Venn and Now

Today’s storm in a teacup in fantasyland was the brief and unlooked-for revival of a Venn diagram, on Twitter. Take a look, and see if you can spot what’s wrong with it.

Now for context, let’s point out that the diagram was originally posted in a blog in August 2015, and the author specifically asked, in the post, for more women authors to be suggested in the comments. Which means that he knew the diagram was badly flawed. But not so flawed that he couldn’t resist resurrecting it now without any corrections, tweeting it without that context. Unsurprisingly, with that context not in view, folks started to get upset, and the author removed the tweet in a huff (well, in a huff with me, at least…).

Now, let’s finish sighing and shaking our heads, and agree that this is a bad diagram. It was bad in 2015, when the author didn’t add the suggested women to it, and it’s still bad now. Pratchett and Erikson are hardly alike, and nor are Bakker and Hobb. And while you could still perhaps argue that GRRM was a central pivot of the fantasy genre in 2015, I think the genre has changed massively since then.

In fact, this is a highly exclusionary diagram. These 25 are on the inside; everybody else is outside. Don’t bother reading outside this diagram, there’s nothing out there. Everything else is irrelevant. Well, that’s pretty bullshit. I like these authors but as Jake said at the end of the Gunslinger, There are other worlds than this.

Here’s the important bit:

Fantasy isn’t a Venn diagram. It’s a landscape. It’s a map. There are hidden treasures. Close your eyes, take a stab, that’s your starting point. Pick a direction, any direction. Go. Stay on the road, go off-road, up into the mountains, down into the grimdark swamps, have a good old ramble. See what’s around the next corner, and the corner after that. Make your own map. By all means ask for advice along the way, ask for directions, but don’t force yourself to travel only in one direction. Don’t go walling yourself in. Don’t get caught in dead ends. Tear down the borders. See that empty space beyond the Venn diagram? It’s all yours.


Star Wars – The Force Awakens: A Few Thoughts

We have Star Wars’d. After the disappointing experience of watching Attack of the Clones at the Showroom when it came out (CGI Yoda leaping in the air like Nureyev on speed threw us out of the movie, with Rachel dissolving in fits of giggles as the rest of the audience glared), I didn’t bother with Revenge of the Sith and I was wary of going into The Force Awakens with high levels of expectation.

Turns out I shouldn’t have worried. TFA is everything the prequels were not. It is a film by fans, for fans. And not just old fans like myself (Class of ’77) – it’s a film that effectively bridges the gap between my generation and younger geeks and nerds and genre fans as much as it bridges the gap between the fall of the Empire and this fresh struggle with the First Order. If you want, it’s a passing of the baton, fresh legs in the race. TFA isn’t hamstrung by its own future, as the prequels were; it can look in new directions, and do something exciting with Star Wars.

Of course it’s exciting to see the return of familiar faces and characters – Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, the droids, hell even Nien Numb gets in there! – and they aren’t just there as fan-service nods either, they play pivotal roles in the plot. But I mentioned passing on the baton, and TFA introduces a whole slew of new characters who not only take up the baton but rip up the whole damn track as they charge into the next installment of this trilogy.

Let’s start with Rey (Daisy Ridley). She’s our first new POV. Like Luke, she’s grown up on a desert world; like Luke she can tinker with droids and knows their language. She’s more go-getting and less whiny than Luke, and doesn’t have his privileges (he always had food on the table at the end of the day, didn’t he? Rey doesn’t have that – she has to slave for it). I’m determined not to let spoilers in here, but she’s a real fighter, and it’s clear from the climactic fight that she’s on the side of light. There’s some weird bullshit on the net about Rey being “too perfect”, a Mary Sue, a sop to the dictates of PC – I don’t see that, and if folks saying that have their heads stuck that far up their arses I’m surprised they managed to see any of the film at all. Rey’s no more perfect than Luke was in A New Hope; she’s just as fallible in fact, if you look at her decisions in the film. “But she has skills!” – well of course she has skills – she has to fight for her own survival every damn day!

John Boyega’s Finn attracted just as much vitriol from the arse-end of the net for… not being white. In a whole galaxy filled with aliens, we can’t have a guy who isn’t white? Hmm. See my previous comment. Meanwhile Boyega does a bloody good job of portraying a man who has seen what the First Order is, seen what he is required to be, and has decided he can’t – and won’t – do it. The panic, the anxiety, it comes across as very real. Rey and Finn work well together as a team too, and I had no problem cheering them on.

Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is another perfectly-pitched character. He’s got his own set of stresses to go with a fractured personality, and a temper that reminds me of my troll-in-law Sebastian. The audience has very good reason to pile in against him. Rachel reckoned Adam Driver managed an understated performance; it was certainly far better than anything the prequels managed in writing a villain.

TFA does ape A New Hope in many respects – the epic opening shot, the desert planet, the McGuffin in a droid, attacking an impregnable intergalactic weapon – but I think it does this to emphasise that this is a new beginning as well as a sequel. The filmmakers have managed these homages to the ’70s trilogy so well that they don’t trip up the story, and there are enough new elements that TFA does stand on its own. I’m looking forward to what happens next.

Spam Poet reviews Spam Poetry

Somewhere in the archive there’s a short series of posts called Spam Poetry. They do exactly what it says on the tin – spam comments amusingly reformatted to make blank verse. Some of it could probably win prizes… anyway, a spam comment has popped up on one of the Spam Poetry posts. That’s so meta I almost approved it. Almost.

Turns out somebody doesn’t like Spam Poetry:

What a material of un-ambiguity and preserveness of precious knowledge regarding unpredicted feelings.

Well, I think they don’t like it. It’s difficult to be sure. Anyhoo, onwards and upwards…

They Call Him Mr Nibs

It’s a truism that every writer needs a cat, although not every cat needs a writer. Some of you may be aware that we’ve been fostering a cat from the local RSPCA for the last four weeks or so, with the ultimate aim of fully adopting him (of course, there is the viewpoint that says one cannot simply adopt a cat; one is merely tolerated by a pan-dimensional hairball of evil instead). That fostering period has now ended – and the boy is officially part of the household. Yay!

nibs1Meet Claus/Mycroft/Mr Nibs. Claus is what the RSPCA called him, Mycroft is what Rachel has called him, and Mr Nibs is me being daft (I used to call my parents’ cats, Mungo and Jerry, by the more fun names Biscuit and Flapjack – and eventually my mum called them that too…).

It’s a giant step forward in many respects. Most importantly from the cat’s point of view, he’s got a home he can learn to feel comfortable in. When we first met him he was, in the words of the cattery staff, institutionalised. He’d spent six months or so in the “quiet corner” of the shelter, where they keep the more nervous animals, those that are pregnant, those recovering from injuries, and for most of the time he wouldn’t come out from the travel box he slept in. Nervous, shy, wounded; that’s the little fella. He’d play around a bit at night when the lights went out, knock a few toys about, but otherwise that was it. Shutdown. Not the happy, mewing, “love me!” sort of cat that most visitors want to see.

Rachel saw differently. She saw a cat who could be loved, helped, and given a great home. He might not be a lap-cat, but that didn’t matter. This was a cat who deserved a chance.

Having completed the adoption paperwork and seen the full medical records, I can see that the poor chap hasn’t had a great time of it. I’d been told he was in an accident, but that’s not quite true. As chance would have it, he was found not too far from where we are now, hiding in a shed, one front leg overwhelmed by a massive growth that turned out to be a necrotic tumour. There wasn’t anything the vets could do for that limb but amputate it completely.

When found, he was “whole” and unchipped – probably born and raised stray then, which accounts for his nervousness and the almost total shutdown he went into at the cattery.

On his first day in the house, he found the attic stairs and hid at the top, wedged face first into a corner, confused and miserable. That was upsetting.

Over the last few weeks however, he has started to come out of his shell. Three-legged, maybe he feels a bit vulnerable – he shies away from sharp movements, skitters around the kitchen, almost fell down the stairs once while fleeing past me. When not safe in his travel box bed, he prefers to sit under the kitchen worktop, surrounded by wooden stools, like a kid sat in the middle of a climbing frame.

But he’s also learning to be social – he knows that when we’re eating, he gets fed too. If we go into the front room to eat, he’ll sit in the doorway and mew  at us. And then he’ll leap into the kitchen and attempt to dismember one of his toys again. He’s very good at ripping the seams out of things, even with a front leg missing.

He still may never be a lap-cat, but in four short weeks he’s become a much happier cat. I’m guessing the pan-dimensional hairball of evil stuff comes later.