Doctor Who: The Caretaker

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Yay for present day episodes!

Considering that the major complaint about Clara is that she’s been more of a cardboard cutout than a character, it was exciting to see an episode with at least the potential to be all about Clara and her life outside the Doctor.

And did it succeed? Well, sort of.

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Sam Pepper and Youtube Abuse

Over the past few days, more allegations of Youtuber abuse have come to light, this time against Sam Pepper.

Laci Green’s video above is the best summary of what’s happened (click through to the video page for more links), but for those who can’t watch: popular Youtuber Sam Pepper posted a “prank” video where he sexually assaulted random girls on the street with a fake hand. When the Youtuber community responded with disgust, he posted another video claiming that it was all a “social experiment.” And in the past few days, several videos have been posted accusing Sam Pepper of abuse and rape.

This isn’t the first time that these sort of allegations have been seen in the Youtube community. In March, a flood of stories came out against several popular Youtubers, in particular Alex Day (probably most well-known for his Alex Reads Twilight series). The difference between then and now is that now, people are actually responding.

Not that people didn’t talk about the issue in March. But they only talked about it on Tumblr, where the allegations arose. No major Youtuber mentioned it on the platform where it mattered, despite the fact that the accused were using their status as Youtube Celebrities to abuse teenage fans. There were a few vague videos on the importance of consent, and that was that.

So on the one hand, it’s really heartening to see so many Youtubers responding to this, both on Youtube and on Twitter and other platforms. But on the other hand, it has really depressing implications. Sam Pepper is getting called out and discussed on Youtube because he posted video evidence on his own Youtube channel. And as Laci Green points out, he wasn’t called out after doing it once. He has made several similar “prank” videos in the past, including lassoing random strangers and handcuffing strange women to him and demanding that they kiss him in order to be released. I don’t know what happened with this particular video to create such a strong backlash against it. I wish I did. But the fact remains that he happily posted evidence against himself again and again before he finally got a reaction. And when there isn’t any video evidence, as has been the case with other Youtubers? It’s pushed under the rug, addressed on Tumblr but ignored on the platform where most of the viewers actually are.

The swift and decisive reaction to Sam Pepper might leave people in the community feeling like they can pat themselves on the back for a job well done. And maybe I’m being cynical for disagreeing with that. Maybe events this year have led to more awareness, and a greater willingness to act when allegations come to light. But the facts remain that Sam Pepper posted several similar videos before this, and that other popular Youtubers act in a similar way without widespread criticism. It remains a fact that I no longer have enough fingers to count the number of Youtubers accused of taking advantage of and/or abusing their teenage fans this year, and yet this is the first time I’ve heard the abuse explicitly mentioned by a popular Youtuber.

Youtube still has a serious problem of abuse in its culture. And I really hope that this will be a turning point, with more safeguards, more discussion and more clear condemnation of abusers in the future, and not a moment where people get up in arms for a week, and then sweep it under the rug again.

Sleepy Hollow: This Is War

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It’s been a long, long hiatus.

After obsessing over this fun new show last fall, I’d kind of forgotten all about it. It’s been nine months since the end of season one aired, and that’s a long time to wait for a cliffhanger to be resolved.

Luckily, it took approximately 0.1 seconds into the “previously on Sleepy Hollow” for me to remember how great this show is. It’s not the most serious show, or the most emotionally devastating show, or a show designed to make you really think. But if you want a diverse, fast-paced supernatural adventure genre show with lots of emotion and fantastic character moments in the mix, then it’s basically the best thing on television right now.

And I’m so glad that it’s back.

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Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper

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Sixteen-year-old Avery Roe wants only to take her rightful place as the witch of Prince Island, making the charms that keep the island’s whalers safe at sea, but her mother has forced her into a magic-free world of proper manners and respectability. When Avery dreams she’s to be murdered, she knows time is running out to unlock her magic and save herself.

It’s hard to know where to begin when talking about Salt & Storm, because everything wowed me. The beautiful prose, the complex characters, the haunting magic system, the vivid emotions, the richness of the world… it’s a truly stunning book. And every line of it hums with female power.

The novel explores the relationships between different generations of women — the young not-yet-a-witch Avery, the magic-hating mother who keeps her hostage, and the witch grandmother she longs to return to, but who may not want her back. All three of these women play vital roles in the story, and they all have different personalities and expectations and dreams and powers of their own. Each female character has different definitions of happiness and freedom and love, and the exploration of those differences is what drives the novel.

Avery’s relationship with her mother is particularly fascinating. Avery’s mom hates magic, despite having the ability to control love herself, and she’s determined to prevent Avery from becoming a witch at any cost. Unsurprisingly, the relationship between Avery and her mother is full of hate and resentment, with Avery desperately fighting to set her own destiny. But Avery’s mother is probably the most interesting character of the novel, with a heartbreaking story of her own, and the exploration of her relationship with Avery and why she acts the way she does leads to some of the most compelling scenes I’ve read in a book in a while.

Avery herself is also a fantastic protagonist, not least because she’s not always likeable. She’s a very angry, short-tempered and often selfish main character, who makes mistakes, misjudges things and hurts others with her words as often as she hurts herself. She’s volatile and passionate, and her dedication to her island and her magic drives the story forwards. She feels incredibly real, both powerful and vulnerable, and even when she’s making bad choices or being cruel, I can’t help but like and support her.

At its heart, Salt & Storm is a novel about choices, and about accepting that sometimes you can’t choose. Avery struggles for freedom throughout the novel, saying she’s do “anything” to win her powers, and the novel then goes deep into what “anything” can really mean, and whether the “freedom” she fights for is really freedom at all. Gorgeously written and emotionally compelling, Salt & Storm is my favorite book of 2014 so far. Highly, highly recommended.

The Falconer by Elizabeth May

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I am so in love with this book.

The Falconer is a fast-paced, action-packed highly addictive Victorian fantasy novel, full of fighting and vengeance and fae and apocalypses and steampunk weapons and the occasional ball. Set in an alternate 1840s Edinburgh, The Falconer follows Aileana, a high society inventor, who has dedicated herself to killing fae after one of them murdered her mother. In between her attempts to salvage her tattered reputation, she develops new weapons and patrols the streets of Edinburgh with Kieran, a mysterious ancient fae who hunts his own kind. Her only goal in life now is to find the fae who murdered her mother and get her revenge, but things are complicated slightly when the wards trapping the most dangerous fae under the city begin to break.

The Falconer somehow manages to be both high-stakes action/drama AND quirky and funny and fun. A comparison to Buffy isn’t quite fitting, as The Falconer is a lot darker in tone, but they do have similarities. They’re both apocalyptic with a sense of humor, and The Falconer follows Buffy’s lead in exploring the impact that secret demon fighting has on your life, your relationships with family and friends, and your social standing (perhaps the 19th century version of getting expelled). Add in the forbidden supernatural romance, and you’ve got a book that will definitely appeal to fans of the show.

And Aileana is a fantastic female protagonist. She’s incredibly intelligent and a badass fighter, but she’s far from the kickass stereotype some people might expect. She was emotionally broken by her mother’s death, and the hate that drives her is far from a strength. In fact, her “strength” as a character isn’t that she can fight fae, but all of the other traits that struggle through her darkness. Her loyalty as a friend. Her genius for inventing. Her determination to succeed, whatever the odds. Her sense of humor, her resourcefulness, her emotional insight. Mix all of that with the desperate desire to find and kill her mother’s murderer, whatever the cost, and you’ve got yourself a fascinating protagonist.

Meanwhile, the plot is full of brilliant twists, and the secondary characters are all so vivid and layered and compelling that you’ll find it a difficult book to put down. The one downside to the book is that it ends with one of the biggest cliffhangers I’ve ever seen. It not only finishes mid-scene, it practically finishes mid-sentence. And although that’s dramatic and gasp-worthy and will have you scrambling to find out when the next book comes out, it might also be beyond irritating when you find out that Book 2 isn’t out until next year.

But otherwise, The Falconer is a really fun, twisty, half-Gothic, half-steampunk adventure, with great characters and lots to keep you turning the pages until the end. Highly recommended!

Doctor Who: Listen

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I was so ready to have nightmares from this episode.

One-off scary episodes are what Steven Moffat does best. There are no long-term plots to manage, or emotional arcs to develop. The episodes don’t even have to be internally consistent. They just have to be absorbingly, atmospherically creepy, playing on subconscious childhood fears. It’s small scale, deeply focussed, characters-in-the-basement-while-the-light-flickers stuff. We don’t have to know or care about anything beyond this particular moment and how terrifying it is.

Which is why Listen only half-worked. Half of the episode is about hiding under the bed while an unseen monster may or may not lurk in the room, while half of the episode attempted to go grand scale, confusing-character-timeline, big picture story. And the two halves just didn’t click.

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Doctor Who: Robot of Sherwood

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Now that was a fun episode.

The plot only made sense in a “don’t think about it” sort of way, but after things Got Serious last week, it was really fun to have an episode that was all historical figures and running jokes and banter and peril that isn’t really perilous at all.

Everything about this episode said “don’t take me seriously.” The main conflict was the bickering between the Doctor and Robin Hood, the disguise during the archery contest was so obvious that it was literally just a hat, and the Doctor engaged in and won a swordfight with a spoon. It actually reminded me a bit of Merlin — it’s so ridiculous that you’re either going to love it, or think it unbearable dumb. I was glad to be in the first group.

It also showed the potential of a grumpy, less friendly and adventurous Doctor. While Capaldi’s Doctor had hints of whimsy this week, it was also great to see how the Doctor can be funny and entertaining without being the “timey-wimey” speaking figure of recent years. I feel as though the first episode tried too hard to show how the Doctor was more distant, and the second episode was determined to make him dark. Here we finally got to see the more light-hearted and human side to him, and finally see a Doctor that someone would actually want to adventure with.

If only the episode hadn’t made him so stupid. Considering that the Doctor is a supposed genius who has seen all of time and space, the show often struggles to show how any other character could possibly be useful. Often, it goes the road of “emotional intelligence,” with the companions providing the voice of reason, or just plotting things so that the Doctor isn’t around to help the companions out. But sometimes, as with this week, it seems to decide that the only way to have companions be the hero is to turn the Doctor into a temporary idiot. Clara was definitely the hero of the week, and the only one to keep a level head, but this is weakened slightly by the fact that everybody else was utterly useless. They’re too busy bickering to come up with a plan. They’re too stubborn to see what’s going on. The Doctor refuses to accept that Robin Hood could be real for no apparent reason. And he’s shown to be pretty much useless without his sonic screwdriver.

Which is all fine and fun for a light-hearted episode. But then, should the joke be that the guys are idiots and Clara’s the one handling everything after all? Does it have to be “the boys are useless, thank god Clara’s a badass”? It’s fun in a 1990s Girl Power kind of way, but shouldn’t we be able to do better than yoyoing between “underdeveloped secondary character” and “Outspoken Strong Female Character” here? Can’t we have a female character be awesome without everyone else having to be an idiot to make it happen? Please?

And, side note: “I’m just as real as you are”? Please tell me that’s going to be as ominous and plot-relevant as it sounds.

Doctor Who: Into the Dalek

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Now here’s a surprise: Into the Dalek was a pretty darn enjoyable episode of Doctor Who. Painfully cheesy at times, with some rehashed material from other Dalek episodes, it still managed to be fun and dramatic and intriguing, while asking interesting questions about bot the Daleks and the Doctor.

Compared to last week’s confusion, it basically deserves an Emmy.

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Heir of Fire by Sarah J Maas

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Lost and broken, Celaena Sardothien’s only thought is to avenge the savage death of her dearest friend: as the King of Adarlan’s Assassin, she is bound to serve this tyrant, but he will pay for what he did. Any hope Celaena has of destroying the king lies in answers to be found in Wendlyn. Sacrificing his future, Chaol, the Captain of the King’s Guard, has sent Celaena there to protect her, but her darkest demons lay in that same place. If she can overcome them, she will be Adarlan’s biggest threat – and his own toughest enemy. 

While Celaena learns of her true destiny, and the eyes of Erilea are on Wendlyn, a brutal and beastly force is preparing to take to the skies. Will Celaena find the strength not only to win her own battles, but to fight a war that could pit her loyalties to her own people against those she has grown to love?

I was so excited to read this book. This series has a real addictive quality, and Heir of Fire was no exception to that. Some readers might be jarred by the fact that Calaena spends the book in an entirely new place, with an entirely new cast of characters around her, but Heir of Fire is less about the shippiness and revelations of the king’s evil, and more about Calaena herself. She has to come to terms with all that has happened to her and with the past self she has suppressed, and she needs to learn how to access her repressed powers in order to become who she was always meant to be. It’s a book of self-discovery for Calaena, and it’s empowering in part because of how challenging that self discovery is. Calaena works for every scrap of power and self-confidence she gains, and she faces many set-backs and failures along the way.

Celaena is actually pretty unlikeable in this book, in a really compelling way. She’s been pretty much emotionally destroyed by the events of the last book, and the result is a character who’s despairing and self-loathing, who lashes out at others, and who is motivated by rage when she’s motivated at all. In a first book, this would be unbearable, but here it gives Celaena a lot more depth, and helps to deconstruct the “sexy assassin as badass female character” trope. Celaena has been through a lot of trauma and is pretty much broken as a person, and Heir of Fire digs deep into that and what that means for her future.

Of course, it sometimes also means that readers might want to shake Celaena, or hate the way she approaches her responsibilities and interacts with others, but she feels incredibly emotionally real throughout the book. Her thoughts and actions aren’t always good, but they’re believable, and the emotional history provided by the series means that they’re incredibly compelling as well.

Not to say that this is a really serious book. It’s YA fantasy adventure, and it has all the popcorn-munching pacing that readers might expect from this series. We’ve got the epic showdowns, the requisite moments of self-affirming awesome, the introduction of a new hot guy, plus shapeshifting, monstrous flying beasts, and as much magic and intrigue as you could want. It’s a great deal of fun, but its main focus is Calaena and her much-needed emotional journey, and that means that the book has a lot of weight as well.

A great third instalment. Just be sure to refresh your memory of book two before you pick this one up, or you’ll be as lost as I was when I began!

Women as Background Decoration in Video Games

Sometimes, you don’t see how bad things are until the evidence is laid out in front of you.

I don’t always 100% agree with Anita Sarkeesian’s analysis on Feminist Frequency, but her latest video on Women as Background Decoration in video games is pretty hard to argue with. In it, she gives a rundown of how violence (and especially sexual violence) against women is used in video games as a kind of “mood setter,” to give a sense of grittiness or allow the player to play the hero.

Just one of these examples would be horrific. And Anita has enough to fill an entire half an hour video. The bulk of the video isn’t analysis or explanation. It’s just clip after clip after clip, paired with descriptions of the role this moment plays in the game. And it’s pretty stomach-churning stuff.

Of course, not everyone is happy with her expose. Anita Sarkeesian was driven out of her own home earlier this week because of serious threats against her and her family, and she’s previously reported that she gets abuse every single day from irate gamers because of her videos. And why, exactly? Because she criticizes video games? Because she wants them to be more inclusive for women? The irony, of course, is that in threatening and abusing her, these gamers are simply proving her point that video game culture is incredibly sexist and needs change. When people attack her for daring to suggest that gamers might be misogynistic (which she does not even do — she comments on the content of the games themselves), they reveal all the misogyny that fuels them. It could almost be amusing if it wasn’t so terrifying.

I would like to think that people react so horrifically because they feel like she’s criticizing them for liking video games, and because they don’t want their games to be represented by these “blips” of sexism. But it’s hard to believe that. It seems like the people reacting so strongly to Sarkeesian value the misogynistic elements under discussion, especially the ones shown in this video. Why else would a huge chunk of the mods available for Skyrim involve making women in the world more scantily clad? Why else would there be “realistic rape mods” (yes seriously) for the game? People are willing to work hard to add these elements to games that don’t already include them. They enjoy them and want them to be there. And by simply pointing out the existence of this attitude and how pervasive it is, Anita Sarkeesian is threatening their fun and making it seem like it could all be taken away.

#notallgamers, of course. And not all games. But the attitude does exist, and it needs to be tackled. Because when simply mentioning it leads to a woman being driven out of her home, you know you’ve got a problem that runs far too deep to be ignored.

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