The pilot of new ABC sitcom Selfie has gone up on Hulu, and since it stars the adorable Karen Gillan and fantastic John Cho, I had to check it out!
A modern-day retelling of My Fair Lady, Selfie stars Doctor Who’s Karen Gillan as Eliza, a successful social media addict who realizes that, for all her likes and retweets, she has no real friends, and John Cho as Henry, the stuck-up marketing genius she convinces to help fix her life.
The concept is pretty ridiculous, and all the attempts to show Eliza as a “social media addict” are cringeworthy at best, but Karen Gillan and John Cho are both adorable as the show’s leads. The show struggles to find its feet, especially when it tries to hammer home any references to its plot conceit, but the final scene in particular is sweet and genuine and promises good things to come.
The show also manages that seemingly impossible feat of introducing diversity into a sitcom world. John Cho plays the (inevitably romantic) male lead, both the boss and the secretary are African American, and we actually get the rare sight of two non-white characters on screen at the same time, talking to one another. Add in Eliza’s plot-important conversations with said secretary and her time with her frenemies in her apartment block, and we’re comfortably into a traditional Bechdel pass as well. Even better, the neighbors that Eliza thinks she hates actually turn out to be nice human beings, with a genuine friend dynamic including book discussions and random singing of Lady Gaga.
But there’s one big question hovering over the entire show: should there be a modern-day retelling of My Fair Lady? The entire show is based on the idea that Eliza needs a guy to teach her how to be a not-horrible person, and although Selfie tries to suggest that Eliza will help and change Henry as much as he helps and changes her, the set-up is still incredibly uncomfortable. Eliza is a shallow, vapid, self-absorbed woman addicted to a supposedly vapid and self-absorbed form of communication — social media — and in the pilot, Henry not only teaches her to focus on the real world and be nice to people, but also how to “de-slut” in order to be “suitable” to attend a wedding. While Henry feels like a normal human being who is slightly uptight and judgemental, Eliza is 100% caricature, and although Karen Gillan gives the character some heart, she can’t change the fact that Eliza is the walking embodiment of many negative, exaggerated stereotypes about modern twenty-something women. Sure, Henry is clearly going to fall for her, and she’s going to influence him too, but while she teaches him how to loosen up and have fun, he teaches her basic principles of being an acceptable human being. It’s hardly equal, and the more I think about it, the more uncomfortable it becomes.
And perhaps I’m being stubborn, especially as the show has a very tongue-in-cheek tone, but I don’t see why Eliza has to change as much as the show suggests. Yes, she doesn’t know how to make friends and is self-absorbed, but can’t she work on that without changing every single thing about her appearance and personality? She could be a really fun and interesting female lead… but only if the show respects her as a character and allows her to continue to be bold and confident and somewhat brash. If she’s diminished into somebody who’s smaller and so seems more acceptable, it’s going to be a real mess of a show.
But if you just don’t think about that stuff, the show is rather bright and light and cute, and it has potential. It’s not laugh-out-loud, at least for me, but it’s a cute show. If it can get over its forced concept and avoid the problems its created, it could even be a good show. But those are going to be some pretty big hurdles to cross.
The pilot is available on Hulu if anyone wants to check it out.
Last weekend, I was lucky enough to be at WorldCon in London, which ran a Young Adult track for the first time. And in that track’s panels, I learned about the movement to create a new Hugo Award category for Best Young Adult novel.
The idea has been raised and rejected multiple times in the past, and now a committee has been created to investigate the idea once again. And as I sat in YA panels, listening to Leigh Bardugo and Sarah J Maas, I couldn’t stop wondering: is a YA Hugo category a good idea?
Because after thinking on it for a good long while, I still really don’t know.
YA sci-fi/fantasy can be of Hugo-winning quality
I read four out of the five nominees for the Best Novel Hugo this year, and with the exception of the winner, Ancillary Justice, I saw nothing that you can’t find in YA genre fiction. No superiority in prose, no superiority in ideas, nothing more challenging or engaging or inventive. Ancilliary Justice is a little different, since its exploration of gender might be considered a bit too conceptual for YA, but just because that sort of thing hasn’t been done yet in YA doesn’t mean it never will, and Hugo winners most years are not as conceptual either.
Some suggestions: The Diviners by Libba Bray, a gorgeously written supernatural horror story set in 1920s New York, with a fantastically imagined world, amazing characters, genuine terror, an intricate plot and great exploration of racial and socio-economic tensions of the time. Or The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, a Roman empire-inspired second world fantasy about slavery. Or The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo, which is a fantastic exploration of power.
But YA sci-fi/fantasy doesn’t get recognition
“Young adult” is still something of a dirty word in genre fiction circles. It’s marketed for teenage girls, and therefore, like romance and “chick lit,” is trash for people with no brains or taste. With that kind of (clearly false) mainstream attitude, it can be difficult for great YA novels to get recognition outside of the YA sphere — and even harder for great genre fiction to be recognized, as it has the double difficulty of not being “serious” and “literary” (like The Fault in Our Stars) and usually not being written by a man (like The Fault in Our Stars). If Young Adult had its own category in the Hugos, five YA novels each year would have to be nominated and disseminated to WorldCon members, and one YA novel would have to win. It would prevent a lot of great books being overlooked simply because of their target audience.
YA genre fiction is mostly written by women
I lack stats on this one, but my experience in bookstores, talking to other authors, and looking at the series NYT bestseller list, the majority of YA sci-fi/fantasy writers are women. Meanwhile, here’s a look at the percentage of female writers on the Hugo ballots each year. Female writers were 53%, 52% and 61% of nominees in 2011, 2012 and 2013, but only 39% this year, a number that’s much more representative of the typical percentage of female nominees. From 2000 to 2009, the number hovered around 20% — three years where women were more than 50% can’t really change the fact that they are almost always less than 40%, and only made up 5% of the ballot as recent as 2007. A YA Hugo would have to increase the percentage of female nominees and winners, by the very nature of the genre.
And it mostly stars women
The vast majority of protagonists in YA are young women, and increased support for female-led genre fiction can only be a good thing.
It could mark YA novels as “lesser” instead of encouraging people to accept them
A separate category doesn’t say “these novels are worthy of a Hugo.” It says “these novels couldn’t win a real Hugo.” No new categories have been made for other genres, like fantasy or horror. They’re just included in the main Best Novel category. A separate category for YA novels would therefore mark the nominees as lesser books that couldn’t compete with the proper leaders of the genre. And if the category existed, YA authors would never be nominated for or win the Hugo for Best Novel, the top prize in the awards.
It could create a category for female authors
Since so much of YA genre fiction is written by women, I could imagine a YA Hugo becoming the “girls’” category, the one that women are allowed to win. I could see it being renamed as “girls’ genre fiction” in people’s minds, and non-YA fiction being nominated simply by virtue of being written by a woman. If nominations reflected the gender split of YA authors, it could also create the illusion that the Hugos are more gender-balanced than they are, without actually addressing the percentage of female nominees for categories like Best Novel and Best Novella.
Hugo voters may not actually nominate the best of the bunch
Lack of familiarity with the genre could mean nominating and voting for YA novels written by mainstream adult sci-fi/fantasy authors… most of whom are men. I’m thinking Terry Pratchett, Joe Abercrombie, Neil Gaiman and their ilk. If people voted for familiar names, rather than reading more widely, the nominees and winners could be very unrepresentative of the genre as a whole and reward adult writers who branch into YA over full-time YA authors who would benefit more from the nomination or award.
So… I genuinely don’t know. A YA Hugo could bring more attention to YA genre fiction and its authors, and in turn show that it contains quality fiction that is worthy of recognition. It could especially benefit female authors and show that “teenage girl books” are not a bad thing. Once that perception has been changed, YA novels could be streamed back into the main Best Novel category. But then, people might see that as a sign that the books are “not worthy.” A separate category could do even more damage to the genre’s reputation as “not real genre fiction,” and might not even lead to the showcasing of YA authors when so many more well-known names also dabble in the genre.
I really hope the committee will look not only at the quality of the genre itself, but on how people would react to such a category. Who would be nominating books? Teens and other readers of YA? Would this be a temporary measure or a permanent fixture? And would WFSA members take seriously any book that appeared in the category?
I’m off conventioning.
This weekend, I’m at NineWorlds in Heathrow, and if you’re also going to be there, you can come and see me read an extract from my debut novel A Wicked Thing at the New Voices panel on Saturday August 9th at 10:15pm. (Please come! I could read to an empty room, but it’d be better with people there :P).
Then next weekend I’m at Worldcon in London. Not reading or panelling this time, just going from talk to talk with my notebook, learning things about writing and feminism in genre fiction and hopefully getting into George RR Martin’s reading from Winds of Winter.
I may manage to post some stuff from the conventions next week, but otherwise, FeministFiction is on hiatus until after the 18th. Fingers crossed I’ll have some interesting discussions to report on when I return!
In the meantime, check out the Women Who Kick Ass panel from SDCC, with Natalie Dormer, Maisie Williams, Katey Sagal, Sarah Paulson, Tatiana Maslany and Nicole Beharie talking about feminism, genre television, and the media.
Why does the world seem to hate Iron Man 2?
Sure, its superhero vs supervillain plot isn’t the best, but the movie is a lot of fun, and has a lot of great character stuff to boot. Perhaps it’s not particularly thrilling as a standalone comic book movie, but as an instalment in the growing Marvel universe, seen after Iron Man 1, it’s pretty great.
And — shock of shocks — it actually has two significant female characters. One of whom is a hero in her own right. If only she wasn’t standing in an almost anatomically impossible way on the promo poster.
I’ve also found it fascinating that in “Rumplestiltskin,” the heroine is known only as “the miller’s daughter” or “the queen,” while Rumpelstiltskin’s name becomes a magical talisman. In a story about the potency of names, the heroine is anonymous. Charlotte Miller’s story began here.
That’s a quote from the author’s note at the end of A Curse Dark as Gold, and I think it perfectly captures the magic of this novel. It’s a feminist retelling of Rumplestiltskin, focusing on the Miller’s Daughter and the question of why she would respond to Rumplestiltskin the way she does.
When Charlotte Miller’s father dies, Charlotte is the only family member left to run the mill that supports her entire community. The mill is falling apart, traders are dismissive of the teenage Charlotte, and people whisper of a curse around the business, but Charlotte is determined to keep the mill running. Then she learns that her father took out a two thousand pound loan before he died, and the bankers are unwilling to trust a single woman to repay it. She needs to find the money, now, or else she will lose her home, her business, and the one place holding her community together.
Charlotte is a fantastic protagonist. Hardworking, stubborn and determined, she fights endless opposition to keep the mill running. She’s kind-hearted and incredibly loyal to her village and her mill, and her pragmatic, level-headed approach to life and work keeps her hunting for logical explanations as the “curse” seems to hit her again and again. And these character strengths are also her weaknesses, allowing her to keep going when many others would quit, but also gradually ensnaring her in Rumplestiltskin’s trap.
The novel is a slow build, but its gorgeous writing and compelling characters make it enjoyable from the start. Bunce perfectly balances Charlotte’s emotional growth and the development of the plot at the mill with a gothic atmosphere, lurking in the background and coloring everything. The novel has a strong undertone of wrongness running through it, an unsettling feeling that you just can’t shake, and this grows and grows, until the undefined tension is almost too much to bear. The final chapters are terrifying, and I kind of regretted reading them at 1am, but I couldn’t put the book down to wait for comforting sunlight.
If you enjoy fairy tale retellings or historical fantasy, then this is definitely one to read.
Aladdin is a strange movie to discuss in the context of Disney Princesses. Unless I’ve forgotten something, it’s the only official Disney Princess movie where the princess isn’t the protagonist. In fact, although she has a couple of scenes without Aladdin, Jasmine’s role in the movie isn’t that significant, and she’s absent for many of the important scenes. But I think it’s interesting to look at how Disney treats its female characters when they’re not the protagonist of the story.
And it looks like Disney put a lot of effort into giving Jasmine “girl power” and independence, at least in her dialogue and attitude. Unfortunately, they didn’t follow through and give her strength in the plot itself.
Neptune’s Brood is the most painful book I’ve read in a long, long while.
The prose isn’t bad. The worldbuilding is incredibly in-depth. There’s action and intrigue and space pirates and mermaids. But the execution of the story was so painful that I could barely force myself to read halfway through the book, let alone to the end.
Ostensibly, Neptune’s Brood is about a financial historian named Krina, who’s searching across the universe for her missing sister. As the novel opens, we’re not told why she’s hunting for her sister or why she might be missing, but eventually we learn what Krina has known all along: the two of them were tracking down the biggest fraud in history, trying to figure out what happened and collect any millions that may have gone unclaimed in the aftermath, and they angered the people involved along the way.
But Neptune’s Brood isn’t really about Krina. It’s what I’m going to call “financial fantasy.” It’s all about a fictional financial situation. The financial instruments that are used. Their history. How they’re abused. The problems that they cause. And this isn’t just a background for a plot. This is the plot. The financial system is the protagonist of Neptune’s Brood. It receives whole chapters of explanation and exploration. And hey, if speculatory financial systems in universe-sized economies are of interest, you might get a lot more out of this book than I did. But if you’re looking for a novel, this isn’t the place to turn.
Because, yes, there is a plot. Sort of. But Stross doesn’t seem to care about it. It’s constantly interrupted by massive info dumps about economics. It has no real structure or sense. The first person narration withholds information from the reader to create “intrigue,” but it only creates frustration. Meanwhile, the prose style fluctuates wildly, the novel switches between first and third person even when our first person narrator is present in a scene, and information is repeated in an almost identical manner multiple times. The narrative makes some attempts to set itself up as a diary, or a historian’s report, or something vaguely along those times, but it never bothers to keep up the conceit, to explain how the supposed narrator knows what happened in places she never was, with people she never communicated with. It’s the most flimsy and inconsistent novel I’ve read in a really long time.
And yet the effort is clearly there. The world has a lot of depth and thought put into it. The effort was just in the wrong place. For example, Stross seems to love world-building. Really love world building. But he doesn’t want to put anything in that world. Characterization, plot, emotion, compelling action… they’re all a distant second to explaining the novel’s setting, over and over again. We land on a new planet, and we get pages and pages and pages telling us about its politics, about its economics, about its uranium deposits and the exact technical terms for this kind of planet. We know more about a city where we’ll spend thirty pages than we do about any of the characters.
I stubbornly stuck with the book to the end, not caring about the characters, not really knowing what their aims where, not caring too much about the mysteries, in the hope that the end would provide some great payoff. But spoiler alert: it doesn’t. It doesn’t even properly end. In the final two chapters, a few revelations are thrown out, and we end up in a space battle… which basically involves the protagonist saying “space battles are boring,” the narration skipping over any action, and the novel ending so abruptly that it’s almost as if the author had to wrap it up in ten seconds before his laptop battery died. Did characters live or die? What were the consequences of this dramatic turn of events? What even happened during this grand finale? Who knows? Who cares? The characters and the plot never really mattered, so they’re dropped almost in mid-air, leaving the reader to stare at the blank page and wonder what on earth just happened.
And yet, this novel is nominated for a Hugo award. Because of name recognition? Because of the depth of the world building and economic thought? I don’t know. Economics enthusiasts may enjoy this one, but as a novel, it fails almost entirely.
A video of new Game of Thrones cast members was released at San Diego Comic Con last week, featuring the faces of new characters including Doran Martell, some of the Sand Snakes, and Trystane Martell. But notably missing was Arianne Martell.
Arianne Martell, for non-book readers, is the eldest child of Prince Doran and the heir to Dorne. Although Dorne is the one place in the Seven Kingdoms with absolute primogeniture, meaning the eldest child inherits regardless of gender, Arianne finds evidence that her father means to ignore her inheritance in favor of her younger brother, and becomes determined to defend her right to rule. She’s also described as having “olive skin,” making her, along with the other Dornish, one of the most prominent non-white characters in the series.
And her absence from the casting video shouldn’t be totally shocking. I doubt they’ve finished casting the entire season yet. Except that, in the casting press release, they describe Trystane as “heir to Dorne,” suggesting that, even if Arianne somehow ended up in the series, she wouldn’t be the character she was in the books. At best, she could still be Trystane’s sibling, attempting to supplant her brother with her schemes — either as an elder sibling who was overlooked, or as a younger sibling who wants more power than she has. That, at least, could lead to an interesting plotline. At worst, she’s been deleted entirely and her Myrcella-related plotline given to Trystane. Either way, it’s hard to imagine a greater irony than Trystane being declared the heir to Dorne in the show, when Arianne’s entire plotline is about her fighting the possibility that her brother will be declared heir instead of her.
In the show’s defence, most of Arianne’s significant actions could be given to someone else to streamline the plot. The only way her storyline has affected the other players in the series, at least so far, has been its impact on Myrcella, and it would perhaps be simpler to give that story of Myrcella’s betrothed. But this isn’t just a problem of whether the plot can still make sense, or whether the audience can remember yet another new character name. They’ve erased a competent, defiant, influential female character of color, and replaced her with a white male character. They’re taking away a female character’s fight for power that is rightfully hers, and handing that power to exactly the sort of character she fears will take it from her, assumedly for the very reason she fears she will be overlooked. Not only that, but if they erase Arianne’s role in the Dornish plotline, they’re erasing one of the few fantasy plotlines where a female character fights for (or manipulates, depending on your perspective) another female character, to win them both more power. Even if the storyarc itself is given to Trystane, that very compelling element will be lost.
I probably shouldn’t be surprised, given the show’s track record of misinterpreting and ignoring female characters and minimizing any hints of diversity. But this is, I think, the first time a highly significant and influential female character has been erased altogether. And since Arianne’s storyarc has lots of room for both big dramatic moments and ample nudity, two things the show seems to love, I can’t help thinking that both sexism and racism played a part in deciding that Arianne was better off as Trystane.
Despite being the movie that Marvel forgot, The Incredible Hulk has a lot of interesting elements. It’s a superhero movie set post origin story, and one that deals with the horrific side effects of supposed superpowers. The plot is built around the “superhero” searching for a cure. And for the first half, at least, it’s shot as a monster movie, where the monster also happens to be the protagonist — delaying the moment you see him, only offering the audience brief glimpses, showing the destruction and not the creature, and then having him emerge out of the fog for a big, dramatic reveal.
Unfortunately, “interesting” is pretty much the last word you could use to describe the movie’s female characters. Or its conclusion. Or… well. Maybe it was forgotten for a reason after all.
It’s been seven years since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows! Or it was on July 21st. I’m not sure I’d celebrate “seven years since” for anything else, but with Harry Potter, seven years seems particularly significant.
I’ve rarely written about Harry Potter here, in part because it feels somewhat untouchable. I’m reluctant to poke and analyse something that has meant so much to me pretty much as long as I can remember. I read my first Harry Potter book when I was 8, and remember desperately waiting for Prisoner of Azkaban to be released. The final book came out in the summer before I started college, and the final movie came out the year that I graduated college. Harry Potter provided the framework for so much of my life.
But articles like this have me reflecting not just on the books, but on the fandom around them when they were still being released. The crazy theories, the intense shipping, the “Big Name Fans”… and the fan responses to certain characters. Hermione Granger was, of course, a massive fan favorite, and perhaps more of a flawed character than we gave her credit for (I at least never noticed how ruthless she is). Lots of the shades-of-grey-at-best male characters, like Draco Malfoy and Snape, received endless adoration. But most other female characters received a less excited welcome. Lavender Brown was reviled for being shallow, Cho Chang was too emotional, Fleur Delacour was ridiculous and annoying, and Ginny was a bitch, a slut and/or a Mary Sue, depending on the critic.
The series is generally light on female characters, with the Weasley family ratio somewhat representative of the number of male vs female characters as teachers, in positions of power, and in the background at Hogwarts (were Hermione, Lavender and Parvati the only Gryffindor girls in Harry’s year? Was Pansy Parkinson the only Slytherin girl? Where were the others?). But the response to the female characters that did exist was often vitriolic at best. And the more I think about these secondary characters, the more I want to look into them and people’s reactions to them. I’ve been feeling the urge to reread Harry Potter for a while now, and the seventh anniversary of Deathly Hallows seems like the perfect time.
So keep your eyes peeled for more Harry Potter content on here in the near future. Character studies, a look at fan culture, and probably some general analysis and 11-year-long denial that Sirius really died. Because if there’s one thing that hasn’t changed over the past seven years, it’s that there’s nothing I like talking about more than Harry Potter.