Sunday, January 31, 2016

Dungeons & Dead Presidents

I've given the games tab ^ a bit of a tidy, and added some content on integrating tabletop RPGs with gambling. I'm not sure if Viviana Zelizer, when she wrote that "people employ money as a means of creating, transforming, and differentiating their social relations," was primarily thinking of things like pretending to murder goblins with fireballs, but perhaps in that sense I'm building on her work.

Anyway: some oddball pen & paper RPG resources, plus a mini Twine game, free for your delectation.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Eligibility Awks

It's awksward season. Here's your relevant meta.

How can SFF de-expensify itself? Why was everyone so cross at Neil Gaiman? Why do some people feel like cons are compulsory? Etc.
BSFA's new nomination system
How to reform the Hugos
The best looks back at 2015 of 2015
Eligibility & vote-splitting

From two years ago, Adam Roberts's very sensible post about this sort of thing. The post can easily be construed as an argument against eligibility posts. On the other hand, he's using a technical term, self-pimpage. And maybe a little eligibility post and perhaps a pinned tweet don't quite qualify as self-pimpage.

(Unless you're super-duper-pooper famous).

Here are quick current thoughts on eligibility posts:

1) Eligibility posts seem to be here to stay. They have pros and cons but on balance they're very good. One of the cons is that I hate the word "eligibility," but what synonym would you use -- "fitness"?

2) On balance, it's also a good thing when authors -- so long as they're not super-duper-stormtrooper famous -- say what they think was their best work in that particular year. It's quite a sensitive balance though, for the following reasons.

3) Even if you think eligibility posts are very good, making your own eligibility post can be pretty awkward and embarrassing. And even when you see your friends and/or favourite authors doing it, there may be a bit of you that feels it's a bit gross. Take heart! That's okay! Awkwardness can even be part of why eligibility posts are good. The awkwardness and grossness is part of the point.

4) Huh? Because if eligibility posts didn't make some people awkward, they would just be an echo chamber for the existing megaphones. If it was an entirely comfortable, frictionless process, it would only minimally and mostly arbitrarily impact visibility.

5) The promise of eligibility posts is that they can make people feel uncomfortable to different degrees, and that in a very, very rough way, this may map onto the extent to which people should feel uncomfortable. It's precisely that awkwardness acts as a selection pressure, meaning that some authors do and some don't, and some do something in-between. In particular, to the extent that there is an energetic affirmative discourse around women's voices and other marginalised voices and the necessity of eligibility posts -- e.g. #dontselfreject; cf. Amal El-Mohtar going on a tear in 2014 -- awkwardness can be intrumentalised as a progressive selection pressure. Also if you're already highly garlanded, successful, exposed etc., then hopefully you feel awkward commanding your legions of fans to tennnn-hut.

Of course, actual awkwardness departs from ideal awkwardness. The whole Sad Puppies slate year can be interpreted as a sort of monstrous mutant eligibility post gone on a rampage.

At a finer grain, "pros and cons" implies that there is a mixture of desirable and undesirable features which this awkwardness selects for. For instance, there's a certain kind of democratic and egalitarian idealist who tends to feel on a gut level that prizes are stupid, or at least that wanting one is stupid, or at least that not actively trying not to want one is stupid, and the awkward eligibility post convention is going to tend to select against those greathearted folks. But what can you do. Raise them up over their fellows against their will, and dash their brains out on the celestial vault I guess!

So, yup. Eligibility posts are good.

And prizes are actually bad. Alol.

One way of mitigating the awkwardness of eligibility posts would be to centralise them a bit. If it really is a public service, why not do it as a public? On balance I think that's a bad idea, because they need to be at least sometimes prohibitively awkward for some people. I'm sort-of-okay with the big threads that Scalzi and others host from time to time.

Another way of mitigating the awkwardness would be to make them a bit more fun. Again, I'm against this.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

No living thing wants to die

Fantasy anime Hai to Gensou no Grimgar.

Martin Wisse's review.

Pictures and Conversations

For my own reference more than anything, a list of great / interesting graphic novels / manga / comics that I know or about or that were recently recommended to me:

The Caterer
Anything by Julia Gfrorer
Fun Home
Raconteuse
Maus (also anti-recommended: "way overrated")
Berlin: City of Stones
Mooncakes
Nijigahara Holograph
Pluto
Bite Me!
Family Man
Watchmen
Sandman
Things by Kyoko Okazaki
Things by Taiyō Matsumoto
Things by Moyoco Anno
Love & Rockets (etc.)
Daytripper
100 Bullets
Berlin
Realist
The Arrival
Why I Hate Saturn
Charlotte Geater
Transmetropolitan
Persepolis
Stuff by Sam Kieth
Stuff by Geoffrey Lewis
2000AD
Saga
Rat Queens
Tom Strong
Lackadaisy
Here by Richard McGuire
Anything by Emily Carroll
Blue is the Warmest Color
Strong Female Protagonist
A Softer World
Haunter
Something Happens
Witch's Brew
Alone Time Compass
Steve Lichman
Nimona
Oglaf (v. nsfw)
Questionable Content
Hyperbole and a Half
Zonza by Joan Cornella
Things by Nick Sumida
Things by Luke Pearson
Hark! A Vagrant
Dinosaur Comics
xkcd
SMBC
Cyanide and Happiness
Onion Editorial cartoon (& Diversity Lane)
Moonbeard
@Drilbert
Romantically Apocalyptic
Thunderpaw
Hobo Lobo of Hamelin
Garfield without Garfield
Frogs without Borders
Achewood
Three World Phrase

Elsewhere:
100 Women Making Comics


Monday, January 25, 2016

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Elsewhere: passive control rights

I came across the intriguing notion of the "passive control rights" of bondholders, which strikes me as one way in which the strict distinction between debt and equity need not always be as strict as we tend to think.

I'm gathering evidence to support the unpopular opinion that money, which is sometimes seen as a form of debt, might also be fruitfully approached as a special form of equity. This aspiration belongs to my broad sense that more needs to be done before money comes properly into focus as, in Geoffrey Ingham's words, a social relation. Ingham writes in The Nature of Money:
by a ‘sociology of money’ I intend more than the self-evident assertion that money is produced socially, is accepted by convention, is underpinned by trust, has definite social and cultural consequences and so on. Rather, I shall argue that money is itself a social relation; that is to say, money is a ‘claim’ or ‘credit’ that is constituted by social relations that exist independently of the production and exchange of commodities
Anyway, the rather dry excerpt about passive control rights is over at the Economic Humanities blog.

Another case where debt and equity may become blurred, by the way, is in the case of very short term money market securities, especially where issuers are continually rolling over their commercial paper-type debt. Such relationships can be short-term in one sense and long-term in another: that is, a company borrows money, pays it back, borrows it again, pays it back again, perhaps even on a daily basis, perhaps for years. So the lenders may not have any voting rights or collateral, but they may still be respected and even feared stakeholders with influence over the company's dealings. One thing I don't really understand yet is the extent to which a group of lenders in an arrangement like this really can be thought of as an agent or actor or even a continuous (albeit evolving) entity over long spans of time.

It's also interesting that whereas "debt" always implies "credit" -- to the extent that in certain contexts the terms become interchangeable, although always with distinct nuance -- there doesn't seem to be any equivalent language that differentiates equity as either owning or being owned by. Or perhaps there is but I just don't know about it?

Names in SFF interlude: eggs

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Hypothesis Thursday: The Big Smoke

London is one of those cities that if constantly referred to in a novel gives the illusion of having been richly evoked.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

How can SFF de-expensify itself? Lotteries! Lotteries! Lots and lots of lotteries!

1.

Science fiction and fantasy is incredibly expensive!

Okay, the books and magazines are expensive. But at least there are libraries. And so much of it is available free online nowadays. More than you could read in a lifetime, maybe.

But ... free time is expensive.

And ... being able to vote in the awards is expensive. Paying for the memberships that let you vote is expensive, and paying for those books and magazines and things, the ones on the longlists and shortlists -- the ones you can't get in libraries yet -- that's expensive.

Being able to participate in the conversation around the awards is expensive. Because if you're not voting, maybe you feel a bit stupid or poor or like a trespasser, hmm? You maybe get a smidge of imposter syndrome. Just a smidge. The smidges add up.

And the conventions. And the workshops.

The conventions are incredibly expensive! The workshops are incredibly expensive. Here are two great posts about the recent kerfuffle re Neil Gaiman, Clarion West, the quasi-idiomatic expression "you want x, you NEED x" etc.: Ann Leckie's and JY Yang's.

JY Yang's is probably the more pertinent to this post. "[F]or somebody like me – living and working outside of the UK or US – different culture, different continent, different context – breaking into the SFF publishing scene, getting people to actually sit up and notice you, even getting better at your craft, is extremely. fucking. difficult." Yang talks about community. It's expensive to feel part of science fiction and fantasy.

It is expensive to visit the science fiction and fantasy Top of Mount Olympus, but there aren't too many other kinds of obstacle to getting there. You pay your money, you get on your Mount Olympus Funicular. For a lot of money, you can see, hear, touch -- I guess you shouldn't touch -- living legends. For a huge amount of money, you can have them read your stuff and suggest how to make it better. So long as you're not too picky about your living legend, one living legend or other should be available.

Part of the kerfuffle re Neil Gaiman, Clairon West, etc., is probably driven by the suspicion that workshops like that don't just give you sound advice, they give you even sounder contacts. "Okay, so you're a good writer. There are a lot of good writers out there. There are a lot of good, hard-working writers out there. The ones that know how to network, the ones that can pay to get close to the big nodes ... they're the ones that succeed."

That's the suspicion, anyway. I don't really share it? Not that I have some kind of naive ideal about canons crystallizing according to pure merit, or anything. But I do suspect that there's a third thing, that isn't exactly instruction and isn't exactly networking, although it's a bit like both those things, that you get from something like Clarion West. Or get from a coffeeklatch with a living legend, or whatever. It's the anxiety and pleasure of community. I think we systematically underestimate its importance in shaping, strengthening, and projecting writing outward into the world. Writing is intimately entangled with pleasure, with jouissance. Writing is intimately entangled with community, and perhaps extra intimately entangled with provisional, fragile, hodgepodge, competitive, mercurial, anxious, disputed, and disputatious community.

2.

Anyway: science fiction and fantasy is supposed to imagine the future. Science fiction and fantasy is supposed to imagine the alternative. Science fiction and fantasy is supposed to imagine the otherwise unimaginable alternative. Science fiction and fantasy is supposed to keep some kind of fragile candle-flame flickering through the dark times. And science fiction and fantasy is incredibly expensive.

Because it's expensive, it's elitist.

It directly selects against those on low incomes. It directly selects against those living in countries with comparatively weak currencies. It indirectly selects against those groups who tend to have low incomes, or who live in such countries.

(If you're lucky -- lucky? -- you live somewhere like where I live, and science fiction and fantasy has its free fringe).

I'm sure people way more knowledgeable than me have talked over these problems a zillion times. I know for a fact there are all kinds of practical initiatives that go some way to ameliorating them.

But I'm just wondering: is there some neglected low-hanging fruit here, ripe and ready to drop?

Maybe focusing on the feeling of inclusion, and the anxiety and pleasure of community, might make it a bit easier to improve accessibility?

If it has proved hard to extend the full shebang, to extend the full masterclass-from-a-living-legend, to every talented and hardworking writer who in some sense deserves it ... maybe it's easy to at least extend the feelings of inclusion and of community? Extend it a bit?

UPDATE: Elsewhere, Sunny Morraine writes eloquently on similar subjects. "[...] at least in SFF writerdom, there is really no meaningful distinction between friends and colleagues [...]" (Fuck, cons shouldn't be something people feel they have to go to, should they?)

3.

One way you feel included in something, if that something is something which is cyclical, is if you even have a chance of going to that something. A free lottery ticket, each time it comes round. And/or if you feel like someone who's a bit like you just did go to it. You didn't win, but the person who did reminds you of you.

"Didn't make it last year, or this year, but one year I might, and in the meanwhile, I still feel included. I still feel invested."

Or: "I could afford it that one time, and with my memories of that one time, plus my ritual of entering the lottery, I still feel part of this thing. Which creates all kinds of positive feedback loops and virtuous circles in my reading and my conversations and my writing."

So the guideline is: for any SFF-related thing that involves money, take a moment to pause and think, Is there some spare capacity here that we could give away for free? Is there some aspect that could be hived off and given to whoever's name gets pulled out of a hat?

4.

So for instance:

(1) Could Neil Gaiman and some of his friends figure out a way to make Clarion more accessible, at least for a temporary span of time? I have no idea what the economics of Clarion are, although I bet they're flexier than the folk in charge of them will tell you at first. But for instance, could an instructor (e.g. Neil Gaiman) waive a fee and instead sponsor a low income attendee?

(2) More low income pass lotteries for cons please. Every major con should have tickets that get handed out at random to applicants on low incomes. I'm talking about cramming in a few extra bodies that otherwise wouldn't be there at all.

(3) If it's financially feasible, some lotteries available to everyone too, regardless of income. The important thing is: lots and lots of lotteries, so the more you want to go somewhere, the more scrupulous and energetic you can be about throwing your name in every hat everywhere. Okay, it's not perfect, but "I won the lottery to go to LaserswordCon, help me raise travel and accommodation!" ain't a bad way to Kickstart something.

(4) Associations should also do free membership lotteries. The BSFA could probably do with a membership top-up. Promote the lottery hard, and you'll get a big pool of applicants, and instead of giving some existing member a free ride, you'll get a new member you never would have had in the first place. Maybe they'll stick around. Voting rights in particular: it makes hella sense to me to engage more widely by offering partial memberships that permit voting. The cost to the association could be literally zero (sorry, no paper ballots for lottery-route members).

(5) Magazines should do more lotteries for free digital subscriptions. This is probably less important.

(6) I've forgotten what this one was. More lotteries, probably. Oh, maybe it was more online stuff. Clarion West on an Open University / Khan Academy model? (But beware the risks of the latest round of cyberutopianism).

(7) I know the e"con"omics (pretty good joke huh) generally rule out giving volunteers a free pass, but could some volunteers get a free pass? Or first time volunteers get half price, kind of thing? I'm sure many cons already do this kind of thing.

(8) Errr ... and of course if there are ways of making paying cons and workshops and awards and things a little less central to the affairs of science fiction and fantasy in general, that might not be a bad thing. And if we do multiply the lotteries throughout the lands, we should take care not to use that Good Thing as an excuse to do Bad Things; the more privileged participants in science fiction and fantasy should take care never to use lotteries as an excuse to understate or neglect persistent patterns of marginalization, take care never to use them as a reason not to energetically engage with and promote the work of non-Western and other marginalized groups of writers.

(9) Aaaaaaand of course while all this is going on, it's necessary to step back from time to time and think about how thinking about fairness and finance in the fandom context may operate as a distraction from, or sublimation of, fairness and finance in the wider world.

(10) Masked Clarion. Compulsory masks. Clari-anon. Everybody foxes etc. Who went to Clarion? We all did.

*   *   *

PS: Con or Bust is taking requests for assistance from fans of colour from Feb 15-25.

PPS: I really like something JY's post touches on at the end. It isn't just about making the core more accessible to the periphery: it's about the possibility of developing the periphery, shedding the periphery-ness, making new, alternate cores. Basically it's also about sf and fantasy localism, about growing vibrant small press scenes that don't necessarily kowtow to whatever aesthetics and politics and whatever which dominate mainstream sf and fantasy and, even more importantly, which resist and/or transform co-option by the more progressive venues and institutions of mainstream sf and fantasy. Just as a quick comparison, for some reason basically all the even slightly good poetry in the UK is published predominantly by small and micro presses.

PPPS: I notice that this post falls into that genre of "x costs money. y costs money."-straight-talkin' type posts. I didn't mean to talk straight and I'm sorry.

PPPPS: Some aspiring writers should be discouraged! I wish somebody had discouraged me! But I haven't quite figured out yet how to tell them apart, the ones who should be discouraged and the ones who shouldn't. Just putting a big discouragement buffet out there for people to help themselves to usually just further marginalizes the marginalized (within this particular context, although being marginalized in one context may free you up to flourish in another, which is what makes this whole thing so tricky. Hmmm).

PPPPPS: I also have the quasi-rationalized superstition that social contact with the authors of texts can sharpen your reading of those texts in a way that is also by the way frequently fruitful in your writing, assuming you are cultivating them as an influence. The Death of the Death of the Author is basically a done deal from where I'm sitting. Btw I heard a fantastic neologism today: not autobiography but bioautography.

PPPPPPS: [To do: are there some general good tactics to adopt when you find yourself in the midst of building a counter-core? Lessons from poetry and/or activism maybe? Simple things: if there doesn't seem to be the constituency to support a genre writing night, start off with a music and comedy and genre writing and open mic night. Or if you don't find yourself in the midst of building a counter-core, then what practical measures can you take to support those who are? What can the sort-of-established editors and authors and publishers, who still aren't happy with what they're established in, do in order to provide real solidarity with and support to these more local and distributed sff efforts, without de-energizing / appropriating / undermining them?]

[Also to do: I sense that "writing," although that term needs interrogating, can really flourish at the moment that you withdraw yourself from a "community" -- and maybe that's not quite the right word either, if it's something that functions most powerfully at the moment of alienation. But yeah: writing obviously isn't really a lonely pursuit, and it obviously isn't a social pursuit either. It has a particular characteristic status in the dialectic of individual and collective, which I need to think about more carefully some time.]

PPPPPPPS: The bit about "hiving off aspects" of memberships / passes etc. does of course raise the question of a tiers, or a sense of being present or participating, but feeling second class. That's a real issue, although at the same time, it is probably something to be sensitive to and try to deal with, not something that renders the whole notion untenable. What's the alternative -- simply keeping the barriers to entry high, just so the people who can't make it at at all are saved the risk of feeling like they're hard done by or interlopers or deserve the full welcome pack or whatever dammit? And it's not as if those feels aren't in circulation already. My Night Nurse is kicking in big time rn.

Elsewhere: how many capitals can you name?

On the Economic Humanities blog, what do we talk about when we talk about intangible capital?

Sunday, January 17, 2016

BSFA longlist

I haven't read that much short fiction on the BSFA longlist yet, but here are a few of my possibles:

Tim Maughan, "Special Economic Zone" (Medium)
Sam Kriss, "Manifesto of the Committee to Abolish Outer Space" (The New Inquiry)
Alyssa Wong, "Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers" (Nightmare)
Yoon Ha Lee, "Variations on Apple" (Tor.com)
Alix E. Harrow, "The Animal Women" (Strange Horizons)

May add to, or even subtract from this list.

Tim Maughan's probably isn't science fiction and it's definitely not a story. It's probably the most solid contender for me.

Yoon Ha Lee is one of the few writers whose language I feel actually deserves, at least intermittently, those common encomiums "rich" and perhaps "poetic" and perhaps even "lyrical." (Especially the more disintegratingly courtly and/or Metaphysical kinds of lyricism: Petrarch, Donne. Often prose described in these terms strikes me as a sleazy and linguistically predictable attempt to woo by introducing heightened straightforward sensuality -- and introducing it at every opportunity and in multiple dimensions (diction, prosody, subject matter). I am depraved and easily wooed and so it sort of works, but the hook-up is regrettable. Whereas Yoon Ha Lee's cryptic similes can actually assail the readerly nostril with the sickly-sweet reek of foundered courtships).

Sam Kriss's story has a brief appearance in my economic speculative fiction listicle.

Earlier:

BSFA's new nomination system
How to reform the Hugos
The best looks back at 2015 of 2015

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Names in SFF: YA interlude

Kat Brown has a really great bit on names in her "How to Write a Dystopian YA Novel in 10 Easy Steps" article over at The Telegraph. Here it all is:
4) Names

Forget plot, the majority of your planning time needs to be on your characters' names. What are you hoping to achieve with your protagonist? Whatever, it needs to be intriguing, aspirational and sound a million miles away from school.

Ideally you will be aiming for something that evokes sullen determination with a tinge of glamour. You can do this by taking a regular name and swapping the letters around, or by putting a y where it doesn’t belong.

S sounds are also good: think Tris, Katsa, Jace, Alysse or Katniss. If you get to Tristophé you have wandered into an episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and need to stop procrastinating and write your damn book.

If in doubt, google "Victorian households": Clarissa, Tobias, Magnus, Bram. This can also apply to surnames, although opening a dictionary and choosing the first adjective you see works just as well. Precious stones or exotic items are also good, although be wary of heroines called Beryl. 
Bolt on an adjective, or an intriguing misspelling. Don’t miss the opportunity to eke out a few extra syllables. Compound words together. Freestyle it. Everglade Tannerbrook would be a terrific father figure who also runs a farm while forging weapons out of tree sap.

Names with meaning are good, especially if you have read a lot of baby name books or are aiming for a story with "layers". Caleb, meaning loyal, is a good choice if you have a romantically unexciting male best friend. There are a lot of variants on Kat, possibly because Katherine means pure. Sidenote: Kat Brown means Pure Brawn. You are all supporting characters in my own dystopian universe!

Earlier:

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Suggested New Year's Resolution

Don't keep track of what you read in 2016. Don't keep track of what you watch. Don't try to rate more, comment more, or write more reviews. If you want to try to read more, or read more of a particular category of books, try but without counting.

Names in SFF #13: Benedict Cumberbatch

Spoilers for New Year special. Also don't get me wrong: there's a lot to enjoy about the episode in question, including Cumberbatch's performance. See also Maureen K. Speller's post at Paper Knife.



Benedict Cumberbatch is the actor who has portrayed, among others, Martin from Cabin Pressure, Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness, Smaug and a young Sauron in The Hobbit, Alan Turing, Stephen Hawking, TS Eliot, Vincent van Gogh, the apprehensive young business manager 'Robin' in Nathan Barley, and himself. His Doctor Strange and Shere Khan are forthcoming. He does not play The Doctor, but you can be forgiven for forgetting that.

He also plays Sherlock Holmes in the BBC's Sherlock. The 2016 New Year special episode was entitled "The Abominable Bride." There can be no doubt that the abominable bride must be Benedict Cumberbatch himself. Look at him: there stands the Abominable Bride. That is a truth you can drink up with your first glance. So you have the rest of the day to work out why the story has gone to such lengths to hide the fact that Benedict Cumberbatch is the true Abominable Bride, as well as what an Abominable Bride actually is (it is a kind of Benedict Cumberbatch, we know that much). And when you do work that out, you may perhaps spare a thought for how you knew all along that Benedict Cumberbatch is the true Abominable Bride.

Okay, wait. In case anyone should stumble over this looking for an "explanation" of the episode, please! This isn't a mere explanation. An explanation would explain things. An explanation would explain, oh, I don't know: It Was All A Dream. Sherlock wanted to figure out if Moriarty could have shot himself in the head and still survived, right? So he absorbed all the data on a similar case from a hundred years previously, and withdrew to an inner simulation in which to solve it. Obviously that's the most straightforward way to solve a mystery: pick one that's a bit like it from a hundred years ago and then think about it while on drugs. How very algorithmic governance of you, Sherlock.

An explanation would explain that Sherlock solved the cold case (Lady Carmichael killed Sir Carmichael), only his simulation was beset by glitches. Mycroft's anachronism "the virus in the data" was one. The little tag saying "Miss me?" which magically appeared was another. And of course the unveiling of the Moriarty-bride was another. Why were these glitches there? Because even Sherlock isn't perfect. It all starts to crumble toward the end. Possibly Sherlock did "really" exhume Mrs Ricoletti, but I'm inclined to interpret that whole scene (not just the magic bit at the end) as a continuation of Sherlock's inner simulation. So's the bit at the waterfall.

But this isn't that.

Although it is significant, for a reason I'll mention in a moment, that there is a kind of dream logic at work in the episode, where two anxieties can be conflated, blended, run together into one complex anxiety. It's a poetic form of truth, as some idiots might put it. Or perhaps, there are two kinds of dream logic. It was all a dream, but it was a dream with two theories of dreaming struggling for mastery: from the Freudian side, things repressed by the unconscious are worked through via fantasies (the glitches); from a more cognitivist, bio-computational angle, there is important data mining, enriching, consolidating and so on going on, plus window dressing (the cold case solving).

But what's more interesting is: finally here is a Sherlock which admits that a Benedict Cumberbatch, like an Engelbert Humperdinck or a Cubbi Gummi Bear, is one of those fay presences which bounces comfortably through our mundane plane maintaining rich relationships here, while quite obviously never being anchored here in the long term. And a Benedict Cumberbatch steals different identities. It seems unfair to single out just one actor for the shapeshifting of the whole profession, but there you go.

If you felt you had a history of somewhat sexist writing and were determined to Do Better, one of the things you could do to make it a bit easier for yourself is set bits of your episode in Victorian England. That setting allows such easy equivocation. You can recruit a bit of internet-era snark into the service of some now uncontroversial struggle, like votes for women: it shouldn't be too hard to pitch these confrontations so that a contemporary liberal feminist feels a sense of triumph, and a contemporary radical feminist, a sense of trajectory. You can portray a Victorian woman outwitting a Victorian man, despite having the odds so stacked against her, and you can portray the Victorian man's mouth opening and closing and his moustaches flaring like a windsock in a flabber-gust.

This seemed to be where the episode was going, with some neatly polished banter from Mrs Hudson about how the handsomely walrused Watson was writing her out of history, and a sense of suffragist alacrity and activism bristling away beyond the blinkers of our supposedly ever-vigilant superman.

But oh no. That's not where it was going. It turns out that that stuff was, unfortunately, pertinent to the plot: because the Feminists Did It. The Feminists did it, and then they put on pointy hoods and chanted about it in Latin afterwards, because that's what Feminists do. The story concedes that they were "right" to do it, and Mycroft Holmes, spokesman for the patriarchy, very graciously consents to "lose" to them.

Abominable is not a common word. When it does come out in public, it is usually accompanied by one of its close friends. Abominable weather, abominable treatment, abominable service, abominable mess. It can just about slot in wherever atrocious can: I'm an abominable tennis player. Or perhaps it arrives in a Wodehouse-ish flourish, accompanied by some of term of comparable just-gone-over archaism: abominable perfidy. Occasionally it may be an intensifier: abominable cheat.

The strongest collocation, however, is abominable snowman, the elusive, apelike cryptid of the Himalayas. The God of the Hunt, perhaps. But also something to be hunted. "The game is a Bigfoot," as Sherlock might say, running together two distinct anxieties into one complex anxiety.

Snowman, I hereby aver, connotes Cumberbatch. He is white af. Or more like: Abominable Snowman Bride connotes Sherlock Benedict Cumberbatch. "White as death, mouth like a crimson wound," is the Bride's description. Cumberbatch is professionally pale. He is beyond the pale. He has blown the lid off pallid. He is a consummate pallid-an at the height of his powers. His skin is bridal silk. Perhaps Cumberbatch's lips aren't all that crimson, but he does have a hearty mouth. It is a Nirvana mouth: heart-shaped botox. The snowman's carrot admittedly is neither here nor there. Perhaps you could pull one from a cabbage patch or a cumber batch, but probably not. There is the pipe: Sherlock is as fond of his pipe as any two gigantic snow boulders piled in an 8.

Pure as the driven snow. Sherlock: The Abominable Bride does bring up the question of Sherlock's virginity. Benedict may suggest Benedictine monasticism and perhaps a monk's chastity. It may also hint at St Bernard, lolloping through the snow all jowls and salvation. What is important here is the monstrous bride, hungry, shaggy, and almost indistinguishable from the ferocious nature -- a blizzard, it so happens -- which she inhabits. The other suppressed word, partly via snowman, is Bridezilla.

If the shadowy many-hooded dénouement was cringey, one contributing factor might be this: it replicated the logic and perhaps even rhetoric of anti-suffrage writers of the late Victorian era and early C20th. To be schematic: first-wave feminism concentrates on entry into the great mass of more-or-less rational humans, as reflected by formal, procedural equality of civil and political rights. That is, voting, owning property, speaking in town meetings, bearing witness, standing for election, and so on. A common strategy to undermine first-wave feminism was to insist that women already had their own sphere and forms of influence which, though subtle and discreet, potentially outweighed men's altogether. Women operated in the private sphere on sons and husbands, and through them, on the public sphere, the Empire, etc.

Of course, that antifeminist rhetoric hasn't gone away. We still see it in the stereotype of the ferocious woman who dominates (henpecks, pussywhips) her man, a stereotype which flourishes in part because it can sometimes blur into good faith celebration of a woman's power.

The cringey shadowy many-hooded dénouement of Sherlock: The Abominable Bride may or may not have been salvageable. Other contemporary anti-suffrage arguments swirled around the notion of women as constitutionally unfit for full citizenship, because they were constitutionally adverse to violence in defense of the realm. You know: tender. So maybe there is potentially a story to be told with these cowboy ninja warrior monk suffragettes. If only they had used their fists in a scientific fashion:


But if you were trying to salvage the premise, a good place to start would be refocusing the cowboy ninja warrior monk suffragettes' campaign away from cheating husbands and no-good sexual scoundrels, and toward the public sphere. Less emo vengeance, more assassinations. Less of this spooky mode of influence which requires you to kiss goodbye to rationalism, more of the deliberate and considered violent uprising of the oppressed.

What does this have to do with Benedict Cumberbatch, the abominable bride? An abominable bride might mean someone who is truly terrible at being a bride. "Sorry everyone, I'm an abominable bride. I'm male, and I don't even get married." Though Sherlock goes around being-a-dick and encumbering everyone with his batcheloryness, it's clear that Sherlock: The Abominable Bride actually positions Benedict Cumberbatch as the sexist cliche of the Bridezilla, the ravenously demanding bride-to-be. He is at once, in a patriarchal paradox, the apotheosis of bridal, and pathologically, wrongly bridal: he's so brutally bridal he's bad at being a bride.

Mycroft, you might say, is bad at being a best man, the man who is primus inter pares. "The virus in the data." "Mycroft! This is not the time and place for such language!" He tackles the whole wedding spread solo. His instinct to eat, live and grow is pathologically hypertrophied into a death wish, so that both personally and as chief man dude - "we must lose" - the best man is the worst man, fit only to burst.

This is a story about perfection. Sherlock's Memory Palace cannot simulate a material totality to such a fine grain that it becomes empirically investigable, any more than a Bridezilla and her minions can foreshadowingly simulate, and then materially realize, a Perfect Day.  Wedding plans represent, rather than pre-create-in-ideality, wedding days. Wedding days instantiate, rather than transpose-to-materiality, wedding plans. Wedding days and wedding plans are not ontologically isomorphic. The myth of the Bridezilla is in part the myth of the woman who is calling the patriarchal bluff, unlocking and wielding some of the violence implicit in the translateability of ideality and materiality. Do you always cry at implicit violence? I always feel like I should.

This is a story, after all, mostly in Sherlock's head. It is entirely organized around the conceit that everything must be exactly how Sherlock envisions it, and yet things never are quite the way he envisions them, and that discrepency is terrifying and threatening. Sherlock: The Abominable Bride is filled with the little slip-ups of the kind that can ruin a perfect day: the gauche and untimely choice of words, the label in the wrong place, the wrong person under the bridal veil. It all hints at the possibility of a wedding that isn't even a wedding: it's a weddingfail, it's the guests, the get-up, the bridal silk, but without the legal ink.

Benedict, by the way, may mean "a true and established bachelor who has recently married." Compare Shakespeare's Benedick.

Bridezilla. Think Godzilla with veil and train, of course. Where else in the episode's language do we find the superimposition of a furious, carious mythical creature with ostentatious formal ceremonial garb? There is this: CumberbatchCummerbund. Bandersnatch.

Sherlock, a bit like Who, is the kind of work that puts an enormous premium on being clever. Constantly slick, bantery, cozy, polished, expertly paced, and clever: if it fails to be those things, then it probably fails altogether. (Tom Stoppard might have a lot to answer for). What is Sherlock if he's not clever? At best, a low-functioning sociopath. Perhaps it is not really a style of writing that suits mass production, episode after episode, season after season. And I wonder if the Bridezilla, with a kind of dream logic, runs together two anxieties. First, the endlessly demanding character of Sherlock, who takes and takes and takes your one-liners, your ripostes, your detective fiction deductive conceits, churning through them at a breakneck pace without showing the least gratitude. Every episode is the Bridezilla's wedding day: it must be perfect or it is ruined. Second, the fans. The endlessly demanding fans, something Doyle knew about too. You've given them women being written out of history; you've celebrated women's suffrage; you've even had a woman Watson more-or-less crack the case, before whisking us off to a waterfall where bromance between two men wins out over a superman's insecurity psychically represented as a rivalry between two supermen. You've done feminist. What more do they want?

Where to even start.

Earlier:
SFF names #12: Luke Skywalker
SFF names #11: Catherine Rhoeas-Papaver
SFF names #10: Bobby Shaftoe
SFF names #9: Justice of Toren One Esk Nineteen
SFF names #8: Ged
SFF names #7: Shevek
SFF names #6: Buhle
SFF names #5: Parva "Pen" Khan
SFF names #4: Beth Bradley
SFF names #3: Rumpelstiltskin
SFF names #2: Lucy
SFF names #1: Winnie

TL;DR: Making fun of people for their names isn't nice.