You know it’s pretty bad when a DC comic book villain shows more empathy for a rape victim than real people on Twitter do. Yes, I read the comments. Yes, stupid me. Between the urge to shove my hand through my phone and choke the ‘tweets’ out of them and my desire to just sit in a shower and wash it all away, I instead did what most of us here would do: I took a breather and escaped into a book. While part of me seethed at the emotional black-holes of ignorant false feminists telling survivors of sexual assault they should have done better, another part of me wished we had more Scarecrows in the world.
It started with Mayim Bialik’s NY Times piece, how she protected herself against sexual assault in Hollywood. While she didn’t exactly say “but what were you wearing?” the entire article sounded like her own magical formula against being a victim.
I’m going to be brutally honest: it infuriated me. Once again, someone was bringing the responsibility of “fixing” rape culture back on the victim. I.e., look at my example and I was never raped. If you were just like me, you could have avoided it too. You may as well say because I wear tinfoil on my head aliens have never abducted me, follow my example and you won’t be abducted either.
That’s right. In Bialik’s perfect ridiculous world, only females who dress provocatively and act flirtatiously will attract the monstrous gaze of those who are merely answering the call. So long as you listen to your mother’s advice on men (“They only want one thing“), you will be kept safe from that circle of evil people. When the recognition should be evil people do evil things and we should all work to weed out the evil people.
I read the whole damn article. Twice in fact—because I could not believe someone was claiming to be a “feminist in Hollywood” while repeating the same … I want to say bull$#@&, but I’m trying to keep my writing PG. I may have hate-read it the second time.
Nope, I was incandescent with rage! I had to step away from the real crazy in this world and hide in the comfort of the fictional crazy of another world. I pulled out my copy of Batman: Mad Love and other stories (Dini/Timm). Not my favourite, but I needed something crazier than current reality and Harley Quinn has crazy in spades.
Imagine my surprise when I reach Scarecrow’s Study Hall, in Going Straight (found in The Batman Adventures: Annual #1, circa 1994). A short story, containing more empathy for rape survivors than Bialik expressed in her ‘feminist’ article.
Scarecrow, the Master of Fear, knows what fuels the monsters of sexual assault. He is usually the villain who revels in terror and dread. In this story, he is trying to reform. He is ‘going straight’. He is also the friend and support Molly seeks after her “date” with Bromley. As a friend, Dr Crane comforts Molly through the shock of Bromley’s brutal attack on her. But as Scarecrow, he recognises the fear now seen in Molly’s eyes and knows the kind of monster who put it there.
Oh, and for the record: Molly is wearing a knee-length skirt with a conservative sweater top and jacket, and is presented as a studious attendee at the university. Is this important to the story? No. And it never should be. It is not clothing or behaviour that leads to sexual assault. The fault falls squarely and wholly on Bromley, and every other sick perp like him. Scarecrow knows how Bromley fed off the power over, and intimidation of, Molly. Fear is Scarecrow’s domain but even he is disgusted with the act of violence perpetrated by Bromley. It is not about anything Molly did. It is purely about Bromley’s attack on Molly.
That just might makes this version of Scarecrow more of a feminist than Bialik. How’s that for fear-inducing? How is it, this fear has not caused us to rise up against it? To put up with it and the longest, sickest running joke of Hollywood. It’s not like we haven’t heard the stories before. From Marilyn Monroe to Courtney Love to Amber Tamblyn and the ever-growing list of #metoo. Distinct experiences where there has been a sexual attack on our person, a threat of sexual attack, or the implied power-tripping that makes us think there is no other option. Others are trying to drive change and bring stories into the light… And instead, we are still being handed the constant criticism for the survivor to change their ways.
To this, I say “NO!”
We should all be saying “HELL, NO”. Change the culture, change our rape culture. Do not tell me to change ME to placate your weakness and your guilt. I am not your problem. The problem is inside every perpetrator, every monster who is waiting to feed on the fear of their next victim.
Bialik states in her article, she ‘knows’ her advice might be upsetting to feminists. Well, she’s right–but for all the wrong reasons. What is truly upsetting is how she places the responsibility of ‘avoiding rape’ on the woman. That is not empowering; it is blaming. That is not preventative; it is reactive. And by aiming it at women, Bialik joins the sad group of false feminists who are making the issue worse.
One last note: Reading Study Hall reminded me of an art installation at Kansas University, ‘What Were You Wearing?‘ It is a shocking display of 18 outfits hanging next to 18 rape survivors’ stories. The exhibit is a confronting statement on the ridiculous excuse that clothing invites sexual violence. The display includes a black skirt with a red sweater, a male’s T-shirt with cargo shorts, and a six-year-old’s sundress.
And in case you miss it, next to the male’s outfit: “…no one has ever asked me that before. They ask me if being raped means I’m gay or if I fought back or how I could let this happen to me; but never about my clothes.”
So Mayim Bialik, the next time you want to preach about your miracle cure to save us all from sexual assault, ditch the strawman and instead visit Kansas University.
No-one ever does anything to invite sexual violence. Even a fictional psychopath called Scarecrow understands that.
The WNBA. An underrated basketball organization, you think. Yes. BUT ALSO the Women’s National Book Association, celebrating its 100th anniversary this month.
Yes, founded in 1917 — in the midst of WWI and three years before women’s suffrage was nationally ratified — the WNBA was created in the belief “that books have power and that those involved in their creation gain strength from joining forces” and exists to “connect, educate, advocate and lead in the literary community.”
In a move strikingly reminiscent of the organizations we have cropping up all over right now, the WNBA was founded in the midst of a social justice movement. The New York City suffrage parade of 1917 galvanized a group of women who wanted to be represented in their industry. They were shut out of membership in the American Booksellers Association and the Booksellers’ League, so those 15 women booksellers got together and created something from nothing.
If you’re wondering how something like this 100-year-old organization can get started, one of the founders in a 1918 interview said:
“[I]t was while everyone was planning for the big suffrage parade last year that I discovered how unorganized were the women in the book-selling profession. I wanted to march in a group with members of my profession, but I discovered that there was no such organization. This discovery set some of us to thinking and planning, and out of this planning came the Women’s National Book Association.”
They then “created the national association, elected officers, and mapped out a busy year’s work.” The bimonthly meetings they had were noted down in shorthand, transcribed, and sent to every member in order to make it a truly national organization, rather than a series of siloed chapters.
As an example of what women were facing, popular essayist and bibliophile Eugene Field wrote a poem in his book The Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac, which begins speaking of a lack of women in “that part of paradise especially reserved for book-lovers”:
The women-folk are few up there,
For ‘t were not fair, you know,
That they our heavenly bliss should share
Who vex us here below!
He continues with “It has never been explained to my satisfaction why women, as a class, are the enemies of books, and are particularly hostile to bibliomania.”
Maybe they were just an enemy of you, Eugene Field.
The WNBA has carried on its legacy through its national chapters, publication The Bookwoman, and their recent book Women in the Literary Landscape. May they go on for another hundred years.
October 20 is the National Day on Writing. It is a day that “celebrates the importance, joy, and evolution of writing through a tweetup, using the hashtag #WhyIWrite and events hosted by thousands of educators across the country.” I like participating in events like this, not only because I’m a writer and I enjoy trying new things for my craft, but because I love seeing how creative others get with it. I also really love to see the huge and diverse range of people who take part.
These kinds of events make me think not only about #WhyIWrite but it also about HOW I write. What influences have there been on my writing? What inspires me? What turns me off? What are the things I love to read? As many famous authors have said in some form or another, if you want to be a successful writer, you first have to be a reader. You cannot write without reading. Of course, that got me thinking about how the books I’ve read have influenced my writing, which in turn made me wonder about the books that I’ve read that aren’t writing books per se but that taught me about writing anyway.
So I asked my fellow contributors to talk to me about books that are not about writing but which have taught them about writing all the same. For example, maybe a character said something about writing that they’ve used as a rule of thumb ever since; maybe it was just the way a book was written that helped them develop their own writing style; maybe it was something else. In any case, these are books that are not actually about the craft of writing, but they taught us about writing all the same. Below are some comments Rioters shared about their favorite writing lessons from non-writing books.
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald and The Blade of Fortriu by Juliet Marillier
There are many, many, many gorgeous lines and phrases in H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, as probably anyone who has read it will agree. The entire book is a wonderful trip through England, a meditation on grief, and a study in the use of imagery. It really helped me learn more about putting emotion into writing, even into my nonfiction work, something I can struggle with. A paragraph I especially loved was about the author’s scars: “One is from her talons when she’d been fractious with hunger; it feels like a warning made flesh. Another is a blackthorn rip from the time I’d pushed through a hedge to find the hawk I’d thought I’d lost. And there were other scars, too, but they were not visible. They were the ones she’d helped mend, not make.” To me, this encompasses the entire premise of the book in just a few lines – nature writing, falconry, and memoir.
Another book that I’ve learned from is The Blade of Fortriu by Juliet Marillier. Actually, all of the books she has written have taught me something about writing in one way or another. But this was the first one that made me realize it. The scene that made me sit up and take notice is when the main character, Bridei, and his men are heading to war:
“Then, in the firelight, each man came forward to a place Bridei had designated, and each set down a small stone. By the time all of Fokel’s men had stepped up as well as those of Umbrig’s force who were there to take part in this covert sortie, a cairn had been erected in the clearing where they were assembled. When the main force moved on they, too, would place markers here, each man in his turn. Later, on the homeward journey, those who had survived would each take back a stone. All knew that, when this was done, a smaller cairn would still remain. Each stone left behind would be a son of Fortriu. This glade would hold their memory through summer and winter, until the sapling birches grew up to shade the monument and moss and ferns crept gently over to blanket it in soft green. When men ceased to tell of these losses, when the story of them was forgotten, the trees would shiver, remembering. The little stones would hold it deep within them, each to its heart.”
This scene helped me understand the difference between showing and telling a story in a way that I hadn’t really understood before. Something about this scene made that concept click for me. It also got me thinking about setting and inanimate objects as their own individual characters in a new way, something I have been having fun playing with recently in my personal writing.
The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
For me, the beauty of Diaz’s writing is how he can take a description of the most everyday, mundane activity and somehow make it sound lyrical. His word choice is key. He doesn’t always go for the most obvious way to phrase something. Instead, he works his way around a description, creating an accessible but poetic metaphor that not only explains the situation- but puts his reader immediately in the action, feeling what the character is feeling. Reading The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao started my own experiments with turns of phrase and gave me permission to be more playful with words.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
I don’t know if this one so much inspired my writing (although I do think it’s a brilliant, moving book) as it had a line that really resonated with me as a writer. “I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.” I don’t think anything has ever better summed up my own experience as a writer–how I simultaneously love writing while also feeling like I’ve willingly taken on this insane, Sisyphean lifestyle.
Maybe not a lesson, but it’s definitely a good reminder that all writers are facing this strange and incomprehensible task of creating whole new worlds out of marks on a page. Writing can be such a solitary task at times that remembering others have faced, and are facing, the same struggles as you—loving the words and hating them—can be a real comfort. We’ve all been there.
Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
“Snowman wakes before dawn. He lies unmoving, listening to the tide coming in, wave after wave sloshing over the various barricades, wish-wash, wish-wash, the rhythm of heartbeat. He would so like to believe he is still asleep.”
And so opens Oryx and Crake, the first in an apocalyptic trilogy by Margaret Atwood. The MaddAddam trilogy takes place in a future where science corporations have set up their own communities, separating themselves from the riffraff outside their gated homes and the world’s economic, social, and climate downfall. But then a virus tears through the world, leaving only a very few alive.
As a writer of speculative fiction, I return to this series again and again, particularly the first two. With Oryx and Crake, I look at how Atwood starts. What details she gives to signal this apocalyptic dystopia without infodumping, how she weaves the main character’s past and present together in a single narrative. With The Year of the Flood, and I look at how she uses voice, person, and tense to aid in character development. She switches between two characters in Flood, and with each character she changes person (she uses first and third) and tense (past and present) even though these narratives are occurring simultaneously! She also has many flashbacks. The entire series is such an amazing feat of writing technique. I may be doing myself a disservice by studying how she writes — since I can’t hope to ever reach her level — but I learn something about writing every time I read these books.
— Margaret Kingsbury
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
This book is a true gem. It taught me about the lyrical and emotional power of repetition — specifically anaphora, i.e. the repetition of a phrase at the beginning of sentences — and also about how the “we” narrator can work when used well. It led to me writing my favourite thing I’ve ever written, about a very different topic.
— Claire Handscombe
The Age of Wire and String by Ben Marcus
This is a bizarre book. Like, seriously, epicly weird. It’s also fantastic. Ben Marcus does this thing where he invents new ways to look at words. He gives them new meaning in a new world that is sort of like ours but not really because clouds are inside houses, and body parts are given the names of people, and water and birds and nature all act in unexpected ways. There’s no linear quality to this collection, really, except that there is – the linear plot is following the words to their definitions (confusing chapters in between stories provide abstract and odd definitions that don’t help with comprehension at all) and accepting the flow of words as plot. This book taught me, and continues to teach me, that I can experiment and play with language and allow it to tell its own story.
What writing lessons have you learned from non-writing books? How will you participate in the National Day on Writing?
This giveaway is sponsored by Earth Hates Me: True Confessions from a Teenage Girl by Ruby Karp.
“This book is filled with juicy young person wisdom.” –Amy Poehler
Earth Hates Me presents a look inside the mind of the modern teenager–from a modern teenager’s perspective. The Sixteen-year-old author addresses issues facing every highschooler, from grades to peer pressure to
Snapchat stories, and their complicated effects on the teen psyche.
Ruby advises her peers on the importance of feminism (“not just the Spice Girls version”), dealing with jealousy and friend break-ups, family life, and much more. The book takes an in-depth look at the effect of social media on modern teens and the growing pressures of choosing the right college and career.
We have 10 copies of Earth Hates Me: True Confessions from a Teenage Girl by Ruby Karp to give away to 10 Riot readers! Just complete the form below to enter. Entries are limited to the United States and will be accepted until 11:59pm, Thursday, October 26th. Winners will be randomly selected.
Paddington Bear: intrepid immigrant, style icon, subject of a new movie being released this November; and teacher of important truths. A newcomer to 1950 and 1960s Britain, Paddington had a lot to learn about that society. But the mistakes he made were not wasted. Not only have they left us with adorable and funny tales, but we too can learn from these essential life lessons. Here are twenty mistakes Paddington made so we don’t have to.
From A Bear Called Paddington
– If you find yourself too short to reach the table you are eating at, it may be tempting to sit on the table. It is best to take care that upon standing you don’t slip on the jam from your cream bun or stand in your scalding-hot tea.
– If you do find yourself covered in cream and jam, have a wash before getting into a taxi-cab to avoid causing upset. On the way to having that wash, try to avoid touching anyone else.
– Keeping your hat on in the bath may help to enable you to bail out the water if you find yourself at risk of drowning. However, there may be less messy and more convenient ways to avoid drowning.
– If all the lights appear to have gone out, check first that the hood of your coat hasn’t simply fallen over your eyes.
– Occasionally people have discovered old masterpieces hidden under the paint of new works on the same canvas. This doesn’t make it a good idea to scrub the paint off any painting to see if anything’s hidden underneath.
– When performing magic tricks, practice the trick beforehand. This will help avoid irreparably breaking your grumpy neighbour’s expensive watch.
From More About Paddington
– Suspending the paint can on a rope whilst painting a ceiling is quite likely to end with paint all over the floor. And probably all over you.
– When putting up wallpaper, it’s helpful not to wallpaper over the door, thus trapping yourself in the room.
– When making a Guy Fawkes to burn on the 5th of November bonfire, avoid dressing it in that grumpy neighbour’s best suit.
– Hiding under a pile of snow is a really good way to get sick. It’s a less good way to actually hide.
– It’s lucky to find the sixpence people place in Christmas puddings. It’s less lucky to find it by choking on it.
From Paddington Helps Out
– If you get an urge to open the washing machine whilst your clothes are washing, maybe resist that urge. Unless the creation of a soapy flood is what you’re going for.
– Sawing the kitchen table in half whilst practicing carpentry is a bad idea. Trying to stick it together again with marmalade is an even worse idea.
– Fancy restaurants won’t often serve marmalade sandwich and custard. This a tragedy but it is still true.
From Paddington Abroad
– When you withdraw money from the bank, they won’t return to you the same note you put in. Banks don’t actually just hold your money in a safe for you. This is unfortunate but may not be seen as good reason to call out multiple emergency services.
– Entering the Tour de France on a tricycle with broken brakes is less fun than it sounds.
From Paddington at Large
– Some plans have potential to end with a running lawnmower dangling from a tree. These are good plans to abandon.
From Paddington Marches On
– If your pipes freeze wait for the plumber. Don’t try to thaw them with a blowtorch.
From Paddington at Work
– There may be things old hair trimmings and a bottle of glue can fix. A bad haircut isn’t one of them.
From Paddington on Top
– Fish fingers aren’t a helpful or welcome addition to any biology dissection class.
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I am one hundred percent aware trailers are edited to grab viewer attention and that very little of the flow we see in those two minutes will manifest in the film for which the trailer is creating hype.
Which doesn’t mean the new The Last Jedi Trailer was any less intense or awesome or feel-kicking. It simply means I get to be excited and surprised. Huzzah!
While I agree there wasn’t nearly enough Finn or Rose in the most recent footage, there is another character who was conspicuously absent but for one glorious, inspirational, moment: your space boyfriend, and mine, Poe Dameron.
We know he’s important to the Resistance. General Organa, after all, saw fit to send him on the vital mission that kicked off the events of The Force Awakens. We know Lor San Tekka trusted him with Luke Skywalker’s whereabouts (I saw a fan theory suggesting San Tekka was an elderly Kanan Jarrus and while I have nothing to support it, I sort of love it). Poe is well trained enough to be cool under pressure. He’s important enough, and highly placed enough, in the Resistance that Kylo Ren went through the hassle of capturing him alive and interrogating him on multiple occasions rather than just taking Poe’s head. We know Black Squadron will follow where he leads, no matter the danger, he can fly anything, and he can walk away from a crash no one should survive.
We know Poe is integral to the Resistance victory in The Force Awakens, no matter how temporary that victory may be.
What do we know about Poe Dameron as an individual, though? As a potential person?
From the movies, not much. He, in point of fact, disappears for the entire second act of The Force Awakens. We presume he was doing Resistance Business, but we don’t know what it was or with whom he was doing it or even how he got off Jakku. That second act is where we get the majority of character development on the rest of the characters, both new (Rey, Finn, BB-8) and old (Han, Leia, R-2) which indicates to me that we’re not supposed to know all that much about Poe’s part in the major storyline yet, for one reason or another.
If you do want to delve a little more deeply into backstory of the enigma who is Poe Dameron, however, I have good news: there are comics for that.
While Poe himself doesn’t make a physical appearance in the four issue Star Wars: Shattered Empire (2015) mini-series by Greg Rucka, Phil Noto, and Marco Checchetto, we get to know a lady who is, quite possibly, the most important woman in his life (even more so than General Organa): his mother, Shara Bey. An ace Rebel pilot who was integral to the destruction of the second Death Star, Shara can fly anything (now we know where Poe gets it). Her husband, Kes Dameron, is a member of the ground forces who took the Moon of Endor but, after their brief reunion post big boom, Shara is recruited by first Leia, and then Luke, for ongoing, Very Important, tasks. They both trust her absolutely, which says a lot for her character, her connections to the Rebellion and its leaders, and Shara’s convictions that what they are doing is right. Convictions (and possibly connections?) she obviously passed on to her son, Poe, who lived with his grandfather while his parents fought. Though Poe seems to bear the Rebellion/Resistance no ill will for his parents’ absences (unlike Snap Wexley, who we meet as a surly teenager in Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy) he does grow up in the shadows of their participation, both figuratively and literally (no, I’m not telling you what that means, go read), which certainly has, and will do doubt continue to, affect the larger story.
Charles Soule, Phil Noto, and Angel Unzueta’s ongoing Star Wars: Poe Dameron (2015 to present) is all about the man himself, following him on his adventures pre-The Force Awakens. While still sketchy on the details of how Poe became a trusted member of Leia’s inner circle, he has most definitely done so and, as a pilot, he is at least his mother’s equal. We get to know the other members of Black Squadron a bit better and become acquainted with their devotion to, and trust in, Poe—though, as with his entreé to the Resistance, we’re not given the details on how he earned either of those. I’m hoping that as the larger story unfolds, we’ll learn more. What we do see is that dangerous missions aren’t new to Poe and that he has very powerful enemies a bit closer to home than Starkiller Base. The first arc of the book is a bit slow; it takes a while to build and, if I’m being honest, which I generally try to do, felt like more of a vehicle to introduce Poe’s pre-Ren nemesis than a tightly plotted story; but said nemesis is a good one and the tale definitely picks up pace and plot in the two successive arcs. Also, the art is super pretty.
There are still sixty-five days before you can feast your eyeballs on Rian Johnson’s Episode VII. May as well spend some of them getting to know Poe Dameron.
I recently had to box up all of my books because of work I’m having done on my place. While doing this I came across a couple of my Calvin and Hobbes books and it sparked a memory from when I was a teenager and had most of them stolen from my bedroom.
I found out about Calvin and Hobbes like most people, through the newspaper. The paper my parents read in Nova Scotia was called the Chronicle Herald and it carried Calvin & Hobbes.
I loved the way Calvin hated school. I loved how he couldn’t help but get into trouble because he had a sharp tongue and was desperate to explore his backyard and find something incredible.
I would cut the strips from the newspapers and put them on my walls and stuff them in my desk drawers. I would pretend to be Spaceman Spiff and slide down the stairs in my house in a sleeping bag. I would try to make grotesque snowmen and freeze snowballs to throw at people in the summer.
Every time my birthday rolled around I would ask for a Calvin & Hobbes book. Over the years I had an awesome collection. They sat, worn and weathered on my bookshelf next to a Roger Clemens rookie card I had encased in an acrylic case.
I regularly pulled them off and sat in a pile of books and lost hours of time after school following Calvin and Hobbes down those endless hills covered in powdery snow.
Then, like Keyser Soze, they seemingly got up and walked out my house and into a car, never to be seen again.
I think I know who the culprit is. The problem is I couldn’t prove it. When I was 14 my brother, who was 17 at the time, had some friends over who brought friends over who brought friends over and one of them decided to go into my room and take all but a couple of my Calvin & Hobbes books.
The weird thing is, that was all they stole. Not the Roger Clemens rookie card, not my Super Nintendo games, not my t-shirt that for some reason had a duck on it that looked like Rhett Butler saying “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a duck.” Nothing but the Calvin & Hobbes.
It’s no longer healthy to dwell on why they took them. It made me angry for a long time. Now, though, I’m not angry, I’m just confused.
So, to that person that I’m 99% sure decided to steal a large quantity of comic books from a fourteen year old, I hope they taught you what they taught me. That you should squeeze every last drop of fun and meaning out of life.
I hope they made you laugh and want to try new things and question authority and think for yourself. I hope they showed you the power of imagination and the dangers of conformity. And I hope they taught you about curiosity and friendship and maybe why stealing other people’s stuff isn’t cool.
I’m gonna let you in on a geeky secret pleasure of mine. Okay? It is…*looks both ways*…reading translator notes!
There’s something so fascinating about the sort of problems translators deal with. Idioms, puns, and regional dialects are landmines for the translator, and they spend their days finding creative solutions to these linguistic problems.
So I’ve collected here a handful of translating war stories that highlight some of the unique challenges and fun of translating authors’ work to a new, modern audience.
Stanley Elkin’s A Bad Man (Translated into Japanese by Terakado Yasuhiko)
Stanley Elkin, an American satirist, wrote the comedy A Bad Man about an unscrupulous salesman and antihero Leo Feldman, who sells loads of stuff such as clothing and, y’know, drugs, prostitutes, and guns. But it’s an unrelated clerical error that lands Leo in prison—for a crime he didn’t even commit.
Understandably, there are troubles translating an American comedy into Japanese. So Terakado Yasuhiko wrote letters to Elkin whenever he needed something clarified. For example. he couldn’t figure out a few words and American phrases with his dictionaries, so he asked for their definitions in a polite letter. Those English words included:
- “the Fink”
- “snug as a bug”
I think we’d ALL like to know what the heck you mean by ‘snug as a bug,’ Mr. Elkin.
The Author’s Opinion
Italo Calvino’s Mr. Palomar (Translated into English by William Weaver)
Mr. Palomar was already a challenge to translate: it’s an Italian novel about Mr. Palomar trying to express and quantify complex phenomena, such as: weeds in the lawn, topless women at the beach, and time and space.
William Weaver, a longtime translator of Calvino, apparently had a dickens of a time for a reason beyond just the words or themes: it was dealing with the author himself.
Specifically, Calvino really wanted to use the word “feedback.”
More specifically, Calvino fell “madly in love with the word.”
Weaver tried to explain that “feedback” was clichéd jargon in America and removed it from his translation. But things turned into that pink/blue dress scene from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty…
“He thought it was fun and so he kept putting it into this story where it really didn’t belong, and I kept taking it out. Finally the last proofs came, and I took it out definitively. And I’m sorry to say he died before he had the book in his hands, so he never knew that I’d done this to him.”
Yeon-Sik Hong’s Uncomfortably Happily (Translated into English by Hellen Jo)
Uncomfortably Happily is an autobiographical Korean graphic novel about a struggling cartoonist and his wife moving from the hustle and bustle of Seoul and into the mountains, coping with their isolation, their artistic ambitions, and the country life.
Born in the U.S. to Korean parents, cartoonist Hellen Jo had a big problem translating the Korean comic into a Western comic, since Korean is a very onomatopoeic language. In dinner scenes, Hong had words for the specific sounds of:
- dishes clinking
- dishes being washed
- teeth crunching
- the “stickiness” of certain foods
- “the steam of rice”
As Jo asked, “can anyone tell me the English sound effect for stickiness?!”
Even the sound of the wind was written in four different ways. Jo explained, “in English comics, you can really only express wind with ‘WHOOSH.’”
To translate some of these untranslatable sounds, she would either “omit the effect altogether, or fall back on that favorite Western comics device, using the action itself as an effect, e.g. writing in “slide” for the sound of a sliding door.”
And luckily, she also had an expert to double-check for any mistranslations and help explain Korean idioms: “my proofreader, Dr. Sahie Kang—thanks, Mom!”
If you’re curious and like translator stories like these, I really recommend In Translation: Translators On Their Work And What It Means, edited by Esther Allen and Susan Bernofsky. Fair warning, though, you might be filled with unbridled joy when writers like Haruki Murakami talk about translating favorites like The Great Gatsby.
China Mieville is my go-to answer to “Who’s your favorite author?” which is always followed by “What genre does he write?”
And it’s always hard to answer.
I could say science fiction, because his novel Embassytown has aliens and futuristic technology. Or maybe fantasy, because Perdido Street Station has fantastical creatures and magic. But Mieville’s stories never fall directly into these genres. You see, for Mieville, every story is an exercise in destroying boundaries, stereotypes, and traditional genre conventions. It’s kind of his thing.
As an example: in the Bas-Lag series, a giant spider with hands of a human baby spouts post-modernist poetry and travels between dimensions. There’s a race of cactus people. There’s a sword that exists and kills in multiple places at once.
These certainly aren’t generic staples of fantasy. In fact, it feels odd describing these novels as such when there truly isn’t much else in the larger genre like it. Does this really belong in the same group as Game of Thrones or The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe? Thankfully, there is a specific genre that encompasses Mieville’s strange works without boxing it in.
This is New Weird.
After growing tired of the same archetypes, overdone plots, and types of characters, I found the antidote. New Weird exists to overturn cliches and twist the traditional. Robin Anne Reid once described it as fictions that “subvert cliches of the fantastic in order to put them to discomfiting, rather than consoling ends.”
Sound interesting? Let’s see what kind of books, stories, and other media fall into this category.
New Weird Books
Borne by jeff vandermeer
In Borne, the main villain is a gigantic, flying, mutated bear. No, that’s not a metaphor. Mord is truly a mutated bear that can fly and this book doesn’t care if you think that’s absurd. Borne is the perfect solution for your science fiction or fantasy rut. In a world ravaged by biotech gone awry, there’s nothing normal and nothing safe here. Borne himself is a sentient plant creature developing into its own being and bringing danger wherever he goes.
You may think Borne sounds silly. Trust me, it’s anything but. This novel is bleak, harrowing, and sucks you in at every turn. It doesn’t care about what is realistic sci-fi and what fantasy should be—in fact, it turns those tropes on their head.
perdido street station by china mieville
One of the first scenes in Perdido Street Station is a sex scene involving Lin, a creature with a human woman’s body and a beetle head. It tells you instantly that if you’re not ready for that, you definitely aren’t prepared for the rest of the book. I’ve already waxed enough about Perdido earlier in the article so hopefully you’ll get the hint and just get this book already.
The New Weird Anthology by Jeff and Ann Vandermeer
This one is pretty self-explanatory. The Vandermeers offers many short stories that embody what they believe “The New Weird” to be. With amazing entries from M. John Harrison, K. K. Bishop, and Jay Lake, this is definitely a solid, encompassing introduction to the genre.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
A mark of this category of media is the fact that is transcends genre itself. This is surely the case with Danielewski’s infamous novel, House of Leaves. (It’s infamous for its profound, often eerie effect on its readers. It’s the only book I’ve read that has truly given me nightmares.) It takes the traditional “haunted house” story and creates something never seen before.
House of Leaves is the story inside a story inside a film documentary about a house that shouldn’t exist. The book itself is at times pseudo non-fiction then turns into thriller into horror into mystery into some pages that don’t resemble a book at all. It’s a remarkable exercise in what is and isn’t literature. In addition, it’s sure to leave you with a funny taste in your mouth.
Going Bovine by Libba Bray
This is one of the only comedies I’ve found in the New Weird genre—and it’s a wild ride. 16-year-old Cameron somehow catches mad cow disease, and understands he only has a little while to live. Then, he starts hallucinating punk angels and going on zany adventures that you’re never quite sure are real. Going Bovine has the feel of a darker, more surreal Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This book says “f*** off” to any semblance of genre and therefore, it belongs with all the other books on this list.
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (or really anything by david mitchell)
Nearly everything David Mitchell has written can fall into New Weird. You probably are most familiar with his earlier work, Cloud Atlas, which involves six different stories (each belonging to their own genre) intertwining together to create a masterpiece.
The Bone Clocks follows in these footsteps, offering a more cohesive narrative across time, space, character, genre, and more. This blurb from Goodreads explains it well: “A Cambridge scholarship boy grooming himself for wealth and influence, a conflicted father who feels alive only while reporting from occupied Iraq, a middle-aged writer mourning his exile from the bestseller list—all have a part to play in this surreal, invisible war on the margins of our world. From the medieval Swiss Alps to the nineteenth-century Australian bush, from a hotel in Shanghai to a Manhattan townhouse in the near future, their stories come together in moments of everyday grace and extraordinary wonder.”
New Weird Short Stories
The Poetry Cloud by Cixin Liu
China’s most prolific sci-fi writer, Cixin Liu, adds to this genre in his novels but particularly in his short story, The Poetry Cloud. Without giving too much away, I’ll say: dystopia, god, poetry, technology, and humanism all interact and coexist in this in various ways you would never expect.
Bloodchild by Octavia Butler
Octavia Bulter smashed expectations and convention in real life as well as in her work. Her short story collection, Bloodchild and Other Stories, is a must-read. The award-winning short story Bloodchild in particular follows a boy child impregnated by an alien race. Talking about turning traditional ideas on their heads—here, Butler examines gender and pregnancy in a way I’ll never forget.
Other New Weird Media
Pan’s Labyrinth by Guillermo Del Toro
Guillermo Del Toro won my heart by directing the Spanish-Mexican film, Pan’s Labyrinth. He combines state and gender politics with elements of dark fantasy that make for a truly unforgettable experience. It was the first time I’d ever seen yonic (of a vaginal or sapphic nature; compare to phallic) imagery so present in film. Besides this, it also makes fantasy elements such as fauns, demons, and monsters stand able to be taken seriously through a politically engaged lens.
The Elder scrolls (Morrowind in particular) by Bethesda Studios
What may seem at first like a typical fantasy video game series is in fact a valid entry into New Weird culture. As TvTropes beautifully puts it, The Elder Scrolls may seem like normal fantasy at first glance, “but if you start digging into the lore you find things like a gay, time travelling cyborg; a Humongous Mecha powered by the heart of a dead god with an alarming tendency to break time; and an AI from the far future who got caught in the crossfire of a war. Morrowind in particular, [has] things like a fortress made from a giant crab shell and a guild of necromancers who grow giant mushrooms to live in; an incurable disease that makes you immortal; and giant arthropods as the main form of overland travel.”
So, what other gateway media has sucked you into the New Weird universe? Let us know!