Archive for November, 2009

November 30, 2009

Other people’s words

Via Deepa D., this wonderful, true speech about writing and children and stories by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “The danger of a single story“.

(Here’s a transcript, via RoseFox)

I’d linked several months ago to Deepa’s excellent post “I didn’t dream of Dragons“, but it’s still worth a reread.

November 25, 2009

Yes, this.

From Green Light Dhaba, a couple of weeks ago

When my child was in fifth, he was told he needed to improve in three very important writing genres: application for leave; telegraph writing; and notice writing. When I asked his teacher why these genres were important for 11 year olds to master, I was told, “Ah, but they need to learn them for the tenth boards.” I smiled and nodded. What else could I do? But the truth is, if our children spend five years learning how to write a proper telegraph, then we are in deep trouble, indeed. We need to teach children to write things that actually matter to them, because that’s what good writers do. (Future employers, relax: if you ask a good writer to write a notice or a telegraph in real life, she will figure out how to do it properly in no time.)

And from John Dougherty, today.

But, she went on, she can’t do that often. Instead, she has to spend precious time telling her class the meaning of phrases such as ‘subordinate clause’ – not because she believes that at 10 they need to know what a subordinate clause is, but because their writing has to use subordinate clauses to be marked at Level 5 in their SATS, and the only way to ensure they do this is to tell them (a) what a subordinate clause is and (b) that if they don’t use them they won’t get a Level 5.

There are not words to describe how furious, how utterly, impotently enraged I am that good teachers are forced to reduce the beauteous thing that is language to a series of components that, if assembled according to the Official Plan, will tick the correct box on some faceless, brainless imbecile’s clipboard. This is wrong. It’s stupid. It’s the same thinking that is now leading culture-free, drivellingly anti-intellectual philistines to suggest that it’s possible and even desirable to programme a mindless, soulless, heartless, garbage-in-garbage-out computer to recognise and mark good writing.

November 21, 2009

Oh hey internet

Crossed Genres is a fantastic magazine, and everyone should be reading it. It’s also rather short on funds right now, so I’m hoping some of the people who read this will a) go buy it and learn for yourselves that it’s really good and b) tell more people to do the same. We need magazines like this one to continue to exist.

November 16, 2009

Wholesome TV for kids

Last week I was sitting around with my grandparents and youngest cousin (who has just started primary school). The cousin was watching TV, which is how I ended up seeing an episode of Chhota Bheem, a cartoon on Pogo.

Here are the main characters of the show:

Three of the people in this picture are villains. I bet you can’t guess which ones. It couldn’t have anything to do with that subtle colour gradation, could it?

This is what Bheem, the main character is like (taken from here):


(all pictures can be embiggened by clicking)

This is Kalia, the bad guy. His name, FFS, is Kalia.

Kalia also has henchpersons of sorts, twins called Dholu and Bholu. They’re not as bad as Kalia. Colourwise, they’re somewhere between Kalia and Bheem.

Incidentally, here’s the show’s main female character; a role model for little girls everywhere.

She is “simple” (always a useful trait in a woman), really likes housework, and is feminine even while being able to play with the boys – which is a relief considering she views the only other young female character in the show as a rival for Bheem’s attention.

This article in Mint quotes parents who applaud these new cartoons (including Chhota Bheem), not only because they’re entertaining and well made but because they apparently inculcate “traditional values”. I don’t believe that literature, television, or any other form of media directed at children is under any particular obligation to impart the right set of values, just because they’re children and impressionable. Nor do I think that Chhota Bheem is such a powerful piece of art that it’s going to singlehandedly convince my young cousin (who does not live in a household where this sort of thing is discussed/debunked on a regular basis) of the validity of traditional gender roles, or of forms of bigotry relating to skin colour and how melanin turns you evil. But that’s just the thing, these are traditional roles. Which means that Chhota Bheem doesn’t have to do anything singlehandedly, because all these ideas are already out there, influencing Young Cousin (and me, and you, and everyone) and all this show has to do is tap into this larger set of narratives about bad, dark-skinned people and fair, docile girls.

And the reason the previous paragraph reads like The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Ideology (assuming such a thing exists) is because I don’t know what level of basic political awareness I can take for granted anymore. Because it’s 2009 and the creators of this show are apparently both clueless and unchallenged.

November 11, 2009

Bread And

Poster seen in various places around Dublin


(click to embiggen)

But wait? What is that bit of text at the bottom?

“Acrobats, Dogs, Kangaroos, Emus, Horses African Zulus & much much more…..”

Ah. Well that…makes sense? What is this thing, does anyone know?

November 4, 2009

WHAT

Just…what.

No, I have no comment to make on these products. Except that they appear not to be for sale at the moment, which almost makes me think there might be a god.

(Via Bookshelves of Doom)

November 3, 2009

Books what I

I’ve been reading stuff. Here’s some of what I have been reading.

Leviathan – Scott Westerfeld

Official review will be out in the New Indian Express at some point in the near future, but I loved this. I’m rather wishing I’d managed to get the edition with all the gears and suchlike on the cover, but the artwork really is phenomenally good, and Westerfeld is an amazing writer. I like his main characters (even more so on a reread) and from the hints given about the second book in this series, Behemoth, I suspect that it has been written entirely for my delectation. I cannot wait. Here’s the trailer, anyway. It’s rather amazing.

Unseen Academicals – Terry Pratchett

In recent years there has always been a new Terry Pratchett book on my birthday. This year’s seemed like it would be a good one: a return to the Discworld (after the rather awesome detour into Nation, his alternate history Victorian YA that came out last year), a return to the Wizards, who haven’t been heard of in a while, and some football. The Wizards are required for reasons of economy to field a football team – a task for which they are spectacularly unsuited, though the Librarian is an excellent goalkeeper. Luckily, Trevor Likely, son of legendary Dimwell captain Dave Likely, works at the University and is able to initiate them into the world of the Shove, where who you support (and how you show it) matters far more than the game itself, which most of them have never seen. Meanwhile, Trevor must also look after his friend Mr. Nutt who says he’s a goblin but is possibly Something Else altogether and looks suspiciously like Wayne Rooney on the cover. The Nutt plot is something of a return to the earlier Discworld books; Pratchett uses the character to take on an element of a classic work of fantasy (I’m trying very hard not to give the plot away). Unfortunately, while I agree entirely with the conclusions he seems to come to, it comes across as rather too earnest. Then there’s Glenda, who I ought to have all sorts of problems with – she’s fat and competent and has a secret weakness for romance novels, and when she gets her romance it’s with a character who no one else particularly wants. I love her anyway.

The Reef – Mark Charan Newton.

I’d been wanting to read this for a while, particularly since reading Newton‘s second book, Nights of Villjamur (which I really liked) this summer. I finally found it a couple of weeks ago in the secondhand section of Chapters and was unreasonably excited. The Reef is a coral reef that becomes the focus of a number of interconnecting plots involving scientists, terrorists and various forms of aquatic life including sirens, ichthyocentaurs, and (it’s not a spoiler if the cover illustration gives it away, is it?) a giant squid/kraken-monster. It’s obvious that Newton’s writing (and, I think, his gender politics but that’s another matter entirely) have matured considerably since he wrote this, the prose occasionally shifts from brilliant (luckily there’s plenty of that) to a bit awkward and it could have used more editing. However, in terms of ideas I found it richer and more ambitious than NOV. I’m not sure how far it’s supposed to be set in the same universe as his Legends of the Red Sun; elements (the Rumel, the random bits of old machinery lying around) from one seem to have made their way into the other. I’m hoping he returns to this setting at some point in the future (after the current series is finished with) – there’s a lot in it that is fascinating and that I’d love to see developed. In any case, I feel that the Legends of the Red Sun books would be vastly improved by the addition of a Squidbeast.

I am Scrooge: A Zombie Story for Christmas – Adam Roberts

Like most people, I’m a bit sick of zombies at this point. Adam Roberts’ Zombie infested version of Dickens’ Christmas Carol sounded like a good idea had I not been suffering from zombie overkill. But the preface (in which Roberts hopes that the idea behind the book will “thump upon the boarded-up windows of [the readers'] houses pleasantly, and no one wish to remake it as a major motion picture starring Will Smith”) sold me, and with such gems as “the churchman’s nose was bulbous and red, a fleshy appendage, but Marley bit into it as eagerly as if it had been a ripe strawberry” on the first page, I assumed this would be entertaining. And it really is, but I don’t think you could read it all at once. In small doses, well spaced out, the zombie jokes are funny and the illustrations (credited to one Zom Leech) are hilarious. Read at a stretch, though, Queen Victoria saying “we are not Zom-used” might drive anyone to commit violence.

Things We Are Not – (ed) Christopher Fletcher

I’m no good at reviewing anthologies of short stories by different authors. But this is a really good collection of queer short fiction. The title story, by Brandon Bell, is probably the best thing about the collection; working within a whole set of popcultural references that delighted me, Bell still manages a story that is not about these references. Eden Robins’ “Switch” was another story that stood out for me, with the sort of nonchalant weirdness that I actually associate more with the beginnings of speculative fiction novels. Perhaps this is why I was so annoyed when it ended. Then there’s “Reila’s Machine” by Therese Arkenberg and “The World in His Throat” by Lisa Shapter; good, classic science fiction – and “Pos-psi-bilities” by Jay Kozzi that is a sort of coming-of-age story with a comparatively slight Sfnal element. It’s a fantastic collection, it’s available here or on Amazon, and I think you ought to read it.

The Ask and the Answer – Patrick Ness

When I read Patrick Ness’ The Knife of Never Letting Go in January I was rushing between continents (it was something I bought in an airport and read on a plane) and as a result I don’t think I ever officially gushed about it here. But I did thrust it at a lot of people I met – as dystopian, science fictional, gender-aware (it won a Tiptree award earlier this year) YA literature it was exactly the sort of thing I was likely to love. The Ask and the Answer takes off from the rather cliffhanger-ish moment that ended the previous book. Todd and Viola, Ness’ protagonists, are separated, and set to work in different parts of the town. While Todd’s work lies among the Spackle, the original inhabitants of the planet, Viola becomes entangled with a terrorist group of sorts, that wishes to remove the truly sinister Mayor Prentiss from power. As Martin Lewis says in this review, this is not an adventure story, but a war novel. I’d forgotten just how relentless Ness is sometimes; I don’t know when I’m going to read this again because it is emotionally so exhausting. I don’t know where the third book (which I expect will be every bit as brilliant as the first two) will take the story, but I can’t imagine it’ll be anywhere pleasant.

What have you been reading?