asakiyume: (Em reading)
A Stranger in Olondria
by Sofia Samatar
2013, Small Beer Press

Jervick, from the Tea Islands, is not only a stranger in Olondria, he’s a stranger in his homeland, too: someone educated in and besotted with the culture of a faraway land, schooled in letters in an oral society, able to recognize and make Olondrian allusions and references but bored by and ashamed of the place where he grew up. After his father dies, he travels to Olondria and briefly gets to experience the heady cosmopolitan existence he has dreamed of, in the consequence- and impact-free way strangers are both permitted and limited to. It’s kind of like being a ghost.

Read more... )
Describing someone’s self-exile, Jervick reflects,
I see him with the sweat on his brow which has turned the color of tallow and imagine how he will flee to the ends of the earth, putting the fathomless sea between himself and this sweet, incautious girl, interring himself in a country of alien flowers.
A country of alien flowers. It’s a startling, memorable, beautiful book.
asakiyume: (Inconvenient God)
I think everyone who reads me here probably already reads [personal profile] sovay, but just in case not...

I was blown away by her review of An Inconvenient God.

[personal profile] sovay's reviews are as good as stories: when she reviews films, she captures the drama of them, and without spoiling them in the least, makes you feel, by the power of her writing, what makes them funny, poignant, terrifying, tragic--whatever. It's a huge honor to have that attention paid to my own work.
asakiyume: (Em reading)
Merry December 27! Today I have an interview with Andrea Johnson, who maintains a very fun, thoughtful, wide-ranging fantasy and science fiction book blog at The Little Red Reviewer. She relates to the books she reads in a really personal way and makes interesting connections, like in her review of Martha Wells’s Artificial Condition, which weaves in her reactions to the video game Detroit: Become Human and her own experiences at the day job. (It’s a super post.) In January, after what will be almost nine years of book blogging, she’ll be launching a Kickstarter for a best-of book of her reviews, and this interview is to help spread the news about that--and also because it's fun to talk to interesting people.

Artificial Condition

Detroit: Become Human

You’ve been entertaining and informing readers with your book reviews and related posts on your blog since 2010. How has the book blogging landscape changed over the years?

One of the biggest changes I've seen is that publishers and publicists have realized that book bloggers exist and that we can actually help sell their books. Give a blogger an ARC of a book they are eagerly anticipating, that blogger will do just about anything for you. Back in the day, I don't think publicists and authors knew what to do with us. We weren't magazines, we weren't beholden to anyone, we also weren't required to read the book, give a glowing review, or publicize the review. Were we worth sending ARCs to? No one was really sure. Publicists realizing bloggers were free advertising and Netgalley changed all that. Yes, we are worth sending ARCs to! In fact, these days it's not unusual at all for bloggers to use their blog as a stepping stone to get into the publishing world.

Evolving technology has made blogging much easier. I no longer have to download the book photo from my digital camera to my hard drive and then upload to my blogging platform software. Now I can do all of that in 15 seconds from my phone. It's suddenly much easier to include more photos, short videos, or to shift your entire blog to Youtube and be a Booktuber vlogger. Instagram has a huge bookstagram area, with image-heavy posts. I am very curious to see how book blogging evolves over the next ten years. Will text-heavy sites like mine be considered “old fashioned”? Will Wordpress give me more space to store images and videos so I can imitate Booktubers and Bookstagrammers?

No matter how much the technology evolves, blogging will always involve hours and hours of reading the book, thinking about what you read, and typing up a review.

As a follow-up, I’m wondering about ways your approach to book blogging may have changed. Back in your first year, you wrote,
I review about half the books I read. Some books I pick up knowing I’m going to write a review, and other books I just pick up on a lark, and some books that I pick up on a lark I decide halfway through that I should write a review.

How have things changed for you (if at all) since you wrote that?

Only the first sentence has changed! It's still true—some books I pick up knowing that I'm going to review them, others I pick up on a lark and only later decide to review them. These days, I'm reviewing closer to 75–80% of the books I read. When I started my blog, I was working part-time, and many days my job at work was to “be available if people needed me, but other than that, stay out of trouble.” So I sat in the corner and read. What a heavenly job! I was easily reading 3–4 books a week. These days, working full-time, I'm lucky If I finish 3–4 books in a month. Less time to read means I'm more picky about what I pick up, means I'm paying much more attention to if the book is worth my time. If I get 40 pages in and the book just isn't doing it for me, I'll abandon it and pick up something else that looks more promising.

There is a stack of abandoned books next to the bed. These are books that I picked up one evening to read at bedtime, and then abandoned. Maybe I'll finish them one day, maybe not. My husband calls the stack the “book graveyard.”

If I finish the book, there is a good chance I'm going to review it.

more interview questions--and books!--under here )

Thank you so much, Andrea, and good luck!

She’s called the little red reviewer, and she really does have gorgeous red hair
asakiyume: created by the ninja girl (Default)

I loved this collection. It makes me wish I’d known Gwynne Garfinkle when I was 10–12, because boy could we have played some great imaginary games together.

I’ll start with the stories, because those are what I read first. One I’d read before, “The Hedgehog and the Pine Cone,” a fable about depression, isolation, and friendship, but the rest were completely new to me. The first one I experienced was “Man Size,” which my daughter picked out and read to me when I was cooking one night. It’s a gripping story of a type of vampire unfortunately all too common in real life—one who gains power and vitality by belittling and negating others. Then I read “Don’t Look Back,” a powerful Orpheus-Eurydice story, a turn-back-time story, with the roles changed, interesting thoughts on trade-offs, and tragedy still waiting. I loved these lines:
Orpheus tears himself apart. Try as they might, the Maenads can’t put him back together again. They wail and rend their garments. Then they get very drunk

Where the protagonist of “Don’t Look Back” had the power to rewrite history, the protagonists of “The Paper Doll Golems” and “The Imaginary Friend” have the power of animation. The first is told from the perspective of Ruthie, who animates her paper dolls, while the second is told from the perspective of the titular imaginary friend, a stranded alien based on the hero of a movie beloved of Gigi, the girl who creates him. (Knowing that Gwynne is a film buff, I went searching for this movie, but alas, it seems not to exist, though I suspect The Cat from Outer Space was a partial influence [ETA: I guessed wrong! She says it was inspired by Planet of the Apes.]) Both stories have things to say about power and helplessness. Gwynne is definitely here for women who have been crushed, erased, belittled, co-opted—or murdered or otherwise destroyed. The opening story in the collection, “In Lieu of a Thank You,” sets the tone in that respect, transforming a damsel in distress into something much more powerful.

The poems were equally absorbing—one, in fact, entered my dreams last night: “Levitation Class.” That poem was absolutely perfect for me last night, and in my dreams I rose just as the poem describes. Thanks for that, Gwynne:
when you and your pain reach the ground
try to retain the sensation of flight

On the page facing “Levitation Class” is “Dorothy’s Prayer,” a beautiful poem from the perspective of Dorothy from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz that contains a cyclone in it. Many of the poems are inspired by or in conversation with films: “50 Foot” (Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, 1958)—“They wanted you invisible or dead./Daring to take up space makes you monstrous”—and on the facing page, “love song from The Blob to Steve McQueen,” (The Blob, 1958) which contains these excellent lines:
it’s how I roll, it’s how I scroll
I’m my own red carpet
because I’m the star of the show

“Mysogyny” takes on The Stepford Wives (1975), asking us to imagine what Stepford looks like decades later. Maybe fathers initiate their sons into the dark secret, but what, the poem asks, do they tell their daughters? And “Linda Blair Pantoum” (shoutout to pantoums—I love that poetic form) sent me to Wikipedia to find out the significance of the references—and now I want Gwynne to write a poem entirely for Mercedes McCambridge, originally not credited as the voice of the demon in The Exorcist (1973). But I don’t want you to get the impression that you have to be a film fanatic or do tons of research to enjoy these poems: they’ll speak to you even without that knowledge. (They just say even more if you do have it.)

People Change is number 63 in Aqueduct Press’s Conversation Pieces series.
asakiyume: (Em reading)
I’ve finished reading It Happened at the Ball—very interesting to see the directions the stories took the theme.

I have to start with Sherwood Smith’s story, which is the crowning jewl of the collection. It’s a novella, which means you can really sink into the place, the characters, and the situations. If you’re familiar with Sherwood’s Sartorias-deles world, this story shows how Colend became its own nation—but if you’re not familiar, no worries at all. This story is completely comprehensible on its own.

The situation: A great ball is being held; all the nobility of the region will be at it. Warriors from an aggressive bordering state are also in the city, on a pretext of being interested in trade but actually planning an attack. They, too, are invited to the ball—what will happen?

The genius of the story is in the characters, especially the intelligent, charismatic, and above all kind protagonist, Martande Lirende. It is a delight to watch him defuse situations, deflect unwanted attention, and engage enemies without spilling blood (blood does get spilled, but not on screen). Here, for example, is how he reacts when a noblewoman he’s dancing with makes fun of the looks of the king:
“Prince Fish Face. Now the king. Surely you know that [name for him]. Everyone in the first circle says it.”

“Ah, but I find him beautiful,” Martande said.

Luor slanted a glance of derision, assuming shared mockery, to smack into a wall of sincere

“Beautiful,” she repeated, the exclamation half question. “I’ve seen him, when my mother presented me at court. He cannot have changed so materially in ten years.”

He lifted a shoulder as they dipped, turned, and met palm to palm again, toes pointed, shoulders back. “We know the word beautiful,” he said in that tone of calm sincerity, “but I expect we all define it differently. For me, that which delights my heart is beautiful, and King Eniad, in all his painstaking doubt and generosity of spirit, is beautiful.”

But it’s not just Martande whom we get an intimate feel for: it’s pretty much any character who steps onto the page--the elderly (female) Count of Ranflar, tasked with dancing with the warlord Rajin; the warlord himself, whose misreading of the ballroom is an object lesson in cultural blindness; Messenger Yedoc, struggling to express herself in a language she can’t speak well; even little Gelis, a child:
“Everything was fascinating! Even the older people. Usually so boring. It was strange, how expressive elders were when you couldn’t see their faces. ”

Seriously: even if you didn’t like any of the other stories in the anthology, it would be worth it for this one tale.

But I suspect you'll find things to like in the other stories--each has something unusual or interesting to recommend it.

the other stories )

And that’s all of them!
asakiyume: (black crow on a red ground)
Regret, sorrow, obsession, and yearning are so present in Forget the Sleepless Shores that it’s almost like they’re main characters. The human (and otherworldly) protagonists caught in their clutches often find words failing them—so light must speak, or clouds, or objects, or landscapes, but most of all, bodies must speak, skin to skin, sweat to sweat, intermingled breath, hands tangling in hair or gripping wrists. It’s sensuousness with an incandescent filament of the erotic threading through it, surrounded by the glowing unknowable.

Read more... )

The collection hits the marketplace tomorrow. That means you can still be ahead of the game and preorder now—here’s an Amazon link. Or, if you prefer, you can check out the book’s page at Lethe Press, the publisher.
asakiyume: (Iowa Girl)
Briarley retells the story of Beauty and the Beast, imagining what might happen if Beauty’s father was man enough not to let his daughter sacrifice herself for him. Instead, he stays in her place.

In this retelling, it’s World War II, and the father is a parson who’s also a veteran of the Great War, and the beast takes the form of a dragon.

You know this is going to be a different type of retelling by the parson’s initial reaction to the dragon’s dilemma:
“The curse says you must learn to love and be loved, does it not? Those are the only conditions?” The dragon nodded, his head still buried in his hands. The parson broke a piece off a roll and buttered it. “Then I suggest you get a puppy,” he said.

Nor is this mere flippancy: “I have seen shell-shocked soldiers make great, great strides when they are given charge of a dog,” he says, and adds,
“A dog is a more loving creature than man. All the things that we wish we were, dogs are: loyal, faithful, loving, and cheerful in the face of adversity.

And that’s the type of story this is: the parson musing on the nature of love, different types of love, in the company of the dragon, who’s at first haughty, vain, capricious, and entitled, but gradually becomes… well, somewhat less so. Gray resists the easy out of a dramatic personality transformation—the emotional equivalent of taking off the glasses and having a character become suddenly gorgeous. Real people are beloved despite being prickly and short tempered. In this story, the parson has reasons for feeling both deep pity for and a deep attachment to the young man that the dragon once was.

The two talk not only about love, but also morality, vindictiveness, compassion—so much. And lest I’ve made it sound like some kind of milk-soaked graham cracker of a story, let me quickly also add that it’s **funny** too, as when the dragon and the parson have this exchange:
“That’s not how you learn to love, not at all. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it does not kidnap – ”

“You’re misquoting,” the dragon interrupted. “Paul doesn’t say anything about kidnapping.”
The parson replies, “I believe the injunction against kidnapping is implied by all the rest of it.”

It’s an original, moving, surprising story—I highly recommend it. It's available on Amazon here.
asakiyume: (glowing grass)
I read Semiosis because, like Children of Time, it promised to deal with alien intelligences—and it did: several, in fact. But where it really spoke to the other book, where I sense a zeitgeist thing maybe going on, was in how it raised and dealt with the questions of violence and free will. Lest that makes it sound too much like a philosophy or ethics treatise, let me quickly add that it’s also absorbing, imaginative, occasionally horrific, and occasionally hilarious. It kept me hooked even through moments where I had grave doubts, and I felt the end was well worth it.

Read more... )
asakiyume: (squirrel eye star)
I loved it! Here's a non-spoilery review (duplicates what I've put up at Goodreads)

The book's called Provenance, and it's a perfect title, because where things--or people--come from and what (who) they really are is a central theme. The main character, Ingray, is the daughter of a powerful politician from the Hwae system--only actually she's a child from a public crèche, and that sense of her own insignificant roots weighs heavily on her and affects her actions. Hwae society is very wrapped up in what they call vestiges, a term that indicates everything from historical artifacts to personal mementos and souvenirs (one thing that Ann Leckie is excellent at is strange-ifying things--like museums or the importance of artifacts--to reveal stuff about human nature), but what if foundational vestiges are false? The two people Ingray first interacts with are also of mysterious provenance, and their claimed identities change.

In terms of story, there are multiple plots and schemes interacting, from the very personal (Ingray's competition with her brother) to the statewide (Ingray's family is in competition with another family for influence) to the regional planetary (a neighboring federacy wants to manipulate or pressure Hwae into granting it certain concessions that will work to its advantage in the region) to the galactic (the treaty with alien species, which *no* one wants broken, but which is at constant risk).

Ingray is a **very** different protagonist from Breq (from the Imperial Radch trilogy--Ancillary Justice etc.): she's not superhuman in the least, and that makes her bravery extra-impressive ... and very persuasive. When you see her doing things she's terrified of doing but that she feels she has to do to for the sake of people she cares about, it's inspiring! Makes you believe maybe you could too. Not that that's what the book's aiming for, but it's a great side benefit.

And there's humor threaded through the book, whether it's the fact that "compassionate removal" is the Hwaen euphemism for prison or the fact that the Radchaai ambassador to the Presger just can't keep pronouns straight. There are also some uproarious examples of insufficient machine translation.

And some really marvelous aliens. Folks, you will love the Geck ambassador. She's just wonderful.

I'll mention a couple of things I was less enthusiastic about just to acknowledge that they were present: there was a budding romance for Ingray that felt unnecessary and a bit shoehorned in: the object of affection was an interesting person who did bring out the best in Ingray at some key moments, and I could see how *in time* affection/romance might bloom, but Ingray's attention--rightly--was completely elsewhere most of the time, so.

There's also a lot of explaining that goes on. I didn't mind this exactly--I think it's good to make stuff clear to your readers--But sometimes I felt that the level and wide-rangingness of the discussion wasn't credible for a situation. In the end, though, I decided to accept it as an artistic choice, like accepting in a detective story when the detective gathers all the suspects in a room at the end to go over what happened. It was a conscious decision, though.

But let me get back to my main point. This is an excellent, immersive, surprising, fun, thought-provoking, and moving book. Highly recommended.
asakiyume: (black crow on a red ground)
I finished watching the series Containment on Netflix the other day. Yes: although I hate zombie stories, I have a morbid fascination with contagion stories. The premise of this story is that a flu virus has been genetically modified to cause hemorrhagic symptoms, resulting in an impressive 100 percent fatality rate, killing its victims just two days after exposure. That’s a trifecta for an infectious disease: easily transmitted, exceptionally deadly, and fast acting. In real life there isn’t any disease that’s all three—or rather, there are some (like meningitis), but we have treatments that can cut down on the deadliness, not to mention vaccines. Anyway, this virus gets loose and our story begins.

The setting is Atlanta, but it’s Atlanta the way Boston is Boston in Fringe, which is to say, in name and sky shots only. I know that Atlanta, like Boston, has a large population of people who’ve moved there from elsewhere, but in this series no one—not one character—attempts anything like a southern accent. Not one character grew up there? Not the pregnant eighteen-year-old? Not the 11-year-old son of the schoolteacher, who’s brought her class on a field trip to the hospital? Nope. No one.

Read more... )

I’m a carping, critical viewer, but I enjoyed the show enough to binge-watch the last four episodes, so if you share my morbid interest in epidemics, check it out and tell me what you think of it.

PS: regarding Into the Inferno, I did see it, and I'll post about it later.

**The series also includes one gay character, who’s favorably portrayed but whose partner is conveniently off screen, and one character in a wheelchair, who isn’t defined by her physical limitation but is definitely shown as vulnerable and in need of support because of it.
asakiyume: (feathers on the line)
At the jail where I volunteer, there’s a small bookshelf next to the front desk that says “free books/libros gratis.” It has a varying mix of picture books through middle-grade books, and I try to drop off books there periodically.

So I was really excited to learn about An Angel for Mariqua, a middle-grade book by Zetta Elliott about a girl whose mother is in jail. Mariqua lives with her grandmother now, and she’s angry at everyone and everything, and also lonely. Then two good things happen. An old man selling carved Christmas figurines at a roadside stall gives her a beautiful wooden angel, and Valina, a high school student, takes an interest in Mariqua. Two sorts of angels.

Here’s the scene with the old man:

Even though it had been raining for most of the afternoon, the man wore no raincoat. Instead he wore a woolen poncho that had tassels along the edge. Bands of blue, red, yellow, and green ran across the man’s shoulders and met in a V near his waist. Even though it was cold and rainy outside, the stranger looked warm and dry. Mariqua thought he looked like he was wrapped up in a rainbow . . .

Suddenly one of the man’s hands appeared from underneath his rainbow shawl. His fingers were the color of caramel. He picked up one of the small wooden angels and handed it to Mariqua.

“For you.”

Mariqua held the angel in her hands. A long blue dress with golden stars had been painted on the angel’s wooden body. Two wings curled away from her narrow waist like petals on a flower. They, too, had been painted gold. The angel had thick black hair and deep brown skin. She had a tiny pink smile on her face.

Mariqua doesn’t have the money for it, but the old man insists she take it.

Mariqua’s first encounter with Valina involves Valina yanking her back onto the curb when she attempts to dash across the street. Valina’s quick move saves her from being hit by a bus—and then Valina calls her on her bullshit, as the saying goes, when Mariqua is rude in response:

“I just saved your life and you can’t even say ‘thank you’? Well, forget you, then. Your scrawny little behind can get hit by a bus, for all I care. And here--”

She thrust the wooden angel into Mariqua’s chest. “Take your stupid hunk of wood. Bad as you are, you need a guardian angel looking out for you.”

But then the next day at Sunday School, Valina encourages the teacher to let Mariqua be the angel in the nativity play, even promising to help Mariqua learn her lines.

The story follows their growing friendship, deepening as Mariqua gradually realizes the situation of Valina’s mother. By the end, Mariqua is able to offer Valina love and support when Valina needs it most. It’s a beautiful scene. And Mariqua sees her own mother in a new light, too.

I encourage anyone who’s interested in the issues of parents in prison, families disrupted by incarceration or in books by authors of color or indie books to give it a try. It’s a lovely book. I can’t wait to leave it at the jail, where hopefully someone like Mariqua can pick it up. But I may have to get myself another copy to keep. It’s a good book.

An Angel for Mariqua by Zetta Elliott.

asakiyume: (squirrel eye star)
This is a continuation of last entry. I wrote it all as one entry, but it was a lot of text, so I split it up. These last two shows are new.

Stranger Things (2016)

A US show. How can I put this. I enjoyed the show, but it incited great rage in me as well. It is so Steven Spielberg that I really was trying to make “Duffer brothers” (actual creators) be an anagram of “Steven Spielberg.” a rant ensues, with spoilers )

So yeah, given that rant, it would be understandable if you thought I hated the show. The story was exciting, though, and a lot of the details were great. If I pretend that men and boys are the only real humans, it's a cracking yarn.

Cleverman (2016)

An Australian show. I’d learned about it from [ profile] heliopausa, and [ profile] littlemoremasks recommended it, so we watched it. The premise is that a whole other humanoid species (referred to most neutrally as “the hairy people” but also as “hairies” or “subhumans”) has existed alongside Homo sapiens I guess in the outback of Australia (because an Aboriginal character mentions having lived in tacit mutual accepance since forever) but only revealed themselves in the past six months--whereupon they’ve been rounded up and forced to live in a containment zone and subjected to terrible abuses, with worse just around the corner.

First two episodes were unpleasantly torturific, and the young man who becomes the new cleverman (a master of powers in this world and the dreaming) starts out as a pretty major jerk, but as it was only six episodes long, we stuck with it. The mythic elements were excellent, and the young man comes round in the end, but perhaps because the premise made me uncomfortable, I kept on focusing on problems with it. From a meta perspective, by making the story about hairies, the creators are able to address issues like Australia’s treatment of Aboriginal peoples, its offshore detention centers for asylum seekers, etc. without talking about them directly--but that’s a very tricky tactic to use. Plus, while it’s great to have Aboriginal traditions and culture valorized, within the story, the characters who carry those traditions end up acting as the protectors and champions of the hairies: we’ve traded in white saviors for Aboriginal saviors. We get to hear dialogue in an Aboriginal language (which is very cool), but we get no sense at all of hairy language, culture, history, or anything. What’s been going on with them for all these millennia? This season ends with a cliffhanger. Despite qualms, I’m curious to see what happens next, and I’ll watch another season if they make one.

asakiyume: (squirrel eye star)
We got Apple TV, so suddenly we have access to way more shows. I’ve written up reviews of the ones we’ve watched recently—but I’ve divided them into two entries, as it gets long. Here’s part one.

Fringe (2008–2013)

A US show. We saw all but the final two-thirds of the final (fifth) season, when the show seriously went off the rails.

I really loved this series, which starts out as sort of an updating of the X-Files concept and then goes off in its own direction. Every episode does have some sticky, body-horror-type aspect, which is not my thing, but those were very eye-closable and ear-pluggable, and meanwhile, the characters and stories were fabulous. I loved King Learianly emotional mad-scientist Walter, played by John Noble of Denethor fame. This guy has apparently gotten typecast as someone who is either going to have son issues (Fringe, LOTR) or father issues (Sleepy Hollow). The other characters (capable, reserved FBI agent Olivia Dunham, Walter’s genius-but-ne’er-do-well son Peter Bishop, sweet FBI agent Astrid Farnsworth; inscrutible boss of the Fringe division Philip Broyles) start out as familiar types but grow in depth within just a few episodes. In addition to having exciting episodic adventures, the show deals sensitively with family, loss, grief, trust, selfishness, wrongdoing, guilt, and redemption, along with identity and what makes us who we are. An alternate universe and, later, an alternate timeline give the writers a chance to explore who characters might be if things had gone differently. And with the exception of a couple of cartoonish bad guys, everyone has a chance to be forgiven and to make better choices.

Dark Matter (2015)

A Canadian show. A bunch of characters wake from stasis on an interstellar freighter with no memory of who they are. Someone among them erased all their memories—but it went wrong, and whoever did it lost their own memories, too. Instant mistrust. And they’re not happy about what they find, when they are able to discover who they were.

The premise was fun, and I liked the android character. However there is an Asian character whose storyline is so screamingly orientalist that pretty much every time he hit the screen, I had to scream. I'm talking painfully, cringeingly orientalist. Additionally, because the ship basically runs itself, the characters have nothing much to do all day except … hang out. So of course all the Asian character does all day is practice martial arts. Yeeeeaaaaah. Apparently a second season will air in 2017.

Outcasts (2011)

A British show that was cancelled after one season.

Refugees from a very near-future earth have settled the planet of Carpathia, which is earthlike except that it appears to have no megafauna or even medium-sized fauna, and is prone to violent sandstorm-like storms.

We watched this after Dark Matter, and it was a relief to have characters who weren’t simply cartoons or adolescent in their motivation and action (with the exception of the Evil American—who made a fun change of pace from the Evil Brit that you get in American shows, but who was pretty transparent in his deviousness). However, the pace was **really** slow. Also, I wanted the weird alien stuff that I knew would come to come quicker, be more present, and to be … slightly different from what it was. (Could we please do away with the trope of aliens just wanting to understand that thing we hooomans call luuurve?) Still, it was an okay way to chill out of an evening. Warning, though: it ends without resolving any of the plot developments, though some things are made clear.

asakiyume: (black crow on a red ground)

Age of Blight
Kristine Ong Muslim
The Unnamed Press, 2016

My first exposure to Kristine Ong Muslim was her short story in Lauriat, a collection of fantasy stories by Filipino-Chinese authors. That led to my reviewing Grim Series, a collection of Muslim’s sharp, often gruesome, sometimes beautiful, poems. So when I was asked if I would review Age of Blight, a new short-story collection by Muslim, I readily agreed.

I read through it slowly. It’s dark, highlighting the monstrous things people can be and do. Nothing’s excessive or overstated, but some of the topics are pretty intensely awful, so it’s not very comfortable reading. After two of the earliest stories, “The Wire Mother” (an excoriation of the psychologist Harry Harlow, who deserves what Muslim gives him) and “The Ghost of Laika Encounters a Satellite” (about the dog sent into space by the Soviet Union), I wasn’t sure I could continue. But the storytelling is so compelling that I did, and I was glad of it.

Muslim is a master of the small, sometimes ironic, detail—“black-and-white drawings of rainbows,” for example, or, in the last story (“History of the World,” one of my favorites), this:

It is safe to call the man with the binoculars Justin, because that’s what the tiny embroidery on his windbreaker spells out.

“Dominic and Dominic,” a story in which a boy seeds his own replicant by burying his fingernails, has this description of the nail-clipping process:

He grasped the clipper’s tiny lever and brought the blade down expertly against his nail, the sharp click-clack of stainless steel striking keratin satisfying him.

This line from later in the story—when those fingernails have grown into hands, just protruding from the ground—gives you a feel for Muslim’s tone of controlled judgment, but also humor:

The finger … [was] pointing skyward with the surliness of a person whose belief system was based on self-importance.

I was very taken by these authorial pronouncements—they were like artisanal hand grenades:

I had the squelched look of defeat, the squelched look of an ancient creature that believed itself to be dangerous but had no faculties to behave as such.


Happy endings are just curses told evasively.

As if to bear out the latter statement, one of the happier stories in the collection, “The First Ocean” (in a postapocalyptic world, an elder tells youngsters about the sea they’ve never seen), revolves around a deception: “They had so much faith in me that I found it difficult to disappoint them. It was impossible not to lie.”

There’s even a pronouncement on the defining characteristic of life:

That’s the one true quality that defines life—the compulsion to draw something: an essence, a lesson, anything— from others.

I turned that one over in my mind and thought, yes. Yes, I can see it.

Go in forewarned: it’s a very dark collection. But if you like your chocolate unadulterated by sugar and milk—and if you sometimes have a craving for precision-crafted macabre tales, then you might try out Age of Blight.
asakiyume: (Em reading)
(I finished this on the plane on the way to Sirens.)

Reading Archivist Wasp is like navigating an intense, harrowing nightmare in the company of a true friend. Wasp, the young heroine, is the true friend, though she doesn’t know it. Her role—as recorder of ghosts and their ways, and (more importantly for her town) an executioner of them—means she’s a friendless outcast. She achieved her position by killing the last archivist, and three times a year, other young girls try to do the same to her. Her life has made her suspicious and untrusting, but from the very first, she shows gruff compassion for the ghosts and humans she encounters. Her compassion (and her curiosity, and, okay, a bit of self interest) lead her to agree to help a ghost supersoldier who does something no other ghost she or any of her predecessors have ever met could do: talk. He wants to find his comrade in arms, also a ghost. So Wasp embarks on a journey to the underworld.

The rest of the book unfolds Wasp’s own past and the past of her ghost companion and his friend, in a mutable landscape, pursued by terrors from Wasp’s life in the land of the living. As they search for the ghost’s friend, they themselves become friends—Wasp’s first experience of friendship. The pacing is perfect, and one scene in particular, where the ghosts whom Wasp has spared over the years come to her aid, was especially moving. The language throughout is sharp, powerful, beautiful:

And maybe that’s all a ghost is, in the end. Regret, grown legs, gone walking.

There’s a sequel in the works. I’m very curious to see where Nicole takes us next.

ETA PS (two) First, this review in School Library Journal expresses in more depth many of the things I would have liked to say if I hadn't written this so late at night, and second, there might be spoilers in comments (because I like to talk about things I read), so take that into account as you read here...

asakiyume: (squirrel eye star)
I've been waiting to read Ancillary Sword until I could do it book-group style with the ninja girl. The chance presented itself at the end of last month, and we both finished it the other day and were discussing it avidly via messages this morning.

The reviews I read said that it was a very different sort of book from the first--quieter--but the reviewers all liked it as much as or better than the original. I enjoyed it tremendously (I carried it with me everywhere so I could read in spare moments), but I didn't like it better. I kept on wanting things that didn't come (for those of you who've read the book, that would be more about Tisarwat's unique situation and more about Translator Dlique, plus something more central that I'll get to in a moment), and I was bemused by much of what did come. The situation on the Athoek was interesting, and Ann Leckie did a great job of showing how different groups have different interests, and showing how personal situations intersect with bigger issues (how the personal is political, heh), but those bigger issues were (to my mind) predictable. I felt a little as if I was looking in on a sociology case study that promised to hit on X, Y, and Z points. It did, and the details of how it did were gripping, but I chafed a little.

Some of that teacherliness was present in Ancillary Justice, too, but I completely forgave it/wasn't bothered by it--why? And why not this time? Part of it is personal idiosyncrasy--I loved small details of life on Ors and life on Nilt and found them so vivid that the instructive elements paled. But much, much more important, I loved getting to know Breq and shared entirely in her personal pain and loss. The driving emotion that propels her through Ancillary Justice was so, so intense.

In Ancillary Sword, Breq has only brief (though very memorable, and very moving) moments of emotion. She's affected by the pain and suffering she sees, but it's not hers in the way that it was in the first book. I missed that. I know it couldn't be repeated ... but all the same, I missed it.

I'm mystified and deeply, deeply curious about what will happen in Ancillary Mercy. Ancillary Sword felt like a book that you might get if there were going to be nine or ten stories about Breq and the other characters--it touched on the larger issues that Ancillary Justice raised, but it doesn't advance them very much. A few new elements come into play. How will the trilogy wrap up? I can't wait to find out!

ETA: Just read the Goodreads book summary for Ancillary Mercy and it sounds like it'll focus on the stuff I want to know more about--yay!

asakiyume: (Em reading)

In case you'd like to hear *more* of what I liked about Alif the Unseen, here is a copy of what I wrote on Goodreads.

Characters I absolutely loved, talking about philosophical, intellectual, and spiritual questions and ideas, while meanwhile moving through an exciting, imaginative plot, and with liberal doses of good natured humor throughout—what more could I possibly ask for! I loved this book.

Alif (that’s his handle, not his real name) is the rather clueless, somewhat emotionally obtuse computer hacker who has the misfortune to be the ex-lover of a young woman who’s just been betrothed to the head of the secret police in an unnamed Middle Eastern Gulf Coast country. Worse, he’s a talented hacker, and he’s designed a program that can identify a person from their keystrokes, word use, etc., regardless of how they disguise themselves. You can imagine what would happen if the state got hold of that. Double worse, his ex has sent him a mysterious book, an ancient manuscript, which, if it falls in the wrong hands, may set dire events in motion.

Read more... )

asakiyume: (nevermore)
Editor John Benson calls issue 52 of Not One of Us the alternative issue. Things aren't as they seem, or get overwritten or undone, there are shatterings and fires and renewals. I love the attention John has paid to what goes where--which poems go together, and before or after which stories, and which stories abut.

I'm self-interested in writing about this issue, because I have a story in it--and truly, I wanted to write about issue 51, which has a beautifully creepy story by Mat Joiner in it, and a wonderful-as-usual story by Patricia Russo, not to mention both poetry and prose by Sonya Taaffe, but time got away from me, so it's issue 52 I'll talk about here.

my own story )

I'm very, very happy to be sidling up next to Sonya Taaffe's "Like Milkweed," an achingly beautiful story of loss and hope and mystery: it's all too easy to hope that the human-sized monarch butterflies that started to appear some years ago are souls of the departed, or maybe angels, or maybe aliens, but Alicja does not believe any of those things, and yet when one knocks at her window, in all its golden-orange radiance. . .

And before Sonya's story comes Mat Joiner's poem "The Bryomancer," about a charmer of mosses, molds, and mildews:

The mosses have a love for her;
curl up like fronded hedgehogs and roll into her pack.

It reminds me of this picture of a strange seaweed phenomenon.

Before Mat's poem is the first story in the issue, "Starred Up," by Finn Clark, which features an actual alien encounter . . . if the viewpoint protagonist can trust her perceptions--which a history of mental illness has taught her to interrogate fiercely.

poems: a pyre, a fire, a graveyard, a vow )

And those images of shadowed, shattered lands provide the perfect lead-in for Patricia Russo's "The Wild and Hungry Times," a story with a desolate setting that touches on bucking destiny, enacting redemption . . . and the impositions (and ridiculousness) of academe. For the last, consider the introduction's discussion of word vaults:

The scarred lords left behind them a reestablished trading network and hundreds of what the next lot called word-vaults. It is believed that this term referred to archives, or possibly schools, or possibly private libraries, or possibly multilingual dictionaries, or possibly stone halls in which epics and sagas and such were chanted or sung. There is approximately an equal amount of evidence to support each of these hypotheses, except the last, which is ludicrous.

two poems and a cyber-tale )

And the issue closes out with Sonya Taaffe's "The Antiquities of Herculaneum," a vivid ode to volcanic wrath.

If these appeal, you can order a copy from John Benson, and it will come to you in your mailbox--your actual, physical, brick-and-mortar mailbox (except probably your mailbox is not made of brick or mortar)--the ur-mailbox after which your cyber mailbox styles itself.

asakiyume: (Em reading)
I’ve just finished Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories. This excellent collection succeeds in every possible way: not only does it fulfill its mission to deliver fantasy stories with diverse protagonists (along many axes of diversity: ethnic, geographical, physical and mental status, sexual orientation, and gender1), written by equally diverse authors, but it also delivers diversity of mood, tone, and style. The stories are all excellent, some of them breathtakingly so. One editor, Julia Rios, is American; the other, Alisa Krasnostein, hails from Australia, and perhaps for that reason there’s also a nice hemispheric balance in the collection.

You know a story’s good when you’re compelled to share it, which happened to me several times while reading—first with Ken Liu’s “Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon.” The title refers to the Qixi Festival, commemorating the yearly meeting of the celestial lovers Zhinü, the Weaver Maiden, and Niulang, the Cowherd, on that date. When the story opens, Yuan, who lives in Hebei, China, is about to be separated from her friend and lover Jing, who is going to America for school. I assumed—wrongly!—that I was in for a connect-the-dots parallel between the two girls’ present-day situation and the folktale. In fact, Liu had something better planned—a fantastic journey, and touching, unexpected advice, which an aged Zhinü shares with the lovers. I shared the story with a friend of mine who was suffering a separation from a friend, and she too was surprised and moved by it.

The second story I shared was the very next story in the anthology, “The Legend Trap,” by Sean Williams. Three friends enter a d-mat booth to test the urban legend that entering the destination “Bashert Ostension” will take you to an alternative universe, just a hair’s breadth away from our own. I knew my sixteen-year-old son would love this: I had him read it to me, and we kept talking about it for days. It’s a tense, exciting story with the atmosphere of an updated version of The Twilight Zone. Big applause for the names of all the neverwhere destinations that Williams comes up with—things like Addison’s Adit, the Fistula, and the Long Way Home. (But where’s the diversity? you may be asking—more on that later.)

On the third occasion, I read the story to my son: it was Karen Healey’s hugely inventive “Careful Magic.” Helen is an outsider in her school in part because of her OCD compulsions and in part because she’s chosen to declare for Order magic, whereas most of her classmates prefer Chaos magic (her own mother has the rank of Chaos Queen). Healey deftly introduces these magic systems and their differences in the context of an enchantment an unscrupulous fellow student has cast, which Helen must break. There’s a whole novel’s worth of invention and characterization in this story, in which Helen’s OCD is emphatically not a source of her strength, but a reality she has to live with.

My final most-favorite story, Sofia Samatar’s “Walkdog,” takes the form of an essay by teen student Yolanda Price, complete with footnotes and occasional spelling errors. Writing on the topic “Know Your Environment,” Yolanda describes for her teacher, Ms. Patterson, the mythical Walkdog, sourcing her information primarily from a lonely boy’s imagination, supplemented with scraps of news, scholarship, and the songs of blueswoman Maisie Oates. Yolanda’s voice is superb, and her transition from somewhat scornful of her main source of information—the geeky Andrew Bookman—to remorseful and bereft is masterful and heart wrenching. This is a true gem of a story, a compelling mix of humor and sorrow.

thoughts on the other stories, individually )

Now to return to the question of diversity and how noticeable it is, or isn’t, in the stories. An important part of having diverse stories with diverse protagonists is having stories that aren’t focused primarily on the fact of the diversity itself. The protagonist’s difference—whatever it might be—from the majority population is just one of their characteristics and may be incidental to the plot itself. So, for instance, Yolanda, the protagonist of “Walkdog,” says, “I mean I consider myself a New Jersey native, what else would I be, even though I’m African and German and Spanish and God knows what else,” but her ethnic makeup isn’t the focus of the story. The Walkdog itself, part canefield legend and part blues fragment, shows more clearly the way in which minority voices can be present and powerful, and yet go unnoticed by the dominant culture—and yet, important as this element is to the story, it’s secondary to the themes of friendship and remorse.

Similarly, in “The Legend Trap,” two of the three friends are lesbians, in a relationship with each other, and while the fact of their relationship adds tension and drama to the story, it’s the relationship, not the fact that it’s a lesbian relationship, that’s important.

In many of the stories, the protagonist’s difference is more important to the story. This is the case with Helen’s compulsions in “Careful Magic,” Rene’s schizophrenia in “Kiss and Kiss and Kiss and Tell,” Neha’s South Asian family life in “Krishna Blue,” and Anisa’s Lebanese background in “The Truth about Owls.” These tales aren’t about compulsion or schizophrenia or coming from a South Asian or Lebanese family, but those realities are central to the story.

“Terms of Service,” by contrast, is actually about the harshness of the life of overseas workers, and the toll the arrangement takes on their families. Similarly, “The Lovely Duckling” and “Celebration” are about the protagonists’ differences. And the presence of this spectrum of emphasis is as it should be: wanting to normalize difference and diversity doesn’t mean we should forgo stories that focus on the hardships associated with those differences.

In the end, though, I think the shining achievement of this anthology is that the stories are exciting, funny, moving, and powerful; they’re thought provoking, and they’re fun to read. I’m sure you’ll end up with at least as many favorites as I did.

1 The only imbalance I could perceive in the anthology is in the sex of the protagonist: the protagonists are almost all female.

a plan

Jun. 6th, 2014 12:26 pm
asakiyume: (Em reading)
I have this plan to read fiction in the New Yorker for a year to see what things I can learn about literary short fiction. I'm already reading a lot of genre short fiction, and my time with longer fiction is totally spoken for (between things I want to read for myself, things I want to read to support other people, and things I end up reading for my book group)

I thought I'd keep a running commentary--it's going to be VERY superficial, because otherwise I won't find the time to do it. I may make a note to come back and try to think about and discuss some of the other stories in more depth, but I probably won't end up doing that--I have fiction of my own I want to write. I'm also locking this as I don't want to tick off any literary luminaries with my ignorant opinions.

Here are the ones I've read so far, with some important-to-me demographic facts, plus my comments. Plus signs mean I liked it; minus signs mean I didn't.

5 May, 'The Naturals' [+/–] (on the fence) )

12 May, 'The Fugitive' [–] )

19 May, 'The Waitress' [–] )

26 May, 'Camilo' [+] )

2 June,Ba-Baboon [+] )

Two pluses, two minuses, one on the fence. That's not bad. Two works by writers from outside the United States--that's good too. On the other hand, only one of the five is written by a woman and only one has a female main character. Wow.

I've just gotten the fiction issue, which may take me a while to work through, but I'll post posts like this one from time to time.


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