Mini-Review: There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé, Morgan Parker (2017)

Monday, February 13th, 2017

“It’s mostly about machine tits”

four out of five stars

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

This is for all the grown women out there
Whose countries hate them and their brothers
Who carry knives in their purses down the street
Maybe they will not get out alive
Maybe they will turn into air or news or brown flower petals
There are more beautiful things than Beyoncé:
Lavender, education, becoming other people,
The fucking sky

(“Please Wait (Or, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé)”)

I don’t read a ton of poetry, since it mostly tends to go over my head. There are the rare exceptions, of course: stories written in verse, and the occasional feminist title; see, e.g. The Princess Saves Herself in this One. But mostly I shy away from it, since it makes me feel … not the sharpest tool in the shed.

That said, between the title and the cover, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé proved pretty much impossible to pass up. While I’m sure I missed out on many of the cultural references – I’m white, and this is a collection of poetry about black womanhood – and didn’t pick up all the varied and more veiled messages that Parker was putting down, I enjoyed it all the same. I read it cover-to-cover three times in two days, and with each successive reading, discovered something new. Parker’s poetry sparkles and shines and cuts more deeply, the more time you spend with it.

It’s hard to play favorites, since each piece has at least one or two especially memorable lines. (To wit: “At school they learned that Black people happened.”) But among the poems that really stood out to me are Hottentot Venus; Beyoncé On The Line for Gaga; Afro; These Are Dangerous Times, Man; RoboBeyoncé; 13 Ways of Looking at a Black Girl; The Gospel According to Her; The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife; White Beyoncé; What Beyoncé Won’t Say on a Shrink’s Couch; It’s Getting Hot In Here So Take Off All Your Clothes; The Book of Revelation; 99 Problems; and the titular Please Wait (Or, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé).

There are forty-two poems total, twenty-five of which have previously been published elsewhere. For those keeping count at home, thirteen have Beyoncé in the title. The Beyoncé/Lady Gaga mashups are fun, if only because I enjoy imagining them hanging together – or swapping bodies in a Freaky Friday twist.

I feel like I should say more but idk how to read poetry, let alone review it. There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé is a fierce, funny, and subversive collection of poetry. You don’t need to be a member of the Bey Hive to love it (but it sure doesn’t hurt). It’s earned a permanent spot on my Kindle so I can return to it as needed over the next four to eight (please dog no) years.

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Book Review: Red-Blooded American Male: Photographs, Robert Trachtenberg (2016)

Monday, December 26th, 2016

Cheesecake Galore!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Blogging for Books.)

If I could give this book ten stars, I’d still complain that ten isn’t enough, that the rating scale is rigged and/or incapable of handling a title of this magnitude. Red-Blooded American Male: Photographs IS THAT GOOD.

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I mean, just take a gander at that cover. Will Arnett! In fishnets! And black combat boots! Squeezed into a slinky dress and splayed on a swanky couch, looking all emo! Like some random dude just mansplained how the backlash against Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters reboot is really about authenticity and faithfulness to the source material, not sexism and misogyny, you silly girl you! Or maybe it was some diatribe about Gamergate and journalistic integrity. It doesn’t really matter, because he stopped listening several drinks ago. Mind: blown, but in the worst way possible.

Red-Blooded American Male is a collection of photographer/filmmaker Robert Trachtenberg’s (mostly) celebrity photography, from 1994 to the present day. There are actors, singers, athletes, entrepreneurs, chefs, models – even a few children, paired with the occasional woman and/or dog. (Meryl Streep arm wrestling Tommy Lee Jones is a definite keeper.) I was only familiar with, like, half of them; many I’d never heard of. Some none of us will have; for example, little Caleb Ivison, whose mom traded some editing work for Trachtenberg for a photo shoot of her kids. Anyway, consider my interest sufficiently piqued. (This only applies to the 18-and-over crowd, obvs.)

Spoiler alert: not all of Trachtenberg’s subjects are American. (I’m down with bending the rules for some of the guys, but Justin Bieber? Really? Throw in a Ryan Reynolds doing his Deadpool shtick and maybe we’ll call it even.)

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The photos are uniformly stunning, with a mix of black-and-white and full-color images. At 10″x13″, the book is nice and big, and so are the photos; each one occupies at least a full page, with some spanning two. Each image deftly captures the personality of its subject, with a fun and eclectic mix of tongue-in-cheek sexy/cheesecake; goofy and playful; sophisticated and classy; dark and moody (Jimmy Fallon legit looks ready to jump; someone make sure he’s okay, yes?); and straight-up bananarama bonkers.

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Many of the photos are accompanied by a brief description of how the shoot went down; these tend to be super-funny and greatly enhanced my appreciation of the artwork. See, e.g., Janes Van Der Beek’s “Tush,” “More Tush,” and “Even More Tush”; or how Bryan Fuller’s nighttime routine is meant to “restor[e] sensations first felt in the womb.” I found myself nursing an intense sense of disappointment when a photo – especially a favorite, or of an actor or celebrity I fancy – went un-commented upon. But I guess the way to look at it is, maybe these stories were meh and would have turned us off, so better to omit them altogether?

My favorites include Judd Apatow, with his cheeseburger baby bump;

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a fierce Jimmy Kimmel cosplaying as Daenerys Targaryen; Bryan Fuller, with his moisturizing gloves and dog pile;

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Bryan Cranston being moody AF; the recreation of Herb Ritts’s iconic 1989 naked supermodel huddle, done with the cast of Jackass; Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, from way back when they were on Comedy Central, naturally; the morning after Bob Saget’s drug-fueled romp with a furry; Kevin Hart being pulled along the beach by a Great Dane/small pony;

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the acid trip-like John Leguizamo montage; and Denis Leary feeding a…barnyard full of Chihuahuas?

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I don’t know what’s going on there, but I want in. (I’m a crazy dog lady, can you tell?)

Oh, and Jeff Garlin on the treadmill in the middle of the forest? Strangely endearing, if only because I could imagine Murray Goldberg doing something stubbornly nonsensical like that. (Dear ABC, please publish his attempt at scrapbooking on the internets. TIA!)

Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner sharing an embrace is hecka sweet, though I found myself wishing it was Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian Mckellen. Those two are my OTP of elderly white guys.

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Okay, so they’re all kind of awesome. YOU NEED THIS BOOK. Get it, now! Then go buy a copy for your elderly grandmother / recently divorced mom / college aged, still-figuring-himself-out younger brother / amateur photographer aunt. Basically anyone and everyone, male or female, gay or straight, genderqueer or pansexual. It’s silly, it’s sexy, and it’s even a little subversive. David Bowie would be right at home here.

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

Book Review: The Supergirls: Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines (Revised and Updated), Mike Madrid (2016)

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

Wonder Woman for President

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC through Edelweiss and a finished copy through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program.)

After The Supergirls came out, something interesting happened. I got emails from readers who had no idea that there had been female superheroes in the 1960s, much less in the 1940s.

This is a difficult book for me to review. I’m rather new to the world of comic books, having only gotten into them in the past five years or so. With the exception of Brian Azzarello’s New 52 Wonder Woman, I’ve mostly avoided the long-running superhero titles; the sheer volume is just overwhelming! Like, where to start?

(Incidentally, The Supergirls has convinced me to avoid anything not published in this millennium – again with the exception of Wonder Woman, or at least Wonder Woman as written by William Moulton Marston. The early stuff is almost comically sexist and not worth my time. Well, except for the occasionally bizarro plotline, like when Supergirl falls for her horse Comet. Tina Belcher would approve.)

Instead I mostly gravitate toward more recently created series (Saga, Sex Criminals, Pretty Deadly, Bitch Planet, Monstress) and those based on stories I know and love from other mediums (Firefly/Serenity, Orphan Black, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Stephen King’s The Stand and The Dark Tower; I’m damn near jumping out of my skin waiting for Octavia Butler’s Kindred!). My knowledge of most superheroes and villains stems primarily from the big and little screen adaptations; Fox’s animated X-Men series is a childhood favorite.

That said, from my neophyte perspective, The Supergirls seems thorough, meticulously researched, and well-thought out. Madrid’s writing is fun and engaging, though The Supergirls is best digested in small bites: the scope of the topic can be overwhelming at times.

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Book Review: The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race, Jesmyn Ward (2016)

Friday, August 19th, 2016

You need to read this book.

five out of five stars

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

[W]e are writing an epic wherein black lives carry worth, wherein black boys can walk to the store and buy candy without thinking they will die, wherein black girls can have a bad day and be mouthy without being physically assaulted by a police officer, wherein cops see twelve-year-old black boys playing with fake guns as silly kids and not homicidal maniacs, wherein black women can stop to ask for directions without being shot in the face by paranoid white homeowners. I burn, and I hope.

– Jesmyn Ward, Introduction

A friend recently told me that when she gave birth to her son, before naming him, before even nursing him, her first thought was, I have to get him out of this country.

– Claudia Rankine, “The Condition of Black Life Is One of Mourning”

Anthologies tend to be pretty hit or miss with me, but the eighteen pieces in The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race are uniformly excellent. There wasn’t a single poem or essay that I didn’t love. I devoured the whole thing in most of an afternoon, and was left hungering for more.

Inspired by James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time – “A Letter to My Nephew” in particular – Jesmyn Ward compiled a collection of essays on race by and for a new generation. The result is eclectic and surprising and just straight-up breathtaking.

I wasn’t sure what to expect – a more academic bent, perhaps? – but in this case, I think my preconceptions were a positive, because The Fire This Time upended them in the best way possible. Through a mix of poems, personal essays, letters, and creative nonfiction, the contributors explore a wide range of topics, both expected and not: the black immigrant experience; police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement; walking while black; reassessing one’s long held identity in the wake of contemporary DNA testing; the legacy of slavery in New England; depression and loneliness as a consequence of cultural disconnectedness; constructing composite fathers; metafiction in hip hop; and “artistic rituals of labor,” from grandmamas to Outkast.

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Book Review: In My Humble Opinion: My So-Called Life, Soraya Roberts (2016)

Friday, August 5th, 2016

“Red is the color of revolution.”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review from ECW Press.)

“When I think about My So-Called Life,” WB regular Greg Berlanti told Entertainment Weekly, “I think about that line in Star Wars, when Obi-Wan Kenobi tells Darth Vader, ‘If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.’ That’s exactly what happened here.”

My So-Called Life hit the airwaves on August 25, 1994 – just weeks before I started my junior year of high school. From the first frame – “Go, now, go!” – I was hooked. I still remember the excitement of watching the pilot, on the ancient, staticky hand-me-down tv propped atop my sister’s dresser. (We shared a room. It was literal hell.) It was like someone had scrabbled through my brain, gathered all the best bits, and stitched them into the unlikeliest script ever. I knew, without a doubt, that I couldn’t be the only kid watching who felt this way. This was something new, something special. Something downright revolutionary. Like, what was ABC thinking?

I wanted to be wild like Rayanne, yet quiet and introspective like Angela. I dyed my hair red and took to toting around a ginormous purse stuffed with all sorts of ephemera and random clutter. I skipped school, drank liquor spiked with Kool-aid, and wore the most outlandish outfits I could come up with: forest green corduroy pants and a vintage mint green polyester top one day; a slip as a skirt or a camisole as a shirt the next. A weird mix of hippie chick and slutty goth. I lusted after Jordan, even though I had my own version (but not, like, really) IRL.

Though it only lasted one season, My So-Called Life stayed with me forever. It’s one of a handful of shows from my childhood that’s held up over time gotten better with age. Now I’m thirty-eight – much closer in age to Patty than Angela – and I think I appreciate it more than ever. Or at least understand it on a different level. The opening credits still make my heart skip a beat, anyway.

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Book Review: What We Talk About When We Talk About Clone Club: Bioethics and Philosophy in Orphan Black, Gregory E. Pence (2016)

Friday, May 20th, 2016

A fascinating look at the science behind Orphan Black.

four out of five stars

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

Bioethics is one of today’s most exciting new fields. Orphan Black is one of the most exciting shows on television. Bioethics explores ethical issues in medicine and science. Orphan Black dramatizes ethical issues in medicine and science. What could be more appropriate than a marriage of the two?

Even casual fans of BBC America’s hit television show Orphan Black have no doubt wondered about the science that drives the plot: How much does the show get right, and where does reality diverge from the fictional world of our favorite sestra orphans? What are the moral and legal implications of cloning? Is it possible to own a person – or a piece of one, in the form of DNA patenting? If the Ledas (and Castors) share the same basic building blocks of life, how could they look, behave, and think so differently? What (if anything) does the creators’ choice to write Cosima as a lesbian, and Tony as a trans man, say about the idea that gender identity and sexual orientations are “lifestyle choices”? (Spoiler alert: it’s not what you think.) How does cloning fit into the history of eugenics, and how does the show acknowledge this connection? WTF is the Castors’ malfunction?

Well, wonder no more. Bioethicist and fellow Clone Club member Gregory E. Pence has got us covered. In What We Talk About When We Talk About Clone Club: Bioethics and Philosophy in Orphan Black, he examines the science and ethics of the show, giving us a greater understanding of both genetics and bioethics – and our favorite science fiction drama.

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Mini-Review: The Geeky Chef Cookbook, Cassandra Reeder (2015)

Monday, June 1st, 2015

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review through Edelweiss.)

Let me start out by saying that, as a vegan, what drew me to The Geeky Chef Cookbook wasn’t so much the recipes as the intersection of food and pop culture. Two of my favorite things, made exponentially better when mashed up together!

I wouldn’t exactly call myself a chef, but I do love to play with my food, and I’m no stranger to veganizing and recipie-zing (is that a word? can we make it one?) foods from my favorite books and television shows. To wit: last year’s VeganMoFo theme, Carbs & Rec, in which I blogged foods found in and inspired by the always-awesome Parks & Recreation (may she rest in peace). There were Mac & Cheese Pizzas, Meat Tornadoes, Champion’s Peanut Butter Oatmeal Birthday Biscuits, You Just Got JAMMED! Kolaches, and of course waffles galore.

One of these years, I’d love to do a His Dark Materials theme, but the pressure! It’s so intense! I want everyone to love Lyra and Will and Mary and Iorek as much as I do! I’d even settle for half as much. I feel like it’s my chance to introduce some vegans and veg-curious peeps to this amazing alternate universe, and I don’t want to screw it up.

Anyway. My point is: Pop culture and food? Totally my jam. Even though I thought it unlikely that I’d actually make anything from The Geeky Chef Cookbook – or at least precisely as directed – I suspected I might enjoy it anyway, maybe even come away with some new ideas and a list of recipes to veganize.

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Book Review: The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy, Sam Maggs (2015)

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

One of Us!

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.)

A fangirl has no shame: she loves what she loves and she doesn’t apologize for it, she doesn’t restrain herself, she’s not meek. Girls are often told to be quiet little ladies. A fangirl doesn’t care about being quiet. She does exactly what she wants, courageously, to celebrate the things she loves. – Beth Revis

You are a real geek if you feel it in your feels.

The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy is a love letter to all the geek girls out there: the cosplayers, the book nerds, the binge-watchers, the slash fic aficionados. Whether you’re a Hunter or a Browncoat, a Ravenclaw or a Victor, Sam Maggs wants you to know that you’re awesome, and you matter.

So. The The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy isn’t quite what I was expecting, but in the best way possible. Whereas I thought it would be encyclopedic in nature, it’s really more of a cunning pocket guide to the wide world of fandoms. Divided into four chapters (plus an intro and list of resources), Maggs offers tips and tricks for fangirling out in the real world; online; at conventions; and in yer feminism (best).

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The Great CriFSMas Food (and More) Roundup, 2013 edition!

Saturday, January 4th, 2014

It felt like I did a ridiculous amount of baking this Christmas – so, when I went and looked back at last year’s roundup, I nearly fainted in disbelief. (Full disclosure: there may have also been a food coma involved, due to the copious amounts of sugar I’ve been ingesting.) Did I seriously make a dozen plus batches of cookies last year? Little old me?

Fun story: after feeling super-smug and self-satisfied over my achievement of baking FIVE WHOLE BATCHES of cookies in one day, I headed on over to tumblr – where some lady posted about the 40 donuts and multiple trays of cookies she baked in one afternoon. Whoops! There goes my self-confidence!

So anyway, here’s the Great CriFSMas Food Roundup, 2013 edition! But with bonus x-mas presents and vegan pop culture observations.

First up: the noms. As per usual, let’s start with dessert, shall we? All the cookies are from Kelly Peloza’s The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur, a review of which I’ll probably have for y’all soon. Unless. Maybe I need to try out a few more recipes? You know, for the love of science and books and all that is holy and sugar-dusted.

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Glazed Rum Raisin Cookies – With their copious amounts of liquor and strong rummy taste, these cookies aren’t for kids. Very tasty and easy to bake, though I opted to make my glaze into more of an icing, so as not to risk the cookies sticking to one another during storage. If you go this route, start out with less rum. I ended up with way more icing than I could use. Or drink! (Yes, I actually tried that.)

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Chewy Caramel Pecan Cookies – SO GOOD! Caramel and pecans, what’s not to love? Well, the cookies’ inherent stickiness, for starters: I had to refrigerate the sheet of cookies for about ten minutes before I was able to peel them from the parchment paper without tearing the cookies to shreds. I wonder if my batter was too wet; the caramel pecan mix didn’t get especially thick, which resulted in a very sticky cookie dough. Further experimentation may be required.

Also, pro tip: these cookies have mad spread, so space them far, far apart. As in four cookies to a medium-sized tray. No kidding!

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Book Review: The Many Faces of Katniss Everdeen, Valerie Estelle Frankel (2013)

Monday, July 8th, 2013

Team Katniss

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review at the author’s invitation.)

If you’re a voracious reader of THG criticism, you might already be familiar with the work of Valerie Estelle Frankel: in addition to a short guide to The Hunger Games (Katniss the Cattail: An Unauthorized Guide to Names and Symbols in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games), Frankel also contributed an essay to the 2012 anthology, Of Bread, Blood and the Hunger Games: Critical Essays on the Suzanne Collins Trilogy (“Reflection in a Plastic Mirror”). I had the pleasure of reviewing each of these, as well as a study of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as it relates to Joseph Campbell’s model of the Hero’s Journey (Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey: Vampire Slayer as Feminine Chosen One).

In this latest book, The Many Faces of Katniss Everdeen: Exploring the Heroine of the Hunger Games, Frankel revisits and expands upon many of the ideas introduced in her previous guides and essays. In particular, Chapters 4 (“Katniss Lives the Roman Histories”), 5 (“Katniss the Hungry: Food in the Hunger Games”), and 8 (“Katniss the Mockingjay: The Power of Story and Song”) are an extension of Katniss the cattail: a more in-depth look at the names (Katniss, Gale, Peeta, Prim, Claudius Templesmith, Plutarch Heavensbee, Presidents Snow and Coin, etc.) and symbols (bread, arrows, primroses, etc.) found in The Hunger Games trilogy. Likewise, Chapter 1 (“Katniss the Reality TV Star: Reflection in a Plastic Mirror”) is reprinted from Of Bread, Blood and the Hunger Games.

But far from a rehashing of old ideas, The Many Faces of Katniss Everdeen is a fresh and insightful discussion of the major themes of the trilogy, from its criticism of our current obsession with reality television (which, coupled with our war fatigue, is especially insidious – we enjoy watching the suffering of others, but turn our backs when it happens en mass) to the execution of the film adaptation:

1 – “Katniss the Reality Star: Reflection in a Plastic Mirror” – No less enjoyable the second time around, the opening essay in this collection compares Panem to the modern-day US; the Hunger Games are an exaggerated version of our own reality television – our own bread and circuses, if you will. In this way, The Hunger Games isn’t just a future dystopia – but a present one, as well.

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Mary & John & Ellen & Bobby

Saturday, May 4th, 2013

I initially published this on tumblr, in response to a question I got about misogyny in Supernatural. (I’d go back and find a link, but I forgot to tag the post, and tumblr doesn’t exactly make it easy to search a blog so NEVERMIND! tumblr, ugh.) Anyway, I’m crossposting here because I like to have my stuff all in one place and don’t exactly trust tumblr not to delete my blog willy-nilly and hope to do more pop culture blogging here anyway. So yeah reasons.

And if you’re into this sort of criticism, there’s this new blog I’m totally digging that you should check out called Feminist Supernatural. Submit an insightful comments, get a pie!

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A family “Team Free Will” portrait.
Left to right: Castiel, Sam, Ellen, Dean, Jo, and Bobby.
——————————

(Ooops! When I was writing this for some reason I’d assumed that you were also a fan, so my answer is full of spoilers and specifics. To sum it up for non-fans: I wouldn’t say that Supernatural is super-misogynist – definitely not more so than most of the other stuff on tv – but it could definitely use some improvement, particularly when it comes to the representation of women (see #1). More roles, more screen time, more diversity of characters and fuller character development. Ditto for people of color and LGBTQ persons. SPN can be problematic – just based on my veganism alone, most all entertainment is problematic in some way – but I love it just the same.)

Hi! Yes! One could easily write an entire book about gender politics & SPN (someone write this book please!), so I’ll just stick to a few general examples.

1 – Representation. This is by and large a show about men and their relationships with each other. Women are mostly relegated to one of three roles (which aren’t always mutually exclusive): demons/witches/other baddies, damsels in distress, and love interests. (I actually think the show’s improved on this front in more recent seasons, Charlie and Chrissy being two notable exceptions.) If you’re a reasonably attractive damsel between the ages of 18 and 35, Dean will try to fuck you (and even if you’ve got more pressing things to deal with). If you’re unlucky enough to hook up with Sam, most likely you’ll die a brutal, gruesome death. (Hence the graphic to which I think you’re referring.) Granted, this is a show with a high body count, but on average I think the men tend to outlast the women, and get more screen time too. Many of the women significant to Sam and Dean mainly seem to function as vehicles to propel their stories forward (see e.g. Mary, Jess, Madison). I don’t think I’ve ever tried rating SPN using the Bechdel Test, but I bet that many episodes would fail.

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Book Review: Approaching the Hunger Games Trilogy: A Literary and Cultural Analysis, Tom Henthorne (2012)

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

Fresh Insights into THE HUNGER GAMES Trilogy

fiveout of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.)

An enthusiastic fan of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy, I was super-excited to win a copy of Tom Henthorne’s Approaching the Hunger Games Trilogy: A Literary and Cultural Analysis through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program. When it finally arrived some three months later (seriously, McFarland, why so slow? it’s almost like you’re trying to tease us!), I didn’t waste any time digging in, and devoured it in all of two sittings.

Henthorne prides himself on producing an academic volume that’s accessible to scholars and lay fans alike. Take, for example, this blurb from the back cover: “Analytical rather than evaluative, this work dispenses with extended theoretical discussions, academic jargon and even footnotes.” In this he’s most certainly succeeded: engaging and informative, Approaching the Hunger Games Trilogy provides fresh, original insights into The Hunger Games, particularly when it comes to issues of gender, war, reality television, and the series’ literary standing – no small feat when you consider the number of books already written on the topic.

In fact, this is the fifth THG guide I’ve read in about as many months, the others being the Girl Who Was on Fire, edited by Leah Wilson; Of Bread, Blood and The Hunger Games, edited by Mary F. Pharr and Leisa A. Clark; Katniss the Cattail by Valerie Estelle Frankel; and V. Arrow’s The Panem Companion – not to mention the many articles I’ve poured over online – and yet I still found myself surprised by many of Henthorne’s observations. (Gotta love those aha! moments.)

The book is indeed light on jargon, and the author is careful to provide brief, 101-style introductions to the various academic approaches he employs in his analyses. For example, the chapter on gender begins with a short background on the difference between sex and gender, including the social construction of gender and its political implications.

Depending on the topic of discussion, Henthorne – a professor of English and women’s and gender studies at Pace University – “draws from literary studies, gender studies, history, psychology, and cultural studies as well as social sciences.”

– Chapter One considers whether The Hunger Games qualifies as a literary text, taking into account the series’ genre (a delightfully messy blend of science fiction, dystopia, war stories, YA romance, survivor stories, and Bildungsroman); the structure of the novels (three acts, each with an unresolved ending); the first-person narrative mode (as difficult as it is to maintain consistently); Collins’ use of deictic markers to create a feeling of immediacy; and her use of verbal patterning to augment major ideas and themes. This chapter in particular gave me a greater appreciation of the series’ complexity and sophistication.

– Chapter Two – the charmingly titled “The Importance of Being Katniss” – examines issues of sexuality, gender, and identity. Henthorne argues that the Capitol is a patriarchy, and uses gender (among other things) to create divisions between its citizens. This sexism is evident in the Hunger Games: the Career Tributes excepted, the boys usually arrive at the Games better-prepared than their female counterparts due to their gendered socialization. (Peeta, for instance, was afforded the opportunity to practice wrestling in school.) Likewise, the Tributes are all but forced to perform their genders during the pre-Game spectacles; whereas the boys put on an aggressive show, the girls are styled as objects of desire. It’s only by operating outside the law that Katniss has acquired the skills needed to survive and triumph. In many cases, Katniss provides a foil to the Capitol’s sexism and heteronormatovity: with her masculine dress and behavior, she subverts gender stereotypes, and in her refusal to choose between Peeta and Gale as romantic partners she rejects the idea that women must subvert themselves to men through marriage.

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Book Review: Of Bread, Blood and The Hunger Games, Mary F. Pharr and Leisa A. Clark, eds. (2012)

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

A must read for academics and fans alike!

four out of five stars

Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.

In anticipation of the 2012 release of the film, a number of books about The Hunger Games trilogy hit the market – much to my geeky joy. As far as academic volumes go, Smart Pop’s most excellent The Girl Who Was on Fire was one of the early releases (later updated to include several chapters on the film), followed by The Hunger Games and Philosophy: A Critique of Pure Treason from The Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series; Of Bread, Blood and the Hunger Games: Critical Essays on the Suzanne Collins Trilogy (part of the Critical Explorations in Science Fiction and Fantasy series); Approaching the Hunger Games Trilogy by Tom Henthorne; and finally The Panem Companion, written by fan/academic V. Arrow. I was lucky enough to win a copy each of Of Bread, Blood and the Hunger Games and Approaching the Hunger Games Trilogy from Library Thing (and still hope to snag a copy of The Panem Companion on its blog tour!).

Though written by academics – not a few of whom use papers previously presented at academic conferences as jumping off points – Of Bread, Blood and The Hunger Games: Critical Essays on the Suzanne Collins Trilogy can be enjoyed by everyday fans and serious scholars alike. Whereas academic pop culture anthologies run the risk of coming across as dry and even a bit tedious, Of Bread, Blood and The Hunger Games is neither. With few exceptions, the authors are engaging and insightful. Where jargon appears, it’s thankfully kept to a minimum.

In contrast to many similarly-sized academic anthologies – which usually feature twelve or so essays – Of Bread, Blood and The Hunger Games contains a whopping twenty-one essays! As a result, each piece weighs in at just eight to ten pages. Though I was often left wanting more, this is far better than the alternative – namely, nodding off in the last few pages of the piece, even as you wish for the author to get to the point and wrap it up already! Perhaps the individual essays’ short lengths is what helps to keep Of Bread, Blood and The Hunger Games feeling so fresh, concise, and to the point.

The twenty-one essays in Of Bread, Blood and The Hunger Games cover a range of topics, from crisis economics to food as a cultural metaphor and the shifting boundaries of human and “other.” Reality television rears its oft-ugly head, and art, fashion, and propaganda also make for common topics of discussion.

While an existing knowledge of The Hunger Games trilogy is assumed, when the texts are discussed in relation to other works – The Running Man, the Harry Potter series, Twilight, Battle Royale, Ender’s Game, and William Shakespeare’s Henriad all make appearances – the authors do a good job of explaining the pertinent details (that is, at least given the space allotted).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of my favorite pieces examine gender in the trilogy. In her contribution, “Of Queer Necessity: Panem’s Hunger Games as Gender Games,” Jennifer Mitchell makes the argument that Katniss – who is able to transition between masculine and feminine gender roles with relative ease, sometimes exhibiting “male” and “female” characteristics simultaneously – is at her core a genderqueer protagonist. Likewise, Ellyn Lem and Holly Hassel (“‘Killer’ Katniss and ‘Lover Boy’ Peeta: Suzanne Collins’s Defiance of Gender-Genred Reading”) see the trilogy’s blended genres (romance vs. war story) as a way to “bridge the gap” between young adult literature that, traditionally, has been stratified along gender lines. Peeta, the gentle, caring, and peaceful baker, exists opposite the “male-identified” Katniss, holding her morally accountable for actions. This mixing and flipping of gender roles provides a much-needed contrast to traditional YA fiction (the history of which Lem and Hassel summarize neatly for the reader, in a highly enjoyable and informative intro).

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey, Valerie Estelle Frankel (2012)

Friday, September 28th, 2012

(Full disclosure: I received a free advanced review copy of this book through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.)

The Slayer Who Would Be Queen

four out of five stars

A newbie Buffy fan like myself, I was super-excited when copies of Valerie Estelle Frankel’s Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey: Vampire Slayer as Feminine Chosen One were offered up for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program. At the time I was just finishing up Season Seven of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and picking up Season One of the comics, so the timing was perfect – fresh as the material was in my head.

Frankel didn’t discover the show until long after the final episode had aired; but, once she did, she was quick to devour it all: BtVS, Angel, and the comics. As she watched, she also worked on an impromptu, 100-page draft comparing Buffy’s trials and tribulations to the classic hero’s journey, as described by mythologist Joseph Campbell. Eventually her thesis grew into Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey.

A “monomyth” that can be found in the great epics of every culture (see, e.g., Hercules, Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter), the Hero’s Journey takes a somewhat predictable path – beginning with the call to adventure and ending with the “freedom to live” – during the course of which the protagonist gains wisdom and self-knowledge and successfully grows into a fully integrated adult. Of course, many adventures are had along the way: the hero battles with (and triumphs over) a Dark Lord (his Shadow) who threatens the world; he meets his Princess, goddess of the forest and embodiment of the earth’s magic; and he battles monsters of all shapes and sizes. Perhaps he’s also accompanied by a trustworthy friend or two, who function as outward reflections of his inner self.

As articulated in a handy chart by Frankel, Campbell’s Hero’s Journey includes:

* World of Common Day
* Call to Adventure
* Refusal of The Call
* Supernatural Aid
* Crossing The First Threshold
* Belly of the Whale
* Road of Trials
* Meeting with The Goddess
* Woman as Temptress
* Atonement with The Father
* Apotheosis
* The Ultimate Boon
* The Refusal of the Return
* The Magic Flight
* Rescue from Within
* Return
* Master of Two Worlds
* Freedom to Live

In contrast, Frankel offers up a different – but oftentimes parallel – outline of The Heroine’s Journey:

* World of Common Day
* Call to Adventure: A Desire to Reconnect with the Feminine
* Refusal of The Call
* The Ruthless Mentor and the Bladeless Talisman
* Crossing the First Threshold: Opening One’s Senses
* Sidekicks, Trials, Adversaries
* Wedding the Animus
* Facing Bluebeard
* Sensitive Man as Completion
* Confronting the Powerless Father
* Descent into Darkness
* Atonement with the Mother
* Apotheosis through Accepting One’s Feminine Side
* Reward: Winning the Family
* Torn Desires
* The Magic Flight
* Reinstating the Family
* Power of Life and Death
* Ascension of the New Mother

As you can see, many of the points on these paths are quite similar, with nearly all of the differences hinging upon the hero’s gender. (Paging Captain Obvious!) For example, while the male hero has daddy issues (the mother being largely absent), the heroine is plagued with mommy problems – and a weak father (and/or father figure), to boot. Whereas the hero will be seduced by a woman (“Woman as Temptress”), the heroine must remain vigilant against intimate partner violence (“Facing Bluebeard”). The hero meets and falls in love with a mysterious princess/goddess who introduces him to the magic of nature, whereas the heroine must wed the animus – her dark, masculine Shadow Self.

Drawing upon the whole of Buffyverse canon – the 1992 film, seven seasons of Buffy, five seasons of Angel, and Seasons One and Eight of the comic – Frankel elucidates the ways in which Buffy’s journey functions as a “perfect example” (I’m paraphrasing) of The Heroine’s Journey. Xander (passionate, practical) and Willow (innocent, intelligent) can be read as aspects of Buffy’s self, manifested externally, which must be nurtured and protected at all costs. Giles is both a manly guardian of knowledge and a (physically) powerless father (figure; Buffy’s actual father is both powerless and largely absent from her life). Maggie Walsh and Glory are Terrible Mothers – destructive forces that Buffy must avoid succumbing to. Whereas Joyce vacillates between a Good Mother and a mother who is at best oblivious to her daughter’s needs, Tara acts as a surrogate Good Mother in the wake of Joyce’s death; after Tara is murdered, Buffy must integrate Tara’s goodness into her own psyche, so that she can care for her little sister/adopted daughter Dawn. As Buffy confronts and defeats increasingly disturbing and powerful opponents – absorbing their darkness into her Self – she matures. So do her weapons: from a common crossbow (which allows to her keep a relatively safe distance from vamps), to a masculine, army-issued rocket launcher, culminating in the ultra-powerful, ultra-ancient scythe, which helps to unleash the power of the feminine so that all women are potential slayers.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: The Law of Superheroes, James Daily & Ryan Davidson (2012)

Friday, August 31st, 2012

Death & Taxes

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free advanced review copy of this book through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.)

Could Superman really run for president of the United States? Might the makers of the genetically modified spider that bit Peter Parker sue him for patent violations? Is the Superhuman Registration Act constitutional?

In The Law of Superheroes, lawyers, co-bloggers (www.lawandthemultiverse.com), and self-proclaimed comic book nerds James Daily and Ryan Davidson attempt to answer these questions – and many more. Wherever the law and comic book stories intersect (and the points are both numerous and varied!), Daily and Davidson are there, armed with a library’s worth of case law, a comprehensive knowledge of comic book lore, and an easy, engaging sense of humor. The result is an accessible, enjoyable look at US law as explained using examples culled from comic books.

The book is split into thirteen chapters, each of which covers a different area of US law:

1 – Constitutional Law: e.g., Does the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment grant mutants civil rights? Could the state ever force a superhuman to relinquish his or her superpowers?

2 – Criminal Law: If you murder a superhero who’s later resurrected, is it still murder? Is the Joker legally insane?

3 – Evidence: Could the court ever allow testimony given by a masked superhero? Can the services of psychics be used to verify a witness’s testimony?

4 – Criminal Procedure: Would evidence gathered by Batman be admissible in criminal court? Could a superhero be held liable for false arrest?

5 – Tort Law and Insurance: Does the nonconsensual use of telepathy constitute a violation of privacy? Who’s legally responsible for the massive property damages sustained in the comic book universes?

6 – Contracts: Could Batman really contract the services of thugs to rescue civilians, as he does in No Man’s Land? Are contracts with the Devil enforceable?

7 – Business Law: Which business designation would best fit a superhero team, e.g., for tax and liability purposes? Does the Americans with Disabilities Act afford mutants any protection?

8 – Administrative Law: Would Superman owe taxes on pieces of coal that he crushed into diamonds? How would flying superheroes deal with the FAA?

9 – Intellectual Property: Does Peter Parker own the copyright to photos he takes for the Daily Bugle? Do the surviving members of The Beatles have a copyright claim on music created by their counterparts in an alternate universe?

10 – Travel and Immigration: Could Superman really renounce his US citizenship? Would international restriction on travel apply to superhumans who travel by teleportation devices (i.e., since they aren’t technically crossing borders)?

11 – International Law: What are the territorial markers of Atlantis? Do US courts have any jurisdiction over crimes committed on other planets?

12 – Immortality, Alter Egos, and Resurrection: Would the compound interest on their investments provide a living wage to immortals? Can immortal beings collect Social Security in perpetuity?

13 – Non-Human Intelligences: As a non-human, would Superman have any rights at all? Can the Endangered Species Act be used to protect intelligent super-nonhumans?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I found the early,“sexier” chapters on Constitutional and criminal law more entertaining than those on business and administrative law. That said, the authors still manage to make the tax code seem somewhat interesting.

My chief complaint is that the most fascinating chapter – and that with the greatest potential for real-world implications – is the also the shortest: “Non-Human Intelligences.” The discussion begins with an all-too-brief look at animal rights law (without condescending to animal rights advocates – yay!) and how this might be applied to “intelligent” fictional nonhumans, including but not limited to the very humanoid Superman and his fellow Kryptonians; the apes of Gorilla City and the aliens Shi’ar and Skrull also get a mention. (“Intelligent” in scare quotes because, as per usual, intelligence is defined strictly in human terms.)

Artificial Intelligences – such as Brainiac, Awesome Andy, Ultron, and the Vision – receive just a page and a half of attention! The only legal issue discussed in any depth is who might lay claim to intellectual property created by AIs. The authors note several other (and much more interesting) concerns (e.g., “if an AI is a legal person, then is deleting it tantamount to murder?”), but fail to follow up on any of them.

Additionally, Daily and Davidson focus disproportionately on the DC and Marvel Universes; Dark Horse gets precious few mentions. Finally, while they include a number of reprinted panels, the quality isn’t always that great. (Granted, this problem might be specific to the advanced review copies.)

All in all, The Law of Superheroes is a fun, quirky book with great crossover potential. The authors approach both topics from an introductory perspective, so that the reader need not have much preexisting knowledge of either to follow along. A must for anyone who enjoys pop culture analysis, Smart Pop style.

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

"The Hungry and the Hunted"

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

A Facebook acquaintance (is it terribly rude of me not to say friend?) posted this video some time back (try a year plus! I know, I’m the worst.) and I’ve been meaning to share it ever since. The clip’s from a short-lived show called Sports Night, which ran on ABC from 1998-2000. A comedy/drama created by Aaron Sorkin, Sports Night follows the production of a fictional sports news show (also called Sports Night).

The third episode of the first season (“The Hungry and The Hunted“) deals with newbie Jeremy’s reaction when, upon being tasked to produce a hunting segment for the show, he witnesses a deer being shot and killed right in front of him. As someone who’s never desired to kill animals for fun or “sport,” Jeremy is so horrified by the doe’s murder that he becomes physically ill and has to be rushed to the hospital.

Especially notable is the language Jeremy uses to describe the incident; as he transitions from the hunters’ perspective to his own, the deer ceases being just a thing, an “it,” and instead is recognized as a living creature – a she. From something to someone – and then to no one, an empty shell. A corpse. And for no reason, or at least not one discernible to the narrator:

Jeremy: (pauses) Yeah. Bob and Eddie were using the IR 50 Recon by Bushcomber. It’s got a 16 inch microgroove barrel with .30-.30 mags, side scope mount, wire cutter sheath, quick release bolt, mag catches and a 3 pound trigger. So I figured we must be going after a pretty dangerous duck.

Isaac: You can wiseass all you want. You’re gonna tell me what happened.

Jeremy: We shot a deer! In the woods by Lake Matatuck on the second day. There was a special vest they had me wear so they could distinguish me from things they wanted to shoot, so I was pretty grateful for that. Almost the whole day had gone by, and we hadn’t gotten anything. Eddie was getting frustrated and Bob Shoemaker was getting embarrassed. My camera guy needed to reload so I told everyone to take a 10 minute break. There was a stream near by and I walked over with this care package Natalie made me. Sat down. When I looked up I saw three of them: small, bigger, biggest. Recognizable to any species on the planet as a child, a mother and a father.

Now the trick with shooting deer is that you have to get them out in the open, and it’s tough with deer ’cause these are clever cagey animals with an intuitive sense of danger. You know what you have to do to get a deer out into the open? You hold out a Twinkie. That animal clopped up to me like we were at a party. She seemed to be pretty interested in the Twinkie, so I gave it to her. Looking back, she’d have been better off if I’d given her the damn vest. And Bob kind of screamed at me and whispered, ‘Move away!’ The camera had been reloaded and it looked like the day wasn’t going to be a washout after all. So I back away. A couple of steps at a time. And I closed my eyes when I heard the shot.

Look I know these are animals and they don’t play bridge or go to the prom, but you can’t tell me that little one didn’t know who his mother was. That’s got to mean something. And later at the hospital, Bob Shoemaker was telling me about the nobility and tradition of hunting, and how it was related to the Native American Indians and I nodded and said that was interesting, while I was thinking about what a load of crap it was! Hunting was part of Indian culture. It was food and it was clothes and it was shelter. They sang and danced and they offered prayers to the gods for a successful hunt so that they could survive one more unimaginably brutal winter. The things that they killed held the highest place of respect for them and to kill for fun was a sin. And they knew the gods wouldn’t be so generous next time. What we did wasn’t food and it wasn’t shelter and it wasn’t sports! It was just mean!

Also of interest is how Jeremy calls out the hunters for appropriating Native culture in order to justify their needless killing sprees. That said, death is still death, no matter how much you “respect” or “revere” the animal whose life you’re about to end. She has her own interests, and I’m pretty sure they don’t include being digested in your gullet.

Of course, context would most likely make this exchange less impressive; for example, I highly doubt that the Jeremy character has a sudden epiphany and goes vegan (or better still, is already vegan). I can’t say, since I haven’t seen the show – but it seems rather improbable, no? Even so, given the show’s likely demographic – youngish-adult-to-middle-aged dudes who enjoy sports, sports shows, and comedies about fictional sports shows – such a compassionate message is a nice surprise.

After the jump: the full transcript for those who can’t view the video.

(More below the fold…)

fuck yeah winifred burkle

Monday, June 11th, 2012

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When this photoset came up on my tumblr dash, I immediately googled “Winifred Burkle,” since I didn’t recognize the character’s name. I’m familiar with Amy Acker, of course, but through her work with Joss Whedon in Dollhouse and The Cabin in the Woods; Angel, not so much. I just started watching Buffy last year, you see, and as of this writing am halfway through season seven. Angel is next up in the queue. Ditto: the BVTS comics. (No spoilers please! And yes, I am THE WORST for requesting this of a decade-old show! THE. WORST.)

Anyway, here’s what Wiki had to say about Winifred Burkle. Keep reading and you’ll see why I’m so gorram excited to meet this character!

Character history

Fred was born in San Antonio, Texas to Roger and Patricia “Trish” Burkle. When she finished college, she moved to Los Angeles for graduate school at UCLA. Originally majoring in history, Fred took a physics class with Professor Seidel, which inspired her to take another path. Around this time, she began working at Stewart Brunell Public Library. In 1996, while shelving a demon language book, a curious Fred recited the cryptic text out loud and was accidentally sucked into a dimensional portal to Pylea (her future friend Lorne was sucked into the same portal on his side and ended up in Los Angeles). It was later discovered that the portal was actually opened by Fred’s jealous college professor, Professor Seidel, who had sent every promising student to it, essentially sending them to their death. Fred was the only one of at least six to return (cf. “Supersymmetry”). […]

Angel Investigations

For five years, Fred spent an arduous life as a “cow,” the Pylean word for humans who are kept as slaves. The harsh life of solitude and serfdom took a serious toll on her social skills, as well as her mental health; when Angel meets Fred she is curled up in a cave, scribbling on the already-covered walls, having seemingly convinced herself that her previous life in L.A. had not been real.

It was revealed that Fred had once been forced to wear an explosive shock collar. However, Fred’s salvation comes when Angel and his crew arrive in Pylea to find Cordelia Chase, who had become trapped there. It is notable that when Angel’s demon came fully to the fore, it attacked just about everyone but Fred – including Gunn and Wesley. Despite this shocking display of violence, Angel never seemed to scare Fred, and even at his most demonic, he never attacked her. In fact, her presence seemed to have a calming effect on him.

When Pylea is liberated, Fred accompanies Angel and the rest of the gang back to Los Angeles and stays in the Hyperion Hotel to re-adjust to life on Earth and regain her mental stability. Despite several traumatic instances, such as being held hostage by Gunn’s old vampire-hunting crew, she adjusts quite well to “normal” life.

“I lived in a cave for five years in a world where they killed my kind like cattle.”

I AM GONNA HAVE SO MUCH TO WRITE ABOUT, Y’ALL!

I thought you were a bitch.

Friday, June 8th, 2012

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On the season finale of 30 Rock, Kenneth Parcell redefined the term “bitch” in a way that tickled my vegan feminist funny bone. (Yes, vegans and feminists have funny bones too!)

“And to think I thought Hazel was a bitch. Friendly and loyal, like a well-trained female dog. She isn’t a bitch. She’s a meanie pants.”

30 Rock, “What Will Happen to the Gang Next Year?” (Season 6, episode 22)

The part about being “well-trained” aside – ambitious and outspoken, bitches are anything but – I’d say that this is pretty spot on. Given that the observation comes from the “backward hick” character – famous for his nonsensical, fundamentalist Christian / quaint agrarian brand of “wisdom” – I’m not sure whether the audience is supposed agree. Whatever. Some of my best friends are bitches. Exhibit A: Mags, above, sunbathing on a copy of Bitch magazine.

On related note, this little tidbit from Texts from Last Night – re-purposed for Texts from the X-Files – also made me smile.

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For those who can’t view the image, it’s still of Dana Scully speaking to another woman; her back is turned to the camera, so I can’t identify her, but she’s a tallish brunette. The texts reads, “(716): I’d call her a cunt, but she doesn’t seem to have the depth or warmth.”

The moral of the story? Bitches and cunts are awesome.

Book Review: The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Ellen Datlow, ed. (2008)

Monday, May 14th, 2012

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You had me at “Maureen F. McHugh”!

five out of five stars

I first picked up this book because it contains a piece by one of my favorite writers, Maureen F. McHugh – “Special Economics” which, as it just so happens, I’d already read (it appears in 2011’s After the Apocalypse: Stories) – but ultimately enjoyed all but one of the sixteen essays in this diverse collection. With elements of horror, fantasy, post-apocalyptic fiction, alternate history, and the supernatural, The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy – masterfully curated by Ellen Datlow – has a little bit of something for everyone. Especially if you prefer your speculative fiction on the dark side.

In addition to Maureen McHugh’s “Special Economics,” an arguably feminist tale which takes place in a future China devastated by the bird flu, my favorites include:

* “Jimmy” (Pat Cadigan), whose eponymous (anti?-) hero is a young boy coming of age in the 1960s (the bulk of story takes place the day JFK was assassinated). Granted “enlightenment” by an alien species, Jimmy is shunned by those who can sense his difference – and want nothing to do with it. Ignorance is bliss, or so the saying goes.

* “The Passion of Azazel” (Barry N. Malzberg), a revenge story told from the point of view of a goat, sacrificed to the gods one long-ago Day of Atonement and then reincarnated as a (human) rabbinical student who fashions a golem who is quite possibly his long-dead brother goat.

* “The Goosle” (Margo Lanagan), a fittingly bleak retelling of/sequel to “Hansel and Gretal,” in which lone survivor Hansel escapes from the witch’s cage only to find a world more brutal than the one he left behind. (Strong trigger warning for rape.)

Some of the stories – most notably “The Passion of Azazel” – can be interpreted from an anti-oppressive vegan perspective, which I especially appreciate.

For what it’s worth, I just discovered Ellen Datlow’s adult fairy tale anthology series. Wishlist ALL the books!

 

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An excerpt from “The Passion of Azazel.”
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(Crossposted on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads.)

Book Review: Good Bones and Simple Murders, Margaret Atwood (1994)

Monday, May 7th, 2012

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Look who dropped in during my reading of “Cold-Blooded”!
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“The good bones are in here.”

four out of five stars

I snagged a used copy of Good Bones and Simple Murders (Margaret Atwood, 1994) on Amazon, whilst shopping around for some of Atwood’s older novels. A slim collection of short stories and poetry, Good Bones is an eclectic mix, with illustrations by the author peppered throughout. The stories cover a little bit of everything: fantasy, mystery, science fiction, speculative fiction, feminism, rape culture, gender wars, dating, death – you name it.

Many of the pieces are hit and miss; my favorites are the scifi stories that hinge on an environmental or animal-friendly theme:

– “Cold-Blooded” – An alien race of matriarchal moth people visit planet earth – or as they call it, “The Planet of the Moths,” a nickname owing to the fact that their moth cousins outnumber us by billions – and find humans sorely lacking in both culture and intelligence;

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“To my sisters, the Iridescent Ones, the Egg-Bearers, the Many-Faceted, greetings from the Planet of the Moths.” A page from “Cold-Blooded,” which also appears in In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination (2011).
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– “My Life As a Bat” – A series of reflections on the narrator’s past life as a bat, including a disturbing (and, as it just so happens, true) anecdote about WWII-era experiments in which bats were made into unwitting suicide bombers;

– “Hardball” – A piece of dystopian speculative fiction in which humans, having decimated their environment, have retreated to live under a giant dome. Since space is limited, the population must be kept in check: for every birth, one person is chosen to die via a lottery. Care to guess what becomes of the remains?

Also enjoyable are those stories which reimagine classic literature: “Gertrude Talks Back” gives voice to Hamlet’s long-suffering mother, and “Unpopular Gals” and “Let Us Now Praise Stupid Women” celebrates those villains and “airheads” without which fairy tales would not exist.

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“He’s a carnivore, you’re a vegetarian. That’s what you have to get over.”
– page 84, “Liking Men”
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While at times difficult to read, “Liking Men” is another standout; this is the piece that deals with sexual assault, vis à vis a woman’s journey back to coping with – and even loving – men (or rather, one man in particular) again after her rape.

A must for fans of Margaret Atwood!

(Is there a nickname for us, like HDM’s Sraffies? Atwolytes, maybe? Mad Adams and Angry Eves?)

PS – Dear Margaret: Fishes are indeed animals.

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“My eyes are situated in my head, which also possesses two small holes for the entrance and exit of air, the invisible fluid we swim in, and one larger hole, equipped with bony protuberances called teeth, by means of which I destroy and assimilate certain parts of my surroundings and change them into my self. This is called eating. The things I eat include roots, berries, nuts, fruits, leaves, and the muscle tissues of various animals and fish. Sometimes I eat their brains and glands as well. I do not as a rule eat insects, grubs, eyeballs, or the snouts of pigs [what, no hotdogs? – ed.], though these are eaten with relish in other countries.” – page 133, “Homelanding”
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Can we please stop pretending otherwise? xoxo – A vegan feminist fan.

(Crossposted on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote me helpful if you think it so!)