Thursday, 11 September 2014

COBOL Poetry

*            CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!                                      *
      88 YOU-LOVE-ME         VALUE 'Y'.
      88 YOU-LOVE-ME-NOT     VALUE 'N'.
 01 MY-BEST-SIDE  PIC X(40) 

Time And Relative Dimension In Blanket

I'm... not exactly unambitious when it comes to my projects.  Or at least, once I get an idea in my head I won't talk myself out of it for flimsy reasons like the amount of work involved.  Like, say, crocheting 264 granny squares and assembling them into a blanket that looks like the TARDIS:

It's actually longer than the bed
As crochet practice goes, it's actually been quite a good method.  Plenty to focus on, it breaks down into manageable chunks, and the pattern for a granny square is extremely simple.  The repetition is excellent for getting the hang of crochet.  It took me an hour to make a single square at the start, but by the end it was more like twenty minutes.

Apart from those awkward two-tone ones at the edge of the information panel
The writing across the top is just chains, made to length and then stitched on top of the blanket.  Granny squares being full of holes, there's a limit to how small the writing can go.  Which is why I didn't make all the writing for the door - "Pull to Open" and all that.  I considered it, but it simply wasn't feasible.  The white panel breaks up the front, though, which is why I made it rather than just crocheting a different side of the TARDIS.

Yes, I took this picture just so I could make a 'P please, Bob' joke
This wound up being about six months of work from first conception to finished product, though there was a certain amount of getting distracted by other things along the way.  But I had it done just in time for the first episode of the new series, and now the whole family gets to snuggle under it while we watch.  That's really all I made it for, so I'm calling this a success.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

In Which I Get All Serious And Political, Part Two

[I promised I'd write a continuation of my thoughts, wrote it, then failed to actually post it.  But in that intervening time we've had Malorie Blackman getting abused for asking for more diverse characters in children's books, and the latest round of hate for Anita Sarkeesian looking at how women are portrayed in video games.  Clearly this is a conversation that needs to keep happening.  So here, at last, are more thoughts of mine.  But read Part One first, if you haven't already.]

When people aren't arguing that minority characters should be represented in fiction in the same numbers that they exist in real life, they tend to swing the other way. We shouldn't be including characters just to fill some sort of quota, or to make a point. People don't like to be preached at. They should only appear when it's relevant to the plot. Any number of characters could be gay, or trans, but it's just not mentioned because it's not important to the story. Just look at Dumbledore.

It's a seductive argument. Stories whose sole purpose appears to be to deliver a diatribe on a topic dear to the author are tiresome, whether one agrees with the message or not. And characters should always be connected to the plot, because that's the point. We leave out all sorts of things that don't move the story along, like visits to the toilet where nothing out-of-the-ordinary happens. We don't need to see a character peeing – we can just assume that it happens.

But these aren't questions of diversity. These are questions of storytelling. If you can't find a way to reference a character's sexuality without making it a message or an integral part of the plot then you're just not that good a writer. We talk about our lovers and our ex-lovers all the time, because they're important parts of our lives. These are people we willingly spend a lot of time with; why wouldn't they come up in conversation with other people? So unless you're writing a story set somewhere that a gay person would feel the need to hedge and say 'partner', it should be easy to include that information. And even if they are reduced to saying 'partner', the contrast with other people should still signify something to the reader.

I didn't always think like this. There's a tendency to be suspicious of the 'token' character who deviates from the norm set by the rest of the group, and of the 'rainbow' group where every member carefully fits a different demographic like a manufactured pop band. I would tell myself that it was enough for me to know a particular character was gay, without having to put it into the story and risk making them the 'token'. Drawing attention to their sexuality felt like shouting, "Look! I put a gay character in the story! Aren't I inclusive? Give me a biscuit!"

And then people who are much better than me at this sort of thing (I love you guys) pointed out that if you don't make these things clear to the reader, it will be assumed that they're straight. People don't read books and assume that anything unstated is open to any possibility. They assume that it's the default. If you don't mention that a character has a catheter up their hoo-hah, we'll assume that they pee like anyone else.

I've been using sexuality as the example here. Signalling the presence of non-white characters is easier, because it can be in their name, or the physical description when they first walk onto the page. It's not information the character has to volunteer. Sexuality has to be offered, if you're not including a lover in the story. And gender? That, I will agree, is tricky.

Trans characters are unlikely to reveal their status in normal conversation, if the story isn't specifically about their transition. Why would they? Who they used to be, or what's inside their pants, is unimportant. What matters is their own identity. But that doesn't mean we have to entirely ignore the possibility of non-binary gendered characters. Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice has non-gendered characters. Iain M Banks' Culture universe gives us characters that can and do change gender on a whim, and Player of Games includes a species with three genders (in which the female still gets the short end of the stick) Julian May's Galactic Milieu has intersexed aliens, and Iron Council by China Mieville has Qurabin, a monk who can access hidden secrets at the cost of losing something else in the process, and lost their own gender early on. No one knows if Qurabin is male or female, not even Qurabin. There are any number of options out there, if only we think of them.

Thinking is key. If you never come up with a character who deviates from the Cis White Straight Able-Bodied norm, you lack imagination. You shouldn't need 'quotas' for minority characters, because they should be showing up anyway. Especially in speculative fiction, where the world and its peoples can be anything you can think of. Why limit yourself?