Posted by: PharaohKatt | 05-08-2011

Fantasy Fiction: Is Our Language Limited?

fan·ta·sy
noun /ˈfantəsē/ 
fantasies, plural

  1. The faculty or activity of imagining things, esp. things that are impossible or improbable
    “his research had moved into the realm of fantasy”
  2. An idea with no basis in reality
    “it is a misleading fantasy to suggest that the bill can be implemented”
  3. A genre of imaginative fiction involving magic and adventure, esp. in a setting other than the real world

What is fantasy? What does it look like, feel like, taste like?

I suppose that depends on what genre of fantasy you are looking at. There are quite a few different types of fantasy fiction, each with its own feel. Let me give you my short definitions!

High/Epic Fantasy: epic battles, the fight for good and evil, quests, journeys, adventures!
Sword and Sourcery: I have always considered this a sub-genre of High Fantasy. Basically High Fantasy + swords and sorcery 😉
Urban Fantasy: Set in the modern world, surrounded by magic.
Dark Fantasy: Urban fantasy + supernatural themes (like vampires and werewolves)
Fairy-Tale Fantasy: Exactly as it sounds.
Historical Fantasy: Fantasy set in the past, where’re magic is part of the surroundings.

But none of this seems to describe the type of fantasy that I read.

For me, fantasy is the story about the seamstress who struggles to make a living and live in a city under siege every night1.
Fantasy is the story of the young girl who fights for gender equality and become a knight2.
Fantasy is the boy in the desert who knows how to find water3.

What do you call fantasy which takes place in a different world, where the epic battle is just background noise? Fantasy that zooms in on a couple of characters and their lives, whether or not they are part of this huge system?

I’m throwing this question out to you: what would you call this type of fiction? How would you label it for the benefit of recommendations?

1: The Creature Court Trilogy by Tansy Rayner Roberts.
2: Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce
3: Watergiver Trilogy by Glendale Larke

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Posted by: PharaohKatt | 23-07-2011

On Hugos and Graphic Novels

I have spent the last month-and-a-bit going through the Hugo packet so as to make an informed vote next week. Yes, I’m waiting until the last minute to vote. And as I was reading, I began to get more and more frustrated at the category of graphic novel.

I’ve talking about this before in meat-space, at places like Swancon (hi @angriest!) and with my friends. At least, I try to talk about it with my friends but as none of them are huge graphic novel readers it ends up me just ranting while they nod and say “yes dear”.

Anyway. The thing I keep coming back to is: this category should not exist, at least not in its current state.

It’s not that I think graphic novels aren’t a worthy category, and a worthy media. Quite the contrary! I think that graphic novels are an involved and in-depth medium with many different facets, genres, styles… The problem is that this doesn’t translate to a Hugo category.

The first problem is the category itself, “Graphic Story”. What type of graphic story are we talking about here? Web comics, single issues, trades? Part of a series or a standalone? This is never actually defined. The problem is, “Graphic Story” doesn’t mean one specific thing the way a lot of the other categories do. “Novel” is clearly defined. “Shot Story” is clearly defined. “Novelette” is clearly defined. “Graphic Story” is just… There. How else would you get Whatever Happened To The Caped Crusader along side Shlock Mercenary?

The other problem is that the people who nominate and vote for the Hugos don’t tend to be the type of people who regularly read graphic novels. Sure there are a few of us (like myself) who consider themselves Fans of the genre, who actively seek out the best in the field. People who know what they like and don’t like, what works and what doesn’t. But we are the minority.

The people who nominate and vote in the Hugos tend to be a more casual audience, who read web comics and the latest Neil Gaiman. They are not involved in the length and breadth that the field has to offer.
How else would Schlock Mercenary get a nomination in the first place?

If the Graphic Story category was truly representative of the field — or truly representative of what is popular in the field — then it would include works by writers like Grant Morrison, Kathryn Imonen, Greg Rucker, Gail Simone.

I can see three solutions to this problem. The first is to get more of the Hugo nominators and voters interested in graphic novels. This is probably the hardest solution because not only would it require a shit-tonne of promotion for graphic novels in areas one wouldn’t expect to find it, it also means dealing with fandom. If you’ve had any dealings with fandom you’ll know that fans tend to be pretty Set In Their Ways.

The second solution is to introduce comic readers to the Hugos, the idea being that more people who frequent that field will nominate and vote. There is a bit of a catch 22 though; how do you convince people that this award is prestigious if they are only fans of graphic novels, and can see how poorly that category is treated?

Both of these solutions require something: actually defining the category.

The third solution, by far the easiest, is just dropping the category completely. As I mentioned before I don’t think this should happen. I believe that graphic novels are fully deserving of Hugos. But the category as it stands does not recognise that, and I don’t think that it can.

Posted by: PharaohKatt | 24-06-2011

What do you mean “Valuing Diversity”?

Backstory: I have just finished my first week of Prac; the final assessment where I am in control of an entire room for five weeks (though I am going to run it for six).

Today while I was in the staff room doing my paperwork I overheard two of the qualifieds, one from my room and one from the toddler room, talking about my program. Let’s call them Qualified and Douche. They were talking in hushed voices but I could still hear them. I tried not to listen, and went back to my study, but it really upset me and made it hard to concentrate.

Afterwards, before Qualified went home, I confronted her about it. She said yes, Douche had made some comments to her about it and was giving her views. Qualified doesn’t agree with all of them, this is mine and Qualified’s room, and Douche was sticking her nose where it did not belong.

Then she said that Douche had some “concerns” about me talking to the children about Yule yesterday, and didn’t realise that I had already spoken to Qualified about it. Apparently Douche was worried that I was pushing my views onto the children.

Let’s break down all the fail, shall we?

First there is the talking about me behind my back. I know enough about Douche to know that this is not the first time it’s happened. I also know enough about her to know that once she gets started on a topic it’s very, very hard to shut her up.
Douche had a perfect opportunity to talk toe about her concerns. She was in the room with me all day, she could easily have taken me aside and asked me up front about it.

Instead she went behind my back to the “higher authority”, without any regards to my feelings.

Then there’s the religious discrimination. Yes, that is what it is.

I had already spoken to Qualified about what I wanted to talk about, and about the limitations of what I could mention.

I said that Yule was the longest night of the year, and special to me. I said that some of the ways I celebrate are dancing, listening to special music (and I played some), eating special food, and burning a Yule Log. I said it was to celebrate the end of winter, and the days getting longer.

I didn’t talk about the religious aspects of it. I didn’t talk about the Gods and Goddesses I follow, and how I worship them. I didn’t mention ritual or my alter. What views, exactly, am I pushing on the children?

Let’s not forget that at the centre we celebrate Christmas and Easter despite the fact that there are children with Atheist and Buddhist families.

Let’s not forget that we celebrate birthdays despite the fact that we have children with Jehovah’s Witnesses families.

Let’s not forget that we celebrate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day despite the fact that not all the children have both parents or live with their parents.

And Douche has complained — at length — about new laws which forbid us from celebrating Christmas and Easter!
No, clearly none of that matters. That’s just Australian Culture, right? But a Pagan speaking in general terms about one of her holidays? That’s pushing her views on the children!

And I was having such a nice day, too.

Posted by: PharaohKatt | 11-06-2011

DC Reboot Link Round-Up

I’d like to talk about the DC reboot, specifically about how hurt I am with Barbara Gordon Beijing Batgirl once more, but I’m not a DC person, and not very familiar with the DCU. So instead I’ve collected some links about the issue that I think you should read.

First,
ORACLE is Stronger Than BATGIRL Will Ever Be by Jill Pantozzi at Newsarama.

“While Batman is my all-time favorite character in comics, he’s not the first person I look to when I need to be reminded to keep fighting in this world. For that I look to Oracle.”

Following that, Gail Simone had a conversation with Jill Pantozzi about the Barbara Gordon reboot.

On Another Site:
DC Reboots, We React by Emma, Angel and Dee at Girls Read Comics Too

“So. DC has officially confirmed suspicions that yet again, they’ll be rebooting the DCU with the conclusion of the Flashpoint event in September along with the move to day and date digital releases to match the shipping dates of physical comics.”

Also from that site we have

Emma Speculates on the Post Flashpoint DCU, Puts Her Fist Through A Wall by Emma

“Moving on, I’ve got to say that so far I’m very very concerned about the future of the Bat titles. It’s no secret that part of the Flashpoint fall out is that the core heroes in the DCU are going to be de-aged, which has set a lot of Bat fans on edge because of the possible consequences a younger Bruce could have on the existence of Damian, Cassandra, and Stephanie.”

And

DCU Where Are You? Or Dee Thinks Things About The Relaunch by Dee

“From a marketing perspective I understand DC’s slow release of information about the September re-launch. It keeps them in the news for longer, keeps fans talking and means that nothing gets glossed over or missed. From the perspective of a fan, I’m not so keen.”

Elsewhere:
Batgirl Triumphant: The Price Of Restoring DC Comics’ Disabled Heroine by Andy Khouri at Comics Alliance.

“This aspect of DC’s plan is particularly emotional for longtime readers who are painfully trying to reconcile their excitement over the restoration of what is arguably the publisher’s most beloved heroine with the fact that Barbara Gordon, presently operating as the hacker Oracle, represents a segment of comic book readership and society at large that is routinely ignored in virtually all media: the disabled and those with long-term illnesses that impair mobility.”

(Unfortunate use of the term “The disabled” here :/)

Why Rebooting Batgirl Is A Terrible Idea by Debi H Linton at Thagomizer.

“Let me give you a quick run down of why this is a terrible idea:

IT DIMINISHES VISIBILITY OF DISABLED CHARACTERS

Read and enjoy!

Posted by: PharaohKatt | 09-06-2011

X-Men First Class: The Good, The Bad and the Problematic

On Friday I went to see X-Men: First Class with a group of friends and fellow geeks. Overall I enjoyed the film, however there were some aspect that I found to be quite problematic. Before we start, I will warn you in avance that this will contain spoilers for the film.

The Good:

The film was interesting, with a compelling and believable plot line (for a given value of believable). As you no doubt know from the trailers, it follows the story of Erik and Charles on the road to becoming the mutants we know as Professor X and Magneto.

An image of Kitty Pryde, a white comic book character with long brown hair, pointing at the reader, looking angry. Speech bubble reads: 'Professor Xavier is a jerk!'.

The characterisation was overall very good, with some notable exceptions. For the most part I found myself drawn in to the story, and actually caring about what was going to happen.
It was nice to see the X-Men in the classic black-and-yellow, especially done in a way that didn’t look cheesy or forced. The effects were well done, and there was enough plot to keep me interested the whole time.

I really loved the back-and-forth between Erik and Charles. I could see where each was coming from; Xavier from a place of privilege, Erik as someone with PTSD. The greatest crime of this film — aside from Xavier’s arse-hattery — was that the two never kissed. I’m being completely serious here; there were a few moments when I felt that a kiss would strengthen their bond and make the story more compelling.

As it was, it was left tiredly hetero, though I admit I didn’t expect anything different.

Perhaps the most intriguing character was not the leads, but Raven aka Mystique. Mystique wasn’t just a mutant, she was an obvious mutant who had to spend her life hiding, trying to “pass” as human. Deliberate allegories are made to race relations in this aspect (unfortunately tainted by some pretty appalling racism in the film).

Mystique is pulled every which way; her privileged adopted brother (Charles) tried to tell her “Be proud!” while at the same time telling her to hide; Hank says he cares about her, but tries to fundamentally change her.
Then Erik tells her, no, don’t change, I like you now.

Is it any wonder she joined the Brotherhood?

The Bad

There isn’t much I can actually say here because most of the things I didn’t like about the film fall squarely into the Problematic category. I do wish that Raven/Mystique had a larger part, though. She was such a dynamic character, with such an interesting storyline, that it was a shame that she didn’t get to do more. She was shoved to the side in favour of the men.

A torso shot of Jennifer Lawrence done up as Mystique: bright red hair, blue textured skin, yellow eyes. She is wearing a yellow and black jacket.

Thankfully Jennifer Lawrence was a good enough actor to shine through regardless.

It also bothered me that the cast was so hugely USian. Why couldn’t MacTaggart be Scottish? Why couldn’t Banshee be Irish?

The Problematic

This is the part where I ruin the film for you, so be prepared.

Oh gods, where do I start? What about MacTaggart; in the comics she is a geneticist, but here she is an FBI agent who needs the help of Charles Xavier. Oh, and she’s given an excuse to strip down to a bra and panties inn the first 10 seconds of her appearance. Why is she wearing those heels anyway? Not to mention the stockings and garter…

What about all the strippers that are in this film? Or the pointless amount of T&A that you see? What about the fact that only once does Xavier ask permission before entering someone’s mind?
What about Emma fucking Frost?

Ok, yeah, let’s talk about Emma.

Emma Frost as she first appears. She is white and blonde. She is wearing white thigh-high heeled boots, a white corset and a white fur cloak. Speech bubble reads: 'As you say, Shaw'.

I have made no bones about the fact that I Do No Like Emma Frost. She was created to give comic book artists an excuses to put T&A into comics, as if they needed one! Except with Emma they get to call it feminist. Yeah, not so much.

But that’s not the problem I have with this portrayal of Emma.

There is a scene of Emma in her Diamond form being strapped to the end of a bed with steel bedposts, which rare being controlled by Erik/Magneto. That’s the first thing.

Then he starts to twist the metal around her neck, tighter and tighter, until… She cracks, and changes back into normal form. Uh, excuse me? Emma Frost, in her Diamond form, cracks. Shatters. I should remind you that at this point she is pure, flawless diamond, the hardest natural substance on earth!
It should be really, really difficult for Erik to crush her neck and yet he barely strains.

In a world where female comic book characters are frequently depowered (often in sexualised ways), this is really annoying.

Then there’s Angel.
A torso shot of Zoë Kravitz - a Latina woman with brown skin and dark brown hair - in her role as Angel Salvadore. She is wearing a black halter top and smiling seductively at the camera. You can see a wing tattoo on her left arm.

Angel, or Tempest, is a character with a rich history. She runs away from home at 14 to escape her abusive father, gets captured by U-Men who want to use her for parts, is rescued by Wolverine and joins the X-Men, is tutored by Emma Frost, is convinced to join The Brotherhood of Mutants, goes back to the X-Men, has a boyfriend, lays eggs…

In this film? She’s a stripper. A stripper with about 4 lines, and only one action sequence (which involves her spitting at someone for 30 seconds).

Look, I don’t mind that her story doesn’t fit with continuity, I really don’t. I do mind that someone decided it would be a good idea go turn her into a stripper, just so we could have a scene with Erik and Charles smirking as they eyed her in the strip club.
There was no reason why she had to be a stripper except for that short scene. So why do it?

The reason this is so problematic is not just because of the sexualisation of women – though that is one aspect. There is also a racial aspect to this.

Angel is the only Women of Colour in this film, and one of the few People of Clour in it. In the US there is a long history of Women of Colour, especially Black and Latina women, being hyper-sexualised. They are seen as whores, sluts, un-rapeable (by being “always willing”). Having the only WoC in this film be a stripper perpetuates this very dangerous idea. Not to mention the fact that she is the first character to be Turned and join the Brotherhood.

Which brings me to my next point.

Darwin, played by Edi Gathegi.
A torso shot of Edi Gathegi - a black man with short, very dark brown hair. He is standing side on and turning to face the camera. He is wearing a grey suit and hat, and a pale pink tie.

This character is treated so, so badly. He has very few lines, he is the only X-Man to not have an origin story and, oh yeah, he dies first in order to give the white characters motivation.

What. The. Fuck.
He is so inconsequential to the plot that he isn’t even given a spot on the main IMDB page!

Then there’s Riptide, whose name I only know because I looked it up. Riptide isn’t named in the film, and isn’t given any lines. That’s right, none. Another PoC character who is shoved to the side without nary a glance!

Add this to the fact that Mystique also ended up joining the Brotherhood… I think Skye at Heroine Content best summed it up:

“What if the filmmakers made sure that by the end of the movie, the First Class of X-Men was a group of white American men (one who had turned blue and furry) and Magneto’s “brotherhood” was composed of everyone foreign and female?”

I really, really wanted to love this film, especially since it is thus far the best X-Men film of the lot. But the more I think about it the more these horrible stereotypes and tropes piss me off.

One star.

Posted by: PharaohKatt | 12-05-2011

WASFF Accessibility Policy Part Two: The Policy

Here is a start for an accessibility policy for WASFF. Please add, take, comment, talk etc.
This is only a bare-bones start. If you think it’s terrible and want to write a completely different policy, feel to do so in comments. This is just a jumping off point.

Also, the SF Wiki has started having this conversation too. You can add to it here: http://wiki.sf.org.au/Accessibility

The following policy will relate to WASFF and all conventions that are run as a subsidiary of WASFF:

Web Accessibility
Every attempt will be made to ensure that websites are accessible to all members of the community. To ensure this:

  • Websites will be easily used with read-over text and screen readers
  • All images will have alternative text description
  • Hyperlinks will open in the same browser (unless the specific browser forbids it from the user side)
  • Websites will be accessible from a variety of different browsers and readers

Venue Accessibility
To maximize accessibility in the convention venue the following will be used in as part of the selection criteria for the venue:

  • provision of seats in an area central to the convention area and near the panel rooms
  • wheelchair and mobility vehicle access throughout convention space
  • availability of foods for the various diets of our members
  • AV facilities to support panelists being heard

Where the hotel selected could not meet all of the above the con committee will be notifying members of the limitations and providing alternatives where practical, eg listing eating locations with dietary options that are catered for & providing AV independent of the hotel.

In addition to the above panel rooms will be set up with priority seating at the front and rear with aisles large enough for wheel chairs and mobility vehicles.

Other Accessibility Areas:

  • Programs will be made available in large print format
  • Maps will be provided detailing the venue layout, accessible entrances, lifts, ect., as well as the surrounding areas (location of food outlets etc.)
  • Hotel information will be available on the convention website and on request

That’s all I have so far. What do you all think? Please add, take, edit, whatever.

Posted by: PharaohKatt | 07-05-2011

WASFF Accessibility Policy Part One: Proposal

Hello everyone! How are you on this fine day?

I’ve been struggling with this post for a while, partly due to y own anxieties and partly due to my general lack of knowledge. But I know that many of my readers are disability activists who have done this sort of thing before.

A lot of issues were raised at Swancon this year with regards to accessibility. To those of us with disabilities this came as no surprise, but finally something happened that was so bad that other people are paying attention. About damn time too!
I can (and will, damn it!) make the Swancon I run be as accessible as possible but that won’t actually fix the problem. The problem is systematic and requires a precedent set that all Swancons should follow.

Thus, I believe that WASFF needs to formally adopt an accessibility policy. So I am here to get help from the community in writing a proposal for them to do just that. This has two parts to it; the first is to write the proposal, the second is to write the policy. In order to not have Text Wall Of Doom, I will be having these as two different posts.

The Proposal Please help me write this, I’ve not written a proposal before!
I propose that the Western Australian Science Fiction Foundation formally adopt an Accessibility policy. This policy should be considered a regulation?by-law?what? that each of its conventions is held accountable to.
The wording of the policy to be as follows:
(policy goes here)

At the moment, it sound flat. And kind of silly. Help please?

Posted by: PharaohKatt | 03-05-2011

Step One: Be Bossy

I have been quiet on this blog for a while, and in the blogosphere in general. This is not be because I have nothing to say — believe me, I’ll never run out of things to say! — but because my time has been filled with being a Convenor for Swancon 2012: Doom Con.

You see, last weekend was Swancon, a Western Australian SF convention (it was also the NatCon, the Australian convention). I wasn’t running this convention, thank goodness, but I was planning my Launch, which took place on Sunday. I thought I was learning a lot about leadership while planning the launch but it has since become clear to me that I have a long way to go.

The problem is that I have been socialised to be kind and nice and not make waves. This is a problem I think a lot of women in leadership positions have. Alisa Krasnostein (this years Convenor) summed it up well in one of her Galactic Suburbia podcasts (episode 29 about 47 mins in): “It is bad for a woman to be bossy”.

“Bossy” is a gendered insult; it is only ever women who get slapped with this phrase. If she is taking charge, taking control, being in command, she is seen as bossy (and as a bitch, but thats a different discussion). I realise, even now that I’m aware of it, that I keep toning down what I want to say. I keep umming and aahing and humming and hahing and generally trying not to be seen as too forceful.

Because I am afraid of this label. I am afraid of being seen as bossy. And even after realising this, I still sent emails off with that fear in the back of my mind.

But I want to change that. I want to just do things without worrying about what people will think of me.

I made this icon for Alisa, but right now I need it, too.
20110503-140224.jpg
[Image Description: Angelica Pickles from Rugrats on a white background.
Top, in black, straight writing: “Dare to be”
Bottom, in hot-pink curly writing: “Bossy”]

Posted by: PharaohKatt | 19-03-2011

Poll Time!

Just because I can.

Posted by: PharaohKatt | 19-03-2011

What are we fighting for?

Hello everyone! How has your week been? I’ve been recovering from the flu, and from helping out with my sis-in-law’s wedding, so I’m a bit wrecked.

But that’s ok, because I have a foot spa with delicious Lush products, feminist-SF podcasts and a rant. Guess which one I’m sharing with you!

Today I went to an Equal Love rally, to march for me-sex marriage. The rally itself was fine, if a little disorganised. The speeches were eat and there were some pretty cool performances.

Unfortunately, there were some people who decided to co-opt the rally for their own purposes.
There were people with signs for all sorts of different causes not even remotely relating to QUILTBAG rights; signs like “Free Julian Assange” and “Clean up the planet” and “Socialist Alternative!”.

I get that people care about more than one issue. I myself was wearing my Greens t-shirt, thus supporting the Greens while at the rally. And if it was just people wearing different shirts, then whatever, I’m fine with that.

But that’s not all that was happening. People were actually using the rally to push their own agendas.

This was not a recruitment rally for the SA. This was not a rally about the environment. This was not a rally about Julian Assange and wikileaks. This was not a general social justice rally! It was a rally with a very specific purpose; to gather support for Marriage Equality in Australia.

Holding up signs for other issues just derails what the rally is really mention to be about.

It also creates the implicit idea that the people in the rally support what you are promoting. Yes, I support environmentalism. No, I don’t support Julian Assange (there, I said it). And actually, I kind of really hate the SA.

Support your causes. Recruit from the people at the rally. Go ahead, there’s nothing wrong with that. But during the march, support what we’re actually marching for!

– Pharaoh Signing Off

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