a crazy rambly sf post

Tigtog’s writing about the following list of SF here. These are apparently the

“Most Significant SF & Fantasy Books of the Last 50 Years” .

Because I’m feeling exceptionally lazy, here are her follow-up comments (which make the whole thing far more interesting), cut and pasted:

The Bechdel-Wallace test/rule (originally applied to films – the rule’s origins are noted here), asks does the book have:
1. At least two female characters, who
2. talk to each other, about
3. something besides a man?
If the book/film passes the BW test, it has at least a glimmering of women as fully realised characters beyond being mere love interests competing for male attention. It may not have much more than that, but at least it has that much.
The BW test means that a book doesn’t get a pass for having a single strong, fascinating, female character who is an exceptionalist token, displaying her considerable strengths only in discussions with men (e.g. Eowen from LOTR or Trillian from HHGTTG). It should be easy for SF&F generally to hurdle this low bar, as there’s important quests/missions and esoterica regarding magic/technology for people to talk about with each other in a natural fashion. But how well does the listed SF&F actually do?
The idea is to mark the books you’ve read in bold, which I’ll do. I’ll also note how they score on the BWT (from memory, so please correct me if I’ve forgotten a crucial conversation that would allow the book to hurdle the bar).

I’ve just cut and pasted tigtog’s list with comments re the BWT criteria below. If it’s bold, I’ve read it. If it’s got no comments, tigtog didn’t read it. Even though I read a LOT of SF, I haven’t read all that many on this list (though I suspect I have and have just forgotten them – my ps have a massive, comprehensive collection and I read my way through it when I was young. Oh, how I miss getting out of bed in the middle of the night with a torch to go find something new to read from the shelves). These days I don’t read many male authors and re-read a lot of my favourites.
The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien Yes No No.
[I’m not a fan of Tolkein, because I DON’T like his gender politics. Lots of virgin/whore, evil/good dichotomy action.]
The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov Yes No No
Dune, Frank Herbert Yes Yes Yes
Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein Yes, Yes, No
A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin Yes Yes Yes
[I think it’s important to note that Tehanu, the final book in the Earthsea series, while not listed as ‘the most important’ of these books, is actually my favourite and deals in detail with the effects of violence on children and women. The whole Earthsea trilogy has lots to say about childhood and creativity and violence and abuse, but these things get neglected. Which is why people like to list the first book, and not the later ones, as the ‘most important’.]
Neuromancer, William Gibson
[Tigtog didn’t read it. I did. Sure, there are ladies in this book, they talk to each other, and about things other than blokes, but there are some problems with the definition of ‘women’ in this context. I’m thinking of the ‘female’ AIs specifically. I’m actually not going to allow Neuromancer as an ok-for-sisters book. I think it’s actually way up there on the misogyny list, and cyberpunk generally is very much an adolescent boys wanking over chicks who beat the shit out of them.]
Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke Yes, No, No
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick Yes, No, No
The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley Yes, Yes, Yes
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury Yes, Yes, Yes
The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe Yes, No, No
A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr. No No No
The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov Yes No No
Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
Cities in Flight, James Blish Yes, ?, ? (guessing no)
The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett Yes, Yes, Yes
Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison Yes, Yes, No
Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester Yes, Yes, No
Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
Dragonflight, Anne McCaffreyYes, Yes, Yes
[I’m actually a bit sceptical of Ms McCaffrey’s work. Sure, the chicks are happily saving worlds with their dragony/spaceship/pilot mates, but they also like to rush into the kitchen to make their men dinner and spend FAR TOO MUCH of their time wishing they had a man. McCaffrey often sports some scary arse gender politics. I give her a thumbs down on the good-for-sisters scale.]
Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card Yes, No, No
The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson Yes, Yes?, Yes?
The Forever War, Joe Haldeman Yes, ?, ?
Gateway, Frederik Pohl
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling Yes, Yes, Yes
[This stuff sucks arse. Give me The Worst Witch any day.]
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams No, No, No.
[Hm, Trillian is a lady, and she’s in this one, right? Adams isn’t good on the gender politics, though.]
I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin Yes, Yes, Yes
Little, Big, John Crowley
Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick Yes, ?, ?
Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon Can’t remember
The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
On the Beach, Nevil Shute Yes, Yes, ?
Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke Yes, No, No
Ringworld, Larry Niven Yes, No, No.
[Woah – Niven has some SCARY ARSE gender shit going on.]
Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien Yes, No, No
Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson Yes, Yes, Yes
Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner Can’t remember
The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein Yes, ?, No
Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks Gah! but Yes, Yes, Yes
Timescape, Gregory Benford Yes, ?, ?
To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer Yes, ?, ?
I’m not actually digging this list (which came from the news blog via tikistitch), and is actually a list of (note the dates):

The Most Significant SF & Fantasy Books of the Last 50 Years, 1953-2002

produced by the The Science Fiction Book Club, and apparently some sort of promotional thingy. So we should be a bit sceptical.
Authors I’d add (if I was ignoring the dates problem and the number limit):
H.G. Wells. Of course. But fails the lady-test.
Iain M. Banks (yes yes yes to the lady-test… though he does weird stuff with gender (ie many of his characters can and do change gender at will, especially in the Culture books) and robots and things – you’d have to have a think about the way ‘gender neutral’ is gendered by these blokes).
Madelaine L’Engle (yes yes yes to the lady-test), probably for A Wrinkle in Time
Lois McMaster Bujold (yes yes yes to the lady-test – plus she writes good bloke characters). For any of her Miles Vorkosigan books.
C.J.Cherryh (for Cyteen) (yes yes yes to the lady-test – plus she writes good bloke characters)
Diana Wynn Jones (yes yes yes to the lady-test – plus she writes good bloke characters)
Tanya Huff (yes yes yes to the lady-test – plus she writes good bloke characters)… in fact, there aren’t enough lady sci-fant authors on this list – and scifant has a MASSIVE lady fandom.
something from Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover stuff. Probably Thendara House or perhaps one of the earlier ones… (yes yes yes to the lady-test – plus she writes good bloke characters)
Octavier Butler! Holy shit, how can she not be on this list?!
James Tiptree Junior! Because she totally fooled the entire universe – they all thought she was a bloke FOREVER! (yes yes yes to the lady-test – plus she writes good bloke characters)
C.S.Lewis (because he was important and influential)
Alan Dean Foster (for the Flinx books) (yes yes yes to the lady-test – plus he writes good bloke and young bloke characters)
Sherri S. Tepper (yes yes yes for the lady-test)
Margaret Attwood (for influential, but not as a ‘stayer’ in the sf world).
Joanna Russ’s Female Man would be a better hardcore feminist option, I think.
Kim Stanley Robinson (for the Red/Blue/Green Mars stuff) (yes yes yes to the lady-test – plus he writes good bloke characters)
Joan D. Vinge (yes yes yes to the lady-test – plus she writes good bloke characters)
Vonda McIntyre! (yes yes yes to the lady-test)
R.A. McAvoy (yes yes yes to the lady-test) – another good scifant lady author.
ANDRE NORTON!
Susanna Clarke should be there for the Mr Strange/Dr Norrel stuff, but that’s post 2002.
Other authors: Jack Vance, Spider Robinson,
…in fact, I’m surprised the Hugos aren’t better represented.
I think I want to add more young adult sf, but will have to settle for Wynn Jones and L’Engle (John Marsden, for example, while I don’t particularly like him, has been important in the young adult world).
I’d drop Rowling (what the fuck? She’s had an impact, but that is some shithouse sf).
I also have some problems with who might have put this list together and what their criteria were. There are quite a few of those cross-over genre bender pink book authors who should be on this list, simply because they contributed to the whole genre bending thing – bringing new readers and writers to sf. There are a zillion women reading those things and they sell like hot cakes. But I bet they don’t get counted because there’s all that talk about clothes and kissing. Girl germs.
I still hold by the thought that the newer sf really can’t cut it when compared with some of the bigger guns of the olden days.
Frankly, if you want influential, you have to add L. Ron Hubbard.
NB the SF ladies are talking about this list here

the good, the bad and undead

I’ve been thinking about that Australia Day meme and how I couldn’t answer the questions properly. And especially, I’ve been thinking about why I don’t much like Tim Winton or those other difficult authors. I mean, the people who write miserable stories about nice things or heart warming stories about miserable things or uplifting stories about people triumphing in spite of adversity.
By the way, I’ve remembered another Australian author I used to quite like: Sue Woolfe. Especially Leaning Towards Infinity. And I like Nicki Gemmel. I know that that last one’s not cool (nor correctly spelt, I suspect), but fuck. And I like Peter Carey’s short stories (but not novels). And there’s an Australian bloke who writes crime novels (one was called Iron Rose) which/who I liked. And I like Shane Maloney’s stuff about Coburg and Melbourne)
Anyway, back on track, here.
So, about all these difficult books.
I’m sure I’ve said it before. But.
I read almost nothing but SF. That’s either science fiction or science fantasy. Sometimes I read crime novels as well, but not too often as I tend to get upset by the implication that you’re supposed to get some sort of readerly pleasure from the in-depth description of torture and serial killers going about their work. Smacks of voyeurism to me. And I don’t like it. For the same reason I don’t like watching SVU. Somehow I feel that I’m to enjoy (or participate in?) the systematic subjugation torturing, killing and general Bringing Low of women and other vulnerable people. No thankyou.
So I read books about space. And about dragons. But only well written ones.
But lately I think I’ve strayed into even darker territory. I’ve just finished this. I have no excuse other than the fact that my mother sent it to me in a package from Tasmania with chocolate. And it’s easy to read. And it has vampires in it. And a sassy female protagonist. And now I’m reading the second one (that’s it to the left, the image lifted from the site linked above). And before these I read another one by another author called … Pat something.
This stuff reminds me of Tanya Huff, except without the… well, the good stuff. I think I might have strayed into that land of no-longer-pink books.
I’m not sure if you know, but romance novels went genre bending a few years ago (I know because my mother is a mad pink book fiend and I’ve had to spend far too many hours in Rendezvous Romance (don’t ask me to relive that, please)). So, you know that romance novels (or pink books as they’re known in our family, because they are used to be pink) are massively popular, right?
Well, you might also know that women are the big readers in Australia as well (I think that’s true. If not, I made it up, and it’s a myth I’m sticking with).
So anyhow, a few years ago, as I’ve said, the pink books went genre bending. They starting moving beyond ‘real world’ plots, settings and characters and introduced detectives. Then they introduced vampires. And vampire hunters. Of all sexes. And then they suddenly exploded and were going crazy with the whole sf/speculative/fantastic fiction thing. And they no longer had pink covers – they had black covers. And were about three times as long as the normal pink books. But they were still all about romance. And had female protagonists. And somewhat objectified male love interests.
Now, all this, on the one hand, is vaguely nauseating. But on the other – this is some fascinating shit. Sounds like chick flicks to me. Can anyone else smell Sistahhood? Well, ok, so I’m exaggerating on the feminist political theme thing. But still.
Anyhoo, when I was browsing in a certain SF bookshop whose name I can’t remember (but it’s worth knowing about – they sell novels at $15 or a bit less, have a shop in The Arcade on Elizabeth, sort of under Melbourne Central. It’s a bit of a pathetic arcade, but it has a Dick Smith and this bookshop. Which sells only SF. Yay.) I realised I couldn’t tell if I’d wandered out of the Normal Books and into the formerly-known-as-pink book section. But all the authors were women. And all the protagonists were female. The covers were black, we were talking serious demon hunting and vampyr slaying narrative action. But suspicions were raised by the humourous (sp?) subplots and lengthy discussions of clothing. And lame puns. Not that lame puns are anything new in SF. SF is all about dag (goddess bless).
I was kind of getting worried – I didn’t want to spend perfectly good book cash on something where the hero(ine) would end up spending every second page fussing over her makeup. But I didn’t want to miss the demon-slaying/arse-kicking female protagonist action. The guy who runs the shop couldn’t help. Even the matriarch, who knows All Pink Books and has now begun flogging some of her (zillions and zillions – fuck, googleplexes) of pink books off on ebay couldn’t help me. And now, even after two and a half of them, I’m not sure.
Here’s what I do know:the authors are shocking dags – there are far too many discussions of ‘ankle high, vampire-made leather boots’ and “fingers flicked about the deep v-neck of her spandex shirt tucked into her leather pants” (The good, the bad and the undead, p 61). In fact, I think I need to continue with the fashion descriptions, because these books seem to spend more than a little time discussing who’s wearing what. I smell pink book:

“Ready?” Ivy said brightly as she finished adjusting her jacket. She was dressed in her usual black leather pants and silk shirt, looking lanky and predatory. The only color to her face was her bright red lipstick. A chain of black gold hung about her neck in place of her usual crucifix -which was now tucked into her jewelry box at home. It matched her ankle bracelets perfectly. She had gone further to paint her nails with a clear coat, giving them a subtle shine (same book, pg 100).

It’s kind of a give away when a paragraph like that is about a quarter of a page. And is preceded by a series of paragraphs explaining every character’s outfit. And please – black gold ankle bracelets???
BTW: what the FUCK is a duster? It’s an item of clothing. I think it’s a long scarf. Apparently vampires dig them. I shudder at the thought. No capes!
So, ok, I think we can assume I’m in pink book territory. If only because we’re looking at a particular female readership. Which, apparently, I am part of.
It’s worth pointing out that Ivy is the protagonist’s flatmate. And a vampire (I can’t explain the crucifix thing here, ok). And has a massive hawt thing for the protagonist. Both of them are tall and thin. The protagonist (a witch, by genetics, with an athletic build, sparse bosom and curly/frizzy red hair) is heterosexual. And Ivy has a massive boner for her. The whole vampire-sex-violence-pain thing is kind of overworked, but … the thing is. It’s not like in Tanya Huff’s books where queer characters are very much ‘normal’ – bi, lesbian, gay bloke, trannie, some combination thereof, whatever. Nor is it like Buffy where the characters deal with coming out and move on – monster attacks kind of taking precedence.
In this stuff the queer thing is kind of background static – I smell ‘bi-curious’ and ‘female queer fantasy’ action where the women ‘are all lesbians’ but don’t do no deep sea diving. It’s titillating, but there’s no real action. The protagonist and Ivy do not get it on. We’re left hanging for a shag. Rather, for them to shag. In fact, there’s a lot of saucy talk and innuendo, but no real action. Kind of like a level 3 pink book. Where level 10 is out and out pron (you have to read it to believe it – those pink book shops, while they’re full of gauzy curtains and New Zealand bees wax candles and posters of chocolate are also stuffed to the gills with all manner of hawt lady pron action. Actually, if you’re easily shocked, you’d best not read it. This is real erotica for women. And hold the feminist Message).
…which is interesting in itself, but I digress.
Basically, think Charmed, but with a bit more grit. Though a similar obsession with shoes, female ensemble casts and male eye candy.
So this is what I’m reading right now. I’m also reading that book about Marconi and wireless telegraph and a crime novel the Supes leant me, but right now I can’t put this particular book down.
I’m not sure what my point is. But I think I’m wanting to say something about ‘literature’ and ‘reading’. And gender. And possibly hang a bit of shit on the whole idea of literature.
Ok, so we all know that it’s nice to read a well-written book. I’m with you on that. But just because I also like trash (and baby, do I like trash – I have seen EVERY SINGLE CHICK FLICK EVER MADE. And I love them all), does that mean I’m somehow culturally deficient? I mean, I’m a cultural studies dood. I’ve read Modleski and Radway. I freakin’ wrote a thesis on pop culture. So how come I’m sporting this pink book anxiety?
I think, really, for me, this stuff is only one point on a continuum of cultural consumption/practice. I likes de trash (look, ok, I’m coming out on that one: I cannot read ‘real’ pink books, but I’m enjoying this stuff). I love chick flicks – lady films as they’re known in our house. I was a massive Spice Girls fan. I spent a lot of time in gay clubs as late teen/early twenties person, and not because I’m a fag hag. But because I like trashy music and trashy disco dancing…. mostly the dancing to trashy disco. I like silly television.
And I like to read science fiction. Why is it that I still feel like I’m not doing ‘serious’ reading when I’m reading SF? Even when the SF I read inolves massively fat books, complicated politico/socio/ideological themes and complex characters?
Is it unAustralian of me to not know the names of any of the 7 little Australians? Is it wrong for me to not read poetry (and to have pretty much sworn off it so as to avoid flashbacks to my teenaged poetry writing phase? Oh man, I’m totally having horrible flashbacks as I type this. No, please, no – no more! No more stream of consciousness poetry! No!)?
Fuck – look at the time. I told you!

tell me place and geography aren’t important here

There’s been a bit of talk about Helen Garner around the traps recently:

I wrote this comment in the latter:

(dogpossum on 3 August 2006 at 1:29 pm)
Nice post, Weathergirl.
I remember reading all Garner’s work when I was an undergrad – I fell in love with her style. In those pre-GST days I had enough cash to splurge on books whenever I liked.
TFS almost lost me for her, but I changed my mind… no, wait, I think I was just distracted by other authors (C.J.Cherryh, most probably – nothing like a little hardcore SF by a woman writer to get things in perspective)…
When I first moved to Melbourne I’d pretend I was recognising places from Monkey Grip (though I was finding it easier to recognise places in Brisbane in the Nick Earls books I was reading, probably because I was busy enjoying be Away From Brisbane at the time). And Garner’s pieces in the Age about ordinary Melbourne stuff helped me feel at home in my new city (what can I say – I’m a stooge).
I don’t find it difficult to enjoy the way Garner puts words together, and yet also have some trouble with the ideas behind the words. Frankly, a nicely written bit of opinion is far more likely to convince me to consider a topic than something difficult or clunky… I like the line about energy, and the thought that nasty bits of writing can inspire us to do great thinking and writing and talking ourselves. I mean, that seems to define feminsim for me: being inspired to think and write and talk and act by nasty bits of writing and ideology-in-action.
As for Garner herself… I met her once at a party, and knew her daughter through Uni, but that’s all I can say. I wouldn’t pretend to know her through her writing – just as I wouldn’t expect to know a blogger through their blog, or a singer through their songs. But I might admit to vague feelings or unsubstantiated impressions.

And had this response:

(weathergirl on 3 August 2006 at 1:33 pm)
Dogpossum, thanks for contributing! I read a tiny bit of Alice Garner’s PhD thesis (something about holiday imagery on French beaches), which I think she then published as a book. She inherited her mother’s writing talent.
But please don’t mention Nick Earls on my beat. I like to think this is about interesting literature.

I did start writing a response to the response, but I ended up feeling like an idiot. Some things are best written on your own blog (especially when they stray into true blogging territory: long and boring). So here it is:
I feel like I’m dragging the discussion off into irrelevent territory, but one of the things I liked about Garner (and Nick Earls, John Birmingham and Shane Maloney*, actually), is/was the way they write about cities and construct/represent ideas of community and place. I choose those three because of their accessibility, their popularity. I choose those three in particular because I was reading them before, during and after my move from Brisbane to Melbourne, in book and newspaper-column form (the latter is a reference to Garner’s spots in The Age). I think that in that period of moving to a city where I knew perhaps 3 people, away from family and friends, I was busy making new social and professional networks – making this new city home (I want to reference the space/place thing, but I don’t have the brain right now).
I was interested in the way these authors use lots of specific references to local landmarks and people to create a feeling of ‘knowing the city’, or more usefully, ‘knowing the community’ in which their stories are based. It’s an interesting idea, especially when you take into account things like Garner’s decidedly middle (or upper?) class experiences in Melbourne today, compared to the Monkey Grip days, Earls’ Brisbane of the 80s, Birmingham’s Brisbane of the late 80s and early 90s. These are quite definitely experiences of a city inflected by class, gender, sex(uality), education, market forces, etc etc etc. Yet they are all represented as ‘common sense’ or ‘normal’ or ‘familiar’, particularly in the case of Garner’s work (which seems to rest so firmly on the strength of ‘common sense’ or ‘diary-esque’ writing as a tool to convince. I, for one, am a little sceptical of Garner’s (occasionaly quite irritating) use of ‘oh, this is just what I think, and I’m probably wrong, but…’ arguments. Can you spell passive aggressive?).
But I’m interested in the way, while reading these people at that time, I could say ‘hey, I know that place’, or more scarily (esp in the case of Birmingham), ‘I know those people!’, and found that so comforting.
This is the sort of thing that comes up all the time in discussions about Garner’s work (and in this thread above) – the idea of ‘journal-diaryistic’ writing and ‘journalism’: levels of ‘real’ and ‘true’ and so on. I think it’s worth my pointing out, at this point, that I take Earls and Maloney as writing with as ‘diary-esque’ a style as Garner, largely in response to the incredible detail about ‘real’ places in their work. While Garner writes using her ‘real’ (and autobiogaphical) emotions as a bit of a blunt object in the ‘reality’ stakes, Earls and Maloney use ‘reality of place’ in much the same way.
That I could point to a building or street in Melbourne and say “that’s where Helen went swimming or rode her bike or saw a band” or think “I remember that shopping centre in the Queen Street Mall”, was kind of comforting for a person alone in a new city. It certainly shaped the way I thought about my place within my current and past home-cities. Nothing new for ‘the media’: kind of the point, really, constructing consensual notions of place and community**.
But I do think that it’s a key part of Garner’s work, and there have been quite a few comments already [in the LP thread] about the way she uses phrases like “Any woman who has left home for university could fill in the gaps”: inviting us, explicitly to identify with Garner (or her characters), as if it was a natural and inevitable thing.
Isn’t that interesting, that the language of domesticity (and Garner is all about domestic spaces) and ‘home cities’ and ‘the familiar’ is such a useful tool for convincing us that the author’s point is ‘just common sense’? That an ’emotional honesty’ in writing is somehow more relevant or convincing than an objective account?
You can see why, at this point, I hesitated to post this comment on LP.
But my attention was caught by the way Weather Girl dismissed Nick Earls as ‘uninteresting’ work. Sure, he’s no great literary talent, but some time was spent in that LP thread making similar observations about Garner – she’s no great literary talent. But many of the commenters in that thread (and most of whom were women – perhaps just an indication of LP’s reader/commenter -ship) declared an affinity or affection for Garner based on her use of the personal and the invitingness of her lovely prose.
I’d argue that Earls has similar appeal – the use of the personal, and an inviting style (in his case, though, the invitation was to share the joke, rather than marvel at a lovely turn of phrase). With Maloney, the appeal lay in the minutiae of everyday life in Brunswick/Coburg/Melbourne (my new home suburb), and of local politics (which fascinated a girl who’d just completed an MA on women in Qld politics). In addition, I’d argue that they’re very Australian writers (though from different age/social groups), and I like to read in the vernacular.
Though we must keep in mind the fact that Garner’s books have stuck around, while Earls feels a bit stuck in that ‘grunge fiction’ moment – do people still read him, or is it just me? Maloney, on the other hand, has made his mark on the pop culture landscape, especially with the television programs based on his work.
I know that I’m a little biased, but isn’t this bias kind of the point? I was attracted by the invitation to share the everyday lives and everyday experiences of these authors’ lives, and that made me feel ‘at home’ in a new city. I certainly wasn’t ‘sucked in’ to believing that this was in any way a ‘true’ story I was being told. But that was part of the appeal: I was reading one person’s interpretation and experience of a city, and that very subjectivity was part of it’s appeal. It invited comparison with my own experience, and a dialogue with the text.
I should note: I was so interested by The First Stone when it came out that I did a pgrad essay project on the topic, exploring the newspaper responses to the book, and to their representations of ‘feminism’. This was a sort of test-run for my eventual MA project.
…and all of this has strayed quite a bit from the love/hate/niggle-fest that began in the original articles on Garner and her writing, but, well, like I said: blog.
*It’s worth checking out the ‘official’ Shane Maloney site and noting the background image of the site: Melway maps of Brunswick.
Tell me place and geography aren’t important here?
**I’m paraphrasing old school Stuart Hall there
–EDIT: fixed the dodgy link up there at the top – sorry everyone–

that big fat bottomless pit of uncritical critical theory (wherein Buffy, ibooks and a horde of cyberdykes take on The Man)

I think this series of entries is really me logging in my reading process, as I go through an article in a journal. Tedious stuff if you’re looking for a coherent, sensible argument. Interesting stuff if you’re into active readership… dang. Did I give away the punch line?*
If you’ve already read my last entry (who am I kidding?), you might be interested in reading this – it’s the McKee text I quoted. Interestingly, McKee notes that

I’m trying to encourage people to break out of their normal habits, to think about the culture they consume. I’m thinking that maybe we shouldn’t just do the same thing, every day week in, week out.
….a global campaign encouraging people to boycott books for one week and to challenge you to explore new ways of passing time.
You could try talking to friends, or dancing to some music. You could even watch some television!’

Do you like the way McKee lists some of my most favourite things there? And how, for me, these are the cultural practices in the forefront of my mind? Will I dance? Will I stay home and watch telly? Will I talk with friends while watching telly? Will I read? Oh, dilemma, dilemma.
I still feel, even though I love telly and understand all those arguments about high/low culture, loving mass culture for its own goodness, that perhaps encouraging people to ‘turn off their telly’ for a week is not a bad thing. And not just because it saves power.**
Look, I’m getting off-track now, and I still haven’t read that article, but really, why am I so bothered by McKee’s comments? Surely it’s not just because it seems to have toppled into that big fat bottomless pit of uncritical critical theory which seems to dogg me at every conference***?
Geez. I wonder if all this confusion and brow-furrowing on my part is really just a result of watching too much Buffy and Angel, where there seems to be an eternal tension between ‘old knowledge’ and ‘new knowledge’, namely in the persons of Willow (read: Witch/feminist/lesbian/macslut****/hawt young thing with irritating approach to slang English) and Giles/Wesley (read: Watchers’ council/patriarchy/booknerds)?***** Probably.
and CRAP, where is the INTERNET in all this book v telly crap? I mean, geez, hasn’t anyone read that thing about media convergence yet?****** Or is that as totally uncool as globalisation/global media now?*******
*this was meant to be a joke where I linked to a post by a local Aussie acblog, but I can’t find the link now. Sorry. It was funny and clever. Was.
**this is where I link to what I’m thinking of as the ‘sequel’ to the save water campaign in Melbourne. I’m kind of interested in the ramifications of this power campaign. I like the whole ‘you have the power’ plug (so to speak) – it makes me laugh to think of how this switching off unnecessary power soures is kind of functioning as an incitement to quit consuming… vig gov goes socialist? I wonder how origin feels about all this?
*** Hell if I’ll name names – these doods seem to be so online I’ll totally get busted. But you know who I’m talking about. Don’t you? They tend to be a bit slow to engage in any satisfying way with issues of race, class, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, etc, beyond glib book titles and throw away lines. And they love that new media.
Though, frankly, who doesn’t love that new media?
****Go on, tell me you didn’t find Willow’s steady progression to the world of macdom just a little bit signficant to her appeal as thinking-woman’s-hero/hawt-young-dyke/Wicced-kewl young thing? Go on, admit it – you just love to see a slightly-undernourished-young-academic-sexually-ambigious-mildly-androgenous-gingah sporting those sexy safety-corner apple products. you bet your i-life you do!
…you know that we’ve been sitting here on the couch the past few months quietly noting her progression from ugly, clunky pc desktops in Ms Calender’s class to her clunky oldskool macbook, and now are waiting (somewhat breathlessly) for her ibook to appear. But be assured – I will blog it as soon as it appears.
*****off-the-top-of-my-head reference: Blind Date in Angel season one, where Cordy scoffs at Wesley’s slooow old school bookteck, while kicking his arse in the research stakes with her computer, and yet also spending 1 hour and 40 minutes on the phone to Willow who has also been decrypting files all day (ref for the Buffy parallel eps where that goes down – the Yoko Factor and Primeval). Though, really, if I was Cordy at that moment, and considering Willow’s recent Outing at that point in season 4 of Buff, there’s plenty to talk about – at least 1 hour and 40 minutes’ worth.
******Wait til you read my thesis. It’s right there in Chapter 5:DJing as the convergence of media forms and practices in embodied dance discourse
*******Chapters 2 through 6.
———–
Post Script
You might be interested in this issue of the CSAA newsletter, three articles down, where Greg Noble writes about “A cultural studies anti-canon?” Speaking as someone who did an MA on newspapers (how uncool! how …analogue of me!), this caught my attention…
NB the whole mac thing – you know that I’m making a joke about how mac has so totally scored with its marketing towards my demographic with the whole white/safety corners/block colour thing, right? Right?

literary and cycling inadequacy

…who would have thought?
I’ve come across a couple of interesting blogs lately – Hobgoblin and books and bikes (whose name I don’t know). I’m especially interested in the last one for that post (which is all I’ve read so far, but you know, blogging, no rush, no ‘finishing’ issues).
Both of these are blogs by people who love books and love bikes. In fact, the latter has this tagline:

“Reading, almost as much as breathing, is our essential function.” Alberto Manguel

Which makes her alright by me. Because I love books a lot, and I also love bikes (bikes of course being eminently conducive to the breathing Manguel mentions). I also enjoy these blogs (so far – they’re just new to me), and I really like their approaches to the life of the mind and the life of the body – being in the body and in the mind.
But they’ve made me think about a couple of things that I’ve had going on for a while in the back of my brain.
Having pointed you to some interesting blogs, perhaps I should discuss my own feelings of literary and cycling inadequacy. And perhaps get all defensive about it.
1. I am a slow bike rider. Nor do I ride very far, or enter any races. I am quite happy riding for 30 – 45 minutes on regular commutes every day. I go for the odd pleasure ride (though not often). I do not train, I do not compete (what would be the point when you’re as slow/unfit/lacking competitive nature as I am?). I like to sing as I ride (everyone has a bike song – it’s just that not all of them make it to the outside of us). I like to stare at stuff as I ride along, swivelling my head like a magpie watching school kids in spring. And I’m quite happy to stop and chat with strangers. I also follow the rules and wear the daggiest safety gear imaginable*.
2. I read, almost exclusively, science fiction and fantasy. I can’t remember the last time I read anything else. No, wait, I can – I’ve read pretty much every Alexander McCall Smith book. But that hardly wins me any literary cred. I only read well-written and well-informed sf. I don’t like books which think they’re pulling out some new trick but are really trotting out the same old post-apocalyptic axe-weilding tribe shtick, or irritating lone-warrior-with-magic-sword-in-fantastic-realm blabber. I will, however, tolerate these sorts of stories if they’re pulling a bit of a variation on a theme. Exercising some sort of self-reflexivity comment-on-genre stunt. So I guess I’m saying that I like sf where the author is not only well-read in the genre themselves, but also clever enough to avoid being too uncritically derivative. I also prefer female authors.
Or are these feelings of inadequacy?
I do actually love this stuff – I really enjoy reading sf. I read a lot of other, far more impenetrable stuff for work. This is fun stuff. I mean, I read all day every day when I’m working. So I like to change gears for fun reading. I really enjoy the way sf takes ordinary people (ie people we can relate to, no matter their physical appearance or abilities) and experiments with extraordinary places and situations. At the end of the day, though, the stuff that keeps me with a book to the very last pages are an excellent grasp of interpersonal and international or intergalactic (or interwhatever) politics and relationships, coupled with a neat plot and great writing.
On the bike front, I am as equally committed to riding for pleasure. I definitely have nothing to prove. And I really, really like the feeling of accomplishment and self-worth I get from achieving my small goals – riding in to dance and then home again each week. Not using public transport or a car unless I have to (thus opting out of environmental and economic stoogesville). Getting out and interacting with the people and places around me rather than getting into a bubble and wafting through the world to wherever I’m going.
I mean, I only have these inadequacy issues when I read about or speak to other people who ride faster/harder/further or reader longer/harder/smarter books than I do. Mostly I’m just happy toodling along on my bike (ain’t no race here, thanks), and I simply couldn’t imagine not reading at least 2 or 3 hours every day just for fun – that means books that are ‘easy’ to read (though I do insist on ‘well-written’, not only to facilitate the ease, but also up the pleasure).
I guess I don’t really have anything to say that a bunch of cultural studies doods haven’t said already re everday life and everyday (pop) culture, or that a bunch of feminists haven’t said re economic and social and physical independence, but still. Inside me, there’s still a worry that I’m not clever enough (and reading Serious Books will help that) or fit/fast/strong enough (and riding Seriously will help that). I guess that’s nothing new – most of us have these vaguely self-esteem related issues going on whenever we get involved in things and then compare ourselves to others. Maybe that’s why I enjoy yoga so much – comparing yourself to others is completely and utterly fruitless, let alone a deviation from the whole point of the thing.
*I do so love being in my 30s. I couldn’t give a sweet good goddamn any more about stuff that seemed to saturate my 20s: I stare as much as I can at everyone and everything that catches my interest, I couldn’t care less about whether or not people find me attractive (sexually or otherwise), I’ve completely lost interest in popular fashion – mainstream or otherwise (and it’s interesting that making my own clothes prompted this – once you stop pounding away on the consumption-of-goods train, it seems you’re a little free-er of consumption-of-other-ideologies thing as well).
It just feels so good. Except for when I’m reminded of this stuff by other people who are caring about whether they have the coolest clothes or are hanging with the coolest people or whether people are staring at them.**
…though I guess you could say that I’ve substituted a whole other bunch of anxieties, right?
**it’s probably me staring at them. Unashamedly. And if we make eye contact, I will smile and probably say hello.

What do people know about that Diary of a Geisha? Book or film.
I’ve avoided the book because it looked like soft porn.
The film previews look like CRAP: sort of a Woman’s Day story about hookers in the Mysterious Orient.
Has anyone actually read the book?

things i’m reading and writing

When I was at school I had an English teacher who kept me from year 10 to year 12. I say kept deliberately, because he wouldn’t let other teachers have me. I had mixed feelings about this at the time. Sure, it was nice to be wanted, but at the same time it would have been nice to have a teacher who actually taught me things, rather than just introducing me to book after book, poet after poet, author after author, play after play. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I dug the whole thing after thing thing, but still. It would have bee nice to learn about, say grammar.
At any rate, that teacher introduced me to Bolt’s Man for all Seasons, where I had to read Moore every class, just so’s he could read Henry VIII (he actually made a very good Henry). It was difficult, because the other kids had long since cottoned on to the fact that there was favouritism at work. It was also difficult because they’d stopped streaming our classes after year 9, which, while an admirable demonstration of integration or equity or something, was actually quite crap if you were book-girl at a really rough school where most people in my class were actually the first in their family to do more than year 10 at high school (this was 1991, btw).
So I liked the advantages of being favoured sometimes, but not really all the time or even mostly.
However, I did come out of that with a passion for some types of books and some types of plays and some types of authors. I loved Man for all Seasons, in part because it introduced me to the concept of hair shirts and martyrdom (and, conversely, gross indulgence. Do I need to mention which I favour(ed)?).
I also developed a fierce passion for Shakespeare. This time I was Lady M, of the hand washing. I loved the idea of the wood coming to Dunsinane. Of the unconscious mind’s struggle with guilt. Of a playwrite slightly misjudging his audience and distressing a king with so much blood and witchcraft.
I can only remember two parts of two poems from school –

I wondered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I spied a crowd
A host of golden daffodils.
Beside the lake,
Beneath the tree,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine…

(Wordsworth’s Daffodils or possibly I wondered Lonely as a cloud with hand gestures, from primary school).
and (much more excitingly),

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that does fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Ding-dong,
Hark! Now I hear them – Ding-dong, bell.

(Shakespeare, a poem from The Tempest).
I fell in love with this bit of poetry instantly. I was flipping through a reader in class (which, I should note, we weren’t allowed to take home because they never came back, and our school was too poor to buy more. Even more crappy, 60s versions readers), and came across this bit.
It prompted an instant fascination for Shakespeare, and then (quite by accident), a fascination for Peter Greenaway, after seeing Prospero’s Books, just to see/hear this poem.
I can’t remember if the poem was actually in the film.
I was thinking of this poem this morning when I got up.
Shakespeare, I remember, is easy to memorise. Which helped, as I had to do a fair few performances of sections of his plays in English at school, and later Speech and Drama.
I’m not a literature studies person now, despite a major in ‘English’ in my BA which saw me suffer through a ‘modernism’ subject, to which I owe everlasting images of young men wrestling by the fireside and a disappointment in Virginia Woolf, who turned out to be more interesting than her books*. Or so you’d think from an experience in that subject.
In that major I also found myself enjoying ‘American Literature c’, the third in a series of subjects on the topic, and which i relished, particularly the bits on Toni Morrison, Don DeLillo and Truman Capote.
It was also where I discovered a great intolerance for Beat writers, particularly as I had just done a subject on women’s fiction of the era, a course which included Ann Petry’s The Street and contributed to my distrust of Jack Kerouac.
If it hadn’t been for an inspiring tutor and a sudden introduction to ‘screen studies’ (that’s what we called anything to do with telly and cinema, and – most recently – computers way back there in the early 90s), I might have muddled on through my Honours year with some book-related thesis, or perhaps something to do with Studies in Religion. Studies in Religion was my undergraduate passion – fuelled by an excellent Old Testament studies lecturer, a fascination with Old Testament stories, a series of enthralling subject on women in world religions and new religious movements, and a sudden realisation that the stuff I’d been learning about in English on active readership, canons and institutional uses of literature and story were the perfect complement to Studies in Religion.
As it was, I ended up writing about women, their violence and the State in action films, and American remakes of French films (La Femme Nikita and The Assassin, and The Long Kiss Goodnight). And did very well with it, thankyou.
So now, I read almost only science fiction and fantasy, children’s and adults. I was into crime novels for a while, but I found the violence distressing and disturbingly voyeuristic – I found no pleasure in reading, in careful detail, about other people’s suffering and humiliation.
But, I’ve been reading Jonathon Strange and Mr Norrell for the past week (it got me through that week of illness admirably… though it’s a bit big for a weak invalid to hold up). I saw it on a friend’s bookshelf, and – prompted by a series of articles on Crooked Timber – borrowed it.
I love it.
It reminds me of Jane Austen (of course) – another person I was introduced to, at an impressionable age, by that English teacher**. I know that’s kind of the point, but I like it. I also like all the footnotes, and I’m suspecting (half way through) that that’s where the real story is. I also like the long, rambling narrative, and the way it wanders off to Spain and rural England, rather than staying on the topic.
On the other side of the … page? I’m also reading de Certeau’s Practice of Everyday Life in its entirety. It’s dreadfully dull. Well, chapter one is. Chapter two is looking better. Why is it that these doods are so much more interesting when read in the interpretations of other, more accessible writers? But I’m battling on, because I think it’ll be useful to start off the thesis using de Certeau to talk about Afro-American vernacular dance and poaching and then to discuss contemporary swing dancers in terms of Henry Jenkins, poaching, and his reading of fans as textual poachers via de Certeau and his stuff on tactics of resistance.
All this and I’m still trying to get done with that redrafting of the thesis. I’ve been ill all last week, and this week I’m only just out of bed, but my ears are really bad, so I’m getting tired very easily.
Christmas looks good, right?
No, I’m sure it will be nice. I just need to go SLOW so I don’t wreck myself!
*drowning yourself by filling your pockets with pebbles. Is there a theme here…?
**along with the Brontes, who I then followed up at uni, reading everything I could find.

drama, soap opera, cereal

My obsession with Firefly continues. Maybe I’m understimulated – and that’s why I like it so much…
Last night we went to see Night Watch/Nochnoi Dozor, a Russian vampire/woo scary fillum. I didn’t mind it…sorry. I know I should have something more interesting to say, but David and Margerate said it all. I mean, I should be going nuts for this flick, what with it being a really interesting Russian contribution to Hollywood (there are 2 more to come and a big fat Hollywood budget for the last one at least, so I’ve heard), but … meh. It was ok, and there were bits I quite liked (it was interesting to see something like this set in Moscow), and there were some pretty interesting and unique approaches to cinematography/CGI/subtitles, but… Maybe the next one will blow my pants off. Thing is, being such a fan of vampire/supernatural/sc-fant/sci-fi stuff, my standards are quite high. Well, I’ll watch any old woo crap, but to be impressed, I need more.
It was certainly no Fireflly.
On other filmic fronts, Pride and Prejudice is out now, which I’m quite keen on seeing. I’m a bit of an Austen fan, and Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility pleased me immensely (that could just be the Ang Lee factor, though). I’m also a huge fan of lovely period costume and sets.
There’s actually a stack of lady-movies out at the moment: In Her Shoes (or whatever it’s called), Must Love Dogs etc etc etc. eeeeexxxceeellllent. Though of course, this sudden bounty happens just as I get back into the whole thesis thing. Dang.
Similarly, last night I saw a copy of The Truth About Cats and Dogs in a clearance bin at Kmart for only $11. I should have bought it.
Should I be ashamed of this passion for ladyfilms?
No!
I mostly like them because they’re dialogue driven, so you can ‘watch’ them while you quilt/sew/crochet – it doesn’t really matter if you don’t watch the screen the whole time. Unlike action films where it’s all about watching the screen*. Interestingly, Firefly is about half and half: I could quilt while I watched it (as if!)…
Right now I’ve taken a break from Diana Wynn Jones (after a million zillion wonderful books) to read Alexander McCall Smith‘s book 44 Scotland Street which was originally written as a serialised novel in The Scotsman newspaper. Here’s a story about that. I quite like it – and I’m facinated by the idea of the format. How GREAT. How oldskool – I keep thinking about how the ‘soap opera’ or serialised drama format is as old as Dickens.
So it’s oldskool to love Firefly.
*I know I should have used the word ‘spectacle’ here, or made some reference to masculinity and scopophilia but really. That would would be wanky. And kind of dumb.