On the 26th of December, 2008, I began blogging here at WordPress, and it’s been a good time. The blog has mutated from being a reading-blog to a personal space to rant (here’s an example, where I predict Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters, no, really) to something (somewhat) more professional. It’s been my first exercise in consistent blogging and I’d like to celebrate by doing a contest/giveaway, so here it is: I am going to celebrate by doing a contest/giveaway.
Between now and December 26th, if you’d like to submit an original piece of flash fiction (under 500 words) which features the phrase “paper fruit” in some manner, write it up and send it to paperfruitcontest at gmail dot com. The winning entry as well as the runner-up will receive a fabulous prize. Both will also have their stories published on my blog.
More details below. . .
The latest internet kerfuffle regarding editing and publishing in the genre community started over at John Scalzi’s blog where he called out a market for paying one fifth of a cent per word (500 words for a dollar, etc.). This has now mutated into an excellent blog post over at Jeff VanderMeer’s blog, by guest blogger Rachel Swirsky, editor of PodCastle. Ms. Swirsky’s point was riffing off of Scalzi’s, that getting published “anywhere” doesn’t necessarily help a young writer’s career– in fact, not only, as Scalzi says, does this potentially devalue an author, it can, as Swirsky says, make an editor less inclined towards your work. Both Swirsky’s and Scalzi’s point boils down to this: often young writers are told to publish, publish, publish: exposure is king, as well as judge, jury, and executioner when it comes to short fiction, if you don’t have credits behind your name you’re flung off of the slushpile and into the garbage, or as Swirsky put it, “it’s this benefit of the doubt that I think newer authors are trying to curry when they say the point of publishing with a market like Black Matrix is to get a credit, any credit. (Either that or they think submissions with creditless cover letters are thrown into an automatic ‘no’ box with a malevolent editorial cackle.)”
Taking a break from all the MoFo-ing, I’d like to announce that I’ve joined The Outer Alliance. The Outer Alliance is, in their own words, “a group of SF/F writers who have come together as allies for the advocacy of LGBT issues in literature. Made up of individuals of all walks of life, our goal is to educate, support, and celebrate LGBT contributions in the science-fiction and fantasy genres.” This is important stuff, especially these days, what with all the conservative backlash to Obama’s election and the fact that Obama himself is dragging is feet on making good on the promises to the gay community that helped him get elected in the first place.
SPEAKING OF CONSERVATIVE BACKLASH, I was inspired to join The Outer Alliance for two big reasons. One, Jesse joined, and was saying good things about the group, so I took an interest. Two, someone on the PPK posted an article entitled, of all things, “The War on Science Fiction,” about how people with vaginas and non-straight sexual orientations are destroying science fiction (Maybe through talking about human relationships instead of, like, robots and stuff? And making Starbuck a woman on the new Battlestar Galactica? Maybe?). Though I’m sure linking it here will only make the author wipe away a tear of pure, unbridled, righteous joy with the corner of her “Official Ursula K. LeGuin Book Burning ’06″ t-shirt it’s worth noting that these sorts of frightening, anti-woman, anti-LGBT attitudes still exist, somehow, incredibly, in 2009. So no, Virginia, feminism is not obsolete, nor is fighting for human rights for all humans.
This quote from the article pretty much encapsulates both the terrible prose style and the upsetting sentiments voiced therein:
“Slash fiction is a form of fan fiction written primarily by women where characters in science fiction TV shows are gay and have homosexual relationships completely contrary to the established canon of the show. The first slash fiction was about the original Star Trek series where women wrote stories about Kirk and Spock in a homosexual relationship.” (Emphasis mine.)
Come the fuck on. Seriously. I dare anyone, ANYONE, even Heinlein enthusiasts, even people older than 15 who think Ayn Rand’s Anthem is a really good, original piece of science fiction, even, I dare say, whackjob bloggers with an axe to grind about the new Doctor Who, to go watch some original series Star Trek, most notably, off the top of my head without even thinking about it for a second, “The Paradise Syndrome” (ep. 58) or “Turnabout Intruder” (ep. 79) and tell me that a Kirk/Spock makeout is “completely contrary to the established canon of the show.” Bull. Shit.
Joking aside, the amount of self-hatred contained in this vitriolic rant about how women and women’s issues (and teh gayz, too) are destroying science fiction (the author is female) is incredibly sad and depressing. Though slash/fic is not really my bag per se, I think it is a cool venue for anyone to express themselves, especially women eager to write something “for them by them,” or, alternatively, an opening market for people nervous about the wall of Western, masculine names in the SF/F section of Borders to get into speculative fiction writing. Is that really such a travesty? Of course it isn’t, but why be reasonable when you can nail sixty years of progressive feminism and LGBT activism square in the uppity jaw with your violently jerking knee? Why view non-white, non-straight, non-male folks as valuable when you could spend your time writing this inspiring sentiment:
“As we know science fiction has inspired boys to pursue careers in science, engineering, and technology as men. With women killing science fiction on television, the current generation of boys won’t have this opportunity to be inspired to work in these fields. There is still a great deal of written science fiction that is real science fiction so all is not lost. However, many boys who would have gone on to make scientific discoveries and invent new technologies will not do so since they will never be inspired by science fiction as boys.”
Holy freaking crap.
At this point, I really do wish some dude (you know, the kind with balls and a penis, those genetic prerequisites to understanding science fiction and also technology and math and stuff) would please just invent a time machine (because he read some H.G. Wells) so this blogger, and all of the people who wrote comments in support of her, could go back to 1948 or whatever time period they genuinely believe to be “the good old days.” Please. For the good of humankind, some man, any man, please do this. Save us all!
So the long and short of it is that women, LGBT folks, straight allies, and other such types are ruining not only science fiction, but science itself. Really! We lefties are just basically banging rocks together, calling for us all to return to the caves.
It’s funny, you know, this kind of ignorance. The author implies that it’s women who insert women’s issues into science fiction, but really, that’s just total lunacy and self-delusion. Five minutes of research would have told her that Gene Roddenberry– the very same man who put absolutely no gayness into Star Trek, really– actually wanted the character of Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation, to be a girl. Leslie Crusher. I’m not making this up, it’s in the official ST:TNG Companion which yes, I have read. Anyways the network said no way, because it would limit the number of storylines for the character, since lady issues would have to be addressed. Geez, Gene! Why would you want to ruin ST:TNG like that? It’s almost as crazy as having a woman of color on the bridge of the original Enterprise! Or a lady doctor! Roddenberry was obviously an Obammunist before his time, excise Star Trek from the Sci Fi Canon immediately! Also, five more minutes of research would have told her that Jonathan Frakes– you know, the dude who plays super-macho Commander Riker– complained that his asexual love interest in the 5th season episode of TNG, “The Outcast,” was played by a female actor and therefore made less of a point about love transcending gender.
And that’s just Star Trek, yo.
Is it just that these men were pressured by screeching harpies and swishing predatory homosexuals? Of course not. They were intelligent men who realized that their own sexual orientation and gender made them uniquely able to advocate for the representation of “others” in science fiction, which is always what science fiction has been great at doing– taking us away from our immediate selves and allowing us to consider the problems within our own society with more objectivity. Or maybe that’s just my x-chromosomes having some girl talk about how The Foundation Series should be more like Bridgit Jones’s Diary. Probably.
It is sad, but it is also inspiring, because while there will always be allies who are willing to speak up for the inclusion of women and LGBT folks in science fiction and fantasy, more and more we are just having to get in there and write the stories about ourselves and our friends and our world that we want to hear. So it’s time for me to stop blogging and get back to my fantasy novel, which has, right there on the page, some lesbians.
There I go again, destroying genre like it’s no big deal.
I have long resolved to post about my favorite blogs around the internet, but I had to post this today ahead of the rest: You Can’t Please Everyone is a feature on a blog where the author collects and posts one-star Amazon reviews of classic movies, literature, and music. Some of them are absolutely amazing, others are just sad. Perhaps my favorite is the following, regarding Joseph Heller’s Catch-22:
“There are many myths that persist in modern life. One myth is that war is “meaningless”, “useless” or “insane.” Another myth is that Catch-22 is a good book.”
Another, vaguely prophetic and threatening review of the same:
“If Harry Potter is, as people claim it to be, one of the best books of all time, then this is its antithesis. Gather round muggles and read this review, or else the person that you’ve been dating will leave you for that professional football player and your parents and/or children will disown you and you’ll be forced to live in the basement with that balding, 43 year old starwars geek.”
Wait, what? I mean, I’m not a fan of Catch-22 (yes, I know, but not for any kind of weirdly conservative reason, I’m just a low person), but seriously? What is this person even talking about? Even so, it’s one of the more intelligent specimens. Most fall into the depressing category, such as this amazing review of 1984:
“i give this book one star i had to read it for class and i know it’s suposed to be a “classic” but god itis awful. first of all its NOTHING like the future is probly going to turn out. second of all every one says the aurthor george orwell is so trippy and wierd but i think he’s just trying to cover up for the fact that HE CAN’T WRITE. please george do us all a faver and stop writing books.” (emphasis mine)
Enjoy! But if you’re going to cruise Amazon.com you would better spend your time checking out The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart which is up for pre-order. Buy it!
I’m sitting here in my house this lovely Thursday and it feels like my scalp is on fire. Why? Because I am currently stripping out the black and blue dye from my hair in order to see if I can get it a boring shade of dark brown. Boo hoo! This “Color Zap” nonsense is making my whole head tingle and burn, and I can look forward to this for the next hour or so. I’m really glad that the lady at Sally Beauty Supply told me this was going to happen because I would be seriously upset right now if she hadn’t.
I’m wondering, after the wedding, if I’ll go back to bleaching my hair and making it fun colors, though, because while I really like negotiating my appearance I wonder about the ecological implications of bleach and if I’m being selfish for using it. Manic Panic is all vegetable dye and so huzzah for that, but my hair is very dark naturally and so in order to get interesting colors I have to get out the peroxide. Hm.
In other news: I’m 2/3 of the way through good old Sense and Sensibility and I’m getting into fights in my class with other students regarding it. I really cannot stand Elinor and I’m pretty much alone in that opinion among those who speak in class. I can’t take the passive-aggressive nonsense with her, nor her (as I read it) jealousy of Marianne’s open temper and unwillingness to conform to the more ridiculous strictures of British society even to get a husband or preserve her honor. Yes, one could argue that Marianne is incredibly selfish, as her behavior has the potential to ruin Elinor’s matrimonial viability, but at the same time she is speaking truth to power in a compelling way, and I feel like through Marianne, Austen herself is questioning social mores.
Additionally, as this is my first complete read-through of Sense and Sensibility, my only impressions of Colonel Brandon have been from the Emma Thompson movie, where Alan Rickman gives him panache and a serious degree of not-sketchiness and dignity that the original character perhaps does not deserve. In the movie, Colonel Brandon to me always came across as sweet, serious, and kind, and infatuated with Marianne but willing to accept that she does not care for him. Colonel Brandon in the novel is a creepster without warning. He comes where he knows he is not wanted, and is in several places described as staring at Marianne. Though her rudeness to him is viewed by Elinor as inexcusable, I have to say, if when I was seventeen some weird old man about the same age as my mother showed up at my house and just looked at me all the time, I’d probably be less than thrilled by his attentions. Elinor, however, is obsessed with matrimony and therefore cannot see Marianne’s valid lack of regard for the Colonel, but I think the reader should not feel induced to agree with the eldest Miss Dashwood on this.
At any rate, my head is itching something fierce and I fear the black dye is proving stubborn. We’ll see if I’m just ruining my hair and will have to show up at the wedding all bald-headed Tank Girl style.
I’m going to take some time to work on Pharmakoi tonight and I’m pretty happy about that, though I wonder if my itchy-headedness will distract me too much from my edits. I am at a section that needs pretty heavy re-writing so we’ll see.
I will finish this night with a link to my friend Selena’s new website, which is very cool and well designed. This is a fairly amusing notice as I think Selena might be one of the only people who actually reads this blog, but in case someone stumbles across my blog who would be interested in the fiction and non-fiction writing of a very cool Poe-scholar, they would do well to check her out.
I just finished re-reading Pride and Prejudice for my Jane Austen class, and yet again I found myself awed and humbled by Austen’s style. Her smoothness of narrative is terrifying in its near-perfection, and her characterization and plotting are impeccable. My friend Shawn is fond of trying to provoke me by saying things like “there’s a reason some works are canon” and though I will argue with him (all in good fun, of course), in Austen’s case, I happen to agree.
It’s not surprising that of all the women writers* out there Austen is the canonical one. Many would assert her allegedly conservative values as what gives her that status, but I would disagree about both the conservative nature of her values and that being the reason she appears on syllabi everywhere. Austen is too slippery for such small analysis– the raging debates in academic circles are testament to her subtlety. I tend to side with the camp that declare her to be subversive, but I think Austen’s true glory is that anyone can find what they want. If you like romance, Austen has something for you. If you like bright women being impertinent, you are also served. If you are the type of person who likes to see bright, independent women humbled by strong males Austen will please you. And, I would argue, if you’re the kind of individual who likes the act of liking being humbled by strong males while winking at the world and getting pleasure from the power-play, Austen will give you just what you need. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet cries “How despicably have I acted!” after Mr. Darcy gives her the letter which explains to her just how much she has misjudged him. She goes on to say: “I, who have prided myself on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity in useless or blameable distrust. How humiliating is this discovery! yet, how just a humiliation!” There are many out there who would take many different kinds of pleasure in a “just humiliation,” but I wander from my point. Freak to fundamentalist, Austen contains pleasing sentiments all wrapped in smooth, beautiful prose.
Given how versatile, subtle, and engaging Austen’s writing is, it is sad that Austen has such a reputation of being chaste, trivial, or outdated, and that most who claim this have never even read an Austen novel. Reading Austen makes me think about my father, who used to roll his eyes at Austen movies whenever I’d bring them into the house and bellow “chick flick” or say things along the lines of “she’s a writer only a woman could appreciate.” The implication here was, of course, inferiority, and inferiority based on writing that focused on the specific world of women and women’s concerns. Whether or not my dad was trying to make a joke or not, regardless of his intentions, as a young woman I took my father’s statements to heart and dismissed Austen as part of a stigmatized crowd of “women writers” I wanted nothing to do with (most women writers figured into that category, with the exception of maybe Anne McCaffery– the dragon books, not the more girly Rowan or Ship Who Sang series–and Ayn Rand).
After getting to college I had my eyes opened by awesome professors who helped me realize that women’s writing is only trivial if you think women’s lives are trivial. I re-discovered the books I’d previously turned up my nose at: Austen, Ingalls-Wilder, Montgomery, Woolfe, Le Guin, and God forbid, even Helen Fielding. I liked these authors. I liked their style. And it changed me enough that I went on eventually to get a graduate degree in women’s writing (and hopefully become a woman writer myself).
Austen makes me happy, even when I’m not entirely in love with her novels. I’m in the middle of Sense and Sensibility right now, and though I have little regard for either of the Miss Dashwoods and their circumstances, I know there’s so much going on in the book I can’t dismiss it or even really dislike it. Currently I’m wrangling with the idea that the standard interpretation of Austen’s books as possessing an omniscient 3rd person narrator is faulty in the case of S&S, and that the book is actually narrated by Elinor Dashwood. It’s making a rather halting plot that much more engaging, as I think about things like how perhaps Lucy Steele isn’t quite so “sly, selfish, and insecure,” (the description of the SparkNotes I just consulted for the spelling of her last name) but rather is rather just competition for Elinor. If Elinor is narrating, it makes more sense of the fact that everyone else in the novel thinks the Miss Steeles, Lucy especially, are wonderful young women. Again, Austen is slippery, and tangling with her takes more than cursory attention.
The more I read of Austen the more I despair of ever writing as brilliantly as she does, with such nuance and such ability to move her reader even hundreds of years after she wrote. But Austen, in her wonderful way, makes me love that despair– or perhaps, rather, that just humiliation.
*I am conflicted about the term “women writers” or any other term like that every time I use it. I think there are notable and important differences in men’s and women’s writing, especially historically, but I fear falling into some kind of essentialism when I use it. I also dislike any term that the male equivalent goes un-gendered: the opposite of a female author isn’t a male author, but rather, just an “author” untainted by gender. Not to jump into Feminism 101 or anything, but for thinking about Austen and my own reading history, I’ve chosen to use it as self-consciously as possible, with the hope of utilizing it to some good here.
A few weeks ago Jesse and I were discussing the difference between “predictable” and “inevitable” as applied to literature and film (a conversation inspired by the new Swedish vampire movie Let the Right One In), and we sort-of decided that the only real difference between the two was that movies or books we liked were “inevitable” and those we did not care for were “predictable.”
With that in mind I will describe The Love Artist as somewhere in between. While reading it I found myself wondering if it were a first novel, and a review I read upon completing it verified my suspicions. Nothing in particular gives this away; Alison’s prose is fantastic in both senses of the word. She is a writer who has the ability to conjure lush, real landscapes as well as the dreamy weirdness of visions and portents. Yet, with all her manifest skill at setting she fell short for me with character.
Though I enjoyed the novel it failed to capture my wholehearted interest, and I feel it should have. As an audience, I share many of the same passions as the author. I like historical fiction. I have a deep love of Ovid’s works, specifically his Metamorphoses, I enjoy stories with witchy elements, strong female characters, Medea, and, additionally, I’ve been to the Black Sea; but The Love Artist made me wonder why I should care about anything that happened to the characters over the course of the book. I found them to be flat and on the whole unsympathetic, and their motivations obscure. Alison seemed to give more time to establishing how Ovid looked (with frequent repetition of such details as the color of his eyes, the leanness of his frame) than why he does what he does, and I also found that she relied too much on the stereotype/archetype of the witch (another debate of wording, such as predictable vs. inevitable) rather than giving Xenia a meaningful personality that might temper Alison’s choice of giving her such a cringeworthy name.
I could never fully grasp why the characters behaved as they did for much of the novel, I think in part because their motivations were so mundane it astonished me. Ovid, once he has his muse and is back in Rome, becomes a hound-dog again, powerless to resist the jewel-bright charms of Roman women, flirting and lying for no really good reason. Xenia comes across as petty and jealous because a jealous woman is an excellent literary device to drive forward a plot. I am fully aware that Alison was in part basing the novel on Medea but at times that decision seemed lazy and made the characters one-dimensional, they never went beyond the expectations of their source material. I also felt that Alison made the mistake of thinking the reader would care about Ovid simply because he is Ovid and not for any more compelling reason, and Xenia because she is a spooky witch wronged by patriarchy and everyone loves a spooky witch wronged by patriarchy.
Perhaps the most troubling thing about The Love- Artist was Alison’s decision to give her all-knowing prophetic witch “blind spots” in her vision, all conveniently located to allow the machinations of the characters to come into bloom. This screamed literary device in the worst way, and I think she could have found a better means to deal with wishing a slow reveal, even just making Xenia unwilling to see her own fate. This goes to show that Alison’s manipulation of suspense was nonexistent– there were no surprises. Most egregiously: the first chapter has three sections– Ovid, Xenia, and Julia, granddaughter of Caesar Augustus. Later we stop hearing much of Julia and Ovid obtains a powerful female patroness in Rome. Who could it be? Again, we return to inevitable vs. predictable.
All in all, The Love-Artist was exactly like the photograph on its cover– lush, initially hypnotic, but superficial and given to an unfortunate privileging of the exotic. I enjoyed reading it but was left wanting more.
Day of The Minotaur
Thomas Burnett Swann
Day of the Minotaur was a Christmas present from my friend Jesse. This delightful cover greeted me when I unwrapped my gift:
The author apparently held a Ph.D in literature from University of Florida and taught at Florida Southern University. The most I can say of his writing is that his love of classical mythology is obvious throughout the book. Otherwise, frankly, I am at a loss to say anything much about his style. Calling his prose purple would be unfair, so I’ll settle on calling it lavender as Day of the Minotaur lacked the sensual opulence found in someone like Clark Ashton Smith or the teeth of Angela Carter.
I make the comparison because all three of these authors take mythology and make it their own. Smith and Carter create alternative histories in glorious, sometimes disturbing ways. In stark contrast Swann neuters the myths he appropriates, making them less vital and compelling than their classical incarnations, limited by his own stereotypical, constricting ideas of gender and his own manifest desire to rut with dryads. While Angela Carter can take a well-known myth and re-kindle the fear or trepidation a reader felt when hearing the original by giving it a fresh face, Swann instead made me wish I was instead reading Edith Hamilton’s Mythology or just staring at a wall. It feels unspeakably cruel to compare anyone to Piers Anthony, but reading Day of the Minotaur was less like being transported to the ancient world and more like an unpleasant reminder of how many hours I spent in Xanth as a kid before I realized that creepy books written by older guys about young girls and their panties made me uncomfortable for good reason. I’m pretty sure Piers took a page from Day of the Minotaur and that makes me feel a little bit bad for Swann but not much.
At any rate, Swann seems to be a particularly icky letch, the kind who lacks the courage of his convictions. Or something. I can get down with stories written by icky letches, mind you, but they have to deliver the goods. Swann doesn’t. He describes the barely 16-year old love-interest Thea as “ripe for marriage” but doesn’t have the stones to deflower her with his pen. Instead of hot raunchy minotaur sex, which would actually be entertaining, we get long passages of dialogue like this scene between Icarus, a half-dryad Minoan prince, and Eunostos, the minotaur narrator:
“You and Zoe used to be more than friends, didn’t you?”
I nodded, with perhaps the hint of a smirk.
“And other women too,” he continued. “You must have had hundreds. You’re just what they like. A regular bull of a man.”
Almost of itself, my chest expanded to its full dimensions, my tail twitched, my flanks felt the urge to strut. “It’s true that one kind likes me. Free-living women.”
“One kind admits she likes you. Secretly, all of them do. Look at Thea.”
The subject intrigued me. “Thea, you say?”
“Can’t take her eyes off you. But frankly, the other, non-sisterly kind interests me more. I don’t feel up to a long, exhausting courtship. I’m not as young as I was. That’s why I want you to take me wenching.”
Ouch. Such interactions pervade the action of the novel, bringing as much pain to the reader’s mind as they obviously brought something else to the author’s lower regions, as Eunostos is nothing more than Swann’s vaugely bovine proxy. Eunostos/Swann’s discussions of “wenching” (ugh) and drinking and good clean forest revelry do little to recall any scenes in the classical literature from which he draws his iconography and instead do more to make his world seem like a particularly annoying multispecies commune, which makes sense given the 1966 publishing date.
Although on some level it feels unnecessary and a touch mean-spirited to heavily critique a fantasy novel written over 30 years ago, there is something to be said for examining such problematic material. Swann’s Day of the Minotaur demonstrates beautifully how problematic it can be to set modern-sounding characters in the historical past, even when that past is deliberately fictionalized. Thea’s obsession with redecorating Eunostos’ lair and giving him a makeover makes her less of an ethereal half-human wood-maiden and more the shrill stereotype she really is. Ajax, the Achaean villain, feels more like a quasi-medieval feudal overlord from a fantasy novel than a brash Homeric warrior. Swann’s minotaur also feels too modern, even with his hooves and horns, a dorky swaggering beast-man who brings to mind dudes who hang around hostels hoping to score with drunk girls rather than the fearsome man-eating terror of Minos’ labyrinth. It’s sad that Burnett’s novel is so bland, because his concept is interesting and he clearly knows his subject. His problem is his own desires come out too much, make his personal fantasies too obvious to the reader. I felt embarrassed reading Day of the Minotaur, like I was intruding into Burnett’s private sex-dreams where he’s a seven-foot tall Casanova of the Woodland Realms. And that’s no place I wanted to be.