On Problem Daughters: Interviewing the Editors

Inspiration image for Problem Daughters anthology, a silhouette of a woman against a starchart background in browns, oranges, and topaz coloursProblem Daughters will amplify the voices of women who are sometimes excluded from mainstream feminism. It will be an anthology of beautiful, thoughtful, unconventional speculative fiction and poetry around the theme of intersectional feminism, focusing on the lives and experiences of marginalized women, such as those who are of color, QUILTBAG, disabled, sex workers, and all intersections of these. Edited by Nicolette Barischoff, Rivqa Rafael and Djibril al-Ayad, the anthology will be published by Futurefire.net Publishing and is currently being crowdfunded.

What initially prompted this anthology?

Nicci: It started from a Twitter chat about defining feminism; how do we define a work as feminist, and what presuppositions is that definition based on, etc. We talked a lot about the absurdity of using the Bechdel-Wallace test as sort of litmus test of whether individual works are “feminist enough.” That got us talking about the exclusionary nature of certain models of feminism, and how that exclusionism informs literature that calls itself feminist. How do dominant models of Western middle-class feminism influence our ideas of what is, and more importantly what isn’t a feminist story? At that time, I was still feeling hot-headed over the way that dozens of avowed feminists in Hollywood reacted to the idea of decriminalizing sex work for the safety of sex workers (in a shockingly ignorant, tone-deaf letter to Amnesty International) and so, on a personal level, I guess I just felt ready to put a challenge out there. Do you think you already know what a feminist looks like? Can you call it Feminism if you elect to ignore all the women in this great, big world who don’t share your values? Anyway, I think Rivqa and Djibril must have been feeling something similar, and probably have their own catalysts.

Djibril: Yes, on the one hand it was easy enough agreeing on what an inclusive definition should look like, because we were all on the same page, but formulating that in writing was another story. We knew what we meant, and when speaking to and for ourselves we could say vague things like “and everyone else.” Once we had started to iron out a better definition, highlighting the inadequacy of exclusive feminisms and the importance of boosting the voices of marginalized women and recognizing the intersections of misogyny and other bigotries, we started to feel like we had a text we could do something with. At some point we realized we had the germ of a call for submissions for an anthology or themed issue… and we thought, why don’t we actually run with that?

Rivqa: As we refined our message and purpose, what started as a throwaway comment felt more and more important… and here we are.  

Has that motivation shifted or changed given global events over the past year?

Rivqa: When we first started talking about this idea, a year and a half ago, it already felt crucially important. Not that others aren’t doing similar work, but that we need more, so much more, to balance out the voices that have dominated our genre for so long. But the US election this year really galvanised me. Although it meant we had to delay our crowdfunding campaign, it deepened my sense of purpose. In my journal that day, one thing I wrote was “activist purpose in everything I do”, and to me Problem Daughters is an embodiment of that. We want to make an entertaining and beautiful book, but if it changes even one person’s life for the better in a miniscule way, I’ll feel my aims have been achieved.

Djibril: I second all of that, but I’d also add that the anthology has grown, in our minds. As we said just now, we started off thinking about it as a themed issue of the online magazine, but then given the variety and the mix and the genres/media we wanted to see in it, that just wasn’t big enough. We also wanted to pay better than the ’zine does, because that’s especially important when focussing on under-represented voices (otherwise you’re effectively asking already marginalized people in particular to work for free, which is unfair bordering on exploitative). We know that the authors who write the stories and poems are going to put wonderful work into this anthology; we want to make sure that we also do everything we can to contribute to that.

Nicci: As a minor addition to this, I think we liked the symbolism of launching with the new year. However anyone personally feels about 2016, I think we can agree that it was not a great year for women. But we can’t change 2016, so we wanted to, in whatever small way we could, set the tone for the new year. Not in opposition to anything (not even our newly-minted US tyrant), but for women. We are fighting back, but I’d like to think we’re fighting for understanding, rather than against those who don’t yet understand.

What has been the biggest challenge in putting together this anthology?

Nicci: Fundraising has presented quite a number of challenges, but I would say our greatest challenge lies ahead of us, with the stories themselves. I suspect and hope editing this anthology is going to be a bit like being in a roomful of brilliant, expressive people who all have something important to say. Our impossible task will be to pick just a few voices out of the crowd and hope they can adequately represent those who were not chosen. But that’s always the challenge of trying to put together a diverse, vibrant, truly intersectional anthology. It should feel kind of impossible. If it doesn’t, we’re doing it wrong.

Rivqa: I think refining our message was a bit of a challenge. We went through a few different ideas and while all (or at least most) were interesting, some of them were overly restrictive. I hope we’ve struck a balance of being broad enough that thinking of what to write isn’t an onerous challenge, but specific enough to be welcoming to the type of authors we’re hoping to attract.

Djibril: We’re also taking seriously the challenge of getting the word out to as many and as varied writers as possible, including authors in genre and those from other literary traditions; including established short story writers and poets and essayists and campaigners, but also those who have lived experience that they’re not used to making fiction out of; including both those who will see our Call For Submissions in writers’ groups and resources, and those who would miss it if all we did was put it up in the dozen most popular venues and listings. We want this CFS to be seen by “own voices” authors, by people whose writing is infused with the beauty and the scars of a million lived marginalizations, among them of course those who write different intersections than those they identify as their own. This will require serious outreach, and also help from many different communities and networks, and we’re reaching out to these all the time. We haven’t done enough yet.

What does intersectional mean to you all, especially in relation to producing an anthology like this?

Nicci: For an anthology like Problem Daughters, I think it’s about recognizing that there are many, many feminist movements, each with their own set of vastly different concerns. That the term “women’s issues” does not refer to a fixed set of priorities put forth by an oligarchy of great female minds. Because it is not actually possible to separate the experience of one’s gender from the experience of one’s class or race or level of ability or orientation, we’ve got to accept that not every woman is going to have the same priorities as those dictated by culturally dominant feminist movements. But her concerns are part of a lived reality, and excluding her voice from the feminist conversation does not make that reality go away. For us, I think it means deliberately choosing stories from those underrepresented feminisms.

Rivqa: Yes, all of this. I’d add that to me, intersectionality might sound like a mathematical concept, but it’s far more complex than that. We’re not merely the sum of our advantages and disadvantages, and people with the same broad intersections might have wildly different experiences for any number of reasons. Life is complicated and messy and nuanced! So we’re hoping to be representative, not exhaustive.

What other books or anthologies would you recommend for people trying to increase the diversity in what they are reading?

Djibril: If I may start by cheekily mentioning the previous Futurefire.net anthologies, Outlaw Bodies, We See a Different Frontier, Accessing the Future and Fae Visions of the Mediterranean, which all cover diverse topics (body politics, colonialism, disability and polyglot culture respectively) as well as feature a range of authors and materials. Other recent anthologies that have caught my eye include Kaleidoscope (edited by Alisa Krasnostein & Julia Rios); African Monsters (Margrét Helgadóttir & Jo Thomas) and Asian Monsters (Helgadóttir) from Fox Spirit Books; both Long Hidden (Rose Fox & Daniel José Older) and Hidden Youth (Mikki Kendall & Chesya Burke) from Crossed Genres; the Apex Book of World SF series (edited first by Lavie Tidhar, now by Mahvesh Murad); Beyond Binary (Brit Mandelo); Octavia’s Brood (Nisi Shawl); Mothership (Bill Campbell & Edward Hall). There’s a lot out there, if you’re really looking for it. (If only it didn’t need to be collected like this, but were actually the majority of all SF published!)

Rivqa: In recent years, I think there are more publishers that have made a commitment to diversity in interesting ways, and seeking these out is an easy way to diversify one’s reading. Here in Australia, Twelfth Planet Press does consistently impressive work (disclosure: I’ve been published by them twice and will be working with them in the future, but I had nothing to do with their choice of focus). All the presses Djibril’s already mentioned are likewise impressive; Aqueduct in the US is another. Then there are the magazines: Glittership, Capricious, Uncanny, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed’s “Destroy” issues, and, of course, The Future Fire. There’s a lot out there, and a lot of free content as well.

Can you tell me about three things you’ve read and enjoyed in the past year, (anthologies/shorts/novels/series/other media)?

Rivqa: I absolutely loved Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor. Although my culture is very different from that of the titular protagonist’s, the tension between tradition and broader knowledge — and home and the wider  universe — is one I could relate to all too well. Plus, structurally, it’s one of the best novellas I’ve ever read. The pacing and writing are just perfect.

Djibril: I really enjoyed reading L.S. Johnson’s collection of previously published short stories, Vacui Magia. As I wrote in my review at the time, this is a masterfully dark collection that explores gender alongside all sorts of other marginalizations, and grief, power, exploitation, violence, revenge, the divine. This leaps to my mind over dozens of stories and novels I’ve read since, so it really did have staying power.

Nicci: I finally got around to reading Kij Johnson’s novel The Fox Woman, which has one of the most delicate, sad, joyful, historically sensitive portraits of a marriage I have ever read in speculative fiction. I’m also currently enthralled by Sofia Samatar’s The Winged Histories, a story with four very different female protagonists.

What books or other media are you excited about for the coming year?

Rivqa: Makes sense to say Binti: Home, right? There are a lot of books I’m looking forward to. Plus, I’m taking a break from Aurealis Award judging, so when I’m not reading slush, I can actually read more novels. I’m aiming to read more marginalised authors, including but not exclusively Own Voices writers, but I haven’t set specific targets because doing so stresses me out a little. I’ll see how it goes,anyway.

Nicci: Is it too much of a dodge to say I am really looking forward to being buried under a mountain of stories by authors we’ve not yet heard from? Because the thing carrying me through this (as Rivqa pointed out) year and a half marathon journey is the knowledge that soon I won’t have time for anything but the slush pile, and if our outreach is at all successful, I can’t tell you what that would look like.

Djibril: Because you included media, I’m going to say that I’m really impatient to see Hidden Figures (maybe not scifi, but it is about space travel!) which isn’t out here in the UK until late February. I may also take the opportunity this year to catch up on a couple of more diverse TV shows that I’ve not got into yet, like Dark Matter, 3% and The Expanse. I guess there’s the second season of Cleverman coming up soon, too.


Close up image of an eye with a vertical slit pupil, furred around the outside. Djibril al-Ayad,

Djibril is a historian and futurist, co-edited the anthologies Outlaw Bodies, We See a Different Frontier, Accessing the Future, TFF-X, Fae Visions of the Mediterranean and has edited The Future Fire magazine since 2005.

A smiling blue-haired woman in a colourful top looks downwards away from the camera, the background is an outdoor setting maybe a playgroundNicolette Barischoff

Nicolette was born with spastic cerebral palsy, which has only made her more awesome. Her fiction has appeared in Long Hidden, Accessing the Future, The Journal of Unlikely Academia, Podcastle, and Angels of the Meanwhile. She regularly writes about disability, feminism, sex- and body-positivity, and how all these fit together. She’s been on the front page of CBS New York, where they called her activism public pornography and suggested her face was a Public Order Crime.

A woman with glasses faces the camera, it is a close up and she is smiling. There are bookshelves filled with books in the background. Rivqa Rafael

Rivqa is a queer Jewish writer and editor based in Sydney. She started writing speculative fiction well before earning degrees in science and writing, although they have probably helped. Her previous gig as subeditor and reviews editor for Cosmos magazine likewise fueled her imagination. Her short stories have appeared in Hear Me Roar (Ticonderoga Publications), The Never Never Land (CSFG Publishing), and Defying Doomsday (Twelfth Planet Press). In 2016, she won the Ditmar Award for Best New Talent. She can be found at rivqa.net and on Twitter as @enoughsnark.

Review: He, She and It by Marge Piercy

He, She and It - coverARC Review:

Title: He, She and It

Authors: Marge Piercy

Publisher and Year:  Originally published 1991, this edition published by Ebury Digital, 2016.

Genre: science fiction, dystopia, feminist fiction,

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

In the middle of the twenty-first century, life as we know it has changed for all time. Shira Shipman’s marriage has broken up, and her young son has been taken from her by the corporation that runs her zone, so she has returned to Tikva, the Jewish town where she grew up. There, she is welcomed by Malkah, the brilliant grandmother who raised her, and meets an extraordinary man who is not a man at all, but a unique cyborg implanted with intelligence, emotions – and the ability to kill…

From the critically acclaimed author of Woman on the Edge of Time, comes another stunning novel of morality and courage. A Pygmallion tale for the modern age, this classic feminist speculative novel won the Arthur C Clark Award.

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

He, She and It was a revelation to me, I’m so glad I got to read this and am so glad that somehow this book came to me exactly when I needed it. There is as much about this book that is literary as science fiction, to the benefit of the book and the story it tells. It has incredible depth and is written beautifully, with poignancy that I think is rare to find.

Relationships are central to this book, relationships of family, of parent and child, of community, of spousal partnership, of professional collaboration. Although many readers may centre on the romantic relationships portrayed in the book, these make sense only in the context of all the other relationships that are part of the tapestry of this book. They do not exist in a vacuum or in isolation from the rest of the story.

We follow Shira’s point of view as the dominant protagonist, although Yod and Malkah’s point of view features as well. The worldbuilding for this story is deft. We start with a picture of an enclave, such as we might imagine in any future science fiction city, perfectly coifed and artificial, everything manufactured – the suggestion of control and surveillance is everywhere. We are then introduced to the free city Tivkah, resisting the multi-corporations and having enough skill and leverage to hold onto tenuous freedom and the city’s prized democratic community. Upon losing custody of her son, Shira flees the multicorporate enclave she is employed by and returns to Tivkah, her childhood home. She takes up a position with the scientist Avram to assist him in the socialisation of his cyborg creation Yod.

I didn’t fall in love with Shira at first, and in fact it took me a very long time to warm up to her. Instead, I was drawn to Malkah, matriarch and storyteller, scientist and programmer with a formidable intellect. I took a long time to warm up to Yod too, but I think that is by design from Piercy – as Yod’s experience with personhood grows and expands, so to does the reader’s ability to recognise and appreciate Yod’s personhood. We are invited to mirror Shira’s experience in working with Yod and his socialisation, although her qualms are always situated as her own foibles, and not so much larger moral questions for the reader to ponder. Those questions come more from Yod himself, as he reads Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

The crux of the book is the creation of Yod, a cyborg. A story that parellels the creation of a golem in the 1800s. Both created to protect, but as weapons with innate violence in their nature. This is something both the golem Joseph and the cyborg Yod struggle with. My take on it is that this is profoundly to do with existing in the world, regardless of being a human person or not. You cannot erase lived experience, you cannot unlearn compassion or empathy readily – even if you did not come to then naturally and were created whole, as with golem Joseph and cyborg Yod.

I keep coming back to the richness of Tivkah as the locale surrounding the story. A community, built on socialism, collaboration, and fierce anarchic independence. Tivkah is a Jewish city, the days and rituals and experience of the inhabitants within centre the normalcy of their daily lives as Jewish people. This is given further depth by the story Malkah tells for Yod about Joseph the golem. When Nili, a cybernetically enhanced woman from once-Israel, now a dead zone joins them for a time in their city and helps them to defend it, further layers to women, surviving, climate change, resistance, feminism, family and purpose are revealed.

The resolution of this book is one I found deeply satisfying, although it wasn’t an ending as such. Instead it felt like a change, where the people whose lives I’d followed for some time were about to embark on a new era of their lives, but the chapter for this part was over and it was time to part. I valued that and it is a  significant part of the poignancy that I observed as part of the book. There is hope and optimism amidst the realism of living in a dystopia. But people live their lives, they do the best they can with what they have, they value the people and ideologies that are important to them. As do we all. Perhaps with less grace than those in the free city of Tivkah.

I had begun to think maybe I had lost the ability to appreciate deep books that you must read slowly, over a several days and sittings. This book is a compelling read, but it needs breaks – time to think between putting it down and picking it up. Life has to be lived in between reading pages, because it is a book that is about the everyday, about living life, the constraints and difficulties we all face – small and large. I learned in my reading of this book, that in depth, more demanding books are not lost to me, merely I must simply find the stories that are stories for  me – and not dwell so much on stories that other people loved and I did not.

He, She and It is profound and I firmly believe one that will yield much more upon rereading. I loved the abiding feminism in this book where there were so many female characters and relationships between women in all kinds of ways. Women performed all kinds of roles, from the familial and maternal, to great scientific works, piracy, and military defence. The breadth of capability, of choice and recognition of both was startling and wonderful to me. And this is why I don’t think that this is a book of romance, despite that it is one of the plot arcs that is used to contextualise so much of the story. It is like having a spine in the human body – our spine does not define us, but it is critical and unique. Complexities surrounding relationships between parent and child, family in general are also similarly critical to the telling of this story – they are not less important than romantic relationships.

I loved this book, I count it among those I loved best in my reading this year. Although first published in 1991, He, She and It tells as compelling and profound a story in 2016 as it did when it was first published. I cannot recommend this book highly enough to anyone who loves a really good science fiction novel. Unlike many dystopian stories, this book is not at all grim, there is no constant sense of doom. Instead, this book is about life, living and problem-solving as well as possible in a future where technology is rampant and equal parts the solution and the problem to the climate change-ravaged future portrayed.

Review: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 Badge

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #2

Escape YA Bookclub Profile ImageEscape Club Bookclub: January

Title: Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1)

Author: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2016

Genre: Young adult, dystopia, science fiction

Blurb from Goodreads:

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.

Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

Illuminae - coverMy Review:

What an interesting format this book comes in! I was engaged by the confidential file release style of storytelling, it was interesting and let the story unfold in an unusual way. I will say that it is not very accessible, the art is gorgeous but hard to appreciate if you’re not great at holding books, or reading it on a phone screen (as I was). There were sections I skipped because I couldn’t zoom in to read some of the artistic text. However, I enjoyed the story so much that it didn’t do much to take away from the experience for me. I think this is perhaps something that the publisher would do well to consider for the future books – please keep the art, but please make it more accessible.

I really liked Kady as a protagonist, she was an interesting mix of typical teenage angst mixed with the trauma of having her whole life fall apart, both when the illegal colony was attacked and at several points while on the ship. This is an intense read – the suspense of the story is gripping and at times I found I needed to either put it down for a bit or keep reading because of the story intensity. I was so invested in finding out what happened, what was happening as the story unfolded. I thought it raised some interesting notions about AI, about hacking and government, transparency, authority and ethics in crisis situations.

I didn’t much care for Kady’s boyfriend, at no point did he come across as anything other than a jock that was largely incapable of an original thought, if not for Kady. However, that said the way in which the romance was portrayed, the having broken apart but finding that the circumstance and familiarity amidst horror drew them back together made sense to me. And, it also makes sense to me, that the crisis being all it was drew them even closer and more attached as time went on – especially given they were separated by being on different ships and so couldn’t physically get to one another (or grate on one another) in person.

The ethics of the story are complex (and spoilery).

— (spoilers) —

While Kady has a strong sense of the moral right and good thing to do, I think that the story provides good context for the other points of view. Is it the fact that the AI destroyed a ship in accordance with its programming to preserve the best chance of survival for the fleet based on its own logical deduction without human input, or the destruction of the ship itself that is the crime? Is it both? I appreciated that there was no obvious easy answer and that while Kady didn’t grapple with this herself so much, other people did and their points of view are presented as part of the documentation that tells the story.

— (end spoilers) —

Interestingly, the worldbuilding for this book is minimal – which works for the story. There is an illegal colony, there are ships in space – it’s a big area of space, and there’s a station the ships head toward the long way around because of damage to technology. We know little more about the greater context of the society (societies?) on a larger scale, how government and business and politics work, what races and factions are involved. It’s largely a mystery and while I wondered about it while reading, it’s not relevant to the story. Only what is relevant to the story and immediate situation is shared and it works to emphasise the insular nature of the tiny fleet clinging to survival.

The story could seem implausible, outlandish. However, I was reminded both of ‘Alien’ and also ‘Gravity’ while I was reading – and those descriptions could easily be applied to both of those media. What is also similar is the quality of the storytelling and how compelling it is – my suspension of disbelief was thoroughly engaged and I was absolutely caught up in the action, heart in mouth right to the end. And then I felt like I’d lost a friend because it was just ended and there was no more.

The book draws on tropes, the chosen one succeeding against the odds is probably the most gratuitous one. However, overall I think it executes the use of them reasonably well, and pink haired teenagers are hardly an unusual concept – it just seemed to be part of who Kady was and the authors successfully brought her to life for me, where perhaps in other situations the make up of her character might have annoyed or disappointed me more. The character relationships are presented as heteronormative, people as cisgendered and no one appeared to have any kind of disability. Similarly, I don’t recall any discussion of race and so the default may be assumed as ‘white’ given nothing is done to subvert or draw attention to this fact. Having noted these things and that I hope future books address these points. I also hope we get to see more of Kady in the books to come – I’ll be avidly looking forward to more in this series.

Review: Cranky Ladies of History, anthology edited by Tehani Wessely and Tansy Rayner-Roberts

Cranky Ladies of History - coverReview for Reviews Sake

Title: Cranky Ladies of History

Editors: Tehani Wessely and Tansy Rayner-Roberts

Publisher and Year: Fablecroft Publishing, 2015

Genre: Historical fiction, speculative fiction, literary fiction

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Warriors, pirates, murderers and queens…

Throughout history, women from all walks of life have had good reason to be cranky. Some of our most memorable historical figures were outspoken, dramatic, brave, feisty, rebellious and downright ornery.

Cranky Ladies of History is a celebration of 22 women who challenged conventional wisdom about appropriate female behaviour, from the ancient world all the way through to the twentieth century. Some of our protagonists are infamous and iconic, while others have been all but forgotten under the heavy weight of history.

Sometimes you have to break the rules before the rules break you.

My review:

I love living in the future! To have the privilege of participating in the funding of a book to really get behind books I want to see in print, to demonstrate with my frugal spending what I really want to read. I am proudly one of those who backed the Pozible campaign that was responsible for funding this book. What an extraordinary time in publishing, to be a reader and hooked into communities and networks!  I funded at the level where I received a gorgeous hardcover book, and I have to compliment Kathleen Jennings on her gorgeous cover and internal illustrations. From first glance at the cover you can see what this book is about, what kind of stories about ladies it tells, and it whets your appetite marvellously.

Historical fiction is one of those things I dabble in, historical non-fiction I just haven’t done remotely enough reading of. But there was no way I could resist an anthology like this that highlights the interesting lives of historical women, imagining how they lived, what they thought and looking at the impact they made – not always for the greater good. And that too is a strength of this anthology, it features all kinds of cranky ladies, from those who seek to improve the moral good, to those who are remembered with horror and fear, daring women, wronged women, women I’ve heard of and those who are brand new to me. This book is both a pleasure to read, and gives you some small insight into the historical significance of several women, mostly those who are forgotten by modern history. It’s not that the book is educational exactly, but it does make you want to learn more, to study these women and their lives.

Stories that particularly resonated with me, and it was hard to pick just a few I promise:

Bright Moon by Foz Meadows:

A woman who is determined not to submit to any man unless he can best her in wrestling, and because she is so fierce and talented, she wins thousands of horses from them as they fail to beat her. I love Khutulun’s fierce spirit and that she is herself and doesn’t have to hide from her father, that he supports her even if he is surprised by her declarations and strength of character. It’s these two things, her strength and his love that really resonated for me in this story.

Due Care and Attention by Sylvia Kelso:

I love the writing tone of this story, it plays in my mind almost as though I’m watching an episode of period drama like ‘Call the Midwife’ or ‘Downton Abbey’ or similar. I love Lilian’s dedication to medicine and care, and reading about the early use of cars in Brisbane was really interesting – particularly including the Royal Automobile Club. I loved in particular her discovery about the water treatment for burns. The whole story was just gorgeous, I’d read a whole novel about Lilian, absolutely.

Hallowed Ground by Juliet Marillier:

What a gorgeous story of piety, commitment and activism. Sister Hildegard has such quiet strength and Marillier’s writing truly brings her to life. I love the quiet opposition, the use of letters and negotiation with logic that Sister Hildegard uses. I love that although she has visions that the story isn’t really centred around them but about her own perseverance in developing her virtues. Trying to better oneself, trying to better the world around you. Such a beautiful story.

The Dragon, The Terror, The Sea by Stephanie Lai:

The storytelling voice in this story is unique, it’s different and I found that unlike most of the other stories which I read in a single sitting, this one I savoured over several sittings because each word and sentence seemed to be so layered. I loved the character of the Dragon, that she was so ruthless and yet operated within her own rules. I love that she had family, children and that this clearly didn’t stop her being both terrifying and powerful. This was one of the stand out stories in the anthology for me.

The Company of Women by Garth Nix:

Another favourite from the anthology, Nix’s story captivated me. I love the mythology behind this story and that Lady Godiva was a saviour in partnership with the bees. I loved the way the story was centred around women’s business in tending the bees, that became the saving of everyone else. This was a perfect short story for me – completely self contained, gave me every satisfaction and left me content.

Charmed Life by Joyce Ching

Queerness and silk discovery, choosing love over a certain kind of elevation into prosperity/wealth/power. This story was sweetness, it was delightful, and I loved that Leizu got to be with her lady love and that nothing tragic happened. Maybe it was different in history, but I’m in love with this story where the story ends on such a perfect note.

The Pasha, The Girl And The Dagger by Havva Murat

Strength and determination, proving one self to be just as good as the men who never had to question why they didn’t get to be the best and brightest. Earning the approval of one’s father. Trying to hold out against invasion, this story has everything – as I read the words, it seemed like an action movie was playing in my head! Nora reminds me of every young heroine I’ve read and loved, through this story and seeing her grow into a powerful young woman who seeks to prove herself and be recognised for her strength is so satisfying. I love that she’s hungry for battle, a little bloodthirsty and is full of valour and courage.

Mary, Mary by Kirsten McDermott 

The way this story begins with death, with familiarity and the Grey Lady is so intriguing! I’m not very familiar with the story of both of the Marys, both Shelley and Wollstonecraft but I loved reading about them both through Wollstonecraft’s eyes. I’ve always enjoyed stories that explore companionship of a supernatural kind that is not really of the ‘real’ world, the Grey Lady is a mysterious but compelling such companion and I loved the unfolding of her relationship with Mary. So much to love about this story!

Look How Cold My Hands Are by Deborah Biancotti

I’m not a horror reader, it’s fair to say that I go out of my way to avoid it. So I can’t say that I liked or loved this story, but it did resonate with me strongly. And I think it was so important to include this story in amongst the others in the book, stories of cranky ladies where their motives aren’t pure, they aren’t good people, because these women too are part of history, have been forgotten and their impacts largely unwritten and untold. A story of Countess Bathory, one of the most notorious serial killers in history, and especially as a female  serial killer is a good example of this. Other than the fact that she murdered countless other women, what do we know of her life, her reasons, what really happened? Not much. Needless to say this story left me chilled and I needed a unicorn chaser (or three) after it.

All in all, this anthology is *glorious*!

 

Media to soothe and uplift

I have a list in my to-do list keeper that is my ‘Women Are Awesome and People Can Make A Difference’ movie list. I thought rather than it languishing in a place only I can see and appreciate it, that maybe I’d share it here. Also, you might have other suggestions that I could add to the list.

Obviously, these things are subjective and what I’ve got on my list may not work for you at all, which is completely fine. I’m interested in your thoughts, and your suggestions. I would like to expand my comfort watching list, I think it could be a lot more diverse but given this is a comfort watching list, I am not sure where to start (I’m doing very little non-comfort-watching of anything at present).

With no further delay, the list:

  • Princess Diaries I and II
  • Legally Blonde I and II
  • Hairspray
  • Mamma Mia
  • Steel Magnolias
  • Rent
  • Clueless
  • A Destiny of Her Own
  • GI Jane
  • Spy Kids 1 – 4

I realise that I’ve just given you the list without any critical explanation as to why it’s there, but I’m not up to writing that right now, though maybe I would be interested in revisiting that later – right now I am more interested in what you think of the list and what other movies you’d suggest.

I think it likely that I could add ‘The Sapphires’ and ‘But I’m a Cheerleader’ to the list – but I haven’t re-watched them in so long that I don’t know right now, it will have to wait until I can deal with watching things that might not be comforting.

This is just the movie list, I have a whole separate watching pattern for television that maybe I’ll also post about.

 

Review: Tangled

I watched ‘Tangled’ for the second time this morning and it was just as good to watch the second time around as the first. It’s a movie that has been constructed in such a way as to not present as either a ‘girl’s’ movie or a ‘boy’s’ movie, the balance is pretty solid story and character wise in that sense. Looking at it with a feminist and cultural analysis lens, it comes out pretty damned favourably. I will admit that I was surprised how well it does.

Tangled poster

Overall it was a very well balanced movie, well written, good action sequences and pacing with character and plot development sequences. It was a movie where there was a likeable central female protagonist who was handy with a frypan (as a weapon) and surprisingly self-sufficient having been raised in a tower away from the world for eighteen years. The interpretation of the story by Disney was simple and effective hitting all the high notes of the traditional fairytale.

From a non-tokenism point of view, it passes the Bechdel test very early on with exchanges between Rapunzel and Mother Gothel. Both the character of Rapunzel and Mother Gothel are believable. Focusing on the latter for a moment, her villainous motives are clear and believable, her character remains consistent to these motivations throughout the entire film. Mother Gothel is set on staying young for ever and protecting the magic that keeps her that way. She’s emotionally outright manipulative toward Rapunzel which reinforces Rapunzel’s dependency on her and her naivety. Rapunzel’s naivety is believable, though it is clear that she is self sufficient, intelligent and imaginative. Thus when she leaves the tower, the way she learns and acclimatises to the outside world is also believable.

This is a classic fairytale story, complete with rescuing. Less ‘traditional’ is the way in which Rapunzel does an awful lot of rescuing of her guide Flynn. Flynn is goofy but likeable and not quite prepared to meet someone like Rapunzel who is intriguing and trigger happy with the fry pan. Flynn has princely good looks, a manner that suggests a certain confidence with charming women, and I have to say that one of my favourite lines in the movie is “You broke my smoulder!”. As Flynn and Rapunzel make their way to the city in order that she might see the floating lanterns, it is clear that Flynn learns as much from Rapunzel as she does from him.  I also appreciated the band of unlikely friends they met along the way (although in this aspect it was masculine character heavy).

As far as supporting characters go, hands down the non verbal characters have it – there were three. It was at every point very clear what their intended communication was and they were likeable and very different in both personality and motivation. Maxiumus the noble steed was a delight to watch at every point, I couldn’t love the character more if I tried. His dedication to apprehending Flynn for the theft of the crown is admirable, and the array of less than horse-like behaviours in pursuit of this goal are endearing, as is the truce like relationship that eventually occurs between Maximus and Flynn. Similarly Pascal the chameleon is a delightful best friend character for Rapunzel, giving her a playmate and confidant, someone to encourage her and occasionally mock her, a constant companion who supports the story and never short circuits it. The third non-verbal character is actually one of the ruffians they meet whose secret dream is to be a mime. The mime is a minor but articulate character, which for a non verbal character says a lot.

The band of thugs and ruffians the pair first meet at the ‘Snuggly Duckling’ (seriously what a cool name for a thug and ruffian pub!) are every bit as intimidating as you’d expect in the first few minutes, but Rapunzel’s determination to see the lanterns wins them over when she explains why she needs Flynn (who is apparently on everyone else’s black list) as her guide. Singing, dancing and absurdity ensue with each of the ruffians exclaiming their secret hidden dream.

Of particular note about this sequence is that although all of the characters were male, they all had dreams that fell into the realm that I’d loosely title ‘non traditionally male interests’. This was especially cool as a dichotomy playing off the fact that they were engaged in what were clearly defined stereotypical male occupational roles for a fairytale kingdom.

Other more minor aspects that I appreciated about the movie included the overall darker tone of the movie. It was a little bit more sinister than I’ve seen of Disney in recent years, a little less sanitised and it is something that I think really supports the film’s success. I enjoyed that although there was magic glowing hair as one of the keystones of the story, that the story was less about the hair/magic and more about Rapunzel herself. Even the romantic storyline played second fiddle to her overall desire to fulfill her dream to see the lanterns in person (aka: metaphor for self actualisation). I also have to comment on how much I enjoyed the lowly frying pan wielded as a formidable weapon throughout the film. This may seem like a minor point to appreciate, however, the fact that it is an ordinary implement found to hand says different things about violence and self protection as oppose to purposeful weapons for offensive violence.

I find very little that I could nitpick about this movie and I choose not to do so as it would feel petty given that I’d be searching as opposed to reviewing honestly. This film was very entertaining from an adult point of view, and having seen it today in the company of a three and five year old, entertaining and sustaining for them as well.  I thoroughly enjoyed the film and would recommend it without reservation.