What’s Making Me Happy: August 2017

A week ago, Matt and I were listening to an episode of NPR’s All Songs Considered, featuring songs selected from the “150 Greatest Albums by Women.” I was struck by a selection by Roberta Flack, a song I’d never heard before called “Tryin’ Times.” It was written and recorded several decades ago, yet my first thought was, “She’s singing about now.” It remains relevant because we’re still fighting battles that began even longer ago and may take just as long to win at last.

In the years since “Tryin’ Times” was recorded, our culture has been moving, slowly but steadily, step by step, toward an concept of egalitarian individualism in which everyone has value, and each of us is born with promise and potential that we may choose to squander or develop. Whatever our race, gender, nation of origin, or religious affiliation, each of us is a unique creation, and our merit is derived from our choices, achievements, and accomplishments. No one is born more deserving of respect than others. Respect is earned by the individual as he or she grows and ages. There are few ideals I hold more highly than this one, few I deem more worth fighting for. Yet still, for all the progress we’ve made, some people continue to push back against this ideal — people who believe in “roles” or “places” into which certain human beings must fit regardless of their own unique tastes and talents, who believe respect is a birthright granted only to those “like them” rather than an achievement open to all. Whether they wear Nazi swastikas or the white sheets and hoods of the Ku Klux Klan or some unholy amalgam thereof, they see egalitarian individualism as a threat to be destroyed. When they come out in force, demanding our attention, it’s sometimes easy to imagine all our progress has been an illusion.

Being happy can be a challenge in times like these. After all, we ought to be angry. But can our dismay at current events co-exist with the joy we take in the people and things closest to us? Surely it can. That joy is a part of what we fight for. So, here are a few things making me happy in this August of 2017.

Reading Age of Swords, the sequel to Age of Myth. The previous book was one of my most pleasant surprises earlier this year. I’m a third of the way through the sequel, and it actually improves on the original. I liked the prominent place given to women in the first book, and in the second book intriguing female supporting characters like Moya the spirited beauty, Brin the lore-keeper, and Roan the engineer/inventor get more page time and development. Persephone the chieftain is honing her leadership skills as her people seek to go on after their home is destroyed. Suri the mystic is learning to tap into the magic within her. Meanwhile, the threat of the Fhrey (elves) grows: their plans include genocide. Their traditional enemies, the Dherg (dwarves), make their first appearance, and it’s already apparent they are not to be trusted. If you’re looking for fantasy in the classic style, but with a more plentiful and active roster of female characters than the Founding Authors of Fantasy ever dreamed of, check out Michael J. Sullivan’s newest series.

Reading Stiletto, sequel to The Rook, a.k.a. my favorite contemporary urban fantasy. Like Sullivan, Daniel O’Malley is one of those male writers who loves writing about women. His interest in and enthusiasm for heroines is clear in his work. In The Rook he introduced us to Myfanwy Thomas, an awkward, introverted office drone (not quite so boring when the office is an organization of secret agents with mutant superpowers) who, despite her total memory loss, discovers her abilities and saves the day, with the help of letters written by her pre-amnesiac self. The conclusion shows Myfanwy forging a historical alliance between her organization, the Checquy, and their long-time rivals/enemies, the Grafters. In Stiletto we have a chance to see what comes of this alliance, and we meet two new superpowered heroines, Felicity of the Checquy and Odette of the Grafters. I’ve only just started this book, but the humor and excitement that made me love the first book are already in evidence here, and I can’t imagine not liking a book that includes the following sentence: “With them, she had battled bunyips in the Barbican, hunted horrors on Hampstead Heath, been air-dropped into Acton, sloshed through the sewers under Soho, and served as sentry at Sandringham House” (21).

Listening to A Darker Shade of Magic on audiobook. I’m partly through the fifth disc, and I have a significant quibble. Author Victoria Schwab does not share Sullivan’s or O’Malley’s enthusiasm for including multiple female characters in primary, secondary, and tertiary roles. Here we have one intriguing female lead and one black-hearted villainess, and that’s it for noteworthy female presences; all the supporting characters worthy of our attention are male, and that tries my patience a bit. Nonetheless, the male protagonist is engaging, and the scenario of multiple parallel Londons (based on the degree of magic in the environment and the people) fascinating, and Stephen Crossley’s mellifluous voice helps keep my nerves steady when I’m in sticky traffic situations.

Rewatching Ken Burns’ Jazz, and immersing myself in music that sounds like this.

Watching the premiere of the new “DuckTales.” I remember watching the original in my dorm room in college and delighting in the adventures of the prickly, miserly, but ultimately good-hearted Scrooge McDuck. Now Scrooge is back, and as charismatic as ever, voiced by my second favorite Doctor, David Tennant (an actual Scot, no less!). His nephews, Huey, Louie, and Dewey, are more individuated this time around, and Webby, a token squeaky-voiced tagalong in the original, has been upgraded into an imaginative, hyper-enthusiastic tomboy with a knack for spotting adventure in commonplace things (e.g. the garden hose of destiny, which does have a purpose in the show!). This is the kind of funny, energetic, and optimistic entertainment everybody could use right now, and I can’t wait for regular episodes to start in September.

Finally, this past weekend Matt and I went to my old home town of Douglas, GA for my 30th high school reunion. My friends back then all knew I wanted to be a writer, and I vowed I’d go to the first reunion that took place after I got published, and so, with Atterwald, Nightmare Lullaby, and six short stories under my belt, I greeted people that I hadn’t seen in a very long time but used to see every day. Good times came back to me I thought I’d forgotten. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything, and barring disaster, I’ll be there for the next one.

 

 

The Role Model Issue

When Jodie Whittaker was cast as the thirteenth Doctor, fans’ reactions ranged from “Finally!” to “WTF?” Responses from other actors who have played the Doctor, however, have been almost uniformly positive. Colin Baker, the Sixth Doctor, has been perhaps the most enthusiastic in his support, and tenth Doctor David Tennant, who stars with Whittaker in the crime drama Broadchurch, has given the choice a thumbs-up as well. Ninth Doctor Christopher Eccleston, normally reticent about the show and his time on it, has declared that with the casting of a Northern, working-class actress, “What could go wrong?” Yet one former Doctor has expressed reservations about the character’s regeneration into a woman — fifth Doctor Peter Davison (also the father-in-law of David Tennant), who says that he supports Whittaker yet at the same time laments the loss of a “role model for boys.”

Cue the controversy. Many fans enthusiastic about the change rose up to go after Davison with torches and pitchforks, to the extent that Davison chose to close out his Twitter account — yet more evidence that civil disagreement and debate are all but unknown in the world we now live in. Though I was never tempted to attack him (I still remember how much I loved him on All Creatures Great and Small), I admit that when I first read his complaint I dismissed it out of hand as the most ridiculous thing I’d ever heard. Yet after some time to reflect, while I still disagree with him, I can almost, sorta kinda see his point. Role modeling is a complex issue, and when we speak of role models we ought to consider what is being modeled, and how.

Let us say that what’s being modeled is heroism. What are some specific tenets of heroism that we can all agree on? Courage springs to mind at once, a willingness to take risks, a refusal to rely too much or too often on someone else to solve the problems. Resourcefulness is another essential ingredient, as are resilience, an unwillingness to give up even when the temptation is strong, and kindness, a readiness to help and fight for others. The reasons Davison’s complaint seems absurd is that for centuries we’ve seen these qualities modeled almost exclusively by male characters. What heroism female characters have been called upon to show has usually taken the form of patience and endurance — passive virtues, while men have gotten to display the active ones.

We can see this in a quick overview of the iconic tales so many of us take in as children. In the myths of the ancient Greeks and Romans, which fascinated me in my younger days, male heroes abound; when women take active roles, it’s usually to cause trouble (Pandora, Medea, Clytemnestra, Helen…). King Arthur and his knights are presented as bold, chivalrous heroes, albeit a little flawed at times; the women in their orbit, with the possible exception of Isolde, are either weak or wicked. Robin Hood and his Merry Men rob from the rich to give to the poor, righting the wrongs of an oppressive government, occasionally taking time to rescue the damsel Maid Marian from danger. Some hundreds of years later, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, we have the works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, and Mark Twain, full of fearless and resourceful boy heroes like Jim Hawkins, Mowgli, Tom Sawyer, and Huck Finn, characters who have stood the test of time. In this same period, many “books for girls” were published, but such works emphasized domesticity rather than adventure, and only a small handful of them (e.g. Little Women, The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables) are still read today.

What’s a young girl to do if she wants to daydream about being a hero and having adventures far from home? What I did when I was growing up, and countless others have done for years, of course — identify with male characters. Go into the backyard and pick up a good, sturdy stick, swing it like a sword, and imagine herself as the Gorgon-slaying Perseus, or the bold Sir Galahad, or Robin Hood, or even Peter Pan. Girls have had countless years of practice finding their role models in the boys and men of fiction. Boys have rarely, if ever, had to do this. So it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if the Doctor regenerates into a woman, she can no longer serve as a role model for boys.

We’ve come quite a long way in just the last three decades. With the help of such writers as Tamora Pierce, Robin McKinley, and Gail Carson Levine, we’ve come to accept that girls can be heroes, with the same active traits of courage and resourcefulness we’ve seen for so long in their male counterparts. Yet while we see more female heroes than ever before, they’re still significantly outnumbered, on both page and screen, by their male counterparts. The top ten novels on the Goodreads list “Best Fantasy Books of the 21st Century,” for example, are as follows: The Name of the Wind, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, The Wise Man’s Fear, A Storm of Swords, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Mistborn: The Final Empire, The Way of Kings, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and American Gods. While several of these titles feature women in significant and interesting roles, exactly one of them — Mistborn — has a female lead who occupies the center of the action for the balance of the book. With a one-out-of-ten ratio like this, if boys and men want heroic role models, they surely wouldn’t have trouble finding them.

But here is where I come close to seeing Davison’s point. We still have plenty of male characters for a male audience to identify with, but how many are role models? How many of them mix courage and resourcefulness with kindness and decency? Harry Potter does, as do the male leads in The Way of Kings, but at a time when Marvel Comics turns Captain America, once an exemplar of sturdy and uncompromised goodness, into a Hydra agent, it’s not unreasonable to ask just what a good many male characters in SFF, especially in film and TV, are modeling. The Doctor is a role model because the character displays insight and intelligence, willingness to make hard and even heartbreaking choices, and a desire to do the right thing, the kind thing, as Peter Capaldi puts it in his most recent episode, “The Doctor Falls.” How many character like this, male or female, do we see?

I’m thrilled we’re finally getting to see this character in female guise, but I would also love to see more male leads in books, movies, and TV who do not 1) think with their lower halves, and/or 2) use violence as their first resort when solving problems. I still hope with all my heart that we’re moving toward a future in which we see role models of every gender, that anyone in the audience can look up to.

 

Women on Doctor Who: Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going

Part 2: “New Who”

(WARNING: Spoilers)

I find I have less to say about the female Companions who have graced Doctor Who since its revival in 2005 than I did about the ladies of its classic days, for a sad and simple reason: their comparative sameness.

The Companions of yore could come from all over time and space, not just the world viewers would recognize. Susan, one of the first Companions, was the Doctor’s granddaughter, the “unearthly child” of the title of the very first adventure. Victoria, a Companion of Patrick Troughton’s Doctor, may have been mostly a helpless screamer, but at least with her we got the fun of seeing a proper 19th century Englishwoman adjust to a life of intergalactic travel; for Zoe Herriott, the writers went in the other direction, into the distant future. Leela was a savage warrior on a rocky planet, a descendant of human astronauts. Romana was a Time Lady. Nyssa was a native of the planet Traken. Women like these could bring a variety of different perspectives to the table.

Yet when the show was revived so successfully in the Thousands, its creators decided that the Companion should always be a 21st century human (with the exceptions of Nardole and recurring Companion Captain Jack Harkness, both men). Not that these women don’t have their own distinctive qualities, which have led me to take some to my heart and find others disappointing. But within that strict 21st-century-human template there’s only so much variety a creative team can find. Furthermore, it lays unwelcome stress on the Companion’s ordinariness. More than in the early seasons, the Companion is presented as an audience surrogate, the Everywoman to whom we’re meant to relate; the Doctor, an ubermensch, is too far above us. Here, as in so many superhero stories and YA SFF romances, we see the pairing of the Ordinary Girl and the Exceptional Guy, the just-like-us heroine and the better-than-us hero. It can be well done, as it is in the best “New Who” adventures, but its seemingly endless reiterations can be tiring indeed, and can start us longing to see, just once in a while, the woman be the Exceptional one.

My favorites among the Everywomen come from Russell T. Davies’ tenure as showrunner; they have their flaws, but I’ve found something to admire about each one of them. Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler might seem the most ordinary of all, a working-class shopgirl who, if the episode “The Unquiet Dead” is to be believed, has never heard of Charles Dickens. (A piece of weak writing in an otherwise solid episode! Whatever social class you’re from, if you’re a kid growing up in modern-day England, you will learn who Charles Dickens is, at least through the multiple BBC adaptations of his novels.) Yet in her very first adventure, she saves the Doctor’s life by using her own skill set. Some episode later comes a key moment that crystallized my respect for her: when she is about to explore a dark corridor, a situation that never ends well, she picks up a lead pipe and takes it with her, determined not to let trouble find her unarmed. It’s a tiny bit, but character-defining. Rose won’t be pushed into distress without a fight.

Martha Jones, the medical student played by Freema Agyeman, could have been a disaster, as one of her key attributes is her unrequited passion for the Doctor. Yet when she helps save the world through the power of telling the Doctor’s story, she becomes a heroine after my own heart, and whatever dignity her unrequited feelings might have cost her, she reclaims when she departs. Donna (Catherine Tate), her successor, got off to a rocky start with me, as an office temp obsessed with celebrity gossip and desperate for romance in “The Runaway Bride.” Yet when she joins the Doctor in the TARDIS, she becomes a figure of courage and compassion, the first one to see people in the adventure’s equation, and her office temp experience helps save more than one situation. She also has the advantage of being older than the two Companions before her, and the only one in the Davies era who has no romantic interest in the Doctor. Of all of them, she undergoes the most substantial growth. Were it not for her botched departure, in which she loses all the wisdom and experience she’d gained, she might have joined the ranks of my favorite Companions ever.

The message we get from the Companions of the Davies era might be summed up as, “An ordinary woman can do extraordinary things.” When Steven Moffat took over as showrunner, that message regressed once again to, “An ordinary woman can get into trouble and be rescued by a man who can do extraordinary things.” Karen Gillan brings as much pluck, energy, and humor as she can to the role of Amy Pond, yet she gets notably fewer chances to be the hero than any of the Davies-era Companions; were she “damselled” less frequently, her growth arc’s revolving almost entirely around marriage and motherhood might not bother me as much. Clara Oswald is a teacher with a curious mind and a sense of humor, engagingly played by Jenna Coleman, yet her potential is also squandered with a long succession of distressed-damsel plots. The case of Clara is particularly regrettable because she was originally meant to be the nineteenth-century governess we meet in the Christmas special “The Snowmen,” but that idea was scrapped, leaving us with yet another (yawn) 21st century girl.

Third time is the charm, or nearly so. Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie), a black lesbian working-class girl with a thirst for discovery and a taste for science fiction, is the first Moffat-era Companion I actually like. Though I’m white and hetero, I see more of myself in Bill than in any other female Companion; she won my heart completely in her second adventure, when she and the Doctor explore an abandoned spacecraft and she cries out in adorably geekish glee, “I’m on a spaceship!” Sadly, even this likable, fleshed-out Companion falls victim too often to Moffat’s predilection for distressed-damsel scenarios. He was apparently convinced that the only way to show off the Doctor’s strength was to put his Companions in need of rescue as often as possible, and toward the end of her time in the TARDIS, he put Bill in jeopardy in an especially painful way. (I’m not the only fan who objected.) In the Moffat era, no longer do we see those occasional awesome moments where the Companion saves the Doctor; she may try, but she almost always gets it wrong. The extraordinary man is Protector, and the ordinary woman is Protected. End of story.

In the wake of the Moffat era, I find myself hungry for something different and especially pleased that the creative team have chosen this moment to have the Doctor regenerate into a woman. As a new showrunner, Chris Chibnall, takes charge, the female thirteenth Doctor represents a fresh start in the show’s gender dynamics. As still happens far too rarely in SFF, now the woman gets to be the Extraordinary, the Exceptional. What will her Companion be like? An ordinary person who can do extraordinary things, or a perpetually distressed foil?

I’m hoping hard for the former, and I’m ready to find out.

Incidentally, the actor selected to play the new Doctor, Jodie Whittaker, can currently be seen on Chris Chibnall’s show “Broadchurch” on BBC America (with other “Who” actors!).  Her character on “Broadchurch,” a social worker still in mourning over the death of her young son, is pretty much the exact opposite of The Doctor.  Matt’s happy with the casting choice because it will force Ms. Whittaker “to actually be jovial!”

For further reading on the Doctor and his female co-stars, check out the books Chicks Dig Time Lords and Chicks Unravel Time.

 

 

 

Women on Doctor Who: Where We’ve Come From, Where We’re Going

Part 1: Classic Who

I first met the Doctor, Time Lord of Gallifrey, in the early 1980s when his adventures across time and space aired on our local PBS station. There’s a saying among Whovians that “you never forget your first Doctor,” and mine was Tom Baker.  He of the curly hair  with the mellifluous, aristocratic baritone voice, the slightly wild eyes, and the long, colorful scarf. Even as I’ve come to know and embrace other Doctors, I’ve never lost my love for Tom Baker, and over time my husband and I have been adding some of his best episodes to our DVD collection. Sometimes “Classic Who” is just what we’re hungry for.

Not long ago, we watched our DVD of “The Pirate Planet,” teleplay by the legendary science-fiction humorist Douglas Adams (then the newly-minted story editor of the show, and not all that far away from introducing “The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” to the word). It’s a delightful adventure on the whole, as the Doctor and his fellow Time Lady, Romana (played in this episode by one of my major girl-crushes, Mary Tamm) stop an evil queen from extending her already over-extended life by sucking other worlds dry. Grim as that scenario might sound, the episode has plenty of humor, as Baker’s episodes usually do, and Tamm’s Romana faces danger with the sort of unruffled, witty aplomb I associate with Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to those looking to become better acquainted with Classic Who.

Yet as I was reading the Info Text, a DVD feature that gives viewers fun and interesting facts about the production as we’re watching, I learned that Adams’ script had originally called for a heroic female guest star to do in the villainous queen with a well-placed blaster shot. Quite frankly, that would have been nothing less than awesome. In the finished episode, however, the heroine’s love interest wields the blaster and fires the fatal shot. This bothered me for some while after the episode was finished, particularly since Info Text offered no explanation of why the change was made. The female character was certainly brave enough, and the story seemed to have been leading up to her doing something useful. Why take the privilege of offing the villain away from her and give it to the man? I can only surmise the change sprang from a general squeamishness at the thought of a heroine killing someone, however much that someone might have it coming. For a man, killing the villain is proper, but for a woman it’s… unfeminine. I’d say, “That’s the late 1970s for you,” but then I remember that of all the Disney princesses throughout that company’s history, only two (Mulan and Tiana) actually got to kill the villain.

This rewatch of “The Pirate Planet,” along with the choice of Jodie Whittaker to play the Doctor’s thirteenth incarnation, leads me to reflect that to a great extent, the evolution of gender roles over the last fifty years, with all its progressive and regressive complications, can be glimpsed in the history of Doctor Who — partly in the depictions of the Doctor himself, but mostly in the female Companions (Whovians capitalize the noun) who have traveled with him.

Doctor Who was originally conceived as a show for children — or more specifically, a show for boys, and since a show for boys is really a show for everyone (there it is again, that bit of “conventional wisdom” that trampolines on my last nerve), girls would follow where the boys went. The earliest female Companions were designed not to serve as role models for the girls in the audience but to please “the dads” who would be watching with their kids. Not that these characters never had anything to recommend them; for instance, Barbara, the first adult woman Companion, came across as classy and intelligent, often a voice of reason. Yet their purpose was clear cut: to get in trouble and need rescuing, while a male Companion was kept around to handle the action scenes (the Doctor himself being above such things at the time). A studio memo describing Polly, a Companion who traveled with the first two Doctors, offers this blatant statement: “As a general rule, Polly should find herself in dangerous situations from which either Ben or the Doctor, or both, rescue her. She is our damsel in distress” (qtd. in Doctor Who Companions 38).

Zoe Herriott, a computer genius from the future, was perhaps the earliest Companion to move a few steps away from this mold, in that she considered herself the Doctor’s intellectual equal and even, at times, his superior, and could often handle herself in dangerous situations quite well, thank you very much; in the excellent “The Mind Robber,” featuring second Doctor Patrick Troughton, she defeats a man three times her size in hand-to-hand combat. But other attempts to change the early recipe for female Companions didn’t work out so well. One substantial black mark in the area of the show’s gender representation was the firing of Dr. Liz Shaw, a highly competent scientist who was the Doctor’s match in intellect (on the grounds that viewers didn’t like her), and replacing her with high-voiced, wide-eyed, hapless, clueless innocent Jo Grant, who offers no challenge to the Doctor because all he really needs is someone to hand him his instruments and tell him how great he is. Jo does have her moments, and at least she has an earnest desire to be more useful than she’s given credit for. Still, she stands as the penultimate example of the old-school model for the show’s female Companions. Once her tenure was done, audiences were at last ready to try something different.

What we got was Sarah Jane Smith, an investigative journalist who, despite having her share of distressed-damsel moments, still came across as a smart, funny, and courageous individual thanks to careful writing and Elisabeth Sladen’s engaging performance. No matter what the scripts threw at her, Sarah Jane never quite lost her charm, and the show’s fans liked her so much that many years later she headlined two spin-off series, with the latter, The Sarah Jane Adventures, becoming a bona fide hit.  In The Sarah Jane Adventures, she got to be the hero with her own set of young Companions. (Sladen was hard at work on a new season of the show when she suddenly passed away in 2011. Matt and I still miss her.) The show also served as a bridge between the classic “Who” series (hello, K-9, Brigadier Alister Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, and Jo Grant!) and the new one (Doctors 10 and 11 featured in a pair of episodes each). It’s impossible for me to imagine any female Companion who came before her having the stuff to carry her own show.

By today’s standards, Sarah Jane might still tend to get in trouble and need rescuing a little too often, but she did represent a notable step forward, and she paved the way for a pair of Companions who would challenge the old-school model even farther. When Tom Baker took over as the Doctor, the action-guy male Companion was phased out after a few episodes, and after Sarah Jane left, the show did something heretofore unexpected — it filled the action role with a new female Companion, the savage warrior Leela, who, despite being saddled with a skimpy leather costume to hold the attention of “the dads” who still had the TV on after football, managed to kick plenty of butt during her all too brief tenure. Another episode we recently rewatched, “The Sun-Makers,” places Leela in a particularly harrowing spot from which she must be rescued (and even when facing painful death, she remains defiant), but during the course of the episode as a whole, she saves the Doctor more than once. When she is threatened, she doesn’t cringe or cry; instead, she gets angry. I love the way Doctor Who Companions puts it: “Leela would never scream. Her foes, however, often do!” (74)

The next Companion offered an even bigger step forward, one that in the fullness of time has helped lead to where we are now, getting ready for a female incarnation of the Doctor. In Romana we saw our first Time Lady, or female Time Lord, whichever term one prefers — brilliant, sophisticated, inquisitive, different in personality from the Doctor but every bit his equal. Romana would have been inconceivable at the show’s dawn. Susan, one of the first Companions, was supposed to be the Doctor’s granddaughter and therefore (ostensibly) a female Time Lord, but we never really saw her act the part, as we did Romana. Like Sarah Jane, Romana and Leela both found a life after the Doctor as protagonists of their own adventures, headlining a Big Finish Audio series called Gallifrey, in which Romana, the president of the Time Lords’ homeworld, seeks reform and relies on Leela as her most trusted operative.

Sadly, with the departure of Romana from Doctor Who came a creative regime change, and with that a woeful rollback of all the progress that had been made in female Companions’ characterizations. Nyssa, the brainy amateur scientist/engineer from the lost planet Traken, who came onto the show in Tom Baker’s final days, could have been as awesome as Romana, but the show’s new creative team couldn’t figure out what to do with her, and her time on the show was brief. (Luckily, Big Finish Audio productions have given her more of a chance to shine.) We were left with Tegan, a self-described “mouth on legs” with an abrasive personality but few to no useful skills. All the same, even Tegan’s shrill whining was preferable to what came after — Peri, a character so appallingly incapable that I simply will not watch any full episode in which she appears, part of one episode being more than enough. The worst of Peri is that she just wouldn’t leave the show. She stayed on and on, and the writing for her never improved. It was all too obvious that her character, a complete throwback to the distressed-damsel Companions of the show’s earliest days, was designed with “the dads,” not the girls in the audience, in mind.

Yet the tunnel had a light at the end, one who still resonates today. The seventh Doctor and my second-favorite, Sylvester McCoy, spent most of his time on the show traveling with Ace, played by Sophie Aldred. Like Peri, she was an “ordinary” girl, meaning a regular human, but unlike Peri, she had some extraordinary qualities — boundless courage, skills in demolition (Nitro-9!), and a fierce, common-sense toughness; rather than running and hiding from danger, this girl would attack a Dalek (a killer “little green blob in bonded poly-carbide armor”) with a softball bat. In a number of ways, Ace serves as a forerunner to the style of Companion we would see when the show was revived some years later, with Christopher Eccleson as the ninth Doctor. Ace could be seen as a co-protagonist with a character arc that could be charted through the episodes in which she appeared. Many of Ace’s best episodes were as much about her as about the Doctor.

For this Whovian, the Companions matter. I like Tom Baker best not only because I saw him first, but because I enjoy the women he traveled with, Sarah Jane and Leela and Romana. Sylvester McCoy is my second-favorite first and foremost because of Ace. These women have a huge hand in making Classic Who worth watching. Yet the show is still called Doctor Who, letting us viewers know, if we were in doubt, where we should focus the bulk of our attention.

(Coming Next: The “New Who” and the Future)

Howe, David J., and Mark Stammers. Doctor Who Companions. London: Virgin Publishing, 1996.

A Confession

I have a confession. As much as I deplore the trope when it appears in fiction, I fear that I am “not like other girls.”

I don’t set myself disdainfully apart from the actual girls and women around me. Rather, I have a hard time connecting with the vast majority of movies, shows, and even books that a certain conservative strain in pop culture pigeonholes as “entertainment for women.” I have no plans to read the Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey series, as a pairing of a very ordinary heroine with an uber-powerful alpha-male hero, supernatural or otherwise, doesn’t appeal to me. I have never watched a single episode of Sex and the City. While I appreciate recent/current romantic comedies when they’re done well (e.g. Trainwreck), for the most part I can take or leave them. I loathed Mamma Mia (remind me to tell you that story one of these days). The new breed of raunchy “girl comedies” like Bridesmaids and Rough Night also holds no interest for me. Probably the “girliest” (as defined by the all-powerful Them) shows I watch are Orange is the New Black and GLOW — both of which my husband, who in fact got me into Orange, watches with me.  (Matt read the book Orange is based on, which he told me stops being based on the book at the end of the first episode.)  Yet that conservative pop culture strain still tells me, if not in so many words, “You’re a woman. This is what you get.”

This strain motivates the people who shout “SJW!” at those like me who hope to see women authors and characters better represented in other genres, such as SFF and action-adventure. These people cry foul when female characters are given prominent roles in franchises like Mad Max and Star Trek and when the Doctor regenerates from a man to a woman (an issue I’ll tackle in an upcoming post). Translation: “Get out of our Boys-Only clubhouse. Go watch Sex and the City or… something else!”

Bad news, gatekeepers: I’m not going anywhere. Neither are other women like me, and we are many. In the ways that count, I am “like other girls,” and we won’t be fobbed off any longer with the things you tell us we’re “supposed” to like. (Except pumpkin spice lattes. I love those, and Matt enjoys them too, on occasion.) We’re a colossal part of the reason why Wonder Woman is a bona-fide smash hit, and why we’re seeing more, and more diverse, female characters in the Star Wars franchise, and why BBC chose to take a chance on a thirteenth Doctor played by Jodie Whittaker. Fans who demand male heroes still have an abundance to choose from, but female heroes are now a part of the discussion, and fans like me will not see that progress rolled back.

Still, the wild popularity of “my-monster-boyfriend” books, as well as books like Fifty Shades, makes me wonder. My problem with these stories isn’t so much that they’re ineptly constructed (although I think they are) as that too many people see them as representative of “what women want.” This feeds the neolithic illusion that men are the true arbiters of good taste, that stories by and about women have nothing to offer male readers, and that the only ways to make a female character interesting to a broader audience are to put her in a traditionally “masculine” sphere of action and endow her with skills and traits commonly associated with masculinity. Yet while the monster-boyfriend stories and Fifty Shades thrive, far better stories by and about women, featuring elements that supposedly appeal to women, are waiting to be discovered. Somehow I don’t think these “arbiters of good taste” would find Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart quite as easy to attack as Fifty Shades.

Juliet Marillier, with her superb Sevenwaters Trilogy as well as her YA fantasies Wildwood Dancing and Cybele’s Secret, Patricia C. Wrede, with her funny, insightful rewrite of the usual “princess” narrative The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and Shannon Hale, with her lovely fairy-tale retelling The Goose Girl, deserve to be the household names that Stephenie Meyer is. I’m not sure why they aren’t. Less effective marketing, perhaps? I only know that the best girl-centric stories, whether they place their female heroes in presumably masculine spheres or focus on more traditionally feminine environments and concerns, show that girls’ and women’s lives are fascinating and complicated and encompass a lot more than fashion and adolescent crushes. “Girly” does not equal “lower quality,” however much the conservative pop-culture strain would like to convince us it does. The more we can challenge this notion, the better.

To those who may feel they’re “not like other girls” because they don’t see themselves reflected in pop culture’s notions of feminine tastes and preferences, have courage.  Someone out there is taking notice, and it won’t stop with Rey or Diana or Art3mis.  I say again, we are many.

 

 

I Have to Do This Again: A List of Names

When I was re-reading Euripides’ Medea in preparation for a class I’ll be teaching in the future, I came across an element I had forgotten, or maybe my mind had blanked it out. According to the conventional wisdom of ancient Greek culture, the god Apollo and his Nine Muses, the divine forces of artistic creation, did not commune with women. Women were believed incapable of creating anything meaningful or valuable — except babies, of course. This was ostensibly “how it was,” an unchangeable dictate of nature.

On the one hand, it delights me to see how far we as a society have moved beyond this idea. Yet at the same time, I’m saddened when I stumble across signs that some still hold to this view. It’s been tempered a little by time, but at its core it’s still much the same. Instead of “women can’t create art,” we now hear “women can’t create art good enough to deserve the attention of a male audience,” because of course only men are qualified to distinguish the gold from the dreck. One persistent form this idea takes is, “Women don’t write epic SFF.” Evidence abounds that this assertion is false; I’ve debunked it on this blog before. But it just keeps coming up, most recently in an article in the National Review, supposedly intended to expose the Bechdel Test as “useless political correctness.”

Here’s the article’s most fascinating aspect: it doesn’t deny that women lack representation on the Big Screen. It admits that the biggest blockbusters tend not to include many female characters, and the scarcity of women in important movie roles is just what the Bechdel Test was designed to highlight. But according to the article, this inadequate representation is women’s own fault. Apparently we just don’t tell the right kinds of stories. The big blockbusters are written by men, and male writers/filmmakers can’t be expected to include women in any meaningful roles (or so this article seems to think). Just look at the SFF section of the bookstore, it says, the place where filmmakers get their ideas for big-budget spectacles. All, or nearly all, the writers are men. And like the ancient Greek permutation of the idea, it’s presented as “the way things are,” as if the strides that have been made since the days of War Games and The Last Starfighter were an illusion or a fluke.

So yet again, I’ve gathered evidence to show this notion is just plain wrong. First I turned to Goodreads, to the lists where readers voted on “Best Fantasy Books of the 21st Century” and “Best Fantasy of the 90s,” and I focused on the first page of each list, the 100 highest vote-getters. Here books by male and female authors compete for space; how would the works by women measure up? Male-authored books did outnumber them, true — but on “Best Fantasy Books of the 21st Century,” thirty out of the top 100 spots went to works by female authors, and on “Best Fantasy Books of the 90s,” thirty-seven of those top spots went to books by women. That is hardly an insignificant minority, let alone an invisible one.

But the National Review author referred to bookstore shelves, so I went to my closest used bookstore, Books for Less in Buford, GA, and took myself straight to the shelves reserved for SFF. I started writing down every female name I came across. (I only included ‘initial’ given names if I already knew the writer was a woman.) This is what I found:

Lynn Abbey. Shana Abe. Elizabeth Alder. Alma Alexander. Margaret Allan. Katherine Allred. Jessica S. Andersen. Zoe Archer. Keri Arthur. Catherine Asaro. Christina Askounis. Jody Lynn Nye. Jean M. Auel. Camille Bacon Smith. MargaretBall. Gael Baudino. Hilari Bell. Marcia J. Bennett. Nancy Varian Berberick. Carol Berg. Laura Bickle. Anne Bishop. Jenna Black. Cat Bordhi. Elizabeth H. Boyer. Leigh Brackett. Marion Zimmer Bradley. Rebecca Bradley. Andre Norton. Mercedes Lackey. Gillian Bradshaw. Patricia Bray. Patrica Briggs. Kristin Britain. Mary Brown. Kathleen Bryan. Lois McMaster Bujold. Anne Kelleher Bush. Rachel Caine. Trudi Canavan. Pat Cadigan. Marie Brennan. Jacqueline Carey. C. J. Cherryh. Deborah Chester. Jan Clark. Jo Clayton. Molly Cochran. Amanda Cockrell. Shirley Conran. Storm Constantine. Dawn Cook. Louise Cooper. Juanita Coulson. Joan Cox. Janine Cross. Terrie Curran. Julie E. Czerneda. Rowena Cory Daniells. Anne Elliott Crompton. Sarah Douglass. Mary H. Herbert. Margaret Weis. Carole Nelson Douglass. Alyssa Day. Dianne Day. Pamela Dean. Susan Dexter. Diane Duane. Doranna Durgin. Kate Elliott. Rose Estes. Annaliese Evans. Erin M. Evans. Linda Evans. Jennifer Fallon.

But wait. I’m not finished.

Janny Wurts. Jane S. Fancher. Lynn Flewelling. Quinn Taylor Evans. Mary Gentle. Alexis A. Gilliland. Carolyn Ives Gillman. Christie Golden. Maggie Furey. Jeaniene Frost. Shayla Black. Sharie Kohner. Yasmine Galenorn. Kathleen O’Neal Gear. Kelly Gay. Diana Pharaoh Francis. Cheryl J. Franklin. Margaret Frazer. Nancy Freedman. Lorna Freeman. C.S. Friedman. Esther Friesner. Elaine Cunningham. Lisa Smedman. Gayle Greeno. Nicola Griffith. Barbara Hambly. Joan Lesley Hamilton. Laurell K. Hamilton. Virginia Hamilton. Tara K. Harper. Deborah Harris. Elizabeth Haydon. Lian Hearn. Barb Hendee. Zenna Henderson. Marie Lands. Laura Hickman. Robin Hobb. Tanya Huff. Angela Elwell Hunt. Mollie Hunter. Elaine Isaak. Michelle Izmaylov. Jean Johnson. J. V. Jones. Sherryl Jordan. Aline Boucher Kaplan. Katharine Kerr. Katherine Kurtz. Patricia Keneally Morrison. Elizabeth Kerner. Kimberly Iverson. Gini Kock. Elizabeth Knox. Sharon Shinn. Rosemary Edgehill. Lynn Kurland. Anne McCaffrey. Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. Julian May. Adriane Marine Barnes. Ann Maxwell. Karen Marie Morning. Janet Morris. Marianne Marcusi. Louise Marley. Ann Marston. Juliet Marillier. Jessa Slade. Morgan Llewellyn. Elizabeth A. Lynn. R.A. McAvoy. Jacqueline Lichtenberg. Rebecca Lickiss. Jane Lindskold. Holly Lisle. Julie Leto. Margaret Lawrence. Tanith Lee. Sharon Lee.

There’s still more.

Ursula K. LeGuin. Lynda LaPlante. Dinah McCall. Patricia McKillip. Juliet McKenna. Lyda Morehouse. Fiona McIntosh. Vonda McIntyre. Karen Miller. Donna McMahon. Richelle Mead. Shirley Meir. R.M. Meluch. Judith Moffat. Elizabeth Moon. Alanna Morland. Kate Mosse. Sharan Newman. Shann Nix. Lisanne Norman. Naomi Novik. Theresa Oliver. Fiona Patton. Julienne Osborn McKnight. Diana L. Paxson. Donita K. Paul. Irene Radford. Marita Randall. Melanie Rawn. Micket Zucker Reichert. Laura Resnick. Jenna Rhodes. Jennifer Roberson. Joyce Ballou Gregorian. Jane Routley. Kristine Katherine Rusch. Michelle Sagara/West. Melissa Scott. Josepha Sherman. Susan Shwartz. Jan Siegel. Joan Slonczewski. Kristine Smith. Jeri Smith-Ready. Julie Dean Smith. Midori Snyder. Melinda Snodgrass. Nancy Springer. Mary Stanton. Mary Stewart. Kathy Tyers. Deborah Talmadge-Blackmore. Judith Tarr. Sheri S. Tepper. Lisa Tuttle. Joan D. Vinge. Paula Volsky. J.R. Ward. Jo Walton. Elizabeth Willey. Liz Williams. Anna Lee Waldo. Kathryn Wesley. Catherine Wells. Kate Wilhelm. Connie Willis. Patricia C. Wrede. Susan Wright. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. Jane Yolen. Lisa A. Barnett. Sarah Zettel.

This doesn’t include a number of well-known names, such as Octavia Butler, N.K. Jemisin, and Nnedi Okorafor, whose books haven’t yet found their way to these shelves. It also leaves out writers of best-selling YA fantasy, such as J.K. Rowling. Even so, surely all these names don’t represent only one to ten percent of SFF bookshelf space. If they do, boy, would I love to visit that bookstore.

So once again, the evidence shows that women do write SFF — some urban fantasy, some paranormal romance, some epic and historical fantasy. There is no subgenre in which female authors haven’t participated. So I’m left with the question: why does the myth that women have no significant voices in SFF persists, when it’s so obviously not true?

And I’m left with only one very sad answer. It persists because of those who want it to be true, and believe that repeating it often enough will make it true. This is what we’re up against.

So I have to do this again.

(NOTE: In my previous draft of this blog, I included a link to the National Review article. I have since thought better of it and omitted that link. The women whose names I have italicized deserve our attention. The author of that article does not. Tor.com’s latest Sleeps With Monsters commentary by Liz Bourke has some choice words to say about the ongoing foolishness. I link that instead.)

 

 

 

Assessing the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Part 2

WARNING: Spoilers for the MCU.

(NOTE: My Good list from my previous post omits the best film I’ve seen based on a Marvel Comics property, Logan, the swan song for Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. It has its share of grit and grime, but it also has a heart and a grace note of hope, and it boasts sterling performances from all its principals. The movie’s young heroine, Laura, is almost a co-protagonist in terms of the development and emphasis she is given. But I had to leave it out, since it’s not officially a part of Disney’s MCU. I just wanted to note my regard for it.)

THE OKAY:

Captain America: Civil War. Third time isn’t quite the charm for the Captain America series, at least where female characters are concerned. While I enjoyed the intriguing and charismatic Black Panther (the highlight of the film, for me), and the movie’s central question of how and why superheroes might be policed has no easy answers, the problem is that the more characters are included, the less development there is to go around, and this time, sadly, the women (Black Widow and Scarlet Witch) are given short shrift. Black Widow does get my favorite line in the movie, however; when another character asks her whether anyone has ever told her she’s paranoid, she responds, tongue firmly in cheek, “Not to my face. Why? Has somebody said something?”

Avengers: Age of Ultron. Some of the fun of the last team-up is preserved, and the addition of Scarlet Witch is welcome, but again, Scarlett Johannson’s Black Widow is underserved. In the first film, she plays the distressed damsel. In this one, she is the distressed damsel, the only team member to get captured. She observes and thinks while in captivity, but she must wait for her male partners to rescue her — a sad case of a sequel being less progressive than its predecessor in terms of representation and challenging the old gender stereotypes.

Iron Man. Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark is an engaging anti-hero, and while non-powered love interest Pepper Potts is a quivering bundle of terror at the climax (as well she might be), she still manages to be useful. Yet Pepper’s first scene puts a bad taste in my mouth that never quite goes away, as she refers to dispensing with Stark’s latest bed-mate, an investigative reporter, as “taking out the trash” — to the woman’s face. What exactly makes this woman “trash”? That she sleeps with Stark, or that she asks him hard questions? Or is this a way of pointing out that “trash” is how Stark sees her? Because Pepper is the heroine, we in the audience are clearly supposed to be fine with this bit of catty slut-shaming. Well, sorry. It bugs me.

THE DISAPPOINTING:

Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2, or The Movie Everyone Else Loves. I can handle a villainess like the High Priestess of the Sovereigns as long as the female hero gets her share of badass moments. Gamora, my favorite green-skinned assassin, gets one, and only one, badass moment, and it takes place in the movie’s first ten minutes. Thereafter she gets next to nothing to do but fret about Peter Quill and commiserate with her evil sister Nebula. To make matters worse, we’re introduced to Mantis, a thinly veiled stereotype of an Asian “comfort woman” who has very little to contribute and is accordingly the first to get knocked out at the climax. Aside from Quill himself, the only members of the team who have truly meaningful “hero moments” are Rocket Raccoon and ex-villain Yondu. As a result I find myself longing to edit the Sovereigns right out of the movie. It has plenty of story without them, after all.

Doctor Strange. Setting aside the obvious objections — the miscasting of Tilda Swinton in a role for which Michelle Yeoh would have been ideal, and the criminal underdevelopment of yet another non-powered love interest (I swear, once, just once, can’t a superpowered man fall for a superpowered woman? Just to shake things up?) — my dissatisfaction can be summed up by a brief description of the climactic battle. Evil is represented by a man and two women. On the side of Good, we have three men. I just can’t bring myself to be okay with that.

Thor: The Dark World. Kenneth Branagh’s failure to return as director should have been sufficient warning that a lot of the earlier movie’s charm would be lost in this one. Its worse crime: the reduction of Jane Foster, the active and competent heroine of the first film, to a damsel who does nothing useful until the last fifteen minutes and who spends nearly half the running time unconscious, being carried hither and yon by Thor and even Loki. In the first film, I could almost understand why Thor would fall for Jane when the amazing Sif was right there, but in this one it becomes a clear case of “Gentlemen Prefer Damsels,” a trope that sets my teeth on edge. Not helping matters: seeing another female character go full badass just long enough to get herself killed.

Iron Man 2 and Iron Man 3. The most important thing about these films is how little I remember them. I remember from 2 the first appearance of Black Widow getting a big build-up with little payoff and Tony Stark being a charmless jerk for most of the running time. From 3 I remember Pepper finally getting superhero capabilities only to lose them, because apparently a superhero’s love interest just has to be an Ordinary Girl. Beyond that, I couldn’t tell you a thing about what happens in either of these films.

HAVEN’T SEEN:

Ant-Man. The sidelining of a capable potential female hero in favor of a less competent man is actually a significant plot point in this one, and a closing-credits scene really can’t make up for it. It just isn’t for me.

THE OUTLOOK:

Spider-Man: Homecoming. Despite great reviews, I will probably wait for the Blu-Ray release to see it. I have heard from people who note that the movie shows a conscious effort to make its young female characters smart and interesting, and this time around they aren’t damseled. Good. But I think I may need a bit more distance from Wonder Woman in order to enjoy it properly.

Thor: Ragnarok. My lack of interest in this one is based entirely on the trailer. Cate Blanchett’s Hela is a powerful force for Evil, but unfortunately it looks like Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie is also a villain, albeit a more minor one. No one remotely like a heroine, let alone a female hero, appears in the trailer. Some movies seem to have been designed from the ground up to please me (from last year, Hidden Figures, Moana, and Zootopia). This one looks as if it were designed not to please me. All the same, I’ll keep an eye out for some Spoilery reviews, because sometimes trailers are misleading.

 

Assessing the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Part 1

I’ve always contended that fan battles are, for the most part, silly — as if you couldn’t enjoy both Star Wars and Star Trek, or appreciate David Tennant and Matt Smith in the role of The Doctor. Yet if I had to choose a side in the contest between DC and Marvel Comics properties, I would declare my allegiance to Marvel. The only superhero graphic novel series I’ve taken an interest in over the last few years have been She-Hulk (the “Superhuman Law” stories), Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, and Squirrel Girl. In the realm of television, the only DC show I watch is Supergirl, yet I’ve followed Agents of SHIELD, Jessica Jones, and Agent Carter, and my husband and I are just starting on Luke Cage. In animation, DC has an edge, since Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, and Young Justice were all favorites of mine, yet I don’t think the DC Animated Universe has released a strongly female-positive movie since Superman/Batman: Apocalypse. (And no, I’m not keen at all to see Batman and Harley Quinn.) On the Big Screen, for me at least, there’s just no contest. I haven’t seen, and don’t plan to see, every Marvel Cinematic Universe release, but in general the MCU adopts the tone I prefer to see when I watch a superhero flick — fun, energetic, and on the whole optimistic. Marvel all the way.

But now that Wonder Woman has happened, I’m a little less sure. After years of waiting, we finally have proof that a female superhero can serve as the lead in a good movie that people want to see. No longer can Hollywood execs point to Catwoman, Elektra, and Red Sonja as evidence that comic book movies featuring female heroes just don’t work. Those days are gone, and good riddance to them. Yet I find myself retroactively disappointed in the Marvel films, that so far none of them have shown remotely the same kind of faith in female superheroism that we see in Wonder Woman. In the Marvel films, when female heroes (not superheroes; of all the women I’ve seen in Marvel films, I can think of only two on the side of good that possess any superhuman qualities) show up, they’re part of teams on which they’re outnumbered by men, and in most of these films the female leads aren’t heroes at all, but love interests, women of Kleenex whose usefulness varies wildly. Yet Kevin Feige, executive in charge of the MCU, claims with pride that his movies are full of “strong women.”

Some of them are. Yet none of them are protagonists. Perhaps it’s time to take stock.

THE GOOD:

Captain America: The First Avenger. My love for Peggy Carter, absolutely the best non-powered love interest any movie superhero ever had (although Steve Trevor comes very close), is already well documented here. This movie also shines for me thanks to Chris Evans’ sheer likability as Steve Rogers (which hopefully the MCU will maintain, avoiding that “Cap is Hydra” trainwreck), the World War II setting, and the rousing musical score. (Just try getting “Star-Spangled Man” out of your head.)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier. An adventure more stark in tone than the first film, more appropriately “wintry,” it’s still a lot of fun to watch (the elevator scene is a highlight) and it features two badass ladies, Natasha “Black Widow” Romanoff and SHIELD agent Maria Hill, both of whom manage to kick extensive butt despite having no superhuman abilities. This one also stands out as the only superhero film I can think of to focus on a friendship, not a romance, between its male and female leads.

Thor. In this movie directed by Kenneth Branagh, best known for his adaptations of Shakespeare, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor exudes the charm and charisma of the swashbuckling heroes Errol Flynn played back in the 1930s, and Christopher Hiddleston’s Loki is by far the MCU’s most interesting villain. While I don’t care much for Natalie Portman’s listless performance, I do admire the character of Jane Foster, whose scientific inquiries are relevant to the plot, and whose friendship with her intern Darcy counts as the first (and so far, the only) example of true cameraderie between women we’ve seen in the MCU. Then there’s the awesome Sif, finally a superpowered woman. A pity her role is so small.

The Avengers. This movie opens with a brilliant subversion of the distressed damsel trope, as a tied-up Black Widow plays the role just long enough for her supposed captors to feel comfortable with their presumed upper hand — and then she demolishes them. The rest of the film lives up to this good start, as each hero gets a chance to shine. Plus, Loki’s back! The moment when an old man who remembers Nazi Germany refuses to bow down before the conquest-minded Loki stirs the heart. These glimpses of the heroism of ordinary humans help make the best MCU films special.

Guardians of the Galaxy. This one has some problematic elements, but I admit I was hooked from the opening credit sequence (featuring Star-Lord dancing through a swamp fill of poisonous lizards to the tune of “Come and Get Your Love”), which ended up setting the tone for the whole movie. Since I have a soft spot for nonhuman characters, I love it that only one of the team is human. Gamora the assassin is, surprisingly, the film’s moral compass, the one whose decision sets the plot in motion. The problem: leaving gender out of the equation for the moment, the writers evidently feel the audience can only identify with the human, so Gamora isn’t allowed to be the protagonist. The good news is that the human male protagonist is only able to save the day in tandem with his team.

Any of these movies I’d happily rewatch in a heartbeat. All of them feature heroines I can get behind. Yet I can’t help regret that even in its best films, the MCU hasn’t yet achieved a female hero. Next year’s big offering, Black Panther, promises to feature a whole coterie of badass women, and I can’t wait to see it. But it’s called Black Panther for a reason.

Still waiting, Marvel.

(Up next: Part 2, The Okay and the Disappointing)

 

 

 

 

 

Photo-Blog: Laurel Park, Spring 2017

Since I’ve always been a bit leery of technology, I held out against getting an iPhone for as long as I could. I knew I needed a mobile device to make and receive phone calls in case of an emergency, but that’s all I wanted it to do. Any more than that would only confuse me. Yet at length my husband persuaded me to forsake my utilitarian cell phone and to give an iPhone a try. I had no idea just how quickly I would come to love it. Like many iPhone users, I may love it a little too much.

My favorite thing to do with my iPhone isn’t make or receive calls, or text, or check Facebook and Twitter (though I love doing all that). It’s taking pictures. A part of me has always longed for some talent with the visual arts. Sadly, I can’t draw so much as a single straight line, but I can aim my phone and click and capture beauty. One place of particular scenic wonder is Laurel Park, beside Lake Lanier in Gainesville, GA, not far from our house. Its shaded walking trail makes it an ideal spot for exercise. Sometimes my husband and I take Winnie, our turkey-leg-loving little dog, with us. Other times we go by ourselves, stroll at our own pace, and contemplate the loveliness all around us.

I took these pictures at Laurel Park back in April of this year.

Laurel Park 1

Laurel Park 2Laurel Park 3

Laurel Park 4

Laurel Park 6

Laurel Park 7

Interview: Kaitlin Bevis

One of the things I enjoy most about SFF conventions is the chance they give me to meet and befriend cool people who share my enthusiasms. At WHOLanta 2017, I got to know Kaitlin Bevis, author of the Daughters of Zeus series of contemporary fantasy novels, and she graciously accepted my request for an interview.

DoZ All 6