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[personal profile] renay posting in [community profile] ladybusiness

There's a moment with particular books when you pick them up and read them and put them down and feel like you can take on the world. That happens to me with films, too, exiting a dark theater into the glaring sunlight, feeling massive with possibility. Maybe your possibility is different than mine. No, your possibility is definitely different than mine because the fullness I feel generally translates itself to 8,000 words of fanfic that I'll write but never have the guts to publish.

Great stories do that, though. They make you want to tell your own stories that reach out and grab someone like the story you just experienced did to you. Or better yet, they make you want to tell your own stories even better. In that post-story moment you know for a fact you have a story in you somewhere that will make someone feel like you're feeling, make them feel even more powerful than you feel. We're all storytellers, after a fashion, even if the stories take their sweet time leaving our heads. Eventually we find the story that sends us careening past uncertainty and fear to tell our own, whatever form they may take.

That's what this collection does for me. Reading Kameron Hurley's writing makes me want to take on the world. Her words are like a direct challenge to write and write viciously and without apology: write hard things, write beautiful things, write things that make people happy or sad or that make them belly laugh. Write, even when you're afraid of failure. Write especially when you're afraid of failure.


I was first recommended God's War in 2012 by a co-worker who quoted the first few paragraphs at me:

Nyx sold her womb somewhere between Punjai and Faleen, on the edge of the desert.

Drunk, but no longer bleeding, she pushed into a smoky cantina just after dark and ordered a pinch of morphine and a whiskey chaser. She bet all of her money on a boxer named Jaks, and lost it two rounds later when Jaks hit the floor like an antique harem girl.

Nyx lost every coin, a wad of opium, and the wine she'd gotten from the butchers as a bonus for her womb. But she did get Jaks into bed, and — loser or not — in the desert after dark, that was something. — God's War, Bel Dame Apocrypha

Predictably, I wouldn't get around to reading it until a little over a year later, and although I liked it quite a bit, I haven't yet moved on to Infidel and Rapture to complete the series. This isn't a commentary on the quality, but rather a bald statement about my sensitive disposition (needles? pfft! clowns? whatever. grimdark? POUND THE ALARM). The first book does not fuck around with violence, horror, or war. I'm terrified of what I might find and the characters I may love and lose. I spend a huge amount of time reading coffeeshop AU fic and pining for more soulbonding stories with scorching hot sex scenes and fluffy happy endings. I'm still legitimately surprised I liked God's War as much as I did, given the subject matter, the viciousness of the narrative, and the characters on this world that refused to let anyone go easy. This isn't a bedtime story.

With this collection I've officially read more of Kameron Hurley's nonfiction than her fiction. I'm constantly falling in this trap where I'll read an author, find their blog, and then develop a preference for their nonfiction work: Neil Gaiman, Chuck Wendig, John Scalzi, John Green, Sarah Dessen — I could go on for awhile.

One of the essays, "I'll Make the Pancakes: On Opting In — and Out — of the Writing Game", talks about who was going to be the voice in genre advocating for women once Russ was gone. Times are changing, though, and we have more opportunities for more voices so no one has to be alone during some of the abject misery of certain genre debates about representation. We can all share the load these days and I've watched women in genre do exactly that. But for me in the last year, Kameron's voice has been the one I've turned to for analysis of gender and representation issues in SF fandom and publishing, and many pieces in this collection are the reason I've done so.

And in the wake for her double win at the 2014 Hugo Awards in Best Related Work and Best Fan writer for the excellent essay this collection is titled after, I wonder if I'm the only one in that place where Kameron Hurley is becoming what Joanna Russ was to people who used her words as their guiding compass.

I do respect Russ's work quite a bit, find it immensely valuable, but truthfully, I've found my true north in Kameron.

All these essays, about writing, about life, death, publishing, and having a career in a creative profession are all available on Kameron's blog. This collection is a good introduction to what her writing offers. It's useful advice, a mediation on critical thinking, a commentary social issues, an analysis of privilege, a call to arms, and a story about hope strung together with stories. We Have Always Fought is about digging in and keeping on, choosing your row and hoeing right along until you succeed, come hell or high water. I highly recommend purchasing a copy for yourself and one for a friend who needs some inspiration.

Notable Quotes

I remember this is a long game. I remember that both self-published authors and trad-published authors have the same small handful of breakouts and the same massive, slushy mire of "everyone else" clamoring for signal on the long tail. — "On Persistence, And The Long Con Of Being A Successful Writer"

Reading tragedies, I realized, connecting with characters who preserved in the face of grim odds, and certain ends — were actually comfort reading for me.

All you have to decide, as they say, is what you do with the time given.

I got to live. A little longer. A blessed moment longer. — "Finding Hope in Tragedy: Why I Read Dark Fiction"

Pointing out this narrative, of course, isn't going to fix it. But I do hope that it makes people more aware of it. When you find yourself reading about a gun slinging, whiskey-drinking, Mad Max apocalypse hero who you'd love if it was a guy but find profoundly uncomfortable to read about when you learn it's a woman, take a step back, and ask why that is. Is it because this is truly a person you can't empathize with, or because somebody told you she was supposed to be back home playing mom to the Lost Boys, not stabbing her land lord, stealing a motorcycle, and saving the world?

Stories teach us empathy, and by limiting the expression of humanity in our heroes entirely based on sex or gender does us all a disservice. It places restrictions on what we consider human, which dehumanizes the people we see who do not express traits that fit our narrow definition of what’s acceptable.

Like it or not, failure of empathy in the face of unlikable women in fiction can often lead to a failure to empathize with women who don't follow all the rules in real life, too.

Stories matter. Fictions matter. It all bleeds out.

Be careful what you cut. — "In Defense of Unlikable Women"

What makes us human is not one or the other — the fist or the open palm — it's our ability to embrace both, and choose the appropriate action for the situation we're in. Because to deny one half — to burn down the world or refuse to defend the world from those who would burn it — is to deny our humanity and become something less than human. — "Women and Gentlemen: On Unmasking the Sobering Reality of Hyper-Masculine Characters"

But the real blow, the last few years, has been watching women erased from the popular narrative of the fandom all together. The media glommed onto dudes so quick that folks tend to assume that what you actually call a fan of My Little Pony is a "Brony." (at that link you’ll find dudes must insist that they are not "gay" but "normal" [sic] and that the reason they like the show is that, unlike the crap in the past that girls liked, this one is GOOD and not "overly girly." Watch the distancing happen! This leads to the fears I have expressed later in the post).

And this, I realized, is what dudes are afraid will happen to "their" fandoms when women enter them. They’re afraid that — as happens with every other thing that once belonged to women and then interested dudes and then suddenly that thing became dudes-only — will happen to them when women come in. They’re afraid that one day they’ll look up and everyone will be talking about and interviewing only women science fiction writers and fans, or only women game writers and women fans. They’re afraid women will do to their fandom what they’ve done to ours (and our professions) for yonks.

This crazy logic also makes me want to cry, because it ignores the power differential at work here. Having men in a fandom legitimizes that fandom. Having women in a fandom that still has men in it just means you'll sell more shit. But having mostly women or the perception of mostly women in a fandom does indeed mean a loss of respect; your fandom is taken less seriously, even if it sells like hotcakes and makes lots of people lots of money (romance genre, fan fiction, anyone?). — "Ponies for Everyone: Scrubbing Women from My Little Pony Fandom"

Date: 2014-08-20 06:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I recently reread God's War and loved it a lot more on the second read.

I thought Mirror Empire was brilliant so decided I needed to read the whole Bel Dame trilogy, like you I'd read and admired God's War but it hadn't spurred me to read on. I really connected with Nyx a lot more on my reread, and with the supporting characters.

I've started a new sort of resolution though where I have to read at least two books between any books in a series (or by the same author) so I still haven't gotten to book 2, but its coming close :)

Date: 2014-08-20 06:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
So far its working well, it helps me keep events & characters in books separated out. Otherwise I find they get all muddled and I don't remember what happened in one book versus another. It has been very tempting to finish one October Daye book & just start another, but so far I am staying strong ;)

Date: 2014-08-22 03:43 am (UTC)
umadoshi: (InCryptid - Heroic Stand)
From: [personal profile] umadoshi
Oh! Oh, yay! The Toby books aren't my favorites of Seanan's work, but I love all of her stuff, so I'd be delighted to see discussion about any of it! ("Aren't my favorites" isn't a slight to Toby, just an acknowledgment of the sheer depths of my love for some of the other stuff. ^_^)

Date: 2014-08-20 10:29 pm (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
And you were worried about this post! It's great - so, so great :)

Date: 2014-08-21 01:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I have just been hearing about Kameron Hurley everywhere recently! And I love all the things she's been saying, and I desperately want to read some of her fiction. I'm trying to decide if I want to wait and read her newest book, which I hear wondrous wondrous things about, or read something older and get it sooner.

Also, I have recently learned that there is a name for the phenomenon where you learn about something for the first time and suddenly seem to encounter it everywhere, such as the author Kameron Hurley. It is called the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, or also the frequency illusion. I am trying to use that term a lot so that I can cement it in my mind. :p

Date: 2014-08-21 10:41 pm (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
Oh Jenny, you're causing me pain - start as soon as possible with her first book :P

Thank you

Date: 2014-08-30 02:29 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Thank you for this post! I've been reading her nonfic essays with interest (and am a huge Russ fan, interestingly enough), and now you've nudged me into trying her fiction. -Cat Rambo


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