Aug 28, 2014

I Do This to Myself: On Dollhouse

Dollhouse sleeping units

I Do This to Myself: On Dollhouse
A possible alternate title for this post would be, “Dollhouse: It's Even More Complicated than Bunheads”. My experience with this series provided a definitive answer to the question, “What’s more frustrating: a series with a horrible beginning that mostly manages to right its course, or one that starts out very promising, develops well, and then delivers an absolute trainwreck of an ending?” The former might drive people away, but the latter is a guaranteed recipe for heartbreak and deafening screams of frustration.

It’s a bit of an understatement, then, to say that my feelings on Dollhouse are tangled. If any of you were to ask me, my fellow story loving friends, “But really, how did you like it?”, I wouldn’t know how to answer. I admired its premise and ambition; I found it, at its best, remarkably smart; I wished these moments came more often; I thought that when it failed, it mostly did so in interesting ways; I felt, all the same, that it often bit more than it could chew; I’m glad to have watched it; and I’m never, ever, ever going to stop being furious about the ending.

Dollhouse: Echo, Topher and Boyd

The main reason why I decided to watch Dollhouse was this Sady Doyle post, in which she called it Whedon’s smartest and most complex work to date and said:
The Dollhouse is a giant metaphor, not only for rape culture, but for patriarchy and oppression at large: even the boy dolls are girls, stripped of agency or access to power and cast in pre-defined roles to fulfill the fantasies of the folks who are actually in charge. When they have sex, they aren’t consenting – they’ve been made to think that they are consenting, by being made to think that they are the people who would consent to such things. They exist either in a state of infantilization and non-personhood (in which they are “cared for” by people who have a vested interest in continuing to use them) or implanted with false consciousness in which they are not aware of what’s being done to them. I mean, false consciousness: Whedon’s metaphors, they are rarely subtle. Their reactions to learning this, when they “wake up” (which Whedon has shown them doing, albeit briefly) are horror, disgust, and rage at how deeply they’ve been violated.
(My other reason was: Amy Acker, Summer Glau, Eliza Dushku. I just really like their faces, okay?)

For those of you not familiar with the series, the premise of Dollhouse is the following: a multinational company, the Rossum Corporation, has developed a technology that allows human bodies to be implanted with perfectly designed AI personalities. Having immediately spotted an opportunity for profit, they create a series of underground establishments, the Dollhouses, that program individuals (technically volunteers, but all the ones we get to know turn out to have joined in circumstances where their options were severely limited) and send them out in “engagements” with very wealthy customers. Many of these engagements are sexual in nature, and upon their return the Dolls, or Actives, are wiped of their temporary personalities and of any recollection of what has happened to them. Dollhouse follows the LA branch of this organisation, and a particular Active, Echo, as she moves towards self-awareness.

Dollhouse: Echo and Sierra
There’s nothing about this premise that is not creepy, and I agree with Doyle that this is very much deliberate. I also absolutely agree that this is a show about consent; about how rape culture gets inside your head; about how you need constant attention and care to avoid being complicit in a system that’s ever-present — and even then, sometimes you will fail. I’m happy, up to a point, to read the Dollhouse as a metaphor for rape culture and oppression, but I also think this metaphor gets tricky when the symbol and what it stands for begin to overlap.

Let me use an example to explain what I mean: when Sierra/Priya’s backstory is revealed, we learn that she was forced into the Dollhouse by a man who wanted to get back at her for rejecting his sexual advances. Nolan is a horrifying character: when Priya turns him down, he has her drugged, declared schizophrenic by less than scrupulous doctors, and then recruited to the Dollhouse under the guise of “helping” her. Once she becomes the active Sierra, Nolan regularly requests her services and finally gets to have sex with the body he lusted after. The series unambiguously frames this as rape, which is of course what it is, and eventually Nolan comes to a gory but narratively satisfying end.

This storyline, however, raises a question: Nolan was horrifying, but why was he singled out as a rapist when everyone who has sex with an Active is in fact guilty of rape? As Doyle says in her essay, the Actives are incapable of meaningful informed consent, because the consent they give when implanted is a direct result of their programming and they remain unaware of this fact. The contrast between Nolan and everyone else, including characters we’re meant to root for, is as jarring as it is artificial, and it exposes many hypocrisies and blind spots.

Of course, you can argue that this is exactly what the writers were aiming for — and as I said above, I think that at its best Dollhouse is smart enough that this is a possibility I’m willing to consider seriously. But I’m far less interested in discussing intent than I am in discussing effectiveness, and I’m of two minds about the latter. Accepting and even admiring what Dollhouse leaves unsaid requires me to balance, on the one hand, my personal preference for stories that approach their themes with a light touch and make use of subtlety, with on the other hand my knowledge that in order to work effectively, these stories require a degree of social consensus about their themes that may be greater than what we actually have.

This is something I’ve tried and failed to write about in the past, but to return to an old example, the silences and implications in “The Lottery” work because no one seriously pretends that murder (the murder of white people, that is) is not horrific. The same is not true of sexual assault, and that often makes me wish for clearer narrative pointers despite my aforementioned personal preferences.

Dollhouse full cast

Likewise, I had mixed feelings about Dollhouse’s approach to its characters’ varying degrees of complicity in the horrors it portrays. I got what it was going for, and I liked it in theory — but. But. Over the past few years I’ve followed numerous discussions online centred on male anti-heroes, or otherwise morally compromised male main characters, and the space they occupy in our culture; being aware that these narratives form a pattern when put together inevitably affects how I respond to each individual one. In theory I do like characters who come in shades of grey — I appreciate the acknowledgement that people are messy; that most of us do benefit from and contribute to oppressive social systems; that it’s pretty much impossible to live in a world where dehumanising attitudes are pervasive without interiorising some of them. And yet it grates to know these types of characters are predominantly male, because we respond very differently to contradictions and complications in a woman.

Dollhouse: Bennett Halverson

I suppose it’s exhaustion more than not thinking they serve interesting narrative purposes that leaves me with such limited emotional availability for characters like Topher Binks and Paul Ballard. Topher Binks is the tech genius behind the LA Dollhouse. He embodies the very worst of geek misogyny, and then slowly (too slowly?) develops a conscience and an awareness of the humanity of the women around him. (The series, by the way, is a scientific cautionary tale, and unfortunately there’s no equivalent to Orphan Black’s Cosima to introduce some nuance to this aspect of the narrative.) Paul Ballard is an FBI agent investigating the Dollhouse who eventually comes to believe it’s better to help Echo defeat it from the inside. Again, an interesting idea with clear metaphorical resonance (you cannot escape the patriarchy; you can only help dismantle it while living immersed in it) — but Paul has sex with Millie after learning she’s a Doll, and I found it hard to make room in my heart for yet one more ethically dubious man.

But it’s time to give credit where credit is due: Dollhouse gave us characters like Adelle DeWitt, Bennett Halverson, Claire Saunders (though there turns out to be more to her story than meets the eye), and even Caroline herself — complicated women all of them. I enjoyed them immensely, and I’m grateful that they allowed me to engage with the themes of complicity, of varying degrees and different forms of subversion, and of just how much it takes to dismantle systems you profit from, without the baggage of exhaustion and oversaturation I couldn’t help but associate with the men.

I kind of wish Topher Binks and Bennett Halverson could have exchanged places: Bennett would be the brilliant LA programmer around for the duration of the series, and Topher the one from DC we only get to see a handful of times. There were enough other male characters around that I don’t think this would amount to giving men a free pass, or to portraying women as the sole enforcers of patriarchal norms. And it’s one of those small things that would have complicated the series in what I think would have been really interesting ways.

Dollhouse: Adelle DeWitt

Changing topics, one thing I really liked was how Dollhouse didn’t shy away from taking its SF premise to its full logical consequences. It doesn’t ignore the fact that its technological set-up is the sort of thing that could very well lead to the scenario we see in “Epitaph” parts one and two — without giving everything away, let me just say that I’d have had a hard time believing that consciousness-transferring and implanting technology could stick to such a specific usage for long. Even more interestingly to me, the series avoids what I initially feared would be a major pitfall: it acknowledges that a fully realised human consciousness is in fact human, even if it was artificially created, and that to wipe it is to kill a person. We see this in Echo’s “I’m scared of Caroline”, as well as in Claire’s “I don’t want to die”, and as much as I’d have liked to see it taken even further I thought the series did a good job of addressing it in the time it did have.

Dollhouse: Claire Saunders

So far so good, right? We have a series that’s not without significant flaws, but that also raises feminist questions that go beyond the 101 “women can kick ass too” level (not that I don’t still want to see more of that) and gives them the weight they merit. But then we get to “The Attic”, when — four episodes away from the ending — Dollhouse completely jumps the shark. And it’s not even the fact that the pacing is clearly set by its impeding cancellation and is therefore all over the place. No, it’s that the direction the story takes in those last few episodes is a bad, bad, bad, awful idea, and no amount of slow development could possibly change that. It couldn’t be done right, because there’s no possible execution that renders it not terrible.

Explicit major spoilers of the kind that will irrevocably change your viewing experience from this point onwards.

You know, I actually thought, naïve and privileged that I am, that in Boyd I might have found an exception to the traditional awful treatment of characters of colour in Joss Whedon’s shows. “Of course the pattern is still a problem”, I said to myself, “but still, it’s nice to have found a counterexample. As long as Boyd doesn’t die heroically saving Echo at the end or something, this is good.”

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Boyd was one of my favourite characters. He was the one man whose shades of gray didn’t feel tiresome — perhaps because his interest in Echo/Caroline, unlike Paul’s, never felt sexual, and he seemed to see her as a person from the get go; or perhaps because he was an ambiguous character in ways less obvious than Topher’s initial misogyny. He was a father figure of sorts, a man of integrity caught in thorny circumstances, and of course a black man in a position of authority who commanded respect.

And then they did what they did, which was senseless and cheap and RUINED EVERYTHING. It was like Tara or Cordy all over again, only WORSE. I’m never getting over it, and I especially resent that it’s the sort of thing that makes it difficult to rewatch the series and enjoy it for what it was up until then. And yes, I care that a showrunner whose diversity track record is what it is allowed a character of colour to be not only killed, but turned into the villain first. To give you context, this happened in a series in which an Asian woman successfully impersonates another with nothing but a matching outfit and wig. And it’s not even like the episode can be read as Sierra taking advantage of people’s racism to best them, Veronica Mars and sexism style, by using the fact that they glance at an ID card, see “Asian” and look away again against them: even people who actually know the woman Sierra is impersonating are fooled, which betrays the series’ lack of self-awareness.

The other aspect of the ending that disappointed me was the fact that it cemented the specialness narrative surrounding Echo/Caroline. We go from a narrative that implicitly tells us that we can all grow increasingly self-aware and strive to dismantle oppression to one whose heroine is rendered actually biologically special, and only capable of what she’s achieved because of that. Again, it’s lazy and ruins so much of what the series had going for it.

***

There: rant over. Though now that I wrote about the ending I’m furious all over again. Recommended with enormous caveats? I honestly don’t even know.

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Aug 25, 2014

My Real Children by Jo Walton

My Real Children by Jo WaltonMy Real Children by Jo Walton

“You’ve got no idea of the battles we’ve already won, especially when you’re busy looking ahead to the battles we still have to fight.”
My Real Children tells the story of the two lives of Patricia Cowan. When the novel opens, the year is 2015 and Patricia is very old. She suffers from dementia, and the notes she writes to herself read “Confused today” — and sometimes “Confused. Less confused. Very confused”. Patricia often forgets things, but she also remembers what seems impossible: two very different lives. Her childhood and her time as a student at Oxford during WW2 are the same in both versions, but her path splits when she either accepts or declines her boyfriend Mark’s offer of marriage in 1949.

Patricia goes on to become either Trish, an unhappily married mother of four who embarks on a political career later in life, or Pat, a success travel writer who spends every summer in Florence with her partner Bee and their three children. Additionally, Patricia’s different lives take place in two very different worlds: in one it’s possible to get married on the moon; in the other, the Cuban missile crisis escalated beyond mere words and the world is dealing with the effects of nuclear fallout.

I loved My Real Children. It’s kind of a big deal to call it my favourite Jo Walton to date, and I’m not sure if I’m ready to do that quite yet. But I can say with certainty that I read this novel with unreserved pleasure: it moved me, it roused me, and it reminded me of why I read. Several reviews I’ve read so far emphasise the question the novel poses — would you prefer a life of personal happiness in a politically scary world, or a life with more immediately obvious struggles in a world that’s on the right track? — but this is a question I’m more interested in seeing explored than in seeing answered in a definitive way.

Fortunately, exploration is what My Real Children is all about. The novel ends with the following lines (spoilers warning, kind of, though this won’t tell you all that much out of context and it’s really more about the journey than the destination):
Now or never, Trish or Pat, peace or war, loneliness or love?
She wouldn’t have been the person her life had made her if she could have made any other answer.
These lines become a sort of Rorschach test for readers, but for me the most interesting thing is how the novel doesn’t pretend that the answer, whatever we decide it is, is a simple one. [/spoilers]

The other big question the premise of My Real Children poses is this: to which extent are the differences between the worlds Pat and Trish inhabit down to Patricia’s choices? Can you draw a simple line between cause and effect? Has Patricia “been somebody whose choices could have changed worlds”? My answer to that last question is an unequivocal yes, but at the same time I see the relationship between Patricia’s choices and the direction the world takes as part of a nonlinear, butterfly effect type system more than anything else. The reason why I shy away from a reading that emphasises direct causality is not only my knowledge that life is complex and big changes unfailingly have multiple causes, but also the fact that directly aligning a life in which a woman is in a happy and fulfilling queer relationship with “bad” choices that lead to a nearly apocalyptic world makes for uncomfortable reading.

To be clear, I think My Real Children is too smart and nuanced a novel to suggest any such thing — and needless to say I loved it for it. Something else I really liked is how even though the novel is alternate history, it’s very much grounded in the details of women’s lives over the course of the 20th century. We watch how Pat and Trish’s lives are affected by lack of access to contraception, by laws that don’t allow married women to carry on working, by single women being denied mortgages, by lack of basic rights for lgb people, and by how this makes things like travelling abroad with minors or visiting a loved one in hospital infinitely harder and more painful than they need to be. Pat and Bee’s contemporary Britain is a worse place to live in than our own, as the civil liberties that have been achieved in the recent past are nowhere in sight there. For example, as two women living together they’re regularly visited by social workers who can choose to turn a blind eye (or not) to the reality of their relationship. But, importantly, the discrimination they face is nowhere near outside the realm of what is, or in some areas has until very recently been, possible in our world.

Trish, on the other hand, is in an oppressive heterosexual relationship, and the first few decades of her adulthood are shaped by the fact that she’s denied control of her fertility. Trish is eventually introduced to “women’s lib” by a friend, and although she feels that in some ways feminism has come too late for her, I think the novel does an excellent job of illustrating its power. Trish’s story captures the sheer dizzying relief of realising problems you’ve interiorised are in fact systemic; of learning, at last, that you are not alone. The vast thing you’ve struggled with is not you, but a flaw in how the world is organised — a flaw that a swelling tide of people are determined to challenge and correct. It can be easy, in the age of connectivity and easy access to peer groups that are shaped by shared priorities and interests rather than by accidents of geography, to forget how enormous this is.

This brings me to the quote I opened this post with: watching Trish’s life improve as the twentieth century advanced made me feel grateful to everyone who fought to get us here. The quote is not, of course, an appeal to complacency (this is Jo Walton, after all, author of the glorious Small Change trilogy), but a recognition that memory is useful. We can combine our determination to fight on with an acknowledgement of past victories, especially when the latter are a source of comfort and hope in the face of daunting future struggles. There’s still a long way to go, but look, look — we’ve made it this far.

Lastly (and another reason why I resist reading this novel as a straightforward exercise in either/or), I really liked that My Real Children acknowledged that there isn’t a single script for happiness. Early on, Pat is visibly happier than Trish, but as their lives progress the difference becomes far less clear cut. I especially liked that Walton took care not to portray Trish’s life as unrelentingly bleak because she doesn’t find the same kind of romantic fulfilment Pat finds with Bee. After separating from Mark, Trish is briefly involved with a visiting academic, but the rest of her time is devoted to her friendships, to her work, to her family, to the causes she believes in — and this is far from an empty life. I liked seeing the story of two well-lived lives that deviate from the scripts we normally recognise in more ways than one.

They read it too: Necromancy Never Pays, Reading In The Growlery, Reading the End

(You?)

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Aug 24, 2014

A More Diverse Universe 2014

A More Diverse Universe 2014

A More Diverse Universe 2014 logo
My friend Aarti, who blogs at the excellent Booklust, is hosting the third A More Diverse Universe next month. All you have to do to take part is read and review a book by a writer of colour in the last two weeks of September (from the 14th to the 27th) — and whereas in previous years the event was focused on SFF, this year it encompasses all genres. Earlier this year, when I took part in the We Need Diverse Books campaign, I shared a collection of links about why diversifying our reading matters; needless to say, they all remain as relevant as ever.

The idea that deliberately seeking out works by authors of colour means compromising your standards of quality or deviating from your preferences is as persistent as it is frustrating. Aarti herself put it perfectly when she said, “You may have to change your book-finding habits to include POC authors in your reading rotation. You absolutely do not need to change your book-reading habits.” Much of this is down to the issue Tansy Rainer Roberts identified when I saw her speak at LonCon3: despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, a lot of people still believe that the world is a meritocracy. They believe that talent alone will get you attention and success, and therefore the books that will get the most review coverage, or sell the most copies, or reach the most readers, will be the best and the most deserving.

Unfortunately that’s not how it works. Obviously this isn’t to say that no good books ever become popular — only that privilege in its many incarnations plays a role. We pay more attention to the voices of people who belong to groups we’ve been socialised to perceive as authoritative, and a lot of excellent works are unjustly ignored. Making a deliberate effort to diversity your reading is a way to redress the fact that the world is not a level playing field. It means acknowledging that the best works won’t “naturally” rise to the top. It means a small step towards righting a wrong. And it means enriching your reading life by seeking out valuable perspectives that deviate from the white default.

In the spirit of sharing the excitement, here are five books I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing in late September. I’ll probably not get to all of them, but oh well: I’ve long since embraced the pleasures of excessive and unrealistic reading plans. Here’s my provisional list:

Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi: Reports about the ending of Boy, Snow, Bird have put me off, but I definitely still want to read more Oyeyemi and this seems like a good choice. It’s a retelling (of sorts) of the folk tale of the same title, set in the 1930s and focused on a celebrated novelist who always kills his female characters. WANT.

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo: I’ve always been drawn to the cover of this book, and the blurb makes me want to read it all the more:
Darling is only ten years old, and yet she must navigate a fragile and violent world. In Zimbabwe, Darling and her friends steal guavas, try to get the baby out of young Chipo's belly, and grasp at memories of Before. Before their homes were destroyed by paramilitary policemen, before the school closed, before the fathers left for dangerous jobs abroad.

But Darling has a chance to escape: she has an aunt in America. She travels to this new land in search of America's famous abundance only to find that her options as an immigrant are perilously few. NoViolet Bulawayo's debut calls to mind the great storytellers of displacement and arrival who have come before her—from Junot Diaz to Zadie Smith to J.M. Coetzee—while she tells a vivid, raw story all her own.
Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi: The story of a family from Ghana who gathers after a death. According to the blurb,
What is revealed in their coming together is the story of how they came apart: the hearts broken, the lies told, the crimes committed in the name of love. Splintered, alone, each navigates his[sic] pain, believing that what has been lost can never be recovered—until, in Ghana, a new way forward, a new family, begins to emerge.
The Round House by Louise Erdrich: An author I've always wanted to read, and a novel that sounds like something I could really love:
One Sunday in the spring of 1988, a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is attacked. The details of the crime are slow to surface as Geraldine Coutts is traumatized and reluctant to relive or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband, Bazil, and thirteen-year-old son, Joe. In one day, Joe's life is irrevocably transformed. He tries to heal his mother, but she will not leave her bed and slips into an abyss of solitude. Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared.

While his father, who is a tribal judge, endeavors to wrest justice from a situation that defies his efforts, Joe becomes frustrated with the official investigation and sets out with his trusted friends, Cappy, Zack, and Angus, to get some answers of his own. Their quest takes them first to the Round House, a sacred space and place of worship for the Ojibwe. And this is only the beginning.
Charm and Strange by Stephanie Kuehn: A title from my TBR pile to end with. This YA novel has an excellent cover and an intriguing blurb:
No one really knows who Andrew Winston Winters is. Least of all himself. He is part Win, a lonely teenager exiled to a remote boarding school in the wake of a family tragedy. The guy who shuts the whole world out, no matter the cost, because his darkest fear is of himself ...of the wolfish predator within. But he's also part Drew, the angry boy with violent impulses that control him. The boy who, one fateful summer, was part of something so terrible it came close to destroying him. A deftly woven, elegant, unnerving psychological thriller about a boy at war with himself. Charm and Strange is a masterful exploration of one of the greatest taboos.
***
You can sign up for A More Diverse Universe at Booklust. If you’re taking part, what are you thinking of reading? And whether you are or not — what do you think I should read?

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Aug 21, 2014

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Bad Feminist by Roxane GayBad Feminist by Roxane Gay

How do we reconcile the imperfections of feminism with all the good it can do? In truth, feminism is flawed because it is a movement powered by people and people are inherently flawed. For whatever reason, we hold feminism to an unreasonable standard where the movement must be everything we want and must always make the best choices. When feminism falls short of our expectations, we decide the problem is with feminism rather than with the flawed people who act in the name of the movement.
Bad Feminist: Essays collects Roxane Gay’s writing on topics such as gender and sexuality, pop culture, race and entertainment, politics, inequality in its many forms, and occasionally her own life. I’ve been avidly following Gay’s writing online for years, and the reasons why I liked this book so much are pretty much the reasons why I like her in general. It was interesting to see slightly different versions of pieces I’d read previously, as well as to read new-to-me pieces that further elaborate on ideas Gay has addressed before. But mostly I was just grateful to have the opportunity to bask in the sheer brilliance of her thoughts and words.

Here’s why I love Roxane Gay: she gives herself permission to be human and messy, vulnerable and contradictory. She reminds us that it’s okay to say “I don’t know”. She acknowledges that living according to your beliefs is hard, and that we all occasionally fail, and that we get to pick ourselves up and try again. Reading about how a writer and thinker I admire negotiates some of the same issues that keep me up at night, not so metaphorically speaking, made me feel less alone. I’m always grateful for writing that achieves that.

The essay that gives this collection its title is one whose importance to me I’ve discussed before. When Gay vows to embrace the label “bad feminist”, she’s not giving herself or her readers a free pass to stop aiming for a better, more inclusive feminism. The intersection of sexism and other forms of oppression is at the centre of everything Roxane Gay writes, and race in particular is one of the main themes of the book. But being mindful of these intersections doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes mess up — an inevitable result of living in a world that encourages all sorts of blind spots. And feminism, Gay reminds us, is too important for us to walk away from it because we’re human and make mistakes:
I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I’m not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying—trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself: a woman who loves pink and likes to get freaky and sometimes dances her ass off to music she knows, she knows, is terrible for women and who sometimes plays dumb with repairmen because it’s just easier to let them feel macho than it is to stand on the moral high ground.
It’s hard for me to pick my favourite bits of Bad Feminist, as there was something I found valuable in pretty much every essay. I want to highlight a few sections I made notes of, though: for example, I love how a short essay titled “How to become friends with another women” starts with “abandon the cultural myth that all female friendships must be bitchy, toxic, or competitive” (I live for the day when this myth will die a horrible death). And I love what she says about privilege here:
We tend to believe that accusations of privilege imply we have it easy, which we resent because life is hard for nearly everyone. Of course we resent these accusations. Look at white men when they are accused of having privilege. They tend to be immediately defensive (and, at times, understandably so). They say, “It’s not my fault I am a white man,” or “I’m [insert other condition that discounts their privilege],” instead of simply accepting that, in this regard, yes, they benefit from certain privileges others do not. To have privilege in one or more areas does not mean you are wholly privileged. Surrendering to the acceptance of privilege is difficult, but it is really all that is expected. What I remind myself, regularly, is this: the acknowledgement of my privilege is not a denial of the ways I have been and am marginalized, the ways I have suffered.
I especially like how Gay acknowledges that it’s human to struggle with this — yet surrendering to this acceptance would make it so much easier for discussions about power and marginalisation to move forward.

Another favourite piece was the one about unlikeable female protagonists (which you can still read online). Gay puts it perfectly when she says,
An unlikable man is inscrutably interesting, dark, or tormented, but ultimately compelling, even when he might behave in distasteful ways. This is the only explanation I can come up with for the popularity of, say, the novels of Philip Roth, who is one hell of a writer but who also practically revels in the unlikability of his men, with their neuroses and self-loathing (and, of course humanity) boldly on display from one page to the next. When women are unlikable, it becomes a point of obsession in critical conversations by professional and amateur critics alike. Why are these women daring to flaunt convention? Why aren’t they making themselves likeable (and therefore acceptable) to polite society?
In “The Careless Language of Sexual Violence”, Gay addresses the darkness of her own novel, An Untamed State, and discusses, with honesty and care, some of the same questions about rape in fiction that were at the forefront of my mind as I read it:
As I write any of these stories, I wonder if I am being gratuitous. I want to get it right. But how do you get this sort of thing right? How do you write violence authentically without making it exploitative? I worry I am contributing to the cultural numbness that would allow an article like the one in the Times to be written and published, that allows rape to be such rich fodder for popular culture and entertainment. We cannot separate violence in fiction from violence in the world no matter how hard we try.
And in “Beyond the Measure of Men”, she gives voice to all the frustration anyone who cares about gender parity in the literary world is likely to have experienced when seeing the same conversations reoccur periodically with no visible concrete action to follow:
The time for outrage over things we already know is over. The call and response of this debate has grown tightly choreographed and tedious. A woman dares to acknowledge the gender problem. Some people say, “Yes, you’re right,” but do nothing to change the status quo. Some people say, “I’m not part of the problem,” and offer up some tired example as to why this is all no big deal, why this is all being blown out of proportion. Some people offer up submission queue ratios and other excuses as if that absolves responsibility. Some people say, “Give me more proof,” or “I want more numbers,” or “Things are so much better,” or “You are wrong.” Some people say, “Stop complaining.” Some people say, “Enough talking about the problem. Let’s talk about solutions.” Another woman dares to acknowledge this gender problem. Rinse. Repeat.
The solutions are obvious. Stop making excuses. Stop saying women run publishing. Stop justifying the lack of parity in prominent publications that have the resources to address gender inequity. Stop parroting the weak notion that you’re simply publishing the best writing, regardless. There is ample evidence of the excellence of women writers. Publish more women writers. If women aren’t submitting to your publication or press, ask yourself why, deal with the answers even if those answers make you uncomfortable, and then reach out to women writers. If women don’t respond to your solicitations, go find other women. Keep doing that, issue after issue after issue. Read more widely. Create more inclusive measures of excellence. Ensure that books by men and women are being reviewed in equal numbers. Nominate more deserving women for the important awards. Deal with your resentment. Deal with your biases. Vigorously resist the urge to dismiss the gender problem. Make the effort and make the effort and make the effort until you no longer need to, until we don’t need to keep having this conversation. Change requires intent and effort. It really is that simple.
If I had to pick an absolute favourite essay, though, it would probably be “Tragedy. Call. Compassion. Response.” — an honest piece about the dangers of the quick cycle of response the Internet can sometimes encourage that felt all too familiar. An excerpt:
At a time like this, tragedy is used for political posturing. Righteousness gets in the way of what is right. Righteousness gets in the way of valid observations that might be better shared more carefully, more thoughtfully, under different circumstances. The tools of the modern age afford us many privileges, but they also cost us the privilege of time and space and distance to properly think through tragedy, to take a deep breath, to feel, to care. Tragedy. Call. Heart. Response. Tragedy. Call. Mind. Response.

I followed many conversations about what happened in Norway and the death of Amy Winehouse because they happened one after the next. Too many of those conversations tried to conflate the two events, tried to create some kind of hierarchy of tragedy, grief, call, response. There was so much judgment, so much interrogation of grief—how dare we mourn a singer, an entertainer, a girl-woman who struggled with addiction, as if the life of an addict is somehow less worthy a life, as if we are not entitled to mourn unless the tragedy happens to the right kind of people. How dare we mourn a singer when across an ocean seventy-seven people are dead? We are asked these questions as if we only have the capacity to mourn one tragedy at a time, as if we must measure the depth and reach of a tragedy before deciding how to respond, as if compassion and kindness are finite resources we must use sparingly. We cannot put these two tragedies on a chart and connect them with a straight line. We cannot understand these tragedies neatly.
(…)
I have never considered compassion a finite resource. I would not want to live in a world where such was the case. Tragedy. Call. Great. Small. Compassion. Response. Compassion. Response.
I’ll finish by returning to “Bad Feminist”, the essay that not only titles but kind of ties this collection together:
At some point, I got it into my head that a feminist was a certain kind of woman. I bought into grossly inaccurate myths about who feminists are—militant, perfect in their politics and person, man-hating, humourless. I bought into these myths even though, intellectually, I know better. I’m not proud of this. I don’t want to buy into these myths anymore. I don’t want to cavalierly disavow feminism like far too many other women have done. Bad feminism seems like the only way I can both embrace myself as a feminist and be myself, and so I write. I chatter away on Twitter about everything that makes me angry and all the small things that bring me joy. I write blog posts about the meals I cook as I try to take better care of myself, and with each new entry, I realize that I’m undestroying myself after years of allowing myself to stay damaged. The more I write, the more I put myself out into the world as a bad feminist but, I hope, a good woman—I am being open about who I am and who I was and where I have faltered and who I would like to become.
Roxane Gay’s openness moved and inspired me. It gave me solace in the best way books can. I, too, have been guilty of at times deciding I’m not good enough to call myself a feminist, even though not a single day goes by when I don’t think about how gender and power function in this world. This helped, and I’m grateful.

They read it too: River City Reading

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Aug 19, 2014

LonCon3 Report

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Reader, I made it to a WorldCon!

LonCon3 Report
LonCon3, the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention, was happening too close to me this year for me to be able to resist temptation. So last Saturday I got up at an ungodly hour, got on a train to London, and spent the day at the ExCel Convention Centre attending panels where writers and critics I admire discussed various aspects of speculative fiction and fandom, going to readings by some of my favourite authors, and wandering around.

LonCon was the biggest WorldCon to date in terms of number of members, and as expected the ExCel was very busy on Saturday. However, the size of the venue and the smooth running of the con meant it didn’t feel busy: if I was at all worried I had been too harsh on LFCC, my experience at LonCon disabused me of that notion. What a difference it makes to have access to several toilets that remain clean throughout the day; to have enough places to buy food that you don’t have to queue up for 35 minutes for a bad sandwich; to be able to move around without stepping on and/or elbowing people: in short, to be at a busy event that’s actually prepared to handle large crowds.

Also, even though the LonCon programme was overwhelming in the sense that there was just too much good stuff on (often at the same time), once I made my choices and printed out my personalised programme I didn’t feel overwhelmed at all. I said that YALC was a bit too much for me, but that wasn’t the case here — at least not in the same sense. There were maps and clear signage, plus lots of friendly volunteers ready to answer questions. My main concern was that I’d end up getting lost on my way to something I wanted to see, but I found the space extremely easy to navigate despite its size and I could get to everything I was aiming for without any issues.

I want to tell you about the programme items I attended in detail, but first, a quick virtual tour of LonCon:

London Docks view from ExCel
The view from Level 3.

LonCon crowd

LonCon crowd with tiny light sabre wielder
Tiny light sabre wielder!

LonCon exhibition hall
The exhibitions hall.

Gollancz stand at LonCon
These gorgeous Discworld special editions were 3 for £25; it’s a bit of a miracle that I managed to walk away without any.

LonCon book stands
ALL the books!


ALL OF THEM.
I had a brief moment of great excitement when I thought I’d spotted a copy of The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge, an out of print book Memory highly recommends, but alas — it was one of the sequels.


A rather lovely display on writers and their cats.

James Tiptree Jr Award display at LonCon
...and another on the Tiptree Award.

PEN stand at LonCon

LonCon pigeons

LonCon stand selling iron on patches

Cosplayers at LonCon

Bryan Talbot signing at LonCon
Bryan Talbot signing — sadly my copy of The Tale of One Bad Rat was many miles away. I decided early on that I wasn’t going to do any signings, to avoid carrying books all day and because I was going to be running from panel to panel as it was. But actually, both Cory Doctorow and Connie Willis were happy to sign books after their readings, so I could have had my chance easily. Alas.

Tribute to Iain Banks at LonCon
A tribute to Iain Banks.

Art display at LonCon

LonCon replicas of previous Hugo Awards
A Hugo Award! Well, a replica anyway.

Art display at LonCon

Plasticine moulding at LonCon
The arts and crafts zone was pretty awesome.

Pigeons and rockets at LonCon

LonCon Fan village seen from level 1
The Fan Village.

LonCon Fan village seen from level 1

LonCon gaming tent

TARDIS at LonCon fan village

LonCon fan village

Iron Throne at LonCon fan village

LonCon library

Puzzle at LonCon

DISCWORLD HAT! This was the second coolest thing I saw all day: the coolest was the absolutely perfect Kaonashi (from Spirited Away) cosplayer who wandered into a hallway I was in in absolute silence and then wandered out again just as quietly. I was a bit too stunned to remember to take a picture, but I think that for a moment we all felt like we were in a Miyazaki film.

LonCon 16th August readings schedule
As I said earlier, I made it to a few readings: Cory Doctorow’s, Kari Sperring’ and Connie Willis’. Doctorow treated a packed room to an excerpt from an upcoming novel called Utopia, which is actually a dystopia and “a sort of prequel” to Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. He was an engaging speaker and reader, and the bit he read was funny and warm and full of the political themes that draw me to his work. I can’t wait for the book to come out.

Kari Sperring (who I admire so much and really wish I had been brave enough to say hi to) also read from a work in progress: I missed the introduction, as I had to run down from a panel on level 3, but by the sound of it it’s a work set in the same world as The Grass King’s Concubine. The piece she read us was wonderfully written and deeply concerned with women and power, which is more than enough reason to get this book as soon as it comes out. It was also amazing and raw and the kind of thing you almost flinch to see read aloud in public, because it’s still so rarely voiced — only of course we should speak of it in public, because the whole problem is that we don’t.

(My LonCon book was Laurie Penny’s Unspeakable Things, and it was interesting how many points of contact there were between what I was reading during downtime and what I was hearing and encountering at the things I chose to attend.)

Cory Doctorow reading at LonCon
Cory Doctorow!

Connie Willis at LonCon
...and Connie Willis!

Connie Willis’ reading ended up becoming an impromptu mini-talk, as she thought it would be more fun to tell is a bit about what she’s writing at the moment and answer audience questions (and it was indeed a lot of fun, so no complaints). Willis said she’s working on a novel (currently called The Very Thought of You but likely to change) whose premise is the following: there’s a new procedure you and your significant other can have, a sort of “outpatient brain surgery”, that makes you perfectly attuned to each other’s emotions. You become not exactly telepathic, but empathic: you can pick up each other’s moods and etc with perfect accuracy, and it’s supposed to solve communication problems once and for all. The surgery only works is people are really emotionally invested in each other, though, so couples have begun to use it as a kind of “technological equivalent to a pre-nuptial”.

Of course, in reality this is a terrible idea (Willis said she believes that having the right to private thoughts and feelings is crucial, even within the context of intimate relationships, which YES) — the first thing that goes wrong is that the protagonist, who is talked into the surgery by her partner, becomes fully telepathic rather than just empathic, and it all goes downhill from there. Willis said the novel is actually a romantic comedy (which she called her favourite genre), and I absolutely can’t wait to see what she does with this premise.

So yay: three readings/author events, three books I’m ridiculously excited to get my hands on. Last but not least, there were the panels I attended. I took a lot of notes, though as always they are very much partial and filtered through my brain, which means I unintentionally zoom in on my specific areas of interest and on some panellists more than others. Hopefully I’ll still be able to give you an idea of what they were like.

LonCon London Suite 1 Schedule
Sense of Wonder in Children’s SF with Farah Mendlesohn, KV Johansen, Ian McDonald, Jo Fletcher and Ben Jeapes: My first panel of the day asked the question, “what is this ‘sense of wonder’ within literature and how does it continue to ‘blow the minds’ of young readers? What are the most spectacular feats of worldbuilding in the YA canon?” Ian McDonald started the conversation by saying that to him, a sense of wonder is linked with encountering a world that “feels both familiar and completely far removed”: you half believe in it, but you know it can’t be reached.

To KV Johansen, wonder comes not so much from familiarity but from otherness. And for a child reader, there will be many things that will be “other” simply because their experience of the world is more limited and they could be encountering whatever is included in a story for the first time. It could happen with historical fiction, for example, because the past is different and new. Fantasy elements can of course bring about this sense of wonder, but it can also happen with quite ordinary things.

Jo Fletcher associates wonder with yearning, but unlike McDonald she believes this yearning is for something that seems to be just around the corner, rather than for something completely far removed. It doesn’t feel unattainable, and that’s what fuels the wonder.

Lastly, Farah Mendlesohn said that a sense of wonder and a half-belief in fantastical worlds was never what got her into SFF. Part of it, she said, probably has to do with being more the “geeky science fiction type” who wanted to take engineering classes and figure out how everything works. She also talked about how she spent her childhood reading books full of children doing things she wasn’t physically capable of doing due to illness, and that was more of a factor than wonder in what drew her to stories.

Jo Fletcher brought up the fact that children have a far less firm awareness of genre than adult readers do. They haven’t necessarily decided that they don’t like certain things, and that makes them more willing to embrace different types of stories. Genre categories help people decide where to shelve books, but young readers don’t necessary draw a distinction (which brings us back to what Johansen said previously about wonder not being exclusive to SFF).

Moving on to the “spectacular feats of worldbuilding” bit of the panel (aka the “I need to read ALL the things” bit), KV Johansen brought up Patricia McKillip’s Riddle-Master Trilogy. She also mentioned Philip Reeve’s Larklight, which she said is “full of wonder and comedy” and which her 8-year-old nephew loves. Both Fletcher and Mendlesohn brought up Diana Wynne Jones — especially, Mendlesohn said, the second Dalemark book, which “tears apart every trope about revolutions in a society”. It’s also set in an industrial fantasy world, and was written a good twenty years before we started seeing more of those. Here Johansen intervened to say that Lloyd Alexander’s Westmark books do something similar (I have no idea why I haven’t read those yet).

Returning to Diana Wynne Jones, Farah Mendlesohn said it’s no coincidence that she was part of the first generation of writers directly influenced by Tolkien: she figured out how he did what he did, and then she did it better. Then just as time was running out, Mendlesohn asked her fellow panellists to conclude with the names of their favourite YA worldbuilders: they mentioned Philip Pullman, Diana Wynne Jones and Frances Hardinge. I can’t think of a better list to finish with.

The Review is Political with Kevin McVeigh, Abigail Nussbaum, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Elías Combarro and Alisa Krasnostein at LonCon
The Review is Political with Kevin McVeigh, Abigail Nussbaum, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Elías Combarro and Alisa Krasnostein: This panel began with the establishing of a few premises that all panellists agreed on: no reviewing choices are neutral, though some are the default, and choosing to review (or not review) something is a political act.

Nussbaum said that as an editor, she keeps an eye on the number of women Strange Horizons reviews, on the number of women reviewers they work with, and also on who to assign a specific review to. She knows that each of her reviewers will have a different focus that will make them highlight different aspects of a book, and that in itself is a political decision.

Tansy Rayner Roberts mentioned the very successful Australian Women Writers Challenge, and how participants increasingly realised that even simply keeping an eye on your reading stats can make you aware of their political implications. This has been my experience too: ever since I switched to an Excel spreadsheet that makes me aware of the diversity of my reading as I enter data throughout the year (rather than just calculating my stats come December), the fact that my reading is still less racially diverse than I’d like has been on my mind more, and that has driven me to action far more than only thinking about it at the end of the year would.

Alisa Krasnostein said that creating Galactic Suburbia, a podcast where three women discuss SFF from a feminist perspective, was a political act: they were creating a space where they got to be heard. This made me happy because it’s not at all different from the logic behind the creation of Lady Business.

Kevin McVeigh reminded us that a lot of the time these conversations are still hindered by the belief that men are “just not interested” in reading books by women, and that this disinterest is seen as politically neutral (which YES: see everything I was saying about Joanna Russ last week). Tansy Rayner Roberts added that part of it is down to the fact that people still believe the world is a meritocracy: that the “best” books are the ones rising to the top and getting the most coverage, and therefore making an effort to promote more obscure diverse authors will mean compromising quality.

The panellists agreed that the political choices you make as a reviewer go beyond gender, of course: they also involve race, sexuality, disability, country of publication, etc. Elías Combarro said he makes an effort to review more obscure books because what could you possibly have to say about a work like Game of Thrones that is new? Abigail Nussbaum offered a counterpoint to this: although there is value in seeking out works that are getting less coverage, it’s also interesting to see different perspectives on popular things, because different reviewers never highlight the exact same aspects.

Alisa Krasnostein and Tansy Rayner Roberts agreed that your political perspective is not really something you can switch off, and this is not at all a negative thing. You don’t get to take a break from being a woman, or a POC, or lgbtq; you can’t unsee things or step away from a perspective that’s informed by how you experience the world. But bringing your experience into your criticism makes it more exciting: who would want to read a review written by a robot anyway? To Tansy Rayner Roberts, deciding which reviewers you read also has political implications. Who do you listen to? Who do you take seriously and why? What is it about their perspective you value?

Rayner Roberts and Nussbaum also highlighted the value of engaging with flawed media that nevertheless drives you to talk about. Nussbaum said she spent a lot of time a few years ago writing about Battlestar Galactica and Dollhouse, two series that were full of problems but also of meaty stuff that she wanted to discuss (having recently finished Dollhouse myself, all I can say is YES. It infuriated me and there were things I was incredibly interested in and I’m dying to write about it).

There was a question from the audience about what each of the panellists’ political focus was and whether it was always the same: Nussbaum said this is something she’s been thinking about more and more and that has become a concern of hers. She said she’s a woman and hers is a primarily feminist focus, but there’s a danger that she’ll end up writing reviews that are a checklist of representational problems and issues she cares about. At the same time, though, these issues are important and merit discussion. She’s been trying to strike a balance between her own personal filters and reading the book as it was written. McVeigh added that no review can include all possible focuses (or even all the ones you care about, I’d say), so the important thing is to be aware of which one you’re picking and how you’re framing your review.

Feminism and Sexism in Fandom with Megan Waples, Katherine Jay, Kristina Knaving, Kate Keen abd Kate Nepveu at Loncon
Feminism and Sexism in Fandom with Megan Waples, Katherine Jay, Kristina Knaving, Kate Keen and Kate Nepveu: Before I write about this panel I need to make a disclaimer. I arrived a few minutes late because it was back to back with Cory Doctorow’s reading, and because I grabbed one of the few remaining seats at the back I couldn’t read the panellists’ name tags. This means I can’t attribute comments to the people who made them, which makes me feel terrible. But rather than not report at all on what was a very interesting panel, I thought I’d go for a bullet points approach and just highlight some of what was covered.

  • When I arrived someone was saying that the focus of the panel was sexism and feminism in fan spaces, rather than in the media we consume.

  • A different panellist then shared an experience a friend had had at LonCon a few hours before: a man had randomly approached her and said, “That’s a nice dress. Shame it doesn’t come in your size.” This got me thinking of something milder that had nevertheless upset me earlier: the fact that I was asked no less than three times if I liked SFF while browsing books in the dealer’s room. One of the times the bookseller in question actually said, “Oooh, here’s a pretty girl! Do you like science fiction?”, which feels creepy no matter how it’s meant. But even if you leave that out, there’s the fact that “Do you like SFF?” is actually a very loaded thing to ask a woman at a SFF convention. Knowing it’s probably meant to be the beginning of a sales pitch, a way in to lead to purchase suggestions, doesn’t erase the fact that we live in a world where women are constantly exposed to different incarnations of the “Fake Geek Girl” meme.

  • What the panellists were getting at, and what my experience drove home, is that fan spaces are still not always comfortable for female fans, no matter how many strides we’ve made. And as someone pointed out, while it’s important not to be pushed out of spaces you want to be in, women also have the right to choose to spend their time in spaces that already feel safe.

  • The movie crowd scene stats Geena Davis has uncovered were also brought up: on average, crowd scenes in movies only show about 17% women, which probably contributes to the belief that spaces that approach equality are actually “female dominated”.

  • It can be frustrating, someone said, to feel that conversations about gender in SFF fandom are constantly starting from scratch, but it’s important but remember people are at different points in the conversation and this doesn’t mean there’s been no progress. It can be tiresome to feel you’re constantly going back to 101, but when that happens you have to know it’s okay to take a break and walk away. You’re not alone and you can pass the torch; someone else can move the conversation forward on that particular occasion (again: yes).

  • One of the panellists mentioned the constant belittling of fanwork, which is mainly created by women: according to a recent A03 census, only 4% of respondents were male. The self-selected sample that answered the census does not equal the totality of male fanfiction writers, of course, but the fact remains that these are primarily female spaces, and this fact and the derision often directed at them are not unconnected.

  • Another panellist then discussed the culture clash she experienced when she moved from media fandom to mainstream SFF, where it’s male voices that are valued above all others. None of this is to say, of course, than fanwork spaces are perfect: she also said that “Mary Sue” accusations are still thrown at fanfiction focused on female characters, when equivalent stories focused on men are widely beloved. She also noticed that although female-focused stories tend to get great feedback from vocal fans, they get fewer views and are shared less widely than stories about male characters. In conclusion, it’s practically impossible not to internalise some degree of misogyny when you grow up in this world, and even predominantly female spaces do have their issues.

  • One panellist offered a theory: she suspects that the pushback against feminism is becoming more visible because we’re on the cusp of a chance. She said she wants to believe this, and I do, too. Everyone agreed that at the very least now we openly discuss things that used to be silenced, and bit by bit the status quo is becoming less consensual. There’s hope to be found in that.

  • One last thing: this panel was completely packed, which was great to see. I had to miss the Q&A bit, so here’s hoping that no one in the room was there to argue that sexism is over.

    The Education and Training of a Young Protagonist with Zen Cho, Gail Carriger, Jack Campbell, Frances Hardinge and Dave Luckett

    The Education and Training of a Young Protagonist with Zen Cho, Gail Carriger, Jack Campbell, Frances Hardinge and Dave Luckett
    The Education and Training of a Young Protagonist with Zen Cho, Gail Carriger, Jack Campbell, Frances Hardinge and Dave Luckett: My final panel began with a brief discussion of what education is in the context of SFF: for Gail Carriger, education is to a great extent indoctrination into the wider culture. You learn to socialise and become part of the herd. In her Finishing School series, she wrote about girls who are trained to subvert the dominant culture under the guise of being taught how to fit into it. She likes to play with the very notion of education, and that was part of what motivated her series.

    Frances Hardinge said that the way education is portrayed in fiction is more benign in some stories than others. It’s benign in the ones where the emphasis is on teaching the young protagonist how to think, and less so when it’s on teaching them what to think. There’s often an unpicking point in YA narratives where the protagonist realises that there are gaps in what they’re being taught. She also said she’s extremely interested in deprivation from education as a form of disempowerment, and in writing narratives (like Fly By Night) where seeking out education therefore becomes a form of subversion.

    Gail Carriger added that realising the fallibility of the instructor is often a crucial part of the process of education, while Zen Cho said the conversation thus far made her think of Discworld: Pratchett presents a system of high learning for wizards that exists alongside the unofficial passing on of knowledge of the excluded witches. One is prestigious but abstract; the other is low in status but “deeply involved in the stuff that really matters”. The dichotomy is of course deeply gendered, and the books explore that. (I need to reread Equal Rites.)

    Frances Hardinge then brought up the completion of one’s education, whether by orthodox means or not. She said the Harry Potter books transition from MG to YA as Harry and his friends learn more and more about the world, and that to her it made perfect sense that they don’t go back to Hogwarts in the final book. By then they know more than what a formal school setting can accommodate. This is visible in Garth Nix’s Sabriel too: the protagonist leaves school in chapter two, and when she comes back at the end there’s a deep contrast between what she learned fighting the darkness and the “frail and ordinary reality” or what at first seemed like an exciting magical school.

    To Hardinge, part of the appeal of boarding school stories is that they’re safe, but not too safe. They’re fantasies of freedom from parental supervision, because even when the school functions as a parental replacement of sorts it doesn’t command the loyalty that usually comes with family ties. You can choose your own friends and enemies, and eventually breaking the rules becomes an inevitability.

    Gail Carriger then said something that I just loved, and that made me want to get her Finishing School series immediately: she said she likes school settings because she likes to write “vastly networked protagonists”. She very much doesn’t want to write Hero’s Journey type narratives, where it’s a single person against the world, and school settings give her protagonists the chance to make lots of friends who then become allies and sources of support. She’s very much invested in writing stories that portray this as a good thing.

    ***
    Wow, that is a lot of works. My sincere thanks to anyone who read this far, and I hope you enjoyed the recap and virtual tour.
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