“You like pissed off? Watch this”

Happy New Year all, I hope you’re all doing well with your new year new me diets!! Only joking, I have no interest in such fuckery, all you need for the new year is a healthy dose of badass fictional women and here is a post to satisfy that need. If you feel like lying down and eating cake while reading, I fully endorse it. For today’s instalment we have Lieutenant Jordan O’Neil, G.I. Jane (1997). In the movie O’Neil becomes the first woman to enter in to a fictional Navy training programme, which happens to be the most difficult programme in the U.S. military, and of course she smashes it. Now, like Ripley, O’Neil is a pretty obvious choice for a badass fictional woman; surviving the most difficult military training programme is pretty hard to ignore, regardless of gender. However, also like Ripley, O’Neil doesn’t conform to the stereotypical “strong female character” who would rock up and automatically be able to keep up with all her male peers. The reality is that most men are physically stronger than most women and that is reflected in O’Neil’s character, who struggles to keep up at first and instead relies on her intelligence, tactical training and stubbornness to stay afloat, using down time to exercise and practice with weapons. This extra work from O’Neil gives us the single best workout montage in all movie history, putting even Rocky to shame! This woman is doing one handed push-ups on the backs of chairs and all kinds of other insane shit and I can only thank Demi Moore for the wonder that is her badass strength in this role. This movie also explores aspects of gender inequality in the military in more than just the political arena, with O’Neil coming up against rejection from her peers, sexist comments and the very real threat of sexual assault should she be captured by enemy forces. This all culminates in a fight with her Command Master Chief in which he quite thoroughly batters her, though not without a broken nose for his efforts, ending when O’Neil picks herself up once again to calmly suggest, ‘Master Chief […] suck my dick!’. Absolutely iconic. With these two words her standing in the unit changes and she is accepted as equal. While there is a problematic angle to a woman having to survive a beating from a man much larger and stronger than her, and top it off with a comedic remark, to be shown an ounce of respect, I still love that moment and choose to focus on the life that O’Neil’s badassery gives me. Here’s what O’Neil taught me about being a badass woman.
1. Hair is not your friend in any badass endeavour
2. Why workout on solid ground when there’s perfectly good rickety furniture available?
3. Weight training is key
4. “‘Cause I get to blow shit up” is an acceptable answer to any question
5. Suck my dick

“Did IQ’s just drop sharply while I was away?”

This is the first of an ongoing series of posts about badass fictional women, which will bring you some of the most glorious women ever created. My hope is that some of them will surprise you and that all of them will inspire you to seek out more badass women to brighten up your life.

The first woman can only be the light of my life, my one true love, the Badassest of Badass Women – Ellen Ripley, Alien (1979). If you haven’t seen Alien I suggest you stop reading, ask yourself why you’ve been wasting your life, go watch it then return to this post. I’ll wait… Now, to Ripley. The fact that this character was originally written as a man but was then cast as a woman raises a lot of interesting questions about how well writers engage with female characters, but that’s a discussion for a different time. That Ripley is badass is news to no one, in fact a quick internet search for strong women in film will give you countless lists and all will reference this sci-fi heroine. However, for me it’s not just the gun-wielding, alien-killing side of Ripley that I find badass, for me it’s her fear that makes her stand out. I know, it makes no sense, but hear me out. For a lot of script writers including a strong female character in an action or sci-fi movie means shoe-horning in a cigar-smoking, cussing, fearless woman in impractically tight camouflage. These characters aren’t badass because they aren’t realistic, if you don’t feel fear your defiance isn’t that impressive. Ripley, on the other hand, is driven by fear. From the crew’s first encounter with alien life in the form of the facehugger, Ripley senses the potential threat and it is her true comprehension of the alien’s destructive power that makes the creature so terrifying for viewers of the first movie. It is this fear that motivates Ripley’s survival instinct, which is practically super human and helps her avoid the xenomorph long enough to escape. With each movie her understanding of the xenomorph increases and although her fear never lessens, maternal instinct motivates her to face the threat head on in the second movie, leading to the most badass fight scene of all time (don’t argue with me) – Ripley in a power loader versus the alien queen, mother against mother. In my opinion, screenwriters have generally failed to tap into the badass power that is a mother’s protective instinct, but Ripley takes it to its limit in this movie. By the third film we see a Ripley who has gained a level of understanding of the xenomorph that almost makes them equals and, despite her ever-present fear, we no longer doubt her ability to overcome, even when surrounded by murderers and rapists who are barely a threat next to the monsters she has defeated before. The development of Ripley’s character over the trilogy is, I think, one of the greatest writing achievements in cinema history and makes her more than worthy of the title of Badassest of Badass Women. So, what has Ripley taught me about being a badass woman?
1. Leave the fucking cat
2. There’s always time for a sarcastic comment
3. Cardio is key
4. Flamethrowers are exactly as awesome as they seem
5. If in doubt, use a power loader
6. They’re always in the air shafts

What Makes Us Human?

BBC Radio 2 have a segment called What Makes Us Human, which involves a guest speaker talking about what they think makes us human, in the philosophical sense. I’ve only heard a few of them but they are always fascinating, and I think they often tell us more about the speaker than the human condition, so I thought I’d do my own for this little blog.
For me, the thing that makes us human is stories. Since our ancestors developed the ability to communicate, whether verbally or with drawings, we started telling each other stories. These tales allowed humans to signal danger and a food source, but also to share where they had been and the things they had seen. Since then our desire to hear and tell stories never lessened and we found more diverse ways of sharing them, from poetry, prose and music to paintings, movies and video games. Even when faced with unspeakable horrors, humans have used their voices and told their stories to find comfort, show defiance and declare their humanity.
The above photograph is of me, many years ago, reading The Return of the King while floating down a Swedish river on a raft. The photograph itself tells a story, not just of a strange and memorable trip, but also of a girl who loved stories and who, like many others, found her humanity in the stories she consumed. They taught me about different people, different viewpoints and different places, they allowed me to escape to different worlds and communicate with different species without ever leaving my home. Stories are our gift and our power and if we continue writing, singing and playing we will maintain our humanity, even in a world that sometimes seems intent on stripping us of it. Since power structures existed, those at the top have attempted to silence those at the bottom by supressing or destroying their stories, but the rebellious human spirit continues to shine through. So, my challenge to you is this – seek out new stories, consider the biases you may have (and we all have them) or the lives you are ignorant of and pursue them, find someone who has written/filmed/painted a story from that perspective and take it in. Maybe you’ll find a new outlook on life or, just maybe, you’ll see your own story in theirs.

In the garden, under the rockery

Two posts in two days, an embarrassment of riches!
The last book from my BookTube-A-Thon challenge, The Cement Garden, gets a post to itself, partly because there were seven books and that’s how maths works, and partly because I couldn’t link this to any of the other texts in my challenge – it’s a whole different beast. My overall feeling after reading this novel was disturbed, not disturbing enough to stop me recommending, but incest is taboo in our culture for good reason and it’s difficult to read about, especially when it involves children. McEwan ensures we don’t get too used to the idea of a romantic relationship between brother and sister by repeatedly coming back to Jack’s masturbatory fantasies, reminding us that this is much more physical than the emotional dependence which, we might try to convince ourselves, could be the natural result of a sudden grief and the premature burden of adult responsibilities. That being said, when I was at uni one of my tutors told me about this book and suggested that it is a utopian novel and since reading it I have to agree. The intense summer heat, the children’s financial independence and the isolation of the house, makes their home feel like a separate world, where the same rules do not necessarily apply. It is only the reader’s intrusion on that world, voyeuristically consuming and judging their lives, that applies a moral framework the children are unable to conform to. All in all, it may not be the most pleasant read, but it is an interesting one and it will leave you with a few intriguing questions to chew on.
So, that’s the end of my BookTube-A-Thon posts, only three months late! Who knows what will come next, the possibilities are almost certainly not endless.

Did I mention he’s a pacifist?

I love a good illustration and these next two gems from my BookTube-A-Thon challenge really raised the bar. Wolverine: Old Man Logan is the first comic book (graphic novel? I don’t know) that I have properly engaged with, usually preferring a good solid novel. However, this text combines three things I love – a post-apocalyptic landscape, Wolverine and a heathy dose of gratuitous violence, the gorgeous artwork is just the cherry on top. As far as the narrative is concerned, it’s an engaging and tragic story and of all the Marvel superheroes, Wolverine/Logan was the ideal choice for the protagonist. His raw physical strength contrasted with his emotional vulnerability, as well as the fact that he is far from a pure and moral hero, have always drawn Marvel fans to him and make him the perfect tragic hero, torn between a paralysing guilt and his natural tendency towards violence. My only real criticism of this text is the writer’s insistence on reminding readers, on almost every page, that Wolverine is now a pacifist and refuses to fight under any circumstances, up until the inevitable event which changes his mind. I get that this is enough of a break from character for Wolverine to justify some attention, but please give us readers some credit, we can probably remember that he is a self-proclaimed pacifist for at least twenty or so pages.

Now for The Savage, and what a lovely little treat it is. Again, the illustrations are beautiful, though very different from those in Wolverine in that they reflect the instinctive and adolescent style of the younger narrator and the Savage character. The story moves between a tale written and illustrated by a young boy as part of his therapy and his reflections on the events that motivated the story as a adult looking back. I won’t say too much about it because as soon as you finish this paragraph you need to order/buy/steal/manufacture a copy of this book (don’t steal it, or if you do don’t tell them I told you to), but this is essentially a reflection on both grief and bullying and the way a child might process these traumas through the telling of a story and the creation of a character who can carry the weight of their own sadness, anger and powerlessness. In this way The Savage is of the same breed as I Kill Giants and A Monster Calls but should not be dismissed as unoriginal. This is a story that needs to be read, if only as a reminder to not only accept the savage inside ourselves, but also to give it a little love and maybe even forgiveness.

Chizpurfles and Cackling Stumps

Writing a blog has taught me that I am really bad at updating a blog, so apologies for the delay, I have no excuse beyond laziness.
So, let’s take a nice relaxing trip to the third and sixth books in my BookTube-A-Thon challenge, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and The Tales of Beedle the Bard. In short, if you are obsessed with Harry Potter and always jonesing for your next fix of Rowling’s magical world (like me) then these little treats will tide you over for a day or two. Beedle the Bard was definitely my favourite, it’s a lovely combination of classic fairy tale storytelling with wizarding world flavour and Dumbledore’s notes are an added joy. The Tale of the Three Brothers is one of my favourite moments in the films, but The Warlock’s Hairy Heart is a dark and violent delight, more Grimm than Hans Christian Anderson. Fantastic Beasts is basically just a fun little extension of the Potter universe, giving us more awesome magical creatures to add to our own Hogwarts fantasies. The only downside to my version of Fantastic Beasts is that it needs more illustrations of the creatures, though there is a big illustrated version available which I don’t have – an obvious birthday failure on the part of my family. Basically, if you don’t love Harry Potter and you’ve never taken an imaginary stroll around the great lake, then this is not the place for you. Remember guys, “words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic”.

Survival is Insufficient

Well, at the end of BookTube-A-Thon 2018 I managed four books in the week, which I think is a pretty solid effort for a first timer. I will definitely continue with the books I chose (though I might forget about the hat challenge) and I’ll post about them as I go. For this post I’ll focus on the first two books, Station Eleven and The Giver. I listened to Station Eleven in the day time and read The Giver alongside it in the evenings. As it turns out, they complimented each other pretty well.

The phrase ‘survival is insufficient’, lifted from Star Trek, flows through Station Eleven and drives the Travelling Symphonies star actor, Kirsten. This phrase is, essentially, what The Giver is trying to tell us, with it’s dystopian world disguised as a utopian paradise. On the surface, Jonas’ little community is the perfect solution to the human tendency towards war and destruction, with everything that drives conflict eradicated, but as the story progresses it’s clear that without the things that drive us (music/colour/sex/love/anger/pain), survival IS insufficient. The interesting thing about this novel is that this is the first time I’ve come across a dystopian narrative where the controlled and orderly world that higher powers have attempted to create has actually succeeded for any length of time, with only the Giver and Receiver threatening the manufactured perfection. This allowed me to question whether Jonas’ community is as bad as it’s intended to seem. As someone who lives in a world of colour, emotion, individuality and desire, the idea of a faded and numb existence is unthinkable, but would I miss what I couldn’t remember having, if it meant a world without hunger, war, inequality and poverty? I have no idea but it’s fun to think about! Overall I’d definitely recommend this book, it’s an interesting angle on popular themes and I found Jonas’ narration simple but charming.

If anything Station Eleven has only solidified my attraction to a post-apocalyptic lifestyle. While swine flu is infinitely more realistic, and more boring, than zombies, a post-apocalypse that includes Shakespeare, airport technology museums and the odd doomsday cult thrown in for flavour is just my cup of tea. Overall, this novel is well constructed, moving between the time leading up to the outbreak and twenty years later, without being confusing. The characters are well written, though Kirsten is far and away the best character, combining compassion, a belief in the power of art and a willingness to fight and kill when necessary. Again, I would definitely recommend this book, both for lovers of the genre and those who are new to it.

Back soon with some Fantastic Beasts!

BookTube-A-Thon

So I figured a good place to start with this would be another first for me, BookTube-A-Thon 2018! So today I went digging through the world of wonders that is my book collection in search of texts that fit this years challenges. I admit I chose short books so I’d have the best chance of getting through them, but they’re all from my to be read shelf so I’m excited to get to them. Here’s a list of the challenges and the books I chose.

  1. Let a coin toss decide the first book – My coin landed on heads so the first book will be The Giver by Lois Lowry.
  2. Read a book about something you’ve always wanted to do – Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.
  3. Read and watch a book to movie adaptation – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J.K. Rowling.
  4. Read a book with green on the cover – The Savage by David Almond, illustrated by Dave McKean.
  5. Read a book wearing the same hat – This is a bit of a daft challenge and Wolverine: Old Man Logan by Mark Millar, illustrated by Steve McNiven, seemed as good a book as any to read while wearing a hat.
  6. Read a book with a beautiful spine – The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling.
  7. Read seven books in seven days – The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan will be my seventh book.

The one that may stand out is number 2 and, admittedly, a post-apocalyptic novel does seem like a strange answer to ‘something you’ve always wanted to do’. However, I’ve often felt kind of drawn to the idea of a post apocalyptic world. Obviously I don’t truly want half the world to be destroyed by zombies, nuclear winter or swine flu, and in reality I wouldn’t survive without JustEat or the ability to waste entire weekends watching tv shows I’ve already seen three times. There is a certain appeal, though, to the idea of a world where we are stripped back to basics, where survival is based on strength or intelligence and the only reason for continuing to live is our natural desire to keep breathing. Thankfully, this isn’t the world right now and there are novels, shows and movies out there that can give oddballs like me a taste of a savage alternate reality, from the safety of the couch.

I’ll update after each book with my thoughts!

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