Midwifery and the Pink Collar Penalty

Text graphic with a turquoise background. Black text reads "Keep Calm, Study Hard and Become a Midwife" with a small black crown at the top.I’m coming into the last year of my training before I hope to qualify and start my new professional role as a midwife. I’ve been making enquiries as to starting wages for graduates and I’m more than a little dismayed. The Nursing Award of 2010 is also the award for Midwives, Bachelor of Midwifery Graduates are treated as Registered Nurses. The basic minimum wage that I can expect comes in at just over $44k per year. Some of my graduate friends report packages as much as $46-47k per year. Although since most graduate program positions are at 0.8 full time equivalent, I wonder if that is then prorated?

This is for the protected title of midwife, which requires a recognised degree and is also qualification requiring ongoing registration to practice. The degree is a three year program and involves many hours of placement in clinical settings (nearly 1000 by the time I will qualify), as well as hours spent following through with pregnant people and their families for experience in the pregnancy continuum . All of these hours are unpaid and undertaken at your own expense.

$44k. I can’t be the only one who thinks that’s a little insulting. I’m told that starting wages for teachers is likewise paltry. I’m surprised at my own surprise for this – why am I surprised that this critical work requiring immense dedication and determination is so undervalued? And yet, I am – I had a sense that a job that necessitated a degree to undertake would have a better wage attached to it. I had thought that even as a graduate, brand new and still squeaking from exam stress that I could expect at least to earn over $50k as a starting point. At that level, my wage would at least would allow me to take over supporting our family with my income. The base wage I’ve mentioned is not to take into account the nature of midwifery as shift work, with penalties (for now) – the potential for extra money through shift work exists, but it is not a given, especially as a graduate. Especially if in a graduate program where there may be an upper limit of shifts or night shifts imposed for some semblance of work and life balance as well as occupational health and safety.

Midwifery - art, science, care - quoteThis discussion of remuneration seems cold and mercenary when referring to a profession that calls for a least a little reverence. Midwifery is the art of being with woman (person), and assisting women to bring new life into the world, equal parts ordinary and extraordinary. For me this is encapsulated by the fact that there is always a moment before baby takes their first breath, that moment always gets me and never ceases to be magical. It’s breathing – so ordinary, and yet that first breath is so important, achieves so much and is absolutely extraordinary.

And yet this is the nature of the pink collar penalty, work that is generally performed by women and has an association with being valuable, rewarding, life-changing, life-saving. In other words, you’re supposed to do the work because it is rewarding first, for the love of it. By inference, the income from undertaking this work is almost meant to be an afterthought – a ‘nice to have’, because the love of the job is its own reward. This is a problem for teachers, childcare workers, nurses, midwives and countless other professions. Dedication to and passion for something like midwifery however fulfilling, does not pay the bills or fill your fridge, or pay for retirement.

It’s the height of injustice to call for the selflessness of women performing these roles and expect them to do it for the love of it alone, and not to need to consider the monetary value behind their work. The hours of study to qualify, the hours of study to maintain our registration and provide the best evidence-based care, the hours messed up by shift-work and the toll that takes on shift-worker’s lives in general. We deserve better, for giving our all to care for people, teach people, and support people throughout their lives as they cross the paths of professionals affected by this penalty. 

I love becoming a midwife, I’m certain I’ll love being a midwife. I love the inherently feminist way I can work and live as a midwife, and that it intersects well with my previous degree in gender and cultural studies. But I have also spent 3 years already working towards this goal unpaid, desperately trying to make ends meet and thought that once I could start working all the scrimping and cutting corners would be worthwhile. I wouldn’t have to figure out how to get by on a week-to-week basis – I could perhaps after a while not live fortnight-to-fortnight, I could maybe have savings. That seems like a pretty fantasy right now if I’m honest. Especially with the recent attacks on penalty rates for workers in hospitality, it’s fairly likely that attacks on other penalty rates like for healthcare workers will come. This is not the feminist future I signed up for, but I’ll work as hard as possible to make it better for us all. After all, I’m painfully aware of the fact that I clearly have enough privilege to actually do this course of study and to have somehow made it work – that’s worthwhile acknowledging too.

105th Down Under Feminist Carnival – March!

Square logo with turquoise border,, same colour text Down Under Feminist Carnival spans the top and bottom, in the centre is the symbol for 'woman' with the southern cross inside the loop. It’s been a while, but I’m once again hosting the Down Under Feminist Carnival next month. No theme or rhyme or reason at the moment, there’s plenty to keep us going at present after all.

Please send me links for any Australian or New Zealand content that you’d like to see featured in the carnival, I’m all ears. You can comment here, or email me transcendancing [at] gmail [dot] com.

The carnival is a collaborative community project. If you’ve ever thought about being a DUFC host, now’s the time to contact Chally who coordinates the carnival. If you’re interested, here’s the DUFC contact form and here is a list of future carnivals that have already been planned (pick any month that isn’t on that list). You’ll get submissions to help you out and Chally will provide any support you might need, first time hosts and those from New Zealand would be especially welcome.

Check out the Down Under Feminists Carnival homepage for more information.

 

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.

AWW16: Kid Dark Against the Machine by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #11

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 BadgeTitle: Kid Dark Against the Machine

Author: Tansy Rayner Roberts

Publisher and Year: Book Smugglers Publishing, 2016

Genre: fantasy, super heroes

 

 

Kid Dark Against the Machine - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

From the award-winning author of Cookie Cutter Superhero comes a brand new story about sidekicks, supervillains and saving the world

Back when he was called something else, Griff knew everything about superheroes, sidekicks and the mysterious machine responsible for creating them. Now, Griff is just an average guy, minding his own business. A volunteer handyman at the Boys Home—his former home—Griff spends his days clearing out gutters and building clubhouses for the orphans at the Home. Nothing heroic or remarkable about that, right?

But all of that changes when one of the Home kids starts having weird dreams about another Machine—an evil version that churns out supervillains. Griff remembers the call of the Machine, and reluctantly decides to help the kid on his mission.

And then they waltz back into Griff’s life. Those bloody heroes. Including him—The Dark—one of Australia’s mightiest and longest-running superheroes.

What’s a retired secret superhero sidekick to do?

 

My Review:

I’m an unashamed fan of Tansy’s writing and I absolutely could not resist a follow up story to Cookie Cutter Super Hero from Kaleidescope. I have to say that Kid Dark Against the Machine was a glorious follow up story in this universe. I loved it! Griff is a great character, he’s so likeable and relatable the moment you meet him – and you can absolutely see where he’s coming from as a child superhero trying to figure out what on earth to do with his life after.

I love the themes that this story explores, also in keeping with the original story. Superheroes and tropes used by them and in comics. While Cookie Cutter Super Hero introduced us to some of these criticisms, I really think that Kid Dark Against the Machine brought it home – I don’t think you can read this story (either of them really) and look at super heroes and comics the same way.

I loved that this story made super heroes accessible to me as a reader who is only occasionally interested in the superheroes and comics genre. I didn’t need ten years of back knowledge to understand what was going on, Tansy gave me everything I needed to appreciate every snarky moment and subversive twist in the story. I loved all the names of the heroes and the villains, I loved that the hero and villain processes for selection and being in the spotlight were so different. I loved that being a super hero wasn’t lauded, and that there was this narrative time given to the person and human left behind once the world has moved on to other super heroes.

Kid Dark Against the Machine is a fluffy story that tackles good versus evil in a whole new way – it tackles it in the cheesy fun way that comics do all the time, but it also tackles the assumptions that underpin the genre. Tansy manages this in a way that couldn’t be further from dry and boring, you get your pop culture, gender politics and child hero ethics lesson in a cute package that is over far too quickly.

I’m with all the others who are calling for a novel in this universe, it’s got so much to offer and I’d read it in a heartbeat. If you want a light read, but an intelligent one about super heroes and looking at what that might be really like underneath the surface, this story is definitely for you.

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: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Every Heart a Doorway - coverARC Review:

Title: Every Heart a Doorway

Author: Seanan McGuire

Publisher and Year: Tor, 2016

Genre: fantasy, young adult, new adult

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.

 

My Review:

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

How have I not read any of Seanan McGure’s work before?! Especially given my love of urban fantasy?! In any case, this was my first foray into McGuire’s work and I could not put the book down. Every Heart a Doorway is simply magnificent and is an instant favourite for 2016, without question.

Every Heart a Doorway has one of the most interesting fantasy premises I’ve come across in a long time and it’s beautifully executed. The world building for the story is sublime and I want to read so many more stories set in this universe! Not only were the setting and world building engaging, the characters leapt off the page and brought the story to life for me. I could imagine their voices, the way they looked, everything so clearly.

My heart went out to Nancy and I was particularly taken by her experience having tumbled into a world that wasn’t sunshine and rainbows, as some of the worlds in the books were described, but one that is more silent, deeper and a bit darker. I am absolutely a fan of sunshine, unicorns and rainbows without question, but my experience of that is enhanced when there is shadow and darkness to the lightheartedness. I also love how well McGuire demonstrates that sunshine and rainbows do not inherently equal benevolence or fairness, and that the darker or creepier worlds are not necessarily malevolent or evil.

What especially struck me about this novella, and I think it’s an aspect that makes this particularly good reading for young/new adults is the way in which Nancy experiences isolation and difficulty with her family after she returns from her world. Nancy’s experience parallels the experience of many who are struggling personally with something that their families don’t or can’t understand. Across the experiences of other characters in the novel like Kade, Jack, Jill and Sumi, the concept of family and the relationship with family as being complex, fraught and difficult on several levels is explored including having family, not having family, being loved and wanted, or unwanted and misunderstood by family.

Additionally, the novella includes a spectrum of characters with different experiences, not all of them are white, one is asexual and another is transgender, and this too mirrors the experience of people reading who want to see themselves in fiction, and see how other characters think about their lives, feelings and experiences and process them. I sincerely wish I had a book like this for when I was growing up, I needed this book growing up and I needed it now to look back on my past and growing up and the impact of being misunderstood and out of place on me. That profound sense of not belonging so much that you lose yourself in fantasy trying to cope – for the characters in the story that’s more literal than metaphorical but it really hit home for me. Wanting to belong and trying to find that place, finding it and losing it, trying to find a new sense of home and belonging afterwards. This story is profound on several levels.

I also love the overt feminism of the story in considering why there are so many more girls than boys who go through secret doors into hidden worlds. The idea of boys being too loud to be easily missed, and the expectations and assumptions about how boys play and what will happen to them versus the way in which we seek to protect girls, but also how we impose upon them a silence and stillness that means that it is easier for them to be misplaced, should they find a door and go wandering. This is a pointed commentary and it draws on the generalisations bound up in traditional gender roles reflecting not only a bitter truth contained within, but also the constraint that is imposed upon people to be, to not be, to conform a certain way.

I have no criticisms to level at this novella, as one reviewer put it: it’s damn near perfect. It packs an emotional punch, it’s beautifully written, the length is accessible – it’s neither too long nor too short and it leaves you wanting more. I am my own doorway, I am the only one who gets to choose my story and I make the decisions that govern my narrative. Every Heart a Doorway will stay with me for the rest of my life.

 

 

AWW16: Thief of Lives by Lucy Sussex (Twelve Planets #3)

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #6

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 BadgeTitle: Thief of Lives (Twelve Planets #3)

Author: Lucy Sussex

Publisher and Year: Twelfth Planet Press, 2011

Genre: fantasy, urban fantasy, collection, anthology

 

Thief of Lies - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

Why are certain subjects so difficult to talk about?
What is justice?
Why do writers think that other people’s lives are fair game?
And what do we really know about the first chemist?

A story about history, women, science (and also the demonic); a crime story, based upon a true crime; a realist satire of the supposedly sex-savvy; and a story exploring lies, and the space between the real and the unreal. Welcome to the worlds of Lucy Sussex, and to her many varied modes.

 

My review:

This review is presented as part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016, and as part of the Journey Through the Twelve Planets Reading Challenge


Another really solid addition to the Twelve Planets collection by Twelfth Planet Press. This book wasn’t my favourite, but Sussex has been on my ‘to read’ list in my head for quite a while so I’m pleased to finally read some of her work. Overall I enjoyed this collection, but I didn’t fall into it the way I did with both Nightsiders and Love and Romanpunk. I do think this is a great introduction to Sussex’s work and her talent across different genres and styles of writing.

Alchemy

The first story in the collection is Alchemy, and it’s my favourite of the collection. I love Tapputi’s character, her quiet strength and being utterly grounded in her world. I love the observation of her throughout her life by Azuzel and how drawn he his to her and the potential he sees in her in a history-making sense. This is a story that I think demonstrates boundaries really well – in a kind of abstract but also literal sense. Azuzel makes an offer, after observing Tapput, she refuses and he respects her decision. He returns to observe her, still drawn to her ‘once in a generation’ mind and offers again – years later, and respects her again and possibly more when she still refuses. I definitely got the sense of Azuzel as an immortal entity wafting throughout time and history acting, interacting, observing but lacking earthly substance without that alchemical connection. Stories like this one are amongst those I particularly enjoy – the connection (romantic or not) between an otherworldly character and a worldly character (using broad definitions), it just presses a big emotional satisfaction button for me.

Fountain of Justice

Fountain of Justice was an interesting story, and it didn’t really work for me but I did like Meg’s character. The story didn’t quite fulfil the premise for me, although I was engaged by the ideas behind the story – all of them separately were interesting, but I don’t feel like they came together as a whole in the end.  I did love the idea of the fountain being the agent of justice, and also that sometimes needs must and the official rules and version of things may be different from certain truths.

The Subject of O

The Subject of O is a story where I loved the premise and enjoyed the story but it didn’t get under my skin and it didn’t stay with me. On the surface, lots about this story is my jam – female sexuality, invisibility and uncovering the ordinary in society. But while I loved the way Petra considered female sexuality and orgasms, and the truth around communicating them (or not) with the person you’re having sex with, it was a bit meh for me. Maybe it’s simply that this is a subject in which I’ve thought and thought and over-thought, or that I’m not sure. It also occurs to me that the story is intended to be satirical and that tends to be hit and miss for me.

Thief of Lives

Thief of Lives is an ‘Inception-like’ story, it’s the story in which the title of the collection is taken from, and features a book of the same name within. That part tickles me quite a lot. Actually, I really loved the dark and urban style fantasy involved here and I think my real complaint with this story is that it was merely a taste and I wanted a novel with these characters, with this universe. It was really engaging although at times hard to follow, but overall really satisfying.

 


*A note for those tracking numbers, the 5th book I read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge was ‘Innocence Lost’ by Patty Jansen, but since I didn’t enjoy it I’ve only reviewed it on Goodreads.