Tag Archives: LGBT

Hopeful Science Fiction: St. Juju

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.

A few months ago, 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. This is the fifth story from this anthology I’ve covered here, and I will eventually blog about all of them.

There are mild spoilers in this post. 

St. Juju

A mushroom growing on a patch of grass. In Rivers Solomon’s St Juju, a young woman must choose between her secure enclave and the one she loves.

The characters in this book lived in a world where everyone scavenged in order to survive. Specifically, they visited ancient landfills to harvest mushrooms and other foods that grew there.

There wasn’t as much time spent on the world building as I would have liked to see, but the audience was given glimpses of the strict society that the main character and her girlfriend, Enid, lived in. Everyone was required to work hard in order for their community to have enough to feed all of its members.

On the positive side, the landfills they visited generally had food for them and they seemed to live pretty peacefully due to the strict laws that governed them and the low population density of humans in general.

What you and I consider to be trash these days has been transformed into treasure for this future generation for reasons that I’ll leave up to other readers to discover for themselves.

There were also some fascinating references to certain genetic mutations that had taken place in some people in order to help them adapt better to this environment. I love the idea of humanity and the Earth healing and adapting together like this.

The romance was handled nicely, too. Would the main character stay home or would she remain with her girlfriend and go explore parts of the world that neither of them had seen yet? That question pushed the plot to move forward while still leaving plenty of space for her to reflect on what she’d lose and gain with either choice.

I’d recommend St. Juju to anyone who likes mixing genres.

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.

Hopeful Science Fiction: Online Reunion

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. This is the second story from this anthology I’ve covered here, and I will eventually blog about all of them. 

There are mild spoilers in this post. 

Online Reunion

Close-up of a computer keyboard. The "enter" key is pink and has a red heart on it. Leigh Alexander’s “Online Reunion” was about a young journalist chronicling a vintage e-pet reunion who gets more than she expected.

One of the things I found most interesting about this tale was how little time it spent on the world building.

The Internet had changed society in some pretty profound ways over the decades, but this wasn’t something I fully appreciated until I read it for the second time. I’d definitely recommending reading this slowly in order to catch every hint about what’s really going on here.

Human Nature

Fashions may come and go, but human nature remains constant from one era to the next. The best portions of this story were the ones that quietly highlighted what has changed, and even more importantly what hasn’t changed, over the past few generations since people began using the Internet heavily.

Jean, the main character, thought she had a good idea of what to expect when she went to Mrs. Marchenstamp’s house to interview her. I was amused by the assumptions she made about the first generation who used the Internet heavily, especially once Jean realized that she might have underestimated her interview subject.

There was also something comforting in the thought of people finding new ways to connect with each other in a futuristic world where something similar to Internet Addiction Disorder is much more common and dangerous than it is today.

I can’t go into detail about that topic without wandering into serious spoiler territory, but I was pleased with how familiar this tale felt. Yes, the characters had access to technology that you and I can only dream of, and there were plenty of social problems the plot hinted at that seemed to have grown worse over time instead of better.

But I still felt as thought I could sit down and have a cup of tea with any of the characters. Other than the occasional slang term that would be used differently in their world than in ours, they seemed like people I already knew. There was a familiarity with their problems and their triumphs that made me want to get to know them better.

As much of a cliche as this is to type, people are people everywhere. I loved seeing all of the similarities between them and us.

It made me look forward to the future. What could be better than that?

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

Unexpected Love: A Review of The Shape of Water

Film poster for The Shape of Water. It shows the two main characters embracing.Content warning: racism, sexism, a few brief scenes involving blood, death of a pet, and sexual harassment. I will only mention the first three items in this list in my review.

The Shape of Water is a dark fantasy romance about a lonely janitor who falls in love with an amphibious humanoid creature who is being held in captivity by the U.S. government. It is set in 1962 in an undisclosed government facility.

This film was directed by Guillermo del Toro and written by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor. It won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, as well as other honours at the Golden Globes, British Film Academy Awards, and the Critic’s Choice Awards.

The tags for this post do contain mild spoilers. I will not be discussing them in detail today but wanted to label this correctly for future readers.

Characters

Sally Hawkins as Elisa Eposito
Sally Hawkins as Elisa Eposito

 

Elisa was a mute woman who worked as a cleaner at a secret underground government facility. Her dear friend and chosen family member Giles described her as “the princess without voice.” She has a whimsical personality that found joy in little things like dancing down the hall or gently interacting with everyone she met.

While I can’t go into her backstory without sharing spoilers, I will say that she was someone who was quite alone in the world. She had no genetic relatives to rely upon.

 

Doug Jones as Amphibian Man
Doug Jones as Amphibian Man

 

The Amphibian Man could not speak, but he was intelligent. Very little was shared about his background in this film other than the fact that he was the first of his kind discovered by humans.

 

Richard Jenkins as Giles

 

As mentioned above, Giles was Elisa’s dear neighbor and friend. He’d worked as an adverting illustrator for many years but was struggling to find work as his industry switched from painting to photographs for the imagery in ads.

He was a kind, gentle, creative man who could be a little absent-minded when it came to looking after basic needs like fixing himself dinner. Like Elise, he was quite alone in the world for reasons I’ll leave to future viewers to discover for themselves.

Octavia Spencer as Zelda Fuller 
Octavia Spencer as Zelda Fuller

 

Zelda was Elisa’s co-worker and friend who served as her sign language interpreter at work. Her personality was assertive and opinionated, the opposite of how Elisa generally behaved.

 

Michael Shannon as Richard Strickland
Michael Shannon as Richard Strickland

 

Richard was a United States Colonel in charge of the project to study the “asset,” as they referred to the Amphibian Man. He followed protocol strictly and was obsessed with getting the results his bosses expected.

Michael Stuhlbarg as Dr. Robert Hoffstetler
Michael Stuhlbarg as Dr. Robert Hoffstetler

 

Dr. Hoffstetler was the physician who was given the responsibility of figuring out the physiology of the Amphibian Man’s body. The U.S. government hoped to learn how to create astronauts who could better adapt to the rigours of space exploration by learning how this creature was capable of breathing both air and water.

 

David Hewlett as Fleming 
David Hewlett as Fleming

 

Fleming was the laboratory’s head of security. He was a rigid, unfriendly man who expected perfection from himself and everyone around him.

My Review

Prepare yourselves for some gushing. This was such a good story.

There was an immensely satisfying amount of foreshadowing. I’d imagine that anyone who is familiar with the romance or science fiction genres could spot the biggest plot twists coming ahead of time. This wasn’t the sort of film that relied on the audience not knowing what to expect next. It was how the characters reacted to them that was important, and this was something the filmmakers showed beautifully.

The cinematography was beautiful. I was immediately drawn into the plot thanks to how much effort was put into constructing this era. It was also interesting to watch shots that had important things happening in both the foreground and background.  They added so many layers of meaning to the storyline.

Octavia Spencer and Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water.

I did find myself wishing that the racism, sexism, and other types of discrimination in this era was presented in a more nuanced manner. In my experiences with sexism and biphobia, a lot of it can be subtle depending on who is around and what prejudiced folks think they can get away with. People can convey so much with body language and the words they do (or don’t) use that I was surprised by how blatant everything was here.

Perhaps things were radically different in 1962 in this regard. I wasn’t alive then and will defer to people who may say this portrayal is more accurate than I originally thought it was. But I still would have liked to see these topics handled a little more sensitively. (I will also defer to other reviewers to discuss their personal experiences with racism and ableism as it relates to this point).

With that being said, I still really liked seeing how these various types of prejudice were not only expressed but intersected with each other and this is my only criticism of a film I otherwise loved. The storytellers did a good job of showing how someone might be advantaged in one area (e.g. race, social class, or gender) while still oppressed in others (e.g. disability or sexual orientation).

The numerous references to water in this film were well done. They included everything from bathing to hard-boiling eggs, and they were just the tip of the iceberg. One of the things I enjoyed the most as I was watching it was to take note of all of the aquatic-themed moments that needed a little more effort to take notice of. It was satisfying to add them to my list of these references and try to guess where the storytellers would subtly introduce the next one.

This isn’t a criticism in any way, but I did want to make note of the disclaimer about blood in this tale. There were a few scenes that included characters who were bleeding from non-accidental injuries. While the violence that caused these injuries was briefly shown on screen, I always like to warn my readers ahead of time about stuff like this. I’d be happy to discuss it in full, spoiler-y detail in private with anyone who needs to figure out if this is the right thing for them to watch.

I’d heartily recommendThe Shape of Water to anyone who enjoys the romance or speculative fiction genres.

The Shape of Water is available on Netflix and Apple TV.

Suggestion Saturday: June 30, 2018

Happy Pride! As a member of the LGBT community, it was especially fun for me to put together this week’s list of pie charts, blog posts, and other LGBT-themed links from my favourite corners of the web. Things You Should Never Have to Do. All of the sections in this pie chart were beautifully true, but I… Read More

My Favourite LGBT Books

Happy Pride month! Today I thought it would be fun to share some of my favourite LGBT-themed books in honour of all of the Pride festivities that have been and are still going on here in Toronto. Rainbow flags are popping up everywhere, and that’s always a heart-warming thing to see at this time of… Read More

Saturday Seven: Characters Who Need a Date

Saturday Seven is hosted by Long and Short Reviews. Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, so today I’m thinking about characters who could really have benefited from going on a date. None of the characters I’m about to discuss had romantic storylines. They were far too busy looking after a disabled friend, exploring a… Read More