book review

Mistborn Trilogy (2006-2006) | Brandon Sanderson

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I consider Brandon Sanderson to be one of the most inventive and important sci-fi/fantasy writers of the early 21st century, and his defining trilogy is ample evidence.

The Final Empire is set in a vaguely medieval dystopian society, where ash falls constantly from the sky, plants are brown, and supernatural mists choke the night streets. A thousand years prior, the Lord Ruler rose to power and became a god when he repelled an enemy known as the Deepness.

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feminism · opinion piece

Michael Moore and the Purity of Women

 

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I guess I’m just really cynical of this mentality that promotes the idea of women as a collective being pure, wonderful creatures of grace who can do no wrong. It strikes me as something very, very backwards – an old-fashioned view of femininity and how women are delicate, sensitive bastions of purity that must be protected, or who are kind and nurturing by their inherent nature that they cannot possibly be as terrible as men.

Here’s the thing. Women did play an important role in inventing the atomic bomb, and no single person can ‘initiate’ a Holocaust. The Holocaust happened because of a series of cultural and social antisemitic attitudes that pre-existed within the German society, and I assure everyone here that German women played very active roles in Nazi Germany. (See here, and here for examples.)

The reason women ‘usually don’t’ commit the same crimes as men do, on a systematic level, is because they haven’t had the chance to. Michael Moore’s belief that women are somehow more delicate and inherently nurturing and kinder than men are is an antiquated notion of what it means to be a woman. This is a terribly Victorian attitude – the belief that women are so delicate and pure that they are incapable of the same things as men.

I don’t believe that. I think that the only reason women haven’t had more of an active role in world leadership (both Western and non-Western) is because they’ve simply not had the opportunities. But those opportunities are happening. We’re getting there. The UK has had Margaret Thatcher; Israel has had Golda Meir. The USA could be getting Hillary Clinton. Women are senators, politicians, foreign ambassadors, heads of states, lawyers, scientists, doctors, mathematicians, astronauts, soldiers, intelligence officers, award-winning authors, teachers, leaders. Women played active roles in the World Wars, in the Holocaust, in other genocides in world history. They can be both as inspiring and as evil as men, and it’s imperative that we don’t mistake praising women for breaking the glass ceiling for putting them on pedestals of false puritanical standards.

Feminism isn’t and shouldn’t be about lifting women up onto this unreachable pedestal. For me, feminism has always been the idea that we are equal to men in every single way. That means acknowledging the ugly side, too. That means acknowledging that women can be incredible, inspiring people, like Queen Elizabeth II, or that women can be some of the most disgusting specimens of humanity, like Irma Grese who was a Senior Supervisor at Auschwitz, the 2nd highest ranking female in camp who relished her job.

In this mad rush to assure everyone that being a feminist doesn’t mean stripping women of their femininity (‘it’s okay to like pink and be gentle and sweet!’), we’ve convinced ourselves of something just as damaging as the old view that women were unsuited to work outside of the kitchen, in my opinion. We’ve convinced ourselves that women are pure and need to be protected from everything, or that we’re inherently kinder by virtue of our DNA that we can’t be worse than men have historically been.

One of the reasons I was drawn so strongly to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl was because it introduced a new idea in psychological crime-thrillers – that women can be just as horrible, just as manipulative, just as evil, just as depraved as men can be.

I remember there was a huge debate when the book and the film came out about whether it was feminist or anti-feminist. For me, it was 100% feminist. I’d never seen a character like Amy Dunne before, in novels or in cinema. She is, to me, one of the most terrifying villains of all time. She is malevolent, she is petty, she is proud, arrogant, hateful, manipulative, and so very, very clever. I don’t care that it’s not a ‘positive’ portrayal of a woman in literature – I just love the fact that she is powerful. She is unapologetic about the destruction she causes. I’m not saying I condone it – far from. I’m saying that she represents the idea that women aren’t just the innocent special-snowflake Bella Swans or the woman-scorned seen so often in media. Women are complex, and women do not have to be victims of society just because we are told we are. (People should read Claire Fox’s I Find That Offensive. It’s very good and it may readjust your perspective on certain issues.)

Women are not magical creatures who will make the world a better place simply for being charge more often because we’re fighting toxic patriarchal values. The world at large needs to accept that women are not delicate little flowers who need to be protected. I’m not advocating for all women to stand up and act like men, nor am I suggesting that women who commit terrible crimes are to be adulated. The radical notion I’m suggesting is that some women are incredibly kind and nurturing; some women are firm and intense; some women are cold and hard; some women are outright monsters. What we are at the end of the day is human, and we come in every single shape and form. We cannot be bundled up into a neat little package taken straight out of the Victorian Era for people like Generation Snowflake feminists and Michael Moore to slap a ‘modernised’ bow on top. Once we were too delicate to leave the house; now we’re so delicate in positions of power that we won’t start any wars because wars are a thing of men and toxic patriarchy.

Maybe. Or maybe, we’ve just never been given the same chances and opportunities as men to express our inherent humanity. Even for the World Wars, which were based on the decisions of men, women were there behind the scenes, influencing men, providing opinions, being active participants of society and contributing, often with fervent patriotism. Maybe not everything is toxic patriarchal values; maybe, just maybe, women are human.

In short, shut the fuck up Michael Moore.

opinion piece · politics

peace is not a zero-sum game

On 13th October, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks made a speech in the UK House of Lords, about the passing of Shimon Peres and the controversial UNESCO vote that denies links between Judaism and the holy site of Temple Mount. One quote in particular struck a deep chord with me.

Shimon Peres knew that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is not a zero sum game, because from peace, both sides gain; from violence, both sides lose.

Historical revisionism helps no one – least of all the Palestinians. By accepting a resolution that identifies Jerusalem and Temple Mount as a purely Muslim site, UNESCO – at the behest of Muslim countries – has turned a site that is holy to the three Abrahamic religions from a religious center to a politicised issue. Referring to Temple Mount only by its Muslim name doesn’t help the Palestinians. Why must the Jewish (and Christian) people, both Israeli and non-Israeli, be punished for the ‘crimes’ of the Israeli government?

This resolution was not designed to aid the Palestinian cause. This resolution was designed and passed with one objective only: to delegitimise the State of Israel and deny Jews historical links to their homeland. This is not pro-Palestinians; this is plain and simple anti-Semitism. For thousands of years we were told to get out of Europe and Arab countries and go back to Judea; now that we have, people deny we ever came from the Middle East at all.

Ultimately, it will not just be Israelis and Jews of the Diaspora who pay the price for this resolution. The Palestinians themselves will suffer for it, down the path. Choosing to indoctrinate rather than educate robs the next generation of fundamental tools to build a fair-minded, functioning society with strong roots. If they believe that denying Jews have any historical ties to Judaism’s holiest site, where does the line get drawn? What other historical facts and events will be rewritten for political propaganda? Choosing to indoctrinate rather than to educate sends the tacit message that historic truth is something to be feared and avoided rather than confronted, and robs the next generation of the fundamental tools to build a strong and functioning society.

The path to peace requires cooperation, communication and a willingness to listen on both sides. Peace is not a zero-sum game. Taking the Western Wall away from Jews, even if it’s just on a piece of paper belonging to a corrupt, insidious organisation like UNESCO, is not an act of peace and it doesn’t help the Two-State Solution. There is no benefit to this – not to UNESCO which has become openly anti-Semitic. Not to the Palestinians who will damage their future generations with political propaganda. Not to the Israelis and the Jews of the Diaspora who once again are disproportionately targeted, and will suffer on a worldwide stage at the hands of historical revisionism which has, in the past, been used against them.

From violence – in whatever form – all sides lose.

books

Reading List

I’m always on the lookout for new books to read and recommendations. My to-read list, as usual, is embarrassingly long and just getting longer, but at some point I just accepted the fact that I’ll never have a list with fewer than, say, ten books on it.

Here’s what’s next for me:

  • The Secret History, Donna Tartt
  • Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace
  • Ship of Fools, Richard Paul Russo
  • Luna: New Moon, Ian McDonald
  • The Museum of Extraordinary Things, Alice Hoffman
  • Flow Down Like Silver: Hypatia of Alexandria, Ki Longfellow
  • Elantris, Brandon Sanderson
  • The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch
  • Downbelow Station, C. J. Cherryh
  • Crashing Heaven, Al Robertson
  • Death’s End, Cixin Liu
  • Mars Trilogy, Kim Stanley Robinson

What’s on your to-read lists? (And if you think there’s a book or two I should add to my list, let me know in the comments!)

book review

Where Am I Now (2016) | Mara Wilson

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In the year 2000, I watched a film called Matilda for the first time. I was eight years old and a bit of a loner/loser at school who preferred to spend her lunchtimes in the library reading. I’d read a few Roald Dahl books but Matilda hadn’t crossed my path yet in its original novel form; what instead happened was, on a trip to Blockbuster, I picked up a VHS copy of a movie about a young girl who loves books and discovers she has extraordinary powers.

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book review

Aurora (2015) | Kim Stanley Robinson

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I’ve mentioned before that Children of Time was my favourite novel of 2016 and Aurora was my favourite novel of 2015.

There’s not much I can say about this book that hasn’t already been said by more eloquent and experienced reviewers than I. Aurora is the story of a generational ship, launched from Saturn in 2545, consisting of twenty-four self-contained biomes and an average population of 2000 people. 160 years and seven generations later, the ship is beginning its approach to the Tau Ceti system to begin the ambitious dream of colonising a planet’s moon, similar to Earth, which has been named Aurora.

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