Tag Archives: Diversity

Safe Haven: A Review of Everfair

Book cover for Everfair by Nisi Shawl. Image on cover is of a pair of hands holding a globe that's illuminated by gold light and surrounded by flying birds. Title: Everfair

Author: Nisi Shawl

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date: 2016

Genres: Fantasy, Alternate History, Steampunk

Length: 384 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 3 stars

Blurb:

From noted short story writer Nisi Shawl comes a brilliant alternate-history novel set in the Belgian Congo.

What if the African natives developed steam power ahead of their colonial oppressors? What might have come of Belgium’s disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier?

Fabian Socialists from Great Britain join forces with African-American missionaries to purchase land from the Belgian Congo’s “owner,” King Leopold II. This land, named Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven, an imaginary Utopia for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated.

Shawl’s speculative masterpiece manages to turn one of the worst human rights disasters on record into a marvelous and exciting exploration of the possibilities inherent in a turn of history. Everfair is told from a multiplicity of voices: Africans, Europeans, East Asians, and African Americans in complex relationships with one another, in a compelling range of voices that have historically been silenced. Everfair is not only a beautiful book but an educational and inspiring one that will give the reader new insight into an often ignored period of history.

Review:

Content warning: Racism and sexism. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

Strap in for a wild ride.This book has a bit of everything!

Ms. Shawl did a very good job of explaining the political and historical landscape of the setting. I didn’t know a lot about how Belgium colonization of the Congo went so horribly wrong in our world, so I was grateful for all of the details the author provided about why Belgium made that decision and how they expected to make it work before she imaged how things could have turned out much differently for the Congo if they’d already had steam technology when this conflict boiled over.

The cast of characters was massive. Rather than telling this tale from the perspective of one or even a few different people, there were dozens of narrators and other protagonists to sort out as I read. Given the fact that each chapter was written in a form that was pretty similar to a short story and that previous characters often weren’t revisited until many years after their previous entry, I had lots of trouble keeping up with everyone and the plot at the same time. This felt like something that really should have been separated out into several novels or many more novellas. There was so much going on in the plot that nobody got all of the attention they deserved.

There was a list of characters, their relationships to each other, and approximately when and where they lived included before the story began. I was glad to have this information and would highly recommend taking a look at it before beginning the first chapter. As I mentioned earlier in this review, the cast of characters is humongous. Having a basic idea of everyone’s identity and when they lived is crucial in order to understanding the plot, and this list did help with that even though I still believe the plot would have been better served if it were divided into a series and no more than three or four narrators were included in each instalment.

Anyone who loves alternate history speculative fiction should check this book out.

Righting Wrongs: A Review of See You Yesterday

Film poster for See You Yesterday. It shows the two main characters running. There is a large clock in the background. Content warning: death of a parent, police violence and gun violence. I will be discussing the last two items in this list in my review.

See You Yesterday is a 2019 science fiction film about C.J. and Sebastian, two high school students who are best friends, fellow science enthusiasts, and inventors.

Their latest invention is a backpack that allows the person wearing it to travel back into time. The technology wasn’t perfect. It could only go back into the recent past and could only be used a certain number of times. They were still figuring out how to change those limitations when the events of this film took place.

After C.J.’s older brother, Calvin, was murdered by the police, she and Sebastian decided to use their unfinished invention to travel back in time and save her brother before time ran out for him for good.

 

Characters

Eden Duncan-Smith as C.J. Walker
Eden Duncan-Smith as C.J. Walker

 

C.J. was the protagonist of this tale. As an incredibly intelligent and driven young woman, she believed she could solve any problem that came her way by seeking the scientifically correct answer to it.

Danté Crichlow as Sebastian Thomas
Danté Crichlow (left) as Sebastian Thomas

 

Sebastian was C.J.’s best friend. He was just as intelligent as C.J. but tended to be more cautious about trying new things until he’d gathered all of the date he needed about how they worked.

Michael J. Fox as Mr. Lockhart
Michael J. Fox as Mr. Lockhart

C.J. and Sebastian’s science teacher

Mr. Lockhart was C.J. and Sebastian’s supportive science teacher. He didn’t believe in time travel, but he did believe that his two smartest students would do incredible things with their lives. Supportive teacher, but doesn’t believe in time travel.

Anyone who is a fan of this actor’s previous work will find a delightful Easter Egg about it at some point in this tale.

Brian "Stro" Bradley as Calvin Walker
Brian “Stro” Bradley as Calvin Walker

 

Calvin was C.J.’s overprotective but loving older brother. He admired his sister’s intellect and believed that she’d one day make life better for their entire family because of it.

My Review

This was such a good story that I’m planning to watch it again!

Obviously, there were strong social justice themes in this movie. The blurb and trailer for it will give that fact away immediately to anyone who somehow missed it. C.J.’s invention was really cool in and of itself, but the thought of it being used to right terrible wrongs only made me more curious to see if and how she’d reach her goal of saving her brother’s life.

C.J.’s character development was beautifully handled. There were excellent reasons for her sometimes stubborn behaviour and unshakeable belief that science can be used any problem if one works hard enough to understand what happened and how it can be changed. I’ll leave it up to other viewers to discover these things for themselves, but it was delightful to see how her past and present shaped who C.J. was and who she was becoming.

There were a couple of fantastic plot twists later on in the storyline. They made perfect sense given everything C.J. had gone through earlier. While I did see them coming due to how familiar I am with tropes in the young adult and science fiction genres, I’d be pretty curious to find out if other audience members had the same reaction to them. Either way, they enhanced the viewing experience nicely.

My brain is beyond eager to discuss the ending in this post, but I’ll need to carefully dance around what actually happened in it in order to avoid spoilers. What I can say is that it fit the themes of this tale well and it had a powerful message for audience members about how we should respond to police and gun violence.

Ending on such thoughtful terms was such a great decision. I’ve read that the director isn’t planning to make a sequel, so it looks like the audience will have come up with our own theories about what might happen next.

A Note on the Violence Tags in My Review

Some of the violence was implied. Other acts of violence were shown directly to the audience, albeit in a sensitive and thoughtful manner. There were the briefest hints of blood in a couple of scenes, but in general this was a pretty blood-free story (especially given the subject matter).

See You Yesterday is something that I’d recommend just as highly to adult viewers as I would it’s original young adult audience.

See You Yesterday is available on Netflix.

Hopeful Science Fiction: A Theory of Flight

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter.

Recently, I discovered the Better Worlds series, a science fiction anthology of short stories and films about hope that was published at The Verge two years ago.

A Theory of Flight

Justina Ireland’s “A Theory of Flight” is the first instalment of this series. It was about a daring plan to build an open-source rocket could help more people escape Earth. Click on the link in the first sentence of this paragraph to read it for free or scroll to the bottom of this post to watch the short film version of it. There are mild spoilers in this post, so reader beware after this sentence.

Photo of Earth taken from space. The largest continent in view is Africa.

When I first began this series, I talked about  my expectations for hopeful science fiction.

This type of sci-fi isn’t about creating a utopia or brushing aside the very real challenges people face. It’s about finding hope and fighting for a happy ending no matter what the circumstances are.

Carlinda was no stranger to conflict or struggling. She was a black woman who’d grown up in a low-income neighbourhood. This may have been set in a future version of Earth, but the obstacles she faced were the same ones that people from all of these groups face today.

The big difference between her time and ours had to do with how much the environment had degraded thanks to climate change. Life on a hot, polluted planet was beyond difficult, especially for people who didn’t have the money or social clout to get away from Earth.

Cooperation

Carlinda had some money saved up from a well-paid job building spaceships for the wealthy folks who were fleeing Earth for safe colonies on Mars and Europa.

Her funds weren’t enough to get her to either of those places, though, much less help anyone else to join her. This futuristic version of society was so economically stratified that the vast majority of people were doomed to live out short, painful, poverty-stricken lives on Earth.

Or were they?

The beautiful thing about Carlinda’s open-sourced plans for rocket ships was that they could be built out of trash. Very little money was required to create them. All you needed were some workers who understood how to follow the plans and build something that could safely bring a few hundred folks to Europa.

There are some plot twists related to the political ramifications of this plan that are best left up to new readers to discover for themselves. Still, I loved seeing how the small percentage of humans who were wealthy and politically powerful reacted to the idea of ordinary folks taking their own fates into their hands.

Not only did it add a layer of urgency to the plot, it gave Carlinda and the people working with her even more of an incentive to keep building and to share their knowledge with as many other poor folks as possible.

A better world is possible, and it all begins with regular people banding together to creatively solve problems that are too big for any one person to fix on their own.

A Theory of Flight

3 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Agree with Everything You Read

CloudCoverRecently I had a conversation with someone who doesn’t understand my tendency to read blogs and books written by people with whom I disagree. Why not focus on everyone who sees the world exactly the way that you do?

Well, many of the writers I follow do agree with me. There’s comfort in spending time with people who share your beliefs and don’t need lengthy explanations about X, Y or Z.

With that being said here are 3 reasons why it’s beneficial to read stuff that ruffles your feathers, too:

1. You might be wrong. I might be wrong, too! There’s value in holding opinions in the palm of your hands instead of in a clenched fist. Occasionally I’ve  changed my opinion midstream when the person I’m speaking with introduces me to a new way of looking at the topic. Even if everyone walk away with no changes to our ideas we will at least know how others think.

2. They’re good writers. Knowing how to clearly communicate through the written word is a gift.  I’ve winced through far too many poorly-constructed books, blog posts and essays in my 29 years to continue giving them my attention. At this point I’d much rather focus on story-tellers (fiction and non-fiction alike) who know this craft well enough to creatively break the rules.

3.  Friendly disagreement sharpens your mind. Disagreement doesn’t always mean conflict and  conflict isn’t always bad. Once one begins to temper the urge to always be right there is so much we can learn from examining what it is we believe and why it is we believe it. It takes a long time for me to grow comfortable enough to do this with other people as it can lead you to quite vulnerable places. The list of folks who have made it so far is fairly small (and even they know not to push certain topics) but the rewards are long-lasting.

 

 

The Problem With Moving Away

Photo by Dave Morris

Seven years ago I moved 350 miles away from the small town where I spent the second half of my childhood.

This was something I started thinking about almost as soon as we moved there. It wasn’t a dangerous or terrible place to live by any means…I was just never very good at small town life. I like being able to go to the grocery store without running into anyone I know, to never be asked why I don’t share a last name with my husband, go to church or have kids.

I love the anonymity and creativity of Toronto.  Here I’m surrounded by people who, even if they don’t share my proclivities, genuinely don’t care what it is I do (or believe) so long as I’m not harming anyone else against their will.

This. Is. Amazing. 10, 15 years ago I had no idea I’d end up with this kind of freedom.

But…

Then I go home for a visit. The town I grew up in hasn’t changed very much. Many of the people I grew up with still live there or in similar places elsewhere in the midwest.

Most of my non-traditional (for lack of a better term) friends have also moved away. I grok why this happens. If I moved back now I’d either have to be really, really quiet about huge swaths of my life or pull a Bruce Gerenscer and be the brunt of a delightful mixture of pity, scorn and failed conversion attempts. 😉

After my recent trip back home, though, I wonder if small towns don’t need more Bruce Gerenscers.

Does he perplex people?

Yes.

Does he aggravate them?

Yes.

Does he make them think?

Hell yes.

I don’t really do that on a daily basis. City-dwellers are surrounded by so many different points of view that it’s more difficult for them to assume that everyone agrees with their beliefs. It’s hard to surprise them.

As much as I love this sometimes I think it’s better if us “shocking” people stay put. It’s much easier to dislike a label than it is to dislike a neighbour, family member, or friend.

There’s real value in being the only X in town, in putting a human face on a mistrusted minority group.

I just don’t want to do it personally.

Respond

What have been your experiences as the odd one out in your community? Why did you move away? Why did you stay?

A Response to Picking Up the Best Bits

Olivia at Reading in the Bath recently had something interesting to say about her experiences with online childfree groups: So one of the things I’ve enjoyed about sticking around in a few different groups for a while and getting past all the (to me) slightly awkward ‘I like children…with sauce’ jokes, is that I’ve found… Read More

The Ethics of Being on Time

I’ve been having an internal debate about the intersection of ethics and culture. Punctuality is something I take pretty seriously. 15 minutes early is on time, arriving on time is late for me. A few minutes here or there isn’t a big deal but being chronically late eventually says something to me about how much… Read More

Embrace the Shame

As far back as I can remember I’ve lived with one foot in imaginary places. Whenever the world around me quiets down enough for thoughts to form (and sometimes even when it doesn’t) I stitch together stories in my mind. No two have ever been quite alike. If I don’t like the direction a story… Read More

The Grammar of Purple People

We hate some persons because we do not know them; and we will not know them because we hate them. –Charles Caleb Colton When we envision a person we generally assume that, of course, the individual in question is: Male Christian Middle Class Cisgendered Straight Able-Bodied Neurotypical Caucasian Intelligent Healthy And probably a few other things… Read More