As Good as a Woman
by Nisi Shawl
Business rather than pleasure is the motivation behind almost all my reading these days. Often there’s a crossover effect, though. I re-read nine books for my Expanded Course in the History of Black Science Fiction column at Tor.com. Every one of these was already a favorite. I read Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor, Tentacle by Rita Indiana, and The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie so that I could cover them for the Seattle Review of Books, the Cascadia Subduction Zone, and the Seattle Times, respectively, and I deeply enjoyed each of those as well. Also, I edited an anthology,
New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color, and of course I love all the stories in there too, plus a few I couldn’t actually include. Among the favoritest of my favorites are Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s “Give Me Your Black Wings Oh Sister,” and “Burn the Ships” by Alberto Yáňez. But truly, they’re all the best!
For pure, unadulterated pleasure, though, I turn to my phone. Glaucoma has significantly reduced my visual field in width and depth; even with my glasses on, my eyesight’s about 60% of what used to be normal for me. However, when I watch shows on my phone it is as if I’m looking through a magical portal into a world where I can still see across the room. This is a heady delight. I recommend that no one take for granted.
Continuing a tendency I noted last year, I’ve almost exclusively been watching historical dramas.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel counts, as far as I’m concerned. I lived through the 50s and 60s, yes. I admit it. I lived through history. I’m not proud. I’m really not proud. I binged four seasons of Poldark in a single week. Ditto Downton Abbey. I mean, I’ve stayed away from A Game of Thrones so far, but at one point I even stooped to watching the time-traveling romance Outlander—you know, that STARZ show about a World War II nurse who’s mysteriously transported back to the 1740s and into the arms of a strapping, sexy, redheaded Highland warrior.
Reader, I loved it.
James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, aka Jamie, is one heterosexual female’s fantasy of the perfect man, and as good as a woman. As portrayed (magnificently) by Scottish actor Sam Heughan, Jamie combines innocence, humor, intelligence, loyalty, practicality, pride, and trust in a rare and attractive emotional mélange. When the nurse, Claire, is understandably wary of him during their first hours together, he notices, backs off, and reassures her of her safety. When she tells him she’s from the future, he believes her. Without proof. When the two are unexpectedly reunited after an incredibly long and painful separation, he sees her and he faints.
Then there are the rapes. Plural. No, I didn’t find them overwhelming, but many can’t stand them. Men, in particular, are wont to avoid watching the long sequence of Jamie’s rapes. I find it harrowing, yet endearing. Because what Jamie undergoes is much more than a physical trial: it’s the loss of all control, all boundaries, all sense of a separate self. It’s grim but rife with verisimilitude.
Other elements of the show that won me over include the costuming department getting Jamie’s 18th- century kilt right rather than trotting out a Victorian-era approximation, and the outrage a character shows at her father’s overly proprietary anger when she—not he—is the one assaulted. And the pointed depiction of the obliviousness of that crime’s bored bystanders.
Of course there’s the scenic beauty to appreciate, too—both human and topographic.
Perhaps my susceptibility to the pleasures of this show is due to my having lived in Scotland and experienced some of those beauties firsthand. Or perhaps Outlander is simply some of the best viewing to be had anywhere, by anyone. Watch it and let me know what you think.
Nisi Shawl is the Solstice-Award winning author of Filter House, which won the James Tiptree Jr. Award and was nominated for the World Fantasy Award, Something More and More, her WisCon GoH collection, and, with Cynthia Ward, the co-author of the celebrated Writing the Other: A Practical Approach, and the editor of The WisCon Chronicles, Vol. 5: Writing and Racial Identity, all of which are published by Aqueduct Press. Aqueduct Press has also published Strange Matings: Science Fiction, Feminism, African American Voices, and Octavia E. Butler, which Nisi co-edited with Rebecca Holden. Tor released her brilliant alternate history/steampunk novel, Everfair, in 2016. She is also the editor of the widely and wildly acclaimed anthology, Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany and other anthologies. She reviews science fiction for the Seattle Times and writes columns for Tor.com and The Seattle Review of Books,
is a member of the Clarion West board, teaches writing workshops at
Centrum in Port Townsend, WA., and is the reviews editor of The Cascadia Subduction Zone.