dolorosa_12: (matilda)
One of the unfortunate side effects of having a depressive episode for most of March and early April is that my ongoing reading log sort of dropped off the radar. This is a shame, as I've read a lot of great books during that time.

I'm going to leave The True Queen by Zen Cho and Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan for later, longer reviews over on my reviews blog, as they were definitely the high points of my recent reading.

Other than those, I read a little bit of short fiction - 'Old Media' by Annalee Newitz (featuring characters from her book Autonomous trying to navigate relationships and consent in a world inhabited by robots and indentured people; meandering and character-driven, but a bit lacking in substance), 'Rag and Bone' by Priya Sharma (creepy horror story set in an alternate nineteenth-century Liverpool where the rich can use the poor for body parts), and 'Miranda in Milan' by Katharine Duckett (what happens to Miranda when she leaves the island after the events of The Tempest; The Tempest is my favourite Shakespeare play, so I was very much looking forward to this, and I was not disappointed). The first two works are free to read on Tor.com, while the second is a novella, and not free.

In terms of novels, my library holds on The Wicked King by Holly Black and Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor finally came through. Taylor is very hit and miss with me. I think she writes fabulous, atmospheric settings, but her writing style usually doesn't work for me, and I think her stories generally lack in substance. I mean, her usual theme is that kindness, imagination and love will save the world, which is unobjectionable, but, as I say, I usually feel that all her effort goes into setting and the general feel of intricate weird quirkiness, and this was definitely my impression from Muse of Nightmares. On the other hand, I adored The Wicked King. Holly Black is a very iddy, indulgent writer, and thankfully her id and mine tend to align. I love what she's doing in this newest iteration of her fairyland setting — she plunders the best bits of European folklore about the otherworld, emphasising in particular the lore that fairies can't tell lies. I love that her fairy characters regard human beings and their ability to lie with fear and horror, and how truth, lies, and circumlocution (and all the other tricks that beings who can only speak the truth employ to avoid speaking truths they don't want spoken) become weaponised. The plot gallops on at a mile a minute, and the twist at the end was fantastic. I'm very much looking forward to the final book in the trilogy.

Sadly, the final book I've read in this recent burst of reading, Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear, was a big disappointment. I've enjoyed Bear's books set in her Karen Memory universe, and particularly appreciated how character-driven they were, so I had expected her space opera to take a similar approach. Instead I found flat characters, lots of engineering/physics info-dumping, and a story that felt like a trial to read. It picked up a bit after the first twenty per cent or so, but convinced me that I am best sticking to Elizabeth Bear's steampunk, unfortunately.

Which recently read books have you enjoyed?
dolorosa_12: (matilda)
Thirty Day Book Meme Day 19: Still can't stop talking about it

I mean, most of the things I'm fannish about are books, and most of those books are old! In the case of some of my most beloved fandoms of the heart, I've been thinking and talking about those books for close to twenty-five years, and show no signs of stopping. I posted a not completely exhaustive list at the last friending meme I ran:

I'm both extremely multifannish, but extremely loyal to the fandoms in which I'm invested. Most of my fandoms are small, Yuletide-eligible book fandoms: Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials and Sally Lockhart Mysteries books, The Pagan Chronicles series by Catherine Jinks, Galax Arena and the Space Demons trilogy by Gillian Rubinstein, pretty much everything Victor Kelleher has ever written, the Bone Season series by Samantha Shannon, the Romanitas trilogy by Sophia McDougall, the books of Kate Elliott, Leigh Bardugo's Six of Crows duology, Maggie Stiefvater's Raven Cycle, S. A. Chakraborty's Daevabad series, Katherine Arden's Winternight trilogy, The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton, Naomi Novik's Spinning Silver and Uprooted, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and a whole lot of mythology, folk tales and fairytales.


Talk to me about any of those books, and I'll keep talking!

The other days )
dolorosa_12: (emily hanna)
Thirty Day Book Meme Day 10: Reminds me of someone I love

Most of the books I own remind me of someone I love, either because they were gifts from my mother (and I sort of feel that my love of reading was indirectly a gift from her, because she read aloud to me so much when I was a child, and encouraged me to be a reader), or from my husband, or I bought them on the recommendation of someone I love.

However, what I will go with today is The Girls in the Velvet Frame by Adele Geras. I mentioned this book in passing on an earlier day of the meme, but didn't go into much detail. It's the story of a family consisting of a widowed mother and her five daughters (ranging in age from thirteen to three), living in genteel poverty in Jerusalem in around 1918. There's also a flamboyant, outrageous unmarried aunt (whose stories of her misspent youth travelling around Europe both entrance and outrage her conservative Jewish relatives), and various neighbours in their block of flats who also feature as almost de facto family members; over the course of the book Rifka, the oldest daughter, begins working in a bakery and starts courting the young son of family friends, as part of a tentative future arranged marriage. Hovering just outside the pages is the missing oldest child of the family — the only son, who emigrated to New York seeking a better life, and who has essentially dropped off the map. He hasn't written, he hasn't sent money as promised, and it's a great source of worry and grief to his mother and sisters. The search for Isaac (the brother), is a subplot that meanders through the novel, involving the velvet framed photograph of the title, the community effort of Jewish migrants to New York, and the persistence and ingenuity of the five sisters. But the book's true focus is on the incidental stories of everyday life — sneaking out to feeding the neighbours' rabbits, tables laid with Eastern European cakes and tea, keeping up appearances in the face of poverty, snacking on sugared almonds at their aunt Mimi's house — and it is beautiful because of it.

Why it reminds me of someone I love — when I am neither Jewish, living in the early twentieth centuries, nor having ever experienced that kind of poverty — is its emphasis on the relationships between mothers, daughters, sisters and aunts (men are almost incidental, plot devices rather than characters, which is honestly often what my childhood felt like), and its insistence in putting the stories of women and girls front and centre. My mother isn't very like the mother in the story (although one of my aunts is quite like the aunt, something I recognised even when I first read the book as a seven-year-old), and I grew up with one younger sister, not four (although in adulthood I did end up with four younger sisters — the youngest three were born to my stepmother when I was seventeen, twenty-two, and twenty-nine respectively). But the book has always reminded me of my family, and the family dynamic of my maternal relatives — supportive to the point of bossy interference, in and out of each other's houses without warning or invitation, but happiest in each other's company in spite of everything. It was the first book I read that prioritised the kinds of relationships that were important to me when I was growing up, and showed that stories often treated as marginal, boring, or unimportant were worth being told.

The other days )
dolorosa_12: (matilda)
I came across this book meme a while ago, and had been waiting until I had a clear month or so to complete it. It looks like it will be a lot of fun, so feel free to steal it and do the meme yourself if you'd like.

Day one is a tough one: favourite book from childhood.

Now, depending on how old I was when you asked me this question, the answer would change quite a bit. I am a fairly loyal reader, and even in childhood I tended to have long stretches of time where a particular book was my favourite — and these can roughly be set out as follows:

Books behind the cut )

As I said before, I can talk about favourite childhood books forever, and would love to hear about yours, or discuss any of my favourites, in the comments.

The other days )
dolorosa_12: (newspaper)
First up, nominations have now opened for [community profile] waybackexchange, so if you're thinking of participating, you have until 20th February to get your nominations in. I've already used up all my nomination slots, but if anyone has any free, please do drop me a comment here (or a DM) as I have at least one other fandom I'd love to get nominated.

[personal profile] ladytharen has created a great new comm for Leigh Bardugo's Six of Crows duology, so if you're interested, please do think about joining!


Join Here!
| Community Profile


This week's books )

This week's TV )

Other weekend stuff )
dolorosa_12: (mucha moet)
Three of the books I was most anticipating for 2019 were published in three consecutive weeks in January, so I've been having a fantastic time reading this month! All of them were utterly fabulous, and exactly what I hoped for — so they're going to be a hard act to follow. The books are The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden (the final book in her Winternight Trilogy, historical fantasy that weaves mythology with the events of fourteenth-century Russia), The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty (the second book in her Daevabad Trilogy, a series about the political tensions in a djinn kingdom from the point of view of a girl who began her life as a scammer in the streets of Cairo during the Napoleonic wars), and The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi (the first in a series of heist novels whose characters live in a magical version of Belle Époque Paris and essentially steal back the antiquities looted by colonial powers).

I reviewed all three books over on my reviews blog, and as always would love to talk with you about them in the comments either here or there.
dolorosa_12: by ginnystar on lj (robin marian)
It's been snowing in much of the UK this weekend, although not in Cambridge. However, it has been freezing here — witness the frost as I walked in to the market this morning. I've just returned from a walk to and from Grantchester, and although it was around 2pm when I was out, much of the frost on the ground has not thawed at all.

Other than walking around in frosty landscapes, I've spent a lot of the weekend out — on Friday night Matthias and I went out to one of our favourite wine shops/bars for a few drinks and food truck dinner, and on Saturday it was my former academic department's annual black tie dinner. The number of current students/postdocs/lecturers I know in the department shrinks every year, but most of the time alumni come back for the dinner, so there's always a good handful of people I know to catch up with at the dinner.

My remaining spare time this weekend has been spent reading. As well as Roshani Chokshi's glorious The Gilded Wolves, which I finished on Friday and will probably review more extensively later, I devoured K.J. Charles's The Magpie Lord while lying in a pool of sunshine on the couch this morning. I know a lot of people in my circle are fans of Charles (if my Goodreads feed is anything to go by), and enough people whose reading tastes I trust seemed to have read some or all of her work, so I thought I'd give it a try. It was a sweet, undemanding m/m romance novel, a great blend of mystery, historical fiction and fantasy, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It felt to me as if it could be an interlude within the universe of Susannah Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell — the way magic worked felt similar, as did the scaffolding of myth and folklore, although it lacked the literary-ness (and playful re- and deconstruction of the conventions of nineteenth-century novels). And it was just restful to read about fundamentally good and decent people being generous and brave, you know? As a bonus, the ebook also included a short story, 'Interlude with Tattoos', set in the same world, which temporarily fed my hunger for this series — although I suspect I will be buying the next two books in the series as soon as I've finished this blog post!

Other books I've read recently include Katherine Arden's The Winter of the Witch, which again I plan to review more extensively later, The Mermaids in the Basement by Marina Warner (a short story collection in the vein of Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber, in which biblical tales, stories from Greek myth and so on are given a second-wave feminist twist), and The Prince of Darkness, the fourth in Sharon K. Penman's Justin de Quincy stories (historical mysteries in which the protagonist is a private detective of sorts working for Eleanor of Aquitaine). Both these latter two books had been on my 'to read' list for a very long time, so I'm glad to have finally read them.

What has everyone else been reading this week?
dolorosa_12: (le guin)
'I think,' Tehanu said in her soft, strange voice, 'that when I die, I can breathe back the breath that made me live. I can give back to the world all that I didn't do. All that I might have been and couldn't be. All the choices I didn't make. All the things I lost and spent and wasted. I can give them back to the world. To the lives that haven't been lived yet. That will be my gift back to the world that gave me the life I did live, the love I loved, the breath I breathed.' - Ursula K. Le Guin, The Other Wind


For a writer who was so preoccupied with the interplay of life and death, with mortality and living, and whose works did so much to make me confront death's finality, I was surprised by how hard Ursula Le Guin's death hit me. There was something ageless and eternal about her, and she seemed to pop up everywhere, generous with her words and thoughts and wisdom.

Her books are part of the fabric of me.

Above all things, she wrote about migration and exile, and she wrote about ordinary, ceaseless, everyday work (particularly 'women's work') in a way that imbued it with a kind of power and magic, and she wrote about the ways women and our work are both seen, and not seen. I remember in particular reading The Tombs of Atuan, Tehanu, and, later, The Other Wind as a teenage girl and young woman and coming to understand the terrible things I would carry, being a woman in this world. Those stories showed me this frightening, inescapable truth, but helped me face it. In some ways I feel that her writing helped me understand how to be a woman.

My Twitter profile has always said that I am located in 'Selidor'.

I remember reading an obituary of Terry Pratchett that described him as 'both wise and kind', and the same was true of Le Guin. She was kind -- her writing was kind -- without ever being sentimental; it was a kindness that illuminated and educated and pushed you out of your complacency. Not a word was out of place, and her words resonated like stones dropped in clear, still water. And every word served a purpose: striving, illuminating, witnessing without flinching. Doing the work.

And now she is 'done with doing', but the words and work remain.
dolorosa_12: (teen wolf)
I don't usually do Reading Wednesday, but while flailing at [personal profile] naye on Twitter about The Will to Battle, the third in Ada Palmer's Terra Ignota series, I realised I had thoughts about the book, and wanted to discuss them with others in a more permanent, longform location.

So, anyway, scattered, spoilery thoughts ahead! Don't expect a coherent review or plot summary - these are just a few bullet points of things that really stood out to me.

Into the light at the end of the world )

Anyway, feel free to jump into the comments and discuss anything you want about this book. [personal profile] naye and [personal profile] merit, I know you've both read it, and I'd love to hear your thoughts!
dolorosa_12: (emily hanna)
I went straight back to work on Tuesday, and was thrown straight into it: a lot of teaching, a lot of students back and studying, and a period of downtime as we switch from one library management system to another. This latter meant that we had access to neither the old system nor the new, but were still expected to issue, return and renew books, and register new users -- quite hard to do when you can't access the required program, but we found workarounds.

This weekend has been slightly busier than I would have liked, given the work week I had (and given how busy January is shaping up to be), but I still found time to snatch a bit of reading. I'm just over one hundred pages into The Will to Battle, the third in Ada Palmer's extraordinary Terra Ignota series, and I'm as awed by this third book as I was by the first and second. My husband sent me a link to great article by Palmer about her use of social science (as opposed to 'hard' sciences) in her science fiction, and it's reminded me all over again how intricate and clever her books are. [personal profile] naye, you might be interested in reading the article; it's here if anyone wants to read it.

Two of my four sisters (Kitty and Nell, sisters #2 and #3) are about midway through a trip around Europe with their grandparents (for new readers of my Dreamwidth, the reason I say their and not our grandparents is that my three youngest sisters only share a father, not a mother, with me and my other younger sister -- and thus only one set of grandparents; these are their maternal grandparents). This past week they were in London, and I organised for the four of them to take the train up to Cambridge and visit me and Matthias. I hadn't seen these sisters since 2015, and although we stay vaguely in touch via social media, they are quite young (Kitty is fifteen, and Nell ten), and it's been harder to stay a part of their lives than it has been with relatives and friends who are adults. In any case, I showed them and their grandparents around Cambridge, and we all had lunch together, and it was easy to pick up where I left off. I was struck once again by what wonderful people the two girls are: so thoughtful and clever and kind. Obviously I'm a bit biased -- I think all my sisters are amazing -- but my heart sang to see what good people they were.

Other than reading and hanging out with my family, it's mostly been a weekend of cooking and chores. I've got this slow-cooked pork recipe roasting away in the oven, and it's filling the whole house with the smell of apple, redcurrant and rosemary.

How have everyone else's first weekends of 2018 been?
dolorosa_12: (flight of the conchords)
Today I have made a start on a second Yuletide treat, read three-quarters of a book, cooked dinner for the next three nights, and walked out to Grantchester to clear my head. It's been a good weekend: a nice pause after a rather hectic couple of weeks. For various reasons I've been feeling a bit down, so it's good to remind myself of all the nice things that have happened.

  • The new Philip Pullman book was published. I was super nervous about reading it, but my fears were unfounded. You can read my thoughts over at Bridge to the Stars, my first online home, where my review is posted.

  • Matthias and I went to the opening night of Thirsty's wintergarten (part Christmas market, part beer garden, part rotating cohort of food trucks).

  • I also managed to see Thor: Ragnarok, and was absolutely delighted that it lived up to the hype. Thor is my favourite Avenger in the MCU, Taika Waititi is one of my favourite directors, so I had high hopes. The film was absolutely glorious: a lurid, hilarious, cheerful extravaganza that somehow managed to also say serious things about colonialism, family, indigeneity and exile, with a few little nods to antipodean pop culture, as well as Maori and Indigenous Australian culture and politics.

  • Matthias and I went to London, where we ate German food for lunch, Georgian food for dinner, and saw the British Musuem's exhibition on the Scythians.

  • I had my last day on secondment. While I enjoyed learning new skills and working a bit closer to home for two days a week, I was relieved to get back to my regular routine, and the secondment confirmed that my regular job is pretty much the ideal work for me.

  • Matthias and I saw The Death of Stalin with four of our friends. It was bleakly, darkly funny (although I'm not sure I'd recommend it to anyone who lived any part of their life in the USSR or other communist countries in Eastern Europe), brilliantly acted, and all the more disturbing because I knew that very little of it was exaggerated.

  • I was lucky enough to see Rebecca Solnit and Robert MacFarlane in conversation. Cambridge being Cambridge, I bumped into library colleagues from two different libraries, both of which Matthias and I have worked in, a friend I know from academia who now works for the Cambridge Literary Festival, and [personal profile] nymeth and her partner.

  • I finished off my main Yuletide assignment and one treat, the latter of which is a real departure from my usual type of fic and a challenge that I really enjoyed.


  • Now I'm just waiting for the various meals I've got simmmering away on the stove and in the oven to finish cooking. The last few hours of the weekend are going to be spent lounging about watching TV and finishing off the final quarter of my book, before getting an early night. I hope the rest of you have had equally enjoyable weekends.
    dolorosa_12: (emily hanna)
    I wrote this two days ago on my Wordpress reviewing blog, but I thought it was worth reposting here on Dreamwidth as well.

    Twenty years ago (or nineteen years, nine months, and about twenty days ago, if you want to get really technical), I was a restless thirteen-year-old, stuck inside during a rainy week on holiday down the south coast of New South Wales. It was the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve, which meant that I was carting around a massive haul of books, given to me for both my birthday and Christmas. I had read all my new books -- all except one, whose cover put me off. My younger sister, fed up with me moping around the house complaining of 'nothing to read,' made the very sensible point that I hadn't read that book. 'I don't like books about animals,' I objected. She insisted. I am forever grateful that she did. Feeling resentful, I sat down to read Northern Lights (or, as my edition was called, The Golden Compass), the first in Philip Pullman's sweeping, expansive children's trilogy, His Dark Materials. I was hooked from the first page, inhaled the book in one sitting, and, once I'd finished it, opened it up at the beginning and reread it without pause. I reread the book four times over the course of that one-week holiday.

    It's hard to describe what it felt like, to read that story as a thirteen-year-old. I was already a voracious reader, and I had already encountered many beloved stories, books I would reread incessantly, or borrow repeatedly from the local library. There were already books I felt fannish about, and whose characters I identified with and drew courage from. But this was different. It was like being seen for the first time. It was as if ideas, beliefs and fears I had long felt but was not yet able to articulate had been given voice and shape on the page. As a teenager, my many rereads of Northern Lights (and, after impatient waits of one year and three years, respectively, for its follow-ups The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass) helped guide both my reading tastes, and my burgeoning sense of political awareness. My love of the series got me a paid newspaper reviewing gig at the age of sixteen, and I continued to freelance as a reviewer for various Australian broadsheets for ten years after that.

    Ten years ago (or, if you want to get technical, ten years, nine months, and a couple of days ago), I was in a bad place. I had returned to my hometown after graduating university, and although I had a good job and a lot of family support, I was desperately unhappy, and felt isolated and directionless. All my friends seemed to have adjusted to adult life in a way that I was incapable of, and I felt left behind. In a fit of desperation I — who mistrusted the internet and who barely went online except to check email — typed 'His Dark Materials fansite' into Google. I found something that saved me. 2007 was not a good year, but it was made infinitely more bearable by the incredible collection of people — most of whom lived on the other side of the world — who hung out in the forums of that site. Most of them had been there for years, and were all talked out about His Dark Materials, so instead they analysed other books, shared music tips, or just vented about their daily lives. Although by their standards I was a latecomer, they welcomed me with open arms. For a long time, the only thing that got me through the day was the prospect of hanging out in the IRC chat room they'd set up — the international composition of this group of fans (plus the fact that most of them were students or otherwise kept odd hours) meant that someone was always around at all hours. This was my first foray into online fandom, and I made friends for life. Meeting the sraffies — as we called ourselves — was like coming home. Being with them was, like reading the books that had brought us all together, like being seen for the first time. I was able to relax and be myself and feel safe in a way that I hadn't really anywhere since becoming an adult. Ten years have passed since then, and the group of us have gone through so many things together. We've graduated from university, changed jobs and careers, had books and academic articles published, moved cities, emigrated, fallen in and out of love (in some cases, with each other), mourned deaths, and supported each other through whatever life threw at us. We travel specifically to meet up with each other, and if work, study, or holidays bring us by chance to each others' cities, we make a point to hang out. One of the friends I met through His Dark Materials was even a bridesmaid at my wedding.

    I recently did a reread of the trilogy, wanting to refresh my memory before reading Pullman's much anticipated foray back into the world of His Dark Materials. I was anxious that it wouldn't affect me as it had when I was younger, that I would pick up on flaws, that its emotional notes would leave me unmoved. I shouldn't have worried. Reading Pullman's words again, returning to that world, was like falling into water. Like the best and most meaningful of stories, it gave me something different, as it had done with each reread, and reading it as a thirty-two-year-old woman was different to reading it as a thirteen-year-old girl, or when I was in my twenties. But, like Lyra relearning to read the alethiometer as an adult after losing the unconscious ease with which she read it as a child, it was a deeper, richer experience — not better, not worse, just different. In the years since I first opened Northern Lights and read those resonant first words, Lyra and her dæmon, I've finished high school. I've graduated three times from two different universities, with an Honours degree, MPhil, and doctorate. I've changed careers three times. I've emigrated, lived in two new countries, acquired a new citizenship, learnt two new languages (as well as many dead languages), presented at conferences, been published academically in two very different fields, fallen in love, had my heart broken, and fallen in love again. In those years, I found my home, and I found myself again. In other words, I've done exactly what His Dark Materials urges: live, as much as I can, feel, as much as I can bear, and learn, as much as I am able. On Thursday, I will collect my preordered copy of La Belle Sauvage, the first of Pullman's prequel trilogy that will return readers to the world of His Dark Materials. I will sit down and read it in a desperate, yearning rush. I wonder what the twenty years that follow will bring. I know that having read this new book — and those that follow — will help me cope with whatever those next years throw at me.
    dolorosa_12: (Default)
    A lot of people have been sharing Yoon Ha Lee's post, 'The problem with problematic'. In it, [personal profile] yhlee responds to criticism levelled at Ada Palmer's Terra Ignota series (the first book of which is up for a Hugo this year) by trans and/or nonbinary readers — criticism which has had the effect of removing a lot of nuance from responses to the series. Worse, as [personal profile] yhlee writes, this criticism has had the effect of erasing trans readers such as himself from the discussion altogether:

    All this just to say--readers are so individual in their reactions that "never write something hurtful" is untenable.

    I think this is related to the going trend these days, which is to ask authors not to write works that are "problematic." But what do we really mean by that? Analysis of, say, racist or sexist elements in media is valuable, and we need more of it. But sometimes what I see is not that, but "don't write problematic works" in the sense of "don't write things that I consider hurtful."


    As I am neither trans nor nonbinary, I'm not going to dictate to trans/nonbinary people how they should respond to Palmer's books (which is not what [personal profile] yhlee is doing, either), except to say that I think [personal profile] yhlee is correct when he says that Palmer's future was a dystopia telling itself that it was a utopia, and that you cannot understand her novels unless you view them from this perspective.

    However, like [personal profile] yhlee, I think this response to the Terra Ignota books is a symptom of a wider problem. I saw similar discussion around queer representation in Seth Dickinson's The Traitor Baru Cormorant, with a number of LGBT reviewers repulsed by the tragic fate of the book's queer characters, and a small minority adoring the book and feeling like their queer identities were being called into question for doing so. Amal El-Mohtar was one of the latter group, and wrote a blog post along those lines:

    I’ve been watching conversations emerging — mostly on Twitter, mostly subtweeting, mostly in fits and starts — trying to categorize responses to the book according to some sort of ticky-box taxonomy of readers. I find this utterly repellent. Some people will suggest that only queer people have problems with the book, ergo it must write queer people’s lives poorly; others will counter with “well, Amal liked the book,” as if that could be the last word on the subject; still others will try to parse whether it’s my Brownness or my Queerness that has shaped my response, in pursuit of some sort of One True Response to the book.


    I've not read this book, and again, I have no intention of dictating people's responses to it, or telling them that they should read a story which they are going to find upsetting and hurtful. What I find troubling is the idea that people — particularly those of (multiple) marginalised identities — feeling they have to march in ideological lockstep and respond in identical ways to identical stories, especially if there's an implication that a divergent opinion calls their marginalised identity into question (or that they have to pick and choose between one or the other of their marginalisations, as if responding to a story in a certain way means they've prioritised their identity as a POC over their identity as an LGBT person).

    I have my own version of this regarding the rhetoric surrounding the 'proper' way to write women. For various reasons, partly because of my personal history, partly because of my lifelong narrative preferences, I respond much better — and will choose to read, watch or be fannish about — stories where the female characters are survivors of trauma, where their heroism has come at great cost, and where their powers are in spite of misogynistic pushback. I could list a thousand examples, but the first handful that spring to mind include the five Wives in Fury Road (victims of sexual violence), the clones in Orphan Black (who are quite literally viewed as patentable property without bodily autonomy), Jessica Jones in the Netflix TV series (a victim of sexual violence and mind-control), Laia from Sabaa Tahir's Ember in the Ashes series (who voluntarily allows herself to be enslaved in order to spy on her enemies, putting herself at constant risk of sexual and physical violence), Shahrzad from Renée Ahdieh's Wrath and the Dawn duology (a retelling of the 1001 Nights played fairly straight), Una from Sophia McDougall's Romanitas trilogy (an escaped slave with a traumatic history that's only hinted at, but which is fairly obvious if you read between the lines), Briseis and Chryseis from the Iliad (captured in war and victims of sexual violence) and Paige Mahoney from Samantha Shannon's Bone Season series, who begins the series in a very Stockholm Syndrome-y situation.

    I'm not saying these are the only depictions of female characters that I respond to — some of my favourite stories entirely lack this element! — but these tend to be the fictional characters that are closest to my heart, whose stories I draw on at times when I need courage, and inspire the bulk of my fannish feelings and output. What I don't respond to, and what is very low on my list of narrative priorities, are female characters who enter their stories already powerful, suffer no trauma, and wear their power joyfully and lightly.

    And yet I am constantly bombarded (at least in my corner of fandom) with categorical assertions that what female audiences want are untraumatised, joyful, uncomplicatedly happy female characters who revel in their power. This may be true for the vast majority of women and girls — as I said above, I have no intention of dictating others' storytelling preferences. But I'm told, in furious Tumblr post after furious Tumblr post, that the Whedonesque heroine — one who experiences her power as a kind of violation, and who fights at least in part as a response to trauma — is anathema, is unwanted, is hurtful to all female fans. But for me it is precisely this kind of character that gives me courage, because such characters tell me, over and over again, that I as a woman will survive, will be brave, will live on and find power in the support and community of other women, and that women with my experiences will get to be the protagonists of our own stories.

    Most of the responses to [personal profile] yhlee's post (outside of the comments on the post itself) seem to have been along the lines of well, this gives us lots to chew on without really engaging in the points made. My feeling is that we'll never progress beyond this point unless people are prepared to talk about the broad spectrum of reactions to stories, and allow for this range of reactions without trying to police people's identities. I have it somewhat easy. I'm not exactly starved for narratives of my chosen type: the world abounds with stories of traumatised women taking back power for themselves, although of course some stories do it better than others. When it comes to depictions of more marginalised identities, the dearth of representation is much starker. This is precisely why the solution to bad or limited representation is not to enforce a uniform response to this representation, but rather to do everything in our power to encourage and enable more representation. (This obviously means significant structural changes to publishing, film- and television-making, and a huge amount of work in amplifying marginalised voices and making creative fields less hostile to creators of marginalised identities.) I believe enforcing a party line when it comes to people of marginalised identities responding to fictional marginalised characters is deeply harmful. I also believe that the cure for this problem is as many stories as possible, so that everyone is spoiled for choice when searching for stories that speak to them.
    dolorosa_12: (le guin)
    This has been my tradition since 2007, and I've found it to be a good way to take stock and pause for reflection in the moment as one year slips into the next.

    Questions and answers behind the cut )

    Happy 2017, everyone.
    dolorosa_12: (Default)
    I am about to write up my annual 'year in review' post, but because this year has been A Lot, I had some things to say that weren't going to be covered by a Q-and-A-style meme about favourite songs and best new TV shows of 2016. I'm always very contemplative at this time of year, and over the past few days I've been thinking a lot about stories.

    I haven't really felt genuinely happy since June 24th this year. However, I managed to struggle on for a few months after the EU referendum result by telling myself, pretty much every day, 'I can live with the Leave vote, as long as Hillary Clinton wins the US election in November.' Well, we all know how that went. I didn't sleep much for the whole month of November, and the activities of daily life, of planning for the future, seemed utterly futile. What was the point of the next cohort of NHS doctors knowing how to search databases, or of healthcare researchers managing their data or conducting a systematic review properly? What was the point of planning a wedding, or growing a garden, or meeting up with friends, or cleaning the house? I remember very little of November, just this kind of dampening fog of despair, interspersed with flashes of fear and worry about how to help distant friends.

    And then I went to the cinema, and watched Rogue One. It's not a perfect movie — it's not even a perfect Star Wars movie — but it is the story of a ragtag found family of misfits, finding courage in each other, choosing to fight against incredible odds and an overwhelmingly technologically and numerically superior enemy. More importantly to me, it's about people making a choice in the face of utter hopelessness and despair, and the knowledge that they are unlikely to live to see the results of their actions, to save the world for others, when they know they will not be able to save it for themselves.

    This brought me back to myself, not because I believe I would be one to emulate those characters' actions — I've never been tested in this way, but I am pretty certain I do not have that kind of moral courage — but because it reminded me of the comfort and consolation and power of stories, and of the stories that I carry around with me like a kind of personal canon.

    And then I remembered the five wives of Fury Road, a quintet of traumatised and violated women, making common cause, fighting back against oppression and exploitation and a misogynistic death cult, asserting 'We are not things' as they build a better world.

    I remembered the clones of Orphan Black, women supporting other women as they reclaimed control over their own lives and choices and bodies. I remembered Jessica Jones, another abused, exploited woman, bringing herself out of the pit of despair by protecting and saving other people.

    I remembered the characters of Station Eleven choosing, in a blighted, postapocalyptic world, to create libraries, make music, and become a band of travelling players performing Shakespeare, because 'survival is insufficient.' I remembered the children of Space Demons giving up the gun and dreaming of a world of peace and plenty.

    I remembered Pagan Kidrouk, Isidore Orbus, and Babylonne Kidrouk learning, loving, and living fiercely, carving out spaces of tolerance, pluralism and integrity in a world slowing crushing such spaces in favour of extremism and ideological uniformity. I remembered the characters of The Lions of Al-Rassan doing the same.

    I remembered Noviana Una, organising a rebellion against an oppressive empire from within a twenty-first-century Library of Alexandria, and leading a mob of the dispossessed, abused women and traumatised military conscripts, to confront a violent, misogynistic, abusive, all powerful ruler. And above all, I remembered the story that started everything, that has taught and given me so much, and was the first one that ever told me, 'Tell them stories. They need the truth you must tell them true stories, and everything will be well, just tell them stories.'

    Your stories will be different to mine. They may not be in books and films and TV shows. They may not be fictional. They may not be stories at all. Whatever they are, I hope you find them, and find strength and comfort and courage in them. We are going to need all those things in the coming year, and we must draw on what we can to get them. Happy 2017, everyone. Love, hope, and stories to you all.
    dolorosa_12: (matilda)
    Today's topic is from [personal profile] geckoholic: talk about my favourite author or authors. For a bookworm like me, this is an impossible topic to narrow down - I have so many favourite authors, most of whom I like for a wide variety of reasons. I've limited myself here to just a handful.

    If you asked me to name just one author as my favourite, I probably automatically say Philip Pullman. This isn't necessarily because I think he is the best author in the world, but because he is the author who (unintentionally) has written the books that have given me the most. Oh, I have always loved his turns of phrase, the page-turning intensity of his plots, and his vivid characters, and the themes of his books have spoken to me for close to two decades now, but my love for him goes beyond that. When I read Northern Lights for the first time, it was like a resounding thunderclap, as if I had been given words to explain something I'd never been able to articulate, as if my (twelve-year-old's) worldview had been condensed and distilled into a single novel. And, as the years went by, Philip Pullman's writing gave me a career as a reviewer, my first introduction to online fannish communities, and a vast, international gang of friends who have been there for me through some of the best and some of the worst times of my life.

    I adore the writing of Kate Elliott because she writes epic fantasy with an eye, not to 'historical accuracy', but rather to how her imagined worlds function at every level - from the highest branches of the aristocracy to the artisans, farmers and merchants who keep things running. She is one of the rare epic fantasy writers who thinks both on a broad scale (the sweep of politics and history, the repercussions of a small event over a large period of time) and on a smaller, intimate level (the ripples of trauma and repeated mistakes within communities, families, couples). Her worlds feel lived-in in a way that I often feel is missing in more well-known, popular epic fantasy. She's the sort of writer who thinks about how characters pay for their possessions, what sorts of trade sustain large empires and small communities within them, what sort of family structures are common to particular societies - and how much scope is there for her individual characters to push back against various societal constraints. She's also responsible for one of my favourite characters of all time, Mai.

    Mai is slightly edged out as my favourite fictional character by two other authors' creations. The first is Noviana Una, from Sophia McDougall's Romanitas trilogy. McDougall is another of my favourite writers, not just because of Una, but because she writes about revolutions in a way that makes my heart sing. Her stories resonate with me, because, at their heart, they are about the dispossessed: escaped slaves, abused women, people marginalised by ethnicity or sexuality finding common cause, realising that they outnumber their oppressors, and, quietly, carefully, on their own terms, making revolution. That the revolution is run out of a never-destroyed Library of Alexandria by Una, an escaped-slave-turned-library-assistant is just the icing on the cake.

    Given we're on the topic of dystopias (the world Romanitas is most definitely a dystopia, even if the series is marketed as alternate history), I'll also mention two of my other favourite writers of dystopias: Victor Kelleher and Gillian Rubinstein. These two are Australian writers whose dystopian works were popular during my childhood in the '90s. I've been singing the praises of this genre for a really long time, and it's hard to describe why I think it's so excellent in just a few words. I think I keep returning to these works because they reward rereads (and I have definitely reread them at least a hundred times - not an exaggeration), and they speak to a particularly Australian understanding of postapocalyptic living, to a readership who already has an uneasy relationship with a hostile land and is carrying very specific colonial baggage.

    A couple of authors who I appreciate specifically for their beautiful use of language: Ursula Le Guin and Emily St. John Mandel. It's not that these writers aren't telling incredible stories and exploring really complicated ideas: they are. It's just that their words resonate, but in a quiet way, like a stone dropped in still water. I love Le Guin's Earthsea books, particularly the later ones, which I feel helped me understand myself as a woman. I really love what they have to say about the power and magic of ordinary, everyday work - the kind of work that is endless, unacknowledged and unappreciated, but absolutely essential (Monica Furlong is another author who has a lot to say about this particular topic). Neither Le Guin nor St. John Mandel is a comforting writer, but I find myself returning to their books again and again to give myself a sense of hope.

    I would be remiss to leave this post without at least mentioning Catherine Jinks, who showed me that you could write powerful, meaningful, thoughtful work that is aimed at teenage readers, upends conventional, popular understanding of historical events, and is utterly hilarious. Jinks also gave me Pagan Kidrouk, my favourite fictional character of all time, someone whose stories I've been reading for more than twenty years, and which are the first books I reach for as comfort reading.

    I could go on and on and on here, but I'll stop at this point before things get ridiculous. I think it's fairly clear that I like different authors for different reasons, but it's hard for something to be my favourite unless it provokes a great intensity of emotion - and sustains this intensity of emotion over repeated rereads, over a period of many years. While I can appreciate the craft of writing in an abstract way, I need to be made to feel things, intensely, and think things, intensely, for the writing to make any kind of impression beyond the time spent reading it.

    I'm still taking requests for this meme. You can do so here on Dreamwidth or here on Livejournal.
    dolorosa_12: (matilda)
    I'm not sure I'm going to be able to manage it every week, but I'm going to attempt to post regular reading logs whenever I can. I tend to agonise too much about whether what I want to post about is worthy of blogging, and I'm trying to get out of that mindset. With that in mind, have my first Reading Wednesday of 2016.

    Novels

    Uprooted by Naomi Novik was something I'd been intending to read for a while, but I have to admit that it was Foz Meadows' extremely negative (and spoilery) review that bumped it up into a higher level of priority. What can I say? The id wants what it wants.

    I loved the folkloric, fairytale quality of the book, coupled with its emotional intensity. And the idea of a malevolent, sentient forest was absolutely fantastic, and very cleverly realised. To my mind, European fairytales and folktales exist in this kind of nebulous, indeterminate, almost universal forest that spreads and covers the whole of their known landscape, a space in which the rules of the real world don't apply and operates under strange, inhuman rules of its own. (I think of it as the world's forest.) The idea to make this resonant, unstable forest space a living, conscious entity was inspired.

    I only wish that Uprooted was going to be the first in a series, but I guess that would detract from the fairytale finality of its ending. In any case, we'll always have fanfic.

    Short stories

    I read and really enjoyed 'Good Girls' by Isabel Yap, which adds fantastical elements to a story of friendship and coming of age - and coming to terms with the monstrous. The mythology of the Philippines underpins this story, the latest I've read by Isabel Yap, who is fast becoming one of my favourite short fiction writers.

    Non-fiction

    I read a lot of blogs, online essays and commentary pieces - far too many to link here. Instead, I'll link you to two pieces which share an emphasis on writing as construction, on the ways their respective authors go about building their fictional worlds.

    The first is Writing and Music Composition by Yoon Ha Lee. The second is The Map As Theory by Kate Elliott.

    What have you all been reading this week?
    dolorosa_12: (emily hanna)
    This week has been absolutely excellent for people saying brilliant, eloquent, important things.

    To journey is to be human. To migrate is to be human. Human migration forged the world. Human migration will forge the future, writes Ishtiyak Shukri in 'Losing London'. This was the post of the week for me, and affected me deeply.

    We already have the table of contents, but now we have the cover of Athena Andreadis's To Shape The Dark anthology, illustrated beautifully by Eleni Tsami.

    I really loved this interview of Aliette de Bodard by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz: I’ve come to realize that “appealing to everybody” is a codeword for bland, unobjectionable stuff; or at the very least for something that doesn’t challenge the reader; and, just as I like to be challenged when I read, I would in turn like to do that to my readers!

    Speaking of Aliette de Bodard's writing, she's put 'In Morningstar's Shadow', the prequel short story to The House of Shattered Wings, up online for free. I read it last weekend and loved it.

    I liked this essay by Marianne de Pierres on Australian myths in contemporary SF, but I've been worrying away at some of its conclusions for reasons I can't quite articulate. Certainly I appreciate the recognition of Australian writing's emphasis on the dystopian and post-apocalyptic, but I worry about her characterisation of the Australian landscape as universally barren, inhospitable and predatory. Let's just say it is not so to all inhabitants of Australia, and is not represented as such in the stories of all Australians, although it is a really significant theme in Australian literature.

    Sophie Masson wrote on authors in a changing publishing landscape. I smiled a little ruefully at this quote:

    When my last adult novel, Forest of Dreams, came out in 2001, I was commissioned to write a piece for a newspaper on the historical background of the novel (a paid piece), and reviews of the book appeared in several print publications, despite its being genre fiction. When The Koldun Code, also genre fiction, came out in 2014, I had to write several guest posts for blogs, do interviews for online publications (all unpaid) and reviews only appeared online.

    I did not review this book, but I did interview Masson and review several of her YA works for print publications, where I was paid for my work. Now I retweet links to her articles and review things exclusively online for free. Oh, how times have changed!

    Authors who are parents have been posting about the experience. There are too many posts to include here, but you can find links to all of them at the #ParentingCreating hashtag.

    The latest of Kari Sperring's 'Matrilines' columns, on Evangeline Walton, is up. I've been finding these columns both illuminating - in terms of introducing me to many authors whose work sounds right up my alley - and disheartening, in that almost all of them were entirely new to me, instead of well-known figures in the SF canon.

    I found this post by Samantha Shannon on judging a literary award to be a very interesting read.

    In a departure from these posts' usual content, I have a music recommendation: CHVRCHES' new album Every Open Eye. It stops my heart, in the best possible way.
    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.

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