I am having Actual Feelings about Goku’s appearance in the Macy’s Parade and what it means.
For one, it’s that we now live in a world where Goku can appear in an event of this profile in the US. As a nerd who stereotypically grew up largely isolated among people who disdained anime, I can’t deny there’s an element of vindication in this—but also wonder, that this is now where we are today. It’s not exactly a surprise to me anymore that there are other people who grew up on Dragon Ball Z, but this is a different level of recognition of cultural significance.
But it’s also waking up Thanksgiving morning to all of the reactions (I’m on the west coast) to Goku flying above us. I don’t just mean the many in-jokes, although those are absolutely giving me life today. I mean the unabashed enthusiasm people are publicly expressing, the wonder we’re all sharing, at seeing an actual giant Goku flying through our streets.
Not mockery, but earnest delight. It is, for one, Americans rallying behind a non-white illegal immigrant refugee and alien character literally and figuratively from another world as our hero.
And what’s really getting me in the feelings today is that this is also about who Goku is as a hero specifically: no matter how old he gets, how often he literally has to sacrifice his life, or how often people around him fail, Goku as a hero is not cynical or grizzled.
He always delights in silliness. He is endlessly hopeful. He dares to dream and gather his wishes into reality. He never stops working toward what matters. He never shies away from the impossible but instead takes it as a challenge to make it possible. He enthusiastically welcomes new friends and celebrates their victories, no matter the scale. He always believes in people, and in the power of ordinary people—because to Goku, nothing and no one is ever ordinary.
That’s who we’re celebrating as our hero today, and it’s a reminder I will hold with me. This Thanksgiving, I am 100% Team #ThanksGoku.
And with that, I’m off to prepare enough food for a Saiyan, a tradition I think Goku would heartily approve of.
I went off on Twitter the other day about a subject I want to expand on a bit. I’d been looking at reviews for a book and found myself irritated by criticisms that it’s “tropey,” and it’s worth unpacking what people mean when they talk about fiction being tropey.
The short answer is they mean different things, some of which are more problematic than others. The long answer is, well, longer, so let’s get started.
People often misunderstand what tropes are, so let me begin by saying a thing:
Tropes are not inherently good or bad.
Tropes are storytelling devices. They are common elements that give readers a familiar structure to latch onto in a new narrative world. You have read them before, because all stories use tropes.
Once more for the seats in the back:
There is no such thing as a completely original story. A certain trope may be new to you, and stories may certainly help develop new tropes. But trope-less? No.
Some tropes are considered clichés; this does not make all tropes clichés. So why do stories get criticized for being tropey? What’s going on here?
Sexism is one answer. I’m going to spend the least time on this one because I’m just so bored of this deeply uninspired form of sexism, but: a lot of literary criticism of tropey-ness* is just plain sexism.
*(what is the correct noun form here anyway? tropey-ness? tropyness? tropiness? MY GOOGLE-FU FAILS ME, but it’s too late to stop this rant now and I grimly soldier on.)
Sometimes that bias is conscious; sometimes not. Our culture overwhelmingly targets anything teenage girls like with criticism, and if you ever dip a toe into AO3 or Tumblr you will find more tropes and unashamed, enthusiastic embracing of them than you know what to do with.
Tropes themselves can be coded feminine, too: for example, girls love stories about overthrowing the dystopian patriarchy; cue a predictable response of ‘ugh those stories are tired’.
When you criticize a specific trope, consider who it’s popular with. If the answer is teenage girls, perhaps reconsider.
It’s important to note that “tropey” is also applied to work by marginalized authors across intersections as a way to undercut literary merit. Be wary of criticism that amounts to “it’s just x trope but with people of color.” That reader not only isn’t the target audience, they’re unaware of or uninterested in their own biases.
Aside from prejudice, there are two primary reasons for criticisms of tropyness:
They’re tropes the reader personally is tired of.
The tropes are poorly executed.
The first case is not super complicated. People are sometimes remarkably bad at distinguishing “arranged marriage plots fill me with ennui, having read approximately a gazillion of them in my lifetime” from “arranged marriage plots are lazy writing.”
A story that uses tropes you personally don’t like is not necessarily a poorly crafted story.
However, it leads us into the second case, which is more nuanced: what does “poorly executed” even mean? This gets us into tricky territory, because people don’t often like to consider craft as subjective as art, but let’s dig in here anyway.
I, personally, am not a fan of love triangles. This does not mean that all or even most love triangles are bad, nor does it mean I can never like a love triangle in fiction. It depends on execution.
Sometimes a book avoids criticism of tropiness by deliberately subverting a trope. If it’s a trope you’re not fond of, that may make it more likely to work for you!
But again, not all tropes are bad in their original form. Admittedly some extremely are, but that’s not what I’m focusing on here. Frankly, even a well-executed love triangle sometimes won’t work for me, because I just don’t like the trope (note to self to write a future blog post for you all on why).
But many love triangles I come across in fiction aren’t well-executed, because capturing the essence of a trope can be more complicated than it first appears. How does a particular trope work, and why, and for whom?
And this is where authors run into trouble, in two different ways that both manifest out of a failure to understand the original form of the trope.
Say an author does not live in a box and thus recognizes that Harry Potter is wildly popular. They too identified with Harry’s plight and subsequent introduction into another world, and so they start a book with a boy who lives in a cupboard under the stairs. It’s fairly obvious that this hypothetical author has failed to capture the meaningful aspects of the story or Harry’s origins, and any reader who is likewise familiar with Harry Potter will look at this and roll their eyes.
However, it less obvious why writing any other portal fantasy magic school won’t do on its own, yet there are plenty of other coming-of-age magic schools before Harry Potter and after. Some of them are fantastic, others are not, that generally has little to do with their commercial success, and alas this is not actually a blog about how magic school tropes work.
The point being, if you want to use a trope well—or to subvert it in an interesting way—you have to understand what makes it work in the first place. If you slap it into a book without that groundwork, it can feel false, pandering, or disappointing to readers who do love that trope.
Sometimes, that is what a criticism of tropeyness means: the author knows a trope is popular and wishes to replicate it but has not fully understood the storytelling device they’re working with.
Which brings us to the second common iteration of poor execution that leads to criticisms of tropeyness, which is the matter of balance.
When there are too many very currently popular tropes out of proportion with new twists the author is bringing to the narrative, it leads to the impression that the story is in service of the tropes rather than that the tropes are in the service of the story.
Importantly, this balance is super subjective and varies greatly depending on what the reader brings to the text. For instance, I found it difficult to get into Eragon in large part because of this over-familiarity at the point in my life I read it. Readers that were new to those tropes, though, inhaled them like tea. (that’s how that simile works right)
Whereas an undertaking like Pride by Ibi Zoboi deliberately adopts the tropes of Pride and Prejudice and retells the story with people of color in modern Brooklyn. So many of the tropes are going to be intentionally familiar, but that twist alone can make everything fresh and new and different.
So, in summary, sometimes “tropeyness” means the author has erred in their craft, but a lot of the time people apply this term out of a lack of self-awareness. Criticism needs context and should be considered as critically as anything else.
All of which is to say I side-eye criticisms of tropeyness because they’re often slapped onto reviews more casually than misapplied tropes.
Anyway, hooray for tropes and stories and the people who write them thoughtfully and passionately, THE END.
So, this is not the normal time of year for “best of” or “most anticipated” posts, but it’s never the wrong time to celebrate awesomeness, right? Given all the upset in SFF lately, I wanted to share a dose of my excitement for some novels coming our way this year. Because for me, that’s what being a fan is about — sharing my excitement with other passionate people — and I refuse to let that be tainted by other interpretations of how fandom does or should work.
ANYWAY. I’m going to list these in order of release. I am so excited for other people to have read these so we can squee and argue together.
(UPDATE I somehow forgot a critical book in my initial post, and I don’t want to remove anything or fix the numbering system so I’ve just inserted it where it should properly go chronologically.)
Cobalt Zosia conquered an empire and retired — until politics followed her. Now, she’s out for blood. I love that this protagonist is an old woman, that she’s a mercenary, that she is at times she is terrifying and at others unexpectedly relatable. I love that this empire spans a lot of cultures that are not Eurocentric, and I love how much is going on with gender and sexuality in this book.
(MG fantasy, second in its series following The Forbidden Library.)
Alice gets thrown off the deep end in this book. Everyone — excepting one terrifying, perfect dragon — keeps claiming they know what’s best for her. It’s one thing to know their agendas could get her killed, but how can she know what to do or who can she trust? Also, there are cats.
(YA historical fantasy, fifth installment in its series beginning with Okatsu.)
I don’t know exactly what date Hana is coming out on, but keep your eyes peeled. This series is set in a fantasy Japan with samurai and assassins. I am SUPER PICKY when it comes to fictionalized versions of Japan, but this one I love. Doku, the most recent Jao book, was in my opinion the best yet, so I can’t wait to see what’s in store for us next. I’m also legitimately worried for Jao and Masahiro, because Tam puts those poor boys through an emotional wringer every time.
I LOVE THIS BOOK. It’s some cross between fantasy, women’s fiction, new adult, and literary. It’s written epistolary-style between Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, as their “official” stories are finished and they’re expected to get on with their lives in approved fashions or risk unraveling their entire fairytale universe. Camille walks the edge perfectly between so sharp it hurts and absolutely hilarious. To be honest, I generally don’t go for fairytale retellings, but I literally cannot recommend this book highly enough. She had me at “IMPORTANT FUCKING CORRESPONDENCE from Snow B. White.”
(Fantasy romance, third in the Twelve Kingdoms series following The Tears of the Rose.)
I enjoyed The Mark of the Tala (book 1), but I did not expect to love The Tears of the Rose like I did. Normally, for me, not respecting the protagonist means I’m unlikely to enjoy the book. But Jeffe Kennedy has a gift for complicating characters I don’t like until they’re so compelling I don’t care that I don’t like them. The Talon of the Hawk follows the third sister: the responsible one, the one who her father wishes were a man, the one who trained as a warrior and as a politician and has a mind like a steel trap. If the author could get me to enjoy the passive and bratty sisters, I can’t wait to see what she can do with the one I’m already rooting for.
If you have not read the John Cleaver series beginning with I am Not a Serial Killer, you have missed out. It’s not too late. Dan Wells gets what makes monsters so horrifying on a creeping yet visceral level, and he gets what makes humans horrifying, and also what makes humans amazing. This series is a master work, and I can’t tell you how excited I am he’s picking these characters and this world up again.
(Secondary world urban fantasy, latest installment in the Craft sequence.)
In this book we are back in Dresediel Lex with Elayne Kevarian who is pretty much my favorite character ever (ever), the King in Red who is a skeleton sorcerer ruling a city because why not, and Temoc who is the last surviving knight worshipping fallen gods. This book leads us inexorably through a fantasy version of a protest from all sides, and it is wonderfully done and actually painful in parts. SO GOOD. If you haven’t read Three Parts Dead and on, please do yourself a favor and check this series out.
Somehow I haven’t managed to read any of this author’s work before, so this will be my first. Besides hearing extremely positive reviews, I’ve heard that this book was actually borne out of a roundtable discussion we had at Sirens in 2013 about women in power positions in fantasy, and I’m excited to see what she took.
Wings. A growing city of bone, with towers and spires. Sky monsters. Did I mention the wings? Fran has such an immersive world, and I absolutely loved the protagonist — resourceful, realistically mature, indomitable. HIGHLY RECOMMEND.
(YA Fantasy, second in its series following The Bloodbound.)
Our protagonist is a warrior — once a scout, then the captain of the king’s personal guard — and also an aristocratic lady, and extremely notable as both. I love competent protagonists. She’s observant, resourceful, and willing to buckle down and do what needs to be done when no one else will. I also find it refreshing that this is a world that does not preclude or shame women from being warriors.
Memories of Ash by Intisar Khanani.
(YA Fantasy, next novella installment following Sunbolt.)
The author hasn’t announced yet when this will be out, so I list it here out of hope. Sunbolt is a fabulous introduction to a vast, multicultural world full of inventive magic and monsters with a heroine who is actively working in an underground rebellion as a spy. Some authors struggle with giving their characters agency, but the protagonist of Sunbolt is active and making choices constantly and it’s absolutely delightful. I really want the next one!
That’s it for now! I did not realize how many of these were YA when I started writing, and I am newly pleased — I feel like I didn’t enjoy as many YA fantasy novels last year, but it looks like this year will be a great one for my YA reading =). So a quick note for two others I’m excited about and only aren’t on this list because beyond positive reviews I know nothing more about them than what’s included in their official synopses: Last Song Before Night by Ilana C. Myer and The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson, both out in September.
Did I mention how excited I am for this year as a fantasy fan? It’s going to be fabulous. We will make it so.
I mentioned this project called The Rising Wall briefly a month or so ago, and it’s finally kicked off. This is one of those projects that makes me love fan community and the possibilities opened by current technology.
If you are familiar with Mira Grant’s Newsflesh series, you’re aware of the Wall. I wasn’t — this series is still on my to-read list — so for those of you who aren’t: in this series, the zombie apocalypse happens in the summer of 2014 (now) and is known afterwards as the Rising. People don’t know or believe what’s happening, and traditional news media outlets utterly fail at reporting the truth; it’s bloggers that step up and start sharing information on what’s going on and how to survive. The survivors later collect the names of those bloggers to commemorate them on the Wall: these are the people that risked themselves to help them survive.
With the author’s blessing, fans and friends in the community are creating a fictional Wall as a “collaborative transmedia fan project.” There are tweets, music compositions, blog posts, all kinds of things. It’s such a cool idea, and I love it.
Katie Hoffman, the mastermind behind this project, has a great Zombies 101 summary for anyone who wants to play but isn’t familiar with the canon. Even if you’re not into the series, I’d highly recommend checking the Tumblr out just to see what people are doing with this kind of project.
I had a lot of fun writing a four-part blog series from the POV of a college student abroad in Japan when the Rising starts. Panic and betrayal, flamethrowers and cosplay, good times. All four parts are posted if you want to check it out!
Last weekend was my first Norwescon, and it was a blast. Norwescon is one of those old-school SFF cons: this was year 37. Aside from Anime Boston, this is also the biggest con I’ve attended to date, with something like 5,000 attendees (I don’t know where that estimate came from, but I believe it: I waited for about 40 minutes just to get my con badge). It was held in the same hotel as FaerieConWest, so I wasn’t quite as lost as I could have been, and I kept meeting and running into people happy to help me out.
My favorite panels were on completely disparate topics: Viking era clothing and directed energy weaponry. The writing track panels are geared toward beginning writers, and they weren’t particularly useful for where I’m at. I’m finding this to be a trend at most cons, with the glaring exception of 4th Street.
From the dealer’s room I came away with tea from Friday Afternoon, which specializes in blends for nerds (she’s got D&D, Firefly, and BSG themes). I got cards from a couple of other shops I would have liked to patronize, but — PRO TIP — if your website is inaccessible, poorly navigable, or requires me to change obscure coding in order for it to function, I’m out. Don’t make it hard for me to give you money.
The best part of Norwescon for me was talking with friends and meeting people in either the hotel bar (which is really not set up for ease-of-bar-con) and the parties. I helped host a get-together for Cascade Writers, and I got to hang out with folk from Rainforest and from the SF2W meet-ups. It’s strange to realize I’m actually starting to know a fair number of repeat offenders at SFF events in the area; maybe I’m finally starting to put down some roots in the Pacific Northwest. Or maybe I’m just beginning to learn my way around SFF-dom and cons.
It bears mentioning that there are sort of two separate worlds at Norwescon., which helps me understand a little better why RustyCon and FaerieConWest weren’t the right fit for me. There’s one world where most of the writing industry pros frequent, between their panels, the bar, and the presidential suite, and they tend to be pretty low-key.
The other world is for the fans and for fan culture. Having not come up through cons and fandom, this world is the one that to me seems wondrous and strange. For instance, evidently the Red Gnomes (so discerned by their pointy hats) and the Cult of Scott Bakula (“Because His Career Died for Your Sins,” you see — they have a life-size cardboard cutout and everything) have merged. There are also yearly room parties where people have collected strobe lights and blacklights and lava lamps, brought in their own DJs and sound systems, covered suites floor to wall to protect from damage, moved beds elsewhere to set up a bar (with a bouncer at the door to check IDs and stamp) and a dance floor, and people arrive in varying degrees of undress or elaborate costumes. And I’m not talking about a single party occurrence here. The parties I popped into were all awesome and welcoming — I also want to give props to Norwescon for posting signs all over that read “Cosplay is Not Consent” — but those gatherings are otherwise Not At All like those of the other world.
My main regret is that I missed most of the singing. I got to hear some of Vixy and Tony’s concert, which was gorgeous, but I missed Seanan McGuire’s entirely. I also find it irritating that apparently SakuraCon and Norwescon are intentionally scheduled for the same weekend every year, because apparently you can’t be a fan of both anime and books at the same time. -_-
I did skip Sunday entirely for my sanity, and really it’s a wonder I remained mostly coherent and socially competent for that long, since I had total novel brain. On Monday I finished the rough draft of the Novel of Doom, so named for how it has been weighing on me for so long. The first draft clocks in at about 147,000 words, making it the longest I’ve ever written.
I’ll save comments on quality and experience for another time, and I do want to do a writing statistics post at some point (because numbers and metrics are fun!), but for now I’ll just say that since going part-time, in a little over two months I wrote nearly 100,000 words. I’m not wasting any time with this. I beat my end-of-April deadline (so no indiscriminate punching: you’re all safe), and I refuse to even look at that monster until June. In the meantime I’m getting back to all the many things (XD) I pushed in March and April and starting a New Shiny story.
A (somewhat) brief thought regarding the latest reveal from JK Rowling, fully cognizant that those comments are outside the context of the full interview yet to be released:
I don’t care.
There, I’ve said it. I love the Harry Potter series, and JK Rowling can drop bombshells like these until the end of time and I do not give a single shit, because they don’t matter.
Remember when George Lucas actually went back and reedited Star Wars to try to convince us all, belatedly, that Han Solo wouldn’t have shot first? Shockingly, this didn’t work particularly well, because we all know that Han did shoot first. Moreover, we remember how that incident shaped our understanding of the narrative, and so we reject the change. He can’t change how we experienced the story.
I’m not even going to address what Rowling’s comments would mean for the story and why they’re problematic in that sense. To me this is a demonstration of the conflict between authorial intention versus what is actually in the text.
Now, those two don’t have to be in conflict, and I’m also not here to convince anyone that the author is dead. However, the author is separate from the work. Milton can proclaim he’s writing to justify the ways of god to man all he wants, but that doesn’t mean it’s what he’s actually doing. And even if you’re of the camp that believes that is what he does in Paradise Lost, the fact remains that once the work is out there in the wild, people are free to interpret it however they damn well please.
Authors may violently disagree with those interpretations, and I’m sure they’re appalled by some of the things that crop up in fanfiction if they learn of them. They may also be surprised and impressed by interpretations. But in the end, what the author and reader have in common is the text.
The problem with trying to retroactively change work because an interpretation bothers you is that you’re trying to control what your audience thinks, and that fundamentally undermines your art. I want people to think about and interpret art. Every person who reads the same book is going to have different impressions, they’re going to fixate on different parts and come away with different thoughts and perspectives and that is beautiful.
So if an author tries to tell me that my thought is wrong when it is backed up in a complete narrative, that’s the same as telling me they don’t trust me to do my own thinking. I’m never going to be okay with that.
I would have loved for the Harry Potter series to have explicitly gay characters. I don’t know why that never made it into the books; there’s very likely a good reason. But in the books Dumbledore’s sexuality is a non-issue, so I can’t give her any credit for treading that ground. No matter what she intended for him, it’s not in the text.
You know what is in the text? That epilogue that I despise, that lays out clearly her intentions for the futures of the characters. And I hate it for how it unnecessarily interferes with and limits the interpretations readers can take when she has to know how inspired her fans are by her stories to create their own. But however much I hate it, it’s in the text and nothing will change that.
So upon reflection, after some perspective and growth as a writer, JK Rowling thinks she would have written some friendships and romances differently than she did. Whatever, that’s totally cool. But for the shippers who are now either despairing or triumphant? Would have is not the same as did. Of course it’s interesting to hear the author’s opinions of her own work, but they don’t actually change anything.
Although, I suppose if there is an upside to all this controversy, it’s that people may be actively engaging in more discourse about narrative and how story works than usual, and I’m all for that.
Maybe in their fictional future Hermione and Ron will break up and she’ll somehow get together with Harry. Or maybe they’ll have lots of couples therapy and have a healthy relationship forever. Maybe Hermione will say fuck it none of you deserve me and fly off into the distance. Maybe she’ll take up dark lording out of spite and the conviction that she’s better than everyone! Possibilities abound.
And this is when reader imagination gets to fly. Because the one thing Hermione won’t do is go back in time and travel through dimensions to have JK Rowling rewrite the Harry Potter books so that none of what we’ve read happened. Even if she’d made some kind of egregious error, she can’t go back and undo it. None of us can.
I’m in enough danger of drawing on Barthes without bringing in Pirandello, so let me wrap this up. To summarize as eloquently as I can: no take backs.
So I woke up this morning to a bit of an explosion on my Twitter feed. I’m not going to link to the various instigating posts and comment threads, where the discussion leaned toward outright hostility on many sides as internet discussions are wont to do. The crux of the matter involves author involvement and interaction with fans, judging what spaces and acceptable to enter, and where and how those lines are drawn.
The interesting bit to me is why we’re drawing those lines at all.
The idea that authors should not ever enter fan spaces unless specifically invited has a few faulty premises, I think.
First and foremost: authors are also fans.
Authors are also people, not some magical amalgamation of literary weight that they bring into discussions just to throw around and silence people of differing opinions.
People have brought up “The Death of the Author,” which is its own can of worms and one literary theorists can gleefully argue about forever.
Authorial intentions and results do not always match, of course. Milton can say “I’m writing to justify the ways of God to Man” all he wants, but he’s never going to convince me that Satan isn’t the hero of Paradise Lost, whether he meant for him to be or not, because of what’s in the text. I’m willing to believe that Milton didn’t consider Satan the hero, but my interpretation does not have to match his stated intentions.
I err on the side of not talking about authorial intentionality, because I can’t know what the author intended — I can talk about how ideas read to me and what I can conclude from those inferences, and I can ground my interpretation in the text. This is the fundamental skill of basic essay writing, at least as I learned in English class: you can make any argument you want, as long as you can support it.
But if you’re going to bring authorial intentionality into the discussion, you are, in my opinion, inviting the author to weigh in on their intentions. Because the author is the only one that knows.
Likewise, an author’s personal views and an author’s work are not the same. I can enjoy Ender’s Game without supporting Orson Scott Card’s political views. That is one of the reasons when we review work, we review the work; we have no business judging the author, the person behind it. Can we make some logical leaps? Sure, but if that’s the route you want to go, again I think it’s ludicrous to believe that if you make comments against a person in public that they are not invited to respond.
Reviewers comment on authors’ work, and so it seems silly to me that authors cannot also comment on reviewers’ work. This work exists in the public. I operate on the assumption that an author can and will call me out if I get something egregiously wrong. They won’t always, but they can, and they should be able to.
More to the point, though, I think the mentality I’m seeing recently of “us against them” in regards to fans and creators is preposterous. We are not different species; our concerns and interests overlap; why should we be excluding interested and invested parties from relevant conversation?
Even if an author is not explicitly invited, I think it’s cool if they show up to talk and interact. Authors and fans both like to talk about shared interests. I think everyone can get a lot out of those discussions. Honestly, if a discussion is not open to the author under discussion, I’d be suspicious of whether the intention (there’s that word again!) is truly to consider works with civility, and not just slam the author where they can’t defend themselves.
We’ve all seen those examples of “how not to behave as an author” when someone goes off the deep end in reaction to a courteous, if not glowing, review. I would like to think those fiascos are the exception rather than the rule, but that is going to happen from time to time, unless you specify clearly that authors are not welcome.
For some people that seems to be the assumption, but I don’t think it should be. I think the default should be that no one is excluded unless they’re behaving badly, and authors showing up at all doesn’t qualify as poor behavior. If you want your blog to be a space to slam work and authors without consequences, then it should be a closed space.
Personally, I would much rather have open discussions. I think fandom as a whole benefits from them — authors and reviewers included. Am I in the minority here?