An appreciation of two of speculative fiction’s greatest editors.

Image for post
Image for post

It is difficult to overestimate the tremendous value of editors. The contributions that authors make to their respective fields, and their impact on the readers that encounter their work, can’t be overstated either, of course — but it is equally important to remember that no truly great author goes it alone; there are always strong editors behind the scenes, shaping the individual stories themselves as well as the publishing world at large. The Hugo Awards are named for an editor, after all.

Yet I can count most of the editors I recognize by name on one hand. Even with such a limited group to choose from, only two have had an extremely significant, identifiable impact on me as a reader: Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow. I could never hope to cover everything the two have contributed to the publishing world — their careers have stretched too far and are too varied and far-reaching for me to do them full justice. However, there are several projects that are worth looking at in order to appreciate their impact and get a sense of how influential their work has been, and continues to be. …


Image for post
Image for post

The Dangers and Joys of Revisiting Formative Novels

I recently found myself combing through some boxes of old books and papers and came across a fascinating personal artifact. On the surface it’s a pretty unremarkable object, just a crumbling spiral-bound notebook covered in childish graffiti. But inside is over a decade of my life — a handwritten list of every book I read between 4th grade and college graduation. Looking through it was a bit like spelunking into the past, a unique look at the strata of different life stages, delineated by changes in handwriting and shifting interests like so many compressed layers of rock.

Paging through the tattered old list, I was seized by a sort of anthropological interest. If different parts of the list reflect phases of my life, what would happen if I took a deep dive into one of these distinct stages and revisited some of those stories? One place in particular caught my interest: from about the age of 12–15 there is a sort of genre bottleneck where my tastes suddenly narrowed from an indiscriminate mix of anything and everything to a very distinctive preference for fantasy and (to a lesser extent at the time) science fiction. There were dozens of titles to choose from, so I picked a handful of stories that conjured up particularly strong feelings, like sense memories that come back clearly even when my actual recollection of the stories is hazy (or nonexistent). …


Alice Hoffman returns to the world of Practical Magic in a new prequel.

Image for post
Image for post

I first read Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic in middle school, and I’ve read it multiple times over the last fifteen years. The film version — “adaptation” would be giving it too much credit — was a disappointment. While the film has gradually grown on me as a relic of late ’90s witchy pop culture (which certain corners of the internet have embraced wholeheartedly), it simply never captured the heart of the source material. In many ways, The Rules of Magic feels more like a prequel to the film than the novel.

Prequels are a tricky form to pull off under the best circumstances, even more so when the original story was written over two decades ago. Essentially reverse engineered, they can easily take on a paint-by-numbers quality rather than a more natural narrative flow. The Rules of Magic attempts to flesh out characters that were almost incidental in Practical Magic, continuing the saga of the unconventional Owens family by telling the story of Frances and Bridget Owens, known as Franny and Jet, the aunts who reluctantly raise Sally and Gillian in Practical Magic. Set primarily in New York City in the 1960s, it relies as much on real locations and big historical events (Vietnam, the Stonewall riots, etc) as it does on the established events of Practical Magic to shape the story. This reliance on preexisting events — whether fictional or real — constrains the story in odd ways and makes it feel fundamentally different from the original novel, even when it makes direct connections to the characters and locations of the earlier story. There is also the addition of Vincent, the lone male Owens in the matrilineal family line, someone never mentioned in Practical Magic, yet often the character most relevant to the major events of Rules of Magic. …


Revisiting ‘Ninefox Gambit’ a year later.

Image for post
Image for post

I was reminded by the recent announcement of a sequel that I never really processed my thoughts and reactions about Ninefox Gambit, one of the strangest reading experiences I’ve ever had. Since it was generally out of my usual wheelhouse — I am not regular reader of hard sci-fi — and it was genuinely disorienting, I found it difficult to put my experience into words that would reflect it in any meaningful way.

Initially, my response was rather cliché. It throws you in the deep end. It leaves you to sink or swim. This is some weak sauce, not just for me as a writer, but for the reading experience as a whole. …


A review of Jill Filipovic’s ‘The H Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness’

Image for post
Image for post

The Declaration of Independence enshrines the “pursuit of happiness” as an “inalienable Right,” right next to life and liberty as essential endowments for all people. Or, at least, for all men.

The inclusion of happiness as a right guaranteed to all men was a radical proposition in 1776, though it is now a defining aspect of American exceptionalism. The concept remains radical for women, however, because our social, political, and cultural systems are not actually built for us; these systems were constructed knowing our labor is what allows many men to be able to pursue happiness in the first place. In The H Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness, journalist Jill Filipovic dives into the history of American social norms and expectations, rooting out and revealing the many ways American culture, in the name of morality and rugged individualism (coupled with healthy doses of late-capitalist consumerism) undermines women at nearly every turn. Throughout this study, she asks the vital question: “what would we make if we all had the tools?” …


Catherynne Valente’s ‘The Refrigerator Monologues’ rewrites a dangerous trope.

Image for post

Alexandra DeWitt is the poster girl, the one whose body was found in the refrigerator by her superhero boyfriend and gave us a name for the troubling objectification of women in superhero stories. She wasn’t the first to play the role now named for her untimely demise, merely the unlucky inspiration. There have been so many more left in the cold of that metaphorical appliance: Gwen Stacy, Barbara Gordon, Stephanie Brown, Linda Park, Karen Page, Sue Dibny, even “villains” like Harley Quinn.

“Women in refrigerators” are characters (frequently female) whose pain, suffering, and — often — death is written into a story solely to motivate a (typically) male hero to vengeance or greater sacrifice. The term was coined by comic book writer and all-around queen of badassery Gail Simone in 1999 and, as a recognized trope, has steadily received more scrutiny as the superhero genre fan base has grown and diversified. Sometimes the character is created simply so she can be murdered (or raped or kidnapped or institutionalized or otherwise abused) a few issues into a larger story, thus providing the hero with the requisite manpain* to further his story arc. Some of them are so little regarded in the grand scheme of things that “Daredevil’s ex-girlfriend” is the beginning and end of their significance, though “fridging,” to give the trope it’s verb form, is not limited to one-offs and minor characters alone, as has been proven by Barbara Gordon’s treatment in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, or even Jean Grey throughout much of the Phoenix Saga (especially the film version from 2003). …


Every great resistance movement has a manifesto.

Image for post
Image for post

This is not that manifesto.

Rather, this is simply a statement of intent, an introduction to our group effort as a small drop in a vast and varied sea of resistance. Our hope lies in knowing that the tiniest drops still make ripples.

We are ordinary people with ordinary jobs and ordinary interests. We are not political insiders. The majority of us are not writers in any professional capacity. …


Image for post
Image for post

How soon we forget.

Or, if you are like me and were too young and clueless to really understand the implications of the 2004 election, how late we learn.

Following the election of Donald Trump, a meme started circulating (shocking, I know). It was a picture of George W. Bush with his beady-eyed smile, accompanied by big, blocky yellow text: “Miss me yet?” I laughed and may even have agreed when I first saw it, even though I’m pretty sure this originated under Obama and is, quite frankly, insulting. (Despite what a lot of people seem to want to claim about “moving on” and “just accepting” election results, you may be surprised to hear that there was a tremendous amount of backlash to the election of our first black president.) The problem, of course, is that a large quantity of people did miss Bush, Jr., then, and decided to do something about it now. They missed an America of religious fanaticism, deceptive economic bubbles, and the us-vs-them mentality of the War on Terror. …


Andi Zeisler thinks we’re selling out. And she’s right.

Image for post
Image for post

The title We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement sounds like a pretty straightforward condemnation of the sea change that has taken place in American culture regarding feminism. But as with all political movements, nothing is ever simple.

Feminism has become a buzzword. It garners clicks for celebrity interviews and can sell anything from building blocks to underwear. How has a word so long associated in the mainstream consciousness with angry, unattractive malcontents become a marketer’s dream? This is the convoluted journey Andi Zeisler tackles in We Were Feminists Once. …


I’m not a fashion blogger or anyone on the scene. I do like clothes; I think they are personally important and culturally significant. If you don’t want to take my word for it, just take a look at what influential critic and museum curator James Laver had to say about it:

Clothes are never a frivolity: they always mean something, and that something is to a large extent outside the control of our conscious minds.

Clothes are inevitable. They are nothing less than the furniture of the mind made visible.

If clothing indeed reveals the “furniture of the mind,” as Laver puts it, what is revealed by the questionable way we refer to some articles of clothing and fashion? Our language, even more than our clothes, carries some pretty heavy baggage — we just might not always realize it. After reading an article on the history of the term “wife beater,” I started looking at some other frankly worrying names and descriptive terms we use in reference to clothing. There will be cries of Political Correctness Run Mad ™, but here are a few terms I think we seriously need to…

About

Amber Troska

Essayist, book reviewer, media critic. Non-compliant.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store