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[personal profile] yatima
(Hi! I'm new here. Let's jump in.)

Kel Cheris is a gifted mathematician underemployed as an infantry officer. Shuos Jedao is the technological ghost of a genocidal general. Together, they fight crime, where "crime" is defined as heresy against the calendar. In Yoon Ha Lee's brilliant device, a calendar is a social contract from which physics - and hence, weaponry - flow. Calendrical heresy disables these weapons and thus undermines the power of the state.

If you love bold, original world-building, reflections on colonialism, and complicated relationships between clever protagonists who have every reason to distrust one another, you'll eat up the Machineries of Empire series as avidly as I did. If military SF and n-dimensional chess sound like a bit of a slog, see if you can stick with it anyway. The language and imagery are utterly gorgeous, and these very timely stories have a great deal to say about complicity, responsibility, and the mechanisms of societal control.
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[personal profile] brainwane
I read The Underground Railroad in 2016. I thought it was engaging, moving, and accessible,* and I nominated it for a Hugo Award (Best Novel).

Na'amen Gobert Tilahun reviewed Underground Airlines as well as The Underground Railroad in Strange Horizons and discussed several aspects of both books. That review mentions speculative elements in Whitehead's book beyond the railroad mentioned in the title, in case you are wary of spoilers.

I have read John Henry Days, The Intuitionist, and I think at least one other Whitehead book, and am trying to reflect on how Whitehead approaches and uses the railroad, because I think it's different than the way a lot of speculative fiction authors do, and has more in common with how other mimetic fiction authors tend to use speculative premises. I want to compare The Underground Railroad to Never Let Me Go, where the story doesn't concentrate on (or, sometimes, even mention) the origin story of the big plot premise, and instead the story is entirely about the lives of people living or resisting -- just for themselves, to survive or thrive -- within that system.

* I think Whitehead deliberately works to make the book accessible to people who have not previously read slave narratives, fictional or nonfiction -- I think he spells out subtext more often than he would if he assumed the reader had more of a grounding in antebellum history or the history of anti-black racism in the US.
kaberett: A drawing of a black woman holding her right hand, minus a ring finger, in front of her face. "Oh, that. I cut it  off." (molly - cut it off)
[personal profile] kaberett
This came into my possession via the latest Humble Ebook Bundle, and I am so glad it did. This is how glad I am: I am about two-thirds of the way through it and I can't wait to finish before I tell you all how good it is.

The protagonist, Hanna, is sixteen, manic depressive (and explicitly, canonically prefers that descriptor to "bipolar", Because Reasons), and Finnish-"island girl" (Hawaiian?), raised (for most of her life) in Dallas. She describes herself as biracial and bicultural, and she's bilingual in English and Finnish - and the codeswitching is genuinely plausibly represented.

The dude she ends up hanging around with a lot is the same age, Latino, and bilingual in Spanish and English - again, really nicely represented.

The story takes place in creepy smalltown Texas. It's sub/urban fantasy and abusive parents and a critique of the medical-industrial complex and teenagers having (complicated, not always happy) sex lives all tied up in tight, funny monster-killing brilliance. It's lovely.

Content notes. )
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[personal profile] delfinnium
(recommended to link here by Deepad. First post, first review thing!)

Thanks to [personal profile] deepad, I'm currently reading the series Gameworld Trilogy by Samit Basu. (can be found here. It can be bought here!)

And it does start off a little slow, in the beginning, especially if you're like me, and have very little familarity with the Ramayan other than a very vauge understanding of 'something happens, Demons evil attack! Princess is involved, there is a vanar, Lord of monkeys and a damn good archer, involved somewhere, there is a lot of fire, and a chariot happens to be there somewhere', you might be a little thrown by all the terms there.

And it's GOOD!

I like that!

I mean there are some books (like the God of War series) that use terms so obscure and strange that it is hard to actually understand what is going on in the world unless you read it several times (and I'm not so sure I'm drawn into it), but this world is not like that!

I mean there are creatures whom you don't know what they are - vaman, pashan, vanar (though since I know passingly from School the ramayana, i know what vanar are), khuldran, and so on and so forth, and Samit doesn't explain, not at first.

But then as the story opens up, you start to realise what they are. Vaman are the equivalent of dwarves, vanar are monkeys/apes, pashan seem to be troll types, asur are... I'm not sure what they are, really, other than that no one likes them and they do all the dirty shitty jobs that no one wants.

( Yet longer incoherent flailing review here! )

Just.

You like POC cultures and fantasy? Sick of male dominated Generic White Medieval Fantasy?

THIS WILL BLOW YOUR SOCKS.

Genre: SFF, fantasy, parody
Subject: parody, trope inversion, non-white fantasy
Author nationality/ethnicity: Indian
 
sumofparts: picture of books with text 'books are humanity in print' (books)
[personal profile] sumofparts
I finished my second set of 50, yay and started a new set. Below are some thoughts on the books.

Remainder of second set:
39. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
40. A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee
41. Orange Mint and Honey by Carleen Brice
42. Zone One by Colson Whitehead
43. The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd
44. The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi
45. Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai
46. Snakes and Ladders by Gita Mehta
47. The End of East by Jen Sookfong Lee
48. Beijing Confidential by Jan Wong
49. Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre
50. Brick Lane by Monica Ali
New set:
1. Decoded by Jay-Z

Cut for length )
snowynight: Kino in a suit with brown background (Default)
[personal profile] snowynight
Title: 滅亡三部曲 Mie Man San Bu Ku Destruction trilogy
Author: 張草 Zhang Chao
Author Nationality and race: Chinese
Language: Chinese
Genre: Fiction
Length: novel
Subject: Science fiction
Summary: In the future, The Earth Alliance sent a pure breed Chinese back to the past to study history, and thus started an epic journey that spanned history.
Review: Extensive world building, wonderful use of time travel. A science fiction classic.
Link: 北京滅亡, 諸神滅亡, 明日滅亡
inkstone: the cover of an old book with ragged edges next to some flowers (reading: old books)
[personal profile] inkstone
This is a debut young adult novel and is that rare breed of dystopian that's more action-driven in terms of the plot. Think more Hunger Games, less Delirium.

The basic set-up is that some catastrophe happened and in the aftermath, the western coast of the U.S. broke off and formed the Republic. The Republic is under the totalitarian rule of a dictator who's been in power for 44 years. The Republic is at constant war with the Colonies. I never quite figured out who the Colonies were -- I couldn't tell if they meant a different country (like Mexico or Canada) or if they meant the rest of what was once the United States. I'm thinking the latter but it's never explicitly spelled out although I could have missed it. There are also these rebels called Patriots, who believe the United States once existed. (In this reality, everyone thinks the United States is just a legend and never existed.)

The story is about the Republic prodigy, June Iparis. She scored a perfect 1500 on the test that essentially determines the rest of her life and is well on her way to having a distinguished career in the military. But when her brother, a military officer, dies in the line of duty, she graduates early and becomes the youngest detective agent ever. To test her, they send her after Day, the Republic's most infamous criminal, who's in desperate straits because his younger brother has been infected by the plague. (The plague is a highly mutable virus that sweeps through the slums on an annual basis.)

The book is pretty predictable. Though I can see why it'd be considered pretty original if the other books in its category are more introspective and emotionally driven like Delirium, Matched, and Wither. But despite the fact I could pretty much tell where we were going, I did enjoy reading it.

I wish we could see have seen more done with the genetic engineering being conducted by the Republic's regime. The way it's handled here is kind of throwaway but it really shouldn't be since it's the main reason why June and Day are on opposite sides of the law!

My other complaint has to do with the fact that, of course, it's the guy (Day) who's right about things and it's the girl (June) who needs to be enlightened in order to get onto the right path. It'd be nice if we could have that plot point gender-reversed once in a while. I'm failing to think of a YA book where it's the guy who's aligned with the sketchy, evil people and the girl who's just trying to do what's right.

On a side note, Day is biracial (Asian/white) and so is June. (Day thinks June is part Native -- which I assume means Native American and would support how her hair is constantly described in the book.) Their race has no bearing on the story but I thought I'd mention it.
dorothean: detail of painting of Gandalf, Frodo, and Gimli at the Gates of Moria, trying to figure out how to open them (Default)
[personal profile] dorothean
I read Ash when it came out, but was trying to prevent myself from buying books when Huntress came out, so it passed me by. Then I realized my library had it! So I re-read Ash (actually enjoyed it better the second time around) and then read Huntress. And halfway through, I ordered a copy of Huntress for myself, because I'll definitely want to read that again, too.

No-spoiler reviews on Goodreads: Ash and Huntress.

I really loved both of these, but at the same time noticed a lot of flaws. In Ash, it's mostly that the character Ash is rather stiff and remote, and her feelings about the King's Huntress are not as vivid as they might be. I think the technical problems of Huntress (which I described in the Goodreads review) come from the same source -- Lo is trying to evoke the feel of a fairy tale while writing a novel. She succeeds pretty well overall, but it's tricky because in novels, so much depends on learning deeply about the characters and their relationships, whereas those don't matter in fairy tales. Part of what makes a fairy tale what it is is that things happen just because that's how they happen. Filling in human motivations can make the story less of a fairy tale.

Mostly, though: I love how in Ash, Cinderella's fairy godmother becomes a dangerous temptation. And how in Huntress, dreaming you love someone can change your life.
snowynight: Kino in a suit with brown background (Default)
[personal profile] snowynight
Book 7
Title: 蟲と眼球とテディベア| Bug, Eyeball, Teddybear
Author: 日日日
Author Nationality and race: Japanese
Language: Japanese
Genre: Fiction
Length: novel
Subject: Fantasy
Summary: The ordinary life of a teacher and his student lover is abruptly interrupted by a girl who uses a spoon as a weapon. Then three of them are involved in an incident surrounding "The apple of God"
Review: As the beginning of a fantasy series, this novel captures my attention with its fast rhythm and intriguing mystery. I'll follow the series.
Link to Amazon.co.jp

Book 8
Title: ジョニー・ザ・ラビット|Johnny Love Rabbit
Author: 東山彰良
Author Nationality and race: Japanese
Language: Japanese
Genre: Fiction
Length: novel
Subject: Fantasy Noir
Summary: "You should aim to be sahara if you are a flower; you should aim to be Johnny if you are a man."

  “Love is playing Italian folk song while holding a gun."
  "Love,the petrol to let me to be Johnny Rabbit,LOVE,my middle name that I 'll never regret.”

  Go! Johnny! Go! Go!
  What's love? What's pride? What's life?

Review:
Rabbit and hardboiled fiction seem to be two path that should never meet, but the author successfully creates Johnny Rabbit, who's a totally a hardboiled PI, a knight who walks on a mean street and a complete rabbit. It makes the story insightful. It has a bitter sense of humour, and a story that's among the good of noir.
Link to Amazon.co.jp


snowynight: Ultimate Jan in her Wasp form (Ultimate Jan)
[personal profile] snowynight
Book 4
Title: 失落大陸|The Lost Continent| Si Luo Da Lu
Author: 多木木多|Duo Mu Mu Duo
Author Nationality and race: Chinese
Language: Chinese
Genre: Fiction
Length: novel
Subject: Fantasy

Scifi Post-colonial version of Robinson Crusoe )

Book 5
Title: 麒麟!Qi lin
Author: 桔子樹|Ji je Shu
Author Nationality and race: Chinese
Language: Chinese
Genre: Fiction
Length: novel
Subject: Military

Chiniese military fiction about men and mission )

Book 6
Title: 诺亚动物诊所病历记录簿(第一季)| Nuo Ya Dung Wu Zhen Suo Bing Li Ji Lu Bu (Di yi gui) | Noah Animal Clinic medical record
Author: live
Author Nationality and race: Chinese
Language: Chinese
Genre: Fiction
Length: novel
Subject: Fantasy

An animal clinic for mythological creatures )
snowynight: Kino in a suit with brown background (Kino)
[personal profile] snowynight
Title: Ballad of a Shinigami
Author: K-Ske Hasegawa
Author Nationality and race: Japanese
Original language: Japanese
Publish place: Japan
Genre: Fiction
Length: novel
Subject: Fantasy

Amazon summary:Momo is a shinigami (a Grim Reaper), the messenger of death. Unlike the scary dark cloaked man holding a sickle, she is draped in gleaming white--her gown, sickle, hair and all. Accompanied by a black cat named Daniel, Momo takes up a mission to convey human souls to the Great Beyond. She appears before dying people and relieves them from their mortal fears, but she also comforts those who suffer the anguish of losing loved ones in tragedies.

Review: The summary doesn't do the book justice It's more a series of stories linked together by  Momo the shinigami. It sometimes deals with heavy subject such as family abuse but the tone's never overly maudlin. Recommended.

Link to the book on Amazon:


inkstone: the cover of an old book with ragged edges next to some flowers (reading: old books)
[personal profile] inkstone
This is the fourth novel in Michelle Sagara's (writing under the Michelle West name) House War series, which in turn is part of her larger traditional fantasy milieu about the continuing struggle against the impending arrival of the Lord of Hell. While the previous three novels in this particular series filled in the gaps of Jewel's background and past, this book is set in the present timeline.

While I liked the previous three books well enough -- especially the first one though not so much the third -- this book reminds me of why I love Michelle West's brand of epic fantasy. Unlike the previous three books, you don't know what's going to happen so there's a lot more dramatic tension which suits her narrative style. You can see the groundwork being laid down for the end of the world, although we're a few books away from that yet.

In this book, Jewel (finally) comes into her own as her house prepares the funeral rites for their fallen lord, The Terafin. There's the usual demonic interference, magical battles and since it's Jewel, we learn more about the kind of powers the seerborn of old used to have. We also learn a little more about Haval's background -- or rather, a lot more -- and it confirms why he's so good at he does. (And I'm not talking about the dressmaking.) The talking cats make a return and while I can understand why some people would find them twee, they cracked me up and lighten what would otherwise be such a solemn, griefstricken book. They acted so much like cats: "I'm bored. Entertain me!!"

As a reader who was a little disappointed by the last book in this series, this one really re-energized my interest again so I'm really excited to see what happens next. Unfortunately, the next installment is not due out for another year. Le sigh.

On the downside, it would be nice if the cover artist would try to take into consideration that Jewel is biracial in this world's context and unless I've been reading the books wrong all these years, actually has darker skin than that.

[Mods: As you can see, I tried to tag this post but I must not be awake yet this morning because I'm not entirely confident I did it correctly despite having read the FAQ. D:]
snowynight: Kino in a suit with brown background (Sailor Mercury)
[personal profile] snowynight
Title: Ghost Hunt  vol. 1
Author: Fuyumi Ono
Author Nationality and race: Japanese
Original language: Japanese
Publish place: Japan
Genre: Fiction
Length: novel
Subject: Fantasy

Amazon summary: Meet the members of the Shibuya Psychic Research Centre - an agency specialising in the investigation of paranormal activity...

Review: The beginning of the book is a bit slow, as it's mostly set up, but when I continue I'm hooked by the banter, the comedy and the solid mystery. I think I'll continue reading the series.

Link to Amazon

ext_48823: 42, the answer to life, the universe and everything (Default)
[identity profile] sumofparts.livejournal.com
Haven't posted in a while. Here's a series of mini-reviews with some spoilers. Also, some of the books contain potentially triggering content.

6. Un-Nappily in Love by Trisha R. Thomas
7. Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
8. Tracks by Louise Erdrich
9. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
10. Umbrella by Taro Yashima
11. Little Joy by Ruowen Wang
12. Why War is Never a Good Idea by Alice Walker
13. Erika-san by Allen Say
14. Dahanu Road by Anosh Irani
15. What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell
16. The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez
17. In the Company of Ogres by A. Lee Martinez
18. Gil's All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez
19. Divine Misfortune by A. Lee Martinez
20. Monster by A. Lee  Martinez
21. Certainty by Madeleine Thien
22. So Long Been Dreaming edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan
23. A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo
24. Too Many Curses by A. Lee Martinez
25. A Nameless Witch by A. Lee Martinez
26. A Person of Interest by Susan Choi
27. Apex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead

Mention (not counted)
Josias, Hold the Book by Jennifer Riesmeyer Elvgren (white); illustrated by Nicole Tadgell (person of colour)

Read more... )
[identity profile] ms-mmelissa.livejournal.com
The Lifecycle of Software Objects may be a novella, but its story stretches out over years, with Chiang providing a compelling narrative which leads us through the early years in the life of several digients, i.e. computer software avatars imbued with artificial intelligence. The story begins with their creation and development as overseen by two people who work at Blue Gamma, the company that creates them: Ana and Derek. Both are impressed with the technology and quickly become attached to the childish avatars. While the digients are a success, their popularity is short-lived. Being first generation digients they quickly become unpopular and out-moded. While most are quick to abandon their digients, Ana and Derek adopt some and develop a child-parent bond with these cyber creatures, eventually proving they will do almost anything to ensure their safety even as the online world limits their choices.

There is a curious lack of sensory detail in the book. This has been a frustrating feature of Chiang's previous work, but the absence is particularly felt here, when the differences between the flatness of the online world and the richness of the real world is made so apparent. In Chiang's world the digients are able to transcend the online world by downloading their software into a robot body which allows them to interact with their trainers in a new way. Ana, training her future digient adoptee, is hugged by him in his robot form, an obviously emotional moment. Later the narrator notes that Not surprisingly, the sensor pads in the robot's fingers are the first thing that needs replacement. In the world of the novella, the avatars become enchanted by the real world, craving time in the robot suit so that they can feel. Unfortunately, Chiang's world is devoid of any richness in detail which leaves an uncomfortable void running through the novella. There are also some truly terrible transitions. The story flips through the years at a brisk pace, but Chiang often chooses to convey this with the phrase A year passed which seems clumsy the first time it is used and downright annoying by the sixth or seventh time. 

What Chiang does excellently though is track the decline and fall of the digients. There is an undercurrent of sweetness and nostalgia running through the book. The more time and energy their care-givers give to the digients and the more self-aware and intelligent they become, the better they are able to realize that software incompatibilities mean that their world is rapidly shrinking. The ugly choices that Ana and Derek consider in order to give them a full "life" are devastating and would have seemed even more so if only Chiang had spent a little more time on the emotional and a little less of the scientific.
[identity profile] ms-mmelissa.livejournal.com
Stories of Your Life & Others boasts an incredible pedigree and came to me highly recommended from a wide variety of individuals. Virtually every story in the book has been previously published by a big name literary magazine (Asimov's, Omni, etc) and have won awards. I came to the book with high expectations and was left  disappointed. 

The problem with Stories of Your Life is one that is often levelled at sci-fi writers by its detractors; the ideas are good, the writing is flat. In fact, in this case, their often isn't much of a story there at all. In Understand a man becomes hyper intelligent as a result of a clinical drug study. The story is about 40 pages long and a good 35 of those is spent simply describing the man's new found intelligence. Some conflict does eventually arise (a great conflict in fact), but is quickly dealt with in the last few pages of the story. This is pretty much the problem with the rest of the stories in the book. Chiang may be great at coming up with new worlds and interesting concepts, but he is flat out terrible at building a story. 

There are a few stories in the collection that manage to escape this tendency of Chiang's to get lost in the science of things. Tower of Babylon, based on the bible story of the Tower of Babel, is interesting and gripping and comes together in a great way. Story of Your Life is messy, but the execution is interesting, even if it's not perfect. 

One thing I did appreciate about the book is that there is a section of notes in the back where Chiang talks a little bit about the inspiration behind each story. They're never more than a few paragraphs long, but I thought they were a great addition to the book.

sanguinity: woodcut by M.C. Escher, "Snakes" (Default)
[personal profile] sanguinity
I'm going to be doing a little flurry of lists as I post all the books that I never got around to doing full reviews of last year. (Usually not for lack of interest, but lack of time.)

Most of this list was assigned as part of a course on Indigenous Futurisms. The professor identified both Nalo Hopkinson and Andrea Hairston as Black Indians, but I do not have any information about their tribal affiliations. (ETA: see comments, neither Andrea Hairston nor Nalo Hopkinson self-identifies as indigenous.)


Andrea Hairston, Mindscape.
Flashy, wild, post-apocalyptic fiction wherein West Africa is the graceful society to aspire to, and the southwestern U.S. is a failed state run by studio ganglords. Ghost-dancers, “ethnic throwbacks”, science v. magical realism, heroes v. survivors, intrigue, double-crossing, and the kind of moral dilemmas where no one gets out clean. Heartily recommended, with two caveats: complex enough that by page 200 I was lost and had to start over again, and the final resolution about the Barrier didn’t live up to my expectations.


William Sanders (Cherokee), Are We Having Fun Yet?
With the exception of “The Undiscovered” (Shakespeare writes Hamlet among the Cherokee), I would only recommend this collection to someone who either 1) is nostalgic for Heinlein’s knows-better-than-you crankiness, or 2) is in specific need of some Cherokee-themed spec-fic. Some of the stories are Cherokee riffs on stories you already know (Devil Went Down to Georgia; The Lottery); others never found a market because of various flaws. I enjoyed the collection, but my enjoyment is definitely idiosyncratic. (NB: William Sanders. William Sanders.)


Drew Hayden Taylor (Ojibwa), The Night Wanderer.
Story of a girl from a small Ontario reserve and the Ojibwa vampire who has come to rent a room in the family basement, on what is his first return to Ojibwa land since his siring in Europe, centuries before. In a twist on most vampire stories, this vampire is a walking time-capsule: he knows things about Ojibwa traditions and language that have been long since been lost. So this is not just a vampire story, but also a story about the fraught relationship of contemporary Indians to their cultural traditions and pre-colonization ancestors. Unfortunately, the author’s playwright roots show through, and I fear that he has left no room for sequels. Because I woulda liked some sequels.


Gerald Vizenor (Chippewa), Bearheart: The Heirship Chronicles.
AIM-era classic of American Indian literature, but oh, I loathed this. Post-peak-oil apocalyptic roadtrip from upper Minnesota to New Mexico, with larger themes warning against confusing the trappings of Indian identity with Indian identity itself, or against getting too attached to any one story of self. As for my loathing: misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, and ablist, with victim-blaming for child abuse, rape, and murder. Still looking for the Vizenor book that I don’t hate.


Tomson Highway (Cree), Kiss of the Fur Queen.
A deeply painful read: residential schools, anti-Indian racism, and the AIDS epidemic. But a deeply beautiful read, too: some of the imagery from this book will stay with me forever. (Note: does not read as spec-fic for me.)


Nalo Hopkinson
Midnight Robber
Science fiction that addresses colonialism head-on! One of the two worlds is settled by Caribbean islanders who took to space to escape postcolonial dynamics on Earth; the second world is the first’s penal colony, which is engaging in settler colonialism against the indigenous population. There is much that I love about where Hopkinson went with this. (Bonus: non-heteronormative society! Also, written right up the middle of the SF genre, for those who like SF that's right up the middle of the genre.)

The New Moon’s Arms
Realist fantasy with merpeople, selkies and time-travel (kinda) intertwining with the lingering effects of slavery in the Caribbean. Main character’s homophobia (not endorsed in the text) was hard for me to take.

(ed.)So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction
I only wish that more of these authors had been new to me, or that there hadn’t been so many pieces that were early outtakes of novels that I had already read. While I very much enjoyed the anthology (yay!), I’m left with the lingering impression that circa 2004, postcolonial SF was a small, small field. (But it has been growing exponentially since! Yay!)


Additionally, but which I reviewed previously, Stephen Graham Jones, The Fast Red Road and The Bird is Gone.

...and I'm happy to discuss any of the above at more length.

(Tags: native-american, indigenous peoples, first-nations, science fiction, fantasy, short stories, cree, anishinaabe/ojibwe/chippewa, cherokee, black indian, canada, caribbean)
rydra_wong: Lee Miller photo showing two women wearing metal fire masks in England during WWII. (still IBARW)
[personal profile] rydra_wong
There are books you can't put down, and then there are books you put down a third of the way through so that you can run to the computer and start ordering more books by the same author. The Intuitionist is that good.

I don't know whether this should be counted as sf/f, slipstream, magical realism, or something else altogether: its very own genre of lucid-dreaming surreal noir, a vision of a city that might be New York riven by the conflict between rival schools of elevator inspectors, the Empiricists with their faith in dutiful physical inspection and the Intuitionists who aspire to sense defects by tuning into the the soul of the machine itself.

Lila Mae Watson is the first "colored" woman (the book is set in what feels like the '40s or '50s) to become an elevator inspector - and she's an Intuitionist. When an elevator she inspected inexplicably goes into freefall, she finds herself at the centre of a web of political intrigue, where race, class, secrecy and mysticism intersect in the hunt for the "black box": the design for a perfect elevator.

Lila Mae is a fantastic protagonist: dour, self-contained, and, like the novel, utterly herself. But what makes the novel absolutely compelling is the narrative voice. Something like Don DeLillo, something like Walter Mosley (who contributed a well-deserved blurb), and a lot that's all Whitehead's own. This doesn't read like the first novel it is; it's unhesitatingly confident and polished in its idiosyncrasies:

Anyway, slept. In the biggest bed she has ever slept in, swimmable, Lila Mae buoyant despite her negligible body fat (a skinny one, she is). The bed possesses an undertow conducive to dreaming, but she doesn't remember her dreams when she wakes. On waking, her half-dreaming consciousness segues into a recollection of her visit to the Fanny Briggs building. It was simple: that's what Lila Mae is thinking about in her room at 117 Second Avenue.
[identity profile] into-desire.livejournal.com
Hi! I read a lot. I started keeping a list at the beginning of 2007, just out of curiosity, and I think the record-keeping made me read more. It's a vicious cycle, really.

I started off the year reading books by women of color. I read five in a row, then got distracted. Counting back now, it turns out that of the 133 books I've read so far, only 13 of them are by African-American or African authors. I've read another 12 by Japanese and Chinese authors, but 10 of those are the Petshop of Horrors manga series. So this community has a good goal for me.

Here's what I've read in 2007 by authors of color (apart from manga):

(1-4) Octavia E. Butler: Parable of the Sower, Parable of the Talents, Kindred, and Fledgling. Her world-building, that takes into consideration race, class, age and gender, is really refreshing after the sort of good-old-boy scifi where the (young, sexy, white) women mainly lounge around in spandex and/or armored bras. Fledgling is a really interesting take on vampires.

(5) Ayaan Hirsi Ali: The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam. A passionate, important, and highly experienced voice on a pressing issue.

(6) Sapphire: Push: A Novel. Sapphire is mainly a poet but I found her first novel gripping and thought-provoking. It draws on The Color Purple quite a lot so I wish I'd read that first.

(7) Alice Walker: The Color Purple. I felt very ... friendly to everyone in this novel by the time I'd finished it. And deeply impressed by the range of emotions Walker expresses. It's one of my favorite novels ever.

(8) Mark Mathabane: Kaffir Boy: An Autobiography--The True Story of a Black Youth's Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa. Had to read this for a class. It's the true story of how Mathabane managed to survive (barely) and eventually escape the incredibly brutal and dehumanizing life of an African in urban South Africa.

(9-10) bell hooks: Where We Stand: Class Matters and All About Love: New Visions. bell hooks is one of the most important authors to me. The first book of hers I read, Teaching to Transgress, almost singlehandedly made me a feminist. Neither of these is among my favorite works of hers, but everything she writes has a lot of wisdom in it.

(11-13) Toni Morrison: The Bluest Eye, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, and Beloved. I'll be reading a lot more Morrison this fall as I am taking a course about her. So far I have come to the realization that she is the greatest living English writer, and that Beloved is the greatest novel I have read thus far (out of hundreds). I would have read all her books by now if I'd known that earlier, but when we did Beloved in high school I wasn't mature enough to appreciate it. Playing in the Dark is a short monograph I recommend to anyone remotely interested in American literature.

(14) Liang Heng (and Judith Shapiro): Son of the Revolution. Memoir of the Chinese Cultural Revolution under Chairman Mao.

(15) Ji-Li Jiang: Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution. Memoir for a young-adult audience, possibly middle-school aged.

[PS. I'm on LibraryThing!]
helens78: A man in a leather jacket, seated on the ground, looks up hopefully. (Default)
[personal profile] helens78
Hello! I'm Helens. )

I discovered Octavia Butler in college, in a comparative lit class about science-fiction books. We read "Dawn", and though it would turn out not to be my favorite of Butler's books, I was inspired enough to go out and get more of them. I finished off the Xenogenesis series and then went for the Pattern cycle.

Patternmaster is the first book Butler published, but in series chronology, it's the last of the Pattern cycle. It opens on a world so unfamiliar that a first-time reader won't necessarily know what they're looking at, which I think is a pretty cool artistic decision. At only 202 pages, it has a narrowed focus, telling the story of the protagonist (Teray) and his struggle to come to adulthood in a hurry and find his place within the Pattern that connects all the Patternists in this world, but Butler's tight, clear writing style gives us a fantastic view of the world she's invented and never leaves us feeling confused. (This is a big deal for me; I often feel confused when writers invent worlds but don't ground me sufficiently enough in them for me to understand what's going on and what the "rules" are.)

I rated it 4.5 stars on LibraryThing, but only because the second (publication date) book in the series is one of my favorite books of all time (Mind of My Mind), possibly my favorite book, if I were held at gunpoint and asked to pick one. I've read MoMM several times in single sittings; it's that good. So there has to be room to go up from here, but not much! Patternmaster remains an excellent book with an engaging world and outstandingly smart, powerful, tough and brave protagonists. (And for those of you who aren't familiar with Butler's work, her protagonists are almost always Black or multiracial characters; many of her books have tall, Black, female protagonists; see the Xenogenesis series and the Parable series.)

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