Category Archives: Science

A Strumpet Thumbs-Up review for new local novel ‘Digital Venous’


A dystopian sci-fi novel about a rebel group of tough mothers, pitted against a city of genetically-enhanced elites? Yes, indeed! Add in an intriguingly unique child caught between these opposing worlds, and some secretive and questionable leaders, and you’ve got the central cast of Richard Gohl’s gripping first novel, Digital Venous. Set in a dark futuristic vision of the writer’s home town of Adelaide, Digital Venous will make you re-think the fate of our quiet little city, should a climate catastrophe ever befall us. Spoiler alert: it ain’t pretty!
A series of fierce solar flares have destroyed the Earth’s atmosphere and split the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ into a tensely polarised living arrangement. There is a technologically sophisticated and pleasure-focused way of life for those who could afford the treatment to achieve it (called Nanopeans), which leaves the rest of the people burdened with a subterranean and subsistence-based lifestyle (called Subs), viewed as inferior and sub-human by the Nanopeans. The main interaction between the two ways of life is in the Subs performing manual labour for Nanopeans, and the secret theft of children from the Sub domain to take up into the sterile world of genetic enhancement above.
There are plenty of compelling characters in this story, however personal favourites for me are the rebel group from the subterranean world – mainly women who’ve lost children to the Nanopean child-stealing racket. They are tough, clever and funny and have a believable chemistry as a group. They seek revenge against the system and return of their stolen children. When they discover a dark secret that the Nanopean leaders have in store, it’s up to them to exploit it in order to triumph. The character of a little boy named Ryan who literally embodies both worlds is the catalyst for this, and he’s a welcome mini-hero in a book where the adult male lead is pleasingly outshone by our feisty gang of women.
The science behind the world that Gohl has envisioned both enables and serves the story, rather than the other way around, making the story feel natural to that realm. The whacky subcultural responses of Nanopean people to their genetically-altered appearances are particularly fun to read and add a depth of detail to the futuristic civilisation that the reader is dwelling in.
One of Gohl’s strengths is in great plotting that draws you in and keeps you turning the (digital) page. The story would make a cracking tv series (paging Joss Whedon!), as the episodic plot rhythm is ready-made for that medium. And of course, a visual rendering of the striking world Gohl has created would make for great viewing.
The future may be bleak, but the strength and realism of the women depicted in Digital Venous is an entertaining and refreshing backbone to this story. The novel circles around many thought-provoking themes such as alternative family structures, elitist entitlement and social discrimination, yet always keeps the story as the main priority and ticking along nicely.
My advice: get your digital copy and enjoy the ride!


Don’t stick a qualifier in front of whatever I am!

lucky Lionel

As a female child I was labelled a tomboy because I loved playing with cars, building roads in the dirt, making kites, shooting at things with my homemade bow and arrows, riding my skateboard, hunting for tadpoles, playing with LEGO…..and all those other fun things that kids do, well male children do without a second look from anyone. But because I was a girl, well, obviously I was a tomboy! Quick get her a barbie and into a frilly dress before it’s too late………

I always felt there was something wrong (and I was a bit resentful without having that bigger picture understanding) with the way the toys I liked never had girls playing with them in the ads or on the packaging, or the characters in Adventure novels that were having all the fun were nearly always boys. So my solution to this puzzling omission was to make the characters female (particularly for movies and books) in my mind and imagine myself chasing pirates, fighting off aliens, and saving wild animals from poachers and circuses…EASY! Once I became a bit older it all became crystal clear. Two comments from my father will always stay with me and still make me bristle: “Girls don’t have train sets” (the response to my wish for a train set for Xmas one year, my brother got it despite not actually wanting one and I got a barbie…true story! GRRRR) and “Girls are nurses not doctors” (after announcement of my desire to go to uni to maybe study medicine…. GRRR squared! well, that was far too much study thus I became a scientist majoring in botany and entomology instead). Guess it took a while to know what it was all about: hello feminism! Thanks dad!

So the announcement of the release of a “Female Scientists Set” by LEGO was a moment of celebration and vindication for me that finally in 2014 young girls can have some ownership of these toys and see!! women can be scientists too, even LEGO says so. But then I started to get annoyed (never takes long) that it’s 2014 and we still have to be “grateful” for the few token challenges to gender stereotypes.
And yet again, that devaluing qualifier “female” rears its ugly head when describing a job, an activity, an idea…. Sounds a lot like “not bad for a female [insert noun]”. That good ole standard complement A.K.A backhanded insult. So, let’s be clear…they are SCIENTISTS…NOT LADY SCIENTISTS or GIRLY SCIENTISTS……They aren’t smart or clever for a girl or….anything despite being a girl!!! They aren’t female musicians, female politicians, or even actresses (actor please!). When do you hear men given the same labels? Male musician? Male politician? As we know, it is implied that the people in these roles are male….unless you are a male nurse of course. Test yourself: what gender is the image of a doctor in your mind’s eye? C’mon, bet it was a male and not a lady doctor.

As Candice Chung from Daily Life argues in her article on the female (nice one Playboy) musician Neko Case: “it sucks to be defined by a single facet of you identity” particularly when it serves as a putdown.

Thus as Case so eloquently put it “DONT PEGGY OLSON ME”…..

Hypatia: mathematician, astronomer and philosopher


How many female scientists do you know of beyond Marie Curie, Jane Goodall and Rosalind Franklin?

Hypatia of Alexandra (approx. 370 – 415 A.D.) has been a favourite of mine since I was a girl. And it seems fitting given the time of the year and circumstances of her death that I mention her.

Hypatia is most certainly a strumpet of the highest order: she was a pagan, unmarried, taught at the Neoplatonist school of philosophy, dressed in the clothing of a teacher or scholar instead of women’s clothing and moved around freely in her own chariot. She also had significant political influence on Orestes, the Prefect of Alexandria. She wrote many books on mathematics and astronomy; about the motion of the planets, number theory, and designed astronomical equipment such as the astrolabe and the hydroscope. It is not surprising that these awesome attributes lead to her horrific demise.

The Patriarch Cyril, the Bishop of St. Mark and future saint, was determined to bring Christianity to Alexandria and rid the city of Jews and pagans. In March of 415, following fighting between the Jews and Christians which led to disagreement between Orestes and Cyril, Cyril incited a mob of Christian monks who dragged Hypatia from her chariot. She was stripped naked, beaten with broken pottery and the flesh stripped from her bones. She was then torn limb from limb and her remains burnt, some say, at the library in The Caesareum temple. Her students fled to Athens where the study of mathematics prospered. The school continued in Alexandria until the Arabs invaded in 642. Tragically the library of Alexandria was burned by the Arab conquerors and Hypatia’s works were destroyed.

Hypatia is often regarded as the defender of science and inquiry and free thought against the onslaught of religious dogmatism. We can argue over the historical details, but it makes for a bloody great story that given the current climate is relevant today.

Musings of a science lover

Over the past week or so, two texts in particular have pissed me off no end….
The first was a video produced back in 2012 by the European Commission for their website ‘Science: It’s a girl thing’ ( aimed at attracting girls to science in the EU. Apparently the best way to get girls interested in science as a career is to ‘speak their language’ which seems to be all about fashion and being attractive to men. See the ‘enlightened and inclusive’ images of sexy girl-scientists strutting their stuff in stilettos admired by a gormless male scientist.…and hey girls, we know you love makeup: you could invent a fantastic lipstick or blush!!! (Is that what they really think girls are all about? And more worrying, are girls starting to think that about themselves?). I’m sure it comes as no surprise the video was removed after howls of protest. It would be amusing if it wasn’t so disturbing. Judge the video for yourself:

The second was an article by science alert (see link below) concerning the discourse around the ‘revelation’ that the author of the popular facebook page ‘I fucking love science’ was actually a woman! Well, firstly that information was available if one cared to click on the ‘About’ link on the page (however, the practice of some women hiding their gender to be taken seriously continues) and secondly why the fuck couldn’t she be a woman (to use the current vernacular)? Again we have this assumption that a commentator on science and in particular the style used by this page which is funny, clever and sometimes irreverent, could only be a man. Tragically, this type of assumption is not the exclusive domain of men; plenty of women are happily buying into sexism and thereby reinforcing the gender barriers and obstacles for women in science.

The Guardian tried to help with suggestions of how to turn girls on to science and failed abysmally! They came up with some top shelf advice for parents: such as how to encourage maths skills: “make your domestic scenario more mathematic[al] and scientific. Shopping is filled with math problems, particularly if your daughter wants something that is too expensive”; and how to encourage collaborative skills: “Encourage… collaboration in your sleepovers or birthday parties. Have the girls cook dinner, or bake cookies or tie dye t-shirts together”. Absolute gems.

Maia Szalavitz (2013) says the reasons why women are underrepresented in sciences in countries where women are treated more equally is not about women’s aptitude (of course!) but whether the field is welcoming and inclusive and accessible.

Retention is a major problem. This is partly due to reduced career advancement opportunities due to the ole boy’s club mentality or women are overlooked as they have less full-time years and hence less benchmark achievements (e.g. papers published/PhD students), and they may end up leaving altogether due to competing carer demands. While the numbers of students entering university to study the sciences are similar for young men (45%) and women (55%), beyond a doctorate, numbers show an increasing difference as you move through the levels of senior positions (above senior lecturer, female representation falls to 10% or less depending on the type of science)(Bell, 2009).

So, science itself needs to work on its PR and girls need to be exposed to science in a meaningful, inclusive way (The Guardian was sort of on the right track, I’ll give them that) with positive, VISIBLE female role models. Essentially, girls need to know that they too can be scientists and… SMART! There needs to be more flexible opportunities for those women in science so they can advance their careers, and governments can help by providing support via paid family leave and access to affordable day care. OK, these are the same old issues and conditions that feminists have been arguing for and have somewhat successfully gained for what seems like forever now. But there is a new factor that has raised the stakes: the silencing of reasonable discourse due to constant bombardment of messages of consumerism, individualism and sexism via social and mainstream media. And sexism is at the root of the disengagement of women from science.

Considering sexism (leave the others for later), the current stereotypes in the media of girls and women are appalling. Go for a wander online if you dare. It seems girls and women are all about their appearance, their attractiveness to males (sexy over smart always!??), they love spending money, love gossiping, are fragile and need to be protected (but are also there to be used).……and more. The messages are so damaging to their sense of self and wellbeing. But it doesn’t end there as the attitudes of boys and men and their subsequent behaviour towards girls and women are also being influenced. We desperately need to hear the voices of intelligent, sensible, articulate women and men.

Strumpet Mission to Mars…….who’s in?

Forget the millionaire space station visitor, Dennis Tito’s plan for an “older couple” to head to Mars in 2018 and forget NASA’s “manned mission to Mars” by the 2030s.

I propose a strumpet mission to the red planet……and I recon I’ve found our Captain

Barbarella (1968) 3

SOOOOOO all you strumpadacious strumpets…..who’s in?

Women In Science

women scientists

How many women scientists do you know or did you learn about at school? Women are under represented in science and the further back in time you go, the greater the disparity. It’s not just what country you happen to be born in, although that factor magnifies the situation.

According to The UN: “Women and girls run the risk of being left behind in scientific and technological fields if countries do not put measures in place to address discrimination and change traditional attitudes, [and] this gap constitutes an obstacle to nations’ progress.”

Science Fiction Strumpet

Surely top of the Sci-Fi strumpets would have to be Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). No stereotypical female weakness there: no needing to rescued because she’s sprained an ankle or fainted after exertion…..instead we’ve got a kickass alien slayer warrior.