Categories
Media Consumption Writing Life

Last week’s random thinks.

Here be thoughts that stuck in my brain over the last week. They aren’t quite big enough for their own posts but too big for me to ignore, so I’m sharing them here together.

One

I got into a great conversation with a friend about Ann Leckie’s Ancillary series. (IT’S AMAZING OMFG GO READ IT IF YOU CAN.) Specifically, we chatted about the characters Breq & Seivarden, & our different take on their genders.

I read both of them as male in my head, or at least as “not female” despite the default pronouns of the dominant culture in the book being she/her, and despite descriptive cues in the text that show Breq is not male. (It’s complicated. My research indicates she’s agender.)

Seivarden is described w/facial hair and other physical/traditional male characteristics, so I’m sticking with that being a reasonable take, but how do I get from a character being called “she” to a read of “he?”
Is my internalized acceptance of patriarchy that sneaky? Am I that brainwashed?

NOPE. It’s the Q. The name Breq is unisex, but (in the US anyway) names that end in a hard K sound are assigned to boys far more often than girls (350+ to <20) so my brain migrates to “boy name” in the absence of overwhelming description. Regardless of pronouns. Otherwise I generally default to reading characters as female/agender — my mental visuals for most characters in that trilogy are…androgynous like the pyramid aliens in Stargate. Now that’s a thing you know about me.

TWO

Presidential elections are different.

I can have nice, rational discussions about politics and principles right up until people start talking about “voting their conscience” by not choosing a candidate or going with any third party candidate in a presidential election.

Think your favorite local libertarian should be school board president? Great! Vote’ em in! Want to be represented by the Green Party in your state legislature? Brava! Check that box. Really want representation to take off? Start pushing ranked-choice voting at all levels of office.

But presidential elections are different. The existence of the Electoral College plays merry hob with our already-weighted “most votes wins” system, and THAT means when it comes to presidents, you either pick one of the two leaders, or you might as well vote for whichever of that top two has less support going in.

It’s math, and numbers, and I’m not explaining how it happens here, I’m just venting. If all this is totally new to you, I recommend fairvote.com as a good starting point and also all the Schoolhouse Rock America Rock videos. Yes, really.

If we end up with a United States dictator in November, I’ll blame very frikking person who didn’t vote because their candidate “got cheated,” and every joker who thought it’d be hilarious to vote for Kanye because “sure, Trump’s bad but Biden’s a rapist and they’re all equally awful, it doesn’t matter who’s in charge?”

I’m gonna be permanently pissed off at alla y’all if the US ends sliding into civil war and full-on civic collapse like I wrote into my Restoration series, because that IS what will happen if we let the kleptocrat-in-chief steal our country out from under us.

Vote. Vote like the future depends on it, because it does. It always has. Now ‘scuse me, I’m going to chase some kids off my lawn.

this is about undecided voters, but it has bearing on the 3rd party/conscience voter argument too.

Three.

I have spent my whole life being uncomfortable with feminist organizers for reasons I had a hard time pinning down.

Once I hit college I flat-out refused the label because I really didn’t see eye to eye with the students who ran those groups there. They called homemakers/stay-at-home-moms traitors to the feminist cause, women who enjoyed their sexuality in the “wrong” ways sluts, and women who didn’t want to do it all weak. Basically, they had this weird idea that “equality” meant “we get to decide what’s right for ALL women,” which meant they got to define whether other women were “feminists.” And…uh…NOPE.

I didn’t get around to reading a lot of pivotal feminist texts until my 40s & 50s because I was so turned off by the exclusionary snobbery, judginess, purity tests and racist bullshit that floated around the movement like a toxic cloud.

And that pisses me off on the regular, because feminism is critically, objectively important. Societies should guarantee women the same choices and opportunities as men at every level and in every forum. So if someone wants marriage and kids and a career, or one, or the other, if they want to flaunt their sexuality or wrap themselves in chastity, ALL those options should be open. THAT is feminism.

I’m glad that younger & older, wiser, more energetic women than me stuck with it, kept shoving aside the bullshit spewers and are redefining the movement.

TL;DR: I’m really bad at being a nice white lady feminist.

That’s all for now. Until later. Next week, probably. Unless I get excited about how well Sharp Edge of Yesterday is coming along and decide to gush about it.

Categories
1. Storysculpting 2. Worldbuilding Authoring characters Promotion Reblogged

I wander off on a guest-posting adventure

If you aren’t reading Jen Ponce’s books & following her Oogy Monsters blog yet, you should be. I was honored with an invitation to write a little something to post there, and this happened. I might have ranted a little. Big surprise.

This Monday, author KM Herkes talks about her brand of strong women. You’ll want to give it a read!

via KM Herkes–writer of kickass heroines with power. Part One! — Jen Ponce

Categories
Uncategorized

Not Like The Other Girls?

This is a phrase that gets cyclically dissected in social media these days. The last time its bones got picked, I saw it being portrayed as a phrased used by women to men as a defensive measure to make themselves look better. It was said to be a distancing tool, wielded to earn better treatment. As in, “I’m not like other girls, so don’t treat me the way you treat other girls. Treat me with respect.”
Okay. That is clearly true for others in situations outside my experience. But this is my blog, where I talk about me, and that narrative doesn’t match my life. So, let me tell you my story. Not interested? That’s all good. I am hardly a mainstream example of anything. Except, y’know, white, married, educated, employed, not-poor privilege. I’m all that.
 I’m only saying, I did say those words, and I meant them, but it was never said(and I doubt was ever interpreted) with the meaning stated above. Bottom line, though: I’m not speaking for anyone else.
When I used that phrase with men (and I haven’t in over 25 years)  I was saying it to reassure guys who were afraid to trust me. These were guys over whom I held all the power of acceptance or rejection in the social dynamic. They were accustomed to dismissal and outright derision from women who were not interested in scruffy-haired comic-reading, math-obsessed, Monty-Python-quoting fantasy-RPG playing men. I was saying to those men, “I know the rejection you feel, for I, too, am a social outlier.”
And in an aside, those same women were the ones who actively, vocally refused association with me because I was a scruffy-haired, flannel-wearing, moisturizer-indifferent science-obsessed weird girl. Just saying.
And back then when my overwhelmingly male social circle said disparaging things about women followed by, “but we don’t mean you, you’re not like them,” I called them out on it, oh, yes I did. Mostly by pointing out that I was indeed female and emphatically did identify with the “girls” they were dissing. Sometimes by simply tugging my collar and doing an ostentatious boob check.  (how often? usually? always? I can’t judge from memory. I know I had a whole repertoire of comebacks memorized by junior year in college.)
I never felt “better than” other girls. I was measurably isolated in my differences. I had damned few compatriots in my limited peer group and fewer adults as role models. Until college, I knew three women who read SFF. My physics teacher, her daughter, and one classmate in a high school class of 700.  (And four I met in summer camp. We shared two unforgettable, brilliant, giddy weeks fighting light saber flashlight battles and talking about The Dark Is Rising, but we had no internet to hold us together when the dream weeks ended, and we never saw each other again. The end.)

I met a couple more women SF gaming nerds in college. By which I mean two. TWO.  But sure, there were always some other girls like me. When I said “I’m not like other girls,” to guys I was never declaring myself a unicorn who should be revered, just a member of a shared minority. And it was accepted in that same sense by guys who were not like other guys. Our geeky awakening was a shared, culturally alienated phase where all of us were truly wasn’t like almost any other people we knew.

The men I hung with, back in the day (and now) treated women with respect. No, really. They tried, to the best of their ability and experience and blind privilege. And when they didn’t get it right, they got read the riot act (and told me I was being emotional, got read MORE riot acts until they eventually learned.)
We stuck with our passions, me and my guy-exclusive social circle, the world turned around us slowly, nerd culture became mainstream, and I no longer had to reassure men I understood difference. These days I can’t swing a cat without hitting nerdly women and men in every walk of life.
 If I was 20 years younger, I would’ve had girl friends who didn’t turn away from magic stories in junior high and start shunning me. I would’ve had Harry Potter-raised, video-gaming adept girl buddies. I never would’ve said I wasn’t like other girls to men, because my sisters in nerdliness would’ve stepped up beside me and I  would’ve been like them all along, loving nerdy guys and girls right back.
The glory of nerd passion is that it can be discovered and embraced at any age, by anyone, so women of my advanced age have discovered SFF and video gaming and comics over the years too. (When curiosity meets ubiquity, magic happens)   I am now like so many other girls it makes my heart sing and my head spin with giddy joy.

But. I do still use equivalents of that phrase with women to this day. These days, it is a different defensive shorthand, explaining in the language of the groups I move through that I don’t enjoy things they assume (nay, insist) I should and must like because of my gender. What I actually say is something more like, “I know <X> is a popular thing, but it isn’t my thing.” They’re the ones who nigh-invariably translate that to “well, you’re not like other women.” Which is patently not true, and I will call it out when I have the energy, but there’s only so much ingrained prejudice I can fight. If they want to think me different, well, then, bless their hearts.

Battles. I pick them.
Categories
Book reviews

Review of A Dragon Problem by Rick Rossing

A Dragon Problem: The Dragons of Phelios, Book I by Rick Rossing

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a fun book, and reading it whiled away a pleasant afternoon. I recommend it to people who love a good portal fantasy the way I do, and I’m following on Amazon so I can grab the next in the series as soon as it comes out.

The author has a clean, straightforward storytelling style, and the first-person point-of-view in this book brings out the best in it. The setting is a basic fantasy world (magic, dragons, semi-feudal societies warring over territory and power) Nothing notably twisty or shockingly original, but all perfectly enjoyable. The story is YA-friendly with a romantic pairing that never goes behind closed doors.

I would put 3.25 stars if Goodreads would allow fractions.

You may well ask, why the compliments but not more stars? Because I am a mean and horrible person. No, wait, that isn’t it. Because I am a literary snob? Bwahahahahaha. no. I like all kinds of books in all genres, and I enjoy a wide variety of writing styles and levels of complexity.

I am an avid reader, however, with a lot more books in my brain than my Goodreads profile indicates. (I am also lazy, and rating hundreds of extensive bibliographies holds no appeal.) My experience does influence my evaluation.

A book has to have something special to even catch my eye these days, and I don’t start from five stars and subtract. Like a figure skating judge, I start at zero, and a book has to earn my interest and respect one character, one trope, one plot twist at a time. “I liked it” describes my satisfaction level for a lot of good books.

I would put 3.25 stars if Goodreads allowed halvsies, but not more. This one hit some personal buttons about character depth, convenient coincidences, and plot-driven motives (the romantic sub-plot especially) The writing and ideas are good enough I wish there was more than the basics, and that’s where the .25 comes in. But when there’s no one in the book for me to relate to, then it won’t ever get more from me.

Nothing red-flagged;  it’s just a lot of the usual: strong woman warrior who conveniently still needs rescue and of course falls in love with the male hero, everyone trusts the outsider hero because a wise elder gives the seal of approval, modern dude comes in and unites the natives who can’t fight the evil themselves until he points the way…

There’s a reason these are popular tropes. They’re satisfying and fulfilling for many people. I don’t happen to be one of them. I’m bored when the only characters who share my gender in an adventure tale are sidelined and/or treated as a prize–and the stereotyped romantic dialogue made me roll my eyes. Plenty of lip service is paid to the strength and importance of the female protagonist, but in the final analysis, everything she does and says is aimed at helping the hero and serves to make him look good. Yawn.

So. Read the “Look Inside,” and if the main character makes you smile, then grab this one up and enjoy the adventures.

View all my reviews

Categories
Book reviews

Review of Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Picture links to author’s site

My braining title for this post was, “Writing about writing a review of Ancillary Justice.” I’ve been feeling meta, of late. There is a review, but I started by asking myself a question: how is it that I haven’t written a review for this book yet?

I love this book. I treated poor Spouseman to a long, meandering dinner lecture about it (later followed by a similar one about the second novel in the series, Ancillary Sword.) I’ve recommended it to everyone who likes literary fiction, science fiction, feminist fiction, good fiction…heck, if I’m honest, I have to say I’ve recommended it to everyone I know.

It’s been out for two years. It’s won a ton of awards. It’s a mind-blowing, gender-blurring, sweeping epic of a story wrapped up in a psychologically rich, deeply personal plot. It’s exactly the kind of book I like to rave and gush about in print. So, why had I never written a good solid Books-Are-Food review of it?

Certainly not “because it isn’t new.” Every book is new to someone. And not “because it doesn’t need it.” I’ve written about the importance of reviews here in the past. My perspective is as valuable as any other reader’s, and my audience reach is unique, no matter how much it might overlap with others. No piece of art can be reviewed too often, or by too many folk.

The answer to my question, I suspect, is that the idea intimidates the hell out of me. This isn’t a simple book to explain or summarize. Even its cover blurb is a work of genius. (I re-read it for inspiration before writing my own book descriptions because it’s just that brilliant.)  How does it go? Well, I’m leery of block-quoting copyrighted work.  Check the author’s website. Here’s the essence: “The story of a person who used to be a spaceship, one who is determined to track down the villain responsible for the destruction of her old self and all her crew.” It’s a perfect example of creation by exclusion. It’s enough to paint an intriguing picture for a prospective reader, yes, but it’s also the minimizing equivalent of describing Henry the Fifth as “a coming of age story.”

This book is written in what I can only call first-person omniscient. (That one ambitious idea right there made it worth the read for me.)  How does it work? Brilliantly. Many of the events unfold  in the mind of the main character as she recalls a time when she was a singular intelligence housed within hundreds of human bodies plus a spaceship and all its included equipment. She is in multiple locations at the same time, but Ann Leckie makes each place feel real, each action immediate, and never loses the reader in space or time. The protagonist is shown to have the ability to process data in ways that no single person could, but she still retains a human perspective.

That’s the mind-blowing aspect. Yeah. Now multiply that by the complication that the “language” of the main culture in the story has no gender, and that the author chose the female gender as her default in English to represent it. It was an eye-opening experience to find how much I rely on language cues and assumptions rather than physical description when building character images in my mind. The subversion of making feminine the default was far more disruptive than I ever would’ve expected, being that I identify as female.

Then there’s the way it sucked me in. I have a deep, abiding love for in media res beginnings,  and this one swallowed me whole. There are no long introductions, no extensive explanatory narrative, just a chatty first-person POV who seems to be describing a straightforward science-fiction situation. Almost immediately it develops speed and at one point quite literally goes over a cliff. Nothing is presented. The society is never judged or shown as A New Strange Thing. It’s a reality experienced along with the characters. Everything is what it is. Interpretation is left to the reader.

The main storyline of Ancillary Justice is simple, and that was fine. Managing the uniqueness of the storytelling technique and getting comfortable in the vast, intricate universe Ann Leckie  builds slowly, delicately, and oh-so-perfectly, through mise-en-scene exposure kept my headspace full.  I would’ve been hard-pressed to follow anything complicated, but it’s pretty simple: rescue an old comrade who has important connections, travel to a planet, maneuver events to get face-to-face with the person who caused the tragedy, confrontation and aftermath.

Let me be clear: there is an immense complexity to the plot of this book. The above synopsis is the best I can do without spending pages on it, and it does not come close to properly conveying the tight weave of past and present events that come together as the story progresses. Every step forward, every personal revelation, and every new connection settles into place and sets off a final whirl of action that resolves with hammering emotional impact. Still, at its root it was a simple enough tale. The language, the world-building, and the understated originality of it all–those things were all so stunning in combination that plot was the least of what held my attention.

Ancillary Justice is not an easy read. This isn’t popcorn reading. (Oh, I do love my popcorn and cotton-candy reading.) It isn’t meat & potatoes. It isn’t an exotic treat or a rich dessert. It’s a whole new array of flavors, ones I’d never before tasted. It’s the first time I tried a red wine as a child. The experience was weird and not wholly comfortable, and my enjoyment of it was impossible to put into words. Decades later, though, I can still call up the flavor memory of that wine without effort. Ancillary Justice is the index by which I will measure all other things like it, should anyone attempt a similar dish.

Have I hooked you? Scared you off? Bored you silly? Doesn’t matter in the long run. If you haven’t read this yet, you’re missing out on an experience like no other, but that’s your choice. I did this review so I could say I did it. I made this. I put my blithering driveling fangirl adoration for this series into words at last.

Mission accomplished. Achievement unlocked.