link round up 8

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callisto, in all her decadence, watching you

This week’s links are mainly about racism, pocs and fandom. This is not on purpose, but rather what interesting links my timeline has regurgitated over the last week. This week in particular there was a lot of popular media attention on diversity in hollywood, including an article that ran in the New York Times! My dad sent me the article, and I was genuinely incredibly pleased. Continue reading “link round up 8”

link round up 7

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between all this dog cuteness, my cat is hurt and offended that you forgot about her

It has been a quiet week for femslash fans; our best and brightest are at the f/f convention in California, leaving the rest of us alone. It was, however, International Fan Works Day on February 15th, thus prompting a variety of articles about fandoms. Also, a bunch of important things happened in sf! So, let’s look at that! Continue reading “link round up 7”

book babble: putting the science into science fiction

One of the most difficult things, I think, about science fiction as a genre is balancing the science and the fiction. It’s a difficult balance to maintain; traditionalists still define sf as “speculative fiction grounded in physics, chemistry, and, to a lesser extent, biology”. In an interview with the Paris Review in 2013, Ursula K Le Guin even said that she didn’t think the term Science Fiction was a very descriptive phrase for  a wide variety of very different fiction. Le Guin said:

desconstruction

This interviewer isn’t the best interviewer, but I feel like he’s saying some important things about what people understand as science fiction. As a writer, I’m always obsessing over what genre the texts I read theoretically fit in, and I think many people believe science fiction is a lot more monolithic than it is. The science and the boundaries that science fiction explores aren’t just biology and chemistry; science fiction also poses difficult questions in the social science, but its aim is also to give us a new light in which we can think about who we are, and what we do in society. This week’s books that I’m reviewing are a great example of this. I recently finished Nexus by Ramez Naam. I am also almost finished with The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin, translated by Ken Liu.

Nexus and The Three Body Problem were two very science heavy science fiction novels.

I honestly am not even done with TTBP despite reading it since Christmas because the book is incredibly exhausting in a good way? It’s scientific in a way a book hasn’t been scientific in ages: I am constantly questioning whether or not the science is real. I know, this may be because my physics knowledge all stems from my freshman roommate (an honors math and physics major) but it’s also because the world building is so solid.

The blurb of the book sells it as a book that is:

Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision

As someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience with Chinese fiction other than my interactions with movies like Red Cliff, I do wonder how much some of the things I find alienating about the book are just narrative conventions I am not familiar with. The lack of three dimensional characters, for example, just made it a more difficult book for me to read. I’m honestly a character girl through and through, and so not having any concrete characters on which I could focus on, or even root for, really confused me.

Main pro: everything about the book felt fresh and new to me, even though First Contact stories are far from fresh and new.

Main con: ALL THE SCIENCE.

 Nexus, on the other hand, gave me the three dimensional characters that I lacked. Amazon explains it as:

In the near future, the experimental nano-drug Nexus can link humans together, mind to mind. There are some who want to improve it. There are some who want to eradicate it. And there are others who just want to exploit it.

When a young scientist is caught improving Nexus, he’s thrust over his head into a world of danger and international espionage – for there is far more at stake than anyone realizes.

From the halls of academe to the halls of power; from the headquarters of an elite agency in Washington DC to a secret lab beneath Shanghai; from the underground parties of San Francisco to the illegal biotech markets of Bangkok; from an international neuroscience conference to a remote monastery in the mountains of Thailand – Nexus is a thrill ride through a future on the brink of explosion.

A book I wanted to recommend to every friend I have who studies chemistry or biology, Naam is clearly very involved in the scientific establishment of this book. I felt like the elements of his worldbuilding, right down to his science, was wonderful. The biggest problem I had with the book was the casting of the female character. The main female character was given a dark and angsty backstory centered around the abuse she suffered and the rapes she endured. Although the book doesn’t do anything weird with this caveat, I was really annoyed that the book gave me a Strong Female Character, only to quickly explain to me that she was a “damaged” woman who stopped herself from having any emotional depth because it “hurt too much.” I dream of the day when I can have a female character who we can just leave the fuck alone.

In the end though, Nexus was a perfectly good science fiction thriller. I really like thrillers in which the events spiral in such a way that you, the reader, would not have done anything differently from what the protagonist does. The main character of this book is constantly faced with moral conundrums, and he almost always chooses the exact same compromise I would have chosen in the same situation. His decisions have far reaching consequences, and I really like how quickly

I’m really looking forward to reading the sequel.

Main pro: not Euro-centric, really cool fight scenes, awesome psudo-science

Main con: almost all the female characters felt like set pieces in the main protag’s developement, and although I was happy a wide variety of women were included, the amount of “women dying or sacrificing themselves for one white boy” was a little disarming.

 

In conclusion, both these book used science to pose fascinating questions, and ultimately this lead to a far more international and more universal book than many other science fiction authors. I really liked both these books.

link round up 5

“Hey, Elisabeth, I noticed that you missed a week on the link round up. Why was that?” asked the thirsty crowd of followers. Friends, let me tell you something. I adopted a perfect puppy from a shelter. Puppy here is a misleading term: she’s a full grown border collie/st bernard mix, so she’s heavy, big, and very smart. I am in love with her and she’s perfect. I was busy adoring her, and thus was unable to have the link round up ready, but don’t worry, I’m here to catch you up! With a LOT of stuff! First though, my dog:

This last fortnight has been really fun! I don’t know whether that’s been because I, a mentally ill mess, have been less of a mess, or whether it’s because my perfect dog is perfect, but it’s been really awesome. There has been a lot of discussion of PoCs in sf and fantasy literature which I have found super awesome, as well as some classic call-out posts when writers have been shitty.

Today’s link round up could be labeled as “sjw”-y if you use that term, and its mainly because I’ve been feeling frustrated with femslash media, femslash fandom and myself recently. As we work furiously to create a space for ourselves as women who love women, we often embrace media that can alienate and other women of color. I am specifically at fault here too: I watch problematic shows like the 100 and Supergirl because I am so grateful to have myself even the tiniest bit represented, but I am also disappointed in myself that I take that bait. Supergirl recently included its first woman of colour, only to immediately demonize her, and I got so mad.

Anyway, I’m starting my link round up off with an article by Liz Bourke over on Tor.com entitled “There’s a Counter in My Head,” which I think describes the plight of any aware person when consuming popular media. I loved every element of this article, but what struck me especially hard was that if Liz Burke and I, two white women, felt this way, then I wonder how queer wocs must feel. The anger and betrayal we feel is incomparable to their exclusion from popular media.

There’s a counter in my head, and I can’t turn it off.

It counts women present in a narrative. It counts people who aren’t men. It counts queer representation. It counts—although somewhat less strictly, due to the blinkers of its upbringing—the presence of people who aren’t white, or who aren’t able-bodied. It counts up roles. It compares and contrasts roles. It counts incidences where things follow a trend, and where they diverge. It recognises patterns. Dead women. Sexual objects. Motivating objects. Objectified. Tragic queerness. Queerness-as-a-phase. Women sidelined. Elided. Present but only significant for how they relate to a white able-bodied cisgender man.

Talking about counters, Black Nerd Girls pointed out how Arrow once again failed its women of colour, this time with their treatment of Amanda Waller.

Back to the character at hand, there are those that will say it was okay to kill Amanda off. Her presence in the Suicide Squad movie is more important. While this may be true, we have to look more closely at the situation. Waller kept villains such as Slade Wilson’s Deathstroke, Digger Harkness’ Boomerang, and the deadly Suicide Squad members within the confounds of her control. Being shot in the head at point blank range without so much as a nod any of her accomplishments was unbelievably disrespectful. Arrow is a show that gave Deadshot an honorable death. Remember Moira Queen?  Though her death was brutal, she was afforded an honorable death in the protection of her children.

So, while I think about this, I donate to projects like Lightspeed, whose Kickstarter fund raiser for “PoCs Destroy Science Fiction” is going strong. There are some really awesome essays that are available for free right now. Here are all of the personal essays, though I really loved SL Huang’s essay (she wrote a short story I will be nominating for the Hugos):

The Asian-American community has a long tradition of trading our own creativity and culture for “success.” A devil’s bargain: all the success you could ask for, and all it costs is your soul.

This isn’t true for all Asian-Americans, of course. But to some degree, at least, it’s true for me.

I wonder if I don’t write more Chinese characters because my father achieved his goal too well. Despite all my best efforts to reclaim my heritage, maybe all I have is an empty space I’ll always be chasing, like a gerbil spinning on a wheel.

Or maybe, despite all my anger, I myself am subconsciously following the very same path I’ve criticized my father for laying down: ducking my head and not being too Asian, because I want to be seen as a Real American Writer.

Suyi Davies Okungbowa also has an amazing post about everything being ‘default’ white, which I think is really interesting, since it ties in with something I find fascinating: just saying “my character is black” doesn’t make your writing truer; you can write a character with black skin, but because you didn’t critically think about what you’re trying to write, you write a “white character.” I think this is why “colour-blind” sf writing really squicks me, and I think Suyi Davies Okungbowa talks about it way better than I can:

This is what happens to us.

We’re reading this blog post where a middle-aged white American dude gets fed up with SF book covers splashed over with Caucasian faces, lugs it to the nearest Barnes & Noble, and takes stock of the split between white faces versus people of colour on book covers.

The results aren’t pretty.

Scrolling through responses to said blog, we come upon a commenter who talks about how white people often don’t learn to identify or empathize with people of other races, and how people of colour are a lot more used to buying stuff with white people on them than the reverse. According to her, this prevails because both parties have had a lot of practice at it.

Hold that thought.

Here’s the thing about being African SF lovers (writers, readers, fans) living on the continent. We prowl the biggest bookshops in Lagos, Nigeria, searching for the latest SF titles from around the world. In almost all the bookshops we visit (there’re only a few good ones), there’s a section for SF. However, one thing strikes us. This SF does not include African writers.

All African narratives, SF&F or otherwise, are shelved in the “African Fiction” section.

All this kickstarter stuff actually reminded me of an older article that the Rec Centre recently dug up, namely this article entitled “the unbearable solitude of being an African fan girl” . This article reminded me of a lot of the conversations I have with my poc friends looking for good femslash fandoms – it’s embarrassing that femslash seems to be a predominantly white space, and we have the responsibility to make it a better space for wocs, honestly. Wocs femslash shippers exist, and I think we need to work harder @ giving them a space in which they can exist comfortably. Bc the worst thing is, as Chinelo Onwualu points out, is that fandom is already a “not mainstream space,” so being fringe in a fringe group is twice as hard, and I think its our responsibility as a fandom to ensure that these girls can feel comfortable.

After all, you have always existed in isolation. Your favourite books were not ones you could discuss with your friends who always gave those puzzled, pitying looks when you mentioned them. You watched your favourite shows in your bedroom, laughing into the silence while your family avidly discussed the latest Nollywood film in the next room. You go to see your favourite superhero summer blockbusters by yourself, aware that you may be the only woman in the audience who has actually read the comic book that the movie is loosely based on.

Onto other things! Natalie Luhrs did a really important analysis of all the Locus Recommend Reading lists, and it was honestly very disturbing.

Lastly, here are some books to read if you found the first episode of the X Files revival hilaribad (which, honestly, is the only way to appreciate Chris Carter @ his worst)

The only article about the Best Picture Nominees I will read.

I, a fake geek girl, only just discovered this tumblr, but I love it? It’s so perfect? I especially like the header:

nice

While we’re talking about comics, did you see that my two favorite whimsical comic book shows are going to have a crossover? I hope Cat Grant likes Iris West as much as I love Iris West.

Honestly, the sf community that I follow was really upset this weekend because a sf website I follow, sf signal, posted an essay in which the author identified herself as “disabled” because she was “too empathetic” (honestly, I’m not even going to cite the original article it’s that embarrassing). Thank god Foz Meadows tore her down.

Let me put this bluntly: empathy is not a disability. Even if I take Sterling-Casil at her notably unsourced word and accept her premise here – that empathy, as a specifically defined condition, is a direct, causative (rather than correlative) factor in the suicide and/or death by misadventure of young people – that does not make it a disability. Depression, along with various other mental health conditions and disorders, can be a form of disability, but whether we define it as such depends largely on who “we” are and our reasons for doing so.

Last but not least! Half A Moon Challenge is currently running, and as always, I love promoting lady-centric and f/f challenges!

Half a Moon is a fourteen day challenge celebrating female characters in fandom, which will run from February 1 through Valentine’s Day. Fanfiction, vids, recs, art, picspam, icons, meta, fanmixes, and outside links to content fitting the theme of this community are all welcome–the only rule is that the primary focus must be on a female character or characters.

and to finish the link round up today, I leave you with one (1) image of my dog

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and of my favorite tweets: