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.
Title: The Mortal Word
Author: Genevieve Cogman
Publisher’s Blurb: When a dragon is murdered at a peace conference, time-travelling Librarian spy Irene must solve the case to keep the balance between order, chaos…and the Library.
In The Mortal Word’s 1890s Paris the Grand Guignol is in full swing. Terror in its most “natural” state, precursor to B movies promising to be so frightening a doctor and nurse would be on standby for viewers who succumbed to their terror.
When several murders and other atrocities occur accusations fly. Terrifying things happen that might disrupt the Paris Peace Treaty between fae and dragon, mediated by humans, who better to blame than the Blood Countess?
Elizabeth Báthory, historically known for torturing her victims and bathing in the blood of virgins, is high chaos. With her in the story, the poisoning, the chlorine gas bomb, the mysterious clues to L’Enfer all too easily deflect attention away from the real murderer, and the political reasoning behind it.
Of course, the Blood Countess did all those things, and more. She terrifies others because it is in her nature. Disrupting the peace conference is fun and games for her, not politics. Yet, she has stirred the pot. And in stirring the pot, becomes the favored target of the political gamesmanship of fae and dragon.
Eventually, the evidence leads to the Grand Guignol theatre, and a basement chamber suitable for use by someone who tortures and kidnaps for fun. Staged terror and real terror in the same building, nothing could be more perfect. Here, the reader is led to believe, is the denouement of the story. Now, we will learn why and how the Blood Countess terrified both fae and dragon over a peace conference.
I got so carried along, i almost missed the siren call of the red herring. As despicable and terrifying as the Blood Countess is, other evidence points other ways. When calmer minds prevail and re-organize the evidence, the real killer comes to light.
To mystery readers, this may sound like standard fare. Let me assure you there’s nothing standard about Cogman’s characters. In her hands, and through Irene’s eyes, we are shown just how tricky it is to think clearly when a fae is trying to hold her in thrall. Dragons are tricky in their own way, with their rigid hierarchy and societal rules. And within this world, a character like the Blood Countess can thrive and both be guilty and not at the same time.
The Invisible Library series is inter-dimensional library, Librarians stealing books to keep chaos and order in balance, dragons, fae, alternate timelines, and so much more. It’s a pleasurable read, even when the villains are as terrifying as the Blood Countess.
Title: God’s War
Series: 1st of 3
Author: Kameron Hurley
Publisher: Nightshade Books
Publisher’s Blurb: Nyx is a former government assassin who makes a living cutting off heads for cash. But when a dubious deal between her government and an alien gene pirate goes bad, Nyx’s ugly past makes her the top pick for a covert recovery. The head they want her to bring home could end the war — but at what price?
God’s War is the first of three books in the Bel Dame Apocrypha series.
I long for the day when we don’t have to think about feminist or masculine tropes, that we can write and read good stories without the heavy load of “male gaze” or “women don’t/shouldn’t do that” (same goes for men). It seems unfair to have to point out that Kameron Hurley’s work is uniquely feminist, and that her reasons for being so amount to “enough is enough, women can too do that.”
It’s unfair because Hurley is a damned fine storyteller. She has said repeatedly she’s written characters like Nyx based on Conan the Barbarian and Mad Max. Her bookThe Geek Feminist Revolutionhas two essays which specifically address this. Hurley makes it clear that if a male protagonist can do it, so can a female protagonist.
And that’s how we got Nyx, the badass who can take on Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Nyx is a nasty piece of work, and she is everything a hero/antihero needs to be.
God does not answer the phone
If the goal of feminism is for women to be treated equally to men, then Kameron Hurley’s God’s War succeeds in many ways. In her world, women are in charge and visible at every level of society. As she tells the story, “bēl damê, [is] an old Assyrian/Babylonian term for a blood avenger … ‘owner of the blood’ and ‘collector of blood debt.’” She wanted to write about a bel dame in disgrace. Nyx hobbles through the world taking any contract that will pay the days’ bills.
If feminism is about being seen and heard, then nearly all the women who populate Nyx’s world have succeeded. But sexism still exists. Never mind the details, the women are the sexists in this world. They leer and catcall just like any ill-mannered male in other books.
What’s striking to me is while Hurley has turned the anti-hero trope on its head by making women the lead characters in a dismal, apocalyptic world, she does not give women a pass on bad behavior. These women are so far from prim and proper, and polite, it’s laughable. Yet Hurley is making a point, that women can hold the plot of such a story just as well as men. Women are in every corner of society, just trying to get along to the next day.
The main thrust of the plot is an alien gene pirate has landed and threatens any potential of “balance” in this world. It’s presumed her ancestors had a part in starting this war centuries ago for reasons no one remembers anymore. The pirate becomes a wanted woman and the queen calls on Nyx to deliver her head.
That’s what bounty hunters do, they behead and deliver it to the contract holder. Or they kill outright. But they only get paid if they follow the contract’s instructions to the letter.
So think about this, Nyx is a woman mercenary who’s good at tracking and killing people. She’s been kicked out of the guild of government paid assassins because even they couldn’t handle her. She’s given up her ability to transport zygotes in her uterus because she sold it for money to get to the next stop, wherever that might be. This is who she is, what she has become. And she has no illusions about her place in life. And the queen calls on her, not the bel dame, to find and behead an alien.
Politics being what they are, Nyx discovers hidden agendas and wanders into fights, literal and figurative, which call everything she knows about who she is and what she’s fighting for into question. In the end, people die or are banished. Nyx argues with the Queen over ideology and realizes, just as the rest of us do, there are no happy endings. We just keep going on.
Every one of the characters in God’s War are broken. There’s no repairing them, and most know it. Hurley does not spare us from the atrocities of warfare, sexism, and politics. She builds a world in which a paid assassin, part of a guild, would break under the burdens one must bear just to get through.
And although it was slow to get started, and it is bleak and horrifying, I found God’s War to be a good story. Which is what all readers are looking for, isn’t it? And thank you Kameron Hurley for making this the feminist apocalyptic story it is. Women can be just as badass as men, if not more so, and deserve the chance to tell their stories.
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