Monthly Archives: October 2015

Seven Short Stories Worth Reading from “A Dragon-Lover’s Treasury of the Fantastic”

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The first entry in a series on short story recommendations, these tales are taken from the anthology, A Dragon-Lover’s Treasury of the Fantastic. Published in 1994, edited by Margaret Weis and featuring 20 stories by some of the most prolific Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Award-winning sci-fi and fantasy authors, this anthology focuses on the only mythical creature recognized around the world: the dragon.

However, as is often the case with anthologies, not all the stories caught my attention. In fact, a majority of the stories didn’t work for me (I’ll confess I’m not big on fantasy). Some made me lose interest after a few pages. Sadly, in some stories the dragon doesn’t appear until the end and the focus is more on the dragonslayer. Some stories even went so far as to make me murmur: “what does this have to do with dragons?” Another complaint I have is that only European dragons get all the attention.

But what I love about short story collections is that, unlike novels, you don’t have to read every chapter. You can skip to the next story and most anthologies always have some good stories. Here are the titles, their authors and a summary:

Weyr Search (Anne McCaffrey): You know her for her uber famous “Dragonriders of Pern” series. This excerpt is from her first novel, Dragonflight. With the help of some dragonriders and her telepathic connection to dragons, a young noblewoman named Lessa fights to reclaim her throne.

The Fellowship of the Dragon (Patricia A. McKillip): Five Warrior women set out to save their queen’s lover from the clutches of a dragon – but only one will make it back.

The George Business (Roger Zelazny): A humorous tale about a business proposition between a knight and a dragon.

The Ice Dragon (George R. R. Martin): An aloof, winter-born little girl forms a bond with a mystical ice dragon.

The Hidden Dragon (Barbara Delaplace): A physically abused wife keeps seeing a dragon in her back yard….

The Trials and Tribulations of Myron Blumberg, Dragon (Mike Resnick): Myron Blumberg has a problem: he’s been turned into a dragon and it’s putting a strain on his marriage.

St. Dragon and the George (Gordon R. Dickson): A college professor and his fiancee have been transported to the past – she into the clutches of an ogre, he into the body of a dragon. He asks a wizard, two intelligent dragons and an errant knight for help.

So if you ever come across these short stories, whether it’s in A Dragon-Lover’s Treasury, or another book all together, give them a try. You might like them.

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Star Wars And Female Representation – Part 2

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In my last post I addressed the complaints made against Star Wars regarding the lack of female representation. I also talked about some of the Leia-centered merchandise that was released over the years and the fact that Lucasfilm and toy companies were actually very mindful about female representation in their products. But my focus was most on the Empire era with Leia, Aunt Beru, Toryn Farr and Oola. Now we jump to 1999 where Lucas has tantalized us with three new Star Wars movies. How did female representation fare then? Hate to burst your bubble, haters, but if there’s one thing the prequels did better than the originals, it’s that they added more women in their stories. They also brought in a larger female audience. They created new fans – many of them women. The prequels were also an inspiration for many cosplayers because of Queen Amidala’s many wardrobe choices. But there was also her handmaidens, Aurra Sing (more on her later) and Zam Wessell, and lady jedi like Aayla Secura and Bariss Offee. Then in 2008 came the Clone Wars TV show and we got Asajj Ventress (who first appeared in many comics and an earlier Clone Wars TV show), Mother Talzin and of course, Ahsoka Tano. If you doubt her popularity, you’ve definitely been spending your entire adult life hanging upside down in a wampa cave.

But how did Star Wars fare when it came to female representation in merchandise? From what I remember, there was enough Amidala merchandise to rival Disney’s Princess line. T-shirts, stationary, posters, costumes, even a makeup collection! But most of all: fashion dolls to showcase Padme Amidala’s fabulous wardrobe. There was the Queen Amidala Portrait Edition Collection where you could get dolls of the teen queen in her various gowns as seen in The Phantom Menace. There was also another collection called simply, the Queen Amidala Collection and they were more kid-friendly dolls that involved different ways to arrange Amidala’s dress, disguising her as a handmaiden and of course, styling her hair. Twice. I forgot to mention a two doll pack collection where she’s in her battle outfit with Qui Gon Jinn. Sadly there wasn’t as many Padme dolls for Attack of the Clones (except one) but other ladies got their time in the spotlight: Shaak Ti, Aurra Sing and Bariss Offee

But since Star Wars dolls are not a new thing, there was also something that was never released before: paper dolls. Yes! You could play the part of Amidala’s handmaiden and dress her in different royal attire. There was also a Padme paper doll book for Attack of the Clones (because she made more costume changes in that film than in episode 1!)

And of course we can’t forget the action figures. To date, I personally have 13 Padme Amidala action figures, 6 from TPM, 4 from AOTC, 1 from Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars and 2 from ROTS. I also have two Sabe action figures and two bounty hunters: Zam Wessel and Aurra Sing respectively. I could go on and on about my collection but we’d be here all day. Here’s a list instead. (Confession: I’m secretly drooling for that “realistic” Ahsoka Tano Vintage Collection action figure but it’s only available on Amazon and the price offers range from $105 to $139. Yeesh!)

And what of the Expanded Universe? Though it was kicked off in 1978 with Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, toys based on the books, comics and video games of TGFFA shot skyward with the prequels and they covered different eras, from the early days of the Old Republic to the adventures of Cade Skywalker. Characters like Lumiya, Mara Jade, Jaina Solo, Juno Eclipse and Shae Vizla were given their own action figures.

It’s hard to say how Disney/Hasbro will fare in the future when it comes to female character driven merchandise since they’ve only owned Lucasfilm for 4 years now. I’ve been bored with a lot of SW merchandise lately because it’s all been OT and TFA era and I want more representation of the entire saga. I feel that the #WeWantLeia campaign was too limited in its demands. I don’t want just Leia, I want Padme and Ahsoka too. So girls, keep speaking up. Keep demanding. Ask for more female characters in merchandise – not just Leia.

But also, look for that silver lining: DIY merchandise. Sewing and crafts have always been considered a feminine art form and instead of sitting around on their computers, wishing, hoping and tweeting for female-centered merchandise, some fangirls have made their own merchandise. Heck, it worked for Ashley Eckstein.

I will also leave you with this idea, girls: use Star Wars as inspiration to make your own movies. We can’t keep on demanding men to represent us when we have the brains, the hands and the imaginations to represent ourselves. We can’t have more women in front of the camera until we get more women behind the camera. And instead of demanding inclusion in a 40-plus franchise that needs to be retired, let’s create new SF and F stories with female characters or adapt SF novels written by women for the big and small screen.

In the meantime look online and at your local comics, toys and collectible shows for merchandise.

Happy shopping, star warriors.

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Seriously, Can We Give Batman a Rest?

September 26th was “Batman Day” and online there were offers galore for every type of Bat-merchandise you can get your hands on.

Uh, didn’t we just celebrate Batman’s 75th anniversary last year? Weren’t there events and activities throughout 2014 to celebrate the milestone and tons of merchandise to boot? I have nothing against the Dark Knight. I love the 1966-68 Batman show. I love Batman: The Brave and the Bold. I like Batman: The Animated Series. Batgirl, Catwoman, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn are some of my all-time favorite characters. But this Bat-worship is getting tiresome. You’d think that Batman was the only hero in DC’s roster. It’s like how fans have been accusing Marvel for recently “avoiding” X-Men and The Fantastic Four simply because the characters are owned by Fox.

In 2013 Superman had his 75th anniversary. Nothing much was made to commemorate it except for this awesome animated short. There was no “Superman Day” at Barnes and Noble, where you could buy one Supes comic and get one free of your choice. Or participate in a Superman trivia competition or buy from a huge display of Superman merchandise that was half-off (or less). The Flash reached his 75th anniversary milestone this year. Raise your hand if you knew that. At Hot Topic, the percentage of Bat-merchandise is higher than that of the other DC heroes.

I could pin the blame for all this bat-obsession on DC alone but I wonder if the fans are just as much to blame for voting with their wallets. DC is still a business and they’re not willing to go out on a limb for a superhero that doesn’t sell. If DC is reluctant to shine the spotlight on Wonder Woman when she hits the big 7-5 next year, it’ll make me really sad.

I know that many people are drawn to Batman because he has no superpowers and he seems more “relatable”, but what is relatable anyway? What may seem relatable to one person may not be the case with another. I relate to Wonder Woman because she comes from a matriarchal society and she has a sisterly attitude towards other women. I’m drawn to Superman because he looks like someone you could give a big bear hug and share a bag of popcorn with. I like Captain Marvel because he’s goofy. I like the Birds of Prey because they’re women (both with and without superpowers) from different walks of life working together as a team. But Batman feels too aloof and distant to me and his rogues gallery often overshadows him. Gotham City is too dark and dreary and sometimes reading a Batman comic can be leave me feeling disturbed.

When I read superhero comics, I never think: “how do I relate to these characters”. I’m drawn to superheroes because they’re not like everyone else. I didn’t want to be like everyone else when I was a teenager, so I guess that’s why I’ve always been drawn to DC: they’re fine with being different from everyone else as long as they can still get along with the rest of humanity.

I’m not asking that we toss the Caped Crusader into oblivion, never to be seen again. I’m just saying let’s shine a spotlight on the other DC heroes when it comes to merchandise and media – especially some of the obscure ones (some Vixen, Blue Beetle and Black Canary merchandise please) so that all fans can feel included.

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“Star Wars” and Female Representation – Part 1

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If you’re a girl who loves Star Wars like me, by now you’d be familiar with all the brouhaha that’s been floating around the internet about TGFFA’s “female problem”. From actor dads who introduced their daughters to the saga (via only two episodes if I may add) to Hasbro’s contemporary lack of female characters in their toy lines, to screams of outrage when the first pictures of the cast of The Force Awakens at a script reading were released.

And I have to admit: I don’t get it.

I mean, I’m all for increased female representation but I don’t get the timing of these arguments. The franchise is nearly 40 years old. It took fans this long to realize that the male to female ratio was disproportionate? Shouldn’t we’ve been complaining about this when the first trilogy was released? And why is a 1977 film being called out for using the Smurfette Principle, while a 2012 film like The Avengers gets a free pass?

Let’s go back to 1977 and look at things in an historical context.

While the 70s will forever be remembered as the decade of The Women’s Liberation Movement, the concept of feminism was still foreign in many parts of the U.S. The subculture of science fiction was no exception. Despite being a genre of futuristic, scientific possibilities, it was a genre that was still ruled by older white men, even though there had always been women SF/F writers from the get-go. One woman writer in particular, Pamela Sargent, describes her dilemma when she was collecting stories for a pet project of hers:

Twenty years ago, my first anthology, Women of Wonder, was published. It was the first anthology of its kind: science fiction stories by women about women. For over two years, I tried to find a publisher for Women of Wonder, and the reactions of the editors were instructive. A few editors thought the idea was wonderful but decided not to do the book anyway. Some editors found the idea absurd, a couple doubted whether I could find enough good stories to fill the book, and one editor didn’t think there was a large enough audience for such an anthology.

Let’s backtrack a little. Not only did society look down upon the idea of women liking science fiction, they couldn’t comprehend the idea of sci-fi as a genre to be taken seriously.

 It’s hard to believe now, but many SF films and TV shows that are now considered classics, were at one time critical, commercial and ratings flops. 2001: A Space Odyssey was hated by the critics and despite positive word-of-mouth, took years to regroup its costs. Darryl F. Zanuck had to overcome a lot of obstacles, both political and creative, to make The Day the Earth Stood Still. Arthur P. Jacobs needed Charlton Heston’s star power and John Chamber’s makeup talent to convince studios to distribute Planet of the Apes. And both Star Trek and The Outer Limits suffered so much from low ratings and executive meddling that it lead to the departure of their respective creators. So what point am I trying to make? That if these classic films and shows had a hard time getting respect with male leads, imagine how much harder it would’ve been if the leads had been female. George Lucas was no exception (It’s been said that one of the reasons he called Star Wars science fantasy was because if he said it was SF, the film would’ve never been accepted).

Speaking of Star Trek, there are times when female portrayal on that show set my teeth on edge. Don’t get me wrong, I love the show as much as the next nerd but there are times I secretly felt that Leia could kick the butts of every woman on the Enterprise (not that she would do that). Having loads and loads of female characters doesn’t automatically make something pro-woman. But a story can have only one or two women and they can be written extremely well. And now back to Lucas.

According to the book The Art of Star Wars Galaxy (Gary Gerani, Berkeley Pub Group, 1993), Luke was originally written as a girl on a mission and Han Solo was a general who was helping her in her quest. But studio executives refused to distribute the film unless there was a budding romance between the two characters, something Lucas did not want (one thing he was adamant about was that the main hero, male or female, would not have a romance). Maybe it’s because classical mythology always featured male protagonists or maybe because male characters aren’t expected to fall in love as much as female characters, but either way Luke became a man. Oh well…

But there is one thing Lucas had been adamant about: in his script there was going to be a woman.

Star Wars has become such a fixture of pop culture, it’s hard to believe that Princess Leia Organa was a shock to filmgoing audiences in 1977. No one had seen anyone like her before because unlike those before her, she was more than just smart and determined, she was an action girl. She knew how to shoot a gun and wasn’t afraid to use it. Before Leia, action sheroes were mostly seen on television (like Emma Peel, Honey West, Wonder Woman and Charlie’s Angels), not film. Leia was the first. Yet, it’s inaccurate to say she’s the only female character in the films, she’s the most important. How would audiences have sympathized with Luke’s desire to leave Tatooine if it wasn’t for Aunt Beru’s support? How could we truly comprehend the evil nature of Jabba the Hutt if we weren’t witness to Oola’s demise?

Yet what the first Star Wars lacked in two-hour cinema, it made up for in comics, television, novels, video games and toys. Yup girls, at one time you could girl-themed SW merchandise to your heart’s desire. Here’s a Princess Leia doll. Here’s another one. Here’s one that was released in the 90s. Here’s one of her on a speeder bike.

Dolls not you’re thing? Well did you know there was a 1997 Princess Leia Collection? These were two figure-packs of Leia in different clothes with an accompanying male character. Here’s one in her ceremonial gown with Luke. Here’s another one of her in her Ewok-made dress. Here’s one where she’s with Han on Bespin. And last, but not least, here’s her famous senator gown. And they’re all made with real cloth.

But you didn’t have to be the heart of the Rebellion to get an action figure. You could simply stand there in the background and become an action figure. You could have only one scene and become an action figure. You didn’t have to be in the movies and you could still be an action figure! Many various characters from Kitik Keed’kak to Toryn Farr to Sy Snootles got action figures so that girls could make up their own adventures with these characters with limited screentime. And I’m forever grateful to Lucasfilm for that.

But what about the aforementioned expanded universe? And the prequels? And the Clone Wars? How did female representation fare in those eras? Find out in part 2!

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