Gone to DragonCon

Things I’m most looking forward to at DragonCon 2018:

1) seeing the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company perform my newest radio drama at the Marriott Imperial Ballroom tomorrow night (7 p.m.);

2) selling books at the ARTC table;

3) attending panels about books, authors, and shows I love;

4) hearing authors, especially Naomi Novik (because Spinning Silver is awesome), talk about their work.


What’s Making Me Happy: August 2018

The advent of DragonCon.

This year will mark my fifteenth visit to DragonCon, my fourteenth year as a member of the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company, and my seventh time as one of the writers whose scripts ARTC will be performing. If any of you, dear readers, find yourselves at DragonCon this year, please be sure to check out our shows on Friday and Sunday nights. Friday’s is the one for which I have writer credit: “The Dead-Watcher,” on a triple bill with Elisabeth Allen’s new sci-fi script “A.L.I.C.E.” and an excerpt from our ongoing series “Mercury: A Podcast of Hope,” August 31 at 7 p.m. in the Marriott Marquis Imperial Ballroom.

I have the DragonCon app on my iPad and have already drafted a schedule of all the panels I’m dying to take in. One special source of excitement: author Naomi Novik, whose Uprooted I love and whose Spinning Silver I’m currently devouring, will be there! Now if Brandon Sanderson would just come back…

Current reads.

At the moment I’m making my way through not only Spinning Silver, but also Becky Chambers’ A Closed and Common Orbit and Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation, and I’ve just started N.K. Jemisin’s The Obelisk Gate. All of these works tick off most of my “Like” boxes: engaging and descriptive prose, vivid female characters with distinctive personalities, and well-told stories in which I can invest both my mind and my heart. I’m pretty sure I’ll have much more to say about these books in future posts.

Female authors triumph at the Hugo Awards.

I have spent many an hour of many a day of many a year browsing Goodreads and similar sites in search of high-quality fantasy and science fiction both by and about women. The good books are out there, in greater numbers than ever, yet they don’t get talked about nearly as much as they should, which of course gives rise to myths such as “Women don’t write epic fantasy.” I recommend female-authored books as often and as loudly as I can, doing my heart to counteract such nonsense as this, even as I keep seeing signs I may be fighting a losing battle. Here, for instance, is Goodreads’ list of the 50 Best Fantasy Books. Of course Tolkien’s and Lewis’s work turn up there, along with titles by Stephen King, Richard Adams, and Peter S. Beagle. Yet most of the more recent books on the list were also written by men. Brian Staveley, Brian McClelland, Anthony Ryan, Peter V. Brett, and Brent Weeks make the list, along with such bound-to-be-there names as Brandon Sanderson, Scott Lynch, and Patrick Rothfuss. Yet Lois McMaster Bujold’s splendid The Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls are nowhere to be found. No mention of Barbara Hambly, or Patricia McKillip, or Juliet Marillier, or Kate Elliott, or Elizabeth Bear. What exactly makes these authors’ work less deserving?

Then I see the list of 2018 Hugo Award Winners, and I feel a little better.

One of the few recent female writers included on Goodreads’ Best-Of list is N.K. Jemisin, whose The Fifth Season, the first book in the Broken Earth Trilogy, won the Hugo for Best Novel in 2016. She followed that up the next year with a victory for the second volume, The Obelisk Gate, and now, with her victory for the concluding book, The Stone Sky, she becomes the first author ever to win three consecutive Best Novel Hugos. (In her acceptance speech she has a few choice words to say to anyone who might attribute her triumphs to political correctness.) Women scored big in other categories as well, including Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Related Work, and Graphic Story. Rebecca Roanhorse’s win of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer is particularly satisfying when one remembers that Campbell himself held no very high opinion of women’s ability to write quality SFF. The award may bear his name, but history has proven him wrong.

We still need to work on talking up the best books by and about women, and mentioning Elliott and Bujold in the same breath as Rothfuss and Lynch. But victories like those at the Hugos give me hope that we’ll get there eventually.


Favorite Female TV Characters

One of the main things I love about television is that it gives us far more diversity, in both characters and creators, than the big screen, where over 80% of widely publicized mainstream releases are made by and about white men despite illusory “gains” in inclusiveness. In particular, TV is a more woman-friendly medium, with more opportunities for female writers, directors, and showrunners (though it could still be much better) and intriguing female characters aplenty. Here are a few of my favorite ladies on currently-airing shows.

  1. Amy Santiago, Brooklyn Nine-Nine

When the show began, I wouldn’t have imagined writing this. Amy looked like the character we were meant to hate, the uptight, ambitious, and humorless foil to the fun-loving, take-life-as-it-comes Jake Peralta. I expected she’d be either the show’s main antagonist or the love interest liberated by Jake from the burden of her own personality. Had either of those things happened, I wouldn’t be watching the show now. But Nine-Nine had different, far more interesting plans for Amy, plans better suited to the talents of actress Melissa Fumero. Still fairly early in the first season, the writers began to deepen her character, at times with strokes so subtle you’d barely notice what was happening. She remained uptight; she remained ambitious; but less and less were these qualities cast in a negative light. They became endearing, as we began to see them as part and parcel of her idealistic and basically decent nature. Yes, she and Jake fall in love, but while she does loosen up just a tiny bit under his influence, he also comes to appreciate, right along with the rest of us, the Amy-ness of Amy. She’ll always be the perfectionist who loves paperwork and would find a visit to a museum exhibit of office chairs a fun way to spend an afternoon — and I wouldn’t want her any other way.

2. Webby Vanderquack, DuckTales (2017-2018)

This show is so much fun it justifies the existence of reboots, and Webby, very much a bland “token girl” in the original show from the late 1980s, is the new show’s breakout star. A key difference between original Webby and new Webby lies in the voicing, which lets us know what kind of character we’re getting: the uber-girlish baby-talking lisp of Russi Taylor vs. the sharp hyper-kinetic sass of Kate Miucci. Miucci’s Webby can break out of captivity in less than two minutes and can keep the gang from getting into trouble by virtue of her readiness to read everything that falls under her eye (how else would she know it’s a bad idea to accept a ride from ponies with wet manes?). “Everything’s about learning!” she tells us, having owned Louie Duck with a practical joke after he’d made fun of her geekishness. But for all her capability, her frenetic eagerness to please makes her funny and endearingly flawed. And darn it, my heart breaks for her whenever she’s hurt.

3. Kara Danvers, Supergirl

This show has had its ups and downs over three seasons, but it’s still one of the too few shows on TV that centers on a female superhero doing her thing, and this core character keeps me tuned in; Melissa Benoist’s likable performance definitely helps. Kara/Supergirl makes mistakes. She may try too hard or try the wrong thing. She may be prone to misjudgments of certain people and things. Yet those mistakes only make it more satisfying when she learns, comes through, and saves the day. Plus, it’s hard for me not to embrace a superhero who is seen kicking bad guy butt one minute and Netflix-and-chilling on her couch in her pajamas the next. Watch, baby, watch.

4. Kimmy, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

As those familiar with Netflix’s sitcom are well aware, Kimmy has spent her formative years shut away in a bunker by a wacko cult leader, which makes her very much the fish out of water in contemporary New York City. But Kimmy is determined to make her way in this weird world, and it’s that determination, which rarely falters and never fails in the face of repeated missteps and misfortunes (hence the show’s title), that makes me love her and root for her even when she might be wrong. Certain episodes touch on her trauma and its effects, and these glimpses make her resolute optimism all the more admirable and endearing. Plus, her kind heart goes out to nearly everyone she meets, even when they don’t deserve it. (A side-note: I didn’t really care for this season’s inclusion of an “incel”-related plotline, in which a new cult of disaffected men forms around Jon Hamm’s despicable “Reverend.” I understand that laughing at evil is one way to cut it down to size, but I have a hard time finding incels funny. Still, I’m here for the next round.)

5. Liv Moore, iZombie

When zombie Liv eats the brains of murder victims, she takes on their memories and their personalities, and in doing so helps nab their killers. For the show’s first two seasons, Liv spent so much time in the personalities she absorbed (giving actress Rose McIver the opportunity to deliver one tour-de-force performance after another) that we didn’t get much chance to know Liv herself. But in recent days the show has given the real Liv a chance to come to the fore, to make herself and her ethics and values known, and to become a hero in her own skin as she takes a stand against the injustices around her. No longer do I merely admire McIver’s ability to adopt new personae each week; I admire Liv the person, as she strives to do the right thing. I really wish more people were aware of this show.

Runners-Up: Jessica Jones (Jessica Jones); Rosa Diaz (Brooklyn Nine-Nine); Ruth, Carmen, and Tammie (GLOW); Alex Danvers (Supergirl); Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson (Orange Is the New Black); Jemma Simmons (Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD); Veronica Lodge (Riverdale, my guilty pleasure); Demelza Poldark (Poldark); Patterson (Blindspot).

“Never Read the Comments”

In vino veritas, the old saying goes — in wine, truth. The idea is that when we drink, our inhibitions drop and we lose the ability to curb our impulses. With our capacity to guard our tongues so compromised, we may let slip an unpleasant truth about how we feel about something or someone, and such slips as these ostensibly reveal our “true” natures. I don’t know how much I subscribe to this saying. On the one hand, if the side someone shows when they’re tipsy is too ugly, I’d be inclined to keep them at a distance thereafter. (Mel Gibson, whose drunken anti-Semitic tirade killed my taste for his films except Gallipoli and Chicken Run, is my go to example here.) Yet on the other hand, all of us have some ugly side, and our efforts to keep that side under control are a sign of our values and ethical code. With in vino veritas, we get only half the truth, and usually it’s the worst half.

The Internet, I’ve found, functions a lot like the vino in the old saying, in that our inhibitions are lowered and our self-control mechanisms may be compromised when we’re online. Yet this effect isn’t wrought by chemicals we ingest, bur rather by the seductive comforts of distance and anonymity. And as we see all too clearly when, despite the best advice, we give into the temptation to “read the Comments,” there are very few happy Internet-drunks.

We’re not face to face with the people with whom we talk online. We don’t hear their voices. We don’t see how their expressions change as they take in what we say. All we know of them are the handles they use (rarely their actual names) and the words they write. As such, we may find ourselves forgetting that they are truly people. And since they don’t have the means to hold us accountable, we feel we can say whatever we like to them. If they should disagree with us, we’re free to be as hurtful to them as our facility with language will allow, with no stings of conscience. After all, they are only their words, and that means their opinions — opinions we hate.

Examples of the swift descent into meanness when disputes arise are absolutely everywhere, from Twitter (a hotbed) to the Comments sections of articles linked on Facebook. I stumbled onto one instance in a place I wasn’t quite expecting, via a YouTube video. It was an episode of Hollywood, a documentary series on American silent films, and I’d thought the people posting in the Comments section would be at least somewhat united in admiration for this stunning series, sadly unavailable in a proper DVD or Blu-Ray release. Yet an argument came up, and out came the meanness.

At the crux of the debate was whether contemporary Hollywood actively promoted atheistic views, with Bill Maher’s documentary Religulous as an example. One poster argued that critics and Hollywood’s intelligentsia embraced Maher’s exercise in anti-Christian mockery, while another poster pointed out that the overall response to the film was in fact lukewarm. Poster 1 grew angrier and angrier, while Poster 2 tried to counter with detailed evidence until finally he/she realized that wasn’t working and announced he/she was pulling out of the debate. In response Poster 1 wrote, “Kill yourself.”

“Kill yourself.” Let that sink in.

Given the number of people who suffer from clinical depression in this country, “Kill yourself” is just about the most dangerous thing you can say to a stranger online. If there are any words less Christ-like, I don’t know them.

This is far from the only noteworthy example of online meanness, but it stings me a bit because I too consider myself a woman of faith. I don’t care for Bill Maher, with his stock-in-trade smugness. (He’s a misogynist, for one thing.) I can recall reading a few reviews of Religulous which suggested the movie attacks not so much hypocritical believers as belief itself. According to Maher, faith is just stupid. So I have avoided him, on film and TV. Why court rage? It’s not as if, should I meet the man, I would have any hope of changing his mind.  He can stay on his side of the pop culture world and I will stay on mine.

Yet this poster is just one of too many people who call themselves “Christians” who, whenever they perceive their faith under attack, choose to respond in the least Christian way possible. In sending the other poster a message to “kill yourself,” he/she isn’t contradicting Maher, but proving his point.

When we’re posting something online, we ought to consider that in the eyes of others, we are defined by our handles and our words. If we’re having a really, really bad day, as this person on the You Tube message-board might have been, those reading our posts don’t know it. So we ought to consider just what the words we choose are saying about us. Instead of letting ourselves get Internet-drunk, we should think when we’re writing online, just as we would if we were writing anywhere else. Will anyone be wiser or better informed as a result of this post? Will our words do good for anyone or change anything for the better? Let’s think of those who loved us most when we were growing up, who taught us right from wrong. Will our words make them proud?

Drive the Internet sober.