Narnia: Fiends in Human Form

[Content Note: Dehydration, Death, Slavery, Victim-Blaming]

Narnia Recap: In which there is a storm and Eustace wanders off.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Chapter 5: The Storm and What Came of It

When we last saw the Dawn Treader, everyone on board had survived a narrow brush with dehydration-induced death and things were looking up as the ship came into view of a mysterious-and-unknown island on which there is presumably water. In expectation of this hope, Caspian has ordered increased water rations for the night and preparations to be made to go ashore the next morning.

Open Thread: Writer Workshop

A couple of you have requested a special monthly open thread dedicated to talking about writing projects (and other artwork-creation). So here it is!

Pencil by Elisa Xyz

What are you working on? How are you feeling about it? What thoughts and/or snippets would you like to share? How does your activism work into your art? What tropes are you hoping to employ and/or avoid? Open thread writing workshop below!

Open Thread: Moving

Hosted by a woman carrying a box

Hokay, so.  One of my friends moved out of his apartment, and another friend then moved into said apartment.  To save money, they decided to do this on the same day so they could split the cost of the moving van.

So that was my yesterday.

My everything hurts, and if I never see another set of stairs again, it'll be too soon.

Open thread!  What was the most memorable (for good or bad reasons) move you've seen or experienced?  Are you super-organized when it comes to moving, or are you one of those people still throwing random possessions into giant garbage bags the morning of the move?  Do you hire movers, or just bribe your friends with beer and pizza?  Do you have any hilarious stories about moving that you can share?

~ Kristycat

Monday Reminder!  While I have fun coming up with pretty pictures and/or interesting “prompt” questions for open threads, you aren’t limited to those!  These threads are open - go wild, talk about whatever moves you!  (Just remember that this is still a safe space, please!) 

And as always, please post new comments, rather than replying to other comments!

Review: Jam

by Yahtzee Croshaw

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jam / B00A7H2E3W

I loved Yahtzee Croshaw's first book, Mogworld, and I went into Jam expecting to love it and I *did*, so at least I'm both consistent and predictable, lol. (And I'm already on tenterhooks hoping that Jam will come out on audiobook soon so that I can listen to it for a second read-through.) But let me also just state upfront that Jam is not going to be for everyone (though nothing ever is), and then I'll get to why.

Jam is essentially a zombie apocalypse story with the zombies replaced by man-eating jam. Our point-of-view character wakes up one morning to find that his city was covered with three feet of jam while he slept and now it's up to him and the remaining few survivors to paw through the wreckage while navigating the rooftops of a ruined city. And this whole setup reminds me of one of Yahtzee's Zero Punctuation reviews -- I think it was one for Left 4 Dead -- where he theorized that as long as an author can re-create the tension and horror of the zombie apocalypse, you can replace the zombies with koalas and you'd still have a zombie story on your hands. And that's what Jam essentially is: a proof of concept that is delightfully grim and utterly original.

If you've read Mogworld, you'll already be familiar with Yahtzee's style of writing: Jam is semi-serious, but with a strong undercurrent of parody and sardonic wit. Most of the main characters are recklessly stupid and detrimentally self-involved with their personal preoccupations to the point where they routinely prioritize trivial impulses over their basic survival. And in some ways, the villains are differentiated from the protagonists ONLY by a matter of degree: when everything goes all Lord of the Flies a few days after the apocalypse, there's a strong implication that the villains just spiraled down a little faster than the majority of our protagonists.

What keeps the novel from being a bleak indictment of humanity (unlike your usual Lord of the Zombie Apocalypse novel) is the humor that saturates every page. The protagonists bicker amusingly with each other as they work around each others' shortcomings, and with dialogue that had me cracking up on numerous occasions; the villains are cartoonishly evil even as they shrewdly point out the flaws of the protagonists; and the apocalypse surges on around the confused and deeply distressed point-of-view character as he tries to adapt to the total destruction of everything he's ever known. It may not sound like a laugh riot, but it has the same delightful gallows-humor of Mogworld and I loved it: it's like if Douglas Adams wrote a zombie apocalypse with Arthur Dent as the POV character. And also there was jam.

Having said all that, Jam isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea. Many of the protagonists really are (or eventually become) flawed, sexist, racist, stupid, and/or evil to the point where some readers aren't going to appreciate being forced to stick with them to the end; to continue the above analogy, picture Zaphod Beeblebrox slowly devolving from a sexist misanthrope to, well, significantly worse. The characters are frequently called out on many of their flaws, both by each other and by the narrative, but always in a humorously sarcastic way that doesn't really make way for catharsis or improvement. For myself, I found the dysfunctional dynamics of the group incredibly compelling to the point where I finished the book in a day (and enjoyed every minute of it), but I also recognize that dark humor surrounding dark characters isn't going to be for everyone. (Relatedly: if you require your zombie apocalypse novels to be inhabited by sensible characters, this isn't going to satisfy.)

[SEMI-SPOILERS] Speaking of, Jam continues the Mogworld tradition of bittersweet endings where things are nominally fixed but still deeply, terribly broken. Now, granted, this is a zombie apocalypse novel and those are pretty much *guaranteed* to have bittersweet endings unless it turns out to have been a dream all along, but even allowing for the genre and the "sweet" part of the "bittersweet", there's still a profoundly sad note underlying the ending. As a reader, I didn't find the end dissatisfying, but ... it's not something that will sit well with everyone. Again, you'll probably be the best judge for yourself as to whether or not gallows-humor and tempered cynicism will be your thing or not. I offer no judgment on readers, either way. [/END SPOILERS]

I genuinely enjoyed this book and (as mentioned) tore through it in a day simply because I couldn't set it down. The premise is delightfully original, the POV character is deeply sympathetic, and the main characters are flawed in that very special way where they would be utterly insufferable in real life and yet are amusing to follow in a novel just so you can see how badly they will screw things up and so they can all call each other out every five minutes (in a manner which suddenly reminds me of Brian Clevinger's 8-Bit Theater comics, which I also immensely enjoy). If you won't be put off by a little unrealism (in the world) and a lot of unreason (in the characters) in order to carry a lot of delightful gallows-humor, I absolutely recommend this book if only for the sheer uniqueness.

~ Ana Mardoll

Open Thread - Castles

Hosted by Conwy Castle in Wales

But maiden and youth have vanished,
    Away from the scene and the light;
Gone, too, the high-born lady,
    And the plumed and armoured knight. 

Only the grey old castle,
    Of crumbling stone and lime,
Still stands to speak of the ages,
    And the iron footsteps of Time.  

 - A Castle Old And Grey, by Alexander Anderson

Friday Recommendations!  What have you been reading/writing/listening to/playing/watching lately?  Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about - the weekend’s coming up, give us something new to explore!  (Note: don’t forget to post new comments rather than replying to other comments!)
  ~ Kristycat

Tropes: My Wife Left Me

Here is a trope that I would be happy to see the back of: using "my wife left me" as shorthand to convey the concept of an intense, all-consuming personal project. Most recently seen in the Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter prologue:

I papered the basement walls with printouts of old photographs. Time lines. Family trees. I wrote into the early morning hours.

For the first two months, my wife was concerned. For the second two she was suspicious. By the sixth month we’d separated.

Look, here is the thing: yes, sometimes intense personal projects split relationships apart. Sometimes people -- of any gender -- decide that they feel like they are the only person trying to make an existing relationship be a relationship. Sometimes they choose to leave. Sometimes this happens, yes. I am not denying that.

But this trope -- which I have seen many, many times -- is almost universally employed with the framing that it is a woman in a different-sex coupling doing the leaving. And since we are naturally inclined to side with the male artist being left, given that we are after all in the process of experiencing (and hopefully enjoying) the work that his wife left him over, it instantly casts the individual woman doing the leaving as an antagonist to the very existence of the work we are reading. A woman tried to prevent this art from existing, says the trope-deployer, but I stuck with it for your sake, dear reader. And, no: I reject the attempt to position me into an antagonistic relationship with a woman I don't know for the sake of a framing device.

Additionally, since this is most frequently employed against wives-leaving-husbands, it reinforces the stereotypes that:
  1. Men are the only ones who create Serious Art.
  2. Women are preoccupied with silly daily things that distract from Serious Art.
  3. Women do not understand or appreciate the importance of (and sacrifices made for) Serious Art.

I reject all of that. Period.

There is a better way to say "I became increasingly involved with my project, even to the point of neglecting relationships of all kinds and possibly even to the point of self-harm" (or whatever the author wishes to convey in any case) that to reach for the tired-and-harmful "my wife didn't understand my art".

(Note: I think, based on the nature of the prologue and the cursory research I did on the author prior to this post, that the entire framing in this case is fictional: I don't think Seth Grahame-Smith was given the lost diary of Abraham Lincoln by a vampire named Henry, so I'm dubious that his wife subsequently left him over the ensuing project that followed this encounter. But whether it is fictional or not, however, I find the trope equally harmful when deployed in this way.)

Twilight: Objective Betterness

[Content Note: Rape, Murder]

Twilight Summary: In Chapter 13, Edward and Bella spend the weekend alone together in the woods.

Twilight, Chapter 13: Confessions

When we last left Edward and Bella, he was explaining how he rage-quit to Alaska after being tempted by her scent in that first Biology class before then turning around and coming home because he missed his family and apparently they couldn't be arsed to join him for a year or two until Bella left for college or whatever.

Open Thread: Luck

Hosted by crossed fingers

When I was in high school, I learned that if you drove through a yellow light, you had to slap your hand against the car visor.  For luck.

When I was in college, I learned that if you drive over train tracks, you have to lift both feet off the floor of the car and touch a screw.  For luck.

Both of these things are absolutely irrational - they will not keep you safe, they will not keep the light from turning red, and the second one could potentially add danger to what you're doing rather than take it away.  I know this.  In my brain, I know it.  And yet I still do them.  I still do them for the same reasons I still cross my fingers when I'm hoping hard for something, why I "prime" my D&D dice before each game, and why I still knock wood when I talk about something I don't want to happen.  They're so ingrained, even though I sometimes feel silly doing them, I can't quite bring myself not to.

How about you?  Are there any superstitions or "lucky" rituals that you still partly believe in even though you know them to be irrational?  Do you have any superstitions that you DON'T think are irrational - that is, that've been shown to work often enough that you credit them even though you can't explain WHY they work?  (I swear that set of green d10's was cursed.  We tested them!  We tested them scientifically!  For an hour!)  What interesting superstitions exist in your part of the world?  (The train track thing, for instance, I never saw outside of North Carolina, but the yellow light one seems to be pretty common.)  Do you know the origins of any superstitions, and if so, share them!


Wednesday Reminder!  Open threads are meant to be fun, chatty places to discuss anything that doesn’t “fit” into a deconstruction or other regular thread.  This can be something totally off-the-wall and random, or it can be something interesting that a deconstruction prompted you to think of, but which would be derailing to get into in the deconstruction thread.  When in doubt, move it over here - that’s what it’s for! 

And as always, please post new comments, rather than replying to other comments!

Narnia: Thirsty and Alone

[Content Note: Isolation, Sexism, Sexual Violence, Ableism in text, Dehydration, Death]

Narnia Recap: In which there is a storm and Eustace wanders off.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Chapter 5: The Storm and What Came of It

When we last left Narnia, Lucy was hanging about the ship in her swiffy new clothes eating yummy dinners and playing chess with Reepicheep.

   But this pleasant time did not last. There came an evening when Lucy, gazing idly astern at the long furrow or wake they were leaving behind them, saw a great rack of clouds building itself up in the west with amazing speed. [...] While she was noting these things and wondering at a sinister change which had come over the very noise of the wind, Drinian cried, “All hands on deck.” In a moment everyone became frantically busy. The hatches were battened down, the galley fire was put out, men went aloft to reef the sail. Before they had finished the storm struck them. [...]
   “Get below, Ma’am,” bawled Drinian. And Lucy, knowing that landsmen—and landswomen—are a nuisance to the crew, began to obey. [...] Then she made a dash for the cabin door and got in and shut out for a moment the appalling sight of the speed with which they were rushing into the dark, but not of course the horrible confusion of creakings, groanings, snappings, clatterings, roarings and boomings which only sounded more alarming below than they had done on the poop.
   And all next day and all the next it went on.

Feminism: Richard Dawkins Remains Deliberately Ignorant

[Content Note: Hostility to Reproductive Rights, IVF]
[Repost Note: This is a repost of an article that previously appeared on Shakesville.]

I'm just going to leave these here. (As screenshots because the Twitter embed is acting funky at the moment.)

Open Thread: Space!

Hosted by the Earth and Moon seen from space

Ok, so this is a thing: NASA has discovered two planets with environments that could sustain life.

You guys, this is a Big Deal.  Among other things it implies that potential extraterrestrial life is suddenly a lot more possible than we previously thought, as planets like these may be more common than we'd imagined.

Thoughts?  Reactions?  New inspiration for a science fiction story?

~ Kristycat

Monday Reminder!  While I have fun coming up with pretty pictures and/or interesting “prompt” questions for open threads, you aren’t limited to those!  These threads are open - go wild, talk about whatever moves you!  (Just remember that this is still a safe space, please!) 

And as always, please post new comments, rather than replying to other comments!

Elementary: Unaware, Unresponsive, Unconscious

[Content Note: Drug Addiction, Murder]

Official Episode Synopsis: Sherlock uses his powers of deduction to consult on the murder of a young man who is shot upon entering his apartment. Jon Michael Hill joins the cast.

, (Season 1 | Episode 2) "While You Were Sleeping"

The second episode of Elementary opens during a session of Addicts Anonymous. A man talks about his struggles with addiction and how long he's been sober, while Joan watches with obvious sympathy and support. Between testimonies, she notices that Sherlock seems to have zoned out to an almost alarming degree and is unresponsive to his surroundings; when she nudges him to ask if he's okay, he suddenly leaps to his feet shouting, "amygdala".

Open Thread: Summer

Hosted by the woods in summer
“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.” - Albert Camus

I hated The Stranger, but I love this line.  Possibly because I love the idea of strength in summer.

Friday Recommendations!  What have you been reading/writing/listening to/playing/watching lately?  Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about - the weekend’s coming up, give us something new to explore!  (Note: don’t forget to post new comments rather than replying to other comments!)

~ Kristycat

Feminism: On Identifying as Feminist (Part 1)

On Identifying as a Feminist (Part 1):
The Label of Feminist versus the Practice of Feminism

Colorful Barcode by Dejan Josifov
[Content Note: Religious Oppression, Classism, Racism, Marginalization]

Melissa McEwan has kindly made me aware of two articles which are related to one another as well as to what we do here:

Via Jessica Salter at The Telegraph -- Game of Thrones's George RR Martin: 'I'm a feminist at heart':
But Bellafonte's comments still rankle with Martin a year later because he is, at heart, a feminist, despite being cautious about admitting it.

‘There was a period in my life when I would have called myself a feminist, back in the seventies, when the feminist movement was really getting going and growing out of the counter culture of the sixties,’ he says. ‘But the feminist movement has changed. Sometime in the 80s and 90s I read some pieces by women saying that no man can ever be a feminist and you shouldn't call yourself that because it's hypocritical, so I backed off. I thought if the current crop of feminists believes that no man can be a feminist, then I guess I’m not one.’

I tell him men are allowed to be feminists again – that he can have Ryan Gosling, the 21st century’s thinking woman’s crumpet, as his mentor. He chuckles behind his candyfloss beard. ‘To me being a feminist is about treating men and women the same,’ he said. ‘I regard men and women as all human - yes there are differences, but many of those differences are created by the culture that we live in, whether it's the medieval culture of Westeros, or 21st century western culture.’

Feminism: A Conversation With Richard Dawkins

[Content Note: Infertility]

Placed under the cut because of Twitter loading.

Metapost: Disqus Down

It's not you; it's down on multiple blogs at the moment, including this one. *sad face*

Fat Acceptance: Compliments and Accusations

[Content Note: Fat Bias, Disability, Disordered Eating]

Small Cookies by Petr Kratochvil
One of the fun things about having a chronic pain disability is that I have to make a daily decision between taking really strong drugs with numerous un-fun side-effects or I can be in immobilizing pain for the day. Only it's not even really that simple, because some of my drugs rely on a sustained treatment in order to work, so I really get to choose between taking my drugs every day or being in immobilizing pain for however long it takes for the drugs to start working again if/when I miss a day.

Open Thread: Tragedy

Image adapted from Getty Images, via It's Okay To Be Smart

So here is a thread to talk about what happened in Boston, and what we're thinking and feeling about it.

Or about the earthquake in Iran.  Or any other tragedies that may have happened in other parts of the world, that Americans may not be aware of.

(I would hope this would go without saying, but this is still a safe space.  Be mindful of that, please.)

- Kristycat

Narnia: Ideals and Reality

[Content Note: Violence, Slavery, Rape]

Narnia Recap: In which there is a storm and Eustace wanders off.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Chapter 5: The Storm and What Came of If

Our child-king and his companions have now spent three weeks looting the Lone Islands and are preparing to sail off into the sunset. No, really, that's how this chapter opens:

   IT WAS NEARLY THREE WEEKS AFTER their landing that the Dawn Treader was towed out of Narrowhaven harbor. Very solemn farewells had been spoken and a great crowd had assembled to see her departure. There had been cheers, and tears too, when Caspian made his last speech to the Lone Islanders and parted from the Duke and his family, but [...], the first real wave ran up under the Dawn Treader’s prow, and she was a live ship again. The men off duty went below, Drinian took the first watch on the poop, and she turned her head eastward round the south of Avra.


And now we will never speak of the Lone Islands ever again.

Open Thread: Sports

Hosted by rugby

So this weekend was the Quidditch World Cup VI, in Kissimmee, FL.  So that happened.

As of my posting this, I don't yet know which of the 80 teams from various countries will be the World Cup Champion (though by the time you read this I will, and I'll certainly update you, even though you almost certainly don't care :P)  In the meantime I'll be out there, cheering for the Silicon Valley Skrewts and getting more sunburned than anyone should really ever get.

It's interesting to me, because if I'm honest with myself, I kinda like sports.  I used to be really into basketball when I was younger, and I discovered I like football in college.  But liking sports doesn't really fit the geeky stereotype - not to mention, I can rarely find fellow geeks who'll watch with me, and watching sports by yourself isn't much fun.  But quidditch, in addition to being a pretty neat sport in its own right (it's kinda like a combination of rugby, basketball, dodgeball, and wrestling), has that geek appeal that I can use to my advantage :D

Open thread!  Do you like sports?  Hate 'em?  Feel indifferent to 'em?  What's your favorite?  Would you rather play or watch?  Do you have any really good (or bad, for that matter) memories relating to sports?  Do you know of (or participate in) any unusual sports like quidditch?  To steal a question that was referenced at the games, what constitutes a "real" sport?  Would you consider quidditch (or ultimate frisbee, or underwater hockey, or the Redneck Games) to be "real" sports?  Why or why not?


Monday Reminder!  While I have fun coming up with pretty pictures and/or interesting “prompt” questions for open threads, you aren’t limited to those!  These threads are open - go wild, talk about whatever moves you!  (Just remember that this is still a safe space, please!)  

And as always, please post new comments, rather than replying to other comments!

Feminism: Helen Lewis Defending Privilege

Actual quote from Helen Lewis' recent tumblr post on language:

What if two women have different opinions on whether something is sexist? Or, harder, what if one gay person finds a phrase homophobic and the vast majority of their non-gay friends don’t?

[emphasis mine.]

Helen Lewis identifies as a feminist. There are additionally some notable and very public feminists defending her article -- which basically boils down to "Intersectionality is hard, so I'm not even gonna try" -- on Twitter and claiming that Lewis has been persecuted by people having the temerity to speak up on all the ways this article is a steaming pile of privileged. Because marginalized people aren't supposed to voice opinions, and when they do it's oppression. Par for the course.

There are already some upcoming posts scheduled on this blog about feminism and intersectionality and how a lot of feminists fail at it and why a lot of people choose not to identify as feminists because of this contextual history and how we should respond when feminists fuck up. I'd written these posts before this Lewis article went up and they are not in response to her. But I'd like to ask everyone to keep today's quote-of-the-day in mind as we talk about these issues because Feminists Behaving Badly is a thing and it's a thing we need to be aware of.

And in answer to the above, Helen Lewis, if a gay person thinks something is homophobic, it doesn't matter if every straight person in the world tells you otherwise; you should probably listen to the gay person who has actual lived experience with homophobia in a way that most straight people do not. And I sort of suspect that if you'd bothered to think about the issue beyond your personal privilege of Being Able To Say Homophobic, Ableist, and Racist Shit -- what if a woman finds a phrase sexist, but the vast majority of her male friends don't?, etc. -- for even a nanosecond, you'd have realized that already.

Feminism: Rachel Rostad on Cho Chang

Hit tip to Trudy:

Transcript here:
To JK Rowling, From Cho Chang
by Rachel Rostad on Sunday, April 14, 2013 at 9:22am

When you put me in your books, millions of Asian girls across America rejoiced! Finally, a potential Halloween costume that wasn’t a geisha or Mulan! What’s not to love about me? I’m everyone’s favorite character! I totally get to fight tons of Death Eaters and have a great sense of humor and am full of complex emotions!

Oh wait. That’s the version of Harry Potter where I’m not fucking worthless.

First of all, you put me in Ravenclaw. Of course the only Asian at Hogwarts would be in the nerdy house. Too bad there wasn’t a house that specialized in computers and math and karate, huh?

I know, you thought you were being tolerant.
Between me, Dean, and the Indian twins, Hogwarts has like...five brown people? It doesn’t matter we’re all minor characters. Nah, you’re not racist!
Just like how you’re not homophobic, because Dumbledore’s totally gay!
Of course it’s never said in the books, but man. Hasn't society come so far?
Now gays don’t just have to be closeted in real life—they can even be closeted fictionally!

Ms. Rowling. Let’s talk about my name. Cho. Chang.
Cho and Chang are both last names. They are both Korean last names.
I am supposed to be Chinese.
Me being named “Cho Chang” is like a Frenchman being named “Garcia Sanchez.”

So thank you. Thank you for giving me no heritage. Thank you for giving me a name as generic as a ninja costume. As chopstick hair ornaments.
Ms. Rowling, I know you’re just the latest participant in a long tradition of turning Asian women into a tragic fetish.
Madame Butterfly. Japanese woman falls in love with a white soldier, is abandoned, kills herself.
Miss Saigon. Vietnamese woman falls in love with a white soldier, is abandoned, kills herself.
Memoirs Of A Geisha. Lucy Liu in leather. Schoolgirl porn.
So let me cry over boys more than I speak.
Let me fulfill your diversity quota.
Just one more brown girl mourning her white hero.

No wonder Harry Potter’s got yellow fever.
We giggle behind small hands and “no speak Engrish.”
What else could a man see in me?
What else could I be but what you made me?
Subordinate. Submissive. Subplot.

Go ahead. Tell me I’m overreacting.
Ignore the fact that your books have sold 400 million copies worldwide.
I am plastered across movie screens,
a bestselling caricature.

Last summer,
I met a boy who spoke like rain against windows. -
He had his father’s blue eyes.
He’d press his wrist against mine and say he was too pale.
That my skin was so much more beautiful.
To him, I was Pacific sunset,
almond milk, a porcelain cup.
When he left me, I told myself I should have seen it coming.
I wasn’t sure I was sad but I cried anyway.
Girls who look like me are supposed to cry over boys who look like him.
I’d seen all the movies and read all the books.
We were just following the plot.

Review: Eve

[Content Note: Rape, Reproductive Coercion]

Eve (The Eve Trilogy, #1)Eve
by Anna Carey

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Eve / 9780062048509

I picked up "Eve" from Amazon Vine because it was sold to me as a cross between "The Handmaid's Tale" (which I love) and "The Hunger Games" (which I also love). That was, as we will see, a dirty lie designed by marketers with black holes where their souls should be. And now I'm stuck having to write a review for a book that I flung to the ground in disgust at about the halfway point. However! I am nothing if not interested in helping potential buyers decide whether or not to spend their hard-earned money on a book, so here is my Very Useful Summary of the first third or so -- if you like this, PRESS THAT BUY BUTTON NOW.

EVE: It's the evening before graduation, where I will present the valedictorian speech because I am the smartest girl in the entire world! Which is not terribly hard because 98% of the population was wiped out by a plague, but still. Also, I have no personality whatsoever besides being naive, obedient, and utterly unsuited for a dystopian environment, and am therefore intended to be a generic blank for the reader to sink into.

ARDEN: Hi! I'm the social outcast of the school and everyone rightfully mistrusts me because I lie and cheat and bully people! I have a personality, though, so you'll wish I was your protagonist instead of Meaningful-Name-Eve over there. I'm going to flee the walled school because graduates aren't sent to college; they're strapped to beds and forced to churn out babies in startlingly unsafe conditions considering how valuable they are as baby makers.

EVE: I don't believe you because that makes no sense: why would they teach us waltz and Russian literature if that were true? (NOTE: This really does make NO SENSE.) But despite the fact that you are an established liar, I'm going to break out of the dormitory, nearly break my foot, nearly drown, and get my hands torn to shreds on thorns JUST TO BE SURE. ... Oh, crap, she's right. Welp, nothing for it but to escape -- I'll go get my best friend.

TEACHER: Halt! Oh, Eve, I see you've decided to escape. I'll help you, but there's no time to get your best friend.

EVE: OK, if you say so.

TEACHER: I do. Oh, but go into the crowded dormitory and pack everything you own including the last letter your mother wrote for you before she died. Wouldn't want to leave that behind.

EVE: Of course not. I have priorities. And I'll try not to trip over my sleeping best friend while I pack. [later] Wow, it's really hard to find food and water when I've only ever been trained in waltz and Russian literature. Oh! Arden! Can I come along with you, despite the fact that my presence will hinder you and possibly get us both killed?

ARDEN: Sure, but I'll glower at you while the reader again wishes that I were the point-of-view character instead of you who are so impractical you refuse to use blankets if they've had a dead person touching them.

EVE: While you hunt food for me, I'll just wander off into this Walmart. Oh! A baby bear! Baby bears are dangerous; I know that much. But it looks like Winnie the Pooh. (NOTE: I am not making this up.) I'll just pet him for a bit. Oh! Look at the plot twist that is so obvious a dead man would have foreseen it: an angry bear mother. Whatever will I do?

CALEB: Hi. I'm a literal savior riding a literal horse. Sadly, though, I am not the Old Spice guy.

EVE: Er, how do you feed and shoe and nurture a horse in a dystopia?

CALEB: Look, just get on so we can escape the bear.

EVE: 'K. Don't rape me, though.

CALEB: I'm not interested.

EVE: WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU'RE NOT INTERESTED. "The plague had killed far more females than males. As one of the few women in The New America, especially an educated, civilized woman, I'd always supposed I was every man's type. [...] I was intelligent, I worked hard. I was told I was beautiful. I was Eve, the valedictorian of School." (NOTE: That is a direct quote in the context of Eve being offended at being told by Caleb that she's "not [his] type" immediately after she's been indoctrinated her whole life -- and been worried for the entirety of the book -- that all men are degenerate rapists.)

...and that was when I threw the book at the wall, because if Eve thinks that rape is a compliment, then she's officially too stupid to live. (Also, I'm pretty sure the book maintains this rape-is-a-compliment theme, since -- if I gather correctly -- the King of America will decide that Eve will be his own personal baby-maker, come heels or high water. BECAUSE SHE IS JUST THAT SPECIAL. Obviously.)

The one good thing I can say about "Eve" is that it demonstrates how not to write a YA dystopia. Eve has no discernible personality underneath her whiny naivete, and it occurs to me that one of the reasons why I love Katniss Everdeen so much is because she's a distinct person -- she's not a blank for me to sink into, but an actual character worth following in her own right. And in "The Handmaid's Tale" -- which "Eve" wants to be so much it hurts -- Offred's gaps in her personality was part of the point; society was doing its best to strip her self away and that was a tragedy, not something for an author to aspire to.

While I don't demand walls of text to explain world-building in my dystopias, I do require the setting to at least make sense. The hand-wave for why a tremendous amount of resources are sunk into the girls' education is quite ridiculous; the Latin and Russian lessons were supposed to keep them occupied so they wouldn't become suspicious (and would make them erudite protagonists, obviously). The fact that a HUGE number of years and resources are invested into these girls only to then keep them in unhygienic conditions that I *guarantee* would have them dead in a few years flat cannot be chalked up to the Bad Guys being evil and stupid; the system literally should have collapsed on itself before we even get to Eve.

And if it had, we all would have been spared a lot of bother.

NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through Amazon Vine, and which I am required to review as a participant of the program.

~ Ana Mardoll

Elementary: Pilot Perfection

[Content Note: Drug Addiction, Murder, Domestic Violence, Victim Blaming, Ableism]

Official Episode Synopsis: Detective Sherlock Holmes, along with his sober companion, Dr. Joan Watson, uses his uncanny ability to read people and analyze crimes to assist the NYPD on some of their more difficult cases.

, (Season 1 | Episode 1) "Pilot"

This first episode of Elementary opens with a woman being violently assaulted in her own home by an unseen assailant. This is potentially triggery, obviously, and that is going to be a hurdle for a lot of detective shows -- not everyone can watch them and not everyone will enjoy them. But, speaking as someone who enjoys detective shows, I can already say that there are a couple of things foreshadowed here that I love about Elementary.

Feminism: The IRS on Email Privacy

Iain Thomson at The Register--ACLU documents shows free access to emails for IRS tax police:

With the US Tax Day less than a week away, the ACLU has released a not-very-comforting Freedom of Information Act request return from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) showing just how easy it is for the tax agency to read people's online communications without a court-issued warrant. [...]

A 2010 presentation from the IRS Office of Chief Counsel stated that "4th Amendment Does Not Protect Emails Stored on Server" and that internet users should have "No Privacy Expectation." Under the current rules, if an email has been opened or if it's more than 180 days old, then the people who check whether you've been good or bad on your tax returns don't need a warrant for full access.

I'm not comfortable with any of this, including the pervasive mentality that the only people who wouldn't be comfortable with this must therefore be guilty of something they are trying to hide.

I, like a lot of other people, use my email as a way to store large amounts of information that I may need to access while away from home. Learning that this information is considered "non-private" merely because it is stored in the cloud is very troubling to me, and carries a lot of problematic implications with it.

Open Thread: Wine

Wine Aroma Wheel by Pierre Boucheron

I'm kind of delighted by this: it's a Wine Aroma Wheel.

I can't drink wine; it's a combination of the fact that every wine in the world (or at least every one I've tried, and I've had quite a few "wine for beginners" offered to me) tastes deeply bitter to me, and the fact that I have issues with alcohol. I can get deeply drunk off even the tiniest amount of alcohol, and the effect of alcohol on my body feels unpleasant to me in a way that's very difficult to describe. I think my mother said it best when she said that wine "makes my legs tingle and it feels bad"; it's not pain or even discomfort so much as deeply strange-wrong-bad-no. So I don't drink alcohol.

But I do enjoy hearing other people talk about alcohol, particularly wine. I think the aroma words above are lovely, and I like the look of wine in bottles -- I think wine bottles in a home are absolutely lovely decorations. I like wine labels, and have previously warned members of my book party that if the alcohol-purchasing is left to me, they'll get "the one with the kangaroo on the label because it's cute". (It is.) And I'm endlessly fascinated by corks and the products they make to reuse old corks, like the cork-trivet I saw one time.

Do you enjoy alcoholic drinks? What kinds of drinks do you enjoy? If you don't drink alcohol, do you have a fun/unusual/special occasion beverage? (I like the non-alcoholic sparkling grape juices. But they frequently puzzle the cashier, since they look like alcohol but the register doesn't prompt to check my ID.)

~ Ana Mardoll

Reminder! Open threads are meant to be fun, chatty places to discuss anything that doesn’t "fit" into a deconstruction or other regular thread. This can be something totally off-the-wall and random, or it can be something interesting that a deconstruction prompted you to think of, but which would be derailing to get into in the deconstruction thread. When in doubt, move it over here - that's what it's for!

Twilight: Wounded Pride

[Content Note: Rape, Murder]

Twilight Summary: In Chapter 13, Edward and Bella spend the weekend alone together in the woods.

Twilight, Chapter 13: Confessions

When we last left vampire-boy and human-girl, Edward was confessing how strongly he had been tempted to kill Bella when they first met, and how this temptation included the desire to kill various other witnesses as collateral damage to Edward's overwhelming lust (for which Bella blames herself, obviously).

Elementary: Announcing Elementary Whenevers!

(I wanted to say "Elementary Saturdays", but I cannot promise that, lol.)

Several things have happened to me this year, some emotional and some practical, and all of them have rolled up into a big ball of awesome to bring you all a new deconstruction picking apart everything I love regarding the newest Sherlock Holmes reboot: Elementary.

For one, Melissa McEwan has introduced me to the show, and helped to foster a deep and abiding love for this feminist-friendly masterpiece. Some of you have been following the "Liss and Ana Talk About Elementary" posts over at Shakesville, and those will be continuing as long as I have fingers to type and Liss has the patience to compile my random thoughts into a lovely coherent narrative.

For two, Best Friend has introduced me to Roku, which allows me to watch Amazon Instant Video with captions (omg, thank you, thank you, thank you, Best Friend), and which means that I can buy Elementary and watch it on my computer for screencappy goodness and deconstructiony rewindy times. This is a very necessary hurdle for deconstructing visual media and I am grateful.

For three, Melissa McEwan has written this amazing post -- Seek and Ye Shall Find -- about the awesome power of feminist love. Love for other people, yes, but also love for things like kickass television shows. And while I do have a love-deconstruction in the form of The Hunger Games, I'm also fully aware that a lot of those books is depressing like whoa, which has affected how quickly I can go through them and how many of you can follow them.

And thus has Liss inspired me to invest some time and energy into explaining all the reasons why I love-love-love Elementary, partly because I like to undercut the laughable Humorless Feminist stereotype where I can, partly because I want Elementary to succeed as much as possible, and partly because I want to encourage other shows to be more feminist-friendly in response. And mostly because I love this show more than I love Pirate's Booty Aged White Cheddar Crisps. (Which is, obviously, a LOT.)

Also, inspired by the Feminist Harry Potter and Friends and Feminism tumblrs, you'll be seeing stuff like this sprinkled into posts here and there on the blog:

Sherlock and Joan demonstrate that men and women
can be friends and colleagues
without becoming romantically involved with each other.
(SHERLOCK: Do you believe in love at first sight?)

(Posts with one-offs like the above will also be tagged as "roflbot" in honor of the swiffy site that provides this capability.)

Update: And it has belatedly occurred to me that my original plan of scattering roflbot posts over the blog over the next few weeks will mean accidentally spoiling people who haven't seen the show. So I will retire the tag and confine the screencaps to deconstruction posts under the cut.

Open Thread: Gardens

Path And Flowers by Petr Kratochvil

Do you garden?

I don't. I'd like to. But I never really have. For one, there's the problem that I kill absolutely everything I try to grow: possibly this is related to the fact that Texas hates the sorts of plants I would very much like to grow, and possibly this is related to the fact that I have absolutely no concept of how to grow things properly. I like to treat potted plants like I treat my cats: put food in the bowl once every three or four days, water them about as often, and talk to them whenever I walk by. The difference, I suppose, is that the cats can self-regulate their food and water from the bowls, whereas the plant just sort of soaks it all up in one go and languishes at me until the next feeding. And so I stick to cats. (Also: they are cuddlier.)

Then there's the slight issue that most forms of gardening work cause me severe back pain, so. But I did used to take a tremendous amount of delight in getting seed catalogs and planning out my dream mega-garden that I was totally going to plant one day once I wasn't in an apartment anymore.

So. Do you garden? What do you grow or what would you like to grow if you did?

~ Ana Mardoll

Reminder! Open threads are meant to be fun, chatty places to discuss anything that doesn’t "fit" into a deconstruction or other regular thread. This can be something totally off-the-wall and random, or it can be something interesting that a deconstruction prompted you to think of, but which would be derailing to get into in the deconstruction thread. When in doubt, move it over here - that's what it's for!

Narnia: The First and The Last

[Content Note: Violence, Slavery, Rape, Othering]

Narnia Recap: In which Caspian asserts kingly authority.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Chapter 4: What Caspian Did There

So now that Caspian has magically solved slavery forever with his brilliant insights from experiencing the slave trade from within for a full five minutes, it's time to collect the Pevensies and carry on with our adventure. We just need to do a few things first.

But before I begin, here are some verses to keep in mind. Or rather, just the one verse.

Metapost: Blogger Update (04/09/2013)

Here is your weekly Stylebot / Stylish code update for the Blogger interface.

Feminism: Accidental Racist

[Content Note: Racism]

So this is a real thing in the real world: Accidental Racist by Brad Paisley.

I find this song so discouraging. Not because I'm not aware that I live in a culture that is profoundly racist; I am aware. And not because I somehow thought that white US southern culture and its music was somehow immune to that (HA HA NO), because I didn't. And not because I assumed that the music industry would have the requisite checks and balances to catch something like this before it was made, because I didn't. And not because I hoped that the music industry would think that a song like this would be a detriment rather than an asset, because I don't and it probably isn't. (Unfortunately.)

I'm discouraged by this song because I expect more.

I will try to be as charitable as possible and say that I hope that Brad Paisley sang this song because he is awakening to the realization that he is a privileged white man living in a profoundly racist culture, and that he is realizing that the things he does and says without thinking (like wearing a Confederate flag) telegraph actual meaning to marginalized people who can't move in society with the same thoughtless luxury. And I hope that LL Cool J sang this song with Brad Paisley because he feels like any exposure of casual racism to a white southern audience -- an audience which is frequently profoundly hostile to even acknowledge the existence of casual racism -- is a positive thing that might move even a single person to stop being an entitled racist asshat.


This song? Is not a good thing. There are a lot of huge problems with this song, but some of the biggest problems with this song is the way in which it elides the fact that modern racism isn't an "accident" for many, too many, people; the way in which it fails to understand that thoughtless racism and careless privilege aren't softened by good intent (and that the explanation of that good intent is unwelcome and directs the focus away from corrective action); and the way in which it casually suggests that "real" racism is a thing of the past that we're only stuck with because of inertia.

To the man that waited on me at the Starbucks down on Main, I hope you understand...

No. Your intent is only valuable insofar as it makes you do better once you've been educated as to the problematic nature of your actions. The onus is not on others to understand your intent; the onus is on you to understand why your actions are a problem and to correct them.

Lookin' like I got a lot to learn, but from my point of view...

No. Your point of view isn't what needs to be shared here. If you are part of a privileged class, your point of view is already put forward front and center to everyone else. If you are part of a privileged class, you need to be listening to others' point of view, not speaking up to share your own. 

I'm just a white man comin' to you from the southland...

No. You are not "just" part of a privileged class. You need to understand that while you don't speak for the entire group, you have benefited from privileges extended to that group, and others have been marginalized systematically for not belonging to that group. You also need to understand that being part of that privileged group makes you capable of being a threat, even if you choose not to be -- and that marginalized people can't read your mind or see the future to know that you won't harm them.

And it ain't like you and me can re-write history
Our generation didn't start this nation...

No. Racism isn't something that just happened in the past and that we're stuck with today because of history and inertia. Racism is something that is actively perpetuated daily, right now, in violent and non-violent ways. Pretending that everything was bad then but is good now invisibles real problems and makes it impossible to address them. It's a form of deflecting responsibility and it brings nothing of value to this conversation; in fact, it actively harms.

We're still pickin' up the pieces, walkin' on eggshells...

No. If you are a member of a privileged group, you are not "walking on eggshells" because nothing bad happens to you if an eggshell breaks. Being careful to not fuck up and be a privileged ass isn't "walking on eggshells"; it's being careful to not fuck up and be a privileged ass. You also need to understand that casting "being careful to not fuck up and be a privileged ass" as this super-hard thing that is super-hard to do, you're pretending that being a member of a privileged class is rough (maybe even as rough as being a marginalized person!) and that is unhelpful and harmful.

We're still siftin' through the rubble after a hundred-fifty years...

No. See above, re: pushing off modern problems onto people of the past in order to deflect responsibility.

There is more, so much more, to say about how wrong this song is, but unfortunately I have a sick husband I need to take care of tonight. But I want to say that as a white southern woman and sometime-country-music-listener, I do not approve of this song. I don't agree with it. I am deeply discouraged by its existence.

I expect more.

Update: Melissa McEwan has a much better take on it, as usual. I recommend reading it. 

Open Thread: Candy

Smarties Background by Petr Kratochvil

What's your favorite candy?

I didn't like candy when I was growing up. One of my favorite stories about me as a child is that I loved Halloween and would always beg and plead to go to just one more house over and over again because I wanted to get all the candies. As many as possible! Then when my parents would finally take me home, I'd sit down on the living room floor and carefully sort out all the candy into piles. Chocolates, here. Fruit flavored things, there. Gum, here. Lollipops, there.

Then I'd stand up, dust myself off, announce "okay, all yours now", and go to bed. It was my parents' job to eat the candy I'd sorted -- and usually store it all together in a big candy bowl. But it was vitally important to me for some unknown reason to procure, sort, and count the candy. And always according to these categories that frequently made sense only to me.

(When I grew up, I found out that I do like candy. I guess I just had to let my sweet tooth develop.)

~ Ana Mardoll

Reminder! Open threads are meant to be fun, chatty places to discuss anything that doesn’t "fit" into a deconstruction or other regular thread. This can be something totally off-the-wall and random, or it can be something interesting that a deconstruction prompted you to think of, but which would be derailing to get into in the deconstruction thread. When in doubt, move it over here - that's what it's for!

Feminism: Please, No More Dating Guides

[Content Note: Rape, Sexual Harassment]
[Repost Note: This is a repost of an article that previously appeared on Shakesville.]

It happens every time there's a rape trial given national attention or an incident of sexual harassment highly publicized within a community: people start churning out dating guides purporting to teach men how to find sex without resorting to rape. And these "dating guides" have always bothered me, but it took an in-depth conversation with Liss for me to really understand why they irk me so much. This post is a product of that conversation and her collaboration, and is posted here with her permission.

I understand the good intentions behind these guides, I really do. More often than not, the authors reference the idea that we need to teach men not to rape (rather than disseminate "rape avoidance tips" centering on victim behavior and victim-blaming narratives) and feel like a post on how to date and/or hook-up without raping would be a positive contribution to that effort. But I also think that such guides, published in direct response to a very public incident of rape or sexual harassment, stand to do more harm than good. Allied persons inclined to speak to men about the value of consent-seeking need to be aware of the harm of writing them in explicit response to specific acts of sexual violence.

The guides ignore the actual current narrative in favor of a fictional one. The posts I've seen in the wake of the Steubenville rape case have largely centered around not sleeping with women who are awake-but-drunk -- a narrative that obscures the fact that the Steubenville rape victim was unconscious. The posts I saw in the wake of Rebecca Watson's elevator encounter largely focused on how and when and where to pick up women -- a narrative that ignored the fact that Rebecca Watson had explicitly and publicly stated that she didn't want to be picked up at all. These guides are wrenching real narratives away from women in order to tell a different story with a completely different context, and that's appropriation.

The guides reinforce the narrative that rapists don't know what they are doing. Some rapists are not aware that what they are doing legally constitutes rape. But most do. When we talk about "teaching men not to rape", we are not saying that rapists do not understand consent, but rather that rapists are not taught to respect consent -- as well as to respect the humanity of the women they might otherwise choose to rape. The framing that rapists are cultivated to deliberately dehumanize their victims and override their consent in a way that needs to be systematically addressed by comprehensive socialization and education is fundamentally different from the framing that rapists are just "clueless dudez" who need instructions on how to get laid in a safe and satisfying manner.

The guides reinforce the narrative that rape is a misunderstanding. Similar to the above, when these "how to get laid, rape-free" guides lay out in painstaking detail how to not 'accidentally' rape someone, the narrative that rape is one big misunderstanding is reinforced. The Steubenville rapists knew they were raping an unconscious woman, even if they didn't choose to apply the word 'rape' to the situation -- and guides which elide that fact in order to present rape as this exceedingly confusing and "gray area" situation where reasonably people can be completely baffled about consent and active participation is harmful to rape victims by suggesting that reasonable people can disagree about the validity of her rape.

The guides elide the reality that for most rapists, rape is not a bug, but a feature of sexual interaction. Again: teaching men not to rape is more than just teaching them what rape is. Teaching men not to rape means teaching them to see women as fully human and entitled to their bodies and boundaries, and teaching them that masculinity isn't about force and sexual gratification isn't about power. These are things that can be taught, but they are rarely things that will be taught in a dating guide. What can be taught in a dating guide is the false narrative that men are solely motivated by sex and that the rapist will give up his raping ways once he finds a sure-fire method for getting consensual sex.

Almost all rapists have access to consensual sex. Some rapists have access to consensual sex from their victims. The availability of consensual sex has nothing to do with the rate of rape, and these guides obscure that reality. The Steubenville football star rapists didn't rape an unconscious girl because they literally could not find any consensual sex and had to resort to rape instead, and it's terribly wrong to pretend otherwise.

The guides invisible women with prior intimate relationships with their rapists. Framing rape prevention within the narrative of a dating guide elides the fact that many rape victims have existing intimate relationships with their rapists. I had prior sexual interactions (including, in one case, a long-standing established sexual relationship) with my rapists. My rapists were not confused about my consent or about my boundaries; instead they allowed me my consent when it was convenient for them so that they could maneuver me into a position where they could override my consent without repercussions. Teaching these men to respect my boundaries might have prevented my rape; teaching them how to have consensual sex with me would not have prevented my rape because they already had that.

The guides entrench patriarchal entitlement to women's bodies. Too many of these "how to win consensual sex so you don't need to rape!" guides read like pick-up artist instructions. If we frame rape as something that happens only when consensual sex is unavailable, then we enter the misogyny-laden twilight zone where shirts like "Stop Rape. Say Yes." are made. Not all women want to be picked up. Not all women want to be flirted with. Not all women want to have sex with the specific man reading the dating guide du jour.

When these guides read like an encouragement that the man on the other side of the computer screen can have anything he wants and without having to resort to rape, it ignores the fact that he can't have "anything" he wants because sex with me is not on the table. He almost certainly can have sex with someone, but he equally certainly cannot have sex with anyone. Yet because these guides implicitly suggest that all women are available, and that all women are attainable, they entrench patriarchal entitlement to women's bodies. "You are available; therefore you must be available to me" is actually in fact a very common rape justification -- it simply cannot be salvaged for use in rape prevention.

The guides imply that Not Being A Rapist isn't a good enough reward. When we teach men not to rape because women deserve bodily autonomy and boundaries, then men learn not to rape because rape is wrong and it makes them a bad person. When we teach men not to rape because it's not necessary and there are lots of other, more valid ways to get sexual gratification, then men learn not to rape because they'll be rewarded if they don't. You don't get cookies for not being a rapist. Nor should you. The dating guides that dwell on the male author's experience and how awesome they were for not giving in to the temptation to rape are particularly guilty of this, because too often they seem to be suggesting that there's something laudable about choosing not to rape.

Choosing not to rape isn't a laudable act. It is a necessary-but-not-sufficient part of the bare minimum needed in order to qualify as a decent person. And yet dating guides which suggest that men questing for love on a nightly basis are brave and courageous and awesome for not raping women with alcohol, drugs, coercion, and/or fear are a major part of the rape culture problem by normalizing rape and elevating not-rape as something unusual and special and going-the-extra-mile. And this, too, entrenches the idea that men are entitled to womens' bodies: this idea that men are owed "reward sex" on the grounds that they haven't raped anyone lately.

The next time a rape trial is given national attention, or sexual harassment splashes across the headlines, or sexual violence is publicized long enough and loud enough and sensationally enough for everyone to weigh in on the issue for a few short days, please do not write a how-to-get-laid-without-raping guide. Please. Do teach men not to rape by teaching them that all women are people, that consent is crucial, that boundaries are a human right, that active participation is sexy, and that rape of any kind and for any reason is not condoned by you. But don't "teach" them how to avoid raping women by getting consensual sex from them instead, because you're not only missing the point, you're part of the problem.

Review: The Slither Sisters

The Slither Sisters (Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #2)Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #2: The Slither Sisters
by Charles Gilman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #2: The Slither Sisters / 1594745935

"Slither Sisters" picks up as the second in this series after "Professor Gargoyle", and I do feel like this installation in the series is even stronger than the first. As a brief recap of the series as a whole: Everyman YA Protagonist Robert Arthur lives in a world much like ours (minus anyone ever having heard of H.P. Lovecraft), except that Cthulhus and Shoggoths are using his middle school as a dimensional vortex for passing between worlds. The series relies heavily on Lovecraftian monsters, but doesn't delve as much into the tone and themes (presumably because this isn't meant to emotionally scar the targeted audience).

"Professor Gargoyle" ended with the revelation that the two missing twins -- Sarah and Sylvia Price -- have "returned" but are really Lovecraftian monsters in human form. "Slither Sisters" picks up from that revelation with the announcement that the girls are running for student body president and, if successful in their campaign, will use their position to kidnap more students for a body exchange. The plot summary sounded a little twee to me, but to its credit the book really manages to make middle school politics something engaging and interesting to get into, possibly because Lovecraftian monsters are summoned left and right to liven things up.

Additionally, there's a lot of new character development around girlfriend Karina and school librarian Ms. Lavinia and I found those side-developments to be genuinely engaging. Everyman Robert Arthur tends to be just-barely-not-bland for me (although younger and/or male readers may feel differently), but fleshing out Karina's existential angst and Ms. Lavinia's unexpectedly horrifying existence went a long way towards guiding this series back to more Lovecraftian themes of isolation and terror, so well done there. Finally, I loved the concluding chapters of this novel. It's very rare for a YA novel to genuinely surprise me these days, and I was taken completely off-guard by the ending and was absolutely delighted.

And I forgot to mention this in my review of "Professor Gargoyle", so I'll mention it here: I own the Kindle version for both these books and am very impressed with the formatting. The pictures are lovely, and the chapter headings are a very nice touch. There's even drop-caps here and there when appropriate, and it's nice to see a publisher treat the Kindle version right. Kudos.

NOTE: This review is also based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through Amazon Vine. (I received the ARC, and then purchased the Kindle version.)

~ Ana Mardoll

Review: Professor Gargoyle

Professor Gargoyle (Tales from Lovecraft Middle School, #1)Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #1: Professor Gargoyle
by Charles Gilman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #1: Professor Gargoyle / 1594745919

"Tales from Lovecraft Middle School" is a new YA series I've stumbled into; the books are set in a world much like our own, with the minor difference that no one has ever heard of H.P. Lovecraft, and Cthulhu and Shoggoths and whatnot all exist and are rapidly crawling out of the woodwork at the local brand-new middle school. And our everyman YA protagonist Robert Arthur is stuck in the middle between the adults-who-don't-know and the monsters-who-do.

I love Lovecraftian stories and am always down for a new exploration of the mythos, but I will admit upfront that these books are a little disappointing in the execution of the themes. For me, at least, it's not really enough to slap demons and tentacle-monsters into a book for it to be Lovecraftian; if there's not soul-crushing foreboding and a descent into a horrified lonely mind-breaking nightmarish existence, then it's just not the same. And "Tales from Lovecraft Middle School" doesn't really delve into existential angst or soul-striping fear, probably because the targeted YA audience needs to be able to sleep at night. I get that, and I think the series is fine as a "Lovecraftverse, but not Lovecraftian feel", but if you are coming to the series for that, be aware you're probably not going to get it.

Once I got over my initial disappointment that the tone wasn't quite what I'd hoped for going in, I was pleased to find that this book is still solidly good. It reminds me a lot of the Percy Jackson series, but with Lovecraftian monsters instead of Ancient Greek Mythology ones, which I think we can all agree is a positive thing. The writing is solid, the action moves at a good clip, I never felt like the narrative got bogged down in any place, and the characterization is really well-developed. I think I liked the characterization the most, actually; Robert Arthur is an everyman, but avoids coming off as bland, and his girlfriend and sidekick are both surprisingly well realized. I was also pleased to note that while at least one twist is telegraphed reasonably far in advance for the genre-savvy reader, a final twist is justified nicely enough that it felt very natural indeed. So kudos for that.

Overall, this opening to the series is well-written and fast-paced and I enjoyed it thoroughly once I adjusted my expectations for the content. This probably won't curl your toes in fear, but if you like mythological YA school series, this one can scratch a somewhat edgier itch.

~ Ana Mardoll

Feminism: Steven Landsburg on Rape

[CN: Rape]

Via Amanda Marcotte at Slate, University of Rochester professor Steven Landsburg has written a blog post in which he tries to suss out morality arguments based on the Obvious Something Horrible that is rape and (as can be expected whenever men in ivory towers treat rape as a delightful thought experiment) fails badly:

C. I’m having trouble articulating any good reason why Question 3 [ana's note: should the rape of an unconscious person be illegal] is substantially different from Questions 1 and 2 [ana's note: should porn be made illegal based on one person's preference and should any form of environmental damage be made illegal based on one person's preference, respectively]. As long as I’m safely unconsious and therefore shielded from the costs of an assault, why shouldn’t the rest of the world (or more specifically my attackers) be allowed to reap the benefits? And if the thought of those benefits makes me shudder, why should my shuddering be accorded any more public policy weight than Bob’s or Granola’s? We’re still talking about strictly psychic harm, right?

After Steven Landsburg was apparently roundly thrashed by his commenters for being a stupid mendacious fuckhead, he added the below disclaimer (and then later this one):
Edited to add: Some commenters have suggested that Question 3, unlike Questions 1 and 2, involves a violation of property rights. This seems entirely wrong to me; in each case, there is a disputed property right — a dispute over who controls my computer, a dispute over who controls the wilderness, a dispute about who controls my body. To appeal to a “respect for property rights” solves nothing, since in each case the entire dispute is about what the property rights should be in the first place.

I don't know how to adequately express my disdain for this false equivalence bullshit, as if anyone could reasonably make the case that a rapist might have the right to assert ownership over my body in the same way that a community might have the right to assert protective ownership over a national preserve, and as though ANY OF THE THINGS in those situations are somehow like any of the other things and as though Professor Steven Landsburg can just scrawl "Rapist : Rape Victim's Body = Community : Surrounding Natural Environment" on his university blackboard and have it make any kind of sense because he can't and that is some mendacious bullshit.

I have a lot of disdain for his little thought experiment, is what I am saying.

But I will say this: If Steubenville has shown us anything, it has shown us that huge swaths of the people in our country and culture don't think there's anything morally wrong with raping an unconscious woman. For university professor Steven Landsburg to claim that he co-opted her victimization solely because We All Agree that what happened to her is so unequivocally wrong that it can be used by him as convenient short-hand for Totes Wrong is so disingenuous it makes my head explode. And since university professor Steven Landsburg still claims to not understand how bodily autonomy works, either he hasn't learned the lessons of Steubenville or he doesn't care to.

Feminism: Genetic Testing is not Genetic Engineering

[Content Note: Infertility, IVF, Eugenics, Hostility to Reproductive Rights, Animal Cruelty, Hitler]
[NB: Not only women have uteri, get pregnant, and/or have need of access to abortion.]
[Repost Note: This is a repost of an article that previously appeared on Shakesville.]

An Egg by Petr Kratochvil
Richard Dawkins needs to stop talking about pregnancy, as far as I'm concerned.

Last Wednesday, he felt the urge to devote a series of tweets rehashing an old discussion he had with Peter Singer regarding whether or not the mythical pain supposed felt by an aborted fetus was hypothetically comparable to the pain felt by an adult pig slaughtered in inhumane conditions and came to the conclusion -- all the while ignoring the fact that human women can demonstrably feel pain too -- that while Dawkins was generally supportive of abortion and reproductive rights, he felt that fetal pain "could outweigh a woman's right to control her own body."

Presumably feeling that the attention generated in the wake of these tweets -- as bloggers such as myself pointed out that Dawkins' position absolutely requires the rhetorical removal of the pregnant woman from the discussion of her rights -- was particularly satisfying, Dawkins decided on Sunday to recycle his old arguments in favor of eugenics with this series of tweets.