So Nickelodeon’s trying to mimic Disney; the network partnered with Sony to put out albums for some of its up-and-coming stars, using wacky TV shows as launching pads. (Or so Wikipedia tells me.) The first was Miranda Cosgrove of iCarly, a pretty decent tween show; the second was the boy band Big Time Rush of Big Time Rush, who I immediately loved; and the third… the third is Victoria Justice of the brand-new-last-week show Victorious.
The show was incredibly, offensively bad. Sidekicks who make sexual assault jokes, a protagonist with no personality, an antagonist who only cares about the boy in her life, on top of generic, mediocre writing. Wow, I really, really did not like it at all.
I don’t remember when I first heard about The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (henceforth 100K), but it was a few months ago — long enough ago that the book wasn’t out yet the first time I looked for it in a store. It definitely has a buzz online; a bunch of review blogs I lurk at had praised it. And I eventually put together that Jemisin is one of the contributers to Alas, A Blog (linked in the sidebar) which I’ve been reading for years; and I began lurking around her site for very smart commentary on race in writing and sf/f. So pretty much the day it came out, I grabbed a copy and stuck it in my TBR pile. And finally got around to reading it, huzzah!
100k is epic fantasy — ish. It is certainly epic in scope, and hits plenty of traditional epic fantasy tropes. The protagonist, Yeine, is a reluctant chosen one. The plot has two major pieces to it; one is a war between the gods, which obviously has spanned eons and is now coming to a head; the other is her own family history, which, in some ways, is how the gods are acting out their war. So it’s a story that’s got generations of backstory going in, and its outcome affects the whole world. Pretty freaking epic.
But it’s also missing a lot of tropes: there isn’t really a quest, or a lot of walking around. There’s no Scooby gang assembled, though it also isn’t exactly Yeine Vs. Everyone, either. So: it’s definitely fantasy, it’s definitely epic. But is it epic fantasy?
Another point worth discussing: one of the ways this didn’t feel like traditional epic fantasy to me is that Yeine is female, and the romance in the book is a huge part of the plot. I feel like a lot of epics tend to have romances, but they don’t get a lot of focus. But then again, I also feel like a lot of traditional epic fantasies have female characters, but they don’t get a lot of focus, and since Yeine — the first-person narrator — is female, that isn’t the case here either. This was a book where the writing felt very woman-centric to me. Actually, it brought me back to something I’d vaguely pondered a few years ago:
With that said, as I read the book I kind of felt like it was written by a woman. I think that’s because I’ve spent a lot of time in fandom, a largely female-dominated space, and there are a few things fandoms tend to latch on to … This book has all of those in spades. It didn’t read like something that came out of fandom, but because of those associations, despite being a series that’s heavily weighted towards male characters, it read to me as though it had been written by a woman.
… I kind of feel like fandom/the internet (the combined force) is creating new tropes for genre fiction, based more heavily on female desire and female readership. For me, the disconnect between a guy writing the sort of stuff I associate with female readers was pretty big.
Obviously, not all of that is accurate to 100k (a very female character-centric story) but it had that same sort of feel. I think this is a great example of what I described as “broadening the genre.”1 So my vote is yes, it’s epic fantasy; but it’s a broader take on the genre.
(Incidentally, that question first occurred to me because Jemisin herself raised it. Interesting stuff.)
Okay, so beyond that, I really loved this book. If completely blew my “would I rather read this or play Bejeweled on the subway?” litmus test away — I read it on the way to and from work, during my lunch break, and in the evening sitting on my couch. I loved the not-quite-linear, non-traditional narrative style. I loved the scope, and the world building, and all the backstory. While the romance in and of itself didn’t do it for me (broody badboy isn’t my preferred romantic archetype) it was a strong plot and piece of the story.
I had one… hm, qualm isn’t the right word, and neither is disappointment, but I had one sort of note about the ending, which I wanted to talk about enough that I installed a spoiler-tag plug-in just for this. (Unless you’re reading via RSS, in which case I don’t think it’ll work). Basically…:
And after all of that, I’m really curious to know what the next book in the series will be about, and whose POV it will be from. (Okay, there are hints in the “extras” section of the book, but I want mooooore. Basically, I want the sequel. Rightnowplease.) This is an instant favorite for me, and one I know I’ll reread, and I’ll be waiting for other novels from Jemisin, too.
(HEY! Did you notice I skipped a number in my book reading list? That’s because it turns out I had two #5s! Whoops.)
- Wow, I’m pretentious sometimes. Hey, how about I quote myself some more? It’s awesome when I do that. ↩
So while waiting for the subway this morning, I noticed a post for Lifetime’s Army Wives. Okiedokie. And when I looked up, right across from it, was a poster for the forthcoming Basketball Wives from VH1. O…kay then. And these after a few years of Bravo’s various Real Housewives of X series, which itself was following on the heels of Desperate Housewives.
I am all for shows, be they scripted drama or docu-drama-reality-whatever, about the lives of interesting women! Neato! But really, must they be women defined entirely by their marital status?
Hey, I really like long post titles!
Will you all think I’m shallow if I say I don’t read much non-fiction? I mostly read for entertainment, and about 80% of my reading is done on the subway as I commute to/from work. That means that, in the morning, I’m bleary-eyed and haven’t yet had coffee (it’s all I can do to manage simple things like getting out of bed, showering, and getting dressed for the first 45 minutes or so after I wake up; coffee gets made and consumed at work), so it’s much easier to just stick on my iPod and stare at the wall than it is to open a book. On the way home, it’s about a 50/50 shot whether I want to open a book or just play games on my iPod. So the book has to have really caught my attention to make me want to crack it open at all.
Fiction holds a serious advantage over non-fiction in that regard. Most fiction — stories, basically — is designed to make you want to come back to it, to wonder what will happen the characters and if it’s all going to turn out okay in the end. Wondering about those things makes me more likely to fight my internal laziness and pick up the book. Non-fiction, on the other hand, has to be something I’m really interested in, or very compellingly presented (or both) to get to that point.
For example — or, I guess, non-example — Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past by Ray Raphael. I picked this up because it looked interesting. And it was! But the thing is, I know how the Revolutionary War ended1 so there weren’t a lot of narrative questions gripping me and bringing me back for page after page. I enjoyed it well enough. I quite liked some of the myths that Raphael dissected, and getting a glimpse at the actual events they were based on. (Though I wasn’t 100% sold on the book’s main conceit, that the stories that have evolved hide the real and very patriotic acts that led to the country’s founding; some of the arguments towards that were more convincing than others, but overall the actual history segments of the book were more interesting to me than the arguments made about patriotism.)
But ultimately… I don’t know. I feel bad even putting out there that I didn’t finish it, because the book was interesting! I feel comfortable giving it 3 stars on GoodReads, regardless! But after a couple weeks during which I kept it in my purse, but never pulled it out, I decided it was time to set it aside and move on. (This is not helped by my own neurotic rule of reading only one book at a time; growing up, if I read multiple things at once, I tended to get the characters and plots confused, which made things pretty difficult. So basically, for a couple weeks I wasn’t reading this, but wouldn’t let myself read anything else, and so didn’t read anything at all. To combat this, I’m confessing it to the internet, and moving right along with my life.)
On the other hand, my sister handed me Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels a few days ago, and I devoured it. I’ve only read a handful of romance novels, and only occasionally skim the Smart Bitches website, but I do love good media and cultural analyses. And despite its very casual tone, this book is that. (In fact, I loved its casual tone. I tend to be turned off by a Look How Academic And Serious This Book Is tone.) The book gets into sex and sexuality as presented by romance novels, in a wider cultural scope — for example, the way rape in romance novels fell out of common use with the rise of the “No means no” mantra, and how that changed the genre as a whole. They delve quickly into race and the segregation of African-American romance novels, which I wish they’d spent more time on. And they get into the structure of most of the books, which I looooooooove. (I am kind of obsessed with narrative structure. IDK.)
The book included a lot of frills (games, puzzles, illustrations) that I don’t think it needed, but they didn’t take away from it, really. Overall, it was smart and very entertaining, and reminded me of why I was an American Studies major, back in the day. It’s an insightful look at a part of the culture that is often dismissed, and it not only looks at romance, it spends a lot of time on why the genre is dismissed, and why people the people who love it embrace it anyway.
- Hint: Rebels won. USA! USA! … Errrr, I’ve been watching a lot of Olympics lately. Sorry. ↩
A couple of weeks ago, a friend pointed me towards this post by Mad Marvel Girl. The post basically asks, what are your three stories — the stories of your heart? The stories that grip you and don’t let go, which you could read or watch over and over, and why? It’s not about how good the text is, it’s about the actual story, the part that makes your heart happy.
As one very smart friend of mine paraphrased, what are the stories which, if every other story was a riff off them, you’d still be pretty happy with?
I’ve been thinking about this on and off since. I’ve managed to come up with two.
Star Wars. (If I must be more specific, The Empire Strikes Back.) There are a lot of general things I love about the trilogy: the space opera backdrop, the rag-tag band of rebels taking out a much more powerful enemy,1 the epic scope of world-building, the fact that the movies are fun before all else. But let’s face it: for me, the big, big thing is Leia and Han. I love Leia and Han. Or rather, I love Leia, and am in love with Han.
About my love of Princess Leia: I love that she’s making serious contributions to the rebellion even before the movies start. She’s a leader, and she’s good at it. Once captured, she remains defiant (“I should have recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board.”). Even when she’s the one being rescued, she’s still perfectly able to grab a weapon and kick down an exit where one doesn’t exist. She can run around and do the action hero thing, as well as the pretty, dress-wearing, traditional fantasy princess thing. She’s smart, she’s angry, and she kicks ass. I adore her.
Han… well, he’s my fictional type. Smug. A rogue with a heart of gold. Not necessarily nice, but certainly nice to look at. He can do bad things, but generally does the right thing in the end. And smug. Did I mention that? My first fictional crush, when I was about five, was Peter Venkman in the Real Ghostbusters cartoon; I have no idea how I was wired to find smug jack-ass-ery particularly attractive, but it is absolutely typified by Han Solo.
Beyond anything else, the story of the two of them falling in love while snarking at each other and having adventures speaks to my soul. The Empire Strikes Back is my idea of a perfect romance.
To sum up: a kick-ass woman and the smug guy she loves (and often rescues). 2 If they starred in every story, I would be a happy camper indeed.
My other story is Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey. I’m amazed it took me this long to realize that, actually, as I’ve read that book at least fifteen times. I first read it when I was in fifth grade, and even though, as an adult, I can spot plenty of flaws in it, it’s still among my all-time favorites and I reread it every couple of years.
In it, our hero, Talia, runs away from the home where she’s always been unloved and unappreciated, gets Chosen, is swept off to Valdemar’s capital city and thrust into circumstances she doesn’t fully understand. But once she’s there, by way of tenacity and hard work (plus being super-duper-special) she overcomes the odds and makes it, proving to both herself and the world in general that she’s truly deserving of her new-found status.
Or, in other words, a girl who feels awkward and out of place — particularly because she’s bookish and none too feminine — is just sure she can do and be more than anyone realizes, if only she gets the chance! And when the chance comes, even though it’s hard, she’s plucky and determined! And in the end, she succeeds! Hooray! 3
It isn’t a complex story, but look, there’s a reason I not-so-secretly love Mary Sues. The story, simply as a story, speaks directly to my id. But it gets me in Arrows of the Queen in particular, I think because when I was 11, I identified so strongly with Talia. Ultimately, I don’t need the story to be about someone bookish, or even about a girl,4 because it’s the I’m-something-more leading to plucky determination leading to success! that gets me. I could happily read that over and over again. I have read that over and over again.
I think, if it came down to it and I absolutely had to pick one character archetype over the other, it would be Leia over Talia. But maybe that isn’t a surprise, either. I identify with Talia in ways that reflect who I am: someone who often feels awkward and out of place, who wants to do and accomplish more, even though I don’t know how or even, really, what I want to do. I want to be part of something important, something that matters, even though I haven’t figured out what yet. But that’s where Leia already is, where she starts her story. Maybe it’s just that ultimately, I’d rather read stories about what I aspire to than what I am now.
Especially if I get Han Solo in the end. Just sayin’.
(Unrelated ETA: upgraded WordPress, fiddled with plugins. Threaded commenting should now exist. And possibly automatically posting to Facebook. So if this shows up there… Hi!)
- My all-time favorite stand-alone movie is Newsies, so really, variations on a theme… ↩
- See also: Veronica Mars and Logan Echolls of Veronica Mars season one; Aeryn Sun and John Crichton of Farscape. ↩
- See also: essentially every coming of age story ever, particularly in fantasy and scifi, up to and including Star Wars itself. ↩
- Interestingly, though, the Leia archetype for me does have to be about a girl. I’ll happily read a story about a male leader who kicks ass and takes names, and have a lot of fun doing so — but it generally won’t grab me the same way it would if the character were female. ↩
If I was the sort of blogger who wrote things on a timely basis, this post would have been up during the ALCS when I first thought about it, or at least during the World Series, when it was topical, or shortly thereafter, when people were still buzzing. But I’ve been busy with work, that novel I’m perpetually working on, and meeting some of my favorite authors. And I’m not that sort of blogger. Alas.
So. Baseball. And feminism!
The school where my sister teaches had a Yankees-themed dress-down day when the Yankees won the World series.1 She stopped at a Modell’s store to pick up a jersey to wear, and found only men’s larges and extra larges — and a very few women’s shirts, all in pastel pink.
I don’t actually know any women who want pink Yankees gear. The blue pinstripes? Pretty iconic, is all I’m saying. Rachel asked a salesman if there was anything else for women, and he said no. They never bother to order jerseys for women. Imagine that.2
I went to see a game with my friend B this summer. B is a much harder-core fan than I am, actually, and when we were talking about how we got into watching, she said I was one of the only women she knows who watches baseball like she does — or, in other words, who watches baseball like a dude.
But, she said, it was nice to see a game with another woman because she didn’t have to avoid talking about how Derek Jeter is wicked hot.
Yup. That’s my experience, too. Because that’s the thing about talking baseball with dudes. There’s an awesome feeling of being in-group, and what’s more fun than talking about something you love with people who are similarly passionate? But for me and B both — and, I suspect, a lot of other female sports fans — there’s an unspoken knowledge that commenting on a player’s attractiveness means you will be out-grouped instantly. Your opinions will be taken less seriously, and instead of a real fan, you’ll be seen as one of those women, who only watches the game for eye candy or because your boyfriend makes you.3
The thing is, this is not something that happens in reverse. For some reason, a sports-centric magazine with a primarily male audience puts out a yearly edition that’s devoted to women in swimsuits, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a magazine about sports. 4 Movie reviews nearly always comment on the female lead’s attractiveness, but even when written by men, the reviews aren’t discounted out of hand, on the grounds that people assume men only watch movies to stare at the women. And often, female athletes are uber-sexualized, and their looks are considered at least as important as their skills.5
So maybe I do watch baseball like a dude, because apparently even sitting on my couch watching the YES Network is a gendered activity. (Sigh.) But I also watch baseball like a chick. Because, whether you believe in Derek Jeter’s intangibles or Derek Jeter’s actual defensive statistics?
Dude is wicked hot.
- Still not tired of typing that. ↩
- She scowled at him, bought a men’s large, and demanded I blog about it. ↩
- FYI: this is not something than any of the men I know do on purpose. It’s just a part of the same culture that, you know, devalues things girls like. Stupid culture. ↩
- Or at least that’s what’s on the cover, I have no idea what the actual content is. ↩
- I googled to find examples of this, and there are plenty out there, but I was so grossed out and annoyed that I decided not to link to any of them after all. ↩
So I watched the VMAs last night, and I’m still pissed at Kanye West.1 I’ve been thinking about why I’m so upset all day, because until last night, I could not have named one Taylor Swift song. She’s been remarkably off my radar, considering I contribute to a blog about tween- and teen stars; I knew her name, knew what she looked like, but her music had made zero impression on me at all. So it isn’t even like I’m offended because I love her or her music particularly; I’m basically entirely indifferent to her. And obviously it was a totally dick move, wrong just because it was wrong, and it would have been wrong regardless of who he interrupted.
But it really, really bothered me. I think I finally got a bead on why: because female performers — especially young, female, pop performers — really don’t get much respect.
I think part of that is the genre generally. Pop music tends to be dismissed out of hand by many, many people, as “just” pop. Growing up loving boybands and Britney Spears, I’ve heard time and time again that pop stars just don’t have musical credibility, because they often don’t write the songs they perform. That has always struck me as utter bullshit because here’s the thing: writing music and singing are different skillsets. They are related, in that they both have to do with music, and one is often found in tandem with the other, but they don’t have to be. Honestly, when I’m listening to music, I rarely care who wrote it. I’m listening for performance; when I’m at a concert, I’m there to be entertained. I respect the people who do the writing and the producing, but they aren’t the ones who make the musical experience for me. Basically, what I want from a singer is that she be a good singer.2
And even were that not true, I think it’s important to remember that female entertainers are least likely to be given the creative freedom to do what they want. Another reason it’s easy to dismiss pop (and especially women in pop) is because it’s all about crafted image (though… what isn’t?). But, as Kelly Clarkson called out, the industry is a boy’s club, and people didn’t want to listen to her because she was young and female. If these young, female stars lack credibility because their images are so carefully crafted… Well, who is doing the crafting? And would these young women be given a chance to put themselves out there and make music at all if they didn’t submit to that image crafting?3
And of course, there’s the fact that pop music is fun. It’s not generally designed to be moving, or deep, or even Great Art. Pop is meant to be…popular. It is entertainment that does not strive to be anything but entertainment. And fun is often seen as frivolous.
So thought number one: pop musicians, especially young, female ones, don’t get much respect because they — and their genre — are seen as lacking credibility, even though that that’s an unfair statement.
But to go further with that, you know why else pop music is dismissed so easily? How about this one: because girls like it.
Seriously. This is not a terribly original thought, but it’s always run true to me. Speaking in broad cultural terms, things that guys value are considered normal; things that women value are seen as frivolous. To talk in clichés: sports vs. shopping. It’s not that every single person is accepting of guys who just want to watch the game (or get more fanatic about it); it’s that culturally, that’s considered normal. On the other hand, women shopping is a punchline, seen as silly. LOL ladies spending money on things like clothing and — hee hee hee — shoes! The attitude is derisive. Projects that are by women, for women, are written off as chick flicks (and chick lit). Women enjoying things by and for themselves is not particularly welcomed.4 Things by and for women are not particularly valued.
So you’ve got young female artists in a genre that isn’t considered credible, who are primarily popular with other young, female people and thus their art (even if it is not High Art) is easily dismissed. That upsets me. And even though I have just about no opinion on Taylor Swift, that moment at the VMAs pretty much encapsulated that mindset: young women and the things they value aren’t important, so an adult man felt it was entirely okay to interrupt a young woman who was receiving recognition for being good at what she does.
Obviously, there is a lot more to talk about than that, like how it also stole Beyonce’s moment and put her into the position of having to clean up someone else’s mess; whether or not people would be this outraged if a white man had done what Kanye did, or if it had been done to a black woman instead; and why MTV has an awards show to recognize outstanding music videos when it does not, in fact, play music videos.5 But that’s why the incident got to me, in particular. I love pop, and I love teen stars, and I absolutely hate how culturally disrespected they are.
One final note: I’ve had a couple of discussions today about how this is all actually good for Swift, because this has gotten her major exposure and made her a national figure of sympathy. I do get that, but I also think it’s important not lose track of the fact that Swift was getting national exposure and recognition for being good at her job, and that was ruined for her. I have no idea whether she’d trade in that moment of joy and respect for a larger moment of controversy and exposure — but I know I’d rather see a young woman get the respect she has earned than see her get humiliated. And I hope that she would feel the same.
- The short version, for those who don’t follow such things: Taylor Swift, a 19-year-old country (/pop crossover) singer-songwriter won the award for Best Female Video — her first VMA, a pretty big deal — Kanye West came up on stage, univited, took the mic out of her hand, and told the world that he thought Beyonce’s Single Ladies video was one of the “best videos of all time.” She was visibly crushed (reportedly cried backstage afterwards). Beyonce herself looked utterly horrified, and when she went up to accept her award for Best Video, she had Taylor come out and give her speech again. ↩
- Or at the very least, an entertaining one. ↩
- Obviously some don’t, and some escape it; but it isn’t a coincidence that when Britney was at her biggest, most other young, female singers went blond and bare-midriffed. ↩
- Example from the nerd culture with which I am most familiar: witness the ZOMG Twilight fans at Comic Con! A space basically carved out for people to be extremely enthusiastic about the thing they love is being invaded by… Girls who are excited and enthusiastic about a thing they love! RUN FOR THE HILLS! ↩
- Zing! ↩
I keep trying to write an entry here about writing, but then getting too self-conscious about it. Maybe someday. In the mean time, when not able to come up with interesting content of my own, why not link to some other people’s content instead?
When I go through my Google Reader these days, I tend to go through interesting links using Read It Later, a FF add-on that I love. But unfortunately, this means I don’t have a way to tag posts with where they were linked from anymore, and so I don’t have credits for these. Suffice to say, they were all linked by awesome people.
Vague theme: feminism! Mostly but not entirely in sf/f!
So I opened up the email, and sure enough, it started off with a compliment about the usefulness of a particular article that I’d written. Great. Warm fuzzies abound. Unfortunately, the warm fuzzies vacated the premises in the next paragraph, in which the (male) writer concluded with the sentiment that it was nice to read such good articles written by “a cutie”.
I think I may have said something very rude at that point. It certainly left me feeling uncomfortable and a little creeped-out.
The problem I have with this isn’t just in the assumption that it’s OK for a total stranger (who I’ve never even seen in person) to comment on my appearance. It’s in the implication that the technical merit of my writing isn’t the important part here — that what’s important is how physically attractive I am. (And in particular with the form of words used, not just “cute”, but “a cutie”, which is a very neat way to suggest that everything important about a person can be encapsulated in their appearance.)
Yeah. It’s happened to me, too, and I don’t know what to say. Generally, women are socialized to want to be cute, to be recognized for that; but it’s so, so, so frustrating when that’s absolutely not what you want.
A few weeks ago we had a ball discussing the Top Ten Evil Queens of fantasy. But something occurred to me as I was doing my research: While I had no trouble finding evil queens, the only ones I could find that were depicted as being “good” were physically compromised in some way. (And I’m not talking about princesses here — I mean women in real seats of power.) The question this raises for me is, does power corrupt or are powerful women seen as dangerous in fantasy? Let’s take a look at the way good queens are hobbled to find out.
This makes me want to write a fantasy novel about a kick-ass queen immediately.
We need to teach them to take an interest in all sorts of stories, not just the ones that feature kids like them. This means exposing them to a lot of different stuff. We should, of course, encourage kids to find themselves in books. That’s a wonderful and powerful thing. But we should help them find people who are different, too, so they learn to value other ways of being in the world. If we don’t support books, movies, TV programs and music that show these other ways of being, then we are contributing to the problem.
This is a debate I keep running in to: Will boys only read books about boys? I love this article for doing a take-down of why that’s an attitude that has got to go. Of course everyone wants kids generally to read more, and it seems like boys read less than girls; but focusing books more on boys and what’s culturally considered boy-themed stories is really not the answer.
Speaking of boys, girls, and characters…
I certainly have seen girl characters who were too perfect: who were beloved by all, beautiful (though they always thought their mouth was too wide or possibly their bosom too generous), and eventually elected queen of the universe. (Sometimes literally.)
Let us think of the Question of Harry Potter. I do not mean to bag on the character of Harry Potter: I am very fond of him.
But I think people would be less fond of him if he was Harriet Potter. If he was a girl, and she’d had a sad childhood but risen above it, and she’d found fast friends, and been naturally talented at her school’s only important sport, and saved the day at least seven times. If she’d had most of the boys in the series fancy her, and mention made of boys following her around admiring her. If the only talent she didn’t have was dismissed by her guy friend who did have it. If she was often told by people of her numerous awesome qualities, and was in fact Chosen by Fate to be awesome.
Well, then she’d be just like Harry Potter, but a girl. But I don’t think people would like her as much.
One of the first things I ever did in the course of this dialogue was to reject the knee-jerk judgment of the Spock/Uhura relationship as a sexist reduction of Uhura to The Girlfriend role, some sort of sad step backwards from her empowered position in TOS as a professional woman with no need for a romance. …
However, the Just A Girlfriend nugget and the assertion that she is made less by her romantic involvement with Spock continues unabated, so I figured I’d give full voice to what I hadn’t before.
Simply put: Nyota Uhura is not a white girl.
(Via the previous article)
I really appreciated this. I grew up on TOS, and definitely super enjoyed (but didn’t 100% love) the reboot movie. 1 But I definitely grew up on the narrative about Uhura as a career woman, and how that was totally progressive and awesome, and it never occurred to me to look at why she was depicted that way (let alone to question its awesomeness).
My eyes: opened. Always a good things.
- Thought-based dissatisfactions were about women. Fangirl based dissatisfaction? ZOMG NOT ENOUGH MCCOY. ↩
I’ve got the apartment to myself this weekend. My plans for this lazy Sunday include watching baseball — I am SO GLAD baseball season is back, I can’t even express it — and working on The Novel.
I haven’t written much about what I’m writing, because there are about a million blogs by aspiring authors that are probably much more interesting and informative than mine would be. I only mention it now because I’m finally switching gears on this project: that is to say, after almost a year of writing in fits and starts (and one major computer death that took 15,000 words with it), I’ve finished the rough draft and am now starting the revision process. And since when I write I plow straight through without revising at all as I go (or even, for that matter, rereading to make sure I’m keeping things consistent), that’s quite a daunting process.
But enough about that. Since reading and writing is what’s on my mind, have some related links.
On Amazon.com two days ago, mysteriously, the sales rankings disappeared from two newly-released high profile gay romance books: “Transgressions” by Erastes and “False Colors” by Alex Beecroft. Everybody was perplexed. Was it a glitch of some sort? The very next day HUNDREDS of gay and lesbian books simultaneously lost their sales rankings, including my book “The Filly.” There was buzz, What’s going on? Does Amazon have some sort of campaign to suppress the visibility of gay books? Is it just a major glitch in the system?
Of course, it turns out, it is not a glitch. Amazon has decided to exclude “adult” material from appearing in searches and on its best seller list, and automatically considers all books featuring GLBT characters and themes adult. I rarely shop at Amazon anyway; I definitely won’t be at all until this is remedied.
See also: Amazon Rank.
I trudged back and forth between cultures, relying heavily on stories for insight into the secrets and nuances of North American life. But exactly what did those stories communicate about my place as a brown-skinned foreigner? And, in that mostly white suburb where I went to school, why can’t I remember any educators who were bold enough to raise the issue?
The best-case scenario is that my teachers were consciously giving me freedom to experience the pleasure of reading without adult interference. But would it have diminished my enjoyment if an educator had raised questions about race in The Chronicles of Narnia or The Secret Garden, for example? Looking back, I don’t think so. Especially if that educator had appreciated these stories as much as I did.
Interesting and informative stuff about how to discuss race in school reading assignments, ranging from common stereotypes and tropes to cover art and beauty standards. (Via Justine.)
I have to say that I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of boys who read Alex and really enjoy it. We are told often that boys will not read a book with a female protagonist, and I actually had a boy the other day look at me in shock when I mentioned Alex was a girl. This boy had already read the book, in which I say often that Alex is a girl, and yet I suppose because it isn’t about the fact that she is a girl, that she isn’t particularly “girly”, whatever that is, he actually forgot he was reading about the opposite gender and saw her more as an “everyman” (everywoman?) kind of character. Something, I must be honest, that was indeed one of my goals with the book, so I am immensely pleased. But at the same time, does this mean that if I write a “girly” protagonist I will lose the boys who so enjoyed my other books simply on that fact alone?
Adrienne Kress (whose first book, Alex and the Ironic Gentleman, got five cupcakes over at Active Voice) writes not just about her book, but also about the question of women writing in general, women working in publishing, and — of somewhat personal interest to me — about being a funny female writer. Good stuff, good discussion.
Fantasy in Asia is as natural as mermaids swimming and fairies flying. That is to say, the mythology of Asia lends itself organically to the world of fantasy. Long before Tolkien invented a hobbit, a monkey king jumped its way through the pages of one of the four classic novels of China, Journey to the West, while Scheherazade wove her thousand and one tales to her Persian king in the Arabian Nights. Classic Asian tales have spawned a vast array of stories, books and movies that weave in fantastic elements that are quintessentially eastern. To hear of Aladdin and his magic lamp, is to be swept away into a world of djinns and sorcerers that somehow has been garbled up and translated to a western audience as a frenetic blue genie voiced by Robin Williams in a Disney movie, or immortalized by Barbara Eden in the classic TV hit I Dream of Jeanie. Meanwhile the Monkey King is a superstar in China who has never successfully made the transition outside of Asia.
In my last post, I linked to a couple of essays on non-Western-centric fantasy, and this is another great one. Ellen Oh looks at some of the Asian myths that haven’t ever caught on outside Asia, and the invisibility of fantasy novels that do use them — unless they’re suitably westernized, of course.
First, an excuse. For a change, it’s not that I’ve been too busy or too lazy to blog. It’s that I’ve been unable to use the computer for non-necessary… anything. For a few years, I had occasional wrist pain. For a year and a half, I had moderate wrist pain, and protected against it by wearing wrist braces at work. Problem dealt with.
Then, about six weeks ago, moderate wrist pain became, “Oh holy shit I can’t use my hands,” wrist pain, and I am now in physical therapy twice a week. I’m lucky, as these things go, though; I’ve got insurance, and it isn’t carpal tunnel and it isn’t nerve damage, just a combination of muscle weakness and strain, brought on by overuse and bad posture. Anyway, it’s getting better. Huzzah!
So here’s some reading for you.
Amanda Terkel at Think Progress made some critical comments about Bill O’Reilly and his comments on rape victims. She was then stalked and harassed by his producer. Here’s her account of the story (the “interview” is expected to air at some point soon), and the very important conclusion:
The main issue remains: O’Reilly should offer an apology/explanation of why, when a woman is raped and murdered, it’s relevant what she was wearing or how much she was drinking. O’Reilly never asked me for a statement nor invited me on his show before sending Watters to harass me. Since I’m a 5 ft, 100 pound woman with an opinion that he doesn’t like, perhaps O’Reilly believes I deserve to be treated this way.
Okay. This one is… massive. Much more so than a few paragraphs and a couple of links can explain, but basically, a discussion started in January, about writing the other in science fiction and fantasy. Writer Elizabeth Bear made a post about writing the other; Avalon’s Willow made a post critical of Bear’s actual writing of people of color, and what started as a smart exchange quickly spun into several other conversations, some productive and some racist, and many still going on. Aside from writing the other, discussions covered cultural appropriation, racism and the (lack of) representation of people of color (as writers, characters, and recognized as readers) in sf/f, and anonymity on the internet, among others. And all this comes on the heels of the casting of the racist casting of the Avatar: The Last Airbender movie.
You can get a basic summary, and links to more detailed explanations, here.
It’s been vast and overwhelming to follow. I’ve done a lot of thinking but no writing on it because, aside from my wrist problems, I don’t think that I have anything to add. One thing the conversation has made clear to me is that some voices are valued over others, and it’s the voices of people of color that too often aren’t heard. As a white person who’s trying to find a way to be an ally despite my privilege, I don’t think there’s anything I can say that wouldn’t be about me and my experiences. There may be value in them in some ways, but those are more personal and less related to the general conversation. So they’re not useful here, as far as I can tell.
So a few posts that really stuck out to me:
When I was around thirteen years old, I tried to write a fantasy novel. It was going to be an epic adventure with a cross-dressing princess on the run, a snarky hero, and dragons. I got stuck when I had to figure out what they would do after they left the city. Logically, there would be a tavern.
But there were no taverns in India. Write what you know is a rule that didn’t really need to be told to me; after having spent my entire life reading books in English about people named Peter and Sally, I wanted to write about the place I lived in, even if I didn’t have a whole bookcase of Indian fantasy world-building to steal from. And I couldn’t get past the lack of taverns. Even now, I have spent a number of years trying to figure out how cross-dressing disguise would work in a pre-Islamic India where the women went bare-breasted. When I considered including a dragon at the end of a story, I had to map out their route to the Himalayas, because dragons can be a part of a Tibetan Buddhist tradition—they do not figure in Hindu mythology.
The world of fantasy should not be all White People + Various European Architecture + Magic (possibly dragons). The world of fantasy also shouldn’t be White People + Various Asian/South Asian Architecture + Magic. It’s not White People Gaining Power From Kachina Dolls. It’s not White People + Dark Savages + Magic. It’s not White People + Voudoo (Hoodo, Obeah, Santeria). It’s definitely not White People + All 4 of the previous mentioned practices, mixed up and rolled into one.
… So the conversation I want to have now is – what next? How do we start? Do we use the internet and go small press the way various erotica writing female writers have utilized it – making a space for themselves? How do we make space for ourselves? Do we embrace the labeling? Do we embrace the separate little bookshelves in the bookstore? The African American Lit. The Asian Experiences. The Jewish Commentaries? With their little signs? Do we accept those labels? Do we try to burst out? Where do we move next?
One possible “what now?” solution might be found in Verb Noire.
Ryda Wong has collected many, many, many more links about RaceFail here.
I know a lot of people out there wonder why it matters. These are, after all, only imaginary superheroes. Why does the way they are created and portrayed matter so much? The answer is because they perpetuate the stereotypes as they play on them, they reinforce these ideas within the minds of fans. We are meant to look upon most superheroes as just that — heroes. We are meant to look up at them as people to emulate and aspire to be. This makes it especially unfortunate that black superheroes and specifically the ones chosen for this list are part of a pattern that continues to portray black people on the basis of opinions and stereotypes formed decades and even centuries ago, a pattern that continues to erase black women from any kind of discourse or agency. For a medium that endeavors to look into other worlds and possibilities, it seems reluctant to release the preconceptions of this one and that’s a true shame. This list doesn’t help dispel any of that at all.
Apart from the presence of the supernatural and a kick-ass heroine (often wearing leather pants and wielding a semi-automatic), which are big parts of the urban fantasy formula and traits readers look for in these books, I’d argue that the framework boils down to two things: character and world-building. This genre is primarily character-driven: the main characters are at the hearts of these series, and readers keep coming back because of the connection they feel with them. And world building: readers want a world they can fall into, that they can believe in, often similar to ours but the fun comes in seeing the differences, in imagining what it would really be like if these things really happened. When these two things come together, along with the tropes that cause readers to seek out these books in the first place (vampires, kicking ass, etc), you have a successful urban fantasy novel and series. I believe this is what readers are looking for, and what writers in the genre are striving for.
A photoessay of an adbusted subway poster, that started with perfected pictures of singers — the original ads — and added the menus from Photoshop that make such perfection possible. Powerful stuff. (Recommended reading: No Logo, which I’m currently 3/4 of the way through.)
And finally, a “this is so stupid I can’t even get properly annoyed” link: Sci Fi Channel Aims to Shed Geeky Image With New Name. Right. Because “SyFy” rebranding will make science fiction non-geeky, and attract women. Yeah, good luck with that. Meanwhile, as a woman who already likes science fiction and geekery, all I can think is, you know, I prefer not to associate with the ludicrously misspelled.
That’s it. More… Someday.