A Visit From Bonnie Burton

Bonnie BurtonHey everyone, we have a visit today from Bonnie Burton, author of Crafting With Feminism. You can find my review of Crafting at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

We asked Bonnie about crafting, feminism and her new book:

 

What is your favorite form of crafting, and why?

 

I have a soft spot for making puppets. There’s something extra rewarding about making a craft that will smile back at you. So I try to add a puppet or two in every craft book I write. For Crafting with Feminism, I made finger puppets for icons such as bell hooks, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and more.  For The Star Wars Craft Book there’s an Admiral Sackbar bag puppet, Chewbacca sock puppet, Cantina patrons finger puppets and Bith Band spoon puppets.

 

What makes crafting a feminist endeavor?

 

Crafting is at its core a DIY act. You’re using artistic skills like sewing, crocheting, knitting, felting, quilting and more to express yourself. Feminism is about expressing the need for men and women to be treated, paid and respected equally. When women’s rights — or any human rights — come under attack, we fight back in protest. And at protests, that’s where you’ll see everything crafted from DIY signs to pink knitted pussy hats. Crafting is empowering on multiple levels.

 

You’ve been very involved in Star Wars in several capacities. What do you think people need to learn from the Star Wars Franchise?

 

Star Wars teaches us that tyranny has no chance of surviving when brave individuals band together to fight injustices. Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo and Chewbacca fighting against Darth Vader and the evil empire can serve as a real-life reminder that no one should stand by when they see a leader become poisoned by his own addiction to power. Star Wars also is a great story about friendship, believing in one’s self, chasing a dream and putting one’s trust in the underdog. Everyone gets something different out of Star Wars when they need it most.

 

Can you give us a sneak peek into your upcoming October release? Any hints about amazing artifacts? And will I ever find a plush niffler?

 

My upcoming book J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World: Movie Magic Volume Three: Amazing Artifacts features information on everything from wands and racing brooms to other enchanted objects and magical devices. I explain how myriad artifacts used in the Harry Potter films and “Fantastic Beasts” were lovingly designed and crafted. It’s a fun book for fans of J.K. Rowling’s imaginative worlds that have been recreated on the big screen. I learned a lot about the level of artistry it takes to craft some truly magical props.

Cover of crafting With Feminism

 

L.T.’s Top Ten: Top Ten Mabel Sweaters

8a223e4761296e397639e65eb789ee31Today’s post comes from our young correspondent, Linden, who has a special Top Ten!

Hello everyone I have news! This is my FIRST TOP TEN LIST! YAAAAAAAAY!

Anyway my name is Linden and I’m Carrie’s 12-year-old daughter. You might have seen some of my reviews already, my most recent one being of My Immortal, the horrible book that made me want to stab my eyes out. I’ll be making a lot more Top Tens and reviews in the future but for now here are the top ten Mabel sweaters!

If you are reading this then you probably know about a show called Gravity Falls and if you don’t then you should go check it out. I’ll be mentioning it in the next LT’S Top Ten that I do. In Gravity Falls there is a certain character named Mabel who is one of the main protagonist in the show. She’s bubbly, optimistic, fun, and just plain AWESOME. That’s really the best way to describe all of Gravity Falls – it is just AWESOME! But I digress. Because of Mabel’s personality she was given a variety of colorful, fun, AWSOME sweaters and today I’m going to talk about the best of them all. All Top Ten lists will be made with #1 being the best in my opinion and number ten being still the best, but not the best of the best.

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#10 MEOW WOW (from Episode One of Season One)

In the first episode of Gravity Falls, Mabel falls in love with someone named “Norman” and they go on a date. How does Mabel dress to impress? By wearing a glittery purple sweater with a glittery picture of a derpy cat next to the words MEOW WOW which; you guessed it are also covered in glitter! The best part about this is when Mable asks Norman “How do I look?” Norman just kind of stares at her before saying, “Shiny.”

 

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#9 Llama Hair (from Episode 3 of Season One)

Mabel wears this one in a couple episodes I think, but it first showed up during the end credits of Episode 3. In the scene Mabel is in her room trying to decide if she should wear her sweater with the sequins or the Llama hair and decides on the Llama hair because Larry King’s head hops over and says, “The Llama hair, Llamas are nature’s greatest warriors.” You read me right: Larry King’s head! Not his body literally just his head! Hahahahahahah oh my god! It’s just its so funny I…I really love this show!

 

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#8 Note (from Episode 5 of Season 1)

I just really like how this looks on Mable. It doesn’t really have anything about it that’s super special but I think that the colors are nice and Mable looks super cute in it. It’s not too busy and not too plain, it’s just a generally cute sweater and Mabel rocks it like a boss.

 

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#7 Scouts Honor (from Episode Ten of Season 1)

Is it wrong for me to desperately want this sweater? Because I think it is, but I don’t care! I can’t really justify why I love this sweater so much, I guess it’s because I think it’s really clever and funny and it would come in handy in a lot of situations. Yeah you probably shouldn’t trust me too much heh heh. Oh come on you know you want it too!

 

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#6 Horse (from Episode 4 of Season 1)

I watched this episode twice once by myself and once with my mom. The first time I watched it I liked Mabel’s sweater but I wouldn’t think to put it in a list with my favorites of all time. However the second time I watched it with my mom and she said, quote, *gasp* “Oh my god I LOVE THAT SWEATER!” and you know what? I also love that sweater, because the mane of the horse is in 3D. Also it’s just an awesome sweater.

 

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#5 Mabel and Waddles (from Episode 18 of Season 1)

Okay okay, I know that technically this is two sweaters, but you know what too bad! They are going to be listed together because they are a set. Mable has an adorable pig named Waddles (she calls him that because he WADDLES!) and she really really loves Waddles, so she made them matching sweaters. They are only shown side by side in the matching sweaters once but I think its super cute and says a lot about Mabel’s character.

 

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#4 Dog (from Episode 7 of Season 2)

I love this sweater because it’s a scratch and sniff! It’s a scratch and sniff! I just love that so much! It’s not just me right? The colors look great on Mabel as well. I also think it might be a nod to one of Princess Bubblegum’s shirts from one of my other favorite shows, Adventure Time.

 

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#3 Light Bulb (from Episode 2 of Season 2)

“Isn’t that a fire hazard?” “No it’s a fun hazard.” I just love this sweater because it gives off a lot of light; witch is not only useful but also fun! It looks cute in the day time and is a night light during night time. I love how it looks on Mabel in the dark and in the sun ,and I think a light up sweater with a picture of a happy light bulb on it is a super clever and fun idea.

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#2 Boom Box (from episode 1 of season 1)

I don’t know if you can tell but this sweater is a boom box that is a real boom box! No really if you press the right button, it lights up and PLAYS RAVE MUSIC! NEED I SAY MORE? No, no I don’t.

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#1 (drum roll please…) RAINBOW STAR (from almost all the episodes)

Now at first this might seem like a regular unassuming sweater but this sweater is actually incredibly special and awesome. Why? Because this is MABEL’S SIGNATURE SWEATER. It’s  iconic. She wears it more then any of her other sweaters. In one episode she gets trapped in a bubble like thing… I’m not sure what its called exactly but the important part is that the design on this sweater is on it. Why? Because this is MABEL’S SIGNATURE SWEATER! But don’t take it from me, take it from these screen shots. Cue the cheesy music! (I can’t get it to play actual music so just use your imagination!)

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So what did you think? Do you love one of Mabel’s sweaters that I didn’t mention? Maybe you just thought the order should have been different. Is there another list you want me to do? Let me know in the comments! BYE!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Book Rant: A Tween Reviews My Immortal

We have a very special guest blogger today. My tween daughter read My Immortal because her clueless mom (ME) didn’t catch on to what she was reading until it was TOO LATE. I cannot recommend this book to tweens (or anyone) but I can tell you that we had many candid talks about the subject matter, we laughed a lot, and we’ve been using the word “keenly” as often as possible.

Anyway, Dear Daughter wrote this review/rant for all of you. It’s too late for her – she has already been traumatized by what has often been referred to as “The worst fan fiction of all time”. But you can save yourself! Don’t let her sacrifice be in vain!

My Immortal is a Harry Potter fanfiction and is rightfully known as the worst fanfiction ever written!  The book (if you can call it that) is about a vampire who is also a witch and goes to Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft And Wizardry. Her name is Ebony Darkness Dementia Raven Way however it changes multiple times throughout the book. (Evony, Enboby, Tebony, Ibony, Enbony, Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Terra Raven way etc…) She is a hardcore goth and a satanist and a lot of people tell her she looks like Amy Lee. She falls in love with Draco Malfoy (In the book his name is spelled Dracko multiple times) and befriends (with benefits) Vampire Potter (Harry Potter, but he got a new nickname because he likes the taste of human blood.) at some point Voldemort shows up and tells Ebony, and I quote, “Thou must kill Vampire Potter!” And when Ebony refuses to do this he says and I quote, “Thou must! If thou does not, then I shall kill thy beloved Draco!” and Ebony is faced with what to do.

The Author of My Immortal is a girl named Tara Gillesbie. However she claims she had spelling help from her friend Raven. The two girls are “goffick” and also have a youtube channel called xXblo0dyxkissxX. (Subscribe at your own risk watching these videos may cause brain cell damage/loss)

Speaking of brain cell loss just reading the fanfic will probably cause this to happen as well! The entire thing is full of bad grammar, people acting out of character, overly long and unnecessary descriptions, and even some stuff that is super offensive! For example this line I was feeling kinda depressed so I slit my wrist and read a depressing novel  and listened to GC while waiting for the blood to dry I drank some human blood, then I was ready to go to the concert. (Grammar errors made in this passage have been removed for your reading pleasure, you’re welcome.) Okay first of all, the protagonist  just casually slits her wrist because she was feeling kinda depressed. Thats offensive to anyone who struggles with depression or suicide! This is a real issue! And that’s not the only time the author casually talks about people slitting their wrist. In one chapter the protagonist is talking with her friends and they are planning what to do during the day and the the teacher (That’s right the teacher) says, “OMFG let’s have a group cutting session!” (Once again bad grammar has been removed, you’re welcome.) NO thats is super offensive to people who struggle with suicide! Also this teacher should be fired!

Like I said before My Immortal is full of characters acting out of character! For example in one scene Ebony and Draco are “Making out keenly against a tree” in the forbidden forest (I swear that’s exactly how the author writes it). When Dumbledore shows up out of nowhere and screemes, “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING YOU MOTHERF******” That’s right DUMBLEDORE says this! There are no words to describe how out of character this is! Later in an author’s note Tara claims that the only reason Dumbledore cused was because he had a headache. How stupid can you get?

Despite all of this My Immortal does have one good quality, and her name…. Is Britney. Britney is the arch enemy of the main character but she never does anything wrong. She is the only named Gryffindor character and is a “prep”. Ebony always makes sure to give her the middle finger. Britney is probably the most loved character even though she only shows up about 5 times for 2 seconds. She’s just that awesome!

I don’t think that anyone should read this. Not even Britney can save it. Like I said before it’s full of grammar errors and people acting out of character, and will probably manage to be offensive to you no matter who who you are. It’s impossible to like. It’s extremely inappropriate for children as well. If however you decide to read My Immortal despite everything i’ve just told you, know that YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED! Dont come crawling back to me begging for holy water and brain bleach. You can read My Immortal on Fanfiction.net or Wattpad (it’s an app its awesome I love it so much.) Or you can simply google My Immortal and a bunch of sites will pop up that will let you read it, not to mention some people made a movie of it and it’s on youtube.        

The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin

61rH8sThrbL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Geek Girl Heather Thayer discovered N.K. Jemisin and she has much to say!

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin is a book that I had to read twice in one week. The first time, I devoured it; I gulped it down in frantic, too-large bites. My desire to find out what happens/what is happening/what happened outpaced my ability to digest what I was reading. As soon as I finished the last page I turned back to the first page to start over, but to slowly savor this time.

 

Let’s start this again. The end of the prologue tells it like it is:

 

This is what you must remember: the ending of one story is just the beginning of another. This has happened before, after all. People die. Old orders pass. New societies are born. When we say “the world has ended,” it’s usually a lie, because the planet is just fine.

But this is the way the world ends.

This is the way the world ends.

This is the way the world ends.

For the last time.

 

And so it is. Or will be. We aren’t there quite yet. The book is set at a time when the Earth is plagued by earthquakes and other seismic events. Some of these events are so severe that they cause massive death and long periods of famine – often near-extinction-level events. These periods are called “seasons.” There are people — politely called “orogenes,” offensively called “rogga” — who can reach into the earth and use its seismic power. A trained orogene can do amazing things, move mountains as it were (literally). An untrained one can unintentionally cause seismic events or release/draw power that kills. Often a young orogene is discovered because someone gets killed or hurt in a moment of anger or annoyance. People are terrified of them and they are ostracized – exiled when lucky, killed when not.

 

The book is written in a conversational tone – it flips from past to present, third person to second, gives little hints and asides that sometimes don’t make sense until suddenly they do. One can almost picture an old auntie at a fireside telling the tale. I won’t say anything about what actually happens in the book because the inherent pleasure of the book is letting it unfold around you. It can be initially quite confusing until one gets one’s bearings, but that is part of the enjoyment – that moment of “oh, I know where we are!”

 

N.K. Jemisin is an author who has become famous for writing stories that feature outsiders. By creating worlds and characters that have to grapple with the idea of “other” she takes on issues of diversity and identity, without (in my opinion) getting all preachy about it. I found The Fifth Season much more compelling than her previous series, The Inheritance Trilogy, which also addressed concerns of being an outsider. I read that series recently and it was fine, but it didn’t stick with me. This book was more compelling, largely due to the writing style and an important difference. Orogenes are not a good stand-in for diversity issues facing America today — unlike non-whites, women and LGBT people, orogenes are decidedly different and have powers that can make them inherently dangerous. Of course, they can also be immensely helpful, so the story addresses how society chose to balance the two. Spoiler alert: (horrific) mistakes were made.

 

This book is the first in The Broken Earth series. The next book, The Obelisk Gate, is due out this year – probably in autumn. In the meantime I will undoubtedly read and re-read this wonderful book with chapter titles like “Syenite breaks her toys” and “you’re getting the band back together” to see what other gems I can find hidden in this intricate tale.

 

Tim Hanley Talks Wonder Woman and Lois Lane

51cwi93rReL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Tim Hanley, author of Wonder Woman Unbound, has a new book out: Investigating Lois Lane: The Turbulent History of the Daily Planet’s Ace Reporter (the highlighted links take you to my reviews of the book on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books).

You’ve written a book about Wonder Woman and a book about Lois Lane. What draws you to these iconic heroines?

 

On one level, it’s the stories. Both Wonder Woman and Lois Lane have decades of fantastic and/or fascinating tales with all sorts of different, intriguing aspects to dig into. With Investigating Lois Lane, while Lois hasn’t been the star of her stories for most of her history, her evolving role in the comics is an interesting progression, and the occasional tales she did headline proved invariably noteworthy. From her adventurous solo stories to her most cringeworthy romantic outings, there’s always something worth saying about Lois’s many appearances.

 

On another level, the superhero genre is a male dominated industry in every respect, and the male heroes get most of the fan focus. I think that the histories of female characters are just as interesting, and often more so, and it’s been a real pleasure to shine a light on these great characters who are so often relegated to the shadows. Lois especially offers such a unique perspective on the genre as a whole; she was there at the very beginning in Action Comics #1 and has been a constant presence in the world of superheroes since then, in every medium.

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Lois in Action Comics #1

Lois has had her ups and downs – what do you admire most about her, and what do you think continues to endear her to readers today?

 

I most admire her tenacity, and I think that it’s been the core of the character from the beginning. In Action Comics #1, Lois was stuck writing the lovelorn column but she dreamed of getting a front page scoop. After Superman saved her and she got to see how powerful he was, he told her not to print the story, yet the very next panel showed Lois in her editor’s office, pitching the story. Not even Superman could deter her! That sort of tenacity has been key to the character ever since, even in comics that haven’t aged particularly well. When Lois became obsessed with marrying Superman in the 1950s, she went after him full-tilt, just as enthusiastically as she chased down big news scoops. She’s a relentless, unstoppable force, no matter the situation.

 

I think that tenacity is part of what endears Lois to her legions of fans today, combined with her toughness and snark, as well as her compassionate core that lies beneath her sometimes brusque exterior. Lois is brave and fearless and has no time for anyone who tries to get in her way, but it’s always in service of helping others, of landing the story that takes down the less obvious villain who’s hurting someone somewhere.

 

If you had to recommend one issue or storyline about Lois Lane to a new reader, which would you recommend, and why?

 

Picking just one is tricky! I’m going to have to do this by category. For classic Lois fun, I’d recommend the “Lois Lane: Girl Reporter” feature from Superman in the mid-1940s; a couple of the outings are collected in the recent Lois Lane: A Celebration of 75 Years volume, which is a good place for new readers to start generally. In “Lois Lane: Girl Reporter”, Lois set out to get scoops on her own, without any help from Superman, and ended up taking down all manner of thieves, smugglers, and grifters, getting a front page story out of each adventure. The stories are classic Golden Age fun, and a great showcase for Lois.

 

For modern comics, Lois hasn’t had a lot to do lately, but there have been some good moments. There’s a great arc in Batman/Superman Volume 3 where she teams up with Batman, and Marguerite Bennett and Emanuela Lupacchino’s Superman: Lois Lane one-shot from a couple of years back had an enjoyable take on Lois.

 

Outside of comics, I’d wholeheartedly recommend Gwenda Bond’s young adult novel Lois Lane: Fallout. It stars a teenaged Lois who starts at a new school in Metropolis and quickly get caught up in a serious, expansive investigation involving bullying and secret military experiments. It’s a fantastic read, and a spectacular distillation of the most iconic and enjoyable elements of Lois’s past incarnations. It’s far and away my favourite Lois Lane story of the 21st century thus far, and the upcoming sequel, Lois Lane: Double Down, is even better.

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What are your hopes for Wonder Woman and Lois Lane in the movies (and if you’ve seen B v. S. let us know how you think they did with the characters!)

 

I saw the movie a few nights ago and while I didn’t much care for the bulk of it and its angsty, grim male heroes, I loved a lot of what the film did with Wonder Woman and Lois. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman didn’t have a huge part, but she totally stole the show, both as Diana Prince and Wonder Woman. I’ll dance around spoilers here, but whether she was outsmarting Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor simultaneously or battling Doomsday, Gal Gadot very much captured the spirit of Wonder Woman for me. She was also the only character in the movie that was having any fun! Batman and Superman were caught up in feuding that took them both down dark paths, and I think Wonder Woman was easily the most heroic, fun character in the film.

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Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in Batman v Superman

As for Lois, it was great to see that she was in the thick of the action throughout the entire film. I felt like Man of Steel sidelined her somewhat after she had a cool role initially, but Batman v Superman had her in the mix the whole time, and often playing a key role. I would have preferred that she got to see something through to the end; most of her adventures took a dark turn that resulted in Superman having to save her. But she got to do a bit of saving too, and her relationship with Clark was sweet and endearing. I liked that she tried to keep him focused on his heroic core as the foolishness with Batman ramped up, despite the mixed results. I think that both Wonder Woman and Lois Lane were the best characters in the film, by far.

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Amy Adams as Lois Lane in Batman v Superman

What is your next project?

 

I don’t want to be too specific because nothing’s official yet, but I’ve been working on the history of another female comic book character, this time a villain. It’s been fascinating to look at the history of superheroes through the ups and downs of a female villain. At times, she escaped the often limiting roles of comic book heroines, but at other times she ended up problematically sexualized or benched. It’s a journey that’s wholly unique, and the project has been a blast thus far.

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!

 

History’s Hidden Heroes: Vera Rubin

My favorite thing to write for this blog has always been ‘History’s Hidden Heroes’, in which I showcased the lives and accomplishments of scientists of color, LGTB scientists, and female scientists. This feature fell by the wayside when I started writing Kickass Women for Smart Bitches Trashy BooksGuest writer Max Fagin is bringing the Heroes back with his contribution about scientist Vera Rubin. bonus – unlike me, Max is actually a scientist, so his explanations of Rubin’s accomplishments are far more sophisticated than my own, which run along the lines of, “IDK, she discovered stuff, it was cool.” Enjoy!

It’s no secret that STEM has a major problem with obtaining gender parity, and astronomy is not immune to that problem. Astronomy doesn’t have it as bad as, say, computer science (with 18% women at the PhD level) but it isn’t doing as well as biology (58% women, again at the PhD level). Astronomy sits somewhere in the middle of the STEM pack with 35% of new PhDs going to women in 2012.

But as arguably the oldest science, astronomy has also been a field of many firsts for women in STEM. America’s first woman to be hired as a college professor was Maria Mitchell, who was hired by Vassar College in 1843 as a professor of astronomy. At around the same time, the first woman to receive a salary for her work as a professional scientist was the German astronomer Caroline Herschel.

The subject of today’s History’s Hidden Heroes is one of those women: Vera Rubin. A woman who overcame the biases of her day to discover an even bigger bias in the universe itself…
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Up until the late 1970’s, if you were to ask an astronomer what the universe was made of, a complete list would be composed of:

 

1) Stars (living and dead)

2) Interstellar gas and dust

3) Black holes

4) Planets

5) Whatever detritus happens to be on that planet’s surface

 

(Note, that last category would include us). These are the things we typically think of as “normal” matter, where “normal” means stuff composed of protons, neutrons and electrons, sometimes in the form of atoms and chemicals, or ionized plasma.

However, ask an astronomer today what the universe is made of, and you will probably hear a list containing something that isn’t on that 1970’s list: Dark Matter. Vera Rubin was the first scientist to uncover observational evidence that Dark Matter was a real thing, and to reveal that “normal” matter was far from normal, but comprised only 20% of the matter in our universe. All past detection methods had been heavily biased towards detecting this normal matter, but that didn’t mean Dark Matter wasn’t real, and didn’t mean it hadn’t played a profound part in the formation and evolution of our universe.

Vera Rubin earned her BA in astronomy from Vassar college in 1957 (the college that had hired Maria Mitchell, the first woman to hold a professorship in the United States). Vassar had been founded as an all girls school in 1861 (and would remain so until 1969) but even before going co-ed, it had a reputation for producing smart and driven graduates, many of whom has already made significant contributions to science and engineering, including Admiral Grace Hopper, one of the inventors of COBOL, an early programing language. (Vassar also had a reputation in the fictional realm as well, counting among its many fictional alumni the smartest James Bond girl, NASA scientist Dr. Holly Goodhead, who proudly represented Vassar in the stupidest James Bond movie, Moonraker.)

 

Rubin graduated from Vassar as the only astronomy major in her class, and went on to complete her Masters in Astronomy at Cornell (after being rejected from Princeton on the grounds that their astronomy department did not admit women). Rubin then completed a PhD at Georgetown University under the famous cosmologist George Gamow.

At this era in astronomy, before the invention of space based telescopes, cosmology was focused on studying galaxies in our corner of the universe to see what their structure and distribution could tell us about the universe at large. This was the field that Dr. Rubin made her greatest discovery in during the 1970’s, while conducting observations of galactic rotation curves.

Under the influence of gravity, objects behave in extremely predictable ways. Since the days of Kepler, it had been understood that the further away an object (like a planet) was from the body it was orbiting (like a star) the slower it would be traveling in its orbit. The embodiment of this was captured in what became known as Kepler’s 3rd law, that the square of a planet’s period (the time it takes to complete one orbit) was proportional to the cube of the object’s semimajor axis (its distance from the star).

Although the geometry was more complicated on galactic scales, these rules applied to stars orbiting around the center of their galaxies as well. The farther away a star was from the center of the galaxy, the slower it should be orbiting.

But when Rubin measured the speed of stars in the nearby Andromeda galaxy, this was not what she saw. Outside the galactic core, the stars did not continue to slow down as one looked further away from the center of the galaxy. Instead, the velocity of the stars plateaued into a flat line, all the way to the edge of the galaxy where the stars stopped and intergalactic space began.

 

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What could cause the stars to behave like that? By playing with the distribution of mass, it was quickly noticed that this “flat rotation curve” could be explained if there was some “missing mass” distributed in a spherical halo around the galaxy. The idea that astronomers might have missed some of the galaxies mass was not so far fetched. After all, galaxies contain more than just luminous stars. They also contained giant clouds of interstellar gas and dust, which can only be seen in the visible band by the starlight it reflects, or blocks out. But astronomers knew where gas and dust tended to be in a galaxy: In the galactic plane. Much like stars, it never tended to wander very far from the flat disk of the galaxy. And besides, if the missing mass was just gas and dust, an enormous amount of starlight would be obscured. Orders of magnitude more than what was actually observed in nearby galaxies.

 

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NGC 891: A galaxy seen edge on, where dust is clearly visible from the starlight it obscures.

 

Astronomers began to consider more exotic possibilities. What if galaxies were surrounded by swarms of super compact dead stars? If the missing mass was composed of very small very dense objects orbiting the galaxy in a spherical cloud, their small size wouldn’t necessarily block the light from the stars (unlike the diffuse distributed clouds of gas and dust).

But in order to account for the amount of mass that was missing, these objects (and others like them, eventually referred to as MACHOS, for MAssively Compact Halo ObjectS), would have to be so numerous that they would still occasionally transit (pass in front of) a background star, causing the star’s light to briefly fluctuate in a very characteristic way. Search after search for these transiting MACHOs over the past few decades has come up empty.

Perhaps the missing mass could be explained by some very massive subatomic particle? If it was, this particle would have to be very weakly interacting, or else we would have seen it in our detectors by now. Unfortunately, these particles (now called WIMPs, for Weakly Interacting Massive Particles) have also eluded detection by every effort mounted so far to find them.

The seeming futility of the search even drove some scientists to suggest that we don’t understand gravity as well as we thought we did. Perhaps, at galactic scales, gravity required some additional correction factor that would explain the rotation of galaxies. These possibilities (called MONDs, for MOdifications to Newtonian Dynamics) originally showed a great deal of promise for explaining galactic rotation curves, but observations in the early 00’s of galactic clusters, and of elemental abundances in the early universe effectively ruled it out as an option as well.

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The bullet cluster. Two clusters of colliding galaxies, the observations of which provided some of the first evidence that modifications to gravity could not explain the behavior attributed of Dark Matter.

 

Our existing model of gravity has withstood the test, leaving WIMPs as the best candidate for Dark Matter (though entirely by default). In the decades since Dr. Rubin’s discovery, we have simply ruled out anything else it really could be. However we slice it, ~80% of the mass in our universe is composed of “something” that doesn’t emit or obscure light (i.e. is invisible) doesn’t decay or radiate in anyway we can yet detect, and betrays its presence solely by exerting a pull of gravity on the normal matter around it (Though the term “normal” matter could now be said to be a misnomer. If anything, the matter that makes up the stars, dust, gas, planets, rock and squishy stuff that composes us is the unusual kind of matter. Physicists now prefer the term “Baryonic matter” to describe this type of everyday matter.)

The Nobel prize in physics is the most male dominated of all the original Nobel prizes. It has been awarded to a woman only twice since it was established in 1901: Most recently in 1963 when it was shared by three physicists, including Maria Goeppert Mayer for work on deriving a successful theoretical model of the nuclear shell. Before that, the only other woman to win the prize was Marie and Pierre Curie for their work on radiation.

Dr. Rubin is perhaps the best candidate to break this 50 year dry spell, and many would say that Dr. Rubin is long overdue for her prize, the original discovery being made almost 45 years ago. Such a long wait is not unprecedented (the 2013 prize for the discovery of the Higgs Bozon was the culmination of a prediction made 50 years before the awarding of the prize). However, in 2012, the Nobel Prize in physics was awarded for the discovery of the (similarly named but entirely unrelated) Dark ENERGY. While no one in the astrophysics community doubted that the discovery of Dark Energy (which outnumbers both Dark Matter and baryonic matter in our universe by 4 to 1) was an incredibly significant discovery, many people were surprised that the prize was awarded so early. The discovery of Dark Energy was only 13 years only in 2013. Some might say Dr. Rubin and the discovery of Dark Matter is overdue for its medal.

 

In the meantime, Dr. Rubin has retired from astronomy, but remains an active proponent of women in STEM. I had the privilege of hearing her talk about her work when she returned to Vassar while I was a student there in 2007. It was the first time I really accepted that Dark Matter was a real thing (in my defence, early 2007 was before some of the clinching observations were made of galactic clusters and cosmology that made MOND no longer a tenable theory.) Every year, when nomination season rolls around, I hope that Dr. Rubin will receive the call from the Nobel Committee, and I still think she will. Astronomy, by the nature of the subject, only attracts those who can learn to be patient, but waiting that long for the recognition a discovery like that must be a maddening prospect, even for a mind as tuned to astronomy as Vera Rubin’s.

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Additional reading:

http://modernnotion.com/forgotten-woman-helped-discover-dark-matter/

http://news.discovery.com/space/always-a-bridesmaid-vera-rubin-and-the-nobel-prize.htm

The Expanse: A Guest Review by Heather Thayer

The_Expanse_TV.pngOur intrepid reviewer, Heather Thayer, is back with a review of The Expanse. This show opened to a lot off hype, but Heather has not been feeling the love 100%. Here’s her review!

The Expanse – Old Fashionedy Space Opera, But Read the Books First

 

I’ve rewritten this review from scratch several times now – poor Carrie keeps asking me when I’ll be done and my answer is always “I have to rewrite it again.” Here’s the overview — I’ve watched the first six episodes of The Expanse, and it could be pretty good stuff, but it is confusing. Not mind-blowingly great, but still definitely worth a watch – if you can figure out what is going on. It has been compared to Battlestar Galactica or Game of Thrones in space. I suppose its “gritty realism in space” could be compared to BSG, although BSG was much, much better, but I am not seeing the Game of Thrones comparison — perhaps that might make more sense as the series goes on.

 

The show is based on books by James S.A. Corey, which I have not read. The basic premise is this – it is the future and mankind is divided into essentially three factions – Earth (run by the UN), Mars, and the people who mine the Kuiper Belt for ice and other resources – these folks are called “Belters.” Earth and Mars have been locked in a cold war for many years. Life is not good for the Belters: they work hard at monotonous manual labor only to send the products of their hard work to Earth and Mars, they live on cramped space stations where water is strictly rationed and clear air can be a luxury, and they are starting to adapt to life in low gravity to the point where some of them can no longer live on a planet with normal gravity.

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Our story follows two primary point of view characters and a third character who is mostly there to provide context for the primary stories. The first point of view character is a hat-wearing detective on Ceres Station, the home of the Belters. He is a walking cliché, after six episodes I still have no idea what his name is. It isn’t important. Detective Cliché is a hard-bitten veteran, maybe a little on the take but with a heart of gold and a desire to do what is right. Yawn. In between trying to calm Belter tensions, he is given the task of finding a rich girl who has disappeared — the viewers know that something strange and bad has happened to her because a scene with her encountering the Weird and Unpleasant is a prologue to the first episode. Our second point of view character, and the one whose story is most interesting, is Holden. He’s the second officer on an ice-mining ship that receives a distress call. Holden and four colleagues are dispatched to investigate and Bad Things Happen. We follow this group for our primary action. The third point of view character is a woman who is high up in the UN, maybe the head of UN Intelligence or something. She’s boring and one dimensional. We only come back to her when the show finds it necessary to explain something about what is going on politically between the Earth, Mars and Belters – hers is not a separate story but merely serves as an expositional frame for the real story being told through Detective Cliché and Holden.

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The special effects, particularly the space ships, are spectacular – exceptional for television. The acting, particularly the group with Holden, is quite good and many of the characters are interesting. There is something mysterious going on and I am invested in the story of Holden and his team. So far, so good.

 

However, I have to call this show out for its inexcusable gender inequity. To double-check my initial perception that this show is a complete sausage fest, as I watched the first three episodes I counted every speaking part for a female and every speaking part for a male. After three episodes the male speaking roles outnumbered the female 3 to 1. The story is largely told from the point of view of two male characters. I note that there is nothing in their stories requiring either of them to be male – either one of these characters could have been female and it would have worked great – probably even better because then the characters wouldn’t be so familiar and uninteresting. As I’ve noted, Detective Cliché and his investigation are not compelling – I suspect that if they had changed the actor to being a woman so that the character wasn’t such a complete trope, the character and the investigation might hold my attention more.   In this day and age, post-Mad Max, there is no excuse for this. I don’t care that the source material has gender inequity – there is no reason for SyFy to have adhered to the source material in that way – after all, is there anyone who would argue that it wasn’t brilliant to have Starbuck be a woman in the rebooted BSG? Every time I try to watch this show the lack of interesting and crucial female characters sets my teeth on edge.

 

The other issue is that it is seeming more and more like it is necessary to have read the books to understand what is happening. For the first four or so episodes I was willing to give the show a pass even though I didn’t know what was going on, because I assumed that my confusion would be cleared up as I got to know the characters and story better. Instead, the opposite has happened. In every episode more new characters are introduced that I have to keep track of, and I don’t have enough context or backstory to be able to figure out who is important and who is not. After six episodes, I’m pretty lost.

 

Will I keep watching? Maybe. The effects and production values are great. But it is clear that this is a show for the people who have read and enjoyed the books. Apparently, the rest of us gals aren’t invited.

Guest Review: Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson

Seveneves_Book_CoverOur faithful guest reviewer Heather Thayer got so annoyed about this book that she called me and ranted about it for a solid thirty very entertaining minutes. Here’s her review!

Book Rant: Seveneves – Learning About What Interests Neal Stephenson These Days and Then The STOOPID Takes Over

By Heather Thayer

Last week I asked a good friend if he’d read Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves. “Is that the book where he spends a hundred pages talking about orbital mechanics?” my friend responded. Why yes, that’s the one. Listen, I like a book that teaches me something on its way to telling a good story. I loved The Martian, which was practically a science textbook from time to time. But in The Martian the science served the story – we needed the science we were being given to be able to follow along with what the main character was doing. We got exactly the amount of science that we needed, and the science made sense within the story. Unfortunately, that isn’t how it works with Seveneves. In Seveneves, we are subjected treated to a number of things that Neal Stephenson is apparently really, really interested in, and an unbelievably stupid story is tacked on almost as an afterthought.

I have enjoyed a lot of Neal Stephenson’s books, The Diamond Age and Reamde come to mind, and despite the terrible execution, the premise of Seveneves is interesting.   The moon breaks up. Humans have about two years to figure out how to survive what will end up being the end of life on Earth for five thousand years. Our story follows a group of people who go into space to establish an orbital colony anchored by the International Space Station to maintain life until the earth is habitable again. I love apocalypse stories, so the premise is right up my alley — until the book turns into a treatise on orbital mechanics, the theory of how chains might move in space and how we might use that to “crack the whip” and use chains for acceleration, how to pilot a glider, and a story that relies on inexplicable idiocy to create tension. Repeat.

Here’s what you need to know about orbital mechanics to understand the story – if you want to move to a higher orbit, that will take energy and some kind of propellant. Water or ice could be a propellant. Got it? Good – that’s all you need to follow the story. But Mr. Stephenson goes on for pages and pages and pages of detail (including equations), apparently in an attempt to share with the reader every single thing he discovered in doing his research for the novel. And he does this about a variety of topics, all of which detail is extraneous to the plot. He is especially taken with the behavior of chains and cracking the whip for acceleration– he must have discussed it at least fifty times in this book. I might mention it a few times in this review because it came up so often in the book. Dude – we get it, you found out stuff. But there is such a thing as overshare.

All of this might be somewhat forgivable if the plot and characters held together, but alas, no. The plot is driven by incomprehensible actions, out of character behavior and uneven pacing.

SPOILERS

The plot starts going sideways just as life on Earth is ending. The last shuttle sent up to the space station holds (surprise) the President of the United States. This is a problem because all nations on Earth had agreed that no politicians/world leaders would be eligible to go. But here she is, and she immediately starts making trouble. FOR NO REASON AT ALL. We’ve met the President before, and she’s competent and careful. She is described as a moderate who essentially “fell into” the presidency. She shows up on the space station and suddenly she is a manipulative tyrant who is out to cause trouble. This ends in a schism that is ultimately responsible for the deaths of most of the colonists. Why? It makes NO sense and is inconsistent with the character, but that is just the beginning of the ridiculousness.

SPOILERS – SERIOUSLY, SPOILERS BE HERE.

As mentioned, the machinations of the President result in a schism where many of the colonists go off in a collection of pods (the Swarm), while the people on the space station decide to move the station into a higher orbit with the ultimate goal of landing and settling on one of the larger chunks remaining of the moon. This is a process that will take years. About halfway through the book the two groups go their separate ways and the reader is in complete befuddlement. Why wouldn’t everyone think that sticking together, pooling resources and expertise and finding a permanent home is the only viable way forward? Because that isn’t what happens in the plot, you silly billy. I’m not even going to talk about the tiny group that the President encourages to steal many of the resources and head off to Mars, never to be heard from again. Sound absurd? Yep, it sure does.

We rejoin the story years later as the space station is approaching its destination. There are few survivors on the station (less than thirty), and they have lost the entire human genetic archive that they brought with them, but one of the survivors is a geneticist and they are hopeful that with some genetic manipulation they will be able to perpetuate the human race. On their last pass before the final jump into the higher orbit they are contacted by the remnants of the Swarm. Things haven’t gone well for that group and the few survivors of the Swarm are now ready to rejoin with the station. The two groups hook up, but the survivors from the Swarm attack the space station survivors. Seriously, there are less than forty humans left in the universe and they’re going to spend their resources fighting each other – with guns—in space?

The upshot is bang, bang, bang – they land on a big chunk of the former moon, but now there are only eight survivors, all women, only seven of whom are of childbearing age. Seven Eves. Get it? And now the inanity begins. You thought that the above was dumb? Not even. The stupid is about to explode, and is so aggravating that the only thing that stopped me from throwing the book across the room was that it was on my nice new eReader.

The first daft thing that happens is a pivotal meeting among the survivors: the former President, a sociopath from the Swarm, Malala Yousafsai (with a different name, but it’s her), a Russian soldier and four scientists/specialists from the Station. The geneticist explains that through genetic manipulation she will be able to create viable ovum using the eggs of the women of childbearing age. They start a conversation about whether they should modify the ovum to select for certain traits (I am fine with the premise that all of this is possible – one must suspend disbelief at some point, and it is the future, so fine). As might be expected, the women have different ideas of what the human race should emphasize going forward, but instead of having a calm discussion about this, one of the protagonists – a smart, practical woman who we like – gets a bomb and threatens to set it off in ten minutes unless an agreement is reached. WHAT THE WHAT? Why? Isn’t this a decision that is worthy of some consideration – maybe sleep on it for a night? Does Neal Stephenson think that women are all crazy? This was senseless – even more so because the resolution that is reached under duress is probably the same one that would have been reached after thoughtful debate, so the bomb wasn’t needed as a narrative device to get to a specific result. The group agrees that each mother may choose whatever traits she wishes to emphasize in her own children. Each child will have certain traits chosen by the mother (intelligence, strength, compassion, political acumen etc) and over the years, as the later generations interbreed, it will be a stronger, smarter, more compassionate, politically savvy human race. Makes sense, right?

Whereupon the book inflicts the final indignity of idiocy. We skip forward five thousand years. The descendants of the survivors have thrived using the remnants of the moon to build habitats that orbit the earth, populated by billions of people. However, in five thousand years, the various genetic lines have never interbred – there are seven separate races based on the original seven mothers. Huh? We are supposed to believe that in the early generations, when there was almost no genetic diversity, instead of taking advantage of what little diversity there was, each line only inbred with itself? Most of the mothers (with the exception of the sociopath and the President) were friends and colleagues, so why would their descendants stay separate? No interbreeding, for no discernable reason, and then it stays that way for FIVE THOUSAND YEARS.

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In addition to the stoopid, the uneven pacing makes the second part of the book almost unreadable. There are hundreds of pages of description of the habitats, the rings, and even more descriptions of chain theory and “cracking the whip” to achieve acceleration.  Yes, we get it Neal – this interests you. Descriptions follow descriptions and world building piles upon world building. Although it is virtually suffocating under the weight of exposition, the story slowly reveals that people did survive on Earth by going underground or under the sea and painfully crawls toward a meeting between the space survivors and the Earth survivors. This was interesting, this was worth exploring, and then I realized that there were only about twenty pages left in the book. We meet the survivors. The end.

I can’t even.

Guest Review: Liveship Traders, by Robin Hobb

45100Guest reviewer Heather Thayer is back with this review of the Liveship Traders series!

It was with a great sense of sadness that I finished the third book of The Liveship Traders series by Robin Hobb. Three books: Ship of Magic, Mad Ship, and Ship of Destiny, make up the trilogy that follows the struggles and adventures of the Vestrit family of traders, their liveship Vivacia and the characters that change their destinies. In addition to sea serpents, pirates, and politics there are ships that have memories and personalities and are a major part of driving the complex and compelling plot. There is more, but to reveal it all would be to spoil these great books for those who want to read them.

My sadness came in two flavors – the largest part of the sadness was finishing my journey in this world with characters that I had come to care so much about. While there is certainly an intricate and interesting story (actually multiple stories) that moves the books along – the fundamental focus of the books is the characters. Each character is well-rounded and fully developed. Our protagonists make mistakes and disappoint us – even as we cheer them on and hope for them to succeed. The antagonists develop and many learn from their mistakes and hardships and we often end up rooting for them despite ourselves or changing our minds about them entirely. As a reader, it is a rare experience to completely change one’s mind about a character – in these books it happens all the time. This not only happens in a positive direction, where characters who were initially unlikeable learn from their mistakes and became sympathetic, but also in the other, more uncommon direction. At one point towards the end of the third book, a character that we have come to care about through three books does something in his nature but completely unforgiveable. While what the character did was horrible, looking back at it I still experience a frisson of pleasure that the author was able to unpleasantly surprise me but still keep the integrity of the character.

There are numerous point of view characters and because each is so complex we find ourselves caring for them and wishing them well even when we realize that they have done bad things. At a few points I realized that I was supporting multiple sides in the same conflict and couldn’t decide who I would want to prevail. It is a thrilling and unsettling feeling to have as a reader – one doesn’t quite realize how simple our choices usually are in stories until we experience the rare treat of uncertainty and mixed allegiances.

These books are known from their romances, and the romances are good – some better than others. In general, the relationships between the couples develop over time, have their ups and downs, and when they come together it can be deeply satisfying. Like life, no relationship is simple, and the couples have their misunderstandings, disappointments, and differing goals. Some couples work through their issues and end up together, and in some couples one or both partners realize that they are better off going their separate ways. The complexity and variety of the relationships makes each love story compelling and each ending poignant – no matter how it turns out. The most rewarding stories are the most complex – and the resolutions to those stories are gratifying, even if it isn’t happily ever after.

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There are several themes that run throughout the books. A main theme is to not look back with regrets, wishing for what might have been, but to start where you are and live life forward. As one character tells another who is mooning over a part of his life that is lost:

You can’t go back. . . . That part of your life is over. Set it aside as something that is finished. Complete or no, it is done with you. No being gets to decide what his life is ‘supposed to be.’ . . . Discover where you are now, and go on from there, making the best of things. Accept your life and you might survive it. If you hold back from it, insisting this is not your life, not where you are meant to be, life will pass you by. You may not die from such foolishness, but you might as well be dead for all the good your life will do you or anyone else.

This theme is reiterated over and over, with multiple characters and multiple regrets. Another theme that recurs is that learning and growth are not possible if you turn over control of your life to someone else or are overly protected. People start learning, growing, changing and becoming strong when they are not sheltered from the hard facts and difficult tasks. As far as themes go, these are pretty good ones, and it is interesting to watch the characters as they grow and change, but it might have been refreshing if there could have been more variation in the themes and outcomes. Seriously, must almost EVERY character learn from their mistakes? More intransigent stubborn fools would have been credible. There is also a strong theme of the importance of women being allowed to be strong and take responsibility for their own lives. The themes are strong but generally don’t interfere with the stories, although after three books read back-to-back the constant repetition of these themes starts to get old.

The smaller part of my sadness upon finishing also arose because of the complexity of the characters and plot. Given the intricacy and ambivalence of the books, at the end the resolutions seemed a little too perfect, the plotlines a little too tied up in neat packages, too many characters redeemed, the good rewarded and the wicked chastened. While satisfying in most conventional ways, the series could have been truly great, if less gratifying, if more threads had been left frayed at the end.

These books are tangentially related to the Farseer trilogy by the same author in that they take place in the same world. However, the relationship is distant – the tone of each series is different and although I read both series within a year, it was not until I was researching for this review that I fully realized that they were in the same world. The Liveship Traders series shows the hand of a more assured writer. I see that there are additional series set in the same world– time to clear the calendar for more reading pleasure!

Ship of Destiny

An Interview With Cherie Priest, Author of Chapelwood

61rpKf6FLIL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Cherie Priest is an author who has tacked several sub-genres and been a huge influence anthem all. Her Clockwork Century took steampunk out of Victorian England, set it in the American West, and populated it with working class characters, which was not the norm in steampunk at the time. You can find my review of her young adult book, I Am Princess X, here. In Maplecroft, a book I adored, she pits Lizzie Borden and her axe against Lovecraftian monsters. Chapelwood brings Lizzie to Birmingham thirty years later, where strange things are afoot. You can find my review of Chapelwood on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. Thank you, Cherie for finding time to do an email interview with Geek Girl in Love!

Your books have a strong Lovecraftian influence. Why is Lovecraft still so relevant and influential today?

Because although his social politics were sometimes wildly problematic, he consistently steered away from the worst of the horror tropes by making his protagonists competent, informed, and credible. Let me put it this way…there are two primary ways to make a story scary: You can make your protagonists weaker than the threat, or you can make the threat greater than the protagonists. Especially in the wake of the slasher flicks of the 80s/90s, modern audiences became accustomed to the former – and all too often that meant pretty young idiots getting mowed down courtesy of their own stupidity. But after a while, that wasn’t scary anymore. It was just messy. I think that’s a significant part of why the big horror bubble of yesteryear went bust.

Lovecraft, on the other hand, gave us characters who behaved in smart, reasonable ways that the audience couldn’t really fault. It’s easy to feel smug when the clueless loser dies in a squicky fashion – but it’s genuinely suspenseful and unsettling when the vehicle character behaves more like WE would, without making dumb decisions or rash choices. (Or so we’d like to think.)

Anyway, that’s my big takeaway from Lovecraft – to make the danger bigger instead of the characters weaker, and I think it’s a big component of his enduring appeal.

Did you know when you wrote Maplecroft that the sequel would take place 30 years later? What led you to such a huge time jump?

Honestly, when I wrote Maplecroft I wasn’t expecting to write another one, period. I really wanted it to be a standalone, but my publisher had other ideas. In the end, though – I’m quite pleased with how Chapelwood came out, even though it wasn’t part of my original plan. As for the time jump, I wrote it that way because I wanted the books to remain independent stories, for one thing; and for another, the Birmingham ax murders were really horrifying and interesting…and they happened to occur in the 1920s.

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I felt that Maplecroft and Chapelwood were very different in tone and scope. Can you talk at all about how the books are similar and different, and why?

They’re both explicitly Lovecraftian, but they approach the mythos from two different angles. To oversimplify, much of Lovecraft’s horror can be divided into two camps: the oceanic, earthly horror (terror from below)  – and the cosmic, outer space horror (terror from above/out there). Maplecroft draws inspiration from the former, and Chapelwood from the later.

Will there be any further books in this series? Warning: slight spoiler alert ahead!

There are none planned at this time, but I’ll never say never. If the books really take off, I’d be happy to pursue them further; thus the Chapelwood ending – where it is, I hope, clear that the Quiet Society will go on, and Ruth will be part of their future investigations. But ultimately, that’s up to the publisher and to the market. So…if you like the Lizzie books, recommend them to your friends! 🙂

Women Write Lovecraft: An Interview with Editors Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles

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Silvia Moren-Garcia and Paula Stiles are editors of the new anthology She Walks in Shadows, an anthology of Lovecraft-inspired stories by women authors. Silvia and Paula were kind enough to answer a ton of email questions I posed to them about Lovecraft’s enduring legacy, dealing with race in his work, and the fact that duh of course women can write stories based on the Lovecraft mythos. The anthology is available from Innsmouth Free Press.

 What inspired this anthology?

Paula: Silvia and I got tired of hearing, “Chicks don’t/can’t write in the Lovecraft Mythos,” and of talking repeatedly about authors like C.L. Moore, who wrote Mythos stories with female protagonists (Jirel of Joiry) during Lovecraft’s lifetime. So, we decided to do an entire anthology of Lovecraft stories, written by and about women. We figured if that didn’t make our point, well….

Silvia: Author Molly Tanzer, who appears in the anthology, can vouch for this: at one point someone on Facebook said women were biologically incapable of writing Lovecraftian fiction.

How did you select the stories for this anthology? What kind of things were you looking for in terms of style,tone, and content?

Silvia: The main interest was to find stories about women, since women don’t really appear in Lovecraft’s fiction. They only get a more prominent role in his “collaborations” with Zealia Brown-Reed Bishop. So there is this odd vacuum.

Art for "She Walks in Shadows" by Sara Bardi

Art for “She Walks in Shadows” by Sara Bardi

Paula: Aside from the main premise–stories by and about women–we wanted to get as wide a variety of stories from as wide a variety of women as we could get. Different countries, different cultures, different time periods, different Lovecraft stories and characters used, LGBT characters, different types of plots, different styles, even different types of POV. If you don’t like one story, try another. We wanted to show that women not only can write Lovecraftian stories, but that they can write a variety of them.

Why does Lovecraftian horror continue to have such a huge influence on fiction and culture?

Silvia: Part of it is the open quality of it. People can contribute to this universe in ways you can’t, to say, Lord of the Rings, even if there are LOTR pastiches.

Paula: Well, in some ways, it’s like vampires or zombies–it’s a fad. I was involved with a Permuted Press and other zombie-lovin’ folks a few years ago when zombies were white-hot, published a few zombie stories, some reasonably well-regarded. That kind of thing takes on a life of its own.

But then you look at these fads and they’re perennial. Some tropes and themes come up over and over again. Lovecraft pops up, I think, because he’s almost unique, both in the Pulp Era and today. Sure, he had antecedents, but there’s a bleakness to his work that was brand-new in his time and is rarely paralleled today. Lovecraft didn’t invent the cursed tome or the doomed narrator or even the Thing-I-Can’t-Describe-Or-You-Dear-Reader-Would-Go-Mad, but he did almost singlehandedly invent scientific cosmic horror.

The other thing is…well, I’ll answer that in the next question.

Lovecraft was famously racist and sexist – how might a modern fan approach the more problematic elements of his work without excusing or glorifying them?

Paula: Well, as I said above, this is a corollary to the previous question. First of all, Lovecraft was certainly racist and arguably sexist (though more in the avoidant form of not talking much about women than in actively negative portrayals), in both his public and private writings. But the sexism doesn’t change the fact he was henpecked his whole life. It was also pretty vanilla compared to some of the virulent stuff going on with women in his lifetime (or his views on race, for that matter). Even female writers of the time struggled with a good deal of self-hatred and limited horizons compared to women today.

As for the racism, that’s a lot harder to handwave. While I can find my gender’s being represented by the likes of poor doomed Lavinia Whateley and Asenath Waite irritating, some things Lovecraft wrote about race (and we’re talking about the premise of entire letters or even published stories) were hurtful then and are hurtful now. That said, you’re also talking about contemporaries of Lovecraft like the KKK and the Nazis who not only talked in racist terms, but did some really terrible things to promote their racist views. So, the bar for Worst Racist Ever of the early 20th century is set pretty high (or low, as you fancy the metaphor) and Lovecraft doesn’t even come close to meeting it.

I also find it curious that Lovecraft gets singled out for the sexism and racism labels, when more successful contemporaries like Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs had equally nasty things in their stories that are unpleasant to read today. Conan and Tarzan remain very popular, and people basically gloss over the more problematical stuff.

I think that while he came to conclusions many of his readers find objectionable today, Lovecraft explored the idea of exploring race in horror, rather than just having racist stereotypes for the stalwart Heroes to beat, more deeply than his contemporaries or even writers today. As such, he came up with tools that are still useful today in writing stories from a more diverse perspective. Lovecraft really knew what it was like to be an outsider.

Another thing that makes it easier to use Lovecraft’s work than some of his contemporaries, I think, is that Lovecraft’s protagonists are such losers–neurasthenic little men who aren’t too popular with the neighbors. The winners in most of Lovecraft’s stories are the monsters, the bad guys, the cult leaders, those creepy people who scared him so much. We don’t have to deal with the Myth of White Superiority in Lovecraft’s works, the way we do with Howard’s Conan or Burroughs’ Tarzan. That makes it rather easy to turn it around and write stories where the monsters, bad guys, and cult leaders *are* the Heroes. Or at least the protagonists. In a weird way, in Lovecraft’s original stories, they almost already are. Look at the Hero of “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” Look at how much more interesting he becomes when he learns to stop worrying and embrace the racial taint that calls him to the sea.

Silvia: Lovecraft made some sexist statements in his letters early in his life, but he seems to have grown out of it. He certainly recorded his admiration for several women writers, corresponded with women, and thought highly of his mother and aunts, who raised him.

He didn’t outgrow his racism. My research is in eugenics and around this time period scientific racism, eugenics, it was all the rage. You can see IQ tests of the time period where we are “objectively” told that “science” has determined black people and other people who are also racialized, like certain European populations, say Eastern Europeans, are not as intelligent as certain white people. Lovecraft did not come up with these ideas out of thin air.

The important thing when it comes to Lovecraft is two-fold: one, this racism seemed to manifest in a way that was crippling to him. Most racist people can go on with their daily lives without going into fits, like Lovecraft did. His wife describes him basically having panic attacks when he encounters visible minorities on the street in New York. His racism is probably the main element which wrecked his marriage. So it’s something very, very heavy laying on Lovecraft psychologically. And it ties to notions of race, but also of class and manliness. Lovecraft was terrified because in many ways he was unfit, he was that dreaded Darwinian horror.

The other important thing is his biological and racial concerns manifest in his fiction in a way that is not manifested in the fiction of other racist writers. Henry James had some nasty thoughts about immigrants and some of his unpleasant thoughts on Jews certainly make it into his fiction, but it’s all in a very muted way compared to Lovecraft. With Lovecraft it’s very obvious, very palpable and it’s a terror which seems to have a different kind of quality because even though you see a lot of images of evil Asian men, for example, on covers of magazines, it’s a terror that is always ultimately vanquished by the good white hero. But the funny thing about Lovecraft is the good white hero normally perishes.

The Other takes centre stage in Lovecraft’s fiction in a way that it doesn’t with other writers. And it’s a bit like Julia Kristen says in Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. The abjection is about rejection, but in rejecting something you necessarily conjure it. The abject is a threat which threatens to breakdown order but it can never be completely eliminated.  We are both drawn to and repelled by the abject and it does not abandon us.

Modern writers can tackle abjection, can tackle Lovecraft’s cosmic horrors, and a myriad of other elements, and they need not do it with the same racist colours Lovecraft used. I mean, to be perfectly honest, *most* of science fiction, fantasy and horror has very racist and sexist roots. I understand this, I know it, I react to it, I produce new stuff. I’m not going to write another “The Queen Bee.” I’m referring to the story by Randall Garrett, published in 1958.

Some white supremacists seemed upset when they viewed a panel on racism and Lovecraft I was in, which was posted on YouTube. Some people are upset we did an all woman anthology. But ultimately Lovecraft does not belong to me or you or anyone. Writers can respond to him in their own way and that’s the beauty of it. We have more than half a dozen POC writers in this anthology writing their version of cosmic horror, of Lovecraft’s Mythos, of Weird fiction. I think that’s awesome.

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An Interview with D.J. McHale and Patrick Carman

61lVh+TOLNL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_D.J. McHale and Patrick Carman are two of the six authors writing a new series for kids. Voyagers is an interactive series involving books as well as online games and puzzles. The other authors are Robin Wasserman, Kekla Magoon, Jeanne DuPrau, and Wendy Mass. You can read more about the Voyager project at voyagershq.com.

D.J. McHale, author of Book #1: Project Alpha, is better known as the author of the bestselling Pendragon series and TV shows including Are You Afraid of the Dark. Patrick Carman is the author of Book #3: Omega Rising. He is the author of several books for grade and middle-schoolers, including The 39 Clues. In this interview, they talk about working on the series, its connection to their other projects, and how to encourage reluctant readers.

What drew each of you to this project?

D.J.: The last space travel story I wrote was when I was nine years old.  So I figured I was due.

Pat: I was a Star Wars nut growing up. Those first three movies came out when I was 11, 13, and 15 – a very impressionable time for every kid in my seventies neighborhood. There was never anything that captured our imaginations like Star Wars did. We geeked out over every creature, sub-plot, villain, hero – and then, sadly, it was over. And so was my childhood! I’ve been trying to build a world like that ever since. A place the 12-year-old Patrick would go to escape whatever troubles were happening in the real world. A place I could return to, again and again, and just feel like a kid on an adventure, beating impossible odds and saving the day. It took several years to figure it all out, but Voyagers fills that void for me. I’m a kid again!



How much of this project was a collaboration between all the authors? Did you have input on the digital aspects? Did you have input on each other’s stories? Did you have to try to match each others’ writing styles, or do they all have a unique voice?

D.J.:  Being the first author up, I had the freedom to write my story the way I write all of my other stories without having to worry about what came before.  However, as I was writing away, the entire Voyagers team was still tweaking and hatching new ideas.  So I would often get notes saying:  “This has changed now” or “We need you to add this”.  One example of that came with the addition of the Zrks…the small flying robots that maintain the space ship.  I had no Zrks in my original draft so I had to go back and figure out a way to incorporate them into the story.  Working in the other direction, it’s been fun to see how some of the bits I created have found their way into the digital material, like the rock-moss-creature and the ankle-biting varmints on J-16.  Pat created an amazing universe and it was fun to help expand it even further.

Then again, I felt the stress of some of the other authors who were waiting patiently to see what I had done before starting on their own stories.  I don’t like to send out anything I’ve written while it’s still a work in progress, but I understood the time pressure.  They had to get writing!  So I reluctantly sent out a couple of early, rough chapters.  That was nerve-wracking.

Pat: Working on 39 Clues gave me some good experience that really helped with Voyagers. I was able to take the parts about writing 39 Clues that I loved and apply them to the work the team did on Voyagers. First and foremost, you need seasoned, excellent writing talent to make something like this work. And we have that covered with the Voyagers writing team – they brought their A game across the board! I provided a world bible for the series, along with an outline for each of the six books. But it was very clear from the get go that each writer should make their own choices about the book they were writing. For each writer, the outline was a line down the middle of a page, like a magnet pulling the plot in the right direction. But each author was encouraged to swing outside the line with whatever felt right to them.

The digital experience – both the interactive website and the game for phones and tablets – was handled by a completely different team. We partnered with 42 Entertainment and Liv Games, two best in class digital companies, and I think we’ve created a digital world that rivals anything we’ve seen in publishing so far. There’s so much for kids to plug into! The Voyagers world is big enough to hold any kid’s imagination.

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Patrick, you wrote for the series The 39 Clues, which is about solving mysteries in a way that involves the reader interactively. In what ways is this approach similar to that of the Voyager series? Why is it important to make the reader a participant in the story?

I spend a lot of time at schools. 1400 of them and counting. So I get to interact with young readers across the country. I can sit down with them in a school library and ask them straight up: what’s it going to take to get you to turn more pages? More often than not the answer I get has to do with making books more interactive and bridging the gap between the printed page and the digital world they all live in. Voyagers answers that question with a resounding YES WE CAN! The big digital idea here is to allow young readers to join the crew of the Cloud Leopard, the ship that takes our characters out into space. They complete recon missions, collect dozens of robots, and fix the ship when it has problems. They also learn a lot about science, technology, engineering, and math. So the digital part of the Voyagers world extends the reading in a way that makes the whole experience richer and broader. Readers really feel like a part of the story.

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D.J., Your Pendragon series combines fantasy, science fiction, and interstellar travel. How was working on this series similar or different?

D.J.:  All good stories have the same things in common.  They’re about interesting characters dealing with compelling conflict.  That applies whether you’re writing a romance, a comedy or a sci-fi space adventure.  I like to write stories about real and relatable characters who find themselves in a bigger than life adventure.  I don’t like to write about characters with super powers or incredible abilities.  That can be fun, but I want readers to relate to the characters and to imagine themselves in their shoes.   That’s very much what Pendragon is like, and so is Voyagers.  The fun part comes once you’ve done a good job creating those characters.  Then you can let your imagination run wild in creating the various dangers they face.  One thing that was very much the same for me in writing these two different stories is that I like to put my characters into dangerous situations where I’m not really sure how they’re going to save themselves.  It’s like living the adventure along with your characters as you put yourself into the situation and try to find your way out of it.  With Pendragon I created those situations myself.  With Voyagers, I was given some very big challenges that the characters would face.  It was almost as if I was thrust into the situation myself and had a blast trying to figure a way out.

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What advice would you give parents whose kids say that they just aren’t into reading? how has a love of reading enriched your lives, and what sparked it?

D.J.: I have been a reader and a writer since I was very little.  I don’t know what else I would do if I couldn’t write.  Reading helps me to constantly learn new things about the world while challenging my brain to stretch and think in different ways.   The best advice I can give to a parent who has a reluctant reader, is to help them find the right books.  That isn’t always easy, but even the most reluctant reader will sit down and stick with a book if it sparks their imagination.  Here’s a suggestion.  Rather than handing your child a book and saying: “Read this!”, ask them to read their age.  If they’re 9, ask them to read 9 pages.  If they’re 15, get them to read 15.  It’s much less daunting than staring at a thick book, thinking they’ll never get through it.  After reading their age they’ll have a pretty good idea if the book is right for them or not.  If it isn’t, just as well.  Move on.  But if it is, those few pages will grab their attention and hold on tight until the final page is turned.

Pat: It took me awhile to get into books as a kid. I was fine with comic books, but a book with no pictures? That took some real work. I would have died for something like Voyagers when I was 10 or 11! Because like a lot of kids that age, I was into finding adventure in the neighborhood, playing video games, and building forts. So I think if you’re a parent with a kid who is easily distracted by all the fun of just being a 10-year-old, then plugging them into something like Voyagers is going to get them reading. Start by showing them www.voyagershq.com, then download the game app, then hand them the first book. They will be all in! One other note – what did finally get me into reading were very descriptive, adventurous books. The Chronicles of Narnia, stuff by Roald Dahl, The Rats of Nimh – those kinds of books did it for me. And the Voyagers writing team delivers that kind of thrilling, page turning action.

An Interview With Brad Beaulieu, author of Twelve Kings in Sharakhai

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Brad Beaulieu is the author of a new epic fantasy series, Twelve Kings in Sharakhai. This series follows a woman, Ceda, as she uncovers a secret about the kings that threatens their rule. In this interview, Brad talks about writing female characters, what interested him in desert, as opposed to European-based fantasy, and what we can read while we wait for the next book to come out!

Tell us about your setting. It is refreshing to read fantasy that is not set in a version of Europe. What drew you to a desert setting and a Persian fantasy style?

I’d long wanted to scratch the itch to write a desert story. I can attribute this in part to liking the tales of the Arabian Nights (or One Thousand and One Nights), particularly the milieu. In fact, as my last series, The Lays of Anuskaya, progresses, you can see more and more of the Persian-influenced Aramahn coming into the picture, culminating in long stretches of desert scenes in the final book, The Flames of Shadam Khoreh.

So the desert was something I really wanted to explore, and I knew I wanted to steep the history of the city in a nomadic, Bedouin-like culture, but I’d probably (letting my geek flag fly here a bit) give the most credit to the Thieves’ World anthologies for the inspiration for the setting. I loved the city of Sanctuary when I first started reading the anthologies in high school. I loved that it was the “armpit of the empire,” that it was a meeting point of old and new as the Rankan Empire drove into Ilsigi territory, that there were pantheons of gods vying for power, and in fact commingling even as they fought. Above all, I loved the vastness of Sanctuary and the hidden wonders it contained.

The feel of that is what I wanted to explore with Sharakhai. Sharakhai is in some ways a mere city state. But in effect it controls trade throughout a massive desert bordered by four powerful kingdoms, and because it controls trade, it has amassed incredible wealth and power. It hasn’t done so without making enemies along the way, however. The twelve immortal kings of Sharakhai are hated by many. And the roots of the story are buried deeply in that hatred.

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Why did you choose a woman as your protagonist? Was it challenging to write from her point of view? What advice would you give authors who struggle with writing characters of other genders and/or races?

It’s always difficult to pinpoint exactly why characters turned out like they did. But I can say this. I grew up in a somewhat female-dominated household. This not to minimize my dad’s influence. He has played and still plays a big part in my life. But he was the breadwinner in the family, and so it’s just a simple truth that I saw my mother and twin sisters (one year older than me) more. My mom was very caring and understanding and patient (perhaps more than I had a right to expect). I’m not afraid to admit that my sisters and I fought quite a bit, but we loved each other a lot too. So while it wasn’t a conscious thing on my part, I know that they played a role in the formation of Çeda’s character and her mother’s as well.

I didn’t find it particularly difficult to write about Çeda. And I think the reason why is linked to the advice I would give young authors struggling with writing certain characters (whether it’s because they’re a different race, sex, religion, or what have you). To me it boils down to knowing them well enough to make them real. We all have stereotypes in our heads for how a segment of our society acts. It’s inevitable. It’s how humans work. But it’s up to you as the writer to do the hard work of understanding the social strata of your world more deeply, and then to make individuals out of the characters that inhabit it. It’s only by knowing the world and the characters intimately that they move beyond stereotypes and start to become real people with a life and breath of their own.

I often find that when a character feels dull to me, it’s because I haven’t dug deep enough, explored enough. That’s when I stop and flesh things out. I figure out who they really are by giving them real experiences (backstory), which in turn answers some key questions. It tells me about their hopes, their desires, their fears. Inevitably I find that doing that work brightens the character for me, and I can then return and inhabit them more fully, which in turn lets me (one hopes) tell their true tale.

This is the first book in an epic fantasy series. Do you know how many book will be in the series? Do you know how it ends? Can your fans bribe you to reveal the ending on a person-by-person basis, and if so, do you prefer food, precious stones, or rare books as currency?

I’m planning on it being a six-book series. As for how the story goes, I can say this: I don’t know all of the details, but I know the main purpose of each book.

I was on a panel at Gen Con a few years back and Scott Lynch was talking about series that tell larger tales, but where each book in the series takes on a different aspect of it. Scott used the example of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, but I’ll use Scott’s own Gentlemen Bastards series, which explores different aspects of thievery. In The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott has the eponymous Locke crafting a grand heist, a scam to top all scams. In the second book, Red Seas Under Red Skies, he explores piracy. In the third book, he explores politics and the cheating and scamming that therein lies. In his forthcoming fourth book, The Thorn of Emberlain, it looks to be espionage.

I really loved that take on a series when I heard him talk about it, and it was timely, because I was in the middle of writing Twelve Kings. I decided that I was going to do the same thing, tackle a different aspect of life in the desert with each book. In the first, we see much of what life is like on the streets of the Amber City. In the second book (without getting too spoilery), things move closer to the Kings. In the third book, things may drift toward the desert. In this way, I hope to keep the story fresh, and to reinvent Çeda to a degree from one book to the next.

I’m nearing the end of the second book now, and things are going mostly to plan. As for how much I’ll reveal? Hmm. I could be coerced, but it would take some mighty fine chocolate to do it…

What other works of fantasy would you recommend for readers who love your book and need something to read between installments? 

I enjoyed my time in the pages of Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed. It was a very interesting take in this age of, ahem, doorstop fantasies to go with a more svelte, sword-and-sorcery approach. The interplay between the old, cantankerous Doctor Adoulla Makhslood and his younger, more energetic companions, Raseed and Zamia, was great. And I loved the way he painted the city of Dhamsawaat. It was a rich place, and one brimming with a history and culture all its own.

By the way, if any of your readers are curious to learn more about Saladin and his work, I run a podcast with my partner in crime, Gregory A. Wilson, called Speculate! We do short series of shows called triptychs, in which we review a work in one episode, interview the author in a second, and discuss writing technique based on the work in a third. You can find Saladin’s episodes here: Review of Throne of the Crescent MoonInterview with SaladinWriting Technique show.

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If readers want another Arab-esque tale, I can also recommend Howard Andrew Jones’ The Desert of Souls. The thing that attracted to Howard’s debut novel was the setting (8th century Baghdad). But I also loved the notion of having a mash-up of sorts with a Sherlock Holmes sort of character in Dabir, along with his trusty comrade, Captain Asim, the Watson to Dabir’s Holmes. It was a fun combination of ideas, but don’t think that this semi-historical fantasy is not its own tale. It is. And Howard really brings Baghdad to life through his meticulous research of the period.

One last set of books I’ll mention is C.J. Cherryh’s The Faded Sun trilogy. It was my first exposure to a spec-fictional world based on our own Arabic cultures, and I loved it. I devoured these books, a science fictional tale that spoke to cultural identity, individuality, sacrificing for the common good. It’s one of the tales that spurred me, at least in part, to tackle a story set in a vast desert with a massive city at its center.

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As a small aside, there are some books where the artwork really nails the feel of the book. That was true for the gorgeous pieces of art that went with the individual books, especially the one by Michael Whelan for Kutath (re-used for the trilogy as pictured above). I remember flipping to that cover often, just imagining the world, what it would be like to live there, to meet those people.

Guest Post: Speculative Fiction from an Aboriginal Point of View, by Ambelin Kwaymullina

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Ambelin Kwaymullina’s essay for Invisible 2 (edited by Jim C. Hines), “Colonialism, Land, and Speculative Fiction: An Indigenous Perspective,”, challenges a common science fiction theme of colonization and first contact. She was kind enough to elaborate here on looking at common science fiction themes from an indigenous perspective. You can read my review of Invisible 2 here.

I am a writer of speculative fiction. That means it is my job to look to the future. I am also an Aboriginal Australian, and that means I am all too aware of the nightmares the future could contain. My people, along with other Indigenous and colonized peoples of the globe, have lived through the great injustices and terrible violence of the colonial project. So when I hear tales of human spacefarers seeking new frontiers, my inclination is to cry out a warning to any alien peoples to run while they can. But I know, too, that there is greatness in humanity. Except I think realising that greatness requires a breadth of vision that in turn requires hearing the stories of the many diverse people of this earth.

The many barriers to diverse writers have been the subject of extensive comment in the US as part of the We Need Diverse Books campaign. I have written of some of the issues in an Australian context, and in relation to literature, I want a future that is different to the past. I particularly want an end to the misrepresentation of Indigenous peoples and the taking of Indigenous stories, and I know I am not alone in this. It is why there are many protocols and guidelines in Australia, including in relation to ethical publishing of Indigenous stories and producing Indigenous Australian writing. So I am hopeful that we are moving towards a future where all those who seek to write of other cultures and other peoples will be aware of when those stories are not theirs to tell. And I look forward to equitable collaborations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous writers – for when such collaborations are based in fairness and respect, I believe there is no end to the futures we can generate together.

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Ambelin Kwaymullina is an Australian Aboriginal writer and illustrator who comes from the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. She is the author of the YA dystopian trilogy, The Tribe: The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, The Disappearance of Ember Crow, and The Foretelling of Georgie Spider. When not writing Ambelin works at university teaching law.