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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Review: Maleficent

Maleficent posterIt’s been such a very long time since I exited a cinema without feeling angry about anything in the film I just saw, but Maleficent achieved this. Utterly captivating, bitter-sweet, ultimately uplifting, and not at all sexist. Like, that never happens. It was such a relief! Such a joy! And knowing I would be able to talk about it without getting people down! Honestly – I don’t like to be down on all the geek movies out there at the moment, I want to join in the fun. But it’s not me who is bringing the downer to that party; it’s the films.

Such a breath of fresh air not to have that.

Granted, I got about ten feet from the cinema and realised that this was an incredibly white film. Everyone is just the palest of the pale*. And for anyone under the impression that filmmakers can ‘get away’ with this (and seriously, you want to question why exactly they want to) because ‘there were no people of colour in medieval Europe’ (even setting aside the fact that the main character in this film is a fairy) I encourage you to check out MedievalPOC,  the history and art tumblr, and enjoy having your behind handed to you in an extremely well-sourced way.

There also weren’t any obviously QUILTBAG characters (i.e. Queer and Questioning, Undefined, Intersex, Lesbian, Trans*, Bisexual, Asexual, Gay and Genderqueer), and although I can see the interspecies subtextual relationship between Maleficent and Diaval as a stand in for a QUILTBAG relationship, that’s something of an uncomfortable suggestion. Just as people of colour do not want to only see their issues discussed via alien stand-ins for themselves, QUILTBAG people deserve to be directly represented as well. And given that enough people seriously think that gay marriage will lead to bestiality, the fact that Diaval is only sometimes human makes for a problematic representation at best.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Time for a brief outline of the plot (contains some spoilers).


Maleficent (young Maleficent: Ella_Purnell and Isobelle Molloy) was a lovely young horned and eagle-winged fairy who was friendly to everyone. She lived in a fairy realm that abutted a human realm, and relations had never been awesome between the two. But everyone loved Maleficent, because she was awesome and sweet and kind and super powerful and unusually large for a fairy.

One day, a young human boy, Steffan (young Steffan: Micheal Higgins), stole a gem from a pool in the fairy realm and got caught and they got Maleficent in to deal with it, because I guess she was better than all the adults or something – the fairy realm doesn’t seem to have a formal leadership structure. Maleficent persuades the young boy to put the stone back, and they become friends.

As they grow up, they lose touch. Steffan is off making his human fortune in the human realm, following his dream of one day living in the castle. Maleficent (adult: Angelina Jolie) is becoming steadily more badass, and the king of the human realm decides that she is a threat. He goes to war, Maleficent rallies the troops, there is a kickass battle. Maleficent defeats the army and mortally wounds the king. As he lies dying up in the castle, the king promises his daughter’s hand to whoever can kill Maleficent. Steffan (adult: Sharlto Copley) hears this and goes to find Maleficent. He tells her he has come to warn her, but he drugs her and cuts off her wings as proof of defeat.

Maleficent is understandably traumatised, but she pulls her shit together and goes into bitter-brooding. Whilst in this frame of mind, she comes across a raven, trapped by cruel men. Identifying with his predicament, Maleficent saves the bird, Diaval (Sam Riley), by turning him into a man. Whilst uncomfortable with her method of rescue, Diaval is grateful for his life, and swears himself to service in whatever form she might choose to put him.

When news comes that Steffan is king and has had a kid, Maleficent turns up, as in the Sleeping Beauty story, and spoils the party, cursing the girl to fall into a forever-sleep on her sixteenth birthday, to be saved only by ‘true love’s kiss’ (Maleficent allows this concession because Steffan’s behaviour has taught her there is no such thing).

The child is raised in seclusion by fairies, in an attempt to hide her and protect her. But as she watches the girl grow up Maleficent’s heart softens, and she comes to regret her curse…

Why this made me happy

Maleficent attends the Christening.Well, there are a bunch of obvious reasons. This is a story whose main character is a badass powerful lady who is in no sense sexified for objectification. Is Angelina Jollie strikingly beautiful? Of course. But unlike most films I have seen her in, she has not been shoehorned into skimpy or tight clothing to show off her assets. Part of that is because this is a kids film, but it’s refreshing, nonetheless. The only character who gets nekkid is a man (Diaval, after his first transformation). Again: kids film. We don’t see a lot, but it’s really nice to have the tables turned. And in a world where women are criticised for covering up as much as for showing a lot of skin, it’s freakin’ awesome to see a famously beautiful woman dressed for power in a way that accentuates her beauty without in any sense presenting it as ‘there for’ anyone else. Maleficent risesWhether it’s head-to-toe covering up to crash a party and curse a child, or dressed practically for war as she rises above her enemies on strong wings, Maleficent casts an imposing figure, of which she is completely in control.

And she is not the only interesting female character. Aurora (Elle Fanning) is interesting as a character who is both ‘blessed’ and ‘cursed’ in such a way that she should not only be beautiful, but regard every situation with good humour. Although it is never directly addressed, one feels, in the humour of Aurora’s incongruously bright attitude, that there is something just as restrictive and controlling in forcing upon someone a bright and pleasing attitude as there is in cursing her to eternal sleep. Nevertheless, Aurora is not without character or independence. Whilst loving her ‘aunts’ she nevertheless recognises that their (rather incompetent) care is not all that she wants from life, and she takes the initiative to leave home on her own, to live where she feels she would be better suited.

By turn, the fairy ‘aunts’ cut interesting figures in that, despite their good intentions, they are not in the least naturally maternal. And although they care for Aurora, they do chafe under the restrictions placed upon them in raising her. As a non-maternal woman myself, it’s really nice to see this represented, especially in a film that places Maleficent’s growing maternal feelings so close to the heart of the story. It shows that we can respect and praise mother-daughter relationships without saying that to be a mother or to be maternal is inevitable or essential to all women.

The film also walks a tight line in introducing its romance element. I have been wary of other films that sought to ‘soften’ a powerful ‘evil’ character (especially a woman) by giving them a romance element. I’ve never felt a compulsion to see Wicked for this reason (which, I grant, is not to condemn the musical – after all, I haven’t seen it!), and I was pretty disgusted by the very concept of Oz the Great and Powerful, for taking one of our precious stories about female power and making it all about a man whom women are fighting over. Refreshingly, though, introducing a love interest for Maleficent does not undermine her in any way. She does not go to war for love and she doesn’t curse the child for a broken heart. War is brought to her by an aggressive and xenophobic nation, and she defends her people. She then suffers massive trauma – the removal of her wings by someone she trusted – and it is that which darkens her heart and makes her seek revenge. She shows no jealousy for Steffan’s wife whatsoever, and before her wings are taken she had accepted that Steffan had moved on with his life, even though she missed him.

This is not a story about a woman overreacting because women are so emotional. This is a story about a woman surviving abuse, finding her power again and, eventually, finding a way to heal. And doing so with the support and love of those around her. Other critics have focused on the mother-daughter relationship and sisterhood, but, whilst that is important, we would do wrong to ignore the importance of her relationship with Diaval, or with the rest of her people, who stand by her in her time of need, even though it sends her to a very dark place.

And now I’m going to talk about the thing I really liked. CONSENT.


The story of Sleeping Beauty is kinda really problematic, in that its heroine is literally deprived of all agency, and the ‘happy ending’ comes about because, uh, a dude makes sexual advances on her when she’s unable to consent? All sorts of creepy.

In Maleficent, the love interest for Aurora is pressed by those who wish to save her into kissing her, but he resists (at least at first), saying that they only just met and it wouldn’t feel right.

But even more than this, I find real positivity in Maleficent’s relationship with Diaval. Her first transformation of him is without consent, but to save his life, and they discuss this. He tells her that he was not OK with her doing that without his consent, and that even if it saved his life, he wasn’t happy about it. Later, having gained his consent to change him at her will, Maleficent changes him into a wolf. Diaval really doesn’t like this. Again they have a discussion about both partners’ wants and needs. Diaval acknowledges that he had given her carte blanche to transform him, but having discovered that he does not want to be changed into a wolf or a dog, she agrees never to do this again. And she doesn’t.

Whilst the romance between them is never made explicit – not least because it is obvious that Diaval understands that she is hurting and unable to commit explicitly on that sort of emotional level – this is a really wonderful exploration of a dom/sub relationship. Wherein one partner may enjoy adopting a submissive role, and the other a dominant role, without losing respect for one another, and whilst explicitly discussing rules for their relationship. Diaval objects to her changing him without his consent, so she never does that again. He gives her permission to change him at will, but when he realises that there are some things he doesn’t want to be changed into, he voices this, and she respects that.

Moreover, just as she saves him when they first meet, he is given the opportunity to save her when she has been caught in a net by cruel men, later. And his saving of her doesn’t rob her of power, as he is only able to do so because she changes him into a dragon. It is a wonderful and interesting example of a relationship we rarely get to see on screen – where the woman is dominant and the man is submissive but both work in harmony.

Everyone is in charge of their self-actualisation and they work together to support one another and none of this robs them of power.

By contrast, Steffan moves in the opposite direction, and things do not go well for him. He seizes power from others, and fear of retribution consumes him. When he finds he cannot kill Maleficent he sees robbing her of her wings as a ‘good’ option, as ‘saving’ her. But she never consented to being saved in that way. This is the nice-guy logic that says that because a man didn’t take advantage of a drunk woman at a party, she therefore ‘owes’ him sex further down the line. But simply not taking advantage of someone does not earn you a cookie, and ‘merely’ horribly maiming someone, when you could have killed them, is not ‘saving’.

Maleficent never asked to be saved. She was perfectly capable of defending herself. If he decided he didn’t want to kill her – if he had genuinely had her interests at heart at all – he would have left having done nothing. He was looking for a way to be the ‘good guy’ and gain what he wanted (power – by metaphor, sex) too.

The contrast between this extreme, abusive, nonconseunsual act, and the explicit discussions of consent elsewhere in the movie are not only dramatically effective, but really important. I cannot underscore how wonderful this felt, not only as a rewriting of a really problematic story, but as an important message about power and consent for children to absorb.

If you’re a parent: take your daughters to see this, take your sons to see this. Let them learn to admire strong women whose strength does not lie in their beauty. Let them learn to be outraged at acts that are nonconsensual, and to root for people who discuss consent and treat each other with respect, even where there is a power disparity. And go to see it for yourselves, because it is wonderful.


* Looking at the scenes from the throne room, I can see that plenty of the courtiers are people of colour, which is nice, but none of the main characters (or even speaking roles) are.

[Edit:] Some essential balance on why it’s all very well for me as a white woman to enjoy this movie, but the lack of PoC really needs to be addressed: Yet Another Bland, White-Washed Fantasy World.

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Speculative Fiction 2012 shortlisted for British Fantasy Society Award!

Nominated, baby!Paaaaaarrrrrrrrtyyyyyy!

For any who don’t know, I’m excited not just because it’s a great book, but because my essay, ‘Remembering Margaret Cavendish‘ was published in this as one of the 50 ‘best online reviews, essays and commentary’ of 2012. So it would be like winning 1/50th of a British Fantasy Award.

Plus, Jared and Justin, our illustrious editors, would actually GET an award. Which they totally deserve, because it’s a rocking collection of essays and online criticism deserves the recognition this kind of award affords. Also, they sent all of us contributors an amazing poster of specially commissioned artwork when we got the Hugo nomination, so they are officially the Best. Editors. Ever.

Also? Also? Voting is open for the Hugos, for which SpecFic 2012 has also been nominated. I would literally explode if we got this, so if you’re elligble to vote, please think of us!


Posted in awards, british fantasy awards, british fantasy society, hugo awards, remembering margaret cavenish, Speculative Fiction 2012 | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Ground Control to Major Tom

It’s just over three months until my thesis is due. It’s a difficult time in any PhD student’s career, but I have not had a typical PhD. And yeah, I know there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ PhD, but there are certainly more typical experiences than mine. I’m currently struggling with depression and intermittent illness. I’m not sure why, but after riding me pretty hard last months, the Gods of Ill seem to have backed off a bit, and I am motivated to use this time, but my depression is not.

I’m constantly stopping and starting and it’s pretty hard to synthesise the tough stuff  when each time you sit down it takes a day to refamiliarise yourself – and that’s if I’m not so swamped by the depression that I’m simply unable to get any perspective on it.

I am trying THINGS. Today I signed up for Habit RPG, and it maybe helped? It’s a thing that gives you points for completing tasks, like XP in a role-playing game. I am much better at living pretend lives for which I receive points than my actual life. So. I suspect it’s faddy. We shall see.

I’ve also Googled various things. Like ‘thesis survival last three months’. A lot of it has advice that is clearly not tailored for me. Things like ‘Make sure you have an hour just for you every day’. Who are these machines who can take only an hour off per day? Full-timers with funding, I suspect. Another ‘tip’ was to not take a job unless you absolutely have to. LOL. I quit one of my jobs in January. I guess that’s progress?

I started this blog shortly before it all went to hell, I think. I was in a bad financial and emotional place, and I knew it was going to make my life difficult. I was trying to stay positive about it. I tried imagining it as a kind of bohemian rollercoaster ride. What I didn’t say, of course, is that I never liked rollercoasters. I guess the rollercoaster ride made me sick.

The one reassuring thing I have found in Googling are quotes from people who speak to something I recognise. So, I’m sharing them here (maybe because procrastination, maybe because it helps to externalise, IDK):

I felt like I was in a bad marriage with this alien thing, which was no longer bringing me any joy

- Thesis Whisperer

Yes. This. Please, PLEASE stop telling me I should be enjoying this. It’s normal for people not to at this stage and you’re just making me feel worse for a sentiment that is natural.

I am tired of people asking about you: they always ask about you, how you’re doing, how far I’ve gone with you. To be honest, I want to see this through to the end, I want to go all the way with you, but then I want to put this relationship behind me.

- Kyle Farley

The Thesis Whisperer associates such thoughts as these with a process of detatchment that is necessary in that final few months. I don’t know about that. It feels too demotivational. I have not gotten the anticipated benefit of just thinking that I can put stuff down and it doesn’t matter.

I guess it helps to know you’re not alone, though. I’m very isolated. The people who reach out to me are great, btu they aren’t the ones doing Philosophy PhDs. The vast majority of the people I know doing those are younger than me, working full-time, and driven by something I used to have that I now lack. They are not dealing with the things I am dealing with, and I can tell that they do not understand. And the consistent advice I have from my supervisor and my therapist is to talk to my peers. But no one is really in this situation, so, that’s hard. Harder, because then I am also a failure at finding peers.

I want to be on the other end of this. But that’s three months of really hard work away. And I don’t know if I’m up for it.

Why am I posting this here? I don’t know. It’s definitely not to solicit advice, so please do  not go there. I guess it’s because I need to say this somewhere, seeing as those ‘peers’ everyone keeps telling me about are not in evidence.

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Whitsle-stop review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2, poster.I wish I could devote more time to reviews, but it’s crunch-time in Rhuboland, so here’s a whistle-stop tour of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, good and bad.

The Good:

They beefed up Gwen’s (Emma Stone) role and gave her interests outside of her bf. They also showed her thinking about how kind of self-centred he can be and how she’s not content to wait around for him.

Plus, Gwen had some agency and some role in saving the day.

The character, Max (Jamie Foxx), is initially interesting, as a black guy getting to play something other than the tough guy, the guy presented as animalistic in some way. Although I wonder if the black nerdy, socially inept scientist is getting to be another stereotype. I was reminded strongly of Lem from Better off Ted, but I’m aware that I may be blinded by my own privilege in trying to assess what makes for a stereotypical black male character.

Max also gets to voice legitimate concerns of vanishing identity and feeling invisible, which can affect people of colour who are not recognised and rewarded for their achievements in the way that white men tend to be. Both Max and Harry cut sympathetic figures, at first.

The CGI is fucking fantastic. Second to none. And worth seeing in 3D, if that doesn’t affect you negatively.*

Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield shine, instantly lifting both the acting and (one feels) the script in any scene in which they are in.

The Bad

Hopefully it isn’t too much of a spoiler to say that things do not go well for Max. And whilst they toy initially with making him a human dude who doesn’t want to do bad things when he first gets his (basically very destructive) powers, he rapidly descends into the violent revenge trope and becomes a basic monster figure with almost nothing of his original character left. Fear of the Other. Terror of the Black Man (complete with hoodie, argh). It’s just all the worst stereotypes.

And they make him blue. Instantly cutting in half the number of obviously PoC characters I noticed in the film (the other being an anonymous cop).

And he cedes Chief Monster Spot extremely quickly to the spoiled rich white guy, swiftly assuming a Henchman role.

Prior to that he had been Comic Relief, aspiring to be Side-kick (but not actually cool enough for that). It’s basically a race ‘You wanted a “You Tried” sticker, but you really don’t deserve it’.

I think the moment where Random Unnamed Woman Secretary-I-Don’t-Know-What-Her-Role-Was-Meant-To-Be-That’s-Not-How-Oxbridge-Interviews-Work told Gwen she could go in for her interview was meant to make this film pass the Bechdel Test. But, honey, no, that’s not good enough. She could have easily been a professor, btw, but she wasn’t.

Peter Parker stalks Gwen and she finds this romantic. PETER PARKER STALKS GWEN AND SHE FINDS THIS ROMANTIC. NO, Hollywood! Stop putting this crap in our mouths. You want to have your hero stalk a lady, represent it as every bit as creepy as it is, and not ‘poignant’. NO, NO, NO.

Mental illness = evil. Illness that alters conventional beauty generates mental illness. People who get sick have cooties. White able-bodied men are better than everyone.

All the people in any position of power, from the unnamed people in dealing with a potential air crash in the powercut, to Harry Osborn (Dane DeHann), were white men. Harry delegates some power to Felicia (his father’s assistant, played by Felicity Jones) on a whim, but even if she is capable, her power is 100% derived from him and, as far as we are given any reason to believe, given to her because she is pretty and not currently trying to seize power from him.

And, last, but only so you can skip it if you don’t want spoilers…



The fridging. I knew (because people tell you these things) that Gwen Stacey was not slated to live that long, but this still pissed me off. I don’t care that that’s how it happened in the comics. I know fridging happens in comics, that’s how come we have a name for it. We are living in the 21st century, and if you are remaking something, you can make it BETTER and MORE SUITED to the world we now live in. The whole movie I was sitting there, trying to work out if it was going to go somewhere sexist or not. And I guess the moment Peter says he’ll go with her to England so that she can follow her dream (a totally legit thing to do that needn’t compromise his dreams in any way, as they discuss) she was doomed. Allow a woman too much agency, and she has to die to fuel the mangst. And we were treated to a longish epilogue to that effect. Not to mention the fact that Peter, for no apparent reason than just because he likes to be in control, never loses an opportunity to deny her agency. Webbing her hand to a car because she (rightly) points out that she knows more about how to solve the issue at hand than he does, is perhaps just the most painfully obvious of these.

Also, the pacing was really patchy, and the (exquisitely CGI’d and very impressive looking in terms of FX) fight scenes were too long and not punchy enough. Again, I felt like the Multiple Villain Factor was a problem – why not let Electro at least be head villain? Green  Goblin is totally up to fronting another movie.

So, there it is. I really wanted to like this. I did enjoy parts of it quite a lot. But it had a LOT of problems. And I’m kind of done making excuses for studios unthinkingly churning out this shit anymore. I’m done with saying ‘Maybe the next one will be less ableist/sexist/racist’. It’s not good enough. It doesn’t make the mark.

But do stay after the movie for the mid-credit Marvel Thang. Mistique kicking arse is a wonderful palate cleanser.

*On that note: please also be aware that this film contains strobing effects.

Posted in The Amazing Spider-man, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hugo nomination baby!

Nominated, baby!Speculative Fiction 2012 has been nominated for a Hugo!

That’s the book in which one of my posts has been published, OMG.

Whilst the nomination is really for our illustrious editors, Justin Landon and Jared Shurin, I am still tickled pink to have my essay included in something that’s been nominated for a Hugo. That’s, like, whoa.

I remember being a lonely geek girl smelling the books in WH Smith, gazing with wide eyes at books with dragons and spaceships that said on them ‘Nominated for a Hugo Award’, and I didn’t really know what that meant, but I knew it was important. The idea that my writing might be in a book nominated for such an award makes me very happy indeed.

I’m tickled pink for me and I’m tickled pink for Jared and Justin and all the other contributors, and I’m tickled for Margaret Cavendish, too – writer of the first science fiction novel whose work is frequently overlooked, and for whom my essay sought to correct an oversight of history. Recognition of SpecFic 2012 gives the essays therein a certain status, and I hope that it adds weight to my words that this should be a thing more people should be aware of, too.

So, anyway, I’m really pleased. Of course, I hope we Jared and Justin win as well, but just being nominated is beyond rad. :D :D :D

Posted in Me, Speculative Fiction 2012, The Blazing World | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Proofread Along with Rhube #4: Colons and the Rules of Grammar

An excerpt from The Legend of Catherine of GawthwateMost people find colons to be more intuitive than semi-colons, but even so, it helps to have a clear idea of when to use them, rather than just a general feeling. Some confuse them with semi-colons, or have a general uncertainty about which is appropriate and, where intuitions are confused, it’s easy to go wrong. There are also a number of myths about colons. All of which can turn something that’s actually quite straightforward to use into an intimidating nightmare.

But never fear! Rhube is here!

What I’m gonna do, first off, is give you the rules of colon use. If you follow these, you’ll be doing it right. But I’ll also go on to debunk some of the myths about colons that might be floating around confusing you about which rules are the real rules. Then I get into what this rules business is about, anyway, and my thoughts on how to walk the line of creativity vs intelligibility in the matter of using and breaking the ‘rules’.

Colons: the Rules

When to use a colon:

1. to introduce a list (such as this list)

2. to introduce an explanation or example that clarifies the clause that precedes it

The example in my excerpt from The Legend of Catherine of Gawthwate (above) performs both these functions (lists often perform an explanatory or expansive role for some aspect of the clause that precedes them):

Calith learnt all the skills he was going to need in battle: sword fighting, lances, archery and that sort of thing

This is both a clarification of the kind of skills Calith needs in order to go into battle, and a list of those skills.

Note that sometimes (usually only in non-fiction works) a colon can be used to introduce what is called ‘displayed material’. It’s ‘displayed’ in the sense that it’s set off from the rest of the text – typically by being placed on a separate line (or lines), with extra line space before and after, and often also indented (set further into the page horizontally), as is the case with the quotation above. Displayed material will perform one of the two roles listed above, but note that listed items are usually only displayed where they constitute a full proposition (statement/independent clause), rather than a single word or brief phrase. Quotations are usually only set as displayed material if they are quite long, or if they are of a form where parts of the text are divided by ‘lines’ (i.e. poetry, lyrics, plays).

Styles differ as to how displayed propositions should be treated. These can be numbered (’1, 2, 3…’, ‘i, ii, iii…’, ‘a, b, c…’) or bullet-pointed. Bullet points are less accessible (they are harder for screen readers, used by blind and visually impaired people, to process), so I try to avoid those. If you do use bullet points, some people will tell you to put a semi-colon at the end of the bullet point. Grammatically, this is wrong. Bullet points are used for independent clauses, just like semi-colons, but they render the semi-colon unnecessary – they perform the same role. However, I have been told that bullet points are made more intelligible to screen readers if used in conjunction with semi-colons, so then you have to choose between style and accessibility. I prefer not to use them at all to avoid the conflict.

Numbered lists introduced by a colon also should not have terminal punctuation. A lot of people want to use a full-stop at the end of each one. This doesn’t make sense, in that each is part of a list introduced by the colon, so they’re all part of the same sentence, and therefore shouldn’t be punctuated by full-stops. You also really ought not to include more than one sentence in one bullet point or numbered proposition (where introduced by a colon) – it’s supposed to be just one point you’re making, and if you’re using more than one sentence, you’re making more than one point. If you really feel the need, try a semi-colon instead, but where possible, consider if the point doesn’t really deserve it’s own line. Also, consider that numbered lists permit of more than one level. Your first level can be numbered ’1, 2, 3…’, and then you can have sub-lists of points dependent on 1, or 2, or 3, numbered by ‘a, b, c…’ or ‘i, ii, ii…’ (convention is to avoid using the same type of numbering more than once in your list, as this confuses the reader and inhibits your ability to refer back to numbered statements later on). Some people like to put a full-stop at the end of the final numbered statement, ending the ‘sentence’. I prefer not to. I follow OUP style, which treats displayed lists as a break in conventional punctuation, but I can see the argument the other way, and have worked with style guides that recommend that.

At the end of the day: if it’s up to you, and there is disagreement amongst style guides, pick what you like and stick to it; if you’re working for a company or person with a specific style guide, you follow the style guide, regardless of person feelings.

Colons: myths

A lot of people think that you need a capital letter after a colon. You do not. The thinking is that, when it comes to colons and semi-colons, you obey the dot at the lower level. I.e. colons have a point at the bottom, so they should be treated like full-stops, and the next letter has a capital letter; semi-colons have a comma at the bottom, so they should be treated like commas. This is misguided. There are no full-stops or commas in either colons or semi-colons. They are their own symbols, they merely resemble commas and full-stops in form. If you’re using a colon or a semi-colon then you are making the decision that you want whatever follows to be treated as part of the same sentence as what has gone before. So you don’t use a capital letter after a colon as though you were starting a new sentence.

EXCEPT, where  a colon introduces displayed material that is the start of a new sentence (typically only in quotation), OR where a colon introduces a question. Not all style guides agree on these exceptions. But the thinking is that sometimes a colon allows you to introduce a whole new sentence. This is typically only in the case of questions, because the tone of the independent clause following the colon is entirely different to the tone of the sentence prior to the colon. Prior to the colon is not a question, after the colon is, and we indicate that by using a capital letter as though it were a new sentence.

Personally, I’m inclined to never use a capital letter after a colon. However, when I’m editing, I follow the guide given. It’s like the golden rule of editing and proofreading: house style always trumps personal preferences.

Another myth is that you can also use semi-colons to introduce lists and explanatory clauses. I don’t know where this one comes from, but I suspect it originates in a desire to use semi-colons combined with an uncertainty about when to use them. Some people seem to view semi-colons as anathema, others as though they are a mark of sophistication. At the end of the day, they are neither. Colons and semi-colons are tools, and to be effective they need to have discrete roles.

Rules, flexibility, and creativity

You may be concerned about this laying-down-of-rule-ness. Didn’t I say in my first post that it’s all just convention, and a lot of the conventions conflict? Well, yes. All of language is convention, and language is by nature fluid and dynamic and always changing. The flipside of that is that we need to hold some stuff still in order to make sense of the rest of the moving masses. And, actually, as much as language is fluid, the vast majority of it is widely agreed upon within the language – that’s what distinguishes one language from another. In English, we all agree that a cat is a ‘cat’, whereas in French it’s a ‘chat’, and whilst those are similar, they are distinct, and we distinguish ourselves as language users by which group of rules we broadly stick to. And whilst larger groups of languages share similar punctuation rules, there can be some variation, there, too. So, where the English use quotation marks, the French use guillemets: « »

So, some of it is about making sure we’re all doing enough the same to be understood. Most writers are in the business of wanting to communicate with their readers as easily as possible, so it’s best to follow the central conventions of your language. When I say that something is a ‘rule’, that’s what I’m saying: that if you don’t follow it it will be jarring and/or confusing to your reader.

Sometimes, you may have a specific reason for wanting to do something even though it might be jarring to the reader – or even because it will – especially if you’re into experimentation with form and style. You just need to be sure you know why you’re doing it, and what affect you’re trying to achieve. Emily Dickenson made heavy use of the ‘dash’ in place of conventional punctuation, both to give her poems a sense of urgency and as a deliberate violation male, patriarchal restriction on female creativity. e. e. cummings’s use of lowercase and avoidance of full-stops also represent a break with tradition and a rejection of artificially imposed absolutes. These are interesting and creative innovations that have changed the way we view language today. But if you think using a semi-colon where a colon is needed sends a similarly important message, you may wish to check with yourself whether the message you intend is going to clearly come across.

I really hate the oft-asserted idea that you ‘need to know the rules before you can break them’. There’s a strong whiff of elitism about it, and I feel like it introduces an extra layer of uncertainty that inhibits creativity. Most of us have successfully internalised the majority of the rules of grammar. Human beings are really startlingly good at understanding one another and how to use at least their first language. I think if you tell people that they need to know the rules before they can break them there’s an implicit attempt (conscious or not) to control who gets to be an innovator.

I don’t think most people who say ‘You need to know the rules before you can break them’ consciously mean to inhibit other people – I think there’s a deeper, better truth, which is what they intend to convey, bundled up with this uncomfortable baggage. And this is the truth that there is a difference between making a deliberate violation of traditional grammar and simply ignoring the rules because you think they don’t matter.

It’s a fine line. It’s difficult to provide a rule for when it’s ‘OK’ to break the rules, which is why I think people go for the overly restrictive version – it’s easier to encapsulate. What is the difference between a deliberate violation of traditional grammar and simply thinking that grammar doesn’t matter? Is not thinking that traditional grammar doesn’t matter itself an act of rebellion? I think the answer is ‘In some cases’.

How I would make the judgement call is based on how likely your aim is to come across to your reader. At the end of the day, language is all about communication. You can choose to stop trying to use the form of language – the signs and syntax that are usually used for words and sentences – to try to convey meaning, but at that point, you’re no longer engaging with language at all. You just look, superficially, as though you are. As long as you’re still trying to convey something to your reader, the success of that act is still going to play a role in determining whether your methods were suitable to the task.

Text-speak is widely criticised as laziness and a failure to learn rules – always be wary of criticisms of language innovation that go in the direction from privilege and age towards the less privileged and youth, especially where they use words like ‘laziness’. But what we see is actually the development of new rules designed to facilitate a specific purpose: quick and easy communication. The users of this language group are often criticised from outside by complaints of ‘But I can’t understand a word you’re saying!’ It’s tempting to see this as satisfying my criterion of failure-to-convey-meaning, but the crucial point is that the ones who are failing to understand are not the intended recipients of the meaning. Text-speak has its own grammar and rules - rules which are understood by those who use it. Those who will not take the trouble to learn those rules when they wish to communicate with those who use it, they are the ones who are being lazy. Or, perhaps more accurately: disingenuous. For if they had really wanted to communicate, they could have learnt the rules – they are not that complicated. The ire comes not from the laziness of text-speak users, but from a frustration with being expected to learn new rules when one has already learnt a set of rules for a shared language, and from the sense that one is being excluded from communication by those to whom one expected to be able to communicate with ease.

Which, of course, is one of the purposes of text-speak: to exclude parents and the uninitiated. One can have legitimate reasons to be frustrated with being excluded from a conversation, but falling back on elitism to try and bully the other person into talking in a way you can understand is an action one should be wary of.

'Hello, world' rendered in leet-speak, lolcat, and doge.What I find particularly wonderful is that from functional adaptations, like text-speak, and deliberately exclusionary languages, like 1337 (AKA ‘Leet’), we see an evolution of language experimentation, and joyful play in other internet-languages, like lolcat, and, more recently, doge. There have even been translations of The Bible into lolcat, and a LOLCODE coding language. These are breakings of the rules of grammar with the intent to forge new ones, and for which an expression of joy and playfulness is a central component of most communications using these rules. Laziness? No, not in translating the Bible into lolcat, or devising a whole computer code in lolcat. But there is a definite intent and the rules have been broken and reforged with purpose.

And note that, although people have since retro-analysed lolcat and doge for grammar rules, these evolved organically. You can break the traditional rules of grammar without either trying to or even necessarily being able to articulate the traditional rules yourself.

But if you want to be a successful communicator with some audience, you should think about whether the way you break old rules or forge new ones is likely to communicate the desired effect upon the reader. Even if you only think about it in such as way as ‘If cats spoke, it would be with imperfect grammar and spelling’ or ‘If dogs spoke, it would be with great enthusiasm and they would be easily distracted’. Playing with languages doesn’t have to be stressful or overthought, but understanding the rules can help you to make informed judgements about when to break them.

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Eve’s Apology: A Reading for International Poetry Day

The Dream of Pilate's Wife, by Alphonse François

The Dream of Pilate’s Wife, by Alphonse François

It’s International Poetry Day! What better day to celebrate the poetry of one of the women I celebrated on International Women’s Day? Aemelia Lanyer – first female poet to be published in the English language.

Click below for a reading of her ‘Eve’s Apology’, read by me. ‘Eve’s Apology’ (here meaning ‘defence’, rather than ‘sorry about that’) is an extract from the epic poem, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum. It’s from the bit where Pilate’s wife is trying to persuade him to pardon Jesus, and Pilate thinks he can just wash his hands of the matter and put it all on the crowd. And Pilate’s wife is, like, ‘You men are always shitting on women because Eve ate the apple in the garden of Eden and then everything sucked, but bitch? We’ve suffered enough. And, frankly, it wasn’t our fault, anyway, ’cause Adam never told Eve what God said about not eating from that tree. And now you’re gonna do this, even though God sent me this dream about how crappy an idea this is? And I’ve told you my dream, so if you think you can wash your hands on this, then LOL, because men won’t have shit on women after this.’

It’s basically a massive smackdown, and you gotta listen to it to really feel the way it builds.

Read more about Aemelia Lanyer in my post for International Women’s Day.

(If you enjoy this reading, please consider putting a little something in the tip jar – it’s helps me to add a little extra to this blog.)

Posted in Aemelia Lanyer, Free Poetry, podcasts, Poetry | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment