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I just got back from a fabulous vacation in Quintana Roo. We stayed in Tulum, in a small, funky, beachfront hotel zone, and then in Akumal. There is a lot to say about the trip but first of all, here are my notes on access, since that’s what I was looking for when I was planning the trip. This will be a Very Long Post!
My hopes were for warm water, beach access to calm water for easy snorkeling, small hotel right on the beach, and some scope for scooting around that wasn’t just in a single hotel. Both hotels I contacted in Tulum and Akumal were happy to explain the accessibility. Neither hotel was completely wheelchair accessible; what I wanted was just reasonable possibility that I could walk a few steps and be on the beach, and also that I should be able to leave the hotel on my own with a wheelchair or scooter. Akumal was my main goal, because I read online on some forums that a wheelchair user lives and works there and that the town has some curb cuts and ramps to accommodate them. That sounded promising!
For the flight to Cancun and back to San Francisco, United flight attendants let me put my TravelScoot (disassembled, not in a bag) in overhead bins. My partner and son took care of that. Without help, I would most likely have had to check the scooter at the gate. It was so nice to know that my scooter was going to be OK, not break or freeze in the cargo hold or be lost and was under my control. What a huge relief!!
(I do not know how anyone uses the TravelScoot duffel bag. I tried it… once… in my garage. It was like trying to stuff a floppy-jointed tyrannosaurus skeleton into a sausage casing. Not gonna happen, ever!)
Cancun airport was nicely accessible. It was extremely easy to get cabs. I had booked a shuttle ride beforehand with DiscoveryMundo. They were just outside the terminal building exit with a sign for me in a crowd of other drivers. It was a giant van we could have fit 10 people into, and probably twice as expensive as it had to be. I will just get a regular taxi when I go back. I appreciated having things arranged, though, and our driver Julian was extremely nice.
Our small Tulum hotel, Piedra Escondida, had about 10 feet of deep sand in the walkway up to the main entrance and lobby. Danny had to carry it and I walked with my cane. Once I was in the lobby, access to the indoor restaurant was flat but there was a step to get outside or to the registration area. We had to get across another 100 feet or so of sand to get to our little beach cottage, which had a tile paved porch and another small step to get into the room. I was able to bring my scooter inside and charge it with no problem. Our cottage (#6) was nicely positioned for me to get across short, maybe 10 foot stretch of deep sand to a grassy area I could more or less scoot over to the street out a back gate. It was rough but I could do it on my own (just barely).
This hotel would be reasonable for someone who, like me, can walk a little bit. And only for the most daring of manual chair or TravelScoot users or someone who does not mind getting help across the pockets of deep sand. The porch was nice enough, with a hammock, two adirondack chairs and a view of the beach and ocean and coconut trees, that I would not have minded staying on the porch quite a lot, which is what I did! The lobby was nice to hang out in, shady and relaxing. There was wireless, at least from the restaurant and lobby, and we could also get wireless pretty well from the porch but not the room. The bathroom was not wheelchair accessible and there was a shower with no bath. A nice shower though! The running water is all salt water. You get bottled water from the hotel or the mini mart to drink and brush your teeth with.
The restaurant for the hotel was good, a bit expensive, but very nice food, lovely people, right on the beach and outside, with wind screens up.
There was a constant warm breeze, more intense at night, which seems normal for this part of the coast for April. I am always cold where I live in San Francisco, despite wooly socks and long underwear. It was nice to hang out all day long in nothing but a bathing suit and sun dress or skirt.
My forays into the street were fun but of fairly limited scope. There was a short stretch of hotels, restaurants, small shops with textiles and beach towels and souvenirs, and a very nice minimart. I bought a rainbow flowered iipil (the kind of pretty white embroidered thing that in Texas, if dress length, was colloquially called “a Mexican dress”) and some flip flops in the kiosk next to the minimart. There were ATMs and a couple of kiosks where you could book tours or get advice, maps, and so on. They were both helpful. There was a very short and not very well ramped stretch of sidewalk in front of two restaurants but other than that I was scooting in the street along with a lot of bicycles and some cars and trucks. It was easy to get a taxi any time of day or night. South of our tiny strip of businesses and beach and tall trees, there was a rocky sea wall or pile of riprap along the little road, no trees, hot and dusty. I did not go past this sunny stretch of road to the main beach of Tulum’s hotel zone where I think there are a LOT more small boutiquey hotels including some gay nude ones and a lot of people who do yoga and more restaurants. None of the hotels in the “north” bit of the hotel zone, where I was, had good access to the street for a wheelchair user, but again, they all seemed vaguely doable for someone who can either walk a tiny bit or who can power through some gravel in a manual chair.
I walked onto the beach I think three times. It was a little bit steep for this to be easy for me. In short it was difficult. The water was rough. I am a skilled swimmer still (if not strong any more) and very good in ocean waves from a lifetime of enjoying bodysurfing and boogie boarding. But the deal breaker for me was uneven footing and shifting sand underfoot and also, rocks. I had short dips into the water but could not swim around as I would have liked. It was still relaxing and awesome to be there. There were iguanas! I also spent a lot of time watching the magnificent frigatebirds and brown pelicans glide overhead. Danny practices his ukelele a lot, and we all read constantly on our Kindles.
Tulum Pueblo itself looked interesting. It was maybe a half hour (or a bit more) walk away from our hotel, with a very nice sidewalk and bus stops along the way. I did not get to explore the town. Many people in the Hotel Zone (or, as I thought of it, the Gringo Zoo) rented bikes to get to the town and its reportedly great restaurants. It was just too hot for me to want to go that far and a bit too much bother to get a taxi to town with the scooter. And so easy to eat at our hotel and the Mateo’s Gringolandia Grill or whatever it was, across the street (which was very nice, relaxing, had good food and live music; possible to get into without a step if you went through the gravel parking lot; with one step if you went from the tiny stretch of sidewalk).
We had two day trips out in taxis. One day we went to the Tulum archeological site, aka the ruins of Tulum. I read up on Tulum’s history, online and in several books, and was excited to go there because it was one of the places I had read about and seen in engravings a long time ago from my dad’s books by John L. Stephens with the engravings by Catherwood. (Alternate universe Liz, I think, would have hopped on the translating Mayan glyphs train at University of Texas in the 80s, when they were starting to make major progress. I had that dream!)
I read Friar Diego de Landa’s “Yucatan: Before and After the Conquest” in the Dover edition with an interestingly socialist introduction from the 1930s. I have read the Michael Coe Maya book several times in the past but did not re-read. (I will do that now, though.) Other books — Tulum: Everything You Need To Know Before You Go To the Ruins, which I would say delivers well on its promise. It has some of the history of the area ancient & recent, including explanations of the recent development of the area. I really liked this book a lot, enough to want a paper copy of it. Another excellent book: Maya for Travelers and Students: A Guide to Language and Culture in Yucatan. I went through it and wrote out all the Mayan words and phrases, eventually making a set of flash cards as I hung out in the hammock gazing at the ocean. I may continue learning Mayan. More on the history of Tulum, and on language, later in another post. This is supposed to be about access!
So, the Tulum ruins. After a 10 minute ride we got dropped off by a taxi driver at a quiet entrance on the coastal road side of the ruins. From there we went down maybe a quarter mile or less of flat, not too gravelly, path. The entry ticket booth is accessible and so were the truly palatial bathrooms at the entrance. Past the ticket line you can get a coke in the gift shop provided that you can walk up a step, or can fly. There was a cool diorama just past the entry, then some hard limestone paths, a little gravel but not a problem, to the world’s scariest steepest ramps ever. I appreciated that there were ramps, as otherwise it would have been a lot of stairs. The TravelScoot took the steep, corrugated slope like a champion. As it only has one motor in the hub of the left wheel (one wheel drive) it helped, going up, to lean heavily to the left. If you cannot do this, or are in a manual chair without someone to push and you are not a Paralympic athlete, you will be toast. Toast!
Once up the scary-ass ramps there were some signs and then a flight of many steep stairs to the Cenote Tower. I did not try that. Instead I went through the Northwest Gate in Tulum’s walls. Much of the paths in the central area were pretty flat and lightly graveled with a hard limestone surface underneath. I think my butt is still bruised from this foray into Bumpy Road land. I went up to the beach view of the main “castle” building and the Temple of the Descending God but it was steep and gravely and lumpy and sandy. At some point I stubbornly plowed into deep sand, and Danny had to carry my scooter out while I hobbled (a scene we were to repeat several times over our week long trip as I am often imprudent). The beach was closed off since turtles nest there. There was no way I could go up the hill to the Castillo. Oh well! Plenty of other ruins to sweatily look at and Ingress portals to hack. Danny scouted the exit at the Southwest door, or gate, which had stairs. Beyond it were some more sand and stairs and a bridge and more stairs to the real exit. We opted to go back the way we came. I zoomed down the scary corrugated steep ramps past wide eyed other tourists poking each other and gasping out things about the lady with the “moto”.
So: Tulum ruins. Doable, barely, for a wheelchair user if you have a powerful motor, big tires, or are very strong, or have someone to push you who is quite strong and heatstroke-proof. There is not a lot of shade in the central ruins. There is a lot of cool stuff to see in the bits where the path isn’t hilly or sandy. It helps to have a guidebook or just look stuff up on your phone if you have a good data plan (which is what I did, as well as playing Ingress like a total fool). Without the background you might just be like, OK there are some big ruined buildings here, pretty cool. With some of the history I think it is much better. Tulum was a sort of trade port and was founded in a sort of Warring States period around 1200 AD. The walls were because of that situation persisting over hundreds of years, with nobility living within the walls and most people living all over the surrounding area.
From the exit there was a little (free) motorized open bus shaped like a train, not accessible. As usual, we climbed onto it and Danny and Milo carried my scooter up. No one objected. The train decanted us into a giant parking lot area with booths of crafts, textiles, onyx chess sets, coconuts, a Starbucks, and little restaurant-cafes. It also had a very tall, maybe 70 foot, metal pole with guys on it doing something ritual and very acrobatic and amazing to the sound of drums and flutes. They turned out to be Los Voladores de Papantla. I donated some money to the guy who explained it to me. My Spanish is rusty but was really not too bad, the whole trip, and I could communicate complicated things well — just a bit ungrammatically. Anyway, respect to the Voladores and their ritual. If you read through some info on them you will see some of their history and controversies like whether women are allowed to become Voladores (yes in some areas, no in others). I bought a black sundress with cut lace inserts to wear on the beach, a mayan calendar tshirt for Milo, bow and arrows set with stone tips for my stepdaughter and nephew, a small, gorgeously woven bag and a beach sarong thing with turtles on it, and god knows, I cannot remember what else, but I bought a hundred dollars worth of it. This artesanal courtyard / flea market/ parking lot was hot and there were some vendors with hustle all around; I cruised around saying hello but remaining non committal until I had looked at everything. As usual there were some sidewalks but also lots of areas with light gravel, bumpiness, or a step (like to get into the starbucks). I found it very pleasant sitting in a little cafe where the trains stop (no step!) drinking from a coconut and eating fish tacos with Milo and Danny. We hung out there feeling like insiders as we watched several cycles of the trains pull up at which all the cafe guys would pop out with coconuts to entice the thirsty tourists from the ruins. I picked that cafe because it was playing Celia Cruz oldies. The food was great and not expensive. I asked to eat the inside of the coconut expecting they would just break it open and I would scoop out the inside. Instead they brought me the insides already cut up in a giant martini glass with a lime and hot sauce. So delicious!!
We went the next day to Xel-Ha. Despite reading about it online I could not picture what it would be like. It is a giant eco-theme park which reminded me in size and scope and some of the trappings, of the San Diego Wildlife Park. It is huge! But not as constantly scripted feeling as, say, Sea World. I got a discounted entry for being disabled. Entry is expensive, about 90 bucks per person. But that is including food and drink and the snorkeling equipment rental. This whole park was nicely accessible in many ways and very well organized. Entrances to things were level. There were accessible lockers and bathrooms everywhere. The lady at the ticket booth gave me a really really nice access map of the park, with paths of level access, slightly difficult access (i.e. bumpy path) and really not gonna be accessible paths, marked in green, yellow, and red. So nice! It was like a dream map!
It took Milo and I a bit of time to figure out how things worked. We left Danny (not a swimmer) in one of the many palapa-shaded restaurants where he hung out (he later got a massage at the aromatherapy spa). There are various locker rooms in the park which are color coded. We picked the purple station. You check in with your wristband, pick up swim fins, a mask, and snorkel, and get a locker key with a color coded lanyard. We left most everything in the locker but I had a beach bag for towels and stuff. They also give you towels and I think a bag, if you ask. But I had them already. Lifejackets are at the water’s edge. The park stretches around a huge, shallow, calm lagoon, and all the way around, there are many places where you can get into the water, usually by a couple of steps with handrail. I did not check to see if and where the level water entrances were.
We got in the water in several places over the day. I preferred the areas nearer to the ocean, where the water was salty and clear. We saw a zillion fish including a barracuda (omg). I did not have to swim any distance at all to see fish and most of the time didn’t wear the fins (which kind of hurt my ankles) With a lifejacket I could float around and just watch fish go by. In the freshwater end of the lagoon the water was more murky, there were more fish, but also more floating weeds and you couldn’t always see the bottom, which I find irrationally scary. (Much of the time as we got in or out there were people having panic attacks on the steps, to be honest.) No one bothers you about anything, you are free to roam around, snorkel, get out, swim, whatever.
There are special photo spots set up throughout the park where you can push a button and your photos get taken automatically and I think uploaded to a usb drive which you take with you. I didn’t look at the details of how it worked. It seemed well thought out.
There were dolphin, manatee, and sting ray encounter areas which you had to pay extra for. If I went back, I would do the dolphin swim. There were a lot of buffet restaurants, stands where you could just grab a cup and quickly fill it up with soda, shops everywhere, bars, and shady seating areas, a “hammock jungle”, a giant playground (not accessible – it was over sand) with short slides into the lagoon and one of those wood and rope kiddie-habitrail systems up in the trees. There is a long path and also a shuttle bus to the head of the river mouth where you can float down into the lagoon in giant tubes.
Fun but very exhausting. The park is HUGE. We only saw maybe a quarter of its paths and things.
The next two days I laid on the porch in Tulum eating cookies from the Mini-Super Pipienza, writing out Mayan flash cards, looking at birds and the ocean and trees from my binoculars, and taking pain meds.
Onward to Akumal. Akumal was like 1000 times more awesome than Tulum for me. Our beach cottage was extremely nice, bigger than our actual house in San Francisco, had a kitchen, 2 bedrooms, a huge patio, a paved walkway that got me 3 steps from the beach and to another hard limestone walkway (the Akumal Trail). The cove is full of boats, people, the beach is also the public town beach, so is very lively. There were more birds. We had a little semi-private corner of the beach with lounge chairs, and interesting rocks to look at. The point had cannons from a Spanish shipwreck from the 1600s. It was very nice to wake up at 6am, make my own coffee and some toast, and scooter myself the 50 feet to the tiny beach. From the paved bath to the cottage, there was a single step…. there was a step inside the cottage as well. To get onto the beach there were 3 steps with handrails. The beach is nearly flat, and not wide, so from the steps (and the dry sand area – the tide doesn’t vary much) it was only maybe 20 feet to get into the water.
From the path I could go on my scooter to the Centro Ecológico, many small shops and restaurants, dive shops for equipment rental, a whole other hotel (I didn’t go that far but it was clearly possible) and then out the little road, or on a public access path, to the Akumal beach archway (the “arco”). Outside the archway was my favorite haunt, the Super Chomak Minimart where the other wheelchair using lady in town supposedly worked, though I never did see her and I felt a little too shy to ask after her. You can buy staple groceries there like fruit, potatoes, bread, pastries, cookies, juice, butter, milk, and any sort of thing you would want for the beach including clothes. Sorry to go on about the corner store but I do love a corner store. The women who work there feed the stray cats (which are numerous and a bit mangy) and they are very nice.
Accessibility was not perfect, ramps steep or bumpy, paths a bit rocky. But navigable in a manual chair. I could have done the whole thing in my Quickie Ti (if I had a bit more stamina).
The path to the point, less than a city block away from our casita, had parts with deep sand. Danny carried my scooter across them and I hobbled. Then we went on a very bumpy rocky path around the point where there are tide pools. Tantalizing. I don’t have the stamina and should not have tried to go down this difficult, exhausting path just to see what was there! I am somewhat covered in bruises from the whole trip, I have to say.
The Lol-Ha restaurant was super nice. Part of it is a Thai restaurant and part is local cuisine. The access to the outdoor bit was very nearly flat but there was a tiny …. maybe inch and a half high …. bump into the restaurant. The indoor part had a steep ramp, too steep for me to get up on my own, I think. The food there was great. I also had very good fish at La Cueva del Pescador and nice but somewhat blander fare at the Turtle Bay Cafe, both wheel-able through some mildly gravelly paths. There were mariachis in the evening roaming about, including a group with an arpa who played joropos, which made me super happy.
The important thing was, I could get around the entire area without stalling out on gravel or sand!
With the scooter, also if I were more into sitting up and scooting around, I could have gotten across the highway into Akumal Pueblo itself, which is tiny but I think would be nice to have a look at. People recommended restaurants there but mentioned it is not particularly scenic.
Milo and I rented snorkeling equipment for 2 days. The water was calm, sand perfectly shallow and gently sloped, water clear. I really liked that we could just go in the water to snorkel any time with no fuss at all. We saw so many turtles! Fish! Sea urchins! Mostly green turtles, and one Hawksbill turtle.
This bit of Akumal beach has many tour groups coming through as well as being the public town beach (free to residents). So, people start arriving on buses around 10am and go into the water with guides in groups of 8 people. There is some limit on how many snorkeling groups they let into the water at once and I think a daily limit on the number total per day. It was a lot of people but it seemed well handled and there is an orientation video in the Centro Ecológico that explains the rules about not touching any coral and staying well back from the turtles.
I played with some local kids one day (mostly by giving them all the floaty rafts from the hotel) and had slightly wistful thoughts about how much I would like to really play, but it being better on all levels to stay back and just enjoy their lively energy and happiness. It was frustrating also not to get to snorkel as much as I would have liked, which would be ALL DAY. When I was a kid I would stay in the ocean for hours until my lips turned blue and my grandma would make me get out. I have nice memories of lying down in the warm sand and I still like to do that, just getting covered in sand and getting my face right up to it. I do not like to stop doing things when they’re fun and exciting, obviously. At Akumal I never felt cold at all (amazing) but even taking a ton of pain medication (for me, a ton, not really a lot on the big scale of things) I exhausted and hurt myself swimming around and trying to walk more than I should. With a longer stay I could swim short amounts several times a day and rest more with less excited (self imposed) pressure to scout around and “see everything”. So my plan is to try to go back there for a few weeks at a time, maybe this summer, work from there, and swim a lot. There was decently fast internet which seemed quite reliable. It would be ideal rehab for my ankles and general strength, if I managed the pacing correctly.
I noticed in driving through Playa del Carmen (a lively, large town south of Cancun) that a lot of the sidewalks had curb cuts. It would be fun to go there and cruise around.
One last problem I had was that snorkeling has the temptation, if not the requirement, to look ahead of you and my neck and upper back do not like to do that. I am too stiff to do it well. I got along ok by swimming a modified sidestroke, mostly floating in the life vest, or by going on my back, then flipping over to look straight down. My upper back and neck are still in bad pain from trying to do this.
No one gave me any hassle for the scooter or for having purple hair. Better than at home in San Francisco. Obviously people were eyeing me askance everywhere I went, but politeness or shyness prevailed. When I got to chatting at length with people I would explain: arthritis, pain, can walk a little. No one found that weird, prayed over me, acted like I was somehow too young to be disabled or wasn’t disabled enough or performing it correctly, or told me about the fish oil homeopathy their grandma’s friend does, or stuff like that, as I encounter almost daily…. People also were universally quick to explain the details of access or tell me good places to go that were relatively level. The dynamics of that very pleasant courtesy and thoughfulness may be also due to my being a rich tourist in a not very rich area that depends on tourism. I could not help but notice it though. Thank you nice people in Akumal and Tulum.
In general the whole trip was physically challenging for me (how not — I can barely do the laundry or get out of my house to get groceries in my own town!) and yet it all seems very possible now. I would feel confident going back on my own. My goal was to find a place where I can have a real vacation, not traveling by going to tech conferences or things for work, ie traveling while not only doing my regular job but also conference talks and attendance! I think that kind of travel is at least something I shouldn’t try to do for the next year or so. Or maybe ever or very rarely. Maybe that time has passed. I like traveling and I love conferences and the intensity of meeting tons of people quickly and also I love public speaking. But it has not gone well for me the last few years as my mobility is worse and pain levels through the roof. So, Real Vacation. What a concept!
Feel free to ask me questions about access in comments and I can try to answer! I hope this helps someone out when they are wondering what might be marginally accessible on the Quintana Roo coast.Related posts:
At the end of term 1, I went to the open day for V’s drama class. I took just enough photos to totally halt my photo processing workflow and then I went overseas. Thus, a month later: drama pics! And pictures of accidental drama.
V volunteered a “human puppet” performance. His puppet is 100 years old:
They also rehearsed their year-long puppet show for us:
V indulged in some ad hoc drama waiting for his turn:
Video: Private drama
Here’s the closest moment to drama opt-out there was, and even this involved drama:
Video: Drama refusenik
And some bits that I really don’t think were actually drama tasks at all:
In Resurrecting Creativity With a Piano my faithful readers learned about my shiny new toy, a nice Yamaha P-115 digital piano. Alas, it had to go back to the store, because it’s overpriced at $599. It’s a minor refresh of the P-105, which you can find for $100 less.
I though its iPad connectivity was a big deal, but I was wrong, because all you do is plug into the USB port. Well, in a way it is a big deal in that Apple is too special to support USB and you have to spend $20 for a special Apple Lightning cable. Lightning as in lightening your wallet, haha sucker.
After playing it for a few hours I found other things to dislike. The controls are clunky. There are a few dedicated buttons, but most operations are combinations of button + key presses, and many of the keys are not labeled so you have to read the manual to find out what to do. I thought it was pretty slick being able to turn the onboard speakers off, but instead of providing a simple on-off switch that is also a combo button + keypress.
There is no display panel and only a couple of LEDs, so there is nothing but your ears to tell you your current settings. You need the iPad app to create and save custom settings. It plays and sounds wonderful, but it’s a pointless upgrade so save yourself some money and get the P-105. Or, consider the Casio Privia PX150, which at $499 gets you newer technology.
Both the Yamaha and Casio digital pianos have nice onboard sound systems, but to hear them at their best you need to connect them to a good external sound system, or use good headphones. You might be surprised at the subtleties and nuances that better speakers reveal. These are not toys; these are excellent digital pianos that sound great and deliver a lot of value.
So what’s replacing the Yamaha? I ordered the Casio Privia PX350. It goes for $699, so I’m out a few more bucks, but it comes crammed with goodies like real MIDI ports, 1/4″ line in and out ports, a multitrack recorder, record-to-USB stick, Casio’s newest digital processor and key technologies, a proper LCD screen, and tons of rhythms, voices, and styles. I’m looking forward to giving it a good thorough test-drive.
Eric Flint, author of the time displacement/alternate history 1632 series, has written a really interesting essay in support of his original comments on the Hugos and the Puppy mess. In his attempts to clarify a point that was apparently misunderstood in the original post, he has a lot to say about the actual size of the genre fiction audience.
I feel like this is an important point that is often overlooked, not just in this brouhaha but in general. We aren’t really wired to grasp the size and shape of things as large as an industry, or a global community, or the internet, or even smaller communities within the internet.
This inability to grasp a gigantic scale is why people outside the industry like to ask authors they’ve never heard of but just been introduced to questions like, “What have you written that I’d have heard about?”
It’s why those of us who hang out on websites like Twitter, Tumblr, or Reddit that act as a sort of mega-community have a tendency to imagine that the feeds we watch reflect the website as a whole, which is what leads to the assumption that anything we see all the time must be well-known in an objective sense, and any opinion that is shared by a majority of those around us must be widespread.
It’s also why, absent a little reflection, so many people conclude that any opinion with which they disagree that has any kind of penetration at all must be unfairly propped up somehow. Because it doesn’t reflect the composition of the community as a whole (as extrapolated by the view of our own virtual living rooms) but it keeps cropping up all the same.
I think that at a baseline, Sad Puppy founder Larry Correia started out working on the assumption that it should be impossible for an author to enjoy his level of success without being, objectively speaking, A Successful Author. And if someone is objectively A Successful Author, this should be recognized in objective fashion. Awards, plaudits, praise. If he’s not getting them, and/or he sees people who are not doing the things he’s doing (and thus, not legitimately Successful Authors) getting them, then he can conclude that something is wrong.
If you read the blogs of his self-professed allies like Brad Torgersen and Sarah Hoyt, you’ll come away with a very definite sense that they see themselves as playing to the real mass audience. Torgersen in particular has talked about his idea that the SF/F audience is shrinking because the mass audience is over here (where he is) and yet people are writing stuff over there (where he’s not).
Flint’s blog post, although it’s not specifically addressing those claims, serves as… well, I was going to say a great counter, but the thing is, Torgersen’s claim isn’t one that actually needs to be countered. It needs to be dismissed. It’s not just wrong in its conclusion, but mistaken in its premise.
I said in my previous post about the Puppies that I hope they wake up one day and realize that they’re writing to a niche. I don’t say this as a criticism, as I’m also a niche writer. I think it’s one of the smartest things you can do in this world.
An indie author I follow recently tweeted the realization that her furry space opera stories outsell the rest by three to one. If you’re viewing the marketplace as winner-take-all and you’re seeing supply and demand in the simplistic, one dimensional terms that many people view it and above all if you’re not contemplating how vast the SF/F marketplace is, you have to conclude one of two things from this: either she is lying or cheating somehow and her stories aren’t really that popular, or there’s three times as much demand for furry fiction as for conventional space opera.
If you reject the second one as not true, then you’re left with the first.
Neither possibility is actually true, of course. The real truth is that the marketplace is bigger and more complicated than either of those conclusions allow for. But if you’re dead set on thinking of it in small, one-dimensional terms, then the only possible conclusion is that something is rotten in the state of Denmark. This kind of small-time thinking is at the root of both the Puppies’ and the Gators’ discontent.
What’s really happening, of course, is that the furry stories are serving an under-served niche. In the mass market, every space opera story is competing with every space opera story… although the market is so big that in truth, every space opera story is competing for the right to compete with every space opera story, and we could really add a bunch for iterations of “competing for the right to compete” to that.
But if you tell a story that few people are telling, if you put something in your stories that’s hard to find elsewhere, if you address your story to a smaller audience, but one that has a hard time finding what they’re looking for elsewhere… why, you can clean up.
People who squabble over a piece of “the pie” in general terms aren’t likely to get anywhere, and if they do, it’ll be in part by accident. The mass market audience has room for a few big winners and a lot of runner-ups who don’t really go anywhere. But if you realize that “the pie” is actually a bunch of different pies, it’s just a matter of finding a pie you like that has gone overlooked in the general rush for the more obvious choices.
Hoyt, Torgersen, Correia, Michael Z. Williamson, all of those ilk… they aren’t writing for the mass audience. They’re writing towards particular audiences, seeking particular things. And they are doing—by all indications—pretty okay with it. Good for them.
The problem is, they don’t have any real idea how much pie there is in the world out there. They don’t understand that it’s possible (and inevitable) for authors to do the same thing they’ve done but in a different direction (writing from and towards a queer perspective, writing from and towards a feminist perspective, et cetera) because they don’t think of what they’ve done as anything other than “writing quality books that people will want to read”.
They don’t realize that it’s some people who see their books as quality and want to read them. They have no concept of how big and diverse a group people really is, or what an uphill battle it would be to compete for the attention of people generally.
And in fairness to them, nobody really does.
But some of us have at least recognized that we don’t know this.
Wake up and fidget some more. Toe-wiggling and experimental ankle flexes. Feeling that I can't stand the pain in neck and shoulder. I get up and take half a tramadol and a skelaxin (for neck and left foot spasms) and have some decaf tea on the couch and read. Thinking back on times when i had trouble even holding a book. Will it be like that? Is this going to be a day in bed? Have I screwed myself up? Am I going to cry? Will zond7 be mad at me for fucking myself up? Will Moomin be disappointed and find me a very boring person? Why is my neck so stiff from the extremely gentle swimming around, or the plane? Is it part of ankylosing spondilitis? Did I get some sort of disease on vacation? Am I going to miss work? I finally fall asleep for real.
10am. Coffee. More of my book (Journalist and the Murderer, which is excellent.) Feeling cautiously human. I am up. Feel that I can't stand smell of the house. Wash dishes. Sit on couch & sort through unpacking bags. Deep breath! I should not have coffee, not good for me, but it is so nice.
Moomin tells me his opinion of the Three Musketeers (ridiculous thugs, why does everyone think it is so jolly that they go around killing people? everyone in book is an asshole. He keeps laughing in outrage. There is a graphic novel of the book where they don't sound like such jerks. Weird! I agree with him. We make fun of soldiers, chivalry, people with swords, and people who think it's a fun idea to burn down someone's inn just for kicks.)
Moomin has done the laundry. zond7 still asleep (evidence of him having his own late night insomnia is around). I am lying down to rest feeling sore all over but encouraged that I had enough energy to walk around the house and be productive.
Feeling mad urge to try to blog about our entire trip. Too many thoughts! It was all lovely!
But I steadily took painkillers to be able to be active, thus, my suffering now.
Stance has got to be: take the painkillers now, don't go off them, but don't be overactive, either. Activity like cooking or dishwashing or tidying or watering plants, sit on front and back porch, don't try to go out for several more days. Naps crucial.
Goals for this week: get through work days at least to 3pm, get to PT on Wednesday to swim, eat nicely but frugally (no take-out), keep house tidy, be well enough to go to the movies with the kids and zond7 next Saturday. Sub goal of taking very minimal drugs by end of week (ie half a tramadol zero, once, or twice a day).
Must remember to put cat-proofed water and plain tylenol and a tramadol by the bed tonight so I don't go through that horrible cycle of nightmare feeling pain.
This is the final chapter of a fanfiction adaptation of Christine Love's visual novel Analogue: A Hate Story. You do not need to have played the game to understand what is going on. This story is designed to be accessible to newcomers as transhumanist dystopian sci-fi, and many liberties were taken with the setting and dialogue, as well as with certain events.
Content note: More strong language, and talk about suicide and its aftermath. Also non-detailed nudity, and *Mute's sexism.
"Well ... here we are."
I looked out into the plaza. There were the graceful arcs of the White Princess, as pristine as though nothing had happened. Untouched by the events of the last day.
I guessed that it was supposed to be home. But it felt alien, now. After what felt like years of staggering through the Mugunghwa, blocking out memories, and passing by corpses and tragedy, it looked cold. Privileged, and uncaring.
My suit's visor had repaired itself, by then. I guessed that I looked that way, too.
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This week, we have a little more on the Hugos and a lot more on reading and writing. First up, Gili Bar-Hillel, an Israeli translator and editor, talks about another way in which the Hugos are narrow in scope. The rest of the world snickers when we call the US baseball championships the World Series, but we call the Hugo con the WorldCon even though it’s overwhelmingly North American and UK oriented:
So what am I saying here? I am saying that OF COURSE the Hugos are dominated by Americans. This should be of no surprise to anyone. I am also saying that if you truly want more world in your WorldCon, it will require conscious effort, not only to attract and encourage fans and writers from other countries to attend, but to actually listen to them on their own terms when they arrive. Stop with the tokenism and the pigeonholing. Don’t cram all of your foreigners onto special panels for and about foreigners – just as you wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) relegate women only to panels about gender, and POCs only to panels about race. Not only does it rub our noses in the fact of our being outsiders, it makes it far too easy for the insiders to skip our panels for lack of interest, and not really expose themselves to us at all…
People like me, who are comfortable in more than one culture, can serve as bridges and connectors. We bring a different perspective just by being who we are. But not if we’re cordoned off and observed from a distance as alien objects. Non-Americans who come to WorldCons do so because we love science fiction and fantasy just as much as Americans do. We want to participate, not to be held up as examples of difference. I’m afraid that too often, the programming, while well intentioned, is inadvertently alienating – the opposite of what it purports to achieve.
This is the same kind of essentializing that we do when we talk about “people of color,” as if their color is their defining characteristic. Sometimes it is, of course, especially in terms of how they’re treated in society. But sometimes it’s not, and we do the US/UK-centric thing there too. (This topic is too big for a links post, but I’m working on something longer.)
The author Aminatta Forma strikes a similar chord when talking about the way she and her book have been received and categorized by the UK and US literary communities:
Some years ago I was invited to speak at Oxford University, and I was perhaps naively surprised to find my book taught by the African studies department and nobody from the department of English literature in attendance at my talk. Everyone in the audience was an Africanist. That was when I first heard the words “the English canon”. Now, the English canon, like the British constitution, is tricky to discuss because it doesn’t actually exist: it is unwritten, yet at the same time everybody seems to know what it is, everybody in the world of English literature that is.
. . .
After The Hired Man was published, I gave a talk in a New York bookstore. Some days later I went back into the bookstore to redeem a gift voucher they had kindly given me. Out of curiosity I looked for my book and found it in the African section. An assumption had been made. I located a manager and explained I was the author and that the book was set in Croatia. She picked up the book and walked away with it, her dilemma written into her entire posture, her slow pace. Where now was she to place this book? Under Balkan literature? A few weeks later I was sent a photograph by a friend; there was my book in the same bookstore, prominently displayed on a table marked “European Literature”.
So where should a bookshop shelve a novel set in Croatia and written in English by a Scottish Sierra Leonian author? Over the years I have posed the question of classification to many writers about their own work and the answer is invariably the same: in bookshops, fiction should be arranged in alphabetical order.
But of course, readers want category-based shelving to help them find books that are similar to each other, and many commercial fiction writers embrace categories because readers in their genre will more easily find their books. Remember how Julia Quinn supposedly chose her pseudonym so that she would be shelved next to Amanda Quick? Genre-fiction arguments tend to be about which categories to use, not whether categories should exist at all.
Next up, a bookseller talks about why print books and bookshops are important to him. Ignore the clickbait-y eyeroll of a headline, because Nicholls also reads ebooks and seems to like them just fine. But he makes a couple of points about print books and reading as a practice which really resonated for me:
Although he reads a lot on his e-reader, Nicholls said he doesn’t want a soundtrack to a book, or sound effects or illustrations or an audio commentary from the author, and he doesn’t want to “interact” with the story. “When I was a child I used to read those fantasy books where you got to decide on what happens next and they were always, without exception, deathly. Fiction is about telling; I want to be told. I want the author to know better than me, even if the story makes me sad, or frustrated or angry. I want a book to be fixed black marks on a white background, simultaneously so little and so much,” he said.
But Nicholls admitted he could feel the “hard line” between print and digital “softening”. As new figures from Nielsen Book reveal that ebooks accounted for 30% of book units purchased in 2014, the novelist expressed the hope that the book market would reach “some kind of equilibrium, a kind of peaceful co-existence; the survival, perhaps even the resurgence of books and bookshops alongside the continuing success and evolution of digital forms, a thriving community of readers meeting at festivals and fairs alongside a noisy, opinionated but generally positive and passionate online community.
“As a fortune-teller, my qualifications are non-existent, but what I hope for is a thriving, growing passion for marks on the page, whether that page is on paper or a screen,” he concluded.
I never read choose-your-own-adventure books as a child for the same reason: I want to read the author’s story, not mine. I can write my own (OK, I can’t, but you know what I mean). I want to peek into the author’s imagination and interact with it. There’s something magical to me about that, which is why I don’t want to tell an author what to write, or take a character in a different direction. I want to experience the product of someone else’s imagination and be invited into their fantasy world. I realize that makes me a minority in our online community, where just about everyone writes fiction of some kind, but I’m too old to change now. Like Nicholls, I want both types of people to be able to coexist peacefully, whether we’re talking e- and print consumers or writers and readers.
And finally, a post you’ll either love or hate. The author finds that the internet has made him too distracted to read books with the concentration they deserve:
Most nights last year, I got into bed with a book — paper or e — and started. Reading. Read. Ing. One word after the next. A sentence. Two sentences.
And then … I needed just a little something else. Something to tide me over. Something to scratch that little itch at the back of my mind— just a quick look at email on my iPhone; to write, and erase, a response to a funny Tweet from William Gibson; to find, and follow, a link to a good, really good, article in the New Yorker, or, better, the New York Review of Books (which I might even read most of, if it is that good). Email again, just to be sure.
I’d read another sentence. That’s four sentences.
McGuire solves his concentration problem by spending less time online, not watching TV at night, and reading on an ereader. He uses studies on the effect of dopamine and other peoples’ similar experiences with reduced ability to listen to music without distraction to buttress his arguments. There are studies that provide opposite evidence (there almost always are), but this article appealed to me because it mirrors my experience. Like McGuire, I love books and I love to read, but I also found that my ability to concentrate while reading, writing, and just plain thinking had become much worse. It’s an ongoing battle for me to focus on what I’m doing rather than taking a minute to check my email or RSS feed.
I’m sure there are many people who can happily read a book while checking Twitter, Facebook, or their phone’s notification screen. I’m just not one of them. I don’t think I’m reading more books now that I’m single-tasking, but I’m enjoying my reading more. And yes, like McGuire, I do most of it on an ereader.
Have a great week, everyone!
Greg Grandin called me on Friday.
Greg: What are you doing?
Me: Working on my Salon column.
Greg: What’s it on?
Me: George Packer.
Greg: Low-hanging fruit.
Me: Did you see that article he wrote in The New Yorker, where he says he’s bored of American politics?
Greg: Uh oh. Bombs away.
Me: That’s the first line of my column! “When George Packer gets bored, I get worried. It means he’s in the mood for war.”
So here is said column, just out this morning. Packer did say he was getting bored of American politics. In fact, he wrote a whole article on it. So I examine how his political ennui so often gives him an itch for heroism, sacrifice, and war.
Packer belongs to a special tribe of ideologically ambidextrous scribblers — call them political romantics — who are always on the lookout for a certain kind of experience in politics. They don’t want power, they don’t seek justice, they’re not interested in interests. They want a feeling. A feeling of exaltation and elation, unmoored from any specific idea or principle save that of sacrifice, of giving oneself over to the nation and its cause.
It’s not that political romantics seek the extinction of the self in the purgative fire of the nation-state. It’s that they see in that hallucination an elevation of the self, a heightening of individual feeling, an intensification of personal experience. That’s what makes them so dangerous. They think they’re shopping for the public good, but they’re really in the market for an individual experience. An experience that often comes with a hefty price tag.
Perhaps that’s why, after the Charlie Hebdo murders, Packer was so quick to man the ideological ramparts.
You can finish it here.
Absolutely no one has posted *Mute's lesbian ending on YouTube. And migrating to a new computer appears to have wiped out my saved games.
Guess who's about to speedrun Analogue? >_<
Barely any dialogue changes, I think, and I'm rewriting most of it anyway. So this feels kind of silly and trivial. But it's really important to me, because I have All The Feels about this story still and I want to be able to capture them.
... is not cool when you're a narcissist. But it is all kinds of necessary when you're a writer.
See, in chapter fifteen of the Analogue adapt, *Mute calls the Investigator by name. The problem is, even though I had clearly imagined what it was like when she introduced herself, I completely forgot to write it.
So. Here's the part that I forgot to write, way back in chapter nine (AKA the Grilled Cheese Sandwich scene):
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Problem solved. \ o /
Now I just need to write the Analogue epilogue. Say that twenty times fast.
This is the fifteenth chapter of a fanfiction adaptation of Christine Love's visual novel Analogue: A Hate Story. You do not need to have played the game to understand what is going on. This story is designed to be accessible to newcomers as transhumanist dystopian sci-fi, and many liberties were taken with the setting and dialogue, as well as with certain events.
Content note: Suicide attempt. Also swearing.
Something inside of me died, when I saw that. But it felt like everything had.
This is what my whole life's led up to, I thought. This is what I amount to. Not a fearless investigator, and sure as hell not anyone's lover.
I was someone who could drive a person to that. Someone who could, and who had. That was all.
( Read more... )