Thoughts on Brave New World

In college we had to give a writing sample on a book that changed the way we view the world.  I wrote about Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.  I failed that writing test in college and had to re-take the test with a different question (so as not to have to take remedial writing!) because I’m fairly sure the person who graded me didn’t like what I got out of it.  I knew what I was supposed to get out of it, but the tired civilized man dystopia/ wild man utopia always seemed false to me and I felt it must have been tacked on because Aldous Huxley had created a world that, though frightening and different than our own, was too perfect.  Huxley had to come up with a way to destroy its merits, and that destruction fell flat in my mind.  1984 is a far more obvious dystopia; Huxley had to work at destroying his utopia.  Instead, I wrote about how I learned to think like an anthropologist from the book , though I didn’t phrase it as being thinking like an anthropologist.  I just talked about how it showed me that culture shapes the way we view our world (using um, culture’s views of sex being a primary cause of rape as my primary example, which I still know to be correct– if there is no shame to sex, it can no longer be used as a weapon).*

I’ve been thinking about Brave New World and how what I got out of it is different than most literary theory about it.  Anyhow, I think I got something different out of Brave New World for two main reasons:  1.  Although none of the true main characters are women (the one main character woman is kind of a cog who exists to reflect the male main characters), women in that utopia world sure have a hell of a lot better life than women in the real world, even if men don’t necessarily and 2.  I’m an alpha and when I read Brave New World life sucked so much as an alpha and if I rebelled against the social order in Brave New World my punishment would have been to go to a true island utopia populated only by other alphas and oh man oh man that was a dream world for middle-school me (one that came true in high school!).

So I looked up feminist criticisms of brave new world on google, and after adding the name “huxley” so as not to get so much stuff about modern sex that just uses the phrase, I came up with a few interesting articles.  Margaret Atwood (who literally wrote the book on feminist dystopia) has an interesting article on how it has stood up after 75 years.   This google book has some neat discussion questions from a feminist perspective.

And I wonder about how our perceptions in our current society shape what we view as utopia and dystopia, and how clear it is that we need more authors willing and able to write from different perspectives.  How much literary theory only makes sense from a middle-class white male viewpoint?  How many messages seem shallow when you’re not the intended audience?  Feminist theory shouldn’t be relegated in its own niche and ignored by everybody who isn’t a feminist theorist.  We could all benefit from a little anthropology in our world-views.

How often do you feel like you’re not the target audience?  Do you feel like that has shaped your world-view for when you are the target?  And what did you get out of reading Brave New World?**

*Despite not finishing the make-up test and freaking out about that, the writing instructor who graded the make-up told me that based on that writing, it didn’t make sense that I had to take the make-up in the first place, which made me feel better.  I got asked to be a writing tutor a year later.  So I’m pretty sure whoever graded me just didn’t like my arguments.  Another reason for me to never go into the humanities.  And yes, my formal writing is much less stream-of-consciousness than my blogging.  I’m a big believer in outlines and topic sentences.

**It’s short!  And not as traumatic as say, The Handmaid’s Tale (to me, anyway).

Angry Robot Army?

I dunno, man, it sounds kinda militaristic.  But yet!  AR Books!  So on-point!

Angry Robot Books publishes an extremely good-ass library of books. They have one of the highest hit-rates for me of books they publish that I read and own.  (#2 not so much.  #2 craves light and fluffy.  #2 does like Matthew Hughes though.  But he’s the only author on their list she is both familiar with and enjoys reading.  There’s no denying that, for example, Lauren Beukes is quality, but bad things happen to people in her books.)

They also publicize in areas that I see, and that helps.  Their ebooks are DRM-free.

The unusual thing for me is that I very rarely pay attention to which publishers are putting out which books.  Authors, yes; publishers, almost never (sometimes if it’s Subterranean Press).

I seem to be squarely in Angry Robot’s target audience, and they seem to be reaching me pretty well.

I like their books but I wish there weren’t an “army”.

Books of theirs that we have liked and/or found interesting and/or have read and/or own:

And more are on my wish-list, too!

There was a brief panic that a 2 of their imprints (which I’ve never heard of) are closing, but not the whole press.  Honestly I didn’t know they HAD imprints until I saw that post.  Their press release said, “The core Angry Robot imprint is robust, however, and we plan to increase our output from 2 books a month, to 3.”

So… yeah?  Keep rockin!


Grumpeteers, have you read any Angry Robot books?

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Who are your favorite authors of color?

Excelsior Bev recently asked her students who their favorite African American authors were, and we thought that was a fun question, but that we’d broaden it a bit.

#1:  Alexandre Dumas (Jr) hands down– though I didn’t know he was black until recently!   He’s not so great with his female characters (who are either paper dolls or evil villains), but his books are so much fun that I forgive him.

After that I know there are a lot of worthy POC authors who write amazing award winning serious fiction (and I did like Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and Their Eyes Were Watching God, but as worthy books, not fun books), but I really like popcorn books.  I really do.   So that means people like Lisa Yee and Justina Chen.  I also love almost all of A. Lee Martinez’s books.

Scalzi had a post the other month talking about the “read just women and people of color” challenge someone was doing, and I asked for recommendations for fun light stuff, but the only person who replied has a very different definition of “light” than I do (pro-tip:  Stephen King is not light).  That post also indicated to me that romance novelist Courtney Milan is a POC, which I didn’t know (I like her stuff!).  Recommendations for light stuff welcome in the comments!  (I did read some Marta Acosta light vampire stuff, and it was ok, but not worth owning.) (#2 owns the first but not the second book.)

#2 ZOMG, N. K. Jemisin all day long.  Saladin Ahmed.  Justina Chen Headley (again).  Y. S. Lee.  Nnedi Okorafor.  Dia Reeves.  Michelle Sagara (her stuff sometimes makes #1 cry on airplanes).  Gene Luen Yang.  I recently read Sofia Samatar’s award-winning novel and liked it.

And, as everybody should already know, Octavia E. Butler is objectively one of the best science fiction authors of all time.  (But not light!)

Start there!

Of course, we’re of a couple of minds about these segregated lists.  Well, not really.  It’s just a nuanced stand.  We hate the need for these separate lists and we wish that people would be included on the regular lists of “best of” because many *belong* there.  However, society isn’t there yet, so these lists are a way for people to broaden their horizons so that they can come into contact with amazing authors they wouldn’t normally read.  Being on one of these segregated lists should in no way preclude someone from going on the more general lists of “best of” and we should think really hard when we make a general “best of” list about composition to make sure we’re not running into implicit biases.  A standard procedure is to think about the best POC or female etc. author not on the general list and to compare him or her to the worst person on the general list (iterating to the next underrepresented person etc.).  More often than should be the case, that person really belongs on the general list too and was not included because of subconscious biases.  Eventually, thinking about people from underrepresented groups while making the list rather than after the list is made becomes more automatic.

One place where there are plenty of authors of color is the banned books list.  Boo.

Got anyone else we should read?  Spend your tax refund on books!  Or save it and use your library.

Two funny quotations from a book about books

These are from One for the Books by Joe Queenan.

page 3:

A friend once told me that the real message Bram Stoker sought to convey in Dracula is that a human being needs to live hundreds and hundreds of years to get all his reading done; that Count Dracula, misunderstood bookworm, was draining blood from the porcelain-like necks of ten thousand hapless virgins not because he was the apotheosis of evil but because it was the only way he could live long enough to polish off his reading list.  But I have no way of knowing if this is true, as I have not yet found time in my life to read Dracula.

And page 212, something the author’s daughter said: “If you don’t want to own books, it means you are an asshole.”

The book is pretty funny, although the author’s taste in books leans heavily towards male writers.  I will probably re-read this book.

Stay tuned tomorrow for even more about books!


in the meantime, do you have any quotes about books or reading?  Have you read anything funny lately?  Share in the comments!

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Cool books yo

In case you were wondering, and/or wanting something to read.

Good books:

First, three YA graphic novels: I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly — amazing!–   Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol; and El Deafo by Cece Bell.

Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch (published in UK as Rivers of London) — I also like the sequel.

Night of a Thousand Stars by Deanna Raybourn. You don’t need to have read any of her other books to enjoy this delight.

Lazarus Volume 1 by Greg Rucka

The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon: The Diary of a Courtesan in Tenth Century Japan

The Element of Fire by Martha Wells

The Enola Holmes series (with the caveat that they’re kind of racist towards the Roma, particularly in the last book). (and with the caveat that #1 disputes the underlying premise.)



Books I was meh on:

Jasmine Nights by S.P. Somtow (couldn’t get into it; gave up halfway through)

It Sucked and Then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown, and a Much Needed Margarita (finished but couldn’t relate to author’s story at all)

Regeneration by Pat Barker (sausage fest; finished it; it was ok but didn’t stick with me)


Any recommendations for us or each other, Grumpeteers?


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On sex scenes in books

#1 and #2 have somewhat differing views on this topic.

#1 dislikes most sex scenes in most books and skips over them because they tend to be boring and gratuitous.  The book would have been better served just closing the door before the scene occurred.  #2 loves sex scenes and appreciates them way more, and never ever skips them.

However, occasionally a book will have a good sex scene in it.  What makes a good sex scene in #1’s view is that it either drives forward character development or it drives forward the plot.  A really good sex scene will not be identical for every character.  The lovers will discover something about themselves or about each other, or the reader will discover something.  It isn’t just sex!

There’s only one Georgette Heyer novel that #1 wishes had a sex scene in it, A Civil Contract.  In it they have to have had sex, but how?

Good sex scenes:  Freedom and Necessity had a fantastic true-to-life scene.  One Good Earl Deserves a Lover had three really good sex scenes in it, each different and full of character development (and steamy!)  Both of us love those two books!  There are many others that aren’t coming to mind right now (the former is the first sex scene I came across worth reading, the latter is the most recent #1 has read).  Mary Balough is pretty good at them too.  I don’t remember which book it was, but there was a great regency where the hero kept asking for consent and the heroine kept giving it… despite what the Jonathan Chaits of the world would have us believe, consent is really sexy.  #2 agrees and also thinks there are way more good sex scenes than #1 has found!  But then again, I read erotica and slashfic, neither of which #1 reads.

Bad sex scenes:  Anything non-consensual or that starts out non-consensual, especially if it starts out non-consensual (furthering the myth that she’ll like it once it gets started).  This includes characters who are not capable of consent.  Unanimous Ewwww.  Any sex scene that could be repeated with any other pair of characters is also bad to #1 (but not as bad to #2)… the generic scene written without the characters in mind.  And, of course, there are certain over-used turns of phrase that tend to make the reader giggle… that works if the sex scene is supposed to make the reader giggle (or it fits the characters’ thought processes), but usually it’s just a really badly written scene.  Turgid!  #2 wishes that men in sex scenes would quit laving everything.  Find a thesaurus.

Readers, tell us the best sex scenes in fiction!

How to write a good book for girls

Step 1:  Make a good book for kids.

Step 2: Make sure there are girls in it, at least 50%, and not in like subservient roles and crap.

Step 3: Make sure those girls are people first, and girls second (or third or fourth or whatever they are defined by besides their presentation as female).

That is all.


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