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This new biography of Turing is short, the length of a long article or essay rather than a full book. If you want a detailed exploration of the life and work of Turing, you'll have to look elsewhere, but this is a good overview that's well worth reading. It's well balanced on coverage of his personal life, his work at Bletchley Park, and his academic work, tying them all together so you can see how one element affects the others. It also brings the story up to date as I write this, having been prompted by the campaign for a posthumous pardon, and there's some interesting material about that which won't be in the older biographies.

It's well written and edited, solidly grounded in known facts but enhanced by the author's clearly marked interpretation of some of those facts to make it more than a dry recital, and I found it a very enjoyable read. If you're looking for something a little more in-depth than the online articles without diving into the full length works, this is an excellent introduction to Turing. I think it will also serve well as a synopsis volume for those who want an outline in addition to the full length studies.

The Kindle Single is currently priced at 99p, and excellent value for money at that price, even if a significant chunk of the stated page count is a preview of another book by the author. It's also available in a paper edition, although I'm not convinced that most readers would find it value for money unless they're die-hard completists, unable to use Kindle format ebooks, or looking for a gift for a Turing fan. There's also an audiobook version.

Alan Turing: Unlocking the Enigma (Kindle Single) at Amazon UK
Alan Turing: Unlocking the Enigma (Kindle Single) at Amazon US
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Jesse Wave's latest post about m/m romance being non-stop twenty-something white USAmericans inspired me to do a headcount. Let's see...

the tl;dr stats under the cut )

So, how do I fit that stereotype of writing twenty-something white USAmericans[*] in an unidentified cookie-cutter USAmerican city, doing jobs like writer or artist or BDSM club manager? [* specifying because Wave is Canadian.]

Not too many twenty-somethings in that lot. An awful lot of scientists and engineers, to the point where I have been accused of being unable to write characters that are *not* geeks. And not a single one of my main characters is an American. Every one of the humans is British, even the ones in stories set in interstellar empires. Funny, that... The leads are uniformly white, but that's partly a reflection of my personal experience of discrimination based on my ethnicity being about things that aren't as obvious as physical appearance -- though it took me years to consciously recognise where some of the stuff in my m/m fiction about passing was coming from.

I wasn't deliberately setting out to write diverse characters (in the sense of "diversity" that Wave was using). I was writing stuff that interested *me*, and for various reasons that means a lot of characters in their thirties. As I get older myself, it becomes easier to write convincing characters in their forties and fifties, and I expect to write more of them. I don't write about US characters because from my perspective they're the alien, not the default. The non-stop parade of scientists and engineers is both "write what you know", and "write what interests you". Less obviously, the political characters fall under those headings as well -- $EX_EMPLOYER was big on encouraging staff to participate in the community, and I had several colleagues who were involved in local politics. So I've been writing these characters because they reflected my world and my interests. And I've been doing it for a long time, in genre terms. From before most of the epubs would consider m/m, from when one of the biggest said that it wouldn't take m/m because women didn't want to read that stuff. All the way back to when I was writing mostly fanfic, and there you have one of the biggest reasons why I write stuff about thirty and forty somethings with a strong political thread running through it. Because what set me writing somewhere back in the late 1990s was a dystopian sf show with 1970s BBC sensibilities and a cast who were easy on the eye but very much not selected on their sex appeal for the demographic that American network tv is chasing. I'm a product of my time and place, and that influence is just as obvious in my original fiction as in my fanfiction.

Which leads back to a conversation elsewhere a few weeks ago about a new wave in that fandom that seems to have been born out of the culture of a specific group of mailing lists. One of the markers of that new wave was an interest in experimenting with literary form, but it wasn't the only one. As I said in that discussion, I wasn't that interested in exploring literary style in my own writing, but I was very much interested in using the background universe provided by canon to explore political and psychological concepts, and yes, *especially* in the X-rated material.

That hasn't changed just because I've gafiated from writing in that fandom. Indeed, I probably started writing in the first place because I was already interested in such concepts, and along came a discussion forum that allowed me to chew those concepts to death, both in essay format and in fiction. Branching into original fic (which happened only a couple of years after I started writing fanfic) simply gave me new ways of talking about this stuff. One of the ways this shows up is the constant harping about identity, what it is, and who controls it.

This is utterly overt in Mindscan, where mental invasion and coercion is the very basis of the book. Hardly surprising, you might think if you're aware that the core of that book started life as a fanfic piece; but the reality is that I wrote the original novelette as fanfic because fanfic was my primary format at the time. The basic story concept, I could and probably would have written as original fiction had there been anywhere at the time where I could have sold it. On the other hand, watching the show as a young teenager nearly twenty years earlier, with no thought then of writing, was probably a contributing factor in my interest in such things in the first place - a pretty little chicken and egg problem.

But it colours other books as well. Promises to Keep, Spindrift, Dolphin Dreams -- these all address in various ways the problems faced by paperless people in an increasingly cradle-to-grave documented society. Particularly people who are paperless because they are outside the norm. There is, of course, another specific influence on these books, and that's Heinlein's Methuselah's Children.

There are other examples, and other influences. But it does rather look as if part of the reason my stories don't fit that stereotype quoted above is because I'm using a slightly different toolkit to a lot of m/m romance writers, and yes, I am including some of the other writers who came out of fanfic in that. There are fandoms and fandoms, and My Fandom had a strong self-selection for people who were interested in the sort of things you find in dystopian space opera, as is rather obvious when I look at some of my fellow fen who went off to play with original universes. We're perfectly capable of writing pretty twenty-somethings if that's what the story requires, but it's unlikely to be because that's what the market requires.

So why write romance at all, if what my toolkit contains comes from science fiction and fantasy? Because there is room within romance for the stories that don't fit narrow stereotypes of what romance should be. Because the genre conventions can be a self-imposed framework to work within, rather than an externally imposed constriction of my writing choices. The requirement of the Happy Ever After doesn't have to be an artificial limit imposing a fake conflict and equally fake resolution; rather, it can be an intriguing puzzle for a writer, a game to play with your readers. There will be a conclusion where the rough general nature is guaranteed, just as there is with a mystery, but there are so many interesting ways to get there. And writing about a wider range of characters than that narrow stereotype falls naturally out of playing the game.
julesjones: I believe in safe, sane, and consensual Christianity. by Zeborah@DW - gankable (Christianity)
Posted for Pentecost at the Bearing Witness community on Livejournal and Dreamwidth. Comments welcome at the copies on the Livejournal comm and Dreamwidth comm. You can comment anonymously on both.


Creationists will tell you that Genesis says that the world and all within it was created in seven days. Some of them will tell you that it was created specifically in 4004 BC, following the Ussher chronology. They hate the very concept of evolution, seeing it as a denial of God.

Some atheists will tell you that the evidence for evolution is all around us, and thus anyone who believes in God is a fool, because the Bible is clearly a lie.

They have both fallen into the same trap -- literalism.

The Bible is not a single book. It is a collection of works by multiple authors, written in different places over many, many years, edited, re-edited, and translated through multiple languages. Those works include history written by the winners, history written by the losers, genealogical data, poetry, philosophical musings, just-so stories, and mythology. Yes, mythology.

"Myth" is not an insult or denial. It is a description of a thing which is not literally true, but which nevertheless shows us truth through symbolism. The Bible is filled with myths and fables. Some of them are explicitly labelled as such, for Jesus was a great one for the parable as teaching tool. If you insist on taking every word in the Bible as the literal and inerrant word of God, Ur Doin It Rong. Not least because there are multiple contradictions in the Bible.

One set of those contradictions is in Genesis. There are two creation stories, following the same pattern but with different and contradictory details. No problem at all, if you see Genesis as another parable, a (divinely inspired) teaching tool rather than an accurate or even inaccurate historical record.

As it happens, the Christian creation myth is quite a good match for the current scientific understanding of the evolution of the universe, if you read it as allegory rather than history. (Sufficiently so that one Big Name Astronomer campaigned passionately against the Big Bang Theory to his dying day, in part because he was an atheist who felt that it gave too much credence to the notion of a Creator.) That's not really relevant. The job of Genesis is to give us a tool we can use to think about a deep philosophical problem. It's not supposed to be a locked door barring our way.

We have, over the last few thousand years, used the minds God gave us to deepen our understanding and appreciation of God's creation. It is not one tiny, flat world at the centre of a complex piece of clockwork providing a show for our sole benefit a few thousand feet, or perhaps a few thousand miles, up in the sky. It is a vast and ancient universe, with many wonderful things in it besides us. It is giant galaxies and tiny microbes. It is deep time going back at current estimates some 12 to 14 thousand million years for Creation as a whole, and perhaps 4.5 thousand million years just for our own small pebble in the sky. It is certainly not all about us as the pinnacle of Creation. And it is, for now, beyond our complete comprehension. That last can be frightening, but it's also inspiring.

For me, there is a God, and evolution is Its tool. Having a Creation that is 12 aeons old and wide to contemplate in awe and joy as part of appreciating its Creator, yet in fear trying to force it down into the narrow confines of that tiny clockwork toy -- that to me is a sorrow and a burden that should be laid down.

God said, "Let there be light". And there was. And it was, and is, beautiful to behold.

(Comments welcome at the copies on the Livejournal and Dreamwidth versions of the Bearing Witness comm. You can comment anonymously on both.)

Large Face-on Spiral Galaxy NGC 3344

(Image from JPL Nasa.)
julesjones: (Default)
Or, "Post in haste, repent at leisure." One of the most useful pieces of advice I was ever given about the online world was back when I was a wee newbie; I was told not to post in anger. Write it if I must, but then leave it. For at least ten minutes, preferably overnight. Come back and look at it when calmed down, and ask myself, "Do I really want to send that?"

there is no such thing as 'delete all copies' on the internet )
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Conversation with the genre -- plagiarism, allusion, and intertextuality

An extensive discussion about plagiarism has been going on in some of the romance blogs over the last few weeks. One thread in the discussion has been about the difference between allusion and plagiarism. Why is one acceptable and the other not, and what is the difference between them? After all, both involve the use of someone else's work, even to the extent of word-for-word copying.

For me, the difference between the two is very simple in theory, even if in practice it's not always possible for a reader to be certain what an author had in mind. If your intent as an author is that your audience should recognise the work you're quoting, or at the very least realise that it's intended as a reference to someone else's work, you're making an allusion. If you are hoping that they won't notice that it's not your own words, that's plagiarism. For this is the key part of what plagiarism is -- that you are taking the credit for work that was in fact done by someone else.
detailed discussion, with examples )
Perhaps the simplest test of all, if you're a writer wondering whether what you want to do is on the wrong side of the line: ask yourself how you would feel about someone doing to your work what you're proposing to do to someone else's. And be honest with your answer.

My thanks to the people who looked over the draft of this post and made helpful comments.
julesjones: Suzanne Palmer's cat-vacuuming icon for rasfc (cat-vacuuming (Suzanne Palmer for rasfc))
I've been threatening for some time to do an essay that summarises the "why do girls like boys who do boys?" thread from rasfc in June/July 2003. This is a placeholder, with some notes as I go through the thread. Please feel free to comment and add further suggestions -- I'll work it up into something more coherent later. Possibly much later.

There was also discussion of the difference between graphic and explicit, whether it is possible to tell whether an erotica writer is male or female (often, but not always, yes), definitions of homosexuality through the ages, fanfic, and is there anyone in the known universe who doesn't want to shag Legolas...

[ETA: this was a discussion on a pro sf writers' group and was initially about profic, although we also drew on fanfic as the discussion progressed. I haven't explicitly identified most of the people involved, but as several of them read this LJ, if anyone wants to be credited, speak up. :-)]

a) Why do women like m/m: )

b) Why isn't more of it published: )
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There is a great temptation to turn the events of history into a story of Good and Evil. There is a great temptation to say of a nation that collectively committed a great crime that it reflects some flaw in that nation, that there is something in the national character that caused that, that the seeds of such evil could not possibly be in ourselves. But history is more complicated than that, and so are people.

We learn, if slowly. But also we forget. We forget that the evil that enveloped Europe some seventy years ago started years earlier, with the small things. A little here, a little there. The appeal to the need for national security in uncertain times. The appeal to people's bigotries and fears, to turn them against their neighbours.

And not just their Jewish neighbours.

Romanies. Homosexuals. Communists. Political dissidents. Religious dissidents. The list goes on and on. So does the list of the death factories that sprang up all over Europe, wherever the creed of racial or religious purity took a tight enough grip on some group in power. And on that second list is a name I did not know, not until this morning. I knew that such a place had existed, knew that it was one of the factors in a conflict that flared to fresh life nearly fifty years later, but I did not know its name. Not until one of my friends spoke of it this morning, in a way that made it more than a historical note.

That place is Jasenovac. I've read through some of the links she provided, Googled more. It is the subject of dispute, of propaganda, of bitter arguments about who died there, and how many, and what it means. But there is no hiding the fact that the argument is about whether it was hundreds of thousands who were murdered by a fascist government, or "only" tens of thousands. And they were not murdered by Germans. This is the place that shocked even some of the SS with its brutality. I'd heard *that* story before, but not the name that went with the place.

We forget. We forget because it is too painful, or too inconvenient, to remember. Especially when it reminds us that the world is not a simple place, that there isn't an easy way to label people Good or Evil. But when we forget, we risk it happening again. Anywhere. Everywhere. For it is not the unfathomable sin of one nation, but the besetting sin of a species. No nation is quite safe from it. Another name I did not know, and learned today in another discussion: Solomon Ashe. I did know the two other names mentioned: Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo.

It's too much to hope of human nature that there will be no more Jasenovacs. But we *can* remember that Jasenovac happened, and that it could happen here. Wherever "here" is.
julesjones: (Default)
I don't normally do religion in public, but I'm getting very tired of some of the people who claim to speak on behalf of all Christians. No, they don't. And *this* Christian is of the opinion that some of the things they claim to be saying in the name of Christianity are decidedly unChristian.

My basic philosophy is agnostic, in the technical sense of the term - it is not possible to prove the existence or absence of a god. My faith, if you will, veers all over the place. But the core of my moral code, the foundation of how I see good and evil, comes from Christianity. For better or worse, I am a Christian in general, and in particular I am an Anglican.

And I say that these people who are preaching hatred in the name of my Lord are not Christians, whatever they might call themselves and however they might pronounce the name of the one they do evil for.

I mention Anglicanism, because one Anglican's discussion of "deeds not words" is very pertinent and has recent wide exposure. "Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me that he had truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted." Quite. Doing evil in the name of Christ is still doing evil. Is it any wonder that there are certain preachers who have attacked Lewis, called him atheist or Satanist? They have seen a reflection in a mirror, and chosen to call it a view through a window. Or a cell door, that door they wish to shut on others without knowing who is on the inside, and who is on the outside.

What is evil? Well, Jesus was pretty blunt about how he wanted us to treat one another. Part of his response when asked which is the greatest commandment: "And a second is like it. You shall love your neighbour as yourself. Upon these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." Nothing can be put above the commandment to love our neighbour. And who is our neighbour? He was asked that too. The point of his answer has been softened down the years, because anyone exposed to Christianity has almost certainly heard the parable of the Good Samaritan, but doesn't have the context of the time that parable was first taught. For us, "Samaritan" has come to mean "good person". Now read that parable over, and substitute "Israeli" for "Jew" and "Palestinian" for "Samaritan". *That's* what's going on in that parable. Your neighbour isn't just the person you think it right and proper to treat as a human being. Your "neighbour" is *everyone*.

Over and over again, he told us to have mercy, to have compassion, to treat others as we would wish to be treated. And he warned us against condemning others for their sins while ignoring our own. "Let he amongst you who is without sin cast the first stone." That's not open to weaselling about "My sins are minor, but *those* people deserve to be punished." Nor is, "First pluck out the log in thine own eye." There is a great temptation to attack others for their sins, to make them scapegoats for our own sins that we do not wish to acknowledge, and he knew it. Whether he was Incarnation of God, prophet, or simply a man with a vision, he understood people and how terribly easy we find it to turn and rend the weak and the few and the oppressed. Self-righteous hatred is a most gratifying and addictive drug, and so very very sweet to indulge. And he wanted us to stop doing that, and take the harder way.

So now I will indulge myself. I say of our modern day Pharisees who ride the airwaves to preach hatred and violence towards any who are not exactly like themselves; they are not Christians. With their fear and their hate and their greed they have put themselves aside from God; and they will not find Him again until they find it within themselves to open themselves to His love for all of us. All of us, including the lepers, the poor, the whores, the tax gatherers, the outcasts of society, and even the officer of the occupying army. We are all one in the body of Christ, and it is not the place of the Pharisees to give Him orders as to who may or may not receive His love. And I really, really wish they would stop parading their sick and twisted version in public and saying that this is what Christianity is. It isn't.

        And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as
        you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you
        did it to me.'
julesjones: Suzanne Palmer's cat-vacuuming icon for rasfc (cat-vacuuming (Suzanne Palmer for rasfc))
This rant has been brewing for over a month, but was finally triggered when I went over to Amazon earlier this week to look at reviews for an html reference book. So when I went back to writing prose rather than html yesterday, the word count was 1700 words of rant instead of shapeshifter smut. :-)

On writing reviews...

We've all seen them on Amazon. The one line reviews that say "This book sucked!" or "This book is great!". They're not very helpful, and one of the reasons they're not very helpful is that they don't tell you _why_ the book sucked or was great. You have no way of knowing whether that person's tastes match yours, and hence whether you can trust their opinion to reflect what you'd think of the book.

The job of the reviewer isn't to say whether she liked or disliked the book... )

I'm not going to write a long, detailed review of everything. I'm not spending a huge amount of time on writing reviews for Amazon when Amazon takes a licence to sell those reviews on to others, with no compensation in return, and on my own blog I may well say in passing, "I've just read such-and-such and it was brilliant!" But I do try to provide a little bit of detail beyond "It was good/bad." It's more helpful to other people. And I know that if I want to influence people to read/avoid a book, I'm more likely to succeed if I provide them with solid reasons for doing so. After all, why should I expect others to pay attention to the sort of single-sentence review that I routinely ignore?
julesjones: (Default)
Sturgeon's Law: "90% of science fiction is crud. But 90% of everything is crud." Though there's anecdotal evidence that he used a somewhat stronger word than "crud"...

It's a well-known saying in sf circles. And it applies equally well to fanfic. 90% of fanfic *is* crud. The difference with fanfic is that the 90% is out there in public. The crud that in profic is only seen by unfortunate slushpile readers is in fanfic available to anyone who cares to go and wade through the relevant web archives. When you read the slush, the 90% of crud, it's easy to forget that the 10% does exist; that there are people writing fanfic who are competent, even brilliant, writers; who choose to write fanfic not because they are incapable of "doing better" but because fanfic offers them the opportunity to write stories that they couldn't write in the profic world.

Some answers to the question 'You're such a good writer, why don't you write for money?' )


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