I told myself I wouldn’t write this essay. I’m not a fan of publicly criticizing another writer’s work, particularly a living author’s work. I’ll never do that to anyone. It’s not cool, and it’s definitely not professional. However, there’s a distinction between criticizing a work in order to make yourself look bigger and genuinely criticizing a work because it’s a culturally significant piece requiring extensive deconstruction in order to examine its effect upon those who it is supposedly supporting. I’ve had this discussion with other authors who happen to be women—and well…it’s time, guys. I’ll add that if you’re a fan of the novels I’m about to discuss, no matter your gender, good for you. I’m happy you found something you enjoy. That’s what SF fandom is all about: finding the thing you love. I don’t disrespect fans for their fandom. Therefore, the following is not a personal attack. It doesn’t mean the author is a bad person, either. It doesn’t even mean that the series in question should never have gotten published. Got it? Cool. [deep breath] Now, let’s do this. [Read more…]
I am a Guillermo del Toro fan. Mind you, I didn’t discover him until Pan’s Labyrinth in 2006, but I made up for it. (And if you haven’t seen The Devil’s Backbone and The Orphanage, you absolutely should.) So, when I heard he was doing a Creature From the Black Lagoon kind of film with extra-added romance, I was all in. The preview can be found here.
My expectations, based upon the trailer, were something between Creature From the Black Lagoon and Edward Scissorhands. I thought it would be creepy and sad because that’s Guillermo del Toro’s work, and he does it very, very well. However, this time I was surprised. The film is gorgeous. All his films tend to be, and it’s obvious that every visual aspect is carefully chosen. The creature makeup and design was exactly right. The costumes are impeccable. I think the film is set in 1961 or possibly 1962. The cast is amazing, and I was very happy to see Octavia Spencer. She’s wonderful as Zelda Fuller, Elisa Esposito’s coworker. Interestingly enough, this film is a Feminist one—unlike the original Creature From the Black Lagoon which features a monster kidnapping a white woman so he can have his way with her and a hero who must save her from being plundered. In this case, the two roles are switched. The villain in The Shape of Water is played by Michael Shannon and is a walking, talking sack of toxic masculinity which particularly fits the era—a time when square-jawed heroes featured heavily in film and literature. It was nice to see that role as the antagonist. Even the Russians (the standard Big Bad of the ’50s and ’60s) weren’t as awful. I appreciated that. [Read more…]
The other day I heard a rumor about DC’s future plans for Wonder Woman that really pissed me off: the writers are considering ‘shipping Wonder Woman with Bruce Wayne. On the surface, that sounds harmless enough—that is, until you consider this thing called “context.” With that in mind, I’m going to make an unambiguous statement.
Repeatedly demonstrating via story (in media and literature) that women are not complete beings without being in a relationship with a man is damaging. It props up patriarchal narratives on the non-value of women. It reduces them to one fate: being the property of a man.
“OMG! How can you say that, Stina? Aren’t you married?” Why, yes, I am. I’m all for relationships in general. They make humans more empathetic. We don’t live in a world filled with an overabundance of love and empathy. Let’s have more, please! Confused? Let’s go back to that ‘context’ word. You see, there’s a reason that two of the most powerful fictional women on television when I was a child (Samantha from Bewitched and Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie) had their powers taken from them and/or were severely restricted when they married. [Read more…]
“And so we drift in space… with only hatred and bloodshed aboard.”
—Captain Kirk, “Day of the Dove,” Star Trek 1968
2017 has been a hard year to be a writer and not only because the Trump administration has been doing its best to remove all options for affordable, effective healthcare—something that freelancers depend upon entirely (and all professional fiction writers are, in fact, freelancers)—but also because with horrific event after horrific threat (Hello, North Korea), fiction writing begins to feel superfluous. Worse, if you’re like me and you enjoy writing stories about people trying to be their best selves in extreme situations like war, then you start to wonder if you’re contributing to the problem. They’ve been daunting, these thoughts. The only ray of light is the knowledge that I’m not the only one.
In any case, I needed to stop thinking about the shooting in Las Vegas for a while. Star Trek, particularly original Trek, is comfort viewing. Interestingly enough, the episode I happened upon was one of the particularly fitting ones. It’s titled Day of the Dove.
I’m a Stephen King fan. He’s not perfect. No writer is. To this day, I still love his work. Anyway, I read IT ages ago, and the book gave me nightmares. My experience with the book was mostly positive. Mostly. One of the things that I like about King is that his characters often choose to be their better selves under dire circumstances. Also, in The Stephen King-verse, violence isn’t always the answer. I adore that. Of course, this philosophy complicates the task of writing a satisfying ending. Audiences want to see the Big Bad™ roughed up. This is why employing “Love defeats Hate” isn’t a simple or easy way to write a story. And this is why the end of IT…stumbles. To make matters worse, the novel suffers from one of the worst tropes when it comes to female characters: the “Woman equals Love” trope, even the children’s part of the story. The newest movie has similar issues, but at least it didn’t involve raping an eleven/twelve year old girl. I do like the novel—just not that part of it. Which is why I was relieved it wasn’t in this movie. (Thank the gods.) [Read more…]
There are many tools one can use for worldbuilding. A lot of them aren’t obvious to the reader—and in fact, I’d venture to say that the most effective techniques are those the reader doesn’t notice. This is how real life works. For example: events and cultural distinctions clearly affecting the world and those living in it but no one openly discusses are a big factor in everyday life. Another of these hidden opportunities for worldbuilding involves secondary characters. One of the things I aspire to do is to populate my stories with any number of interesting characters capable of taking over the narrative. (Not that I let them.) Not only does it give the main characters people to interact with and thus further the plot, it’s realistic. Each of us thinks of ourselves as the main character of our story. Point of view characters in a novel are no different. However, we aren’t the only main character. Every “secondary character” we meet—doctors, neighbors, people on the street—is the main character of their own story in which we are the secondary character. That’s reality. In addition, well-developed secondary characters will sometimes alter the main character’s perspective of the world. This, too, is how the real world works. How many times have you encountered someone whose perspective on a situation altered your own? If you’re like me, quite a few. None of us operates in a vacuum. Characters in a narrative shouldn’t either. [Read more…]
These days there’s a great deal of discussion about what Diversity means (hint: it doesn’t mean cultural appropriation), why we should or shouldn’t have it, and who is permitted to engage in it. This is, despite the contention and disruption in the community, a very good thing. Change doesn’t happen unless we actively engage it—particularly when the problem in question (systemic bias) is complex and multi-layered. Let me emphasize this again: the issue of diversity in Science Fiction and Fantasy is a complex one. In my experience, it requires extensive self-awareness, a willingness to endure uncomfortable situations and discussions without defensiveness, the ability to understand that a larger, implied context is a factor in communication, and a great deal of humility.
Systemic oppression isn’t an easy problem to resolve. Humanity has been struggling with it since the first human being grabbed leadership of a group and declared another group the enemy. If it were as simple as say, one group “getting over it” or “waiting until the old people die off, carrying their offensive beliefs with them,” it would’ve been resolved generations ago. [Read more…]
We’re getting a new Star Trek series!!! It’s called Star Trek: Discovery, and I’m excited for multiple reasons. We haven’t had a new Trek series in quite a while, and Michelle Yeoh is going to be a starship captain. I’m a big fan of Michelle Yeoh. She’s an amazing martial artist and an incredible actor. Sonequa Martin-Green (see below) will be her first officer. A Trek series piloted by women of color?!?! In addition, this will be one of the few SF properties wherein the women of color are not covered in makeup which hides their race. Also? A black woman with Vulcan training? (I can’t decide if she’s part Vulcan or a Federation ambassador’s kid or someone sent to Vulcan by the Federation to learn as much as possible.) That is wonderful. I can only imagine how affecting it is to see this kind of representation as a black woman who is also a Spock fan. (Hey, it only took a bunch of women pilots in the background of a Star Wars movie to bring me to tears.) Holy crap, I’m so proud to be a Trekkie at this moment, but I’m also disappointed. [Read more…]
Today’s post isn’t about science fiction exactly, but we’ll file it under “thoughts that inspire science fiction” and vice versa.
Ask a professional scientist if observer bias exists, and they’ll say yes. Medical science alone has many examples of what happens when bias is ignored. It affects medical practice in dangerous ways. Until recently, drug testing was almost never conducted on women. The reasoning was that women have “hormone fluctuations,” and the male-dominated medical industry wanted a pure data-baseline. Society believes that male is default for human. So, the establishment assumed that whatever is safe for men is safe for women and never looked back. Of course, the failure in logic here is that if a drug’s effectiveness is adulterated enough by female hormone fluctuations that it alters the end data, how could they have missed that this also meant this interaction could change its efficacy on the patient? Or to put it another way: How could they possibly know whether or not the drugs were, in fact, safe for women if the drugs aren’t tested under conditions with shifting hormones — the very conditions under which the drug was being used? This isn’t the only example. And medicine isn’t the only science to suffer because of unexamined bias.
And here is where we begin our discussion of AI. [Read more…]
Dearest Reader, I hope you don’t mind taking a side-quest into Horror today. Horror, as I see it, is related to Science Fiction and Fantasy. Yes, it’s its own entity, but it’s related via Surrealism. Sometimes they’re so closely related that it’s difficult to separate one from the other. (See Alien, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Attack the Block, Pitch Black, and Event Horizon to name a few.) I used to consume a great deal of Horror, but at a certain point I no longer felt safe or welcome — even as a viewer. So, I left it behind, but I think I may be wandering back in thanks to a number of new releases and well, a certain podcast that I’d also like to recommend. (Women in Caskets, I’m looking at you. :)) WiCs reminded me of how much I miss Horror, and of how much I’ve missed.
Understand that I say the following out of love. I believe it’s entirely possible to love something and criticize it at the same time. In fact, I feel taking a more nuanced position regarding the subject of one’s fandom is being a responsible fan. That’s a notion you’re going to see addressed over and over in this column. Get used to it. And yes, I am a fan. Writers are some of the biggest fans out there. Also, understand that I am, in part, speaking to myself as a writer. Due to my resolution to weed systemic oppression out of my work, I’ve come to know that I’ve internalized an impossible amount of misogyny, racism, and other forms of oppression. It’s hard work, ridding my creative garden of all those awful weeds. The roots go deep. This, from someone who is actively working on it. I don’t expect perfection. As I’ve said before, human beings aren’t capable of being perfect. However, being a better human, a better writer, and a better fan is one of my main goals in life. So, here goes. [Read more…]