julieandrews: (manga)
I didn't catch it the first time I watched the Neil Gaiman episode, but I did catch it the second time and said something about it on Facebook. The captions actually didn't catch it. It says '-----class'. At least the ones that aired on BBCA the first time it was shown.

This month's Ansible says:

"Neil Gaiman's Doctor Who episode 'A Nightmare in Silver' (11 May) includes a dialogue homage to Ursula Le Guin, or perhaps Orson Scott Card.... About nine minutes in, a character is heard to say: 'It can't be broken – it's a solid state ansible-class communicator!' [NG]"

Does authorial intent matter here? Is it an homage to OSC if Gaiman thought it was an homage to OSC? Standing all by its lonesome, without getting into Gaiman's head (or perhaps someone else's, if he wasn't responsible for that bit of technobabble), isn't it a shout-out to Le Guin?

OSC doesn't get to claim credit for the ansible. He just doesn't. Well, and the fact is he doesn't. He's on the record somewhere or other as identifying his source.

So people don't get to claim credit on his behalf either.
julieandrews: (Default)
I'm reading "The Wave in the Mind", a collection of talks and essays by Ursula K. Le Guin. In "The Question I Get Asked Most Often", she talks about ideas and the idea of 'idea' and influences or lack of influences and lots of stuff to chew on.

I came up with what my answer would be to 'Where Do You Get Your Ideas?' I figured I'd answer 'Books.' and leave it at that. And then the next time I was asked, I would answer 'Television.' And so on and so on.

Of course this also turned out to be one of her answers:

Where do you get your ideas from? From books, of course, from other people's books, what are books for? If I didn't read how could I write?

We writers all stand on each other's shoulders, we all use each other's ideas and skills and plots and secrets.

Naturally this also comes on the heels of me reading a bunch of other essays, including "Unquestioned Assumptions" wherein she discussed writers and works that assume the reader is white, male, straight, Christian. And also on the heels of Wiscon, where all this sort of stuff is on the tops of everyone's minds and the tips of most people's tongues.

So it occurred to me, or at least it occurred to the conscious part of my brain, that the only way to write non-white, non-male, non-straight characters is to read more of them. And I'm pretty good about reading the last two, but not so good on the first one. I'm getting better.

So I'm going to read more, but not stop trying to write non-white characters in the meanwhile.

I know a lot of you are going to reply, or at least think, 'duh'. So I'm not saying this is anything profound. Just thought I should write it down. Maybe others will get some use out of it. At the least, it'll be here to remind myself if I need reminding.

(Also need to read more good female characters so I can write more female characters that interest me. Which is not the same thing as non-male.)
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I just finished reading the last book in Ursula K. Le Guin's Annals of the Western Shore series. Well, last published one. I don't know if she plans more.

Some spoilers for the entire series will follow, but I'm not going to bother with a cut tag.

Taken as a whole, the series seems to me to be about two themes. One, slavery in several different forms and two, reading and knowledge.

I think when Americans think of slavery, the first thing that comes to mind is blacks working on Southern plantations. And if we think a bit harder, we might come up with examples from the Bible and Moses leading Egyptian slaves to freedom. And maybe that will lead us to think of Roman slavery. But it probably pretty much ends there. (Or, if we're geeky Americans like myself, we might think of the Tenctonese.) So the books provide for us a different way, actually several different ways, of looking at slavery. And it's even hard for me to explain the different types in each book in a succinct fashion, because Le Guin has done such a great job of creating a number of different rich societies in these books. You might call the first serfs, the second book an occupied city, and the third book something that comes closest to the history of US slavery. But they're all more complicated than that and tied to the notions of family.

As for the reading, that just touches my geeky little heart. And I imagine for any nongeeks who might pick this up, it'll at least touch their bookwormy heart, which is a close relative. The main character in the first book learns to read from his mother, while the rest of the community around him is illiterate and uninterested. The character in the second book, her city is occupied by soldiers to whom books are evil and have been worse than banned, but she learns in secret from the city's hidden cache of books. And the character in the third is living in a literate society in a family who believes in educating everyone, including the slaves. And he is meant to grow up to be the teacher of the next generation of the family's children and young slaves. So you've got an instant bond with all these main characters, as well as stories and knowledge continuing to be a theme throughout all the books.

I liked all the main characters quite well. The second book is the one with a female main character, though, and I ended up rather disappointed by the end of it. One of the problems with first person narration is that your main character needs to be there for everything important, or you'll be reporting things secondhand. And there were a number of times this happened in the book. It wouldn't have been true to the character, perhaps, to have been there as witness, but it was rather annoying to me as a reader to hear her talking about how she heard about this. It put me at a remove, and it took her out of the action. And I just find it particularly problematic because she's the only female lead in any of these books. She's not exactly passive, but the character from the first book who's coming over into this one seems to be playing more of a role in some of the crucial bits. If it wasn't Le Guin, I'd probably be a bit harsher in my criticism, but I do cut her some slack. I have to think she knew what she was doing.. but I just can't figure out why.

Another odd thing that struck me was skin color. In the first book, I didn't notice much reference to skin color. Was it me not noticing? Not caring? Or was it less of a big deal in that book in particular.. with the next two characters caring about their lineage and appearance a lot more? Did it have something to do with the cover? Because the editions I read, the first cover looked like this. Two small silhouettes. Whereas the next two books looked like this (a closeup of a young black woman) and this (a similar closeup of a black teen boy). No way a white reader can comfortably pretend to not know what color the main character (and everyone else) is.

I noticed that the newer edition of the first book looks like this (a closeup but with dark hair obscuring more than half the face). This leads me to the conclusion that the publisher wanted all the books to look alike once they had a series on their hands. But that first cover is still odd. You can't see his face. And I couldn't tell you what color he is.

Is this meant to sucker in the white readers? Hey, look, here's a cool book. Oh, now you liked that book? Then you won't mind we put a black girl on the next one, right?

What's going on here exactly?

Me, personally, while I love Memer's hair, it's the cover of the third book that appeals to me the most. Though.. on further thought, it's probably the second book that would stand out the most on a shelf and is probably the one I noticed first. Not that I read them on the basis of the covers, but because I knew they were new Le Guin YA fantasies.

Covers aside, let me conclude this post by highly recommending this series to anyone who likes fantasy, regardless of age. You're allowed to get books out of the YA section, honestly you are. And they're not all about teenage vampire angst. (Though some of them are good too.)

And if you haven't read any Le Guin, well, then.. as good a place to start as any, just so long as you do start!


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May 2014

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