Tag Archives: Feminism

Review: The Queen of Crows

The Queen of Crows by Myke Cole

Title: The Queen of Crows
Author: Myke Cole
Published: 2018
ISBN-13: 9780765395979
Publisher: Tor
Twitter: @MykeCole
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture
Publisher’s Blurb:   In this epic fantasy sequel, Heloise stands tall against overwhelming odds—crippling injuries, religious tyrants—and continues her journey from obscurity to greatness with the help of alchemically-empowered armor and an unbreakable spirit.
No longer just a shell-shocked girl, she is now a figure of revolution whose cause grows ever stronger. But the time for hiding underground is over. Heloise must face the tyrannical Order and win freedom for her people.

I’m just a woman who has been hard done, who has lost those who she loved.  I am angry, and I am tired, and I am through making deals.  (p. 245)

Let’s first acknowledge author Myke Cole’s feminism.  Heloise is a hero for all times, but it also important to note that Heloise is a young woman leading the battle against the totalitarian religious government.  In The Armored Saint, she literally had greatness thrust upon her.  In The Queen of Crows she begins to accept the leadership role she finds herself in and works to be the leader her people need her to be.

Cole does not make a big deal out of making his protagonist a young woman, and I’d like to say neither should his readers.  But it is a big deal because so much genre writing is overwhelming men fighting to save the day.  Cole shows us a woman who is up to the task of leadership and fighting against the dangers of the oppressive regime called the Order.

Brother Tone, on the other hand, not only wants to put the village in its place as devoted to the Order, he wants to put Heloise in her place as woman.  At every turn, he sneers and belittles her, and those who she has sworn to protect.

Heloise is imperfect.  Stubborn, insecure, paranoid, with a narrow world view.  At one point, she has gone through so much she refuses to leave her alchemy powered suit of armor for any reason.  The armor has become talisman, protecting her emotionally from all the horrors she’s survived in service to both her village and the bands of Kipti they  encounter.

The Kipti are led by the wisdom of women who have a few magical tricks in their toolbox to be used against the Order.  And while the Kipti are nomadic, and suspicious of people who want to settle into a village, they recognize the mutual enemy and combine resources.

Reluctantly recognizing Heloise as leader, the two bands of Kipti come to realize that she in her armor, who killed a devil in The Armored Saint, is the best hope for a victory against the Order.

Victory doesn’t come in The Queen of Crows.  It is an agonizing, brutal story which deals both with the realities of war and of going against a regime whose demand of loyalty to the Emperor grates against everything Heloise has come to question.

It is also a story of hope against tyranny as word spreads across the land that a Palantine, an Armored Saint has gone to war against the Order.  That a young woman is delivering all from the hell that is totalitarianism.

“You are Heloise the Armored Saint, who turns back the tide, who delivers the wretched from misfortune, who will save us all.”  (p. 250)

Heloise is no Joan d’Arc who believed in her God given leadership to support Charles VII, reclaiming France from England.  Heloise doubts herself, and her role in her war.  She is a reluctant leader, herself questioning her wisdom, her ability, even her gender to lead.  But as people gather to follow her, she knows she must and follows her instincts.

Heloise has her detractors.  They don’t much question a female leader as much as they question how this young, inexperienced villager could possibly lead them against the Order.  Further, these few wonder why they should be following her at all since it was at her hands the Order is now intent on putting down the unrest.

Both The Armored Saint and The Queen of Crows can be read through a feminist lens celebrating the young woman who questions the status quo and leads her followers against tyranny.  They can also be enjoyed as ripping good tales, which happen to have a leader who is a woman.

I am of the opinion that Myke Cole, and Heloise, should be recognized for deliberately making choices which demand more of genre, both readers and writers.

 

Review: Wizardry & Wild Romance

Wizardry & Wild Romance by Michael Moorcock

Title: Wizardry & Wild Romance
Author: Michael Moorcock
Published: 2004
Publisher: Monkeybrain Books
Publisher’s Blurb:  … this invaluable work analyzes the Fantasy genre from its earliest beginnings in Medieval romances, on through the notable practitioners like Howard, Lovecraft and Tolkien, and up to the brightest lights in the field today. Insightful and often controversial, this is a book every fantasy reader should have on their shelf.

“Michael Moorcock – Extreme Librarian”
Introduction by China Miéville

“To read something that somebody else has written and have it make better sense of your own reactions than you have been able to, is a momentous thing.”  (p14)

Miéville’s central thesis, with which I wholeheartedly agree, is we should all want better, demand “vision and passion” from the epic fantasy we read.  Not because Moorcock says we should, but because so much of it has fallen into disrepair. A lot of it is imitative and limited. Fans can get caught in the Catch-22 of reading what’s available which keeps getting written because it’s what sells.

And yes, Moorcock is frustrating.  He has a lot to say, all of it supported by citations of his arguments.  His prose is dense, his meaning often obvious, but his insistence we should want better is absolutely right.  And how in the hell has he read and studied so much and written so much?

“Foreword”
Michael Moorcock

“I admire intelligent, disciplined, imaginative entertainment if it seems to offer me some perspective on my own life.”  (p 18)

In the first paragraph, Moorcock defines what he’s writing about.  Romantic epic fantasy “whose writers invent their own Earthly histories and geographies.”  Not, I am relieved to learn, that sentimental love story rubbish churned out by the likes of Danielle Steele.

This too, resonated with me.  “I admire intelligent, disciplined, imaginative entertainment if it seems to offer me some perspective on my own life.”  I’m finally able to admit to myself that much of what I have read wasn’t bad so much as boring. Too repetitive, unambitious, and often self-congratulatory.

“I believe that critical dissection of the fantasy story into its components does not detract from the story.  Rather, it adds a new dimension to it …” This is what I’ve been fumbling around for much of my life, and was what I enjoyed most in my English classes.  The many ways to look at a work and interpret it and the richness that adds to it.

Epic fantasy then, loosely defined, are the stories told which feature exotic landscapes from the imagination of the writer, with symbols which evoke strong sensations as a way to escape and discover ourselves.  Moorcock references the escape from objective pressure, which can also mean an escape from the inward pressure we place on ourselves to survive an often unpleasant world.

—–

Each chapter title takes on an aspect of Epic Fantasy.

Chapter 1 “Origins” gives a history beginning with 16th century tales deemed Chivalric Romance and its influence on Gothic Romance.  Here, romance is defined most succinctly as exploration of the exotic. When Moorcock writes about early epic fantasy he writes, “… their chief purpose was to amaze and shock.”  While the prose may not be easily read by contemporary readers, the presence of dragons, magic, castles, ogres, doom and tragedy are instantly familiar.

Chapter 2 “The Exotic Landscape” discusses the landscape of the internal as expressed in the external.  The exotic landscape is used to distance the author/reader from reality. In some ways, as though realism is too much to abide.

An interesting brief topic was Moorcock’s discussion of “bachelor-fiction” written by the likes of Lovecraft.  “… [Lovecraft’s] more successful horror stories in which death, idealism, lust and terror of sexual intercourse are constantly associated … (p. 55)  (emphasis mine)

And then there’s this, “Too frequently one gets the impression that … most practitioners of epic fantasy read only one another’s work.”  (p. 77) This continues explaining how epic fantasy can do better by its readers. Don’t just read your peers’ work, avoid the bloat and the boring and the stereotypical by reading works in other genres as well.

Chapter 3 “The Heroes and the Heroines” focuses on the lack of mature, nuanced, emotional reactions in epic fantasy characters.  Most are adolescent, immature or “pretend-adult.” A frequent adjective he uses is “infantile.” The men are in charge, all knowledgeable and the women are fundamentally passive, waiting to be taken care of by the man.  (This is the trope which made me uncomfortable enough to go elsewhere for my reading pleasure.)

Yet, there’s hope!  Authors such as Fritz Leiber, Robin McKinley, and Gene Wolfe whose characters have “genuine passions, adult concerns, and complex motives.”

Chapter 4 “Wit and Humor” discusses the types of humor most suited for epic fantasy.  Irony and melodrama, comedy and fantasy, closely bound to one another in showing the fantastic extremes of life (fairies, dragons, etc.) along with the reversals of fate represented in farce (custard pies, or pratfalls).

Comedy adds a dimension to the characters and the plot.  Humans are complex, and often use humor to survive the daily grind.  So too should epic fantasy characters.

It’s in this chapter, Moorcock explores the idea that fantasy should “have at its source some fundamental compassion, … ambition to show … what human life is actually about.” (p. 116)  Further, he looks for readings which help us (as readers) understand how to deal with problems and respond in a positive manner to injustice and frustrations which hound us all.

Chapter 5 Epic Pooh” is Moorcock’s tirade against authors such as Tolkien who write childish books and parade them as gentler adult books.  The authors who preach moderation and politeness. Those who do not explore the harsher and extreme truths of life.

Moorcock’s explanation, “Writers like Tolkien take you to the edge of the Abyss and point out the excellent tea-garden at the bottom, showing you the steps carved into the cliff and reminding you to be a bit careful because the hand-rails are a trifle shaky as you go down, they haven’t got the approval yet to put a new one in …” (p. 120) tickles me no end.   And while I happen to enjoy Winnie the Pooh, I have no illusions that A. A. Milne wrote anything other than polite, happy nursery rhymes.

Chapter 6 “Excursions and Developments” is the final chapter and deals with the thesis that categorization is destructive.  Because it forces authors to pigeonhole themselves in order to sell books and attract an audience. (cf it doesn’t have to be good to sell in Chapter 1.)

This made me ponder how I read.  I read books, in search of good stories, not genre.  Yes, I like a good dragon tale, time-travel, cyberpunk, etc. but I like other things.

I read John Scalzi because I like his stories, not because he writes military science fiction.

Myke Cole tells the story of a village bullied by the religious government and the  teen-aged girl who comes to the rescue. Strong female character (we need Heloise today), story about standing up to the bullies.  That it’s categorized as fantasy meant little to me.

The Astronaut Lady series by Mary Robinette Kowal was a ripping good tale which read like the alternate history it is.  But I read it for the women who fought for equal rights in the space program.

Conclusion

Wizardry & Wild Romance is rich, dense, and filled with authors I’ve never heard of.  It’s also one I will gladly read repeatedly as I learn more about critical writing.  Moorcock’s discussion of what is good in epic fantasy, and what isn’t, can be transferred to other genres, I’m sure.  Albeit without the dragons and wizards, etc.

Review: A Love Letter to Kameron Hurley

The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley

Title:  The Geek Feminist Revolution
AuthorKameron Hurley
Published: 2016
ISBN-13: 9780765386243
PublisherTor
Twitter: @KameronHurley
Publisher’s Blurb  Outspoken and provocative, double Hugo Award-winning essayist Kameron Hurley writes with passion and conviction on feminism, geek culture, the rise of women in science fiction and fantasy, and the diversification of publishing.

The first panel I attended at WorldCon 2018 was M. Todd Gallowglas’ Lit Crit for Geeks.  I was enthralled. One of the writers he mentioned was you, as doing some great work in feminism.  I dutifully wrote your name down in my journal.

Since then, I’ve lost my job and spend my days reading and writing and thinking.  I hash things out a lot in my brain, the one that never shuts up. And then I write stuff for my mentor to read.

One evening after dinner, a friend took me book shopping.  Kepler’s is this fabulous indie bookstore whose customers banded together to keep it from closing its doors.  There were two names on my list that I knew would go home with me that night, yours and N. K. Jemisin. And since I didn’t know where to start with you, I picked up The Geek Feminist Revolution.

Always a voracious reader, I am inhaling them now.  This is my job while I figure out about the day job, I read and write about what I’m reading.  Not only does it give me direction for a life which could easily be adrift and and feeding my food addiction, it makes me stronger in so many ways.

Never really shy about self-reflection, I now have the time and space to really look at some of the things coming up right now.  And sometimes, it is some scary, sad shit.

“But because my body was coded female, I was never ever assumed to have the kind of knowledge or credibility that a man would have.” (p. 37)

I read the first 38 pages of your book and sobbed.  I felt so completely bereft that I had to set it aside for a week or so.  Because those pages were my story. The story of being a woman and the rampant sexism which had become so normalized I didn’t see it anymore.  I read your story and began to understand that not only was I not alone in this mess, but that there were ways I could raise my voice.

But first I had to reconcile some stuff within myself.  Because the stuff that was coming up was more than just re-evaluating my entire life in terms of how I’d been treated because I was female, it was looking at some pretty horrifying events and having the light bulb go off.  Which led to, “Well shit, no wonder. I never had a chance.”

And without going into too much detail here, there were new realizations about my parents.  Then there was looking at my most recent job and realizing that it had been a put-up job from the day I walked in as a temp until the day I walked out as a no longer employed here type.  Things started slamming into place. And it was scary.

I’ve been following you on Twitter and reposting some of your articles on Facebook, because you speak to me in a way that no woman ever has before.  And that’s valuable to me. I’ve learned a lot from you.

Taking a deep breath, I picked The Geek Feminist Revolution up again, and only put it down when other, more pressing matters demanded my attention.  It made me wish I knew you well enough to take you to dinner and ask you to just tell me stories about your life.  To talk about process, and yeah it sucks to have to have a day job for the insurance, and holy shit I hadn’t realized how bad the sexism is.

There are hard truths in your book.

At my last job there was a week when I had to actually go to my manager and explain to him what being a part of the team and having a voice meant.  The group admin wouldn’t put me on the meeting agenda because I didn’t have Director in my title. She would only do it if my male manager said it was okay.  I was pissed. So pissed I was vibrating. And that I had to explain it several times in very small words just made it worse.

Reading your book gives me such hope.  For the first time in my life, at a time when people are looking forward to retirement, I realize I still have time to make change in my world. I have time to rearrange everything I thought I knew about myself and create a different life for myself.  The life I want is one which tempers my very emotional responses and allows me to reasonably explain to someone why they’re not allowed to take my voice away.

I get to figure this out, and you have motivated me to keep doing that.  To read, and write, for the sheer joy of it. To understand I need a day job for the health insurance benefits, and to pay my bills.  And that all of it’s okay and necessary to survive. My writing can be my night job. It doesn’t have to be a binary choice anymore.

If I could go back in time, I’d tell my middle-school self to keep writing, because writing would keep her happy and sane.  I would insist she not give it up and not worry about what it looked like or sounded like. I would tell her no matter what, do not quit writing, even if it’s just a sentence about how particularly shitty the bullies were that day.  “Keep writing, always,” I would whisper in her ear.

I had so much to heal from, so much to learn, it’s hard to regret it took me this long to realize what I had been keeping from myself.  Reading books like yours help so much, and I don’t know how to tell you what an impact you’ve had.

I close this with an open invitation, if our paths cross at any time, dinner is my treat.  It’s the least I can do, aside from buying your other books and joining your Patreon once I’m gainfully employed again.

Did I say “thank you?”

New to the Stacks: Hugo Winner

The Arabian Nights: A Companion by Robert Irwin
Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks
In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende
The Geek Feminist Revolution by Karmeron Hurley
The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin
The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin
The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
  • The Arabian Nights: A Companion by Robert Irwin – Read (No review)
  • Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks – DNF
  • In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende
  • The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley – Read
  • The Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin
    1. The Fifth Season – Read
    2. The Obelisk Gate
    3. The Stone Sky

New to the Stacks: Magritte, Surrealists, Feminism, Nnedi Okorafor

SFMOMA Magritte exhibit haul

The Lives of the Surrealists by Desmond Morris

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dada and Surrealism by David Hopkins

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rene Magritte: The Fifth Season

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See Red Women’s Workshop
Feminist Posters 1974-1990
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Book List: Black in America

This is an incomplete list of books I’ve read which have helped me understand what it means to be “other,” based on skin color. They make my heart ache, and think more deeply about my own privilege of being white.

Between the World and MeTa-Nehisi Coates
The Beautiful StruggleTa-Nehisi Coates
We Should All Be Feminists NowChimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Not a Genuine Black ManBrian Copeland
By Any Means NecessaryMalcolm X
BelovedToni Morrison

New to the Stacks: Programmed Inequality

Programmed Inequality
by Marie Hicks

Marie Hicks wrote Programmed Inequality about sexism in computing in England which led to the downfall of the UK’s computer industry. She signed it “Thanks for supporting the humanities,” because, like me, she believes Humanities is integral to a well-rounded life.