Androcentrism (male-oriention)

I pick up the book, my heart fluttering with excitement. A new fantasy book I’ve never read before.

By the end of chapter one I’m miffed. Halfway through chapter 2 I’m pissed off and by the end of chapter 3 I’m despondent. Sci-fi and fantasy used to be the genre that could question traditions, social norms and political standards. And they still do, unfortunately it seems the only thing they focus on is the equality between men and women.

It is this that annoys me. I’m so tired of fantasies where the female heroes are always the inferior or secondary sex; where they are told they can’t fight for that which they believe in, because they’re women. Even when they end up being the heroes, this androcentrism irritates the hell out of me and I end up being annoyed at the entire book.

Part of this annoyance is that I really want to read a story where women are as capable as men and respected as men, but another part of it is that there are so many other social issues left out. Why not use this vehicle to enable change in the way we see sexual orientation? What about asking questions about religion? We live in a world where the Western world (mostly) are waging war on Islam. But is it the faith in Allah that should be feared, or the religion of radical Islam? Why didn’t all of us learn from the second World War?

And what about environmental issues? Our planet is suffering, but why aren’t we addressing global warming and deforestation and littering?

Obviously one story can’t address everything in one story, but some variety would be nice. Give me a story where men and women are equal, where they are too busy saving the day to get their knickers in a twist because a woman is trying to pick up a sword! Give me a story where Joan of Arc kicks ass and then lives to kick ass another day! Give me a story like The Terminator (I already love the movie, but the more I think about it, the better it gets!) where Sarah Connor asks Kyle Reese: “In your time (the future, for those ignorant of the plot of this great movie), what are the women like?” And Kyle answers: “They make good fighters.” Boo-yah! Take that, you androcentric donkey’s rears!

Six word stories #1

Arthur C. Clarke recounts the tale of Earnest Hemingway’s bet to his friends about writing a story in just six words:  “While lunching with friends at a restaurant , Hemingway bets the table ten dollars each that he can craft an entire story in six words. After the pot is assembled, Hemingway writes “For sale: baby shoes, never worn” on a napkin, passes this around the table, and collects his winnings.” Apparently Hemingway was a bit of an asshole.

But these ‘six word stories,’ though apparently much older than this example, is an extreme form of condensed fiction. In six words an entire story is told. There are no details, yet we all know what the tale is about. Just six words can be an entire story.

Though those ‘six word stories’ can be powerful, writers need to write a bit more than that. Even something as silly as fan fiction need some more flesh to it. I think the shortest fan fiction story I wrote was slightly over 900 words long. It was about a page and I think it is one of my best ever. I still get comments and ‘likes’ about it, and I wrote it in 2010 or so. But, come to think of it, that story was based on a single seven-word sentence – and it only went into 7 words because I used my screen name in it and it’s 3 words long.

A few words can also change an entire story. Two of the best examples are from the audio-visual world, one from television and one from a movie. The first is from Avatar: The Last Airbender (not the movie. Never the movie). In the opening monologue Katara describes their beautiful world. A beautiful world isn’t a story though, but these six words change that into a story that I still re-watch every once in a while: “And then the Fire Nation attacked.”

The second is another sentence at the end of a movie. At the end of The Terminator (the 1984 original), Sarah Connor asks the station attendant what the boy said to her when he handed her the photo, and he replies: “He said ‘a storm is coming.'” The entire story and all the sequels are contained within those six words.

Today I also have a six word story to share; my own little tragedy:

I’ll never see my roses bloom.

Writing for the Void

Multiple times a week I sit down at my computer and start at a post. Right now, as I’m typing this, there are 7 unfinished drafts in that folder; and I suppose I need to start asking why that is? Why do I write these complicated and witty blogs in my head, but when I sit down at my desk, all I can see is the void of the screen? Why can’t I finish the blogs? Why can’t I translate those essays in my head onto the screen?

The answer, I realised today, is that all these posts are being written into the void. I can’t see you, I don’t know who you are or why you are reading this. I imagine you reading this: sitting at a desk or lying in your bed with some hot cocoa and a sandwich, but probably you’re sitting at the doctor’s office and are just idly scrolling through some sites you ‘liked’ one night while you were high on coffee. Or on the toilet. I can be as poetic as I want to be, but that is a very real possibility and one I promise you I’m not imagining. There might not be that many of them, but my mind do have a number of barriers and imagining you on the toilet is definitely a restricted-zone.

And that’s part of it. I can imagine you smiling as you read this, or sighing or even rolling your eyes, but I’ll never know you. I’ll never know why you read this or what you think about it or who you might show this to. You are a void: an endless pit I write into. You are the void I entrust my random thoughts to. You are the void that will always be just beyond my reach, and it frightens me. For I can also imagine you thinking this is nonsense. I can imagine you scrolling by without a second glance and most definitely without a second thought. Or even a first thought. You are scary.

Yes. You are scary.

 

Great names by other authors

There have been some awesome names and words created by authors of fiction throughout the centuries. Some of them I’m just happy to read about, but then, sometimes, there are some of the names and words I’m actually jealous of!

Mithrandir and Mirkwood

Starting with the king of fantasy, JRR Tolkien coined some words and names still used in the genre. Most of the names – especially after the movies made it even more famous – have become recognizable even to those who’ve never read the books. These include names like ‘Gandalf,’ ‘Frodo Baggins’ and ‘Gollum.’ But my favourite word – and the only one I would love to use myself – is the elvish name for Gandalf: ‘Mithrandir.’ I love how it rolls off the tongue and how mysterious it sounds.

For a place, there are many to choose from in Middle Earth, the least of all ‘Middle Earth.’ Some beautiful names are ‘Lothlorien,’ ‘Moria,’ ‘Rivendell’ and just about every elven name. But the most beautiful is ‘Mirkwood,’ a name we read of first in The Hobbit. It is a name that sounds mysterious and dark and is a perfect name for a dark, mysterious wood!

Elrakyn and fenlings

Moving to another fantasy legend, David Eddings created some epic names and words. Though I’ve never been a fan of ‘Polgara,’ the name ‘Poledra’ actually isn’t too bad. But the words that stand out, are ‘eldrakyn’ and ‘fenlings.’ An ‘eldrak’ is a kind of clever troll and ‘fenlings’ are cute otter-type creatures. They are granted the power of speech and it is utterly adorable!

Gar, Sylph and Mord Sith

You don’t have to struggle through the entire Sword of Truth-series by Terry Goodkind to find some fabulous words. Note that I don’t write ‘struggle’ because the series is bad, but because it is heavy reading. I like it, but it isn’t on my regular-reading list. He did create some wonderful words, though. There is the simple ‘gar,’ a great flying gargoyle-thing that counts its bloodflies; the ‘sylph,’ that transports you to other wells and was probably once a human woman; and of course, the ‘Mord Sith,’ probably the most bad-ass women ever to grace the pages of fantasy. In true Goodkind-style, their origins are also extremely tragic and terrible. It’s worth it to read it just once, either way.

Nac Mac Feegle and AshkEnte

Considering the amount of books he wrote – and the detailed world he created – there are few words from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld-series that I really envy. Most are great, but the only words I wish I could have come up with, would be ‘Nac Mac Feegle’ and ‘AshkEnte.’ Especially ‘AshkEnte’ is a word that would have been wonderful in other, more serious fantasy. But, considering the corpus of work by Pratchett, the word is perfect. It’s a pretentious word for a pretentious rite with some pretentious characters, and then he satires all over it! Well played, Terry, well played!

Tau’ri

The Stargate name for humans is ‘Tau’ri.’ The word in its less-fancy form, Tauri,  is a real word and you can Google it, like I did. Real or not, it is another word with a nice ring to it and something I would love to have an excuse to use.

Terok Nor

Another name I wish I could somehow use, is the Star Trek name ‘Terok Nor.’ There are thousands of names and words in the Star Trek universe, but by far my favourite is ‘Terok Nor,’ the Cardassian name for the space station renamed Deep Space 9. And yes, I’ve been ‘keeping up with the Cardassians’ since the mid-90’s, although it is spelled slightly different and the aliens are not half as vicious and manipulative as their human namesakes. This is scary, as the Cardassians as a culture live for intrigue.

Felwood

Though not a story – either written or filmed – it is a nice name reminiscent of Tolkien, from whom World of Warcraft seem to get a great deal of its inspiration. Here, too, there are many names I could fall in love with, such as ‘Ammen Vale,’ ‘Durator’ and ‘Shadowglen,’ my favourite is ‘Felwood.’

I feel slightly embarrassed to admit there are no Star Wars names that really stand out, beyond the fact that the movies (OT) is one of the cornerstones of my youth. The same goes for any of the Anne McCaffrey books. They are great stories, but the names are not that wonderful. One day I can only hope at least one of the names I will create will make a list such as this. Maybe. Maybe not.

 

80 Dahlias of my Soul

There’s a house. In a small town. In the middle of the nowhere that is Africa. I still dream of it.

It is a big house even for a country with enough space that most suburban houses are big. To my sister and me this house is precious. No, it is sacred. You can mess with our past and you can mess with much of our present and future, but do not mess with the memory of that house. We will destroy you if you do.

It is the house where the two of us built a zip line (if you google it, you will find Wikipedia actually mentions the South African version, called a foefie slide) and I nearly lost my thumb because of it. It is where we tried to learn how to walk on our hands (neither of us could even manage that and the hill we practised on might have had something to do with our failure). It is where we learned to roller-skate and where we got drunk the first time. It was where our mom made us push our little brother’s pram up and down the long hallway to get him to sleep and I threw a massive fit when I realised how much my sister was cheating at it. See, it was a very long ‘L’ shaped hallway, with a slightly longer leg near the front door. My mom told us to take it in turns to push the pram ten times each. I reckoned it meant pushing the pram all the way to the front door and back, counting that as a single trip. My sister, on the other hand, only pushed the pram to the end of the short leg and counted that as one. The concept of ‘laps’ seemed to have passed her by.

We grew up in that house. We played and laughed and fought and cried and dreamt in that house. In those times when my sister and I seem to be far from one another, when we’ve fought and we’re not talking to one another for months on end, that house would still be the talisman that binds us together. Even our husbands know that when we talk of the ‘Dahlia street house,’ something very personal is happening. If ever we get a sisters-tattoo, it would have to be of a dahlia, for of all the things that bind us and separate us, that house – one where we only lived for a total of twelve years – is the most important.

My parent also know how attached my sister and I are to the memory of that house, but they can’t ever truly share it. they, both, have other houses they still dream of as I dream of the Dahlia street house. And I’m not sure about my little brother’s attachment to the house. I know he liked it there, but I don’t know if he dreams of it. I’d have to ask him sometime.

First Reads

Everyone’s first time ought to be memorable; it ought to spark passion inside you and leave you wanting more…

Wait, what did you think I was writing about? I’m writing about the first time you read a book, especially the first in a genre. Seriously, sometimes I’m worried about humanity.

Okay, seriously, sometimes I wish there had been some master list to help me choose the best books to start with. Well, not that it really would have mattered, for there were no online books back then (there wasn’t even an online when I started reading) and our library was very limited. But seeing as we’re living in a brand new world where you can have almost anything your heart desires if you have a pc and access to the cyber-realm, here are some of my thoughts on first reads.

And before anyone gets their knickers in a twist: this isn’t an evaluation of how good the writers are, only which I’d suggest as introductory reads to a genre. Okay? No knickers, people!

If you’re interested in fantasy – epic, not urban – I’d suggest David Eddings’ Belgariad. There are numerous great other fantasy writers, such as Terry Goodkind, Robert Jorden, David Gemmell and, of course, the father of fantasy: JRR Tolkien. But Gemmell is depressing, as is Goodkind. Jordan is a very long-term commitment. And Tolkien is not for the feint of heart, believe me! But Eddings, though in the end 12 books – if you read the complete series about Garion – is written in a very easy way and the story is charming. Though a classic ‘chosen one’ story, one can’t help but fall in live with Garion and his companions. And once you’ve finished the Belgariad and the follow-up pentology, the Malloreon, you can read the two companions, Belgarath the Sorcerer and Polgara the Sorceress, and I can guarantee you you’ll be ready to start all over again. It’s the way it’s written, after all. How did Eddings put it: they’ve created the literary equivalent of peddling dope.

For Sci-Fi I’d recommend Anne McCaffrey, in particular the Catenni series. It’s not what I’d call ‘hard-core sci-fi,’ but you have to work your way up to writers like Robert Silverberg, Isaac Azimov and Greg Bear. Oh, and I don’t even want to start on the Arthur C. Clarke and Genrty Lee collaboration which brought us the unforgettable Garden of Rama series. It’s a series that unashamedly brought us one of the first ‘the aliens made them do it’ story-lines. If you don’t know what tmtdoi is, you’re not reading enough fanfiction. If you do know what this refers to, you’re probably reading too much fanfiction. Sorry, that one gets you coming and going.

If your style is fairy tales, you can’t go wrong with Robin McKinley’s Beauty. Light, first person prose with a cute story and still one of my favourite stories when I’m feeling down.

Pratchett. The master of the fantasy satire is Terry Pratchett, and he wrote enough books that I feel we need to a whole section devoted to him. Yes, there are some other writers doing the same sort of thing, like Tom Holt and Neil Gaiman (of Stardust fame), but the master is Pratchett. His first book is The Colour of Magic, but even he later said that’s not the place to start. As all the books build upon one another, I feel one ought to start as early in the series as possible, but one where most of the lore has been figured out. In that case I’d recommend Guards! Guards! Dragons, a non-magical sword, a non-scion, a grumpy policeman and you get to meet Colon and Nobby, two of the greatest comic reliefs ever!

If your tastes run more towards more mundane – I mean normal -genres, you can’t really go wrong with Dean Koontz for a supernatural thriller. He covers a lot of themes, from ghosts to psycho killers. He also wrote some corny romances in the ’70’s, but we’ll ignore that.

For a medical thriller I’d recommend Robin Cook. I know it’s a bit dated, but it’ll still be fun to read. The same goes for Louis L’Amour and his westerns. Old but fun. And with L’Amour you only have about 150 pages max and you always know what to expect.

Obviously I’m missing dozens of genres and I do realise most of my choices are older. A few of these writers are dead and some, like Koontz, has been at it for decades. So if anyone has any alternatives or suggestions, please do so in the comment section (if I got it to work, that is).

Bunny love

 

 

English not for the Fainthearted

  • Live,  live
  • Wind, wind
  • Read, read, lead, lead
  • Nose, knows, no
  • Through, throw, though, trough, rough, cough
  • Court, courtesy
  • Hair, heir, hour, herb (In America)
  • Know, knife, knob
  • I before E except:
    • Weir, heir, heist, feisty, neighbour
  • After C:
    • Science
  • Hair, air, heir
  • Tear, tear, tier
  • Tire, tyre
  • Desert, desert, dessert
  • Booth/booths, tooth/teeth, goose/geese, mongoose/mongooses
  • The bandage was wound around the wound
  • The farm was used to produce produce
  • Refuse the refuse
  • There was a row about how to row

The list is endless, but I rest my case.

Midnight Writing

There’s this sweet moment between getting ready for bed and falling asleep where some of my best ideas come from. It probably has to do with the fact that there are no distractions left. Anything important has either already happened, or has been solved or can wait till tomorrow morning. There are a few exceptions to this rule, notably medical emergencies, acts of nature and alien invasion.

In the past I’ve merely smiled at these thoughts and vowed to remember them the next morning. I never really do. They always tend to fly away with my dreams. So I’ve started keeping a notebook and pencil beside my bed. I tried a pen for a while, but the ink prefers gravity to play a positive role in its life and writing upside-down just annoys the ink. So a pencil it is.

Mornings, thus, have become something to both dread and look forward to. It’s like waking up to find a personal letter written to you, from you. Usually the letter is the beginnings of a beautiful idea grasped in that fleeting moment of enlightenment before sleep steal reason away. Perhaps, in the battle between good and evil, good is only allowed to whisper in your heart and we are too busy with life and worries to hear it up to that silent moment. But evil, being evil, blows upon those words and they never really find their way to your mind.

Okay, fanciful ideas set aside, I really do think up some amazing ideas and some of my best inspiration comes from those midnight pages.

Unfortunately – and this is the part I dread – some of those ‘enlightenments’ are nothing more than vague ramblings. Something upon the lines of: ‘why drunk you should never text.’ Doped-up sleepy ramblings should never be held against said party and therefore I also keep the notebook where nobody can get to it and I faithfully tear out every and any offensive pages, never to return to them again.

Doped-up sleepy me can be a real dumbass.

Psychological Thriller or Comedy -How tone can set the genre

  • I apologise in advance for anything I might say that might offend anyone; last night was really fun!

It could have gone this way:

The Eyssels have been insisting we join them for dinner for a long time a last night my husband finally announced he had the time.

Dinner was fine. We drank some wine and ate too much, especially of the Nutella cheesecake. It was extremely sweet, but Mr Eyssel insisted I eat a number of slices. My husband only smiled indulgently as I failed to refuse a second and third slice.

As dinner was drawing to an end, a fierce wind came up, followed by hail. Worried about our new car, my husband and I dashed for the car keys to move it to safety, but it seemed my husband held back just enough that I ended up being the one running outside into the wind and hail.

Icy bits pelted me and the wind beat at me. A small branch had fallen next to the car next to the driver’s door, but as I tried to remove it, it broke in my hands. As I struggled with the branch, I was starting to shiver from the cold as my husband and the Eyssels merely watched. I suppose they didn’t even realise how much the hail hurt or how I struggled to get the branch out of the way.

We waited out the rest of the storm over some very strong coffee. A few spots hurt from the hail and I suppose I’ll be bruised in the morning.

We got home late and I immediately went to bed. My intention was to read a bit before sleeping, but my husband kissed me and told me ‘good night.’ I felt obliged to drink my sleeping pill.

After I had turned off my bedside light, I remembered something. I turned around and asked my husband whether the dogs have had their medication. The light from the movie he was watching flickered across his face and he assured me he’ll take care of it. As the darkness started to pull me under, I saw him smile. I often talk to him for a few minutes during that half-drugged time before I finally fall asleep and he was probably anticipating another night of embarrassing revelations from me.

Or maybe this is more accurate:

The Eyssels have been inviting us to dinner for a while now, and finally hubby got around to making a date for last night.

Dinner was fun. We drank some nice red wine, ate too much and hubby got drunk on some Nutella cheesecake. I don’t get it: he doesn’t drink alcohol at all, but instead he gets funky in the head from sugar. When Mr Eyssel offered us a second helping of the sweet sensation, I protested, but hubby – being the sugar junky he is – accepted another piece. It kicked him right in the brain and he sat and smiled happily as I struggled to convince Mr Eyssel I didn’t need another piece. Of course I lost the battle, but I’m not sure whether it had been Mr Eyssel or the lots and lots of sugary-sweet gooey Nutella that finally convinced me to indulge in a second and third slice.

Just then a nasty wind started to blow, followed by hail. Or pretty new car was parked outside in the open, and hubby and I immediately dashed for the car keys to get The Enterprise to safety. Yes, we named it after the Star Trek starship, but unlike Kirk, we won’t get a new one after we’ve wrecked ours.

I was the first to reach the keys and, after seeing hubby’s sugar-induced non-evil clownish grin, I ran outside.

Hail bloody hurts. Granted, it’s pieces of ice falling from the sky, but I didn’t realise even relatively itsy-bitsy pellets could bruise like that! To make matters worse, a smallish branch had blown up against the driver’s side door. Making matter even worser, the piece I pulled on broke off in my hand! There I stood, yelping as the hail pelted me, with a dumb one-leafed twig in my hand and hubby and the Eyssels grinning at me from the safety of the porch. Granted, they couldn’t see my epic struggle with the branch, but at least they could have cheered me along a bit more. You know: “Lizzy, Lizzy, she’s our gal! If she can’t do it no-one can!” I wouldn’t even have required pom-poms from them.

After The Enterprise has been safely tucked beneath the porch roof, we went in to wait out the storm with some absurdly strong coffee. I felt kind of bouncy from the caffeine and I was planning on reading a bit – or a lot – after we got home.

Though we left soon after, it was already late when we got home. Armed with Eddings I crawled into bed, but somehow hubby thought I was getting ready to sleep. After all, he was pooped, for he didn’t have any of those awake-for-a-week coffee. He drank rooibos tea, which is stimulant-free.

He lightly kissed me on the forehead and told me: ‘goodnight’ and now I felt too bad to tell him I’ll probably bounce till tomorrow morning. So I took my sleeping pill and hoped the drug will win the fight with the coffee.

As the coffee finally lay bruised and battered in the corner and the sleeping drugs victoriously dragged me down to sleep, a thought occurred to me. I turned to hubby and asked him if the doggies have had their medicine. Smiling at me, the light of the movie he was watching playing over his face, he told me he’d take care of it. As I turned around, he was still smiling, probably wondering what dumb things I’m going to try and discuss with him in that time just before sleep takes me, but after the pill had turned off my brain for the night!

The Ends

I could probably have turned the small little tale into a romance, drama, supernatural horror or even a sci-fi story. It’s all in how the information is presented. Deciding on the tone is important and incredibly fun! But that’s also the problem I’ve had with some stories, especially the movie Australia. It starts out with a tone that’s much like that of a fluffy romance, then turns into a western, takes a turn at being a war-drama and finally ends with some moralistic yap-yap about the injustice to the Aborigines. Am I allowed to call the native (as such) Ausies that? And I really hate the injustice, but the movie didn’t start out as a call for justice. It just blundered into it and it was annoying as can be – and poor old Hugh Jackman, after hours of Australia, didn’t even have a name! He was just the Drover!

On the other hand – to use another movie as an example – The Mummy managed to blend comedy and horror perfectly. What could have been a gory, bloody mess of a horror turned out to be a fun, funny movie with a surprisingly sexy mummy. The difference with Australia? It presented the entire movie in the same tone and that made it a cohesive narrative.

Now I bet I can turn most stories into different genre-tales. I suppose some of you might have done this during some creative writing classes, but unfortunately I have to make it up as I go. Probably de-colonizing the English language as I go (okay, that’s a debate for another time, and also a supremely dumb one). Heh-heh! Either way, I love twisting and manipulating language into doing what I want from it, and I’ll gladly take up any challenge anyone throws at me. Maybe you’ll win. But maybe you won’t…

Bunny love

The Life of Poems

In school I often complained to my teachers about the poems we were made to read. All too often they were dark and depressing. Some were okay, though, but others were just ‘nope.’ Gentling a Wildcat by Douglas Livingstone was one such poem. Nope.

Of course there were other poems as well, such as the Afrikaans poem Klaas Geswind en syn Perd by F.W. Reitz. It’s the tongue in the cheek story of a guy that got drunk one night and as he was riding his horse home through the cemetery, he thought the devil was chasing him, grabbing at his horse’s tail. In a mad dash he got out of there and the next morning he tried to write it off as the delusions of a drunk, except that all the hair of the horse’s tail had been pulled out. It’s a fun little poem which all of my teachers tried to moralise, but failed. Also, in re-reading it for this post, I noticed there was one verse that is wholly inappropriate for any high school curriculum:

Plesier is nes ‘n jong komkommer,
As jy hom pluk, verlep hy sommer;
Of nes ‘n skilpad in syn dop in,
Soos jy hom vat, dan trek hy kop in.

It is one of the raunchiest verses our supposedly pious forefathers ever wrote! It goes something like this:

Pleasure is like a young cucumber,

Once you’ve plucked it, it quickly softens;

Or like a tortoise in his shell,

Just as you touch it, it pulls in his head.

Didn’t anyone ever read this before giving it to a bunch of 15-year olds to read?

There were also poems that moved me from the first moment I read it. Poems that seemed to speak to something deep inside m; often for reasons I can’t even comprehend. One such is Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley. He was the husband of Mary Shelley, famous author of Frankenstein.

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
It is one of the loneliest poems ever written and I love it. It’s everything I ever complained about in school, but it is also everything I could ask of in a poem. It is perfect.
I guess many of you have a favourite poems: sometimes for a good reason and sometimes merely because it touched you. If I could wish one thing for any student of languages, it is that every one of you find that one poem that moves you.