Chicks Dig… Gaming

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

I’ve a new essay due out.

Professor Layton and the Passive Princess will appear in Chicks Dig Gaming on 11 November 2014.

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In Chicks Dig Gaming, editors Jennifer Brozek (Apocalypse Ink Productions), Robert Smith? (Who is the Doctor?) and Lars Pearson (editor-in-chief, the Hugo Award-winning Chicks Dig series) bring together essays by nearly three dozen female writers to celebrate the gaming medium and its creators, and to examine the characters and series that they love.

Catherynne M. Valente (The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland, Indistinguishable from Magic) examines Super Mario Bros. through the lens of Samsara, the Wheel of Birth and Rebirth; Seanan McGuire (the October Daye series) details how gaming taught her math; G. Willow Wilson (Alif the Unseen) comes to terms with World of Warcraft; and Rosemary Jones (Forgotten Realms) celebrates world traveler Nellie Bly and the board game she inspired. Other contributors include Emily Care Boss (Gaming as Women), Jen J. Dixon (The Walking Eye), Racheline Maltese (The Book of Harry Potter Trifles), Mary Anne Mohanraj (Bodies in Motion), L.M. Myles (Chicks Unravel Time), Jody Lynn Nye (the MythAdventures series), and E. Lily Yu (“The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees”).

Also featured: exclusive interviews with Paizo CEO Lisa Stevens and Dragonlance writer Margaret Weis.

What I like about this collection is that it has women of all ages talking about every kind of gaming. So there’s triple-A computer games, LARPing and chess. Gaming covers every kind of game, and gamers come in every gender, age and race.

The OED defines games as “A form of competitive activity or sport played according to rules”. [1]

There is no right or wrong way to be a gamer. Unless you follow that weird auction rule in Monopoly (yes, it’s in the rules but seriously, who does that?).

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The Betrayal of Trust by Susan Hill

Sunday, 22 June 2014

One of the things about crime fiction is there is always a new detective series to get caught up with. When I was younger, I worked my way through golden era detectives (courtesy of the now refurbished Exeter Central Library). My most recent series was Rebus, but I’m all caught up there. So I’ve been casting about for a new detective to follow*.

My latest investigation was into Susan Hills Simon Serrailler series, with The Betrayal of Trust.
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Serrailler is in classic “middle class, middle aged” detective model. He has a complex family: in this case a widowed sister with three children, and an emotionally frozen father. He’s rebelled by going into detective work: the. Rest of the family are medical doctors. He has to deal with chippy colleagues. He has an artistic hobby: he paints.

This “posh DI” model is a procedural offshoot of the golden era’s “gentleman detective”. It essentially wonders what would happen if Wimsey or Campion had joined the police. There is something classist about it: the posh DI is always going against the family wishes, and is mildly distrusted by their colleagues.

None of that makes them bad – in this case, it was a really enjoyable read – but they never become series I become addicted to.

I enjoyed this for its interweaving of social justice and welfare with a cold case, but I mostly wanted to follow Cat Dearbon – the widowed sister – rather than Simon. I felt the constraints of the “posh DI procedural” genre kept pulling me away from a potentially more interesting story.

*I am obviously excluding Endeavour, as a) it’s a TV. Series and b) he’s not technically a new detective – just a younger version.

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Lady Oracle, by Margaret Atwood

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

There is a strong sense of déjà vu with Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood.

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I realised, a chapter in, that I had in fact read it before. So I’ve no idea why it was on the ‘to be read’ shelves. But the sense of echo was increased as I read on: this is a early version of The Blind Assassin, with a Canadian woman writing in secret, books within books and blurring identities.

Joan, the highly unreliable narrator, seeks constantly to escape her lives. At first through mentally escaping, then physically (through both transformation and literally running away). The problems really come when all her lives, both internal and external, start to collide: she can’t be a famous literary feminist poet and a writer of historical romances. She can’t be a loveable but dim wife and a revolutionary. And she running out of ways to flee…

I’m still not sure where I stand with this book. Is the final chapter one by a woman accepting her responsibilities, or already looking for another identity? Are we meant to empathise with Joan, or not? Towards the end, Joan says she might take up writing science fiction which, if you are aware of Atwood’s oscillating embrace of the genre, makes you laugh quite a lot.

I do think Joan is a great fictional fantasist. Some of the teenage sections are heart-breaking, but her subsequent choices make her either utterly selfish or utterly self-delusional. Is Atwood attempting to defend the historical romance genre, or saying it’s ultimately unfulfilling as an escape?

I may not have decided what I think of this still, but at least I’ll shelve it on the read shelves this time.

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Raising Steam, by Terry Pratchett

Sunday, 23 March 2014

I’m not going to review Raising Steam in any great depth. If you like Pratchett and Discworld then it’s another one. If you don’t then, well, I’m not going to change your mind.

Instead, I’m going to talk about how one of the themes accidentally aligned with how I read the book. For yes, dear reader, I’m an eBook reader.

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One of the themes of the book is learning to accept technological progress, and the pace of it. I have been won over by ebooks. In part because it means I can pack some reading and music and writing tools in my overnight bag simply by chucking my iPad in it. I still prefer a paper book, in part because I wear reading glasses now, and it feels far less fuddy-duddy to put them on to read off a page. Vanity…

It seemed appropriate to cover this with a Pratchett book because his books are the ones that have taken me through all the major changes in publishing since the early 1980s.

In the mid-80s I took a punt on a Corgi paperback of The Colour of Magic. The Exmouth WHSmiths had put a end display of comedy SFF on, with Pratchett next to Douglas Adams, Harry Harrison and Robert Rankin. The Colour of Magic had a quote from Adams on the cover. In the pre-internet days, a quote like that was a beacon. It was a mass-market paperback, and I stuck with that format, waiting patiently for a year after the hardback release.

In the 90s, trade paperbacks started to be more common in bookshops rather than just being advance copies of the hardback used in the review trade. I switched to trades for contemporary, translated and classic fiction but stuck to mass market for crime and SF.

Pratchett was the first living SF author I bought trade paperbacks of. (The SF classic series’ reprints of Philip K Dick being the first SFF trades I bought). Suddenly, my bookshelf had a run of mass markets followed by a run of trades in the same series*.

So it’s inevitable that Pratchett is the first author where I happily switch to the ebook format whilst reading a series. In some way, I think it’s a legacy of that early connection in my mind between Adams and Pratchett. It ought to have been a new Adams novel. I’d been hoping for a new Hitchhikers book that day in WHSmiths. I still shelve Pratchett and Adams together, even though they are very different. Pratchett isn’t a substitute, but he is – in some small way – continuing Adams’ legacy.


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*Conversely, I’ve stopped buying Rebus novels entirely, due to the publisher’s refusal to release Exit Music in mass market format. Every other book up until “the last Rebus” was in hardback, trade, paperback. I had a whole run in matching mass market format. And they didn’t release the “final” book to match. Yes, it’s no longer the final Rebus but it still rankles enough that these days I borrow the hardbacks from the library instead. Sorry, Ian.

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Seeking a parity of authors

Sunday, 23 February 2014

I like the idea of the year of reading women. I’d been thinking a bit differently though. The aim of that project is to highlight the unconscious bias of readers (and the literary support network that guide readers’ choices). And reading female authors for a year sounds great: everyone should have read some Angelou, Atwood, Carter and Waters. But what happens at the end of 2014? Will people have trained their unconscious out of its bias?

So instead, for me, this year is going to be about reading parity. I’ve taken this from the panel parity movement in fandom. There the idea is that all-male panels should be actively challenged. In my view, all female panels should also be challenged. I’ve had enough of attending panels along the lines of “women in comics” or “women in SFF” or “women in Doctor Who” as if our gender is the only thing we can discuss.

So I’m going to bring in author parity: I’m going to try to get a balance of authors. I’m also going to run it from Christmas 2013 to Christmas 2014 as, in reading terms, the holiday always marks my new year. If the ultimate aim is to overcome unconscious sexism, then the result should be equality not bias towards any gender.

I also think it’s important to audit your unconscious bias: if you primarily read romances, for example, you’re unconsciously biased away from male authors. (Unsurprisingly, the list that kicked #readwomen2014 is genre-biased towards literary fiction.) So this first year is as much about seeing where my bias lies, so the choices I make lead towards a permanent shift of that bias.

How am I doing so far?
Books by female authors: 2
Books by male authors: 3

Broken down further…
Female-authored fiction: 1
Female-authored non-fiction: 1
Male-authored fiction: 0
Male-authored non-fiction: 3

I’ll review the split near my birthday, and irregularly after that.

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Confessions of an Advertising Man, by David Ogilvy

Monday, 3 February 2014

What’s most startling about reading this 1963 book on advertising is how much of the advice is still valid.

Ogilvy

There are some elements of Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy that have aged, such as a comment that women should should leave the workplace to care for their babies. There’s also reams of name-dropping, and a cosy Old Tie Club element to sections of it which sits uncomfortably with modern propriety.

The chapter on writing copy, however, could be used word-for-word for explaining succinct writing now. Most of Ogilvy’s rules on copywriting are the same as the rules on writing in plain English. This book actually made me think on how to use it the next time I’m told plain English is some modern fad…

There are even elements that apply for writing online link bait now. Ogilvy loved a numbered list more than buzzfeed does, and he knew you had to get your keywords into the headline.

The cover of the edition I got cheekily steals its design from Mad Men, the TV series that stole its entire character from this book to start with. So here’s a bonus video.

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