TC Razorhurst

Tempest Challenge #19 – Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier

Razorhurst is set in Sydney, Australia 1932. The protagonists are women and the characters AREN’T all white. What. How can this be? It’s a sneaky plot by Justine Larbalestier to make her books realistic and relevant or something. Justine continues to eschew uncomplicated and simple narratives about young people with this amazing historical novel. If you haven’t read her other books, start here and work your way back and do not pass Liar or How to Ditch Your Fairy on your way to GO.

Would love to hear your thoughts on Razorhurst on the #KTBookChallenge tag on Twitter and Tumblr or the comments here or on YouTube. And, as always, you can support me making Tempest Challenge vids by clicking the links below when you…

Buy Razorhurst from Powell’s or Amazon.

Tempest Challenge Uprooted

Tempest Challenge #18 – Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Next up on the Challenge: Uprooted. This novel is on the Nebula ballot for best novel and I am thrilled that this is so. The book deserves it. I’m still trying to figure out how Naomi Novik squeezed an entire trilogy’s worth of worldbuilding, plot, and action into a single book. It’s a thick book, sure. Not that thick, though! And yet it feels like in the hands of a less skilled writer this would be a sprawling trilogy with a middle book that leaves readers frustrated until they read the end. Skip all that and just read this.

Would love to hear your thoughts on Uprooted on the #KTBookChallenge tag on Twitter and Tumblr or the comments here or on YouTube. And, as always, you can support me making Tempest Challenge vids by clicking the links below when you…

Buy Uprooted from Powell’s or Amazon.

Gods of Egypt you done fucked up

Gods of Egypt is a Racist, Whitewashed Failure of a Movie

Gods of Egypt has been a problem since the final casting was announced and people started petitions against it. And yet Lionsgate Films and the director chose to ignore people’s upset over a whitewashed Ancient Egypt pantheon of gods. And now their movie is a big, fat financial bomb.

Good.

Serves them right.

When reviewers got ahold of this movie they tore it to shreds. It has a 13% score on Rotten Tomatoes (up from 10% a couple of days ago. Progress!). Everyone with sense is saying this movie is not funny haha cult following bad, it’s horrendous.

Charlie Jane Anders’ review on io9 is titled “Murder Is Legal and Torture Is Mandatory, Because Gods of Egypt Exists” and opens thusly:

The moment I walked out of a screening of Gods of Egypt, I set about building a massive throne out of human pelvises. I worked feverishly through the night, barely pausing to listen to the sounds of the city fracturing into seven brutal revels: a chainsaw maze, a great pit full of vengeful lobsters, a poisoned rave, and so on. As I climbed at last atop my pelvic majesty, I had a perfect view of the inundation of viscera that had turned the very streets into canals: For even if nobody else ever saw this movie, its very existence was enough to sunder every human relation for once and ever. There could be no language, no society, no kindness, after Gods of Egypt.

How did this happen? Why didn’t somebody involved with the creation of Gods of Egypt realize what they were setting in motion, and that this movie was not just bad, but obscenely, devastatingly bad?

There are so many wonderfully funny bits in this review that I can’t quote them all. Here are a few more, but read the whole thing, please:

Gods of Egypt has been justly criticized for its policy of casting white people as almost all of its Egyptian characters—to the point where it might be the first movie whose director apologized months before it was released. But the casting is just one of the many problems that eat away at this movie, which seems to have fed slices of Egyptian cultural traditions into a typical Hollywood “Save the Cat Goddess” structure, to try and create something familiar and comfort-foody, with an exotic veneer.

…loosely based on Egyptian mythology, if the Egyptian gods were mostly white people who could turn into animal robots, sort of like Transformers.

…every few minutes, the movie asks us to care about stakes-raising weird ideas like …“Set has stolen the glowing blue brain of the only black person in the movie!”

…you don’t get the impression that any of the human characters actually worships these gods or considers them more than just oversized people with random powers.

But for the most part, Gods of Egypt feels like such an abdication of story, and such a bastardization of culture, that the only sane response is to abandon sanity, and enlist in the murder-police of the senseless new era.

Good.

Serves them right.

Some other reviewers also mentioned the whitewashing thing, but didn’t make it a central part of their review. Not like Scott Woods, who just went in with “Gods of Egypt is the most racist film ever“:

For the record, I’m going to spoil the shit out of this movie because a) you have no business seeing it even for free, and b) fuck this movie.

Gods of Egypt is the most racist film in the last one hundred years. It is the most diabolically conceived, politically incorrect, and unapologetically racist film since The Birth of a Nation (the 1915 white one, not the 2016 black one, and how cool is it that we have to clarify that now?). It is more racist than Song of the South and Soul Man, which is no small feat. It is more racist than Mississippi Burning, The Revenant, The Help and Dragonball Evolution. It is more racist than the eye-rolling Bringing Down the House and The Last Samurai. It manages to somehow be more racist than Blendedand Dances With Wolves. It is more racist than Dangerous Minds and its didn’t-bring-shit-to-the-party cousin, Freedom Writers. It is magically more racist than The Green Mile. It has unseated my standing favorite, The Lone Ranger, for most racist movie, and I thought Johnny Depp’s Tonto was going to get us to at least 2020.

Damn, son.

Here’s how Gods of Egypt beat the high score:

When you do something wrong and you don’t know any better, that’s a crime of ignorance. You don’t know or understand the ramifications of what you’re doing, or you’re too stupid to see how what you’re doing is wrong. Matchbox Twenty singer Rob Thomas joking that he drinks until he becomes a “black Australian” is a racist act borne out of his ignorance. He says he didn’t know about the history and politics of the association, fine, you’re ignorant (and racist). The KKK, on the other hand, is willfully ignorant. It is not a group of blissfully unknowing individuals. There is nothing accidental about their racism. They know that the things they do are uninformed and illegal and wrong. They just don’t care.

This is the way in which Gods of Egypt is racist: the filmmakers know that the film is wrong. Not historically inaccurate…flat-out wrong. They knew that people would gather and point out that it was wrong. They did not care that it was wrong. They made the film the way they wanted to make anyway.

And he’s not wrong. The director knew from jump what he intended to do. Perhaps he got a little worried at one point and called up Ridley Scott, who was in the final stages of filming another racist whitewashed epic set in Egypt, and asked “Should I abandon the idea of casting white people as leads in my movie?” and Scott probably said to him, “Nah, son. You can’t mount a film with that budget and say that your lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such.[1]

You need to go read all of Scott Woods’ review/essay as well, as he breaks down all the reasons why the racism, the whitewashing, and even the token casting of one brown dude is a huge and serious problem[2].

All of this is enough, really, to condemn Gods of Egypt for all time. And so I feel silly even mentioning this. But… it makes me mad that this movie messes up Egyptian mythology so badly.

Not even on the I’m Black And Ancient Egypt Is My Heritage level[3]. As a person who has studied mythology and other aspects of a few ancient cultures, it fills me with rage when media properties treat mythologies as interchangeable. The first time I saw the trailer for this trasheap of a movie, my second thought (after ‘goddamn whitewashing!’) was: Horus is not Odin, you douchcanoes.

After reading the plot summary on Wikipedia, I am even more enraged. Ra is not Odin, either (nor as terrible a father; what the hell). Set is not Hades. Hathor is not Aphrodite or Persephone. Horus IS NOT THOR FROM THE MCU. Egyptian Sphinxes do not tell riddles! The Egyptian afterlife is not Hell!

I think I discovered why all but one of the main characters in this movie are white. Because someone thinks that Egypt is in the suburb of Greece where the Norse gods come to visit on holiday[4].

Honestly, Egyptian mythology and cosmology is far more complex and less straightforward than Greek mythology seems from the myths most people know. And attempts to make it straightforward and just like the myths we know result in crap like this. It could be cool for some movie to attempt to translate some of that complexity to the screen. For someone to use film to show how Egyptian spiritual conceptions were quite different from the other folks in nearby regions.

This is too much to hope for, I think. Especially in light of the fact that white Americans still put tattoos of Ganesha on their bodies because that’s rad, dude, and Hinduism is a living religion.

It’s only a small consolation that this movie is going to bomb and the studio has lost massive money and the bad reviews will chase the director for a while and maybe make him cry on his pillow at night. Too bad a slew of shit reviews and the loss of money won’t be enough to stem the tide of racist whitewashing in Hollywood.

Footnotes

  1. This is based on Scott’s real life explanation of why he cast all white folks: “I can’t mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such. I’m just not going to get it financed. So the question doesn’t even come up.” I am not making this up.[]
  2. Don’t read the comments. Here, I’ll summarize them for you: Egyptians are not Africans and never have been and anyone who thinks Egypt had black people in it is stupid and arglebargleN-word.[]
  3. Which, to be honest, is not where my feelings about Ancient Egypt are based. I mean, since I don’t have the ~luxury~ of being able to trace my ancestry back to any specific location on the African continent, I embrace all ancient African knowledge, art, and culture as being part of my in general heritage as a human person whose near ancestors came from the place. But I don’t think my 10 times great-grandfather was a Pharaoh or anything.[]
  4. Imma stop all you BUT WHAT ABOUT THE PTOLEMYS folks right here. Because while there is a ton of cultural crossover between Egypt and Greece and Macedonia and other cultures in the region, it was the distant past people who we collectively call Greeks who were influenced by Egypt first. Also, I do not mean to imply that the Greek peoples are white, only that the Western perception of Greeks, or at least Ancient Greeks, as white, is what drives the nonsense behind Gods of Egypt.[]

Tempest Challenge #17 – Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson

After many months away, the Tempest Challenge videos are back. I’m doing a bunch of new things around these videos this month and next, and the plan is to keep going on a regular basis for at least another year. I’ll need some help from you (yes, you!)–details on that to come.

Meantime, my latest challenge is Alaya Dawn Johnson’s Love is the Drug, a YA Mystery told from the perspective of a voice we don’t often see in fiction: an upper class black teen girl.

Would love to hear your thoughts on Love is the Drug on the #KTBookChallenge tag on Twitter and Tumblr or the comments here or on YouTube. And, as always, you can support me making Tempest Challenge vids by clicking the links below when you…

Buy Love is the Drug from Powell’s or Amazon.

JemCas Aztec Enchantment

New JEMcasts: “Aztec Enchantement” and “Music Is Magic”

Good news, bad news time. Good news: there’s a new JEMcast out! Bad news: I am not in this episode.

Cue weeping and rending of garments!

Never fear, Alex and Aleen did a great job. And even more good news for me: I didn’t have to watch “Music Is Magic” and suffer through all that bad animation. Wow, such terribad animation.

      The JEMcast: Music Is Magic

JemCas Aztec Enchantment

More good news: I was on last week’s episode where we talked about “Aztec Enchantment.” A decent episode that managed to not be as offensive as the china episode. This is the measure we use for these things on the podcast.

There are some facepalmy moments of WTFness balanced out by moments that show the writer truly meant well, even while still coming from a place of privilege.

Listen to the episode below or subscribe via  iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, or RSS.

      The JEMcast: Aztec Enchantment
Write Gear episode 3 The Whole Body Is The Mind A conversation with Andrea Hairston

Who Needs Handwriting? The Write Gear vs Freakonomics Radio!

Write Gear episode 3 The Whole Body Is The Mind A conversation with Andrea Hairston

This week’s episode of my new podcast The Write Gear is almost the entire raison d’être I finally got this project off the ground. I recorded the conversation therein several years ago at ReaderCon, and ever since that time I’ve said to myself “I need to make this podcast happen so everyone can hear what Andrea Hairston has to say about writing by hand and creativity and journals and fountain pens.” After much help from my producer over at Hologram Radio, it’s finally out in the world.

Listen to TWG #3: The Whole Body Is The Mind – A conversation with Andrea Hairston right here or subscribe in iTunes

      The Write Gear: Episode 3

I’m happy it happened during the Month of Letters since this is the time of year I spend with my pen and paper people. And by total coincidence, it went out over the series of tubes the same week that Freakonomics Radio pushed their latest podcast, “Who Needs Handwriting?” Who, indeed?

The opening asks whether writing something down is “as outdated as saying that you’re going to “dial” a phone number…” The first person host Stephen Dubner talks to is Anne Trubek, former professor at Oberlin College who focused on the history of writing and writing technologies, and writer of the controversial article “Stop Teaching Handwriting,” which you probably read or heard about if you’re a handwriting nerd. Dubner also talked to Princeton’s Dr. Pam Mueller and professor Daniel Oppenheimer, who co-authored the paper “The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking,” which, again, you probably read or heard about if you’re a handwriting nerd.

Trubek is of the opinion that the trend of schools not spending time teaching cursive or penmanship is excellent, and that we’re better off in general moving on to newer technologies that are more democratizing. She feels this, in part, because of her son’s struggle with writing in the third grade. From the article linked above:

My son… spends much of his school day struggling to learn how to form the letter “G.” … Simon now fears taking up a pencil. Repeatedly being told his handwriting is bad (a fine-motor-skill issue) has become, in his mind, proof that he is a bad writer (an expression issue). He now hates writing, period.

That doesn't even look like a damn GI get that the emphasis on correct cursive can be detrimental, especially when you bring in the fact that some people may not have the fine motor skills to write the perfect G, and it’s silly to expect them to as long as they can write a G of any kind and recognize the letter and understand what it does in a word. And, let’s face it, the way we are taught to make Gs in cursive is ugly and dumb.

However, I feel like there’s a conflation with handwriting and cursive going on in both her essay and in the Freakonomics piece that I don’t think is warranted. One can write by hand and not write in cursive. One can get the benefits of writing by hand and not write in cursive. I agree with Kate Gladstone (handwriting cheerleader), who says:

Handwriting matters, but not cursive. The fastest, clearest handwriters join only some letters: making the easiest joins, skipping others, using print-like forms of letters whose cursive and printed forms disagree.

I do what Gladstone points out a majority of handwriting teachers do: a hybrid where I mix “some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive.” I go for what is fast and legible.

Handwriting does matter, and even moreso for creative people. In our conversation, Andrea talks about why writing by hand at certain points in the creative process are key.

I believe that the whole body is the mind, and so when I write with the pen I’m using my whole body. There have been a lot of studies that say when you write cursive it engages your whole brain because it engages your whole body.

I want to get into the dance of the words and the dance of the words can happen when I have a fountain pen. When I have a piece of paper that’s sort of like parchment and it’s got textures… and I am basically conjuring the words.

When I go to type, I don’t feel like I’m conjuring the words.

Andrea is quick to say that she loves and uses all her devices for writing, including her tablet and computer. They each have a role to play in the various steps of creating.

Anne Trubek would have you think that the only reason people cling to handwriting is to romanticize the old or as a purity test for the authentic self[1], and that the entities behind studies about handwriting are just “companies that make their money off of penmanship and curriculum,” and that people should embrace new technologies such as keyboards and voice recognition because they’re better for people without fine motor skills. This leaves out two important aspects. The first is that new technology includes digital pens for writing by hand, even if you’re not writing on paper. The second is that writing by hand has an impact on how we process information; a different impact than typing.

That second point is illustrated by Mueller and Oppenheimer’s research linked above (which was not funded by the evil pen and paper lobby, thank you) which talks about how your brain processes more when taking notes by hand as opposed to on a laptop. From the podcast:

Mueller’s argument is that because handwriting is slower, you’re forced to decide as you go what’s worth writing down. And this gets your brain engaged in processing the information as you go.

MUELLER: And when you process something more deeply, it’s more likely to stick.

There have also been studies that scan the brains of small children just learning to read and write to see what happens when a child writes out a letter vs identifying and typing it on a keyboard. Andrea talks about this, too. How forming a word with your pen different from typing it on a keyboard. With keys, the motion is the same. With a pen, the motion involves much more of you and is unique to you.

I found it odd that the Freakonomics episode failed to include any discussion of digital pens and styluses for computers and tablets. The iPad Pro is relatively new, yes; the tech behind it is not[2]. I’ve been using a Galaxy Note to create digital, handwritten notes for years. And there are many ThinkPad users who’ve been rocking stylus input for over a decade. In less than 10 years we’ve gone from having to memorize Graffiti strokes for Palm Pilot input to natural handwriting recognition on phones and tablets and laptops, no training necessary for you or the machine.

This wouldn’t have happened if handwriting wasn’t seen as necessary or desirable by consumers and business users. All those iPad Pencils and SPens and whatever they call the thing that comes with a ThinkPad aren’t only for artists. People still like to be able to write by hand, and find it less cumbersome than on-screen keyboards. That you can now save your writing digitally as strokes or as regular text is a big deal[3].

I reject Trubek’s thinking that the march of progress is going to leave handwriting completely behind. Not because I see it as the pinnacle of human expression, but because it has tapped into something in our brains that appears to be a key element in our development right now. Something that just typing doesn’t. That need not mean that we won’t keep using keyboards of some kind, and it doesn’t mean voice recognition or direct brain downloads aren’t the wave of the future. I think what it means is that we won’t leave handwriting completely behind–not for a long time–just because it isn’t new.

Your thoughts on any of this are, as always, welcome in the comments.

Footnotes

  1. Real talk: she’s not completely wrong. There have been more than a few people who go full hipster when talking about this topic.[]
  2. Apple didn’t even revolutionize the concept, they just made a tablet that does what Galaxy Note tablets and smartphones have been doing for about 6 years now.[]
  3. I’ve written several pieces on this in the past and I still ride or die for my LiveScribe pen as a journalism tool. Looks like I need to make an episode of The Write Gear about digital pens and stylii.[]
Less than or equal

Interview: I’m on Less Than Or Equal!

Less than or equal

I know I shared this on social media back when it happened. I didn’t share it on the blog, though! And if you missed it, you must listen.

Aleen Simms, who is on the JEMcast with me, has a podcast of her own called Less Than Or Equal where she interviews people. She’s an excellent interviewer, knowing just when to ask questions and just when to let people be brilliant. I was quite honored that she wanted me to be on the show.

If you don’t already subscribe to her show, you need to. But listen to the episode I’m on first, because it’s awesome and interesting. We talk about Jem, of course, and also music, and my college days, and Tempest Challenges, and other stuff.

S2E8: The Treasure Hunt

New JEMcast: The Treasure Hunt

S2E8: The Treasure Hunt

In this week’s episode we talk about The Treasure Hunt. Not one of my favorites. However, Alex Knight couldn’t record with Aleen Simms and I and so we had to wing it. We didn’t have Alex’s deeply detailed show notes to go off of, just my snarky rewatch tweets. And the both of us giggled through the entire thing. It was fun, tho.

Sadly, the episode itself is not that great in my opinion. And Aleen and I both agreed that the songs were meh. But yay reading, right? Right.

Subscribe to the JEMcast on iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, or via RSS. Or listen below.

      JEMcast: The Treasure Hunt
The Write Gear Episode 2

New Episode: The Write Gear – Windows Tablets

The Write Gear Episode 2

The Write Gear episode 2 is out. This time I’m talking about Windows Tablets and asking the question: Is there any good reason to get a tablet over a laptop? If you want a tablet to be a productivity companion and not just a thing you play games on or read with, then you already need a keyboard and then you’ve got a de facto laptop, right?

There are some compelling reasons to go with a tablet, which I discuss in the episode. It’s less than 15 minutes! And super informative, though I say so myself.

Subscribe! Or stream below.

      The Write Gear: Episode 2
Jem Earrings

Do you have a pair of JemStar earrings? Because I do!

According to Amazon, on October 15th of last year Light-up Synergy earrings went on sale and no one told me. I feel as though Amazon should have contacted me personally to say: buy these things, they are for you. Amazon has failed.

No matter! I found out about them (from fellow JEMcaster Alex Knight) and immediately obtained a pair because they are Jem’s earrings and they light up. Plus, they cost $8.

The day they arrived in the mail I did an unboxing video because this is what we do now, we film ourselves unboxing things.

Now of course you want these earrings, right? Buy them here. And then subscribe to the JEMcast.