Update from a Neglectful Writer

Things have been exciting lately – lots of work on a couple of key projects which I’ve fallen in love with since, oh, about this time last October. I am still reading a lot, devouring books weekly, but I haven’t been writing down my thoughts on them, which makes me feel rather more gourmand than gourmet. Can one get mental indigestion from an unalloyed diet of fiction? Perhaps. Which is why I have been peppering my diet with denser, shorter, non-fiction reading material.
So I will share a couple of articles and one novella I have read recently. Not books, true, but really resonating articles freely available on the web. After this, I shall retreat back into my wombat hole, and keep working away steadily at these mysterious Somethings, which I hope to share with you all soon.
1. Wired Magazine “Now is the Greatest Time to Be Alive” – by President Barack Obama, guest editor
This essay actually made me tear up a bit while I was reading it. Not to the point of crying (that would be melodramatic), but to the point of taking a moment to blink really hard every few lines from the effects of throat-tightening emotion. I know that Obama has left some pretty massive human rights issues in his wake (understatement – Guantanamo Bay is still operating, NSA spying etc), but he also has really tried improve lives through initiatives like universal health insurance, attempting to address the US’s hideous gun culture through tighter controls (a tragic fact of life is that it is easier to buy a gun than it is to procure an abortion), and encouraging us to recognise equally important needs for parenting by making it mandatory that men’s and women’s toilets should all have baby changing stations in government restrooms.
Obama’s ‘Editorial’ is optimistic, and far-reaching. It first encourages us to look at now: lower crime rates, lower teen pregnancy rates, and lower poverty rates (in America). Increasing life expectancy, increased numbers of people obtaining tertiary education and slowly increasing diversity in many spheres. Obama then expands this improved world – this one, today – to the rest of human society, and it’s heartwarming. It’s so easy to get battered down by the constant stream of negative news media, so having a political figure start by building us as readers up? Revolutionary.
Once he has your heart beating faster (and maybe the first hint of moisture in a stoic eye), Obama then urges us to look forward. Look at the big picture. Keep organising and voting for better prospects, keep opening yourself up to new perspectives. Science has been making each generation better to live in than the last one, so keep working on scientific progress! Society is always in need of improving, so keep protesting, keep making life uncomfortable for the status quo which relies on disenfranchising others! I loved it, and reading this essay was the key factor in my subsequent subscription to Wired magazine, so that I could see just how Obama’s vision unfolds throughout the issue (Answer: enjoyably).
“That’s how we will overcome the challenges we face: by unleashing the power of all of us for all of us. Not just for those of us who are fortunate, but for everybody.”
2. Peace and Freedom Magazine, 1989, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” – Peggy McIntosh
Privilege is a fairly commonly recognised term nowadays – along with the phrase “Check your privilege.” But what’s it mean?
While we tend to examine an -ism (race/sex/religion/ability) in the light of how it discriminates against other people or ourselves, there is a tendency towards blindness in recognising that the absent advantage caused by discrimination doesn’t vanish: as a corollary to the act of discriminating against a person or persons, these advantages are accrued by those not subject to the prejudice. If it were a boardgame, you as subject to an -ism would receive, say, -5 points at starting. And I, as exempt from this specific -ism, would receive those points as +5. I might lose advantage points due to other -isms, but the more -isms a person could be subject to, the greater cumulative effect of discrimination. Soon, you might be starting the game not with 5 points instead of 10, but with -5, or -10.
It is a notion that we are incredibly resistant to: I see it when speaking with men about feminism. I see it in myself when talking to people of different racial backgrounds about racism. There is a willingness to agree with the obvious disadvantages of an -ism, but not to accept that corollary of privilege and the moral accountability that comes with recognising it. To accept one’s privilege feels like an admission of guilt by implication, because I am unfairly benefiting from an ongoing social construct that came into effect generations before I was born. Just as others are being punished by it.
Peggy McIntosh began questioning how men could agree that women were disadvantaged, but not accept their relative privilege in discussions of feminism. And then she began questioning what privilege she might be benefitting from, that she might be unable to see or accept.
Some of the list of privileges McIntosh describes in her essay can be definitely considered more as the privileges conferred by classism than racism, as Gina Crosley-Corcoran discusses in her article “Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person”. Intersectionality recognises that people can be privileged in some ways, but not privileged in others. It is not an ultimate decider of net loss or gain, so much as a means of recognising how one benefits from an entrenched system of advantage based on an -ism.
“I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.”
3. Mask Magazine “Sick Woman Theory” – Johanna Hedva
I have been keeping this one close to my chest for a while, which is rather antisocial behaviour given that it regards a gem of an article that should be shared as widely as possible. It lives in an open page on my phone, and I flick to it whenever I want to have a thought-provoking read. I can only apologise for not sharing it earlier, in case you have not yet encountered Hedva’s essay.
“Sick Woman Theory” explores chronic illness in the framework of protest for social change, and how the traditional Arendtian definition of the political, being actions performed in public, by definition excludes those who are unable to access the public sphere to make political actions.
Hedva goes on to explore the white and wealthy definition of wellness in America today, where invisibility in the waiting room may be due to gender, but never to race, linked back again to the politics of public: who is allowed to be visible here? Who is subjected to the trauma of not being seen? She compares a white woman’s treatment in the emergency room being subjected to long waits for serious illness, to that of Kam Brooks, a black woman arrested and forcibly detained for eight days in a psychiatric ward for behaving “too emotionally” when coming to collect her car, which had been impounded by police without evidence of wrong-doing.
It is an incredible article, and continues on and on in excellence, in a perfection of social criticism which seeks to validate the experiences of those who are enduring unbearable realities, who cannot make their bodies public and therefore political statements, who live with the criticism of their existence by the dominant social and political processes. Sick Woman Theory is for those whose existence the Western capitalist system deems illegitimate and invisible, either through their physical vulnerability, through being unable to work, or reproduce, or consume and fuel others’ employment. Go, read it.
“[A]s I lay there, unable to march, hold up a sign, shout a slogan that would be heard, or be visible in any traditional capacity as a political being, the central question of Sick Woman Theory formed: How do you throw a brick through the window of a bank if you can’t get out of bed?”
4. The Yellow Wallpaper – Charlotte Perkins Gilman
A novella by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Yellow Wallpaper charts the slow descent into insanity of the main character, whose loving doctor husband has decided the best cure for her nervous depression is relaxation (isolation) in a low-stimulation environment (she is neither allowed to write, paint, sketch or answer letters) out in the country, in a room high up in the estate they have rented: an old nursery with vilely patterned yellow wallpaper. At first she treats his overbearing instructions with good humour, lamenting the lack of stimulus and the terrible decorations in their temporary home. But as her incarceration continues, the yellow wallpaper begins to prey more and more upon her vulnerable mind… A classic short story, which drags the reader down with it into defiant madness.
Find it: as a free download on amazon.com, or on Gutenberg.
“If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression–a slight hysterical tendency–what is one to do?”
“I never saw a worse paper in my life. One of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin. It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide–plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions. The color is repellant, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight.”
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Pawn of Prophecy – David Eddings

Pawn of Prophecy

Attending a fairly restrictive religious school in my youth meant there were few options for good, fantasy escapist literature, and Narnia and Lord of the Rings were the status quo for fantasy, with their clear delineation of good versus evil.

Imagine then, my glee at finding the oasis that was Pawn of Prophecy in this barren landscape, and my subsequent devouring of the series which followed. Of course, we all know that revisiting the loves of one’s childhood can be disastrous… but this is what I have done.

Pawn of Prophecy is a fairly stock standard heroic quest. Garion, feckless farm boy, departs on a journey fraught with perils accompanied by a grocery list of character tropes gathered from across a series of quasi-medieval kingdoms, in order to reclaim the One Ring (sorry, sorry, the Orb of Aldur), and battle the one-eyed, crippled god Sauron (apologies, it’s Torak), and reclaim his ancient, hereditary kingdom as King Aragorn (my mistake, King Garion).

Which is a fine, time-honoured storyline, if unfortunate that most of his subsequent novels follow the exact same format.

Where the novel deviates from default narrative (historical) sexism (and more here) to achieve actively pursued sexism is in its portrayal of female characters.

Garion’s Aunt Pol, who works in the kitchens of the farm where he grows up, is beautiful and regal, with permanently soft, white hands (apparently a side effect of daily hard kitchen labour. Who knew). Fulfilling the Trinity character trope, she is an incredibly powerful, autocratic commander, obeyed by all she meets – unless they are men and decide to ignore her, at which point she… does nothing. Usually, Aunt Pol simply glares and retreats from the field of battle, uttering a comment as she goes. Acidly. It’s a recurring descriptor. Her bossiness and vengeful punishments are a subject of much mirth amongst the rest of the Fellowship of the Ring (sorry. The quest group as it consists of all other men).

Meanwhile, other female characters are either seductive minxes, out to entrap the young hero with fecundity; baby-obsessed breeders who infantilize their husbands, allowable in this context by the man himself not being masculine enough to warrant anyone’s respect; coldly dutiful wives who hate their husbands but endure marital rape as their husband’s due; the occasional repulsive ancient witch, who gets her comeuppance; or enthusiastic-yet-barren wives, who desperately want to prove their love by popping out babies.

It is a horribly simplistic worldview – there is literally no occupation for women in this world other than wife, cook, or professionally chaste mystic, who is also (in one case) a cook, and later becomes a wife. Insulting, but it gets worse when one considers that these tropes are applied to literally one of the most powerful human beings on the planet. Aunt Pol (Polgara the Sorceress, daughter of Belgarath the Sorcerer and mumble-mumble-cough) can remake the fabric of reality on a whim, yet is dependant upon a grumbling, entitled boy to save the day because Prophecy.

The laws of physics? Conservation of matter? What laws? Polgara can create matter from nothing, transform herself, read minds and is effectively immortal, yet her narrative contribution consists of raising and nurturing the hero, and she is recognised mainly for her awe-inspiring beauty… and her fantastic cooking ability.

And literally, all these Bechdel-test-failing female characters do when they get together alone is to talk about Garion, men and babies – and their menfolk, in turn, assume they are simply discussing clothes and hair, in the midst of crises of end-of-the-universe proportions.

This is all even more disappointing when you discover that Lee Eddings, David Eddings’ wife, is coauthor or consultant on all his works. Clearly the Edding duo subscribe to the belief that Simone de Beauvoir expressed as “Man is the measure of humanity. Woman is other.”

Looking back critically, I can understand how this underwhelming series made it into the rigorously policed library of my adolescence. Its like the patriarchy and Lord of the Rings (no, there’s not a difference, aside of the deniability of Lord of the Rings being a product of its time) had a child made of narrative sexism and pseudo-plagiarism. And I say that with the full knowledge that I’ve written and self-published a mashup.

Some of their ideas are good, and some of the dialogue is witty when it’s not being dismissive and sexist, or describing national identities which border on racist. But the books themselves are overwhelmingly sexist, and so…

…K.L gives Pawn of Prophecy 1 out of 5 hamstrung sorceresses.

 

Using the power of Wiki….

The Fall of Peter Pan is now featured on Wikipedia! Huzzah for expanding awareness and free advertising!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_works_based_on_Peter_Pan#Books_and_publications

 

 

Like reading? K.L. has published their first novel, The Fall of Peter Pan. Be entertained!

Like poetry? K.L. has also published a collection of poems, The Loaded Brush. Find it here. I promise not to make you search for metaphors.

I’ve published my first eBook!!!!

The Loaded Brush

 

I am so very, very excited – I’ve just published my first eBook! I am literally floating over the moon, so if something humanoid hits a satellite and spins down into the Pacific Ocean, don’t panic: it’s just me.

 

Vital Statistics:

What’s it called, K.L.?

It is entitled The Loaded Brush

What’s it about?

…and is a collection of poems by yours truly. *Bows*

There are around 40 pages of poems; the rest of the book (another 40 or so pages) is a preview of my forthcoming novel.

The official spiel runs thus:

Have you ever held a dialogue with a tricksome breeze or a young river?

Have you pondered your place in the universe, lost hope or found it?

Have you felt the fear of failure, or the satisfaction of overcoming your own limitations?

The Loaded Brush explores beliefs, reality, longing, hope and loneliness in the world of imagination in this debut collection of poetry by author K.L. Webber.

Ok, so how’s it doing?

I’m so glad you asked – at the moment, it’s the Number One Best-seller in Australia & Oceania Poetry!!! See below? Proof! I haven’t yet figured out where in the back-end of the sales side of things I can see the actual number sold, so I’m afraid I have no idea.

LoadedBrush_Num1

Cool, but…poems? Why poems?

Well, I enjoy writing them, and preparatory to publishing my first novel (in the next couple of months), I wanted to get to grips with the process of creating and publishing an eBook myself. It just so happened that The Loaded Brush was finished sooner than my collection of short stories.

K.L., you’ve convinced me. Where do I buy it? 

At Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Loaded-Brush-Collected-Poetry-ebook/dp/B00LP3UKDI/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1405144342&sr=1-1&keywords=the+loaded+brush

And as soon as I come back to earth, I’ll be tackling the process of getting it publishing on Kobo and iTunes, because not everyone has a Kindle – or the Kindle app. I have both, and love them.

So…are you gonna do a review of it?

I don’t know. Would that be pretentious? It would certainly be biased. Help me, people!

 

Seriously though, publishing (self or otherwise) my writing has been one of my longest-held ambitions, so I am FREAKING OUT with excitement! Yay! (Ok, so it wasn’t really that serious. But seriously fun!)

 

Also, I promise to get some more book reviews up shortly.

Idoru – William Gibson

Idoru

William Gibson is better known for his 1984 Cyberpunk novel Neuromancer, which was responsible for the popularisation of terms like ‘cyberspace’, and in which he loosely predicted the rise of the Internet you are using to view this piece, than he is for this novel.

His novel, Idoru, however, stands out on its own as a work of tech-predictive science fiction. Published in 1997, it is a weirdly comfortable read, by which I mean its prediction of the digitally-immersed laptop/iPad/smartphone culture of today, online social networks, and the existence of an economically-viable ‘Second Life’ feels like I was reading about a world only fractionally different from our own.

Possibly its craziest prediction was the existence of completely-digital Japanese pop stars, such as Aimi Eguchi, who was outed in 2011 as the computer-generated composite of members of her band (see_here and here_for_more_information ).

It is at the intersection of digital and musical personalities that the narrative of Idoru begins to unfold. Chia Pet Mackenzie and her friends are horrified to hear a rumour that their idol, Rez, the lead singer of Lo/Rez, has commenced an affair with an idoru, Rei, an artificial celebrity in her own right, created by the advertising conglomerates which control a monetized media. Chia is sent by the band’s fan club to find out the facts. In this richly digital world, Chia’s quest to discover the truth about her idol contrasts with the efforts of data specialist Colin Laney to preserve it safe from the mainstream audience.

“We’re the media, Laney. We make these assholes celebrities. It’s a push-me, pull-you routine. They come to us to be created.” … Slitscan’s business was the ritual letting of blood, and the blood it let was an alchemical fluid: celebrity in its rawest, purest form.”

 

The nature of fandom, fame, originality and artificiality, all seem to be wrestling for some kind of prominence in this novel, and the price of it all might just be a little girl’s innocent love of the lead singer of her favourite band.

 

 

 

 

K.L gives Idoru 4.5 out of 5 artificial intelligences eating sushi in clubs with superstars. Don’t worry. They’re artificial – the .5th of an AI will be fine.

 

 

SPOILER ALERT! DANGEROUS WORDS AHEAD!

 

I particularly appreciated the strongly-hinted-at but never named presence of David Bowie as Chia’s virtual tutor the Music Master, in a virtual Venice. The aside that the copyright infringement had been settled out of court, and “had mainly had to do with changing one of his eyes” was particularly amusing.

Soulless – Gail Carriger

Image

 A steampunk novel. Incurable curmudgeon of a spinster Alessandra Tarrabotti doesn’t just have Italian blood to rend her unpalatable to the London elite, she is also soulless, a walking antithesis to the soul-abundant immortals of society: vampires, werewolves and ghosts. The entire novel feels like a walking pratfall, which was an entertainingly humorous approach, though it makes the reader looking over the narrators’ shoulder feel like they are constantly on the lookout for a hurled custard tart.

When unfamiliar vampires begin appearing, starved and weak, in London, ascerbic Miss Tarrabotti unwillingly joins forces with brusque, savage werewolf Lord Maccon to track down the source…blah, blah, blah. Dear reader, I am too tired to even bother finishing that formulaic description; you can do it for yourself, and you probably won’t guess wrong. Insert tab A into slot B and pull the lever for a formulaic romance inserted into the story as uncomfortably as a hand into a three-fingered glove. It’s so tiresomely familiar. Tempestuoustly argumentative man and woman fall for each other as passionately as they fight each other. A romantic trope which is incredibly annoying. Just consider someone who you cannot stand, who puts your teeth on edge, who you are forced to associate with in a professional manner. You possibly work with someone like that, and I would suggest practically never do such feelings transform into a mild romantic fondness, let alone a Rome and Julietesque, panting passion.

So forgive me if I skip over that aspect of the storyline, and bid you examine the social fabric of Carriger’s universe.

Because that is a brocade worth going weak at the knees over. Vampires and werewolves have been a part of the fabric of Great Britain since their open acceptance in the Dark Ages; vampire congregate in hives, with a queen in each the only vampire able to even attempt to transform humans, whilst in the werewolf packs, only an Alpha able to assume the ‘Anubis form’ is able to bite and potentially convert a human. This rather neatly explains why an immortal population remains so small; the ability to survive the transformation is dependant upon a human possessing an excess of soul, which is not known until they die whilst being literally torn apart by the immortal attempting the transformation.

Due to their long presence in society, all three classes of supernatural have been absorbed into the woodwork of bureaucracy, rather more interesting than the common ‘outsider, hiding in the ignorant masses’ approach to supernaturals in fiction. When these supernatural classes are threatened, members going missing, the Empire shudders upon its foundations. Werewolves command the armies; Vampires enforce fashion and foreign policy. Diverse plots ensue…

In summary, I heartily recommend Soulless for the world it constructs, and the personalities involved, but did not enjoy the apparently inevitable romancing. 

Still, it sets the series up nicely for the next book to come…

K.L gives Soulless 3 out of 5 trifle-covered vampire dandies.

 

 

 

SPOILER ALERT! DANGEROUS WORDS AHEAD!

Ugh. Brusque Alpha werewolf Lord Maccon. Why does no one ever fall for the sensible, capable, second-in-charge? Are we all still limited by the fairytale idea that we must become princesses by making ourselves limpets to a man more powerful?