Seriously, why aren’t you watching Top of the Lake right now? It’s written by Jane Campion and Gerard Lee and it has Elizabeth Moss and Holly Hunter and Faramir and that guy who plays the really pretty beast from the CW version of Beauty and the Beast, on in this he has a bunch of tattoos and a real script.
Top of the Lake is a Sundance Channel production, and it’s available in Canada via the Sony PlayStation Network, and probably some other outlets I don’t know about. I heard about it online and we gave it a shot, and were both instantly mesmerized. The story is about Robin Griffin a Sydney detective on leave to care for her mother back home, who has cancer. Doing so means returning to the small town where she grew up, and to the lake where her father drowned. While there, Robin finds out that a 12-year-old girl named Tui Mitcham is pregnant. Tui’s father Matt is the backbone of the town’s economy: he makes all the meth, does all the killing, and collects all the rent. He’s like the Al Swearengen of Laketop, but instead of a saloon he owns a beautiful spread of land aptly named Paradise that he defends just as viciously as his many dogs defend his A-frame home. But then Paradise, like his daughter, is lost to him — a group of women chopper in some shipping containers, and a cult leader named GJ takes over. All of these parties converge at Laketop, where the secrets run as deep and cold as the water that gives the place its name.
Campion shoots each episode like a Western, taking advantage of the jaw-dropping New Zealand landscape to tell a story about how humanity can never be as beautiful as the environment it inhabits. In lesser hands, this story of a woman returning to her childhood home to settle scores and reclaim her identity while solving a child rape case would be the stuff of James Patterson, or Mary Higgins Clark. But Campion and Lee don’t write easy characters, or easy scenarios. Each one is as rough and hard and brutal as the bushland they come from. Robin, the heroine, is complicated and real. Tui, the victim, never treats herself like one. Even the story’s villains remain remarkably human and vulnerable, just as frail emotionally as they are morally.
It’s powerful stuff. If you miss Twin Peaks but wish it made more sense, or you wished The Killing left you more satisfied, this is the title for you.
No, not the punctuation mark. Yes, the other thing.
Periods tend not to show up in fiction, probably for the same reasons that urine and shit don’t show up in fiction. They’re quotidian elements that don’t really add anything to narrative unless they’re indicating sickness or a dramatic turn — pregnancy, miscarriage, sudden reproductive potential, and so on. But the fact is that unless your novel or short story takes place in a span of less than 28 days, your female characters of reproductive age are going to experience them. You could brush over this, but it’s a missed opportunity to actually explore some things with character, setting, and worldbuilding. For example, in Charlie Stross’ Glasshouse, one of the protagonists swaps sexes for an anthropology experiment in historical modelling, and she has a rude awakening upon realizing how exactly periods work. I loved this because it reminded me of a moment I had in adolescence. I was at theatre camp (yes, theatre camp) and I’d made friends with all the older kids (or they’d sort of adopted me, I guess, speaking of anthropology experiments) and one girl, Dallas, told us all about the horrified reaction her boyfriend had when he realized how periods worked.
“He was like, Don’t you just get up and take care of it? And I was like, Well, yeah, but it’s an ongoing process. And he’s like What do you mean, ongoing process? What, it like, lasts a long time or something? And I was all, Uh, yeah, it lasts like five days, and he was totally terrified.”
Then she showed us this really sweet letter he’d written in her yearbook with silver pen. So. Here are some things you should know, if you have to depict somebody having their period.
Having loaded up on hand sanitizer and dusting powder, I am relatively ready for LoneStarCon. If you’d like to come say hello, here is where I will be:
Thursday, 13:00-14:00, Autographing. (Or as I call it, “Kicking back and and testing the open container regulations while searching for open wi-fi, because I doubt anybody will want me to sign books.”)
Friday, 10:00-11:00, US Animation Influenced by Japanese Animation. (In which we talk about Avatar: The Last Airbender, and I rant about that goddamn lion-tortoise one more time, because the lion-tortoise was fucking bullshit.)
Friday, 14:00-15:00, The Future of the Border. (In which I moderate a panel, and watch the audience for racist assholes. Given the pro-eugenics assholes at ChiCon, my concern is justified. A warning: I moderate panels like Marion Ravenwood runs her bar. I would rather watch it burn than let the Nazis have it. I intend to preface the panel with instructions to any and all audience members who may be there to air their racist bullshit that they need to get the fuck out right then and there. If you don’t listen, and clutter up my discussion period with your crap, I will take your picture, post it to Twitter, and tell everyone at the con to avoid you. You know. Pretty basic.)
Friday, 18:00-19:00, Gender in Anime and Manga. (In which we talk about Utena, Ouran, and so on.)
Saturday, 13:00-14:00, Can Machines Be Conscious? (In which I talk about this article, among other things, with people who have more degrees than I do.)
Saturday, 17:00-18:00, Miyazaki panel. (In which I say that Princess Mononoke is obviously the best.)
Sunday, 11:00-12:00, Real Politics and How Fiction Writers Get it Wrong. (In which I try not to stare at Dave, who is moderating, and think about how handsome he is while I’m supposed to be working.)
Sunday, 15:00-16:00, Literary Beer with Ellen Datlow. (In which I cannot drink beer, but ask for Redbreast or Woodford Reserve or Jameson.)
Sunday, 16:00-17:00, Philosophy and Science Fiction. (In which I talk about going to Jesuit school, and how my therapist is a Buddhist, and I’m a recovering Catholic, and very confused.)
You can see that when it comes to science fiction only 22% of the submissions we received were from female writers. That’s a relatively small number when you look at how many women are writing in the other areas, especially YA. I’ve often wondered if there are fewer women writing in areas such as science fiction because they have turned their attentions to other sub-genres but even still, the number of men submitting to us in total outweighs the women by more than 2:1.
You should go read the whole post if you haven’t already, because there’s a nifty table and everything. There’s also quite a spirited discussion in the comments.
Weirdly, my own comment never made it in. Back when the post was new, I stayed up late writing and re-writing it, so I checked back a couple of times to see whether it was still in moderation or not. Eventually I forgot about it, but I remembered to check again when Walters linked to it. Nope. Still not there. So I thought I’d share it here, because I re-wrote it so many times that I actually had drafts of the fucking thing that I’d emailed to myself. Without further ado:
I’d also like to add the wonderful Sandra Kasturi of ChiZine Publications to the list of female editors who rock.
However, just because you’re not sexist doesn’t mean that other editors aren’t. And just because an editor is a woman doesn’t mean that she’s incapable of gender bias. Internalized misogyny is a real thing, and it has a real impact on behaviour. That includes the assumption that a female writer of SF will sell fewer titles than a male writer in the same genre, and is therefore less deserving of investment.
It’s good to shed light on these statistics, but as you point out, the question is more complicated than just submission and acquisition. Why is the number of women submitting SF manuscripts so low? My guess is that the answer to that question is similar to the answer to why the number of women in STEM fields is low: there’s a culture in place to discourage them from trying. From the “Fake Geek Girl” phenomenon to the need for meaningful anti-harassment policies at conventions, it’s no wonder that joining the ranks of successful YA and UF writers in a female-dominated niche looks more attractive to a larger number of women. How many grand visions of the future have we lost because a new writer shook her head in disgust and decided to try a proven market that appeared more welcoming, instead?
I don’t think anybody’s asking editors to read women’s writing with more forgiving eyes. At least, I’ve never heard that complaint. What I do hear complaints of is treatment of women that makes them feel unwelcome — and yes, that includes the way some editors treat women (Jim Frenkel, for example). So, you happen to be doing your personal best. That’s great! But don’t blame women for staying out of what is statistically a field that’s unkind to them. They’re just playing the same odds that some editors are.
I say this as a science fiction writer who just released her second novel last week. I’m a working SF writer who also produces foresight scenarios for Intel Labs, the Institute for the Future, and SciFutures. I love my jobs and the people I work with, including my editors at Angry Robot. They’re great guys who have always made me feel welcome. But just because I had the time, energy, and support to wade through the bullshit doesn’t mean I didn’t smell it on my way in. And I sure as hell don’t fault my fellow women for going a different way to avoid it.
Was that last bit a tad self-aggrandizing? Yeah. Maybe that was why it never went through. Oops. Sorry. I was still on the high of releasing my second book. Mea culpa. But I think my larger point still stands: this is a community issue, not just a publishing issue, but that doesn’t mean publishing has no role to play.
Maybe publishing is so worried about the end of its business model that it can’t figure out how to increase and diversify its talent pool. But in so doing, it’s also missing out on an opportunity increase and diversify its customer segments. Different writers mean a different audience, and in the end it’s all about the audience. Are those other companies really more creative than the patrons of creativity? Christ, I hope not. This is the imagination business. We’re supposed to be pushing the limits of the possible, here. If publishers want to do more about the dearth of female voices in their talent pool — do something more than simultaneously wash and wring their hands, that is — then what’s needed isn’t just analysis, but innovation.
At the same time, it’s not all nods and prods at the dystopian/technocratic worlds of Akira, Brazil, Portal, and Blade Runner. About half way through the novel I came across a chapter called, “The Man of Constant Sorrow.” For those who don’t know, this is the song George Clooney et al sang in Oh Brother Where Art Thou, a Coen Brothers adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey. With one single chapter title it seemed like Ashby was daring me to re-read the novel through the lens of Javier as South American android Odysseus. Is the vN populated city of Mecha his Ithaca? Is Amy the story’s Penelope? I got about as far as framing the Baccarat hustler Javier meets as Cerce before I realized I was pushing even my own broad tolerance for tangents within a review. Meta as hell, indeed…
Though the structure of the story could be viewed through a classical lens, Javier is so far from the tropes of a Greek hero (or modern hero since they’re basically the same thing now) that he emerges as a commentary on conservative character writing. Meanwhile, the novel offers more layers than the offspring of Community and Inception, each of which says something different about design, surveillance, genetics, parenting, and other topics that I probably missed along the way. With these themes bound up in an ongoing discussion on human-machine relationships, iD proves approachable to all, but quick to reward the intelligent reader well versed in genre storytelling.
Yes, Adam, that was an Odyssey reference. (Which is why the ship Javier boards later is called The Caribbean Odyssey. And actually, there was an Odyssey reference in one of the many drafts of “The Education of Junior Number 12″, but nobody would know that but me and the editors who rejected it. So, what other references are there?
I’ve been turning over a few different articles in my mind. This happens more often than I’m comfortable admitting. I leave the tabs up and open, headlines glaring at me, and I think about the difference between what I feel and what I want to say, and how to fill that gap with meaningful communication. Specifically, I want to pick apart the idea that being a woman who writes means being a woman who’s lonely. Read the full article »
The world that Ashby envisions is fascinating, filled with strange ideas, nifty technology, and some rather mature implications. Asimov might have given his robots the Rules, but Ashby doesn’t shrink back from exploring a world where disposable, artificial, life-forms who must obey or die, have become relatively commonplace. Where they can be enslaved or killed at a whim, where they can be used or abused at leisure and convenience, where genocide is considered an acceptable solution to disobedience and rebellion.
And Little Red Reviewer also enjoyed it: “We had to wait all this time for Madeline Ashby to come along and show us what Robot fiction is really capable of. You know what? it was worth the wait.” My Shelf Confessions agrees: “Its an awesome story about what if, and knowing when you make mistakes, and the fallacy of all people whether human or robotic.” And Closet Geeks likes it better than the first book!
Then again, so does my mom. No, really. She literally told me it was better than vN. As did my college roommate. And my partner, who happens to have a Stoker and an Aurora to his name. So, for what it’s worth, people seem to be liking iD even more than the novel that inspired it. As I’ve mentioned before, one of the reasons I’ve been anxious about iD is that I didn’t have the time to show it to other people the way I wanted to, and so all the mistakes (and all the good bits) are all mine. So in that way, it’s more “mine” than vN was. I was sharing more of myself, this time, warts and all. So I’m happy to hear that folks have been enjoying it.
For some reason, Amazon is holding back copies of iD from its Kindle store. My paranoid, conspiracy-minded brain says they don’t like the content; what vN delivered in violence, iD delivers in sex. (Spoiler alert.) And, Amazon has a shitty record of randomly screwing with their Kindle editions. My editor, however, says it’s a production delay. Either way, it’s a bit Kafkaesque. Especially since Amazon has yet to give us any details on when my book will be released on the Kindle.
I hate being kept in limbo.
The good news is that my own publisher, Angry Robot, has a Kindle edition right here for you, if you’re interested. If you’ve already pre-ordered with Amazon, you’ll have to wait. Or, you can cancel your order, and buy one from my publisher, and have it immediately. It’s up to you.
I’m on pins and needles, with this one. It feels more personal, in a lot of ways, because I didn’t spend years writing it and it came straight from me without every word being second- and third- and fourth-guessed and discussed and debated. It’s more mine, which makes it scarier for me to see if it lives or dies for readers. On the other hand, I felt like this was a test of myself as a writer that I needed to know if I could pass. Would my words be good enough? Would my story make sense? Could I really communicate something important, all on my own? A good writer should be able to do this. Only time will tell.
If you do choose to pick it up, I hope that you enjoy it. And thank you, for taking this road with me. With Javier. When I counted, there were only he and I together, but there is always a third walking beside us, and it is you.
...is a science fiction writer, strategic foresight consultant, anime fan, and immigrant. She is represented by Anne McDermid & Associates, and IAM Sports & Entertainment. She has been a guest on TVO's The Agenda multiple times. Her novels are published by Angry Robot Books. Her fiction has appeared in Nature, FLURB, Tesseracts, Imaginarium, and Escape Pod. Her essays and criticism have appeared at BoingBoing, io9, WorldChanging, Creators Project, Arcfinity, and Tor.com.