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New Orleans Free School Event: Imagine the (im)Possible: Gender in Science Fiction

18 Jan

Friday, January 24: 6pm – 7pm

Sycamore House @ 3111 Palmyra

In this class, we will explore and expand upon concepts of gender and feminism as seen through a literary lens. We will focus on (but are not limited to) science fiction, speculative fiction, magical realism, and fantasy. Some authors include Karen Joy Fowler, Nalo Hopkinson, Ruth Nestvold, Ursula LeGuin, James Tiptree Jr., and Octavia Butler. We will read and discuss one short story per week. All of the readings will be posted on genderscifi.blogspot.com. Although the class is informal, it is strongly recommend to do the reading before each class. Contact Ally: abruser@uno.edu

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Book Review: Beautiful Creatures

30 Jan

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I recently decided that I wanted to do a large-scale study on the new craze of tween fantasy novels and their implications for young women. You guys know the books I am talking about, they are all vampires, and witches and werewolves.

So, I’ve made it through one book. And writing aside, Beautiful Creatures wasn’t bad as far as female fiction goes. It wasn’t great either.

So the story is told from the point of view of the young male protagonist Ethan White. I thought this was an interesting move on the part of the two female authors. I’ve done some short pieces from the point of view of male protagonists, and it isn’t easy.

Ethan is the main character, and he is powerless. He falls in love, (in a matter of days) with the mysterious Lena Duchannes. Lena, as we find out but really kind of already knew, is a caster- basically a witch. I’m making the assumption here that the authors strayed away from using the term witch because of its negative connotations, and its history of being used to slander strong women. But I could be reaching. Instead they went with their own gender-neutral term, caster.

Now honestly, for most of the novel I kind of hated Lena. She is a super interesting girl with some kick-ass powers but she is constantly leaning on Ethan to “save” her. Also the story is built up around the premise that Lena will be claimed for either the light or the dark. So she comes off as kind of helpless and not in control of her own fate- which I wasn’t a big fan of.

I was however a HUGE fan of Amma, a badass woman in her own right. She is a seer, and is essentially the housekeeper for Ethan’s family who ends up being his surrogate grandmother. The story gives some pretty intense power to an often over used, and completely marginalized fictional trope- the old black maid. That’s not to say that her character doesn’t fulfill all kinds of stereotypes, she does, but the power she holds over every single character in this book flips those stereotypes on their head in a way. Amma orders around, and holds power over everyone, including Macon Ravenwood, Lena’s mysterious and seemingly all-powerful uncle. In fact, Amma seems to be one of the only characters who really orders Macon around at all.

Another great female character in this book is Marian Ashcroft, the librarian. She fulfills another over utilized trope- but here again the authors sort of flip the common stereotype surrounding librarians on its head. Marian turns out not to be just a mortal librarian, but also the librarian of the caster libraries. She knows more about the town than anyone, and has access to what seems to be an infinite amount of knowledge. She also proves to be an important ally to Ethan and Lena throughout the story.

As much as I really hated Lena initially, she grows on you. Yes, she’s not automatically a kick-ass female heroine- but she’s also not even 16 yet. She is going through some growing pains, trying to fit in, trying to deal with boys. She has some pretty great powers yes, but she is still human, she is still an adolescent. And at the end of the story when the narration switches to her, she makes some pretty hard choices.

It turns out she gets to choose between the light and the dark- she isn’t being “claimed”. Thank goodness- that term alone was kind of annoying. Anyway- so she chooses her fate. There are just some stipulations. If she chooses light, all of her dark caster family members will die. This includes her uncle Macon who is a kind-hearted incubus, and she will never be able to “be with” Ethan physically. Which is of course no good… So, some shit goes down and basically Lena’s mom kills Ethan. Lena then goes on to perform this crazy spell that ends up unintentionally trading Macon’s life for Ethan’s. Woops.

When Ethan comes to, he has no memory of what happened and Lena doesn’t enlighten him. She (finally…) protects him for once. She doesn’t want him to know that he is the reason her beloved uncle is dead. So, that’s cool. She ends up getting some autonomy. I can respect that, even if it was all for the sake of “true love” at 16. Right… But I guess its tween book, that’s kind of to be expected.

As cool as Lena’s character was, there was a lot of girl-on-girl hate going on in this book. There were the stereotypical mean girls, the leader being Emily Asher, a cheerleader of course. These girls were completely marginalized and stereotyped. There was also Mrs. Lincoln, the mother of Ethan’s best friend and essentially a grown up Emily who ends up having her body taken over by Lena’s mom.

All women are complete characters unto themselves, and I hate seeing any of them pushed into stereotypical roles in this way. Cheerleaders can be cool, kind-hearted people too. The only women worth our time aren’t just the super-natural, alternative girls. Normal, everyday girls (including cheerleaders) deserve some kind of narrative too.

So overall as far as being a positive book for young women, I give Beautiful Creatures a B. Not great, but certainly not Twilight.

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Aimee Bender at Tulane Tonight

28 Jan

Bender-575x678Aimee Bender at Tulane Tonight

Zale-Kimmerling Writer-in-Residence at Tulane, Aimee Bender is going to be reading tonight at 7pm in Freeman Auditorium. She is a pretty amazing writer and well worth listening to. I hope you check it out!

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