#FridayReads: “Darkship Renegades” by Sarah A. Hoyt

darkshiprenegadesI am always on the hunt for space opera about women, written by women. It’s not as common as one would hope. So when I stumbled upon this series by Sarah A. Hoyt in my local Barnes & Noble, I ordered it from the library (because I had already spent all my book money).

Darkship Renegades is the second book, after Darkship Thieves. In this universe, humans bioengineered these super humans who had incredibly long live spans but couldn’t reproduce, and then rebelled against them.

Before all the bioengineered people were forced to flee Earth (including more run of the mill bioengineered people with enhanced sight and the like), the super humans, called Mules, created these crazy trees that grow in space and produce power pods. Now everything runs on power pods rather than fossil fuels, and that goes for the humans in exile, too.

The thing is, most of Earth’s advanced technology was lost in the rebellions, so no one knows how to make new power trees.

So the exiles, who live inside an asteroid called Eden and are total anarchists, have to steal power pods from Earth in these stealth ships called darkships.

I don’t want to spoil the plot, but our heroine, a daughter of one of Earth’s current rulers, is forced to flee when her father apparently turns on her. She escapes to the power tree forest where she runs into one of Eden’s darkships. Kit, the darkship pilot, rescues her and then takes her back to Eden so she can’t squeal about the darkships (most Earth people think it’s just a legend).

Entanglements and plot twists ensue. Darkship Renegades takes up right where Darkship Thieves lets off, so these are definitely books you want to read in order. I’d characterize them as fun space opera romps with underlying social commentary. (What sci fi doesn’t contain social commentary, though? That’s why I love it!)

I’ve grown quite fond of Athena, the main character, and the crew of people she gathers around herself. She’s a snarky lady who doesn’t take shit, and I like that.

There’s some cliche romance stuff, but it’s not awful (i.e. the man in the relationship doesn’t have all the power). I don’t mind some romance in my space adventures, as long as the space adventure has more weight than the romance.

I also really like the idea of the power trees and power pods, and the way the author has built up Eden society–this is an anarchist society I could see working really well. No one is in charge, but anyone can charge blood geld against another person for any harm. So you don’t mess with anyone, because then you have to literally pay for it.

This isn’t an oh my god you have to read it kind of novel, but it’s a lot of fun, and I hope to see more space opera from Sarah A. Hoyt in the future (she’s written a bunch of fantasy novels, which I might check out at some indeterminate time).

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#SummerReads #5: Teaching My Mother To Give Birth by Warsan Shire

This summer, my goal is to read ten poetry collections. Click on the summerreading2015 tag to chart my progress.

warsanshireteachingI can’t remember how I came across Warsan Shire, but whatever person, website, or blog caused her name to cross my eyes deserves a plate of chocolate chip cookies.

Shire is a Kenyan-born Somali-British poet with a sharp pen.

In Teaching My Mother to Give Birth, her voice dances between repulsion and reverence for her subject matter, which is often the body. Her own, yes, but also those of her relatives.

I love that the body is inseparable from the places it inhabits. Each person is rooted in the context of place and the way that place has accumulated meaning to the subject and the poet (who don’t always have the same viewpoint or opinion, something Shire never shies away from).

In my favorite poem from the collection, the reverence/repulsion dynamic is hard at work.


My older sister soaps between her legs, her hair
a prayer of curls. When she was my age, she stole
the neighbor’s husband, burnt his name into her skin.
For weeks she smelt of cheap perfume and dying flesh.

It’s 4 a.m. and she winks at me, bending over the sink,
her small breasts bruised from sucking.
She smiles, pops her gum before saying
boys are haram*, don’t ever forget that.

Some nights I hear her in her room screaming.
We play Surah Al-Baqarah* to down her out.
Anything that leaves her mouth sounds like sex.
Our mother has banned her from saying God’s name.

*haram = legally forbidden by Islamic law
surah al-baqarah = chapter in the koran used to ward off evil

The narrator describes her sister’s pubic hair as “a prayer of curls” but “anything that leaves her mouth sounds like sex.” This puts a delightful spin on things, as one might expect the sister’s mouth–something almost never covered up–to be pure and her genitals–something almost always covered up–to be described as dirty or unpure.

But instead of going for the easy cliche, Shire dives into the narrator’s deeply conflicted view on sex and sexuality. She is repulsed by it, by fascinated by the effects it has on her sister’s body. Even though sex is clearly forbidden in the poem, the speaker has replaced the most holy word, God’s name, with the noises associated with sex, elevating sex to holiness.

The rest of this collection is just as strong, with images that evoke all five senses and get at the primal heart of our nature.

Even if your local library has a copy of this collection, it’s worth buying.

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Adding diversity to my fiction

I was halfway through writing my MFA thesis—a collection of feminist retellings of Warren Zevon songs—when I read Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti (one of my favorite feminist authors) and realized I’d made a glaring omission in my project.

All my main characters were women, yes, but they were all white women.

As soon as I had this revelation I wanted to diversify my characters. But I kept asking myself, “As a white woman, do I have the right to write about people of color?

I understand some of the ways women of color experience the world differently from reading widely and having friends, but ultimately, I’m still white. People have treated me in shitty ways and said shitty things to me because I’m a woman and because of my age, but never because of my skin color. I can imagine what that feels like, but I’ve never felt it myself.

It can be hard to write characters that are vastly different from you. It’s hard not to fall in the trap of cliches and stereotypes, and instead build three-dimensional people.

But here’s the thing. As a woman and as a feminist, I can’t not write female characters of color just because it’s hard.

I’m probably going to screw up. I’m probably going to fall into traps I’m trying really hard to avoid.

But I think it’s important to forge ahead anyway. I’m striving to create characters and not caricatures. To create characters whose experiences are informed by their race and gender, but who are, ultimately, individuals with individual desires and needs.

And if I do my job as a fiction writer well, you won’t even notice the struggle and sweat I’ve invested in my work.

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