Wednesday, February 15, 2017

My 2016 Survival Kit in Review

Last year was tough for me personally and for everyone socio-politically. I found these 7 stories, written and filmed, were great for escapism and reminders of the truth.


1. Gail Carriger's books
Meeting Gail Carriger!

I read a lot of Gail Carriger. I soared through the Soulless series; got Imprudence the day it came out; and powered through all Gail's novellas to date.

Soulless had me reading daily. As soon as I finished one book, I picked up the next. I loved Alexia's "soullessness" (ability to negate vampire and werewolf powers) and pragmatism. The Prudence series, which follows Alexia's daughter, brought the sociopolitcal drama home. I love Gail's characters.

Gail has never skimped on feminism: even in steampunk Victorian England, women occupy positions of power. She's also unafraid of queer characters. This includes her novellas, of which Romancing the Inventor was my favorite. It follows two women, inventor and mathematician, as they deal with past baggage and fall in love.

2. Serpentine & Sacrifice

I loved Cindy Pon's Serpentine, a fantasy adventure set in an alternate China. The protagonist is a young woman who develops demonic powers, putting her in the cross-hairs of the local monastery.
Meeting Cindy Pon!

When the second book, Sacrifice, came out, I got a signed copy and went to hear Cindy talk. One of her focuses for these books was a strong female friendship. Starbride and Zhen Ni's friendship is central to the books. When Zhen Ni's gayness comes out, it doesn't shatter their interactions. The understanding between them is unshakable.

The series holds healthy messages about parenting, teen sexuality, and honoring family while forging your own path. Cindy gave each character a fitting happy ending--even for Zhen Ni, a gay woman in conservative China.

3. The Stepsister Scheme

Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty kick ass and rescue a prince.

I love Jim Hines: he writes strong women, and more than that, he writes three-dimensional women. Though The Stepsister Scheme is from Cinderella's perspective, I never felt he tried to effect a "woman's voice." It sounded human, ordinary, and real.

I'm not one for princess stories, and this wasn't. Several months after her wedding, Cinderella's stepsisters kidnap her husband. She enlists Snow White (flirty witch) and Sleeping Beauty (cynical warrior) for aid.

This wasn't about vanilla princesses, either. Sleeping Beauty is dark-skinned and comes from a distant, misunderstood culture. One woman is a sexual assault survivor; one is gay; one experienced verbal abuse. They're strong and brave.

4. Fairy Tail

I'm in love with this laugh-inducing, heart-stopping manga and anime. The five rowdy protagonists, members of a wizard guild, include strange characters like a half-dragon boy and a talking cat with wings.

Despite bickering over who's stronger, these friends will do anything for each other. That's the abiding message of Fairy Tail and why I love it:

Friends are family and family is everything.

After a playful start, the series digs into intense themes. One wizard was a child slave, and when she's re-abducted, the team must deal with the maniac manipulating her. A demon slaughtered one's parents when he was young, triggering him whenever they face a similar monster.

Fairy Tail is full of queer subtext, which usually upsets me (why not overt?), except all the romance is subtext. Hiro Mashima doesn't write couples, keeping relationships fun, goofy, and friendship-oriented. (The story does reveal one character is gay.)

Though western fantasy was Mashima's inspiration, the world has a distinct Japanese feel. The characters' values are eastern, as are the monsters and magic system. Also, despite being a shounen (boy's) manga, the women are strong, and objectification is equal across genders. Most notably, one male protagonist has a habit of ending up in his underwear (consequence of his magic).


1. Stargate SG1

Though it takes a season to get hooked, SG1 is fantastic--this was my second time through. A team of 4 military officers and scientists explores the stars via wormhole technology discovered in the pyramids. The plots, well-written and fresh, ask deep questions about the human condition.

What hooks me, though, is that the characters develop through the series.

At 10 seasons, I'd usually fear the characters becoming stale. Producers like protagonists to stay the same so audiences know what they're getting. As a storyteller, I find that infuriating and unrealistic. But these four protagonists grow and change. It makes the series that much more engaging.

SG1 has demographics common to sci-fi: one black man, one white woman, and everyone else as white men. Sure, the woman is a brilliant physicist while a man is the sensitive peacemaker. But it takes a while before an episode passes the Bechdel Test. Later seasons have more people of color and women, including another woman protagonist.


1. The Force Awakens

I wanted to watch TFA 16 times in 2016. I reached 12, and I'm still in love with it. I love Rey, an unobjectified woman. She's everything I wanted when I was little: rogue, pilot, fighter, and jedi-ish. And I love that her costars are two people of color.

(I wrote a longer feminist review here.)

I also rewatch TFA for the epic feels. It has all the desperate battles and beautiful explosions of the originals. That sense of something bigger than ourselves. TFA has archetypes which connect with the human psyche: I have no doubt it will stand the test of time.

2. Mad Max: Fury Road

Like TFA, Fury Road has a strong, three-dimensional woman I can relate to, set in the thrilling context I crave. I long for this kind of sci-fi/fantasy, full of crazy fights and chases--and women.

Fury Road uses masterful storytelling devices. For example, Furiosa is the protagonist but Max is the main character. We see Furiosa and her story through Max's eyes. What's so amazing about this is how seldom we see a heroine's story through the eyes of a man. I can't think of a single other book or movie which does that.

It has things to say about protecting the environment, the cost of war, mental illness, and sex slavery. Women empower themselves. People band together to fight an unjust system. Not because they're special, but because they decide to.

The victorious feeling at the end is why I could (and did!) watch this movie over and over.

What books and films encouraged you to keep going in 2016? Let me know what and why.

Word count: 1070.