The Cthulhu Bookmark

A friend of mine from the University is a very gifted crocheter (apart from being an accomplished neuroscientist). Recently she made a competition on her blog where the contesters had to reply to a few questions and there were awesome crocheted goods to win.

Including this bookmark!

bookmark-Cthulhu-marque-page-177x300bookmark-Cthulhu-marque-page-2-e1442604660859-169x300

Here is the post on her blog (in French) where these images come from. You can also see the other crocheted goods that were to be won:

http://inside-uranus.com/concours-du-100eme-article-dinside-uranus-4-lots-a-gagner/

I just received the bookmark in a very nice envelope with a Cthulhu story written on it. Meaning that all those who handled it might have lost a couple of¬†sanity points ūüėÄ

WP_20151016_002

There it is! ūüėÄ

WP_20151016_004

Cthulhu bookmark, bookmarking ūüėÄ

WP_20151016_001

Other acolytes at home liked the new bookmark too ūüėÄ

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Female characters in fantasy-fiction Part 2: “Strong” Female Characters

Why do we even need to specify¬†“strong” when referring to female characters? Why such is not the case for their male counterparts?

Maybe because¬†in fiction, we saw too many females¬†portrayed as damsels in distress, empty shells of love interests for the male leads or just objects of sexual desire. Therefore, anything that goes beyond this, is considered as a “strong” female character. But unfortunately most of those “strong” characters actually aren’t.

Geek feminism wikia has a neat¬†list on how to recognize a strong female character who isn’t strong at all:

  • The character’s¬†strength is in combat, but she has no strength of character
  • she still has to conform to gender-normative standards of attractiveness
  • she will wear skimpy or fetishistic gear to fight in (see my previous post)
  • she will be strong right up until she can’t deal with something and has to be saved by a man
  • her strength is diminished when she gets interested in a member of the opposite sex
  • her strength is primarily a narrative tool to measure a male protagonists’ progress in his emotional maturity plot arc, in which his full maturation is signaled by getting the girl, and her interior life or own motivations are not portrayed.
  • she has no close female friends or female allies, and disdains “weaker” or more conventionally feminine women for not being “badass”

If you make a google search like “strongest female characters” for example, you’ll see that most of the ladies listed on those charts will fall in the traps stated above.

So how can we recognize a truly strong female character?

Of course there is the Bechdel Test, according to which, a media (movie, book, TV series, etc) has decent female characters when:

  1. There needs to be at least two women characters;
  2. who talk to each other;
  3. about something other than a man

OK. We got it, but it still doesn’t tell us what a strong female character is, does it? I think the criteria needs to be much more simple than that. How about: You know you have a strong female character when, throughout the story she accomplishes something significant. Because for me, a strong character needs to be¬†a catalyst.

Let’s see some examples: (this of course in a non-exhaustive list ūüôā )

DSI Stella Gibson РThe Fall 

enhanced-32679-1423183612-15

Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson is not just a cop trying to catch a serial killer. She is a woman¬†who fights the battle of sexes by¬†her own terms. She’s one of the strongest characters on TV regardless of the gender. That’s a character¬†who doesn’t need superpowers or guns or magic to scare the hell out of a street gang leader, just by taking a step forward

anigif_optimized-8829-1423274228-24

Root (Samantha Groves) – Person of Interest

Root - Person of interest

Root – Person of interest

Person of Interest is by far my favorite show. It is filled with awesome female characters like Carter, Zoe, Shaw, Control, etc. All of these characters could be in this list. Also, when it comes to catalyst, Zoe is one hell of an example. But I chose Root for this list because while having a very strong emotional depth of character, she is not a love interest for a male lead.

Apart form being a master gunslinger, Root is a genius hacker. If we were using Ghost in the Shell terms, her skill would correspond to a Level A+. I think it would be safe to say that the series became interesting once they introduced this character (and once she hacked into the Machine and rendering¬†it more “communicative”). Root has a very strong mistrust in humanity. Therefore she¬†turns towards¬†“Singularity” (as Alan Turing described it) building a unique connection with the machine.

Root is always one step ahead of… everything. Seriously, she walks around like a Maxwell demon ūüôā

Natalia Romanova (Black Widow) – The Avengers

Black-Widow-The-Avengers-black-widow-34838901-400-226

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow

As a Marvel character, of course Black Widow comes with a skimpy leather outfit and killer looks. But apart from a skillful¬†martial artist, she is¬†also a master manipulator and a genius tactician. She kicks Loki’s ass on¬†battlefield and outwits him by manipulating him to reveal his plan… Loki being the master trickster of Asgard.

Jane Eyre – Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bront√ę)¬†

Jane_Eyre_Wallpaper_JxHy
Jane Eyre is an individualistic, passionate and complex female character. Though she suffers greatly, she always relies on herself to get back on her feet instead of being a wilting damsel in distress.

Chihiro Ogino (Sprited Away)

Chihiro Ogino (Sprited Away)

Chihiro Ogino (Sprited Away)

Miyazaki is famous for his strong, interesting female leads. Just for the sake of naming one of many, Chihiro, in Sprited Away has a very interesting character arc. She grows from a timid, petulant ten-year-old into a family-saving, river-naming hero.

Do you agree with these examples? Can you think of other characters that could be added to this list?

Posted in writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Female characters in fantasy/fiction Part 1: Female Warrior Armors Suck!

No one would be surprised to hear me say that strong female protagonists are very dear to me ūüôā To be honest, I may not judge a book by its cover, but I certainly evaluate it by its female characters and roles they are given.

Therefore I wanted to write a series of posts about female characters in fantasy and fiction, not only in literature but also in movies, video games, series etc.

Instead of simply making lists of best-most awesome-whatever characters in different categories, I will cover multiple topics. Today is about warrior women in fantasy/fiction.

There’s a problem I have with most of the “warrior woman” characters: Usually (and unfortunately), the warrior woman’s only strength is her sexiness. I mean,¬† look at her armor!

Our philosophy teacher in high school used to say “Always start your reasoning with a definition.” So there we go:

Armor (from wordreference):

  • Any covering that serves as a defense or protection against weapons.
  • Any defensive covering, esp that of metal, chain mail, etc, worn by medieval warriors to prevent injury to the body in battle.

As we can see, the purpose of an armor is to protect the body (especially the vital organs). Mysteriously however, when it comes to representing female warriors in fantasy-fiction we find ourselves with boobplates, skimpy, chainmail nipple pasties and so on. As if the people who designed the attire thought “OK, I need to draw an armor, it needs to be metal and stuff but 1st of all, it needs to be sexy.”

image from gameznetwork.com

image from gameznetwork.com

Apart from being very sexy, none of the armors shown on the image above could protect you, not even from the natural elements ūüôā

This is the female wizard from Diablo III:

5285940344_eaa242b3e9_b

Wizard from Diablo III (Blizzard entertainment)

This is her male counterpart:

1558235

Wizard from Diablo III (Blizzard entertainment)

The sexist set of mind, which wants to assign attributes like strength and valor exclusively to males, automatically assumes that a female cannot fight anyway, so doesn’t linger on any practical aspect of the character, her attire or her equipment. She just needs to be sexy, because that’s what’s expected from her.

Of course men and women are different. Women don’t have the same strength but it doesn’t mean that they just cannot fight at all. They have a bigger tolerance to pain, stronger instincts, are more flexible and have a better sense of equilibrium. By the way, most of those attributes vary from one men to another too. That’s why there exists multiple types of fighting styles to begin with. Fighting isn’t just taking turns at hitting your opponent with all the force you can gather until one of you eventually dies.

Fantasy is a genre where we don’t need to linger on the details of practicality.¬† Look at the male wizard from Diablo III for example, most the things he is wearing, might actually kill him on a battle. Some things are there just because they look good. And that’s where lies the hypocrisy: why not give a decent armor to your female character? Who cares if you think she can’t swirl a claymore, this is fantasy ūüôā

I also managed to find (a rather popular nonetheless) example of unpractical war attire for men ūüôā

300 the movie

300 the movie

The movie 300 is a rare example where warrior men are practically naked just for the sake of sexiness (at least that’s how I took it). I remember seeing an interview of Eva Green, who plays one of the antagonists in the sequel. She was saying that it was weird to have all those naked men around while she is rather fully dressed in armor, because usually it is the contrary.

Eva Green from the movie 300-2 (Rise of an Empire)

Eva Green from the movie 300-2 (Rise of an Empire)

I think the way a warrior female character is represented depends on her actual “strength”¬†in the plot, as a character.

Let’s look at the armor Eowyn wears:

Miranda Otto as Eowyn from

Miranda Otto as Eowyn from “The Lord of the Rings”

If the character has substance and actually accomplishes something throughout the story, she will stand out. She may be sexy or not, this is not the point. The point is, her looks should not be her only strength. A female warrior character is a warrior, not just an object of sexual desire or just another awkward counter-stereotype.

Posted in writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Antimicrobial resistance : The ticking bomb

… A ticking bomb that probably has already exploded, but no one tells us (and I personally prefer it this way).

Antimicrobial resistance is a very broad term that is used when bacteria, virus, fungi or parasites develop resistance against drugs. In this post I will only mention antibiotics as an example drug and bacteria as an example evil, just for the sake of clarity.

So how does this happen? In order to understand this, let’s see how antibiotics work (oversimplification alert: bare with me if you already know all this)

The magic bullet:

Antibiotics are like magic bullets. Imagine you fire those at a large crowd and only the bad guys die. And that’s pretty much how they work: they target specific aspects of the bacteria that our cells do not possess.

So how can anyone overcome a magic bullet? It is actually about Darwinian evolution. All living things undergo mutations. Mutations happen completely randomly. Most of them are silent. Some of them are beneficial and some are harmful. Especially in unicellular organisms like bacteria, the effects of mutations are immediate.

Wear a magic-bullet-proof vest.

Imagine a mutation that makes a bacterium’s membrane ticker. In a medium where permeability is very important, the organisms who have a mutation like this would immediately be wiped out. But, in a situation where there’s a molecule (the antibiotic) that tries to dig holes into your membrane, this would give you a huge advantage because then you have your own magic bullet proof vest. All those who don’t have it die, and others triumph. This is called the natural selection.

Eat the bullet.

Bacteria produce all sorts of enzymes and they invent new ones all the time. If you submit them to a same molecule over and over, they’ll eventually figure out how to eat it.

And this basically is the problem with the antimicrobial resistance. It is due to two main problems:

  • For the bacteria, it is a question on life and death. They must (and will) figure out a way to survive.
  • The more they¬†see a molecule, the more likely they are to built resistance against¬†it.

Unfortunately we are not using antibiotics only as medicine. One very, very dark day, farmers realized that when animals were fed antibiotics, they grew heavier. So today, we are fed tons of antibiotics, and by this I really mean tons as a unit of mass (a ton is ~2,000 pounds, if ever anyone from the USA reads my posts ūüėČ ). The amount of antibiotics we eat in a piece of meat is just plain scary…

This brings us to the main issue. What are we going to do when we will eventually find ourselves where antibiotics no longer work? What can we do when every single petty infection involves multiple drug resistant super bugs?

Punnoose AR, Lynm C, Golub RM. Antibiotic Resistance. JAMA. 2012;308(18):1934. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.6916.

Punnoose AR, Lynm C, Golub RM. Antibiotic Resistance. JAMA. 2012;308(18):1934. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.6916.

Hiding the bullet:

We obviously need to stop feeding those antibiotics to animals. This is a must. Because it only makes it so that the bacteria see those molecules too often. Due to that, the health personnel of our times are faced with a dilemma. When they have a molecule that still works, they need to hide it. This means that if they have a patient with a pretty bad infection in front of them, they need to limit the treatment to a symptomatic level and wait for him to overcome the infection only with his natural defenses, although, he might end up dead.

This sounds like one of those questions in psychology tests that only psychopaths can answer: “Do you hide the drug and avoid a potential and deadly epidemic, or do you let¬†this one¬†man die?”

(Oh, by the way if you answer this question with the 1st choice, only too quickly, the psychologists will think you are a psychopath… just saying)

If during the 32 years of my existence I understood anything about humanity, I foresee this situation to evolve like this: “Sir, you have a pretty nasty infection and you will probably die. I have a very efficient drug against it in my cupboard and I can give it to you only if you pay one-thousand-gazillion-dollars” (insert a Martin Skhreli smile here).

If bacteria evolve, so must the bullet!

Another strategy to overcome the problem is to find a bullet that can follow the bacteria in their evolution. There are specific viruses, called the bacteriophage, that only target bacteria. Ongoing research aims at using them as antimicrobial drugs. Because for the bacteriophage, this is a question of survival too. If the prey evolves, so must the predator.

Unfortunately though, when I was in college I had a class on evolutionary biology and I remember them mentioning a population¬†modelling¬†on this predator-prey dynamics and saying that eventually the prey always wins… ūüė¶

Mess with enemy communications!

A very popular strategy these days, is to mess with the communications of the bad guys so that they don’t do bad deeds. Bacteria use a system, called quorum sensing to interact with each other. Basically they send each other messenger molecules. When they start to populate a medium (let’s say this is your body) at one point some of them send the others a message saying “Let’s screw this guy!” Once the others receive this molecule they all start secreting toxins!

58373337

The idea is to mess with those messenger molecules so that no one gets the memo. Since it is not directly killing bacteria, it is not a life or death situation for them to evolve out of. It s actually very promising ūüôā

Let’s see how this will work out…

Posted in Science | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

7 things I hate reading in novels

It’s been a while… since the last time I wrote a blog post. But I’m not dead or anything. Just busy. But since last week, I’m also¬†very sick. I am stuck at home, agonizing. So why not write something?

It’s been a while… since the last time I was struck so badly by microbes. Me being unable to move, my girlfriend had to call a doctor home, who prescribed a bunch of medicine including antibiotics. I was a bit surprised to be honest. If I had any energy to make small talk, I would have asked him: “Do¬†they still work?” Antibiotics is a privilege our generation still has… the next generation on the other hand, is screwed. I’ll write a post about the ticking bomb that is the bacterial antibiotic resistance soon, but today, will be about something completely different.

I’ve been reading a lot of small literature these days. I know the term doesn’t really exist. I mean books either self-published or published by small houses… Oh, by the way I think there’s also a music band called small literature. Anyway… moving on.

It is very frustrating to buy a book and start reading it, only to see fundamental mistakes in it. As an amateur, I may commit some rather serious mistakes. At the end of the day, to me, writing is just a hobby. But once you are published, you are a professional. Your story or your voice may be interesting or not, but your craft should be flawless.

So I wanted to blow off some steam by listing some of the things that annoy me the most. Since it’s me, I made a list of seven¬†ūüôā

1. Messy point of view:

As a reader, once you point this out, the book immediately becomes unreadable. First of all, there are different types of point of view that could be used in a story. Examples:

  1. You may narrate the story through the eyes of the 1st person:

Very handy for writing mystery because the information is only ¬†¬†limited to what this character sees.¬†Much more intimate than other points of view although¬†it can cause distraction because of the repetitive “I”

2.  You may narrate the story through a 3rd person point of view:

Then your camera becomes one of your main characters and the reader experiences the story through his/her point of view.

3.  And there is the omniscient point of view:

The classical literature favors this one specifically. The narrator knows everything and sees everything. He/She tells us what happens to the characters.

This POV is superb

This point of view is superb

I sincerely think that if a writer chooses either of the points of view, they should stick to that. If you are a writer and you mix multiple points of view in the same scene, or worse, in the same paragraph, you know what? I hate you!

A small, made up example:

“Bobo couldn‚Äôt take it anymore. It was chemicals, chemicals and more chemicals, all day long. Smelly, messy¬†and boring! His eyes shone with anger. If only the boss could accept him for his true merit.”¬†

Do you see what’s wrong with this? I deliberately mixed up 3rd person point of view with the omniscient. Because if Bobo is the character through the eyes of whom we experience the story, then when his eyes shine with anger, he’d better¬†be looking at a mirror! Or else, if this was meant to be an omniscient point of view, then when the author writes “boring!” (instead of saying that Bobo finds this to be boring) then it’s actually¬†the narrator who thinks that chemicals are boring.

2. Details details details….¬†

We are all living in the digital era and we want to read things fast in order to pass to the next thing as fast as possible. I know it is not great, but that’s how we are. In the times of the old classics, some authors were payed for¬†the number of pages they wrote. Therefore we see long lasting descriptions of everything. In the digital era, this is unfortunately a flaw. However, when the grand masters described something, it was well done. It was beautiful. They wrote¬†all those things that you also experienced and felt yourself, without ever being able to¬†put words on them.

Unfortunately, some authors write as if they were payed for¬†the number¬†of pages they deliver¬†and it’s not even the descriptions. Curious enough, those same authors never make that type of descriptions either. They just write every singe detail in a scene, or worse in an¬†action. For example:

“Bobo pressed the button on his laptop and switched it on. He looked at the screen and saw that¬†Windows was¬†installing updates. “Damn it!” he said. He stood up and walked towards the window. He pressed on the handle with his hand and opened it. The fresh evening breeze rushed inside the room.”

OK, I know I’m exaggerating here, but it¬†just annoys me when I see that an author worries that I’m not sharp enough to know that his character needs to actuate a handle (with his hand!) to open a window.

Unless Bobo has superpowers, we all know that he needs to press that button to switch his laptop on. And of course he needs to look at the screen before reading anything that is on it. ¬†The same goes with how he opens the damn window!¬†I also happen to notice that the writers whom I appreciate the work, don’t linger on tags like “said”, “asked”, etc. but let’s talk about this later. Now back to our example:

“Bobo switched his laptop on. He tapped his fingers impatiently on either side of the keyboard until he read “Windows is installing updates 1/3500” Damn it! He stood up and opened the window, letting the fresh evening breeze rush inside.”

I am not a good writer either. But at least this reads more easily. Too much (deducible)  details to actions is a massive deal breaker for me.

blog-chandler

3. Inaccurate information

There’s a French author that I like a lot. She writes murder mysteries. She’s very popular. My mother in law is also a fan. But my father in law, after reading and not finishing one of her books totally said otherwise. In that particular book, at one point the characters go to the Pyren√©es Mountains and pass through somewhere. The thing is, my father in law is an amateur hiker and knows these mountains amazingly well. In turns out, such a place as told in the book doesn’t exist.

People cannot write only about what they know. It would be very boring. But if you’re writing about¬†something you don’t know, please do learn about it. In that previous example, one of my favorite authors had just been lazy and she hadn’t done¬†the necessary research. I happen to be very bad in geography so obviously I didn’t realize it. But just with that small detail she lost another potential fan: my father in law.

If you are writing a brawling scene and you want it to be heavy in description, take a minute to watch a fight scene on YouTube. If your character needs a silencer on his handgun, don’t give him a revolver. You’ll immediately loose all the firearms geeks. Same goes¬†with me and science, if your science is not correct, I hate you!

The worst part is, that this kind of mistake is solely due to laziness. You only see this because the author didn’t do his/her homework.

4. Characters being too perfect

Another serious deal breaker is when you have a main character who is just too perfect.¬†This ruined very good books like Shibumi or The Name of the Wind for me. The funny thing is, in Shibumi you have a paragraph where the author actually says something like “The people who don’t want to read a book because the character is too perfect are just frustrated by their own flaws” or something. (I don’t remember the exact words because it’s been too long since I read it). So Trevanian actually knows his character is way too perfect and he’s probably been criticized over it (by his editor or his agent maybe, who knows?) but he prefers to say “f*ck it! I’ll just add this paragraph so they’ll know what I think.”

But you know what Trevanian, when your character is too perfect I cannot bring myself to care about what happens to him!

perfect

Flaws make a character interesting. Especially flaws that prevent him from achieving his goal. Because then you can have an interesting character arc through the story. If your character is too perfect to begin with, he won’t arc.

5. Telling, not showing

We all hate things to be spelled out to us. Especially when we read a story, we rather ¬†want things to be shown to us. Telling, instead of making the effort to show, is a rather newbie mistake but you’d be surprised how often I stumble on in. Example (and Bobo is back!):

“Bobo was angry. The formula he was looking for wasn’t in this book either.”

This is telling.

“Bobo slammed the book on the table. The formula he was looking for wasn’t in that one either.”

Instead of telling how Bobo feels, we show him slamming the book, therefore he must be angry.

6. Filtering

Filtering is when you filter your narration (duh!) through the senses of your characters by using words like saying, feeling, hearing, thinking, tasting, knowing, etc. I briefly mentioned this in the 2nd element of this list. Here is another example:

“This may be a different molecule but it has the exact same effect, I promise!” Bobo said. He had started to feel scared. He glanced over his boss’ shoulder and saw that the two bodyguards were eyeing him solemnly. He saw one of them putting his hand somewhere inside his vest, probably gripping his gun. He thought “Oh boy! Now¬†I am screwed!”

To be honest, I am very easily distracted by all those filtering words. I cannot get into the action because each time they remind me of the presence of the author. Instead:

“This may be a different molecule but it has the exact same effect, I promise!” Bobo’s voice shook. A drop of cold sweat trailed down his forehead. He glanced over his boss’ shoulder, the two bodyguards were eyeing him solemnly. One of them put his hand somewhere inside his vest, probably gripping a¬†gun. ¬†Oh boy! Now¬†I am screwed!

Now, we are in the action ūüôā Because seriously, filtering puts a distance between us, the readers, and the story.

7.  Poor structure

The last element of the list includes every flaw that has to do with scene and structure. Therefore it is a huge element. I don’t think I understand scene and structure completely either¬†but in general, we¬†like stories when some big stuff is at stakes, where there are scary and bad-ass villains and the hero needs to overcome obstacles and become a better person in¬†the process. But just before our heroes triumph, things need to go bad, even worse than it was at the beginning. Then they win, and we are happy, or they loose but they achieved at least something (so we are not frustrated).

Saying this is easy, but executing it correctly? Well…

Stephen King has a book on how to write, where he says something like “When you have an idea, just sit down and start writing.” I think this is the worst advice you can give to a newbie. It’s as if¬†you asked Mozart’s advice on how to learn to play the piano and he said “Just sit in front of it and play.”

bad-advice

I’m sure this works perfect for him but he is Stephen freaking King! He is already a story master. I think the newbies who took his advice must be¬†busy re-writing their tenth draft¬†trying to get some hint of a structure to it.

405119553_6f791c6df7_o

Often in romance I see examples of poor structure. The story is based on “Will¬†the two main characters get together?” and once they do, the author desperately tries to meet up the 64,000 minimum word count of the genre: the couple decides to take things slowly for no reason whatsoever, or since there’s no real villain the author throws contrived, eye-roll worthy¬†obstacles to their happy ending which are nothing but clich√© misunderstandings wherein one or both of our dear and exasperating protagonists flee one another in weepy, immature anger instead of communicating like grown ups, etc, etc.

When I read this, I feel conned. Because I paid to read a story, where there is no actual “story”…

And this ends our list. Well, now that I have got this out of my system, I feel better. I would definitely feel better once I will get all those silly microbes out of my system too!

Posted in writing | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Home Stage, by David Perkins

Home-Stage-I-photograph-dancers-in-their-own-homes.2__880
I stumbled upon this amazing work from the photographer David Perkins, who represents dancers in their home environment.

http://www.davidperkinsphotography.com/home-stage/

It combines the mystical world of dancers and the beauty of the photography.

homestage_statementHere is the link to his blog and tumblr ūüėÄ

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Alena Tkach’s Little Big Adventure

kedicik

I redrew this detail from¬†Alena Tkach’s work, the¬†Little Big Adventures Of A Cat Lost In The Woods. The story is about a cat who gets lost in the forest. He makes cute little friends like him and finally finds his way back home. All the illustrations are¬†so cute and for a moment I felt like I was five years old again ūüôā

You can find other works from the same artist here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments