Tag Archives: science fiction

Quick Hit: Wiscon gets its own strain of Norovirus

In this week’s WisCon newsletter comes news which seems relevant to the science geeks among us: the strain of norovirus which hit the WisCon feminist science fiction conference in 2008 has been officially named after the conference!  It’s called AY502008 (Wiscon), as seen in this recent PLoS One paper.

Since the outbreak, WisCon has put a lot of effort into ensuring safe food-handling at the event, and my impression has been that this has reduced the amount of “con crud” (con-related colds and flus) in a pretty big way.  I think it’s one of those little things that gets easily forgotten in organizing conferences, but “not getting attendees sick” is also an accessibility issue for folks with compromised immune systems.

Wednesday Geek Woman: Ursula K. Le Guin

Wednesday Geek Woman submissions are currently open.

A version of this post appeared a few weeks ago at Hoyden About Town.

A little capsule summary for people who haven’t read her work: Ursula K. Le Guin is a novelist, poet and essayist. She is best known for science fiction and fantasy, particularly the six Earthsea books (five novels and a collection of stories) set in an archepeligo world with advanced magic and pre-industrial tech; and various books set in her Hainish universe, which is a future series in which Earth, among other planets among relatively nearby stars, turn out to have all have hominid species on them, established some millions of years ago by a still existing ancestral species the Hainish, in a series of biological/sociological experiments. This has allowed her to write, for example, The Left Hand of Darkness, Winter’s King and Coming of Age in Karhide, set in a world of primates with a sort of oestrous cycle in which their bodies can become either male or female, and who have otherwise no gender or sexuality; and The Matter of Seggri, about a world on which there are about sixteen women born for every man, and men are kept apart with their role in society being purely exhibition of strength, sex, and providing sperm.

Le Guin is something of a goto name for someone who wants to make sure their list of Great Science Fiction includes something, anything, by a woman: she’s white, she has by now become a big name and is award-winning and Taken Seriously (see Guest Post by Alisa Krasnostein: The Invisibility of Women in Science Fiction at Hoyden). I… do think she’s worth reading anyway! But don’t stop there, I doubt she’d want you to.

I’ve enjoyed Le Guin’s writing for years, but here is her crowning Hoyden moment for me, in a 2001 interview by Nick Gevers, a science fiction editor and critic:

[Gevers asks] Who, for you, are the finest SF authors now writing — both your fellow feminist writers and more generally?

[Le Guin answers] First I am to list fellow feminists and then… non-fellow anti-feminists? Come on, Nick, let’s get out of the pigeonholes. If feminism is the idea that differences between the genders, beyond the strictly physiological, are an interesting subject of study, but have not been determined, and so are not a sound basis for society to use in prescribing or proscribing any proclivity or activity — which is what I think it is — then I probably don’t read any non-feminist SF writers, these days. Do you?

Here’s a few selected pieces of Le Guin’s writing:

Le Guin has a fairly large website with links to most of her recent online writing.

If I had to recommend a single piece of writing of hers, I would say that its the short story The Day Before the Revolution (probably easiest to find in the collection The Wind’s Twelve Quarters), which probably benefits a lot if you read The Dispossessed for context first (The Dispossessed is a fine novel, so not just for context). The Day Before the Revolution was published when Le Guin was 45 years old. She wasn’t old at the time, and I am not old yet, but it is the closest I come to understanding how it might be.

Wikipedia: Ursula K. Le Guin

Linkspamming into a brick wall (9th November, 2010)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism” to bring them to our attention (twitter uses can use #geekfeminism). Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.

Heroism vs multiplayer game mechanics and Rape as a fantasy trope

[Trigger warning: as you probably realized from the title, this post discusses the (overuse) of rape in fantasy settings]

I’m going to start with saying that I thought the Penny Arcade comic was actually pretty well done. But explaining why it resonated with me takes some work. Thankfully, our excellent commenters have already got the ball rolling:

Kaonashi says,

I don’t understand why this PA strip is so wrong. To me, it’s not funny because the guy gets raped. It’s funny because the action is so obviously wrong in real life, but so absurdly motivated by limited game logic. I didn’t get an endorphin-strengthened appreciation of rape from that strip, quite the opposite.

And that’s where the comic hits me: the rape isn’t supposed to be funny, it’s supposed to be horrible (if perhaps abstracted to ridiculousness) and make you suddenly more aware of how supposedly heroic actions in games sort of fall apart when they run into game mechanics.

ptp says,

This is a parody of the way that MMO questing works because the people still need saving even though you’re only told to save a limited number of them, and with any understanding of the quest dynamic involved I think it’s fairly clear what they’re trying to poke fun at.

If you don’t play massively multiplayer online games, you may never have encountered this problem: in a single player game, you always can try to save all the hostages. But in a massively multiplayer game, you want all players to have a chance at the quest, so you have the hostages reappear (often before the hero has left the area), or you limit it so that each hero can only save 5. That way, there’s always plenty of people crying for help from the next hero. In many cases actually impossible to continue saving people in an area due to the developers’ attempt to balance game mechanics. And frankly, that’s pretty unpleasant. There’s usually no explanation given as to why as a hero you would deem this acceptable. If this were a movie, the hero would be making a hard choice of who to save and there’d be a reason only 2 people could fit on the boat/spaceship/whatever. But in the average MMOG, the entire world continues along as if it’s perfectly normal for you to leave people to unspeakable horrors.

I’ve been squicked out by this on numerous occasions while playing games. The comic doesn’t exactly make me laugh so much as think, but it’s pointing out a real absurdity using some dark and twisted sense of humour and it’s more effective for me due to the contrast of humour and horror here.

But the question remains, “why did it have to be rape?” Surely, there are plenty of other horrible things that could have been happening to these prisoners that would have gotten the point across just as well? And maybe if you tried hard enough, you’d think of something. But we don’t live in a vacuum, and sometimes you have to use the tropes the genre and culture hands you to make your point most effectively.

Carla Schroder says,

Guess I’m part of the minority here, because I think the PA strip makes it point brilliantly. It mocks this absurd morality of games, homophobia, demonstrates that rape culture is deeply ingrained and the root of many evils, and they do it in three panels. Aren’t dickwolves the absolutely perfect symbols of much of the BS we struggle with everyday? Isn’t the “hero” a perfect representation of the narcissism, lack of empathy, and apathy we beat our heads against?

Not only do we deal with rape culture in the real world, but also in our fantasy ones. Rape is a disturbingly over-used trope, especially in fantasy, as a placeholder for “something horrible happened.” Even in modern urban fantasy reading I’ve gotten hit with a storyline like, “a prophecy says so-and-so’s son will overthrow the king (or whatever), so everyone in fairyland tries to rape her to be father to that son.” How many heros have back stories where their mom was a raped tavern wench? How many would-be queens are subject to assault? Heroines? The hero’s tragic back story might be that his family was killed in a raid, but in the heroine version there’s a good chance she or maybe her sisters were raped in said raid. Can’t we come up with better reasons for adventuring? Maybe not — virginity is often highly prized in these worlds where sometimes it has magical properties. Can’t we come up with worlds that don’t turn rape into a plot device?

There was one month where I compared notes with my sister, and we realized that every fantasy book we’d read in the past few months had included rape. It’s disturbing, it’s pervasive, and fantasy novels don’t come with trigger warnings.

I imagine there’s a much lengthier discussion to be had about rape as a fantasy trope. But the point I want to make here is that part of what made the comic effective for me was the absurdity and the evocation of that trope in an overdone way really made it resonate as “yeah, this sounds like a quest I might encounter” rather than “that’s horrible; it’d never be written that way.”

And that’s why the comic worked for me. It was effective because it hurt and reflected a reality that I don’t like to see but get shoved in my face regularly as a genre fan and a game player. That doesn’t mean it will work for you, or even that it should. There’s plenty of people for whom this is simply triggering and horrible and cannot be effective because of that, and that needs to be recognized. But a comic that’s horrible for some may still be effective for others. There are often many legitimate feminist readings of a subject, and dark humour and satire are hard to handle because it feels a lot like the same old stuff getting thrown in your faces again.

But I think shielding us from the overuse of rape as “some horrid thing” would only lessen the effectiveness of the comic within the context of the genre and culture. Darker humour sometimes is most effective when it embraces the dark.

Two linkspams, who talk to each other, about something other than a man (26th July, 2010)

  • My Fault, I’m Female is collecting short personal stories of experiences of sexism.
  • The Westboro Baptist Church (famously and aggressively homophobic) protested at Comic-Con for “worship of false idols”. Comics Alliance reports on the cosplay counter-protest at Super Heroes vs. the Westboro Baptist Church and Courtney Stoker has more photos. (Note re triggers: photos are mainly of the counter-protest, the Comics Alliance one looks like it might have a WBC sign in the background.)
  • Speaking of Comic-Con, Kate Kotler reports on the Girl Geeks Tweet-Up at Comic Con.
  • Out of work? Maybe it’s ’cause you’re unattractive: a survey of hiring managers suggests that being attractive is a very important hiring criterion. Right. So education, skills and experience are, you know, sort of relevant, but not as relevant as how you look in a dress.
  • The Invisibility of Women in Computing Jobs: an Intel hiring simulation game had a wee gap. But then, when you went to hire employees…they forgot to include an option to hire any women.
  • Hey, Baby Link Roundup/Open Thread: What I think the detractors are missing is that this is a video game, and it’s helpful to look at it in the context of video games and video game culture. Both Hess and Kesler seem hung up on the violent aspect of the game, but, like it or not, video games are, by and large, violent.
  • redeyedtreefrog is sceptical of another explanation of why so few women in science: …they argue women perceive STEM careers (those in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) as largely incompatible with one of their core goals: Engaging in work that helps others.… I admit to considerable skepticism about this. Women and business? Not so altruistic.
  • firecat is wary of completely buying into self-promotion: one argument that comes up is women have to… learn how to play the game and that means learning how to play up their accomplishments.the game often seems to mean trying to crush other people’s contributions so yours looks better in comparison. I think those parts of the game are broken.
  • Heather Albano writes about setting up a court-intrigue/romance game plotline in a gender-equal gaming world.
  • januaryhat: In honor of old-school skiffy: II: In the Golden Age, real sci-fi was brought to you by quality publications such as BoobieShips & TitRockets.
  • The Obscurecast Episode 10 features Pewter of the ‘mental Shaman talking about geek feminism.
  • The solution to everything is a reality TV show. So it shouldn’t surprise you that the answer to women in tech is… a reality TV show.

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism” to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.

Geeky. Black. Female. Android.

This is cross-posted at Restructure!

In the futuristic city of Metropolis, Cindi Mayweather, a.k.a. Android # 57821, falls in love with a human named Anthony Greendown. As a result, the Star Commission schedules for her immediate disassembly. Cindi Mayweather hides in the Neon Valley Street District, while card-carrying android bounty hunters are urged to capture her for a reward. The Droid Control Marshalls forbid the bounty hunters from using phasers that day; they can only use chainsaws and electro-daggers.

Janelle Monáe, Metropolis. Suite I, The Chase. XOOO The ArchAndroid, Janelle Monae. Suites II and III. XXXO

Cindi Mayweather is actually the alter-ego of Janelle Monáe, an underrated, multi-talented American recording artist, and apparent science fiction geek. Jason Heller of sci-fl/fantasy site Tor writes of Monáe:

Monáe herself has said how indebted to the SF canon she is: In interviews she’s gushed about Philip K. Dick, The Matrix, Metropolis (a film she pays visual tribute to on the cover of The ArchAndroid), and most often Octavia E. Butler, a visionary writer whose ethnocentric SF clearly marks her as Monáe’s aesthetic godmother. […] Monáe isn’t dabbling in SF. She takes the stuff passionately and seriously.

In her lyrics, Monáe alludes to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, kryptonite, and thinks of herself as “something like a Terminator“. (On the other hand, her lyrics also include some ableist (and nonsensical) phrases like, “shake it like schizo”.)

From her first album, Metropolis, the music video for “Many Moons” is about an Annual Android Auction featuring a performance by Cindi Mayweather, in which Monáe dances erratically and does the moonwalk:

If you liked that video and want more highly-polished videos by Monáe, check out “Tightrope”, which is not sci-fi-themed but has fantasy elements and gender-liberating dancing, as well as the trailer for The ArchAndroid, in which the camera pans around a futuristic city-scape that turns out to be Monáe’s hat.


Related links (thanks, yatima):

One scoop of linkspam flavour, please (27th June, 2010)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.

The wicked step-linkspammer (11th June, 2010)

  • tigtog highlights editorials and articles in Nature questioning sex bias in medical testing, particularly the exclusion of pregnant subjects.
  • harpers_child is angry: Batman fans asked DC Comics for a in-comic memorial for Stephanie Brown, a female Robin. And one of the DC Comics writers comes out with threats of violence over it.
  • Shelby Knox asks What Does a Feminist Wear?: So, what do you/would you wear to represent your feminism? Do you consciously choose your outfits before you go out to commit public acts of feminism? What are the fashion stereotypes of feminists that you would like to see shattered and are there some visual signifiers you’d like to keep around?
  • Hardcore Maleness: Let’s cut through the crap, shall we? The terms casual and hardcore are codes… Hardcore equals masculine. Casual equals feminine. It’s just that simple, and all the marketing-speak about core gamers won’t change that.
  • FEMINIST HULK has a big following on Twitter, now there’s more from the big green patriarchy-smashing machine: FEMINIST HULK SMASH EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH MS.!. Comics Alliance also introduces other feminist comic heroes on Twitter.
  • Alisa Krasnostein writes about The Invisibility of Women in Science Fiction about two recent attempts to highlight Big Names, which of all possible women candidates, included only Ursula Le Guin and Mary Shelley.
  • Moose J. Finklestein notes that despite an explicit comments policy against sexism, Comsumerist.com is unwilling to act when it happens.
  • Naomi Baker writes about how women in developing countries can be severely restricted by lack of access to menstrual products in High Cotton.
  • Kimli posts as part of a Twitter discussion of children at the Northern Voice social media conference: … it’s up to the parents to arrange something; not the Northern Voice organizers… but this year, no one arranged anything. People brought their children, and there was nowhere to put them.
  • Sumana Harihareswara interviews Elizabeth Smith, maintainer of PHP-GTK, for GNOME journal.

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.

Death by a thousand links (20th April, 2010)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.

2009 Tiptree Award Winners: Gilman and Yoshinaga

The James Tiptree, Jr. award is a yearly “prize for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender.” The award council has just announced that the winners, for work published in 2009, are:

Greer Gilman, Cloud and Ashes: Three Winter’s Tales (Small Beer Press)

Fumi Yoshinaga, Ooku: The Inner Chambers, volumes 1 & 2 (VIZ Media)

Also check out the Honor List and Long List for other recent speculative fiction exploring gender. Stuff you can read online right now:

The Tiptree Award presentation is a highlight of WisCon, the feminist science fiction convention in May.  Just in case I won’t see you there to hear you enthuse about scifi in person, leave recommendations in the comments!