Quick book review: Mechanica

MechanicaAn exquisite story with bones of real relevance – not unlike a glass slipper with clockwork insides. I was swept away by this Cinderella retelling. Not only does it fulfil most of my feminist reader fantasies (she saves herself! focus on friendship! female competence at cool real-world tasks!); it’s also a lovely coming-of-age story with a relatable, less-than-perfect heroine growing into herself. It manages to incorporate one of my favorite elements unique to the best fantasy books: a tantalizing sense of other just around the corner. Highly recommend.

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Arya As Old-School Disney Princesses

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The Mary Sue posted this great pic of what Arya Stark would look like in Disney 1960s animation. They asked the question, how different would Sword in the Stone have been if Arya were Wart?

Well, a lot, obviously – fun to think about. And since I’m on a serious princess kick lately, I bring you:

Arya As Old-School Disney Princesses

ImageSnow White

Scrubbing floors gives a girl plenty of time to plot an evil queen’s downfall. When the huntsman takes her out into the woods to kill her, she grabs his sword and stabs him with the pointy end. Then she storms the castle, dispatches the evil queen, and reclaims her kingdom.

Someday her prince will come . . . visit her as the reigning monarch.

 

 

 

 

ImageCinderella

Bluebirds fear her – she hunts them down and wrings their necks for food. Nymeria has eaten all the mice. By the time the Fairy Godmother shows up, she’s been repeating her list and knows it by heart: Stepmother. Anastasia. Drusilla.

 

 

 

ImageSleeping Beauty

She is in no danger of pricking her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel – she hates that domestic bullshit. When Maleficent shows up, she stabs her with the pointy end.

Danerys cries because she likes ladies who can turn into dragons.

 

 

 

ImageAriel

Ignores lame Prince Eric; becomes apprentice to the Sea Witch. Learns to change her face and steal other people’s voices. Uses what she learns to free the creepy garden of enslaved mer-people – but pins it on someone else so she and Ursula can still be pals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Belle

Does not agree to voluntary imprisonment on anyone’s behalf. Seizes Lumiere and burns the place down. Regrets it later, thinking the Beast would have made a smashing fur cloak.

 

 

 

 

ImageJasmine

Lets Rajah eat Jafar immediately. Parrots make good stew. She’s not interested in marrying Aladdin, but they have street urchin adventures together. She teaches him how to hunt pigeons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more delightful princess coverage, see The Mary Sue’s post on Disney Princesses as street fighters.

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Susan Calvin Was Right

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I have a chip on my shoulder about scary robot stories that dates to the big-budget movie massacre of Asimov’s I, Robot. I’m just not that interested in the idea that they may all try to kill us some day; I’m much more interested in the idea that things behave according to their programming.

So is Madeleine Ashby. vN delves into deeper waters – What kind of programming do the robots have? And why?

vN follows Amy, a vN who has been raised human-girl-style by a human father and a vN mother. vN means android – in Ashby’s near-future Earth, a von Neumann machine.

Through Amy’s eyes, we’re introduced to a world where vN can be just like humans. Doesn’t Amy’s mother say she loves her father? Doesn’t she mean it? And Amy is so very human.

As our book begins, Amy’s vN grandmother, Portia, shows up to a school recital, kills a little boy, and attacks Amy’s mother. Amy attacks Portia in order to save her mother, and ends up eating Portia whole.

None of this should have happened, we’re told. vN are built with Asimov’s First Law built in. But Portia has found a way to subvert it – and now Amy’s code has absorbed Portia, so that Amy carries her murderous relative around in her head like a sick second personality.

The book follows Amy on the run through a human world that’s searching her out as a threat. On the way, she learns a lot about that human world. Seeing that world – our world – through Amy’s eyes is powerful and disturbing. The best of the book, it turns out, isn’t about robots at all – it’s about the humans who made them and use them.

Much of vN focuses on the idea of the “failsafe” that’s built into each vN unit. It’s the First Law, obviously, but also, more subtly, the second: vN can technically say no to humans; but they are designed not to want to. So if, at the beginning of the book, we’re introduced to the vN as basically human, we’re later forced to confront the idea of people who are basically human who are also slaves. What do we do, Ashby asks us, with other people who can’t tell us no?

Amy, like many people who are easy to love, asks a lot of us. She’s a good person, a hero, who loves strongly and fights to protect those she loves. She also begins the book as essentially a six-year-old child and ends up a grown, sexually mature woman in less than one year’s time. The slight nonhuman squickiness of that is massively trumped by the all-too-human other squickiness that permeates this book. (SPOILER) If you aren’t ready to face the idea of little girl androids named “Loli,” you may not be ready for the punch vN is packing.

This book is well worth a read. It’s full of gorgeous detail and nail-biting action, engaging characters and just plain fun. It’s engrossing and smartly written, and gives the reader excellent fodder for thought and discussion.

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Well Heeled

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I hung out with a friend’s 3-year-old this weekend. She was very excited about her new princess shoes – Cinderella slippers that looked like those pictured here.

“Slippers” is a misnomer. Those are straight-up high heels for 3-year-olds. That makes me cranky.

Cinderella was going to a ball, which is, to me, a legitimate reason to put on some serious clodhoppers. When you’re dressing up, wear whatever you want, because it’s fun. But let’s be honest: high heels are basically hobbles. They impair your ability to move the way your body is designed to move.

I have a background in being cranky about little girls’ shoes. Back in the day when I was a day care teacher, little girls often showed up in adorable sandals that were utterly impractical for the playground. While their classmates ran and rode and climbed, these girls sat on the side and picked sand out of their shoes because their feet hurt.

But this blog is about women in spec fic, so let’s get to that, shall we?

It’s no secret that women in speculative fiction are often – usually? – dressed impractically. From Wonder Woman (heels and a bathing suit) to Trek-reboot Uhura (heels and a miniskirt), the majority of them do what they do in outfits I could barely do my legal secretary job in.

My general sense (and let’s not trust my general sense farther than we can throw it) is that we’re moving away from this high-heeled nonsense. Katniss doesn’t wear high heels (she passes the dressing-up exception). Hermione doesn’t. Disney’s Rapunzel doesn’t (though I would argue that traipsing through the forest barefoot is also somewhat impractical).

Oh – and even though I’m pretty sure the evil Disney reboot of Merida did wear high heels, I think we’re winning that one! (But if you haven’t signed the petition, now’s a good time.)

More good and fun reading on how we dress our female characters:

http://womenfighters.tumblr.com/

http://www.comicvine.com/articles/off-my-mind-female-superhero-costumes-practical-or/1100-141495/

http://www.themarysue.com/fully-clothed-superhero/

http://www.buzzfeed.com/donnad/absurdly-skimpy-outfits-saved-by-repair-her-armor

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All Princesses, All The Time


For your Friday viewing pleasure, something completely delightful: Princess, Princess over at StrangelyKatie.

I loved everything about this little gem of a webcomic. The main characters are Amira, a runaway princess who prefers to be a hero; and Sadie, a tower-bound princess bored of the inept princes who keep trying to rescue her. Amira rescues Sadie, and they go on adventures together.

This story has it all: a basic grasp of socioeconomic inequality; body positivity; princesses rescuing a prince; a damn fine sense of humor; and unicorns.

It’s only 44 frames. Just go read it – it will make your day better.

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Princess Toadstool Saves Herself

Peach

Yeah! Princess Toadstool saves herself! The Wild Eternal has created a free, downloadable game called Sorry, Mario Bros! that “gives Princess Toadstool the ability to jump, and thereby free herself from King Koopa’s castle.”

I’m not really a gamer, but even I think this is sweet. And wow – go do a Google search for “Princess Peach saves herself.” Apparently Mario Princesses not being lame is a THING. Awesome.

And since this is apparently throwbacks to my childhood week – I’ve been thinking about just how very many fantasy worlds there are that are designed for children and populated almost exclusively by boys. (Having a token girl doesn’t count.) Why is this?

Here’s a list off the top of my head, but I’m sure there are tons more, especially since my knowledge of cartoons peters out around 2003 (tell me in the comments!):

  • Mario
  • Smurfs
  • Thomas the Train
  • Gummi Bears
  • Tale Spin
  • Looney Tunes
  • Muppet Babies
  • Bob the Builder
  • Transformers
  • He-Man
  • Duck Tales
  • Chip N Dale Rescue Rangers (although this one sort of gets a pass because Gadget rules)
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

 Ugh pfft. On the other hand, the Animated Things Club has a great list of cartoons for girls, plus some good discussion about it. Go check it out.

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Maleficent!

MALEFICENT
The Mary Sue has an update on Disney’s upcoming Maleficent. Squee!

Sleeping Beauty has always been one of my favorite Disney movies. I get that Aurora is lame, and that her “gifts” are lame (requirements for being a princess: beauty, ability to sing, and . . . what was the third one going to be? ability to accessorize?), and all that. But Maleficent! Maleficent is the best! She turns into a dragon! And commands the powers of hell! Or at least has the chutzpah to say she does!

So I’m tentatively excited about this Sleeping Beauty reboot featuring Maleficent. Angelina Jolie definitely has the chops to pull it off if they’ll give her good material.

On the other hand . . .

One of the things that’s awesome about Maleficent is that she doesn’t hate Aurora because she’s prettier (like the evil Queen in Snow White). Her stated reason for wanting to wreak havoc is that she wasn’t invited to be one of the fairy godmothers of the princess – ie, she wants power. Power is a good villain motivation that doesn’t have to do with being insipidly female. Insipid, Maleficent is not.

But the synopsis for the new film (via /Film) has Maleficent described as originally a “beautiful, pure-hearted young woman.” I mean. And Aurora holds the key to Maleficent’s chance at “true happiness” at the end, which doesn’t sound promising. I understand that it’s hard to have a movie protagonist be actually super evil, but . . . don’t screw this up for me, guys!

Also, like I talked about yesterday, there’s something inherently problematic in rehashing these old stories without adjusting for gender/race/etc. bias. It sounds like they’re trying, though – at one point “Maleficent rises to be the land’s fiercest protector.”

So, ok. I’m on board for now. Fingers crossed!

Update: Check out Jesus Alfonso Sanchez’s rad picture of Maleficent spanking some other villains at cards. I mean, I assume she’s spanking them, because: Maleficent.

disneypoker

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