Women

Yet again.

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It seems like every week (or more) another person lists the “history” or “best of” science fiction and fantasy while failing to mention women, people of color, or LGBTQIA+ contributors to the genre. Surprise.

I’m not going to mention the particular posts prompting this. Suffice it to say that the past two weeks have been surprisingly full of them ranging from well-established bloggers to bookstore lists.

While I find it difficult to imagine a full picture of science fiction and fantasy that doesn’t (at the least) include the works of Mary Shelley, Margaret Atwood, or Ursula K. Le Guin, the argument continues to be made that the “highlights” of SFF are largely male.

Rather than raging against the machine, though that certainly has its place and I’m prone to do it, I’m going to highlight some authors you should try out to broaden your SFF horizons. Huzzah!

Nnedi Okorafor is a Nigerian-American woman with a sense of the spectacular. Her most recent novella, Binti, is a fantastic examination of humanity at its most complicated. It takes the examination of race, gender, and their intersections to space and succeeds in every possible way. Plus, once Binti makes you fall in love with Nnedi, her backlist will make your soul scream (in a good way).

Genevieve Valentine is an American author and comics writer. She has a wide range of stories, including The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, a retelling of the twelve dancing girls set in the 1920s and Persona, a futuristic political thriller. She’s a highly acclaimed author well worth the check out.

Rachel Pollack is a transsexual woman who has had a large influence on feminist science fiction and fantasy, the women’s spirituality movement, and a wide variety of authors like Neil Gaiman. On top of her novels, she also wrote for DC comics. Her work is pretty surreal, mixing spiritualism with futuristic and fantasy elements. Her Temporary Agency is definitely the place to start for a temperate taste of Pollack’s works.

Angela Slatter is an Australian author. While most of her works are short fiction, included in a number of short story collections and anthologies, you can also snag her stand-alone novella Of Sorrow and Such. She’s fantastic at creating heart-wrenching stories with complicated characters all in a short period of time. She’s got all the awards to prove it, and a contract for a full novel release this year.

 N.K. Jemisin is just fantastic. I’m just going to gush about her for a minute. N.K. Jemisin is an African American author with some amazing talent. Her newest book, The Fifth Season, is easily one of my favorite books of 2015. She blends non-western settings and characters with fantastic magic and world building. Her characters are ridiculously well developed. I can’t get over her. Go read The Fifth Season. You’ll see.

Angelica Gorodischer is an Argentinean author whose works have been translated into English through Small Beer Press. She came into the scene in 2003 by way of Ursula K Le Guin, so you know it’s got to be good. Her stories focus on more than just the typical character and plot driven stories. They are fairytale like, with settings that act on the story as well as on people and a sort of wide-view of fantasy that’s hard to describe. Her Kalpa Imperial and Trafalgar collections are fantastic. I’ve yet to read her newest, but it’s on my list.

Now, I know what you’re saying, “But, Bree, this list is only seven authors and all are women.”

So true. This is far from a comprehensive list. This is only really the authors who came to mind in the 30 seconds following me reading one of the aforementioned articles about SFF being a male domain. More comprehensive lists are definitely out there. In fact, here are links to some fantastic lists of authors:

 

From Fran Wilde: http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2015/08/not-so-invisible-ninjas.html

From women in science fiction (blog): http://www.womeninsciencefiction.com/?page_id=54

SF Mistressworks: https://sfmistressworks.wordpress.com/womens-press-sf/

Lightspeed Magazines POC Science Fiction project: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/lightspeedmagazine/people-of-colour-destroy-science-fiction

Kevin Hearne: https://t.co/mQZCjoNYr6

Kev McViegh: https://performativeutterance.wordpress.com/2011/06/17/225-rising/

Or, hey, maybe you know those guys. Here is a list of people on twitter (mostly bloggers and authors who promote, read, write, etc. diverse books. The list is short, but I plan on adding to and maintaining it.

https://twitter.com/reev2550/lists/authors-and-bloggers

Please comment below with your suggestions for people to read, blogs to follow, and the like!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Review | The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg

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Well, if you’re looking for a bit of a punch to the gut, I’ve found it for you. The Underground Girls of Kabul is a very good read. Using her journalistic experience and a well-informed, extremely well researched knowledge base, Nordberg constructs an image of Afghanistan that isn’t readily available to the average reader.

The subject of The Underground Girls of Kabul is extremely interesting. Nordberg focuses in on the little-known phenomenon of young girls being raised as boys in Afghanistan. These girls, known as the bacha posh, aren’t often acknowledged by Afghan society. Nordberg noted them by accident, during an interview with a female politician in the Afghani parliament. When she went to gender studies experts in Afghanistan, no one had much to offer on the phenomenon. So, Nordberg undertook to discover more about who the bacha posh are, why they exist, and what the impact is on Afghani society.

In The Underground Girls of Kabul, Nordberg uses a combination of extended interview, narrative forms, and analysis to create a picture of what it’s like to be a girl raised as a son in Afghanistan, and more difficult, describe what happens to the bacha posh when these girls raised as sons are forced back into the traditional family lifestyle and rigid gender roles of womanhood. The story is engaging in and of itself, and Nordberg adds to the interest by writing in a forthright and contemplative manner. She relates the stories of many women who were raised as bacha posh and talks about the difficulties of the transition back to traditional womanhood, and shows the sometimes very tangible benefits of time spent as a son.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It’s the kind of book I find very appealing, and Nordberg doesn’t shy away from the complicated discussion of gender identity and rights that the subject matter invites. The bacha posh introduce a fascinating situation that lends itself to discussion of nature v. nurture, whether gender truly is a learned aspect, and if the international aid community is really achieving what it has set out to do in Afghanistan.

The story is approached in a first person narrative focusing around Nordberg’s experiences interviewing women who had been raised by sons. The tales she relays range the gambit from young girls only now being raised as sons to teens about to have to transition back to the role of daughter, to women who have and have not accepted the transition. It’s emotionally insightful.

While there is a lot of analysis going on, and a lot of interesting and informative sidebar discussions in the book, the women’s stories are the strongest point. Their personal lives are the true hook in the story. Nordberg runs a careful line of contextualization and over-explanation. Fortunately, there were only a few times where she ventures into too much explanation. When it does cross that line however, the analysis isn’t quite to the break down level I’d like. The case studies could have benefited from more depth in the analysis. Nordberg uses the cases as evidence for statements about the Afghan culture without always making the inferences in her argument clear. I’m a fan of challenging one’s assumptions in the course of creating an argument and sometimes I thought Nordberg could have done more to truly support what she was saying. The argument is also straight forward without much allowance for conflicting explanations or confounding variables.

The journalistic sense in the book, however, is excellent, with lots of background research and a very thorough attempt to detail her subjects’ lives. It’s also very emotionally impactful. Overall, I think it’s a good introduction to gender identity and societal influences, but may lead those with a stronger social science background wanting more.

*I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review.