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Showing posts from 2020

My impression of NK Jemisin's World Building in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

  N.K. Jemisin brings many tools to her world-building, especially a focus on how power is distributed and contested by the clans of her peoples. The manifestation of power is evident throughout   The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms , but one illustration in particular is the division of nobles in the Consortium. Yeine comments on the inequity of their distribution, citing as an example that the city of Sky (including the palace) has one delegate, whereas the entirety of the High North continent has only two. A delegate’s task is “to speak for themselves and their neighboring lands,” but one fundamental question is whether the needs of these conquered nations can be accurately expressed in the only language of the Consortium: Senmite, the language of the Amn that “the Arameri had imposed… on the world” (ch 6). Jemisin mentions a number of peoples and languages in this first book of  The Inheritance Trilogy  including Nirva (a common tongue of the High North), the aforementioned Senmite, Tema

I Embrace the Keenest Foil

 My second book about Coda also stars a character of fluid sexuality, Saxi, streetwise, dangerous, and gently murderous. This is for NaNoWriMo and I'm writing 65000 words. Here's the progress so far: So the idea is to build up to it. I did this because I remember what happened to me in 2016, the last presidential election. I got knocked on my ass and had to play catch up. This time I am planning for it, so if it doesn't happen, it will just be easier. Right now, I'm just in front of where I need to be. If all goes well (for all of us), tomorrow I'll be pushing like crazy. :-)
The Revisioners by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton My rating: 5 of 5 stars A heartfelt intergenerational journey across two centuries of American history told from the perspective of two women, Ava & Josephine, whose families are victims of racism. The author uses the term "recycled racism" to describe their suffering, and it's precise. There are three narratives. Josephine is the daughter of a family in the antebellum South who are escaping slavery at Wildwood. She is also much later the matriarch of a family whose white neighbor wishes to befriend her (before she gets all kkklanish and sees Josephine as a beggar at the door). Ava, some 90 years later, also must dodge the strange demands of her white racist grandmother. Sexton does an amazing job of tracing the parallels of the paths of these two women. The prose combines pure poetry with a coarse heartbreaking tone that is soul-crushing. The characters become your old friends. It is sometimes hard going (because you kn

“That Bearing Boughs May Live”: What Did King Richard II Author for the World?

It is 2020, the Summer of #BlackLivesMatter, and this week, in a moment of uncommon synchronicity, the theater company who would (in another non-Covid-19 world) be performing at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park are instead presenting King Richard II to homebound Internet streamers. Today’s resonance of the Bard’s words testifies not only to word craft but also to boldness, for King Richard II articulates revolution against repressive political and theological systems. Moreover, its nuanced language cultivates sympathy, allowing us, in the words of Shakespeare scholar Ayanna Thompson, “to grieve the loss of something even if we think it’s the right thing to get rid of,” as pertinent to “Defund the Police” protesters as their counterparts in 1776 America, 1789 Paris, 1791 Haiti, and 1917 Moscow (The Public). King Richard II asks its audience to consider the legitimacy of overthrowing a Pope-anointed monarch without damning the usurper’s mortal soul, and within the play’s text, Ki

"Foul as Vulcan's Stithy": A Different Perspective on “The Mousetrap” and Its Intended Audience

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet illustrates how the dead can drive the living to fulfill their unfinished business. Armed with secrets of his murdered father’s specter, Hamlet conceives “The Mousetrap,” a play within a play, its stated purpose—"to catch the conscience of the king,” his uncle Claudius—though Hamlet himself sabotages his gambit during the performance (Shakespeare 2.2.606). This alone, however, should not measure its success, for Hamlet’s audience is wider. Queen Gertrude is also targeted by the piece. Indeed, she is the prince’s true focus, and there is no question here of Hamlet’s glorious success, the ramifications of which condemn them all to tragic death. Though Hamlet mourns his father, he is more disturbed by Gertrude’s choice to speedily remarry his uncle. Maquerlot proposes Hamlet’s “disgust at the world” is “generated by disgust at his mother” (98). Hamlet’s revulsion is most dramatically demonstrated when he requests “a passionate speech” he heard performed

My 2020 Hugo Ballot

I have finished my Hugo reading for the year. My eyes are so blurry, but I am brimming with happiness. Here are my choices along with a brief word on each category:  Best Novel  Gideon the Ninth , by Tamsyn Muir ( Publishing) The Light Brigade , by Kameron Hurley (Saga; Angry Robot UK) Middlegame , by Seanan McGuire ( Publishing) I read all 6 of the novels this year, and they were all spectacular. I would not argue against a vote for any of the others: the polar locked (both the planet and two characters)  The City in the Middle of the Night , by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor;Titan), the Leguinian dispossessing  A Memory Called Empire , by Arkady Martine (Tor; Tor UK), or the lyrical  The Ten Thousand Doors of January (Redhook; Orbit UK), by Alix E. Harrow. One reason I chose Gideon the Ninth  is because of its original voice. The protagonist is Gideon, the adopted cavalier of the Ninth House, who sees the world through a lens of sarcasm, tempered by humor, understandable in

To “Fall from Bias of Nature”: A Dissenting Opinion on Good Cordelia

There is an old German saying that an apple generally does not fall far from its tree. A pure nature versus nurture argument, it is usually reserved for decrying unpleasant traits inherited by a wicked person’s offspring, but this philosophy has uses for dramatists too; and in King Lear, Shakespeare often paints Goneril and Regan with the same brush. In the flattery contest of the opening scene, for example, they echo each other in manner and deed. Regan even makes the point that she is “made of that same metal as her [older] sister” (Lr 1.1.69). Younger Cordelia, may appear as an anomaly, claiming to be selfless and true, however a closer analysis reveals she shares many of the same characteristics with her sisters, especially in her capacity to petrify and emasculate, suppressing King Lear’s masculinity (not necessarily a bad thing) as she asserts her sex. Edgar, ironically by using deception, manifests a truer more selfless love. Cordelia is a sympathetic character who values hones

“By the Strength of Their Illusion”: Reflections on the Scottish Play

Macbeth by William Shakespeare My rating: 5 of 5 stars Although the signifier “mirror” is absent from Macbeth, and “glass” only appears twice, once as a prop instruction and once in dialogue, The Scottish Play fairly bristles with reflections, though like the mirrors of its time, they are somewhat deceptive. First, of course, is the mirror in the apparition shown by the three witches to the haunted king. Macbeth’s vision of Banquo’s kingly successors, especially “the eighth [who] appears, …bear[ing] a glass… show[ing]… many more” dooms his erstwhile ally (Mac. 4.1.118). The doctor and gentleman who watch Lady Macbeth sleepwalking in Act V, Scene I, are another mirror, this time reflecting the play’s audience. Finally, there are the transgressive mirrors addressed by Garber, those “taboo border crossings” (91) “between a thing and its reflection,” (93) such as “sleep/waking, male/female, life/death, fair/foul, heaven/hell, night/morning,” which pervade Macbeth, seasoning it with Umhei

A Book About John Bolton's Dereliction of Duty.

The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir by John R. Bolton My rating: 2 of 5 stars It is truly appalling that someone who purports to be a public servant would maintain silence in the face of so much corruption going on in the same room, however this review is not about John Bolton, but this book he has written. Bolton's perspective comes with the assumption he is the smartest person in the room. Everyone else is a dummy, inexperienced, or otherwise lacking the ability to perceive the nature of evil in the world. That may be what he is going for, but he just comes off as a monstrous, spiteful, warmongering chickenhawk. All of his choices rely on using sticks, and he has no flexibility at all. Therefore, as a diplomat, he is a useless ass, but there is such a lack of self-awareness that you watch him patting himself on the back with "clever" tactics to avoid responsibility and accountability, dodging here and there, always aiming higher, always just a little bit

Finding Redemption in the Deep

The Deep by Rivers Solomon My rating: 4 of 5 stars Trying to do this without spoiling it for you, so bear with me. I'm not going to reveal too much more than the synopsis. First, I really liked the root concept of the story, the origins of the Wajinru, the merpeople. Solomon creates a compelling story of their parallel development with the "two-legs" (humans) and puts her main character Yetu in a predicament that defines whether her species will survive. The story raises many questions about the role of history in indigenous people, and even the survival of languages and artifacts when all the people are gone. Second, I love the gender bending romance in the middle. It added a necessary stake after the story had stalled for reasons better left to Yetu to explain. I had difficulty connecting with Yetu, but she is, after all, an alien, because I am a Two-leg, so this is actually an example of good writing making me uncomfortable. The only issue I had with the story is ho


Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn.

The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft My rating: 5 of 5 stars "That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die." The Call of Cthulhu is a feast of creepiness told in colorful language, which is only flawed by Lovecraft's primitive obsession with physiognomy and base racism. I view it as funny, because they are (to quote HP himself) "obsolete and ridiculous," but I sympathize with people of color who read this and have to deal with dismissive references to such things as Negro fetishism. The story itself is almost without a plot, just a report of a horror of the odious being that the sailors rouse from its sleep. The prose is circuitous and leisurely, but Lovecraft's imagination is perturbing and vision resolves clear in the end, and it's scary. Really scary. View all my reviews

Pornland is Informative But Also As Boring As Porn

Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality by Gail Dines My rating: 2 of 5 stars Dines's book is an excursion into the destructive nature of pornography on our society. It hits some of the problem on the head, especially the violence of the gonzo olympics. However, the book is flawed in that Dines enters the discussion with a set of beliefs about what is normal/anormal, right/wrong, and acceptable/unacceptable. Sex is fuzzy and illogical, and there is no one qualified to set moral standards. Also, part of the problem is how society treats people that pass through the mill, and, honestly, this book doesn't help. I would prefer the judgmental aspects about which acts are barbaric or not to have been left out, because it gets preachy fast, and who am I (and who is Gail Dines?) to tell someone about their sexuality? When the book discusses the violence, the exploitation, and the capitalistic drive of the industry, it does a lot better. I took a full star away, because after s

Leviathan Wakes (First story of The Expanse)

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey My rating: 5 of 5 stars A good story set against a brilliant vision of the future solar system. I love the setting so much, especially all the political interplay. The characters were a bit of a reach for me at first, especially Miller's obsession with the dead girl. I get the career cop angle, the need to solve the case, but sometimes it got a little creepy, especially because Miller was so damaged. By the middle of the story, after the arcs come together in a moment of delicious pov storytelling (master stroke!), the focus resolves better, and Miller ascends. Holden's crew is great too, and I like Fred & Julie too. Suddenly I'm really enjoying the story (with all the political machinations and interplanetary stratagems) because of the characters and their motivations. The story takes off at this point, and you must grip tight. It's really impossible to put down, and I am so excited, because... there are so many more stories i