Friday, August 29, 2014

Outlander: Come for the Scotsmen, Stay for the Hand Knits

by Sara N.

It's time for your weekly dose of Outlander, because that's apparently my regular beat now.

So. How much are you loving the hand knits we're seeing every week? Feast your eyes:

Mmmmmmmmm cowls and fingerless mitts. Look, I'd never actually want to travel back to a time without penicillin, deodorant and air conditioning, but I'm drooling over these gorgeous pieces. Knitting (or "clickit," as Jamie calls it) was obviously huge in 1700s Scotland. (Although seriously, Outlander, is it too much to ask for some knitted hats next?)

This is what we knitters do: We see, we covet, we create. And it hasn't taken long at all for Outlander-inspired pieces to hit EtsyRavelry, and Pinterest, the holy trifecta of crafting. If you don't clickit yourself, hit up Etsy to order some of these delicious pieces. But if you're a knitter, take a gander at some of my favorite lookalike patterns so far:

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Falling Into The Mirror Empire

by Kathy F.

If you read other SFF blogs or follow bloggers on twitter, you might have heard something about Kameron Hurley's latest, THE MIRROR EMPIRE. Pretty much everyone I follow has been gushing about this book for months. Now you can read it too.

Writing this review was a bit of a challenge, mostly because I really enjoyed throwing myself into this world with no knowledge other than what was in the blurb and a few "You have to read this" tweets. Trust me, this was completely done on purpose. Yes, I realize the irony that a book reviewer is stating that she refused to read any other reviews before reading this book. Some books are like that.

So what to do with this review? I think I'll do it in three stages. First, if you think that this is a book that you'd like to read, and like me, you enjoy immersing yourself into a story, I will echo my tweeple and say Yes, go read this book. It was fantastic and I want more yesterday.

Need a little bit more? With a phenomenal universe (world is not quite enough here, as the setting encompasses so much and so many possibilities), complex societies, interesting, diverse, multi-dimensional characters, action, fast-pace, this book draws you in, lets you peel back layers while exposing more secrets, and makes you want more.

Set in a world where the stars control magic and a dangerous, powerful star is on the rise for the first time in thousands of years, we follow a few different characters as they come to terms with a rising threat to their world. They all have their motivations and skills, some appear to be the villains, but nothing is strictly good or evil. It all depends on your point of view. The best villain believes that they are doing the right thing, wouldn't you agree?

Things come together and the setup for the next book was pretty damn good. I'm counting down the days.

Finally, you know I really don't do long-out, spoilerific reviews, but I will discuss a few more points after the break.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Girls Play More Video Games? Kinda Sorta

Image: Ars Technica
I love video games and I happen to be a girl. This is a fact that tends to make people's heads explode. Girls! Playing video games! What sorcery is this! Surely it's a sign of the downfall of society as we know it! Video games have long been seen as the realm of men with disposable income who like to swear like sailors when playing Call of Duty. Often video games aren't truly appreciated for what they also are; works of art with stories that would win Oscars if the Academy considered video games. I've laughed myself sick and bawled my eyes out while playing games. We've come a long way since the days of Space Invaders and Pong.

As everyone knows, girls playing video games are often subjected to harassment, rape threats and other abuse from the male gamer demographic and that's why a study released earlier this week made huge waves in the gaming community. The Entertainment Software Association (known for policing and providing ratings on games) issued an annual report about the state of gaming. They found that the average age of gamers is 31 and, shockingly, twice as many women are playing games now than men.

Oh, the strum und drang of it all! The wringing of hands! The threats and general outcry! WOMEN! Playing more games than MEN? HOW?!

Well, unfortunately, it isn't the news I had been hoping it was. I envisioned legions of ladies playing Bioshock: Infinite or Tomb Raider, or fragging the absolute shit out of people in Titanfall. Maybe with our increased numbers we could put an end to the abuse women gamers too often suffer. Alas, this report was a bit foggy on real hard details but it seems as if the increased numbers of women gamers are mostly those playing on mobile devices. Kim Kardashian, this is clearly your fault.

Is this a video game?
Where console games are concerned, men still make up an overwhelming percentage of players. They're more likely to own more than one console and devote more money to them. Women, on the other hand, seem to play more social games on their mobile devices, such as Candy Crush and the Kim Kardashian dress up game. Everyone is playing games, but not everyone is playing the same types of games.

This leads me to wonder, what counts as a video game? I don't think I'd count Candy Crush on the same level as The Last of Us but they're ranked the same in the study. That's why women beat out male gamers and why the greatest player growth has been in women over 50. Your mom isn't sitting down after a long day at work to play MarioKart but she might get in a few rounds of Angry Birds during her lunch hour. Which is more valid? I'll give you once guess what the consensus is on that one.

The study was met by a lot of hope (yay, women gamers!) a lot of scorn (ugh, women gamers!) and a lot of mocking the idea that mobile games are actually "real" games. Should they count in the grand scheme of things? What makes a console game more worthy of the term "video game"? This distinction also begins to show a troubling aspect because it's often the case that things that interest women are considered "niche" or "lesser". Women read more books than men do but, pssh, it's probably just all trashy romance novels, amirite? Not award winning literary fiction. Women play more games than men do but, bah, it's just Temple Run. Not something immersive or important like World of Warcraft. Anything liked overwhelmingly by women is always looked down upon. The worst insult you can say about something is that it's liked by teenaged girls. I can't even express how exhausting, mind-bendingly wrong that sentiment is. These are actual things I've seen or heard. A woman reading (or godforbid writing) literary fiction is just as bewildering to some men as a woman choosing to spend an afternoon playing WildStar. I know this is a shock, but women aren't this hive-minded monolithic block. We're all individuals. I know, I know, that's a lot to take in.

Lara Croft and Nathan Drake
This study isn't going to change the views of gamers and it won't change the view of the companies that make console games either. They still can't "afford" to animate women (lookin' at you, Assassin's Creed) or using them as background objects to be won, lost and objectified. Even Lara Croft, one of the most badass video game heroines of all time was almost rebooted with a gritty rape backstory because, of course, you can't be a strong woman and go raiding some tombs without having a tragic violent event in your past. Where's Nathan Drake's gritty rape backstory? Oh, that's right, he's a GUY so he doesn't need one to go steal shit from ancient cultures in the Uncharted series.

So, despite the hope in the study, women gamers are still at square one. The bottom feeder misogynists have been out in full force over this study and a few prominent female gamers have been threatened with the usual MRA hat trick of violence and rape. Trust me, don't read the comments on any article about this, you'll weep for humanity and wonder what we've done as a gender to earn such blinding, obstinate hatred. No matter what we do, we're always doing it wrong, apparently.
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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Free Is My Favorite Price

by Megan S.


A few of you are going to get annoyed at me for saying this so I'll just get it out of the way upfront.  I don't like paying for books because I go through novels like I'm physically addicted. If I paid for everything I read, I'd be in debt. I mean, don't get me wrong.  I don't do illegal downloads.  I just get them from the library if at all possible, even if I have to wait for months. 

So, if I can get a book on sale, I'm allllllll over it.  Who doesn't like a bargain?  That's why I flipped when I found out about a website that emails me everyday about deeply discounted book deals for any genre I'm interested in with links to my preferred sites (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.)

Yes, boys and girls, there really is a Santa Claus Book Fairy and it's named BookBub.
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Monday, August 25, 2014

Have You Ever Miraculously Avoided a Tech Disaster?

by Sara N.

My precious
Friends, I have witnessed a miracle.

Picture the scene. I'm walking to my car with my Kindle in one hand and my purse in the other. Realizing I've left my phone inside the building, I set my burdens on the hood of my car and run back. Mission accomplished, I unlock the doors, stow my purse inside, pull out of the parking lot and proceed down the block.

And then I hear it.


Something black goes flying up my windshield and over the top of my car.

"Uhhhhhhh what was that?" I ask my husband.

"That looked like ... was that a Kindle?" my husband responds.

I gasp and slam on my brakes, and my husband, good egg that he is, leaps out of the car and braves oncoming traffic to pluck my beloved reading device from the middle of the busy road. I grip my steering wheel, in agony of what I'll find when it's returned to me.

My husband comes bounding back to the car.

"I'm afraid to look," I tell him. "How bad?"

He's momentarily silent as he looks it over. I'm picturing a shattered screen, a case cracked down the middle, an expensive lightweight brick.

"It's ... it's OK," he says, wondering warming his voice. "It works. It's changing pages. It's only a little scuffed on the bottom corner."

Behold, the carnage.
I reach for my reading companion and smooth my fingers down its almost entirely unblemished sides. I flip through an experimental few pages of "The Magician's Land" to satisfy myself that it is, in fact, in perfect working order. And it is.

So. That's my technology miracle for the summer. Hats off to Amazon for making one heck of a product that survived a short flight and a hard fall — case-less, no less.

How about you, readers? Ever had a device you thought for sure was a goner, only to find it defying the odds?
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Friday, August 22, 2014

Outlander and the Female Gaze

by Sara N.

We've been gifted with two episodes of Outlander so far. Is it too early to draw conclusions? I say no, let's conclude away: Outlander is, so far, employing an explicitly female gaze.

This shouldn't be a surprise since its main character is Claire Randall, who falls through time and drives the story through her fish-out-of-water experiences. Her frustration and powerlessness at being a woman in the 1700s, a time when women carry little value, make up a great deal of the first book and, presumably, the first season.

Not only does the show employ a female protagonist, but so far, it seems to be filmed for the non-male gaze. And here's why that's notable.

So. I've written before about the idea of the prevailing male gaze in our film and television entertainment. Suggested by feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey in the 1970s, it's a theory that says (and I'm hugely simplifying here), filmmakers assume that the viewing audience is male and heterosexual, and they create images to please that heterosexual male gaze. As such, women are treated as sexual objects, designed to be looked at by an appreciative male audience. This is why you have, say, Alice Eve stripping to her skivvies for no reason in Star Trek Into Darkness while shots of Benedict Cumberbatch showering and Chris Pine sans pants were removed from the the film. Those making the editing decisions assumed the audience wanted to see an unclad woman, but the sight of an unclad man would make them uncomfortable.

This is obviously hogwash. But it's pervasive hogwash. And it's why the two episodes of Outlander that we've seen so far have raised my eyebrows.

Sure, we saw actress Caitriona Balfe's goodies on screen in the first two episodes. In the pilot, she has a sex scene that shows her naked breasts and butt. The butt shot lingers a bit, but her breasts are in motion and mostly obscured by her partner, as opposed to being the centerpiece of the scene.

In episode 2, Claire's breasts are seen briefly in a scene in which she's getting dressed in 18th century garb. But the point of that scene, as I read it, was the stripping down of 20th century Claire to make her over into an 18th century woman. We see the cumbersome layers that are fitted to her body, which sharply contrast the simple dresses she wore in the 1940s. The morning light is almost harsh on her skin, and again, she's moving and active, and the camera doesn't linger on her naked chest.

Now, compare Claire's brief moments of undress with the episode 2 scene of Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan). In it, he doffs his shirt so Claire can clean a shoulder wound. He remains shirtless for the whole scene, complete with flashbacks, while the glow of the fire bathes him in a warm, mellow light. Certainly, a bare male chest doesn't carry the same titillation factor that a bare female chest does, but it's definite eye candy that's explicitly on display. Jamie becomes the object of a desiring, sexual gaze in a way that could perhaps be off-putting to a straight male viewer.

Compare that to Game of Thrones. (A quick interjection: People keep comparing these two shows, and I don't really know why. Both are historical and based on popular, dense novels with hints of magic in them, but that's really where the similarities stop. Yet here I am, about to do the same thing.) Anyway, in GoT, when you've got a woman in a sex scene, she's probably pretty openly displaying her assets, and the camera is caressing those curves. Many, many women are nude for the purpose of set decoration, only there to be looked at. Yet you don't see the same types of shots for the male members of the cast. (The word "member" here is intentional.)

In addition, I'm curious what this could mean for straight male viewership. Will Jamie's fire-kissed pecs scare off men? Much has been written about the alleged struggle to recruit male viewers who are turned off by the whiff of romance surrounding the show. Will the lack of base T&A combined with handsome, shirtless Jamie be an extra hindrance to male viewers? I hope not; I, for one, don't think that straight guys are such neanderthals that they need naked boobies to tune in. A compelling story and intriguing characters should be enough for us all, men and women alike. 

So, will Outlander continue to prioritize a non-straight male gaze in upcoming episodes? I can't wait to find out.

If you'd like to read Laura Mulvey's original essay, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," you can find it here
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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Happy Things

I've been needing some good, happy news. Then, what should appear on my "Most Popular" list on Netflix?

COSMOS season one, narrated by the incomparable Neil deGrasse Tyson and inspired by Carl Sagan's groundbreaking series, is taking me on a journey of the imagination through space and time and I love every second.

I can listen to "We are made of star stuff" over and over again.

If you have not watched it yet, I highly recommend it.

You can find out more about the series here.

I also found a new installment of FOX AND WILLOW. Created by Allison Pang and Irma "Aimo" Ahmed, this fairytale-inspired webcomic follows a princess on the run and her fox companion. Nothing is ever as it seems, and I love as we slowly peel back all of the layers, uncovering even more. It's fabulous and if you haven't read it yet, you need to visit here.

Note: Some panels are not really safe for work. You've been warned!

What's making you happy this week?

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Where's Gamora?

I think we can all agree that Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy is basically the best movie ever made. We can't stop listening to the soundtrack (currently #1 on the Billboard charts!), we can't stop looking at Groot and Rocket fan art and we certainly can't stop buying Guardians merchandise. I am sure there are a bunch of designers toiling away at Marvel to bring us a dancing baby Groot just in time for Christmas.

Guardians of the Galaxy is also a massive leap forward for women in comics. The script was written by a woman, over 44% of the opening week audience were women and it had an amazing female character that wasn't just a lifeless love interest or sex kitten eye candy. Gamora was intelligent, noble and interesting. Frankly, she's kinda out of Star Lord's league. Despite the massive outpouring of fan devotion and attention, Gamora has been very noticeably absent from almost all of Guardians of the Galaxy's merchandise.

Marvel, what the hell?

If you're looking for Gamora, you are shit out of luck. She has a Lego toy and a Funko Pop figure but that's literally about it. She isn't on the t-shirts or the marketing materials, you won't find her on pencil cases or comic books. Suddenly, the team has become just a group of men (and a tree). Gamora's villainous sister, Nebula, is also completely missing. Thankfully, I'm not the only one who has noticed this. There's been a Twitter campaign recently asking Marvel and Disney #wheresgamora. Neither company has made a statement yet about the woeful exclusion of our favorite asskicking Guardian. Where are Marvel and Disney making it so hard for me to give them my money? It's like they don't even want it. Is my dollar less good because it comes from a woman?
The company that HAS made a statement is a store for children's clothing called The Children's Place. A concerned mother emailed them about the lack of Guardians merch for girls and how the boy's t-shirt didn't feature Gamora at all. The store replied basically saying that since it's boy merch, they excluded her. Because boys can't like Gamora? Because it's somehow less masculine to include a female character on a shirt for boys?
Here's a fundamental problem about being a woman. We're told and expected to be able to emphasize with male characters. We are forced to be able to relate to male characters because so often there are no female characters for us to latch onto. We grow up with books and films that are male-centric but the same isn't said of boys. Boys don't have to relate to women characters at all and some men act like it's a deep and bitter insult to even be asked to. It's a hugely toxic attitude and it leads to bullshit like a company blithely saying that a boy shirt can't have a girl character on it.

I am getting really tired of banging my head against a wall about these issues. Marvel, Disney, where is Gamora?!
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Monday, August 18, 2014

Halloween Cometh

by Megan S.

Flying Dragon Platter
I, like the rest of the Stellar Four ladies, like to keep Halloween in my heart year round, so I've been waiting with baited breath for this year's new creepy decor.  I've been checking Pottery Barn's website practically everyday for their latest goodies and they're finally here!  Oh, you guys, I want so many things.  Number one on the list is the most awesome cake stand EVER.   Thank goodness my birthday is just around the corner, because I think I might just be getting it from the most wonderful mother in the world...


So, anywho, I think you'll love a number of the pieces too.  Here are my faves.
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Friday, August 15, 2014

A Talent for Villainy

by the Ladies of Stellar Four

As we near the end of your stay at Camp Supervillain, we come to the moment that either terrifies you, sealing your doom as you quiver, a deer in the light of the oncoming truck, or like the proverbial butterfly spreading its wings, promotes you to the loftiest heights. Be sure you are a Monarch. They're poisonous.

It's time for our annual talent show. We'll share some of the past performances of our illustrious staff, as well as a performance from a rival villain academy, in the hopes of inspiring you. Do not disappoint.

Dr. Doofenshmirtz tells us about life in Gimmelshtump.

Loki shows off some moves (a man of many personas). Take notes in how to work a crowd.

Ursula sings and convinces her victim to make a deal. Expertly done.

The Academy of Villains dance crew. Precision and style.

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