Politics in SF, Tough Women in Fiction and Pop Art Plagiarists

Nope, no more awards links today, as the online SFF community seems to have moved on to a new uproar (which I don’t want to comment on due to knowing one of the people involved). So here are some non-Hugo, non-Clarke links:

At the Guardian, Adam Roberts tackles the political dimension of science fiction and how the genre manages to be both left- and rightwing, depending on who writes it. Like Adam Roberts I was always more drawn to to the left wing of the SF genre (though there have been good and bad books written on both sides of the political divide) and indeed my teenaged self was shocked to learn that there were conservative SF writers, because SF was about the future and conservatives were against the future by definition. Of course, I had already read a bunch of right-leaning SF-authors by then (not all that many, though, since the only bookshop in town that carried English books had a definite bias towards leftwing authors), though I didn’t always recognize their politics for what they were. Heinlein’s were quite unmistakable, but other writers were either more subtle or simply so much removed from West German political reality of the 1980s that the political content, always based on the politics of another country and often from another time as well, went straight over my head.

The Fantasy Book Café continues its “Women in SF&F” month with a post by Deborah Coates who takes on what is one of my personal pet peeves as well, dismissing tough and not overly feminine women characters as “men with boobs”. Now there are plenty of badly written and one-dimensional female characters about, but the “men with boobs” comment is rarely aimed at those characters. Instead, it it often aimed at female characters who are deemed to be not properly feminine, because they work in traditionally masculine jobs, aren’t interested in romantic relationships or children and eschew make-up, fashion and other traditionally girly pursuits. Characters like Isaac Asimov’s Susan Calvin, the icy roboticist with eyes like liquid nitrogen, like George R.R. Martin’s Brienne of Tarth, like J.D. Robb a.k.a. Nora Roberts’ Eve Dallas, like Meljean Brook’s Yasmeen, like Tamara Jagellowsk of the German SF TV classic Raumpatrouille Orion, like the many tough women of Simon R. Green (Hazel D’Ark, Ruby Journey, Investigator Frost, Rose Constantine, Suzie Shooter, Diana Vertue – Green has a lot of them), like every second urban fantasy heroine ever. These are characters whose adventures I have enjoyed, characters who were inspirational role models for my teenaged self (Susan Calvin and Tamara Jagellowsk certainly were). Dismissing these characters as “not realistic” hurts me and many others who loved them. Because there are women like that in the real world, women who don’t care for traditionally feminine interests, who are not interested in relationships or children, who want to be the best at their jobs, who don’t feel they need to be beautiful to be accepted. Never mind that the “men with boobs” comment is also pretty offensive towards transpeople.

An exhibition of Roy Lichtenstein’s comic book derived paintings at the Tate Gallery in London is currently attracting plenty of criticism from comic artists, who feel that Lichtenstein appropriated the art by various comic artists of the 1960s and neither credited them nor asked for permission. Paul Gravett has a lengthy and detailed article which includes an exchange between comic artist Dave Gibbons and art critic Alastair Sooke about the artistic merit or lack thereof of Lichtenstein’s artwork. The article also highlights a major issues with the work of Lichtenstein and other pop artists, namely that they happily used the work of others with neither permission nor attribution and often made quite a lot of money of it, too, often while looking down on the original creators. This doesn’t just apply to Lichtenstein either, but also e.g. to Andy Warhol’s famous prints and portraits, which were used photos that someone else had shot. And of course it’s very telling that you hardly ever see famous characters in Lichtenstein’s works – most of his source material was taken from war and romance comics that are largely forgotten these days – and that he wisely stayed away from trademarked characters except for one Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck painting (and I still wonder how he got that one past the infamously litigation happy Disney corporation).

Dave Gibbons and other comic artists have also mounted a response to Roy Lichtenstein’s uncredited borrowing and called for comic artists to create new works based on the originals appropriated by Lichtenstein, while giving full credit to the original creators. It’s a great idea and Scott Edelman shares two of the resulting images, including Gibbons’ own contribution (which needs to be enlarged for full effect – cause those dots aren’t really dots).

The first time I saw a Lichtenstein painting, my initial reaction was wondering what comic it had been taken from. Quite tellingly, art historians neither seemed to know nor care. Luckily, for people like me who always wondered just where those images had come from, David Barsalou has set up a site called “Deconstructing Roy Lichtenstein”, which contrasts Lichtenstein’s copies with the original comic artwork. Maybe it’s just me, but in almost all cases I prefer the original to Lichtenstein’s version, since the composition, details, lighting, etc… is almost always better. Never mind that the women in the original comic book artwork have a variety of hair colours (well, as much variety as 1960s four colour printing technology allowed), whereas Lichtenstein’s are almost always blonde.

The winners of the 2013 Pulitzer Prizes have been announced. This year’s fiction prize goes to Adam Johnson for The Orphan Master’s Son, which BTW seems to be one of the very few Interesting Professional’s Family Member novels where the family member is male. Personally, I was rooting for Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child, but a novel set in North Korea is probably more topical given the current political situation.

Finally, here’s something sad. German Turkish actor Eralp Uzun, who had appeared in many popular German films and TV shows, died of unknown causes aged only 31.

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