Seven Surrenders: Games of the Powerful

Upfront, I had a hard time with Too Like the Lightning, the first book in this series. The narrative style was something that just felt too white-centered and it brought up some awful college memories and bleh. I just wasn’t feeling it.  But I am happy to say that the sequel read much better and was a far more enjoyable work. The veil really gets pulled back on the utopia this time and there are some really deep philosophical struggles going on in this book.  There are places throughout the book where I found myself questioning my own ethical limits and having to ponder on what side of the coin I would really fall in regards to issues of peace and what has to be done to maintain it.

There is essentially a larger conspiracy at work in this book and the easiest way for me to explain would be to take it back to Captain America: Winter Soldier. Remember how in that movie, HYDRA was going to use a system that would target and take out everyone that would present even a potential problem to their agenda?  Well, the utopia in this book is revealed to have only survived through such a devious system.  Some two thousand odd people over the course of three hundred years have been removed to maintain world peace.  In all pragmatic honesty, that doesn’t seem to be such a bad proposition.

This is the primary questions you find yourself having to combat with during the course of the novel. Is a peace constructed and maintained by murder really a true peace? Is a nobility of principles really enough to justify tearing down such a peace once discovered? For the first question, I want to say yes because on the surface it seems easy.  For the second question, I want to say no because on the surface it seems a callous thing to do.  But this is when you have to change the lens from which you’re viewing the questions. And this novel does change the lens up on you enough times to make you think about the wider implications of such a system.

But with that said, this book seems to have a laser focus on the powerful and the mighty in this world. I really don’t have a solid idea of what life is like for a normal person in this society.  What’s the life of an accountant like? Are there even accountants?  What do schools look like for your average child?  I think having those things answered at least somewhat would have made the looming specter of war in this novel that much more poignant.  A lot of numbers were dropped during the course of it, but I don’t feel like there’s any real humanity behind the data.

One of my wider issues with the book outside of these ethical questions (which I enjoyed), is how it handles sexuality. Throughout the book, I find there to be a very troubling correlation between people who are free and experimental with their sexuality to those who are unscrupulous and think of common society being beneath them. A sex cult of the rich and powerful draws up a lot of Illuminati conspiracy theory rhetoric for me. In the African-American community, my touch point, this rhetoric is usually used as justification for homophobia and degradation of sexual freedom.  I’m not accusing the author of any of these things of course, but there are some uncomfortable implications in the work that made me itch.  There is always a running trope in media of having people who are experimental and fluid with their sexuality being less than noble and somehow either soulless or unpredictable wildcards.  In my own personal experience, I find it to be the complete opposite so often.  So I hope future books might examine that a little more closely.

That’s what I hope becomes a goal of this series moving forward.  Inject humanity into the big ideas.  I have no problem wrestling with questions of philosophy, but I would like to see a face put to them.  Give the questions even more weight than they already have.

You can find Ada Palmer’s SEVEN SURRENDERS at https://www.amazon.com/Seven-Surrenders-Novel-Terra-Ignota/dp/0765378027

 

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Too Like the Lightning: Trying to Peek into a Queer Utopia

Too Like the Lightning

The idea of a perfect, accepting world hangs around this text like a fog that you can’t quite see through.  Usually, the aim of such worlds is to show how imperfect they are and this one does that. But as a gay man, this text felt like it was screaming at the top of its lungs that this imperfection doesn’t apply to queer folks.

This book demands much of you and I think that is both its strength and its weakness.  Reading this futuristic vision of the world will require time from you.  Continue reading “Too Like the Lightning: Trying to Peek into a Queer Utopia”

Certain Dark Things

Vampires.  I think that’s the one monster everyone has an opinion on as they relate to media. The general feeling seems to waver between “gimme, gimme” and “kill it with fire”. I am somewhere in between where I’m not terribly against the concept, but I’m not entirely sure that there is anything new to say about them.  That was until I read this book and hot damn was I blown away by it.

This is my first book by Silvia Moreno-Garcia but better believe it won’t be my last. Certain Dark Things is gritty, thoughtful and original in all the right places.   Mexican narco vampires.  Let that description marinate for a second to realize how cool it is.  Of course, it helps that the author brings a superb level of authenticity to this concept.  I’ve never been to Mexico City (would like to rectify that some day), but the author makes me almost feel like I took a trip there anyway. The setting is the fangs of the story that hook in your neck.  The characters are the blood rushing out of you.  

Atl is what I imagine most male authors are actually trying to achieve when writing “strong female leads” but utterly fail at doing. She’s every ounce of hardcore, but comes with heaping amounts of vulnerability. She’s not afraid of a fight even while she rather do whatever she can to avoid it.  That particular detail was such a good one to me as it seems too often characters of her type are just itching for a fight and take all kinds of unnecessary risks. Solving the problems as opposed to punching in the nearest face made Atl that much more impressive when she finally did decide to go to violence.

Domingo wasn’t exactly a shining example of intelligence and at first, for whatever internalized reason, that annoyed me about him.  But as the story progressed, I began to realize what he may have lacked in formal education was made up for by his empathy and his knowledge of survival in a world that cared nothing for him. Because I damn sure wouldn’t have a clue how to survive in his situation. But that grit along with his unfailing hopeful naivete carry the heart of the story and he truly becomes a special character by the end of the book.

Bernadino was by far my favorite supporting cast member.  A badass old man out there living in his own private spot and not wanting to fool with the world just resonated with me. Maybe these are secretly my own old man goals.  I don’t know, but either way Bernadino is on point and I wouldn’t mind getting some of his backstory.

I won’t talk a great deal about the plot because I don’t want to spoil anything, but everything pulls together in probably the only way he could have.

Great book.  Great characters. Silvia Moreno-Garcia deserves a much larger platform, but I’m confident she’ll find it.  Has certainly made a new fan out of me.

If the author comes across this, one quick question.  And I’m probably so dumb for even asking this, but is the title of the novel from the Pablo Neruda poem?

Labyrinth Lost: #Ownvoices Magic

Brujas caught my interest for the first time when I actually saw the male version in True Blood (and boy am I glad I actually did research outside of that). But the idea of cultural specific customs, rituals and what not related to magic has always piqued my interest because it demands that we look outside our normal conceptions of how ideas work. I’m a huge fantasy reader and the magic when I was growing up usually went one way. There wasn’t a great deal of variety in the magic systems, the rituals attached to them and who actually got to use this magic.  Even today, while things are much better, I have to make active efforts to find books that exist outside these norms. LABYRINTH LOST is such a book and the brujas in it are interesting as hell.

Alex is the main character through which we view the world. She’s not exactly enthused about her powers and is in fact looking out of ways to have them at all. As this is a YA story, it’s not surprising that the main character feels a bit awkward and like a freak amongst their family. But it doesn’t feel rehashed or dry in this story. Her anxiety is actually based in some very real concerns that I think a lot of children in single-parent homes can relate to. She does a lot of growing up in this book which is of course expected in YA, but this maturation feels earned. Alex really does go through some things to come out stronger on the other side.

Lula kind of starts off a bit trope-ish too with the pretty, older, popular sister thing she has going. That particular trope has always made me snarl a little because I’m the oldest and was never any of those things, but that’s just a personal thing.  Anyway, Lula definitely defies that trope in some interesting ways. She’s really invested in the bruja way of life and is trying desperately to instill that same kind of belief into her sister. From Alex’s POV, Lula seems well adjusted to things but I don’t think that’s the case. In many single parent homes, you find that the oldest child can sort of take on the secondary parent role. I think Alex has done that and her seeming “ease” with the bruja life is just her trying to step up to the plate and take responsibility where one parent has failed. And you can see how much having to take on that responsibility bothers her in how easily she lashes out at Alex for refusing it.

Alex’s Mom isn’t on the “screen” a whole lot in this book but it doesn’t take much for us to get a full idea of who she is.  I see in this woman so many of the single mothers that populate my life. They work tirelessly, love their children endlessly and spend too much time hiding their pain. All of these things are peppered here and there throughout the story, but it makes the Mother such a powerful background figure. The love she has for her children isn’t something that we as the readers have to just assume.  It’s put right there on the page for us.

Nova is the bad boy love interest that we have seen so many times in so many different ways. But to this book’s credit a couple of different things are done here.  Yes, he’s alluring and attractive but there are some very ugly parts to this guy and the story never lets you forget it.  Just when you start to get misty-eyed about him, he does something that reminds you of his complexity and not to just romanticize him.  There’s a lot about him to ponder and most important of all, his place at the end of the story isn’t typical to where you see characters like his end up.  Definitely towards the end of the book, you can feel the story’s defiance of the trope he would usually represent.

Rishi is the light of this story.  She’s really at its heart and is such a breathlessly diverse character. Like she exists and I love it.  Her identity unfolds beautifully throughout the text and there’s such a genuine warmth to her.  I don’t think the hero’s journey in this book would have carried half as well without Rishi around. She’s beautifully intersectional and I just want more characters like her to flood every YA book.  I can hear some screaming “identity politics” in reference to this character, but screw those people.  Rishi is exactly what we need more of.  She isn’t a bruja but that is precisely what makes her so important to the narrative.

The Devourer is a case of power gone wrong.  She’s symbolic of the everlasting need of the powerful to always seek more power. Her corruption is absolute and she seems to be completely aware of this hunger she will always have. But like an addict, she can’t help herself but to want more no matter how much damage it’s doing to her.  How timely and fitting is that in today’s present world where we’re having to deal with a President who seems intent on destroying everything around him.

But if this story is any kind of beacon, it’s that even when things seem to be right at their end and there’s nothing good left, hope finds a way. I highly recommend this book and can’t wait for more stories set in this universe.

The Winged Histories

Sofia Samatar has some of the most beautiful writing I have read in years. The words in this story feel like music more than prose.  There is a rhythm to them, description of people and places resounding like deep notes.  I won’t lie to you, THE WINGED HISTORIES isn’t the kind of book you dive into expecting high action ad massive battles.  No, it’s a far more intimate secondary world that has scatterings of fantasy elements, but the main focus is on the rich cultural and historical connections across different lands joined as one.  Then there are the women of this story and it is around their wonderful depictions that this novel turns.

Tav refuses to be bound to her cultural norms of gender or love. She goes off to war, returns a wounded veteran, falls in love with a woman unapologetically and then goes off to fight another revolution. She’s just a character full of fire and determination. Even her language when speaking is crackling with that kind of intensity.  It’s what makes the tragedy at the heart of this story so difficult to handle because someone like Tav should win. Someone like Tav should come out ahead and Samatar absolutely rips your heart out by not giving that to you.

Siski and her doomed love is the stuff of Shakespeare. It is so sad to watch it fall apart and yet Samatar manages to make it look beautiful the entire time.  There was an elegance to the way the tragedy was presented. Society and fate ultimately trapped her to an end that it seemed she didn’t really want to find a way to escape from anyway. Just wait till you see how her story ends.  It’s fitting and you still want to cry regardless.

You have to appreciate prose to read this book.  You need to be in the mood for long, beautiful sentences. Be ready to relish the intricate details of food customs and dinner settings. You’ll want to bury your face in its fabrics.  Each and every romance will leave its imprint on you long after you read it. Some books are like pizza, you love every bite but it’s really not a delicacy. THE WINGED HISTORIES is a four hundred dollar, three course meal with some wine thrown in. If you’re like me, you only do those every blue moon and you have to savor every moment of it.

MOONLIGHT: Why I Can’t Stop Crying

This isn’t going to be one of those fancy think pieces or whatever.  My heart and mind are too all over the place after seeing this movie to even really be able to cobble something together on that level. So I’m just going to write this as a black gay man and hold it up to where I’ve been and where I’m at in this journey. I’ll be upfront that this piece is more to help me navigate my personal feelings than anything else. But if along the way I help someone else make sense of theirs too then that’d be gravy with me. My first priority though is to try and really lay out for myself why the fuck I can’t stop crying.

There are so many Chirons in the world and I think black gay men can all see a piece of ourselves in him. I know I did.  God, I just wanted to reach through that screen and hug that brother so many times throughout the movie. And I guess in a way it would be like reaching back in time and hugging myself. I know that pain of being bullied for everyone being able to see who you are no matter how hard you think you’re trying to hide it. I know what it’s like to wall yourself off from sexuality in the hopes that it might just go away.  Every time Chiron cried on that screen, I had to choke back my own tears. And the whole time I’m telling myself that my story isn’t completely like his so why am I sitting here so damn hurt?

His Mom.  Oh man his Mom.  She was a wreck and so much not like my own Mom. My Mom isn’t an addict, loves all her children dearly and really did do a good job with all of us.  But there was a part of Chiron’s mom that made me wonder about my own.  You know early in the movie that she understands her son is gay.  And as I look back over my life, I know my Mom did too.  I have this one distinct memory of telling my Mom when I was kid (don’t even know how we got on the topic) that I prefer to sit down when going to the bathroom. My Mom very sharply told me I better never tell my Dad that.  Even as a child, I knew what that meant.  It was a rebuke of my sexuality and seeing Chiron’s mom rebuke him just took me back to that moment more than any other.  (Don’t worry. My parents are accepting of who I am in this present moment and love me in my totality.)

But while that cut it wasn’t the dagger to the heart.  There’s a deep romance in this story.  I read something that the actor who played adult Chiron said when contemplating on the character’s future past the movie.  “I think about love on a scale from 1 to 10. Most of us find a 6 or a 7, and that’s why we have divorce. It’s the truth. We settle for that 6 or 7. But I like to think Kevin is Chiron’s 10. He’s found that and he realizes that there’s no reason to settle for a 6 or a 7 because, “I know this person is my 10. Whether or not this person believes I’m his 10, I’m going to devote my life to this person entirely.” That’s why the line where he says, “You’re the only man that’s ever touched me,” for me, was the most amazing, most beautiful thing I’ve seen in cinema, period. Because that’s what we strive for as people, to find that one person because they’re there.”

I absolutely have to believe that. It’s that kind of hope that gets me through the day sometimes so I gotta believe those two are out there living and loving the way they were always meant to. In the world of gay blackness, finding that 10 feel so freaking elusive. But that’s where the dagger went because I had to realize, there was a 10 in my life.  And if that 10 isn’t in my life now, am I just destined for misery?

I had a Kevin too and I lost him.  Hell, I’m not even quite sure if I had him in the first place. But I had a best friend that I was in love with. He was my 10, I never let him know that because I was too damn afraid and I lost him.

So there it is. I cry for the things Chiron lost, the trauma he had to endure, but I also weep for myself for never having the courage to be that vulnerable.

Hopefully, there’s another 10 out there waiting for me.

Serpentine: The Nuance of #ownvoices

Full disclaimer up front, I think Cindy Pon is an awesome person and I heart her across the board.  She’s full of take no crap, eagerness for change and a “you can’t stop me” spirit.  I’ve had the pleasure of getting to hang with her in person just having regular convo (how many of us get to do that with legit authors?).  So yea now that my gushing is out of the way let me get to my thoughts on the novel.

SERPENTINE has many of the classic YA elements with its confused teenagers going through growing pains, physical awakenings, new loves and the likes.  Which is all what you expect from a YA book and Cindy pulls off each of those with the skill of someone well seasoned in the genre. She’s a pro and it shows.

But what makes the novel soar for me is the authentic nature of the culture presented and the voice given to it.  This is the thing I think the “you can write whatever you want” crowd fails to realize. Yes, you can and should write whatever you want but certain things have to be experienced to get the real flavor of them. They have to be endured to make it come to life on the written page. This novel is full of those moments that I think someone with an “outside gaze” would not have been able to pull off.

One part of the novel in particular really struck me as an #ownvoices sort of moment.  The enigmatic character of Stone with his immortal powers was able to change the garments of the main character, Skybright.  She notes that the fancy garments she’s been given are a century out of fashion.  How many people not engrossed in this culture would know what’s in and out of style for people hundreds of years removed?  That is an intimate detail.  You don’t come across that with a quick Google search.  It was a couple of lines but it added such a richness to the story.

There’s also a bit of subtext here about the collusive nature of religion in regards to keeping society in a certain state which I enjoyed a good bit. It didn’t get preachy and really is just simmering under the surface, but I caught a sniff of it.  I enjoy that kind of subtle takedown in a work.

In short, this a story with layers.  It doesn’t try to be flashy with its cultural elements and that’s because it is coming from someone who actually engrossed in it.  That’s the difference.  Those of us with marginalized identities treat those identities with normality and not something to be gazed at with wonder.  SERPENTINE is all the better for it.

 

 

Taking a breath and easing frustration…

So something has sat heavy on my chest for a while now and it’s about time I cleanse my soul and get it out there. Forgive me in advance if I ramble, but hopefully this is coherent. White and Non-Black POC LGBT (more the former) are a growing disappointment for me. As a gay black man, I’ve always had such high hopes about our potential unity and ability to push for all forms of equality.  I suppose I’ve always known that to be a pipe dream, but it has only become more apparent now.

Black Women are under attack on Twitter for daring to ask that they be allowed to exist.  For daring to ask that they be represented fairly.  For daring to ask that their stories be perhaps told by them before others.  And I’ve seen a great deal of pushback coming from the LGBT community, a community which should inherently understand why Black Women are actively seeking these things.  But what I’ve come to understand of white LGBT is that they aren’t after a more equal and representative society.  They’re just trying to get their full-fledged white card back (Baldwin pointed this out years ago).  Non-black POC LGBT are just trying to scoot in a little closer to whiteness and will tout that anti-blackness to do it.

I’ve seen it more times than I can count and if we’re going to just be frank, one of the foundations of popular LGBT culture is appropriation (see all the white gay men who refer to having an inner ghetto black woman) and simultaneous degradation of blackness.

I watched in horror a couple of weeks ago as an incredible black woman author was torn apart by racist, trolls, bigots and flat out disgusting people for daring to try and spread positivity.  And what did white LGBT tweeters take the greater offense to?  That the author’s hashtag came across as ignoring another marginalized group. This incredible author, graciously and humbly, changed the hashtag only to be attacked MORE VICIOUSLY. And there was a great void of silence as she and other black women were left to drown in this sea of hate.

But this is another insidious trend I’ve noticed amongst white LGBT Twitter.  You far too often use your marginalization not as an identity to be uplifted and celebrated, but as something to pound the bad, non-compliant POC over the head with.  And if you’re not pounding them over the head with it, you’re using it as a shield to deflect getting called out on your anti-blackness. Then you have the nerve to reap the benefits of all the work these black women have put in to make a way for all of us. You refer to black women making a point as dramatic, mobbish and hostile all the while you sit on the sidelines as they fight not just for themselves, but for your sorry, no good asses too.  It’s pathetic. It’s disgusting.  YOU SHOULD KNOW BETTER.

You should understand it better than any white person, but I think you do understand it.  You understand how treacherous a road it is and it’s why you so desperately want your full privileges of whiteness back. You drink the chalice of anti-blackness because it is safe. You let black women get attacked because it is safe.  You run to your marginalizations as a hammer and shield because it is safe.  In greater society, you form relationships with the police knowing good and well how they treat QPOC. You cozy up to the same people who oppress in the hopes that you can get them to focus their attention elsewhere.

I see you.  You ain’t shit and I definitely see you.

Lullaby for a Lost World by Aliette de Bodard

Upfront, this story is very gothic and puts me right into the mindset of The House of Usher. There’s dark magic at play, people who are isolating themselves from society, an innocent victim.  Though unlike that particular Poe story, the victim at some point decides it will no longer be one.   A terrible sadness permeates this entire story because the victim here is a young child.  Only the darkest of individuals can feel nothing when a horrid event strikes the most innocent among us.

And believe me this child has something horrific done to her in order to maintain the safety of a family that seems pretty reprehensible. I feel like the “master” in this story serves as a symbol for what the entire household is like.  He’s a terrible man who’s built a wall of justification around himself to keep doing what he does.  His good intentions have created a pseudo-Hell for all of those residing in this household.

My one minor gripe with this story is that the child didn’t read like a child. And that makes me wonder if maybe she wasn’t a child at all and I missed something though the doll clutching certainly made me assume child.  But this narration felt like a very intelligent, capable adult.  I tried to rationalize it out as maybe the child’s spirit growing in maturity, but nothing in the story really indicated that either.  But honestly, it’s a small thing I can get over when matched up against the beauty of the prose.

A Cup of Salt Tears by Isabel Yap

This story is just thick with the idea of sacrifice. What would you give for the person you love?  Who would you traverse with?  Literature is full of stories of people giving up something consequential to save someone they love.  One could probably argue that to be one of the prime plots of all fiction.  Much like the Moon in poetry, it’s a topic often touched upon. But this story handles this well-treaded ground in beautiful, haunting fashion.

Makino’s depiction of grief is so well-done and raw. I think too often we like to think of grief as this burst of emotional energy that just keeps on firing off rounds until it’s exhausted itself.  But in this story, grief is static.  It lives Makino trapped in this sort of perpetual, glacial sadness. And for my money, that seems to be a more succinct expression of the emotion, especially when considering the circumstances of her husband.

I also like that the author avoids making the husband this really attractive guy. That would have felt too much like a poem.  Instead, we get a pretty ordinary guy who through his *gasp* personality and loving spirit manages to get this gorgeous woman to fall in love with him.

The Kappa is a thing of pure sensory in this story. Every time he comes on the page, the author just drowns you in these ideas you can touch, taste and feel.  I swear after reading the story, I can know what the exact texture of this creature is like.   Without that degree of focus on making you sense Makino’s movements against the supernatural entity, I don’t think it would have been half as haunting. The author knew exactly where to spend her literary coins in this story and thus knocks it out of the park.

This story lingered after I was finished and I have a feeling it will linger much like the Kappa’s love for a long time.