14. Andre Norton & the High Hallack Library [SF Women of the 20th Century]

sargassoSo I recently read my first Andre Norton book. I know, right?

It was Sargasso of Space (1955), one of her classic SF juveniles written originally under the name Andrew North, and I enjoyed it well enough though it is everything about classic SF that makes me tired – male heroes and anti-heroes having boy’s own adventures as far as the eye can see. (In retrospect I think I would probably enjoy the Witch World series much more, and I have loaded up on super cheap Andre Norton omnibus editions thanks to my Kindle – I’m determined to find one that I love!)

It’s not surprising at all that she became such a popular writer in the genre, being able to write that classic, traditionally masculine style of science fiction so deftly. But Sargasso of Space comes at the very beginning of Norton’s long career, and is only a small piece of the picture.

She wrote over 130 novels in all, over 70+ years (she died in her 90’s).

She was the only woman to be named a SFWA Grand Master during the 20th century (in 1984).

She was also the first woman to receive a Gandalf Award (1977), and the first women to be inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame (1997).

She was honoured with the World Fantasy Convention Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998, and went on to write or co-write at least 19 more books after that.

Yes, that’s actually the level of achievement you have to get to in order to be remembered and occasionally spoken of in the same breath as Heinlein and Asimov. Andre Norton is one of those female authors who make such an extraordinary contribution that no one can deny her place in history. But *wow* that’s a high bar against which to measure other writers.

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Patreon 2016: Sheep Might Fly & Other Epic Possibilities

cover art by Katy Shuttleworth

cover art by Katy Shuttleworth

So, I have a Patreon page where readers of the blog (and those who enjoy my writing generally) can support my work. First it was for the grand, entirely epic Musketeer Space project, which can be read for free here. In 15 months I wrote 62 chapters, a bonus novella, 20 Musketeer Media Essays and rewatched 73 episodes of the classic space opera cartoon Robotech.

Then while I took a breather from the pressures of writing (and publishing) a chapter a week of what had turned into a life-swallowing 190,000 word space adventure, the Patreon became a more general way to support my blogging, including a series of SF Women of the 20th Century profiles (still ongoing).

But I always meant to come back to writing fiction serials, because I’m addicted to the form now! And given my other love of podcasting, I thought it was time to combine the two…

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Star Wars: the Force Awakens Spoilerific

theresheis

We went, we watched, and now we’re going to flail our hands about it, shortly before going to buy all the Rey toys that aren’t out there.

Get the episode here or on iTunes!

Relevant Links:

The Bechdel-Wallace Test – is this film feminist?
What To Do When You’re Not the Hero Any More
John Boyega being super excited about being in Star Wars
Lupita Nyong’o on not being seen as herself in Star Wars
Emo Kylo Ren
#WheresRey

Skype number: 03 90164171 (within Australia) +613 90164171 (from overseas)

Please send feedback to us at galacticsuburbia@gmail.com, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook, support us at Patreon (http://www.patreon.com/galacticsuburbia) and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!

In Your Face, Cleopatra

cleopatra-1934-name-titleAnother year, another successful Aussie crowdfunding campaign!

Tehani put up the Pozible campaign on New Year’s Day to gather pre-orders for her upcoming anthology, In Your Face, and it filled its target within the first 12 hours. Hooray! You can still go and pre-purchase your copy of the book, due out by Easter I believe, with some special early bird pledging options.

The anthology is intended to be a showcase of Australian SFF that deals with confronting/provocative themes. When Tehani invited me to submit, I couldn’t think of anything I had ready to go which would be ‘in your face’ enough… in fact, since I’ve had so little time to write on spec for the last few years, I didn’t have anything at all. Except for, you know, this domestic violence piece I wrote that I never intended to submit at all…

Oh, well, that. I have to say, it’s the fastest turnaround I’ve ever had between ‘I have nothing’ to ‘I have maybe something, what do you think?’ and ‘STORY ACCEPTED.’

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Issue #1: All-New, All-Different Avengers

All-New-All-Different-Avengers-ready-for-actionTitle: All-New, All-Different Avengers #1

Writer: Mark Waid

Artist: Adam Kubert & Mahmud Asrar

The Buzz: This one’s been telegraphed for a long time, as a genuinely diverse version of the Avengers that still acknowledges the legacy and history of the team.

All You Need To Know: Tony Stark/Iron Man, Sam Wilson/Captain America, Kamala Khan/Ms Marvel, Jane Foster/Thor, etc.

Story: An actual ‘how the gang got together’ storyline for a team book! Amazing! Also, a Sam Wilson/Captain America storyline in which he isn’t a raging asshole, also amazing.

We get two mini-stories in this first issue, as the coming together of the team is obviously going to form the first arc rather than being taken as read. (I appreciate this so much) The first story shows how Sam Wilson’s captaincy means he is constantly having to deal with racial politics and representation in the public sphere – and how exhausting that can be. Tony Stark, meanwhile, is going through a rebuilding period after a long time away. The two of them team up with Spidey (Miles Morales) to investigate some alieny-explosions, while discussing the fact that there isn’t actually a proper Avengers team right now.

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Superwomen of the Year

girlscouts12015 was a really good year for female superheroes on screen. The rise of the superhero genre in cinema over the last 15 years, and the momentum of that success, from the X-Men through the Grimdark Batmans to the dominating force of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has been dogged with a lot of… well, problematic gender issues.

Let’s be clear here, problematic gender issues have always gone hand in hand with the superhero genre, no matter the medium. A lot of the ‘ow, just got punched in the face’ gender problems of cinematic or TV adaptations from the comics are reproduced directly from the original source material – and it doesn’t help that while comics themselves have been developing new, diverse and interesting modes of storytelling that are far more inclusive of women, people of colour, alternative sexualities etc, the media adaptations often reach first for the original, very white, very male-centred versions of the stories.

(The only second generation super hero to make it to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a ‘first’ movie, for example, was Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang/Ant-Man who was amiable enough, but so generic a character that I kept mistaking him for Chris Pratt whenever he put the mask on)

Still, we can’t blame it all on Seventies Stan Lee. Hollywood and TV production being what it is, modern media has a way of punching female audiences in the face in new, interesting and entirely canon-non-compatible ways. Women get fridged in new and interesting ways. The Phoenix Saga ends with Jean Grey’s sacrifice being 99% about Wolverine, because Hugh Jackman is the breakout star of those movies. Rogue’s storyline is literally excised from the most recent X-Men movie, even though there are enough fans to justify releasing a secondary DVD that still includes her. Gritty Batman Trilogy creates an original love interest only to horribly murder her in order to accentuate Bruce Wayne’s Man Pain. The first seasons of the TV adaptations of The Arrow and the Flash go to extraordinary lengths to prevent Laurel Lance and Iris West being useful, trustworthy or likeable, because future love interests don’t have to be real people. The plot of Ant-Man actually revolves around the way that women are overlooked in superhero stories. Gamora gets called a whore, in a line that contradicts the established characterisation of Drax, in order to get a cheap laugh.

Ahem. But. But. In all this, with all the problems, the movie and TV adaptations have managed to bring some iconic and legendary figures to the screen. And… it does feel like it’s getting better. If progress has been made in this pop culture battle about treating female characters with respect, then it feels like it happened in 2015.

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Gotham’s Women

Gotham-Season-1SPOILERS for Season 1 of Gotham (not a lot of spoilers, mostly character arc stuff, almost no plot), hardly any mention of Season 2.

I wasn’t sure what to make of Gotham when the show was first announced – a prequel to Batman? A story about all the characters of one of the 20th century’s most complex pop culture mythologies, before they got interesting? A pre-origin story in an era that has made us thoroughly sick of superhero origin stories? Bah.

So basically I was an idiot.

Gotham is an extraordinary piece of drama – and it deserves to sit alongside Agent Carter, Daredevil and Jessica Jones as examples of TV shows that use the meat of superhero comics while not conforming to the superhero genre. Gotham is a crime drama and mobster tragedy, set in a fascinating city that meshes 1940’s noir with 21st century technology – they all have cell phones, but the men wear hats.

It’s very much a love song to masculinity: Jim Gordon (a compellingly stoic Ben McKenzie) is the new cop with a chip on his shoulder, trying so desperately to be a Good Man in a city where police and government corruption are so thick you can’t see through it. He’s partnered with Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), who took his Good Man hat off a long time ago, and now comfortably wallows in the moral turpitude of Gotham’s dirty cop culture. Harvey is awful but hilarious and compelling if you can get past the awful to be entertained – think Gene Hunt in Life on Mars.

You need a certain level of Stockholm Syndrome to properly enjoy this show, but once you’re there, it’s pretty great.

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13. Thea Von Harbou & Metropolis [SF Women of the 20th Century]

metropoliss
Metropolis, the 1927 silent German expressionist film often held up as the first great science fiction movie (and currently viewable on Netflix) is generally credited as director Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, which was why I was so intrigued to discover the involvement (and extended career) of Thea Von Harbou, Lang’s wife and co-writer on the project.

Thea Von Harbou, a Bavarian aristocrat and child prodigy, was an active screenwriter, filmmaker, actress and novelist in Berlin between the first and second World Wars. She was married to Lang between 1922 and 1933.
Von Harbou’s writing technique often involved writing a novel and screenplay simultaneously or concurrently, so that the novel could be released at the same time as the film’s release – this was the case with Metropolis, in which she wrote the novel first (it was published in 1925 as a serial in the magazine Illustriertes Blatt well ahead of the film’s release, and then in novel form in 1926) but always intended the novel to promote the book rather than vice versa. Indeed, the serialised edition of the story was illustrated with set pictures of the film-in-progress. The intention was very much for the novel and the film to work in sympathy with each other, so that those confused by the film (given the limitations of how complex a story you could tell in the silent movie era) could get a deeper idea of the plot from the book – in the case of Metropolis the book became an essential tool for understanding the film after it was cut, re-edited and redistributed in later years, thanks to Lang’s unhappiness with the original version.

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Issue #1: Spider-Woman (2015)

spider-womanTitle: Spider-Woman #1

Writer: Dennis Hopeless

Artist: Javier Rodriguez

The Buzz: All I knew about this going in was the cover art with a massively pregnant Jessica Drew looking cheerful. Pregnant superheroes ahoy!

All You Need To Know: The Spider-verse has been pretty damn active over the last couple of years, and I’ve barely got a handle on any of it. Jessica Drew is a former Avenger, SHIELD agent and spy… and now she’s pregnant. This is her maternity leave.

Story: Unlike the Spider-Woman series that launched last year, this one is a genuine number 1! It introduces the characters and set up without you feeling like you’ve missed a bunch – or at least, you have missed a bunch, but that’s because there’s been a time skip, so everyone has too!

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Get Your Cape On! (at Super Hero High)

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Hippolyta let out a big sigh—the one that mothers reserve for their children when they have so much to say but can’t get it all out.

“My dearest daughter,” she said, her voice softening. “You were born to be a leader. You have royalty in your blood. Stay here, and someday you will rule Paradise Island and be Queen of the Amazons, just like me.”

Now it was time for Wonder Woman to be silent. She breathed deeply before saying, “Mother, I love and admire you. But when I grow up, I want to be just like me.”

[excerpt from Wonder Woman At Super Hero High, by Lisa Yee, coming in 2016]

One of my pet rants over the ten eleven years that I have been a mother is the exclusion of women (as characters and audience) from superhero merchandise – and other toys like LEGO which have been traditionally marketed only to boys.

The main reason this is a problem? Kids play with toys, and the toys available to them shape the games they play and the way they see the world. At a time when the superhero concept is at an all time marketing high, it’s a problem that girls have been shown that they don’t get to be superheroes. It’s an equal and overlapping problem that boys have been shown that girls aren’t worthy of being superheroes.

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