Category Archives: Feminism

Review: The Killing Light

The Killing Light by Myke Cole

Title:  The Killing Light
Author: Myke Cole
Published: 2019
ISBN-13: 978-0-76539559-3
Publisher: Tor.com Publishing
Twitter: @MykeCole
Publisher’s Blurb: Heloise and her allies are marching on the Imperial Capital. The villagers, the Kipti, and the Red Lords are united only in their loyalty to Heloise, though dissenting voices are many and they are loud.

The unstable alliance faces internal conflicts and external strife, yet they’re united in their common goal. But when the first of the devils start pouring through a rent in the veil between worlds, Heloise must strike a bargain with an unlikely ally, or doom her people to death and her world to ruin.

This is the final book of The Sacred Throne trilogy
Book 1 –  The Armored Saint | Book 2  – The Queen of Crows

I was provided an Advanced Reader’s Copy by Tor Publishing in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

“But I am thine Emperor, and the harder the step, the closer it taketh thou unto me. –Writ. Lea. IV.2.”  (p. 167)

In The Art of Fiction, John Gardner writes, “The primary subject of fiction is and always has been human emotion, values, and beliefs.”  (p. 14)  and “The writer must enable us to see and feel vividly what his characters see and feel …” (p. 44)

Any writer who can make the reader feel great anxiety for his characters and drive them to tears in relief has most definitely met the criteria set forth by Gardner.  That Myke Cole’s writing kept me fully engaged and emotionally involved says something about the great talent he has for telling a story.

There’s a thread running through The Killing Light about men and how they must be treated by women.  Repeatedly a female will say something like, “Everything with men is a great care.”  (p. 46)

Heloise was never meant to be and do all the things she does in The Sacred Throne trilogy.  She was meant to be a young woman who marries the man her parents have chosen for her and to settle into the role of home keeper, as women in her village have always done.

But we don’t always get to choose the shape our life takes and who we fall in love with.  The best we can hope is to be gentle with ourselves when we are tested. This is part of the story Myke Cole tells with Heloise, how she must accept and come to terms with herself, and her evolving beliefs and leadership skills.

Her world is one in which only hetero normative standards are accepted.  In Book 1, The Armored Saint, she finds herself in love with her best friend who not only doesn’t reciprocate those feelings, but is horrified by Heloise’s feelings.  Shortly after this reveal, Basina is killed and that death haunts Heloise more than anything else through the series.

Cole portrays her struggle with tenderness, and introduces Xilyka from one of the Traveling People clans who join Heloise’s army.  Xilyka becomes one of Heloise’s bodyguards, never leaving her side. It is in the most tender moments we see Heloise began to overcome her fear of being a lesbian, and of driving Xilyka away.

In one such scene, Heloise’s father, Samson, has arranged a private place with hot water so Heloise can bathe after many weeks on the battlefield, stuck in the war machine.  At this point, the agoraphobic leader  trembles in abject terror at leaving the machine which has protected her and allowed her to become the leader she is.  Samson the loving father tries to coax her out.  Xylika literally rides to the rescue, leading Heloise in her machine behind the screen and bathes her tenderly.  Cole does not ignore the sexual tension such a situation would create, but neither does he dwell on it. His deft writing shows us the normality of two people getting to know each other, carefully exploring the beginnings of a physical relationship.

At the other end of the spectrum, there is Onas, a 16-year-old boy from a different Traveling People clan who also becomes bodyguard, and tries to assert his authority over Heloise as potential husband.  This does not go well. Heloise is exhausted, she doubts her moral imperative to be leading this fight, is grieving for the many deaths caused in this war, and is in despair over having to re-evaluate the values she was taught about the Emperor and the Order.  She literally has no energy to put into this boy’s demands for romance.

Onas keeps pushing.  Heloise side steps, telling him when the war is over, she will think about it.  He sees what’s going on with Xilyka, which infuriates him and makes him push even harder.  Then, the unthinkable happens and Onas’ mother, the leader of his clan, dies in  battle. Onas blames Heloise for his mother’s death.

It becomes too much for him to bear when they stumble upon a band of the Order whose leader has killed so many, and Heloise refuses to let anyone kill Brother Tone.  She recognizes Tone can provide entrance and information into the Emperor’s city and palace that will prove useful.  Onas throws a teenaged temper tantrum and runs off taking other disgruntled fighters with him.

This is not unusual behavior.  Boys have been conditioned to believe that their wants and needs take precedence over a girl’s.  So it is with Onas and Heloise. Despite the many stupid reasons he throws at her as he storms away, the one he cannot voice is he expected her to fall into his arms and she did not.  All logic does not penetrate.

Onas is not the only male in this story who treats her as less than because of her gender.  Sir Steven, leader of the Red Army which falls in with Heloise and her villagers, treats her with great disdain both because she is young and, more to the point, a woman.  During a council at which he has commanded Heloise attend, she questions him. Obliviously he says, “This is my punishment for taking a council of war with a girl.” That word, that attitude, meant to demean her in the presence of other leaders has exactly the opposite effect.  She draws herself up and asserts her authority as the one who has killed a devil and therefore, has more expertise on this subject than Sir Steven.

When they reach the capital city, Steven’s attitude has changed and he treats her as equal.  He has seen her leadership grow, witnessed her wisdom. It is her determination to get through, and her insistence on continuing to fight when too many have died and others have given up, which leads Steven to fight more equitably alongside her.

Even Brother Tone who for two books did everything he could to kill Heloise and her village because of her questions regarding the Emperor’s governance comes to accept, and follow, her leadership.

In one of the pivotal scenes of The Killing Light, the reveal literally drives Tone to his knees, and makes him question everything he has ever believed.  He becomes vacant and only continues the fight at Heloise’s insistence. His knowledge is the key which will lead to stopping the war between Devils and humankind.

Tone goes from murderous devotee to thoughtful follower, all due to Heloise’s mission to settle things once and for all.  Most of the characters, male and female evolve, becoming more self-aware and thoughtful about their actions and the effects those have on the bigger picture.

Teenaged Onas is not completely immune to this, but  his maturity will come only through time.  Myke Cole’s writing shows he’s attentive to what makes the most sense for the entire cast, including keeping Onas true to his male teenaged arrogance.

The Killing Light is the satisfactory and logical ending to this trilogy.  Heloise becomes what she’s destined to become after all the pain and death she’s been witness to.  Heloise remains the hero we need for today.

New to the Stacks: A Rich and Versatile Collection

In Cold Type by Leonard Shatzkin

In Cold Type by Leonard Shatzkin
From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne – Drink Tank
The First Men in the Moon by H. G. Wells – Drink Tank
Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin – Literary Theory
The Hugo Winners Volume 3 – edited by Isaac Asimov – Drink Tank
Challengers of the Unknown by Ron Goulart – Drink Tank
The Lady From the Black Lagoon by Mallory O’Meara
Feminisms and Womanisms edited by Susan Silva-Wayne and Althea Prince
In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens by Alice Walker

In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens by Alice Walker
Feminisms and Womanisms edited by Susan Silva-Wayne and Althea Prince
The Lady From the Black Lagoon by Mallory O’Meara
Challengers of the Unknown by Ron Goulart
The Hugo Winners Volume 3 – edited by Isaac Asimov
Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin

From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne

 

The Clutter

Clutter

When I have two day weekends, Sundays have become the day for beating back the clutter.  Last week it was finding my desk amongst the stacks of books so I can read and write more comfortably.  Today I’m beating at the overflowing email filled with a few requests for reviews, links to stories I’m following, and the daily ephemera which creeps in reminding me there are adulting things to be taken care of.

My day job affords me the opportunity to make up hours for days I’m forced to miss (as a contractor I don’t receive pay for company holidays).  I’m also afforded overtime to help keep the finances in better shape.  Of course, this cuts into time for my own work, which includes finding a balance for it all.  But I have to have my #moneyhoney.

Yesterday, I took colorful pen in hand and opened my book journal to make the somewhat definitive list of projects and writing I’m working on.  It is a lot.  With deadlines.  I’m not here to join the chorus of every writer saying it’s hard.  That much is obvious.  But when I dedicated myself to this work nearly a year ago, I knew going in it would be tough to keep up and get it done.  That commitment remains foremost in my mind.

As my work on the Three Books continues (not writing, reviewing), I have taken some side steps into womanism.  The woman’s studies reader has some of the classic essays from founding mothers, making this an opportunity to explore my own feminism.  I was probably in my mid-fifties when I started recognizing feminism as a thing in my life, and the sexism which is so rampant in every woman’s life.  I want to learn more in order to continue my own healing process.

Attacking the clutter is another way I’m taking care of myself.  I can’t nap myself through it.

The best piece of advice I’ve received is, “Just finish the thing.”  So that’s where I am.

New to the Stacks: Hugos and Theory

On Moral Fiction by John Gardner

On Moral Fiction by John Gardner- Theory ~ read
They’d Rather be Right by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley – Hugo ~read
A Case of Conscience by James Blish – Hugo
The Iliad and the Odyssey by Alberto Manguel
The Big Time by Fritz Lieber – Hugo
Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak – Feminism
What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton – Genre

They’d Rather be Right by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley
A Case of Conscience by James Blish
The Iliad and the Odyssey by Alberto Manguel
The Big Time by Fritz Lieber
Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak
What Makes This Book so Great by Jo Walton

New to the Stacks: Bay Area Book Fest

Game Changes – Lesbians You Should Know About by Robin Lowey
What’s College About? by Betty Thomas Patterson
Black Queer Hoe by Britteney Black Rose Karpi

Game Changers – Lesbians You Should Know About by Robin Lowey

What’s College About? by Betty Thomas Patterson

Black Queer Hoe by Britteney Black Rose Karpi

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

The BreakBeat Poets edited by Kevin Coval, Quraysh Ali Lansana, and Nate Marshall

Shakespeare’s Library by Stuart Kells

Tomb of the Unknown Racist by Blanche McCrary Boyd

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
Shakespeare’s Library by Stuart Kells
Tomb of the Unknown Racist by Blanche McCrary Boyd

The Daily Communiqué – 24 April 2019 – Eurydice

Sarah Ruhl‘s Euirdyce is a fabulous retelling of the myth.

The original tells of Orpheus and Eurydice and the story of her death, but focuses on Orpheus and his efforts to locate her and bring her back to the world of the living.

Sarah Ruhl‘s Eurydice focuses on what happens to Eurydice in the Underworld.

She dies on her wedding day,  kidnapped by the Lord of the Underground who promises her a letter from her dead father.

She arrives, confused and with no memory of life among the living.  Her father, who has never forgotten her,  finds her and together they rebuild her memories.

Meanwhile, Orpheus tries everything he can think of to get to the Underworld to rescue his beloved wife.   His music makes the gatekeepers weep, and he is let in to bargain for her return.  There’s a condition for her departure, Orpheus mustn’t turn back.  Turning in response to hearing his name called, Eurydice is sent back to the Underworld, where she dies a second time.

San Jose’s City Lights Theatre Company’s bilingual performances in American Sign Language and English provided an exquisite twist to the usual theatre production.  Each character was portrayed both by an English and an ASL speaker.  The ASL actors made it a sort of play within a play, interacting with their English speaking counterpart and each other.   CLTC’s intimate setting is a perfect place to see small productions like this.

It’s been about a week since I attended and I’m still struggling with how to write about it.  The theme of love, both filial and romantic made me tear up in unexpected ways.  As did themes of memory and communication.  To be loved that much, to be cared for that deeply, to be led back to memories and learn better communication … I found it moving, unsettling, challenging, and thought-provoking.

Most memorable for me is Lauren Rhodes as the English speaking Eurydice, whose shouted, “I’m very angry at you!” made me proud.  Women are so rarely allowed to show their anger, that to allow Eurydice to express hers is a high note.  It’s one that sticks with me even now.

And I must mention Erik Gandolfi (English) and Dane K. Lentz (ASL) who perform the Lord of the Underworld with unhinged glee.  Gandolfi’s costume in the underworld features a school boys’ uniform with short pants and a bright red jacket.  The eerie little boys’ voice made this performance all the more chilling.

After Orpheus loses Eurydice the second time, he stands at the threshold to the world of the living expressing his anguish and grief.  In a cross talk dialogue, he says, “Your timing was always off!  I would tell you that if you didn’t come in on the downbeat, you’d lose everything.”

Meanwhile, Eurydice stands in the Underground shouting, “I’m sorry!”

Stephanie Foisy (ASL) added a poignant dimension to the already distraught Orpheus, portrayed by  the English speaking Robert Sean Campbell.

As I left, tears in my eyes and my heart filled with unprocessed emotion, I walked past a table with pieces of paper and pens made available for anyone who wanted to write a note to someone who’d died.  It occurred to me that I didn’t really get to say a proper goodbye to the friend I’d known for over 30 years who died from cancer nearly five years ago.  So I stopped and wrote a little note to him.

Out into the bright Sunday afternoon light, I tried to make sense of how such a performance could have a profound effect on me.  A week later, I’m still sorting it out but no longer hurting as deeply as I was then.  Emotions wax and wane, it’s their nature.  We just gotta hold on for the roller coaster ride.

 

 

The Daily Communiqué – 22 April, 2019 – 50 Shades

“Being a successful, middle-aged, overweight woman, people are so angry that you’re stepping out of line,” she said. “Sometimes it really gets me down.”  (Alexandra Alter, New York Times, The Evolution of E. L. James, April 12, 2019)

I would amend E. L. James’ comment to “being a middle-aged, overweight woman, people are angry when [they think] you step out of line.”  Something else we agree on,  the women she describes are invisible.

That’s where our agreement ends because as much as I adore writers, and believe we get to write and read whatever we want, the woman who wrote fan fiction based on teenaged vampires is not someone whose work I would ever read.

People in the know tell me Fifty Shades of Grey really damaged the kink/fetish community because she wrote about it wrong.  And from what I hear it wasn’t about consent at all.  It was abusive.  And now I read her new book is more of the same.

Let’s be clear, I am against censorship, and I am in no way encouraging she not be published.  Nor am I encouraging people not read her.

What I am saying is women have a hard enough time being taken seriously anywhere, and fantasies written about men sweeping an unlikely candidate off her feet and abusing her in the name of love are not helping.

Glorifying non-consensual unbalanced power relationships just sets everyone up to believe that’s okay.  Fetish/kink is all about consent.  Nothing happens between people unless there is a clear understanding of what’s allowed and isn’t.  We should all be so lucky as to know what we’re in for.

“Bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, and sadism are ‘varsity-level’ sex activities, as the sex columnist Dan Savage might say, and they require a great deal of self-knowledge, communication skill, and education. Fifty Shades eroticizes sexual violence, but without any of the emotional maturity and communication required to make it safe.” (Emma Green, Consent Isn’t Enough: The Troubling Sex of Fifty Shades, The Atlantic, February 10, 2015)

I may have taken more than a little glee in

“It’s not just that [the book] is bad. It’s that it’s bad in ways that seem to cause the space-time continuum itself to wobble, slightly, as the words on the page rearrange themselves into kaleidoscopic fragments of repetition and product placement.”  (Sophie Gilbert, The Indelible Awfulness of E. L. James’s The Mister, The Atlantic, April 18, 2019)

I will end by saying good for E. L. James for following her passion and getting published.  That’s a dream most writers never see come true.  And good for her for making so much money, and being smart about it.

It’s disheartening that such obviously poorly written books about a sexually abusive relationship which is emotionally dangerous is so popular.  Women all over the world probably think this is the way romantic relationships are supposed to work, and will continue to pine for their multi-millionaire fantasy man to rescue them from a dreary, sexless reality.

Stand up for yourself!  Engage your own agency and find happiness within yourself.  If kink is your thing, find a community which will help you explore it in a physically and emotionally healthy way.  Get a vibrator for goodness’ sake.  No man is going to rescue you.