome. My original plan was to preorder the game and hole myself up for however long it would take to beat the game starting the day it was released. But then life and stuff, so I didn’t get to actually play it until this month.

Then, I sat down to write about my thoughts and discovered that I have a whole lot of them. The post just kept getting longer and longer, and I didn’t really want to do that to you. So, here’s what I’m going to do. I’ll break it up into several parts and post them separately. I’ll give you my general thoughts today, then I’ll to do separate posts on each of the endings (combining Synthesis and Refusal into one), then I’ll wrap it up with a post on some more specific thoughts.

Ready. Set. Go.

If Victoria Foyt’s novel Revealing Eden: Save the Pearls were a pot of boiling oil, Weird Tales would most certainly be the frozen turkey.  The most polite way of describing Foyt’s reaction to the allegations that her YA novel is a racist one: bad. A less polite way: WTF were you thinking? To think that Weird Tales would not only choose to enter the foray by publishing the first chapter of her story but also by defending its “thoroughly non-racists-ness” with an argument that amounts to, “It’s not because it’s not and you’re just too stupid to see it,” is just mind blowing.

Before I go further, I’ll disclose that I have not read the novel in question. However, based on substantial reviews and analyses (here’s a good one) from writers and readers whose opinions I respect and find in common with my own, I feel confident in saying the charges of racism are supported to the hilt. That being said, I also don’t wish to demonize Foyt, who is clearly repulsed by the idea of racism, even if she has unwittingly perpetrated it. What I find problematic is the story, not the author. Having not read it, I’ll restrict my opinions to the things that I do know about the novel.

The Premise

  • An environmental disaster has devastated the earth and inadvertently made whites a racial minority (I’ll save the discussion of how sheer numbers do not a minority/majority make for a different post) because their lack of melanin made them particularly susceptible to the more cancer-causing properties of the sun. Because blacks were better suited to survive this new environment, they’ve become the new privileged class and the oppressors of this world. Essentially, blacks and whites have switched social roles.

Some Details

  • The protagonist uses blackface to pass. (Seriously?! OMG WTF?!)
  • Whites are called Pearls; blacks are called Coals.
  • The black males are described in bestial terms while simultaneously being fetishized.

First the details, which almost speak for themselves. Given the history of blackface, and considering the real-world connotations behind the words “pearl” and “coal” (i.e., that one is good and pretty and shiny, while the other is bad and dirty and disagreeable), wonder why Foyt is surprised that others have read them as anything but ironic. Simply wanting a word to be read with the opposite connotation and meaning of what it really has doesn’t automatically make that happen. Others have said that her defense of these words only exists in her HuffPo articles and nowhere in the actual novel. I cannot speak to the veracity of this assertion, but I have read excerpts in which “coal” was explicitly used as a racial slur, not as the desirable designation she insists it is.

And if bell hooks is at all acquainted with this debacle, I’m sure she’s gnashing her teeth (or at least sighing in exasperation) regarding the descriptions of the black men. As well she should. Foyt may well be ignorant of the dialogue surrounding the long-standing fetishization, visual dismemberment, and dehumanization of black men in media. Her text appears to be ignorant (or at least dismissive) of the history behind the other racist details and the kind and level of offense they carry, so being ignorant on this front is likely. Her ignorance would acceptable if she’d owned up to it; as it is, she denies her ignorance, which only adds insult to injury.

But let’s put aside the details. Honestly, you don’t need them to point to a pulsating undercurrent of racism in the text. You need only the premise.

Seen in the best light, a simple role reversal is (usually) uninspired. It takes little imagination and does not advance the discussion of race and racism in any substantial way. Seen in the worst light, the premise of this story is insidious and divisive.

Here’s the basic idea behind the role reversal: Let’s take the real-world group already subject to harmful, deep-seated social prejudice, that’s has been seen historically as embodying and being responsible for the dregs of society, and make them the bad guys.

Okay. Demonizing an already-oppressed group by making them through literature is not empowerment; it’s just oppression all fancied up. The best I can make of this approach is, “How would you like it if it were done to you?” Unfortunately, what it also says is, “Well, they would do it to us, too, so we should get ours.” Which is the real problem and the true poison in this story. It is a story that acknowledges and (I’ll give Foyt the benefit of the doubt) inadvertently supports a dangerous notion: that enfranchising an oppressed group necessarily and proportionally disenfranchises the privileged group—as if there were only so much enfranchisement to go around*.

Foyt has succeeded in at least one way: getting people talking about her book. I’m sure she’d prefer they weren’t talking about it quite as negatively as they are, but she’s at least getting sustained attention. There are some people who think she deliberately chose an inflammatory topic for the attention. This may be essentially true, but I don’t think her aim was to be publicly castigated for racism. As an unpublished author, I imagine I would be mortified to find myself in a similar situation so early in my career. But her response to the criticism has been lacking in maturity, dignity, and professionalism, which is unfortunate. Readers will remember this debacle when/if she publishes again and won’t likely give her their money again.

That Weird Tales decided to throw its weight so vehemently behind such a highly problematic story without any kind of intellectual engagement with a readership that has loudly voiced its disapproval is baffling to me. It also tells us a great deal about Marvin Kaye’s literary taste and discrimination, not to mention his editorial vision for the magazine. The magazine has retracted its support for Foyt, but the damage is done. The new direction and editorial management makes me sad because I had wanted very much to be published in that magazine. Now I don’t want anything to do with it. I’d prefer not to be part of an organization that can’t see a racist text (or any other overtly prejudiced text, for that matter) for what it is and refuses to accept or acknowledge criticism for it.

*There are people in the real world who truly believe this. There are elected officials who insist that women should not get equal pay for equal work because “money is more important for men”—because women making more money obviously requires men making less money. And those officials pass legislation informed by these reprehensible ideas. Scary.

A couple of weeks ago, the novelist John Scalzi wrote about his self-made-ness—or, more accurately, about how much he owes to others, both known and unknown, for his success in life. Earlier that week, I’d had my parents over for dinner, during which time my father took the opportunity to harangue President Obama for being so stupid as to remark that entrepreneurs didn’t build their own businesses and success. I took that same opportunity to start doing the dishes.

Now, I didn’t exit the conversation because of a political difference. It’s true that my father and I are about as opposite in our political views as you can get, but I’ve never had any qualms about squaring off with him when it comes to something about which I have an educated opinion. No. I started to clean up because if I didn’t, I would’ve laughed rudely in his face and said some very disrespectful things that I think would’ve made me a worse person for having said them.

Specifically, I wanted to ask him if his indignation over Obama’s statement meant he’d never take credit for my accomplishments again. Because, you know. Hypocrisy and all.

I think just about anyone who’s graduated from college has had to bite their tongue as some speaker or parent very publicly smugly belittles their achievements by insisting it was due to someone else instead—usually to the speaker or parental figures. As far as I’ve seen, the same people who’ve been outraged by Obama’s out-of-context statement* are the same people who nod their heads uncritically at the sentiment that the children of the world owe all of their accomplishments to their parents and whoever else could be considered a network of support. A sentiment that isn’t essentially unfounded.

No one succeeds in a vacuum. I can’t imagine a single substantial accomplishment that wouldn’t need a pit crew of some kind behind it. Hell, a proper college education would be next to impossible without a lot of help from a variety of people, both seen and unseen. In Scalzi’s piece, which is something of an extensive thank-you letter, he demonstrates this concept pretty thoroughly: the taxpayers made sure he could eat when he was a child, someone said something to recommend him to important people, someone else took a completely undeserved chance on him, etc. All of this resonated with me because I have had similar experiences that allow me to relate.

I don’t take issue with the fact that we all owe something to other people. I do take issue with those people insisting publicly that they have a controlling interest in my accomplishments. Perhaps it’s because I’m still fairly young, but my emotional reaction to these occasions falls right around the feeling of, “Well, fuck you, then.”

I want to be sympathetic to the kind of person who would make these claims: they’re insecure, they’re just proud and want to be associated with my success, etc. But when they take credit for my accomplishments, they are glibly choosing not to understand or acknowledge that I also worked my ass off.

My college education? An 11-year marathon. It started when I was 12, when I decided I wanted to go to college. It persisted through my middle and high school years, when I studied and worked myself into a few breakdowns in an effort to earn the grades that would merit a full scholarship—the only way I’d ever be able to afford going to a university. It continued through my college years, when I frantically climbed to the top of the GPA scale so that I wouldn’t lose my scholarship and have to pay the whole thing back. And it culminated in a degree that opened future economic doors for me. I made that decision. I did that work. I lost that sleep—possibly even years of my life. I looked for the opportunities I took. I engaged in and took responsibility for my education. I worked the entire time to pay for everything my scholarship didn’t cover. I think it’s fair to say I did the heavy lifting on that one.

Imagine my surprise when for every “Congratulations!” there was a “Don’t forget who you really owe!” Was it really so difficult just to leave it at the former and trust I’d also do the latter because, hey, I’m an adult and can recognize where credit is due all on my own?

That’s what it comes down to, really: being treated like you’re 5 and still need to be told when to say “thank you,” regardless of your age or accomplishments. If you have to ask for someone’s gratitude, can it ever really be trusted? The gratitude and humility that I genuinely felt toward my various benefactors was unfairly cheapened. All I required was the opportunity to express my feelings on my own. Taking it from me poisoned that well. And now my gratitude is tainted with resentment**.

I owe a lot to my father, indeed to everyone else who has claimed responsibility for my successes as well. He always kept us clothed, fed, and housed, which are essential to, well, living at all. I just would prefer to say so in my own time and in my own way***.

*Shameless self-promotion: A good copy editor, folks. You needz one. Romney was able to spin Obama’s message because of the tiny matter of a carelessly used pronoun—which is ironic, considering Romney’s own copy gaffes this year.

**Any resentment I feel, btw, is my own problem and my own responsibility to address, no one else’s.

***None of this is meant to be a commentary on Obama’s statement. I think the whole kerfuffle is ridiculous. It also exposes Romney to be academically and intellectually dishonest and manipulative—or deficient, but I think that’s a lot less likely. But, you know, politicians and all. Par for the course, really.