She’s Such a Geek, Edited by Annalen Newitz and Charlie Anders

She’s Such a Geek is a collection of essays by women who are scientists, computer programmers, and gamers. Written in 2006, it feels both very current (why yes, women do still face sexual discrimination in the job market) and oddly quaint (it predates the controversies surrounding Gamer Gate and the “Fake Geek Girl” stereotype). While I admired the essays, I felt oddly detached from them for two reasons. One reason is that I am neither a computer programmer, nor a scientist, nor a gamer and therefore my experiences as a self-identified geek have been different than those of women in gaming and in STEM. The other is that these women speak overwhelmingly of being the only girl in the room – and that’s usually not my experience.

 

The essays explore growing up, working, finding love, and raising kids within the geek culture. Stand out essays include “Really Good for a Girl,” by Kory Wells, in which Wells writes about being and raising a daughter. “Gimp Geek,” by Theda Cornes, talks about being a geek with a physical disability. “When Diana Prince Takes Off Her Glasses,” by Annalee Newitz, talks about some of the many cultural and logistical barriers women face in the workplace.

 

One reason I didn’t relate to this collection is that although I identify as a geek I’m not competing in a glaringly male-dominated field. I don’t mean to sound naive about sexism in publishing, but since I tend to write about romance novels, fiction by and about women, and women in history, I’m not faced with the same expectations or isolation that I might face in STEM. I appreciated this collection because it reminded me of the challenges that women in other fields have to deal with.

 

The biggest thing I got from this collection was an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my experience as a woman who loves science fiction and fantasy. I’m almost never the only girl in the room. I never thought of science fiction and fantasy as being “for boys” because girls introduced me to it – Doctor Who, Star Trek, Elfquest, James Cameron movies, Blade Runner, Mad Max, X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer – all of these things were brought into my life by my friends, who were other teenage girls. Boys introduced us to gaming, but our core gaming group always consisted of at least as many girls as boys. We went to Star Trek conventions together and wrote fan fic together and I don’t think it occurred to any of us that we were trespassing on boys’ turf.

 

When men have introduced me to science fiction things, they’ve never suggested that I might like it “because I’m a girl” or “even though I’m a girl.” My dad thought I’d like Ray Bradbury because I was a precocious reader with a good imagination. My husband thought I’d like Babylon Five because, let’s be honest, my husband thinks that EVERYONE will inevitably love Babylon Five. He’s an equal opportunity B5 evangelist.

 

I feel incredibly blessed to have always been part of a community of geek women. She’s Such a Geek is a powerful reminder that many women are not so lucky. I’d love to see an updated version of this anthology that reflects the cultural changes of the last ten years. It’s been a long strange trip!

Between the Lines Book Club: Two New Mysteries!

between the lines book club logoAt the beginning of the month, I recommended some mysteries for readers of literary fiction who want to experiment with a new genre. Since then, I’ve gotten two recommendations from readers.
The first is a mystery series, the Mas Arai series by Naomi Hirahara.  This series follows aprivate detective named Mas Arai. He’s a Japanese American man who survived Hiroshima and works as a gardener in post-WWII Los Angeles. You can find Goodreads reviews here and an interview with the author at NPR.

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The second recommended book is not a mystery in the classic sense, but it has a mystery in it. The Speed of Light, by Elizabeth Rosner, involves the adult children of an elderly Jewish man who has become increasingly reclusive. As he begins to recover with the help of his housekeeper, his son and daughter uncover the story of how he survived the Holocaust. You can find Goodreads reviews here.

 

Next week I’ll be recommending some romances. No genre is as415wzxEZjML._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_ snubbed as the romance novel, and yet no genre is more best-selling or more stylistically diverse. To those who snub the romance, I give you Pride and Prejudice,Jane Eyre, and the comedies of William Shakespeare, and ask that each reader approach each genre with an open mind!

We’ll be meeting in person in June – alas, it’s a long wait while Arden-Dimick Library undergoes renovations. I’m excited to see the new furniture when summer comes!

Capsule Reviews: Heather Watches TV!

Guest blogger Heather Thayer has been checking out the new batch of science fiction and fantasy shows. Here’s her mini-revues for Lucifer, Colony, The Magicians, You Me and The Apocalypse, and The X-Files.

 

Lucifer, Fox, Monday Nights

This show is a hoot. Lucifer, yes THAT Lucifer, has gotten bored of hanging out in Hell, so he decides to take a vacation in LA, masquerading as a nightclub owner. He makes no effort to conceal who he is – a cop asks him how he could get shot and not be hurt he looks quizzically at the cop and says, “Did you not understand who I am? I’m immortal.” Later when she sees him get shot point blank, she asks again, and he’s all like, “what about IM-MORT-TAL don’t you get?” In the first episode a friend of his gets killed and Lucifer decides to help investigate. If this seems incongruous, remember that part of the Devil’s job is to punish sinners, and since he isn’t in Hell to do it after the guilty person dies, he figures he can do the job early while they are still alive. The character is funny and charming and naughty and is helpful in interrogations since people feel compelled to tell him their deepest desires. Then, in the blink of an eye, he is all scary avenging angel BECAUSE HE IS. It isn’t a deep show, but it is a fun romp.

 

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Colony, USA Network, Thursday Nights

 

This is my new favorite show. Set in Los Angeles in a near future in which the Earth (or at least California) has been invaded by aliens. Many people died or were separated when the Visitors arrived. The human survivors of the Arrival live in smallish enclaves separated by enormous walls and policed by collaborators and drones. Our main characters, Will and Katie Bowman and their family, are trying to keep their heads down, struggling to survive. The show deals with issues of survival under unimaginable circumstances. Is it better to collaborate if it means survival of your family, or is it better to resist, even if resistance is futile? I’m not going to say more, because watching these issues unfold is what makes this show great.

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The Magicians, SyFy, Monday Nights

 

Based on books by Lev Grossman, this series focuses on Brakebills University, an institute of higher learning for magicians. I’ve read one of the books – a later one that takes place after Brakebills — and I recall it as an enjoyable light fantasy. Unfortunately, the show is not capturing that spirit. The fundamental problem with the show is that this is a character-driven show, but none of the characters is particularly likeable. The show seems determined to portray the worst of each of the characters, with the result that they all come across as pouty whiners, with the exception of Quentin, one of our main characters, who comes across as an incompetent boob AND a pouty whiner. And why is everyone smoking? I wanted to like this show, but I can’t stand any of these people and want to slap them all.

Carrie’s note: I haven’t watched the show, but my recollection of the books is that all of them were very cynical and all of them very intentionally feature incredibly unlikeable characters – the series is a subversion of stories like Narnia and Harry Potter, right down to all of the characters being incredibly dysfunctional. The books are well-written, sharp, imaginative, and fresh, but ugh those people!

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You, Me and the Apocalypse, NBC, Thursday Nights

 

This is a comedy about the end of the world. The show opens with the end – an asteroid hurtling into the atmosphere (covered by CNN, of course) – and centers on some people huddled in a bunker, watching it all on tv. The show follows these folks in the last days, after the end of the world was announced. I want to like this show, I really do. The problem is that it just isn’t that funny. The tone keeps slipping into deadly earnestness and attempted heartwarming vignettes, interspersed with one-liners that could have been funny if the tone were lighter, but as it is they fall flat. The show can’t seems to decide whether it is a touching tale of people doing their best as Judgment Day approaches or whether it is a broad comedy about the ridiculousness of the End Times. It clearly wants to be the latter, but it keeps injecting the former, which throws the whole thing off. Maybe it will improve, more likely it will get cancelled.

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X-Files, Fox, Monday Nights

 

Oh Chris Carter, what are we to do with you? What a waste of an eagerly anticipated reboot. I was hoping for six tightly constructed episodes with a compelling story arc that would bring us up to date with these characters that we love. I haven’t seen the final episode yet, but so far, the three earlier episodes written and directed by Mr. Carter are nonsensical mysticism with a heavy-handed dose of “the corporations are all out to get us” conspiracy theory mushed in. There is no defining thread that links the episodes – giving us stand alone episodes that sink or swim based on their own strengths or weaknesses. So far, all the episodes written by Mr. Carter sink like stone, and we’re glad to see them go.

 

The two episodes not written by Mr Carter swim. The stunning third episode “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” had me laughing and smiling and thinking and laughing and smiling again. It is an exuberant deconstruction of every monster story ever told and a delightful revisiting of the Mulder/Scully dynamic. The fourth episode, “Home Again” is a touching exploration of loss. Go ahead and watch those episodes and skip the others.

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Carrie’s note: You can see more of my X-Files thoughts on Smart Bitches, Trashy BooksCan’t someone lock Chris Carter and George Lucas in a room somewhere and say, “Look guys, thanks for creating this thing, now NEVER TOUCH IT AGAIN?

Further Thoughts:

 

Carrie has written on The Shannara Chronicles. I agree with her completely. Other than Manu Bennett the actors were chosen for their ability to be pretty, not for their ability to act. Painful.

 

I wrote an earlier review of The Expanse. Having now watched the entire first season I have to give it a grudging thumbs up. The story became quite compelling as it went on. However, I recommend binge-watching as it is very difficult to follow week to week. If you haven’t read the books, expect to be lost from time to time, but it started drawing me in at the end.

 

I can’t wait for April and the return of 12 Monkeys (SyFy) and Orphan Black (BBC America). Squee!

 

Book Review: Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson

nimona_final.jpgNimona is one of those graphic novels that is always on lists with titles such as “Graphic Novels You Should Read.” It is usually described as “fun.” So, I read it. At the beginning it is fun. In fact, it’s incredibly fun. But even early on, this is one dark comic, and as it progresses, it becomes unbelievably dark. I’m not saying it’s bad. It’s excellent. It’s a simply amazing graphic novel. But it’s some dark, dark shit.

 

Nimona is a graphic novel that originated as a webcomic. It details the adventures of Lord Ballister Blackheart, a self-proclaimed villain who grudgingly takes on a sidekick, Nimona. Blackheart fights against The Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics, and his nemesis is the self-proclaimed hero, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin (not a typo).

 

Nimona is a book in which tropes are challenged, overturned, and blasted through walls. The story is a fabulous mix of stuff – knights with cyborg parts, robots, dragons, mad science…you name it. The Institution is not heroic at all. Blackheart and Goldenloin were once best friends, possibly lovers. Nimona is a child, but a bloodthirsty one who kills and who urges Blackheart to kill. But she’s also a funny, playful, silly person – and also a terribly tragic one.

 

Nimona starts off very funny and silly. Nimona, a shapeshifter, delights in playing tricks on Blackheart, which is why the Internet is alive with variation on “I’m not a ____! I’m a SHARK!” Blackheart is exasperated by her need for attention and her constant desire to kill their enemies with wild abandon.

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As the story progresses, it becomes apparent that Nimona and Blackheart are both deeply sad and lonely. They establish a beautiful father/daughter relationship. When Nimona feels very needy, she begs Blackheart to carry her, and when he says she’s heavy, she turns into a cat. They watch scary movies together, and Blackheart fails to grasp why Nimona is scared by movies but not by anything in real life. They fight about pizza (he likes anchovies, which is probably the only truly villainous thing about him).

 

Ultimately, the story becomes so terrifying and heartbreaking hat writer Noelle Stevenson had to post the following online for her fans:

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“No matter what happens, remember that there is always an alternate universe out there somewhere where this is a story about some hip gay dads who adopt a baby and everything turns out OK.”

 

This story is deeply melancholy, but not depressing. For one thing, it moves fast. It’s exciting. There’s a ton of action and plotting and crazy science and shapeshifting. For another thing, the ending is bittersweet, not a total downer. Some characters reconcile, some are redeemed, some both. Even in its darkest moments, this comic is, at its core, a sweet story. For all the explosions and dragons, it’s really about love – what we do when our hearts are broken, and how we put them back together. It’s also a story about reclaiming joy. So was it the lighthearted romp I expected, Hell no. It was something better.

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