Jenny's Library

Posts Tagged ‘fandom

My senior year of high school, I spent a good chunk of my spring semester doing what many middle class high school seniors with good grades do: I visited the colleges I’d been accepted into.

There were overnights in dorms and sitting in on classes and campus tours and social events.  The usual.

One such social event involved heading over to a dorm other than the one we were staying in and standing at an upper window while some of the boys at the school serenaded us from the ground below.  This was an annual event of some sort, the point of which I never quite figured out.  It sounded like not my kind of thing, but hardly an awful experience.

Until our host (it was was prospectives week, there were three of us staying with the same hostess that night) warned us that the year before it had turned into the boys shouting obnoxious, insulting, graphic, and profane things at the women they were supposedly meant to be complimenting.  Our hostess seemed cool about this possibility, she just wanted to let us know because it had upset some prospectives last year, so if we’d rather stay behind she’d understand.

I knew that if this happened just like she described, I would be pissed and miserable and either be seething silently the whole time, start crying, or start yelling back.  Or, more likely, start throwing shit down at the obnoxious assholes.  So I claimed I had homework to do and said I would stay behind.

Needless to say, I wasn’t in the mood to deal with people that night, so when the rest of the women came back into the room, I feigned being asleep so that I wouldn’t have to answer any annoying questions about my decision.

Instead, it turns out, I got to listen to the other girls gossiping about me.* Not our hostess, I would like to point out. I don’t remember where she was, but she wasn’t part of this conversation, just the other two prospectives.  But it was clear from the conversation that one of the other applicants did not think much of my decision.  A topic that she went on about at length.  And while she has the right to her own decisions and opinions, just like I do, there is a difference between disagreeing and having a hard time accepting that other people make choices different from yours.  Especially when those choices involve them wanting to avoid having insults hurled at them.

Until this point, this school was my top choice.  They had also offered me a scholarship – it didn’t pay for everything, but it was a decent chunk of money.  The problem was that the woman who kept rudely talking about my choices was also talking about how much she really wanted to go there.  And then there was the fact that the incident that our hostess had warned us about had not only happened in the first place, but also hadn’t resulted in any effective discipline or changed peers expectations of each other’s behavior.

So, I suppose you could say that I disagreed with the school’s and student’s decisions, and made my own choices accordingly.

For me, in the end, it worked out all right. Because I fell in love with the school that became my alma mater, and they offered me even more money than the first school did.

But not every situation like this has a happy ending.  So I think it’s important to think about what it means for people “to make [their] own choices accordingly.”  Because I could have easily had to choose between a better school, complete with scholarship, and a school that was more expensive (for me) and not as good, but at least felt safer.

For Elise Mattheson,this kind of decision has meant an almost certain loss to her yearly income.** This is not a unique situation that she finds herself in, either, it just happens to be more well known than most.  (And I appreciate her willingness to talk about it, and Natalie Luhrs for linking to her post and keeping the topic on my radar.)***

For a great many readers and viewers and creators and fans of sff, it means not going to (certain) conventions, losing out on opportunities to grow friendships, network, make sales.

Making my “own choices accordingly” is not a decision without cost.  We need to ask ourselves: “who are we asking to make these kinds of decisions, and what are we really asking them to give up?”

* Yes, I realize that this is what one gets for eavesdropping.  But still, there is a difference between trying to eavesdrop, and these other women not considering that I may not be sleeping all that soundly and TALKING ABOUT ME IN THE SAME ROOM I WAS IN.

**If you would like to help offset this loss, she currently has items up for sale, and they are gorgeous, as always.

***And to Rosefox, for bringing my attention to this latest incident via twitter.

cover image for My Little Pony: Pony Tales Volume 1My Little Pony: Pony Tales Volume 1 by Thomas Zahler, Ryan K. Lindsay, Katie Cook, Barbara Randall Kesel, Ted Anderson

The vast majority of the stories collected in this volume are simply underwhelming;  full of cliches, at times hard to follow, and surprisingly lacking in creativity for a fantasy series – even one based on a popular television show.  Sadly, this is hardly unusual. So all of this might be forgivable if it weren’t for the insulting stereotypes that several of the comics employ. Or the extent to which the book doesn’t seem to be clear on whether it’s main target audience consists of children or adults. 

When I read books for children, I expect them to present ideas in ways that make sense to children. For example, if a comic whose main audience is made up of eight year old girls includes a party in one of its stories, I expect it to focus on the kinds of things that 8 year olds usually associate with parties: cake, balloons, streamers, games.  What I don’t expect is for it to instead decide that the party will be depicted more like a college frat party.  Complete with card games instead of kid’s games, togas, lampshades on heads, a drunk Rainbow Dash, and Fluttershy looking nervous while being talked up by two male ponies.

 And yet, this is not fan art, but an actual excerpt from the comic:

inside pages from My Little Pony: Pony Tales Volume 1

It’s one thing to include jokes for adults on the sly. Or to make a work that’s enjoyable to a wide range of ages. Or to otherwise acknowledge that adults can be fans of works that are intended for kids.  It’s quite another for a comic that claims to be targeting children to completely forget who their audience is.

And it’s a completely different level of wrong for a tie-in comic for a show whose main audience consists of young girls to decide that adult men specifically need to be catered to instead of those young girls.  And for it to be done in such a way that allusions are made to young women being targeted for unwanted attention – or worse – by their male peers.

And yet this is indeed what happened – in a book marketed to children.

Children, mind you, that are too young to have the power to speak up and tell the writer or publisher if this bothers them. Children that are so young that articulating their opinions and feelings, especially about unfamiliar topics, is still quite difficult in a way that adults often forget or fail to understand.

This goes beyond merely annoying or insulting. It’s both disturbing and creepy.

IDW published this, if anyone wishes to make their feelings known to the people responsible.  I read this comic via Netgalley and so will be forwarding this review to them as requested.

The arguments against authors listing which of their works are eligible for awards confuse the hell out of me.

I’m sure a certain amount of that is me not understanding where the people making such arguments are coming from, but I also feel like there’s a lot of assumptions in many of those arguments about how people come to be Readers of the genre.  Not people who simply read books in the genre, but people who read enough and care enough that they would be willing to pay money to vote on an award.  So this post isn’t so much an argument for authors doing anything in particular as it is an attempt to banish those assumptions.

Point the First:

To say that “speculative fiction has always had a very permeable barrier between fan and pro” (as Martin Lewis does in his post on the topic)  is not only understating the case, but describes the dynamic in a way that does nothing to illuminate how fan-author interactions actually work in a world in which the internet exists.

I’ve mentioned before that the internet is the reason that I started reading science fiction and fantasy again, after having stopped in my teens.

This is an exaggeration, of course, as I never really stopped reading speculative fiction entirely.  What actually happened is that it ceased to be the bulk of what I read, and instead became something I occasionally read, often with a significant amount of caution.  The reason for this being that every bookstore that I walked into was happy to promote works by male authors that wrote about manly men who did manly things (which tended to include treating women like shit), and appeared utterly oblivious to the fact that women read and wrote in this genre as well. Even worse, as I transitioned from children’s books to adult books, it became increasingly difficult to avoid stumbling across books that, quite frankly, were deeply NOT FUN because of the way they depicted gender and adult relationships.  A problem made worse by the way that female writers were marginalized by the publishers and bookstores, because, in the absence of any sort of feminist analysis in reviews and promotional materials, my best bet at avoiding those books was to look for the female authors that were so hard to find.

It’s also more accurate to say that the internet is how I began to find adult speculative fiction.  I was working in a bookstore and reading all kinds of teen and middle grade speculative fiction when I first began seriously using the internet as a tool for finding books.  This was back in the mid oughts, when people outside of young adult literature were beginning to notice that young adult fiction had really taken off.  Right in the middle of Harry Potter Midnight Magic Parties (I worked two of them).

What’s is true and important about this story is that despite always being a reader, despite having read The Lord of the Rings in elementary school, despite reading middle grade and young adult speculative fiction at the time, I didn’t start looking for adult speculative fiction on purpose. I stumbled across it.

I’d just began watching Criminal Minds, of all things, having caught some episodes in reruns over the summer.  Curious to see if anyone else had thought about how the show played with gender, I typed a few words into google and stumbled across Elizabeth Bear’s livejournal.  I started out reading her posts about Criminal Minds, and ended up reading her books.  I also found other people to talk about books with!  People who listened to what I said and didn’t try to tell me that what I really needed to do was read [author that I’ve tried and whose books left me feeling slightly ill]. It was amazing and, I have to admit, slightly life-changing.

What’s is true and important about this story is that I found Bear’s books because she talked about them, not because other people did.

I found joy in reading adult speculative fiction again because that barrier that Lewis mentioned is permeable, not despite it.  My first experiences with discussing adult speculative fiction in a way that did not make me feel small or silenced involved authors discussing their own works.  So this idea that authors discussing their own works taints the discussion by definition is not one that I understand.  It can certainly happen – and does happen often. But I also honestly cannot imagine finding speculative fiction nearly as interesting without having access to essays and posts and tweets about it – about their own work even – by women like Amal El-Mohtar, Kate Elliot, Kameron Hurley, Sylvia Kelso, Lois McMaster Bujold, N.K. Jemison…and well, you get the idea.

Now, I’m not saying this dynamic doesn’t change at all when one is talking about awards – the power differential matters a lot more, for starters – I’m just trying to explain why “awards are for readers and not authors” is not an argument that makes sense to me.  Not just because these aren’t clear distinctions, but because my experience has been that my options as a reader are improved when authors have more options as well.

Point the Second:

Anyone who thinks that every author who posts an eligibility list is “lobbying for awards” (as Martin Lewis calls it) or “self-pimpage” (as Adam Roberts does*) doesn’t understand how imposter syndrome works.  (I’m guessing they also aren’t reading the twitter feeds of the women who are talking about this.)  I can’t think of a time that I’ve submitted my art somewhere because I thought it was the best or expected it to get chosen.  I submit it for the same reason I attempted rock climbing and hiking Angel’s Landing, even though I knew I’d chicken out of both: because there’s more value in failing than there is in never trying.

My guess is that for a lot of the authors making these posts – women in particular – they are not so much about trying to convince readers to nominate and vote for them as it is an attempt to remind readers who are about to get busy talking about all the usual names that they still exist and would you please remember to read me too?  They are lobbying for themselves, yes, but it would be more accurate to say that they are lobbying to be read and discussed, to be considered rather than forgotten.

You can see this dynamic happening in the discussions on twitter, where an author will say something about not being sure about if they should put up such a post, and other people – readers and writers both, and often women – will rush in to encourage them to do so.  The value of those posts is as much in that exchange as it is in the posts themselves.

Point the Third:

To me, Amal El-Mohtar’s argument about diversity isn’t really about who is getting nominated for this specific round of the Hugos, etc.  It’s about how people see themselves and the choices they make because of that.

I tried out for the soccer team my first year of college, despite being far too out of shape to have a chance. On the first day, when we were doing timed laps and I was not only the last person in, but struggling to make it to the end of the run long after everyone else was done, the rest of the women trying out began cheering me on.  One of the senior team members jogged back onto to track and ran the rest of the way with me, making sure I didn’t give up.  I didn’t make the soccer team.  I didn’t even make it to the end of try-outs.  But I carried that moment with me for the rest of my time at school. The knowledge that the women around me wanted me to do well kept me going far beyond that one run.

Roberts may see people in an arms race and trying to “level the playing field.”  I see people helping each other, affirming that they want others to do well.

This discussion isn’t just about authors, either. It’s also about readers like me. And whether the books I read and like deserve to be part of the discussion, to be considered or not.  About whether my opinions have merit, or whether I should leave the serious discussions to the people that can be more “objective.”  To the people who were part of the discussions back in the good old days when awards were about merit – and I didn’t even bother reading adult speculative fiction because I had no idea how to find books that didn’t insult me.

Conclusion:

There’s been a lot of changes to publishing in the last few decades, and I don’t doubt that their impact on awards hasn’t been entirely positive.  The problem is that these changes have been also useful for a lot of readers like myself.  There seems to me to be a lot of focus on judging authors actions in reaction to these changes rather than actually looking at the system as a whole.  There also seem to be a lot of potentially good arguments about wanting to focus on literature being sidetracked by the assumption that the status quo is neutral. Not to mention the implication that those of us who appreciate reminders, or can’t devote enough time to keep track of this all by ourselves, are somehow polluting the process by participating. Which leaves me feeling like I’m being told it would have been better if I’d never joined the discussion – and a lot of other people whom I disagree with, but who I suspect have good ideas, sounding rather defeated.

It would be nice if we could move the discussion past this, but I admit that I’m not sure how to do that.**

*Am I the only one who went O.o at that phrasing?  Perhaps it’s just the experience of coming to this as a woman, and therefore as someone who runs the risk of being called a “whore” in the literal sense, but that…was really not the way to convince the people who are in favor of eligibility posts that you aren’t being blind to how differing experience and privilege affects how people approach this issue.

** I do want to give props to the people who have put together the Hugo Award Eligible Art(ists) tumblr.  I don’t think that I’m ever going to be against artists talking about their own work in their own space, but as a reader and fan this kind of project is really what I find to be most useful.  It’s also a good example of how focusing only on what authors should and shouldn’t do is really limiting our discussion – and consequently our solutions as well.

I have a confession to make: I’m quite sexist at times.

I blame myself when random men on the street harass me. I think I’m an awful person for being as fat and out of shape as I am. I wonder if I’m really any good at science and math. I worry that I’m wasting my talents working with children.

I think that what I have to say isn’t important or useful.

This is why I call out sexist assholes. Why I let my anger color my voice when I do.

I do it so that I don’t explode. So that the doubts in my head don’t take over. Because it’s a better choice than razor blades.

I don’t do it for them or for you, I do it for me. Because sometimes I need to hear the truth spoken out loud, even if it’s just me saying it.

I don’t use my anger to purge myself, I use it as an affirmation.

I don’t need to justify my anger to you. It doesn’t exist for your benefit.
It most especially doesn’t need to pressed, folded, and packed into a form that pleases you. It doesn’t need to be locked away so that you aren’t disturbed or frightened or “saddened.”

It’s not a weakness or a poison. It’s the stubbornness that keeps me going when people treat me like shit. It’s the sense of righteousness that placed twelve year old me between the bully and his target before I’d even realized what I’d done.

Most of all though, it just is. It’s there the same way that happiness is. The same way that I like pickles and geometry. Or the way my brain never seems to shut off.

I’ve had this temper of mine all my life and I don’t need you to teach me how and when to reign it in, I learned that from my parents. I don’t need you to show me how to make it work with me and not against me, I figured that out on my own while standing on the field in my cleats and giving death glares to the ref who missed my teammate being fouled. I’ve known how to use it to make myself faster, sharper, stronger for almost as long as I’ve known how to read.

I don’t need you to tell me what my anger is good for.

I don’t need you to tell me that I’m not being polite. That I’m not convincing you. That I’m only making myself look bad.

I’m not angry for your benefit. I do not exist for your benefit. When I speak, I do not do so for your benefit.

Except for the times that I do.

Not because I’m trying to convince you that I’m right dammit!, but because I’m trying to convince you that you are. That you are awesome and wonderful and please never stop being that way. When I’m letting you know that, as far as I’m concerned, all those sexist, racist, homophobic, ableist, classist, and transphobic assholes who even dare to imply otherwise can go take a long walk off a short pier.

The privileged may think that they’re always the center of every conversation that women have about sexism. They may be incapable of comprehending that they are not the focus of every discussion that people of color have about racism. But you and I both know that not every “you” is about them. That not every conversation has to include them, sway them, or plead with them in order to be productive.

That’s the fucking point.

Communities and conversations do not belong to them and them alone. They are not theirs to hold hostage when we misbehave.

They may think that we are the ones that turn everything into a battle. That we invade their world and divide it into groups to which they don’t belong. But we know that all we are doing is taking the war that has been waged on our bodies, our hearts, and our minds and forcing it back into the space we all share, where it belongs. Where it can be dealt with without tearing us apart from the inside. We know that we have always been here, just like them, and that it’s their choice to refuse to meet us as equals.
I don’t expect everyone to be perfect. I don’t expect people to never make mistakes. Goodness knows I make plenty of them myself.

What I ask is that you remember that there are all kinds of “yous” in this world and in our organizations. That you contemplate that just maybe you aren’t who I’m taking to every time I open my mouth. That you aren’t the person I’m primarily addressing when I point out hate and bias and stereotypes.

But most of all, that you not let the Bryan Thomas Schmidts of the world tell you that you aren’t. Don’t let them trick you into thinking that they are the only ones that need to be persuaded, as if we were merely humble petitioners. Don’t let them confuse you into thinking that I wrote this post for anyone but you.

cover image for LiarEverybody lies.  We say that we adore gifts that we hate, profess delight in meals that are lacking, and assure our parents that yes, our homework is all done.  For most of us, the lying ends there.  Not for Micah though, she doesn’t just tell the occasional white lie, she’s a compulsive liar.  “But [she’s] going to stop.”  She has to.  So pay attention, because she’s going to tell you the truth and she’s “going to tell it straight.  No lies, no omissions.”

Layer by layer, Larbalestier peels back Micah’s deceptions to expose the truth and banish the lies, but they are rarely what you’d expect.  Micah doesn’t pretend to know bands that she has never heard of, claim to own trophies that she never earned, or fake an illness to get out of class.  Rather, she decides to wear a Venetian mask to school – and forges a doctor’s note to justify it.

There is a peculiar and unexpected honesty in Micah’s fibs.  False as they are, they also let her push against the edges of conformity and let Micah be herself without forcing her to claim to know who she is when she doesn’t yet.   At the same time, they also act as role to play and hide behind – even from herself.

When her friend Zach disappears, however, Micah discovers that her lies might finally cost her more than just the goodwill of her peers.  No longer simply a cathartic confession of past sins, Liar quickly becomes an especially twisted kind of mystery, with Micah’s admissions of falsehood and guilt taking on the urgency of someone both digging for the truth and fighting for survival.

The twists and turns that Micah’s story takes also do more than keep readers on their toes. Because of the way that the story is structured, the lies rely as much on our assumptions of what constitutes normalcy as they do on Micah’s audacity. It’s beyond brilliant, exceptionally appropriate in a novel for young adults, and Larbalestier deserves nothing but praise for pulling it off.

This is a novel that, like Micah, refuses to be boxed in.  It’s not simply that it flirts with genres the same way that Micah plays with her identity.  Rather, like Micah herself, how you classify it and how much you enjoy it will greatly depend on which parts of her story you choose to believe.

Larbalestier’s clear understanding of the fandom traditions of genre fiction bleed onto the page, demanding that the conversation expand beyond the reading of the book itself.  Liar is a novel that is meant to be talked about, it’s value and interest is fundamentally tied to comparing notes and possibilities afterwards.  The obvious conundrum is that spoilers for a book such as this – even mild ones – would also impose points of view that would limit the discussions afterwards.

So when I tell you that you must read it – and now – know that I say this not just because I adored it, nor because it is lacking flaws, but because I am eager to hear what you thought of it.

Larbalestier, Justine. (2009). Liar. NewYork: Bloomsbury.

Best for Ages: 14-18

Find the Author @:

http://justinelarbalestier.com/

@JustineLavaworm