‘A Gathering of Shadows’ – Review

Before I officially start this review I’d like to take a moment to feel bad about myself! It’s been so long since I posted anything on here, mostly due to university deadlines and desperately trying to finish my dissertation (I wrote SF, surprise, surprise). Thankfully though, this means I’m done with uni reading for the summer (until I start the dreaded MA) so I can get to reading some stuff I actually want to read! Including some of the works on my 2017 Must Read list. Prepare for spoilers ahead!

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My magical book with my magical things

I managed to read VE Schwab’s A Gathering of Shadows one of the books on my list, the second in the Shades of Magic series that are absolutely brilliant. This installment in the series followed the characters (plus one quirky addition as per) battling through a magical tournament that brings together three kingdoms. Sounds a little Goblet of Fire doesn’t it? In fact it even ends with the evil in the series rekindling in full force. Despite this fantasy deja vu, it was still a very fun read. Though the tournament did little to move the plot along in itself it offered a great look at the magical world Schwab created, opening up the story to more kingdoms, and a more detailed look at the worlds magic. It also introduced an emotionally complicated and relevant (in that it made the plot interesting not it was just thrown in for the sake of it) LGBT story line, revealing one of the characters to be bisexual, so yeah, this was basically Christmas for me.

I’d like to say that I wish more had happened, as the plot didn’t move on much, but who doesn’t love a good magic tournament? People were fighting with magic!! Schwab more than made up for the lull in the series with some action packed fight scenes that were so entertaining I couldn’t put it down!! I sped through it, and was left with a cliffhanger that essentially crushed me, thankfully, the third book had just come out so I went right out and bought it. I’d like to try and make a bit more sense with this review, maybe critique the text a little more, but this was the first book I read after finishing my uni reading list and that basically made it the best book ever for me. This series might not challenge the reader in the same way A Song of Ice and Fire, but it is genuinely enjoyable, exciting fantasy and frankly half of why I read genre fiction is just for plain fun!

‘I, Robot’ – Review

I have never read any of Asimov’s work prior to reading I, Robot. But now I have collected Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation, as well as The Bicentennial Man and I’m slowly collecting the rest of his robot novels, but only in copies 17586932_1912233089006072_3997068153896042496_nI like so it’s a slow process. Essentially, what I’m trying to say is that I, Robot was incredible.

Each story was something beautiful on its own, but what I really loved was the framing narrative. Each story came about as part of an interview with Susan Calvin, the robopsychologist who was recounting a history of trying to perfect robotics. With her calculating, scientific eye the stories became something wondrous and life altering, not just simple tales of robots. Basically, my outlook on robots has been completely changed.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

My two favourite stories were ‘Robbie’ and ‘Reason’ and I’m about to tell you why so buckle up kids. ‘Robbie’ is the story of a young girl who becomes too attached to her robot playmate Robbie resulting in her parents taking Robbie away and trying to distract her. This doesn’t work, obviously, and it ends with her father pulling a huge stunt to reunite them and prove to the overbearing mother that Robbie is actually great at protecting her daughter due to the three laws of robotics. This story got me because I suppose it’s what some would call “soft science fiction” in that it takes a social view rather than a scientific one. It also looks at the effects of robots in the home on young

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This guy lives at my local pancake house, I go there to see him.

children, much like Channel 4’s Humans which is one of my favourite shows of all time. I quite like soft science fiction, it’s all well and good to look at the facts, but what use are facts if they don’t have some sort of repercussion on the humans studying them. The soft SF angle was such a good way to start off the collection and it really got me pumped to read the rest.

 

‘Reason’ was f*cking brilliant. I’m not sorry for being rude, it altered my entire life view. No one really warned me that Asimov was going to have such an impact. In ‘Reason’ Cutie the robot doesn’t believe that the humans could possibly have made them, as they’re clearly the superior species. Cutie then creates a Robot Cult, leading all the other robots in their religious beliefs and essentially keep the humans from doing anything. But the thing is, their religious beliefs don’t interfere with their programming, they still do their jobs perfectly and it’s not really hurting anyone. So basically, everyone’s like “f*ck it” and just leaves them to it. Because robots are tools. And if they function then nothing’s wrong. But also why would religion ever get in the way of a good job being done. There’s so many layers to this story, I love it. I love this whole book and mostly I love it because of it’s approach to robots, primarily through the three laws of robotics.

The Three Laws of Robotics are genius.

  1. A robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
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Doctor Who’s getting scary again I love it

Seems foolproof, right? Haha, hell no, the entire collection is basically the rules hindering what robots can do and making them difficult to work with, and it gets to the point where you’re wondering, why bother? There is a story where the first law is only slightly tweaked to prevent the robots constantly stopping humans doing necessary, dangerous work. And all hell breaks loose. Essentially, Asimov isn’t saying robots are the problem, he’s saying humans are responsible for anything and everything their tools do. And this is still something that’s argued today, for those of you who watched the most recent Doctor Who episode Smile it is very similar to Asimov’s robots, basically any problem in the robot, is a problem caused by something beyond the robot’s control (The ending undermines this a bit, but my complaints about Doctor Who really should be a whole separate post).

 

‘The Martian’ – Review

Due to some stupidity on my part I somehow managed to destroy my original review, so here’s the revised edition. Sorry folks!

Recently I find myself wanting to be part of a crowd surrounding TVs in a shop window waiting to hear about the astronauts travels. But that feeling, the feeling of watching a historical moment on a screen with your heart racing is exactly how it feels to read The Martian. There were several points where I think I stopped breathing! It’s been a while since I’ve been so excited by a book!

img_1325Weir has a gift for storytelling. At the beginning of the book I was intimidated, my lack of scientific knowledge was glaringly obvious, but the talkative tone of the diary entries kept by Watney (The Martian himself) are full of explanation in a way that doesn’t feel forced or patronising. I feel significantly smarter coming out the end of this book. The first half, was a little slow because of the amount of explanation needed, but it was by no means boring, the second half is where the book really started to pick up. Each new page seemed to hike up the tension of the text. It was very much an “anything that can go wrong will go wrong” sort of text, to the point where if something went right I felt mistrustful and scared. Imagine how stressed a man stranded on Mars would feel if it distressed me just reading about it.

The night I finished the book though, I heard the news about SpaceX successfully relaunching and re-landing a used Falcon 9 Rocket, and my mind was completely blown. The reuse of a rocket is half of what is needed to make space travel affordable, and essentially make The Martian possible. When I heard about this massive leap forward I sped through the second half of the book hungry for a story that could suddenly become reality. 

My weird science fangirling aside, this book was absolutely incredible, and the film was incredible too! I don’t usually go in much for film adaptations, whilst they’re good fun Hollywood always seems to miss something important (or at least something found important) from the book. However, the film of The Martian was hilarious, and just as exciting as the book. It even made me like Matt Damon who I previously wasn’t a big fan of. But anyway, to finish it off, here’s me face-swapped with Matt Damon to prove how dedicated I am to this book:

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Yup.

I recently had a friend tell me that his next book is going to be about aliens and faster than light space travel! I’ll be very excited to eventually read it and review it here, bring on the aliens, Weir.

‘The Last Gasp’ – Book/Event Review

Before I launch into this review I want to make a quick apology about my lack of posts recently. I’ve been (thankfully) finishing my dissertation and getting it all handed in. For those of you that don’t know I’m a creative writing student and I actually submitted an SF story for my dissertation project and it was so much fun to write, and the book I’m about to review is something I picked up through my dissertation research.

Okay so now the admin’s out the way, onto the book! I recently read The Last Gasp by Trevor Hoyle, an SF eco-disaster in which the oxygen of the planet slowly depletes due to pollution and industrialisation. It was a very interesting read, but, sadly, not a very gripping read in terms of style. The actual text was a little heavy on the science for my tastes, I much prefer character driven books, but that’s my own personal quirk, and if you love science then you will love this book.

img_1229The story follows marine biologist Gavin Chase as he discovers the slow death of phytoplankton – the plant responsible for almost 80% of the planet’s oxygen. The text jumps through years quite quickly, starting in the 1990’s going all the way to the 2200’s but unfortunately each section seemed to end and jump just as it got interesting? I wanted to see the collapse of civilisation, the desperate evacuation of over polluted cities, the general self-destruction of man. Maybe I’m a little dark in that sense, but that’s what I find interesting in SF, I like seeing the worst possible outcome, but every time he got to those interesting parts Hoyle jumped fifteen years into the future after all the drama had settled down. As well as this he seemed to focus mostly on the politics of the situation, it was full of UN meetings, government funded operations, and Cold War references, when really I wanted to see some people choke on their aspirations (I might actually be as sadistic as Darth Vader, who knows). In general this was quite disappointing, it seemed to me like Hoyle simply lacked the imagination to write what could have been an exciting novel. That might be a little harsh of me but I got into SF because the thought of being attacked by a triffid made my heart race, this book was about as exciting as nipping out to buy milk, which is probably why it took me a month to read.

That being said I do think the actual premise of the book was great. Though the story itself was not that impressive, the general message of the text was an interesting one. Hoyle essentially tries to get out a terrifying message: we’re killing the planet and we need to stop. A message that I, personally, find very relevant and terrifying, hence why most of my pictures of it have alcohol in, it’s difficult to face up to without a drink! Even though this book was alright, if a bit boring, I still decided to attend Hoyle’s York Literature Festival event, and hear him talk about the book.

img_1295About eight people attended this event and I was the youngest person there, but I’ve been the youngest person at many events I’ve attended since I was old enough to attend events without my mom having to take me, as I’m probably a secret grandma. The event was a the typical, casual talk about the book and the process and the themes, but what really blew me away was something I hadn’t known before entering the event; The Last Gasp has been republished! I had read the much older version but a couple years ago it was rewritten to be up to date (not realising what major events would take place shortly after). Now this rattled me a little and I couldn’t figure out why until I mused upon it a little more later on. If a book is good, it doesn’t need to be rewritten! It should stand the test of time, and if it doesn’t maybe just write a whole new one! As well as getting my book signed and finding out exactly what Hoyle would have voted in the American election, he also told a great little story about the time he met Philip K Dick, which was, sadly, the highlight of the show.

 

Gender in SF – Bodies, Fashion, and Ex Machina

So here comes my late blog post on gender in SF, particularly in relation to robots. As I have posted about previously I’ve recently attended an informal robots discussion group at my university, and attended a talk on bisexuality in SF for LGBT history month. Both ended with discussing gender performance, and how robots have a gender performance.

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Metropolis (Those are not normal breasts)

First of all, there is the question that many feminist fans of SF have probably screamed internally: why do robots have breasts?! It wasn’t something I’d really voiced to anyone until a friend sent me a buzzfeed article on the subject, and my boyfriend defended these sexualised robots quite passionately. I shouldn’t have been surprised really, who doesn’t love looking at a pretty woman, but literally objectifying the sexual aspects of the female body is not a great road to go down. I tentatively brought the subject up again when the robot from Metropolis turned up in a TV show I was watching with my parents. I called her “the robot with the weird boobs” as, really, all robots with boobs are freaking weird, and my father replied a little defensively. Even though, as breasts go, they are weird, my father seemed to think they were perfectly normal. So what is this about? Why is it so “normal” for robots to have breasts? She doesn’t have a vagina, or a womb (obviously the actress in the costume does, but the character does not), she has no nipples to feed young nothing really makes her female aside from her breasts – and possibly a slight hourglass curve to her figure. But to me all this says is: it’s the breasts that make the woman.

*Ex Machina Spoilers Coming Up*

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Ex Machina (still no normal breasts)

One of my all time favourite films Ex Machina goes one step further with the robot Ava and actually make her a vagina. The scene discussing her vagina is downright awkward. Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is asking Nathan (Oscar Isaac) why make Ava perform a gender at all, which is a perfectly valid question. Nathan takes the question and warps it to some creepy masculine fantasy and, rather than saying why she performs gender, simply explains that Ava has a vagina with pleasure receptors so that you can fuck her and she will enjoy it. I love this scene for so many reasons. First of all, it’s uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable, from what I’ve seen, mostly for men. It’s almost like a secret fetish Caleb (the everyman of the story) has is being outed and laughed at, but also encouraged. This whole scene is really a great look at why we create female robots, and quite frankly, it’s to fuck them. The scene is honest, uncomfortable, and it’s right to be so. Secondly, I love the idea that Nathan is insisting she will enjoy the sex. It’s oddly reminiscent of a hyper-masculine, basically unskilled sexual partner asking a woman how many times she came. He has boasted of creating an AI with a personality, likes and dislikes, but still believes that as a woman she will always enjoy sexual activity just because her body allows her to. Really, this film blows my mind and I really should have written my dissertation on it but too late now!

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Manic Pixie Dream Robot

As well as the (useless) sex organs given to Ava she also tries to genuinely perform femininity through her clothes. There is an unnerving scene where she surprises Caleb by wearing female clothes, but nothing is particularly sexual about her outfit. She wears a fairly plain dress, a cardigan, and even puts on a wig of short pixie-cut hair. Essentially, she’s performing a very specific, tired trope, the girl next door. She is not hypersexualised, she is attainable, not intimidating, is just one of the guys but is completely willing to take a submissive role to whatever cute, nerdy, awkward boy comes her way, no matter how needy or creepy he is. But this is made even more interesting by the fact she uses this performance to trick Caleb and to gain her freedom. Before freeing herself, she changes her appearance entirely, she has longer, lighter hair, every mechanised part of her is completely covered, and she is in a lovely

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You go girl, leave that fuckboy to starve.

white dress. I have been debating with myself whether or not this second performance of Ava’s is more authentic than her manic pixie dream girl outfit, but she is still using this look for an agenda. She wants to fit in with the humans, she covers herself with skin, she comes closer to a typical female body, even seeming to stand taller and stronger away from Caleb and Nathan. She has her arms on show, she no longer pulls her cardigan sleeves over her wrists, she has gone from awkward teen to a woman. Could Ex Machina be a bildungsroman? We see Ava go from the naked fascinated baby, to self-conscious teen, to sexually empowered woman (let’s not even get into the phallic way that knife goes into Nathan) we are seeing her grow, going through the various stages of female life. We see Ava, essentially, change herself to fit the world around her, no matter how small it is.

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Even when she’s not the robot the female character is massively sexualised.

I think it’s interesting to note that this is never something that happens with typically male robots. For example in one of my other faves, Forbidden Planet, Robby the Robot claims to be gender neutral, not man or woman only robot. But Robby has a distinctly male voice, and above all is called “Robby” for all intents and purposes the gender neutral robot always has male characteristics. What is it about SF that insists on othering the female body? Even female writers have used this othering as the basis for stories. From Gilman’s Herland to Russ’s The Female Man the female body is separated, seen as something deviant and made strange from the norm. Being a woman in SF is dangerous as well. Think of the abortion scene in Prometheus when Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) has to reprogramme a medical robot to remove an alien fetus because it can only perform surgeries on men.

The female body is both idolised and feared in many SF texts. But why is that? When really, most people feel massively more threatened by men. Is it the idea that, as with Ava, a form we venerate as a society could possibly turn on us? Or is it just more of the same old pressures from society to have women who can do it all? Do we want women that can go from kind to femme fatale and still be the programmable Stepford wife? Or maybe it’s just that robots in general are unsettling, and we have so much discourse and debate around women anyway that literally objectifying them is much more worrisome than when we do the same to men.

Bisexuality in Science Fiction

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Bisexual Pride Flag

I recently attended a talk on bisexuality in 1970s science fiction. You might be thinking, “Wow what a niche subject, who would even turn up to this?” And I must admit it is a niche subject. The talk was presented by an MA student, Oli Lipski, studying a very specific course on gender and sexuality looking through the lens of SF, was set up and attended by the University of York LGBTQA society, and me, a bisexual science-fiction nerd, who before this talk had made zero connections between SF and her own sexuality. I won’t lie when I tried to think of any examples of bisexuality in SF I could only really come up with one that I wasn’t even sure counted: The Left Hand of Darkness.

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Read this, seriously

Yes my friends, I am back to the grand Ursula K Le Guin, because she is always relevant. For those of you who don’t know the aliens (well to us at least, Gethen is their home planet so I guess we’re the aliens) are entirely genderless until they come to “kemmer” the mating of their reproductive cycle, when their bodies can revert to either gender based on what the dominant partner kemmer’s into. So if someones kemmer comes on strongly female, their partner will become male in response. It really is an amazing books, it should be required reading for every gender studies module across the globe, but I’m getting ahead of myself. I was unsure if The Left Hand of Darkness could be classed as bisexual for a couple of reasons, firstly because it doesn’t present a gender binary, only a binary of biological sex, they have no concept of gender performance, which – if we insist on labelling sexuality – comes into play massively with these labels. But also because the inhabitants of Gethen are descended from humanity their sexual activity is predominantly heterosexual and they have no choice or preference about this, it is a biological reaction akin to a sneeze, no idea of personal identity really comes into play.

821ffbdf53dafe6de8cc9ccc64bc0f6aBut that’s way more than I originally intended to say on The Left Hand of Darkness itself, so let’s bring it back to the discussions of the evening. Why this text was included became apparent as the evening went on and Lipski moved onto the idea of reading your own sexuality in the text. This pretty much blew me away. Like I just did with Le Guin I’ll read my sexuality in a text then come up with reasons why it’s wrong and I can’t have any claim on said text, but if more critics were to explore this, were to read bisexuality (or any sort of under-represented minority) will there be a flux of writers portraying these minorities? Just a little food for thought there. But the idea of reading your sexuality in a text really got me thinking about how SF can be used as a tool to explore sexuality as we know it. But that still isn’t what I’m going to talk about next.

What I really want to think about is that phrase “as we know it” which is used an obscene amount in both SF and actual science. There are probes and satellites circling our solar system looking for life “as we know it”  and I think this is a concept that holds back the imaginations of SF writers and scientists alike, we always try to create something or look for something the mirrors just us. Psychologically speaking it’s probably a complete impossibility for us to consider forms of life that are entirely different than our own, the human race is intrinsically egotistical, but maybe there is an alien race out there that isn’t and has zero concept of self or individual. Much like the humble bumble bee. That I just mirrored in this blog post. Because I cannot conceive of anything beyond my own awareness.

itslifejimbutnotasweknowitI have deviated quite massively from the original point of this post, but really I’m just extremely (platonically) excited about aliens and their sexuality. And speaking of aliens and sexuality… STAR TREK! Here we go, I recently read an interesting article called ‘ A friendship that will define you both: Star Trek and the Devolution of American Masculinity by Bridget Kies, and it is definitely worth a read. It’s an extremely interesting paper, and towards the end it casually proposes the idea that Spock is asexual and Kirk is pansexual, and I was like WHAT? SURELY WE NEED TO EXPLORE THIS MORE?! But no, it had a short paragraph and then Kies left me starving for more queer theory in Star Trek that wasn’t just erotic Spirk (or McSpirk for a dash of polyamory) fanfiction. It’s easy to see how the logical, calculated Spock who only displays any concern with sex when his pon farr forces him to. But Kirk? Really? How can the overtly heteronormative, ladies-man Kirk be pansexual? Simply by the fact that he has clearly been sexually attracted to aliens (but who wasn’t sexually confused at a young age by green Orion slave girls?) and therefore can’t adhere to the constraints of gender attraction shaped by life on Earth.

I really want to get into gender right now (the talk inevitably ended up discussing how robots in SF are gendered) but I don’t want to blow anyone’s mind! So I’ll leave gender performance and robots for next time and wrap up sexuality. I know I’ve spoken pretty much solely about bisexuality and pansexuality and even asexuality. And I know that heterosexuals and homosexuals must feel a bit left out. Oh how the tables have turned.

“Am I Smart Enough For Sci-Fi?” – The Threat of Fandom Culture

About a week ago now I read a short story by Ursula K Le Guin called The Shobies’ Story. Set in the Hainish cycle – the same world as The Left Hand of Darkness – I was excited to get to it (I was reading a collection of her works) and expected great things. And it was great, but I found myself having to re-read the story for a reason I’m not proud to admit; I was really, very confused.

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Some cool art from The Shobies’ Story
The story follows a spaceship crew who are testing a new kind of spaceship that travels faster than light, and their experiences of the journey. And that’s where it gets weird. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the story basically calls space-time into question and I began to lose my sense of what it was I was reading. And I’m sure this was something Le Guin did on purpose to replicate the confusion of the characters for the reader (I hope) but it threw me a little and brought up a common question I’m sure a lot of first time SF readers have:

Am I smart enough for SF?

Ironically Le Guin discusses this in the essay that introduces the book: On Not Reading Science Fiction. Specifically she said:

People who don’t read it, and even some of those who write it, like to assume or pretend that the ideas used in science fiction all rise from intimate familiarity with celestial mechanics and quantum theory, and are comprehensible only to readers who work for NASA and know how to program their VCR.

And this is something I disagree with. To read fantasy we don’t need an in depth knowledge of dragons or magic, and arguably we don’t need this knowledge because the author provides it. Each writer has a different concept of magic and how it works and where it comes from JK’s magic is different from Tolkien’s magic is different from George RR Martin’s magic, and no one has ever asked, “am I smart enough to read fantasy?” At least not that I know of.

So what is it about SF that intimidates people, and makes them feel they need vast amounts of knowledge to enjoy the genre? Why don’t readers trust that SF writers will explain their science to them the way JK explains magic? Personally, I think there’s two main reasons for this intimidation.

First of all, the word “science.” It sounds stupid, but that’s all it is. Some people recoil from science in general the way I recoil from (ugh) maths. It’s one of those subjects at school that was attributed to (mostly male) gifted kids who seemed to have a secret language made from the fabric of the universe. If there was a genre called Mathematical Fiction I would not read it.

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Tatooine or Jakku? Who the hell knows?! (In case you were wondering it’s Earth)
And second, I think there is an idea of fandom that really intimidates people. The way SF fandoms are represented in popular culture is massively questionable; it’s always a group of tight-knit uptight friends who have an in depth knowledge of the Star Trek canon and think anyone who doesn’t know the difference between Tatooine and Jakku (even though they really basically the same, let’s be honest) is a brainless idiot who must conform to the social hierarchy they so despise and wish to be separate from (whilst also desperately vying for the attention of the popular girls, but that’s a whole other blog post right there). And though these representations are massively stereotypical, they are based on a sad reality that fandoms often appear as an impenetrable community, unwilling to accept outsiders or casual fans.

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I mean has anyone read this?
This idea of an impenetrable community is seen throughout many other fandoms and genres, the LOTR fandom makes a big deal of no one understanding why the eagles don’t just carry Frodo to Mordor. Even though Tolkien basically stated in a letter that they were a “dangerous machine” sparking distant memories of deus ex machina that really should just be destroyed. But it’s not just literature this ever happens in, I’ve seen people say they like football and immediately have a bunch of football fans demand they explain the offside rule to prove their love.

Really I think it just comes down to people being protective over something they love, and only wanting to share it with people they think are worthy. In individual scenario this would never happen, part of what is intimidating about fandom culture is that it’s scarily similar to mob mentality. Just log into Tumblr and look up “SuperWhoLock” and you’ll see exactly what I’m saying.

The OA

8f0d10ac-c1c5-11e6-88a7-6a72017c5d0fThe OA is one of the ‘it’ shows on Netflix that I brushed off as a boring, run of the mill thriller and didn’t glance at until I was told it was good and I had to watch it. Now I get told this a lot: “You’ll love this” “You should read this” “It’s totally your thing!” usually they’re wrong. They were not wrong about The OA.

Okay, so, the story starts when a young woman who has been missing for seven years turns up with strange scars on her back and her sight restored after having been blind when she went missing. Like I said, it sounds like a run of the mill thriller type crime show that my mom watches with a bag of popcorn and wide eyes.

There is nothing boring about this show! Any theories you have scrap them all because it’s you’re wrong. You have no idea what’s happening, you have no idea why it’s happening, you’re strapped in for the ride with nowhere to go, there is no escape and you don’t want to escape!

The story is framed by the missing girl, OA, formerly Prairie, telling her story to an audience of five, and it places the actual audience right in the centre of the show. We are watching OA tell her story with them. It’s a beautifully told tale, and a beautiful show. I finished the last series feeling lighter, and happier, which is rare considering the depressing content I usually go for.

The one thing about this show is you can’t really recommend it to people without spoiling some aspect of it you’ll never be able to explain quite right. It’s blurs the boundaries of genre, not fitting quite into SF or fantasy or thriller, and I really cannot praise how it does it enough. Even though it’s outlandish and wild with its ideas, you end up believing every word. I watched this show over three days, and it would have been one had I not had uni and those damned adult responsibilities. But seriously, the OA is a gift, if you need some escapism (and I think almost everyone does around about now) it will whisk you away on an amazing adventure.

I wish I could say more than just “watch it” but honestly, you should watch it.

“Kill All Humans”- Robots and Ethics

We all remember our first. Mine was called Robby, I met him on Altair IV, he was my very first robot. I say he was mine, I’ve never owned a toy of Robby (he’s a vintage collector’s item, I have expensive tastes but no money) and I never saw him outside any kind of screen. And to be honest, I wasn’t fascinated by him either. I grew up with my dad periodically making us watch Forbidden Planet every couple of weeks, hailing it as the best SF movie of all time. Robby was basically family.

robbie_the_robot_san_diego_comic_con_2006And not once did we, as a family question his place in the film, or what his place would be in wider society. For those who don’t know me, I recently got very into robots. I wrote a short script on robots being used in long-distance relationships and began doing a lot of research into robots. At my university a fellow student set up a ‘Robots Discussion Group’ for a few nerdy (mostly literature) students to meet and talk robots. And of course, we ended up getting into the moral and ethical complications of robots.

Two ethical conundrums came up that I really want to talk about, they’re probably the two most common arguments against robots and AI of any kind, but I like them.

  1. If a Google car is driving along and has to hit either a young child or an elderly woman how can we programme it to choose who to hit?
  2. And if we create a realistic SexBot with personality, should it be able to withhold consent?

google_driverless_car_at_intersection-gkSo first of all the Google car: How exactly do we as human drivers decide who to swerve to kill. Ignoring the fact that this Google car really should have breaks, does it matter which choice the car or programmer makes if both are wrong? Most people say the car should kill the old lady, let the child live, but then the same old problems came up: what if the kid grows up to destroy humanity/cure cancer? What if the old woman is the Queen/a former Nazi? Either way, there are too many issues and too much knowledge that could change the feelings to the outcome of the accident. Should robots make accidents? Can they eradicate accidents if the people programming them can’t?

I know I’m just throwing out a bunch of questions and not really giving any answers, but how cool is this to think about? We need to create a cold, calculating AI that has no problem killing people, but it also has to decide to kill the right people and do so ethically. This is wild.

helen_oloy_astounding_fiction_1938But onto the next problem: Consent. And to me I don’t think this is really a problem. It came up in the discussion that consent for a robot is a falsehood as they’ll have been programmed to give or withhold consent. But that raises the question of why would we allow what is essentially an object to ask for consent. We don’t give sex toys the option of consent, so why give it to robots? The purpose of a sex robot is really that you can’t be turned down. But then of course how does encouraging this kind of behaviour amongst humans? If we teach people that you don’t ask consent of robots, does that bleed over into not asking a real human for consent? Is this just further objectifying sexual partners rather than a healthy outlet for sexual frustrations?

I think the only way to really create any tangible answers to these questions is to just do it, we can’t understand something that hasn’t really happened, right? At this point it’s all just guesswork, and it’s usually guesswork and fear mongering that holds back progress and I think that’s the real issue here.

Breaking the Glass Slipper Podcast

For those of you who haven’t heard of the podcast Breaking the Glass Slipper you are honestly missing out. Excuse me if this review pretty much ends up sounding like an advert but it’s only a testament to how much I adore this podcast.

img_1037-1The podcast is hosted by Megan Leigh, Charlotte Bond, and Lucy Hounsom and has new episodes every other Thursday, and discusses women in genre fiction, specifically in science fiction, fantasy, and horror (my top three!) as well as interviewing authors. The podcasts are always extremely fun and sensitive in their topics, and has brought to light so many aspects of women in SFFH that I hadn’t previously considered. It’s changed the way I read and, possibly more importantly, the way I write.

One of my favourite episodes of the podcast looks at the movie Labyrinth and the cultural weight this classic film carries, as well as the use of femininity, sexuality, and the human treasure that is David Bowie. Though it opened up some terrifying themes that quite effectively destroyed a beloved film of my childhood, I was quite happy to have my childhood ruined. Another of my favourite episodes was the episode on portal fantasy, which interviews author Foz Meadows, and branched way out from fantasy and feminism and actually has a massively interesting discussion about language and culture in fantasy stories that cross between worlds (but not fear, it does return to the passionate feminism the podcast was made for).

Every episode is an absolute delight, they cover so many brilliant topics, including a great two-parter looking at the virgins and villainess tropes of fantasy fiction. I can’t even explain how great these podcasts are, they explore so many themes that for some scary reason never even occurred to me. I don’t want to in any way imply that this podcast is solely about female representation, it covers a wide spectrum of diversity in literature with admittedly a stronger focus on feminism but it is massively inclusive.

This is a real eye-opener of a podcast and every lover of genre fiction should subscribe to this right away.