Saturday, August 13, 2011

A perfect storm of fart noises forever

Oh dear god.

It's a boy.

We weren't even supposed to find out. It just so happened that I'd put off the NT ultrasound (part of the overly-elaborate process of genetic testing that has been giving me anxiety attacks lately - I am so used to my body failing me at every turn, I expected something to be drastically wrong, but apparently everything's fine? I'm confused) till after my recent trip back to the husband's and my Rust Belt hometown. Just got back, got the scan, and there it was, dancing around on the screen like a twitchy little monkey doll. Oh man!

And the tech casually says, "So are you planning to find out what the gender is?"

Of course we are. My entire family made it clear that if I don't they'll never forgive me. Heaven forbid you have to buy things with cute bunnies and duckies and monkeys on them instead of "Daddy's Little MVP" and "Born to Shop." Gotta get those gender norms ironed out early! (With the ladies doing the ironing thereof, of course.) But mostly we are just curious. "Yeah?" I said, skeptical. "Aren't we not supposed to be able to see anything yet?"

So she points to this little weird dangly thing and grins and holy shit that's a penis. It's a boy! It's a goddamned little teeny awesome BOY. Unless that was an intestine. We won't know for sure till the next ultrasound in six weeks. But wow, sure looks like it.

What am I going to do now?

Despite logically knowing there's a 50/50 chance it would occur, I never planned for having a boy. I have spent my whole adult life planning on how I'm going to raise my daughter differently from how my mom raised me. When she'll be allowed to wear makeup (when she starts getting zits and needs concealer), how late she can stay out (way later than I ever could), can she be friends with people with divorced parents (I wasn't allowed to), what activities I'd encourage her to do (mostly theater - I was a band kid, but my husband is far too hilarously charismatic to waste his genes on an introvert's extracurricular.) I had this picture in my head of this girl with a wicked grin and red hair like my husband's, goofing off in the back of the class and still getting perfect grades, starring in all the musicals, stopping off at Second City before making it big Fey-and-Poehler-style. Or if she absolutely MUST go instrumental, then Interlochen. Or maybe MIT, if she hits that crucial liberal-arts-vs.-science decision point that I hit in mid/late high school and decides to make the RIGHT career choice for her financial future rather than the one I made.

The only plans I ever had for a boy were giving him the annual stern talking-to re: consent and condoms once he hit dating age and trying to keep him from saying "gay" and "retarded."

Which is good. It's very good! Because having preconceived notions of who your kid is going to be and how they are going to become it is what fucked ME up. (That and biochemistry. It'll getcha!) I fell way short of Perfect Daughter, despite being the one my friends' parents held up as "why can't you be more like," because my mom was devastated to have raised a nerd. She hid my computer games and my fantasy novels. "Stop reading and go watch TV" was a common refrain. It just was not on her radar that her daughter would be strange. With my luck I'd have an attractive, cheerful, popular, uncomplicated jock for a daughter, and as I took her homecoming-queen pictures and regarded the wall of softball trophies I would silently think what did I do wrong? Because it all comes down to expecting your same-sex child to be YOU, distilled and improved, and wanting them to do all the things you ever wanted to do. And no one ever is, and no one ever does.

I don't have a picture in my mind's eye of what my son will look like at 20, how he'll wear his hair when he's 14, what his favorite books will be when he's 5. I have made no specific plans for his wardrobe or college major. You know what this means? It means the chain of mother/daughter angst and unfulfilled expectations is broken! No more failed cloning attempts! Evil Beans is a blank slate. And I intend to give him some crayons, step back and let him go to town. This is going to be so much fun.

Except now my husband is going to see it as his solemn sacred duty to teach his son how to work the word "booger" and at least one fart noise into every sentence for the rest of his life.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Women of Science Fiction Book Club: Cordelia's Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

Finally! I have been waiting for this one to come up on the list for months now. Lois McMaster Bujold is one of my absolute all-time favorite authors, and best of all she's someone who makes me want to write. Bujold's writing is smart, warm, chatty, quick, and above all readable, much more so than I expect from a repeat award winner. (Does it say something about me, or about book awards in general, that when I hear a book has won an award I steel myself for impenetrability?) She so clearly adores science fiction, fantasy, romance, and all their best-loved tropes - her books' best-known Big Damn Hero, Miles Vorkosigan, is a gleeful mix of trope adherence and trope subversion - and she is not picky about the genre elements she commandeers. For example, my favorite of hers, A Civil Campaign, is a military space opera Regency romance political farce. Yes, it works. It works gloriously. Bujold is the writer I should have been reading since I first picked up a Dragonlance book/turned on Star Trek: The Next Generation in my impressionable preteen years and thought "This is so awesome but it would be better with better writing and more women in it." If I can someday muster a tenth of the character development and sheer enjoyability of her work I'll be happy.

Anyway. Cordelia's Honor! It's actually two books, Shards of Honor and Barrayar, set maybe a month apart but written years apart. Shards of Honor immediately introduces Our Heroine, Cordelia Naismith, space captain and scientist. Who is then captured by the enemy commander, one Aral Vorkosigan, and yes, he's kind of noble and broody, how did you guess? And he's not really the bad guy. The situation is more complex than one would originally think, and oh, he has a dark past! You know right where this book is going from the very beginning - as I mentioned above, "trope" is not a dirty word for Bujold - but it's an enjoyable ride, especially with Cordelia as our POV character. She's practical, caring, and brave without crossing into Mary Sue territory as too many lady captains in space operas tend to do; she never shrinks from what needs to be done, even if her opinion of "what needs to be done" differs vastly from that of the people around her, such as her captor and later husband, whose harsh militaristic culture clashes with the more, shall we say, Starfleet attitude of Cordelia's homeworld. Needless to say, Cordelia's move to the backwards sexist military monarchy of Barrayar is a move she makes because she's centered enough to know the culture can't change her. Instead, she intends to change it.

Then, Barrayar. I have to say, I love Barrayar - the book and also the planet, the aforementioned backwards society being made up of people just doing the best they can with what they're given. Often I wonder what makes writers of science fiction decide to write a sexist future - hundreds of years, thousands even, and you want that to be one of the things we keep? The Golden Age writers, alas, thought that was right and proper. Bujold, on the other hand, is doing one of the things science fiction is actually for, which is using a potential future to criticize the current status quo. (And she doesn't seem to get any enjoyment out of writing misogyny, unlike George R.R. Martin, who, while obviously intending to use a misogynist fantasy world to critique the status quo, often comes off as feeding women to the wolves - literally, on occasion - just for shock-and-horror value. By the way, despite this, A Dance with Dragons got really good about 2/3 of the way through. Digression!)

I will say something right now: I would not be pregnant at this moment if it weren't for Barrayar. That's not an exaggeration. I read this book two years ago and was immediately struck with something I hadn't seen before: a pregnant POV heroine, cheerfully regarding the whole process as a weird and fascinating endeavor. Cordelia would be perfectly willing to offload her protobaby to a uterine replicator as one does on Beta Colony, but medical science on Barrayar has not quite gotten there yet, so she makes the best of the biological method. She's a little scared, somewhat unnerved by her body doing something so bizarre as building another human being in it, but she's also very excited - without being changed at all from the person we were reading about a book ago. Let me repeat: YOU NEVER SEE THIS. Pregnant women, if you ever see them anywhere in the media at all, are either placid baby-drunk Madonnas of the Precious Moments school or hormone-crazed harpies lumbering around a desert island shrieking "MAAH BAAYBEEEE". They're barely human. They do not in any way go about their business in a perfectly normal fashion, except maybe peeing more often, and they especially do not get to be POV characters, much less awesome POV characters. It was the first hint I'd had that maybe being pregnant/a mom would not warp me beyond all human recognition.

And then there's the bit with the poison gas and the uterine replicator that, frankly, made me wonder if Bujold was trying to make an anti-abortion point. Cordelia is poisoned during an attempt on her husband's life; she recovers, but the baby will die unless they do an experimental treatment that would, unfortunately, kill her, and at the very least the baby's going to come out of it with deformed bones. Luckily they have one of those uterine replicators sitting around after all, and at great risk to herself and with great opposition from her father-in-law (who refuses to let a cripple be Count Vorkosigan - there's huge anti-disability stigma on Barrayar, due to prior use of mutagens as biological weapons), she has the kid switched over and starts treatment. She nearly dies during the removal process. At the time this struck me as a Twilight-esque the-baby-at-all-costs message, but upon reread, it does not come across that way. The combination of factors involved - her husband's reproductive capacity may have been damaged by the poison, they're rich, the uterine replicator is RIGHT THERE, her father-in-law is such an ass that to NOT defy him would be unthinkable, and mostly that Cordelia is from a highly technological society and is used to science being able to solve medical problems - influence her decision, and then there's her decision itself: she's not choosing to save the baby because she thinks it's the empirical 100 percent correct and right thing to do in all cases. She just WANTS to. Right then, in that situation, with those factors, she wants to, and that's all that matters. It's a choice message. I approve of choice messages.

Or am I just construing it that way because that way I can keep loving the book as much as I do?

Because I do love the book. I love the universe Bujold creates, whether she's working in fantasy or science fiction. The best way I can describe it is that there's always a note of hope running through everything. There are tragedies and atrocities galore (the end of Mirror Dance, for example, is pure nightmare fuel) and no character gets out unscathed, but wounds heal, memories fade, and people go on with their lives, weary, wiser and glad to be alive. That's what makes Bujold's work comfort reading for me.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

All hail the space marine beauty queen

Ah well. BlondeFemShep won. Inevitable! Can't say I'm not disappointed, but hey, at least we get FemShep on the box. I also really hope they don't do what I've heard some buzz about - namely, changing the character's movements to be more "feminine" a la Dragon Age 2.  Let me tell you, mincing hip-swinging Ladyhawke bugged me to no end, especially since my preferred Hawke is a greatsword-wielding tank and realistically it'd impossible to mince in heavy armor. One thing I appreciate about FemShep is that she strides around with the same no-nonsense space-taking-up swagger as DudeShep. Do not take that away from me, Bioware! I want my hard-drinking terribly-dancing gender-norm-ignoring lady space marine in a future where none of that even matters anymore! Please don't cave to the beauty police any more than you already have!

Considering that, as I mentioned, the game in the Bioware box is always vastly superior to the game ON the Bioware box, I'm thinking they'll keep FemShep's movements as is, especially with the (unsurprisingly hostile, alas) backlash against BlondeShep. But you never know. EA Marketing is a harsh mistress.

But there is an upside! And it's a selfish upside for me in particular. Because this means WIGLESS COSPLAY. Even better than Starbuck because I won't have to cut my hair and my preferred Shepard hanging-around-the-Normandy uniform has sleeves to hide my insufficiently military biceps. Oh man! I wonder if my husband's cosplay-obsessed friend would work on commission.