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


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.


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.


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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.



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.


Filed under Science Fiction and Fantasy

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.


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


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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.



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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.


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?


Does he aggravate them?


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.


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


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A Response to Picking Up the Best Bits

Photo by Joe Ravi, license CC-BY-SA 3.0.

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 there are many other people who don’t come from a place of hatred or hostility either.

To be honest my sexual orientation and non-theism tend to surprise others much more often than my decision not to have children.

But there are certain similarities between being childfree and being part of other minority groups or subcultures.  Answering the same questions over and over again grows repetitive and there are times when I wonder, “why is s/he so focused on this one issue instead of everything else we have in common?”

This is where it really helps to have relationships with other people who are also members of group X and grok why I’m so frustrated (or confused, thrilled, or irritated!)

Just like Olivia says, though, sometimes you have to filter the wheat from the chaff. I’m not an angry person and I don’t dwell on the offensive stuff other people say or do.  These things happen.

Angry people aren’t the majority, though. From what I’ve seen for every person looking for a reason to be offended there are two or three who just want to live in peace. The problem is that when the media or the rest of society notices group X they tend to seek out the most controversial, outspoken member they can find. It’s good for ratings and page views and, to be honest, the rest of us are often not as interested in outside attention.

And so the rest of the world continues to assume the worst about group X while those of us who are actually living it roll our eyes and continue on with our daily lives.

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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 the other person values our relationship.

This is where my self-argument begins:

“Ok, but what about people who live in cultures where time is more fluid? Do you really think they are all horribly rude?”


“Why not?”

“Cultural expectations matter. I grew up in a culture that believes that being habitually late is incredibly rude. Ignoring that rule over and over again eventually says something about your character.”

“Because getting along with other people is part of living in a social group. There are rules we all must follow in order to facilitate this. Purposefully breaking them like this sends a pretty clear message:
I don’t care how my actions affect the people around me. My habits are more important than your time, our relationship or anything else.
And that’s a pretty unkind way to live. “

“Ok, but what if you wake up tomorrow and decide to dress up like Bilbo Baggins? Most people don’t wear costumes every day – is breaking that rule rude?”

“No. Rules that don’t actually harm others are negotiable. People might stare or wonder why I decided to dress that way if it isn’t Halloween but no one is actually going to be hurt by a hobbit costume. ”


There does come a time when even small annoyances like being constantly late negatively affects your relationships. If I can’t count on (general) you to be on time when we decide to meet for dinner or a movie how can I depend on you for far more important stuff?

What it boils down to is that how you treat someone in the small things is how I’m going to assume you feel about the big stuff. Anyone can say that they care but what shows how someone actually feels is in how they act when it would be more convenient to do something that helps them but harms someone else. (Yes, this applies to me, too. 😉 )


What do you think? Am I being too harsh here? Can you think of other examples of behaviour that is acceptable in one culture and rude in another?

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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 is headed I begin again from the first scene to create something better. I tell myself stories that are funny, sad, outlandish, as cliched as I could possibly make them and as unique as I dare. I tell stories as I go to sleep and pick them back up again while getting dressed or eating breakfast in the morning.

Sometimes as a kid I’d whisper the lines or scene I was working on to see if they sounded as good out in the open. It was something I was deeply ashamed of growing up, though. No one else I knew crafted stories like this or, if they did, they never talked to themselves while figuring out a particularly tricky plot point. At 11 or 12 I’d cycle through these feelings, promise to put away childish things and never do it again and then slide back into storytelling a day, week, month later. Life without story-telling was and is:

  • Eating the same meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the rest of your life.
  • A vocabulary of 100 words, 90 of which are about the weather.
  • Eternal February.

I assumed that other people had internal dialogues rarely if ever* and that there was something unhealthy about continuing to make up stories after puberty. Like an early bedtime or training wheels on a bike it only seemed appropriate for kids half my age and yet I had zero interest in what I thought I should be thinking about as an adolescent: clothing. makeup. boys. dating. calories.

*I’ve since learned this isn’t true!

It sounds nonsensical now but this bothered me for years. More than anything I wanted to blend in, to think the way other people thought. Being different wasn’t a perky slogan or a beat marched to with pride back then it was something to try to get rid of (or hide well) at the first opportunity.

I began to grow more comfortable in my own skin as I stopped worrying so much about the thoughts I thought were rolling around in the heads of everyone else. What mattered was this: I like telling stories and hashing them out has never hurt anyone.

If it’s weird, well, there are far more destructive things that I could be doing with my time.


Do you have any slightly eccentric habits or personality quirks that you’ve always felt a little ashamed of? How did you learn to resist the urge to compare your thoughts with how other people behave in public?

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Does Privilege Corrupt Us?

There is a short reading assignment for this post: Can Men Be Feminists?

To summarize the author’s points: (although I strongly recommend reading it for yourself. My understanding may differ from what you take away from it.)

  • Our world is saturated with racist, sexist, classist, heterosexist, etc. beliefs.
  • All of us have absorbed at least some of these assumptions.
  • One cannot escape his or her privilege. It affects too many aspects of life.

Because of this, she argues, men can never be feminists. The privileges that automatically come with belonging to the dominant group interfere with the fight against those privileges.

My Response

There is no denying that being born with certain characteristics gives certain groups of people often massive social, economic and other advantages over those who aren’t male, white, wealthy, able-bodied, cis-gendered, or straight.

There have even been times when the men in my life honestly doesn’t see what to me is obviously sexist behaviour or expectations.

I could fill this post with examples. Each one would point to the same conclusion, though: privilege allows us to only see what we want to see. People without that privilege aren’t able to do that any more than they can turn off the rest of their senses.

There are things as a white person that I know I’ll never truly get. I can read about it, I can confront people who say racist things, but I will never know what it is like to be the target of racism.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t fight against both the privilege and the oppression, though. In certain ways it is easier to fight against something that you know is in everyone. Rather than having one enemy and seeing it in solely us-vs.-them terms there is we.

We have a serious problem. We harbor certain stereotypes or assumptions. We need to unlearn some stuff. We need a plan.

We also need to listen. It is easy to fall back into often-unconscious interpersonal patterns. I think this is one of the most dangerous parts of fighting to end prejudice when you yourself are not part of the oppressed group. If it is going to work well then the people who ordinarily are not listened to should be leading it and those who are used to being followed should become followers.

“The first shall be last and the last shall be first…”

What do you think?

  • Is acting on or being given a privilege the same thing as being racist, sexist, classist, etc.?
  • How can our privileges be used for good?
  • Does who you are affect how you fight against injustice?

(Photo by Kurt Lowenstein.)


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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:

And probably a few other things that I haven’t thought of, too. For the purpose of this post, I’m going to define purple people as those of us who don’t fit one or more of these assumptions.

Much of my identity is somewhat to fairly easy to puzzle out for anyone who reads this blog regularly.  I’ve talked about the ways in which I differ in the past and will bring them up again in future posts.

For the Record

I am deeply unashamed of who I am as a human being. I also highly value privacy, though, and the idea that not everyone we meet needs to know everything about us right away (or even at all.) Knowing someone’s name, befriending them, even sharing the same ancestors, workplace, religious or political beliefs, hobbies, or hometown doesn’t give anyone the right to unfettered access to the life of anyone else. If we want to share – and  doing so is often a very good thing – we will share!


What responsibilities do those of us who live outside of the box have for thePeople That Don’t Get It(tm)?

Unfortunately too often we see labels, not people. That it is common doesn’t make it less dehumanizing. No one is just any one aspect of their lives so my modus operandi about certain things is to give people a chance to know Lydia-the-person before they learn about the labels and the nouns and verbs behind them that describe me. Sometimes labels stick anyway and the person I am still ends up hidden behind  the grammar of being whatever this new friend thinks I ought to represent after all. If they know me as a person first, though, they’re more likely to thereafter see Lydia before they stumble across the grammar of my identity.

Being purple also takes a great deal of energy because we  have to be exceptionally good examples. If someone from the mainstream says or does something hurtful, ridiculous or just plain dumb, it only reflects on them as individuals. If a purple person says or does the same thing it is often misunderstood to mean that all purple people agree with him or her. Sometimes I’m happy to expend extra energy by letting new people I meet know right away that I’m purple and proud of it, by answering questions and correcting stereotypes and reminding everyone I meet that labels were never supposed to be an exhaustive description of any of us. At other times, though, I just want to have a nice meal or read my book or go hiking or do anything other than listen to other people’s ideas of who I am, what I think, and what I do.

Is This Fair?

By not always mentioning my affiliations and identities upfront, am I perpetuating the very myths I want to break? How will other people shed their  ignorance if they don’t meet ordinary people who don’t fit the stereotypes of whatever group it is that they don’t understand?

On the other hand, how is it ok to expect one person to carry the weight of an entire group? Asking that seems to perpetuate the idea that, for lack of a better term, there are typical people and then there’s everyone else and that the rest of us must not hesitate to answer even the most repetitive, inane questions and should expect to hear “but you’re not like the rest of them! You’re different!” when someone says something offensive.

There’s also the issue of discrimination. Some people are wonderful when they learn more about my identities. They understand…or maybe they don’t quite understand yet, but they love and support me and ask questions instead of making assumptions about whatever it is that confuses them.

Others don’t understand and don’t want to listen. At this point I only give as much information as can be digested at the moment. When they absorb one fact, I’ll give them another. If they reject it our relationship will probably continue to be much more superficial than my relationships with those who do understand. The door between us remains ajar, though, and I never truly know when they may choose to walk through it after all!

The Bottom Line

People earnthe right to certain aspects of our lives. The breadcrumbs are out there; if asked I won’t lie (although I may change the topic if too many labels or assumptions crowd out the conversation). I simply don’t see the benefit in revealing such personal matters to anyone who genuinely doesn’t want to listen.


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