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Posts Tagged ‘Feminism’

I’ve done a guest post for Professor Beej’s Anti-Twilight Week over on his blog, Professor Beej – Blurring the Line Between Pop Culture and Academics. It’s about some of the main problems I have with the Twilight series, and why I don’t think it’s appropriate reading for anybody of any age, but especially not adolescents already dealing with so much confusion in their lives. Head over to the post to read the full article.

Don’t Touch That Book! or Why Twilight is Not for Girls

You can also check out my original review for the first Twilight Book. I was less than impressed.

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Speculative Fiction is Still for Children

I don’t remember the first Speculative Fiction story I read. There are so many possible contenders; I literally cannot pinpoint which one got to me first. I read Anne McCaffrey, Brian Jacques, Tanith Lee, Bruce Coville, Philip Pullman, Piers Anthony, Madeleine L’Engle and many more, all before I got out of elementary school. In middle school, I discovered Tamora Pierce, Simon R. Green, Douglass Adams and Lloyd Alexander. In high school, it was Tanya Huff, Mercedes Lackey, Orson Scott Card, Robin McKinley, Elizabeth Moon, and Garth Nix. I was heavily into fantasy back then. It wasn’t until college that I really started to read science fiction: Octavia E. Butler, Ursula K. Le Guin, Robert A. Heinlein, James H. Schmitz, Neal Stephenson, and David Weber.

Throughout all those years, about 18 now since I’ve been able to read to myself, my books were what kept me going. I had a troubled childhood (who didn’t), and I was looking for ways to escape. Speculative Fiction provided that escape. If I couldn’t personally run away from the things that bothered me, at least my mind could. I read on the bus, I read during classes, I read while walking home. I wanted to be those characters, I looked up to them, I admired the heroes in all those stories.

I wrote quite a bit, too, and made elaborate stories up in my head. I wanted to discover distant planets or alternate realities. I imagined myself the wielder of great and dire powers, magical or psychic. Nobody would ever make fun of me again. I could rearrange the world to my liking. These were childish stories with obvious Mary Sue characters and little to no true merit. But when I was writing them they made a world of difference to me. It gave me power over my own existence.

Speculative Fiction probably saved my life, or at least my sanity. I’d like to return the favor by making it a genre that anyone and everyone can read. When I was younger, all that mattered to me was the story. It didn’t have to be particularly good, and it didn’t have to representative of real life people. It just had to be not my life. As a critically thinking adult, I’ve started to expect more from the books I read. While I grow and change as a person, I expect the genre of Speculative Fiction to grow and change as well. And it’s very disappointing when it doesn’t live up to those lofty expectations.

It is a flawed genre, in some ways very badly. Many writers are still marginalized or go completely unpublished because of their choice of material or what they themselves look like or the way they live. Characters that I could once immerse myself in now reveal themselves to be shallow stereotypes and trite clichés. I’ve begun to realize that some of my favorite authors are themselves quite human, and many times it has been their bad behavior within the spec fic community that has shown this to me. It’s much easier in the age of the Internet to knock your heroes off their pedestals, simply by means of being able to talk to them or hearing them talk about themselves.

These are not irredeemable flaws but they are daunting ones. The Speculative Fiction community isn’t the all-welcoming entity it would like some to believe. Prejudice against women, against people of color, against LGBT fans and writers, is strong and alive.

However, as a feminist, a lesbian, and an advocate for racial and cultural diversity, I can honestly see no better medium then Speculative Fiction works to advance the ideals I believe in. If we can write anything, we can write stories full of characters of color, stories of strong, capable women, and stories featuring lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer heroes, not to mention many other marginalized members of society. As real life human beings, we can advocate for the publication and recognition of these works.

The true meaning of Speculative Fiction, for me, is this.

The world is infinite, the possibilities are endless, and anyone can save the day.

It’s up to the advocates and the educators to make sure those stories and the authors who write them have the space they need to flourish. We need to talk about the flaws of the genre openly, review the less well known works, write opinion pieces and analytical essays. Introduce your friends to the little authors and ask publishers for the kind of works you want to read. It’s not a fast process or always a safe one. People might try to intimidate you or even threaten you into silence. But if we don’t stand up for ourselves, who will?

I love Speculative Fiction and I think it has some wonderful authors and amazing stories within its history. But I also think it’s time for the genre to grow up.

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The Fall of Hyperion by Dan SimmonsFall of Hyperion
Mass Market Paperback: 528 pages
Publisher: Spectra (November 1, 1995)
ISBN-10: 0553288202

In this sequel to Hyperion, Dan Simmons picks up right where he left at the end of the first book, following the pilgrims as they descend into the Shrike’s valley. We again meet The Consul, Brawne Lamia, Fedmahn Kessad, Sol Weintraub and his daughter Rachel, Martin Silenus, Father Lenar Hoyt, and Het Masteen, the pilgrims all striving to reach and petition the Shrike for their one wish to be granted. In another part of space, we also follow Meina Gladstone, the CEO of the Hegemony, the empire of man, as she prepares to fight a war within a war.

An interesting addition to the cast is Joseph Severn, a duplicate of the original Keats retrieval persona from the first book whom Brawne Lamia protected and fell in love with. Severn assists Gladstone, giving her information about the pilgrimage that no one else could have access to, due to the fact that he dreams their activities while he sleeps. Perhaps this is because of some strange connection to the persona Brawne Lamia is carrying in her storage device, the Shron loop, but the connection is never really explained.

As the book progresses, we begin to learn of a dark secret that lives under the surface of the Hegemony. Humans are mere unwitting slaves to the TechnoCore, the mass data community of the super-powerful AI’s. Gladstone is determined to break free from the control of the TechnoCore at any and all costs, in order to save humankind from an eon of slavery. The Ousters, thought to be man’s greatest enemy, are in fact the enemy of the Techno-core, having created new and amazing technologies in order to avoid using Techno-core devices. They desire to control Hyperion and the Shrike, not to destroy the Hegemony of Man.

First of all, you can not really follow this book without first reading Hyperion. There are series where it’s possible to read out of order and understand, but this isn’t one of them. Think of Hyperion as merely a prologue to the events in this book, something you can’t do without when getting to the main story. The stories of the pilgrims are vital to understanding the events that befall them at the end of their quest, and there is just not enough space in Fall of Hyperion to recap effectively. I think viewing Hyperion as the prologue is very accurate, because there isn’t time to develop all the myriad characters well in the second installment. You need Hyperion to feel emotionally attached to the pilgrims.

This is a very complex book, and really, an extremely complex series. Simmons is adept at creating and following stories within stories, at weaving characters with convoluted pasts while making their future just as confusing and unclear. This makes for a slow but rich read; it isn’t a book where you can just turn your brain off and enjoy. Constantly keeping up with the many main characters is difficult but doable, and following all the story lines is the task of a dedicated reader.

The themes in Fall of Hyperion are as varied as the characters. The love of a parent for a child, sacrifice, love, hate, revenge, redemption, acceptance, tolerance, the search for freedom, the fear of death, the search for understanding and God, pain. Each character is striving to complete some personal quest, while at the same time, complete the ultimate quest of learning the truth about the Shrike, and through that, the TechnoCore.

There are two main female characters in this, Brawne Lamia and Meina Gladstone. I feel like Brawne was even more reduced in this book, her role becoming that of observer and carrier. She rarely takes any action of her own, instead she follows others and watches as they take action. There is one scene where she faces the Shrike and wins, but it’s played down later on when we begin to learn the source of her power. Brawne went from gritty P.I. to tragic lover to an incarnation of the Virgin Mary, her personality decreasing with each change of status. This is a total waste, and I’m saddened that a character that started out so vital was reduced so heavily in this way.

Meina Gladstone is a more interesting character, although we never learn much about her background. She is determined to make the hard, impossible decisions in order to reach her ultimate goals. She’s a sharp, uncompromising, and often ruthless woman, but underneath, she is wracked by pain and guilt for the things she must do in order to help the Hegemony of Man. Gladstone is very much human, and generally the fact that she’s a woman has absolutely nothing to do with her story, which is how I wish all characters were written. But the last scene of her, I think would not have been written if she were a man. As ruthless and unapologetic as she appears to be throughout the story, she seems to admit her mistakes and give up, giving over to the mob in a way that punishes her for doing the right thing. I think this is a total cop-out. It seems much more likely that she would have continued in some capacity as CEO, rebuilding and reshaping the Hegemony, rather than stepping down in a dramatic and pointless gesture.

I won’t even mention what happens to Rachel, but I didn’t like it at all.

It’s a great book, with heart wrenching scenes and lines that make you think very deeply. The poetry included is at times beautiful, at others bleak, and it’s use in this story is a good contrast and an interesting premise. There are times where I think Simmons was being complicated just to be complicated, rather than to further the story, and I can’t really approve of the women in this book. They’re made to seem powerful, but it is eventually revealed that none of them are, that they are merely pawns in a greater storyline. I recommend this book as a classic in science fiction, as an amazing look at one possible future for the human race, and as an interesting idea about where artificial intelligence and reliance on technology could take us, but Feminist SF this is not.

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Graceling by Kristin Cashore

I read this book in one night, starting in the afternoon and ending at 7:30 the next morning.

It’s set in a world of seven semi-warring kingdoms, where some people are inexplicably born with something called a Grace. This Grace is an exaggerated aptitude for something, such as cooking, or horse training, or hand-to-hand fighting. These people, referred to as Gracelings, are marked by their mismatched eyes. For example, the main character, Katra, has one blue eye and one green.

Her Grace just happens to be killing, meaning she is an extremely capable fighter who always gets the job done. She’s practically Super Girl, able to run faster, shoot farther, and last longer without food or sleep, than just about anyone she’s met. She has also been forced since childhood to play the strongarm for her uncle, one of the seven kings, but in recent years has started developing a disgust for her actions.

The premise was so fascinating, and I was very engaged by the struggles of the main character. I’m all for strong female characters, especially those with a special talent like Killing, Fighting, and basically all around bad-assery. So two thumbs up for Katra on the whole physical equality thing.

She fails miserably at the Bechdel Test, though. This is the test, (usually applied to movies/tv shows) that asks three questions.

1. Are there two women
2. Talking to each other
3. About something other than men

There are almost no other female characters in the entire book that even have speaking parts! I can name three! There’s Katra’s nursemaid, who regularly badgers her about getting married, settling down, and having babies. Bitterblue, a girl child she ends up bascially adopting, and a Graceling ship’s captain almost always talk about her love interest, Prince Po. The rest of her friends and main accomplices are men. She is apparently the only woman in the world capable of establishing her own independence.

I really, really wanted to like this book. I thought for the most part, Katra was a pretty cool leading lady, and heck, I even liked Prince Po. He’s one of those rare men that doesn’t care if his g/f can kick his ass, and sometimes even finds it pretty hot. But I feel that in another author’s hands, (not sure who’s), this story would have been much more satisfying. I was also left a little sour at the end, because I feel there was an especially blatant “maternal instinct” line that pissed me off. Read it for the interesting magic, and the main character, but don’t expect too much from it.

(No POC’s at all, either. Not even “Southerners” or “Islanders”. Prince Po is an “Islander” and is basically just really tan.)

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Read Sunday Night

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert N. Munsch

This is one of my favorites. A princess that doesn’t play the damsel in distress, but instead goes out and rescues her prince from the evil dragon. What mom wouldn’t get behind that. Oh, and did I mention she does it in a brown paper bag, as in the title? This title has some great descriptive pictures, one of my favorites being the first one, where you see Princess Elizabeth is totally in love with Prince Ronald, but he is brushing her off. This is visual foreshadowing. Something is Going On there. We find out later on that Prince Ronald is actually a shallow douche and Elizabeth would have been better off without him anyway.

I love, love, love how she doesn’t have to physically match a knight in shining armor, but instead uses her smarts to dupe the dragon (although I also wouldn’t mind a story where the girl slays the evil beast). There is one line that mentions the dragon leaving a trail of burned forests and horse bones that some parent might choose to leave out due to its somewhat graphic nature. But on the whole, great pictures, great story, and engaging for any level of reader. I highly recommend this book.

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Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

Holy cow, this book is ridiculous. I admit, I was caught up in it at first. But as the story progressed, the sap-level began to rise so much, I thought the pages would start sticking to my fingers. If you’ve never heard the term “purple prose”, google it and you’ll get what I’m saying.

I can understand the popularity with young adult readers, mainly teenage girls. But the fascination and sheer giddiness it inspires in grown adults just boggles my mind.

A friend of mine mentioned that on one of his message boards, some of the people were cracking jokes about the movie and the sparkly vampires. We laughed, because it was obviously a joke about the makeup done in the movie. But when I was about halfway through the book, I finally realized it was no joke, or at least, not a joke from the readers. The author actually wrote a completely new twist on the vampire syndrome. The reason they can’t go out in the sun isn’t because they’re afraid of roasting alive, but of blinding the average human. The vampires actually sparkle in the sun, like they’re covered in chips of crystal, or possibly craft glitter.

I called my friend as soon as I read those lines. Together, we almost died laughing at the sheer absurdity of Stephanie Meyer’s portrayal. These vampires aren’t scary, they don’t even seem supernatural. They’re every girl’s fantasy of the perfect teenage hearthrob. *gag* As the first book was based off of a (wet)dream of Stephanie Meyer’s, I’m fairly certain it’s her fantasy, too.
I can see why they’ve become the Harry Potter of the hormone driven teen set, but I’ll never understand how grown women can turn themselves into twittering girls over bad cliches and sub-par writing. And honestly, I didn’t think most teenagers, boy or girl, would have so willingly lapped up such drivel.

Our heroine, Isabella (Bella) Swan, moves in with her dad after her mom follows the new husband on the road. I already had problems with the story at this point, because it was so obvious how self-sacrificing Bella was being. And I mean, OBVIOUS, like flashing neon lights. Look, she’s so Mature and Understanding! Look! Meyer is not subtle in any way.

Her dad lives in the rainiest town in the country, Forks, Washington, and is the local sheriff. Of course, that’s pretty much all you ever learn about him. Her parents are cardboard cutouts, merely there to advance the plot and give a shaky reason for Bella to exist. Bella, supposedly a klutz and socially awkward, becomes the instant BFF of everyone she meets at school. Except for the Cullen Family. They are Mysterious and Interesting, and Edward Cullen thinks Bella smells bad.

Fast forward. Bella and Edward slowly (and by slowly I mean two weeks) fall in love. Bella begins to suspect that Edward might be unnatural, especially after he saves her with his super-human strength, (unfortunately) preventing her from being crushed by a skidding car. It’s finally revealed that, Gasp!, he’s a vampire, and so is his whole family. What follows is some of the worst (published) writing I’ve ever read, in more ways than one.

Bella is basically your every-woman. The reader is meant to see themselves in her place, and dream about being stalked and eaten by vampires loved forever. However, by leaving her personality so open, we are left with an entirely uninteresting character. There is absolutely no reason that Edward should fall in love with her. And Bella has no ambition, no desires, no driving force. Her favorite past-times are cooking, running errands, and dreaming about Edward. She also faints a lot, (A LOT!), and constantly talks about how all she really wants is to be together always with this guy she met a month ago.

They also can’t be physically intimate, sometimes even to the point of no kissing or touching, because Edward is afraid he’ll lose control and rape eat Bella. Did I mention Stephanie Meyer is Mormon? If you don’t know why this is important, I don’t have time to explain it to you. Suffice it stay, it’s very relevant, and this book, on top of being really bad, comes with a very thinly veiled agenda. (Abstinence is BEST!) I don’t have a thing against the religion, but Meyer is trumpeting her own version of it in Twilight.

I don’t understand the appeal of Twilight, and I know even as a teenager that I had much more discriminating tastes. Bella is almost anti-feminist in her attitudes and actions, never saving herself, always thinking about a boy before herself, and centering her entire world around someone who is actually pretty creepy. Edward stalks her, patronizes her, and often treats her like a very young and slightly brain-damaged child.

If I had a daughter, this isn’t a book I would ever, ever want her to read. I wouldn’t want her to suffer for hours wading through this slag, and I really wouldn’t want her coming away from it with the message that the only true path to being beautiful and popular is to be a good little woman and let some guy solve all your problems. Or let a guy be your problem. Or that Stephanie Meyer is a good writer.

I tried reading New Moon, but as soon as I opened the book, I started going into diabetic shock and had to take it back to the library.

For a hilarious twist, watch this interview with Robert Pattinson, the actor who plays Edward in the equally terrible movie. You can tell he’s desperate to be released from his contract, and that Stephanie Meyer creeps him the hell out.

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This is a broad general topic that I’m trying to tackle. Part of me isn’t even sure where to start. This could span from books to movies to manga and beyond.

The pervasive dumbing down and sexualized view of women in main character roles for science fiction and fantasy has always bothered me. It’s hard to find a main female character that is strong for herself, not because she’s a wife, or a mom, or a sister, but because she’s a woman and women can be strong just like men. It’s also hard to find a woman who isn’t attached to a man romantically in some way. It must be a pre-requisite to hook up before you can save the world.

Take the trilogy I just finished reading by Anne Bishop. The Pillars of the World series starts out looking like a veritable buffet of strong women standing up against an evil patriarchal force bent on wiping out all independent women, and giving complete control over their behavior, lives, and even the ability to enjoy sex, to the men. And this is great. Go women.

But the women fighting back are scary, purposefully scary with their power. The men fear them. The women who don’t have super awesome powers fear them. Nobody thanks them for saving them. Also, there is only one woman in the whole trilogy who actually works on her own, without a man to back her up in some way or sleep with her. And she gets killed, but not before being transformed into a soul-eating creature of nightmares. Even the super-powerful scary women hook up with men by the end of the series, or are already hooked up.

I use the term hook up, because it implies to me an unnecessary plot device meant to make the characters more likable, because, hey look, they’re falling in love with that guy over there that they just met, so they can’t be all bad or scary.

If you’re going to use strong, powerful, sometimes scary women as your main characters, then use them. Make them independent, make them powerful and awe inspiring. But don’t belittle them by making it inevitable that they will fall in love, marry, and have babies and a gentle home-life. Puh-lease! Why can’t they keep on adventuring? Why can’t they keep on searching out the injustices of their worlds, and using their influence and power to change how people think?

This is a sensitive topic for me, and I get angry just thinking about it sometimes. Where are the strong female leads that go it alone? Are there no Lone Rangerettes? There has been an influx lately of supernatural heroines from the scifi/fantasy book community. And a lot of these are powerful women with great magic abilities of some kind or other. But every single one of them (that I can think of off the top of my head) are messed up about men, by men, for men, etc. Romantically, I mean. They always have to be in a relationship. And in a country where the rate of moms raising their kids as single parents is on the rise, and the age women are getting married is getting older, while they go through life and have careers, where are the women who are getting it done their way, without a guy around, helping or hindering.

Not to say, men aren’t necessary. I wouldn’t mind reading about a relationship that was actually equal, where they were working together toward a common goal and happened to be sleeping together or married or whatever. Where they weren’t making kissy-faces at each other every ten seconds in the middle of a dual arcana, or running off to the nearest bedroom to “prove their love for each other”. Why can’t he prove his love by doing the dishes or mopping up the most recent demon goo stain off the hard-wood floors?

Maybe my complaint isn’t entirely about every woman having her man, although that does piss me off. It’s more about every woman and her man showing they care by screwing each other’s brains out every chance they get. What happened to being a helpmate for each other?

To name a few of the newest, most prominent female authors writing about strong female characters, who can’t get things done without a man.

Laurell K. Hamilton has both Anita Blake and Merry Gentry. Both of whom not only have their man, they have several of them. And by several, I mean, double digits. And by double digits, I mean, her books have degenerated into 250 pages of porn with 50 pages of plot. She turned Anita Blake, who started out a woman with a calling and no time for bedroom shenanigans, into a woman whose life depended on her spending 80-90 percent of the story on her back. Or front. Or standing. At least Merry Gentry started at as she was meant to go, as the only sexual release for an entire harem of men. And Merry’s life depends on her ability to get knocked up as soon as possible by one of these guys. Also, the only other female character in the entire series is her aunt, who wants to kill her, or adopt her.

Kim Harrison has Rachel Morgan, who has gone through a couple of boyfriends in the course of five books, all of whom were obviously bad for her. But she never learns. It is her fatal flaw, that she can’t seem to keep the bad things they’ve done in the front of her mind when they’re around, asking her to bend over backwards to help them. But hey, she’s also possibly about to sleep with her female roommate. I’d like to see that actually developed into a relationship.

Kelley Armstrong has the Women of the Otherworld series, which is all about strong female characters. Every one of them is involved with a guy. Take Elena for example. She’s a werewolf. She’s married to the guy who turned her unwillingly into a werewolf, after years of struggle trying to come to terms with him biting her because he wanted a werewolf girlfriend. She finally came to her senses(sarcasm) and decides to marry the guy who changed her life completely, making her a pariah of normal society and impossible for her to live a normal life ever again. It’s sort of like those women who turn around and fall in love with their rapist. Doesn’t make sense.

Then there’s Eve the witch, who is actually a pretty kick-ass lady. Too bad she’s caught up in this cat-mouse romantic thing with Kris, her former lover. She can’t just turn out to be a really cool superhero? She has to have a messy relationship with an on-again, off-again love-interest.

One of the newest main characters is Jaime the ghost whisperer, who is forty years old, and apparently loses all self-control, common sense, and said forty years of life experience when put next to a boy she likes. Her love interest is Jeremy the werewolf, and I actually liked him, until the author dumbed him down to replace intelligence with hormones. They could have been two mature, experienced adults entering into a loving and romantic relationship, both of them know what they were getting into, understand that they each have lives already. But instead it was turned into this raunchy romp where they hop into bed left and right, and dirty talk during life-threatening situations.

These are just a few of the current popular reads. But they are popular, and the authors are female. Now, I understand that real-life relationships are messy and confusing, but these are supposed to be extra-ordinary women. And they appear to never learn from their mistakes. They pick the same kind of men to fall for, or they go back to the men they fell for before, and they spread their legs at the drop of a hat. Where are the relationships ba
sed on mutual respect and understanding, with sex an important but not all-important part?

Next, I’ll post about some of the current popular fantasy books with some strong, unattached women in them. Hopefully I can find some.

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