Sci-Fi/Fantasy Writers Could Take a Tip from Arundhati Roy

Recently, I have been reading a lot of popular Sci-Fi and Fantasy books that all feel like they are lacking something. While the world is usually intriguing, I often find myself bored or unsettled by the characters who are the stars of the novels. Through reading GOST, I have figured out just what these books are lacking and why.

In the first chapter of GOST, we are taught more about Rahel and Estha’s world than I was taught about any of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy worlds that I have read in the entirety of their first novel. Along with this, the chapter doesn’t feel rushed or jam-packed and all the transitions are swift and unnoticeable. This is quite different than the Fantasy book that I most recently read called An Ember in the Ashes, where the transitions between perspectives were abrupt and random.

I think Roy’s writing differs from many of these Sci-Fi and Fantasy writers because of what/who she centers her story around. GOST is primarily driven by the characters, particularly Rahel and Estha. Their desires and feelings decide where the plot will go and what conflict will arise. In a Dystopian book that I just read called Legend, it felt as if the world was the main character and drove the plot while the actual protagonists were a mere backdrop.

I believe that many of these authors get too caught up in making their make believe world into something that is bigger and better that they forget about what is supposed to be the driving force of the novel. This does not mean that big and beautiful book worlds cannot exist, for Roy explains all the intricacies of Rahel and Estha’s world. The difference is that she does this in a swift and coherent manner that ultimately supports the action and conflict of the main characters. This is why Roy’s writing has come to inspire my current sci-fi story writing, even though it is a completely different genre.

Orientalism in “The Nutcracker”

A few years ago, back at my old dance studio, I participated in the annual “Nutcracker” ballet that always took place around Christmas. Everyone would dress up in their fun costumes and go out and perform amazing choreography. While I always remembered it as a time of joy and cheer, I now see “the Nutcracker” for all of it’s faults. These faults came in the form of obvious culture stereotyping all throughout the ballet.

Because it has been around since 1892, the Nutcracker has been performed countless times by a countless amount of famous ballet companies. It is so ingrained into the ballet world, that many fail to recognize the Orientalism that plagues it. In particular, this exists in “the Land of Sweets” section of the ballet, and is abundantly present in the “Chinese Dance” and the “Arabian Dance.

While the “Chinese Dance” of the Nutcracker is often completed with many different variations, the most popular versions of it include movements with the index fingers pointing upwards and many bows from the waist. In addition to this, many of the variations include fans or umbrellas. This portrayal is both inaccurate and highly stereotypical.

Another dance that exhibits Orientalism is the “Arabian dance” which has been most popularly done as a pas de deux (dance between a man and a woman). The costumes for this dance usually include a woman in a bejeweled bra top and flowy pants and a man in pants and no shirt. The movements are often slow and the woman is supposed to be seen as beautiful and alluring. This promotes the common and inaccurate western stereotype of Eastern women as existing solely for a man’s pleasure.

All in all, I hope that major ballet companies can work in the future to alter the Nutcracker so that it does not exhibit such blatant Orientalism. Not only this, but many other ballets such as La Bayedere and Le Corsaire also need to be edited to remove all to present Orientalism. While many choreographers feel the need to preserve the historical roots of dance, Orientalism should not be something that is accepted.

Rachel and Nick Defy the Bounds of Class

The movie Crazy Rich Asians is a perfect example of a rising-in-status comedy. While it is light-hearted and humorous it also has some much deeper moments and fulfilling character development. As Rachel and Nick come from their own very different worlds and fall in love, a point is made about how people from differing social classes and families can form a connection.

At the beginning of this movie, Rachel is an American economics professor who is dating Nick in the United States. She comes from a middle to low class family and her father does not seem to be in the picture. Later in the movie, she discovers that her boyfriend, Nick, actually comes from an extremely wealthy dynasty in Singapore. Through meeting all of the ridiculous members of his prestigious family, Rachel rises to a seemingly wealthier status and ponders whether she is cut out for this lifestyle.

The humor in this movie is very well utilized. The funny moments are mainly present in the dialogue of Rachel’s best friend (played by Akwafina) and her family. By inserting this humor into a plot and group of characters that weren’t the main one, the movie has laughable moments, while also maintaining the gravity and depth of the main conflict. When I watched this, I loved how I was able to feel with Rachel and Nick during one scene and quickly transition into hysterical laughter during the next one. 

The ending is, of course, a happy one. Nick and Rachel are engaged and Rachel has found peace with most of the members of Nick’s family. Along with this, she resolves to stick-it-out in Nick’s lifestyle as long as she can be with Nick. While Rachel rises in status in terms of class, she also rises in her love for Nick, and in an overall understanding of herself and her values.

What “Beauty Queens” Will Do For Beauty

For the 50 teenage female contestants in the “Miss Teen Dream” beauty pageant, beauty is everything. A lot of them have spent their whole lives believing that this was the only thing that they could strive to do. So when the plane that they were traveling in crash lands on a deserted island, it immediately becomes apparent that they care much more for their looks and outside characteristics than they care about surviving and getting off the island. This creates a gloriously funny satire that coveys the point that the current standards of beauty for women are completely ridiculous and girls shouldn’t let them define who they are.

While all of the characters are completely hilarious, a great deal of the satire regarding beauty standards can be attributed to Miss Taylor Krystal Rene Hawkins (Miss Texas). During the beginning of the novel, her character serves as almost an internal antagonist to the other main characters. This is in most part due to her extreme desire to ensure that everyone is still doing all they can to prepare for the beauty pageant and conform to the society’s beauty standards even when they are running out of food and water on the island. Since this is obviously wrong, the reader can take away Libba Bray’s point that society needs to stop pushing women to prioritize beauty over everything else.

Interspersed throughout the novel are “commercial breaks”. These are short yet hilarious interruptions of the plot and usually come at times of great intensity in the novel. Most of these commercials advertise weird beauty products that seem completely ridiculous to the reader. These “commercial breaks” are one of the main sources of humor in the book and reflect the unnecessary beauty standards of the world we live in. By reading these advertisements, the reader can see how sexist and misguiding the current media is regarding the way women should act and dress.

While reading this book, I couldn’t help but laughing every 10 seconds. Each of the different personalities and voices of the girls was represented on the narration and the way that they interacted with each other was hilarious. The satire of the book was clearly understood and beautifully written and I completely agree with the argument she made about the beauty standards that society forces women to follow.

Cosmic Love

Florence and the Machine’s “Cosmic Love” has been with me for a long time now. From the first time I let this song fill my ears, Florence’s heart-wrenching words and explosive tone have taken me to a completely different world. It is both powerful and sentimental, beautiful and tragic. Out of all the songs I have listened to, this one is the closest to poetry.

The very first lines of the song are:

A falling star fell from your heart and landed in my eyes

I screamed aloud, as it tore through them

And now it’s left me blind

Here, Florence Welch is describing how she was completely blinded by her love for this individual. Using several elegantly crafted metaphors, Welch compares her blindness by love to a star that fell from her love’s heart and right into her eyes. The metaphors help to build an image of not only the experience, but of the feeling. This is one of the fundamental qualities of poetry.

In the second verse, Welch sings:

And in the dark, I can hear your heartbeat

I tried to find the sound

But then it stopped, till I was in the darkness

So darkness I became

In this stanza, Welch is illustrating her feelings of depression and hopelessness that her relationship has led her to. She spent so long in the dark searching for love, that when her love eventually left her, she was still stuck there. The repetition of the word “darkness” emphasises her feelings of despair. The repetition of words in this way is a key characteristic of poetry that I have seen in many other famous works.

In a heart-wrenching bridge, Welch sings:

I took the stars from our eyes, and then I made a map

And knew that somehow I could find my way back

Then I heard your heart beating, you were in the darkness too

So I stayed in the darkness with you

In contrast to Welch’s previous lines that describe feelings of blindness and despair, this stanza holds a spark of hopefulness in it. This is the turning part of the poem, where she decides that she will love this individual, despite the darkness that he has pulled her into. She realizes that he is just as lost as she is, and she will be there with him, in the darkest of times. Like in previous stanzas, this bridge represents the climax of an experience, and tells the story right at its core. That is a key element of poetry.

Finally, in a beautifully powerful chorus, Welch sings:

The stars, the moon, they have all been blown out

You left me in the dark

No dawn, no day, I’m always in this twilight

In the shadow of your heart

This chorus is arguably the most powerful stanza in the entire song. It elegantly describes her feelings of being left in despair and depression from a relationship but wanting to stay in that relationship nevertheless. By comparing her emotions to various interstellar forces all throughout the song, Welch recounts her experience in a way that people will understand. Unlike simple stories, or artless information, experiences and emotions are harder to explain. That is why Welch’s use of understandable analogies is truly helpful to the reader of the poem.

All in all, I feel that this song is a true example of poetry. The stunning diction, rich metaphors, and powerful structure all contribute to the poetic element of this song. “Cosmic Love” illustrates not only a story, but an experience.

Cosmic Love

Aurora’s “Winter Bird” Resembles Sethe’s Journey

In Beloved, Sethe spends a good portion of the novel remembering her hazardous trek to 124 after she had escaped from Sweet Home. She recounts how she had to walk through cold and trying conditions while she was pregnant with Denver. The stunning imagery that Toni Morrison uses to describe this journey parallels the lyrics and overall tone of the song “Winter Bird” by Aurora.

When listening to this song, a few lines caught my attention in particular. The first I noticed was, “like the naked trees.” Aurora then goes on to ask if they will ever wake up again or if they have dreams. I found this line to parallel Beloved‘s motif of trees during Sethe’s journey. The trees themselves serve as a symbol for the overall mechanism of slavery, while the tree Aurora describes symbolizes her own dreams and curiosities.

Another line that struck me as similar to Morrison’s novel was the phrase “lay me by the frozen river, where the boats have passed me by.” This line stood out to me because it reminded me of when Sethe was giving birth to Denver in a boat. She has to have her baby in such horrid conditions because most of the white people do not care enough to help her, similar to how Aurora feels that the boats do not see her as important enough to stop for.

When Aurora sings the main line of the chorus “all I need is to remember, how it was to feel alive,” I couldn’t help but think of Sethe’s journey from Sweet home to 124. Specifically, this reminded me of the scene that Sethe recalls when Amy was massaging Sethe’s feet. Amy states that “anything dead coming back to life hurts.” Similar to Aurora, Sethe’s feet probably don’t remember the feeling of being alive.

Finally, the last line that stood out to me was “only wake each morning to remember that your’e gone.” I found this line to be especially powerful because it resembles Sethe’s emotional journey after she leaves Halle. She constantly wakes up every morning hoping that he will come back to her, but after a while, she knows that he is gone forever. She also looses her children later in her story and knows they will not come back to her.

Along with the lyrics themselves, the sad and heavy tone that Aurora sings this song with contributes to its similarities with the book Beloved. The book is not a happy one, so the tone of the book also has a heaviness to it. All in all, the tone and the words of this song paint a similar picture to that of Sethe’s memory.

“Winter Bird” by AURORA

Exit West and Carnival Row

Throughout reading this book, I found myself constantly comparing it to a TV show that I watched recently called Carnival Row. Carnival Row is an eight episode Amazon Prime show set in an expansive fantasy world based off of the Victorian Era of England.

In this world, the Fae, or Faeries, come to the Burge as refugees when their home kingdoms become war torn by the ongoing international conflict. The Burge is the land of the humans, but not all of the humans are willing to accept the Fae into their society. Many murders and crimes are plaguing the Burge and the newly migrated Fae are the first to get the finger pointed at them.

While the cast of this show is quite large, the plot of Carnival Row mainly revolves around two central characters and their journeys throughout the episodes. The characters are Vignette, a fierce-willed warrior Fae who has come to the Burge for refuge, and Philo, an open hearted and curious investigator of the Burge.

The journey of Vignette and Philo in Carnival Row reminded me of the journey of Saeed and Nadia because they are both trying to navigate their relationship in a society where some separation and prejudice occurs regarding migrants. In addition to this, Vignette’s story parallels that of Saeed and Nadia because she, too, came from a place that she watched succumb to war right in front of her eyes.