dolorosa_12: (Default)
I realise it's Thursday, but I've got a review up of a trio of YA books: Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan, An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, and Court of Fives by Kate Elliott, all of which can be loosely linked by a theme of divided cities.

The review is up on Wordpress, and feel free to comment here or there.
dolorosa_12: (epic internet)
Ambelin Kwaymullina talks about diversity in Australian YA literature.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: 'Fear of causing offense becomes a fetish'.

Here's Daniel José Older on diversity, power and publishing.

Laura Mixon talks about building bridges and healing divisions.

Rochita Loenen-Ruiz talks about self-care and 'staying in touch with the child-self'.

Aidan Moher discusses writing military SF without combat.

Astrid Lindgren's Second World War diaries have been published in Sweden.

Ana of Things Mean A Lot reviews Pride in the light of the recent UK elections.

I love this review by Electra Pritchett of Stranger and Hostage by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith:

If I had to pick a post-apocalyptic YA society in which to live, I'd pick the community of Las Anclas hands down, warts and all: rather than a hierarchical dystopian society where something random is outlawed and the government controls something else crucial to society, Las Anclas represents a kinder, gentler post-apocalypse. It's not quite a utopia, except in the sense that everywhere in fiction is, but that's precisely what makes it a believable and desirable place to live: its busybodies and jerks are notable because they're not the only kind of people in the town, and dealing with them would be a small price to pay in order to live in such a supportive and inclusive place.

The upcoming publishing schedule at The Book Smugglers makes me so happy.

I am really looking forward to the publication of Tell The Wind And Fire, Sarah Rees Brennan's latest book.

Via Sherwood Smith, listen to the oldest (recorded) song in the world.

Happy Friday, everyone!
dolorosa_12: (emily hanna)
The 'Aims Project' is a multifandom vid album, in which each participant has made a fanvid using the music of one song from Vienna Teng's Aims album. Each vid is astoundingly lovely.

I was recently alerted to the existence of 'We Are Sansa Stark', an old essay on Pornokitsch. I don't agree with every one of its conclusions - particularly that Sansa is definitely going to end up a major political player in the series - nor do I think it's helpful to criticise fandom for pitting Sansa and Arya against each other and then...do the same. But I love Sansa and characters like her, and sometimes it's just nice to see them get a bit of love.

This post by [tumblr.com profile] anneursu takes all the sneering critics of YA literature to task, and does so excellently. Read the whole thing.

'When Gods and Vampires Roamed Miami' is a short story by Kendare Blake published on Tor.com. It's set in the world of her Goddess Wars series (which I hadn't heard of but then promptly reserved at the library), and is set in a mid-'90s Miami crawling with gods and goddesses, and Lost Boys-inspired vampire wannabes.

I'm a massive fan of this animated credits to Buffy the Vampire Slayer by Stephen Byrne.

While we wait impatiently for Ancillary Sword, Orbit has put an excerpt from the first chapter up on its website.

This Massive Attack retrospective sums up all my overwhelming feelings of love for this band:

British trip hop pioneers Massive Attack are one of the most celebrated acts in the history of electronic music. Their atmospheric take on hip hop and R&B, with elements of soul, funk, jazz and electronica, was an exciting new sound in the late ’80s and early ’90s. They pioneered the genre now known as trip hop and quickly became hugely influential all around the world. Few electronic acts are held in such high regard as the Bristol-bred outfit. If they had never released their five studio albums, some of today’s great artists may never have gone down the musical paths they chose. Massive Attack are more than a band, they made us rethink how music can be created, and redefined what a band could be.

I still haven't got my copy of Unmade by [livejournal.com profile] sarahtales (Sarah Rees Brennan) and thus can't participate in all the revelry, but she has some great fanart up on her blog, as well as the schedule for her blog tour. I'll be checking out all those posts once I've got around to reading the book.

'I Don't Know How But I Know I Will' is an 8tracks mix by angrygirlsquad 'for those days where you see no way through. you haven’t failed. you are alive. everything else is bonus'.

I hope you are all feeling loved by the people you love, flist.
dolorosa_12: (Default)
One of my friends on Tumblr asked me to talk about why John Marsden's Tomorrow series had such a profound impact on me as a child and teenager, and why I continue to care deeply about the series to this day. Because I don't like writing long posts on Tumblr, I'm answering him here.

Content note: It is impossible to discuss this series without talking about war, violence and rape.

I made a list )

I hope that answers any questions about what the Tomorrow series meant and means to me!
dolorosa_12: by ginnystar on lj (robin marian)
I've got four links for you today.

First up, N. K. Jemisin talking about her experiences trying to publish a book in the face of industry racism:

But here’s something else I probably haven’t emphasized enough: I did have help. I’ve mentioned how crucial those early role models were in encouraging me to try for a pro career, and keeping me from quitting when things got ugly. But just as crucially, somewhere between my first and second attempts to break in as a novelist, the entire genre changed, just a little. Massive discussions about race and gender had begun to take place, spurred by early social media like Livejournal, and these were a clear signal to the SFF establishment that there was an audience out there for the kind of stuff I write. There always has been. More importantly, I did not have equal opportunity. In order to get my Nebula/WFA/Locus-nominated first novel published, I had to write a trilogy that got even more awards and nominations. I had to work around assumptions that a white writer writing white characters in a pseudo-medieval-European setting would not face, like Will anybody except “her people” read this book?

Malinda Lo talks about sexism (and racism, and homophobia) and self-promotion:

Leaning closer to me, the woman asked in a lowered voice, “Is this because you’re a lesbian?”

I was charmed by her question because I could tell she was gay, and she seemed to be whispering a secret to me through a keyhole. I smiled and said, “Yes. Yes, I’m a lesbian.”

She said, “Thank you so much for saying what you said at the panel. I never knew books like yours existed. I’m so glad you’re out.”

I told her, “You are the reason I came to this festival.”

And she was. No matter how disconcerting it is to be forced to come out over and over again, both in real life and online, no matter how frustrating it is to get homophobic messages or reviews, I have to remember that there are queer women out there sitting silent in the audience, or reading quietly online, who have never heard of my novels. Queer women who have never realized that they could read books about queer women who are allowed to fall in love and have happy, fulfilled lives.


Sarah Rees Brennan wrote a companion piece to Lo's article:

I have heard often that it’s wrong for lady creators to talk about sexism or how sexism negatively affects their lives, and that we’re making it up. I don’t know why this always shocks me so much: this is very familiar stuff at its core. “Those crazy wimmins, complaining about their lady treatment when they actually get treated SO well” is something ladies get a lot from anti-women’s-rights conservatives. I guess that’s why it’s surprising to hear it from other quarters, sometimes from other women, but at least it makes things very clear: people actually concerned about sexism do not go around saying that women should shut their dumb faces about it.

Nor, in a society set up to make sure women have poor opinions of themselves, is anyone taking on the system by characterising professional women as bragging and boasting. Those who use a rhetoric that insists “these women talking in any way positively about themselves or their work are too self-satisfied” are upholding the current system, where women are socialised not to have any confidence, and that is reinforced at every turn by people telling them that the tiny pieces of confidence they’ve managed to scrape together are far too much.


And, in a post both hilarious and misery-inducing, Foz Meadows wrote 'How Many Male SF/F Authors Does It Take to Change a Lightbulb?'.

And now, on to the meme.

Meme questions and answers behind the cut )
dolorosa_12: (epic internet)
This article about children's literature on The Guardian by Meg Rosoff (warning for discussion of death, suicide and illness):

There is a theory that children's literature should uphold the idyll of childhood, offering charming scenarios and happy endings to protect the innocent from life's harsh realities. But children have extraordinary antennae for the things no one will explain. If a child has enough imagination to conjure dragons and monsters under the bed, he has enough imagination to figure out that something adults won't talk about must be truly terrifying. Sex, for instance, divorce or death. And that's where literature can help – by exploring the scary stuff with insight and, on a good day, wisdom.

This article by Malorie Blackman, about libraries. Also on The Guardian and brought to my attention by Matthias:

Libraries are the best literacy resource we have. For children they provide an equaliser that allows everyone access to books, story-telling sessions, homework clubs; expert librarians who give non-partisan assistance and advice regarding books; and warm and safe environments within which to discover and explore the world of literature. Libraries switch children on to a love of reading, with all the ensuing benefits, and can make them lifelong readers. Without them, literacy may increasingly become the province of the lucky few, rather than the birthright of everyone.

As a librarian, and a lifelong lover of libraries, this matters to me.

This astonishing post on Wait But Why. Like all discussions of the vastness of space seeming endlessness of time, it left me feeling disoriented, overwhelmed, slightly teary, and very humbled. Existence is an amazing and terrifying thing:

I'm not really sure why it's okay that the eventual fate of the universe is cold silence, and I certainly as hell don't know what was going on before the Big Bang. And this is why the most important skill of a species intelligent enough to understand both their insignificance and their mortality is the capability for distraction. Because the facts of reality are just too intense. This is also a reminder of all the things that needed to happen exactly as they happened, for billions of years, on this very particular planet, for you to exist.

This poem by Tumblr user wytchbytch.
dolorosa_12: (matilda)
I'm not sure if you know this already, but my absolute favourite, favourite kind of story involves angels and demons, over-the-top battles between them, and theologically-tinged interactions between angels, demons and humans. Discussions of free will, the value of flawed humanity, and the incomprehensibility of angelic/demonic nature to ordinary individuals are all desirable bonuses. Unfortunately, very few authors get the tone or narrative right - or rather, very few tell the kind of story I want to read. (I should also clarify that I'm not a religious person, and the kinds of stories of this type that I enjoy normally bear little resemblance to any recognisable depiction of angels or demons within any religion.) I can only think of about five stories that did what I wanted, and they all have their flaws: Paradise Lost (which only works for me if I read it against Milton's intentions), His Dark Materials, Supernatural (which has other, massive problems that a lot of people find extremely off-putting, with reason, and also comes saddled with one of the worst fandoms I have ever encountered), Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel books (in which the angels are extremely peripheral to the main story of a masochistic holy prostitute and her adventures as a spy), and Memnoch the Devil by Anne Rice (shut up! that book is WONDERFUL). Sarah Rees Brennan's Demon's Lexicon trilogy is fabulous, but its demons don't come from any recognisable theology and aren't really the point of the narrative.

In order to get the stories I want, I've waded through a lot of rubbish, from Sharon Shinn's Angels of Samaria series, with its anaemic love stories and irritating plot twist, to some truly dreadful YA paranormal romances (anyone ever read Fallen by Lauren Kate?), in which angelic nature is simply a convenient way to engineer EPIC, IMMORTAL SOULBONDS. I expect very little when picking up a story about angels and demons, which is why Estelle Ana Baca's Cherubim and Seraphim, the first in her Ministers of Grace trilogy, doesn't bother me as much as it could have. But it's so full of typical weaknesses of characterisation and plot that I feel exasperated. Why is it that almost no one can write angels and demons right?

Spoilery dot-points behind the cut )

In spite of all those complaints, I'll keep reading the trilogy, because, as I've already established, beggars can't be choosers. I guess I should get on with writing my own 'war of angels, demons and humans' book that I've been writing for years. After the PhD, maybe.

---------
*Although one is orphaned in a really terrible way.
dolorosa_12: (epic internet)
Life is a bit crazy at the moment. For the past couple of weeks, my supervisor and I have been discussing the final stages of my PhD, and yesterday we had a meeting where we sorted out four potential examiners. (I need two examiners, one from within my department and one from another university, but I need to nominate two potential people for each examination slot.) I've written my abstract and am at the point where I need to inform the university of my intention to submit...in September! I am both terrified and relieved to have got this far. But this means the next few months are going to be extremely sleepless.

I have had huge numbers of tabs open for weeks and weeks and weeks (and even resorted to emailing links to myself in order to close some tabs), just waiting for me to have the time to do a linkpost. I don't really have time, but I want to get these out there before too much time passes, so here they are.

I finally dusted off my Romanitas blog and posted the next of my commentaries. This one's for Romanitas Chapter 5, 'White and Silver'. I also wrote a fairly negative review of Juliet E. McKenna's Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution series on my Wordpress review blog:

I’m sad to say that the series just doesn’t work, or at least it doesn’t work for me. The problem is partly one of characterisation (I find all the characters clichéd collections of tropes rather than engaging human beings), but really one of believability. The problem is that the whole revolution is too easy.

This is an old post by [livejournal.com profile] sophiamcdougall about London, but it's so wonderful that you need to read it anyway.

Australian YA author Melina Marchetta is someone I really admire. She's constantly pushing herself in terms of what she writes, and is thoughtful and articulate about her writing and that of other people. This interview with blogger Jo at Wear The Old Coat is characteristically excellent:

I don’t believe that writing for and about young people is a public service. The problem about role models is that some people may believe a good female role model is someone who doesn’t have sex as a teenager at school. Other people may believe that a good role model is someone who challenges the establishment. Or someone who works hard and gets into university. Or someone who doesn’t have to go to university or college to succeed. I don’t think of role models or teaching lessons when I’m creating character. If I did have a secret wish of what I’d like to come out of my writing, it’s that someone feels less lonely. Or someone feels more connected. Or someone questions the status quo.

Another author very dear to my heart is [livejournal.com profile] kateelliott. I've mentioned before that I'm deeply interested in people on the margins of history, people who led fulfilling, happy and interesting lives, but whose stories were never recorded because the Powers That Be didn't view those people's activities as being important. Elliott is an author after my own heart. She puts such marginal people front and centre in her medieval (and nineteenth-century) inflected worlds. Her interviews and blog posts make it clear that this is a deliberate choice. If you're not reading her already, this latest offering might tempt you:

I am not, by the way, a monarchist nor do I yearn for the halcyon days of yore with a secret reactionary bent to my heart. The idea that epic fantasy is by nature a “conservative” subgenre is, I think, based not only on an incomplete reading of the texts but also on an understanding of the medieval or early modern eras that comes from outdated historiography.

I don’t doubt specific works can be reactionary or conservative (depending on how you define those words), but more often than not I suspect–although I can’t prove–that if a work defaults to ideas about social order that map to what I call the Victorian Middle Ages or the Hollywood Middle Ages, it has more to do with sloppy world-building in the sense of using unexamined and outmoded assumptions about “the past” as a guide. I really think that to characterize the subgenre so generally is to not understand the variety seen within the form and to not understand that the simplistic and popular views of how people “were” and “thought” in the past are often at best provisional and incomplete and at worst outright wrong.

Historian Judith Bennett calls this the “Wretched Abyss” Theory, the idea that the European Middle Ages were a wretched abyss from which we modern women/people have luckily escaped. It’s one of the founding myths of modern feminism as well as the modern world. Me, I want to live now, with internet, antibiotics, and that nice intensive care nursery that saved my premature twins. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t also responsible to depict a more nuanced and accurate representation of “a past” as it was lived and experienced as a dynamic and changing span.


And now, for a complete change of subject, have a link to a post about Oideas Gael, the Modern Irish language school where I've spent a couple of happy summers. It really captures the heart of the little village and the classes. I was sorry to hear from the post, however, that Biddy's (one of the three pubs in the Glen), has closed down. Its wall had a sign promising 'ól agus ceol', which is really all you could possibly want in a pub...

Love, Joy, Feminism is pretty much my favourite blog these days. It's written by Libby Anne, who grew up in an abusive fundamentalist subculture in the US, but broke away as an adult. She is an articulate, unflinching and persistent critic of the culture in which she grew up, and this makes her dangerous to those who promote that subculture as a way of life. If you feel up to it, I highly recommend her most recent series of posts, which are on homeschooling and its potential to exacerbate abuse and neglect. You can tell how rattled Libby Anne's posts are making some people, as she's receiving a huge backlash from the (so-called) Homeschool Legal Defence Association (an organisation that believes children have no rights, parents have complete ownership over their children and that any regulation beyond parents informing the state of their intention to homeschool is an infringement on parents' freedoms). I highly recommend reading everything Libby Anne writes.

Still on the topic of homeschooling, here is a post by Jon Bois about his homeschooling experience as a child in rural Georgia in the '90s.

Check out this TED talk about changing the way we talk about abuse and harassment. The gist of it is that men (are the perpetrators in not all, but most cases of abuse and harassment) should be told that being bystanders to abuse and harassment is a failure of leadership - that if they are in positions of authority or relative power, and they do nothing to investigate, discourage or stop abuse and harassment, they are failing as leaders.

Finally, have a read of Maureen Johnson's post about genderflipped YA book covers.
dolorosa_12: (ship)
Last night, this popped up on my Livejournal friends page, via Jo Walton, whose book Among Others is reviewed there. It's a review by Ursula Le Guin of several books, and it's a good example of the rather rocky relationship I have with Le Guin: I love her books, and yet I find her a frustratingly wrong reviewer and critic. 'Wrong' might be too strong a word; 'wrong in her approach' is perhaps better. So she writes things like this:

Since publishers are feeling terribly unsafe these days, and since YA is a big, solid market, and fantasy is a big, solid part of it, publishers feel safe publishing fantasy as YA. And so writers of fantasy may find they’re expected to have kid protagonists and discouraged from writing about adults. Harry whatshisname and the teenie werewolves and the young gladiators have locked the fantasy/YA combo tight, at least for now. Retro macho “epics” of war-and-violence with nominally adult protagonists may escape the YA label, as they reach teen-agers through tie-ins, games, movies.

It's pretty obvious which books she means, and while I have no problem with her disliking Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games or A Song of Ice and Fire, and while I also feel genre boundaries can be somewhat arbitrary and an impediment to reading, and that adults can get things out of books with child protagonists and children can get things out of books with adult protagonists, the things they are getting are different. There is a fundamental difference in how you read a book as a child, and how you read it as an adult. (For a good example, I read Wuthering Heights when I was 14 and again when I was 22 and it was as if I had read two different books.) You have to take into account all these things, like how a person sees the world and his or her place in it, because they do have an effect on your perception of, and reaction to, a particular story. I do think there are some books which have a more powerful effect if you read them at a certain age. (I feel, for example, that ages 12-16, which is what I was when I read the His Dark Materials trilogy, was exactly the right age range to be for that particular story. Victor Kelleher's books, on the other hand, while ostensibly aimed at teenagers, seem to me all the more powerful when read with adult eyes.) And some authors are better than others at capturing the way teenagers think, the way they see the world, the things they dream about and fear. Yes, the YA label is a marketing decision, but sometimes genre distinctions are meaningful. The important thing is to work out what you like, and ignore the genre labels when you need to.

One author who seems to me to be particularly in touch with the feelings and thoughts of her teenage self is Foz Meadows. I really like this interview she did with Tansy Rayner Roberts.

[M]y own experiences as a teenager make me somewhat less than neutral on the subject of both school and the ever-present love triangle. I find it incredibly difficult, if not outright impossible, to write about high school as a background event rather than politically, as an institution to be challenged or subverted, because of the amount of effort I expended as a student arguing against curricula, grading, subject structure, the allocation of resources, conformity and scare tactics. Similarly, and while I have no objection to other people enjoying them, I have a pathological skepticism of romanticised love triangles, because as a teenager, I was in a love triangle – and believe me, the experience was anything but romantic. The combination of unrequited love angst and profound frustration at the institutional mechanics of education left me severely depressed, routinely insomniac (my last year of school, I survived on an average of four to six hours sleep a night, six days a week), flirting with self harm and regularly contemplating suicide. Somehow, I managed to get through it, but it’s not an experience I’d wish on anyone – and as a consequence, I don’t think I’m capable of writing about school, or love triangles, or especially the two in combination, in any sort of neutral or romantic way.

Finally, There Is No Alternative has written a good post about the perils of criticising A Song of Ice and Fire online. It was in response to an article by Laurie Penny on the series, but I've observed it happening several other times, and it always follows a similar pattern. As TINA writes,

Sadly, I have not yet seen any refutation of Laurie’s points which doesn’t itself indulge in the fundamental attribution error of considering her understanding “superficial”, rather than the brevity of her piece to require superficiality, or which doesn’t simply set up straw women to tilt at, claiming that Laurie wanted to watch “Sweden with wizards“, rather than maybe considering whether it might be possible to address those themes with just a little less triggering rape culture and normative violence. Pointing out that these things are still damaging of themselves is not the same as calling for censorship.

I say this as someone who actually reads and enjoys the ASoIaF books: nothing should be free of criticism. It's hard when people criticise your favourite things, because it feels like they are criticising you, personally. But saying that there is a lot of (gratuitous) rape in ASoIaF is not the same as accusing its fans of being rapists, and saying that when you take away the backstabbing and intrigue, the story is basically the standard swords-and-sorcery epic about the need for a just ruler is not the same as saying its fans are simplistic or conservative. ASoIaF fans need to stop reacting as if someone's taken away their favourite toys every time the series is criticised online.
dolorosa_12: (doctor horrible)
You get two memes today, mainly because I wasn't near a computer for most of yesterday. Aren't you lucky?

Day 12: Your thoughts or opinions about Harry Potter.
My feelings about the Harry Potter series are a complicated mixture of pride and disappointment. I loved the books, and enjoyed reading them, and I felt all the feelings I was presumably supposed to feel, crying, celebrating and growing up with the characters. At the same time, I feel disappointment because they are flawed books and they could've been better.

What I am most grateful for is the fact that for at least 10 years, there was a series of books that I could discuss, agonise over, analyse and whose story I could attempt to predict with my friends, and with my generation more widely. While most of my friends are readers, not all of them read as much or as often as I did, and the Potter books were a unifying force. And I feel a rush of curious pride when I think that my generation's Beatles was not a band but a series of fantasy novels.

Day 13: Your thoughts or opinions about Mean Girls.
I knew about Mean Girls before it was a film. It began its life as a sort of sociological self-help book called Queen Bees and Wannabes aimed at mothers of teenage daughters. The irony is that it was introduced to me by the mother of a friend of my sister. This mother breathlessly pushed the book on our family as a sort of Bible of the interactions of adolescent girls, a sure-fire way to avoid bullying. And her daughter had been bullying my sister for the past two years.

The film is pretty good, too.

the other days )

I'm not sure if you are aware of the minor YA literature kerfuffle that broke out last week when yet another ignorant idiot opined that adults shouldn't be reading YA literature. Kristin Cashore didn't engage, posting the blogging equivalent of 'burn!'

Foz Meadows carried on being awesome, noting a disturbing sexism in the original writer's article:

The bolding is mine; take note of it! Because rather than a critique of the content of YA novels, what this piece actually represents is the following assertion: that it’s fundamentally embarrassing for grown men to share any interests whatever with teenage girls. In fact, according to Joel, it is actually more embarrassing for a man to identify with a teen girl via the medium of literature than if he were publicly demeaning and sexualising her via the medium of pornography!

Ugh. She's also got a rather brilliant post about default narrative sexism in which she makes the point that there's an awful lot of sexism in fantasy novels, so much so that its existence is unremarkable. But curiously, there's sexism, but no sexists.

We are left with sexism as a background detail: one which is used to justify the plight or origins of particular female characters and the total absence of others, but which is never actually addressed. Which, in instances where the protagonist is male, or where the majority of the cast is male, leaves us instantly with a screaming, red-faced anachronism: where are the actual sexists? Why, if sexism in this society is so deep-seated, are the heroes so unusually enlightened? Here is why; I will tell you the secret. Because we are meant to like them. Funnily enough, most authors have cottoned on to the fact that writing openly sexist heroes is less heroic than it is disgusting; that it’s sort of difficult to hail Weapons McFighty, Trueking Noob and Roamer Nomadson as the exalted Lords of Awesome when they’ve spent the majority of the book acting like entitled jerks.

To which I say a resounding 'YES!'

Foz Meadows

Mar. 6th, 2012 09:15 pm
dolorosa_12: (epic internet)
Every so often, I'll come across a new blog that is so good, that lines up with my own tastes and beliefs and interests so perfectly that I'll scream its praises to the sky, fling links and quotes about with abandon and generally behave like an excitable toddler hyped up on sugar. 'This is what the internet should be like! It should be like this all the time! And now I'm going to READ ALL THE POSTS! INTERNET! FOREVER!' I shout excitedly when I encounter a blog like this.

Foz Meadows' blog is one such blog. I can't believe I didn't discover it sooner. Hers is one of those voices that has been floating around the same circles I frequent (SF/F and YA online literary communities and commentariat, social justice sites that focus on pop culture), and from time to time, someone I follow has linked to one of her posts. But I never sat down and read her blog (or her books) in any focused kind of way until today.

And what a treasure trove I was missing out on! Here she is on the problems with the current crop of YA dystopian novels:

It’s the Ferris wheel effect: a nostalgia for the present day rooted in being grateful for what we have, rather than in asking where we’re headed. It’s dystopia with the safeties on - and that is, to me, an alarming inversion of how the genre should work. I have nothing against stories being written purely for escapist purposes, but dystopia is not the ideal genre for it. Of course, as in all things, your mileage may vary, in which case you’re wholly entitled to disagree. Yet I’d ask that you ask yourself: what, exactly, is escapist about an uncritical dystopia? While critical protagonists set out to change society, allowing us the fantasy of being world-altering revolutionaries, uncritical protagonists remain wrapped up in themselves, dealing with immediate, personal obstacles rather than tackling their root causes. Such characters can still change the world, of course – or rather, be instrumental in its change – but the difference is one of intention: their rebellion stems from a desire to be left alone, not to combat injustice, and this difference shows in how the story treats them. They are kept safer than their critical counterparts – exposed to action and loss, rather than danger and consequence – because if something sufficiently bad were to happen or be realistically threatened, then their stories would no longer stand as purely escapist fictions: the audience would no longer want to share in their experiences.

To which I say, yes, and yes!

Like me, she's an Australian living in the UK (in fact, she's only a year younger than I am, and her time at Sydney Uni overlapped mine by at least two, and possibly three years, so I'm sure we knew people in common). Like me, she finds being IDed at UK supermarkets annoying.

She writes with eloquence about the frustrations of being a teenager, of not having your voice heard (and although I loved most of high school, her words resonate):

High school students of the world: you are not prisoners. You are not stupid. You have rights. You have opinions. You know what you feel. The rest of us have either forgotten or are in the process of forgetting, because where you are now? It’s about survival. Once you’re out of the jungle, you don’t go wading back in to fight the tigers and tame the lantana. But that’s why those things persist. You get out, and you’re safe, so you forget. You see the little tweaks and changes on the news, and you forget how bad it really was. You grow up. You start to doubt your teenage intelligence. You wonder if it was just because you were seventeen and an idiot that you hated your creepy geography teacher, the one who knocked the girls’ pens off their desks so he could peek down their shirts when they bent over to pick them up, or that you couldn’t find any practical or intellectual application for what you were asked to do, or that nobody would listen to you or had the power to do anything when you told them you were depressed or being bullied.

Her social justice awakening was almost identical to mine:

[W]hat I’m coming to realise is that being white and well-off is like living in a bubble, and that racism – and sexism, and homophobia, and all those other terrible creeds and isms – are like a raging river on which you float, unaffected. And if none of the river’s attendant perils threaten you personally – if you are not really interested in what goes on beneath your feet – then you will never notice the un-bubbled masses dashed against the rocks; or see the snares which threaten so many others; or worry about a shifting sandbank changing the course of the river; or spare a thought for those who drown, unable to fight the current. And even if you inflate your bubble with a spirit of kinship, love and charity, without that further awareness, you will be a lesser person than might otherwise be the case.

Her words about growing (up?) are taken from my mouth, where they lay heavy like stones, and given an eloquence I couldn't possibly manage:

Nobody ever grows up. We just grow. But our language, which betrays so much of culture, suggests otherwise: hierarchies are linear, top to bottom: growing up means growing better. Nobody grows down. And yet up connotes even more than that. It makes us think of a fixed destination when there is none; it makes us want to not only cast off who we were, but disparage it as unnecessary, as though the very notion of ever being someone else is embarrassing, taboo; as though that prior person were utterly unrelated to every single subsequent incarnation.

Hello, new internet hero! Where the hell have you been all my life?

ETA: We also both used to write for the ABC Book Show's blog. Can't believe I didn't remember that!
dolorosa_12: (sokka)
After a while fearing I'd lost my blogging mojo, I'm back (and better than ever?). I've got a post over on Wordpress about the wonderful, wonderful dystopian YA novels written in Australia in the 90s.

After I wrote it, I realised that tomorrow (today in Australia) is Australia Invasion Day, so let's pretend I wrote that post to be entirely thematically relevant. Or something.
dolorosa_12: (travis)
A friend of mine once summed up the complaints of those people who rant about 'political correctness gone mad' as basically translating to 'I resent the fact that you are calling me out when I say mean things', which seems a pretty good definition to me.

[livejournal.com profile] sarahtales seems to agree. Asked anonymously whether she only includes non-white characters out of a (mistaken) anxiety about 'political correctness', she responded:

I dislike the term ‘politically correct’ because I so often hear it used with a sneer, and because the word ‘politically’ is so unnecessary. What’s wrong with just ‘correct’? As in, it is correct not to be sexist, it is correct not to be racist, it is correct to treat everyone with common decency. See? Works perfectly well.

It’s not a case of ‘everyone is weirdly adding people of colour’ now… it’s a case of ‘everyone was weirdly excluding people of colour’ back then. People of colour EXIST: not having them in fiction IS WEIRD. Imagining stories entirely without them IS WEIRD—why would you want to do it?

You bring up Merlin having a black Guinevere. Well, black people existed in medieval times, so why shouldn’t they be in fictional representations of medieval times?

Leaving aside the fact that ‘medieval Camelot’ isn’t set in medieval times—it’s set in a fantasy world with elements of medieval times and other much more modern stuff, and also… what am I thinking of… oh yes… MAGIC AND DRAGONS.

But clearly… Guinevere is the last straw! Dragons, sure, but black people, you go too far!


I love her to bits.
dolorosa_12: (flight of the conchords)
Those of you who don't normally follow online discussions of YA literature may not be aware that yet another debate about the value (or lack thereof) of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series has been raging for the past few days or so. I was going to write my own response, but I realised that to do so adequately, I would have to write about my own attitudes as a teenager towards sex, in horrific and embarrassing detail. Ultimately, I feel uncomfortable doing that. Suffice it to say that in spite of a comprehensive (harm minimization-based) sex education during my teenage years, a mother who was open about such matters and answered my questions frankly, and access to the best in 90s teen advice columns (ie, I read Dolly and Girlfriend religiously), those attitudes were extraordinarily messed up.

I'm going to leave it there, as far as my own experiences go, and instead link to five posts which I've encountered recently. While not all are about Twilight specifically, the things they discuss are all connected.

YA author [livejournal.com profile] blackholly kicked things off with a post in which she argued that the criticism of Twilight fails to recognise a very valid reading of Meyer's series: namely, that if you interpret it through the lens of kink (that is, Bella has a submission and masochism kink), it ceases to become such a problematic narrative.

It's okay to be a feminist and fantasize about being tied up and whipped. It's okay to fantasize about being in love with an ancient and deadly monster who, perfectly or imperfectly, loves you back. It's okay to fantasize that you're a deadly assassin, slipping through an ancient city. And it's okay to fantasize about even weirder and darker stuff than that.

I'm not completely convinced by this reading, but I agree it's a valid one, and Black's post is something that needed to be said. I'd encourage you to read the comments, as they add a lot to her points.

Next off the mark was [livejournal.com profile] sarahtales, another YA author, who sadly seems to have abandoned LJ for the bright lights and big city of Tumblr. Her post takes Holly Black's feminist perspective and expands on it.

But ladies should be allowed to be into weird business, and nobody should shame them. Being like ‘I am SO MUCH MORE WORRIED about ladies being into Edward Cullen than anything dudes might like’ does carry a bit of a savour of a Victorian papa, who is like, the young ladies must be protected from the world, their brains are too feeble, they will wander into SIN, they can’t even help themselves, they will dump buckets of glitter on ROGUES and go to town on them, they have no sense at all!

And then someone linked to Kit Whitfield's post about Twilight, Flowers in the Attic and Wuthering Heights. Whitfield, in my mind, gets right to the heart of the matter:

[G]iven that both Twilight and Flowers In The Attic are books aimed at the young adult, the blend of innocence and experience has a definite edge to it. Both feel like books addressed to a virginal state of mind - which is obviously not the same as a chaste state of mind: a state of mind whose experience of ordinary sexuality is too limited for it exert much gravitational pull, and to which wild transgressions seem all the more natural because there's no first-hand knowledge of the mainstream sexuality the books are transgressing. Sexuality in these books is so innocent, it doesn't know how far from innocence it strays.

(I'd recommend reading Whitfield's earlier post 'Misremembering the Brontës', as it represents an earlier stage in her thinking on these matters.)

It was almost serendipitous that I happened to follow a link one of my friends posted on Facebook to this New York Times article, 'Teaching Good Sex' by Laurie Abraham, which is about a sex-ed programme at a Philadelphia school which emphasises, along with the usual stuff about contraception and consent, the actual emotional and physical feelings associated with sex.

Nobody wants to talk to teenagers about these things. Partly this is just because it's awkward, and partly it's because the backlash from doing so would be too great, but as I read the article, I began to realise that this is the kind of education all teenagers need.

You may not see the connection between this and Twilight, besides the fact that both are about sex, but when I post my final link, I hope my thought process becomes clear.

It's from Libby Anne, a survivor of the Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy movement in the US, and it's about how that movement's panicky attitudes to sex had extremely harmful reverberations that affected her ability to function sexually after she got married.

When I first started dating the young man who was to become my husband, I didn't have any sexual feelings toward him. No sexual fantasies. No sexual desires. None. When I told him this, he became concerned, very concerned. He insisted that this wasn't normal, but I had no way to know, nothing to measure it against.

After a few months, I did start having sexual fantasies. But they were all fantasies of non-consensual sex. Why? Because on some intuitive level that made them safer, less taboo, and less sinful. After all, in these fantasies, I didn't have a choice. I didn't have sexual agency. I wasn't choosing to have sex. I wasn't active. It wasn't that I wanted to fantasize about non-consensual sex; rather, as a result of the purity culture and my suppression of my sexuality, this was the only kind of sex I could fantasize about.


Believe me, I am not trying to kink-shame here - from the glass house of my adolescence, I'm in no position to throw stones (and if I have screwed up in this regard, please tell me). All I am saying is that I see a very clear connection between Twilight, and the story it tells, the lack of sex-education classes like the one discussed in the NYT article, and Libby Anne's experience of an adolescence spent suppressing all sexual impulses. Texts are not written in a vacuum, stories do not resonate with an entire generation for no reason, and when something is as popular as Twilight, we need to think about why that may be.

ETA: My boyfriend pointed out this article by Anne Billson in The Guardian, which seems to be drawing on some of the points raised by the bloggers I linked to before.

Twilight caters to the sexual fantasies of teenage girls. I'm not saying in a good way, but at least it caters to them, and there's not a lot else at the cinema that does.
dolorosa_12: (flight of the conchords)
Those of you who don't normally follow online discussions of YA literature may not be aware that yet another debate about the value (or lack thereof) of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series has been raging for the past few days or so. I was going to write my own response, but I realised that to do so adequately, I would have to write about my own attitudes as a teenager towards sex, in horrific and embarrassing detail. Ultimately, I feel uncomfortable doing that. Suffice it to say that in spite of a comprehensive (harm minimization-based) sex education during my teenage years, a mother who was open about such matters and answered my questions frankly, and access to the best in 90s teen advice columns (ie, I read Dolly and Girlfriend religiously), those attitudes were extraordinarily messed up.

I'm going to leave it there, as far as my own experiences go, and instead link to five posts which I've encountered recently. While not all are about Twilight specifically, the things they discuss are all connected.

YA author [livejournal.com profile] blackholly kicked things off with a post in which she argued that the criticism of Twilight fails to recognise a very valid reading of Meyer's series: namely, that if you interpret it through the lens of kink (that is, Bella has a submission and masochism kink), it ceases to become such a problematic narrative.

It's okay to be a feminist and fantasize about being tied up and whipped. It's okay to fantasize about being in love with an ancient and deadly monster who, perfectly or imperfectly, loves you back. It's okay to fantasize that you're a deadly assassin, slipping through an ancient city. And it's okay to fantasize about even weirder and darker stuff than that.

I'm not completely convinced by this reading, but I agree it's a valid one, and Black's post is something that needed to be said. I'd encourage you to read the comments, as they add a lot to her points.

Next off the mark was [livejournal.com profile] sarahtales, another YA author, who sadly seems to have abandoned LJ for the bright lights and big city of Tumblr. Her post takes Holly Black's feminist perspective and expands on it.

But ladies should be allowed to be into weird business, and nobody should shame them. Being like ‘I am SO MUCH MORE WORRIED about ladies being into Edward Cullen than anything dudes might like’ does carry a bit of a savour of a Victorian papa, who is like, the young ladies must be protected from the world, their brains are too feeble, they will wander into SIN, they can’t even help themselves, they will dump buckets of glitter on ROGUES and go to town on them, they have no sense at all!

And then someone linked to Kit Whitfield's post about Twilight, Flowers in the Attic and Wuthering Heights. Whitfield, in my mind, gets right to the heart of the matter:

[G]iven that both Twilight and Flowers In The Attic are books aimed at the young adult, the blend of innocence and experience has a definite edge to it. Both feel like books addressed to a virginal state of mind - which is obviously not the same as a chaste state of mind: a state of mind whose experience of ordinary sexuality is too limited for it exert much gravitational pull, and to which wild transgressions seem all the more natural because there's no first-hand knowledge of the mainstream sexuality the books are transgressing. Sexuality in these books is so innocent, it doesn't know how far from innocence it strays.

(I'd recommend reading Whitfield's earlier post 'Misremembering the Brontës', as it represents an earlier stage in her thinking on these matters.)

It was almost serendipitous that I happened to follow a link one of my friends posted on Facebook to this New York Times article, 'Teaching Good Sex' by Laurie Abraham, which is about a sex-ed programme at a Philadelphia school which emphasises, along with the usual stuff about contraception and consent, the actual emotional and physical feelings associated with sex.

Nobody wants to talk to teenagers about these things. Partly this is just because it's awkward, and partly it's because the backlash from doing so would be too great, but as I read the article, I began to realise that this is the kind of education all teenagers need.

You may not see the connection between this and Twilight, besides the fact that both are about sex, but when I post my final link, I hope my thought process becomes clear.

It's from Libby Anne, a survivor of the Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy movement in the US, and it's about how that movement's panicky attitudes to sex had extremely harmful reverberations that affected her ability to function sexually after she got married.

When I first started dating the young man who was to become my husband, I didn't have any sexual feelings toward him. No sexual fantasies. No sexual desires. None. When I told him this, he became concerned, very concerned. He insisted that this wasn't normal, but I had no way to know, nothing to measure it against.

After a few months, I did start having sexual fantasies. But they were all fantasies of non-consensual sex. Why? Because on some intuitive level that made them safer, less taboo, and less sinful. After all, in these fantasies, I didn't have a choice. I didn't have sexual agency. I wasn't choosing to have sex. I wasn't active. It wasn't that I wanted to fantasize about non-consensual sex; rather, as a result of the purity culture and my suppression of my sexuality, this was the only kind of sex I could fantasize about.


Believe me, I am not trying to kink-shame here - from the glass house of my adolescence, I'm in no position to throw stones (and if I have screwed up in this regard, please tell me). All I am saying is that I see a very clear connection between Twilight, and the story it tells, the lack of sex-education classes like the one discussed in the NYT article, and Libby Anne's experience of an adolescence spent suppressing all sexual impulses. Texts are not written in a vacuum, stories do not resonate with an entire generation for no reason, and when something is as popular as Twilight, we need to think about why that may be.

ETA: My boyfriend pointed out this article by Anne Billson in The Guardian, which seems to be drawing on some of the points raised by the bloggers I linked to before.

Twilight caters to the sexual fantasies of teenage girls. I'm not saying in a good way, but at least it caters to them, and there's not a lot else at the cinema that does.
dolorosa_12: (Default)
This is an old post, but it's become sadly relevant again because publishers still Aren't Getting It. If you read one thing in relation to the #YesGayYA debate, read this post by [livejournal.com profile] seanan_mcguire.

“Books do not determine a person’s sexual orientation. I was not somehow destined to be straight, and led astray by Annie On My Mind and the Valdemar books. I was born with universal wiring. I have had boyfriends and I have had girlfriends and I have had both at the same time, and none of that—NONE OF THAT—is because I read a book where a girl was in love with a girl and I decided that being bisexual would be a fun way to kill a weekend.

But those books did tell me I didn’t have to hate myself, and they did tell me that there was nothing wrong with me, and they did make it easier on everyone involved, because here was something I could hand to Mom and go “See? It’s not just me, and it’s not the end of the world, and it’s not the only thing that defines me.” Supposedly, ten percent of people are gay or bi with a tropism toward their own gender. It stands to reason that there should be positive non-hetero relationships in at least ten percent of YA literature. And they’re not there. And things like this are why."


I'm straight, and when I was growing up the only books I encountered with LGBTQ characters were 'issues books', you know, where the character struggled with coming out. The first book I can remember with a LGBTQ character who just existed as part of the story was The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman, which has Balthamos and Baruch, a pair of gay rebel angels. There were gay and lesbian characters on some of the TV shows I watched, but it was the mid-to-late-90s, and things should be better now. I know it's not all about me, but I think this is relevant to everyone. Representation matters. It matters to straight kids like me because we need to see that the world isn't made up entirely of people like us. And it matters to LGBTQ kids because they need to see people like them being brave, being heroic, being clever and kind and compassionate and complex. They need to see themselves as part of the story.
dolorosa_12: (Default)
This is an old post, but it's become sadly relevant again because publishers still Aren't Getting It. If you read one thing in relation to the #YesGayYA debate, read this post by [livejournal.com profile] seanan_mcguire.

“Books do not determine a person’s sexual orientation. I was not somehow destined to be straight, and led astray by Annie On My Mind and the Valdemar books. I was born with universal wiring. I have had boyfriends and I have had girlfriends and I have had both at the same time, and none of that—NONE OF THAT—is because I read a book where a girl was in love with a girl and I decided that being bisexual would be a fun way to kill a weekend.

But those books did tell me I didn’t have to hate myself, and they did tell me that there was nothing wrong with me, and they did make it easier on everyone involved, because here was something I could hand to Mom and go “See? It’s not just me, and it’s not the end of the world, and it’s not the only thing that defines me.” Supposedly, ten percent of people are gay or bi with a tropism toward their own gender. It stands to reason that there should be positive non-hetero relationships in at least ten percent of YA literature. And they’re not there. And things like this are why."


I'm straight, and when I was growing up the only books I encountered with LGBTQ characters were 'issues books', you know, where the character struggled with coming out. The first book I can remember with a LGBTQ character who just existed as part of the story was The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman, which has Balthamos and Baruch, a pair of gay rebel angels. There were gay and lesbian characters on some of the TV shows I watched, but it was the mid-to-late-90s, and things should be better now. I know it's not all about me, but I think this is relevant to everyone. Representation matters. It matters to straight kids like me because we need to see that the world isn't made up entirely of people like us. And it matters to LGBTQ kids because they need to see people like them being brave, being heroic, being clever and kind and compassionate and complex. They need to see themselves as part of the story.
dolorosa_12: (una)
I've been neglecting LJ a bit due to the sheer lifeyness of my life for the past month or so. However, I've returned in true Ronni fashion with a bunch of links for you.

First up are the first two posts on my blog about life in Germany.

I also rediscovered the wonderful blog Myths Retold. For a taster, try It was awesome being a poet in ancient Ireland and Ilmatar likes to dive headfirst into shitstorms. The language on these posts (and throughout the blog) is NSFW. Also, that last post kind of makes me want to read the Kalevala...

I really like this post on The Mary Sue in defence of geek culture.

Speaking of geek culture, Smart Pop Books is running a series of posts about The Vampire Diaries (which starts again tonight, woo!). I really like this post by Vera Nazarian about vampires and obsession.

That's it for now. I don't have the energy to engage with the Say Yes to Gay YA situation, but there are lots of good links floating around on Twitter if you search through the #YesGayYA hashtag.
dolorosa_12: (una)
I've been neglecting LJ a bit due to the sheer lifeyness of my life for the past month or so. However, I've returned in true Ronni fashion with a bunch of links for you.

First up are the first two posts on my blog about life in Germany.

I also rediscovered the wonderful blog Myths Retold. For a taster, try It was awesome being a poet in ancient Ireland and Ilmatar likes to dive headfirst into shitstorms. The language on these posts (and throughout the blog) is NSFW. Also, that last post kind of makes me want to read the Kalevala...

I really like this post on The Mary Sue in defence of geek culture.

Speaking of geek culture, Smart Pop Books is running a series of posts about The Vampire Diaries (which starts again tonight, woo!). I really like this post by Vera Nazarian about vampires and obsession.

That's it for now. I don't have the energy to engage with the Say Yes to Gay YA situation, but there are lots of good links floating around on Twitter if you search through the #YesGayYA hashtag.

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