Rachel's Blog Rachel's Blog: Read

Tue, 27 Mar 2007
I like science fiction.

More than the usual number of characters called Rachel is reason enough to read the latest issue of Ticonderoga Online.

Three solid SF stories, a sample story from Troy and interviews with Alisa Krasnostein and Angela Challis.

Although I have to add my voice to those wondering why Doctorow's column has been included, right on the heels of it being available at Locus Online and linked there through Boing Boing, guaranteeing that it has already reached its target audience.

Tue, 24 Oct 2006
Wired: Free brevity laden science fiction
Fri, 13 Oct 2006
Horror Day - Things to read and do.

Today has been declared Horror Day by, umm, some people (possibly zombies), and there are loads of things to read, events to go to, signings, prizes. It's all about the prizes today.

The fastest anthology in the West has been assembled over the last 36 hours or so by Martin Livings and is available online only for the next 24, so get in there and read some short Australian horror fiction.

The Ticonderoga/ASiF Donation Drive is ending on 15 October, so if you want to support more reading, writing and discussion of Australian genre fiction please donate. You'll get a free ebook if you do and go into the draw for some dead tree books as well.

While you're there, Ticonderoga is hosting the first Australian survey of genre reading habits, so now that you've read some, go and help them out with some free data (prizes there too!)

Wed, 21 Jun 2006
A shared opinion of Frank Miller

Another comics link for today -- Karen Healey's new column, Girls Read Comics (And They're Pissed). I haven't found many people who share my so-low-I-nearly-stormed-out-of-the-cinema opinion of Sin City, so this is a joy to read. Healey's writing is perceptive, funny, educated and educational.

I'm angry that Stephanie Brown gets a sexualised torture and no memorial. I'm angry that the default costume for women is to show as much tits and ass as possible. I'm angry that a talented artist like Greg Land stoops to using porn stills to depict a teenage superheroine or that the women he draws are so airbrushed and glossy that they're facially indistinguishable. And Frank Miller? Oh, don't get me started on Miller. Or rather, do, but only if you don't mind the phrase "weasel-fucking rat-man".

Reading a comic should not make me want to cross my arms over my chest and lean away. I shouldn't have to struggle to come up with female superheroes who are strong and capable without being objectified. I demand from superhero comics what I demand from every other medium of cultural expression: women who are subjects, not objects. Women who have agency. Regardless of whether women are or are not readers, we deserve better than the depiction of our gender in those comics. (more)
Note that this is not a column about hating skimpy costumes in comics, but a column about the varied and sickeningly common instances of sexist tropes in superhero comics, superhero comics fandom, and the industry of superhero comics. (more)
Wed, 07 Jun 2006
Abbey reads seminal book on nanotechnology.

I was recently (gently) berated for not writing more about Abbey on this weblog. That's my excuse for the following tale.

Abbey picks up a book I've just borrowed from the library. She opens it up.
"No pictures. Just words," she observes. "I'll read it to you." Abbey makes herself comfortable while I thaw something vaguely resembling bolognese sauce for dinner.
"One morning," she begins, "Dad went to a meeting." Turns the page. "To see some friends and play games." Turns page. "One morning she woke up!" Abbey gasps, "And she turned into a beautiful butterfly." Closes book. "That's the end of the story."

If you would like to independently verify the text of Engines of Creation it is now available to read online.

Mon, 27 Mar 2006
Science Verse


Twinkle-less, twinkle-less
Spot of black,
In the starry

Sucking in all
Matter and light.
Turning sunshine
Into night.

Twinkle-less, twinkle-less,
Now we're trapped in
the black hole.

from Science Verse by Jon Scieska and Lane Smith.

Fri, 24 Mar 2006
Sex and Books and Quoting Neil

Naomi Wolf wrote an essay last week damning "pink books" for teens - glamourous looking YA novels aimed at girls. I haven't read any of the series she's critiquing ("Gossip Girl," "A-List" and "Clique") or even any "Babysitter's Club", so I can't comment directly. She answered some readers questions this week, so now I'll state my piece.

When I was in year nine I inhaled Virginia Andrew's Flowers in the Attic series. Maree and I would meet at the back of the Number 314 bus after school. She would lend me the next book and we'd compare notes. Notes on incest, miscarriage, more incest, kidnapping, murder by arsenic, shallow graves, more incest and cute boys. (The boys might not have been in the novels; year nine remains thankfully blurry for me.)

I knew at the time that these were not works of high literature. I read them half-shamefully but, to their credit, my parents did not try to stop me reading them, although they did raise all four eyebrows. As a disclaimer - I come from an almost impossibly highly literate household (and am now cultivating my own).

When the Australian soapie A Country Practice included a school reading controversy in one of their episodes, around the teen-sex surfie novel Puberty Blues, Mum showed me where it was on the shelf in the hallway. It was around this time that Dad handed me a copy of The Iron Heel. Which I read, but didn't really "get" until I read it again last year.

It doesn't matter what teenagers read. Books are fashion items. When you're fourteen sex is cool (talking about it - not doing it), politics not so much. And by twelve or fourteen there's probably very few ideas that kids need to be protected from. It's also a matter of need. At fourteen I needed to know what different experiences of sex could be. I didn't need to know about politics (at least, it didn't have any immediate resonance with me). Wolf says:

They [the "pink books'] may not change the girl's behavior; but they do posit a model of what the dominant culture says holds value. I know from the girls in my own life that they often feel quite alone these days when they do hold out for kindness or integrity in a social setting. Is this a new problem? No, but in past generations the dominant culture of teen fiction did not make this behavior seem so geeky and aberrant.

The point she's missing is that while, yes, the girls in her own life are feeling maligned, and this is awful, they need to read about the same things happening to other girls. It's a way of play-acting the scenes. If a girl can see in some way that being a teenager is survivable, then she is more likely to attempt to survive it rather than bow her head and accept her aloneness.

If a girl were to read the book Wolf is dreaming of, the one where the good girl is good and the bad girls get their comeupance, she is more than likely to dismiss it as unrealistic, or even boring. I'm not saying that Virginia Andrew's reflected my life (far, far from it) but it wasn't boring and it is a tale of survival. Ditto Puberty Blues.

I would like to quote Neil Gaiman at this point, lest anyone suggest I'm promoting trashy and/or sex-filled novels to kids of all ages. (Actually I can't find the quote I had in mind, which is something along the lines of "generally kids will choose to read books that they are ready for and won't read ones that they're not". But this quote is kind of relevant too.)

The enemy is the fact that most people don't buy books. Most people don't read for pleasure. It's like the teachers who proudly stop kids reading R.L. Stine or Enid Blyton or comics or whatever, proud that they've stopped them reading the Wrong Things, without noticing that they've also stopped them reading for pleasure, reducing the chances that the kids will ever go on to read things that the teachers think of as the Right Things...
- Neil Gaiman, 11 September, 2003

I can't change what the dominant culture says holds value, but I'm not letting my daughter into it unarmed.

Australian Novels are Dying. Again.

I've been sitting on a couple of reading related articles for a few days hoping to come up with something profound or even just well thought out to say about them. However, I have had a rotten cold and it's not happening, so here are the incomplete thoughts.

Rosemary Neill in The Australian is tolling the bell for Australian literary novels. This is something we see every few years. Each time the publishing figures get dragged out and are largely inconclusive, (12 published novels in 1996, and 7 scheduled for 2006 is not a pattern - it's two numbers) yet hair is rent because of them. Literature is like anything else. It goes in cycles. Sometimes writing for young adults is the flavour (thanks to a Harry Potteresque hit), sometimes it's mysteries, (are tv shows like CSI et al responsible for, or following on from this?) hell, sometimes it's blogs, sometimes it's slash fiction.

The thing to remember is that human beings will always need stories. The form they arrive in is merely a fashion. Does anyone weep when high-rise pants are brought back into the stores? (Well, yes, but that's another blog entry.) If individuals are going to remain attached to the idea of the Australian literary novel, then they're going to have to keep writing them and keep reading them. They might be hard to come by for a while, and you won't be able to make a living from them, but they'll be back in the limelight eventually. (A hundred years eventually, but I don't know what to say to that. Take your vitamins?)

And trying to blame Bookscan as a quantum observer is just silly.

Wed, 08 Mar 2006
Roman Women's History Month

Tansy Rayner Roberts is celebrating her own Roman Women's History Month during March by blogging 50 notable women from Ancient Rome. It's fascinating reading.
Part one - The Wife of Romulus and Lucretia
Part two - Cornelia Mother of the Gracchi and Aurelia

Wed, 22 Feb 2006
Haussegger's Wonder Woman

I was going to write a review of Virginia Haussegger's Wonder Woman; The myth of having it all, but it turns out Leslie Cannold already wrote one and there isn't much to add.

Wonder Woman is the follow-on from that infamous article Haussegger wrote in 2002 lamenting her own unanticipated childlessness. In the book she further explores the "creeping non-choice" of post-Baby Boom women and how the loud voices of career-promoting feminists of the 70s and 80s drowned out that other "choice" of personal relationships and children to the point of firm exclusion. The stories of many middle-to-upper class women are related throughout the easy-to-read book and, as is to be expected, they are engaging and wildly varied.

Haussegger has another article in today's Age commenting on the truth that Australian women dislike debating feminism (I would extend that to say Australian women won't debate feminism), but again she has the problem that Cannold has pointed out; that

Haussegger lacks the tools to extricate herself from the circular path of self-blame and DIY solutions that have characterised her journey, and to cut a clear path forward for her female readers.

Today, amongst her "Me too!" cries in defense of Maureen Dowd, Haussegger's less than helpful comment is

...the women of Australia need a lot more petrol, and a lot more grunt, to move the lead in our boots.

I will say though, that the best part of reading the copy of Wonder Woman I borrowed from my local Liberal-voting-heartland library is that it is worn out. Cracked spine and thumbed, yellow pages. Clearly it has been very well read, despite its being less than a year old. Heartening indeed, perhaps we will debate yet.

Tue, 07 Feb 2006
10 1/2 Inclinations

The Royal Society of Literature asked authors to nominate ten books they think children should read before they leave school. This is part of an ongoing quest to find a universal list; "a children's canon on which people might like to draw".

Many authors declined to take part, pointing out that the task was impossible or problematic. Other authors seem to have declared an unfamiliarity with children, recommending Ulysses and Don Quixote as candidates.

I suppose the question is, should the included books encourage reluctant readers, challenge experienced readers, reflect a child's world back to them, introduce new worlds, or encompass the whole of human history? Because no list of ten anything could achieve that.

Ben Okri offered the best suggestion, with 10 1/2 inclinations:
There is a secret trail of books meant to inspire and enlighten you. Find that trail.
Read outside your own nation, colour, class, gender.
Read the books your parents hate.
Read the books your parents love.
Have one or two authors that are important, that speak to you; and make their works your secret passion.
Read widely, for fun, stimulation, escape.
Donít read what everyone else is reading. Check them out later, cautiously.
Read what youíre not supposed to read.
Read for your own liberation and mental freedom.
Books are like mirrors. Donít just read the words. Go into the mirror. That is where the real secrets are. Inside. Behind. Thatís where the gods dream, where our realities are born.
10Ĺ) Read the world. It is the most mysterious book of all.

Six other lists, including those by J.K. Rowling and Philip Pullman, can be found at Read Alert.

Mon, 30 Jan 2006
Recommended Reading: 2005 or 100

Locus Magazine have announced their recommended reading list of 2005, which should keep us busy for the next couple of years at least.

If that's too much of a commitment, try this list of 100 best first lines complied by American Book Review. All the usual suspects are there, but some seem to be more exercises in punctuation or breath-holding than anything. My favourite is number 47.
(via Coode Street and docbrite)

Sat, 14 Jan 2006
Warren Ellis' Fell

You can download issue 1 here. While you're there you can also see an example of the typical crap that demonstrates the comic industry's continuing hostility to women (the sidebar ad for Silver Bullet Comics - just try to ignore it).

Thu, 01 Dec 2005
A Study in Emerald, The Poster

If you're still looking around for an end-of-year-spectacular-event gift for li'l ol' me, then this wouldn't be off the mark at all. In fact you'd pretty much hit a bullseye with this poster of Neil Gaiman's story, A Study in Emerald.

It'd look great on the back of the bathroom door, just about where my defunct Astor calendar still resides.

And now I will stop blogging today. Any minute. Here I go...

Wed, 26 Oct 2005
Mighty Gift

I think this is the best story I have ever read on the internet. (Scroll down to 10.21.05)
Also - jealous!

Sat, 15 Oct 2005
Black Juice

I'm reading Margo Lanagan's Black Juice very slowly because I don't want it to end. I reached the half way mark today with a story about a ... well I won't tell you. Just read the book.

Mon, 19 Sep 2005
Wine with Comics

The one thing Maddie Green doesn't venture to investigate in this summary of the favourite wines of comic book creators is which wine to drink while reading which comic. Are comics really a medium suited to the consumption of wine? Oh, yes.

Given that I am probably at least as badly educated about wine as I am about comic books, although I love them both, I should leave it to you to offer suggestions. Grange with Sandman? Dom Perignon with an Eisner? Chardonnay with Alias. Vodka (of course) with Transmetropolitan. A very cheap red indeed for Batman. OK I'll stop now.

Thu, 17 Feb 2005
Fifty spec fic books to read.

China Mieville's list of Fifty Fantasy & Science Fiction Works That Socialists Should Read seems as good a launching place as any. The never ending quest to become familiar with genre fiction (in accordance with Orson Scott Card's advice) is somewhat intimidating. So - new project! But no deadline on this one.

Edit to add: Here's a short hand version of the list with those I have read in bold all meme-like.

Thu, 10 Feb 2005
Double Positive

A linguistics lecturer was explaining double negatives to his students, and he told them, "In English a double negative always means a positive, but there is no case where a double positive means a negative."
A voice from the back of the room said, "Yeah, right."

(Ruthlessly nicked from 'Needs a good edit', Write On, Feb 2005, the newsletter of the Victorian Writers' Centre.)

Mon, 01 Nov 2004

It's the first of November, so I must be procrastinating already. No really, it was research, but I thought that you might find it useful to know How to Address Clergy.
Word count: 1438