Book Review: The Geek Feminist Revolution, Kameron Hurley (2016)

June 27th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Tell Them Stories

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

As a writer, it’s my job to construct new normals for people. It’s my job to show folks what’s possible. It’s my job to rewrite narratives. Because we can change these narratives. We can choose better ones. We can tear it all down, and build it up again. It makes us the most poorly paid but most powerful people in the world. And I take that power seriously.

The only time I’ve ever been praised for my weight repeatedly was when I was dying.

— 3.5 stars —

Award-winning science fiction writer Kameron Hurley has been blogging about feminism and pop culture for more than a decade. The Geek Feminist Revolution is a collection of 35 of her essays on feminism, writing, and geek culture, with 9 all-new pieces written specifically for this anthology. (See the TOC below for a full list.) The pieces are grouped into four sections: Level Up, which explores the craft (and challenges) of writing; Geek, which interrogates a variety of media, from the specific (Die Hard, Mad Max, True Detective) to the more general (toxic masculinity, Strong Female Protagonists, the gendered reception of unlikable protagonists); Let’s Get Personal, in which Hurley’s life serves as a sort of microcosm for the issues she explores here; and Revolution, which calls on authors and readers alike to create a more equal and just world.

The essays are enjoyable, engaging – and highly entertaining. Hurley has a brash, no-bullshit writing style that’s perfectly suited to the subject matter. While the overall collection doesn’t seem to have a unifying theme (“geek culture” is quite broad), the power of stories to shape our world is a thread that she picks up time and again.

If you’re a feminist who spends even a moderate amount of time online, no doubt you’ve already encountered many of the issues raised here (and maybe even some of the specific essays): Gamergate and the Sad/RabidPuppies campaign to hijack the Hugo awards; toxic masculinity and the sexualization of dead female bodies; diversity in television, movies, and literature; the double standard by which male and female heroes are judged; the importance of intersectionality in feminist activism and theory. Yet Hurley’s “insider” status (after years of being an outsider) affords her a unique perspective, especially in relation to the literary community.

Personally, I think that Hurley is at her best when dissecting a specific piece of media; my favorite essays mostly fall in Part II. In particular, her analysis of Mad Max: Fury Road * is just MUAH! (that is the sound of me tossing a Hurley a kiss – as in, Wonderful!). And even though I’ve never seen True Detective, I read through “Some Men Are More Monstrous Than Others” anyway. Her writing is such that I easily picked up what she was putting down, even without the preexisting knowledge base.

My absolute favorite piece, though, had nothing to do with pop culture. In “The Horror Novel You’ll Never Have to Live: Surviving without Health Insurance” Hurley talks about her ongoing health problems (as I understand it, an autoimmune disorder wrecked her pancreas, resulting in the development of Type I diabetes in adulthood), including several days spent in a coma, her mounting medical bills, and her struggle to find and keep health insurance in the days before “Obamacare.” The title pretty much says it all: Jason and Freddy got nothing on inflated hospital bills that you know you’ll never pay, or having to choose between buying food or buying life-saving medication. (Though I do wish she’d acknowledged those who fall through the cracks of the ACA, such as poor adults who live in states that chose not to expand Medicare. The ACA is a nice start, but give us universal health care please!)

On the downside, there’s a fair amount of redundancy here. For example, every time Hurley mentions her toxic relationship with her high school boyfriend, she introduces him as though it’s his first appearance. This makes sense for a blog post, which is where many of the essays originated; you can’t assume that your readers have been with you since the beginning, eagerly devouring every single post you’ve ever written. But compile these essays into a singular book, and some more vigorous editing is necessary to avoid repeating yourself.

Overall, it’s a nice collection for women who exist at the nexus of feminism and pop culture (which is, what, all of us?), particularly those whose day jobs are in another industry and could maybe kind of use a broad survey of the current popular topics in the field.

* Sadly, the comic books undermined many of the wonderful feminist aspects of the movie discussed by Hurley:

And this is where this film gets all the violence-against-women stuff right, because it boldly and frankly positions it for what it is, stripping it of the male gaze, of sexuality, of uncontrollable male urges. There are no on-screen rape threats, rape attempts, or rapes because they would detract from the entire point. You have to strip all that away to see it for what it is: Sexism is about power. Sexism is about controlling the means of production. At its core, sexism has very little to do with the act of sex.

The comics dwell on rape; reveal that Furiosa was at one time one of Immortan Joe’s breeders; turn Furiosa into a rape apologist who berates the “wives” for not showing the proper amount of respect and gratitude toward their abuser; and, just for added insult, make her a pro-lifer who compares Angharad’s attempt to abort her rape baby to Immortan Joe’s reign of terror. This is most definitely worth an addendum to the previously-published essay.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction: Welcome to the Revolution

PART I: LEVEL UP
I’ll Make the Pancakes: On Opting In—and Out—of the Writing Game Persistence, and the Long Con of Being a Successful Writer
What Marketing and Advertising Taught Me about the Value of Failure*
Taking Responsibility for Writing Problematic Stories
Unpacking the “Real Writers Have Talent” Myth

PART II: GEEK
Some Men Are More Monstrous Than Others: On True Detective’s Men and Monsters
Die Hard, Hetaerae, and Problematic Pin-Ups: A Rant
Wives, Warlords, and Refugees: The People Economy of Mad Max
Tea, Bodies, and Business: Remaking the Hero Archetype
A Complexity of Desires: Expectations of Sex and Sexuality in Science Fiction
What’s So Scary about Strong Female Protagonists, Anyway?*
In Defense of Unlikable Women
Women and Gentlemen: On Unmasking the Sobering Reality of Hyper-Masculine Characters
Gender, Family, Nookie: The Speculative Frontier
The Increasingly Poor Economics of Penning Problematic Stories
Making People Care: Storytelling in Fiction vs. Marketing
Our Dystopia: Imagining More Hopeful Futures*
Where Have All the Women Gone? Reclaiming the Future of Fiction*

PART III: LET’S GET PERSONAL
Finding Hope in Tragedy: Why I Read Dark Fiction
Public Speaking While Fat
They’ll Come for You … Whether You Speak Up or Not
The Horror Novel You’ll Never Have to Live: Surviving without Health Insurance
Becoming What You Hate
Let It Go: On Responding (or Not) to Online Criticism*
When the Rebel Becomes Queen: Changing Broken Systems from the Inside*
Terrorist or Revolutionary? Deciding Who Gets to Write History*
Giving Up the Sky*

PART IV: REVOLUTION
What We Didn’t See: Power, Protest, Story
What Living in South Africa Taught Me about Being White in America
It’s about Ethics in Dating*
Hijacking the Hugo Awards
Dear SFWA Writers: Let’s Chat about Censorship and Bullying
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: On Empathy and the Power of Privilege
Rage Doesn’t Exist in a Vacuum, or: Understanding the Complex Continuum of Internet Butt-Hurt
Why I’m Not Afraid of the Internet
We Have Always Fought: Challenging the “Women, Cattle, and Slaves” Narrative

Epilogue: What Are We Fighting For?

*essays written specifically for this collection

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

 

Comments (May contain spoilers!)

Diversity: Hurley’s feminist is intersectional; she touches upon issues of race, class, sexual orientation and identity, sizeism, and disability.

Animal-friendly elements: n/a

 

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