Proofread Along with Rhube: em-dashes, en-dashes, and hyphens

The three dashes.

A screencap from Word, because WordPress doesn’t believe in differentiating dashes.

If you’re anything like I was, you learned everything you know about these babies from reading, and you just think of all of these things as ‘dashes’. When you write stories or papers and you want to use a dash, you just type ‘ – ‘ and let Word either change it to a longer or a shorter dash as it wills, and occasionally wonder what kind of arcane mysteries govern its decisions. You may also have seen some people type ‘- -‘ and either not known why they were doing that, or assumed that they were privy to some mystery of Proper Writing that is lost on you.

So, here it is, I’m gonna let you in on the arcane mysteries. Like so many things, it turns out they’re pretty mundane. But you can’t know this until someone tells you.

Definitions

First up, let’s get the low-down on what terms apply to what. We’ll do this in size order (which will be a little frustrating, as Word Press only believes in one size of dash, but bear with me.)

Hyphens: ‘Smith-Jones’, ‘non-fat’, ‘well-adjusted’, ‘pp. 37-40′

Hyphens are the smallest of the dash family. Their purpose is to join two words or to suggest a very close relation between the two, whilst preserving some sense of distance. There are a host of rules of usage (some disputed), but for now, just get a hold of the kind of thing we mean – the smallest dash, used to join two or more words in a relationship closer than they would have separately.

En-dashes: ‘Jensen – for that was his name – yelled dramatically:’, ‘I don’t know – you see… I give up,’, ‘pp. 37-40′, ‘mind-body distinction’

Illustration of hyphen vs en-dash in joinging words.

Illustration of hyphen vs en-dash in joining words.

These are represented as longer than a hyphen, but shorter than an em-dash, and are usually presented with a space on either side. Their role is chiefly parenthetical, or used to indicate a break in conventional punctuation. However, they are also sometimes used in page ranges (e.g. ‘pp. 37-40′), instead of a hyphen, and they can be used to join two words in a way that indicates tension and opposition. So, if I were engaging with the philosophical debate about whether the mental and the physical are two distinct substances, I would use an en-dash for writing about ‘the mind-body distinction’, in contrast to talking about ‘mind-body identity’, where I would use a hyphen . This is one of those niceties of grammar that is rarely engaged with online, as many platforms, like Word Press, do not make it possible to visually indicate the difference between tension and association, and it can be easily worked out from context. If I’m proofreading an academic article, though, this is one of the things I look out for.

Em-dashes: ‘Jensen-for that was his name-yelled dramatically:’, ‘I don’t know-you see… I give up,’

Illustration of em-dashes in use.

Illustration of em-dashes in use.

Unfortunately, the length of the dash really is important when you get to em-dashes. An em-dash is the longest of the dashes, and is used to mark parenthetical statements and breaks in conventional punctuation. It is presented without a space on either side, which makes it look a bit strange if the programme you’re using doesn’t believe in distinguishing dashes by length. This is why you’ll see some people writing ‘- -‘ when they mean to use an em-dash. It used to be standard manuscript format to use two dashes to represent an em-dash, which is a hold-over from typewriters. Typewriters typically did not have distinct keys for the type of dash to be used, but printers still distinguished between hyphens, en-dashes, and em-dashes. So authors would use ‘- -‘ as a way of indicating to the typesetter and/or copy-editor that they meant an em-dash. This has led a lot of people to suppose that two-dashes-with-no-space is an em-dash, but it’s not. It’s a representation of an em-dash. Very few publishing houses now want to see ‘- -‘ when what the author wants is an en- or em-dash, as most writing programmes allow authors to insert the correct symbol directly into their documents. But as with anything, if you’re unsure, check what the submission guidelines say.

When to use what

We’ve covered a little of this, but there’s a difference between when you can use a symbol and when you might want to, and why.

Em-dashes are pretty straightforward. They are usually used in place of curved brackets, ‘(‘ and ‘)’, or parenthetical commas, or to indicate a break in conventional punctuation. So, let’s call these uses ‘parenthetical em-dashes’ and ‘break em-dashes’. (Note: these points also apply to en-dashs, ‘ – ‘, where the en-dash is performing a parenthetical role or grammar breaking role.)

1. Why would I use a parenthetical em-dash?

Well, a parenthetical remark is one that explains or qualifies the main subject matter of the sentence, but is set off from the main subject matter of the sentence itself. You could remove the parenthetical remark and the rest of the sentence would be unchanged. Traditionally, parenthetical remarks are indicated by parentheses, also called ‘brackets’, because they ‘bracket’ the remark as separate to the rest of the sentence. You’ll be familiar with the following brackets from your keyboard: (), {}, [], <>. In most forms of non-technical writing you will only see curved brackets, ‘(x)’, and square brackets, ‘[x]‘. Square brackets are less common, and are typically used to introduce clarificatory additions to quotations whilst making it clear that the inserted text didn’t appear in the quotation itself. For example, if the quotation is ‘He said it was free!’, but I want to make it clearer who ‘he’ is, I might write, ‘[Angus] said it was free!’ or ‘He [Angus] said it was free!’.

Em-dashes cannot be used to replace square brackets – you wouldn’t be able to tell which em-dashes were originally part of the text and which were not! But you can use them to replace curved brackets. In the example above, we could just as easily have written:

Jensen (for that was his name) yelled dramatically:

This has become less fashionable. Using curved brackets has come to feel ‘formal’ and for some readers comes across as breaking up the sentence too harshly. Other writers think that em-dashes are inappropriate for formal work, and would only use parentheses. Unless your style guide says otherwise (and I’ve never seen one that did) both are fine. I use both, generally making decisions based on tone – how ‘cut off’ from the rest of the sentence do you want your aside to feel? – or clarity.

Unlike brackets, em-dashes don’t have to come in pairs, and nothing in the symbol differentiates an open-em-dash from a close-em-dash. It’s just a line. If your aside comes at the end of a sentence you can just finish with a full-stop. As em-dashes are also used for non-parenthetical reasons, the use of the em-dash is worked out from context. For these reasons, you should never use em-dashes within em-dashes. For example, this is too confusing to read:

Jensen – for that was his name – a very fine name at that – yelled dramatically:*

By contrast, with brackets, you can do this:

Jensen (for that was his name – a very fine name at that) yelled dramatically:

I mean, don’t get me wrong, this is not a great sentence and if you’re using parentheses within parentheses you should always consider whether there’s a neater way to accomplish what you’re after, but one of these sentences is easier on the eyes than the other.

Another alternative to using em-dashes for parenthetical statements is the humble comma. This is absolutely fine:

Jenson, for that was his name, yelled dramatically:

Some people have a deep aversion to anything but commas, believing that even em-dashes break up the flow of a sentence too much. For simple cases like the above, that’s fine, but for complex sentences an em-dash can be a blessed relief to a puzzled reader. The trouble is, commas perform many roles, and it isn’t always obvious whether a comma is ending a clause, separating a list item, or performing a parenthetical role. Take this, for example, from one of my WiPs:

The light level rose – courtesy of the computer, she supposed – and Verity stood and waved a hand.

If we replaced the em-dashes with commas, we get this:

The light level rose, courtesy of the computer, she supposed, and Verity stood and waved a hand.

You can read it, but it’s just more helpful for the reader if you make it clearer that the ‘and’ is conjoining ‘Verity stood and waved a hand’ to ‘The light level rose’ and not ‘courtesy of the computer’ or ‘she supposed’.

As with all writing, you want to think about the impression you want to make on your reader, and you want to convey that impression with the least interruption. Choosing commas, brackets, or em-dashes to indicate your parenthetical remark is all about what impression you want to create.

2. Why use a break em-dash?

This style of writing owes a lot to Emily Dickinson. Although dashes had been used in writing before – punctuation was pretty free-form before the 19th Century – Dickinson used dashes in her poems deliberately as a way of breaking free of the strictures of society – particularly male-defined society. This use – using dashes to indicate a deliberate break in grammatical sentence structure – has become very popular since then in fiction, although it is generally regarded as less appropriate for formal non-fiction and academic writing.

Whilst the usage is rarely an attempt to undermine the patriarchy in quite the manner Dickinson intended, using a dash to indicate a break in your character’s train of thought or speech pattern can be very effective. It can also be useful if your writing has a more poetical tone – leaping from point to point in a disconnected fashion can convey a sense of urgency, or disconnectedness, or confusion. Some examples from my WiPs:

Speech:

“I – I was gonna ask you if you were interested in catching a coffee, or something, sometime – or, well obviously not a coffee, but, you know, a drink – I could have a coffee, and you could have a frappuccino, or – or something.”

Poetic/sudden break:

Shadows shone with dry desert light in a rubbish of glass-song gibberish that clutches in the broken images and –

And gone again.

One final point: both em- and en-dashes are sometimes used to indicate a break at the end of a paragraph, usually in speech. With em-dashes, this is straightforward. You just put an em-dash immediately after the last word in the paragraph. With en-dashes, you face a choice: put the en-dash immediately after the word, or insert a space between the end of the word and the en-dash. And if it’s speech, you also have to decide whether to put the quotation mark immediately after the en-dash, or to insert a space between them:

and-

and –

and-”

and- ”

and -”

and – “

I’d say either of the first two is fine, and the third and the last are fine. You’re basically deciding between treating it like an ordinary en-dash, with a space either side, or not.  A space only on one side doesn’t make sense. Apart from that… either option is fine, but your publisher will have a preference. As a writer, just be consistent. Your copy-editor will do the rest. But I would make a plea for you to use an en-dash, and not a hyphen, in these cases.

So, that’s em-dashes (and most en-dashes) for you. Let’s talk about hyphens.

Hyphenated words. Non-fat. Well-adjusted. Anti-deontologicalism. Kestrel-like.

OK. Like so many things with grammar, there is disagreement, and if your publisher says one thing, you do that thing. Some publishers really like solid compounds and want you to use them wherever possible. Some really like hyphens, and will want you to use them wherever possible. You probably have some intuitions about this yourself. But where does this ‘wherever possible’ come from? Well, the dictionary. Some words are just solid compounds and some just aren’t. Werewolf isn’t were-wolf, but were-cat might be either, depending on preference. Well-adjusted is never welladjusted.

So, here are a few helpful rules. As usual, my touchstone is the Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors.

Non-

ODWE prefers for ‘non’ to by hyphenated in most compounds, but not all. When in doubt, get down your dictionary of choice and see what it says! As a writer, consistency is what will make you look professional.

Well-

Hyphenate when attributive but two separate words when used with participal adjectives after the verb. Ugh. That’s technical. Here’s the trick: look for the verb – the doing word – and see where the ‘well’ is in reference to that. If the ‘well’ compound is after the verb, it’s two separate words, no hyphen; when it’s before, it’s hyphenated. Some examples:

He is well adjusted.

‘is’ is the verb, so two words, no hyphen.

Well-adjusted teenagers become happier adults.

‘become’ is the verb, so a hyphenated compound.

Anti-

This varies, so I really would check the dictionary when in doubt, but in general: forms a solid compound where the compound is sufficiently established to be regarded as a thing in its own right (e.g. antibody, antibiotic), but where the meaning is established purely as against some established thing, use a hyphenated compound (e.g. anti-abortion, anti-racist, anti-deontologicalism).

-like

Solid compounds where the word is established (e.g. lawlike, lifelike), except where the first part ends in an ‘l’. For novel compounds, hyphenate (e.g. Kestrel-like).

Apart from that… the dictionary is your friend. Don’t be afraid of looking things up!

But how do I make Word behave?

Word is not reliable at following the rules for hyphens/en-dashes/em-dashes. It’s just a computer programme. If you want your writing to come out neat and profressional, I recommend getting the hang of your keyboard shortcuts. These are the default keys to press:

Em-dash: ctrl, alt, and the ‘-‘ symbol on the number pad.

En-dash: ctrl and the ‘-‘ symbol on the number pad.

Hyphen… is just your usual ‘-‘ symbol on the main part of your keyboard.

Now, not every computer has a number pad, but you can set your own computer short-cut in the following way:

In Word, go to the ‘Insert’ tab and click ‘Symbol’ on the far right. Select ‘More symbols’ from the drop-down menu. A window will appear. Click the ‘Special characters’ tab. Select the symbol you want to change and click ‘Shortcut key…’. Select the shortcut you want to change, then enter the keys you want for your shortcut into the ‘Press new shortcut key’ box.  Click ‘Assign’. And you’re done.

Hopefully now you’ll be free to use hyphens, en-dashes, and em-dashes with confidence :D

*I’m using space-en-dash-space here as that’s clearer to read online.

(P.S. If you like this advice and find it useful, please consider donating using the link in the sidebar.)

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Check it out: Rhubosphere Web Portal

A screencap of my website.

Hey, hey, hey! Wanna see what I get up to on the rest of the web?

I would like to cordially invite you to enjoy my website, where you will find:

For instance: did you know I had a YouTube channel? At the moment it mostly consists of a bunch of fanvids and random videos I’ve made showing people my vegetables, experimenting with my equipment, and getting drunk alone. But next year I plan to launch an introduction to philosophy webseries and other cool stuff. (And maybe learn to make better fanvids…)

Anyway, check it out, and remember, if you get kicks out of what I do and want to reward me, there’s a tip jar over over in the sidebar that would very much welcome your contribution.

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Manfeels Park

Comic panel from Manfeels Park.I haven’t reviewed a comic in a while, and given that I’m entertaining myself with this one whilst I wait for the painkillers to kick in, a review only seemed fair.

Manfeels Park is the creation of Mo and Erin. It can be viewed either on the website, www.manfeels-park.com, or on the Tumblr, manfeels-park.tumblr.com . It consists in taking found comments – ridiculous male responses to feminism – and presenting them as though spoken by Jane Austen characters, using tracings from stills of adaptations from film and TV (chiefly, but not solely, the iconic 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice).

The name, Manfeels Park, is a pun on the Jane Austen novel, Mansfield Park, and the term ‘manfeels’, used to lampoon male complaints against feminism that are distinguished by expressing exaggerated pain for minor ills and the demand that the focus of feminist campaigns be diverted to deal with male issues – sometimes also referred to as ‘male tears‘.

I’ve sometimes been on the edge about terms like ‘male tears’ or ‘manfeels’. As someone whose anti-prejudice politics stems from merciless bullying at school, I instinctively withdraw from anything that involves poking fun at the pain of others. However, I have come to understand more and more quite how much male privilege is founded upon belittling the pain and discrimination women experience, persuading us to be silent about the abuses conducted upon us, and insisting that we put the pain of others before our own. This is a theme of interaction that interferes in every aspect of life: that daughters are interrupted by their parents more than sons; that women speaking only 30% of the time are perceived as dominating the conversation; that the YA genre is dominated by cis gender male characters, but perceived as dominated by women and girls because 33% of main characters are cis girls; that Anita Sarkeesian can be driven from her house by threats against herself and her family for offering an academic critique of gaming culture; that when women are raped, the media focuses on the loss of opportunities for the rapist and blames the woman as the cause of this.

Whilst I cannot condone actively hounding an individual for behaving in a childishly selfish and sexist manner, I have come to appreciate that mocking of the ridiculousness of men who insist they are worse off than women has become a vital outlet. Just as Valerie Solanas’s SCUM Manifesto, from the 60s, should not be taken as a literal call to ‘cut up men’, feminist mocking of ‘male tears’ is not directed at minimising male pain; rather, it is a call to recognise the ridiculousness of the discrepancy between slights actually experienced by men and the assertions made by so-called ‘Men’s Rights Activists’ that they receive discrimination far in excess of women.

If we don’t laugh, we’ll cry. And we are done crying.

As far as pokes at ‘male tears’ go, Manfeels Park is light-hearted, gentle mockery, and mockery that has no need to exaggerate. The text of the comics is drawn from the words of men themselves, and occasionally from the wittily underwhelmed responses of their women conversational partners. The Jane-Austen-style regency framing for these remarks provides the perfect context to both highlight how outdated the thoughts behind them are, and for setting the viewer in the mindset of social commentary and satire.

Panel from the comic 'Legitimate snak'.It’s also empowering for the woman reader to see their own feeling of askance echoed by a raised eyebrow from no less a figure than Lizzie Bennet; to hear a witty comeback to modern misogyny in her voice, backed by the authority of the world-renowned Jane Austen; to have a comic panel dealing with street harassment express the incredulity of female observers to the ridiculous defences men give of such behaviour by presenting five women’s sceptical looks to those of three men, and to do so via the mechanism of an iconic scene.

I also enjoy that the comments section is titled ‘Next Week on Manfeels Park…’, correctly predicting that the comic will be regularly commented upon by men who exemplify exactly what is being critiqued.

If you enjoy light-hearted mocking of the patriarchy, I really can’t recommend Manfeels Park enough.

(Countdown to fulfillment of Lewis’s Law in 3, 2, 1…)

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Speculative Fiction 2012 wins British Fantasy Society Award!

Me and Speculative Fiction 2012I’m super thrilled to say that Speculative Fiction 2012 won the British Fantasy Society Award for Non-Fiction today. As regular readers will be aware, my post, ‘Remembering Margaret Cavendish‘, was published in this volume as one of the fifty ‘best online reviews, essays and commentary’ on the speculative genre in 2012. Obviously, it’s pretty awesome for me to have had my work published in a volume that has won such a prestigious award. And I’m stoked for Margaret Cavendish, as well, who only desired fame, and has been wrongfully denied her place in our memories as the first writer of science fiction (in the European tradition, at least). But more than anything, I’m thrilled for Jared Shurin and Justin Landon, our simply amazing editors.

Jared and Justin collected together a really incredible selection of essays that you really all should read. More than that, they have modestly and generously been consistent in sharing their praise with their contributors, including sending us specially commissioned artwork to commemorate the Hugo nomination. I’ve joked about sharing a 50th of a Hugo nomination, I could joke about sharing a 50th of a BFS Award, but the truth is that this is a really well deserved win for the two of them, without whom the collection would never have come into existence, and without whom my little essay would never have seen print, or had the recognition it has had since. They deserve every bit of this award, and I’m really just stoked that it has come through.

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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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