Book Review: The Merman, Carl-Johan Vallgren (2015)

Monday, December 7th, 2015

“Fairy tales with tragic endings.”

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for violence, including bullying, sexual violence, and animal abuse, as well as offensive language.)

There is no beginning, and no ending. I know that now. For others, perhaps, there are stories that lead somewhere, but not for me. It’s like they go round in circles, and sometimes not even that: they just stand still in one place. And I wonder: what are you supposed to do with a story that repeats itself?

“There’s not much that’s been written about mermaids, you see. Mainly fairy tales with tragic endings.”

Petronella’s life is a lot like a fairy tale. Not the ending, when the lowly peasant girl has found her prince, the heroine has slayed the dragon, and everyone is free to live happily ever after for the rest of their days. Rather, Nella is the beginning; the nightmare that comes before the daydream. The raw truth that lurks under the Disneyfied facade, fangs and claws bared.

Nella’s is a family of three, occasionally four. She and her younger brother Robert live with their mother Marika in a maisonette (apartment) on Liljevägen in Falkenberg, Sweden; her housing is largely regarded as “a sort of slum where social service cases live.” An unemployed alcoholic, Marika is a neglectful mother at best. Her mom is more likely to spend the family’s public assistance funds on booze than food, forcing Nella into shoplifting to make up the difference. Sometimes the free lunch at school is the only meal Nella and Robert will see in a day; oftentimes it’s the one and only reason they bother to show up at all. That, and to get out of the house: no matter how much Nella tidies up, it’s not long before hurricane Marika sweeps through, leaving mess of dishes and vomit in her wake.

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Book Review: L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future, Volume 29, Dave Wolverton, ed. (2013)

Monday, August 26th, 2013

A thoroughly enjoyable collection of contemporary science fiction!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.)

L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest – now entering its thirtieth year, it’s one of the longest-running short story contests still in existence – attracts thousands of submissions a year. From this, a panel of judges selects just thirteen essays for publication in the annual anthology. Also included are thirteen illustrations similarly culled from the Illustrators of the Future contest, along with three instructional essays on the art of crafting and selling science fiction, written by professionals in the field. (This year’s collection includes one piece by contest founder L. Ron Hubbard himself.)

As suggested by such stiff competition, the essays included in the 2013 anthology are all thoroughly enjoyable, with one exception (Christopher Raynaga’s “The Grande Complication,” which I didn’t much care for). The collection starts of strong with Brian Trent’s “War Hero.” In the distant future, soldiers and war criminals have achieved virtual immortality with the ability to save one’s consciousness, downloading it into a new body (or multiple bodies) as needed – thus assuring the interminability of war, conflict, and the military-industrial complex. (As an added bonus, cross-gender downloading also carries with it some interesting sexual connotations.)

“Planetary Scouts,” by Stephen Sottong, is one of the lengthier stories in the collection – and it’s also one of my favorites. Having long since ventured off earth, humans are constantly in search of new planets to colonize. Enter the Planetary Scouts, who land on and probe (“explore” is too lofty a word) strange planets to determine whether they support “intelligent” life. If not, they’re considered open to human settlement. As always, a species’ intelligence is measured solely in human terms, leading to the genocide of countless “lesser” species who might not be able to grasp arithmetic – but are still sentient, capable of experiencing joy and suffering, with families and interests and lives of their own. On more than one occasion – such as when he and his partner Aidan explore a mostly aquatic planet to determine whether an intergalactic aquaculture company can install one giant fish farm on it – this crass policy leads to a crisis of conscience for young upstart Lester. (As it turns out, the planet is home to one enormous “distributed intelligence,” which is self-aware – and thus worthy of continued existence. More often than not, you’ll find yourself rooting for the aliens.) In more extreme cases, such as when it’s home to “dumb” animals or plant life that’s deemed harmful to humans, a planet may be “sterilized”: stripped of all life, leaving a clean slate for its future human overlords. Talk about your euphemisms!

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Eat your vegetables! (Or not.)

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

2012-03-25 - Mission Child - 0002

Image: A photo of a page from the book Mission Child by Maureen F. McHugh (1998). The pertinent passage reads, “There were places that sold stew and places that sold meat grilled on skewers. One place sold sausage. Another sold fish, but it was meat I really wanted.”

Thousands of years into the future, after humans have pushed out into the universe to colonize other planets; developed implants which allow the wearer to send a distress signal to those living on other worlds, hibernate for the winter, or channel superhuman bursts of speed and agility; and created tiny discs capable of replicating the pharmaceuticals of your choice … and there’s still some confusion as to whether fishes are plants or animals. Ditto: insects. Groan.

Still, this is a pretty awesome book, definitely McHugh’s best. You should totally read it, especially if you like your dystopian scifi with a feminist twist. Also, the protagonist? Is transgendered/gender queer. (Born a woman, living largely as a man, Jan/Janna resists efforts to label her as female or male. When asked “what she is,” her answer is “me. Janna.”)

I feel like maybe someone was asking about ya fiction featuring LGBTQ characters on twitter a few months back, but damned if I can remember who. If you know, point ’em in this direction.

DFTBA!*

Saturday, August 6th, 2011

Stumbled upon the short film Traffic Warden while surfing the youtubes this afternoon. Shared for those of you who like fishes, Doctor Who, random acts of kindness, whimsy, and/or water fountain kissing.

Me? All of the above!

* Don’t forget to be awesome! (Read the comments!)

Reclaiming the F-Word, Expanding the V-Word

Friday, June 11th, 2010

I can’t see the point in women being equal to men if men are not equal to each other. *

Yes!

And also:

I can’t see the point in nonhuman animals being equal to humans if humans are not equal to each other.

Think about it.

Redtape Shoes and Apparels - Fishtank

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Green Porno 3.0: Compassion is sexy!

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

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Back in June, I raved about Green Porno, a subversive (and delightfully cheesy!) documentary series starring Isabella Rossellini (whom I’ve had a massive girl-crush on ever since her turn as Katya Derevko in Alias). Green Porno examines the sex lives of nonhuman animals – which, oftentimes, are far from “conventional.” To this end, the show has great potential to change how humans view “others”: women, homosexuals, transgendered persons, gender nonconformists – and even nonhuman animals.

To this, I’d like to add that, in addition to their anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, anti-transphobic, anti-anti-sex thrust (pun most definitely intended), these shows are anti-speciesist as well.

While [the] disavowal of animal homosexuality and sexual variety serves to justify and reinforce “isms” directed at humans (homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, etc.), it at also functions at another level. In denying non-human animals the full range of their behavioral, emotional and sexual expression, we rob them of their complexity, their personality – for lack of a better term, their humanity.

Like us, non-human animals can be complicated creatures, driven by a range of goals and desires. Animals, humans included, aren’t just about reproduction; our sole purpose in life isn’t simply to spread our DNA and produce as much offspring as possible. Sometimes we have sex, mate and form bonds because it’s fulfilling in other ways. Nor do we only nurture and protect our own genetic material: sometimes we act with altruism and compassion rather than selfishness and narcissism.

By insisting that animals only copulate in order to introduce sperm to egg, we simplify trillions of sentient beings, taking from them characteristics which make them seem that much more human.

Ironically, in so doing, we also reduce the human species to a caricature, a boring, two-dimensional model which scarcely resembles h. spaiens, in all its diverse, eccentric, animalistic magnificence.

Watching animal sex play out amidst kindergarten construction paper cutouts and human-sized bodysuits, the viewer (hopefully) comes to see nonhumans as the unique individuals they really are. When one ceases to regard a group of beings as a single, undifferentiated mass of “stuff,” othering them – based on species, sex, sexuality, race, breed or whatnot – becomes a difficult, twisted task indeed.

Season 1 focused on bugs (spiders, flies, earthworms), Season 2 on ocean dwellers (barnacles, whales, starfish). Both Wiki and I had thought Season 3 would shift focus to farmed animals such as pigs and cows, but it looks Season 3 will continue to examine marine animals. In a subtle shift from Season 2, however, Rossellini’s attention turns to ocean dwellers whom we commonly kill and eat (and oftentimes “farm” as well).

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Intersectionality ‘Round the Interwebs, No. 7: Meat, Love & Objectification

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

Update, 9/2/09: Carol Adams is soliciting videos for the upcoming 20th anniversary of The Sexual Politics of Meat; check out her Twitter account for more info and examples.

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A1 Steak Sauce - Prestige

The Discerning Brute: EAT LIKE A MAN.

The Discerning Brute weighs in on the conflation of “meat” consumption with masculinity:

How do rabbits eat? They carefully chew Vegetation. Strangely, no man scoffs at being compared to a rabbit when it comes to sex. “Doing it like rabbits” flatters a man’s virility, yet eating a diet that supports that same rabbit’s virility is lampooned. Instead, we consume entire animals with superstitious hopes of appropriating their strengths. The cover of September 2009’s Esquire Magazine proclaims “Eat Like A Man” and leads to a sixteen-page cover-story entitled “How Men Eat”. It is a total meat-fest. A cheesy, eggy, frat party wrapped in bacon and bathed in blood.

The offending article doesn’t seem to be available on Esquire’s website, though you can read about famous chefs’ favorite fast food joints, with much love for In & Out Burger. Gag.

Er, on second thought, no gag; that’s probably the womanly reaction the meat-eating manly men at Esquire are hoping for.

Carol J. Adams: The Sexual Politics of Meat Slide Show

Carol Adams has revamped her website since last I visited. The new setup includes a blog, interviews and – best of all – a Sexual Politics of Meat slideshow.

Apparently a 20th anniversary edition of The Sexual Politics of Meat is due out this fall; since I have the 1999 edition, I’m contemplating whether I should upgrade. It’s been awhile since I’ve read them, but I preferred The Pornography of Meat, Adams’s follow-up to The Sexual Politics of Meat – it’s more visual, less theoretical/academic. Then again, I read each in my college/vegetarian days, so wtf did I know? Perhaps an ’09 edition, with some new material, will provide an excuse to revisit Sexual Politics in my adulthood.

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"Generic" Individuals: The Ultimate in Speciesist Doublespeak

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

Last week, I was watching an episode of The People’s Court I’d recorded back in May (DON’T JUDGE ME!!), and I happened to catch a “teaser” for that night’s news broadcast. NBC Action News in Kansas City, dog bless ’em, was doing an exposé of local area restaurants. Their crime? Trying to pass off “generic” fish(es) as red snapper fish(es).

It’s not very high-tech, but here’s a photo I took of the commercial’s fish graphics:

2009-07-08 - Fish Switch - 0002

So what’s wrong with this picture?

Well, there’s no such thing as “generic” fish. In fact, to refer to a group of sentient individuals (spanning one or more species) as “generic” is the ultimate in speciesist doublespeak.

Admittedly, I’m no expert on “fishing” or “seafood”; I’ve never been “fishing,” and was never an enthusiastic consumer of “seafood,” even in my omni days. Thinking at first that “generic fish” might be an industry or “fishing” term, I hit the Google. A search for the term “generic fish” didn’t turn up any such slang, just websites promoting “generic” fish clip art or selling “generic” fish oil capsules. Wiki wasn’t much help, either; most of the hits for “generic fish” are in the context of “this is the generic term for x species of fish.” As far as I can tell, KSHB pulled the term out of its keister.

(Granted, I could certainly be mistaken, in which case I welcome a correction! I’m not sure widespread use of the term would make it any less problematic, however.)

No doubt, what KSHB actually meant was “less expensive fish(es),” or “more common fish species,” etc. As in, the customer is paying for an expensive, “exotic” species of fish and receiving a cheap substitute, thus being cheated out of their hard-earned money. (Nevermind the many fishes who were cheated out of their very lives.)

Interestingly, the news reports on KSHB’s website do not refer to “generic” fish, though they do contain equally speciesist terms (for example, referring to the “cheaper” fishes as “counterfeit” foodstuffs).

Also note how I refer to fishes plural, rather than fish singular. The latter, more common usage implies that fish(es) are a single, indistinguishable lump of food, an inseparable mass of stuff – kind of like wine or crushed tomatoes.

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Sexy Meat, No. 2: Flirty Fish & Beefy Chicken

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

Updated, 11/18/09: Ben @ Suicide Food has an absolutely pornirific take on McCormick’s sexy fish centerfold.

It’s been a few months in the making, but here’s entry No. 2 in the “Sexy Meat” series. This set of advertisements from McCormick is unique in that it features explicitly female and male “meat.”

Let’s start with the female, who is represented by a flirtatious fish (again with the fish, oy vey!).

McCormick - Fish

The ad above features an obviously female fish: she has oversized, cartoonish eyes; long, lush eyelashes (seemingly curled, even); and wispy fins, one of which she touches to her lipsticked, collagen-enhanced lips in a flirtatious gesture. She rests, splayed out, on a platter, as if being presented for your pleasure and consumption. Not as if; exactly like. Her tail is raised in the air, giving the appearance of an arched back (or raised buttocks? It’s hard to tell; she’s a fish, after all!). An anonymous, faceless consumer – also obviously female – hovers above, pouring a stream of McCormick’s mustard on the fish’s head. The scene vaguely resembles a, ahem, money shot.

Though not relevant to determining her gender, it’s worth noting that the fish’s skin is gruesome in appearance, to say the least. She appears to have grilled or roasted, to the degree that her scales are almost unrecognizable as such; they’re dark tan in color and even bear dark burn marks from the grill. And yet, she seems so happy and…aroused.

The text reads, “Tu comida se va a poner más buena,” which Google translates into “Your meal will bring more good”…though I’m guessing that’s rough at best.

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Rachachuros Seasoning, Redux: Zombie Cannibal "Meat"!

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

As a follow-up to last week’s Sexy Meat post, I bring you another series of advertisements for Rachachuros Seasoning.

(Courtesy of Ben at Suicide Food, who covered these ads last year. Timely, I am not.)

Rachachuros Seasoning - Chicken 2

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Consuming Women, No. 3

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

Some time ago – we’re talking two years plus – I started a series on this blog called “Consuming Women.” My intention was to highlight examples of advertising campaigns in which the consumption of “meat” is likened to the consumption of women, usually by depicting women as obviously edible foodstuffs. My own personal Pornography of Meat, if you will.

Because I’m a scatterbrain and tend to bite off more than I can chew, I never got past post #2 in the series. Which is a shame – but, luckily, one that’s easily remedied!

For now, let’s start simple and return to the series’ roots: woman-as-fish. Classy.

The Seafood International Market and Restaurant - Mermaid

For those who can’t view the image, the ad depicts a woman – a mermaid – lounging seductively on a table in what appears to be a fancy restaurant. Our mermaiden is surrounded by spoons, forks and knives, all of which will presumably be used to murder, dismember and eat her. And did I mention that she’s totally succulent and mouth-watering, in more ways than one?

In addition to reducing both women and fish to consumable commodities, something to be bought, sold and eaten, this ad for The Seafood International Market and Restaurant also draws upon a fairly popular gendered insult, in which women’s lady bits are likened to fish.

To be fair, I should note that the restaurant in question is located in Singapore; perhaps their slang differs in this regard. Would any international readers care to weigh in?

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Fishermen as happy sadists: A new meme?

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

Last month, I blogged about a series of ads for Hobie Kayaks, aimed at fishermen (“people,” I should say, except all the ads seem to depict men). The gist of the marketing concept is that the kayaks are so quiet that fishermen can stalk and overtake their prey with serial killer-like coldness and precision. Fittingly, shadowy fishermen in fedoras and trench coats are shown choking, knifing and shooting three very terrified fish. Fishermen as stone-cold killers, indeed.

As shocking as I initially found the ads, now I’m starting to wonder whether this is the beginning of a meme.

Take, for example, this ad series from Bass Pro Shops. The general concept actually isn’t all that objectionable; the three print ads are touting Bass Pro Shop’s camp sale with the slogan “Get the family ready. Bass Pro Shops camp sale.” (C’mon, who doesn’t love camping!?)

In the first ad, someone (Dad, presumably) has put some greenery around the toilet, in order to get the family ready to do their biz in the bushes:

Bass Pro Shops Camp Sale - Toilet

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Stephen Colbert gives PETA a tip o’ his hat…

Saturday, January 17th, 2009

…for making the consumption of “land fish” socially acceptable!
 

 
Mmmmm!

In all seriousness, there has got to be, at the very least, a veg*n sympathizer on The Colbert Report writing staff. Stephen is just too well-versed on animal issues. The Sea Kittens campaign, for example, hasn’t received extensive coverage from the mainstream media (not enough T&A), and yet TCR is aware of the campaign – and even understands it. (Good-natured mocking aside.)

To sweeten the deal, Stephen signed off Thursday’s show with a spin on Bob Barker’s “don’t forget to spay and neuter your pets” signature line:
 

 
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Part advertisement, part Internet hoax.

Sunday, January 11th, 2009

While I understand what they’re getting at, this series of print ads for Lifebuoy hand wash are unfortunate, to say the least:

Lifebuoy - Hamster

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Truth in Advertising: Fishermen are stone-cold killers.

Sunday, January 4th, 2009

When I first spotted this series of ads for Hobie Kayaks on Ads of the World, I was taken aback. Flabbergasted, actually.

This is some violent imagery – the kind you’d expect to see on the box of an adult video game.

Hobie Kayaks - Rope

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Surfrider hates litter, hearts "seafood."

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

The Surfrider Foundation, who describes themselves as “a non-profit grassroots organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of our world’s oceans, waves and beaches,” engaged in a fun guerrilla campaign to bring attention to the problem of litter and pollution, particularly as it affects the world’s oceans and waterways:

To put beach pollution into perspective, trash was collected from various beaches, packaged it to look like seafood and displayed it at local farmers’ markets. This is the print extension for those who couldn’t actually make it to the market.

(Description and photos via Ads of the World.)

I actually kind of dig the idea and print campaign; they filled Styrofoam food packages with trash such as cigarette butts, plastic doohickeys, rusted cans and (ew!) “used” condoms:

Surfrider - Farmer's Market - Butts-n-bits

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Sierra Club: Tell the EPA to Keep Gender-Bending Toxic Chemicals Out of Our Water

Tuesday, July 17th, 2007

Via the Sierra Club:

Tell the EPA to Keep Gender-Bending Toxic Chemicals Out of Our Water

Male fish with eggs? Cases of such “intersexed” fish have now been documented from the Potomac River to the Pacific coast. Yet the EPA has not taken sufficient action to protect our waters and our health from these gender bending chemicals. Many countries and private companies have already taken action and switched to safer alternatives. It’s time the EPA followed suit.

Tell the EPA to keep gender bending chemicals out of our water!

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DawnWatch: "Ethical living: Do fish have feelings too?…" UK Guardian, 21 June, 2007

Friday, June 22nd, 2007

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: DawnWatch – news [at] dawnwatch.com
Date: Jun 21, 2007 6:16 PM
Subject: DawnWatch: “Ethical living: Do fish have feelings too?…” UK Guardian, 21 June, 2007

The UK’s Thursday, June 21 Guardian has a piece headed, “Ethical living: Do fish have feelings too?: Animal rights campaigners are turning their attention to aquariums. But should we really get worked up about angel fish and guppies, wonders Harry Pearson.” (p 18)

Pearson opens with:

“When I was a child, my Aunt Nancy had a tank of tropical fish – guppies, black mollies, angelfish – in the front room of her house in Redcar. If anyone asked if the fish had enough space, her reply was automatic. ‘Oh yes,’ she would say. ‘You see, they only have a memory of five seconds.’ The fish, it seemed, swam to one end of the aquarium and by the time they had got there, they had forgotten everything they had seen. As a result, the fish found this small box of water as infinite and fascinating as the universe.

“That fish have an incredibly short memory is known to everyone. Unfortunately, like many well-known ‘facts’, it is not true. Several years ago researchers at the Australian Veterinary Association blew the five-second-memory idea right out of the water. Today, the generally held view is that fish have a memory span of at least a few months.

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Oceana: Ask Your State Consumer Protection Office To Inform Shoppers About Mercury

Friday, May 25th, 2007

Via Oceana:

Ask Your State Consumer Protection Office To Inform Shoppers About Mercury

Taking a cue from Oceana’s campaign that urges grocery stores to post mercury warning signs at seafood counters, the Department of Consumer Protection of Westchester County, NY announced last week that it had gotten almost all of its local grocery stores to post these signs. Ask your state’s consumer protection office to post these signs!

Contact info for each state’s consumer protection office, as well as a sample letter, is available here.

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WWF: One of World’s Largest Fisheries at Risk

Friday, May 18th, 2007

Via the World Wildlife Fund:

One of World’s Largest Fisheries at Risk

Bristol Bay is at the epicenter of a sustainable seafood industry that’s worth $2 billion annually. It makes no sense to allow oil and gas drilling that would put Bristol Bay’s fisheries and its rich arctic marine biodiversity at risk, yet would generate only $7.7 billion total over 25 to 40 years of operation.

Now is the time to speak out — a House committee is expected to vote next Tuesday on whether to make Bristol Bay off limits to energy development for one year.

null Of course, a Tiny Violin alert is a given here; if you use the WWF’s sample letter, be sure to edit out all areas of concern except for that of Bristol Bay’s ecosystem.

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