I Am Not My Data

I’m growing very tired of people telling me, “Well, my system says that…”   I’ve called up the bank, to argue about an error they made, and the answer was that “Well, I’ll look into it, but my system says that there’s nothing we can do.”  (Never mind it was their fault.)  I’ve been awaiting an MRI for three months, and when I call to query, I’m told that “Well, you’re in the system…”  (Which somehow implies that all is well.)  I called Verizon, to inquire about a DSL line for a client, to be told that the order my client had placed weeks before could not be fulfilled.  (Never mind they hadn’t contacted us of this problem.)  Why can’t my client get service?  “Our system says the service is not available in your area.”  At the drugstore I was told I had never been a customer there (even though I had used their pharmacy several times.)   I was not in the system.

It’s happening more and more lately.  To any fan of science fiction, this isn’t new.  There have been plenty of stories and more than one campy film about our data superseding our actual person.  But in my experience, never have I personally seen this phenomenon so widespread.  It’s as if the customer’s own experience is less valuable than the data about them.  I am not really as important as the numbers, stored in some computer data center somewhere, about me.  Never mind what I say; it’s the glowing numbers on the screen that tell my real story.

I find this frightening.  I don’t like to generalize, but I think we’re breeding a generation of people who trust what they see on a computer screen over their own experiences, their own senses.  Yes, phone operators, help desks, tech support people, etc., are all trained to read and recite numbers.  They’re not trained to be critical thinkers.  But I feel that when we trust computer data over our own senses, we lose something vital and important, namely our humanity.

Like I said, this is nothing new.  It’s just something I’ve noticed cropping up more and more in my life lately.

Reading at the Wold Newton Reading Series

In a little over a week Richard Bowes and myself will be reading at the Wold Newton Reading Series in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.  The event takes places on February 27th at 6:30 pm, at Word Bookstore, 126 Franklin St.  And lo, there is a Time Out magazine entry on the event, with all the details.  Or check out the Wold Newton site itself.  Also joining us will be musician Toby Goodshank, solo artist and member of the Moldy Peaches, Double Deuce and The Tri-Lambs.  Hope you can join us!

A Few Personal Updates

Just thought I’d drop a quick note with some personal updates.

Over at the Big Other, Rachel Swirsky recommends my story “The History Within Us,” as an SF&F work with broad appeal.  She says, “…it’s weird and strange and wonderful, and of particular interest for the way it deals with genocide and memory.” Also recommended are stories by Ted Chiang, N.K. Jemisin, and Kij Johnson, among others.

Rachel also lists “The History Within Us” in her 2011 Story Recommendations, saying it is “A stunning, emotionally resonant far-future apocalypse, in which the alien setting only serves to enhance the questions the story poses about genocide, humanity, and memory.”

Publishers Weekly reviews The People of the Book, and says, “Chabon blends reality and fiction in his fascinating account of how his life was affected by meeting golems [in] “Golems I Have Known, or, Why My Elder Son’s Middle Name Is Napoleon: A Trickster’s Memoir.” The most science-fictional tale, Matthew Kressel’s “The History Within Us,” explores Jewish and alien concepts of the afterlife 6,000 years in the future. The line between fantasy and scripture blurs in Rachel Pollack’s “Burning Beard,” which explores Joseph’s gift—or curse—of dream interpretation.” (The online review seems to have vanished.)

I have to say that, though I’m of course biased, that The People of the Book is one of the most consistently good anthologies I’ve read in a long time.  Nearly every story moved me, but my favorite was Peter Beagle’s “Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel.”  Other great stories are by Michael Chabon, Jane Yolen, Neil Gaiman, and Theodora Goss.  I recommend you head over to Amazon right now and get a copy just on the strength of that Table of Contents (myself excluded of course).

And there’s also a brief interview with me over at the Interstitial Arts Foundation (IAF), where I talk about all the cool things in Sybil’s Garage you may or may not have known about.

Also, Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Tales is available on Amazon, and it contains my story “The Hand that Feeds,” as well as fiction from Amal El-Mohtar, N.K. Jemisin, Mike Allen, Shira Lipkin, Shweta Narayan and others.  Judging by the early buzz, I have a nagging sense that this anthology will be on several awards lists next year.

That’s it for now.  Thanks for letting me blather on about myself.  Tag, you’re it!

Sabotage Review Praises “The Hand that Feeds”

Sabotage has nice things to say about “The Hand That Feeds,” my story in Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories.  Tori Truslow writes, “Matt Kressel’s ‘The Hand That Feeds’, which seems to be building towards a romantic criminal escapade through a magical New York, changes tone in a sudden and shocking way that’s very well done. The same story is a particularly bright example of the diversity that is such a strength of the book, with an Indian and a Jewish woman taking centre stage. Jessica and Divya are both flawed and likeable, their defiance and decisions in the face of hardship thoroughly believable.”

She also praises stories by N.K. Jemisin, Amal El-Mohtar, Shweta Narayan and Mikki Kendall.  And of the anthology as a whole, she says, “Steampunk often ends up being highly West-centric, somehow equating ‘the nineteenth century’ with ‘Victorian London’. But there’s a whole wide world out there – and Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories does a damn fine job of exploring it. Not only is this anthology delightful in that its characters – its adventurers and inventors, its rulers and airship pirates, its heroes – are queer women doing things on their own terms, but also in that they are multicultural, from all over the world, or from alternate worlds that are more than just magical versions of Europe.”

Read the full review here.

JoSelle Vanderhooft did a hell of a job editing this anthology, and now, lo and behold, it’s available on Amazon.

Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories Now On Sale

I’m very happy to announce that Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories is now on sale.  Edited by JoSelle Vanderhooft, the anthology contains stories by N.K. Jemisin, Mike Allen, Amal El-Mohtar, Shira Lipkin, Beth Wodzinski, and more, as well as one by me.  I haven’t read the anthology myself yet, but I’m looking forward to it.  My story is about a second-generation Jewish woman who owns a pawn shop (called “Tchotchkes” of course) on a steampunked Lower East Side of Manhattan in the late 19th century who hires a young immigrant from Gujarat.  As she makes overtures toward the young woman, an aspiring politico has other plans for her, not all of them wholesome.  Worse, not he may be hiding something that might destroy them all.

You can purchase the anthology here. (Soon to be on Amazon, I’m told)

And you can also win a drawing here.