Rose Hill's Writing Grove

A Fantasy author in the Twin Cities

Month: February, 2016

Education Systems – Introduction

Hello all!  Today we start the next worldbuilding series–education systems.  Fantasy tends to treat education in one of three ways: oddly anachronistic schools, the wise old (often deceased) mentor, and the self-taught.  While these are all very valid options, there is more to education people than just this.

Why is education important?

Your characters got that knowledge they have somehow.  Was it beaten into them from Training From Hell?  Have they been spurred on from the inevitable death of their wise old mentor?  Maybe they just made connections in that school they grew up in–connections that can help deepen the character interactions in your plot.  Education shapes not only what your character knows, but how they react to authority figures and other people.

Education can also be the focus of your plot.  Think of more than just school settings (like Hogwarts) and quests for lost knowledge that will somehow save the world.  Maybe a character wants to join a special program, but is being kept out for some reason.  Maybe your characters are fighting against indoctrination or the invasion of privacy.

Even if your character was raised by wolves, they’re going to grow up learning something.  (See Wolf’s Head, Wolf’s Heart by Jane Linsolkd.)  Oral cultures still had ways of passing down knowledge–lacking books won’t get you off the hook.  Education might be no more than peripheral to your story, but it’s still relevant to your character.

Here are some basic questions you might consider when determining how education works in your world:

  • What knowledge is considered basic, that everyone should know?
    • How does this vary between the social classes/genders/other societal divisions?
    • What happens to people who lack that education?
  • How is basic knowledge acquired?
  • How is professional knowledge acquired?
  • Are there any trade secrets?
  • Is the society literate? How widespread is literacy?
  • How much access to information does the public have?
  • What information is considered private? What are people allowed not to share?
  • How are children/adolescents/adults/elderly educated?
  • What education, if any, is standardized?
  • What credentials, if any, must an educator have?
  • How are people educated?
  • Who is educated, and to what extent?
  • Can magic be taught?

 

Future Essays in this Series

All of the above questions will show up and be elaborated on in the future essays, along with a number of questions not brought up at this time.  Look for the following essays to address a wide variety of topics in education:

  • Literate Cultures vs Oral Cultures and Everything In-Between
    • How is knowledge passed down?
    • How widespread is literacy?
    • How important is literacy?
    • How much access to books does the average person have in your literate setting?
  • Standardization
    • What is the most basic knowledge that everyone needs?
    • How consistent is the education given?
    • Who teaches? Do they need to have any credentials?
    • Are there things which can’t/won’t be taught? How consistent are they?
  • Access to Education
    • Who can access education? Do different levels of education correspond to different social classes?
    • How is access to education related to gender norms and family responsibilities?
  • Access to Information
    • How much access does the average person have to information?
    • What, if any, information is restricted?
    • What, if any, information are people allowed to keep private?
  • Education of Children
    • Who teaches children?
    • At what age does that change?
    • What discipline methods are allowed?
    • What do children learn?
  • Education of Adults
    • Who chooses an adult’s profession?
    • Can a person learn more than their particular trade?
  • Ethics in Education
    • Are any subjects not allowed to be taught in school?
    • How are teacher/student relationships handled?
    • What are the punishments for plagiarism?
  • Education Methods
    • How are people taught?
      • Lecture
      • Experiments
      • Call-and-response
      • Rote memorization
      • Required reading
      • Discussion groups
      • Etc…
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Book Review – Bad Feminist

 

To be clear, this is a non-fiction book.  I read those on occasion.  😛

This is a collection of essays by Roxane Gay, covering a wide variety of subjects but focusing on women and race.

This is a very personal book.  No matter how much analysis Gay might include in her essays, each one is very personal to her.  They’re her reactions, her history, her life.

I’m not certain this is the sort of book a person can be said to enjoy.  It’s enlightening to get a look into someone else’s mind.  As a black woman and a feminist, she has a perspective that I think should be shared widely.  She’s open about her faults and biases, which is a rare thing to see.  But it’s not a happy book.  The experiences she shares are variously frustrating, horrifying, annoying, and depressing.  There are some bright spots of humor, but not a lot.

It must be said–Gay doesn’t sound like a bad feminist to me.  She sounds like a normal feminist.  Her conceptions of “normal” feminism sound–and she recognizes this herself–like ridiculous anti-feminist stereotypes.  I know a lot of feminists (and I mean a lot) and none of them act the stereotypes describe.  In my mind, feminism is about breaking stereotypes completely.  It’s not about being a housewife or a career woman or a rabid man-hating radical.  It’s about being free to do whatever you damn well please.  Do what speaks to your heart, whatever that may be.

That’s a bit off the topic of the book.  Sorry.

This book is heavy, but good.  Check it out.

 

Recommended for: feminists, people who don’t think there is a race/gender problem in America, people who say they are “all for equal rights, but I’m not a feminist,” worldbuilders interested in the experience of people belonging to multiple disrespected subcultures

Book Review – Sword and Sorceress 30

I have always been a huge fan of anthologies.  My shelf of anthologies is nearly as large as my shelf of dragon books, and that’s saying something.  What I love about themes anthologies is that one can get a taste of a subject or a subgenre from a variety of different authors.  It’s a great introduction for new authors to the subject matter to see if they life it.

 

There’s also the convenience factor of short stories.  You can read a story over your lunch break, or on the train ride home without missing your stop.  You can read a story over supper and then continue with your plans for the rest of the night.  They’re fun little glimpses into a new world, new characters, and new authors.

 

I have been reading the Sword and Sorceress books since I was little.  For those unfamiliar with the series, they are woman-centered stories of sword and sorcery, originally started by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  Since her death, the series has been picked up by others.  S&S30 was edited by Elisabeth Waters.

 

As anthologies often are, this one was a mixed bag.  There were a couple of stories I didn’t like at all, a couple that I loved, and a great number that I enjoyed.  Overall, the book felt… strange.  I don’t know if that’s because it’s been so long since I re-read the older books in the series, or whether it’s due to the influence of a new editor, or whether it’s simply the flavor of this particular collection of stories.  This particular anthology had a consistent Christian overtone I was not expecting given my familiarity with Bradley’s previous work.  It also felt oddly heteronormative, which was only highlighted by the gay couple in the first story.  Then again, that could just be because I’ve been reading a lot of work by queer authors recently (including editing my own), so I’m not used to the sheer number of heterosexual couples represented here.

 

Not all of the stories were based in medieval pseudo-Europe, which was nice.  That is a particular downfall of sword and sorcery in particular.  A handful had an psuedo-Asian setting.  If others were set in other particular locations, I could not sort them out.  There are always details missing when it comes to short stories.  In sword and sorcery–where the focus is on the action–descriptive detail is often one of the pieces left behind.  That said, I loved the stories that gave us a glimpse of the larger world outside the story.  I love worldbuilding details that drop just enough to let you hint at more–and that is exactly what is required in short stories.

 

Recommended: For those interested in sword and sorcery and/or feminist fantasy

Book Review – The Alchemist of Souls

The Alchemist of Souls by Anne Lyle

Review: 3 out of 5 stars

I’m really torn on this book.  There are some things about this book that I loved, and then a few things that really ruined it for me.  In general, each thing I loved is directly connected to something that ruined it.  So, I’ll divide my thoughts in two.

What I loved:

  • This book drew me in immediately and I didn’t want to put it down. It’s been so long since a book did that.  I loved that it grabbed my interest and held it throughout the novel.
  • One of the three POV characters was openly gay and made no apologies for it.  That was incredibly refreshing.
  • The worldbuilding was detailed and set so firmly in London in that time period.
  • The plot was complex and engaging.
  • There were actual consequences to the characters doing things outside of the everyday norm. Mal messes with the schedule of the ambassador—he gets beaten and called before the Queen.  Ned kills someone, he has to go to jail and court for it.  Actual consequences are so rarely found in Fantasy.

 

What bothered me:

  • The intricate plot that I loved so much never really got explained. It was wrapped up, but I couldn’t quite figure out how.  I feel like there were a few steps missing in there that the author and character was aware of, that simply didn’t make it so far as being put on the page.  I loved this intricate plot all the way to the end, and the end ruined it because it just sort of…stopped.  There was no explanation of what happened, or any acknowledgement from the characters that an explanation was missing.
  • The characters went by so many different names I couldn’t keep them all straight. (Even the damn madhouse went by multiple names!)  I eventually got the three POV characters straight, but the only side character I kept steady was Parrish—and that took 2/3 of the book to do it.
  • Speaking of Parrish, most of his characterization sets him up as a rapist who bullies people into not talking about it. Then he does an about face and settles into a blissful relationship with Ned.  It felt like two different characters got combined, and didn’t get properly smoothed into one.
  • I literally rolled my eyes every time Coby entered the scene from the moment she started crushing on Mal. In fact, I still roll my eyes just thinking about it.
  • Part of that problem came from the queer-baiting that chapter 2 opened with. I was so happy when chapter 2 opened, and Mal was implied to be gay.  I thought, finally!  Finally, we have a story with a queer protagonist!  Finally we have an author with the guts to write it, and a publisher with the guts to publish it!

 

But no, we don’t.  Both Ned and Mal make it quite clear over the course of the novel that Mal “isn’t like that.”  Mal could have been set up as gay, or even bi—it wouldn’t have even been strange in this setting or cast!  But no.  People like me still don’t count enough to be protagonists.

  • When it came right down to it, I didn’t terribly like any of the characters. Oh, they were interesting enough to follow, and I’m curious enough about how it continues to pick up the sequel.    Coby wasn’t interesting—we’ve seen the girl-hiding-as-a-boy thing a million times before.  The only interesting thing about Mal was his brother and Ned, not actually himself at all.  I liked Ned because he was honest about himself and tried to do the best he could in the situations he had, but he was very clearly just the hanger-on.  The story was about Mal and Coby.

 

So there you go.  Even if my complaints are more detailed than what I enjoyed about it, I want to be clear I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  I definitely want to pick up the sequel.

ETA: In discussion with a friend of mine who’s reading the sequel, I learned that there Mal is openly bi.  Which makes me wonder why they tried so hard to make him straight/ambiguous in the first novel.  Was he originally written as bi, and then changed to make it more marketable?  My (straight) friend was just as excited as I was when it appeared Mal was bi, and just as disappointed/confused when all the other characters tried insisting he wasn’t.

If they wanted to pander to the homophobic crowd, I don’t think that would have worked anyways.  They would have hit chapter 2 and put the book down.  Why not just make Mal openly bi in the first book, and encourage that representation?  While I am slightly comforted that things improve in book 2, this whole thing still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Recommended: Yes.  For fans of historical fantasy and urban fantasy in a non-modern context.