Tag Archives: history

Historically Authentic Sexism in Fantasy. Let’s Unpack That.

A great, thoughtful article at the Mary Sue on one of my pet topics: the common justification of sexist fantasy fiction being that it’s historically authentic.

I am BUSY today, far too busy for a rant, but then I felt one coming on, and was worried I might end up with a migraine if I tried to stifle it. You know how it is. So let’s talk about sexism in history vs. sexism in fantasy.

WARNING, ACADEMIC IN THE HOUSE.

I agree with pretty much everything said in the Mary Sue article: when you’re writing fantasy inspired by history, you don’t have to take all the ingrained sexism of historical societies along for the party, and even when you do, you don’t have to write women in a sexist or demeaning way. Your fantasy will not break by treating women as if they are people too.

But my rant is actually not quite about that stuff at all. It’s about history, and this notion that History Is Authentically Sexist. Yes, it is. Sure it is. We all know that. But what do you mean when you say “history?”

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Writing Fantasy: Finding the Words

I had an amazing visit to the local Maritime Museum today, under the guidance of the most excellent Liz. Raeli and Jem had a brilliant time exploring the museum itself, which combined display and video material with some fabulous tactile exhibits such as wheels to spin, enormous brass bells to ring, and the hull of a ship for small people to hide inside (possibly this was not actually there for that purpose).

After stocking up on loot from the shop (an activity book and pirate craft project for Raeli, a pirate slinky for Jem, a book about female crewed ships for me) we were taken upstairs to view the sekrit stuff, namely the archive and private library, plus the many staff. I have to say this is the first time I have used writer credentials to get behind the red velvet curtain of anywhere! The girls were well behaved for a good 10-15 minutes as Liz showed me some of their digitised images and shared some gems about the history of the Derwent river. I already have extra Nancy ideas bubbling away, and plan to go back for more visits when not encumbered with two children with a patience time limit (well, the toddler, anyway. Raeli was a jewel the whole time, and charmingly fascinated with the place).

I’m almost at the end of the draft of the first Nancy novel, and while I’m very pleased with the writing and most importantly the scene-by-scene structure, it’s not ready yet. Now that I know which time periods are going to be relevant to the story, I need to do a lot more research on what Hobart was like in those specific times, and figure out for myself what Nancy and Sylvie Napoleon were doing during those specific years.

But there’s the other thing I need to do as well, which sadly no amount of historical books and visits to museums are going to help me with (unless of course they do). I need to find my words.

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Blackout, by Connie Willis

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This is, quite simply, the Connie Willis novel that her fans have been waiting for. With novels such as To Say Nothing of the Dog and The Doomsday Book, with stories such as “Fire Watch,” her interest in World War II history and in particular the Blitz has been evident – but it has taken until now to produce her Great Blitz Novel.

The bad news for fans is, this is only half of said novel. The second half is being released as All Clear at the end of 2010. Little concession is made to the gap between publication, with Blackout simply pausing on a very minor cliffhanger, as if there has been a paper shortage. But, you know, those of us who have been waiting a decade for a Willis novel will naturally suck it up and wait the extra ten months or so.

Blackout covers familiar ground, introducing us to the gentle future England we have met in earlier books, the kind of science fiction that might be imagined while lazily punting down a river in 1930’s Cambridge. There has been no Spike in this version of the mid-twenty-first century, which is peopled with earnest time-travelling scholars so completely wrapped up in the minutiae of their favourite time period that they don’t seem to notice the lack of wireless internet and iPods. (I’m pretty sure they all write notes with fountain pens)

In charge of it all is Mr Dunworthy (does anyone else mentally subsitute that for Dumbledore?) who has obviously been so traumatised by his appearances in Willis’ earlier time travel books that he has become snappish and irritable, determined to protect his students, who are all equally determined to go back in time and get themselves blown up in air raids.

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