Tag Archives: female characters

Sort of a Book Review: Cast in Chaos by Michelle Sagara

Last night I finished Cast in Chaos, the sixth book in Michelle Sagara’s Chronicles of Elantra series. I enjoyed it very much, but apparently my brain is having trouble with full sentences and paragraphs today, so to point form we go!

Cast in Chaos (Chronicles of Elantra, #6)

  • it occurs to me, in all the discussion the past couple years of covers and female characters in particular on covers, that maybe this one deserves a shout-out. She is wearing practical, not secondary-sexual-characteristic-enhancing clothing; her face is towards the “camera” and not obscured; and perhaps most importantly, her position and posture gives her an active role in the cover. Compare that with all the passive, dead or drowning or headless girls on most book covers… Yes, I do think this cover needs a shout out. Good job, whoever designed it. Thank you.
  • just when I think this series is getting a bit too long for me and I might be falling out of it, it does something to suck me right back in. The last 150-ish pages of this book… damn. In the best way.
  • fans of the series will definitely enjoy this installment. I especially loved getting to know the Arkon quite a bit better. And the development with Nightshade towards the beginning, though he sort of falls out of the book after that (I am guessing that thread will be picked back up in Cast in Ruin, book 7, and the continuation of this book).
  • I am pretty sure this book (this series) would really reward a re-reading. There is a lot of chewy, gritty, figuring out who you are, and how you engage with your world in a compassionate and honest way, and how you heal from your past stuff in there, hidden (or not so hidden) among the dragons and the magical portals and the talking elemental Water. This is why I love fantasy.
  • so yeah. Chronicles of Elantra (starts with Cast in Shadows). Highly recommended; read it if you haven’t.

Repost: Why Amy Farrah Fowler Rocks

I was skimming through some old posts at my defunct lj today, because of reasons, and this one in particular stuck out to me. Even though I posted it over a year ago, I still feel this, very much. I’m posting it again so that I have it on this blog too.

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Why Amy Farrah Fowler Rocks.

Mar. 23rd, 2012

This is an entry I have been wanting to write for a long time. I’ve been holding off because I’m pretty angry about it, and I wanted to be less defensive and able to write with more objectivity. But y’know, not sure that is ever going to happen, so here goes.

This entry is about The Big Bang Theory, specifically Amy Farrah Fowler. To start off with: I have seen most Big Bang episodes at least twice, several more than that. I’m a big fan. For sure there are a ton of things that bother me about the show, big and little, from Howard’s womanizing and overwhelming skeeviness to the fact that Leonard seems to only have one facial expression. (Yeah, you’ll never un-see that now. Sorry.)

But if there’s one thing I love unreservedly about this show, it’s the character of Amy Farrah Fowler. So when I see or hear criticisms of her character, I get angry, and I get defensive. Those who take issue with Amy’s character and her storyline seem to mostly have a problem with the fact that Amy is brilliant and a scientist with a good career etc etc, but right now in the show she is focused on her social life: her friendship with Penny and Bernadette, and her relationship with Sheldon.

What I would like to say to that is: SO?

My instant and negative gut reaction to this is influenced for sure from my current position in academia. I am so turned off academia right now because of the sexism I see. From my experience, there are far fewer women than men above the undergraduate level (my MA class is equal, 3 women, 3 men, but only two want to continue on to a phD and guess what–both men. Profs-wise my department is at something like 10 men to 3 women). Being an academic takes a lot of education, and demands a lot of time. No male academic would be considered less of a scholar for also having a family or any other aspect aside from work to their life. Female academics, though… And I’m sure it’s the same for other professions.

And why? Why can’t women have it all–a good job, a family, maybe a hobby or three? To me, feminism doesn’t mean pressuring women to work in higher education jobs that they were traditionally denied. To me, feminism means teaching girls that they can do anything. Because right now, you know, I don’t think we can. Of course girls still need to be taught and encouraged that they can be doctors or rocket scientists or professors, because that battle is still not won. But dear lord why would we teach kids that other desires are somehow less?

And that right there is why I think Amy Farrah Fowler rocks, and rocks hard. Because she is entirely her own person. She is a brilliant person, she has obviously studied long and worked hard to gain eminence in her field of neurobiology. But that is not all she is. She is not a neurobiologist full stop. She is not defined by her job. She is not defined by her boyfriend, either–when Sheldon works for a couple days in her lab, she doesn’t give any ground to him, because that is her field and she is the boss there. She is Amy Farrah Fowler, and despite having been teased and bullied growing up she is still not afraid to be herself, quirky and not pressured by social conventions. Let me just put it this way: how many girls do you know who had a rough childhood because of their intelligence would go to a wedding with a moustache painted on their finger as a conversation starter? I know I sure as hell wouldn’t.

So no, I don’t see the way Amy Farrah Fowler has morphed in the show to spending a lot of time with Penny and Bernadette, and the growing importance of her boyfriend/girlfriend storyline with Sheldon, to be somehow a failure of her status as a strong woman character. Do you think it was healthy for her to have no social life before meeting them? I happen to have recently rewatched the first couple episodes where she appears and you know what? She doesn’t smile. Not once.

Balance is good. Her having friends now (and yes, a boyfriend too) does not make her somehow less of a brilliant female scientist. She has not somehow failed feminism. Being a strong woman does not mean being a robot only focused on work.

Amy Farrah Fowler is the kind of female character I would like to see more of in movies/books/tv. She is confident in her mind and her body. She is part of society without changing who she is to fit into society. She is a model for girls who have been told one too many times that they are “a smart girl,” who have thought that maybe they aren’t ugly but that they’re invisible anyways because they aren’t like the popular girls, who have poured themselves into work because that’s all they think they’re good at.

And yes, I was one of those girls. There are a lot of us, and we need characters like Amy. We need to know that we can be neurobiologists and also squeal with glee over a princess tiara. These things are not mutually exclusive.

Book Review: Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear

Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear

(Goodreads page)

Back cover blurb:

Temur is walking from a battlefield where he was left for dead. Temur is now the legitimate heir by blood to his grandfather’s Khaganate, but he is not the strongest. Going into exile is the only way to survive his ruthless cousin.

Once-Princess Samarkar is climbing the thousand steps of the Citadel of the Wizards of Tsarepheth. She was heir to the Rasan Empire until her father got a son on a new wife. She has renounced her worldly power to seek the magical power of a wizard.

These two will come together to stand against the hidden cult that has so carefully brought all the empires of the Celadon Highway to war through deceit and sorcerous power.

My thoughts:

It took me a couple of chapters to get into this book. But after the first appearance of Samarkar, I was hooked. Over the course of the book I came to be equally invested in all the main characters, but she was the one that first grabbed me. Let me just describe her badass-ness for a quick second: heir to an empire until her younger half-brother is born and she gets married off; unhappy in her new home, she gets her brother to come kill her husband; widowed, she decides to give up her Princess status and study wizardry, is neutered in order to gain magical power though with no guarantee of success or even her survival (how the magic system works for them). And that’s all before the story starts.

Overall, my favourite things about this book were the characters (particularly the female characters) and the worldbuilding. The characters in this book prove, as if it needed proving, that you can have well-rounded casts of characters (though they are skewed towards the elite of their various cultures) in epic fantasy. Everyone is a real person, and everyone’s strengths are acknowledged, whether it’s standing on a saddle in the middle of battle to shoot arrows with deadly accuracy, or just grimly gritting your teeth and not complaining about the blisters on your feet, or your own discomfort on a long journey.

I found the worldbuilding fascinating. From an external-to-the-book perspective, it’s important in that there’s a ton of discussion about non-Western fantasy settings going around in the SFF community, but I’m more interested in an internal-to-the-book perspective. There are several different cultures interacting in this book – in fact, with only one exception I can think of, I think every main character spends a large portion of the narrative outside of their culture of origin. Each character has times when they feel more or less comfortable–the steppe-raised man is claustrophobic and nervous among the mountains and in cities/palaces; the mountain-fastness-raised woman is agoraphobic in the open steppe. There’s a lot of worldbuilding done in this book simply through what is and isn’t familiar to each character in terms of ways of living that we might take for granted (do we sleep on a soft or hard bed? Raised or floor level? With or without a pillow? etc.). That was really interesting to me; how the the world was painted through details of character interaction both with each other and with their environment.

Maybe that is an obvious point, and it’s only my own little minor revelation as to the ways it was accomplished that makes me think it’s worth pointing out. But either way, the worldbuilding in this book is excellent.

The only problem I had with this book is that I got lost a time or two. I mean, physically lost in the world. Range of Ghosts is very much an epic fantasy; there’s a lot of walking to Mordor, so to speak. At one point, I’m pretty sure in my head the characters were crossing an entirely different mountain range than the one they actually were crossing, so when they came out the other side I was so confused. And this despite referring several times to the helpful map in the front of the book (I normally don’t bother to reference the maps in books). In the book’s defence, I believe this is entirely due to my own geography fail, and no lack in the book itself…

I definitely recommend this to fantasy fans. I had heard a lot of good things about this book before I read it, and it lived up to them all.

Django and his Damsel in Distress

So I saw Django Unchained this past weekend. And while overall I liked it, there was one aspect that made me want to turn on the capslock of RAGE AND FURY. (Not saying this is the only aspect of the movie that could be critiqued–it’s just the one that got to me).

I don’t think I can do this without spoilers, so: Spoilers! Don’t want ’em, stop reading here.

My problem is with the character of Broomhilda. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that she’s such a Damsel in Distress when she and Django are outright compared to Siegfried and Brunhilda, and that legend is explicitly retold within the movie as ‘hero goes through hell to rescue fair maid.’

Except! Broomhilda is also given the backstory of a “troublemaker” who tried to escape several times. Now “troublemaker” and “Damsel in Distress” are completely contradictory–but even that wouldn’t have bothered me if it had been portrayed consistently that way–I have no problem with a man riding heroically to a woman’s defense, as long as the woman is doing her damnedest to survive/better her situation in the meantime, not passively awaiting male help. (There are stories where I think this works really well–THE GRASS KING’S CONCUBINE by Kari Sperring being the first that comes to mind. Jehan is coming to rescue Aude; Aude hopes for help but doesn’t know help is coming, so she keeps actively trying to escape.)

But here’s the thing. Every single time Broomhilda is on screen, she is passive. SAYING that she tried to escape means nothing; Django calling her “little troublemaker” (especially since the ‘little’ makes it diminutive) does absolutely nothing to make her a female character with agency when we NEVER see her have any agency at all. She is always passive, and you can tell us about her badass backstory all you want, it means shit if she never acts like that.

I have to say, I noticed this throughout the movie but it didn’t make me truly rageful until the very ending. To have her there sitting on her horse acting like a little girl plugging her ears, then simpering at Django… seriously!? Ugh. And then, to add insult to injury, their silhouettes ride off into the night, and she hoists a rifle on her hip. Way too little, way too late–cause at that point it seems unbelievable that she could shoot, or do anything other than hide behind Django. (Not to mention that a silhouette shot is not really empowering her as a character, since it erases identity).

The really sad thing is this could have been fixed so easily (and who knows, maybe there’s a deleted scene that does this)–all you’d have to do is give her some agency somewhere. Because then her backstory would mean something. Hell, show her helping Django lay the dynamite. Or show her asking questions about Django/Schultz’s plan to rescue her. But nope, all she does is faint. Granted, her faint is actually one of the few over the top Damsel moments I wouldn’t want to change, since imo it leads to pretty much the funniest line of the movie. But still, show her waking up and taking some active interest in her own damn rescue attempt.

There. I’ve ranted myself out. Like I said, overall enjoyed the movie but with some major reservations. If you’ve seen it, what did you think?