Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Chauvinism vs. Chivalry: A Harry Dresden Case Study

This post contains some spoilers for Fool Moon by Jim Butcher. You've been warned!

When posting my own review for Fool Moon by Jim Butcher, I came across someone else’s, accusing Harry of not being chivalrous (as he considers himself), but a chauvinist. In all caps. With an exclamation point.
This...irked me. Around these here parts, you might have noticed that I don't delve too much into controversial topics, but considering the amount of time I’ve spent thinking on this and forming mental ripostes, I really can’t let this one slide. I’m about to drop some opinions down.

First off, let's put these definitions up here:

Chauvinist: a person displaying excessive or prejudiced loyalty or support for a particular cause, group, or gender. “what a male chauvinist that man is” (Google Dictionary)

Yes. Buuut. We also know that when someone shouts “CHAUVINIST” they have something a little more specific in mind. I mean, look at the example they added to that definition. Male chauvinist. It’s got it’s very own subset definition! So let’s go a step farther.

Male Chauvinism: the beliefs, attitudes, or behavior of male chauvinists (men who patronize, disparage, or otherwise denigrate females in the belief that they are inferior to males and thus deserving of less than equal treatment or benefit). (Dictionary.com)

And on the other side of the board...

Chivalry: courteous behavior, especially that of a man toward women. (Google Dictionary)
Chivalry: the sum of the ideal qualifications of a knight, including courtesy, generosity, valor, and dexterity in arms. (Dictionary.com)


Now let’s talk about Harry Dresden, as he is in Fool Moon. By his own definition, he’s stubbornly chivalrous. Throughout the story he is preoccupied with keeping the three women in his life safe:

1. Kim Delaney -a female magic practitioner and former apprentice of Harry’s. The book opens with Kim asking Harry for info about a terrifying, dark, complicated kind of magic, info Harry refuses to give her. Despite her promise that she’s only interested in theory, not practice, Harry tells her it’s scary stuff; something she’s not ready for and something she shouldn’t even want to know.

2. Karrin Murphy -a Chicago police lieutenant who heads up the Special Investigations division. She deals with the weird cases, the ones that oftentimes have ties to Harry’s magical community. He works as her consultant on these cases. In an effort to keep her safe from the dark side of said magic community, Harry tends not to ‘consult’ Murphy on these cases so much as run out to try and solve them himself, thus keeping her out of harm’s way.

3. Susan Rodriguez -Harry’s girlfriend? She’s also a journalist determined to prove to the world the existence of the magical community. She likes to bribe or bully info out of Harry, who tries not to tell her anything that could land her into too much trouble.

There’s a trend here. Harry takes it on himself to keep these three women out of danger and, because they’re women and he’s a man, obviously this means he’s a chauvinist -


Oh wait.


What about Tera West? She’s the female shapeshifter who hires Harry to help her fiance. Harry also suspects she’s an amoral and immortal creature of the Nevernever, so he has no worries about keeping her safe and out of harm’s way. He doesn’t particularly trust her, either. But he does trust her to carry out parts of the plan on her own and he does trust her with his own life -and the lives of others- on more than one occasion, because he knows that she is capable and resourceful. Even though she’s female.

That’s not very chauvinistic of him.

But wait. There’s more.

Let us not forget the Alphas. Harry finds himself teaming up with a group of college-aged werewolves -focusing specifically on the MALE werewolf Billy- and he tries to protect them just as much as Murphy, Kim, and Susan. Because they’re young. Because he doesn’t want to get them killed. Because he feels responsible -as a skilled and experienced wizard- for their safety.

Chivalry. Right there. That’s chivalry.

Generally speaking, chivalry is a courteous act while male chauvinism is a patronizing one. I see many people today -in books, TV, movies, and real life- who can’t or won’t recognize that there is a distinction between the two, who will see all attempts from a man to assist a woman as a sign that he believes her weak and incapable, and for many that is a woeful misrepresentation of their actions. Just like poor Harry here.

Just because a man protects a woman doesn’t mean he believes her incapable of protecting herself. Most of the time, it only means he wants to do it for her. It’s a kindness, but it seems to be more often met with a resounding chorus of ‘chauvinist’ rather than a ‘thank you’.

Now, I’m not going to argue that Harry’s reasoning and actions in this book aren’t flawed. They’re totally flawed.

What they aren’t is chauvinistic. If Harry refused to share the information because he believed Kim, Murphy, and Susan -on the basis of their gender- were incapable of handling it -that would be chauvinism. If Harry refused to share the information because he didn’t believe, on the basis of their gender, they deserved to be involved in it -that would also be chauvinism.

As it is, Harry refuses to share the information these ladies want out of a desire to keep them out of harm’s way -that’s chivalry. But it’s more than that, too. Like Murphy, Harry has set himself a dangerous task of protecting innocents from a very dark and specific kind of harm -unfortunately for him, the innocents under his watch are bound and determined to go meddling with it anyway. He might not have a police badge, but Harry possesses skills and knowledge far and above anyone else’s experience, and so it falls to him to protect them from what they don’t understand.

There is, however, a line that Harry is crossing, from protective to misguided over-protectiveness. In Fool Moon it even points out that, by withholding information from Murphy, Harry is actually crippling her ability to protect herself and others -which is her job. In trying to protect people himself, instead of equipping those willing with the means to protect themselves, he’s actually putting them in more danger -and Butcher uses this excellently as a character flaw.

There’s one more thing Fool Moon reveals about Harry, which I think is the root cause of it all -flaws and strengths- and that is someone from his past named Elaine. Someone who Harry cared about. Someone who Harry failed to protect from the darkness within the magic community. Which explains his stubborn chivalry, but explains even better how that chivalry manifests itself into over-protectiveness and trust issues, especially concerning magic.

Throughout the story, Harry is continually faced with hurdles of his own making because of these misguided acts of over-protectiveness -but he comes to recognize it. He knows his refusal to help Kim contributed to her death; he realizes that Murphy doesn’t trust him because he doesn’t update her on magical dangers and threats, instead trying to handle them on his own.

Harry hasn’t acted yet on this revelation to improve his relationships with Susan and Murphy, but I’m looking forward to see how it develops him in book three.


Conclusion:
Harry’s FLAW is being OVERPROTECTIVE, not chauvinistic.
His STRENGTH is his DESIRE TO PROTECT OTHERS, aka gallantry, aka chivalry.

In Full Moon, Harry’s flaw and his strength continually butt heads, and that is a great way to force Harry to recognize them as such and to give him an opportunity to overcome the flaw and hone the strength. It’s a great way to make Harry feel like an actual human being.

And for that I say bravo, Mr. Butcher; bravo.

What are your thoughts on the matter?
Please join in the discussion!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Fangirling Over the Artemis Fowl Movie News, Don't Mind Me

This was me, last night at 9, when I realized that in my excitement to host a young adult book club at my library today, I *achem* actually forgot to read a young adult book for the book club I am hosting at my library TODAY.

And this was me, approx 9:30, when I remembered beloved classics are classics for just such a reason as this. It helps that I still have entire sections of of Artemis Fowl memorized which frankly amazed me since I haven't read it in maybe seven years. On the other hand, I've probably read the book or listened to the audio close to 20 times.

While I didn't manage to stay up late enough to reread the whole enchilada -I'm not as young as I used to be- I left off just before Butler goes medieval and battles himself a troll. For those of you uneducated, that's roughly 7/8 into the book AND one of the most exciting parts, so I'll finish that before this afternoon no sweat.

I would have finished it last night if I hadn't gotten distracted trying to dreamcast Butler for the miracle that is the Artemis Fowl movie because WE ACTUALLY HAVE A RELEASE DATE!

August 9, 2019 is the day (hopefully, hopefully, hopefully) that the 12-year-old Irish criminal mastermind and his foray to exploit the leprechauns of their gold will hit the big screen. I say 'hopefully, hopefully, hopefully' because, well, after 16 YEARS of one of your all-time favorite books STUCK IN HOLLYWOOD'S DEVELOPMENT HELL it's hard not to become a bit of a pessimist.

But it seems we die-hard fans have something to be optimistic about! According to tvovermind.com, one of the reasons my most-anticipated movie adaptation has taken so long is because of disagreements between directors, screenwriters, and my writing hero, Mr. Colfer over said adaptation.
As it happens so often the direction that the initial director wanted to go in wasn’t deemed worth filming, neither was the direction that a second director wanted to go in. It took some time obviously but it would appear that Branagh and those in charge, and possibly the author, are now on the same wavelength and can finally bring their ideas to fruition. Nothing stalls out a book-based movie as much as miscommunication between those attempting to bring it to life.
This
could
be
HUGE.

How many adaptations have gone horribly, utterly wrong because those adapting the story didn't seem to understand said story?

While I'm still pessimistic about the movie actually being cast, filmed, developed, and released by August 9, 2019 without anymore Development Hell snaffoos, I have high hopes that -if it does actually meet its release date- this is going to be one freaking fantastic film. And nothing would make my fangirl heart happier than an excellent adaption of one of my all-time favorites, Artemis Fowl.

Don't agree? Hypable's Why You Should Be Excited About the Artemis Fowl Movie pretty much covers all the reasons.

But back to dreamcasting.

Way back when, I was totally on board with an initial fan favorite of Jason Statham in the role of Butler, Artemis' ...well, butler. Butler, chef, bodyguard. While Statham certainly lacks the stature of a true Butler -described as a 'man mountain'- he could certainly pull off the intimidation, skills, and attitude of our most beloved father-figure. However, rereading Artemis Fowl makes me realize how much I want to see that image of the hulking man mountain taking orders from a diminutive 12-year-old.

Unfortunately my Google searches for 'tallest actors under 40' and 'Eurasian actors' didn't pull up any immediate "OMYGOSH YES YES" matches, though I do find myself leaning toward the possibility of Dolph Lundgren. While he doesn't quite have the shoulder breadth I imagined, he's 6'5'', no stranger to action movies, and can totally pull off the suit and sunglasses look.

The one thing I know for sure is that I don't want Disney to cast Dwayne Johnson for this role. While he certainly has the physique and the family-friendly film record to pull it off, I just cannot picture The Rock as the intimidating Butler. I cannot picture myself seeing The Rock with a serious face and actually being able to take him seriously.

I'm looking forward to an unknown actor filling the role of Artemis; there's already a casting call for 'Irish actor aged 9-12 of any ethnicity'. I haven't even considered yet who would make a good Holly, Foaly, and Juliet. What I do know -what I have known since that fateful day I heard the movie rights had been initially bought- is that J.K. Simmons would be perfect for Julius Root. Look at him! All you have to do is color some red into his face and done.



But while I'm indecisive, I'm sure you all have opinions.
Who is your dream cast for the Artemis Fowl movie?
Thoughts, hopes, and fears for the movie adaptation?

Aaaaaand here's me when I accidentally hit the camera button again, but gracefully managed to save the picture.
Now excuse me while I dash last minute through the last of Artemis Fowl before book club since, you know, I got distracted talking to you.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

REVIEW: The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

The Ballad of Black Tom
Author: Victor LaValle
Genre: Dark Fantasy/Horror

My Ratings:
4/5 stars
PG-13 for swearing/racial slurs, disturbing images, and some violence.
Recommend to fans of dark fantasy, character development, and origin stories.

Summary (via Goodreads):
People move to New York looking for magic and nothing will convince them it isn't there.
Charles Thomas Tester hustles to put food on the table, keep the roof over his father's head, from Harlem to Flushing Meadows to Red Hook. He knows what magic a suit can cast, the invisibility a guitar case can provide, and the curse written on his skin that attracts the eye of wealthy white folks and their cops. But when he delivers an occult tome to a reclusive sorceress in the heart of Queens, Tom opens a door to a deeper realm of magic, and earns the attention of things best left sleeping.
A storm that might swallow the world is building in Brooklyn. Will Black Tom live to see it break?



The Review:

The Ballad of Black Tom possesses an eerie ambiance where unexpected magic lurking in the corners of 1930's New York, amid a bustling nation still trying to find its identity as a melting pot and against a backdrop of cruel and violent racial prejudice.

This is a story of ultimate evil, but also of a more garden variety of evil -passive, selfish, and ignorant- an evil that continually plagues the human race. It is the story of ordinary humans committing ordinary evils -and the extraordinarily terrifying monsters that are born from it. It is brutal and despicable and honest.

I feel lately my reviews tend to talk more about characters, characterization, and character development than anything but, guys, CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT. It's a magnificent beast, especially when executed so beautifully!

And so, it's my pleasure to I introduce to you, Black Tom.

Black Tom's development is the making of this story. He's so ordinary and lovable then compelling and complicated and I ADORE HIM. LaValle expertly manipulates my sympathy, disgust, and horror as he weaves the elements of Black Tom's journey through an increasingly disturbing and tragic narrative. Detestable characters slither through the pages and more than once their cruelty made me want to THROTTLE them. Each fist-clenching moment is another stepping stone for Charles Thomas Tester's development -the crux of the entire piece- and another building block toward the epic climax of the story.

Most of all, I think, I love that the story ends on a note of revelation and reflection, all the more tragic because it comes too late, leaving us ultimately with the desire for redemption but the despair that it may never truly happen.

I'll admit the abrupt ending left me scratching my head at first...
...but after reflecting and letting it all sink in I've realized that it is magnificent. I've also decided that I'm not quite done with this yet.

VICTOR LAVALLE, I NEED MORE.

Even with it's satisfying finale, we are left with open-ended questions. The story obviously doesn't end here, so I'm not finished with it yet. I need to see what happens next. I need to see what happens after that window opens and I need to know what answer -if any- is found through it. So, Mr. LaValle, you might just have to write a whole novel for this magnificent character you've wrought.

The Ballad of Black Tom surprised me with its depth, its character, and the direction it wound up taking ...which brings me to a rather unconventional request. Only after reading this novella, I learned that it's actually a retelling of a story called "The Horror at Red Hook". If you don't know what that is, I beg you, DON'T LOOK IT UP.

Read Ballad first, because it should be approached with an innocent mind and read by one with no idea what to expect because it is a delicious experience and I want you to have that, just like I did.

(If you do know "The Horror at Red Hook" then DEFINITELY read The Ballad of Black Tom, because everyone says it is infinitely better.)

What are some of the best developed characters you've encountered?

Monday, September 11, 2017

REVIEW: Fool Moon by Jim Butcher (Dresden Files #2)

Fool Moon
Author: Jim Butcher
Series: The Dresden Files
Genre: Urban Fantasy/Crime

My Ratings:
4/5 stars
R for strong language, violence, some gore, disturbing images, sexuality.
Recommend to fans of hard-boiled detective stories with a flair of the fantastic; clever use and meshing of mythologies.

Like the sound of it but not the rating?  
Try these similar YA titles instead!  

Summary (via Goodreads):
Business has been slow. Okay, business has been dead. And not even of the undead variety. You would think Chicago would have a little more action for the only professional wizard in the phone book. But lately, Harry Dresden hasn't been able to dredge up any kind of work--magical or mundane.
But just when it looks like he can't afford his next meal, a murder comes along that requires his particular brand of supernatural expertise.
A brutally mutilated corpse. Strange-looking paw prints. A full moon. Take three guesses--and the first two don't count...


The Review:

A few years ago, I DNFed the first book of this series, Storm Front, despite an interesting concept and good story because it had way too much sexuality for my taste. That's always disappointing, right? I decided to give the second book of the series a chance for a couple of reasons. One, because I've gotten better at compartmentalizing when I read, skipping over the stuff I don't like so I can enjoy the stuff I do. It's a constant balance. But the big reason is because my friend Mage really enjoyed this series for its use of mythologies (something we discussed often) juxtaposed with the modern world.

I'm so glad I gave Fool Moon a try because I really kind of loved it. Mage was right; Butcher has a great way of using and meshing mythology and the modern world. What I love most is how many mythologies Butcher uses, implying in-story that ALL mythologies are true, instead of cherry-picking them or creating his own take on it. In a weird way, this actually makes Fool Moon feel more realistic. In this book, Harry Dresden is faced with a werewolf problem, but he quickly discovers it isn't just a werewolf problem. Butcher uses four different versions of werewolf from mythology and folklore and uses them as separate 'classes' of werewolf. Hello, ensuing chaos! So we have a lot of furry beasts running around this story.

Butcher's magic system, too, is an eclectic array of mythologies, folklore, and wizardry; everything from the Faerie courts to potion making to summoning lesser demons. And behind the mythology, we also have an interesting magic community at play. Though it lives secretly in the dark corners of the world, this magic community isn't in hiding from persecution or in fear. Instead, it's the 'real world' that refuses to see it as anything more than outdated mythos. As Dresden puts it, the rest of the world has bought into their new religion of Science, which effectively blinds them to any logic or proof of the magical that might touch their lives.

Fool Moon is full of gruesome murders, shady customers, hidden agendas, and great characters. I particularly love Murphy; police lieutenant of the Special Investigations Unit and someone who doesn't take any of Harry's crap, Murphy is a kick-ass female character I can get behind. She is tough as nails and quick on her feet. She and Harry rarely see eye to eye, but they (usually) find a way to work together -and I LOVE their banter.

Harry Dresden, despite his powerful wizard skills, is still kind of an Everyman when it comes to facing down terrifying evils; he wants nothing more than to run away, but he possesses such a strong determination to do good and fight evil, that he'll do it no matter what, and I am a sucker for this quality in heroes. I like, too, that Harry's attempts at chivalry in trying to keep the women around him out of danger might actually be more of a character flaw born of trust issues, because those chivalrous acts keep landing people in danger. People like Susan, his girlfriend/not girlfriend, who investigates the magic side of the world for a tabloid magazine; and people like Murphy, whose sole job is to protect innocent bystanders from the creatures in the shadows that Harry knows so well. I like this for Harry as both a strength and a flaw because chivalry is a good quality and one I highly respect and appreciate, but trust is a better one. Butcher has pitched these two strengths against each other and it demonstrates a thin line that Harry is walking, between 'protective' and 'overprotective', between strength and flaw. I'm very intrigued to see where Harry goes from here.

Which brings me to the last character I want to mention, Gentleman Johnny Marcone. Marcone is a gangster extraordinaire. Marcone is slime; I know that. I applaud Harry for never giving him the time of day, but still deigning to save him from the jaws of death. But I'm also intrigued by Marcone. I blame this on my love of The Blacklist's Raymond Reddington (talk about a character crush!), but I want to know more about Marcone and, more than anything, I want to see Harry forced to team up with him for a whole book to solve some nefarious magical goings-on.

To sum up Fool Moon, I say it has some fantastic characters, a gritty hard-boiled detective story, and a fantastic dose of dark mythology woven in.

I'm definitely reading forward in The Dresden Files for now and I'll keep you apprised.

Patriot Day

Today we remember the tragic events of 9/11, to honor those who died and those who fought to save the survivors.

But today, too, I think it only fitting to show continued support to those who protect our country and its citizens every day.

Police
Military
Firefighters


I support you.

THANK YOU
for your service, for your valor, and for your sacrifices.

God bless and protect you.

Friday, September 8, 2017

ARC REVIEW: Invictus by Ryan Graudin

Invictus
Author: Ryan Graudin
Genre: Science Fiction
Publication Date: September 26, 2017

My Ratings:
4/5 stars
PG-13 for some violence, made-up swear words, and a few non-graphic make out scenes.
Recommend to everyone. It's the kind of science fiction that will appeal to even non-science fiction readers.

Summary (via Goodreads):
Time flies when you're plundering history.
Farway Gaius McCarthy was born outside of time. The son of a time-traveling Recorder from 2354 AD and a gladiator living in Rome in 95 AD, Far's birth defies the laws of nature. Exploring history himself is all he's ever wanted, and after failing his final time-traveling exam, Far takes a position commanding a ship with a crew of his friends as part of a black market operation to steal valuables from the past.
But during a heist on the sinking Titanic, Far meets a mysterious girl who always seems to be one step ahead of him. Armed with knowledge that will bring Far's very existence into question, she will lead Far and his team on a race through time to discover a frightening truth: History is not as steady as it seems.

The Review:

With backdrops of exotic locales, infamous historical settings, and swashbuckling adventures, Graudin gives us a gripping story with vibrant characters. Hint: Time travel is just the tip of the iceberg. Of course, I can't tell you how big that iceberg is without spoilers, but Graudin has managed to take a fairly standard concept and redefine it with her own flair.

I love this book. Set in 2371 AD (at least some of the time), Invictus shows us the future -and thank goodness it's not another hopeless, dystopian one. Instead we find a future Rome the capital of a time traveling society. Time travel is used only in the name of science and education and with every successful mission into the past comes 'a day in the life' style data streams of one era or another, edited and distributed to the clamoring public. Not only do we get a society fueled by time travel, but our main characters are TIME TRAVELING PIRATES!

Invictus centers on five main characters, which sounds like a lot and, honestly, in most other books would be too many focal characters. But within the folds of a fast-moving plot, Graudin manages to weave in enough time to flesh out each of these characters individually, familiarizing readers with their distinct personalities, quirks, and unique voices. And she does it all in less than 500 pages, without dropping any of the story's action or tension! This is not a skill to be taken lightly. (In fact, it is the complete lack of this in Star Wars: The Force Awakens that continues to grate me to this day. They should ask Graudin to proof The Last Jedi script before it's too late!)

This character work is FUNDAMENTAL because the story doesn't see any major developments or growth for most of them. Usually, this is a deal-breaker for me, BUT because Graudin gave me a front-row seat inside each of their heads, I completely understand these characters. This is very much a plot-oriented story, so the characters did not need major developments, but it is Graudin's ability to paint them so clear and vibrant that is truly satisfying.

Take Farway McCarthy, for example. Far is cocky, but this arrogance bemoaned by his crew mates doesn't wind up causing some catastrophe or heartache he has to mend or live with; instead it's used as one of his greatest strengths. The same is true for the rest of the characters. Priya, Eliot, Gram, Imogen -they might butt heads and bear the brunt of each other's flaws but they also know exactly who and what they can rely on when the tables turn. And while I love stories about people overcoming their weaknesses, I really enjoyed seeing this depiction focusing on the strengths of their flaws.

Eliot is probably my favorite character. She throws herself in with Far and his crew on less than amiable terms. She is the only person who's ever managed to best Far and everyone knows she has a hidden agenda. But what I like about her is the underlying Eliot we get to see -a bitter and desperate girl hiding enough pain to fill worlds- outside the facade she shows everyone else.

Time travel fiction is one of the hardest sub-genres to master (especially without half the community shouting 'That's not how time travel works!') but Graudin makes it look like child's play. She's managed to find a tightrope on the lines of popular schools of time travel thought and balanced right there between them. Plus, she writes the type of sci-fi I love -she cuts out the tech talk without sacrificing the big concepts. Everything is explained in layman's terms or by example, so even us less geeky nerds can still understand the science behind what's going on. ;)

This is the kind of science fiction that will appeal to everyone. Fast-paced and character driven, it's got a little bit of everything, and Graudin excels at penning this fantastic read that at once feels close and personal and far-reaching and mind blowing.


Be sure to grab Invictus when it hits shelves September 26.

And before you go, let's chat!
What's your favorite time travel story?
Personally, I'm horrid at picking one favorite, but I love Frequency, Timeline, Shadowed Glass by Charlie Pulsipher, and, of course, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L-Engle (though that's a different sort of time travel).