Tag: SF/F


Imposter syndrome and an essay on Frankenstein

Posted 7 November, 2013 by Nikki in Academic / 4 Comments

I have a tragic lack of confidence in my own academic abilities. I know, intellectually, that I have two good degrees in English Literature from a reputable university. But I don’t really believe that. I worry that I was given my degrees out of pity, or favoritism, or due to a sheer mistake. I pretty much embody the idea of imposter syndrome.

My online courses, though they fill me with joy in one sense, are just making that worse. In my literature classes, I am getting bad marks. Literature classes! My ego is bruised and sullen, my imposter syndrome thinks it’s justified, and I’m feeling the urge to quietly withdraw from the course and possibly the entire internet in mortification at my own stupidity.

Because that’s a bloody stupid idea, here is my mini-essay on Frankenstein written for the SF/F class on Coursera, with bonus reference to Beowulf. I’m not going to pretend it’s utter genius, and it’s very short (all essays for this class are 320 words long or less), but it’s an idea I would like to develop and think about some more, and it’s an analysis based on literary context, not completely pulled out of thin air.


The Mark of Cain

There are many Biblical references in Frankenstein, particularly revolving around Genesis and the creation of Adam (“I ought to be thy Adam”, chapter ten). Biblical imagery offers a powerful way to read the novel, and one Biblical story closely connected with that of Adam, though not mentioned in Frankenstein, is the story of Cain and Abel.

The murder of Abel by Cain has its echoes in the murder of Victor’s brother by the monster. Though it is the monster which kills William, Victor is complicit in that death because of his neglect of the creature he made. Both Victor and the monster are set apart from humankind, as Cain is: “a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be” (Genesis 4:12), God says to Cain, and that is equally true for Frankenstein’s monster. But it is also true of Frankenstein himself: “I saw an insurmountable barrier placed between me and my fellow men; this barrier was sealed with the blood of William and Justine” (chapter 19).

The monster’s exile is not solely due to his crimes, but also to his appearance, which suggests a link with the mark of Cain (Genesis 4:15). Another link worth noting is that monsters are sometimes described as being descended from Cain: Grendel, in the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf, is identified as kin to Cain. He is a “wretched creature”, as Frankenstein’s monster is so often described, “siþðan him scyppend      forscrifen hæfde / in Caines cynne” (“since the Creator had condemned him with the kin of Cain”, ll. 106-107).

Though this connection is not made explicit by Mary Shelley in the text, the similarities are there; Frankenstein’s monster acts out the first chapters of Genesis in a compressed form, going from creation (as Adam) to acquiring knowledge (i.e. comparing the interlude where he observes Felix and his family with the Fall) to the first murder of the human race (that of Abel).

 

Works cited:
Anonymous, Beowulf (Published online, 2012: http://www.heorot.dk/beowulf-rede-text.html), quoted translation is my own
Shelley, Mary, Frankenstein (Project Gutenberg, 2008: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/84/84-h/84-h.htm)
Various, The King James Bible (Accessed online: http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Genesis-Chapter-4/)

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 6 November, 2013 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

If I can just be persuaded to log off LOTRO, perhaps you can have my “what are you reading Wednesday” post before it’s Thursday…

What did you recently finish reading?
Other than what I’ve posted reviews of here, which is a little obvious, I read Jacky Hyam’s Bomb Girls, an account of what women working in munitions factories did during WWII, including their own stories and opinions. Before that, it was Frankenstein for my Coursera class.

What are you currently reading?
The Holders by Julianna Scott, which is an ARC I’ve had for a little while. Still reading my book on panic attacks, still reading half a dozen other things at least, but none of them particularly actively. At the moment I’m focusing on knocking down one… book… at… a… time. Which is difficult for me, as I’ve always been a bit prone to reading at least half a dozen books at once. Which is fine, until it gets overwhelming.

What do you think you’ll read next?
I’ve been neglecting a couple of ARCs which I’m already partway through, so I think I’ll work on those — it’ll be relatively easy to knock them off the list and stop feeling so guilty about them! So that’ll be The Darwin Elevator (Jason M. Hough) and Republic of Thieves (Scott Lynch), though I’ve since bought the Scott Lynch for myself…

Books acquired:
A few P.G. Wodehouse books from the second hand store (Troutmark Books in Castle Arcade, in Cardiff, always excellent) — not the Jeeves & Wooster books, sadly, but still. Wodehouse. Should be fun. I think there’s also been a few fantasy books involving dragons, including The Second Mango (Shira Glassman), which has me very curious from the title alone. It’s also a lesbian fantasy story, which should be interesting.

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Reviews – Poltergeeks & Student Bodies

Posted 3 November, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Poltergeeks, by Sean Cummings Poltergeeks, Sean Cummings

Poltergeeks is really fun. It’s definitely very adolescent in tone, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously. In fact, sometimes it’s almost too flippant, which would be my main criticism — but it made up for that for me by having a solid, meaningful relationship between the mother and daughter at the centre of the story. Not a perfect one, I hasten to add, but a strong one, and one where neither of them is portrayed as evil in any way for butting heads. Julie doesn’t go off on her being all Wondergirl; she has her mother, and she has… well, the rest is spoilers.

The story has a romantic relationship too, but that isn’t overpowering and fits neatly in with the plot. I like that there’s relatively little drama between the male and female leads, and that they’re so solidly best friends.

Overall, solid and enjoyable.

Review on Goodreads.

Cover of Student Bodies by Sean CummingsStudent Bodies, Sean Cummings

Ouch. Wow, ouch. I got this from Netgalley a while ago — that’s the main reason I moved Poltergeeks up in the to read queue — and had no idea it would stomp on my heart. I wouldn’t have expected it from reading Poltergeeks, either: the first book is light and easy, with some drama and moments of worry, but nothing really dark or deeply affecting.

For the first hundred pages or so (as my ereader counted it, anyway), this was going to get about the same vote from me. And then the final showdown. Wow. And the aftermath of it. Wow again. Now I need another book where all of this gets sorted out, stat. If I thought things went a little too smoothly in the first book, well… that ending at least made up for it.

I know very little about Native Americans, so I’m just not going to comment on that aspect of the story, other than to say that it’s pretty awesome there are Native American characters, who have their own power and an important role to play.

Review on Goodreads.

And let’s pause a moment to enjoy those gorgeous covers, yeah?

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Review – The Almost Girl

Posted 31 October, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of The Almost Girl, by Amalie HowardThe Almost Girl, Amalie Howard

Received as an ARC from Netgalley. Like all Angry Robot/Strange Chemistry books, this is a compulsive read: I started it this afternoon and just finished it now. I think I’d have been more enthusiastic about it when I was younger, and I’m almost positive my sister would really enjoy it. Even now I found it interesting, and got swept up in the action.

Part of the problem for me is the very teenage focus on attraction and love, which is not something I’m particularly interested in. On the flip side of that, all Riven’s issues about family ring clear no matter what, I think. And that’s not the only aspect of the plot, of course: there’s also the technological aspects, the half-glimpsed history of the world, which I enjoyed piecing together.

Some plot twists were fairly obvious to me from the beginning, and I was a little disappointed that a certain character turned out to be twisted all along: I prefer some ambiguity and would’ve liked to see Riven’s reaction, faced with him and with everything she’s done all along.

I’m interested to see how Riven’s character develops, after the revelations of this book and the changes that’ve come up — both in her society and for her personally.

Review on Goodreads.

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Review – Seven Markets

Posted 31 October, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Seven Markets by David HoffmanThe Seven Markets, David Hoffman

I got this as an ARC from Netgalley far too long ago. If it hadn’t been a Netgalley book, I don’t know if I’d have finished it. Maybe I would’ve; I’m stubborn like that at times. I did actually enjoy this until about halfway through, but then it stopped obeying its own internal rules, stopped explaining things — quite frankly, it stopped making sense. The idea of a story that melds fantasy and science fiction is interesting to me, so I didn’t dismiss it out of hand for that, but… everything just happened, without rhyme or reason as far as I could tell.

The structure was ambitious too, and again, I wouldn’t automatically discount it. But that combined badly with the plot, making it unintelligible. The idea of a plot of seven chapters, each following three days in each hundred years, sounds fascinating. But the jumps between were just too much.

The characters… I was ready to like Ellie, and her love for Joshua, very much. In the first chapter, it’s warm and feeling. Almost a nostalgic smile at a first love. But that warmth just dropped out of it, and for me Ellie turned out to be very unpleasant.

It’s not a bad book, per se, but I do think it was unsuccessful.

Review on Goodreads.

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What Are You Reading Wednesday

Posted 30 October, 2013 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
Reza Aslan’s Zealot was the last thing I finished, and before that it was Fables vol. 3: Storybook Love, by Bill Willingham et al. I’m really ambivalent about the Fables series, somehow: I’m interested and I want to see where it goes, but when I read other people’s criticism, I can’t help but agree. It uses some tired old tropes, and the stories often feel banal. Still, there’s something in the sheer interest of watching characters from fables navigate the “real” world, and in recognising them and guessing ahead how their unique properties will affect the story.

What are you currently reading?
I’m mostly trying to work on ARCs that I still owe reviews for, so I’m currently reading David Hoffman’s Seven Markets. The structure is a little awkward, but it remains to be seen whether that ends up working for the story or not. I still have my “book prescription” to read, too, Christine Ingham’s Panic Attacks; I think I’ve barely started it. There’s a lot of other books I’m technically partway through… Oh, I did start The Unexpected Mrs Pollifax, by Dorothy Gilman, which is fun enough but not really keeping my attention.

What do you think you’ll read next?
I think I’ll be trying to finish Seven Forges (James A. Moore), from my ARCs list. Although I just got a couple of new ones, and I’m very tempted by Strange Chemistry’s The Almost Girl (Amalie Howard)…

Books acquired:
I think it might be none. I got the latest issue of Young Avengers in the last week, I’m sure, but other than that, I really think it might be none. My most recent ARCs were The Almost Girl, The Cormorant (Chuck Wendig), Iron Wolves (Andy Remic), and Shadowplay (Laura Lam).

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Review – Between Two Thorns

Posted 30 October, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Between Two Thorns by Emma NewmanBetween Two Thorns, Emma Newman

Technically, I’ve both received this to review on Netgalley and received a copy as a competition prize from Angry Robot, so it’s high time I got round to it. My review will, of course, be an honest one.

In fact, I’m not entirely sure what to make of this. I enjoyed reading it, but it didn’t seem to pull together at the end — instead of the first book of a trilogy, it felt like the first part of a book. It’s not even exactly a cliffhanger ending, it’s just… some things wrap up, but most things don’t, leaving several plot threads dangling and a major mystery unsolved. I’m interested in reading the rest of the trilogy, but this way of ending the book didn’t feel right.

Anyway, the most interesting thing about this book is the world-building, the Fae world and our world, and Exilium. There were times when that felt rather like other books (Daughter of Smoke and Bone came to mind pretty strongly during the Shopkeeper chapters, and Tad Williams’ War of the Flowers comes to mind as a comparison too), but it was intriguing enough to keep my attention. The characters, less so — Cathy is made a bit too average, I think, and Will a bit too perfect, but in that cocky self-assured way that never fails to irritate. I want to know what happens to them, but I’m not convinced I care.

There’s nothing about this book (other than the ending issues I mentioned above) that makes me dislike it, but I think my feelings on it will alter (or not) depending on what the other two books of the trilogy are like. Unfortunately, I don’t have Any Other Name, so that might be a while from now.

Review on Goodreads.

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Review – A Gift Upon the Shore

Posted 29 October, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of A Gift Upon the Shore by M.K. Wren A Gift Upon the Shore, M.K. Wren

I received this book on Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I really wanted and expected to like it; it’s a reissue of a book published in 1990, and offers a more female viewpoint on the story of nuclear apocalypse and survival, even regrowth. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t get into it: the pace is slow, the writing feels stodgy, and it feels more than a bit judgemental about Christianity — or Christians, at least. I don’t see any reason why the more Christian a character professes to be, the more dogmatic and intolerant they behave. I’m very close to some very serious, devout Christians: whatever they believe about me (the fact that I’m a Unitarian Universalist, the fact that I have a same-sex partner), they treat me with compassion and understanding.

As for the writing, it’s little repetitive tics that give it the sense of stodginess and clumsiness. Every other chapter for at least the first quarter of the book starts by telling us what ‘Mary Hope’ is doing — bludgeoning the reader over the head with that pointed surname. To me, the structure of alternating present first person and past third person chapters felt clumsy too: quite often the one introduces the other, and yet little happens in either to justify taking up a whole chapter, let alone two.

I like the idea, but I think it would have been better served by simplicity of language, structure and style.

Review on Goodreads.

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Review – Dragonflight

Posted 28 October, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Dragonflight by Anne McCaffreyDragonflight, Anne McCaffrey

I was surprised at how well this stood up to the test of time. I originally read these books when I was… maybe ten, eleven? I loved them, though nothing really beat this first one, as I recall. I was afraid that I’d misjudged the books badly, but while I don’t think this is the most wonderful book ever ever ever, I did really enjoy rereading it.

The early sexism in the story drove me to distraction, of course, but that’s mostly a character thing, not a narrative thing: Lessa is a very strong character, and while she isn’t always right, she’s brave, and many of the big events of the book depend on her. She and F’lar are a strong partnership; they balance each other well (him cool and calculating, her emotional and ready to take a leap of faith — though that is, now I think about it, perhaps a little irritating in terms of gender roles) and there’s no doubt that it’s their partnership that saves Pern.

There are problematic things about their relationship as well, and the whole “our dragons are having sex so I will have sex with you whether you want it or not” issue, and no one (even F’lar, a lot of the time) explaining anything to Lessa even when it makes exactly zero sense to leave her in ignorance… but I think Lessa is the heart and soul of the book. I’m having a bit of difficulty seeing the level of abuse other reviews mention: F’lar has a bit of a tendency to shake Lessa; there is that little issue of “dragons made us do it”; when she goes into shock he slaps her to bring her round… He does grab hold of her fairly hard at one point, after she has gravely shocked and disgusted him by attempting to mind-control another dragonrider. I can see how that adds up, but it still didn’t read that way to me. Exercise caution, though.

Of course, out of sentiment and a willingness to be amused, I didn’t try to poke holes in the plot and the various technologies. They may well be there, but I’m willing to be charmed out of it. For now. So for now, I found the time travel issues interesting, and the whole set-up of the problem pretty ingenious.

Review on Goodreads.

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Review – The Stepford Wives

Posted 26 October, 2013 by Nikki in Reviews / 5 Comments

Cover of The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin The Stepford Wives, Ira Levin

The Stepford Wives left me with a nasty squirmy feeling inside. It’s a famous story, so of course I knew the basics already, but somehow the matter-of-fact delivery just really unsettled me. Maybe what unsettled me most was following a couple of links and finding out that people take it quite literally, or the explanation of the male protagonist masturbating to the idea of killing his wife and replacing her with a robot. Ughh. Really the creepiest thing is that this feminist, decent-seeming guy… even he gives in to this idea.

The first thing to bother me, though, was Chuck Palahniuk’s introduction. Here’s a bit from it:

This is seems is progress: women may now choose to be pretty, stylishly dressed, and vapid. This is no longer the shrill, politically charged climate of 1972; if it’s a choice freely made, then it’s… okay.

Which, yes, Mr Palahniuk, it is. If it’s really a freely made choice, then I will support any woman’s decisions about her own body, her own life. It’s none of my business. Funnily enough, it seems like you still think women’s bodies are your business, that women’s careers must meet your standards.

Now, if you look at it from the angle that it’s incredibly difficult to make a free choice in this society, then I’d agree. It’s entirely true that there are still men like Ira Levin’s Dale Coba, still men who want women to be nothing more than dolls, and men who will force women to be nothing more than dolls. It’s true that just earlier this week someone was berating me in one of the Coursera forums and saying that women just can’t think scientifically, etc, and that the West is “feminised” and… There’s all kinds of stupid ideas still out there. That’s all true.

But even the pretty, stylishly dressed and vapid among us have inner lives, unlike Ira Levin’s Stepford women.

Review on Goodreads. Likes always help with getting me ARCs, etc!

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