Tag Archives: words

Review: Lexicon

LexiconLexicon by Max Barry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn’t realize the “thriller about words” could be a genre, but I’m definitely on board. While most people recommend and remember Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash” because of the cyber-punk and cyberspace elements, that book was really more about words and the idea of words as being able to have this viral programming effect on humans. For the nerd in your life who got into THAT aspect of “Snow Crash,” you’ll definitely want to recommend “Lexicon.”

It’s not a perfect book, but there’s a lot to love here. The author does a very clever bit of work with a dual narrative that moves around in time, but never actually states the time/date or any sort of “Then/Now” chapter notation. It’s up to you to figure out how the narrative pieces together, which you can do from context and feels incredibly rewarding as a result. I like it when books and authors treat their readers as very clever and able to figure things out; this is something else that author Max Barry and Neal Stephenson have in common and I approve.

The book is at its absolute best as it explores its ideas; what is a word, really? How much power do they have, in the literal sense of being able to reprogram human cognition. You’ll find yourself thinking about it long after you put the book down, which for me is always a plus; see the previous paragraph about authors and reader cleverness.

Where this book wanders away from being perfect is when it decides to be a thriller. Simply put, there are a few thriller tropes that really grate. We never really find out WHY the poets (the main organization) are amassing all of this power or why the main antagonist makes any of the choices that he/she (keeping it ambiguous to avoid spoilers) makes. We’re left to assume and thus the overarching plot has a bit of an “evil for the sake of evil” mastermind bit going on that’s at odds with how clever the rest of the storytelling is.

Regardless, this is a book that I can highly recommend, especially for people who like their fiction to feel as smart as they are.

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In Case You’re Wondering What It Feels Like

I reached my NaNoWriMo goal on Monday: 50,000 words in 30 days (well, technically 27 days). What does that feel like? At this point, it’s more a relief than anything else. I did celebrate reaching my goal by opening the 12 year old single malt scotch and drank a glass with my wife, but only because I decided to save the 21 year single malt for when the manuscript is actually done.

Because that’s the weird thing about NaNo projects, at least for me; 50,000 words has never, ever conincided with me reaching “the end.” For the only NaNo that actually went on to become a finished manuscript, 50,000 words was roughly the midway point.

Which means that there isn’t really a feeling of being done. You turn in your word count, get the neat little validation thingy from the website, which I do like quite a bit because I’m a gamer and gamers are conditioned to perform repetitive actions to raise bars. This aspect of my personality is why YNAB worked on my finances and Fitbit was working for my fitness level (at least, it was working until the damn band broke and I stopped wearing it).

So here I am, done with my big goal, my winning streak extended by another year (up to eight wins in a row now) and then, with all that said and done, you get back to work. Because there’s still a lot more story to tell and a hell of a lot of rewriting for this one.

Politically Correct

Let’s have a little discussion on what the term “politically correct” means. Fair warning: I don’t normally resort to (much) profanity in my posts, but this one is going to break that soft rule.

If you’re the sort of person for whom “political correctness” equates to cowardice, overly sensitive new ageism, hippie shit, liberal shit, or any variation thereof in which shit enters your calculations, please pay attention very closely, because this is written with you in mind. If you’re the kind of person who scoffs when someone endeavors to be politically correct, please pay attention. If you’re the kind of person who says, “I know it’s not politically correct of me, but. . .”, please pay attention.

If you fall into any of the above descriptions, it’s very possible that you are an asshole.

Here’s what you think I’m doing when I say something is or is not politically correct:

“Stop being a cog in the wheels of the oppressive, feminist, white-hating, pinko, anti-male matriarchy. Be a REAL man.”

Here’s what I’m actually doing:

“I am trying very hard to not be a spoiled, privileged, self-absorbed, entitled, ignorant, narrow-minded asshole.”

If you think that deriding something as politically correct is an example of cutting commentary, it’s very possible that you are an asshole. If you think it’s stupid to be so sensitive and that people should “lighten up,” it’s very possible that you are an asshole. If you don’t see what the big deal is, you may not be an asshole, but it’s very possible that you are somewhat ignorant of the world outside yourself.

Politically correct isn’t a neutering of language. It isn’t caving to some cabal that exists only to strip away all the joy of “being a man” or whatever.

Politically correct is recognizing that there are other people in the world, people who are different than you. It’s recognizing that words have power. It’s recognizing that only ignorant fuckwads wield words without considering their consequences or their implications. It’s recognizing the perniciousness of privilege and how goddamn much privilege needs to go away so we can have equality. Actual equality, not this “hear no evil, see no evil” shadow version that the privileged pretend is the real thing so they don’t feel bad about themselves.

So here’s my message to you, if you’re the sort of person that thinks it’s funny, cool, interesting, or amusing to laud your “I’m not politically correct” nature. Just stop. You’re being an asshole. If people around you are amused, it’s very possible they’re assholes, too.

Would you like to stop being an asshole? Great! All you need to do is realize that differences of genderracereligionethnicitysexual orientation and disability should be treated with respect. Show respect by using respectful language (i.e. politically correct). That’s it!

But what about the jokes, you might be wondering. Hey, if you’re the kind of person who enjoys telling racist jokes, go ahead and keep telling racist jokes, so long as you do so while accepting that this makes you a racist. If you aren’t sure whether a joke is racist, consider whether you would say the joke while a person of that race that you did not know was standing in the room with you. Would you feel uncomfortable? There you go.

Insert the other -ists here where appropriate (sexist, chauvinist, etc).

I’ve written before about a need to engage in diplomacy with those who disagree with you so that you can more effectively win them over to your way of thinking. “Pick your battles, catch more flies with honey, etc.” Those are still valuable policies. They’re valuable when the person you’re talking to is capable of listening. Assholes generally don’t listen; if they did, they wouldn’t be assholes.

More and more, I’ve seen that there are some who don’t want to listen or can’t or won’t. So, here you go: my honest opinion and my honest anger. I’m anti-asshole. People that are assholes should stop being them.

One Word At A Time

After yesterday’s post, I spent the rest of my time thinking how do we fix this problem? Game culture, despite how tongue-in-cheek we might use the phrase, is a real thing now. It’s as real as popular culture in its ability to influence. We have cultural conventions now. We have cultural language.

It’s hard to describe how game culture came to be without resorting to dramatic, overblown language describing the strife that it emerged from. While the “violence in video games” discussion won’t ever truly disperse, I think we’ve come a long way from the days of Jack Thompson and his ilk. They’re not gone, of course, but for the moment, they’ve been defeated. Someone will be along eventually to take his place, but hopefully not for a while.

We won that round, at the low cost of developing a reflexive siege mentality that is one of the causes of the dickwolves thing I wrote about yesterday. We’ve traded one problem for another, which isn’t as cynical as you might think, because that’s basically how progress works. The only people who don’t have problems are dead. Dead people might have problems, too, that we just don’t know about.

So, you know, we’re doing okay, really.

Regardless of my inability to commit to a side on the dickwolves debacle, there are plenty of other instances of misogyny and rape culture in game culture itself. Nobody can rationally dispute that fact, regardless of where you come down on the dickwolves issue. The question we should all be asking ourselves is, as I said above, how do we fix this?

While I’d love to say I came upon the solution in a flash of brilliance, the truth is this was a comment made on yesterday’s dickwolves post. From my friend therationalpi:

Ya know, I used to say “rape” a lot. In videogame parlance, “rape” is just another way to say “beat on.” Like, instead of saying, “The red team really beat the blue team that game.” you might say “The red team really *raped* the blue team.” It’s a pretty common expression, that I used to use very casually.

Then I realized how much that word can bother people. For some people it brings up really negative memories and emotions. After realizing that, I stopped being so insensitive and slowly excised that word from my vocabulary. I never thought that actual rape was anything to joke about, but my vocabulary didn’t reflect that sentiment. So I changed my vocabulary.

This. This is how we start fixing things. Small changes. A piece at a time. I believe this will work, because this is exactly analogous to my own experience.

Confession time: I wasn’t always the male-feminist-ally-vegetarian-idealist that I style myself as today. I was a gamer a lot further back than I was any of those other things. I engaged in my share of smack-talk. I used the word “rape” in video games liberally and I used it as recently as 2005, when I was deep into the PvP scene in World of WarCraft.

I remember the first moment somebody called me out on using that word. It wasn’t much, just an admonishment that what I was saying was pretty insensitive. Because this admonishment came from a person that I admired and respected greatly and because it was done gently, it made me think. It made me reflect on the power of the words that I was using which was something I should have done all along. I was studying Creative Writing for my undergraduate degree; you’d think I would have been more sensitive to the power of certain words and their effects.

I realized what my words had the potential to do to another person and I changed my vocabulary. I stopped saying “rape” in the context of playing games. I don’t use it in any context other than its actual definition and even then, I use it carefully, knowing its potential harm.

It doesn’t take much to change your vocabulary. It’s a small change to start saying “yeah, we owned them” or “we pwned them” or any other permutation. Pwned is nice, albeit in an abomination-of-English-sort-of-way, because it’s a true “gamer word.” It’s part of the cultural lingo.

Why is “owned” acceptable when “raped” isn’t? Certainly, the idea of “owning” another person is offensive, if you really think about it. But that’s the thing about smack-talk in competition, isn’t it? You want it to be a little bit offensive. A polite taunt is no taunt at all. The trick is to find something that can make for good trash talk in a way that doesn’t bring up a real problem that people are dealing with and are dealing with in a culture that doesn’t treat their situation with the gravity it deserves.

Sure, “owning” is offensive. But it doesn’t trigger the same harm, in my opinion, the way the word rape does. I don’t know anybody in my life who has ever actually been “owned.” I know a few people that have been raped. I know that for those people, the former is just a word and the latter can trigger post-traumatic stress symptoms.

Choosing the word you uses matters. Telling somebody “hey, that’s not cool” isn’t always going to work. It might only work 1 time in 10, or maybe 1 in 20, or 1 in 100. But it did work for me, as it worked for my friend in the above quote.

It won’t fix the current game culture. But think about how many games of Call of Duty or Halo or StarCraft that you’re going to play in your lifetime. Think about how many times you will make the choice to either use the word “rape” without regard to its effect and thus perpetuate rape culture or choose a different word and enact a small amount of change.

It doesn’t cost much to make this change. It doesn’t take away the games we enjoy or the competition that brings out the trash-talk that’s so much a part of competitive game culture. It does, however, move things ever so slightly in a better direction.

That’s how change happens.