Monthly Archives: October 2012

Feminism and Science Fiction

My favorite book is easily The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula LeGuin. I like how the book questions what forms a culture. It explores how the people of Gethen conform their culture and customs to their hostile weather and their unusual gender conformation. Perhaps this is a case of nature versus nurture on the grand scale. I think Left Hand was the first book I read with feminist overtones. When I read it in high school, these overtones were a matter of curiosity. Now that I am fully into adulthood, I guess it’s odd to see how prevalent gender remains in our “post-feminist” society.

Curiously, every woman I have ever known to read Left Hand likes it to some degree. Many men dislike it, I suspect because it simply did not resonate. There is something so enviable about the Gethenians and their relationship with gender.

I don’t necessarily feel deprived as a female, but things are certainly different for us than they are for men. Yesterday, I read an article in Slate about a female member of the skeptic community who was harassed extensively after she spoke out about sexism in their community. Just the day before that, I saw a documentary discussing the depiction of women in the media called Miss Representation. This documentary discussed the lack of female protagonists in movies, and how movies that do have female protagonists have male-centric plots and are still only marketed to women. It discussed how few women there are in high positions in these companies, and how few female directors there still are.

I feel that science fiction feels similar biases. I am much more versed in classical scifi (50s-80s) than the more modern stuff, but women characters that aren’t sex puppets are few and far between. I reread Ringworld this summer, and a 200 year-old man is a serial philanderer with 20 something babes. Even Left Hand lacks a single female, although it’s certainly feminist.

Are the modern works better? My most recent read, “Wind Up Girl”, didn’t exactly break the mold. When I go to the store, I still see few female authors in science fiction; however fantasy seems dominated by women. Unfortunately, fantasy rarely captures my imagination. I’ve never met a woman besides myself who liked science fiction more than fantasy. I wonder if sci fi’s lack of interest in women is part of it. Are women just less interested in science? Feminism and science is a whole other discussion, alas.

Thoughts? Reactions? Suggested reading, sci fi, nonfiction, or otherwise?

Upon Book Binding- Getting started and some useful things

Book binding is pretty simple. I do not mean it is necessarily easy or fast, but that you do not need much equipment or knowledge to get started. I think when I first started binding (not much more than a year ago) that this knowledge was a big surprise to me. So, if you are interested in trying your hand at binding, take heart!

Most of what I have learned came from three sources: observation, YouTube videos (such as this one on the coptic stitch style), and this nice book on book craft. With the help of the library, this info is all free.

I once imagined that bookbinding required extensive tools. It is true that the books themselves take certain special materials (you can’t fake nice paper, for example), but the tools required for putting them together is dead simple. I use four g-clamps and a couple well-bound oversize books, shown below. Every book I have ever made was with these four clamps and these two books. Very soon I will be making myself some new presses according to this tutorial, except that I intend to use cutting boards instead of fiberboard.

The only truly essential materials are strong thread (beading thread or linen thread works well), paper, an awl, a cutting board, a cutting implement, book board, and copious quantities of elmer’s glue. I like to order my decorative papers and cloths from Hollanders, and most other supplies like book board, elmer’s glue, and linen thread from Amazon.

The first few times I made books, they were not great looking. There were two primary reasons for this: 1) I did not let the glue dry sufficiently before moving to the next step. Then when I did the next step, the unset material would wrinkle, bubble or tear, and 2) Some papers are really unforgiving and will bubble and wrinkle very easily. Copy paper for example is not designed to be absorptive, and thus takes some skill to handle. I recommend starting with drawing papers or high cotton content papers. These papers will not buckle with too much glue or bubble with too little.

Below are four books I did in the first six months of learning. You can’t see here, but all of them have some little wrinkle or foible here or there. Each was still really exciting; I still had made books! I hope this little discussion is helpful to anyone who is interested, or getting started. I find joy in every book I put together, sometimes to an extent that seems strange. For more pics (of more recent efforts), or if you are interested in my books, check out my Etsy store.

What inspired your writing?

As I feverishly worked these last few weeks setting up this website and my new Etsy shop, motivation was a topic strongly on my mind. Motivation flows from inspiration, and so I pondered my sources of inspiration, specifically as a child.

I think my single biggest inspiration was the TV series Babylon 5. In middle school I hit a rough patch. I did not want to do homework or chores. I was grounded, forbidden from TV, computer, no allowance, etc to encourage a reversal. I missed TV most of all. Once a week, my brother watched Babylon 5. I could hide on the staircase and watch it through the rails. At first I scorned it; where are the transporters, I said. But desperation for electronics forced me to watch (in secrecy), and eventually I really got into it. Unlike any show I’d ever watched there were little connections to other broad topics.

I started to read the Babylon 5 books, as I’d read the Star Wars books when I was younger. In the scifi section at the bookstore I happened to see the name “Alfred Bester” on the spine of a book. This is the name of an excellent character in B5, so wondering if it was another B5 book, I bought it. Little did I know Alfred Bester was a classic 1950’s science fiction writer; the character was named after him. I loved the book, and went on to read everything I could find of his. Bester wasn’t very prolific, so this didn’t take too long, especially with no homework. I moved onto other classics of science fiction and started scouring the Hugo awards of years past.

B5 is chock full of other references, and I chased these down as well. Babylon 5 led me to read Tennyson and Yates (where I’d never liked poetry), and Michael Moorcock’s Elric series. Harlan Elison consulted on B5, so I read his stuff too. And I went on to read B5 creator JMS’s comic books. I think B5 promoted a sort of inspiration to learn in me which middle school could not.

There are, of course, so many other sources of inspiration I could list over the years. I loved “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle, and I also read a ton of kiddie SF I could hardly name anymore. I started watching Star Trek around age 3; I was especially obsessed with Voyager when that came out. I think the female captain intrigued me. I can’t remember a time at which I didn’t adore astronomy. But B5 still stands out amongst the others.

So enough of my thoughts. What inspires your work (and what is that work)? What first kicked it off, and is it the same thing that still motivates you? Does your motivation ever falter, and how do you handle that?

Current work: Zish and Argo

Earlier this week I finished the line work for my next project, “The Galactic Adventures of Zish and Argo“.  Zish and Argo is about a little girl named Zish who steals a spaceship named Argo. They travel deep into space and encounter many strange and wonderful situations. Along their adventures, scientific concepts relevant to the story are touched upon.

You can find ongoing updates about this project under the current projects tab, or through the link. I expect to complete painting early next year. The first Zish and Argo book introduces their situation and their first adventure. The illustrations will be water-color paintings, like the one below: