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bone shop

Tim Pratt has posted the final installment of Bone Shop, an urban fantasy novella about the early adventures of Marla Mason (Crime Boss.  Sorceress.  Badass.)  Why has he written this online story?  Not only because he loves you, but also:

My wife was laid off on June 23, 2009, and this novella is an attempt to bring in some extra income while also telling a story I'm passionate about. Your donations will help keep a roof over our heads, and pay our son's medical bills (he has congenital glaucoma, so you can help keep him from going blind). Pay whatever you think the story's worth. Enjoy!
In case you are wondering where the money goes, I hereby repost a photo of Tim and Heather Shaw's ridiculously adorable child River.  

The novella can now be read in full (18 chapters!) for free, starting here, complete with behind-the-scenes dvd-extras-style notes from the author.  Check it out, and chip in if you can!

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(no subject)

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(no subject)

Been thinking about communication lately, and forms of discourse, and political debate. Good article in the Atlantic last month about the intractability of our entrenched beliefs, and how we can hold onto them even in the face of evidence to the contrary -- sometimes especially in the face of that evidence:

...In other words, if people start with a particular opinion or view on a subject, any counter-evidence can create "cognitive dissonance"--discomfort caused by the presence of two irreconcilable ideas in the mind at once. One way of resolving the dissonance would be to change or alter the originally held opinion. But the researchers found that many people instead choose to change the conflicting evidence--selectively seeking out information or arguments that support their position while arguing around or ignoring any opposing evidence, even if that means using questionable or contorted logic.

That's not a news flash to anyone who's paid attention to any recent national debate--although the researchers pointed out that this finding, itself, runs counter to the idea that the reason people continue to hold positions counter to all evidence is because of misinformation or lack of access to the correct data. Even when presented with compelling, factual data from sources they trusted, many of the subjects still found ways to dismiss it. But the most interesting (or disturbing) aspect of the Northwestern study was the finding that providing additional counter-evidence, facts, or arguments actually intensified this reaction. Additional countering data, it seems, increases the cognitive dissonance, and therefore the need for subjects to alleviate that discomfort by retreating into more rigidly selective hearing and entrenched positions. [emphasis mine]

The article concludes with this rather poetic way of looking at the problem:

Part of the reason, according to Kleiman, is "the brute fact that people identify their opinions with themselves; to admit having been wrong is to have lost the argument, and (as Vince Lombardi said), every time you lose, you die a little." And, he adds, "there is no more destructive force in human affairs--not greed, not hatred--than the desire to have been right."

[...]He points to the philosopher Karl Popper, who, he says, believed fiercely in the discipline and teaching of critical thinking, because "it allows us to offer up our opinions as a sacrifice, so that they die in our stead."

A liberal education, Kleiman says, "ought, above all, to be an education in non-attachment to one's current opinions. I would define a true intellectual as one who cares terribly about being right, and not at all about having been right."

Such a subtle distinction there, the difference between being right and having been right, and such a vital one. Go read it.


Via io9, this brief article on some studies at Stanford, about the circumstances in which people are most comfortable voicing their opinions. Nothing too surprising here: people are loudest when they believe their statements reflect the majority opinion, and people holding extreme views tend to speak out more than those with more moderate views. Still essential stuff to consider, in light of the social/cultural divisions that come about when people form identity within communities who (seem to) share their politics.

“You have a cycle that feeds on itself: the more you hear these extremists expressing their opinions, the more you are going to believe that those extreme beliefs are normal for your community.”

And finally: a short video blog by Penn Jillette that I found really moving.

"I sat on TV, while my hero Tommy Smothers yelled in my face how pissed off he was at me for appearing on Glenn Beck. It broke my heart."

"I've just always thought that the answer to bad speech was more speech."

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new fiction

Good morning!  We're deep into autumn now, and the leaves here are turning from green to gold and red.  Perfect time of year to appreciate this week's story at Strange Horizons:

"The Regime of Austerity" by Veronica Schanoes

Under the Regime of Austerity, Stella can no longer afford much color. What she gets she uses on her hair and her eyes, even though all the magazines say that's a waste. Hair falls out and eyes tear up, and eventually the color wears away and she's left with nothing until her next ration coupon.

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emotional landscapes

Almost the weekend! If your spirits need a boost to get you through the rest of Friday, these might do the trick:

The PS22 Chorus has turned in many amazing performances, but my favorite may be this one, from their very first rehearsal of a song I love, Björk's "Jóga."

And this clip of Stephen Fry narrating an unusual encounter with a kakapo has been making the rounds, but the bonus framework of Rachel Maddow losing her composure makes it twice as sweet.

Have a spectacular weekend!

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(no subject)

I was interviewed last month for the Online Writing Workshop, where I am a Resident Editor.  At the end of the interview, they asked me: What one piece of advice would you give to anyone submitting to Strange Horizons?  This is what I said:

Send us work you love, the stories that really mean something to you. Stories that are exciting and surprising. Don't be afraid to pour yourself into fiction, to reveal your inner strangeness. Not everything is going to work for us, but so what? We'd rather read something startling and new than just a competent, flat rehashing of the same types of story we've seen before. Think about where your true interests lie, the ideas you care about, the elements and characters that genuinely matter to you, and bring them into your work. Be brave. Or what's the point?
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new fiction

Hello!  This week at Strange Horizons, for your reading pleasure:

"The Second Conquest of Earth" by L.J. Daly

The bulls left us our religions; not from kindness, as some pretend to themselves, but to keep us docile—to tranquilize with hope. My mother's brand of snake-oil soothsaying passed the test, thanks to years on the best-seller lists. My con is a protected faith. That this Kus hasn't killed me tells me he thinks I can read his future.

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fantastical wildlife

My friend Jane Washburn makes some of the most fantastic creatures in this world or any other. She's just finished work on her latest creation, the Child Empress of Mars (who is based on a Dora Goss story and will be donated to the Interstitial Arts Foundation's upcoming auction). Look at this alien beauty:

(Recommend you click on the pics to see more amazing detail; queenie looks better and better the closer you get)

Photos never do justice to the full effect of Jane's pieces, though: what it's like to hold them, how they feel like real live little creatures you might find hiding in the hollow of a tree. So much care goes into their creation; as she works on them, she gives each one a name, a story, a structural integrity right down to the bones. For example, Jane puts little teeth into every mouth, even the mouths that are closed so you'd never see what's inside. And she means for them to be played with; every creature she makes comes with a guarantee that if you break it, you can always send it to her and she'll perform an operation and send it back to you good as new (plus very possibly upgraded with new wings or something; you never know). Because she loves every one of them. And it shows.

Jane is selling off a handful of her critters right now at her Etsy shop Blackbird Marmalade Creations, and she'll be replenishing the shop with lots more of her stuff soon. I wish I could buy them all and fill my house with fantastical wildlife, but for now I'll have to be content with the two currently perched on the chandelier in my library.


I interviewed Jane ages ago for an article that I've been meaning to write up for-fucking-ever and have still not gotten around to, but I really want to hop on that, because more people ought to know about her work. What she does is something rare and magical.
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the winter wind howls through my arms

This has been haunting me for days and I suppose the only way to exorcize it is to release it into the wild: Polly Paulusma's "The Woods". 

It's not often that we hear a fairytale from the perspective of the forest.

I saw it all crystal clear
I know who brought those children here

The video features artwork by Rima Staines, who wrote,

Polly's lyrics inspired the forest-as-witness-to-a-dark-happening story ... which calls to mind a rather less than sugary Hansel & Gretel tale and conjures imagined fears of the archetypal forest as well as a real horror of a terrifying bogeyman, in more tangible guises. It speaks too of the turning of the year ...

(The artist's website is so chock-full of images that it takes forever to load, but it's worth the wait, because there's a lot of great stuff over there.)