Sunday, January 30, 2011

New finds: Webcomics

I want to thank my good friend Bob Voros for introducing me to two great webcomics. is follows a group of comic geeks who work in a bookstore. It also takes a funny look at the business and insider news of the comic book world. It's pretty cool.

The Hero Business is my personal favourite. It's about the people who work in a marketing firm for superheroes. It combines office humour with standard superhero tropes. It's very smart and very funny. Check it out.

It takes me back to one of the first webcomics I discovered in 2009. Snafu comics used an anime-inspired style to combine characters and from some of my favourite Cartoon Network cartoons such as Dexter's Laboratory, Powerpuff Girls and Samurai Jack and create what I still think are some of the coolest art on the web. Sadly, the site hasn't been updated in nearly a year. You can still see them here.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The feminist critique

I recently discovered that there was an arm of academia dedicated to the study of feminisms in science fiction. Now, how cool is that? I have always critiqued what genre fiction I come across along feminist lines – I am always interested in how female characters are portrayed and treated - but I had never thought to make it a formal line of study. To find that it is not only a line of study, but that several scholars have done dedicated research into it, warms my nerdy heart. Because last year, I read a few stories that got me thinking about how female friendships are portrayed in the media.

Friendships have always been fraught. However, in patriarchal societies they come with extra strain. One of the tools of a patriarchy is to pit women against each other. It’s the classic divide-and-conquer strategy. If women are constantly vying against each other for the attention of men, they can never come together to truly challenge the status quo. Another tool of patriarchy is to tie a man's sense of self to very narrow sets of actions. Thus, men must walk a fine line to constantly prove their masculinity.

Thus, in many patriarchal societies, there is a constant fear among men that expressing too much vulnerability in their friendships with other men will make them seem weak or worse, gay. Among women, there is an underlying fear that your friend will steal your man. In popular culture, the anxiety among men is often treated with humour, but that same anxiety in women is often portrayed as more sinister.

We carry our real-world preconceptions and prejudices into our fantasies and three speculative fiction examples, Jennifer’s Body (movie directed by Diablo Cody), Ponies (short story by Kij Johnson), and We Heart Vampires!!!!! (short story by Meghan McCarron), show that the underlying assumptions about friendships among women can remain in place even when all the other rules go out the door.

In the movie "Jennifer’s Body," the friendship between two teens is tested when one of them turns into a succubus and has to devour men to live. In "We Heart Vampires!!!!," a similar teen friendship is strained when one of the girls starts dating a 70-year-old vampire who may not be the mysterious angst-ridden lover he seems to be. In "Ponies," a little girl must decide whether to sacrifice her beloved pet to join a clique of popular girls.

In each of these stories, there is an element of competition. One teen is more attractive than the other. In "Jennifer’s Body," Jennifer is a devastatingly attractive teen who can – and often does – get any man she wants, but all she wants are the men in her friend’s life. Needy is content to lose out to her more popular friend, but things get sticky when the insatiable Jennifer goes after her boyfriend. In "We Heart Vampires!!!!," Bob is far more popular than George. George is resigned to the fact that when  Bob has a new man, she takes second place. But an ill-fated trip to the mall with Sven, Bob’s new vampire boyfriend, exposes the fault lines beneath their relationship and brings some startling conclusions to the forefront. In "Ponies," the question of status – being in the popular crowd – becomes a matter of life or death.

There is no denying that there is an element of competition in friendships among women. Lucinda Rosenfeld’s “I’m So Happy for You,” is a funny, intelligent examination of this issue. Yet, I can’t help but wonder if all these stories are missing something. Yes, being friends is tough, but isn’t the trope of the bitchy alpha female and her clueless/naive subordinate a little limiting?

There is a vast amount of scientific evidence that shows that women have more fulfilling and sustainable friendships than men. Because of the way they are socialized, women are often more comfortable sharing their feelings with each other. They tend to be less hierarchical, relying on horizontal networks rather than a single leader. Friendships between women can be the bedrock of a lifelong journey of mutual support and understanding. A vein of reassurance that can enrich any life.

So while these stories may make for exciting entertainment, I can’t help but feel they may have missed the point. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

10 things I know about Nigeria

In many ways, my life in Nigeria has been more vibrant and challenging than life in the United States ever was. A friend of mine once described living in Nigeria as “life in Technicolor,” and I have to agree. 

Life in the US, has its share of difficulties, but every day, my country surprises me with some nugget of insight into human behaviour and the wild variety of motivations that shape it. It has certainly improved my writing and fired my imagination. And so, with the New Year high still in place,  I thought I would share some of the lessons I learned in 2010:

      1. Never leave your house without looking your very best. You will be judged entirely on your looks.
2. Cell phone credit is far too expensive to waste on small talk. Get to the point and don’t bother with goodbyes.

3. Traffic lanes and speed limits are only suggestions. And the biggest car always has right of way.

4. Stand up straight. No matter how broke you are, great posture is free.

5. Patience is not a virtue, it’s a necessity.  But if you have money, it’s for suckers.

6. Everything is negotiable, so don’t hesitate to bargain.

7. Be nice to everyone; you never know when they’ll pop up again.

8. There is no such thing as personal space.

9. A little yelling goes a long way. We call it “halla.”

10. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but the wallet is mightier still.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ursula K. Le Guin and the art of building worlds

The first book of the New Year that I read was "City of Illusions," by Ursula K. Le Guin. It's a slim volume - not quite 200 pages, but man, does it pack a punch.

Le Guin is one of the icons of classic Sci-fi. To my mind she was the Ginger Rogers of her era, doing everything that the boys were doing, but backwards - and in heels. Her book, "The Left Hand of Darkness," is one of the most engrossing explorations of gender and power I've ever read.

But I think that where Le Guin and others of her generation truly earn my respect is in their ability to create fully-realized worlds within a few sentences. They are like the masters of Japanese ukiyo-e, using small strokes of the pen to create scenes that fire the imagination.

And let's make no mistake, world-building is hard. It requires a massive amount of thought and research. You have to think through everything from weather, to food, clothing, housing and even the cultural attitudes of the people. Those who live in harsher climates may tend more towards aggression than those who do not.

Author Jon Sprunk lists some of the best worlds of science fiction - in his blog. He includes two of my favourites: Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time" world and George R. R. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" world. I would add Jaqueline Carey's Terre D'Ange, and Orson Scott Card's re-imagined America of the "Alvin Maker" series.

The masters make it look easy. They dispense with long-winded explanations or tortured comparisons and they tell it. And the very best of them keep us coming back for more. That's why someone had the good sense to invent sequels - and trilogies.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A new year review

Happy New Year everyone!

I know I'm a little late to the game, but I wanted to open up the first blog entry of 2011 by drawing your attention to a poll currently going on at

They're tallying the best science fiction and fantasy books of the last decade - according to readers. It's still open so check it out and place your votes here.

My choices (in no particular order) were:

All the books in the Song of Fire and Ice series by George R.R. Martin
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Kushiel's Dart by Jaqueline Carey
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell by Susanna Clarke
The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue
Dusk by Tim Lebbon
Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson