juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
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Title: The Female Man
Author: Joanna Russ
Published: Boston: Beacon Press, 2000 (1975)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 215
Total Page Count: 213,600
Text Number: 673
Read Because: personal enjoyment, paperback given to me by [personal profile] thobari
Review: Four women are brought together across four parallel worlds. One comes from a futuristic single-sex utopia, one comes from a modern setting stuck in the Great Depression, and Russ plays fast and loose with plot and swings between PoVs, settings, and forms of address without feeling any obligation to explain; it's disorientating and almost playful, but for the frequently joyless theme. This is a speculative exploration of the way that women are influenced by their societies, and while Russ's feminism encompasses Feminism 101 it also exceeds it (as example, interrogating the link between internalized misogyny and gender dysphoria) and, with precious few exceptions, doesn't feel dated, although it isn't particularly intersectional. It's angry and dispiriting, but never has that frustrating sense of redundancy that marks some explicitly feminists novels. Not, by any means, a fun read; perhaps not anything I hadn't realized; but this was fundamental, in a way: that self-critical, self-deprecatory, rageful, playful, compassionate view of women—and the female self—as they are, or could be.


Title: Little Brother (Little Brother Book 1)
Author: Cory Doctorow
Narrator: Kirby Heyborne
Published: Listening Library, 2008
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 390
Total Page Count: 213,990
Text Number: 674
Read Because: co-read with Teja, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: After a terrorist attack, San Francisco becomes a police state—and one teenage boy rises up to fight it. This is fueled by a lot of righteous anger about the intersection of privacy, technology, and politics; it's well-intended and, sadly, as relevant now as in a Bush-era presidency. And that's the only thing to recommend it, because, as a book, it's pretty awful. The teenage male PoV is uninspired, which makes the romance doubly so; there's a minimum of intersectional awareness in the supporting cast, but it's undermined by the use of slurs. Doctorow's tendency towards infodumping makes every character sound the same—namely, like Wikipedia article given a veneer of hipness—and the name- and brand-dropping and frequent geek cred are cringe-inducing. The plot, somewhere under that, isn't awful, and I sympathize with Doctorow in spirit if not specifics—but this is an awful reading experience and I can't recommend it.

(A co-read with Teja, on his suggestion, as part of his 1984 block—and while I loved revisiting 1984, this was pretty awful. It's transparent propaganda directed at teenagers: Boys! Create Civil Liberties on Your Internet!—I don't know that Doctorow was intentionally targeting teenage boys but does he ever, and this is where Teja and I differ: neither of us enjoyed it now, but he says he would have found it an effective call to action at the time/at that age, as he was part of the intended audience, sympathetic to teenage boy experiences and computer-savvy enough to find the privacy technology here explored intriguing; I think I would have bounced off of it, mostly because I would have found the PoV isolating and vaguely icky (and also because I wanted my calls to action to be intellectual instead of cool—I was a pretentious teen). It feels unfair to judge it outside of context, when it's all just info dumping and YA characterization and excessive cringy geek cred but, mostly, not for me. But even in context? It still wasn't for me, it was never for me.)


Title: The Book of Phoenix (Who Fears Death Book 0.1)
Author: Nnedi Okorafor
Published: DAW, 2015
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 235
Total Page Count: 214,225
Text Number: 675
Read Because: reading more of the author, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: After the death of a friend, a manufactured, genetically modified superhuman escapes the Tower that created her and sets out to destroy it. The components elements of this dystopia origin story are fascinating: Phoenix's gendered and racially motivated rage, the commentary on technology and social responsibility and ethics, the manufacture of a villain and how future generations reinterpret her legacy. But I bounced off of the voice—unexpectedly, as I've enjoyed Okorafor's writing elsewhere. The first person narrative lacks structure, wandering between settings and events in such a way as to obfuscate foreshadowing and to make Phoenix appear to lack either direction or reliable narration. The editing is wanting (numerous missing vocative commas, as example), and the descriptions are distant and repetitive despite the colorful speculative elements and their strong symbolism. All that said, I tend to have a difficult time with first person narratives, so this may have simply been a bad fit for me. But I tried hard to love it, and appreciate it conceptually, yet never became invested; I don't recommend it.

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