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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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Two very, very different takes on the ghetto novel. It probably goes without saying, but both these novels should carry warnings for omnipresent rape, violence, and drug abuse.

15) Eldorado Red by Donald Goines

Apparently a classic example of a 1970s street novel. Eldorado Red runs a numbers game. He's on the top of the world, with women all around him, plenty of money, and people who do whatever he tells them to. His son Buddy apprentices to Red while planning revenge for Eldorado Red having abandoned his mother. And that's when things start taking a turn for the worse for Eldorado Red.

A cast of absurd gangsters and druggies and hitmen populate the lively streets of the story and Goines keeps the action moving with a brilliant sense of plotting. It's a classic pulp story, nothing of any redeeming literary value about it but extremely entertaining.

16 King Maker by Maurice Broaddus

This is the story of King Arthur, recast as an Indianapolis gang war. It is incredibly bad and incredibly hilarious. King's 'Knights" include Wayne, a counselor with a Church ministry; Lott, a low end Fedex employee; Percy, the mentally damaged, simple son of a crackwhore; Lady G, a runaway high school dropout who likes to scrap. King is mentored by Merle, a homeless white guy who talks to his squirrel, Sir Rupert. Their enemies include Dred, King's half-brother sorceror and major Indianapolis gang leader and Green, apparently a reincarnation of the Green Knight, with all sorts of vegetable elemental powers. The book ends with King killing a dragon in a slum basement with his Caliburns, custom-made, gold-plated automatic pistols.

I cannot wait to read the sequel even though I kept covering my eyes in horror as I read.

tags: african-american, sff, drama, pulp, a: broaddus maurice, a: goines donald
[identity profile]
14. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, The Mistress of Spices

A sort-of fantasy novel about Tilo, a 'Mistress of Spices'- immortal, mystical women, trained in magic and secret knowledge, sent out into the world to help people. Tilo is sent to Oakland, California, where she slowly becomes personally involved in the lives of the people around her, and begins to reveal her own backstory.

This novel is very hard to describe, because it doesn't have much of a plot for most of its length. Instead, it's full of beautiful, poetic descriptions of spices and food, magic, Oakland and imaginary places like the Island where Mistresses are trained. Some parts are very realistic; others involve rampaging pirate queens or singing sea serpents. It took me a while to get into this book, because the beginning is very slow, but by the end I was in love. The language is incredibly evocative, and the resolution felt just right. I really grew to like the characters, particularly Tilo, who shows herself to be much more of a flawed human than any mystical fairy.

Highly recommended.
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A completely adorable children's science-fantasy set on an Africa-derived planet in which Earth is a legend and most of the technology is biological. I am a complete sucker for biotech, not to mention science-fantasy, and the extravagant invention and playfulness of the world gives the novel enormous charm.

All the best books about plants are written by northeasterners, be they about pruning your office building or growing and maintaining the perfect personal computer from CPU seed to adult PC.

Zahrah Tsami is born with dadalocks - dreadlocks with vines growing in them. This marks her as potential trouble in her conformist culture, so she grows up quiet and shy, keeping her head down and trying to ignore the teasing from other kids. She gains the ability to levitate with menarche, but since she's afraid of heights she's reluctant to explore it.

But her best friend, the young radical Dari, persuades her to venture with him into the Forbidden Greeny Jungle, where he can explore and she can, maybe, learn to fly. He promptly gets bitten by a deadly snake, and the only antidote is the egg of the scariest creature in the very scary scary jungle... into which Zahrah ventures, armed only with a grumpy compass, a malfunctioning digi-book, and a talent she's afraid to use.

Though the prose is overly simplistic and sometimes clunky, the setting is so great, and the tone is so sweet and playful, that I read this with a huge smile on my face. It's also one of the few American children's fantasy novels with an African (ish) heroine, written by an African-American author, AND with a black girl on the cover, so it could probably use some support.

Zahrah the Windseeker
[identity profile]
I haven't been doing as well about either reviewing or cross-posting as I'd like, but here are some books I've read in the last few months:

SF, fantasy, historical fiction, and contemporary fiction--mostly young adult--7 reviews )

(Additional Tags: Muscogee Creek Nation)
[identity profile]
30) Charisma by Steven Barnes

Um... Not too much to say about it. Competent genre fic, but not a book I'd rave about. I wish there were more substance to the romance between Renny and Vivian, I suppose. It felt impossibly inconsequential, like a sketch of a romance more than the real thing, and especially felt thin compared to the complicated and confusing relationship between Vivian and Otis.

The main children characters were relatively well-written for the trope of 'precociously adult children', but that's really all there is to recommend the book, unless you're the type who reads this sort of book regardless of its quality, like I sometimes am.

31) White Teeth by Zadie Smith

On the other hand, this was fantastic. Deep, subtle, and consistently hilarious. Smith's wit and imagination saved this book, I think, from becoming like a billion others it resembles.

White Teeth tracks the lives of three families in North London from the 1970s through the 1990s, dealing with immigration, assimilation, identity, religion, technology, family, and a host of other issues. And when I say a host of other issues, I mean it literally. There is a massive quantity of ideas crammed into this novel and a surprising number of them resurface in the dense, complicated, and dramatic concluding section.

The first family is Archie Jones and his wife Clara, a white middle aged Englishman who marries a toothless Jamaican teenager in a quest to reinvent himself and find direction in his life. It's an obvious mismatch, but Smith plays it with beautiful ambiguity, leaving the possibility of happiness open without hiding any of the reasons why happiness is an elusive goal.

Then we meet Archie Bengali former Army mate, Samad Iqbal, who has immigrated to Archie's neighborhood from Bangladesh with his equally young wife (Samad and Alsana were betrothed before she was born) in search of a new chance in the new world and finds instead a job as a waiter in a Bengali restaurant.

And then we advance time, slowly, and watch as their children grow up, become entangled and disentangled and struggle through the chaos and uncertainty of the '70s, '80s, and '90s, constantly moving toward a final confrontation when everything will be laid on the table.

None of these characters feel like stick figures. They're all given moments where Smith accords them respect, explains their motivations and their world view, and makes you sympathize with them. And then she moves them around expertly like chess pieces in the service of both elaborate and breathtaking jokes as well as deeper, more serious moments of truth.

This was the book, and Zadie Smith the author, that led to the coining of the term 'hysterical realism' to describe a movement in modern literature that encompasses Pynchon and DeLillo and Rushdie and Wallace and Smith. I like this movement, even if I recognize the coinage to be disparaging.

Can anybody recommend other 'hysterical realist'/maximalist authors of color?

tags: a:smith zadie, a:barnes steven, postmodernist, sff, bangladesh, british, jamaica, african-american


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Writers of Color 50 Books Challenge

September 2017

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