Blog hop: Accessing The Future Fiction

The Future Fire is crowdfunding an anthology on Accessing the Future, exploring ‘disability & the intersectionality of race, class, gender & sexuality’. The Future Fire, and the editors (Kathryn Allan and Djibril al-Ayad), are pretty awesome people, with a track record for publishing interesting intersectional fiction, so it’s a really promising project, and I encourage you all to support it.

In line with that, Djibril collared me via twitter to take part in the blog-hop, ‘Accessing The Future Fiction’ to raise awareness of the Indigogo campaign. My mission is to answer for you the following questions:

  1. Tell us about your Work In Progress (WIP) / Current Read (CR) and the world it’s set in.
  2. Who are the most powerful people in this world?
  3. Where does their power come from?
  4. What physical and/or mental characteristics underpin their positions of power?
  5. How does this affect the weakest people in the world?

Tell us about your Work In Progress (WIP)

I have two main works in progress at the moment, both of which are on hold until I finish the dreaded PhD, all of which is currently being held up by both physical and mental illness (exhaustion caused by iron deficiency and depression). So for me it’s just interesting to note this real life intersection between physical impairment and fictional flights of fancy. It leaves me a question, though: do I tell you about my superhero novel? Or the one with the clones?

Let’s go with the superhero novel, as it’s the closest to completion.

The novel is set in a world very much like our own, except that somewhere in the mid-twentieth century, certain people started to develop superpowers. Or what we might call superpowers – whether their abilities and physical differences from the norm make the characters who possess them either super or powerful is up for debate.

The main character, Daniel Loxley, has both visible privilege and invisible abilities and illness. He is a white middle-class man, but he is also bisexual, and he suffers from a depression that grows to an incapacitating extent towards the climax of the novel. He is also a superhero. Danny was born with wings – wings that he can absorb into his back, so as to appear like a normal man, or have burst forth, allowing him to soar above the city and all its problems. He’s also stronger than the average bear and more resistant to injury (although by no means invincible). On evenings and weekends he is the Winged Guardian – protector of Archester. By day he works as an advertising creative, whose poor time-keeping is leaving him in hot water, both at work and amongst friends.

On Saturdays, Danny catches lunch with his superhero best buddy, Street, a black woman with superhuman strength – much stronger than Danny. By day, Street is a social worker dealing with troubled kids. By night she tackles their troubles head on. Although they are close, Danny and Street don’t talk about their real lives – each tacitly afraid to reveal too much about themselves. And when Danny is overwhelmed by an experience saving a child from a burning building, he doesn’t have Street’s phone number, doesn’t know her real name – there is no one he knows he can talk to about his problems, except for Angela, a wealthy woman and complete stranger who discovered Danny’s identity by accident.

The action of the novel takes place in the fictional city of Archester, which I wanted to present as a specifically British city in the way that Metropolis, Gotham, and so forth have come to represent American cities. It therefore combines that eclectic mix of old and new architecture that marks most British cities. It has a castle and a cathedral and old city walls, but it also has striking modern skyscrapers of metal and glass, the sumptuous modern apartments of the wealthy, the middle-class suburbs, and the inner city poverty. In this way, the world of The Winged Guardian (working title) is in many ways just like that of any British city, only, you know, some of the people have superpowers.

Who are the most powerful people in this world?

None of the protagonists. It’s not really a story about the most powerful people. If anything, power in the story rests with groups of people, not with individuals.

Danny is white and male and middle-class, but he’s also had a side of himself that has been completely ostracised his whole life. About which he has been taught from childhood he must not tell people. It means that when he is at his most vulnerable, he cannot turn to any of his friends.

Angela has wealth, but not Bruce Wayne levels of wealth. She invested a small inheritance in a friend’s internet start-up in the early naughties and has done very well by it. She has a nice apartment in a nice area of the city. She’s free to use her time to create her own art and invest in the art of others. Her wealth gives her the freedom to look after Danny when he really needs it, but she doesn’t have the kind of wealth that would enable her to single-handedly enact real change.

Street has physical strength, but feels powerless to help those in her community who really need her help in her day-to-day life.

It is his own inability to affect real change that, combined with post-traumatic stress, leads to Danny’s very public mental breakdown.

Power lies with the media, and public perception, and inaccessible politicians. On the smaller scale, friends can help one another and sometimes save individuals, but the societal roots of the problems that lead to crises persist.

Shit, that sounds a lot more negative than the book is. I think in part because I’m trying to minimise spoilers. But yeah, I guess… power lies in collective action, not individuals.

Where does their power come from?

Hmmm, tricky to answer when we’re not talking about individuals. I suppose three forms of collective power  are loosely grouped.

1. The power of the mob – public reaction, public prejudice, publish lashing out on easy targets to blame for their own pain

2. Civic power – power of the police and social services to govern the way we live and try to protect the innocent and downtrodden. It’s a power granted by our collective agreement that such services are valuable, but undercut by bureaucracy, insufficient funding, and the tide of political will

3. The power of activists – a more fragile power. Small groups of people trying to change the way we think about society and act towards each other; powered by passion and ideology and the persuasiveness of the individuals making up those groups, I suppose.

What physical/mental characteristics underpin their positions of power?

Pfffffffsdfmdm – again, this is a difficult question to answer when I don’t see any of my characters as really in positions of power. I mean, Danny’s boss has power over him, I suppose, but not so much in the wider world? I suppose that’s interesting to discuss anyway, although I’m not sure if that was quite what you were intending.

Danny’s boss is a compassionate, but organised person. She can be flexible, but also hard-edged. We first meet her early on in the novel when she calls Danny to task for being late into work, again, and letting his team down. She bears the threat of possibly firing Danny if he can’t get his shit together. But at the same time, when the crisis really hits him, she wants to work with him to get him through it. She is not without heart, and she will try to work with the rules on behalf of her people, but at the end of the day she is also working on behalf of the business.

I suppose you would say she is mentally strong and willing to make the tough decisions, but also possessed of a broader grasp of the situation and able to see those employees as people with needs that require support, too.

How does this affect the weakest people in the world?

Well, I answered that last question specific to Danny, who is not the weakest person in the world. He’s certainly vulnerable, but ultimately, he is not without friends and family, he is white and middle-class, and male. It could be worse.

I suppose his boss’s support of him when he needs it most is a real plus. It gets him going again and helping himself. But her initial critiques of him when she doesn’t know what’s going on do have a negative effect. Ultimately, though, she’s not taking action that reaches beyond helping those who are already fairly well off – working for a successful advertising company. And how could she? She doesn’t have power that extends beyond that.

Street is the person who works most closely with the most vulnerable – the poorest people, people who have very little, or no safety nets at all. People who do not have friends like Angela to take them in when they can’t look after themselves. And Street has very little power within that field. She works within the confines of the state, and the state just doesn’t care sufficiently about these people. Which is what leads to the kind of political, racial, class, and religious tensions that generate events like the bombing in which Danny gets caught up in. Street takes to the streets at night to try and make a difference she cannot behind the desk in the day, but even so, it’s hard to quantify whether she makes a real difference.

I suppose, at the heart of the novel, is a real question about power, and in whether it is something any individual can possess (outside of roles bestowed by the people as a part of their governance). I’ve become increasingly puzzled by the idea that someone like Superman could really be a ‘God among men’ just because he has superpowers. I mean, they’re pretty great superpowers, but he’s still just one man, and I don’t know that I buy into the idea that Just One Really Cool Man can save us all. Superpowers =/= power in any significant sense. Symbols have power, but even where a single person has become a kind of symbol in their own right (Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Mandela, Martin Luther King), I’m not sure how much they achieve simply through that, and a lot of that symbolism comes from being a leading light in a movement, not from some nebulous notion of personal power, and certainly not from simple physical power.

This has been an interesting exercise for me. I’d thought about the individual power dynamics, and the interplay of privilege, with regard to this novel before, but not so much in the context of the wider world. I suppose it reveals some of my own anxiety about our abilities to affect real change and help those who are really in need. As is the case with a lot of my WiPs, there’s a strong theme of the importance of sharing information – telling each other about our experiences and listening when someone does speak up. Making ourselves into the kind of people others feel safe talking to. For myself, I find being able to talk openly about mental health issues is so important, and making such subjects taboo is really damaging. Lack of understanding and misunderstanding breeds prejudice. Raising awareness and the humanising of ourselves to one another is of central importance.

So I guess that neatly rounds us off to the conclusion that anothologies like Accessing the Future play a really important role in doing that. Go support them. You know you want to.

I nominate Jessica Meats and Mina Kelly, should they choose to accept it!

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Cosplay pics by the official Nine Worlds dude:

Daenerys Outfit 1

Daenerys Outfit #1

Guy was super against doing anything but a head and shoulders, for some reason, which is a bit weird for a cosplay photographer. Like, it’s nice that you can see the work I did on the top, but you don’t see the Stompy!Daenerys skirt I spent hours on at all.

Daenerys Outfit #2

Daenerys Outfit #2

Having been aware from the first shoot that he was resistant to full-length pictures, I specifically asked him to make sure he got in the belt, and it’s still kinda cut off? Like, I know I’m fat, and therefore less attractive under the boobs, but I dressed for the whole effect, and the belt was kind of a big deal, for me.

Don’t get me wrong, these are nice pictures – certainly a lot better than the one from the cosplay contest last year, which was small and blurry and never actually got sent to me as promised (I had to get it from the website) – and for £3, I can’t complain too much, but they’re just not quite what I was expecting of cosplay photography.

(Click to see bigger).

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Nine Worlds Mark 2: Awesome McAwesomesauce

Me as Daenerys, plus some effects. Because.Somehow, Nine Worlds managed to be even more awesome than last year.  It was just so relaxed. It’s difficult to put one’s finger on any single thing that made it so, but what was clear was that the Nine Worlds crew had worked really hard to not only deliver a con as welcoming and inclusive as last year, but to improve on any imperfections.

For those unfamiliar, Nine Worlds is a general fannish convention with an explicit focus on inclusivity and diversity. They aim to provide a safe and welcoming environment for women, for disabled people, for people of all races, all sexualities (and none!), all genders (and none!), neuro-divergent people, and more.

Last year I was impressed by how many more visibly disabled people I had seen than at any other convention in the past. Why? Because everything was accessible. I was also impressed by how just the inclusion of a Geek Feminist track had made me feel safer and more included, and I assume others felt similarly for LGBQT and Race and Culture tracks. But I also felt that this year they had made a real effort to go beyond that.

At the reception desk there were communication tags so that people could signal their availability to chat: blue for  willing to chat to anyone, yellow for only wanting to talk to people you know, red for not wanting to talk to anyone. Really useful signals, both for people who have trouble judging other people’s openness, and for people who are easily overwhelmed by people and are uncomfortable talking to strangers. They also had pronoun badges so that people could indicate whether they wanted to be referred to as ‘he/him/his’, ‘she/her/hers’, ‘they/them/theirs’ and so forth – a really useful tool for helping trans and non-binary people indicate how they wish to be referred to.

If I had one criticism of this, it would be that the note accompanying the tags and badges said to only take if you really needed it, because numbers were limited. As a socially anxious, non-binary woman, I would have loved to have taken all three colours of tags for use when appropriate, and I would have liked to take a ‘she/her/hers’ badge. But I didn’t want to take them if there then weren’t enough for neuro-divergent people or trans people who really needed them more. In general, I think there’s something flawed in telling people who struggle with communication to consider whether they are worthy of aid – I know it wasn’t intended that way, but I hope that, for the future, Nine Worlds will obtain more such tags and badges so that people don’t have to hold back in that way.

Nevertheless, I think the ‘default blue/approachable’ assumption did have a positive effect. And I think I, personally, benefitted from going down on the Thursday and engaging in the smaller, sociable events held then. I felt so much more at ease getting to know people, and I have never met so many awesome people at one time. I even felt easier about approaching people I thought I might know from the Internet. Maybe some of that’s me, but I think the general atmosphere helped.

As with last year, the sheer range of activities was also a bonus. Nine Worlds has a plethora of different tracks, ranging from Academia to Social Gaming, Cosplay to Comics, Geek Feminism to Podcasting, and more. Last year I went to a lot of the Geek Feminist events, but this year… I don’t know. I guess I had more fun. I think last year I needed the Geek Feminism to feel included; this year I could be more relaxed, and I also just needed a break from the seriousness of my Real Life. I attended a session on finding your voice as a podcaster, one of fight choreography for writers, a Live Action Role Play, A Song of Ice and Fire Sewing, the Whedon Track’s Sing-Along, Reading SF While Brown, African Speculative Fiction, and more.

My experiences were almost universally good. I confess, I deliberately avoided issues that looked fraught – the sessions on Mental Health in SF, and Sexual Assault – but reports from others told me they were handled very sensitively. The only session I found a bit strange was the one on African Speculative Fiction, where the panel was entirely white. This was partly due to one of the panelists being in a traffic accident and thus unable to attend. I was pleased that his (white) replacement noted the uncomfortableness of this, but I did rather feel that when hosting a panel like that the organisers should have ensured that one person being unable to attend (for whatever reason) would not end up with an entirely white panel. The panelists were knowledgeable and did cover a number of perspectives of which I was not aware, including how the expensiveness of books has led to a vibrant fiction culture accessed via mobile networks. Nevertheless, I found myself wondering whether the perspectives offered were not, of necessity, limited.

In contrast, the Reading SF While Brown panel was entirely people of colour, and it was very interesting to hear their different perspectives. Both for myself, as a writer, and as a part of a community where it is easy to be unaware of casual slights and prejudices.

I also enjoyed the cosplay, both my own and others. There was a system of handing people tokens if you thought they had a good cosplay. If you got 15 tokens you won a prize. I’ll admit, I was somewhat sad to only recieve four, especially when there were people walking around with over 50, and I had heard that over 100 people had claimed a prize. It does make one feel a little sadder than if there had just been a few prizes and I was just one of many who had lost out. On the other hand, it was nice to give and receive tokens and did make a way of getting talking with people.

Overall, I feel just so refreshed by the whole experience. My geekery has been recharged. I can’t recommend Nine Worlds enough. Come hell or high water, I will find a way to be there next year, and I recommend that you do the same.

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Daenerys – Qarth Dress Cosplay

Me in my more upmarket Daenerys cosplay:

Me in my Qarth Daenerys CosplayI also got proper photos done by the official Nine Worlds photographer (only £3!!!).

Big thanks to my mate, Steve, who bought me the belt/metal corset/thing for my birthday – it looks AWESOME.

This is the dress I am approximating, for comparison:

qarthdanyObviously there are differences, and I know I have the wrong hair (I tried restyling this morning, and that was a disaster, so I have returned to the same style as yesterday). But I think it worked out OK :D

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Cosplay in action

I’m at NineWorlds now (yay!) and am taking a time out because ILL, but using this moment to show you my cosplay in action :)

(Apologies for the lighting conditions in all of these.)

me as DaenerysDSCF5293DSCF5295A number of people have complemented me on the wig (:D), but I also got a ‘cool cosplay’ chip for the detailing on the top. Which I’m well pleased about, because I put a fair bit of effort into it, and it doesn’t show up well on film.

 

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Daenerys Targaryen on a Budget

So, this time last year I was preparing to go to Nine Worlds and cosplaying Daenerys in her Qarth Dress. I bought a wig, a blue dress, a bronzy horn necklace I got from New Look in the sale, and painted a belt gold. The result was this:

Me being a sunburnt Daenerys, shortly after reaching Qarth.

Me being a sunburnt Daenerys, shortly after reaching Qarth.

Which was OK, but not awesome. Besides which, the belt I got from eBay was cheapass plastic and is basically stretched out around the buckle and unwearable now. Not to mention that I also wore the wig for Halloween and got caught in a rainstorm, which kind of tangled it up.

Now, a mate of mine actually bought me a proper kickass Daenerys-filigree-gold-belt from Etsy for my birthday, so that is going together with a new dress in the same style as this, but closer to the right colour, and (if it arrives on time) a better wig (bought with birthday money). But before I knew that was going to happen, I had started on my new costume, based on some of Daenerys’s more practical garb.

What I’m aiming for, this time, is Daenerys’s Stomping Around in the Desert  over-trousers crossover dress.

Daenerys Targaryen, stomping down her lines of men.The kind of dress you take a city in, basically.

There are actually a number of different versions of this dress. Those that are this dress, but with increasingly more embroidery suggestive of dragonscales. A posher, paler version that she wears with the white pleated skirt, and the one she wears when she’s crowdsurfing brown people with the leather crossover bit (which I definitely did not want). I was going for the one pictured right.

You can actually buy really plain versions of this dress for upwards of £70 on eBay, but a) I don’t have that kind of money; b) they don’t look that great, or that accurate for the money; and c) it’s kind of more fun to make/put to gether your own, rather than just buy the whole thing. So, I wanted to give it a go.

And, let me tell you, I scowered eBay for a dress either a bit like this, or that I could make look like this. No luck. None at all. In the end, in the very last charity shop a friend and I visited costume hunting, I found an A-line white linnen skirt and a white stretch cotton v-neck top that I felt I could work with (about £7 for both).

My new Daenerys costume

Sorry for the cruddy quality of the photos. Most of the light in my house comes from above, making good photos super hard.

I dyed them blue (£5 Dylon Ocean Blue from Amazon). Colour worked out more sky blue than ‘ocean blue’, but it was remarkably consistent. I took the skirt and cut one side to match Daenerys’s skirt-chap thing, flipped the cut cloth, trimmed it to shape, and sewed it back on, with what had been the bottom at the top. I also used remaining fabric to cover up the white thread that hadn’t dyed properly.

I then cut the sleeves off the v-neck top and sewed in shoulder pads  (mine came from another top I had that didn’t really need them, but you can get them cheap from most sewing/haberdashery stores/eBay). With the left over fabric from the sleeves, I used the same American arrow smocking used on Daenery’s dress to add scale-like texture. With more time and better materials (say, a non-stretch fabric) I could have done a lot more, and with a better finish, but it could be worse.

A close-up on the shoulder beading.I then added some beading to mirror the beading on Daenerys’s dress. The beads and sequins were left-over from a Christmas card-making kit I got from PoundLand.

Had I but world enough and time I would have done loads more beading and embroidery (I bought some gold-coloured thread for about £2), but I really don’t. So I used gold glitter fabric paint I got from Hobby Craft for £3.50 to echo some of the gold embroidery in Daenerys’s dress. I know, gold glitter isn’t really as subtle as her embroidery, but pfft!

a close-up shot of Danerys's hair when she's feeding her dragons in QarthThen, of course, there’s the wig. Now, I’m using the same wig as last year, which cost about £17.50 (I wish I could remember the brand!) but I wasn’t going to be able to do any of half-ponytail braiding Daenerys usually favours as the really long synthetic hair had become hopelessly tangled and lost its crisp curls in brushing. So, instead, I went for one of the few styles she uses where her whole head of hair gets braided back. This also had the advantage of making the bulkiness of the wig look more natural. She wears this in Qarth, but only when she’s ‘dressed down’. This is clearly a practical do for her. So I think it goes with the Stompy Dress.

Left side Daenerys wig.There are five intrgrated brais, here. Two simple braids drawn back from the top of the head and then woven together at the back. Then two chunkier French braids taking up the rest of her hair at the side of her head, and then woven together to become one big braid at the back.

Now, you’ll note that I went for French braiding rather than the reverse French braiding the original style uses. This is simply because of how tough the hair was to work with. I spent hours brushing this thing, even adding leave-in conditioner to loosen up the synthetic fibers, it was just very difficult to work with, and I think this looks good enough.

Daenerys wig right side.There are also a few other changes.

Firstly, the top braids are much higher up. Again, this is because of the limitations of the wig, which has a kind of layered thing going on. Basically, the hair at the top is just too short to be brought any lower and still be integrated at the back.

Secondly, I had to let a few strands hang down the side of the face to disguide the edge of the wig. Similarly, the wig came with a fringe (it hadn’t looked like it did in the picture, but that’s what happens when you buy online).

I also managed to recurl those strands by putting them in rollers, dipping them in hot water, and leaving them overnight to dry – quite impressed with the result!

Daenerys wig from the back.Oh yeah, and grey leggings, which I already had. Basically any plain/dust-coloured trousers would do. It’s not the best Daenerys costume ever, but (including the wig, which I spent b’day money on), it cost me about £35; £37 if you include the necklace I had from last year. Which is half the price of those boring-ass ones you can buy on eBay, and the ‘dress’ part only cost me £17 itself :)

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Review: Extant, Episode 1

Poster image for ExtantI decided to check out the new Sci-Fi series Extant, available via Amazon Instant Prime (and apparently CBS, but pfft! Like I watch real channels!).

On the surface, Extant has a lot going for it that could provide a breath of fresh air – certainly for me, following the race and gender fails of the recent series of Hemlock Grove. Halle Berry as a starring role – a woman of colour, an Academy Award Winner, and a woman who has already been a part of a successful science fiction franchise. And, I’ll admit, I’m eager to see her explore that avenue again after she was completely sidelined out of the Wolverine X-Men films. I enjoyed her performance as Storm, and although I had heard that she got excluded for being difficult to work with, I can’t help but notice that white male stars like Christian Bale can throw massive tantrums and still get film after film making way for their pasty male faces. Confident women who know what they want have a history of being regarded as difficult, especially black women; difficult men have a history of being tolerated and catered to, especially white men.

So, I had real time for this. And we were going to space – so few TV shows or films actually do much of exploring the final frontier anymore.

What I’m saying is that I really wanted to like it.

But… well, here’s the set-up.

Plot

Molly Woods (Halle Berry) returns from a 13 month tour of doing… something, alone, in space. She’s in the process of readjusting to being home and being with her husband and child. Fair enough.

But then her post-return physical has a surprise in store: she’s pregnant. She got pregnant. Whilst alone. In space. With nothing but her friendly male-voiced AI for company.

What’s more, she thought she was infertile. So much so that her husband, John (Goran Višnjić), has invented an android child, Ethan (Pierce Gagnon),  whom he hopes can learn to be a friendlier face for AI by growing up amidst a real family. And, you know, fill the child-shaped hole in his and Molly’s hearts.

On top of the whole pregnancy thing, it turns out there is a period of time unaccounted for in the recordings Molly made in space. Something… weird happened, knocking out a bunch of systems, including the AI, and Molly sees her ex-boyfriend, Marcus (Sergio Harford), in the air lock. Her ex-boyfriend who is dead. And maybe she hallucinates this and maybe something even weirder is going on, but I’m assuming this has something to do with the spontaneous baby?

Why the long face?

Well, like I say, a lot of good elements are here, and, hey, I got surprise androids! Usually a thing I’m not sad about. But… I feel like I accidentally signed up for a two-for-one deal on creepy children, and I’m not a massive fan of that trope anyway? It feels… lazy, overdone, and like it’s supposed to work based on some kind of primal fear of unfathomably evil children, but I don’t really buy into the idea that some kids are Just Wrong independently of how they are raised. Besides which, I really don’t find the ‘AI is evil’ thing that interesting. Again, if you create actual artificial intelligence I would expect it to grow and develop, to socially adjust to how it’s treated, just like kids. And whilst that’s John’s whole idea – raise the kid like a human kid and everything will be fiiiiine – I really get the vibe that the programme is setting us up for a fall.

Also, I am just Sick To Death of the trope of women’s bodies betraying them and being under the control of other people or nebulous forces. And using babies and pregnancy to make women feel powerless. Alien and mystical pregnancies have been a trope of a lot of male-written science fiction and fantasy when they actually start to grapple with including women in their casts. The Mystical Pregnancy was one of the early issues that Anita Sarkeesian tackled in her ‘Tropes vs Women’ series, and I seriously recommend watching that, as it does justice to the extensiveness of this creepy-ass trope in a way I don’t have space for here. The most striking example this side of the millennium is the case of Cordelia Chase in Angel. Cordelia’s second mystical pregnancy (that’s right, Joss Whedon has gone to that well with her before) was the result of Charisma’s real life pregnancy, and ultimately led to the character being written out of the show.* But more immediately in my mind, the mystical pregnancy  from season one of Hemlock Grove and the way this led to women being further instrumentalised via their reproductive capacities in season two have left a bitter taste in my mouth that I was really hoping Extant, with its strong woman of colour protagonist, would wash away. Aaaand no. No. Here we are again. Something or someone has impregnated Molly Woods against her will and her knowledge.

Once again a woman’s natural capacity to give birth is being co-opted into a horror trope. Once again a woman is set-up as independent and self-determining (her boss is suspicious about the lost footage because he knows her, and she’s not the kind of woman to make a mistake like that), but is shown to be helpless and powerless to stop others invading her own body and using it against her. Because she is a woman. Because she has a womb.**

How is it too much to hope that a woman, and a woman of colour, could be the protagonist of a science fiction show and not undermined and essentialised in this way? I give up. I’m exhausted. Yet another show I really want to invest time and energy in, but I can’t.

And don’t say the show doesn’t work because she’s a woman – don’t you dare! We know that female led films that pass the Bechdel test – action films like The Hunger Games - make more money than films that don’t. You can’t sell us this lie anymore to keep pushing your sexism. We want to see women, and people of colour, in good, protagonist roles. The problem isn’t the actor, isn’t her gender, isn’t the colour of her skin. The problem is the sexist writing.

Try again. We want a show that doesn’t disappoint like this. If you give it to us, we will watch it.

* All parties have been circumspect in speaking about it in public, but a combination of hints such as this interview given by Charisma to the Boston Herald, and these comments by Charisma at a Q&A (the relevant question comes in at about 2:43), have led many to speculate that she was effectively fired for getting pregnant.

** I hasten to stress that I fully understand that not all women have wombs – it is precisely this biological reductionism and essentialism I object to.

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Thanks xxx

Heya, me again. Just dropping a line to say thanks to all those who dropped me a tip – it really is appreciated! After the initial contributions from my dad and my best friend I wasn’t sure if I would get anything else, but you guys are awesome and I’ve had £105 in total so far :D Which, you know, is enough to cover my electricity bill and costs for renting my domain and webhosting.

I’m hoping my financial situation will pick up in August. I am expecting to get paid for some jobs done earlier in the year, and hope that some other jobs will come in. I don’t want anyone to get too worried about me or anything, but I really do appreciate any and all money paid in exchange for the work I do for this blog. It is a labour of love, but it’s still labour, and your appreciation really is, well, appreciated!

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Like what I do? Believe in financial reward for work?

Hey, I don’t like to do this, but… poverty calls. I’ve been writing this blog for three and a half years, now. I know I haven’t been updating regularly, but I do what I can when I can. I’m in the final stages of my PhD and I just asked for a three month extension. The extension is expensive – £265, to be exact, and I just tried to pay it can had my card declined. This is in part because I’m owed some money, but even if I’d been paid that, things would still be pretty precarious.

I have until 30 November 2014 to finish my PhD, after which I will be able to fill this site with content and embark on new and more exciting projects. Like podcasting the entirety of Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World. If you’d like a sample of my podcasting voice, I encourage you to listen to the recording of ‘Eve’s Apology‘ I did for International Poetry Day. I also want to finish reviewing A Dance with Dragons and get back to regular reviews of books, TV, film, and other media.

If you value what I do, I’d be very grateful if you’d consider tipping me a little something to my tip jar, which is in the sidebar on the right.

I’ve written approximately 45,000 words in my Read Along with Rhube chapter-by-chapter review of A Dance with Dragons, and every day I can see people working through these. And 4,000 of you (well your hits ;-p) watched Torchwood Miracle Day with me, episode by episode. That’s really awesome, and I loved sharing these just for the pleasure. But if you did get enjoyment out of those, please consider paying a little something in recompense.

If you found my grammar tips in Proofread Along with Rhube helpful, please consider giving a little something for that.

My review of The Guild, Season 5 has received 15,000 hits, my review of Hemlock Grove, Season 1, 4,000; and my review of Hemlock Grove, Season 2 has received a thousand hits in just the last 6 days. If you enjoyed these reviews, felt they gave you something you don’t get elsewhere, please consider paying a little something for them.

I’ve also had great pleasure on putting the spotlight on indie projects, like Romantically Apocalyptic. 1,700 hits for that which I really hope generated traffic for that fantastic comic, which was at one time in need of funds itself.

There’s no specific amount I’m looking to raise – it’s not a funding drive or anything – and I know other people have it hard, too. But I put a lot of work into this, and I do it for free, and I’d just be super grateful if anyone who is able and who has got something out of this website could pay whatever they feel that was worth.

Love you all, and thanks to anyone who can.

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Review: Hemlock Grove, Season 2

Hemlock Grove Promotional ImageWell. The ratio of anticipation to disappointment on this season was striking.

The first season of Hemlock Grove was original, unexpected, challenging, exciting, unpredictable, and provided a wide range of interesting female characters. This season  drew extensively on racial stereotypes, reduced the number of interesting female characters, and dramatically increased their representation as instrumental objects to serve others’ needs (especially reproductive needs). Lots of gratuitous female nudity – the plot even working to specifically enable as much of this as possible – and yet where there was male nudity it was downright chaste in comparison.

Colour me ‘Eh’ with shadings of ‘rather pissed off, actually’.

Plot (mild spoilers)

Following the events of last season, Peter (Landon Liboiron), Destiny (Tiio Horn), and Lynda (Lili Taylor) have rejoined their Roma family. We catch up with them at a wake, which is going down with a lot of drink, music, and (for Destiny) sex. The wake is disturbed by the FBI, who have finally caught up with Lynda’s years of racketeering. For legal reasons I did not exactly follow, this means that Peter and Destiny must return to Hemlock Grove to put together his mother’s defence.

Roman Godfrey (Bill Skarsgård), meanwhile, has been dealing with becoming an upir, trying to find ways of feeding without killing people, and running the family company. Oh, and raising his Demon Spawn – I mean ‘Lovely little girl with unnaturally blue eyes that no one – no one at all – ever comments upon’.

Olivia Godfrey (Famke Janssen) is not dead. She’s been in a coma and then recovering, with the sinister aid of Dr Johann Pryce (Joel de la Fuente) and his new dodgy scientist side-kick, Dr Zheleznova-Burdukovskaya*, from dodgy Russia, with dodgy-but-nebulous war crimes hanging over her.

A young blonde woman, Miranda (Madeline Brewer – visually very similar to Lethe, Roman’s cousin, Peter’s girlfriend, whom Roman raped and impregnated with the Demon Spawn) is forced off the road near Roman’s house. She knocks on his door for help and he lets her phone for a tow-truck and stay with him until she’s ready to move on. Quelle suprise, the tow-truck company is the same one Peter has just got a job with.

Miranda begins a relationship with both Roman and Peter. As you do. What’s weirder is that Miranda starts spontaneously lactating, conveniently supplying nourishment for the Demon Spawn, and also affording the viewer many opportunities for close-ups on her breasts. Many. We did not need that many. We really got the picture from the milk-stains on her top. This whole thing was not subtle.

Meanwhile, Peter cons some drug dealers into thinking they are buying some magical drug, developed by the Roma people, by turning into a werewolf in front of them ‘on a bad moon’. This starts Peter off on a journey to become a vargulf (really uncool kind of werewolf that can change whenever he pleases but loses his humanity) which Destiny warns him about and he, you know, ignores her. Destiny is playing Cassandra this season.

He does this so that they can hire a lawyer for his mum, Lynda. For some reason, everyone refers to the lawyer as the ‘lady lawyer’, like this is 1950.

Meanwhile, Shelley Godfrey (Nicole Boivin and Madeleine Martin)is off in hiding, being kind of a badass and kind of really in trouble. Eventually, she returns to the fold, whereupon Dr Pryce explains about the naked blonde lady (again, very similar looking to Lethe) floating in a tank we’ve been seeing off and on throughout the season. He’d been ‘growing’ her to create the perfect human, but because he actually really does care for Shelley, he proposes copying Shelley’s brain patterns and putting them in the blonde girl, then killing Shelley’s old body, so that Shelley can live on in the ‘perfect’ body she’s always dreamed of. Which is just the bestest idea EVER.

Oh, and there are some dudes in masks who are killing families and Peter and Roman keep sharing dreams about them and that’s what brings them back into being best buddies again after the events of last season. That and a threesome with Miranda.

And Norman is still floating around, trying to work out his relationship to Olivia, and the fact that it’s really not healthy, and I wish I could care about this, because I like Norman, but it’s for that exact reason that I never bought the relationship in the first place.

Why I was displeased

OK, so let’s talk about the racism, first. Season 1 started off a little bit racist, what with Peter and family introduced as basically on the left side of the law, but that kind of dropped away as Peter went on to be awesome and basically the hero in the way that Roman really turned out not to be. I had mixed feelings about it, but in a way that was kind of ‘hopefully they will improve in the second season’. Why do I keep thinking things like this? Nobody knows.

We see a lot more Roma people, and they are framed as lazy, jobless, carefree people who party a lot and don’t work for a living. The issue of systematic racism is lampshaded when the ‘lady lawyer’ mentions that the FBI will be really going after Lynda by angling to paint the Roma people as a criminal organisation. Which could have been explored interestingly, except for the fact that, despite Peter’s protests, that’s basically how they are presented within the world of Hemlock Grove.

And then there’s the whole ‘evil scientist’ thing. Dr Pryce was already showing up for the sinister Asian and the scientist Asian stereotypes, but now we have Dr Incomprehesibly-long-double-barrelled-name which is not her only incomprehensibly long alias. And she’s an Evil Russian. Like she just walked out of a Cold War Bond movie. She even has what a friend once described (referring to a Movie Nazi) as ‘Evil Hair’ – coiffed and then held severely solid by God only knows what heinous kind of product.

As for women? We’ve lost Lethe and Clementine from the first season, and Lynda is spirited away quicker than you can say ‘The script writer didn’t have any use for this character anymore’. Norman’s wife, Maria, finds her way out of the story pretty quick** The ‘lady lawyer’ is in about two scenes, maybe three. Destiny gets more screen time, but I’m not sure she does a single thing that actually affects the plot. Her biggest scenes involve swallowing psychotropic magic poisons for Peter’s sake. The first one has a needlessly suggestive snake slithering up her nethers. The second involves three people holding her head under water until she drowns. Yup, the themes of sexual objectification and violence against women are strong this season.

Then there’s Miranda I-exist-to-spontaneously-lactate-and-sleep-with-the-leads Cates. Yes, lactation is creepy. Spontaneous lactation is creepier. It’s a horror show. I GET it. But you actually literally do get to choose what tropes you employ, and Miranda could be replaced by a sexy bag of baby formula, and that’s not in-world disturbing, that’s plain disturbing. On the plus side, it is Miranda who takes the lead in initiating the threesome, but if you had told me there was going to be a threesome involving Bill Skarsgård and Landon Liboiron in this season, I would have shown up with my popcorn and expected, well, more. We only see them sleeping afterwards. Given the amount of naked ladies in this season, and all those close-ups of Miranda’s boobs (lactating or otherwise), I was nonplussed***.

And if Miranda isn’t used instrumentally enough, there’s Prycilla, the girl Pryce has grown and whose brain he literally writes over for the sake of Shelley, and whom Dr Zheleznova-Burdukovskaya suggests to Olivia she might consume to overcome some of the difficulties she is facing. The girl exists to be used by others.

And speaking of Olivia, she is significantly powered down following Roman’s attack on her at the end of last season, and her plot is strongly focused about how, having been dominated by her son, her maternal instincts resurface and she wants to mend fences with her children and be a better girlfriend to Norman.  So, uh, not at all Freudian misogyny themed, then. It should be stressed that it’s a believable performance by Famke Janssen and the progression does work for the character, but in the context of the diminution of other female characters, the choice to take this path with her is striking.

Certainly, no women are here to fill the vacuum Clementine Chasseur (Kandyse McClure) left behind. Indeed, Clementine’s memory is reduced to fridging motivational fodder for her brother, Michael Chasseur (Demore Barnes).

Oh, and, in case you hadn’t gathered by now, absolutely no mention of Roman’s rapes is made whatsoever. There are no repurcussions for Roman for this. Roman’s redemptive arc is conducted solely against his present worry that he might hurt other people now that he’s an upir. It’s not just that he gets away with it – men get away with rape all the time, and I appreciated the ‘pretty guys you are rooting for can do this shit too’ aspect of how it was handled in the first season, but this season it is literally as though it never happened. Roman and Peter are reeling from Lethe’s death, Roman generally doesn’t like who he became under his mother’s power, but in as much as one might speculate as to his inner thoughts on the matter, any responsibility he might have taken for his own actions he seems to have shirked off, attributing it to Olivia and his upir nature. I kept expecting something to happen to reveal to Peter exactly what Roman had done. But nope. ‘Oh, Roman, why are you raising the baby when I was going out with her mother and had taken the decision to step up as the father? Why are you so focused on her being your daughter? How come that whole “impregnanted by an angel” thing is still unresolved from last season?’ Nuh-uh. Nadda. Nothing.

You can’t see it, but I am not wearing anything resembling my happy face right now.

The artistry and originality of the first season is gone. I felt none of the genre-bending ‘what am I watching’ mystery, most of the characters became less interesting, racism and sexism upped substantially, the fact that Roman is a rapist completely forgotten… It’s still well-acted and mostly well-scripted – I could and did consume this easily and quickly – but one is left, overall, with a bad taste in one’s mouth. This is not the show I was raving about last year.

*She’s not listed on either IMDB or Wikipedia, yet – I had to check the name in subtitles for the spelling – so I can’t say who the actor is.

**SPOILER: She gets fridged.

***There were instances of naked gents – Peter gets naked every time he changes, and two other guys are forced naked for torture reasons, but as I say, these are pretty chaste in presentation compared to the treatment Prycilla and Miranda get.

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