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.