The One Thing You Should Buy For the Holidays

Cover---Year-of-the-Poser-not-signedOK everyone, I know the holidays are a stressful time, but all your shopping worries are over.  Behold the glory that is the 2014 Year of the Poser Calendar!  Which you can buy at The Tinker’s Packs!

Jim C. Hines is a science fiction and fantasy author.  What possessed him to make a calendar of himself baring his abs?  Here’s the story, as told by Jim C. Hines himself:

In 2012, Jim wanted to start a discussion about science fiction and fantasy cover art, particularly the ways women were portrayed. To do this, he attempted to contort himself into the poses of various cover art heroines, leading to many discussions about sexism and objectification, the purpose of cover art, and who could do the better Christmas-themed cover pose, Jim Hines or John Scalzi. (Spoiler: it was totally Jim!)

Toward the end of the year, Jim launched another round of poses, this time to raise money for the Aicardi Syndrome Foundation. He offered rewards for various fundraising goals, including a cover pose calendar if the fundraiser brought in more than $15,000. Jim figured that was an absurdly high goal, and that he’d be safe. He figured wrong… and thus a calendar was born!

This calendar is funny, thought-provoking, and benefits charity.  It’s even signed.  Jim C. Hines braved some serious back pain to demonstrate how men and women are portrayed on book covers and he made us laugh while doing it.  Here’s a couple of examples:

4-April---Sm

1-January---Sm

You can find out more about why Jim C. Hines took this project on, and what it taught him about gender and sexism in publishing, at jimchines.com.  Here you can find all his cover poses, and some funny, interesting, challenging essays about them.  This project is a great example of “show, don’t tell” and of using humor to make a point.  And oh yeah, Hines is right – insulin pumps are cool.

Friday Book Club: A Short Film About Annabel Lee, Plus Links!

Annabel Lee

Art by luciediamonds

This short film was part of The Poe Project:  a chance for Sacramento area filmmakers to submit short films inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe.  This film imagines the story of Annabel Lee, based on Poe’s poem of that name:

During our real live book club, the one where we are face to face as opposed to online, we had a great discussion about the issue of race in Poe’s works.  One of our members sent these links to some thought provoking essays on race in Poe’s stories.  Check them out!

“Edgar Allan Poe’s True Horror:  Racism” by Andrew Belonsky, deathantaxesmag.com

“Tell-Tale Art:  Antebellum Racism in the Fiction of Poe”, by John Adam Shelton

Starting next Friday, we’ll be examining Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula.  Be prepared to think about the roles of women in Victorian times, Victorian fears about immigration, Victorian fears about disease, and how those fears still apply today.  Or, you know, just hang out for the excitement of the gory, creepy, disturbing story that has influenced culture from the Victorian Age right up until today!

Book Club Friday: Let’s Talk About Ligeia

SWT-Book-ClubsIt’s Edgar Allan Poe month here at our Friday Book Club column, and today’s feature could just as easily be entitled, “What the Hell is going on in ‘Ligeia’?  ‘Ligeia’ is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, first published in 1863.  Poe writes a lot of stories with unreliable narrators and cliffhanger endings, but this may be the king of them all.  If you don’t want to find out what happens in ‘Ligeia’, than stop reading here, for SPOILERS ABOUND.  If you live in the Sacramento area, come visit our in-person book club at Arden Dimick Library, at 2PM on September 22nd, and in the meantime, or if you are out of the area, you can participate by leaving a comment.

Snarky Summary of the Story:

‘Ligeia’ is narrated by a narrator who is so unreliable that he follows almost every observation by pointing out that he was, after all, really stoned at the time (he’s an opium addict).  This narrator starts off by saying that he was madly in love with this woman, Ligeia, and married to her, and she was totally perfect although she’s hard to describe, and he can’t remember when he met her, and he can’t remember anything about her family but he’s sure they’re just great, and he never did learn her last name.

Ligea was incredibly smart (“I have spoken of the learning of Ligeia – it was immense – such as I have never known in a woman”).  And Ligea was perfectly beautiful, but hard to describe.  She had a perfect nose, and perfect skin, and she was tall and thin, and had black hair.  Her most amazing feature was her eyes.  And she loves the narrator passionately:

That she loved me I should not have doubted; and I might have been easily aware that, in a bosom such as hers, love would have reigned no ordinary passion. But in death only, was I fully impressed with the strength of her affection. For long hours, detaining my hand, would she pour out before me the overflowing of a heart whose more than passionate devotion amounted to idolatry. How had I deserved to be so blessed by such confessions? –how had I deserved to be so cursed with the removal of my beloved in the hour of her making them, But upon this subject I cannot bear to dilate. Let me say only, that in Ligeia’s more than womanly abandonment to a love, alas! all unmerited, all unworthily bestowed, I at length recognized the principle of her longing with so wildly earnest a desire for the life which was now fleeing so rapidly away. It is this wild longing –it is this eager vehemence of desire for life –but for life –that I have no power to portray –no utterance capable of expressing.

Alas, Ligeia gets sick and dies.  The narrator expects her to face death with stoic courage, but Ligeia is determined to fight it off through sheer force of will.  Her last words are a quote from Joseph Glanville:  “Man doth not yield him to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will.”

In the mundane world, people deal with grief by staring at huge piles of casseroles.  But this is the gothic genre, so the narrator moves to The Rhine, buys a “castellated abbey”, decorates it in gloomy and macabre furnishings, and remarries.  He marries The Lady Rowena, who is Ligeia’s opposite – she looks opposite, she never speaks a word in the story, and seems extraordinarily passive.  Immediately after the marriage, the narrator, who by this time is an extreme opium addict, detests her.  Rowena pines away in the Abbey of Horror and dies.  Her body is wrapped in shrouds and her face is covered.

But wait!  Rowena’s body shows signs of life – and then sinks back into death.  She stirs again and dies again, and this goes on through the night, until at last she rises and walks.  When the cover that conceals her face falls, the narrator sees that it is not Rowena who has returned from the grave – “Here then, at least,” I shrieked aloud, “can I never –can I never be mistaken –these are the full, and the black, and the wild eyes –of my lost love –of the lady –of the LADY LIGEIA.”

Art by MirrorCradle

Art by MirrorCradle

Crack pot theory:

For a full analysis of this story, I recommend schmoop.com.  I found ‘Ligeia’ to be baffling – what happened?  Why?  How?  This is a new story to me and I can’t stop thinking about it.  One moment I regard it with horror, the next I think it is strangely hilarious what with the narrator constantly having to explain that he thought it was weird that various things happened but he was really, really high at the time.  Apparently some critics believe that the story is a parody.  Obviously the story is a powerful one – I can tell, because I can’t stop thinking about it.  So, what the heck happens at the end, and how, and why?

We’re really not supposed to know what happens at the end.  Maybe Ligeia has come back to life.  Maybe the narrator is hallucinating the whole thing.  The ending is not only a mystery, but a cliffhanger.  Is Ligeia happy to be back?  Is she angry?  Is she a vampire/zombie/bad thing?  We don’t know.  But I have a crackpot theory.

Many people believe that the ending is a hallucination on the part of the narrator, but I have a theory – what if there is no Ligeia?  What if her existence was dreamed up by the narrator from the start?  This would explain the gaps in her backstory, her unusual appearance, and the fact that she seems too good to be true.  She seems like the perfect woman because that’s what the narrator created her to be.

If Ligeia is the perfect woman, than why would the narrator kill her off by fantasizing her death?  Well, I think the narrator overshot a little bit and created a woman who threatened him.  He clearly has some interesting gender hang-ups (her “unwomanly” displays of affection” are Victorian code for “her interest in sex was tacky”).  My guess is that the narrator longs for a perfect woman, but one that won’t threaten him sexually – he wants the egotistical gratification of Ligeia’s passionate expressions of love, and yet he seems to regard them with some distaste, calling them “immoderate”.

Ligeia is sexual, vibrant, and dominant – she helps him with his homework, she drives the relationship, he is child-like in her presence.  So the narrator, with mixed feelings (and all unconscious ones – he believes all this is real) tries to create a new fantasy woman.  Since Ligeia was too dominant, he will create a woman in his mind who is completely subservient – over whom he can exercise complete power.  This is, of course, Rowena.  He controls her body by keeping her a prisoner in the abbey.  He controls her mind by creating an atmosphere of oppressive horror.  But guess what – passive people are boring.  The narrator wants Ligeia back – and he gets her back by willing her back into existence.  But because he thinks his creations are real, he can’t just wave them away.  Rowena wants to live, and so does Ligeia, and so through the night they battle for supremacy.

ligeia

The Mighty Power of Ligeia:

So, if the narrator wants Ligeia back, why is he horrified by Ligeia’s appearance?  I think he is ambivalent about what he wants (this helps explain why Rowena lives and dies over and over again, as he tries to make up his mind).  When faced with the reality of passive Rowena, he’s bored, but when faced with the reality of powerful Ligeia, he is terrified.  On some level, he wants to eliminate both women, in an effort to regain his sanity or in an unconcious effort to be free from entanglements.  But Ligeia, although she was created by him, has her own will, and she will not be cowed.  That’s why Ligeia doesn’t just kill Rowena – Rowena becomes Ligeia, the smart, strong-willed vision that refuses to go away.  Earlier I said that the narrator wills Ligeia back into existence, but I think to some extent she wills herself back into existence – he is too ambivalent about what he wants to truly desire her return.

The narrator makes it clear that he both admires and fears the living Ligeia.  I like to think that Ligeia represents the spirit of women who will not be silenced – not by society, not by law, not by abusive husbands or condescending expectations.  I doubt that this was what Poe intended – but he did know a lot of strong-willed women in his life, and he both desired and resented them for taking care of him (he refered to his wife as his “wife-mother”).  So maybe he did intend that message – regardless, I’m Team Ligeia.

220px-Poe_ligeia_byam_shaw

Hooray for Triple Digits!

the number 100 made from legos

As of this writing, we officially have a hundred followers – Mad Scientist Husband refused to subscribe until I got ninety-nine followers so that he could be the one hundredth one.  That’s pure romance, people.  Flowers are boring, but a man who follows your blog is a man to keep.

So as I type madly away in the dead of night, I have to wonder – who is reading my stuff?  To the best of my knowledge, here’s who’s reading:

1.  My friends and relatives on Facebook who are being sucked in against their will because I have used the powers of WordPress for evil.

2.  My mom.

3.  My mom’s knitting group, possibly because they fear that if they don’t read my blog, my mother will attack them with knitting needles.  Such is a Mother’s Love.

4.  The mad scientist, henceforth known as No. 100.

5.  And this is the amazing part:  Some people I don’t know.

It’s true!  I know it’s true, because I don’t think I actually know 100 people!  As they say in Bloom County, “I say to myself, ‘Why, that is DARNED exciting!'”

So thanks to the one hundred (and possibly, by the time this is posted, more) people who are subscribing to geekgirlinlove.com. Leave a comment and tell us what draws you to the blog – the book reviews?  The science stuff?  Videos?  My scintillating wit?  Today, 100.  Tomorrow, the world!

Mini Review: Her Sky Cowboy, by Beth Ciotta

Cover of Her Sky CowboyHer Sky Cowboy is a fun steampunk romance that takes as many crazy elements as possible and throws them all together.  It’s hard to get emotionally invested in the book, because the characters, while they have many merits, are pretty much stock characters.  Still, it’s a fun ride.  If you are a steampunk fan, you’ll get a kick out of this book.  If you’re not a steampunk fan, you won’t find much in the way of depth or emotional content to hold your interest.  It’s the first in a trilogy.

Not sure if it’s for you?  Here’s a partial list of some of the elements in the book:

  • Airships
  • Time travelling hippies
  • Victorians
  • Janis Joplin singing “Piece of my Heart” on a zeppelin
  • A mechanical Pegasus
  • Pirates

A full-length review is available at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

Mini Review: Cards and Caravans, by Cindy Spencer Pape

Cards and Caravans CoverCards and Caravans is the fifth book in the Gaslight Chronicles series by Cindy Spencer Pape.  This fun but uneven romance series combines Victorian steampunk with magic and the paranormal.  The books are published online by Carina Press.  I loved Pape’s book Kilts and Kraken, but found the follow-up, Moonlight and Mechanicals, to be disappointing.  Cards and Caravans falls somewhere in between, and the whole book feels like a placeholder in the series.  Having said that, it was a pleasant book to read, with engaging characters.  There’s a surprising lack of tension or suspense in the book so it might be just the light read you need during a stressful or fatiguing time.

I had no problem jumping into the series with Kilts and Kraken.  It was a strong stand-alone and I still recommend it.  However, I’m not sure how much you’d get out of Cards and Caravans without having read at least a couple of the other books, especially Moonlight and Mechanicals.  You can find my full-length review of Cards and Caravans at: Smart Bitches Trashy Books.  And for the book I truly enjoyed, my full-length review of Kilts and Kraken is at this link.  Enjoy!

Review: The Drowning Girl, by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Cover of Drowning girlMy Nebula Review Series continues with The Drowning Girl, by Caitlín R. Kiernan.

The Drowning Girl is certainly not a romance, and yet within its pages a quite touching romance unfolds, almost without the reader noticing it.  The overall tone is one of menace and confusion and dread, but the resolution involves healing and love, and healing because of love (and a lot of therapy and medication and art and research – there’s nothing trite about the story).

The plot is hard to describe because a lot of the story is ambiguous.  India, also known as Imp, is a writer and painter who is living with schizophrenia.  She is able to control her symptoms with a complicated regimen of medications and therapy.  One night Imp sees a naked woman walking down the side of the road, and she picks her up and takes her home.  This woman’s name is Eva, and she becomes an object of obsession for Imp.

As Imp goes on and off and on her meds, she doubts her own perceptions of what is happening.  In one version of her story, Eva comes to her in July, and her function is that of a siren.  In another, Eva arrives in November, and her function is that of a wolf.  How many Evas there are, and whether they are mermaid or wolf, and what they want from Imp, are mysteries Imp struggles to solve as she wrestles with her mental illness.

The two most important technical components of this book are voice and imagery.  Imp is the book’s narrator.  Listen to this incredible passage, from a period when Imp is deeply obsessed with Eva and has stopped taking her medication:

All our thoughts are mustard seeds.  Oh, many days now.  Many days.  Many days of mustard seeds.  India Phelps, daughter of madwomen, granddaughter, who doesn’t want to say a word and ergo can’t stop talking.  Here is a sad, sad tale, woebegone story of the girl who stopped for two strangers who would not, could not stop for me.  She, she who is me, and I creep around the edges of my own life afraid to screw off the mayonnaise lid and spill the mustard seeds.

And here’s a more lucid passage, in which she talks about the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood:

 Anyway, even with the happy ending, the story terrified me.  For one thing, I never pictured the wolf as a real wolf, but as something that walked upright on two legs, and looked a lot more like a man than a wolf.  So I suppose I saw it as a werewolf.  When I was older, and saw a National Geographic documentary, I realized that the way I’d seen the wolf, in my mind’s eye, made the story truer, because men are much more dangerous than wolves.  Especially if you’re a wolf, or a little girl.

I read Drowning because it’s nominated for a Nebula Award for best novel.  I expected something dark and scary, not anything romantic.  So it was a delightful surprise to find that the love affair between India and Abalyn is quite beautiful and vital to the rest of the story.  Abalyn is Imp’s lover and roommate.  In a story in which characters are always changing their identity, Abalyn is the only character who seems completely sure of who she is.  Abalyn is a male to female transsexual, and despite the altering of her physical form, she is very clear that she didn’t “change her sex” – she was always female.  Abalyn is also Imp’s link to the rest of the world and her tether to sanity.  Even though the focus is on other things, I grew to adore Abalyn, and her relationship with Imp is what allows Imp to move through the obsession with Eva and heal.

I recommend Drowning Girl to anyone who has an interest in revisionist fairy tales, in psychological horror, or in books with a strong narrative voice and an unreliable narrator.  It’s prose was lovely and horrifying, and although neither I nor imp is completely sure of what happened, it’s nice to know that love, as well as a very good therapist, helped things get to some sort of a happy ending.