Sense 8: A review By Heather Thayer

Last week I posted a video (which I’m posting again at the end of this review) and said that I wasn’t totally on board with Sense 8 yet. Well, Heather Thayer sent me that video and told me to keep watching, which is why I spent thirteen hours last week glued to the screen. The show is a slow start, but once it hooked me, it REALLY hooked me. Here’s Heather’s review!

Sense8 – Watch It, Be Confused, Fall in Love

Sense8 is the new Netflix show by the Wachowskis and J Michael Straczynski — the first season was posted on Friday, June 5.  It was stormy here that weekend, so I watched the whole thing in two days. Like all Wachowski productions it is fun to look at — sometimes beautiful almost to the point of being distracting.  At its core, the first season is simply a character study — the premise is that there are certain people, “sensates” (get it?) who can share thoughts, experience, knowledge etc within their cluster of eight, even though they are scattered all over the globe.  The show begins with a new cluster being created — a group of eight people who share the same puzzling vision that they each dismiss as a dream or hallucination. How it is that these people can sense each other and share experience is confusing (an attempt to fully explain later in the season would have been best left out of the script as it reeked of woo), but I was willing to go along with it because I wanted to see more of these characters.

Many early critics complained that the show is confusing, and that criticism has merit at the beginning. Netflix goofed by only providing the first three episodes to the preview critics when this show takes at least four episodes for the viewer to get invested.  For most of the season, each character just continues with her or his own life as if nothing has happened.  Granted, many of these characters are at individual crisis points in their own lives and it takes a while for them to figure out that what has happened is real and not a strange dream, but it would seem that suddenly being part of a collective with seven other people around the world would be . . . riveting.  But no, the show just keeps following each character in their individual story rather than following a collective narrative, and much of the first season is simply following eight separate stories about eight separate people.  What makes the show more confusing is that rather than using each episode to introduce one character in depth, as is customary in multiple-character dramas, we meet all of them all at once and follow all of them all at once. This makes it hard to keep the characters straight or to invest in the outcomes until nearly the fifth episode. While there are lots of action sequences (must every one of these people get into a fight?), very little of the action propels the overall narrative arc but is simply in service of a character’s individual story.

Yep, that’s a rocket launcher.

This show is built for binge watching because with so many stories to follow with little connecting arc, it would be (even more) difficult to follow if one left too much time between episodes.  This is a show where no episode could stand on its own — with eight characters to follow, each episode takes baby steps to move each of the eight stories forward.  That also makes it difficult to get hooked. But sticking with it produces rewards. As a good friend (okay, it was Carrie) said to me, “I was not that into it but then I kept thinking about it. It kind of sank into my head.” It’s that kind of show – initially confusing and slow, but with random beautiful moments that draw the viewer in gently.

They find the plot confusing, too.

As we get to know the characters better we start caring about their individual journeys and an overall arc begins to show up (evil corporation anyone?) with villains with mysterious motives. Some of our characters start to be in a danger that threatens the whole cluster and some of them know what is actually happening while others simply accept without understanding.  The characters get better at stepping in to help each other out, and by the end of the first season the cluster starts to work as a collective team.

There is something about the show that eventually becomes compelling but it takes time to just look at the scenery along the way.  There is one sequence where one character listens to a song and they all, where ever they are, sing along.  It is a long sequence that doesn’t do anything to move the plot, but it is a joyful moment that sticks with me and I find myself singing that song.  I like a show that will take time to create interesting moments just for the sake of delight, and in the end I found that I had fallen deeply for the characters and the show. I can’t stop thinking about it. And I want more.

Book Review: The Windflower, by Sharon and Tom Curtis

You need summer reading? I got yer summer reading right here, pal! Look no further than The Windflower, the craziest and swooniest romance you’ll ever read! I’ve written about it before, I’m sure, but darn it I’m gonna write about it again, because this is THE book you want to read this summer, on the beach, while drinking a margarita. This book is funny (SO FUNNY) and exciting and sexy – just what every summer needs. The book has gone through many printings, each with it’s own hideous cover. Just lie back and let the fuchsia happen.

The Windflower, which was originally published under the name “Laura London”, is wonderful because, among other things, it takes the romance tropes that were popular at the time and turns them upside down. The first line is a legend among romance readers: “Merry Patricia Wilding was sitting on a cobblestone wall, sketching three rutabagas and daydreaming about the unicorn.”

I warned you about the fuchsia!

Merry is the most ingenue-est ingenue that ever there was, so naturally she is drawn into international intrigue and subsequently kidnapped by pirates. She spends her first week or two on board the pirate ship crying, throwing up, and occasionally fainting, but by a third of the way through the book she’s learned how to fire a cannon because that’s the kind of book this is, and the pirates adore her. As the rather disgruntled Devon explains later, “Rand Morgan’s ‘devils’ would eat soot if she fed it them with her baby fingers. She was ill once, and they spent so much time weeping into their shirtsleeves that there wasn’t a dry bicep in the fo’c’sle.”

SO. MUCH. PURPLE.

The pirates are famed for being terrifying in all the old-school romance kinds of ways but as it turns out they are sweetie pies with a pet pig named Dennis. If the book has a weakness, it’s that the male hero, Devon, is probably the least interesting character – far less interesting than the character of Cat, who gives Merry some tough but consistent platonic love. The scene in which Cat explains the facts of life to Merry and they fight about vocabulary is only topped by an earlier, poignant scene in which Merry begs her maiden aunt for intel only to discover that her aunt doesn’t know what happens between men and women either. This book is constantly juggling whimsy, horror (I no longer wish to be stranded on a deserted island, at least, not if it has crocodiles), sadness, humor, and sexuality, and it’s astonishing that it gets the balance just right. Of course mileage will vary, but this book consistently ends up on romance readers’ lists of favs because all the elements provide an incredibly immersive and emotional reading experience.

This version is weirdly tasteful.

Merry and Devon fall madly in lust at once, of course, and in a twist in the rapey heroes of yore Devon does not rape Merry. He’s supposed to be a badass pirate lord so he threatens, but it quickly becomes obvious that if he harms Merry in any way the pirates will sic Dennis the Pig on him. Merry and Devon have a big misunderstanding, and she tries to escape a lot, and they make out constantly, and every now and then he leaves and whenever he returns she’s firing a cannon or keeping a pet octopus in a bucket or trying to escape in a leaky rowboat and bailing it out with her shoe. Merry is pretty cutesy but she’s also tough and resourceful, and she grows tremendously – it’s a joy to watch. Plus you really do have to root for someone who keeps an octopus as a pet, even if it’s only for a day.

Over at NPR, Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books has a great review in which she talks about the impact The Windflower has on readers.

The Windflower was out of print for years and romance readers who scored a copy protected it as though it was the crown jewels. It’s back in print, and yes, the cover is hideous:

Told you.

But the point is, the covers are horrible but the book is DIVINE. And did I mention funny? Every time I read the book I find a new favorite line and I’m not going to spoil a single one because I want you to read it yourself, yes, YOU! If you have any vacation this year, make this book part of it.

Between the Lines Book Club: Interviews with Jhumpa Lahiri

between the lines book club logo

Time for Between The Lines Book Club! Leave your comments about The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri below. Better yet, join us in Sacramento, CA tomorrow ( 6/2715). We meet at 10:30 AM at Arden Dimick Library, at 891 Watt Avenue, Sacramento, CA.

Note: next Friday I will not be posting as I’ll be enjoying Fourth of July weekend and bracing for San Diego Comic-Con. That cosplay won’t pack itself! We’ll be back here to talk about July’s pick, Orfeo, by Richard Powers, on Friday July 10.

The Lowland was a much-anticipated book and as such there are many interviews available with Lahiri. Here’s a selection:

The New Yorker has a fairly long interview with Lahiri in which she talks about the book. She also talks about a new experiment – writing in Italian., which is a relative new language for her:

But what I think I find really freeing about this strange, experimental, whatever-you-want-to-call-it phase is that I love the freedom of writing in an imperfect way. I feel what I felt as a child, when I was first learning how to write stories, when I was first writing stories, and I was first experiencing that pleasure of putting sentences on paper and the excitement that it would give me. I think as an adult I do still feel that excitement, but it’s different. Writing in another language is humbling. It’s so hard. How I explain it to people is that I feel as though I’ve tied my right hand behind my back on purpose and I’m writing with my left hand, and I recognize how much sloppier it is, how much more awkward it is, how much more out of control it is in a way. But I also love doing without so much. I feel that when I describe something in Italian I just have a very limited amount of resources. My toolbox is small. And I only have a certain amount of vocabulary. I have the grammar and I can make it all work in that way, but it’s much simpler as a result. It’s not the same process of writing in English, where I could choose from one of twenty-five different words to describe how the sky looks to me. I can’t do that in Italian. I might have two or three words. So it feels more direct, in a way, the process, because there’s a strange purity about it, even though it’s so imperfect.

Parul Sehgal did an interview with Lahiri for Elle India in which Lahiri talks about her writing process:

The book begins: “East of the Tolly Club, after Deshapran Sashmal Road splits in two, there is a small mosque.” In that one sentence, we get the collision of British, Muslim and Hindu (and with the fork in the road, an echo of Robert Frost, and Lahiri’s New England roots), an intimation of how the brothers will take divergent paths, and inevitably, a little Lahiri family history. The Lowland is set in Tollygunge, her father’s neighborhood in Calcutta, where Naxalism set down strong roots, even attracting members of her family. The book brims with facts and local political lore – unusual for a writer who doesn’t identify herself as especially political. “I’m looking at the world a different way,” she says. “I’m trying to create people of all kinds and put them into situations, and it’s not my objective to have a message. I work from the inside out.”

To depict Naxalism from the inside out, she travelled to Calcutta to meet people who had been active in the movement. It was a turning point for the book, she says. “You realize the difference between someone who may vote a certain way or think that these objectives are right and reasonable, versus a person for whom these beliefs, this sense of justice is as essential as water or air. Even all these years later, they’re still burning with it.”

I thought this was a cute and poignant moment where she talks about understanding her parents better now that she’s moved to Rome:

But what’s also clear is that if Lahiri has moved away from using fiction to fathom her parents, life is teaching her what she wanted to know. Lahiri has been living in Rome for a year now, a city that, she says, shares Calcutta’s relaxed sociability. And she has found that fumbling with a foreign language, struggling with simple things – phone calls, putting her children in school—has helped her see her parents more clearly. Although she admits this confuses her mother a good deal. “She’s like, ‘Why do you have to be so far away from us? If you want to understand us, come over!’” Lahiri says, laughing.

The Lowland was a finalist for the National Book Award, and you can find an interview with her on their website.   In this interview, she reveals that she resisted writing the book for ten years:

I conceived of The Lowland before any of my other books were published. And so in a sense it’s the book I’ve been trying to write from the beginning. I think it’s a continuation, and perhaps a conclusion, of certain thematic preoccupations. I am also hopeful that it will lead to an aesthetic departure.

Wednesday Videos: Tatiana Maslany’s Got Your Back

WednesdayVideoLast weekend we had the season finale of Orphan Black. It left us with some questions, most notably, why can’t I find a fan tribute/parody video set to “Jesse’s Girl?” Make it happen, video people!

One of the great things about the show is how it deals with LGBTQIA issues – mostly by including well-rounded LGBTQIA characters and letting them do stuff. Here’s an interview with Tatiana Maslany, courtesy of GLAAD:

And on a lighter note, the parody video “Too Many Cooks” gets a parody of its own with “Too Many Clones.” Just keep watching the credits, trust me.

I WROTE A THING!

Actually what this should say is: I wrote a teeny tiny part of a thing! My essay “Uhura Shows Us How It’s Done” is included in the eBook version of The WisCon Chronicles Vol. 9: Intersections and Alliances, edited by May Anne Mohanraj.

WisCon is the world’s oldest feminist science fiction convention. Since 2007, Aqueduct Press has released an annual anthology of essays, commentary, and roundtable discussions relevant to the convention.  This year’s theme, “Intersections and Alliances”, is described thusly:

In this volume of The WisCon Chronicles, we find ourselves considering what it means to live at the intersections of various identities, some of them more privileged than others. We ask how we can function as good allies to each other in often challenging situations. We’re living through an intense time of social change, and a variety of questions arise as we have these often difficult conversations about feminism, race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and more. Among them are questions about what leads to positive social change and how best to effect such change in our communities.

This collection is available as a paperback or as an eBook. Some of the material, including my essay and many others, is only available in the digital version. However, everyone who purchases the paperback will find a code in the front of the book that entitles them to a free digital copy.

I’m so proud to be included in any format of this anthology. I certainly never thought that my name would be in a book along with among many other amazing people, Nalo Hopkinson, N.K. Jemisin, and Samuel R. Delaney. I’m so humbled and proud to be part of the conversation happening in this book!  You can purchase the book in either format from Aqueduct Press here. Enjoy!

Book Review: Polar Star, by Martin Cruz Smith

Lately I’m reviewing a lot of old favorite books for this blog. This is because I just did the math, and in order to keep up with my writing/reviewing/ book club facilitation I apparently have to get to read a minimum of 12 – 14 books per month. It’s like the best grad school experience ever without the grades. Anyway, I’m concentrating on some old favorites for this blog.

I live in California and yesterday it got up to 104 degrees, which means it’s the perfect time to re-read Polar Star, by Martin Cruz Smith. Smith is most famous for Gorky Park, a mystery set in Moscow during the Soviet Era. Gorky Park is a classic for good reason, but I’ve always preferred the sequel, Polar Star, more than it’s predecessor or any of the series that followed, because Polar Star so clearly etches the details of a stark environment into the mind of the reader.

Due to the events of Gorky Park, our hero, Arkady Renko, is exiled to work on “the slime line” on The Polar Star, an arctic fishing vessel. Polar Star is not science fiction, but I suspect that many fans of science fiction will enjoy it, because the crew of the Polar Star lives in an environment so harsh that it might as will be the surface of the moon, and they are as isolated on their ship as any space crew. Of course someone dies, of course Renko is hell-bent on proving that it was murder and proving who did it, and of course this gets him in terrible trouble that involves his crewmates and the crew of an American vessel that is supposed to be working in partnership with the Soviet fishing fleet.

The joy of this book is the incredible atmosphere. The book takes place on the Bering Sea during a time when it is always dark or twilight grey. A small section of the book takes place in Alaska, in Dutch Harbor. The character of Renko is so profoundly politically doomed that he’s functionally a ghost, and he’s obsessed with solving mysteries but he also knows that there will never be justice. Renko floats through his life the way the boat floats on the water, with no hope of improving his lot. Yet the actions of the plot give the book a forward momentum, and the sharpness of the images keeps the reader alert (watch out for a spectacularly disgusting autopsy). Because Renko has nothing to lose, he pushes forward on his investigation doggedly, with a wry sense of humor that is as dry as possible.

I love the language in this book. Take a look:

“Out of the net and into the light spilled a flood of silver pollack, a whole school that had been caught en masse and dredged up like bright coins.”

“Some flaw in him led to futile connections.”

“With the next wave, he was up to his knees in freezing water, holding onto the net with one hand and with the other dragging Pavel from a kelp-like mass of plastic chafing hair…What struck Arkady was that Karp had never hesitated; he had moved with such speed that saving another man’s life seemed less an act of courage than a gymnast’s spin around a bar.”

“Dutch Harbor was surrounded by a green ring of cliffs covered by thick sub-arctic grasses. There were no trees, nothing bigger than a bush, but as the wind moved over the grass the effect was magical, as if the hills were a wave.”

“He had once known a pathologist who had claimed that Renko’s greatest talent lay not in escaping disastrous situations but only in complicating them.”

Polar Star will either depress you or uplift you, depending on how you feel about dogged investigators who have been sentenced to gut fish and who solve crimes even though the crimes will not be punished or recognized. For some reason Renko, who is quite depressed, always cheers me up. I believe it’s his tenacity that does it. He claims to be deeply cynical, and he sounds deeply cynical, yet clearly he holds to some ferocious ideals, and he pursues them with no hope of a reward, just because. Also, it’s 104 degrees outside and in Renko’s world it’s very, very cold. And I miss living in Alaska. I didn’t live in Dutch Harbor but I lived on similar tundra and I remember the wind making the ground look like a wave, and the tiny flowers. Ultimately, Polar Star finds great beauty in bleak things.

Between the Lines Book Club: The History Behind The Lowland

between the lines book club logoIn this month’s Between the Lines Book Club selection, The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri writes about two brothers who react very differently to turbulent political times in Calcutta. One leaves for America, where he goes to university. The other becomes a member of the Naxalite movement. It’s obvious from the context of the book what’s going on. Clearly the character is involved in a political movement driven by young people that is concerned with social injustice and that is willing to use violence. But the full history of the movement is fascinating. While I can’t give it full justice, here’s a brief overview.

“Naxalites” refers to members of several different Communist groups in India. They have a Maoist ideology and continue to be active today in both legal and illegal forms. The term “Naxalite” comes from the West Bengali village of Naxalbari. In 1967, a group split off from the Communist Party and initiated an uprising in Naxalbari with the goal of redistributing land to the landless. Initially, the group attracted Indian peasants and urban intellectuals. They took much of their guidance form “The Historic Eight Documents”, written by Charu Majumdar. Their goal was to overthrow the Indian State. They were no fans of the Soviet Union, believing that the Soviet Union had lost track of true communism. In the 1970s the group split into factions, but remained active.

The segment of history most relevant to this month’s book club pick, The Lowland, involves Naxalite activity in West Bengal in the early 1970’s. From my old pal, Wikipedia (I’m not proud):

Around 1971 the Naxalites gained a strong presence among the radical sections of the student movement in Calcutta.[20] Students left school to join the Naxalites. Majumdar, to entice more students into his organisation, declared that revolutionary warfare was to take place not only in the rural areas as before, but everywhere and spontaneously. Thus Majumdar declared an “annihilation line”, a dictum that Naxalites should assassinate individual “class enemies” (such as landlords, businessmen, university teachers, police officers, politicians of the right and left) and others.[21][22]

The chief minister, Siddhartha Shankar Ray of the Congress Party, instituted strong counter-measures against the Naxalites. The West Bengal police fought back to stop the Naxalites. The house of Somen Mitra, the Congress MLA of Sealdah, was allegedly turned into a torture chamber where Naxals were incarcerated illegally by police and the Congress cadres. CPI-M cadres were also involved in the “state terror”. After suffering losses and facing the public rejection of Majumdar’s “annihilation line”, the Naxalites alleged human rights violations by the West Bengal police, who responded that the state was effectively fighting a civil war and that democratic pleasantries had no place in a war, especially when the opponent did not fight within the norms of democracy and civility.[15]

Large sections of the Naxal movement began to question Majumdar’s leadership. In 1971 the CPI(ML) was split, as the Satyanarayan Singh revolted against Majumdar’s leadership. In 1972 Majumdar was arrested by the police and died in Alipore Jail. His death accelerated the fragmentation of the movement.

In July 1971, Indira Gandhi took advantage of President’s rule to mobilise the Indian Army against the Naxalites and launched a colossal combined army and police counter-insurgency operation, termed “Operation Steeplechase,” killing hundreds of Naxalites and imprisoning more than 20,000 suspects and cadres, including senior leaders.[23] The paramilitary forces and a brigade of para commandos also participated in Operation Steeplechase. The operation was choreographed in October 1969, and J.F.R. Jacob was enjoined by Govind Narain, the Home Secretary of India, that “there should be no publicity and no records” and Jacob’s request to receive the orders in writing was also denied by Sam Manekshaw.[24]

Thousands of people have died as part of Naxalite insurgency or during Naxalite-sponsoered assassinations or other violent actions. Most Naxalite groups are considered terrorist groups. Like many such groups, they continue to appeal to the most marginalized, impoverished members of society. Brittanica.com sums up the situation today:

Naxalite groups generally have claimed to represent the poorest and most socially marginalized members of Indian society (notably tribal peoples and Dalits [formerly untouchables]) and to adhere to the Maoist doctrine of sustained peasant-led revolution. For decades they have waged guerrilla warfare against such targets as landlords, businesspeople, politicians, and security forces, and they have disrupted infrastructure by damaging transportation, communication, and power lines. In the process, they often have been able to establish bases of operation in remote forested areas. Naxalite groups have come to control large territories in many of the states of eastern India—notably Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, and West Bengal—and their influence has spread even wider beyond those areas. Often Naxalite groups have taken over governing functions and provided social services within areas under their control, although they also have been accused of using harsh enforcement tactics.

If you are in the Sacramento area, be sure to join us on June 27, 2015 at Arden Dimick Library at 10:30AM for coffee, pastries, and discussion about The Lowland, a book that eloquently and compassionately describes why a intelligent and well-educated man might devote his life to this cause, without flinching from the violence practiced by the group or from the violence of the Indian State at the time. 

Wednesday Videos and LINKS!

WednesdayVideoWow, busy week. First off, here is your weekly video – A Capella Science presents “Eminemium (Choose Yourself)”.  BOOM DROPS MIC.

Links!  These are all long.

First up, two things I wrote for Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.  First up, RedheadedGirl, Elyse, and I review Jurassic World. Short version – we loved the dinosaurs and we hated everything else.

Next, I wrote a thing! Click here to read my essay, “Mad Max: Fury Road Makes Your Rape Arguments Invalid”. Short version: depicting rape is not always bad, but stop using it as a lazy plot device and trying to justify it with lazy arguments, because Fury Road just blew that out of the water.

I don’t watch Game of Thrones because I’m a wuss but I’m a slave to the recaps. I thought this article, while incomplete, was interesting. From The New Inquiry: “When Game of Thrones Stopped Being Necessary”.

And last but not least, this is hysterical: “Ranking Every Jurassic World Character From Dumbest to Least Dumb”. Best line: “They basically do everything they possibly can to get eaten short of covering themselves in barbecue sauce and stepping directly into the Indominus Rex’s mouth.”

Sober-Dialing My Peeps!

It’s been a tough and contentious year for Science Fiction/Fantasy writers and readers. Morale is a tad low, which is why the wonderful Alyx Dellamonica got us all sober-dialing our peeps to share the love for our wonderful, amazing, weird, fantastic community. You can read her post here.

For my contribution, I’m thinking about the people who first welcomed me into the world of SF/F on a professional level. My very first gig as a freelance reporter of sorts was when I was sent by Smart Bitches, Trashy Books to cover the Nebula Awards in 2013. I often think of how very differently my life would have gone if I had had a terrible weekend – if no one wanted an interview with me, if I hadn’t talked to people, if I had spent all my time in my room. But that’s not the weekend that I had – instead, people sought me out, brought me into conversations, and treated me so much as though I was a real-life professional that I became one.

I was treated with so much respect and kindness by so many people – Jaym Gates, who held my hand (figuratively) through my efforts to figure out how this whole interview thing was going to work, Cliff Winnig, Kyle Aisteach, Alethea Kontis, Sarah Beth Durst, Leah Bobet, Lee Merriweather, E.C. Meyers, and so many more people who reached out to me and said, “Oh, hey, we should introduce you to…”

At that same conference, Connie Willis gave me a NINETY-MINUTE INTERVIEW. It was AMAZING. She was incredibly kind to me and generous with her time and I’m not kidding you guys, your IQ actually increases just by being in the same room as her. If I ever achieve Connie-level status in any field, I hope I remember to treat people the way Connie treated me. On a similar note, I had a wonderful discussion with Mary Robinette Kowal about Austen and dresses and Doctor Who – thank you, Mary; I hope the spa visit was great!

I got to go to one more Nebula Awards Weekend (where I met Francesca Myman and her octopus bling!) but I’m missing the Nebulas for this year and next year, and I’m so sorry not to be there. I want to acknowledge that not everyone has such a great experience. First of all, a ton of people, mostly women, have risked everything in their professional and personal lives to combat harassment and I benefit enormously from their courage and their sacrifices. Thank you to everyone who has reported harassment and fought for safer spaces. I’m also grateful and humble in the presence of writers and fans of color, with disabilities, and who identify as LGBTQIA, because I realize that they do not always feel welcome and safe, and that they face enormous pressure to educate the rest of us when they might prefer to be writing their awesome stuff in peace. The world of SF/F would be so horribly diminished without you. Thank you so much for being part of the world and part of SF/F.

SF/F is a family. Like every large family, it’s pretty dysfunctional and noisy. Like every large family, there are feuds and deep-seated, horrible resentments (the fight over the Hugo’s involves huge personal and cultural stakes but at it’s core it’s remarkably similar to a fight a certain family of which I may or may not be a part of had over a certain deceased relative’s furniture). There are members of this family who I have, frankly written off. YOU ARE OUT OF THE WILL. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE. Some members of the family are sick and do not want or respond to help. Some are a danger to everyone around them. Some of the feuds are petty and some serious, but when I read about these feuds and vendettas online my heart sinks.

But I never feel that way when I actually go to a convention or a conference of SFF/F writers, even when I go during contentious times (like, say, any time at all, ever). When I attend a convention, I feel like we are all on the same team – mourning rejections, celebrating successes. As a reviewer, my position is pretty weird but at my core I’m a fan – I’m in awe of anyone who writes a book, even if I think the book is shitty. It’s still a book! Be proud! And next time, use spell check! I feel like I’m where I belong – in my weird family, where I hang out with some relatives all the time and others none at all, but we’re still sort of related, even those horrible, horrible people who I’ve written out of the will. I mourn them because I want everyone in my family to get along and I’ll cut them out of the will in a flash if I think they are creating an unsafe space for my other beloved family members but at heart I’d much rather convince them to be as welcoming to others as others have been to me.

Our feuds are loud and noisy but they don’t define us – or maybe they do define us, in the best way, because they show that so many of us will not be refused a seat at the table and will not allow others of our kin to be refused a seat either. We, a family, have to fight to be the best family we can be, and in a very small way I saw that demonstrated at that first Nebula Awards Weekend, on the first day, when I was so shy, and Jaym set up all my interviews, and Cliff and Kyle said, “What do you write? Oh, you are interviewing people this weekend? You should meet this guy – hey, come over here and meet Carrie, she’s a writer for Smart Bitches Trashy Books!”

It was as though they said, “Look, there’s plenty of room at this table! Pull up a chair!” So I did. And I’ll never ever leave, and I have a chair for all of you who are willing to treat others with the same kindness and respect that was shown to me. Thank you, my family!

Between the Lines Book Club: A Brief Biography of Jhumpa Lahiri

between the lines book club logoWelcome to Between the Lines Book Club, where we are discussing The Lowland every Friday in June. We’ll be meeting in person at Arden Dimick Library in Sacramento, CA at 10:30 AM on June 27 at 10:30AM. Meet us there, or hang out with us in the comments!

Jhumpa Lahiri was born in 1967 with the name “Nilanjana Sudeshna”. Jhumpa is her nickname, and the name she uses publicly. Her parents moved from West Bengal to London before she was born. Lahiri was born in London, but the family moved to Rhode Island when she was two and she identifies as American as opposed to British. She travelled often to India with her mother as a child. Today she lives in Rome, Italy, with her husband, who is Guatemalan-American, and their children. Many of her books and stories involve migration and identity.

Lahiri’s first book was a short story anthology called The Interpreter of Maladies, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2000. In a 2006 interview in Newsweek, Lahiri said:

“When I first started writing I was not conscious that my subject was the Indian-American experience. What drew me to my craft was the desire to force the two worlds I occupied to mingle on the page as I was not brave enough, or mature enough, to allow in life.”

Lahiri’s second book, The Namesake, was made into a critically acclaimed movie. The book describes the tensions between a couple that moves to the US from India, and their son who wishes to be fully Americanized. Here’s a trailer for the film:

Her next book, another short story collection, was titled The Unaccustomed Earth. Like The Lowland, this book follows not only first generation immigrants but second and third generation immigrants.

Wednesday Videos: Sense8

IWednesdayVideo just started watching Sense 8 and so far I’m not really feeling it. You’d think a show that is all about race and sexuality and gender and class etc would be my catnip but I think I need more plot. However, thanks to this clip from episode 4, I think I might keep watching – I hear this show requires an investment of time and attention, and this scene in which eight people from all over the world who are psychically connected sing the same song is really wonderful. I find it interesting that this four minutes of show makes me more invested than the entire one hour I saw last night – it’s thrilling to see people connect and it’s incredibly heartwarming to see people trying to reach out to each other in times of crisis. I’m not sure if I’ll watch this show or not but if anything breaks up my sweet Nomi and Amanita I’ll be PISSED (they are the couple in the back of the car at the end).

Note – the clip is not spoilery but it IS NSFW because of nudity (one character does her singing in the shower).

Book Review: Invisible 2: Personal Essays on Representation in SF/F

cover of Invisible 2Invisible 2 is the second anthology of essays about representation in science fiction and fantasy edited by Jim C. Hines. When Invisible (the first collection) came out I had the honor of interviewing several contributors to the anthology as well as editor Jim C. Hines (disclosure: if he has a cult, please consider me to be in it as I think he’s swell). Over the next couple of months, I’ll be running interviews and guest posts by contributors to Invisible 2.

Invisible 2 has a broad range of essays, dealing with issues including migration, sexuality, physical appearance, and disability. The introduction is by the amazing author Aliette De Bodard. There’s also a recommended reading list at the back of the book that is just fantastic and should keep me busy for a long, long time.

Overall, I felt that this collection was not as strong as the first collection, but it’s still a must-read for anyone interested in the issue of diverse representation (and if you aren’t interested, you will be after you read this anthology). The inclusion of an essay by a straight, white, cis man and an afterword by Jim c. Hines (who also fits the description) is an interesting choice that I felt enhanced the anthology without co-opting the conversation. Both authors talked about why diverse representation is important for them.  I thought that was an excellent move – I didn’t feel that they took too much space away from other authors and it gave the issue a context that this is everyone’s problem. We ALL need diverse books (and television shows, and movies, etc). We are all enriched by a diverse media and deprived by one that limits itself to only a few voices.

Another stand out include an essay by Diana M. Pho called “Breaking Mirrors”, in which she says this:

In reality, representation is more like constructing your fancy glass houses, then letting everyone else smash them apart and pick up bits to take home. Your art can easily cut others deeply, resulting in infection and scars. People may step around the broken fragments to protect themselves, or gather them carefully with padded gloves. And, on occasion, someone may pick out a shard from the dirt because it had sparkled like a jewel in their hand.

Gorgeous! I can’t wait to share some interviews and guest posts with you – in the meantime be sure to check this anthology out.

Between the Lines Book Club: The Lowlands, by

between the lines book club logoWelcome to Between the Lines Book Club, which meets right here every Friday and at Arden Dimick Library in Sacramento, California at 10:30AM on the fourth Saturday of every month. This month we’ll be meeting on June 27, 2015. Hope you can join us, and meanwhile be sure to leave your comments here!

This month we are reading The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri. The Lowlands tells the story of two brothers, Subhash and Udayan. They grow up in India in a financially comfortable home in Calcutta in the 1950’s. Most of the story focuses on Subhash, the more cautious brother. His caution and naturally quiet temperament means the book as a whole is contemplative and quiet, even when describing catastrophic events. Udayan is more fiery by nature and he becomes involved with the Naxalite movement, which is devoted to improving the conditions of the poor through education and action including violent action. While the brothers lead very different lives (Subhash moves to America to study while Udayan gets over his head with the Naxalite movement) they remain connected long after one of them is gone. The book explores questions of ethics, family, love, and culture and spans several generations.

Next week I’ll be posting a bio of Jhumpa Lahiri. Meanwhile, here are some very thoughtful reviews about her work (NPR includes some fascinating links!

NPR

The Guardian

The New York Times

cover of The Lowland

Wednesday News: Summer is Coming

SUMMER VACATION, YO.

Pro: I don’t have to get up early

Con: There are children here. Loud children. I do not have quiet time to myself to write, read, or watch netflix while thinking “Huh I should write something” for another nine weeks.

Here's my house - picture me way off in the background trying to write something and stealing all the chips.

Here’s my house this summer – picture me way off in the background trying to write something and stealing all the chips.

This has not stopped me from forming big plans, including some blog projects. I’m trying some new things out in the near future. These include:

1. Wednesday links!

We’ll still have videos, but in a context of pointing you towards other people’s work instead of posting the finished product. I want to be respectful of everyone’s ownership of their work and make sure I’m, not violating copyright, because that would be bad and I would go to writer hell. In writer hell all you get to read is 50 Shades of Grey. Please don’t send me there. Plus I’ll be linking to articles that interested me during the week, and anything I’ve published over at smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

2. Tuesday interviews and guest posts HEY! Got something to say? Email me at geekgirlinlove123@gmail.com. I regret that I can’t pay contributors because my blog is not monetized.  However…

3. At some point this summer I have high hopes of carving out the time to switch to wordpress.org for hosting, which would allow me to run giveaways and post ads. I’ll also be adding affiliate links. Guest posters – if I make money, so do you. So let’s pull this thing together!

4. And let’s not forget that San Diego Comic Con is coming up! This year I have a kid in tow so my coverage will be a little different – more staring at cosplay and hanging out at booths, less waiting in line for panels. Last year left me both exhausted and energized – can’t wait to see what this year brings!

Be patient with me as I navigate kids, pets, and big plans. Hope your summer is full of beaches and books!

giphy

Reading and Writing Arthurian Women: A Guest Post by Lavinia Collins

91HVAiboMKL._SL1500_Several months ago I reviewed the Guinevere Trilogy by Lavinia Collins.  Her new book, The Witches of Avalon, was released in April 2015 and tells the story of Arthur’s half-sister, Morgan.  I asked Lavinia to share her perspective on the women of Arthurian legend and how she humanizes them in her books.

Reading and Writing Arthurian Women

I’ve always been obsessed with the women of Arthurian legend. Ever since I was a little girl and we went to Tintagel castle. I wondered what they would have been thinking, what they would have wanted, living in a world where they were not really able to do anything. This obsession only grew stronger after, at ten years old, I had a rather alarming sexual awakening after finding and reading my mother’s copy of The Mists of Avalon (she claimed not to remember any of the sex bits when many years later I asked her why she had let me). So, then, when I returned to Arthurian Legend as part of my masters research, and found that so many of the answers I had wanted when I was younger were there in the medieval texts, I knew I had something to write. I knew I had something to share.

cover of Mists of Avalon

I started with Guinevere because I really felt that there was nothing in modern popular culture (or really in adaptations after the medieval period) that did her justice. Even The Mists of Avalon which did such incredible work locating the Arthurian world in a newly converted ancient Britain and rehabilitating the image of Morgan Le Fay failed to provide a Guinevere who was anything like the powerful character of Malory’s Morte Darthur or Chretien de Troyes Lancelot. Instead, we have a simpering repressed Christian who exists mainly to provide a counterpoint to a powerful, sexually affirmative Morgaine. Between that, Victoriana condemning legend’s most famous adulterous queen, and that terrible Starz series where a completely vacant Guinevere played by Tamsin Egerton failed to close her mouth for the entire short run of the series.

Tasmin Edgerton

Most adaptations I came across seemed to be operating under the assumption that we could only “like” Guinevere if we felt sorry for her, if she were fundamentally passive and vulnerable. That, if we are to portray her sympathetically, she must be “nice” and “helpless”. I was disappointed because this was not at all what I had read in Malory. In a text where all of the men are essentially chivalry-bots on different settings, Guinevere is the only figure that emerges as anything like a real character. Even Lancelot only achieves anything like personal conflict because he’s too perfect, trying to fit every model of chivalry. Among all of that, Malory’s Guinevere appears as forceful and mercurial; she changes her mind, she’s full of contradictions, she’s unkind. And that was where it all began for me; I was reading someone like a kind of medieval Betty Draper, struggling against the bounds she found herself in while simultaneously needing to be perfect within them. So that’s where it all began for me, feeling like this incredible character had been lost in translation (and Victorian moralising).

I’m very aware when I come to Morgan (Morgaine) that anything that deals with her will necessarily (and fairly) fall under the shadow of The Mists of Avalon, but it’s been more than thirty years now, and I do think there’s something else to be said. Zimmer Bradley wanted to remove Morgan from any kind of Christian context, and to identify witchcraft with a matriarchal religion. I’m interested more in the performance of power, and how women gain access to it. Especially queens. So much of Morgan’s representation in Malory negotiates what space an outsider, and in particular a woman alone, can take within male chivalric society. And particularly what a woman who has no place in society (as witch, adulteress and eventually widow) gets up to when she just happens to be cleverer than all of the men. Because Malory’s Morgan is conspicuously clever and bookish, and her witchcraft so particularly associated with learning – even learning in the “safe” Christian space in the abbey – that it seems to suggest that any woman educated past a certain point is a de facto “witch”. And in some ways I feel the shadow of that idea in my day-to-day life; an educated woman who speaks her mind is – in some situations – still a de facto outsider. And negotiating that space – wanting to be part of society, but not wanting to give up any part of yourself – was something that I felt hadn’t been done with Morgan, and something I wanted to explore.

 Morgan shocks a nun

I was also interested in the relationship between Morgan and her sister Morgawse, and the way the networks of women in these Arthurian tales were largely ignored in adaptations in favour of focussing on the networks of men. This has brought me to think about Morgawse, Arthur’s other half-sister (and the mother of his child); Morgawse, who (why why why? such an error) almost always gets left out of adaptations, merged with Morgan to suggest that the occult antagonist of the Arthurian world must have plotted a child-by-incest and remove the blame from Britain’s favourite legendary King. So that’s where I’m heading next, up across the wall (as it were) to an ancient Scotland, and another queen, but this time one who appears only briefly and obliquely in the Arthurian world. She’s so often left out or shuffled around when there’s a whole other northern perspective there, one that perhaps in an Anglo-centric understanding of the legend gets missed out.

But, ultimately, what is it that has attracted me to the women of Arthurian legend so strongly? I think it’s power. In a completely masculine world, and even in medieval texts, they appear as enticingly influential, as changeful and threatening. As everything that female characters in so many modern films, tv and popular culture are not.

Lavinia Collins Latest Book The Witches of Avalon is available on Amazon now: http://www.amazon.com/THE-WITCHES-AVALON-thrilling-Arthurian-ebook/dp/B00WN9F2K4/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top?ie=UTF8

 

Lavinia blogs regularly on her own site vivimedieval.wordpress.com

and can be found on Twitter @Lavinia_Collins