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Monthly Archives: April 2013

You’ve heard about Fake Geek Girls, right?  Terrible, conniving women who spend time and money on costumes and merch, studying a fandom, not to mention paying for hotels and convention memberships, all so they can PRETEND TO BE FANS, to LURE INNOCENT YOUNG GEEK MEN into their TRAP.  Said trap being, as far as I can tell, that they don’t want to have sex with the men who desire yet hate them.

Yeah, I don’t get it either.  But the idea is out there — not just being perpetuated by actualfax journalists and industry professionals, but lurking on Tumblr, Reddit and 4Chan.  There are no female geeks.  They’re just pretending.  Women are cheerleaders, which is the female equivalent of the jock, and the jock is evil.  Also, high school: never actually ended.

(I’m not the only one who has that nightmare, right?  I’ve had so many dreams where I somehow forgot to complete my science class that I have trouble remembering that not only did I finish science, but I came fourth in my grade.  Which isn’t all that impressive, because it was multistrand science, and also I missed, like, a term due to illness that I never made up, so actually, it wasn’t so much that I was good at it, as I was just in a really average grade.)

Now, I’m a Real Geek Girl.  I even have the business cards to prove it!

(…Well, minicards.  I felt like a wanker as I ordered them, but every time I go to a con, I find myself wishing I had something to hand out with my Twitter and blog addresses on it.  And you can also put text on the back.  So I have Real Geek Girl cards.  Or I will when they arrive.)

I’ve been a Trekkie since I was ten.  I have childhood memories of Doctor Who.  I started my first fan fiction when I was 12.  I’m helping to run a science fiction convention, for heaven’s sake!

Doth the lady protest too much?

Well, yeah.

I love Voyager, the wrong version of Star Trek.  (It’s full of women, you know.)  As a child, it was Sylvester McCoy’s era of Doctor Who that I watched (it was full of women, you know), and as an adult, it was New Who (it marginalises men!) that made me fall in love with the series and seek out Classic Who again.  Just like my subconscious thinks I’m a fake high school graduate, my jerkbrain thinks I’m an imposter.

Fandom loves a hierarchy, especially if it can put women close to the bottom.  (Along with other marginalised groups, of course, and I don’t mean to dismiss or erase the experiences of genderqueer fans and fans of colour.  But at the same time, I can’t talk about their experiences either.)

She’s not really a fan.  She’s fannish, but she shouldn’t be.  She’s a fan, but look what she’s into.  

A few years ago, when I worked at Borders, a customer annoyed me so much that I turned our exchange into a crude comic.

failcustomer

(Actual fact: there is a rare flower that blooms whenever the “City of Death” score is played.)

(Incidentally, I actually do have a chin.)

This isn’t just the fannish patriarchy.  The female-dominated end of fandom has its own internal hierarchy, with fic writers, vidders and cosplayers at the top, artists in the middle (“Anyone can draw!”) and lurkers — consumers, our own audience — at the bottom.

(For some ranting on the subject, come to the Lurker Panel at Continuum this year!  And if you’re wondering if it was a challenge to round up a panel’s worth of lurkers and persuade them to speak in public, you’d be quite correct.)

And crossing gender barriers is the idea that you’re not a “real” fan if you only like one era, or one spin-off, or you got into it because you like an actor.  There’s a reason Laura Mead’s essay in Chicks Unravel Time, “David Tennant’s Bum”, got so much attention from reviewers — she was proudly proclaiming that she was the Wrong Type Of Fan.

(The fact that her essay was also an exploration of the ways the Tenth Doctor represented a different kind of masculinity in his heroism seemed to go unnoticed — it’s not a new thing to say about the Doctor, but it has traditionally come bundled with baggage about asexuality, ie, he’s not a traditionally masculine hero and he wouldn’t touch anything so disgusting as a woman.)

I have this theory that, aside from the human love of constructing hierarchies, there’s a strong element of insecurity at work.

I mean, I don’t give credence to the stereotype of the nerd with no social skills, who lives with his parents in a room full of action figures, but I think a lot of us had a hard time in high school.  Bullies will latch on to anything that makes a person stand out, and only the very self-confident can keep that from touching them.

(And that self-confidence is what makes those kids popular.  Not that I could see it when I was a bad tempered 15 year old who hated everything and everyone but especially the popular kids.  But looking back, they were just as weird and awkward as everyone else, they just pretended they didn’t care.  I should have spent less time hating them and more time trying to cultivate that independence.)

When I was 11 and 12, some girls in my class used to slam me against a brick wall and shout, “BEAM ME UP SCOTTY!”

Those girls?  My best friends.  You know, when they weren’t bullying me, or belittling me for liking things they didn’t enjoy, or using me as the butt of their jokes…

I did eventually figure out that actually they weren’t my friends at all, but even now, I sometimes find that I tolerate poor treatment from people just because they say they’re my friend, and I get very, very defensive if people tease me about the stuff I’m into.

And it’s that defensiveness that creates these toxic hierarchies, these cultures of exclusion.  If what I like becomes popular, there won’t be room for me.  If there are new people coming into my fandom, I need to establish myself at the top of the peak, because what if they turn out to be really popular?

And then, sometimes, that gets tied up with the misogyny that permeates our society.  It’s a mixture of fear, male entitlement, and the psychological scars of adolescence.

Or maybe I’m just extrapolating from my own experience to the entire human race, which is probably a bad idea, but I feel like there might be a grain of truthiness somewhere.

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The Dust Bowl Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan History
Sense and Sensibility Jane Austen with annotations by David M. Shapard Classic
The Death Maze Ariana Franklin Crime
Relics of the Dead Ariana Franklin Crime
Eleanor of Aquitaine: by the wrath of God, Queen of England Alison Weir History
The Assassin’s Prayer Ariana Franklin Crime
The Shattering Karen Healey YA NZ
Gilt Katherine Longshore YA
Thus Was Adonis Murdered Sarah Caudwell Crime
The Shortest Way to Hades Sarah Caudwell Crime
The Sirens Sang of Murder Sarah Caudwell Crime
The Sybil in her Grave Sarah Caudwell Crime
When We Wake Karen Healey YA NZ
The Devotion of Suspect X Keigo Higashino Crime

Oh sure, this month the copy and paste will work!  How I love the capriciousness of WordPress!

Anyway, 14 books this morning, the year’s maximum so far, and achieved primarily because travel is a great opportunity for reading.  Highlights, lowlights, lights:

The Dust Bowl is a tie-in to a documentary of the same name, and it’s a compelling, thorough history of the United States’ greatest man-made disaster (so far).  What made it notable for me was that I didn’t know the dust bowl was caused by unsustainable agricultural methods coupled with a land boom — I had always been told it was a natural event.

I read the first of Ariana Franklin’s medieval forensic mysteries last month, and it had me eye-rolling quite a bit, but I was also keen to see what happened next.

What happened next was that I eyerolled even more, while nursing increasing contempt for most of the male characters and a good portion of the women.  By the end of the fourth book, I would have given up on the series all together, except the author’s death brought it to a merciful end anyway.

I was particularly troubled by Franklin’s portrayal of Eleanor of Aquitaine as a complete ninny, so I picked up Alison Weir’s biography.  I instantly found what must be Franklin’s major source for the series — some descriptions of historical figures were almost word for word — but finished it thinking that, yes, Franklin got Eleanor badly wrong.  She was a complex woman, of course, and not always likable even after one takes into account the misogyny of the men who documented her life, but she was never stupid.

Gilt by Katherine Longshore is a YA novel covering the reign and execution of Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII.  Catherine’s a difficult figure, on account of how she was stupid.  Granted, she was very young — in her teens — when Henry married her, but she only had to put up with him for a few years, and then she’d have been a rich and powerful widow.  Instead, she had blatant affairs, and then it came out she had been the opposite of a chaste maiden before her marriage, and off came her head.

Gilt covers this period from the POV of Kitty, one of Catherine’s friends and ladies in waiting, and it nicely captures Catherine’s selfishness, the danger and glamour of Tudor court life, and the rape culture that surrounded it.  Longshore also makes Catherine quite likable, to an extent, without losing sight of her failings.  It was an easy read, but a good one.

I didn’t intentionally set out to read all of Sarah Caudwell’s Hilary Tamar fics, but I started one, and found that I couldn’t stop until I’d read the lot.

This is a British series about a legal historian and a quintet (sometimes a quartet) of barristers who solve mysteries.  The Wikipedia page compares it to Enid Blyton, and seems to imply some level of immaturity and a lack of profundity.  THAT IS A LIE.  I mean, yes, it’s about as deep as a puddle, but it’s also terribly entertaining and funny (if you like that sort of thing), and if you can picture Enid Blyton writing about kinky sex, murder and international tax planning, you should probably come hang out with me so we can be best friends.

…I should say that persons whose taste for social justice outweighs their sense of irony should probably steer clear of the series, because once you’ve categorised murder as an inconvenience to probate courts and Just Not Cricket, nothing else seems very serious either.  So you have the description of Julia looking “slightly disheveled, like one of Priam’s daughters after an unusually trying rape”, and Professor Tamar’s concern that Cantrip’s educational background puts him at a disadvantage in the company of others, ie, he went to Cambridge, poor boy.  So don’t come complaining to me about how Caudwell needs to be called out on her privilege.

With the release of Karen Healey’s When We Wake, I suddenly realised that I hadn’t read The Shattering, her last book.  TERRIBLE OVERSIGHT.  But now I’ve read both, so that’s okay.

Reading Healey can be a bit disconcerting — we’re about the same age, we both live in the Southern Hemisphere, we read the same blogs — oh yeah, and we have mutual friends.  But she doesn’t know me at all.

Nevertheless, because I read her blog and follow her Tumblr, it can be quite difficult to separate Healey’s voice from those of her characters.  For one thing, I can often go through her writing and link ideas back to YA discussions and blog posts.  I guess you might say I can see her thought processes a bit too clearly.

Nevertheless, I really enjoyed these two books.  The Shattering is set in New Zealand, and although I found it highly predictable, it was a good, compelling read.

When We Wake was even better — set in Melbourne of the 21st and 22nd centuries, the Australian society of the future neatly and depressingly extrapolated from the current day.

Tegan is accidentally shot, and when she wakes up, a hundred years have passed, and she’s the guinea pig in a project to revive cryogenically frozen soldiers.  Australia is now a world superpower, with gay marriage, religious tolerance — oh, and a strict policy of no migrants.  Ever.  And refugee camps in the north.  

Tegan’s an instant celebrity, but aside from the culture shock and the trauma of waking up and finding everyone she loves has died, there’s the minor problem of the fringe groups targeting her.  And the conspiracy.  Yeah, almost forgot about that.

When We Wake was a thoroughly good read, and I wouldn’t have put it down even if I hadn’t been on a plane, but fair warning: I kind of sobbed through the last third.  The flight attendants were a little concerned.

Finally, The Devotion of Suspect X is a translation of a Japanese bestseller, which is in turn part of a series, which has been turned into a drama, which I belatedly realised I started watching last year.

I didn’t much care for the TV series, because the female lead was basically an idiot, which made it hard to watch.  In the novel, both main characters are men, but that means the main female characters are kind of passive and a bit dull.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the story itself very much.  I was less enchanted by the translation, which was quite clumsy in places, and, for example, referred to kanji as “Chinese characters”.

The Skytree is the tallest structure in Tokyo.  It’s a combination TV transmitter and shopping mall, shopping (Omo tells me) being the national pasttime in Japan.  It probably comes from having only one football code.

It was a grey, rainy day, and also it costs an exorbitant sum of money to ascend to the top, so we stuck to shopping.  Well, shopping and navigating crowds.  They go together.  Birthday presents were purchased for certain people, and I was quite excited to find the Japanese translations of the Harry Potter novels and Lois McMaster Bujold’s A Civil Campaign.

Why are the picture-inserting options for iPad versus browser so completely different?  It’s messing with the look of my blog, man!

Anyway, the Potter covers are simple and photographic, whereas the Bujold covers — Japanese translations of western books are usually split into two volumes — are illustrative.  They bear almost no resemblance to the actual text, yet are somehow more accurate than the American covers, and about eighty times more attractive.  Nicely done, Japanese publishers, nicely done.

MORE SAKURA! MORE!

The next day, Thursday, I had breakfast with a friend, and we found our way to a bookstore in Shibuya that also contained a reading area — like a library — plus a cafe, a konbini, a high-end stationery section… it was heaven.  Although I did make the mistake of trying a 25,000 yen pen, and now I can’t get it out of my head…

Afterwards I met up with Omo and Z, and we went to the Mucha exhibit in Roppongi.  It felt a bit silly, seeing a western artist in Japan, but hey, you take your opportunities where you can get them.  And if I’d had more time, I would have gone to the National Museum of Western Art as well.  (They have a Sally Morgan!)

The exhibit was amazing, and completely transcended the need for English labels.  It was also very crowded, but we kind of expected that.  Well, I did.  Except for the throngs in the gift shop — those were terrifying.

Nevertheless, I managed to find something appealing.  I really enjoy Japan’s approach to creating merchandise for high art.

Friday … I left.

Though not before we ate a dodgy breakfast at the airport that made us all unwell.  Having recovered from that — thank heavens! — I bid farewell to Omo and Z, and set off for home.

The trip home was fairly uneventful, although if I ever have to spend four hours at Hong Kong again, I’m going to budget for a visit to an airport lounge.  Because wow, did I have a headache.  And then we had our bags checked as we were boarding the plane — the signs told us we had Australian Customs and Border Security to thank for this — and passengers were forbidden to bring their own water onto the flight.  I almost had to throw out my water bottle, which made me rather cross, as it cost $20.  Plus, I have chronic dry mouth and throat — it comes with the rheumatoid arthritis — so I actually need that litre of water.  Fortunately the flight attendants refilled my bottle after I boarded, so all that was really achieved was a waste of water.

Some hours later, I got home, and I’ve spent a disproportionate amount of the last two days sleeping.  At first I thought it was just post-travel exhaustion, but I’m beginning to worry the small child behind me with the terrible cough was contagious…