The Geek Feminist Revolution, by Kameron Hurley

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – May 31, 2016

Summary: The Geek Feminist Revolution is a collection of essays by double Hugo Award-winning essayist and fantasy novelist Kameron Hurley.

The book collects dozens of Hurley’s essays on feminism, geek culture, and her experiences and insights as a genre writer, including “We Have Always Fought,” which won the 2013 Hugo for Best Related Work. The Geek Feminist Revolution will also feature several entirely new essays written specifically for this volume.

Unapologetically outspoken, Hurley has contributed essays to The Atlantic, Locus,, and others on the rise of women in genre, her passion for SF/F, and the diversification of publishing.

Review: If you’ve followed Kameron Hurley on social media for any decent length of time, you know she’s pretty outspoken about many issues relating to feminism, prejudice, equality, and the like. Aside from the fact that she’s written some great books, this is one of the reasons I keep following her. She’s got some good perspective on many issues that, sadly, often earn the ire of people who would rather keep to the status quo and not change things or work to end problems that result in unfair discrimination against various groups of people. She has a lot of things to say, and they’re worth listening to.

Which is why I love that some of her best essays were collected and published as a book. It’s a way to reach out and spread that word to those who maybe aren’t so big on social media, or just those who are browsing the bookstore one day and go, “Huh, I wonder what this is about.” Admittedly, it will probably have more appeal to those who are already fans of her writing, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t the chance that somebody in need of her words will stumble across it and have their thoughts rearranged a little bit.

Hurley talks about a variety of subjects in The Geek Feminist Revolution, ranging from how women are perceived and treated in the public eye, to healthcare, to relationship abuse, to racism, to how to react when someone calls you out on a screw-up (hint: it’s not to launch a long diatribe about why everyone else is wrong). I will say this right off the bat: some of these essays are not easy to read.

I will follow that with: every single one of them is worth reading.

Here’s the thing: the world is not a comfortable place. It’s less comfortable for those who are marginalized. And Hurley talks about that unflinchingly. She talks about nearly dying thanks to illness and poverty, and the subsequent high cost of just staying alive (something that, to one who lives in Canada, is so out of my realm of experience that I can only imagine what it must be like). She talks about myriad tiny ways that society expects certain things of women and punishes them when they fail to live up to ideals. She talks about perseverance when everything seems stacked against you, how you keep going when you have passions and goals because anything less is personally unacceptable, even when people seem to make it their mission to make you stop.

So no, this isn’t a comfortable book to read. But, like so much that needs to be said, it isn’t meant to be comfortable. It’s meant to give you a perspective other than your own, to bare unpleasant truths.

This book provoked a lot of thoughts in me. I could probably write an entire series of articles based on what entered my mind while reading this (though none of them would be as good as what Hurley said). Aside from visceral rage at some of the things Hurley has endured in her life, what struck me over and over again was the running thread of hope, even through the anger. You push on, because that’s how change happens. You stand up and speak out, because that’s how change happens. Nothing happens by doing nothing.

And in that, Hurley is inspirational. After finishing this collection of essays, I felt the following two things: 1) better educated, and 2) galvanized to work harder on my own projects, however much opposition I meet. It may seem like a selfish thing to take away from a book like this, but I can’t deny that I felt it. She makes me feel like I have a shot of achieving my dreams, of getting somewhere I want to be, if I just persevere.

This is the kind of book that opens up a wider world, even if it’s often a dark and painful one, to those who are willing to go into it with the understanding that they may read things that aren’t comfy and pleasant all the time. It’s a phenomenal collection of experience, of pain and triumph, suffering and success, and it’s one I fully intend to reread in the future, because Hurley has plenty to say that deserves more than a single look. Break out of your comfort zone with this highly-recommended set of essays! You’ll be a better person for it, in the end.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

GUEST POST: Language and Fictional Cultures, by Kameron Hurley

Today, I’m extremely privileged to welcome the award-winning Kameron Hurley to Bibliotropic. She kindly agreed to write a guest post on language and culture, and it’s one of the things I can definitely say I’m thankful for on this Canadian Thanksgiving.

There is no word in English for schadenfreude, the feeling of delight one has at the misfortunes of others. English speakers end up using schadenfreude to describe this feeling because we have no better alternative, and like tortilla or faux pas, it eventually starts to enter the English lexicon. English itself is mishmash of many different languages, product of an island country that was invaded time and time again by many different cultures, and then went out and conquered most of the world, bringing back pieces of language and culture from societies around the globe, Borg-like.

Language is an important consideration when I’m building fictional worlds, because it says a lot about not only the history of a culture, but also gives a window into the culture itself. There has been much ink spilled about the idea that in the ancient Greek world, their limited language for color meant that they may not have perceives a full spectrum of color, because they simply had no name for it. Both “wine” and “the sea” were described as the same color. And when you are told that the word for a particular color is the same across a wide spectrum, it can, indeed, change the way you see the world. Ask anyone who has struggled with desire outside of the heterosexual default we see in the media and hear about as we grow up in the United States. It’s incredibly difficult to imagine a way to be, to name one’s feelings and desires, when one has no story, no language, with which to describe it.

I took this knowledge of language and how it shapes us into account when building the fictional worlds in my epic fantasy series, The Mirror Empire and Empire Ascendant. One of the societies I built was a pacifist, polyamorous, consent-based culture which has no word for “bastard” or “fuck.” There is also no direct translation for “rape,” which is not something that has historically been used to oppress or as a method of terror and genocide in this society, and does not carry any stigma for its victims, any more than any other violation of the country’s consent laws. They have no historical reason or precedent for such behavior.

If characters from this country want to use these words, they need to switch to a language whose culture cares about whether or not someone’s father is known, and where the act of having sex is considered a violent, dirty word. The language people had to express themselves and what they valued was an intrinsic part of making that society live and breathe in a way that felt organic.

Similarly, when I created the Saiduan culture with its three genders and violent method of assimilation and ascension to power, the language they used was very different from that of my pacifist culture. We have a gendered hierarchy in the West, still, that continues to position women as Other, or women as Things. Adding a third gender meant reconfiguring what a gendered hierarchy would look like in both language and practice in this new culture. Because the society itself was deeply hierarchical, I knew I would not get rid of the idea of gendered hierarchy – in fact, one of the primary struggles that one of the characters from this country undergoes is trying to overcome her own misogyny, her own belief that as a woman she cannot lead, though she has been leading her whole life. She says that as a man or “even as an ataisa” this could be permitted, but as a woman, and her assumptions give us a little window into the broader culture’s assumptions. Language and culture gave her no way to imagine a future where she sat at the top of the hierarchy.

Whatever culture you choose to build, considering how the language and culture will inform one another will help make your societies more believable. If I could give one piece of advice about worldbuilding to aspiring writers, it would be this: every decision you make about a culture needs to inform every other decision. They each will have a ripple effect. One cannot simply plunk in a polyamorous family structure across an entire society and have everything else in the whole culture sound just like a middle class New Jersey neighborhood circa 2015. All of the choices we make inform all of the other choices. It’s in following each decision we make to its logical conclusion that we build truly rich and unique societies.

Kameron HurleyKameron Hurley is the author of The Mirror Empire and Empire Ascendant and the God’s War Trilogy. Hurley has won the Hugo Award, Kitschy Award, and Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer; she has also been a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, Nebula Award, the Locus Award, BFS Award, the Gemmell Morningstar Award and the BSFA Award for Best Novel. Her short fiction has appeared in Popular Science Magazine, Lightspeed Magazine, Year’s Best SF, The Lowest Heaven, and Meeting Infinity. Her nonfiction has been featured in The Atlantic, Locus Magazine, and the upcoming collection The Geek Feminist Revolution. She has a website, and can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

The Mirror Empire, by Kameron Hurley

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – August 26, 2014

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) On the eve of a recurring catastrophic event known to extinguish nations and reshape continents, a troubled orphan evades death and slavery to uncover her own bloody past… while a world goes to war with itself.

In the frozen kingdom of Saiduan, invaders from another realm are decimating whole cities, leaving behind nothing but ash and ruin.

As the dark star of the cataclysm rises, an illegitimate ruler is tasked with holding together a country fractured by civil war, a precocious young fighter is asked to betray his family and a half-Dhai general must choose between the eradication of her father’s people or loyalty to her alien Empress.

Through tense alliances and devastating betrayal, the Dhai and their allies attempt to hold against a seemingly unstoppable force as enemy nations prepare for a coming together of worlds as old as the universe itself.

In the end, one world will rise – and many will perish.

Thoughts: I seem to be having a lot of luck lately when it comes to authors and novels that take old ideas, polish them up, and turn them into something jaw-droppingly amazing. The old idea of a parallel universe that mirrors our own in many ways is a concept that has been played with in many different ways over the years, but Hurley takes it one step to the left and not only creates a secondary fantasy world, but also the parallel universe for it, a universe that has diverged in history and now has its sights set on overcoming and conquering its mirror.

Take a moment to wrap your mind around that.

Hurley does an impressive amount of worldbuilding here, not just with places and powers (magic, for instance, comes from a person’s resonance with certain astrological bodies, which come and go in long cycles, which is a really good way of doing things and provides good and necessary balance for the book’s magical aspect), but from a cultural aspect, too. I loved reading about Dhai culture, the way their language — and thus, the people — handle gender (please, someone teach me that neutral pronoun so I can start applying it to myself!); familiar enough to be relatable, different enough to give readers pause to think. Most SFF novels take it for granted that there are only 2 genders and anything else is an aberration. It’s nice to see the idea of a greater number being used,  even if the distinction is only between aggressive and passive versions of masculine and feminine, it addresses how language shapes identity and vice versa, and was a welcome touch.

A change in gender norms also allowed for an utterly fascinating take on sexuality and family units. It’s not just a matter of A marries B in the vast majority of cases but with a certain percentage of outliers. Sexuality is more fluid, at least in Dhai culture, and families with multiple husbands and wives are not merely tolerated, they’re entirely the norm. Things like this are what make The Mirror Empire shine bright, not relying on the perceived defaults of our own world’s societies but building new ones from the ground up. This makes the whole world feel so beautifully real, whole and well-structured, and it serves to highlight not only how we often don’t stop to think about things beyond our own experience (ie, things that “aren’t normal”), but also to show how our current ideas of normalcy aren’t required for a functioning and advancing society. In another of the book’s demonstrated cultures, our idea of typical gender roles are reversed, with females acting as strong warriors and males acting as subservient partners (at best).

There are so many layers of social and political commentary in The Mirror Empire, none of it heavy-handed and all of it superbly handled. You’re not beaten about the head with dogmatic proclamations of right and wrong, but you are made to think about your own ideals by seeing the ideals of other people, seeing norms and defaults get flipped upside down and sideways. It’s deft, and it’s the kind of thing that could have me running back to Hurley’s work even if I hadn’t enjoyed the general story as much as I did.

But there’s more than just good commentary and thought-provoking material in here. There’s a compelling story, and wonderfully interesting characters, all of whom grabbed me and none of whom made me want to skip past their viewpoints to get back to other aspects of the story. It’s a damaged world filled with semi-sentient carnivorous plants; how can you not be drawn in by that concept alone? There’s a dark moon rising and shifting the balance of power, there’s an alternate universe trying to take over, there’s a complex political situation running through the whole thing that affects more people than it first seems. This has all the hallmarks of a great story that will leave an impression on readers and be talked about for years to come.

(I feel like there’s so much more to say about this book, but also that whatever else I say will just end up being mildly incoherent fannish glee over how awesome it is and how much I enjoyed reading it. That’s what The Mirror Empire has reduced me to. The almost overwhelming urge to go, “Holy crap, this book was awesome and I love the author and you should all be reading this RIGHT NOW!”)

The Mirror Empire is a hefty book. It takes its time with you, letting things be revealed piece by intricate piece, and you need to take your time with it too, let it work its magic and draw you in. It’s a book I’d been looking forward to for months, and after all the building hype, it didn’t let me down. Yes, this is one of the rare books I can safely say lives up to the hype it’s given! If there’s any one fantasy novel you make a point of buying in September, it should be The Mirror Empire.

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)