It’s all a bit much right now. I know you know. Everything is in constant flux as though 2020 is the biggest, twistiest roller coaster morphing at every turn into something worse. Nothing fits any more and all we can do is try to hang on and not fall off.
It’s not easy for me to admit my reading and writing have fallen into an abyss of 2020 proportions. Rectifying it feels Sisyphean. But every once in a while, something happens which drives me to the keyboard, ’cause I gotta share it.
From what I’m reading, ConZealand was an epic cluster of celebrating old white male authors both living and dead. A gross old white man who fancies himself a bestselling author couldn’t be bothered to learn how to pronounce the names of Hugo award finalists, and turned the ceremony into a “let’s talk about me” nightmare. SF/F twitter is pretty lit up about this.
It’s heartbreaking, and infuriating, to hear about this year after year after year. I left fandom once because of the gatekeeping, but I’m back now, and since I don’t give a fuck anymore about what the keepers think they’re doing I’m going to do my thing. This latest fiasco made me decide to work harder on getting my writing jam on and to lift up the really excellent work I consume.
The pain I see from those given such utter disrespect at the Hugos sent me running to FIYAH Literary Magazine screaming, “Take my money!”
Partway through issue #13 and … FIYAH, I’m glad I met you.
Sunday nights tend to be when I catch up on reading email. It’s a way of putting off Monday as long as I can. Tidbits get posted to Facebook as I read along, but it occurred to me that my very own blog would be a better place for such ponderings. So here’s the first of what’s sure to be a randomly timed post about things I found to be interesting.
“So maybe this is a good way of figuring out that you’ve finally ‘made it’- suddenly everything is terribly dull and tedious.
“Be grateful that you’re still struggling…”
If the conversations you’re having about ideas are still interesting, and you’re wrestling with your own approach to creativity, be grateful. It seems counter-intuitive, but there is satisfaction in the struggle even when you’re tired of everything and just don’t want to anymore. Keep on.
Tor.com posted Carmen Maria Machado‘s intro to The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019. Reading it thrilled me because the ages old #LitFic vs. genre argument is heated, old and tired. The combatants don’t care to read each other’s work, they just want to hurl bullying insults over an arbitrary line. Reading good work is enjoyable and doesn’t need to be labelled.
“Why waste time drawing boundaries and performing ancient arguments and erecting dead horses and beating straw men and enacting coldness and smugness when you could be reading and salivating and standing and yelling and crying and learning and experiencing narrative pleasure and wonder and joy? Why, when you can do those things, would you do anything else?”
In other words, just read damn it!
H/t to Austin Kleon for pointing out Jeff Bridges does photography:
Title: Shadow Ops: Breach Zone
Author: Myke Cole
Publisher: Ace (now Penguin Random House)
Publisher’s Blurb: In the fight for Latent equality, Oscar Britton is positioned to lead a rebellion in exile, but a powerful rival beats him to the punch: Scylla, a walking weapon who will stop at nothing to end the human-sanctioned apartheid against her kind.
When Scylla’s inhuman forces invade New York City, the Supernatural Operations Corps are the only soldiers equipped to prevent a massacre. In order to redeem himself with the military, Harlequin will be forced to face off with this havoc-wreaking woman from his past, warped by her power into something evil…
Shadow Ops: Breach Zone is book 3/3 in the Shadow Ops series
This series is a mess. At first I thought it was because Mil SF isn’t my thing. But then I like John Scalzi’s writing just fine.
Because I enjoyed Cole’s Sacred Throne trilogy so much (third one due in October, 2019) I had hopes for Shadow Ops. What I will say, emphatically, is Cole has grown a great deal as a writer. Heloise is the hero we’ve all been waiting for.
To recap, Control Point saw Oscar Britton make some of the most bone-headed, selfish decisions ever in the history of everything. It’s in this book that Scylla is unleashed on the world. We know in no uncertain terms, she is the most dangerous and evil creature in this world, and Britton has freed her for his own selfish reason.
Book 2, Fortress Frontier, introduces us to Alan Bookbinder, a Pentagon paper-pusher who Manifests a power no one else has and is sent to the Forward Operating Base in the Source until everything goes to hell and he ends up the commanding officer. Oscar Britton is a bit player.
And now we come to Book 3, Breach Zone. It’s all come together, in one big horrifying pornographic death frenzy in Manhattan. Harlequin, a secondary character in the previous books who’s always played it by the rules, because rules are what separate the good guys from the bad, is put in charge of the defense.
Now Brigadier General Bookbinder is stuck on a US Coast Guard cutter, whose lunch is getting eaten by water goblins and leviathans, has to find his way to Harlequin’s base of operations to use Bookbinder’s unique magical power.
Oscar Britton doesn’t show up until very late in the book, still being let off the heinous thing he did in book 1. The epitome of the misunderstood hero. The monster he unleashed is leading an army of monsters to demolish Manhattan. Scylla wants to start the new world order.
And just to make sure we understand why this is personal for Harlequin, intermittent flashbacks from six years before set the scene. The romantic scene, of course.
All the complicated politics weight in. Street gangs, loyal to no one scoff when asked to join the good fight. Politicians and career officers want to use force against everything. And, in typical fashion, only Harlequin and those on the front lines actually understand why fire power won’t work, only magic will.
There’s barely any mention of the Indian part of the Source, and Bookbinder’s experiences trying to save the US FOB. Murica is truly on its own.
Then, buglesblaring, Oscar Britton arrives, makes a pretty little speech and everyone shows up to fight and save the day. Peace, justice and the American way.
Or something …
Sacred Thrones is light years better from this. I’ll call this a cautionary tale about back catalogues. Cole’s worth reading, but this series isn’t.
Title: The Obelisk Gate
Author: N. K. Jemisin
Publisher: Orbit Books
Publisher’s Blurb: The season of endings grows darker as civilization fades into the long cold night. Alabaster Tenring – madman, world-crusher, savior – has returned with a mission: to train his successor, Essun, and thus seal the fate of the Stillness forever.
As I read The Obelisk Gate, it became deeply personal, often driving tears to well up as I felt the searing pain of bullies, including parents whose lives can only be understood in retrospect. Nassun’s search for identity and her confusing relationship with her father reminded me of my own confusing relationships. What matter the details, save that Nassun’s search for the warm glow of love she’d once felt transferred to another father figure? Nassun finds herself the smartest, most talented in her small class, and one mistake nearly undoes the entire sense of community she’s found. It is a lifetime hard task to come to terms with one’s self and the way others react. And it can be brutal, as it proves to be for Nassun. She, at least, has the orogene power within her to make it stop. Karma’s a bitch baby.
The Obelisk Gate is a coming together. Factions find each other, comms welcome new citizens, old friends are reunited. And yet, The Obelisk Gate is about division. Factions find each other but begin plotting their war against other factions, the new citizens in comms cause disruption and new lines are drawn.
At its core The Obelisk Gate is about politics. Political identity of the orogenes, who are welcomed with open arms in Castrima. Family identity as Essun’s daughter, Nassun, wrestles with who her parents are and what that means to an eleven-year-old girl. “Good” Guardian vs. “Not so Good” Guardian, but who determines good? Stone Eaters trying to set agendas. And a narrator who, it is revealed, plays an all too godly hand in Essun’s part in powering the obelisk gate, and catching the moon.
Nowhere is safe, everyone is struggling to dig in and survive the Season which, thanks to Alabaster’s creation of the Rift in The Fifth Season, will be the longest in history, lasting thousands of years.
We follow Nassun on the road with her father, Jija, going to a place he is convinced will cure her of her orogeny and return his little girl to him. His resentful anger gets in the way of their relationship, his narcissism does not allow him to see Nassun is right in front of him and doesn’t want to be cured. Her power is big, and she’s dedicated to learning everything she can about using it. Even after giving him a warning, showing him just how strong her power is and what she can do with it, Jija is still determined to make her into his ideal daughter. Things don’t go well for Jija, and Nassun has no regrets
In Castrima, Essun gets pulled into the politics of the comm. Seeking consensus and advice, Ykka is trying to keep human prejudices from becoming deathly problems. Suspicion builds as Essun’s self-control frays around the edges. Alabaster holds the key knowledge Essun needs to reshape the world and give everyone a chance to survive.
And a very changed Schaffa is at the comm, Found Moon, where Nassun ends up. His role with Essun, when she was Daya, is mirrored in his relationship with Nassun. Only now, he expresses regret for the many horrible things did in the name of the Fulcrum. In his work with the orogenes at Found Moon, and most especially with Nassun, he sets about making amends.
The Obelisk Gate is big and complex, dark and intense. Just as The Fifth Season was filled with bigotry and violence, so too is The Obelisk Gate. Orogeny stands as the proxy for all the ‘ism’s we face in our lives; sexism, homophobia, racism, classism, all of them. And under the stress of the Season, fractures become breaks.
At the equator, Nassun, Schaffa, and their group which includes at least one stone eater. In the south, Essun and her group introduced to us in The Fifth Season. Thousands of years of history come into play, new elements are introduced, and identity politics rise to a fevered pitch. One comm wants to absorb every resource it can while on raids. Castrima will have none of it. Stone eaters circle each other, and Nassun and Essun.
Alabaster’s final words for Essun are, “First a network, then the Gate. Don’t rust it up, Essun. Inno and I didn’t love you for nothing.” While saving Castrima, she understands what he means, and as Castrima packs up to move northward into a now vacant comm which will support them for years, Essun knows how to do what she needs to do.
It is Nassun who has the last word. “Tell me how to bring the moon home.” In The Stone Sky, it will be up to mother and daughter to catch the moon, settle the rivalries, and stop the Seasons. It will be an epic battle. Just as deep and intense as the preceding books. Just as complicated, and as simple as catching the moon.
Title: Shadow Ops: Control Point
Author: Myke Cole
Publisher: Ace (now Penguin Random House)
Publisher’s Blurb: Lieutenant Oscar Britton of the Supernatural Operations Corps has been trained to hunt down and take out people possessing magical powers. But when he starts manifesting powers of his own, the SOC revokes Oscar’s government agent status to declare him public enemy number one.
Shadow Ops: Control Point is 1/3 in the Shadow Ops series.
“They want me to kill a child,” is the opening line in Shadow Ops: Control Point, which just sucked me in. That is a “wait, WTF is going on here” first line if I’ve ever read one.
And it just spins out of control, fast and furious from there. Control Point blazes hot, and scorches anyone in its path. It’s hard to keep track of what’s going on, and who’s doing what. Oh, and who’s the bad guy … no wait … good … no wait …
Oscar Britton has the rug yanked out from beneath him too many times, and after a while it gets tiresome. I feel sorry for the guy, he has to cope with so much immediate change it fucks with his decision making process at every turn. Everything he thought he knew and a life time of training are called into question the second he manifests a magical power he doesn’t understand and is forbidden by the government.
All the flip-flopping isn’t necessarily Britton’s fault, he’s just written that way. Honestly, it’s hard to have much faith in Britton, the government (contractor or otherwise), anyone who says they know how to help or fix things (except maybe for the token good guy Goblin called Marty).
At every turn, Britton is put in situations which cause him to question everything all at once, again. It gets to be a bit much. Maybe having a bomb implanted in his heart just causes Britton to make extremely bad decisions which lead to even more death and destruction until almost everything he’s come to depend on is gone, or dead.
And we, the readers, are left hanging in an unfinished story about a man in search of his own redemption. Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier, here I come.
Title: Binti, Binti: Home & Binti: Night Masquerade
Author: Nnedi Okorafor
Published: 2015, 2017 & 2017
ISBN-13: 9780765385253, 9780765393111, & 9780765393135
Publisher’s Blurb: Binti is a story about a brilliant young woman, and the responsibilities she bears: to her society, her family, and to herself. While travelling through space for the first time in her life, Binti must survive and adapt to an encounter with fascinating and deadly aliens.
“We Himba don’t travel. We stay put. Our ancestral land is life; move away from it and you diminish. We even cover our bodies with it. Otijize is red land.” (p. 13)
There’s no way anyone could prepare themselves for the times their self-identity bumps up against bigotry. This is one of the things I admire most about Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti Trilogy. In choosing the incidents which would populate Binti’s life, Okorafor chose to include the prejudices her traveler would encounter, both from outside and within herself.
It’s hard to write about this without cliches. Pain of all types makes us stronger, we hate when people say that to us, but there it is. The most incredible part of reading these books was the honesty with which Okorafor writes; of war, prejudice, outright hatred, ignorance, and fear. And that she managed to wrap it all up in 462 pages, while flinging us through the stars and back again is amazing to me.
I think what I want to say is no one is safe from prejudice or bigotry. It’s a part of the very fabric of being sentient (human). We are all different, we are all insecure about something and we all compare ourselves to others hoping to make ourselves feel better. This comparing and contrasting can make us even harder on ourselves for not having the life we imagine someone else has.
Binti is brilliant, and as self-aware as she can be at the age of 16. It’s frequently difficult to remember she is still a teenager, and lacks the maturity that only experience can proffer.
Along the way, she literally becomes a part of unlikely families. Some, like the Meduse, are another species altogether. Others, like the Desert People, turn out to have been family all along. They all play a part in her evolution, taking her on a journey which is more than just a university education. What she is taught along the way is she must be careful of her own prejudices, making sure they don’t keep her blind to the work she is destined for.
The story is almost magical, and nearly breathless, in some places. Nnedi Okorafor’s tight writing tells a big story which deals with complex issues. The character Binti studies the lessons we should all study. Learn to accept yourself, and others, as they are. Don’t force your set of rules onto someone else. Hesitate before you say or do something you’ll regret.
Most importantly, I think, is the lesson to face our fears and look deeply into the hard truths we don’t want to know. That way lies the harmony we all struggle to find.
This slender trilogy is a big story about an adolescent Himba girl who learns to stay grounded, fly among the rings of Saturn, fall in love, and forgive herself for the imagined pain she’s caused herself. Okorafor’s writing is splendid, and I’m looking forward to exploring her other books.
They by Janet Mason – Read The Art of Fiction by John Gardner ~ #LitCrit ~ Read Darkness Visible by William Styron The Annotated Alice – annotated by Martin Gardner Shadow Ops: Breach Zone by Myke Cole – Read We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates – read
Title: The Handmaid’s Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Publisher’s Blurb: The Handmaid’s Tale is a novel of such power that the reader will be unable to forget its image and its forecast. Set in the near future, it describes life in what was once the United States and is now called the Republic of Gilead, a monotheocracy that has reacted to social unrest and a sharply declining birthrate by reverting to, and going beyond, the repressive intolerance of the original Puritans. The Handmaid’s Tale is funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing. It is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and a tour de force.
“This is one of the most bizarre things that’s happened to me ever.” (p. 144)
“Gilead society was Byzantine to the extreme …” (p. 311)
This is my second time reading The Handmaid’s Tale, and it’s more terrifying to read in 2018 when basic reproductive rights are threatened by government. The juxtaposition of what is against what could be should send chills down every reader’s spines and give pause.
When democracies fail, totalitarianism fills the vacuum. The Republic of Gilead is formed as a “Christian” society based on the Old Testament. But, as in all things human, is hypocritical in this endeavor.
All citizens must convert to this warped government’s rule, or suffer the consequences. Neither Baptist nor Quakers are considered Christian enough. Jews are considered the “Sons of Jacob,” and allowed the choice to convert or move to Israel.
The most dangerous policy in Gilead is the treatment of women, especially those of child-bearing age who are used as proxies by the elite for childless married women.
The justification for this is quoted before the book even starts. The epigraph quotes Genesis 30: 1-3, the story of barren Rachel who tells her husband, Jacob, to go to her handmaid, Bilhah, and get children on her. This is the bedrock for the use of handmaids to repopulate Gilead.
And here, we read the basic hypocrisy of Gilead, supposedly based on the Old Testament but free to pick from the New Testament as well. Same as those in our world who cherry-pick the bible to prove their actions are sound.
And what of the misattributions? If intoned properly with authority, those too can be made to sound biblical. One of the Aunts tells the Handmaids, “They also serve who only stand and wait.” This is the last line of Milton’s “Sonnet 19,” a reflection on what Milton thinks God may want from him by making Milton blind.
And this from Karl Marx, “From each according to her ability, to each according to his needs.” Scholars disagree over the origin of this phrase, some believing it has a basis in the Acts of Paul in the New Testament. It’s my contention that the Marx version is the most well known, and therefore used to illustrate how policy is set by what’s most convenient to prove a point.
The darker motives of the elite can be found in Offred’s Commander’s wife, Serena Joy, obliquely suggesting there are other ways to get pregnant if the proscribed Ceremony isn’t working. A wink and a nod to excusing a Commander’s lack of viability and still providing the Wife with a child.
The Commanders provide themselves with relief from the child-bearing proscriptions of government with visits to the illicit club Jezebel‘s. Ironic because of the possessive, as if there was one Jezebel to whom the club belonged, not the elite men who make sure it operates.
Part Playboy Club, all underground brothel, Handmaids who don’t make the grade are given the choice to work at Jezebel’s or go to the Colonies where a painful death awaits them cleaning up toxic waste. While not widely advertised among the patrons of the club, it’s a relatively safe space for lesbians.
There is no biblical justification for the presence of Jezebel’s, or Jezebels, in Gilead but it is winked off by Offred’s Commander who, in essence, says “boys will be boys.” Only the elite men are allowed to blow off a little steam. Women are not allowed such a diversion. Neither are lower level men afforded this dispensation. Not even the single men have a legal outlet for their frustrations.
All this to say, duplicity is the name of the game in such dictatorial societies. It only matters when people get caught, as Offred does by the Commander’s Wife. It is occasions like these when the Eyes are called upon to remove the offenders from sight.
The ever present spies, who depend on the citizenry to catch, and report, all transgressions. Punishment to be doled out in such savage rituals as the Salvagings when the Handmaids and their pent up emotions are allowed to rage and put to death the wrong-doers. Dictatorships don’t need a balanced justice system, just a lot of angry citizens who need an outlet. Let the mob sort it out.
Rigidity leads to rebellion. Gilead is no different. A nascent underground moves women to some form of safety. The “femaleground” can also be justified as scriptural in the Exodus story of Moses, who rescued Jewish slaves from the Egyptian pharaoh. “Let my people go,” is a rallying cry for all who would work to see injustice righted.
For all who wince at the possibilities of Gilead becoming a reality, let it be a reminder that scripture, biblical or otherwise, can be twisted to justify everything under the sun. Margaret Atwood says she doesn’t consider her book SF/F dystopian because everything in the book has already happened in human history. That should terrify us all.