Brief Updates: Mind Meld, Dark Matter Zine, Little Faces

A couple of brief updates:

I. Mind Meld in the Tardis

Even though I was late turning it in (due to finding a four-day-old kitten in our backyard and trying to figure out how to take care of it!), Mind Meld has kindly published my entry on Where I Would Take the Tardis.

I want to go on a between-TV-episodes trip. I want to go on a boring trip.

II. Dark Matter Interview

I was also recently interviewed by Dark Matter zine about my participation as the reprint editor for the Women Destroy Science Fiction issue of Lightspeed magazzine. The interview was a lot of fun and included other people who’d been working on the issue, Galen Dara and Wendy N. Wagner.

I said I’d put together a list of reference materials for the interview, and I still will, although it’s of course massively late now. ;)

III. Little Reprinted Faces

Earlier this year, Strange Horizons asked me to choose a story for their quarterly reprint slot. I picked Vonda McIntyre’s completely awesome “Little Faces.”

I wrote an intro about it, which couldn’t do the story justice:

Vonda N. McIntyre is a sophisticated feminist science fiction writer and “Little Faces” is a sophisticated feminist science fiction story, operating on many levels, including attention-grabbing science, an interesting plot, and political and social critique that blends into the character’s emotional arc.

The story does more than treat readers to flashy visuals and awesome far-future stuff. For instance, it analyzes serious issues, like female-on-female violence and the meaning of consent. It plays with the audience’s expectations by defaulting female instead of male.

If I were a better person, I might write about that.

Instead, I’m going to write about alien sex.

And I’m very pleased that the story is now online (again, since it was originally published online) for people to enjoy:

The blood woke Yalnis. It ran between her thighs, warm and slick, cooling, sticky. She pushed back from the stain on the silk, bleary with sleep and love, rousing to shock and stabbing pain.

She flung off the covers and scrambled out of bed. She cried out as the web of nerves tore apart. Her companions shrieked a chaotic chorus.

It’s also in audio.

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14 Responses to Brief Updates: Mind Meld, Dark Matter Zine, Little Faces

  1. 1
    Sebastian says:

    The science is pathetic. From the buzz words (“parallax view” indeed) to the reactor cooling system on a ship that spends a thousand years in orbit (you can get rid of only so much heat through radiation)

    Males have been reduced to subsentient symbiots, basically dicks with cute faces, understanding only “pleasure, satiation, and occasional fear or fury”. Mary Daly and M.A.Warran would be proud.

    Even at this reduced capacity, the best dicks are still Black and Muslim. Speaking for myself, here, I find this kind of racism just as repugnant as the best KKK has to offer… and a lot more accepted.

    It’s a wonderful society… that cannot function at all, given the population numbers, and the fact that it is customary to spend 2000 times as much sleeping as awake. But I guess math does not belong any more in modern SciFi than basic physics.

    In the same way, knowledge about tactics, communications, warfare, astronomy, amongst other has been lost. Who needs them when you have a perfect Utopia, with unlimited resources? (except when the plot demands it)

    I have exactly as much respect for the author, and readers, and promoters of these kind of fiction as I would have for people who would enjoy an Utopian fantasy where women have been reduced to subsentient sex toys, and men spend their time throwing parties, following fashion trends and exchanging gifts… oops sorry, getting into brawls, pumping iron, and cracking sexist jokes.

    This is to say, I have more respect for the scum that revels in the swill produced by likes of John Ringo and Tom Kratman. But you’d have to have a very precise instrument to tell the difference.

  2. 2
    Mandolin says:


  3. 3
    Sebastian says:

    Thank you for that concise and informative answer.

    So, what went over my head?

    That this is a Dystopia? This is the defense many far right authors use. It’s no secret that much of their readership does not see it as such.

    That the characters are aliens and not humans? Yeah right.

    That she is describing a horrible future where humanity has become pets for the race that has enslaved and gengineered them? How many people see it this way? Do you?

  4. 4
    Ampersand says:

    1. Since much of the original post is about what Mandolin did to promote this story (selecting it for an anthology, writing an introduction), I think that spending two paragraphs of your first comment talking about how you have less respect for the author and promoters of this story than you do for “scum” is obviously a personal attack, and against the moderation policy of “Alas.”

    2. Given how much of your original comment was dedicated to over the top rhetoric about your sneering hatred for Mandolin and those like her, I think Mandolin’s comment to you was both admirably mild and better than you’ve earned in this thread.

    3. Even aside from your needless exposition on your lack of respect for the story’s author and promoters, your critique is too over-the-top in its hostility to make a discussion with you about “Little Faces” worthwhile for anyone else. It’s not just that your analysis of the story is remarkably shallow (as Mandolin said, “whoosh”), it’s that you’re acting like someone hoping to start a flamewar, not someone hoping to start a discussion.

  5. 5
    Ledasmom says:

    “Little Faces” reminds me of Tiptree. Tiptree sometimes (I can think of three stories off the top of my head and have the vague recollection that there might be more) took a reproductive pattern seen in a non-sapient species and applied it to a sapient species, sometimes human, sometimes not. Tiptree, however, played this for more-or-less horror (at least that is how it came across to me; perhaps that is part of the point, that one takes one’s own biological horrors for granted and cannot see them head-on), and “Little Faces” isn’t horrific. It is not utopian, but then the general flaw of utopias is that they are still inhabited by people.
    The companions are contained in the women, who in turn are contained in the ships; it’s oddly satisfying, and I do love the image of the newborn daughter being carried off in the new ship.

  6. 6
    Mandolin says:

    Yeah, one thing I like about the story is that it focuses on violence between women, so it’s clear that the story is about a society with some major flaws, and that women are capable of violence and disregarding consent.

    It is a bit like Tiptree’s “Love is the plan, the plan is death” which I also really like (and which is definitely horror, I think), and which I selected for reprinting in the Women Destroy Science Fiction issue of Lightspeed Magazine.

  7. 7
    Sebastian says:

    Ampersand, I read your post multiple times, and I honestly believe that you stopped short from asking me not to post in this thread. So I will post.

    The way I see it, your post has two main points .

    (1) I was disrespectful and hateful towards Mandolin, the author of the story, etc… Yes, I have no respect for those promoting this story. I also think that I have the right to disrespect people promoting this story, but this depends on whether the story is as horrible, insidious, and condoning, if not glorifying, unforgivable practices. Which bring me to…

    (2) My reading of the story is shallow, I missed a lot, I’m not seeing the point, I am too hostile to the story be worth talking to.

    So it seems to me that I will have to explain how I see the story, and maybe, someone with less shallow understanding will set me straight, and explain to me what the story is about, and how it is great.

    OK. Here we go, I have nothing to do until 12:00, let us see how far I get.

    First, lets look at the society described in the story.

    (1) These are no aliens, these are future humans. There is a lot of circumstantial evidence – the physiology of the humanoid characters, their society, the nature of the gifts, their rituals. But why go for all this when the name of the Black dick is Bahadir, which is very much a human name, whether it is came from the Russian Богатырь, the Turkish Bağatar, or… maybe it is just the common Muslim name Bahadir. It means ‘hero’, ‘warleader’, or ‘brave’… which fits the character of the story, as much as a five year old, barely sentient, living dildo is a character and can be brave.

    (2) The portion of humanity that we see is beyond contempt. They have barely retained the concept of tools, their understanding of science is childish, their understanding of warfare, propaganda and subterfuge rudimentary, their intellectual curiosity inexistent. They spend their time throwing parties, exchanging gifts and gossip, and having relationships and sex, the latter primarily with parasitic progeny of theirs. Oh, and they go on adventures! When their ships think it’s time for one.

    (3) And of course, the parasitical ‘males’. They may, or may not have the potential to be sentient, but how are we to know? When a male is born, it is forcibly loaded with the mother’s memories, and implanted into her lover’s body, to be used as a sex toy for the rest of its life. How quickly does the sex start? Anywhere between the age of one day and seven years, it’s hard to tell from the story, but I think sooner rather than later. Are they really sub-sentient, or are they just traumatized beyond belief with the memory dump, hormonal infusions and the total dependency on their host? We don’t know. The main character doesn’t care enough to learn. She is not above controlling her ‘companions’ with fear of implicit retribution… but I do not blame her, she is not exactly aware of what is going on around her.

    So, the above are the facts. How we interpret them is left to us. Now, I cannot speak for anyone but myself, but here are the four readings that I think are the most likely, if we assume the reader is not aware of any context beyond the text of the tale.

    (1) This is a wonderful creative exploration of the issues of sex and gender, painting a believable future society. It has a beautiful description the birth of an unique individual in a society that strives to be oppression free. It raises questions about woman on woman violence and consent in relationships, and… actually, why should I write this? Plenty of people read the story this way, and have lauded it, including Rachel Swirsky in her introduction and Ledasmom in this thread.

    (2) This is an amazingly well crafted horror story about humans being enslaved and kept as pets by a race of intelligent ships. The male gender’s sentience is seen as inessential to the breeding of the pets, and thus males have been transformed into parasitic pleasure givers and impregnation devices. The abuse of these children is terrifying and never-ending. One female is confined to a pet-pen on every ship, and is kept in ignorance. She is offered a child appropriate view of the universe, and talked to in simple words that she can understand. She believes she influences the decisions that her master makes, and is allowed to make up fancy stories about the events she experiences without understanding. When a new ship is born, it receives a pet as a gift from its sire – if the sire’s own pet does not breed on demand, she may be placed in suspended animation until she can be subjected to a puppet show to nudge her in the right direction. The reader is slowly led to understand the horror of the situation by picking on the clues that the character is too well-conditioned to notice.

    (3) This is a deeply misogynistic cautionary tale. The females of the human race have somehow obtained power, and used it to surrender their agency to the sentient ships they created, and to gengineer males into parasitic sex slaves. The females enjoy an idle life of luxury, and being females don’t do anything but throw parties, exchange gifts and gossip, have power-based relationships with other females, and constantly rape defenseless male children. They are also sometimes ferried around and collect curios from the places they visit. Sometimes, they antagonize and ostracize each other, and have pathetically clumsy clique fights. They have lost the understanding of how their own ships function, but the sentient ships have been well indoctrinated by their creators into serving the whims of their infantile wards, forever.

    (4) This is drek that is commonly found amongst what is touted as progressive writing. It combines power fantasy and wish fulfillment disregarding the effects on anyone but the view point characters. The antagonist is well saddled with traits (or is it threats) associated with males, and acts, just like all ‘real’ males, to harm the sympathetic females without much thought, skill or justification. A lot is made of the consent in the female to female relationships. The consent of young males used as sex toys is not even noticed. These males are painted as subservient, sub-sentient, and parasitic, and somehow still manage to exhibit some rather despicable behaviors: gluttony, cowardice, and hunger for power. Ah, the time they spend shrieking in fear, whining for food and jostling for their mistress’ favor! You’d think they are traumatized five year olds who have been abused since their birth or something. The diversity bases are covered by having the least negatively portrayed male be Black and bear a name mostly found amongst Muslim cultures. The author glosses over the treatment of the males to swoon over the birth of another female that will lead a glorious life, which may not be fully oppression free, but will definitely be empowering.

    Anyway. I would ask people to read the story, and post in this thread which of my four readings they most closely agree with, or maybe offer another one, that shallow me has missed. But it is a lot to ask.

    I would still like to know whether there is a more appropriate reaction than than outrage towards people can revel in this story while glossing over the horrible abuse of the male children that it depicts. Let me remind you:

    1. When a male child is born, it has foreign memories implanted, destroying any chance for its developing as an individual.
    2. It is then implanted into its mother’s lover, to be subjected to her hormonal infusions, to depend on her for subsistence, to fight with other children for primacy, to be used for sex since a very early age, and even to be killed by another lover’s enslaved children.
    3. Forever.
    4. According to this story’s promoters this is an exploration of female to female violence, and consent between the females.

    12:00, I made it.

  8. 8
    Ledasmom says:

    Mandolin, “Love Is the Plan. . .” is one of the stories I was thinking of, the others being “Your Haploid Heart” and “The Screw-Fly Solution” (in the last it’s an effect imposed from outside, but the idea is still basically “apply to sapient creatures something associated with non-sapient creatures).
    Sebastian, do you think this is necessarily a story of future humans? I read it as a story of alternate humans – in a way, similar to “Left Hand of Darkness”: without saying how humans should be, how would society have formed differently if humans were different from what they are? If you read it with that assumption, is it equally horrifying or less horrifying? If equally horrifying, is “Speaker for the Dead”, if you’ve read it, horrifying as well?
    I’m intrigued by this bit of your comment:

    The portion of humanity that we see is beyond contempt. They have barely retained the concept of tools, their understanding of science is childish, their understanding of warfare, propaganda and subterfuge rudimentary, their intellectual curiosity inexistent. They spend their time throwing parties, exchanging gifts and gossip, and having relationships and sex, the latter primarily with parasitic progeny of theirs. Oh, and they go on adventures! When their ships think it’s time for one.

    I don’t think there’s much information as to the character’s understanding of science; it didn’t read to me as if the humans have no input regarding what happens. To me it sounds more like a collaboration between the human and her ship, but the story is primarily about a tragedy, more or less, not about more technical aspects. Having parties and relationships, I don’t see anything contemptible about that.

  9. 9
    Sebastian says:

    Ledasmom, the name Bahadir for the ‘brave’ Black ‘companion’ is a pretty heavy hint that these are future humans, not aliens that just happen to share our physiology, traditions, and rituals. If it was named Braveson, you could argue that it was, just like everything else ‘translated’ by the author. But using an uncommon human name? No.

    Yes, the natives of Winter in “The Left Hand of Darkness” and the humans of Earth are two branches of the same tree – the people who evolved on Hain. It’s extremely likely that the humans are closer to the original, but the changes in the natives are infinitesimal compared to the ones in “Little Faces”, and seem to have had a somewhat mild and positive effect on their society. Contrast this to the nightmare fuel in “Little Faces”.

    The immorality of using bioengineering to better our race is not axiomatic to me, as a matter of fact, I think it inevitable in the long run. But the morality of using bioengineering to suppress the sentience of 80% or more of humans so that the rest can enjoy a life of idle luxury amongst infant sex slaves… well, as I said, some people seem to approve.

    As for the science. Either the celebrated feminist science fiction author lacks basic understanding of physics and mathematics (at three separate points), or her character is deceived into thinking that the evaporation of a coldish stream is a way to deal with the heat from reactor on a ship outside any atmosphere. Or that a society can function with the population numbers, and hibernation patterns we have been shown. Or that the space skirmish she thinks she is witnessing is credible. Or that what she believe about resource allocation by the ship makes any sense.

    By the way, it is not parties and relationships that are contemptible. It is that there does not seem to be much of anything else to the humanoid’s society. Making a dress with a pattern that is taking their ships by storm is considered an insight worth of a celebrated genius. They do not make things, they do not invent things, they can’t be bothered investigating the sentience potential of their symbiots, they have not figured how to communicate without misunderstanding with their ships. (Of course, I’d use more than two words with a dog. The ships do not think this highly of their humans.)

    I feel I am repeating myself. So I’ll stop.

  10. 10
    Mandolin says:

    Sebastian: out.

  11. 11
    Mandolin says:

    And Jesus fuck, angler fish, you idiot. Angler. Fucking. Fish. Voila, a story about sentients with reproduction like angler fish. Could they be post-humans? Could they be another species? Maybe! But very likely they are not in fact a random-ass fantasy pulled from your butt about whatever bizarre scenarios you want to imagine feminists want to do to those poor, poor boy babies that the fuck are anglerfish.

    Yep, that was insulting. I’ll use the same excuse you did. Idiot.

  12. 12
    Mandolin says:

    inventing random insulting back stories for shit in order to gin up outrage could be a lucrative new field.

    For instance, I personally hate the movie Big because clearly wish-granting aliens sucked the soul out of an adult, purely for the amusement of sticking a child’s brain into it.

    The Simpson’s aliens are in fact a racist depiction of neanderthals who were clearly glommed up into space by whirling space dervishes and then mutated by spooky space rays into green things.

    And how can we forget the speculative fictional element of this very blog, written as it is on pixels made from the circumcision blood of screaming male infants?

    Because certainly, no one has ever before written a story about humanoid aliens, or post-humans radically changed by the future, or at least no feminist has, not when we can imagine them cackling with smears of menstrual blood across their lips as they plot the destruction of males.

  13. 13
    Ledasmom says:

    Mandolin, wanted to thank you for reminding me of “Love Is the Plan the Plan Is Death”. I just reread it – first time for a long while – and found that I had forgotten quite a bit of it. It may be time to reread “Brightness Falls From the Air”, too.

  14. 14
    Grace Annam says:

    One thing I particularly liked about this story was how it reflected harassment culture, and some risks/rewards of calling out abusive behavior.