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[personal profile] helloladies
Today we're excited to welcome [tumblr.com profile] justira back to to Lady Business to talk about Mockingjay Part 1. Ira is an awesome illustrator, writer, and web developer who gained their powers by consuming the bones of their enemies. They make art, comics, and writing when they are not distracted by way too many video games. You can find more of Ira's work at their tumblr.

Mockingjay's recent release to DVD has reignited my ambivalence towards the movie— don't get me wrong, it's great having another female-led spec fic film, especially one with Natalie Dormer running support. But the film suffered a critical lack; the ghost of the movie it could have been hovered over the film for me: the film lacked confidence. The story — the book — is, at its core, part social commentary and part inspection of PTSD. But the film adaptation lacked the boldness to pull a full genre shift, or make up for Collins's shortcomings as a writer. Spoilers for the books and movies up through Mockingjay Part 1 and its equivalent part of the book follow.

What the movie should have done was listen to its own message more. It should have listened to Haymitch.

Haymitch explains how to use Katniss effectively.

Haymitch criticized Plutarch's effort at making Mockingjay propos: they were falling flat and felt artificial. What they needed to do — what the movie needed to do — was get inside Katniss's head, inspect the authentic intersection of her internal world and the world around her. Katniss's commodification had to be contingent upon her authenticity in order to function as intended. That's when the propos were the most genuine and effective. That's when the movie shone. Read more... )
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[personal profile] bookgazing
book cover showing a partial body shot of a chromatic girl with a lit up leaf design trailing all down her right arm

'I think for a long time, I thought that art could save us, could save all of us. That our capacity to create beauty was enough to buoy us above the tide of bullshit.

I thought being visible for others who had to experience the god-help-us-all or worse that we had to experience – I thought this could give comfort, company, solace in desperate hours.

I saw it all in relation to the book-of-all-books, the book of everything that’s ever been written, that has the weight of history in it, which is always written by those in power, which is likely not the side anyone reading this is usually, overtly on. It felt really important to testify, to enter into the record that we were here, that we resisted, that there was dissent. I believed that art could save lives...

Part of me still knows that art can save lives, change minds, bear witness. But it’s not enough to talk about ending homelessness, ending rape, ending war. We need to be out there – however we can do it. Making things happen on more than just a linguistic level. Because words just aren’t enough. No one has died for lack of a poem. But people die every day for lack of food and shelter...

But what I wish it could do — any poetry could do — is save the world, whether by recuperating American letters and horror movies into a feminist construct, for example (Final Girl), or by re-membering female historical figures (Kissing Dead Girls), or documenting the prostitutes killed by a serial killer (Why Things Burn), or striking out at injustice in Gotham. But it won’t work. I only have a very small cape. And there is so much to write.'- (Daphne Gottlieb interviewed at The Rumpus)

"The Summer Prince" takes questions of art and political engagement, and examines them by winding its characters up in age old artistic struggles. Can art change the world? Are artists activists? How can artists use fame to change the political establishment? And perhaps most importantly of all, what good is art if it can’t save a life?

'There’s a song.'

At the same time, because of certain problematic elements in the world-building of "The Summer Prince" (pointed out to me by various smart commentators with knowledge of and ties to current Brazil) "The Summer Prince" ends up posing critical meta-questions about how art functions in the world. How do we react to a book that adds to the diversity of science fiction, but makes clumsy futuristic changes to real world settings which end up reinforcing stereotypical outsider views? How do we react when a narrative that contains bisexual characters only goes so far in re-imagining a narrative and ends up re-creating what is a painfully familiar ending in LGBTQ literature? How do we write about this kind of book in a way that encompasses the love we may have initially felt and the knowledge you gained later? The answer – complexly, extremely differently depending on who we are and with if you’re me, with a lot help for my more well-informed friends.

Spoilers )

The Summer Prince doesn’t propose a workable way for us to save the world with art. Nor, though it tries, does it totally, successfully work at expanding the SF worlds represented in Western media. It’s not going to be a book that many can feel comfortable while reading and that is a great shame for those readers who I’m sure would like great SF set in a country they love/ see a story where men who love each other aren’t torn apart by death. It presents a world where a two boys and a girl can love each other, where they can try to save the world, and there something great in that. I just wish this were a book that could be recommended all around, instead of another work to come with caveats.

I wrote this post for Aarti's A More Diverse Universe event

Other Reviews

The Book Smugglers
Foz Meadows
The Intergalactic Academy
Black Girl Nerds
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[personal profile] helloladies
a black book cover showing a mole surfacing from a tangle of cogs, picked out in yellow - the author's name is in large white letters at the top of the cover

'On board the moletrain Medes, Sham Yes ap Soorap watches in awe as he witnesses his first moldywarpe hunt: the giant mole bursting from the earth, the harpoonists targeting their prey, the battle resulting in one’s death and the other’s glory. But no matter how spectacular it is, Sham can't shake the sense that there is more to life than traveling the endless rails of the railsea–even if his captain can think only of the hunt for the ivory-coloured mole she’s been chasing since it took her arm all those years ago. When they come across a wrecked train, at first it's a welcome distraction. But what Sham finds in the derelict—a series of pictures hinting at something, somewhere, that should be impossible—leads to considerably more than he'd bargained for. Soon he's hunted on all sides, by pirates, trainsfolk, monsters and salvage-scrabblers. And it might not be just Sham's life that's about to change. It could be the whole of the railsea.' (source)

Continuing their theme of being full on China Miéville fan-girls, Maree and Jodie read his new YA novel in August 2012, 'Railsea'. Predictably they had A LOT to say:

Jodie: This is probably the most excited I've been to discuss a book in ages because 'Railsea' was just so much fun for me to read. I giggled out loud (this rarely happens outside of books by Terry Pratchett or Danny Wallace). I feel like I spent the last two weeks on an intellectual romp, where all the jokes were funny and smart rather than laboured and "intelligent". So I guess first I want to know was it the same for you - how was your reading experience?

Maree: My reading experience was similar. I was pulling for Sham so very hard, and the Shroake siblings? BEST characters.

It's a YA novel for sure, but it's so very clever. You can see Miéville's intellectualism all over it, but it's very accessible. And what other writer would write a romp like this, set it in some distant dystopic future, make it a Moby Dick ... is it allegory I want? and STILL make it hugely fun and thinky.

It's SO clever and yes, I love it. :D

Avast me hearties, but 'ware the spoilers )

Jodie: Any closing thoughts?

Maree: I want my very own daybat. (And YAY MIEVILLE for NOT killing off the animal!)

Jodie: Day-be lives!

Maree: Yay, Day-be!

Jodie: So, can we plan the next Miéville readlong (I am super tempted by 'King Rat' now, have you read that?).

Maree: I need you to read Un Lun Dun - Miéville's other YA novel, because I'd like to discuss comparisons.

Jodie: Should I read 'UnLun Dun' first and then maybe we could put in 'King Rat' for the end of the year/start of next year (ahhh how did that happen?). They're both in my local library.

Maree: Yes yes read Un Lun Dun first! I love Un Lun Dun! :D

I know right? It's SEPTEMBER!!! Yes, end of year/start of next year sounds good for King Rat, barring the zombie apocalypse :-)

We shall return!

Our previous flail posts about Miéville's work:

'The City and the City'
'Iron Council'

Reviews of 'Railsea':

things mean a lot
The Book Smugglers
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[personal profile] helloladies
Renay and Jodie discuss a book so overtly feminist and female focused that its author surely must have dastardly plans for mankind. If you never go past the spoiler cut, how will you ever save the world from the clutches of the womenz?

cover of The Carhullan Army which shows a green background and images of winding creeper plants with yellow flowers   cover of Daughters of the North which shows a out of focus photograph of a woman's downturned face and shoulder

The state of the nation has changed. With much of the country now underwater, assets and weapons seized by the government - itself run by the sinister Authority - and war raging in South America and China, life in Britain is unrecognisable. Most appallingly, in this world of scant resources and hard industrial labour, the Authority insist all women should be fitted with contraceptive devices.

In The Carhullan Army, Sister, as she is known, delivers her story from the confines of a prison cell. She tells of her attempts to escape this repressive world and her journey to join the commune of women at Carhullan, a group living as 'unofficials' in a fortified farm beyond the most remote Cumbrian fells. The journey is a challenge, but arrival is only the beginning of her struggle. (source)
Warning: all the spoilers.

Read more... )
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[personal profile] renay
plain white and gray cover featuring a girl in a green dress pressing against a glass bubble she's encased within

Matched by Ally Condie: Cassia trusts the Society to make good decisions for her: what to eat, what to read, how to care for herself and who, ultimately, she should love and marry. When the Society matches her with Xander, a childhood friend, she's sure that he is her ideal match. She feels lucky to know her Match. Later, she attempts to learn more about Xander, and instead of seeing his face on her screen she sees the face of Ky Markham, a boy on the edges of her social group. The Society tells her this is an isolated incident, a breakdown in the system, and to focus on her future with Xander. Unfortunately, spurred on by doubts laid by her grandfather and her own curiosity about Ky, Cassia can't help but wonder about paths she might take without the Society to guide her way. She can't help but wonder about a future, not with Xander, but with Ky. She can't help but wonder about a future with the luxury of choice.

The farther away from this story I get, the more I am torn. There should be a word for a book that is both predictable and pedestrian, and yet somehow still compelling. I picked it up on a whim at the library when they didn't have Under the Never Sky (HEARTBREAKING), remembering that there was some kerfuffle about it and some other similar book, plus that it had sold for some ridiculous amount of money and I wanted to know what in the world publishers were throwing their money at these days.Read more... )
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[personal profile] renay
cover of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins with a golden bird inside a golden circle on a black background

The Hunger Games. Surely everyone knows this series by now, what with the buzz about the books and the upcoming movie fronted by an Oscar nominee. In the remains of the former United States, a new country, Panem, has risen, oppressive and cruel, ruling over their 12 Districts, controlling them with the yearly Hunger Games. Two tributes from each District, all pitted against each other. Only one person can survive. Well. Sort of.

It's Battle Royale for a western audience, basically, with less bloody violence — seriously, the violence in THG is so tame — and rape commentary. It's odd that the rape commentary is what I remember most from Battle Royale and the thing I was most relieved not to see, although there's still awesome sexual skeeviness that generally goes unremarked. Rad!

I read this book a few years ago. Of course, when I did my city was in the middle of the worst ice storms in years, we were out of power for three days and I was freezing and grumpy. Also, I had just finished Battle Royale and was wigging out about how terrifyingly awesome it was even with a shaky translation. It was not the best time to read The Hunger Games. There was no way I was going to give it a fair shake under than hostile and extremely chilly circumstances. When we discussed this week, I thought it would be the perfect time to give it another shot! Dsytopia for the win! A fresh start, a new chance!

Except distance, as they say, did not make my heart grow any fonder.

Before I get into the plot and the characters at all, I have to boggle over the writing. Which grew really long and personal so have a cut hiding the Wall of Text )

I liked the story itself, especially since I spent most of the book rewriting it in my head to be more interesting. It's a plot that can interest me, after all. I like Evil Empires and the characters who take them down, so I consider myself pretty easy. This time around, I decided to not let it bother me that Collins coded the ending of the book with a love triangle where one side was absent for most of the novel and only cropped up when it was convenient. Seriously, YA, what is it with the love triangles? What it is with the heterosexual love triangles, even, I might even take them with a little variety. I knew what was going to happen, and I thought, "well, if I just let that go maybe the rest will be okay!". But it wasn't okay.

I found myself weirdly sidetracked by the characterization of almost all the female characters. In a Surprise Twist™, the Dead Father is golden and the mother, surprisingly, is useless. I see this is other types of fantasy, too. The mother is downplayed. Maybe she dies or leaves. Father is alive and he's moving the plot along. Or maybe the father dies, and the mother remains, but she doesn't do anything but sit there like a lump while the protagonist calls up fond memories to get them through the hard times.

Other female characters are treated badly, too. Katniss often critiques their looks and behavior in offensive ways or the book frames them in really problematic ways. In the opening chapters before the game, we meet several female characters, and all the adult women are worn down, bony, have super awesome gross nicknames marking them out (crones) or are actually called witches or otherwise shown to be evil and no-good. Attractive women are judged for clearly "working for" the attractiveness. The one man like this is very flamboyant. Boy, where have I seen that before?

It's very strange and it hit me the wrong way all through the beginning of the book and into the story once we leave District 12. I also found it very weird how many of the women were useless, evil, "bad", or ditzy — while the men were expert hunters, kind and generous and thoughtful, or a special snowflake dead father who imparted wisdom. Unless they were flamboyant. Then they were probably gay, and therefore like women, and therefore catty and shallow.

There is a problem with this picture. This is pretty much where the book lost me.

It's not kind to its female characters. Katniss manages to be a good character and fairs pretty well, except she's given male traits, a male role in her life, numerous male role models, and for all intents in purposes is a man (she even looks different than her other family members, marking her out). Unless she needs to be cute and young and innocent (which she does later). She is terrible at emotions, and several times in the text she rejects the role of "nurse" — typically a female role — even as she goes through the motions. I'm sorry, but I expect a little more than this. I've talked about this before, where a female character is assigned a traditional male role, a traditional male attitude, and considered to be spunky and badass. But you gain that by them being someone emotionally stunted, and Katniss's problems manifested in her trust issues and failure to recognize her own emotions and be led around by the metaphorical nose when it came to heart issues. So you can have a strong woman, physically, but she has to be an emotional dimwit to offset all the awesome.

I don't find that cool or subversive. I find that predicable, boring and ignorant.

There's no suspense. Everything in the novel is handed to us on a platter. Yes, easy reads are one thing, but the level of telling is obscene. Even the premise — the games themselves — fail as a tool of suspense, because so much of it is off-screen, bumped for a ham-handed, sexually exploitative romance that was never really dissected in the text.

All in all, I get why these books shot to super stardom. It's easy to see, because they are easy to gobble up, popcorn-style, and I like books like that. Think they're totally fine. But when they come paired with what I think are really problematic characterizations, I just pop out and can't get back in again. My first reading of this book was not wrong: it's just not that good if you try to critique the text.

Here is what I said last time I read this book and I find it still applies:

The Hunger Games is too busy shacking up its main characters. Theme? it asks. Here, Katniss, make out with your competition for some drama as men (don't think I missed that) steer you into appropriate sexual behavior that will get you rewarded. Is that actual critique of our reality-obsessed based entertainment, that the big corporate sponsors (men, in the form of Haymitch) bully and entrap people (girls) into doing stuff that maybe isn't so smart for fun times for other people? Maybe the whole thing works as a critique of something. Maybe I'm not the audience. Maybe I am a big old bummer who wants to dislike everything popular!

I don't know if I'll be reading the second and third books. Friends want me to, and I might do so just for comparison's sake: to see if Collins manages to mature in her writing, to see the resolution of all the obvious hint-drops in the book, to watch the (vomit) love triangle play out in a horrible way just for my own personal pleasure. TAKE THAT, YA GEOMETRY.

Lady business: big old bag of bile.
Minority report: there were a few (don't look here for GLBTQ reps), but the body count was high in this one, captain.
Ink notes: I've read fanfiction better than this. In fact, I bet the fandom for this book writes better than the author.
Shelf impact: themed, carried off nicely. Possibly the best thing about the book.
Final thoughts:

photo of bear with arms out with text reading How About No

Other reviews: Iris On Books, The Literary Omnivore, 1330v, Bibliotropic, yours?


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Ira is an illustrator and gamer who decided that disagreeing with everyone would be a good way to spend their time on the internet. more? » twitter icon tumblr icon AO3 icon

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