Authors before books

It’s unusual for me to know anything at all about an author before first reading a book of theirs, but there are four authors I’ve read who I first knew online, from their blogs, from their presence at The Slacktiverse, or, in the last case, on YouTube.

In order,

I met Kit Whitfield initially in her comments on Fred Clark’s blog Slacktivist, and later in her role as a moderator on The Slacktiverse. She blogs mainly about literature (I’ve mentioned her first-line analyses before). Her two novels, Bareback and In Great Waters, are absolutely excellent. Particularly the latter. See posts 64 and 88 of “I’ve been reading” for my thoughts.

I also met Ana Mardoll through The Slacktiverse, where she commented frequently. On her own blog, she writes about feminism, literature, and other bits and pieces. I’ve mentioned her novel Pulchitrude here before, and also linked to some of her discussions about art and culture. See post 87 of “I’ve been reading” for my thoughts on Pulchitrude.

John Scalzi is a former president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. He has his own blog: Whatever. He writes about writing (both the process of putting words together and the business of publishing), about the politics of fan-run conventions (particularly controversy in the past few years about the Hugo awards), and about anything else which takes his fancy, which of late has included quite a bit of American politics. I’ve so far read only one of his novels — Old Man’s War —, and I very much enjoyed it and intend to read more in the same series and in others.

John Green is one half of the Vlogbrothers on YouTube (his brother Hank is the other half). He’s also a noted YA author. I enjoy the Vlogbrothers — both their main channel itself and their educational spin-off channels such as Sci Show and Crash Course, so I sought out some of John’s books. So far I’ve read only Paper Towns, which is a fun read. It has a message, of course — all YA books do — but it’s subtle enough. It’s a well-crafted novel.

Tamiflu, Bad Pharma, and the UK Public Accounts Committee

The conclusion that millions of people have been exposed to a treatment, at enormous cost to the public purse, despite the fact that independent researchers have been unable to verify it as being effective or safe, should trouble us all.

Dr David Tovey writes about the lack of transparency in clinical trials, with specific reference to Tamiflu, and the ongoing public campaign after the publication of Ben Goldacre’s book Bad Pharma.

TRiG.

“Strong Female Characters”

Can a female character be a “brilliant, solitary, abrasive, Bohemian, whimsical, brave, sad, manipulative, neurotic, vain, untidy, fastidious, artistic, courteous, rude, polymath genius”? Well, I don’t see why not, and nor does Sophia McDougall at the New Statesman.

That a female character is allowed to get away with behaviour that, in a male character, would rightly be seen as abusive (or outright murderous) may seem – if you’re MRA minded, anyway – an unfair imbalance in her favour. But really these scenes reveals the underlying deficit of respect the character starts with, which she’s then required to overcome by whatever desperate, over-the-top, cartoonish means to hand.

Another essay on the subject comes from Carina Chocano in the New York Times.

“Strength”, in the parlance, is the 21st-century equivalent of “virtue”. And what we think of as “virtuous”, or culturally sanctioned, socially acceptable behavior now, in women as in men, is the ability to play down qualities that have been traditionally considered feminine and play up the qualities that have traditionally been considered masculine. “Strong female characters”, in other words, are often just female characters with the gendered behavior taken out.

So, what does a real “strong female character” look like? Well, here’s a snippet from Ana Mardoll talking about Disney’s Frozen.

The movie really brings home (especially through the song lyrics, which are just PERFECT) that this Good Girl / Bad Girl dichotomy is damaging to Elsa, and the only way she can really be free is to reject them both. She doesn’t need to be (and fundamentally can’t be) a perfect good girl, but she won’t find freedom by moving over to the bad girl stereotype offered to her by a restrictive society. She’s only free when she throws both of them in the trash.

Also amazing, and very rare: a cursed girl saves herself.

Strong female character? Perhaps.

“Let it Go” Lyrics.

Of course, I can never hear the phrase “Strong Female Characters” without thinking of the iconic strip from Hark a Vagrant (“sexism is over”). Looking for that, I also found a sequel.

TRiG.

Austerity and hope in South Shields

I’ve never been to South Shields. In fact, I’ve never been to the north of England at all. Well, Manchester and Hull for h2g2 meets, and Marsden in Yorkshire, where I have family history. But South Shields is much further north than these.

It is a town with a mining history. It is a town with a union history. It is a town with high unemployment. And, according to a lovely profile in the New Statesman, it’s doing pretty well, thank you.

South Shields remains the only parliamentary constituency since the Great Reform Act of 1832 … never to have elected a Conservative MP.

TRiG.

The Wick End of Candles at the Close of a Long Night

The Wick End of Candles at the Close of a Long Night was published in the h2g2 Post on the 21st of September 2006. It’s a rather beautiful story by ianhimself. It’s set in Northern Ireland, and manages to be raw and true while absolutely not being a polemic. Also, it’s not at all about what you might at first imagine it to be about.

In Toastmasters, I’ve given thirteen speeches. I did the ten from the first manual, so I’m now a “Competent Communicator”. In fact, I finished them at the end of our last Toastmaster year (that is, the beginning of the summer: our last meeting before the summer break was my last speech from that manual), but I’ve only just officially registered for the CC award on Thursday night. To get the CC award, you need to do ten speeches, each focussing on different skills: gestures and body language, vocal variety, visual aids, persuasive speaking, inspirational speaking, and suchlike. I found those last two the hardest: my default type of speech is the informational: here’s this cool thing I found out about, let me tell you all about it.

That final speech from the CC manual was actually my eleventh speech, as I’d also  given one in a competition. It is possible to count competition speeches toward an award, if you get someone to evaluate them, but I hadn’t bothered. Besides, it was a recycled, polished up and improved version of a speech I’d given before.

In this Toastmasters year I’ve so far given two speeches. The first was from the Entertaining Speaker manual, I think. I don’t actually have that manual, and am unlikely to try it any time soon, but there’s a speech in the back of the CC manual as a taster, and I had a funny story to tell, so I told it. (It was actually about my visit to Reims for a h2g2 meet at the beginning of the summer. That’s a story I must write up for h2g2 one of these days.) I got that speech evaluated, of course, but it won’t count toward an award.

My next speaking award will be the Bronze. The task is to do two complete manuals. Each of these manuals has five speeches. (That’s why I can’t count my entertaining story: I’m not doing that manual now, and if I eventually do, I’ll start it again from the beginning.)

And, at the last meeting, I made my start on the Interpretive Reading manual, reading a story. Namely, The Wick End of Candles at the Close of a Long Night. It went down very well, I must say. (I did get some constructive feedback, focussing mainly on vocal projection, so that’s something I’ll have to work on.)

I don’t think I want to do too many readings in a row, so my next speech will have to be from another manual. Probably Speaking to Inform. As I said, that’s what suits me. If I do a reading as every third speech, which is what I think I’ll try for, it’ll mean I’ll have two and a half manuals done before I get the Bronze. Nevermind. That would mean I could then jump quickly to the Silver.

TRiG.