Luna Station Quarterly is a speculative fiction magazine featuring stories by emerging women authors.
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Women on the Edge, Part 2

by Beth McCabe


With a little help from my friends, this column has been revisiting favorite authors from the ground-breaking days of women in spec lit. Here are two more.

Vonda N. McIntire

McIntire has garnered an impressive share of kudos and recognition for her work starting in the 1970s.

Her best known novel is probably the 1978 Dreamsnake, which won Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards.

The book is set on a post-apocalyptic earth. It is the story of a healer named Snake and her quest to replace Grass, her rare, beloved dreamsnake, an essential element in her healing ability.

My most loved

I tend to go for harder sci-fi, and McIntire does not disappoint. On my special bookshelf she was represented by:

  • Superluminal (1983), in which a young woman has her heart replaced with an artificial pump so that she can become an interstellar pilot.
  • The Exile Waiting, McIntire’s 1975 debut novel about a young mutant thief in a post-apocalyptic world.
  • Barbary (1986) is generally considered a YA novel, but that just makes me love it more. It’s a tale about a 12-year-old girl and her cat who move to a space station.

In an era when the most popular girls’ series featured well-scrubbed suburban baby sitters, McIntire shone at presenting courageous young women in challenging situations.

Other accomplishments

Pride of place on my bookshelf was held by the 1976 feminist sci-fi anthology Beyond Equality, co-edited by McIntyre, which includes the Nebula-winning “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” by James Tiptree, Jr., aka Alice Sheldon.

McIntire also wrote the novelizations for many of the Star Wars and Star Trek movies. And in reading her bio I discovered two fun things: she is a fellow Greater Seattleite, and she did graduate work in genetics.

McIntire’s work can be hard to find in print. Several of her books are available in audio format on Amazon, and like many of my recommendations from this period, they are good requests to make at your nearest used bookstore.

Tanith Lee

The great Tanith Lee, most likely known to LSQ readers, was a prolific British author of fantasy, sci-fi, and horror.

She penned over 90 novels, 300 short stories, and a variety of other works. Her first publication was The Dragon Hoard, a children’s book in 1971.

As widely known as her works are, I was surprised to find out that during the course of her career Lee often met with resistance from publishers.

Perhaps this was partly a result of the fact that Lee, like many of the authors I’ve been recollecting, often explored overtly feminist and sexual themes. That doesn’t sound so earth-shaking today, I know.

Sadly, Lee succumbed to breast cancer in 2015.

My fave

It’s difficult to find a consensus on Lee’s most successful and/or most popular work. But choosing my favorite is easy: The Silver Metal Lover (1981).

This is the story of Jane, a wealthy 16-year-old girl in an imaginary world who falls deeply in love with a silver-skinned android minstrel. Silver is more complex than the other robots, and Jane moves to the slums with him, giving up all her privileges for love.

As she does so she finds herself in a way that would never have happened in her prior life.

It’s a little sappier than most of my favorites, but then, I was a lot more sappy in my youth than I am in my cronedom. And–not that there’s anything wrong with romance novels–other issues are explored as well: the role of art in society. The haves vs. the have-nots.

Love and metal

Revisiting Silver got me thinking about the depiction of human-machine love in books, movies, and TV, and how it might differ in the eyes of male and female writers.

I asked my husband if he remembered any examples of this topic. He said, “Yeah. I remember how you wouldn’t shut up about the robot with the guitar.”

More about this next month, so stock up on Kleenex and WD40 .

 

 


Just One. . . or Twelve — Whichever

by Calee Jordan


Is “one and done” not a thing anymore?

No, I’m not talking about one-night stands. Get your minds out of the gutter. This is a fantasy/sci-fi blog after all, not romance. Although I must admit, there is a distinction is most notable among the three genres, a distinction that romance has barely touched. I’m talking about: the series.

Romance fans probably disagree since dozens of romantic series come to their minds. Yes, romances—particularly paranormal romances—have series, too; however, more often, romances have collections rather than series. The authors tell their stories of meeting “the one” in only one, rarely two, novels. The romantic collection is a series of stand-alone novels about a big loving family or close-knit friends. Penny Reid’s Knitting in the City and Lisa Kleypas have great friend collections that make readers feel part of the gang while offering differing perspectives—friend, lover, supporter–of beloved characters. Yet, R.L. Mathewson and Judith McNaught are queens of the family. Neighbors from Hell (Mathewson) and the Montgomery family (McNaught) finesse these family collections better than anyone. Every single–well, eligible–bachelor and bachelorette in the family deserves his/her novel with cameo appearances from previous novels’ characters.

A reader cannot skip a book within a series, but a reader never loses the plot in a romantic collection.

However, that’s not what sci-fi/fantasy series are. By series, I mean book after book after book with the same characters and conflict/issue that the protagonists steadily try to resolve. Sci-fi and fantasy genres have plots and problems too big to resolve in a single book. Each novel is a separate episode with a conflict, climax, and resolution that reveal more about the characters and locations, but the novel doesn’t resolve an overarching issue that drives the major plot, like a television show’s season.

In fact, I’ve read dozens of series that could not do their plots justice within one novel. The series has become the Netflix of the genres. They are long, action-packed stories with an overarching issue or conflict that cannot be resolved easily. Instead, the characters experience challenge after misadventure until the primary conflict is resolved. And each episode—oops, I mean book–has a beginning, conflict, and satisfying end that inches the protagonist a step closer to the bigger problem. These series are perfect for binge reading and hooking the reader.

Right?

Of course.

But are five, ten, twelve, twenty books necessary to finish a story? Ah, no, if the author eliminated all the subplots and story shifts. Here’s a litmus test to prove it:

Could s/he finish the real story plot within one book, two tops? Probably. Some books devote only portions of the book to the major conflict.

Couldn’t the other issues and challenges the protagonist faces in book after book be the next segment in his/her wild misadventures? So wouldn’t the slow march to the primary conflict and its inevitable conclusion be just a doughnut on a string leading readers around? Maybe authors worry their readers will lose interest after a conflict is resolved; however, I doubt it.  Readers (like TV watchers) can be loyal to great characters and will stick with the stories until the plot becomes formulaic or the characters no longer feel like familiar friends.

Do we need to trudge through her version of romance and ultimate marriage of two characters for three books only to trudge the exact romance and marriage from his perspective? No.

Do we need a cliffhanger at the end of the book when the issue is resolved within two chapters in the next book? No.

Are these drawn-out plots just the author’s cash grab? Well, $4.99 per book for twenty books adds up, and some authors increase the price as each book is released. One author, whom I will not name, began her series at $7.99 (for an e-book?!!), and thirteen books later, the final book is $14.99.

Is the protracted plot the reason these books are so appealing? Ah, well…yeah.

OK, I vented enough. Where’s that final book for $14.99


Weekly Wrap-Up: Week of February 11, 2019

by Anna O’Brien


Dearest readers! Welcome to the weekly wrap-up, where we showcase all the posts that have appeared on our blog this week.

  • On Monday, Erin Wagner sung the praise of the arguably speculative fiction musician Janelle Monae;
  • On Tuesday, Wendy Van Camp chatted with fantasy author Lauren Anne Hill;
  • On Wednesday, we posted another Issue 036 author interview, this time chatting with Sarah McGill about her story “Down Among the Fireweed“;
  • On Thursday, fitting for Valentine’s Day, Tracy Townsend delved beyond allocentric relationships in SFF in her column “A Place Where It Rains”;
  • On Friday, Lale Davidson’s cat has fine sci-fi TV taste and she gave us proof.

Cosmic Cat

by Lale Davidson


Science fiction appeals to creatures of all kinds. Daisy, an American Bobtail mixed breed cat, watches the opening of season three of The Expansebased on the novels by James S. A. Corey about a future where few have the privilege to still live on Earth, and where most of the population mines for water in an orbiting dust belt. Daisy is one of the smartest cats I’ve ever had the pleasure to live with, so if she likes something, you should pay attention.

I adopted Daisy from the local animal shelter when she was still nursing kittens. She was a teen mother. When not stalking birds and other unsuspecting prey, she follows me around the house indoors and out, jumping into the middle of whatever I’m doing and tilting her head quizzically as if to say, “Whatcha doing, Hooman?” She’s the only cat I know who can purr and growl simultaneously. She can be a bit of a bitch, which only intensifies her allure. She occasionally watches TV but has discerning tastes. It seems to run in the family, because her son, Merlin, who was adopted by a friend, also tries to catch the pictures. Cats were one of the few creatures H.P. Lovecraft loved, and he portrayed them as the walkers between worlds.


“Is This A Kissing Book?”: Beyond Allocentric Relationships

by Tracy Townsend


I was twelve years old when I first read Wendy and Richard Pini’s Elfquest graphic novels. Full of swords, sorcery, treachery, and turmoil, they had a lot to offer Wee Me, and while I can’t deny that I closely examined the two-page spreads of sexual encounters peppering the narrative, it was never really the romantic relationships that interested me most. I loved best the characters whose friendships reconstructed them into a kind of family. Give me Skywise and Cutter (lifelong friends) over Cutter and Leetah (eternal lifemates), any day. Give me the push-pull of resistance and respect between Strongbow and Cutter before the frenemy-fueled love affairs of the Wolfrider and Go-Back chiefs.

I understand now I was more engaged by the elves’ platonic relationships than their allocentric onces because even as a middle schooler, I was already living in a super-saturated romantic world. And I’d had enough of it. All kinds of media and social experiences told me it was my job to find a counterpart, to attempt a first kiss (and, importantly, to enjoy it, however sloppy and awkward it turned out to be), and to move the relationship along accordingly, pairing off continually until, eventually, I settled in with a long-term romantic partner. From the theater of the middle school dance and dramas of pre-teen dating to the valorization of romance even in the most innocuous-seeming entertainments, it was hard to escape the feeling that growing up required me to seek out a romantic partner.

Books across all genres often fall into that same trap. Characters transform from being friends to love interests (or sometimes merely sexual objects). Men and women are relentlessly “shipped” and authors lean into the will-they-or-won’t-they speculations they’ve stoked in their readers. Even relationships that are about deep, non-sexual bonds of trust and protection and hope tend to get muddied up in the hopes and needs of readers who long to see a relationship form to which they can relate (see any one of the hundreds of slash pairings of Frodo/Sam in the LOTR fandom). It makes sense, in a way. People project themselves and their desires onto characters. We see characters we love as extensions of ourselves. Seeing them have the kinds of relationships we want for ourselves can be deeply fulfilling.

Shipping has a funny way of ending up everywhere.

But what if you don’t want sexual relationships, or romance, or any of the shades between? What if you’re demisexual (demi), asexual (ace), or aromantic (aro)? (Or some combination of the above?) What if you’re simply tired of defaulting to one kind of love as the Gold Standard of storytelling?

And what if it just happens to be Valentine’s Day and you’re reading Luna Station Quarterly?

I’m taking advantage of this column being a holiday release to zero in on how we as writers can get beyond portraying love in terms of romantic or sexual relationships.

Today, we’re going to look at different kinds of love, with the help of my friend John Wiswell. John is an ace/aro science fiction author and an excellent source of perspective about what asexual, aromantic relationships can offer readers, when they’re written thoughtfully and well.

To dig into his perspective and what we need to think about as writers and readers, it helps to bear four critical things in mind.

1.) Ace and aro people really do exist. Like all people, they have their own particular needs in their relationships.

Based on extrapolations of existing survey data, approximately one percent of the United States population identifies as asexual, meaning that around 3.1 million Americans do not seek out or do not prefer sexual relationships as a form of intimacy. The data is a first step to acknowledging that sexual identity isn’t just a spectrum of whom one wants to pair off with, but a spectrum that includes not desiring such pairings in the first place. But the data alone aren’t enough to validate ace and aro people in the public consciousness.

“Mainstream culture has only recently come to accept that people can be gay,” John points out. “[A]nd there’s a fight to prove bisexuality exists. Much of that normalization rests on the idea that we all have sexual/romantic attraction, creating a common ground. The common ground is great for fighting certain prejudices! But it also can freeze us out. Resultantly we wind up with a bunch of relatives who are sure we “just haven’t met the right person yet” or are too picky. I’m picky about love in the way a person who’s allergic to a drug is picky. It’s just not for me.”

2.) Despite eschewing the physical elements of relationship-building, ace and aro people still can and do connect deeply with others.

“Every ace/aro person I’ve known has still had a wealth of emotion to invest,” John says. “They simply don’t invest them in traditional romantic relationships or sexual pursuits. Several of them, myself included, invest much of our energy in improving the lives of our friends. The passionate approach to friendship drives me to stay up past midnight when a friend is in emotional turmoil over a loss, or to go out and pitch in critiques or for fundraising efforts. In none of this do I seek much reciprocity, and no desire for an advancing of a relationship to another level. I might hope an individual recovers from addiction or leaves an abusive partner, but this doesn’t relate to the political standing of the friendship.”

3.) Clarity of language and purpose are at the heart of ace and aro representation.

All things should be possible in the world of fiction (arguably, especially so in speculative fiction). But succeeding in developing an ace or aro character and their relationships requires an extra layer of conscious intent. John reminds us that “authors [must be] willing to make it explicit in the text that passionate friendships are asexual and aromantic. Using the language will be part [of that]. So will not teasing the audience with needless tension, and not merely “queer coding” pairings.” Otherwise, we risk inviting our readers into assuming that the baked-in culture of coupling and pairing off will naturally take hold in these relationships, too.

John brings up the example of Frodo/Sam, observing, that “like most of the best ‘passionate friendships,’ [they] get shipped to high hell. Part of that is people being unable to look at two people that emotionally connected and not imagine boinking as a component. Another part, though, is the paucity of queer relationships in media.” Teasing readers by playing coy about characters’ desires only encourages misreadings, and puts readers who would like to explore relationship that don’t rely on traditional definitions of intimacy in a tight spot. “I try not to get into conflict over [shipping] because the shipping serves real emotional needs for others,” John admits. “But it does bother me, especially with how much media is already dominated by romantic coupling narratives.”

4.) Readers and writers can (and do) find aromantic, platonic, and queerplatonic character pairings emotionally rewarding.

As a creator and reader, John speaks to exactly this experience, unpacking the rewards of not writing to an allocentric default:

“One of the most rewarding things in my own fiction has been making deep emotional bonds more accessible. Romantic couples can have very powerful bonds. Yet narratives that make such couples both chief in the world and rare wind up sidelining every other kind of bond, and suggest you can’t have cathartic and powerful relationships elsewhere (maybe, maybe you’ll get a second lovely bond with Gandalf or Uncle Ben or your fairy godmother). When I write about falling into caring for neighbors, friends, and others, I feel the possibility space of human connection open up. It reassures me (and according to fanmail, my readers) that there is a broader spectrum of people we can connect with in profound ways. Whether that’s a haunted house looking after an old lady, or a deaf security guard bonding with a t-rex, or two ace/aro buddies hunting down a demon.”

This Valentine’s Day, consider how you can stretch yourself as a writer and dip into the wide array of friendship types fiction can explore. If you’ve ever loved reading (or creating) a Found Family, appreciated a solid Enemies to Friends turn, or simply loved the comfortable familiarity of a queerplatonic bond, you don’t need to be sold on the joys of love outside the pages of a kissing book. And if that idea is still new to you?

Well. Galentine’s Day doesn’t have to be the only way to subvert this holiday.


Issue 036 Author Interview: Sarah McGill and “Down Among the Fireweed”

by Jen Gheller


Our Issue 036, the Crones issue, is up and out and walking around with thirteen speculative fiction stories by women authors in its guts. Do go check it out, and pay close attention to Sarah McGill’s story “Down Among the Fireweed,” the subject of our interview today:

LSQ: The style of this piece reads almost like a long poem. Is this the sort of style you usually write in? What do you like about it?

Sarah: To write a story about a Jack o’ Lantern-type character, meeting the devil on the crossroads, and bad bargains, I needed a style that I hadn’t written in before. I wanted something that read like an old English ballad. When I read Greer Gilman’s Cloud and Ashes, which passes between prose and iambic pentameter – she describes it as “dissolved pentameter, half water and half ice” – I was completely taken by it. I love lush, almost impossible styles and Gilman’s is mythic, rooted, and ruddy. The rhymes and cadence give her stories an archaic, spell-like quality, which greatly influenced how I approached telling “Down Among the Fireweed.” If anyone’s telling this story, it’s Tom Scratch and this is how he’d tell it – with a focus on words, winter, and liminality.

LSQ: This issue’s theme is “crones.” Is there anything in particular that drew you to this topic?

Sarah: To me, the style of this story demanded bargains, cold roads at night, and crones. While Marjorie physically fills the role of ‘crone’, what’s more crone-ish about the story is the way it feels. This story is about death, witchcraft, isolation, and those who wait on dark forest paths. It’s also about people with the wisdom and experience to accept their mistakes and those who do not.  The idea of cronehood loomed over the story and worked its way in like hoarfrost in the earth.

LSQ: What was your favorite part about writing this story? What was the hardest part?

Sarah: The rhyming was both the hardest and my favorite part. This is not a straightforward style and sometimes I had to choose between imagery and clarity. I especially spent a lot of time reworking dialogue where I needed to convey a specific idea, retain the cadence, and end with a specific rhyme.

But I love what the rhymes allow me to convey. Each character has a rhyme: Tom’s is ‘scratch,’ Marjorie’s ‘weave,’ and Jack struggles to hold onto any particular rhyme, although he relies mostly on ‘chain.’ Characters use rhymes to control the conversation and as soon as a character uses another character’s rhyme, they’ve given in. Tom Scratch is a trickster and all about bargains and words, so the moment another character uses his rhyme, they’re in a lot of trouble. And since this story is all about words, Tom is always in control because this is his element. Jack’s rhyme is not nearly as strong and he lacks control all the way through. The rhymes also allowed me to surround a character with a set of words – like in film how characters are given musical themes that morph and break and reassemble. Marjorie in particular has a lot of lovely, witchy words – cleave, leave, deceive, sheaves.

LSQ: Are there any writers who have influenced your work?

Sarah: Greer Gilman, without who’s work I never would have found the right style and imagery for this story. Catherynne Valente, who’s work showed me how in fantasy an author can take an insubstantial idea – like the fear of death, the cyclical nature of time, and comfort – and crystallize them into physical objects or phenomena that can be touched and explored. And I would be remiss if I didn’t also name Rachel Swirsky, Sofia Samatar, Anne Carson, and Margo Lanagan.


Author Interview: Laurel Anne Hill

by Wendy Van Camp


Author Laurel Anne Hill is an award-winning author of science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, and horror. Many of her stories inspire readers to choose the way of worthiness. Laurel is a fellow Broad Universe member and costumer with whom I’ve shared many a rapid fire reading with.

Hello, I’m Laurel Anne Hill, author, and former underground storage tank operator. Really! My day job for many years included environmental health and safety at a pharmaceutical research and development facility. I grew up in San Francisco with more dreams of adventure than good sense or money. My close brushes with death, love of family, respect for honor, and belief in a higher power continue to influence my writing and my life. I’m blessed to have a loving husband and four wonderful children.

When and why did you begin writing?

I started writing before I could read. Stories created themselves within me and I’d tell them to my older sister and she’d write them down. I’d illustrate my tales with pictures from comic books and magazines. My sister loved to write her own stories, too. I admired her and still do.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

When I was very young, I don’t think I understood the concept of being a writer. At some point in elementary school, I knew writing was what I wanted to do. I had a story published in the children’s section of a major San Francisco newspaper when I was eleven years old. Then I knew I’d become a real writer. The story, “Nancy Saves the Day,” was horrid, or course. Heck, I didn’t know the conventions for creating quality prose. I still read the piece every once in a while, to laugh and remind myself of how far I’ve progressed.

Can you share a little about your current book, The Engine Woman’s Light, with us?

A mystical vision of an airship appears to fifteen-year-old Juanita in 1894. The long-dead captain commands her to prevent California’s thrown-away people—including young children—from boarding trains to an asylum. That institution’s director plots murder to reduce the inmate population.

Spirits watch over Juanita. But who is she? A mystic in love who holds life sacred? Or a ghost-possessed railroad-saboteur?

To save innocent lives Juanita must take lives of the corrupt. How can she reconcile her assignment with her belief in the sacredness of all human life? And will she survive to marry her betrothed?

Juanita sets out despite inner trepidation to sabotage the railroad. Her ancestor, Billy, guides her. Then bit by bit, she discovers the gut-wrenching truths all of her dead family neglected to reveal.

Come visit Juanita’s world—an alternate nineteenth-century California—where spirits meet steampunk, where both love and anger emanate from beyond the grave.

What inspired you to write this book?

In the early 1990s, I had a dream about an elderly woman riding a train. The train headed toward a disreputable asylum where inmates died of neglect or even by euthanasia. The attendant placed an abandoned baby in a basket on the adjacent seat. The woman realized the baby was her great-granddaughter and escaped the train. With a broken foot, she carried the infant many miles. This dream became the basis of a short story, never published.

Where had the dream come from?

First of all, when I was a teen in the 1950s, my beloved maternal Swedish grandmother had paid the hospital bill for the birth of one of my sister’s sons. The bill had cost Grandma much of what she’d possessed. Grandma died in 1989. In the early 1990s, my memories of her remained close.

Next, a month before I birthed my daughter in 1979, I’d fallen and broken my foot as I left work in San Francisco. My husband, David, had expected to meet me on the other side of the bay. Cell phones as we now know them didn’t exist. I hadn’t wanted to worry David by not showing up when expected. I’d walked on a broken foot, taken public transportation, and traveled thirty miles to reach the train station near our home.

Third, and quite important, before I’d married David, I’d worked for him in a hospital laboratory. The hospital performed lots of abortions, including many late term. I’d believed in the right to choose, and still do. Yet stacks of plastic specimen containers containing pickled babies left a sour taste in my mouth. After all, I’d hoped to birth a child of my own someday.

That fateful night of dreaming, my pro-choice beliefs had gone head-to-head with a pro-life type visualization. In the story that emerged, a woman who’d married into a Mexican family declared her own opinions. I had no choice but to accept her challenge to tell the tale of the baby she saved. Only years later did I discover the inspiration and tragedy associated with my paternal Mexican great-grandmother’s life. I’d never met her. She’d died over twenty years before I’d been born.

Do you have a specific writing style?

My stories tend to be plot driven, although I try to stay close to my point-of-view characters. I like to “show” rather than “tell” whenever I can.

How did you come up with the title of this book?

I’d gone through a number of potential titles during the writing process. When I sent my manuscript to Sand Hill Review Press, I’d entitled the novel “Woman of the Light.” That title hadn’t worked for the editor, so I chose The Engine Woman’s Light.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

What we do can make a difference in the world.

Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

Some experiences are based on events in my own life, as explained above. Also, I’ve hiked, camped, run rapids, ridden horseback, and operated a steam locomotive.

What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?

I love the work of many authors, such as Neil Gaiman and Graham Joyce. I think, however, the work of children’s authors have had the biggest impact on my life. For example, Elizabeth Foster, author of Gigi: The Story of a Merry-Go-Round Horse, showed me the magic created when blending imagination with the reality of world conditions and history.

If you had to choose, is there a writer you consider a mentor? Why?

My mentor is Charlotte Cook, a writer, editor, and dear friend. She has the ability to read a story and determine with ease what makes the piece work and what doesn’t.

Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?

Julie Dillon, winner of the Hugo and Chesley awards, designed the cover of The Engine Woman’s Light. I love the vibrancy of her art and her breathtaking ability to portray diverse women protagonists.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

If you love a story that’s not working, don’t give up on it. Put it away for a while then take a fresh look. Read each page, then ask yourself if the text invites a reader to turn the page, and why?

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Thank you for reading my work! All the characters living in my head thank you as well.

Laurel Anne Hill
Orinda, California

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Cover Artist: Julie Dillon
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“Electric Ladies”: Janelle Monae

by Erin K. Wagner


Sometimes, when the winter skies are gray and you need some cheering up, a music video is just the ticket. And Janelle Monae—spiritual heir to Prince and acclaimed musician—is a speculative artist who can cheer you up and make you think all in one catchy beat. Most recently, her music video “Pynk” has made waves for its unabashed embrace of all things—or one very particular thing—woman. But the larger album, Dirty Computer, is accompanied by an extended “emotion video,” which, as Aja Romano of Vox explains, brings Monae’s examination and revisioning of classic science-fiction narrative “to a head.”

Monae is fascinated by the body of speculative fiction, especially that of Philip K. Dick (her music videos feature locales such as the Electric Sheep nightclub and one of her many acting gigs has been in the anthology series based on Dick’s work, Electric Dreams). She argues that the “android represents the new ‘other’.” As such, her android characters (including her own persona of Cindi Mayweather) fight against rigid and stifling Bladerunner-esque societies. They weather, as it were, oppression to emerge triumphant with music and dance (again, the Vox article is a fascinating analysis of the cumulative narrative of her work). This call to rebel is grounded in the explicit rhetoric of race, gender, and sexuality as Monae navigates the dystopian landscape of contemporary privilege. This privilege extends to the male-centric visions of Dick. Monae’s lyrics free android women from male gaze and male control: “Will you be electric sheep? / Electric ladies, will you sleep? / Or will you preach?”

Before you check out the 48-minute-long emotion video—the word itself overlaying the often male-dominated field of motion pictures with a term typically denigrated as feminine—check out these videos and brighten your day.

Q.U.E.E.N.: Enemies of the state who dared to use music as a weapon are frozen in a museum where they are on display for gawking tourists. But they won’t stay trapped for long. In a possible reference to Shakespeare, Monae sings “I heard this life is just a play with no rehearsal.” Which calls to mind another Shakespearean quote: “If music be the food of love, play on” (Twelfth Night).

Tightrope: Questioning the mental health establishment, Monae advocates dance as magic, a cure for what ails you.

Many Moons: The video depicts an android auction, an eerily-upscale version of a slave auction, at which Cindi Mayweather is performing. The lyrics make frequent references to America’s own dark history of slavery and its consequences. A title screen at the end reimagines Mayweather as an abolitionist leading slaves to freedom: “I imagined many moons in the sky lighting the way to freedom.”

Primetime: Janelle Monae plays the manager of the Electric Sheep nightclub, where she must navigate her own romance while fighting off the untoward advances of older white men who have gathered to watch the android dancers.

As a whole, Monae’s work seeks to elevate women of color and to expand and complicate what it means to be a woman at all. She uses classic sci-fi tropes as an effective means by which to do so, uncovering many of the white and masculine assumptions we so often take for granted. The lyrics of “Django Jane” boil much of this criticism down into one song with a plethora of references to the industry of Hollywood, the title itself an implicit criticism of less-successful rewritings of history. As Monae argues in the song, “We gave you life, we gave you birth / We gave you God, we gave you Earth, /We fem the future…”

 


Weekly Wrap-Up: Week of February 4, 2019

by Anna O’Brien


Oh, what a week. Just, like, in general. How about a brief look at all the wonderful content we featured on our blog since Monday to get you into smiley shape for the weekend? Here you go:

  • On Monday, we featured our monthly LSQ news flash to get you the latest on what’s coming up;
  • On Tuesday, we had a double header: first, Jen Gheller shared a new NetFlix animated series she’s enjoying and then later in the afternoon we featured an Issue 036 author interview with Stuti Telidevara about her story, “The Last Evening at Prosperity“;
  • On Wednesday, Tisdale Flannery continued her quest in exploring Tarot and applying its lessons to the writing life in her column “Tea with Strangers”;
  • On Thursday, Jacqui Lipton dug into the topic of morality clauses and why writers should be aware of them in her column “On the Books”;
  • On Friday, Cathrin Hagey provided some great fairy tale examples of literary alchemy in her column “What’s in a Fairy Tale?”

Literary Alchemy

by Cathrin Hagey


fairy talesI admire British actress Keira Knightley. She’s talented, intelligent, and independent-minded. Now that she’s a mother, Ms. Knightley has given some thought to the influence of fairy tales on our children, particularly our daughters. In the fall of 2018, during an interview on Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show, she admitted to banning the Disney films Cinderella and The Little Mermaid from her daughter’s view. Cue the media shit storm.

It’s easy to pile on Disney for its corruption/sanitizing of tales as old as time, but the question underlying the brouhaha is this: What, if any, value will fairy tales have in a post-misogynistic world? (Yes, we are getting there.) Before answering this question, we need to answer an even more basic one: What is a fairy tale?

Fairy tales are the purest and simplest expression of collective unconscious psychic processes. (Marie-Louise von Franz, The Interpretation of Fairy Tales)


Shape-shifting is one of the fairy tale’s dominant and characteristic wonders . . . More so than the presence of fairies, the moral function, the imagined antiquity and oral anonymity of the ultimate source, and the happy ending (though all these factors help towards a definition of the genre), metamorphosis defines the tale. (Marina Warner, From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers)


Let me state this plainly: Intuitively, after working with them for so long, I know what a fairy tale is. Can I easily define it for you? No, I cannot . . . I am not going to give a neat, pat answer since I don’t think one exists. Scholars like to look for a pat definition to help control the large, living body of tales found all around the world. (Heidi Anne Heiner, Surlalunefairytales.com)


So: instead of looking at how fairy tales have been disparaged, let’s celebrate their form. To do this I’d like to focus on four elements of traditional fairy tales: flatness, abstraction, intuitive logic, and normalized magic. (Kate Bernheimer, “Fairy Tale is Form, Form is Fairy Tale“)

 

Psychic processes, metamorphosis, intuitive, hard to pin down, flat, abstract, magical. If I didn’t literary alchemyalready have a notion of what a fairy tale is, I would feel as if I’d been shot ashore by a rogue wave. Most attempts to define fairy tale are necessarily too broad or too narrow. J. R. R. Tolkien’s most widely read essay, “On Fairy Stories,” takes nearly thirty pages of dense text in the heroic struggle to pin their wild wings, once and for all.

So many scholarly minds grapple with fairy tales for a simple reason: they wield power. So, the next question becomes: From whence this power? Many fairy tales, particularly “Cinderella,” and “Beauty and the Beast,” have been revving our engines for hundreds (some say thousands) of years. But why?

John Granger, the so-called “Dean of Harry Potter Scholars,” has written popular and highly readable books about J. K. Rowling’s authorial wizardry, with particular attention to her use of literary alchemy: the application of certain alchemical principles to storytelling.

We first see that the [Harry Potter] books are largely about the resolution of contraries, especially the battle between the hot and dry Gryffindors up in their tower and the cold and moist Slytherins in the dungeons beneath the lake. Harry’s adventures are about his transcending this polarity, marrying the contraries, which purification happens in, you guessed it, a black and a white and a red stage. Every book and the series as a whole come with a complete set.

In the individual books, the black stage, or nigredo, is almost always launched on Privet Drive, where Harry is treated horribly and, at least in Philosopher’s Stone, lives in a cupboard under the stairs. The work of breaking Harry down continues each year when he gets to Hogwarts and Severus Snape takes over, a black figure if there ever was one. But Hogwarts is the home of Albus Dumbledore, whose first name means “white,” and Hogwarts, the “white house” if you will, is where Harry is purified of the failing identified at the Dursleys as he and the Quarreling Couple solve that year’s mystery. The understanding he gains through these trials is revealed in the book’s crisis, the confrontation with the bad guys, in which he always dies a figurative death and is reborn. From Privet Drive to his chat with Dumbledore at book’s end, Harry is always purified and transformed. (John Granger, “Literary Alchemy via ‘Harry Potter’–An Introduction“)

John Patrick Pazdziora, a writer, editor, literary critic (and an admirer of Granger’s theories about literary alchemy), has taken notions about alchemical storytelling and used them to analyze “Cinderella.(This hyperlinked version is based on D. H. Ashliman’s 1812 translation. It is pertinent to note that it’s impossible to know for sure how many versions of this tale exist worldwide. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why comments such as Ms. Knightley’s stir controversy–we don’t all have the same ideas about what constitutes “Cinderella” in the first place.)

According to Pazdziora, the tale “follows a structure basic to Western narratives of redemption and spiritual purification: it is told on a threefold alchemic structure. ‘Cinderella,’ in other words, is an alchemic tale, a quest for immortality.” This structure begins in the nigredo (black) phase, whereby Cinderella is virtually stripped of her identity. She is abused, degraded, nearly starved. Even her name has been dipped in ash (“Cinder” having been added to “Ella”).

Peck, peck, peck, peck, it went as fast as if twelve hands were at work. When they were finished, the pigeons said, “Cinderella, would you like to go dancing at the ball?”

“Oh, my goodness,” she said, “how could I go in these dirty clothes?”

“Just go to the little tree on your mother’s grave, shake it, and wish yourself some beautiful clothes. But come back before midnight.”

So Cinderella went and shook the little tree, and said:
Shake yourself, shake yourself, little tree.
Throw some nice clothing down to me!

She had scarcely spoken these words when a splendid silver dress fell down before her. With it were pearls, silk stockings with silver decorations, silver slippers, and everything else that she needed. Cinderella carried it all home. After she had washed herself and put on the beautiful clothing, she was as beautiful as a rose washed in dew.

rubedoIn the albedo (white or silver) phase, Cinderella undergoes purification. In the passage above, she is rinsed with water and clothed in silver and white, to become “as beautiful as a rose washed in dew.” The red rose embedded in this bright scene hints at the next phase.

After the ball and the flight home by midnight, the rubedo (red) phase begins. In this case, it is more than figurative.

Then the oldest one went to her bedroom and tried on the slipper. The front of her foot went in, but her heel was too large, so she took the knife and cut part of it off, so she could force her foot into the slipper. Then she went out to the prince, and when he saw that she was wearing the slipper, he said that she was to be his bride. He escorted her to his carriage and was going to drive away with her. When he arrived at the gate, the two pigeons were perched above, and they called out:

Rook di goo, rook di goo!
There’s blood in the shoe.
The shoe is too tight,
This bride is not right!

The prince bent over and looked at the slipper. Blood was streaming from it. He saw that he had been deceived, and he took the false bride back.

The second stepsister took it a step further and cut off most of her toes! But the pigeons alerted him once more. Of course, we know that the prince then finds his true bride. He and Cinderella enter the final, golden phase, when they are married and live together in wealth and comfort.

As John Pazdziora states, the black-to-white-to-red-to-gold transformation is only one way of analyzing the text. There are many ideas about the structure of story, what works and what doesn’t. Given the staying power of “Cinderella,” it clearly has nothing to prove. As an example of literary alchemy, it has distinct phase boundaries and even actively displays the phase colors.

In the end, great stories transform our leaden souls into gold as we read, no matter who we are. “Cinderella” does this better than most. In a post-misogynistic age, rather than ban popular fairy tales, we should encourage everyone, no matter their gender, to partake.


First Image Credit: British Public Library, Flickr Commons
Second Image Credit: Prawny at pixabay.com
Third Image Credit: melkhagelslag at pixabay.com