dolorosa_12: by ginnystar on lj (robin marian)
Thirty Day Book Meme Day 16: Can't believe more people haven't read

It seems as if there's a bit of a Kate Elliott theme emerging at the moment in my posts for this meme: my answer to today's question is another Kate Elliott series, her Crossroads. I've always thought Elliott was a criminally overlooked epic fantasy writer (she's an absolute genius at worldbuilding, giving a great deal of thought not only to epic fantasy staples of kingdoms, armies and royal intrigue, but also to how societies would feed and supply themselves, how households and marriages would work, and what invasion and societal collapse would look like on the ground), but even among those who have read her books, this series almost never comes up in discussion.

It is, on the surface, fairly standard epic fantasy fare: an exiled prince, banished from his homeland and inheritance under threat of death, builds up an army and rides to the rescue of a kingdom in collapse, women with few options make political marriages, people ride giant eagles. However, where it differs is in its subversion of these well-worn tropes. Instead of portraying its dispossessed man as the saviour of the world — or a kingdom — and thus its rightful ruler, what Elliott is doing is showing how monstrous and dictatorial that would look like from the ground. Because she spends the first two books in the series showing the delicate work her heroine, Mai, undertakes as the wife of a mercenary leader who has moved into a country in collapse — forging alliances through diplomacy, trade, and marriages between local women and her husband's mercenaries — and because we view most of the story through Mai's eyes, we think her husband is entirely in accord, coming as a migrant, not a coloniser. The slow sense that something is wrong — culminating in a spectacular betrayal, both of Mai and of the reader's assumptions — is so cleverly and so intricately done, and, in my opinion, makes the Crossroads trilogy Elliott's best work. Sadly, I seem to be the only person who thinks that.

The other days )
dolorosa_12: (grimes janelle)
Thirty Day Book Meme Day 15: Favorite fictional father mother

I'm switching this to mother rather than father, because I honestly can't think of a book with a good father character — most of the books I've read have either terrible fathers, or they're dead. Good mothers are a bit easier to find (although a lot of them are dead in the fiction I read too). My favourite, however, is Kiya from Kate Elliott's Court of Fives — a story of the slow build to revolution of a colonised people against their colonisers (the setting is inspired by Ptolemaic Egypt). Kiya, a mother of four daughters at the start of the series (and mother to two more children by the end of it), is from the colonised people, and her husband (or rather, partner, as it's illegal for them to marry) is a soldier from the colonisers, and over the course of the series their relationship unravels as it becomes apparent that individual people's qualities and feelings are not enough to overcome deeply entrenched systematic and structural iniquities.

I'll add what I wrote about Kiya in my review of the final book:

But the character who meant the most to me was Jessamy’s brilliant mother Kiya, who was given a prominence and authority rarely seen in portrayals of mothers in YA literature. Kiya’s strength comes from her identity as a mother, and all the skills we later see her deploying are those she honed as a parent: care for others, the ability to juggle multiple tasks while also looking ahead to the near and distant future, a strong sense others and their needs and motives, and the ability to console and inspire. It is because of, and not in spite of, these strengths that she becomes the leader of the revolution sweeping Efua, and it was profoundly moving to me to see a character like Kiya honoured, lauded and respected in this way.

This is why she's my favourite.

The other days )
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: (emily hanna)
That title doesn't quite scan, but it will have to do.

Via Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, probably the best thing I've read all week: Nine Ways We Can Make Social Justice Movements Less Elitist and More Accessible, by Kai Cheng Thom. Really important stuff.

Read this essay by Sofia Samatar about being a black academic.

On a related note, Black Sci-fi Creators Assemble at Princeton and Imagine Better Worlds than This One, by Rasheedah Phillips.

Kari Sperring talks about justice, socialism, fantasy utopias, and Terry Pratchett.

Here's Alana Piper on the myth that 'women secretly hate each other'. Nothing throws me out of a story faster than female characters with no female friends, so this post was right up my alley.

Kate Elliott needs your help in a workshop on gender defaults in fantasy.

Shannon Hale writes about writing outside her culture. Note that at least one of the recommendations of books 'by Asian-American authors' is not by an Asian-American author, but rather, a Palestinian/Egyptian-Australian. It's still a good list.

Rochita Loenen-Ruiz interviews Zen Cho. I wait impatiently for my copy of Sorcerer To The Crown to arrive.

As always, the new posts at Ghostwords are a delight.

Two new reviews are up on Those Who Run With Wolves:

Vida Cruz reviews Of Sorrow and Such by Angela Slatter.

I review Space Hostages by Sophia McDougall.

It has been twenty years since two formative works of my teenage years, Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, and the film Hackers, were released. Here's an interview with the Hackers director.

The Toast remains amazing. Two of my favourite recent posts: Dirtbag Milton (I remember studying him in uni and being furious about how badly he treated his daughters), and How To Tell If You Are In a Lai of Marie de France.

I hope your weekends are glorious.
dolorosa_12: (teen wolf)
The linkpost is early this week, as I'm going to be absolutely flat out all afternoon, and then away on various workshops and conferences. Oh, the glamorous librarian life!

I'll start with a few reviews and posts about books I loved, or books I'm very much looking forward to reading:

A joint review of Space Hostages by Sophia McDougall, at Booksmugglers.

Amal El-Mohtar reviews Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho.

Zen Cho chats with Mahvesh Murad about the book.

She talks more about the book here.

Cindy Pon talks about her new book, Serpentine.

SFF in Conversation is one of my favourite columns at Booksmugglers. In it, various groups of writers sit down to discuss topics that are important to them. The most recent features Aliette de Bodard, Zen Cho, Kate Elliott, Cindy Pon, and Tade Thompson, and I highly recommend it.

This is the first part of a BBC radio programme about British folklore, monsters, and the landscape.

The reviews continue to pour in a Those Who Run With Wolves. Recent reviewers have been Leticia Lara, Athena Andreadis, and Aliette de Bodard.

Ghostwords has returned with a vengeance! The latest post sports a cornucopia of links, leading the reader off on an internet treasure hunt.

I very much appreciated this post on No Award about Indigenous (and other) seasonal calendars.

In case you missed it, I reviewed Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear, The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard, and The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine. I loved them all.

Men Wearing A Military Helmet and Nothing Else in Western Art History: The Toast is a gift.

I hope your weekends are filled with as much fun stuff and opportunities for learning as mine will be.
dolorosa_12: (emily hanna)
Slightly flippant title, wildly inaccurate characterisation of my reasons for doing these linkposts. Over here I am gearing up for a much needed long weekend, after one of those weeks that just seem to go on and on and on.

Kate Elliott wrote a great post on 'Diversity Panels: Where Next'. I would encourage you to read (most of) the links that follow, particularly the panel discussion at The Book Smugglers, which I included in a previous linkpost.

Some (unintentionally Australian-centric) Hugos follow-up posts:

Liz Barr of No Award livetweeted the Hugos.

Galactic Suburbia did a podcast discussing the results.

On a less awesome note (in the sense of this needing to be said at all), Sumana Harihareswara responded to the use of the Hare Krishna chant in the Hugos ceremony in an extraordinarily open-hearted and giving way.

A lot of people were sharing this (old) 'How to (Effectively) Show Support' by Dahlia Adler. This part particularly resonated with me:

There is a really big difference between being a person who only rages and a person who both rages and makes a real move for change. And maybe people don’t realize that. Maybe they don’t get how. But I’m tired of seeing raging with no support counterbalance, and I’m tired of people thinking raging is enough without backing it up in a meaningful way. I’m tired of people not realizing how limiting the effects are when all you do is talk about who and what is doing things wrong and not who and what is doing things right.

(Incidentally, I think the first person I saw sharing the post was Bogi Takács, who very effectively shows support with regular roundups of #diversepoems and #diversestories recommendations.)

Aliette de Bodard has set up a review website, designed to host reviews of 'books we love, with a focus on things by women, people of colour, and other marginalised people'.

Here's Sophia McDougall doing a podcast with Emma Newman. My poor, Romanitas-loving heart hurt when Sophia talked about one particular scene in Savage City involving the Pantheon. (I know at least one friend is currently reading the series for the first time, so it might be wise to avoid this podcast until you've finished - it's mildly spoilery.)

More on the invisibility of older women authors, this time from Tricia Sullivan.

Ana has gathered some great, library-related links at Things Mean A Lot.

'Breakthrough in the world's oldest undeciphered writing'.

Via [personal profile] umadoshi, these photos of the world's oldest trees are really amazing.

I hope you all have wonderful weekends.
dolorosa_12: (teen wolf)
*dusts off blog*

It's been a while. Have some links.

Sadly, the comments on this excellent essay by Judith Tarr about the invisible older women in SFF completely prove her point.

Kate Elliott talks about the historical inspirations and influences on her YA novel Court of Fives. There's a giveaway underway there too.

Tansy Rayner Roberts is starting a new series on 'SF Women of the Twentieth Century'. (A nice counterpoint to Tarr's article, perhaps.)

Athena Andreadis: 'Note to Alien Watchers: Octopuses are Marvelous, but Still Terrestrial'.

A Complete Oral History of Bring It On. Yes, really.

'What To Expect When You’re Expecting A Changeling: Forum Names On Message Boards For First-Time Mothers Of Changelings'. I love it.

I am resolutely avoiding the inevitable Hugos drama this weekend by spending the entire time on holiday and without internet access. I hope those of you who are in Spokane, or will be following the awards live online, are well fortified against Puppy-related nastiness.
dolorosa_12: (le guin)
Well, it's been a while.

Chinelo Onwualu talks race, speculative fiction, and Afro SF.

Sophia McDougall's new book Space Hostages is out! I have my copy ready to read on my upcoming holiday! There is a book trailer, tumblr post and author interview!

Rather than linking to individual stories and essays, I'd like to simply direct you all to the latest issue of Uncanny Magazine. I've thoroughly enjoyed everything in it so far, in particular E Lily Yu's short story and Natalie Luhrs' column.

Two tables of contents for what look to be excellent anthologies:

To Shape the Dark (ed. Athena Andreadis).

Apex Book of World SF 4 (ed. Mahvesh Murad)

Here are two great Storifies on dealing with rejection, from authors Nalo Hopkinson and Elizabeth Bear, Rachel Manija Brown, Aliette de Bodard, Tobias Buckell, John Chu, Shveta Thakrar, Beth Bernobich, Jeremiah Tolbert and others. Rochita Loenen-Ruiz made both Storifies.

Rochita Loenen-Ruiz has revamped her books blog. The first post is a guest post by editor Didi Chanoch, talking about a new press he's launching.

This is a great interview with Aliette de Bodard.

I really appreciated this column by Renay about gatekeeping, fannish history and the SF 'canon'.

I also appreciated this interview with Kate Elliott.

I also loved Athena Andreadis' thoughts on Mad Max: Fury Road.

More on Fury Road: No Award's guide to Australian slang. That blog is a national treasure.

I hope you are all feeling wonderful.
dolorosa_12: (what's left? me)
The links this week are a bit of a mixed bag, partly because I've been somewhat distracted, and as a result this post is a bit shorter than usual.

Tade Thompson made some important points about literature and diversity, storified by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz. I see Tade's thoughts as another part in the conversation I linked to last week.

Rochita Loenen-Ruiz had some further thoughts on the matter.

Zen Cho posted 'Ten Things I Believe About Writing'. There's also a great interview with her up at Kitaab:

I write stories as a way of answering questions.

Another post by Rochita talks about language, identity, and the process behind writing her latest published story, ' Bagi: Ada ti Istorya':

While thinking of language recovery, I found myself thinking too about what lies buried in language. What narratives had I chosen to erase when I chose to leave behind that language? What narratives could be pulled out of a text or a few lines or a word? What memory–what emotion would rise up from the use of a language that has lain dormant for so long.

More on language and storytelling: Samantha Shannon interviewed her Dutch translator, Janet Limonard.

I loved this new, bilingual Ghostwords post.

Kate Elliott had lots of thoughts about Mad Max: Fury Road, and Charles Tan storified them.

This review of Mad Max: Fury Road by Julianne Ross really resonated with me:

But where Fury Road really surprises is in its genuine respect for the five women Furiosa is trying to save. They are beautiful, generous and kind — deliberately feminine traits that have allowed them to survive as long as they have, and which the movie refuses to treat as a burden or incidental.

This Mad Max fanvid by [ profile] jocarthage is simply breathtaking.

Happy Friday, everyone!
dolorosa_12: (emily hanna)
I have so many links for you this week! My Twitter feed has been very generous in sharing its fabulous internet finds, and I've gathered the best of them to post here.

First up, have a couple of short stories. 'Translatio Corporis' by Kat Howard and 'The Monkey House' by Tade Thompson absolutely rocked my world. They're published in Uncanny Magazine and Omenana respectively.

I went on a massive Twitter rant about failures of imagination in historical fantasy novels set in medieval Britain and Ireland, so I found this post on 'Celtic fantasy' by Liz Bourke to be very welcome and timely.

Likewise this post by Kate Elliott on writing women characters touched on a lot of things that matter to me in storytelling.

Joanne Harris makes some good points about the economics of literary festivals.

This post by Renay is very perceptive on self-rejection, anthology-curation and the difficulties in amplifying the voices of others.

I found the conversation taking place at the #WritingNewZA hashtag on South African literature really interesting.

Tricia Sullivan writes about the pitfalls of being a mother who writes. (I would say that this potentially applies to primary caregivers of any gender, but there are particularly gendered elements of the problems she's outlining that lead me to think her emphasis on mothers specifically is correct in this instance.)

Here is a Storify of tweets by Aliette de Bodard about the fallacy of devoting your entire life to writing.

I grew up on Sara Douglass's books, and while they're far from perfect, she herself was a really important figure in the history of fantasy literature in Australia. Here, Australian fantasy author Fiona McIntosh remembers her.

I've found Abigail Nussbaum's recent Hugo recommendation posts useful. Here's the short fiction one, and here's the one on publishing and fan categories.

I want to see this film!

I'm thoroughly enjoying watching Ana discover the Dark Is Rising sequence over at The Book Smugglers.

This is a good summation of what made Parks and Recreation so great, over The Mary Sue.

Finally, have an Old English text about the wonders of books.

The sun is shining and the sky is clear here in Cambridge. It looks like this weekend is going to be excellent for me, and I hope it is the same for you.
dolorosa_12: (teen wolf)
It's Friday afternoon Saturday morning (and I'm mirroring this from my Wordpress blog), and that means it's high time for your weekly links. Most of these were gathered via Twitter, because I follow some fabulous people over there, and they keep finding and doing wonderful things.

A.C. Wise's monthly post for SF Signal on women to read in SFF is filled with some great recommendations. This post is part of a series, so if you want more recommendations, you'll be able to find them in the related posts links under the article.

Jim C. Hines is calling for guest posters to write on representation in SFF, so if you think you fit the criteria, you should definitely try and submit something. He's already run a previous series of posts on this subject, which were collected as an ebook, the sales of which have gone to support the Carl Brandon Society's Con or Bust programme. The call for guest posts runs until today, so get in now if you want to be included.

I'm really looking forward to Aliette de Bodard's new Xuya short story. She's posted an excerpt on her blog.

This post by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz about the struggles people face when trying to speak up (or even speak at all) is powerful and important.

Kate Elliott's short-story collection The Very Best of Kate Elliott is out on the 10th February. She's been blogging up a storm recently. I particularly appreciated her guest post at The Book Smugglers on self-rejection and the courage tosay yes.

Also from Kate Elliott, 'An Illustrated Love Letter to Smart Bitches and Trashy Books', which does exactly what it says on the tin. I'm not a regular reader of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books (which recently celebrated its tenth birthday), but I am a firm believer in unapoletically loving the things you love, and not shaming other people for their fannish choices, so this resonated with me a lot.

This guest post on Ladybusiness by forestofglory is full of great short-fiction recommendations that I will definitely be checking out.

Finally, I went on a bit of a Twitter spree about cultish behaviour and abuse dynamics in fandom. These tweets should be considered the preliminary stage of a more detailed post that I've been thinking about for a while. Charles Tan was kind enough to collect my tweets together on Storify.

Happy Friday, everyone! Enjoy Armenian teenager Vika Ogannesyan singing 'Plava Laguna' (the opera song from The Fifth Element).
dolorosa_12: by ginnystar on lj (robin marian)
Day Twenty-Eight: Favourite female writer (television, books, movies, etc.)

Kate Elliott

She's my favourite because her books are wonderful, her female characters are excellent, and she is empathetic and thoughtful about the wider context of her work. But above all, I love her for this:

Even in patriarchal societies of the past (and present!), women who might otherwise have been banned by custom or law from partaking in the public life of politics, power, learning, work and so on still had personalities. I can’t emphasize this enough. People–even women!–have personalities regardless of how much or how little political power they have. People can live a quiet life of daily work out of the public eye, and still have personalities. Really! They can still matter to those around them, they can matter to themselves, and they can influence events in orthogonal ways that any self respecting writer can easily dream up.

Furthermore, with a little careful study of history, one discovers that women found ways to accomplish plenty of “things” big and small, personal and political. Maybe they did it behind a screen, or around the corner, or in the back room or in a parlor, or ran the brewery they inherited from a deceased husband, but they did all kinds of stuff that was either never noticed or was elided from historical accounts. So much of our view of what women “did” in the past is mediated through accounts written by men who either didn’t see women or were so convinced (yes, I’m looking at you, Aristotle, but you are but one among many) that women were an inferior creature that what they wrote was not only biased but selectively blind. Even now, in “modern” day, so much is mediated by our assumptions about what “doing” means and by our prejudices and misconceptions about the past.

That's why I read, that's what I look for in my fiction, that's what I want in my female characters. Kate Elliott gets it.

The other days )
dolorosa_12: (teen wolf)
Day Eighteen: Favorite non-warrior female character

Mai (Crossroads series, Kate Elliott)

Today's question is an odd one, in that almost all the characters I like aren't warriors, so I decided to interpret it as 'favourite female character who is essentially the antithesis of a warrior'. I've written frequently about Mai on my various blogs, so I'll keep today's entry brief. Suffice it to say that Mai embodies several characteristics I tend to latch onto in fictional favourites.

We first encounter Mai as a merchant's daughter, living in a trade town that is occupied by a mercenary band led by the exiled noble, Captain Anji. As far as occupations go, it's fairly reasonable, in that the people are able to go about their daily lives without much intrusion and Mai's family is able to retain something of its privileged position under the new regime. Mai is a seasoned market trader, managing her family's stall and very good at persuading people to buy their products. She's also adroit at managing her rather difficult family and carving out a place of calm for herself among the more domineering and aggressive personalities of her relatives. Her talents lie in managing people, keeping a 'market face' on at all times, understanding the needs and desires of others and persuading them gently in a direction that is beneficial to her and hers without people perceiving that they are being manipulated. One thing Elliott does that I appreciate is that she emphasises that Mai's abilities in this area are a skill that she has learned, and that they are valued by those around her. Indeed, the mercurial Captain Anji decides to marry Mai because he wants to embark on a military campaign and recognises that Mai's skills are necessary to smooth his path with the people his mercenaries will conquer.

Once she's married to Anji, Mai does indeed put her skills to use forging ties with the local people by encouraging marriages between Anji's men and local women and helping to establish markets, trade routes and farms. In most cases, especially early on in the series, it's Mai's skills that are more necessary. The region into which Anji moves his army has been wracked by civil war and chaos for quite a while, and the people are quite happy to live under his rule, once Mai's diplomacy has been put to use showing them that they will be able to resume ordinary life, growing crops, building, making crafts and selling them. It's very rare in fantasy novels for talents like Mai's – what I normally term 'mercantile behaviour' — to be presented in a favourable light, and I've always loved the fact that Elliott made them heroic and highlighted their significance.

The other days )
dolorosa_12: (teen wolf)
So, this happened:

 photo ScreenShot2014-09-11at93511PM_zps8e2198b4.png

I'm not one of those people who turns into an awestruck, quivering heap whenever one of their most admired authors speaks to them, and in any case, I've spoken to Kate Elliott quite a few times before on Twitter or in blog comments (including in comments on one of my reviews of this very series), and she's always been very friendly. However, it is pleasing when an author's understanding of her work lines up with my own.

This recent Twitter conversation was sparked off by a great conversation I was having with [personal profile] renay over on [community profile] ladybusiness, where she and Jodie had posted their joint review of Spirit Gate, the first book in the Crossroads series. It always makes me very happy to see people discussing this series, as to my mind, it's Elliott's best, and is often neglected by reviewers in favour of her other work (all of which is also fantastic, but didn't speak to me in quite the same way).

This recent flurry of Crossroads discussion has prompted me to post links to my two reviews of the series, which were written quite a while ago, but may spark more discussion. Here's the review of Spirit Gate and Shadow Gate, which is fairly light on spoilers.

[I]t reflects a more accurate understanding of how mercantile societies operated, and how such societies might’ve reacted to conflict and war. Mai is a fabulous character, principled yet pragmatic, outwardly restrained but gifted at speaking persuasively when the need arises. It’s been a long time since I’ve met a character in a fantasy novel who appealed to me so much, and it’s been an even longer time since I’ve read a fantasy novel where all elements of the imagined society rang so true.

Here is the (more spoiler-heavy) review of the final book, Traitor's Gate. I would not advise reading it unless you've finished the series.

Cut for spoilers )

I'd love to hear the thoughts of anyone who's finished the series.
dolorosa_12: (sokka)
So, I wrote a review of Mars Evacuees by [ profile] sophiamcdougall. And then this happened...

 photo ScreenShot2014-03-30at123206PM_zps883c9c7b.png

So, my review convinced one of my favourite authors to read a book by another of my favourites. My work here is done!

In all seriousness, I would urge you to give Mars Evacuees a try. It's a children's science fiction novel, and the best way I can think to describe it is 'like Pacific Rim, but if the main characters were twelve-year-old girls [and there were many more female characters]'. It shares Pacific Rim's best qualities: optimism, an emphasis on kindness, compromise and empathy in the face of destruction, and a representative, global cast of characters. It's also really, really funny.

This weekend has been quite busy. Our friends L and C came up on Friday night. Both of them used to live in Cambridge, but they now live in Exeter, where L has a job as a university lecturer. They were visiting because C had her MA ceremony. The Cambridge (and Oxford) MA is a bit of a weird tradition. It's not awarded for completing any course, but rather given as an honorary degree to everyone who has a Cambridge BA degree a certain number of years after they've completed their studies. So, Matthias, who did his undergrad at Cambridge, has a Cambridge MA, but I, who did my undergrad in Australia, will never be eligible for one. In any case, C accidentally had too many tickets to the ceremony, so Matthias and I tagged along with her husband L and her mother and sister. We spent the afternoon after the ceremony catching up with various people, and ended up having a pub dinner.

This afternoon we'll probably all go walking out to Grantchester, which is a small village just outside Cambridge. It's an absolutely glorious day - 20 degrees, and with enough sunshine to actually cause sunburn. The others are all out having breakfast, but I needed a little break from people before going back to socialising. So I'm just sitting here with the internet, the Daysleepers and a cup of coffee, thinking that life is pretty much fabulous.
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 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 [ 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 [ 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.
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One thing guaranteed to make my hackles rise is the argument that because women didn't 'do anything important' or 'didn't contribute much, historically', before modernity, they can be left out of narratives taking place in, or inspired by, pre-modernity. By whose measure are we judging the activities of pre-modern women? Tansy Raynor Roberts expresses exactly what's wrong with such attitudes:

History is not a long series of centuries in which men did all the interesting/important things and women stayed home and twiddled their thumbs in between pushing out babies, making soup and dying in childbirth.

History is actually a long series of centuries of men writing down what they thought was important and interesting, and FORGETTING TO WRITE ABOUT WOMEN. It’s also a long series of centuries of women’s work and women’s writing being actively denigrated by men. Writings were destroyed, contributions were downplayed, and women were actively oppressed against, absolutely.

But the forgetting part is vitally important. Most historians and other writers of what we now consider “primary sources” simply didn’t think about women and their contribution to society. They took it for granted, except when that contribution or its lack directly affected men.

This ties in with something [profile] kateeliliott was saying about the fact that Cat, the protagonist in her Spiritwalker trilogy, is proficient at both swordplay and sewing, but when she finds herself stranded with nothing more than the clothes on her back, it's the sewing that saves her:

In book two, Cold Fire, Cat is thrown out into the wide world alone and far afield from the place she grew up. Basically, she finds herself with the clothes on her back and her sword as her only possessions. It would have been easy for me at this point to focus on Cat’s sword-craft.

Being confident with a sword is a useful competency for a young woman unexpectedly out on her own in an insecure and often dangerous world. Her ability to use the sword could become the most important and most visible of her skills as she continues her adventures.

But I did not want to imply that the skills most important to her ability to adapt to her new circumstances were solely or chiefly the skills that have long been culturally identified as “masculine,” such as fencing (fighting). I wanted to depict skills identified (in American society but by no means in all societies) as “feminine” as equally important to her survival.

Why? Because as a society we often tend to value the “masculine” over the “feminine.” “Masculine” is public and strong, “feminine” is private and (often) sexual, and frequently “feminine” concerns are defined as trivial and unimportant. Such definitions are cultural constructs, as is the relative value assigned to various skills and experiences.

Elliott tends to emphasise this concept in her writing. In her previous series, Crossroads, the main characters, married couple Anji and Mai, arrive with all their followers in a new land, and wish to settle. They are welcomed in partly because of Anji's military skills and large band of mercenaries (because the new land is at war), but it is Mai's skills, bargaining, barter and diplomacy, learnt at her family's fruit stall in the marketplace, for which they are really valued, and which save them time and time again. Elliott is committed to redressing an imbalance and writing traditionally 'feminine' skills as heroic, and it's one of the reasons she's one of my favourite authors.

This ties in with another interest of mine - the desire for survival, compromise and accommodation to be viewed as powerful and brave, as well as active rebellion and resistance and uncompromising, principled morality. Because sometimes, when you are dispossessed, survival and bargaining are all you've got - and they are powerful. (This is one reason why I was uncomfortable with the way the debate about the recent Lincoln film was being framed - as an either/or distinction between principled, uncompromising resistance and compromised negotiation. Of course the situation being debated was very different to what I'm discussing here - all the characters discussed were powerful, privileged men - but it was too black and white for my liking.)

Which brings me to my current reading material, Signs and Wonders by Marina Warner. And she says, of her novel Indigo (set in the colonial Caribbean and reframing The Tempest to give voice to the female characters),

Serafine (the Sycorax character) teaches my Miranda how to pass, how to survive, how not to attract attention and punishment. On the one hand, a storyteller will mould listeners to conform, but on the other hand she will try to open up possibilities by calling the rules into question. The relationship between Serafine and Miranda operates in this doubled way: Serafine is a captive of the colonial world, and there is no other way she could be - in those times, at the beginning of the twentieth century - but at the same time her stories open up alternatives for Miranda. So Miranda is brought up by Serafine to resist, even though the surface messages of the stories she tells her are conformist; covertly, Miranda learns otherwise.

This is exactly what I've been trying to get at. Heroism has many faces, and power is expressed in many different ways. We would do well to make room for this multiplicity.
dolorosa_12: (Default)
My brain sometimes takes weird turns. Last week, Matthias and I went to London to see Robyn in concert (which was amazing) and it got me thinking about her music. Its power lies, I think, in taking the words that are used against the powerless and dispossessed and using them as weapons or armour. Her lyrics are so sharp they could cut you, but you kind of don't notice it until some time later. Anyway, what with the Robyn lyrics and the fact that my PhD thesis is basically about dispossession and the creation of history and identity and the realisation that, like everyone, I have certain literary tropes that are like catnip to me (in my case, motley families that are made, not necessarily born, taking their power back) I have come to the conclusion that I am all about the dispossession.

With that in mind, I decided to compile a (provisional) list of texts (that I love) with this trope. That is, stories about the dispossessed finding strength in their dispossession and reclaiming the power that was always theirs. I emphatically do not mean 'dispossessed' people using the tools of their oppressors to save the world - Campbellian heroes have no place here. If you're the rightful king, and you defeat the evil, false king and replace him, you're not really dispossessed, even if you grew up on an isolated farm. A benign monarchy is still a monarchy.

Was my Una icon ever more appropriate? )

What about you? Do you have texts that fit with this trope that you could recommend? Or do you have your own particular tropes which you want to read/watch again and again and again? Inquiring minds want to know.
dolorosa_12: (ship)
I've written a review of Traitors' Gate, the third book in Kate Elliott's Crossroads series. It's very spoiler-heavy, so if you haven't read the book, I would advise you to do so as soon as possible! Because who doesn't love epic fantasy set in a world inflected by China, Persia, India, the Mongols and the Silk Road, where 'women's work' is made heroic, and which explores the nature of power?

What Elliott is actually doing in this series is interrogating the hackneyed old epic fantasy plot of ‘dispossessed man saves world and is thus its rightful ruler’. [...] She tells us the stories that people tell themselves to avoid seeing the truth of the powers that control their lives.
dolorosa_12: (flight of the conchords)
I've been blogging away on Wordpress and thought I'd give you all a few links.

First up, I wrote a (spoiler-heavy) review of [ profile] kateelliott's book Cold Magic on Geata Póeg na Déanainn. It's mostly about the similarities between that book at Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen.

A while ago I interviewed [ profile] sophiamcdougall. Part I is here. Part 2 is here. They're also pretty spoiler-heavy for her whole Romanitas trilogy.



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