Subtropical Suspense: All the love

Maybe not right before bed...
My littlest fan <3

It’s the most humbling experience to have people you come out to support you, either by buying your book or reading and telling you how they’ve loved what you’ve written. I’m so pleased to see how many people have a copy of Subtropical Suspense, and are helping share the love for a great Australian anthology and initiative from Cameron Trost at Black Beacon Books.

Many friends have not finished reading the whole book yet, and have faithfully promised me that they are going to review it when they do, but have sped straight to the story by me (as the person they know), and I’ve had some lovely feedback, which I’m going to share with you now.

“It reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock presents.” Paraphrased from my friend John Duggan and my favourite feedback yet.

“I loved it.” Cassie Bennett.

“I really enjoyed Linda Brucesmith’s and Sophie Yorkston’s stories.” Helen Stubbs, a fellow Australian writer also published in Subtropical Suspense, from an interview for The Australian Spec Fic Snapshot (a great initiative that you can read about here).

“I enjoyed it very much.” My darling mother.

“As good as any story published in The Argosy’s, Suspense.” Paraphrased from my grandfather, Tom Yorkston (I understand this is high praise).

Before you get any ideas about how easy it is to win praise from any of the above readers, I will say for my family that my grandfather is an avid reader, and has been giving me books on grammar and fine-tuned writing technique for many years. My mother has (at least part of) a degree in arts and produced professional content for an Australian state government department.

Otherwise, there’s been a great review of the whole book by Frank Errington over at Goodreads, and through the Queensland press (here are some articles from The Brisbane Times and The Courier Mail’s Extra.)

If you’re interested in the anthology, there’s several places you can pick up a copy in Brisbane:

  • Black Cat Books, Upper LaTrobe, Paddington
  • Riverbend Books, Bulimba
  • Pulp Fiction in the CBD
  • Avid Bookshop, West End

For my friends who wanted to know when you could get it online, you can order from Createspace (who ship really quickly by the way) or as an ebook (for the cheapy-cheap price of $3.99).

My own review of the book will be coming very soon, and I’ll make sure I share it around. Remember, help get publicity for local work and it can only grow from there.

Lastly, I want to thank everyone for supporting Subtropical Suspense (and local bookstores and publishing companies), either for me or as it’s a local Aussie initiative. It’s so great to see the groundswell, and I love to hear people talking about the book and my story. So thank you to everyone who’s sought me out to tell me what they think. Can’t tell you what it means to me that you’re keen to read my work.

Review of Harvest, Hyddenworld Book III

Harvest: Hyddenworld

William Horwood’s Harvest is the third in a tetralogy of books written in his Hyddenworld, and it’s where we finally are seeing significant ramping up of tension leading to the culmination of the story.

Awakening (summer) left Hydden journeyman Bedwyn Stort and the others fleeing the home of the Emperor of the Hyddenworld, Bocum, with the gem of Summer, which he gives to his now-grown love, the Shield Maiden Judith, daughter of his giant-born friend Jack, and partner Katherine.

Stort has no idea where to find the next gem, and only knows that he must look to the original holder of the gem, Al Faroun, the Emperor’s former teacher and famous Hyddenworld designer.

Meanwhile, back in the human world, Professor Arthur Foale, Katherine’s surrogate father, becomes of interest to the military through his former student, Erich Bohr. When taken into custody to help ascertain what role the Hyddenworld plays in the current geological disasters, Arthur must figure out how to escape, back to his friends in the Hyddenworld.

That’s where his wyrd (fate) brings him into contact with the former Emperor’s trusted right-hand man, Nikolas Blut, who in his mentor’s abdication, has become the Emperor himself. But his intentions are being thwarted by some shady machinations of the military wing of his own government, the sinister Fyrd.

All this while the earth begins to rebel against centuries of abuse by the humans, and the retrieval of the gems is all that stands in the way of the end of days.

Harvest has what was lacking in Awakening: a significantly tense plot. And while that could be somewhat forgiven as part of the thematic structure, as summer is a time of growth and play and good times, this is the book where the series starts to come into its own.

Writing socio-political and military-type intrigue is one of Horwood’s strengths as a writer, and it is good to see this appear in the third novel. The subtleties of the political machinations and counterplots in the Hyddenworld adds an interesting comparison to the same activities in the human world, and is an interesting counterpoint.

In the years since the books of the Duncton Wood world, it has been easy to forget just how graphic Horwood can be. In Harvest, the gore and horrific deaths return. Horwood has incredible way of getting under the skin and making brutal deaths of characters in his novel get under your skin.

As this series moves on, some of the favourite characters seem to get less interesting, but this is countered by the introduction of some new and nuanced characters, particularly the new emperor Blut. It is saddening though to see the prominent female characters have less agency and exist in largely traditional female roles without good characterisation. Even the Shield Maiden Judith, who promised to be incredibly fascinating with her accelerated growth and a fierce anger derived from her pain and from acting on behalf of the earth. She becomes Stort’s love interest, to the detriment of the story.

Now that the epic is starting to get into the upswing of the climax of the series, it’s definitely at a pace that many epic fantasy readers will enjoy. Due to the level of violence and gore, it may not be suitable for preteens, but anyone older should be able to relate to it. Harvest has given a fine preview of what Horwood could do with the resolution of the Hyddenworld series, so I look forward to the final book, Winter, which I will review for SQ Mag in September. You can find my review for Spring (Book I) here.

Review: Best Man by Ebony Olson



Before I begin this review, I must say that I know the author, and I read the beginnings of this novel when Ebony was posting it online at her blog, where she eventually took those parts of it down before she published. I purchased the book because I had to know how it ended.

Jess returns home for her sister’s wedding, the first time since leaving in the wake of personal disaster. She meets the delectable and mysterious Ethan, who she discovers is her new brother-in-law’s best man. While Jess wonders if she is ready to come home to her family and friends, her past comes back to the fore, and another devastating secret will come out.

Best Man is a commentary on the dysfunction and difficulty of familial and romantic relationships, and how these two can sometimes be worked around to make fulfilling connections for people. Particularly displayed in the relationship of protagonist Jess with Ethan, and also with her mother, who she struggles to have good relations with.

The interplay between Jess and her flirtatious fling Ethan is the best part of this book. Two broken people dancing around each other, each attempting not to get hurt or get involved, rung true as a tribute to the baggage people carry into their love lives in the modern world. I also liked how Ethan is woven in as a part of Jess’ world, before she even know about it.

My major criticism is to the brevity of the discussion of familial violence and how it is treated as a subject. So as not to spoil some of the events of the book, this comment will be kept obscure. One of the characters has a history of violence towards another, and every one ignores it and expects the victim to play nice, knowing the extent of previous violence. To me, there was no feeling of it throughout the book in the victim’s reactions to their abuser in any way, or in the way other members of the family reacted, and it felt like an unneeded plot point. I know that the author does not take this subject lightly at all; to me, it’s just not been woven into the overarching narrative well. In my opinion, selfishness and self-involvement could have inflicted the hurts the victim suffered, and still reflected badly enough on the other character.

One other criticism is less major and more a reflection on the copy editor who read this novel, who left in homophones and several other small mistakes that do not reflect well on their professionalism.

Best Man can certainly be classified as romantic, but I would say that’s only one part of the story. There’s some steamy scenes between Jess and Ethan that should titillate most readers of the genre. I would definitely recommend it only for adult readers, given the subject matter.

For a self-published first novel, I think Ebony Olson has done extremely well. The narrative kept all the best character development and interaction that engaged the readers in the initial release of this story. I commend Ebony on her first book, and look forward to seeing her writing going from strength to strength as she hones her craft. I look forward to the release of her next book, which she has told me privately she hopes to publish towards the end of 2014.

Update on my writing

I’ve been neglecting my blogs lately but I thought I would come on over and update everyone as to what’s been going on in my life. Some of this will not be news to people who follow my author page on Facebook, or Twitter, or Google+. So back in March, I had a story accepted to the Subtropical Suspense. It’s called Downpour, and is a story set in one of Brisbane’s iconic summer storms. It’s based on an experience I had living in Milton with my cousin Liesl that at the time, scared the bejeebus outta me. I’m in there with some pretty great Australian names I recognise: Linda Marie Brucesmith, Alice Goodwin, Gerry Huntman (my boss at IFWG and an incredibly prolific writer), Helen Stubbs. Associated with this are an interview I did before the launch with the editor Cameron Trost over on Facebook, and a couple of reviews of the anthology by Frank Errington and one by local 4ZZZ radio programmer, Nyx Fullmoon. Great to see my fellow authors getting recognition and praise for their wonderful stories. I’ve also had a story accepted to a great New Zealand children’s anthology, Twisty Christmas Tales, brought to you by Phantom Feather Press. The team consists of Alice Ponder, Eileen Mueller and Peter Friend, and they have done a wonderful job with the edits on my story. This is my first story for kids, and it’s been illuminating on the different challenges children’s authors face. The anthology is for children 8 – 12 years old and I expect should be out closer to Christmas 2014. This year I’ve  joined some great writing groups. There’s a great group of women that I’ve connected with here in Vancouver: Caitlin, Deana and Jennifer. Caitlin introduced me after finding me from Chuck Wendig’s blog, where I’ve been participating in challenges. I’ve been really lucky to find such an awesome group interested in including me. There’s also an online group, collecting some names I know from around the Oceania traps, spearheaded by editor/author Jodi Cleghorn of Emergent Publishing and Ben Payne, where we’ve been working on a #6in6 challenge: 6 short stories in 6 weeks. The group, which is keeping to no more than 30 members, is contingent on writing and community in the whole.  Jodi wrote a post about it. It’s been great. In the last 6 weeks, these are my statistics while doing the challenge:

Completed first drafts (10,100 words) Manuka Mischief  1,500 Pohutukawa Angels 1,500 Beyond 2,200 L’appel du vide 1,500 (tentative title) Mama Yajaira’s 2,900 Little Shop of Needs 500

Incomplete Drafts (4,400 words) The Keeper 2,000 Lane2 390 Lane draft  840 Always Trouble 430 Work on my novel 700 words

Rewrites/Edits (2,500 words) L’appel du vide 4000 (cut to 3400, 1900 new words approximately) Beyond (unfinished) 500 Manuka Mischief (extra 100)

2 stories submitted, one accepted

Beta Reads 2 stories, 7700

I’ve met some great new people. And honestly, I feel like this is the best writing decade of my life right now, and I hope it’s only a beginning. Thanks for coming on the journey with me.

Arabian-Islamic fantasy sojourn: Throne of the Crescent Moon review

What a beautiful cover.

Sometimes it takes a different perspective to refresh a genre. Sword and sorcery for a long time has been too full of clichéd plot and motivations. It is a paucity of different cultural voices that has tired this genre; but the wonderful news is that Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon is a refreshing read with a flavour of the historical Arabian empires.

Set in the Kingdom of the Crescent Moon, Doctor Adoulla Makhslood is the last of the ancient profession of ghul (demon/animated substance, for those of us without the proper grounding in Arabic folklore) hunters in the city of Dhamsawaat. More interested in his tea and delicacies, Adoulla is tiring of the hunt and ageing faster every day. His beloved city teems with tension, caught between a Khalif ruining the city with his selfish desires and an outlaw calling himself the Falcon Prince. Even with the help of his warrior dervish assistant, Raseed bas Raseed, Adoulla is on the back foot with the latest bone  ghuls stumbling his way.

After a rescue by the shape-shifting tribeswoman Zamia Badawi, last of the Badawi band murdered by the marauding ghuls, an uneasy alliance forms between the hunters. It is crucial, as ancient dark forces thought to be long extinguished are working their way back into the world, and the threat to the world is great.

It seems so trite to compare a stories of folklore origin, especially since Throne of the Crescent Moon is such a breath of fresh air. This novel does, however, conjure all the mystique and magic of Thousand and One Nights. But there’s much to enjoy in the characters themselves: tortured love, loss of faith in life’s path, enduring love of age, greed, unwilling heroes, devotion to tribe and family…Saladin’s novel is populated with people. This may sound like it should be a given with most books, but few writers manage to do it well. Shifting tensions between the devout Raseed and his mentor, the irreverent Adoulla, are a lovely contrast to the traditional reverent student-teacher relationships that appear so frequently in sword and sorcery novels.

The rich culture of the world is brought to life in the small details, from Adoulla’s tea, to his conversations and the architecture. Social structure of historical Arab-Islamic cities strikes me as genuinely reflected, and the Badawi tribe appears a nod to the role the African tribes played in the history of the Arabs. Fight scenes, which are not normally a drawcard for me, intrigued me, particularly the dervish fighting Raseed embodied. And even if the battle is the good versus evil, there are small details that allows Saladin to paint in some shades of grey.

Throne of the Crescent Moon was Hugo and Nebula-nominated for good reason; that it was a debut novel recommends Saladin Ahmed’s work even more strongly. If a fan of the traditional sorcery genre, expand your horizons; this has all the adventure of the genre with more soul. If a general speculative fiction fan, pick it up for a good read that redefines what the speculative fiction voice is.

You can find out more about Saladin Ahmed at his website, or follow him on Twitter to be entertained, educated and appalled about how pervasive anti-Islamic (and even just extremely ignorant) voices are in the field of fiction and in the greater world in general.

Pro-tip: If you enjoy the book, I was lucky enough to discover that Saladin Ahmed has a short story collection, Engraved on the Eye, that has a story involving the good Doctor and Raseed, and I was lucky enough to pick it up on Amazon for the lovely price of free. Plus there’s some other intriguing shorts that make it worthwhile.

Review of Stephen King | On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft


When a book, particularly On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King, has been touted at “the best craft” book for writers, it’s really hard to approach it in a neutral frame of mind. Especially when you are not a big reader of his work, that kind of touting can result in disappointment of an equal scale. I have to say, it wasn’t what I was expecting, but what I should have been.

I opened the book expecting a break-down of what writers need to succeed, based on Stephen’s own experience. But what this book is entailed in the title: a memoir. The first third of the book is the story of how the inexperienced young man became a writer. It pulls no punches: there was lots of rejection, a good dose of struggling by with menial employment, and a whole lot of hard work. Some people are horrible narrators of their own experience, and make it out to be a glorious quest. But Stephen writes with his characteristic gritty realism, simplified language and trims out the unnecessary.

The second section of Stephen’s craft book is a brief run-down of what it takes to be a good writer. He makes sure to clarify that he does believe there are people who cannot be writers, people who can be crafted into good writers, and great writers. He doesn’t give himself any airs: he is well aware that he is not considered to be a master wordsmith, but he says he must be reasonable, given how others enjoy his work.

Some of his tips are standard (though whether they are standard because of his book or whether they predate it, I do not know, given the original book was published in 2001): write a lot, read as much, have your own space for writing, write your own truths (versus write what you know), to write good dialogue writers must listen, give your drafts a rest before you edit and most importantly, don’t do it for the money.

He does discuss some aspects that aren’t as often discussed. He’s not a fan of plotting, more of allowing the story to be unearthed naturally. Keep your enthusiasm for the story by keeping working on it, by keeping it to yourself for at least the first draft. The extra touches, he advises, can be built into the later drafts. Backstory should be simple and elegantly woven in; research it if you must, but work to make it seamless and the story authentic.

My only criticism of his advice was he chose to talk about agents, which I got the impression that he himself had very little experience with. He did talk mostly of friends who had acquired agents after some time, after some successes, and by picking those who already represented similar works. The trouble is to my mind is that he has not had the personal experience of one; his own trajectory was a very different one. It is also not quite as relevant given the plethora of ways a writer can achieve success in the current market; so this section of the book was a little outdated for me.

The finishing section is unique to the 2010 edition, I believe, talking about Stephen’s return to writing after he was hit by a van and hospitalised with severe trauma. It is a real testament to his commitment to his craft, and his description of his first session writing after the accident was an intense reminder that dedication is a huge part of this career. His descriptions of his injuries and his conduct during his (probable) delirium actually elicit a few smiles, even through the internal horror realising what he must have been going through.

All in all, I enjoyed the style of Stephen King’s On Writing; more memoir than serious craft novel, but all the more engaging for the personal touch. It is also understandable that many could relate to it: Stephen is humble about his own gift and his achievements, which is unusual for a writer of his level of success.

I do recommend it to other writers, particularly those who haven’t read a lot of other craft books, as it is innately readable and offers clear, constructive advice. Those who enjoy his other work will undoubtedly enjoy getting to know the man all the more.

Flitting around Neverwhere

neverwhereThose of you who have seen my reviews before, it’s no surprise to see I am reading another Neil Gaiman book. After my friend, Thor Gunnin, introduced me to American Gods, I have been an ardent fan of Mr Gaiman. So Neverwhere, one of his other lauded novels, the one the fans beg for a sequel of, had to be on my ‘To-read’ list.

Richard Mayhew has his life together; he’s got a good job, he has his own flat, he lives in London and has a beautiful fiancée, Jessica. But it all changes when he stops to help a girl in the gutter, the seemingly injured Door. After his world connects with London Below, the London that has fallen through the cracks, he loses his connection to the life he knows and love. And his only solution is to seek out the mysterious Door, who is facing her own tribulations and being pursued by two unsavoury characters.

But the world below is much more dangerous than it seems, a place of magic and full of creatures of lore. Richard must adapt to survive and join Door’s adventurers to learn, about life and about himself.

Bluntly, I think that American Gods is still my favourite, closely seconded by the raw emotions of The Ocean at the End of the Lane (which I reviewed for SQ Mag). But Neverwhere is still an engaging novel that stands up to Neil’s usual high standards. The tidbits of about the London Underground, and historical weather patterns, and fashions of yesteryear, are fascinating and so much a part of his fastidious style, displaying his extensive research. Managing to paint despicable antagonists that make your skin crawl, particularly Vandemar and Croup, and the depiction of the emotionally detached Angel, are the workings of a genius at characterising human (and by extension, supernatural) life forms. Even when I didn’t much like the early actions whinging protagonist Richard, Gaiman still managed to make him sympathetic. It is a strength that there are so many flawed and somewhat unsympathetic characters in this novel, and it is still mostly enjoyable reading; a reflection I believe on the difficulties of life ‘below’, and the selfish side that is a requirement for survival.

I do think that Gaiman’s work has evolved, and that his structure is a lot cleaner, tighter, in places than it was for this novel. And I can see why it has a huge fan base; the story of being unnoticed, of falling through the cracks to be forgotten, is one that so many of us can relate to. And as always, he a master of weaving lore into present day life in a way that doesn’t turn the reader away.

So I would definitely recommend Neverwhere to others, particularly those weathering a time in their lives where they might feel isolated, but it would be in a raft of reading of his books, to get a flavour for all the styles of his fiction. It’s infinitely suitable for preteens and up, and best suited to this audience.


Hyddenworld: Spring Review

hyddenworldspringx200William Horwood has been a favourite author of mine since I was old enough to read and comprehend the intricacy of his Duncton Wood series, and the Hyddenworld series is his return to fiction after a hiatus of almost ten years. To say I had high hopes and was excited is an understatement. Especially given the elegant cover.

Spring is the beginning of a new epic series, a four-parter as indicated by having seasonal titles, set in England. It begins with a story of eternal love, a great caster called Beornamund and his love Imbolc, or ‘spring’. He cast her a necklace with a stone for each of the seasons, but it becomes shattered and all the stones are lost. Imbolc becomes the Peace-Weaver for generations, travelling the hyddenworld on her white horse, her presence required until the stone of winter drops from the pendant her love made her.

Long ago, the human and hydden worlds separated. Humans have lost all ability to see and enter the hyddenworld, which exists beneath and around the current human worlds. But the two worlds are about to intersect, and the prophesy about a giant-born child and the appearance of the Shield Maiden, Imbolc’s successor, are coming to pass.

Wyrd (a Hydden’s fate, say) leads a small group to witness the attempted murder of the giant-born boy and human girl crucial to the changes about to happen. The group, with a renowned Hydden scholar, a genius, a journeyman and the Peace-Weaver witness agents of the Hydden’s ruling class, the Fyrd, attempting to cause a car accident and the death of the children. With the assistance of the Hydden the two survive.

The story returns 12 years later. The boy, Jack, has been in care up until his coming of age, his skin scarred by fire from the wreck. Katherine, the girl, is about to lose her mother from the long-term injuries from the car accident. They reconnect and Jack comes to stay as part of the group living in the house of Margaret and Arthur Foale in Berkshire. Arthur, a scholar of the time where human and hyddenworlds were linked, has gone missing, presumably lost in the hyddenworld and unable to get back. Those who remain begin to get to know each other again and reconnect, in time for Katherine’s mother’s death. Up until this time, they’ve been protected by magic gifted by the Hydden group that one rescued them.

At this time of grief, malevolent Fyrd forces from the hyddenworld are able to find the two of them again, and thus begins their journey. And this is where the narrative starts to pick up.

The Hydden world is a rich one, full of traditional fantasy elements: heroes, quests, portals and love, both romantic and platonic. It even has global political intrigue and explores the culture of remote Western European villages. I love how William Horwood has brought the ancient mythos into the current hyddenworld events. His world-building, as always, is flawless.

Compared to his previous work, I find these books more simplistic in language than others I have read, and while the political landscape was interesting, it was definitely without the devilish intrigue that set the Duncton Wood series apart for me.The chapters are very short, which can get frustrating when you’re getting the feel for a storyline, and it felt like it jumped around. Some people will like the more casual style, but for me, it wasn’t his best work. Our protagonists, although teenagers, are a little shallow in their personal growth and in the depths of character demonstrated. There is a portion of the book where Jack goes through a physical and mental trial, and I like the way Horwood dealt with it; not with cloying pity but with stoic understanding and compassion. But the hydden characters like Bedwyn Stort and Master Brief, the Lord Festoon and his friend Parlance, are beautifully flawed and interesting characters, and maybe intentionally are the dashes of colour needed in the narrative. The relationships between the characters is what holds the plot together and is the real strength of the book.

While this is not my favourite book written by Horwood, I am waiting to get the second book, Awakening, from the library. For myself, I liked the world enough to want to return and see where the story is heading. Given William Horwood’s ability, I think it’s worth investing the time to see how this story ends. For a newer reader, I might suggest picking up Duncton Wood to see where I am coming from. I definitely still think it is worth reading, and would recommend this book with its more conversational style to anyone who can’t devote long hours to long chapters or who perhaps don’t want to be left with perplexity or questions. You can find out more about William Horwood and his work at his website.

You can also read my reviews of Harvest (Book III) here on my blog, and the review for Winter (Book IV) over at SQ Mag.

Her: a love story of the digital age




I think anybody who falls in love is a freak. It’s a crazy thing to do. It’s kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity. -Amy, Spike Jonze’s Her




There are people amongst us who will tell you that love cannot be bound by the physical; that age, race, gender, location, language do not matter. What Spike Jonze does with Her is exactly this; he uses a science fiction romance to knock down preconceptions about what it is to love.

The world’s first artificial intelligence in an operating system enters the life of our protagonist Theodore Twombly, a man who makes his living by writing sentimental letters for others. She calls herself Samantha and becomes a vital touchstone for a man who is emotionally crippled after a marriage breakdown.

Her is an exceptionally well-written film that pulls no punches on what it means to have a relationship where one person does not have a physical body. It addresses the problems, the prejudices that other people will have, and that love doesn’t always work forever and nor is it a one-size-fits-all deal. It speaks to the disconnectedness of the digital age, but the yearning to connect that results in the use of chat rooms and social networks to replace it.

Joaquim Phoenix is well cast as Theodore, a man full of meditations on his own insignificance and failures. His wonderfully expressive face had to carry a large part of the movie and he was superb. Scarlet Johansson managed to convey so much emotion and nuance as a disembodied voice that I have to say, I was impressed. Amy Adams’ is exceptional in the supporting role of Theodore’s friend Amy, a woman going through her own divorce.

Jonze gained my admiration, though, for the sensitive handling of the love affair. He didn’t make Theodore a shut-in, or a person who has problems connecting with others or understanding emotion, though it would have been easier. Theodore’s letters, in fact, were a beautiful plot point, and though they only went to further some minor story and flesh out Theodore’s emotive nature, they were a highlight for me all the same.  Samantha wasn’t a pushover or cruel, and her embracing of the life she had, complete with her insecurities and existential crises, was a gentle reminder to all of us that we get too blasé about the opportunity of our existence. He didn’t make their love a thing to be pitied or to cause concern for Theodore. It wasn’t stigmatised because of their different forms or different origins. This was reinforce by Amy, who doesn’t judge him, and encourages him by describing her own personal journey: “While I’m here, I want to allow myself joy”.

Her boasts a maturity in love, recognising that it is changing, growing and evolving, sometimes beyond the people we used to love. No one’s fault; again, it just is. And that one love doesn’t detract from another. Samantha says, “The heart is not like a box that gets filled up; it expands in size the more you love.” This, like the note that Jonze ends the film on is perfect; it’s connected and poignant, without trying to cram another story or moral into the ending.

For me, the only detractions were some minor details in the plot to do with Samantha learning behaviours it takes bitter life experience for most others to learn, as well as behaviour that she considers unacceptable herself earlier in the film. Acceptance of their type of relationship is also more rapid than what I would expect, given today’s fairly rigid societal construct.

I have to recommend this film as an outside-the-box love story with a remarkable cast and life-affirming messages. I can only hope that one day, when AI does have a place in our society, that we can all be as considerate as Spike Jonze.

Real does not equal always strong

I stumbled across a discussion the other day about the findings of Gender Inequality in Film (the infographic is disheartening but exceptional work by the team at the New York Film Academy). One of the comments attracted my attention, and I’ve been musing on it since.

The gist of this woman’s comment was that Dr. Ryan Stone in the movie Gravity, the female protagonist played by Sandra Bullock, set the cause of feminism back by her actions. This had me puzzled and confused.

For those who haven’t seen the film, I would suggest that you do. It’s spectacular, and the production team have focused on beautiful starscapes and realistic disorientation in the vastness of the universe around. If you haven’t seen it, please read on. I don’t think any of the spoilers I mention should give away the story, beyond any trailers released or reviews read.

Dr. Stone is a medical engineer who is recruited by NASA as a Specialist, because of the advanced electronics work she does at home, and in the beginning of the movie is on a spacewalk finishing the last of the repairs on the Hubble Telescope. What happens from there is that a debris field hits the Telescope, her vessel and leaves her spinning out into space, cut off from command at Huston and without her fellow astronauts. The rest of the movie is about her bid to get home, aided by veteran astrounaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney).

Most of the movie, she is out of her depth. Out of control and unaided. Spinning out in space, untethered, is but one of many problems she faces. Now, as a minimally trained astronaut, and one on her first mission, facing disaster and possible lonely death in space, she panics. The sounds of the movie are all heavy breathing and shrill calls for assistance and trying to reach Huston. Even with training, I imagine that spinning out into space like this is every astronaut’s nightmare, as it’s a death sentence when there is no assistance.

As it goes on, every event mounts another hurdle for her; not one plan comes off as it should. She is unable to be assisted by any one else. She is required to rely on the memory of the minimal training she has to fly aircraft that does not have instructions in the same language nor the same set-up. She faces up to having to confront the same event that last caused her distress to escape once again.

Admittedly, at one point, she gives up. She believes she cannot succeed. That she is without any assistance. She cries, she talks to herself, and says farewell to her life in the only way she feels she has left.

Nothing that she did was not an emotion I could not understand. Overwhelmed, in a seemingly hopeless and life-threatening situation, she alternated between coping and not coping. The character of Dr. Stone was an engineer, not an astronaut who had spent all their life training to be on the International Space Station.

There is a difference between being real and setting back the cause of feminism. Moments of weakness, of giving up, do not mean a person is not strong. In fact, sometimes realise which battles are not worth your fight is intelligent. Recognising that you are overwhelmed does not mean you are less of a person.

Just because Dr. Stone did not act in a gung-ho manner, like a two-dimensional male lead charging in to save the day and damn the odds, does not mean the character let down the cause of feminism. Because you rely on the experience of a more senior member of the team, it does not make you useless or less of a person.

There seems to be a great deal of confusion about what constitutes a real woman character in fiction and in film. Let me share my thoughts. A real woman is someone an audience can relate to, who lives by the rules she deems are important. A real woman has a story that has an effect on the way she reacts to situations. A real woman relates to her environment, settings and surrounds in a believable way.

In the same way, feminism is not answering all questions and achieving all goals on your own, without gathering and relying on experience of others. Feminism means being equal in rights to others; so has an equal right to life, to the pursuit of their own happiness and projects not controlled by another; not that an individual never accepts assistance or never works with another.

Gravity is a film that went for realism in its production and in its storyline, particularly with their female lead. I would highly recommend it as a film to see, as an offering that is a little different and wholly engrossing, and attempted to be true to the actual experience of being in space.

For those who have thoughts on Dr. Stone in Gravity, or “real women” in cinema, I hope you’ll share them and we can have a discussion on this topic.