Friday, 16 December 2011

Book Review: "The Space Between Things" by Charlie Hill

From the moment I learned of the existence of this first novel by an up-and-coming author (ironically, from a slagging-off it received on another site) I just knew I had to have this book.

It's only a slim volume (barely a centimetre thick), weighing in at under 200 pages. But it happens to be set in a time and place I, or somebody I once used to be, once passed through: Birmingham in the early 1990s, around the time of the Criminal Justice Bill.

Ah, Moseley, Moseley, Moseley. It's time to tell you a little bit more about Moseley. Moseley was two B&H out of town on the number 50 bus, just past the inner city, just before the 'burbs. Travelling through, it may not have seemed that Moseley could have provided much in the way of distraction ..... The houses were fronted by common or garden gardens full of flowers and flowers gone to seed and weeds that were flowering and flowering weeds. Moseley may once have been the best looking district of south Birmingham, now it was fraying round the edges, an unremarkable place.

The main protagonists are Arch, a wannabe poet who doesn't take life too seriously; Vee, a photographer who travels to the former Yugoslavia; Stripe, an up-his-own-backside activist; Sorrell, his girlfriend; and Tom, Arch's sidekick, all desperately trying to make sense of things somehow through all the drink and the drugs.

This is a bog-standard tragic love story that, as it unfolds, provides hooks on which to hang some vivid descriptions, and Hill's writing style never disappoints. The characters and the situations are palpably, scarily real. If you were there, you will remember and sigh wistfully, and perhaps wonder where it all went. If you weren't there, you'll wonder WTF?

Published by Indigo Dreams. ISBN 978-190740120-6. RRP £6.99. *****

Thursday, 15 December 2011

A moving story

It's difficult to read this story without tearing up a little: Led by the Child who Simply Knew.

Now, in case you missed it, in between all the emotional stuff, Nicole and Jonas are identical twins. That means they have exactly the same DNA. You could hardly contrive a better experiment to show that gender differences are learned, as opposed to genetic.

Friday, 9 December 2011

TV Review: "My Transsexual Summer"

This was a recent series of programmes on Channel 4. Seven mutual strangers -- four transwomen and three transmen, all at various stages on their respective Journeys -- met up for a series of weekend retreats in a beautiful house in the countryside and to explore their similarities and differences.

Now, four programmes that run to about 47 minutes each without the advert breaks is not nearly enough time to explain all the issues. Still, the "road movie" approach (where you meet the characters full-on first and then learn a bit about their respective backgrounds through situations as they unfold) seems to work quite well here.

They bonded well -- particularly touching was how Drew -- five years into womanhood -- adopted Sarah, who had begun transitioning barely a month beforehand; and how everyone rallied around to help Lewis raise money to pay for his top surgery. It was also good to see "normal" people (presumably they weren't primed off-camera beforehand) accepting the "magic tranny[*] seven" for who they were.

Though, as Max reminded us, a transperson is attacked somewhere in the world every 72 hours, by 2009 statistics.

The programmes are unfortunately no longer available from 4oD, but you might have some luck at your favourite Torrent site, or from someone who recorded them.

****. If there is going to be a follow-up anytime soon, then *****.

[*] She said it first. Please don't use this word casually unless you have been given clearance, or unless it's prefixed by "line output" and you are discussing restoration of an old television set.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Book review: "Delusions of Gender" by Cordelia Fine

There is an idea in popular science -- and in real science, for that matter -- that male and female brains are hardwired for different tasks. So we end up with books like "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" and "Why Men Don't Listen and Women can't read Maps".

Unfortunately, it's bollocks.

Or at least, that is Fine's hypothesis, and she makes a very convincing case for the supposedly-hardwired differences being learned in childhood. If I had to pick out just one quote that sums up the idea, it would have to be this:

One child believed that men drank tea and women drank coffee, because that was the way it was in his house. He was thus perplexed when a male visitor requested coffee.

The book is divided into three sections. In the first, Fine points out that the mind can be influenced by the subtlest of signals. (For instance, mentioning that women tend to perform worse in an assessment, or even having subjects tick a "male" or "female" box before taking a test, can influence the result.) In the second, she picks apart "neurosexism" -- the use of pretty coloured brain images to lend a veneer of legitimacy to old-fashioned confirmation bias and prove points that aren't even really there. And in the third, she explains how a continuous drip, drip, drip of gender stereotypes into impressionable young minds leads to the formation of associations that persist into adulthood.

239 pages of main text are followed by a further 98 pages of reference material which include acknowledgements, authors' notes, annotations for each chapter, a full bibliography and a comprehensive index.

Published by Icon Books. ISBN 978-184831220-3. RRP £8.99. ****

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Singular "They"

English is a funny language. Whilst it doesn't have the gender distinctions that remain in some of the Southern European languages (parenthetical remark removed as it's worthy of a whole other post), it lacks pronouns for the third person singular common gender.

This is a serious omission; not least because sometimes, you want to talk about someone you haven't met yet, and don't know whether to call them "he" or "she". Or even whether it makes a difference which order you mention the two in. Perhaps I should have said "..... and you don't know whether to call them 'she' or 'he'". And this is before we even begin to consider that even though we might have met the person, they might not want what is between their legs shoved in everyone's face.

Now, there have been various suggestions for sets of common-gender pronouns; especially, it seems, in science fiction. There's no reason why aliens should follow the same binary distinction that worked well enough on Earth. Yet none of them have really caught on — despite there being entire science-fiction anthologies without a "he" or a "she" anywhere in sight.

But hold on a second. The answer is right there, two paragraphs ago, when I referred to the hypothetical unmet person as "they". We do it all the time in informal English. So why can't it just be accepted more formally?

Outside certain dialects, English no longer makes any distinction between singular and plural in the second person, and the distinction is often blurred in the first person (traditionally, the reigning monarch has always referred to themself as "We"; and this is also often used as a literary device to indicate that the author is not alone in expressing a particular opinion. There are also instances when multiple authors have referred to themselves as "I".)

  • Nominative: They
  • Accusative: Them
  • Genitive: Their
  • Reflexive: Themself (only obvious singular form)

I think it works well enough.

The only trouble is, it could be the top of a slippery slope. If we start allowing one relaxation of the rules, what is going to be next? I have a nightmare about "it's" becoming accepted as 3rd person singular neuter genitive, or "would of" replacing "would have".