Book Review: The Female Man

The Female Man
The Female Man by Joanna Russ
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m still trying to decide if I liked this book.

Being a meta lover, I dug Russ’s writing style. It had this wonderful stream of consciousness that reminded me of Virginia Woolf, particularly during Jeannine’s parts. I also kind of liked the whole breaking the fourth wall aspect, though it made for difficult reading. I remember when it came to me like a jolt that all three characters were the same person. And I felt proud for recognizing that.

But aside from the writing style, I grew bored with the story real quick. I’m sure when it first came out, it was amazing and it rattled cages and whatnot. I also got a lot of the anger Russ was expressing. But I couldn’t identify with it. Part of it is the characters. There’s no real women or men in here, just cardboard cutouts. Aside from the “J”s, all the women are either asinine or male versions of women, and all the men are chauvinistic sexaholics. It got old real quick.

The whole “get married, then stay at home and be pretty” lifestyle Russ rants about just did not apply to the black women of my childhood. My grandma did laundry for a living, put herself through nursing school and had several kids through different men (she eventually married the last one). She didn’t have time to sit around looking pretty. There was this whole educated white woman privilege theme running through the story that grew wearying after a while. There were even a couple of scenes where Russ lapses into black slave “Massah” talk. I know she was trying to show how farcical it was for women to put on a show for men, but to try to compare that with how Black people were treated in that time was very ignorant and stupid on Russ’s part.

I really wanted to read more about Whileaway. Russ told us all these details, but the story never focused on it. It was more Janet playing commentator: “I’m a visitor here! Your world is weird!” Then she sort of faded into the background. At least Jeannie’s story grew on me, simply because it was the most complete and coherent. Joanna grew tiresome after a while with all her man hate. By the time Jael came along, I was skipping more pages than reading them. Laura, the only female character not a “J”, faded in and just as quickly faded out. What I wanted was a science fiction story. What I got instead was a long diatribe dressed up in science fiction clothes.

Was Russ’s anger justified? Yes, I think so. Did this book need to be written? Yes, absolutely. Is it relevant now? Is many of the ideas in it still relevant? As I write this, everyone is talking about Steubenville. It feels like nothing’s changed. And yet there are women and men alike challenging rape culture, calling out the media for their coverage. So people are at least more aware and crying out for justice and change.

But was this a good story? I don’t think so. I think I’m going to go read When it Changed, which I believe has what I want: a story set in Whileaway, and Russ’s good writing to boot.

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Dealing with Conflict in Writing (Or, learning how to be bad and good at the same time)

A few weeks ago I took my son to see Wreck it Ralph. Aside from being the only person in the theater to get the Final Fantasy VII reference, I really enjoyed it and I think Daniel did too. However, throughout the movie I noticed he would bury his face in my arm and whimper at certain parts. Not the scary parts, mind, but at the strangest places, like when Wreck it Ralph meets King Candy for the first time. Or right after Ralph and Glitch bake her car. Finally, I asked him what was wrong.

"He’s gonna get in trouble!" Daniel said.

"No, he’s not," I said. "See? Look. Glitch likes her car. You have to watch and see what happens."

"Oh," he said. "I thought she was going to get upset and yell at him for making an ugly car."

And that was when I realized something. My son wasn’t scared of conflict, per se. He was scared of people getting into trouble. When Ralph ran into Candy Land even though people told him not to, he was Breaking the Rules. Which meant he would Get in Trouble, and that made Daniel uncomfortable enough that he didn’t want to watch Ralph Get Consequences.

I get it, because I am very much the same way.

Maybe it’s a first-child thing, where we were always told we were the oldest, so we have to set an example for the younger kids to show them how to do things to go the right way. Maybe it comes from being a Christian, where we hold ourselves up to such a high standard, we can’t even contemplate doing something wrong before telling ourselves it’s sin. (I tell you that verse, whatsover is pure, whatsoever is holy, whatsoever is righteous…etc etc…has made my life as a writer a tightrope). Or maybe it’s due to conflict-avoidance, something I do at every chance possible.

I want all my characters to travel the least resistance. I want them to be happy. I want them to achieve their goals the right way.

But that’s not how stories work.

I’m working on a scene in Willow now where one of my characters lies to another character. I originally didn’t do it because, hey, this character is basically a nice guy, and I really liked him. But as I edited, I realize that he wasn’t doing what he was ordered to do, which was to break up a relationship between the main characters. Which meant that he would have to lie. It makes me squeamish, because there will be consequences from this, really bad consequences.  And the guy knows it. But he does it anyway, which will mean alas, this guy isn’t as nice as I want him to be.

But that also makes him more human.

I will admit, there is a small part of me that makes me want to bury my face whenever conflict or trouble or any sort of uncomfortableness rises in my stories. There’s that part of me that cries, if she does that, she’ll have to suffer the consequences. But if there is no conflict, there’s no growth either. Characters need conflict to learn. They need to test boundaries. They need to stand up for what they believe in, even if they’ll get in trouble for it. Wreck it Ralph wanted to be treated nice, so he went outside of his game to get a medal, which was against the rules, yes, but to him, it was taking a chance to get him some respect. He suffered some dear consequences for that, but he learned a lot about himself. And by the end, we were rooting for him to succeed. That what makes a great story.

As writers, we need to show the good and the bad, the angels and the demons, the unbreakable and the rule-breakers. It’s how we connect with the characters. If you struggle with it, just tell yourself, watch and see what happens, because sometimes (though not always) it all pays off in the end. 

You can also play chaotic evil characters in RPGs, which is what I’m doing. Which is not as easy as you think. Do you know how long it took to get up the nerve to steal something in Skyrim? I mean, sure, you can put a bucket over the shopkeeper’s head, but it’s the principle of the thing…

LaShawn’s list of 2013 Hugo Nominations Considerations and other awards stuff (alternate title: WADDYA MEAN I SHOULD’VE DONE THIS IN JANUARY HOW WAS I TO KNOW OHCRAPOHCRAP ::FLAILFLAILFLAILFLAIL::)

Yes, yes, I know it’s way way late. I know that we only have a week left to actually turn in nominations for the Hugos this year. And yes, I completely neglected to write this post at the beginning of this year, when everyone was putting out ALL THE ELIGIBLITY POSTS. But hey, better late than never.

I don’t have best novelette or novella because, well, I never got around to reading them. There are many other sites out there who list story nominations, so go google them.

Of course, I am a complete and utter dunce, so I missed the deadline to do nominations for the Rhysling award, which is a shame, because the only works I got published last year were poetry. Actually, that’s not quite true. Both were prose poems, so maybe they can be eligible for short stories. I’ll mention them just in case:

All This Pure Light Leaking In” published in the 2012 anthology Dark Faith: Invocations, by Apex Publishing, editors Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon

and

I Will Keep the Color of Your Eyes When No Other in the World Remembers Your Name”, published by Stone Telling Magazine.

And here’s what I’m going to be nominating for the Hugo awards this year:

Best Novel:

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin

The Straits of Galahesh by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal

Best Short story:

“They Make of You a Monster” in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Damien Walters Grintalis

“Give Her Honey When You Hear Her Scream” in Lightspeed — Maria Dahvana Headley

Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Best Fan Writer

K. Tempest Bradford

N.K. Jemisen

Ferret Stimentz

Alex Bledsoe

Genevieve Valentine.

Best Semiprozine

Ideomancer

Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Apex

Electric Velocipede

Daily Science Fiction

Goblin Fruit

Stonetelling

Related Work

Writing Excuses Season Seven

Chicks Dig Comics

Best editor short form

JJA

Maurice Broaddus & Jerry Gordon

Lynne M. Thomas, Jason Sizemore, Michael Damian Thomas

Graphic Stories

The Situation” by Jeff Vandermeer and Eric Orchard

New Campbell

Damien Walters Grintalis

Best Fancast

Adventures in Scifi Publishing

Good luck to everyone!

Review: Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling

Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling
Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed reading this. This book opened my eyes on the nature of culture. The culture of world. The culture of church. The culture of science fiction. And knowing that you must know culture in order to change it.

I was struck most by his four postures Christians use to respond to culture outside of the church: condemning, critiquing, consuming and copying, and found myself applying it on numerous occasions. For instance, Jon and I went to the mall were we went to a restaurant called Kato’s Cajun, which was based on the same restaurant as Sarku Japan, except all the Asian dishes had “Cajun” names. Jon went up to get a sample, and when he came back, he said, “The Cajun chicken tastes just like the Bourbon chicken.”

I then start grouching that sticking a ethnic name in front of a dish doesn’t magically make it so, but then I started thinking about it. Here I was, condemning the fact that mall food courts are slapping ethnic labels together and calling them fusions just to get people to eat their food. I’m critiquing that they think their customers are clueless enough not to know Asian cuisine from Cajun. But I’m consuming the food anyway because labels aside, it’s delicious and is (hopefully) better than eating McDonalds. And let’s face it, when I cook Asian dishes at home, I put my own spin on it, thus copying the culture of fusion cuisine.

I like how Crouch also intertwines how God uses culture in the Bible into how culture is so relevant today, and how we can work with culture instead of hiding from it. We’re not guaranteed to make any differences. But the mere fact that I’m writing a review (there are instances in the book that is delightfully meta) and putting it up for people to read does show that I can add my own voice to culture and thus, while not change the world, at least to touch it through my readers. Four omelets out of five.

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