caitri: (Books)
Geekerella by Ashley Poston.

I seriously stayed up until almost 3am last night so I could finish this in one sitting. IT IS SO CUTE. It retells Cinderella (mostly through shades of Ever After, especially with a few names and lines) through fandom, with the prince as the newly cast star of a Trek-like reboot and Elle as a fangirl whose fandom is a way to bond with her beloved dead parents--who met at a con, cosplayed together, and her dad founded a local con. It hits all the beats of a satisfying fairy tale with some bonus witty observations on fan culture, social media, and the interaction between fandom and popular culture writ large. Also a very cute and mostly believable romance.
caitri: (Chris Vocabulary)
Writing: I've had a busy writing term: I written and turned in a diss chapter, three book chapters, and two sets of article revisions since January. That's.....not bad. Next up I have a long essay on reading, gender, and genre for a forthcoming reference book, another diss chapter, and a conference paper I need to finish.

Also, I miss fic. I keep thinking about some sort of Sleeping Beauty retelling with Finn/Poe that has to do with Poe being anxiously aware that in real life he has spent maybe half an hour with Finn and it's ridiculous to be projecting all these romantic notions onto an unconscious man in a medpod. Buuuuuut I can't seem to think beyond that.

~

Reading: Here are some books I've really enjoyed recently:

All Systems Red by Martha Wells.

A too-too self-aware organic-mechanical hybrid robot works security and has to protect the humans who want to project all their issues onto it. Hijinks ensue.

The Lady of the Lake by Andrzej Sapkowski.

This is the final novel in The Witcher series, which originally came out in 1999 but wasn't published in English until March. I have fallen so hard for these books; the same thing that makes them interesting also makes them kind of difficult to read, as they aren't actually a series so much as a single story told over five novels and two short story collections. Stuff happens and keeps happening and you don't really get any closure until the very end. There's also a lot of stuff going on politically, as these are written in the aftermath of post-war Poland, and so there are a bunch of resonances that just keep going on: reckoning with resistance under tyranny; confronting pogroms and concentration camps in other countries and the mass influx of refugees; balancing wanting to do the right thing with wanting to do the right thing in the right way. Also, Netflix just announced they are going to do a tv series based on the books and I am hella excited!!!

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison.

In which the half-elf, half-goblin fourth prince becomes the unexpected and hella-competent Emperor, with some straightforward commentary on what it's like when the government leader is dark-skinned and this Upsets people. It wraps up nicely, but I still wish it was a series.

~

TV: American Gods is fucking amazing and I'm glad it's already renewed for a second season, even if
it seems like there will be a massive drought between seasons. SO PRETTY. So in-your-face about racism and America.

Which, see also Dear White People. I know I'm always the person who listens because people will inexplicably tell me things, but oh my GOD, watching the show is nearly physically painful because I recognize nearly every one of the many and varied stories told. (Like, the incredibly awkward threesome-that-wasn't. I feel like I shouldn't be able to recognize that?? But ISTFG someone told me a story like that in undergrad.)

Supernatural I can't quit this show, even when I probably should.

Lucifer is still my favorite. I really want to read Chloe/Maze femmeslash but there's none on AO3 which makes me sad.

Also, just go watch Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms which is apparently the most watched Chinese drama ever. IT IS SO PRETTY. It's an epic fantasy with reincarnation, cool fight scenes, and sometimes dragons. So.

~

Uh, yeah. What have you guys been up to?
caitri: (fandom is like rl)
So through happenstance I've recently read several novels in which fandom takes on a large role, so I have some random thoughts on it.

1) Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. (This one is actually a reread because I like this book.) Main character is a fangirl who writes slash for the not!Harry Potter of her universe as she navigates her first year of undergrad. Fannish interactions--excerpts from fic, fan sites, fan conversations--all ring pretty true, but the "great leap" is at the end when she writes and then publishes her own original short story that echoes all her growing pains heretofore. So fandom is great but something that must be grown out of.

2) Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson. I had high hopes for this one when I read about it and largely enjoyed it. The entirety of the story is told through online postings and comments (mix of pseudo-lj and pseudo-Tumblr), IMs, texts, fan art, etc. Two fangirls bond over their favorite show and flirt with becoming more, and then not-quite-implode. The two main characters go from the "gosh it's so weird talking to someone real on the internet and having feelings" (which I'm not sure people still have those? it being 2016?) to "I can't live without you I might break up with my boyfriend over you" stage ~really quickly. Spoiler alert, they don't end up together, which makes me sad. One of them has a mental illness that really explodes when a traumatic event happens; anyway, she starts the book with her rl friends and family AND DOCTOR saying "you should be off drugs by now" and then when she goes off the drugs she absolutely relapses, and this affects her relationship with her fellow fangirl who decides she probably wants the bf after all. Which I also thought was too bad, and almost flirted with biphobia? Like, sure you can "like" girls, but boys are what you settle down with for "real life." Ugh. Ditto the ableist aspects of "you can love someone with mental illness BUT IT IS SO HARD." Which, yes, but also? Ugh. So I have very mixed feelings about it.

3) Scarlet Epstein Hates It Here by Anna Breslaw. High school fangirl dealing with high school and her fav tv show being cancelled. Also the former best friend/boy she's had a crush on forever dating a popular girl and acting like a tool. She decides to cope with both by writing a spin-off fic with OCs--because ~as we all know~ fandom gets really excited about fic with all OCs *snort*--that are also, functionally, RPF AUs. Hijinks ensue when because reasons the real kids find out about this and are justifiably hurt...and then the dude eventually ends up dating her anyway because reasons. So fandom is a high school thing that is fun and verges into creepy and is then abandoned for Real Life. Ugh.

4) Arkwright by Allen Steele. So this one is a bit different but I actually quite enjoyed it. It's a series of linked novellas; the first being about a granddaughter finding out about her grandfather's legacy and his story told in fun fan history flashbacks to the "First Fandom" of the 1930s. Lots of rl fan history cameos by guys like Sam Moskowitz and Forry Ackerman; one token woman fan who ends up being an agent rather than a writer, so, could be worse. Anyway, the guy writes a series of highly popular sf novels--sort of Star Trek meets Foundation etc etc--that inspire the later generations of his family, who end up in other stories building an interstellar spacecraft that goes to another planet and settling it. So it's about how fandom effects science effects real life, which was a lot of fun. But--notice how because white boys and science fandom is treated as much more useful and "normal" and even, dare I say it, worthy? That's kind of...not cool.

Anyway, so I'm fascinated by this new trend of representation in pop culture. Anyone else have any observations? recs?
caitri: (books)
Crossposted at The Future Fire.

Interview with Ada Palmer

Interview by Cait Coker.

Ada Palmer is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Chicago. Her first science fiction novel, Too Like the Lightning, was released in June, and describes the future of humanity in the Twenty-Fifth Century in terms that are as familiar and foreign as the period of the Eighteenth-Century Enlightenment is to us.

Cait: I find it fascinating that you’re a historian by day and science-fiction author by night (and more day). You clearly drew upon a deep knowledge of the politics and philosophy of the Enlightenment in writing your book. Can you tell me what first made the connections between past and future for you in writing Too Like the Lightning?

Ada: If you think about it, there’s nothing more similar to the future than the past: both are long blocks of time during which human societies change and evolve, and are affected by crises and gradual transformations. I think being a historian is immensely useful for SF because it gives me a world of examples and test cases to compare to when I want to answer questions about things that might change a society, “What if the transportation system suddenly got faster?” (Look at the spread of railroads). “What if the dominantly-English origins of the internet mean that English comes to be a sort of universal second language?” (Look at Greek in the Roman Empire). “How will space colonies separate culturally from Earth?” (Figure out the travel time, then look at Earth’s many past diasporas and migrations.) In Too Like the Lightning I wanted to imagine Earth’s future in a few hundred years, and it seemed natural to answer my questions by looking at the past and using it for comparison.

I’m going to geek out for a minute: Your knowledge of the period really materializes itself in the book as object, and how it relies on typography and the use of graphs as part of the story. In SFF we talk a lot about how genre texts have influenced scientific and technological developments, but this was history influencing a genre text. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

I love the double-take people often do opening the cover, with its illustration of flying cars and its super-modernist sans serif font, to find that period title page with 18th century fonts, woodblock ornaments, and even 18th century censorship permissions on the front. When the book was in its last stages I sent an eleven page letter to the typography team talking about different eighteenth-century period book layout things I hoped they’d do, and special things I was doing with punctuation, and such. I was overjoyed when I saw how much they’d done with the final version, period-feeling fonts, the little wood block type ornaments on the title page and in the headers. I wanted those small touches because the book intentionally puts the reader in a strange position in terms of time. The narrator is writing a history of the 25th century, so the narrator expects a reader from his future, with sensibilities advanced beyond his own day, “enlightened” compared to the 25th century. But the real reader is from the 21st century, so when the narrator does things like explain how “he” and “she” work because the narrator expects they’ve dropped out of use like “thee” and “thou,” suddenly the real 21st century reader has to wrestle with three time periods at once, the 21st century, the 25th century, and the narrator’s imagined future past the 25th century. Except the narrator is also trying to write in an 18th century style (trying with middling success, as we try with middling success to act like Renaissance people at a Renn Fest), so a fourth moment in time is also involved. In effect, there is no point at time at which this book would be at home, it’s an object out of time, written in the future in the style of the past for an imagined farther future which may or may not ever come to be. People have found the layering of all those time periods delightfully mind-bending, and effective at raising questions about how the future will view the past. So by having period typography the book physically reminds you of its object-out-of-time-ness, making the reading experience more immersive, though the immersion isn’t in the world of 2454, it’s in the book object itself as an object self-consciously out of time. And 18th century fonts are really beautiful. Have you seen the capital Q in the page header of the chapter “The Interlude in Martin Guildbreaker Pursues the Question...”? Most beautiful Q in the world!

What attracted you to speculative fiction in the first place?

I’ve loved F&SF since I was tiny. I remember when it started: one of my oldest memories was going to the public library, and going to the kids’ section as usual to look for a new Doctor Seuss book, and someone had misshelved a big hardcover copy of The Hobbit there, with a *huge* red dragon on the cover. It was one of the heaviest things I’d ever lifted, but I asked Dad if he would read it to me, and we checked it out (though he already had two copies at home, but explaining that books have multiple editions is a little advanced for theOne Fish, Two Fish, Red Dragon, Two Towers phase of reading.) I made up stories as a kid, started writing them down in elementary school, and kept it up. So it’s my natural genre, the one I grew up with, the one in which my ideas naturally manifest.

And history?

History was a later fascination. I enjoyed all kinds of documentaries as a kid, and expected to go into science since I was great in all my science classes. But when I started at Simon’s Rock College we had a required Great Books reading course. I remember reading inCivilization and its Discontents about Freud’s “Death instinct” and I remembered about a documentary I had watched about WWI, and it felt to me like Freud wouldn’t have had that idea before the war. So I went to the library to his complete works and looked through pre-war pieces and found places where certainly would have mentioned it if he’d had that concept but it wasn’t there. It was the first time I realized that historical events shape ideas, that even the greatest philosophical concepts don’t come from the raw stuff of people’s heads but come into being because people live through changes in the real world. I became fascinated by the history of ideas, how the range of concepts available to us expands over time, and how one era’s heresy might be another era’s truism. If every other subject involves studying what we think is true, then the history of ideas is studying why we think those things are true, how our culture decided on those ideas and not others, when they started, and what other things we might have believed had we been born at different points in time and space.

We often ask how has geography (including place, culture, economics) influences an author’s work. In this case your books, fiction and nonfiction (Lucretius in the Renaissance) have drawn heavily from Renaissance and Enlightenment Italy. What fascinates you the most about that place and time?

Most of the overt historical references in the book are French Enlightenment—Voltaire, Diderot, de Sade, the looming specter of Thomas Hobbes—but the Renaissance comes into it, not in the references, but in the relationship of this world to its past. One important part of every culture is how it describes, chops up, and values its own past. What past eras were there? Which were good or bad? These ideas aren’t defaults, they change over time. In the 1430s the Florentine Leonardo Bruni invented the “Dark Ages” and suddenly history had three parts (ancient (good), dark ages (bad), “modern” i.e. Renaissance (trying to be good again)), whereas before that it had two (before Christ (bad), after Christ (good)), and before that in antiquity, the Greeks and Romans’ imagined history had three or four parts (golden age, silver age, bronze age, iron age). Ours has different parts too, and we idealize some and criticize others. The world I designed in 2454 has a very similar relationship to its past to what the Renaissance had, which is to say that, like the Renaissance, 2454 is having a big revival of the ideas of an earlier era (in its case Enlightenment; in the Renaissance’s case antiquity), and that revival is causing big cultural and political transformations. In both cases it’s not the first revival of such things (antiquity had an earlier revival in the Carolingian period, and my imagined future had a small Enlightenment revival in the 22nd century but is having a bigger one in the 25th). It’s a different kind of cause of change than I think most SF authors think about. When depicting a science fictional world having an upheaval, we usually think of a technological cause (sudden light speed travel! cloning! immortality serum!), or a circumstantial one (out of fuel! overcrowded! incoming asteroid!), or a big discovery (new planet! new aliens!). But big uphevals can also be caused by purely cultural changes, in the case of the Renaissance the impulse to revive antiquity, which was a response to a bunch of other changes but itself became the big transformer. Studying that gave me the idea that the transformation of my 25th century could have a similarly cultural root.

Do you think writing for an audience of historians is different than for an audience of SFF readers?

It’s the reading mode that is different, more than the people. Many academics read and enjoy SFF, including myself, but we read a history in different ways from how we read a science fiction novel. F&SF readers in particular have a certain way of learning about an unfamiliar setting, which is different from how we do it in a history. Histories—both academic histories and popular histories—explain their subjects and settings directly; when a new unfamiliar thing is introduced it’s explained and connected to other things, systematically. A well-crafted history will introduce many new facts and details, planning the order of them carefully so they all fit together, each connecting to the next in order, because connections form long-term arguments, and connections also help us remember things. Reading genre fiction (including historical fiction) we learn new world details a different way. We expect that there will be small references to unfamiliar elements peppering the book constantly, and we know to collect these like puzzle pieces, setting them aside in our memory, trusting that the author will make them fit together later to form a more complete picture. SFF readers do it naturally, but it’s genuinely a learned skill, and very intelligent readers with no experience of genre fiction reading sometimes struggle with SFF because they come to the first unfamiliar thing and stop, puzzling it over, trying to figure it out at that moment, expecting it to be explained at the time, and that if it doesn’t make sense yet they must have missed something. If puzzling and rereading doesn’t solve it, such a reader usually moves on, forgetting the detail, because there’s nothing to connect it to, so it’s hard to remember. In a sense, history means giving the puzzle pieces in order, each followed by the ones it connects to, so they gradually, logically reveal an image; genre fiction means giving the reader scattered puzzle pieces that don’t connect, so fragments of a mysterious image form until it’s partly visible, and the reader is excited by the hints and clues offered by the partial glimpses, and the process of trying to guess what the big picture is before the last pieces are revealed.

The other thing that really struck me about Too Like the Lightning was how it felt like a manga or anime as it would have been produced in the Eighteenth Century. It was incredibly vivid and visual, and I know you’re a fan of those forms as well. Can you tell me how you think genre and format influence each other?

Interesting question. It’s possible that my ways of pacing how I describe facial expressions between dialog is influenced by the pacing of conversation and expression work in anime, though if so I’m not conscious of it; my styles of visual description in the books are consciously based on the way Robert Fagles renders Homer, and the way Arthur Conan Doyle in the Holmes short stories uses descriptions of architecture and atmosphere to control the pacing of revelation in a dialog scene. I would say the main influence that anime and manga have had on Terra Ignota is that, unlike a lot of SF authors, I’m responding to Japanese conversations about science fiction in addition to Anglophone ones. Throughout the 20th century American SF was translated into Japanese, and Japan has had a lot of authors, many working in anime/manga media, who have responded to classic SF concepts and developed them in different ways from how they were developed in the US and UK. To give one example, while US & UK SF authors have been having a conversation about AIs and robotics, and developed certain conventions, default expected developments, and big questions that we’re all familiar with, like Asimov’s Laws of Robotics, but over the same years Japan has had its own conversation about robots, AIs, robot laws and ethics, responding to Western ones but contributing lots of new original ideas. I talk about SF as a conversation, and when the golden age proposed ideas, Japan responded. Recent readers ofThe Three Body Problem have had a taste of a similar phenomenon, seeing how a Chinese author who read classic Western SF responded, but from a different direction, contributing excitingly different new ideas. Because anime and manga are easy to find in English and French, Japan is one of the easiest other science fiction traditions to access, and I really enjoy great works of Japanese SF, like Phoenix, Pluto, They Were 11, or Gunbuster, not because they’re in anime/manga form, but because they’re full of fascinating and original SF ideas and questions. A lot of Western SF authors and readers haven’t accessed what Japan has been doing, so sometimes I’ll see an American SF work that’s dealing with robots and think to myself, “Wow, this author clearly doesn’t know what Japan has done with this concept, but I sure wish he did because his response would be awesome!” Thus Too Like the Lightning isn’t consciously responding anime/manga as media, but it is consciously responding to some of the big SF questions that Japan has explored using those media.

And finally, a very serious question to close: Do you write with a lucky pen or pencil?

No. After so much typing, my wrists are in such bad shape that writing by hand is very challenging, though physical therapy is helping me make great strides. But I do have a favorite pencil—it was a present from my Dad, and is black with a little Greek helmet on the eraser end, and a quotation of one of my favorite lines from the Iliad (Fagles translation of course!): “The God of War is impartial, he hands out death to the man who hands out death.”

Ada Palmer’s next book in the Terra Ignota sequence, Seven Surrenders, will be released in February 2017.
caitri: (books)
I just finished it tonight AND I AM SO FRUSTRATED because I had been looking forward to it SO MUCH and FOR A YEAR and...it was not what I was expecting/wanting. >_< Which is, you know, my fault, but still:

The last book concluded with The Just City (per Plato) being removed from ancient Greece to another planet in the 25th century, and they were about to make contact with outside humanity. I was looking forward to a great deal of conversations centering around philosophy, ethical differences and evolutions, and technology.

What I got was a time travel caper where Apollo and others have to rescue Athene because she wanted to go to the primordial Chaos and she got stuck there. While I appreciated what Walton did with her discussions of time, Fate, and Necessity (which roundabouts reminded me of the Prophets from DS9), the whole re-contact plot was relegated to the margins. Not the sidelines, the margins. There is ONE on-page conversation between the "future" humans and the Platonists, which, frankly, felt like a waste of an awesome idea.

What I take from this is I need to find time to write a version of the story that I want. Because that's how I roll. but oy.

~

IN OTHER NEWS:

I beta'd a lovely story for [livejournal.com profile] fritz42, posted here.

I found out via another friend that I was quoted in a keynote at this year's Slayage which makes me feel extraordinarily delighted and slightly important. ;)

I'm so behind on so many things. How does this happen to me? IDEK.
caitri: (charles write)
So I'm reading The Fellowship by Phillip and Carol Zaleski, which is a pretty massive biography of the Inklings. It's good, but I'm getting tired how all of the women--or at least everyone but Mrs. Moore, who possibly was the lover of CS Lewis--are always offstage having babies and doing gods know what, while the homosocial literary meetings just happen. So I've decided to pretend that while the Inklings are having their meetings, Edith Tolkien is running an unnamed group where all the ladies share their fics. And that Lewis's apocryphal "Oh God, not another Elf!" comment refers to Edith's 400,000 word response to The Silmarillion that's really just all about polyamorous Elves.
caitri: (charles write)
So a few weeks ago I was in the audience as a panel of writers spoke, and one of them made a grumbly comment about reviewers and critics which has been in my mind ever since, so I thought I'd write a bit about it.

I've been a book and film reviewer for the best part of a decade; almost all of my reviews stay here on my lj, but a lot of them get published elsewhere too. I'll be blunt and say this up front: book reviews are hard work. It takes time to really read a book, time that seems even longer when you come to the conclusion that it's not a good book and that you would ordinarily put down, but you have to keep going because you agreed to do the review. The other sticky whicket is that most places don't even pay for book reviews: your "payment" is the free copy of the book you got from the publisher, so you've put several hours into reading the book and then a couple more into writing about it.

Writing about books isn't easy, either; depending on the audience of the publication, it can be difficult and frustrating. When reviewing for academic publications, you have to check that the writer did the research on their material (which sounds like it should be assumed, but nope--nope nope nope. Some editors are lazy and inattentive, or just plain don't care. Ditto writers for that matter.); you have to think about how useful the book would be for students, for teachers, for librarians. Strangely, fiction reviews are even harder because you have to OWN the fact that you like or dislike it, and then sort out why that is and what others would think about it.

As an example, I read The Very Best of Kate Elliot recently for The SFRA Review, and that was a case where I didn't like the book and I had to push through to finish it. I thought that a lot of the stories were just simply boring--nothing much happened in them. Worse, I have Editor's Brain, so I kept thinking "if you moved this scene up," "if you deleted this bit," "WHY?" etc. The thing is, that's exactly the sort of commentary you don't want in a professional review: the story is done, not workshopped. But nonetheless, how to communicate its weaknesses while keeping in mind that what does it for me does not necessarily do it for others? What I ended up doing was discussing the strongest of the pieces at length and then talking about trends in fantasy reading and publishing right now. I also gave a shorter review than I usually do, simply because I didn't think the material merited much filler.

In contrast, I just sent in a review of Eva Darrows' The Awesome to The Future Fire last night. That was a book I had a lot of FEELS about because it was YA lit with an awesome heroine and a negligible romance plot. (I am old and cranky; the current surfeit of stories where young women meet their ~one true love~ in freaking high school just appalls my sensibilities.) I flailed at length about it, and will share the review here when it's out, but that brings me to another reason why I love to review books, which is:

If a book is AWESOME I have a platform to valorize it. Maybe it's the librarian in me, or only the geek, but when I love something, I want **everyone** to know of its awesome. I love signalboosting new authors, or authors who don't get enough press, because I want them to get more recognition. One of the things I really love about The Future Fire is how they specifically try to signalboost minority writers and independent presses, which is exactly the sort of people and material who need more attention paid to them.

In short: I review things because I want to champion writers and the conversations about genre. I don't believe in reviewing to be a dick (although that is certainly the case with some reviewers, but oy), I believe in reviewing to help readers AND writers.
caitri: (Mochi rockets)
Because it is cold and snowing and I have been procrastinating.

I read Cherie Priest's Maplecroft in preparation for a SFF book club I'm starting locally. It's a Lovecraftian historical AU, in which we find that Lizzie Borden killed her parents to stave off their demonic possession, and she and her sister research and fight evil. It's very Buffyesque, not least because the axe reminds me of the Scythe. Told in alternate points of view, Priest really nails that nineteenth century voice and mixes it with Lovecraft very well. Highly recommended.

Last night, on Todd's recommendation, I read Julie Schumacher's Dear Committee Members, a very short epistolary novel told completely through a beleaguered professor's recommendation letters over the course of a year. I was quietly laughing to myself because the prose so exactly gets right academic life, and was rolling along up until the unexpectedly emotional conclusion, at which point I texted Todd and said Why didn't you warn me that I was going to be emotionally devastated?Spoiler Alert/Trigger Warning )
Still a fun novel, but aww.

I reread a couple of Anne McCaffrey's novels over my break, including the first two Freedom books and half of Killashandra and just, man, either I didn't get the total rapeyness of these when I was a teenager or I totally repressed it. I couldn't even finish the last as it was just too WTF for me; basically Killashandra gets kidnapped because reasons, rescues herself, later runs into her kidnapper and ends up having A M A Z I N G sex with him, and all is forgiven and lols. Such eighties. Much painful.

I started rereading Bradley's Mists of Avalon because I've been wanting to do that for months, but had also been deeply squicked by her scandal this summer. But I decided to sit down with it because I also recently finished reading Mercedes Lackey's Gwenhwyfar which is a sort of revision of the revision, and I wanted to compare them. Bradley's book is as much about the struggles between early Christianity and Celtic paganism as it is about King Arthur and gender; in her book, Gwenhwyfar is a fearful Christian who has internalized a lot of misogyny with her faith, and her great tragedy is that--in addition to being in love with the wrong man, more or less--she's not able to forgive herself or others for their sins.

Lackey's plays on the concept of multiple Gwenhyfars; there's Arthur's first queen, who dutifully marries him and has kids and then they all die; his second queen, who gets kidnapped and later goes into a nunnery; and then the protagonist is the third queen, a Gwenhwyfar who is a ruler and a bit magicey, and who also gets married off to Arthur. Gwenhwyfar is pagan but has an interesting friendship with a Christian priest that I found fascinating, especially in contrast to the priest in Bradley's book (they share the same name, but are otherwise quite different; the one in Bradley's book is a misogynist dick whereas the one in Lackey's book is much more accepting of goodness/alternative paths. .Triggery things happen but largely offpage, so be aware of that, but I think one of the single best moments in genre literature happens when, after there has been shenanigans involving Gwen being kidnapped for months (replaced by a magic double) and rescued by Lancelot and THEN they get brought in because OMG CHEATING or whatever Gwen freaking punches King Arthur in the face and calls him an idiot for NOT NOTICING SHE HAD BEEN EXCHANGED FOR SOMEONE ELSE FOR MONTHS. It was glorious. Also full points for having a heroine going "fuck men, I have shit to do, BYE." Highly recommended, needless to say.
caitri: (Dorian)
I've been thinking about writing this post for a while, I just wasn't sure how to because there's always the "stating the obvious" thing.

So to start with, a month or so ago I had a chat with another writer friend, who was angsting about "how" to write POC in her novel, because she has fears of being perceived as racist or accidentally racist. Which I guess happened because she read the new Donna Tartt book, and I guess Tartt was criticized for writing all POCs as servants and whatnot? Anyway, my (ever so deep) response was, "Dude, just do your research and write people AS PEOPLE."

which, you know, obvious, right? And yet.

So I just finished reading the new Diana Gabaldon book, Written in My Own Heart's Blood. Which, I largely love her because man she does historical research RIGHT. But she's one of those cases where she tries to write diversity and comes so CLOSE and yet SO FAR. Because she writes POC in broad strokes but doesn't seem to understand that she's doing so, or that, for instance, coming at historical stereotypes from the opposite end is problematic, ie. that writing Native Americans as nobly doomed and JUST AS PROBLEMATIC as writing them as scalping maniacs. And its one of those cases of, see, putting all that attention to detail and family trees and characterization that you put into the Scottish people? Doing THE SAME THING to the Mohawks and the Black freemen and slaves.

Like I said, should be EASY. AND YET.

Here's the other thing, particularly about historical fiction (And this needs to be its own post sometime): Historical fiction is ALWAYS just as much about the time in which it was written as about the time it depicts.

So, for instance, Downton Abbey. (I fucking hate Downton Abbey but damn is it a useful Cliffsnotes sometimes.) Thomas, Teh (sic) Gay Character, is largely treated sympathetically even as he is often a douche. But there's one episode where a character informs the police of his Gayness and Lord Grantham has to talk to the cops and be all "he's just as God made him" and there's a moment and Thomas is left alone. And some people were all "Ohmigod, that is so not historically accurate!!!!" Which, of course not, because in 20fucking14 you can't demonstrate that sort of intolerance without being *read* as intolerant yourself--it's a storytelling decision to maintain sympathy. BUT, when they *do* choose to demonstrate period-accurate intolerance to the Jewish characters? That TOO is a decision, and we HAVE to understand that by doing so the writers are trying to demonstrate that as an old intolerance that is dead and thus "safe"--and never mind how contemporary Jews are getting the same crap as always because it is "invisible" and "historically accurate." We're saying that anti-gay is not okay but that anti-Semitic is normal.

Now think about what that means.

Meanwhile, back to Gabaldon. She has a history of some deeply problematic things, but there were two in this book that REALLY stuck out at me. SPOILERS ) I still love the writing by itself but I really want to make Gabaldon take some consciousness-raising classes and whatnot.

Anyways, as a sort of conclusion: All writing is a deliberate choice on the part of the author. It may be an unexamined choice, but it is still a choice. When it comes to historical fiction, you can't really say "that's how it was back in those days" because that writing isn't coming from THEN, it's coming from NOW, and it's coming from YOU. And you have to be aware of that last bit before all others.

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