Tag: discussion

Why haven’t you read ____ yet?

Posted 13 February, 2017 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

I know I read really fast. You must figure I read really fast, since there’s a new review up here every single day (and they’re actually scheduled up through March). So it makes no sense that I haven’t read a book I got as a review copy or a book I insisted on getting the moment it released… two years ago.

(Sorry, Scott Lynch. Robin Hobb. Joe Abercrombie. Guy Gavriel Kay. Various others.)

The thing is, I have a backlog currently standing at 1,049 books purchased and not yet read. Yes, I said 1,049. That figure doesn’t include ARCs or library books or books that’re just on my wishlist. This is books on my shelves or on my Kindle, ready for me to get round to them.

The other thing is, when I make strict rules and reading lists, I stop reading. When I’m impulsive and I just read what catches my eye, I read a lot more. Whichever way I do it, I end up behind on books I requested or bought with the greatest impatience — and it’s not that I don’t want to read them, don’t think they’re shiny, have gone off the idea, whatever. It’s just that I have a lot of books, an impulsive way of choosing books, and an inability to just stick to one reading list. (And, well, sometimes I have gone off the idea of the book, for now. That doesn’t mean I’m not interested at all, just that right now I’m trying to devour everything in reach featuring a certain trope or certain information. At the moment, it’s archaeology.)

I’m doing my best. At the moment, I’m loading books to review onto my Kindle right away and starting them ASAP, to prevent my backlog getting bigger. I’m working through the backlog slowly, rediscovering things I thought were exciting before and finding new excitement about them. I feel bad that these books have been sitting so long, but there is some consolation in the fact that these are books that’re probably no longer actively being marketed, and with as many active readers as follow me, I’m bound to help someone match up with a backlist book they’d love.

The other thing is, well, I’m kind of contrary. If you hype a book up to me, I might well avoid it. Or I’ll get a book the minute it comes out… to taunt myself with for months, delaying the pleasure.

And, well, I bite off more than I can chew. A lot. All the time.

I’m also busy. Really busy. I’m doing a full-time biology degree through the Open University, which means that I have to direct my own pacing through the course while still meeting rigid deadlines for assignments and prepping for exams. I’m also self-employed, and sometimes after a long day of transcription and copywriting, I just want to flop into a chair and reread Strong Poison for the umpteenth time. Sorry.

The thing is, I’m a fairly rubbish human at times. I’m doing my best. Have a bunny.

Photo of my grey and white rabbit, sat on a bookshelf with my textbooks and folder.

Mea culpa.

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On giving up, but positively

Posted 28 November, 2016 by Nikki in General / 16 Comments

I’m giving up on my reading goals for 2016.

They were useful for quite a while — right into November, after all. But right now, they’re actually getting in the way: making me feel pressured, making reading feel like a chore, closing down my options instead of reminding me how many I have. Generally, I don’t like giving up, but I feel like this is a good time. It doesn’t mean that I won’t read 200 books brought prior to this year, or that I won’t read 366 books overall… but it does mean I’ll stop beating myself up about it.

I think the problem for bloggers sometimes is that you feel the need to keep pushing out reviews, gathering new followers, and gaining likes. After all, that’s how you know your blog is useful and worth the time you’ve put into it — and even the money, for people who self-host. But that also makes it feel like a chore. I have to finish X to get my review out in time for Y…

But the thing is, there’s no point in having a blog if you’re not enjoying it. That’s what most of us get out of it, not money — although free books can be a perk that some reviewers see. It’s been stopping me rereading books as much as I normally would, making me postpone enjoyable books because they’d take too long and I need to write a review now, now, now

(Which I don’t; I’m scheduled up to the 7th of January 2017, as I write, and probably a week beyond that by the time this goes up.)

I know I’m not the only one.

So, bloggers, readers: take the time at the end of this year to make reading, reviewing and blogging fun again, if it has lost its shine. Or even if it hasn’t, but you just want a little break. I dare you to reread a favourite, for no other reason than that you want to. It doesn’t have to be popular, it doesn’t have to be part of a series, it doesn’t have to fit in with your goals or tick your boxes. I dare you to reread a book you only reviewed six months ago, just because you love it. I dare you to pick up your guilty pleasure reading or that book everyone else seems to hate.

And if you won’t, I still will. Let’s love the heck out of books.

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The Women Women Don’t See

Posted 10 October, 2016 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

Kristine Kathryn Rusch has apparently brought out a new SF/F anthology of women writers, focusing on older and classic SF, called Women of Futures Past. Apart from the idea that Lois McMaster Bujold and Connie Willis count as past writers, this is pretty laudable: most people in science fiction fandom are aware of the pushback against female writers which resulted in anthologies like Women Destroy Science Fiction. Witness Christie Yant’s editorial for that book:

The summer of 2013 was a rough one for women in science fiction. Every few weeks there was a new reminder that to a certain subset of the field, we’re not welcome here. There were multiple articles returning to the tired accusation that women (still) aren’t writing “real” SF; disputes about the way the field is represented by vintage cheesecake art on the cover of a professional trade publication; the glib admonition that if we are to succeed, we should be more like Barbie, in her “quiet dignity.”

Gah. But reading the introduction of Rusch’s anthology, written by Rusch herself, there’s a rather odd assertion. Ready?

The idea that women are discriminated against in science fiction is ludicrous to me.

There’s a special sense of cognitive dissonance arising from the fact that the very same introduction goes on to give example after example of discrimination, minimisation and ignorance. As discussed in this thread starting with Rachel Swirsky’s tweet, it seems in a way that there’s a sense of grievance about modern women in SF/F fandom not knowing about the women who came before them. Never mind “The Women Men Don’t See” or the “Women Fen Don’t See”; the complaint seems to be about the women women do not see.

I think it probably is true that women in SF/F fandom today don’t know about all the women who came before them, and those women deserve to be celebrated — though there’s not a single name in the TOC of Rusch’s book I don’t recognise. Her introduction does add somewhat to that, speaking about female editors, which is great.

But if there’s an issue that women now aren’t aware of women who wrote before them, it’s not that they’re not interested, it’s not that they’re not looking for it — and it’s not that the writers Rusch is including have actually been forgotten, because they were definitely the safe picks. Ursula Le Guin, really? She’s amazing, but hardly invisible.

Talking about the struggle for female writers to be taken seriously in SF/F fandom now is not to say that there weren’t women before now, and I think plenty of the current crop of female writers and editors would agree that a light needs to be shone on the invisible female writers who came before. I’m not convinced Rusch’s book is doing it, and I’m not convinced by her assertion that she has seen little discrimination in science fiction fandom. It seems to me that it’s a bit like the Dark Ages: things happened (women wrote books), but we don’t know what they were (who they were), because the records are sparse. And that definitely is due to discrimination, like it or not.

We can but work on it. Personally, I’d love to check out some of these forgotten award winners Rusch mentions — any recommendations on where and how to start for a broke, freelance keyboard monkey?

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Author opinions

Posted 3 October, 2016 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

This discussion post was somewhat inspired by Chuck Wendig’s rant about the idea that writers and creative types should keep their political opinions to themselves. It’s Chuck Wendig, so, uh, expect profanity. I know that from the reader side of things, people often don’t want to know what the opinions of authors they like are — who wants to think about the fact that the man who wrote Ender’s Game is a homophobic, racist asshat?

But the thing is, we can’t have it both ways. We can’t interact with authors on twitter, get excited about them interacting with us and RTing silly pictures of cats, and then get annoyed because they’ve expressed an opinion on Brexit or the US elections. If we want them to be humans we can interact with, then we’ve gotta accept that they have opinions too — and also, of course, that they will make mistakes, say the wrong thing, and otherwise be flawed humans like the rest of us. We’ve got to accept that they live in the same world as us, and that by giving them an audience we’re also giving them a voice. It’s not a voice we have to listen to, but it is a voice they can use, if they so choose.

As for where I stand on whether I’ll read books by people I disagree with, it’s complex. I don’t want Orson Scott Card to profit by me, for example. But I do accept that authors are going to make mistakes and say things I find less than palatable — I’m thinking, for example, of Elizabeth Bear’s involvement in the fandom discussions called Racefail ’09, or Robin Hobb’s rant about the medicating of mental illnesses. In the end, for me, it’s a matter of degree, and also heavily ruled by gut feeling, and tempered by whether the person seems to have learned from or changed since a given meltdown or argument or horribly expressed opinion. I’ve bought Bear’s books, and I will probably buy more of Hobb’s in future (though goodness knows I’m behind on reading her series). I can’t foresee myself buying Card’s books, though. And I’m on the fence about Benjanun Sriduangkaew.

This is getting away from the point, and I’ve covered it before in my post about Liking Problematic Things. The thing is, I would never contest that people have the right to decide that someone’s politics preclude supporting them financially (by buying their books or tie-in merchandise, or whatever). Likewise, I wouldn’t contest that you have the right to say you like something anyway, and you’re not going to make your escapism a political act by buying or not buying particular books based on the authors’ views. Or any part of the spectrum between those two.

The thing now is that people are saying authors shouldn’t express their opinions. They’re interested only in their art and they don’t want to know what they think of feminism or gay marriage. Well, okay, that’s totally fine — so just read their work, and don’t follow them on social media. If someone turns out to be unpleasant as a person on social media, unfollow them and keep reading their books, or never pick up another again, it’s up to you. (Me? I don’t follow Nnedi Okorafor or Ekaterina Sedia anymore, for various reasons; I still read their books.)

But it’s surely not revolutionary to point out that authors are people, who have to live in the same world as us. If they have any influence, any platform, it’s what we give them by being interested in their lives outside the pages of their books. Of course they’re going to use that to get across their opinions — and it’s our responsibility to opt out if we’re not interested.

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Classics via daily serial

Posted 26 September, 2016 by Nikki in General, Reviews / 0 Comments

Seeing Maximum Pop!‘s review of trying out the app Serial Reader gave me an idea for a discussion post, since it looks like that’s one of the things people are looking for around here! Serial Reader, if you hadn’t heard of it, is an app which breaks up various classic books into chunks of about 10-15 minutes reading time, and delivers them to your phone at a set time each day. I started using it a couple of weeks ago, and have already read Ayn Rand’s Anthem, and got almost halfway through Austen’s Emma.

Screencap of the Serial Reader app on Android

Do I like the experience? Yes, actually. My problem with some books has been that I don’t really want to sit down with them and spend any appreciable time with them. Like Anthem, for example. Whereas reading just an extract a day — which takes me rather less than 10-15 minutes, usually — is easy. The divisions usually come in reasonably sensible places, like the end of a chapter or poem, and because I get a notification every day, I find myself reading classics very coherently by installments. I don’t think it’d work for me if I just tried to read the book a chapter at a time or something: it’s the little nudge that makes it easier.

My best experience is perhaps with reading Emily Dickinson’s poetry; I’ve never particularly enjoyed it, but with a very short selection every day, there’s no harm in focusing on what you do get. And while I haven’t suddenly been converted, I’ve enjoyed it more than I expected.

There’s quite a good range of books available on the app, too. One of my next up is On the Origin of Species, because it’s really high time I read that. But there’s also Sherlock Holmes stories, Gothic novels, American classics, H.G. Wells…

I’m not so sure about paying the (admittedly small) onetime fee to get access to the ‘read later’ and ‘read ahead’ features — after all, most if not all of these books are public domain, and you can get them free and read ahead as much as you like — but they’re not really essential to the basic idea, which I plan to stick with. I just keep my list of books to try later in my BulletJournal!

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On Steve Rogers as an Agent of Hydra

Posted 26 May, 2016 by Nikki in General / 9 Comments

If you’ve had your head in the sand for the last day or two, the title of this post might confuse you a little. There’s an article here which covers the basics, but this panel might just sum everything up best:

Image of Captain America saying "hail Hydra".

The moment Marvel stomped on the character of Steve Rogers and all previous portrayals thereof.

And we’re told that this isn’t an impostor. This really is Cap. Hell, Steve’s mother was recruited by Hydra, per some of the flashbacks in this comic.

Yep. The quintessential defender of the little guy is suddenly an agent of Hydra. You know, that Nazi organisation. The ones Steve Rogers has been fighting for seventy-five years of comics history, in various guises.

I don’t even really need to explain why it’s wrong (though this article is a good one on that). Just think of the number of people who read this who now face the fact that Steve Rogers supposedly hates everything they are. It won’t even wash, I agree: no one is going to buy Steve Rogers as an actual Hydra agent. It must be brainwashing or alternate reality or a trick or… something. Because this isn’t the Steve Rogers we know and love — the character which sticks with us throughout different versions, whether he be played by Chris Evans or drawn with more muscles than is anatomically possible. The key thing about Captain America is not the suit, the colour scheme, the beefcake eye-candy. It’s the little guy he was, who kept on fighting and pushing, making the world a better place, never giving a damn what it cost him. Even when he could’ve taken advantage, cashed in, got whatever he wanted.

We know what Captain America wants: it’s justice tempered with mercy, and safety and freedom for everyone. This is not exactly compatible with Hydra’s goals.

Nah, what really sparked this post is all the counter-arguments which start with: You don’t understand comics if you think this is going to stick. Cap will be back to normal in a couple of issues. There’s no way they’re going to mess up this legacy.

I haven’t seen anyone convincingly arguing that this is not a punch in the face for a lot of people. So let’s use that metaphor: if someone hit you, are you going to sit back and wait weeks for them to unfold some narrative that justifies it? Are you going to say, “this person wouldn’t hit me, so it can’t really hurt even though they just hit me”? Are you going to accept them saying, “hey, sorry I hit you, but wait a couple of weeks and it won’t hurt anymore”?

It’s not about how comics work. We all know that the power of retcon is strong in comics. It’s about why anyone thought this was a good idea at all. This is just so fundamentally wrong, not just for the character but as a plot device, because it is so tone deaf. Sometimes you’ll run with a bad idea and somehow not see that it’s a bad idea, so while I’m not happy that Marvel ever let this go ahead, I’m more interested in what they do now. That people talk about it. That people who don’t get it turn around and listen.

It doesn’t matter if Cap is a Nazi for good or not. It matters that Marvel ever thought it was a good idea. But the thing that really gets my goat is this idea that I must not like/understand/read comics if I’m against this plotline. Guys, take a look at my blog. I’ll wait.

Evidently I do read comics, and if you comb back far enough, you’ll find that I don’t just wait for the trade paperback. I buy the comics on the day they come out. I bugged the life out of my local comic shop owner when he couldn’t put Young Avengers or Ms Marvel in my hands fast enough (what do you mean you only stocked enough for people’s pull lists, and no copies left over?). And then I get the trade paperbacks of ones I really like, to reread and lend and enjoy in future.

So yes, I do understand comics. And so maybe it’ll come better from me: you don’t need to understand comics to have an opinion on this questionable, harmful, hurtful, anti-Semetic issue of Captain America.

“You just don’t understand how comics work” is a way of ducking the responsibility for examining something that’s going on in your fandom. I haven’t even seen anyone who thinks this storyline isn’t a problem, I should emphasise. Everyone thinks it is. But some people are trying to sweep it under the rug because… what? Is it too hard to see what’s going on in the world reflected in comics?

Sorry, mates. Look up Cap’s origins. He was never apolitical, never just wish fulfillment, never intended not to be a comment. Comics, like everything else, are part of the world and have to exist within it. Nothing is above or beyond or below criticism.

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Library closures

Posted 30 March, 2016 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

The topic keeps going round on Twitter in these days of cuts and cuts and more cuts to public funded institutions, including libraries. It’s a pretty emotive subject, for those who care — and those who don’t often don’t know that libraries can be a social link, a place to get internet connectivity, a place to do work quietly, to get information about all kinds of topics… as well as the traditional books and resources. I can’t currently think of a library that doesn’t serve at least more than one purpose, whether it be children’s activities or community information. When I lived in Cardiff, they’d just gutted the brand new building and replaced a whole floor with other services to do with benefits and taxes.

Of course, these are all valuable services to the community, and of course libraries have to evolve to stay useful, so I can’t really argue against the Advice Hub in Cardiff Library or Caerphilly Library’s Customer Service Centre. And e-services like borrowing ebooks and audiobooks are also awesome. But libraries are valuable as a place to browse and discover new things, too — as a repository of books you might never think to pick up for yourself. I know I’m not the only one who has started reading some awesome authors and series via library books: Georgette Heyer, Laini Taylor, Sarah J. Maas, John Scalzi… And now I buy the books new, but I would probably never have picked them up if I didn’t get a chance to try them first.

I did also see a poisonous thing going round recently where authors (mostly self-published, I noticed) were complaining that libraries stole their revenue. Well, no, they don’t: they pay for the copy of the book they have, and it’s a finite resource which actually opens up opportunities for authors to reach new readers. In the UK at least, authors receive revenue from library loans via the Public Lending Right.

That’s a tangent, though: the thing is, libraries are important, and trained librarians are important. I was a volunteer for and later on the committee of a community library which had been running for about fifteen years. That’s actually pretty long-lived for such a library, as they often fail due to lack of interest. It’s the Tory Big Society dream: the community comes together to protect and maintain a resource.

Except… we didn’t have much by way of funds. We didn’t have much by way of expertise. Our books were mostly donated by regulars who had already read the books they donated. We had to deal with the upkeep of the building, with space issues, and of course we’d have to get rid of books in bad condition. Until I was on the committee, there was no readily searchable database, and books are still checked in and out by hand (meaning it’s difficult to track them down, and easy for them to go missing). It’s amazing that the library lasted so long on its own, and it’s a testament to the local community’s passion and pride in it that it was a social hub, with classes and events and participation in local life.

But. There may have been one or two volunteers with proper library training, but we were all volunteers. So if someone came in looking for help, the quality of the help they received would strongly depend on whether the volunteer that day knew the proper processes or how to find the information or whatever else. Everyone did the best they could, but without training and resources, our little library was no substitute for a properly funded and equipped library.

So yeah, maybe making libraries into local hubs offering more than just books is a great idea. But I can assure you both that the demand is there for the books, and that the proposed volunteer-run libraries are no real replacement.

If you have a local library, protect it. It’s worth it.

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Why reread?

Posted 14 March, 2016 by Nikki in General / 20 Comments

It probably surprises no one to know, if you’ve read my post on spoilers, that one of the reasons I like to reread books is because of that comforting sense you know what’s coming. I just got finished rereading A Natural History of Dragons, and of course I knew what happened — which took the edge off any impatience or tension, and actually means I’m going to be rating the book at least one star higher. It’s just the way I’m wired, I guess; I like to know, and then watch things unfold with that knowledge and put together, instead of the what, the how and sometimes the why.

(On the other hand, I just reread Winter Rose, and knowing how that ends didn’t help a bit with connecting the dots because there’s something about that book I just don’t get.)

As I said in the post on spoilers, it’s also a way of appreciating the skill of the author: even if you know what’s coming, can they keep you absorbed? Can they keep you following the thread of story round each step of the labyrinth, instead of taking a shortcut? Can they lay a trail of clues for the reader?

Of course, if you have a really great memory, then only the very best of books will stand up to that, or it has to be something else that draws you — the characters? the writing? the nostalgia?

There’s a whole lot of reasons why I reread, but nostalgia and comfort are a big part. I can get the same thing with books that follow a formula — like Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels or Mary Stewart’s suspenseful romances — because I sort of know what’s coming, and I can just settle into it, watching where it takes me.

What about you? Do you reread? Why/why not?

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Posted 7 March, 2016 by Nikki in General / 23 Comments

I seem to be rather odd in fandom in general in that I don’t care about spoilers — in fact, I actually quite like them. That puts me in line with what studies suggest, though: the University of California, San Diego did a study a while ago which took stories and gave them to naive participants (i.e. participants who hadn’t read the stories before) in two categories. One lot of the participants got a spoiler paragraph first; the other lot didn’t. And with stories that have ironic twists, mystery stories and literary stories, every single one showed the same result.

People enjoyed the stories more when they knew what was coming.

Without looking at the studies, I have a couple of theories about that. One is simply anxiety. I am an anxiously inclined person and I can end up utterly stymied with a book, not wanting to read further because I know something bad is about to happen… and I don’t know if things turn out right, whether I should be hopeful or not. But when I know the outcome, I can read the story fine. Sometimes when I’m struggling to read something (or even watch something), I ask for spoilers, or flip to the back of the book.

But there’s a lot more people without that kind of anxiety, I would guess, and for them I have a theory too — connected to one reason I like to reread books: you know what’s going to happen, and you can see the skill of the author in shaping the outcome. If it’s a question of Chekhov’s gun, you can spot the gun and feel clever; you’re reading on a different level. You can still be surprised by how things turn out, but probably you already know whether it’s the kind of story you want to read or not.

The weird thing is that people pretty consistently think they don’t like spoilers, and I wonder if that’s a social thing — “you’ll never believe what’s going to happen!” The whole idea that anticipation is going to make it better.

How about you? Spoilers, no spoilers? Thinking about experimenting with this now?

And will someone please have pity and tell me whether The Winner’s Kiss ends well for Arin and Kestrel?

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The lesbian dies (again)

Posted 4 March, 2016 by Nikki in General / 10 Comments

This morning, I woke up at five AM because I needed a drink. I found a note on the floor from my sister, telling me how heartbroken she was about recent developments in The 100, which she’d excitedly stayed up to watch via a stream. For weeks she’s been telling me about this show: Clarke and Lexa this, Clarke and Lexa that, the team promise good queer representation, etc, etc. She was happy and hopeful and it was nice.

In last night’s show, they killed the lesbian. (And as I said on Twitter the first time, if you’re annoyed about the spoiler, cry yourself a river and use it to get in the sea.)

Me and my sister are both queer. We both attended a conservative little private school where we were, as far as I can tell, the first kids to be openly gay while at school since it was founded in the 17th century. You better believe we received threats and constant harassment, from the moment we got onto the school bus in the morning to the moment we got off it at night — and sometimes longer, since people realised it’d be fun to start calling my sister up to continue with it.

In case you hadn’t noticed, homophobia is definitely not dead. I’m 26 and my sister is 21, and mostly things have got better for us. But you can bet we haven’t forgotten it, and that every time I think I see someone from my old school, I still feel a frisson of fear.

But we’re talking about fiction, right? Doesn’t harm anything.

It used to be a rule: if you have a lesbian character, they have to either go straight or come to a tragic end. Queer Tragedy. It had to be there: queer people don’t get to be happy (because they’re deviant). The Well of Loneliness counts as great queer literature — you can tell from the title it’s not going to be happy, and I can assure you it isn’t. It ends with the queer couple breaking up, and one partner going off to be part of a straight relationship, because that’s “safer”.

So no, your decision is not “bold“, Jason Rothenberg. It’s not narratively necessary, because you write the fucking narrative. You can choose. And you chose to look at the excitement around the queer representation on your show, the whole fandom climate with people shouting that a queer character should die so they could have their straight ship, the sheer bubbling hope that maybe this time, maybe this time, people would finally have a lesbian heroine who can kick ass and save everyone and be with the person she loves.

And you chose to say no.

Let me emphasise this: it was not forced upon you. You could’ve made a whole new narrative.

Instead, you killed the lesbian and my sister cried for over an hour. Not just because it was sad, not just because she’d got invested, but because she’d hoped that this time it’d be different and she’d get a love story written for her.

Now I’ve already seen the excuses.

  • It was necessary for the narrative. Covered this one. Next?
  • Lots of characters die. And? It still means something each time. And this time it filled a shitty, shitty trope.
  • The actor had to leave anyway. And character death is the only way to leave the show?
  • It was heroic. Heroic don’t keep anyone warm at night.
  • The show never mentions discrimination by sexuality. It doesn’t have to. We live in a world where that exists, and we experience the story framed by our world.
  • You should be grateful for what you’ve got. When what we’ve got is a reaffirmation of a shitty outdated narrative, why should we be?

When you kill a queer character, you’re killing a disproportionate amount of our on-screen representation. Sure, the diversity was there for a moment, but now the list of queer characters on TV is shorter by one. And it wasn’t that long to begin with. And these are people who need to see themselves in the world, who need to be treated as if they matter. Queer youth have ridiculously high suicide rates compared to their straight peers. You’re much, much more likely to get kicked out by your parents for being gay than for being straight. Schools turn a blind eye. People actively try and tell you that you’re evil and you’ll come to a bad end.

The 100 chose the easy option. The well-trodden path. It doesn’t matter if the lesbian had a heroic end. It doesn’t matter if her death furthers the plot, or even if her partner goes on to do great things without her. The key thing is: without her. The key thing is: queer people die.

We do. Every day. And it’s high time that stopped being our only story.

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