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[personal profile] justira
All the Birds in the Sky cover

Childhood friends Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead didn't expect to see each other again, after parting ways under mysterious circumstances during high school. After all, the development of magical powers and the invention of a two-second time machine could hardly fail to alarm one's peers and families.

But now they're both adults, living in the hipster mecca San Francisco, and the planet is falling apart around them. Laurence is an engineering genius who's working with a group that aims to avert catastrophic breakdown through technological intervention into the changing global climate. Patricia is a graduate of Eltisley Maze, the hidden academy for the world's magically gifted, and works with a small band of other magicians to secretly repair the world's ever-growing ailments. Little do they realize that something bigger than either of them, something begun years ago in their youth, is determined to bring them together--to either save the world, or plunge it into a new dark ages.

A deeply magical, darkly funny examination of life, love, and the apocalypse.

Friends! What do you do when you deeply want to like a book and you just can't? Well, I suppose you take out all your feels in a review. Fair warning, this review discusses abuse, and, after a while and a marked cut, spoilers.

All the Birds in the Sky is a book about tropes, which is not surprising coming from the former editor in chief of io9. As the Tor.com review puts it, "it’s also a book about 'these sorts of stories' and genre fiction, though less directly." It's a blend of sci fi and fantasy tropes, and of tropes about the two coming together. Sci fi + fantasy is my stop — it's what I write myself, and I was very excited to see a mainstream book that mixed the genres. However, I ended up not really liking the execution. Patricia, a cis woman, represents magic/nature and is a witch. Laurence, a cis man, represents technology and science and is an engineering genius. Wired says that Charlie Jane Anders "worried a lot about playing into expectations", and in many ways I feel she was right to worry. The setup is not just classic, it's classical, drawing on the oldest associations of the masculine and the feminine in our culture. But as I said, this is a book about tropes — and about playing with them. The whole thing has a punchline that subverts many of the tropes that had been in play up to that point, but I'll discuss that after the spoiler cut. First, I want to talk about some things about the book that I liked!

Positive stuff! )

With slightly less enthusiasm I can also recommend the writing, which was by and large smooth with a surprisingly effective image or two scattered here and them like gems. I want to pull out a piece that worked for me and shows many of the themes of the book:
But maybe Laurence had been right and these devices were what made us unique, as humans. We made machines, the way spiders made silk. Staring at the red wasp-shaped chassis, she thought of how disgusted she had been with Laurence, not long ago. And maybe she shouldn't judge him — judging was a kind of Aggrandizement — and maybe this device was a culmination of everything she'd always admired about him from the start. And, yes, a sign that they'd both won out, over the Mr. Roses of the world.

"It's beautiful," she said.
p.151-152

In some places, it really works.

It's just that things get a bit tonally weird at various points, and this is where we transition to some talk about abuse and personal reactions.

Abuse and Personal Reactions )

Now, on to the spoilers!

Spoilers below )

Notes

  1. This is not to say I think the book overall reads like YA, because (a) it doesn't and (b) "this should be in the YA section" is often lobbed at women and is a form of gatekeeping, preventing women's stories from joining mainstream SFF adult literature and harking back to how women are seen as more juvenile and called by juvenile names. No thank you. (back to text)

  2. Not that there is anything wrong with heterosexuality and living the stereotype. I had a long talk with [personal profile] renay about this, and it's not that people who live like this have anything wrong with them or that Charlie Jane Anders is obligated to challenged gender norms at every turn on top of all the other risky work she's doing. There is something wrong with heteronormativity and gender norms, but nothing wrong with living agency-filled lives that embody the tropes. This post by bikiniarmorbattledamage outlines the difference between agency and sexism. The thing is, these are all fictional characters created by Charlie Jane Anders, and all the choices they make are ones she wrote for them. (back to text)




Supplementary Material
Renay on All the Birds in the Sky in her Lets Get Literate Column
Renay on All the Birds in the Sky in our Favorite Media of January 2016 roundup


Other Reviews
The Book Smugglers; see especially Ana's discussion of how this book busts down male privilege
Tor.com
SF Reviews
Locus
Journal Sentinel
The Amazon Book Review, with Interview with Charlie Jane Anders
SF Bluestocking
Civilian Reader
Wired
SF Signal
Page to Stage
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[personal profile] helloladies
Look, look - the wonderful chaila of underline everything has agreed to return to Lady Business!

chaila's fan-vids, commentary and just down right, over flowing love were the driving influence behind Jodie's rapid consumption of the first series of "The Sarah Connor Chronicles", so we're excited to host a new post by her about this very cool, ruthlessly cancelled program. Come with us if you want to live...or at least have an interest in seeing ladies and robots and lady-robots shape the future.


On a purely descriptive level, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles sounds a lot like a standard part of a sci-fi action movie franchise: Sarah Connor, her son John, and their allies attempt to prevent Skynet, a computer network that destroys the world in the future, from being created. Time travel exists, fighters come back from the future to help them, robots come from the future to hunt them, and sometimes things blow up. But TSCC spins off from its action movie franchise roots to tell a deeply human story that interrogates the basis of all "hero myth" type stories. What I want to focus on in this post are these deconstructive elements, the way TSCC explicitly and implicitly challenges the themes and tropes common in similar stories about "one chosen hero destined to save the world."

One way TSCC does this is by focusing on the surrounding characters, particularly on Sarah, which changes the entire shape of the story. Once the narrative is established as Sarah’s, the show introduces, or increases focus on, several regular characters in season two who in some way question or challenge the dominant myth: Jesse Flores, Riley Dawson, James Ellison, and Catherine Weaver. All of these characters have different viewpoints and beliefs about John and Sarah and about the future. This group of characters, who are not on Team Connor, add so many layers of depth and complexity to the show, and elevate it from a pretty good show about soldiers and family preparing for a future robot apocalypse, to a truly compelling, complex, graceful piece of television that deals with war, loss, robots, the preservation of what makes us human, and how who and what gets written in the book of myth is only a fraction of the story.

To keep this to a manageable word count (haha), I’m going to break it down by the characters I think engage with these ideas the most: the five (FIVE) major female characters in season 2--Sarah, Cameron, Jesse, Riley, and Weaver--and James Ellison. These characters question the recorded history of the future (which is a phrase that makes sense only in a show about time travel), and provide different perspectives on the present and the different options for preventing or fighting the coming war.

Note that this post covers the series as a whole, with spoilers!

Did I mention the FIVE major female characters and James Ellison? )

I will now end this unforgivably long post with two general observations about why TSCC is among my favorite shows ever. First, as I hope is now apparent, TSCC is one of the most female-driven shows I’ve seen, with multiple amazing complex women driving and determining the course of the story. Second, I’d argue that TSCC on a meta level can be read as one giant deconstruction of myth, a meditation on the way that myths or cultural stories function in our lives, particularly in war or times of conflict, how they get built and used and how they differ from historical truth, particularly how they ignore the messy and inconvenient parts that make the story richer and more complicated and more beautiful. TSCC puts all these parts back in, and it elevates the story to something else entirely. The show doesn’t have to be read this way; it can also be watched and enjoyed more straightforwardly as a show about humans fighting against and cooperating with machines, with multiple amazing, complex women. Either way, it’s pretty awesome.

Other Links

The Sarah Connor Chronicles - Series One by Jodie

Episode recaps and discussions at [livejournal.com profile] sccchronicles_tv

Observations about performance and camouflage, femininity and domesticity, among other things, in season one by [personal profile] sanguinity

Vid: there’s a war going on for your mind, sarah by [personal profile] beccatoria
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[personal profile] renay
Two men and two women etched in gray-scale with a box containing a red X where their faces should be


Moxyland is a near-future science fiction story, set in South Africa. It follows the lives of four people: Kendra, a newly minted corporate sponsor; Toby, a narcissistic, privileged kid playing at independence who records his adventures on his BabyStrange coat; Tendaka, a small time, play-acting terrorist with big dreams and but small-time mentality; and Lerato, an AIDS baby who has climbed the corporate ladder with no qualms about stepping on people as she does but spends her free time hacking, undermining and sneaking around with Toby for thrills. Moxyland is the story of how their lives collide, intertwine, and eventually spin out of control. Read more... )

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