juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Title: Mr. Fox
Author: Helen Oyeyemi
Published: Riverhead Books, 2011
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 290
Total Page Count: 221,710
Text Number: 705
Read Because: reading more from the author/listed here in a reading list from Indra Das, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: The iterated narratives of an author, his muse, and his wife. It's stories within stories, stories about stories—a playful, fluid experiment in form that reminds me of Margaret Atwood (especially "Happy Endings") and Joanna Russ (especially The Female Man) in style as well as theme, because this is a conversation on gender, gendered violence, and the relationship between narratives and human experience. It's somewhat limited, but does good by what it engages, particularly as regards competition between women (over men). The iteration is handled about as well, with each instance lasting just long enough to achieve investment. Tone is the weakness; the surreal fairytale atmosphere alternating with parody (especially of historical eras and socioeconomic class) feels disjointed, without the same effective self-awareness or flagrant disregard as Atwood or Russ, above. This is ambitious, and succeeds without excelling.


Title: Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements
Editors: adrienne maree brown, Walidah Imarisha
Published: AK Press, 2015
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 300
Total Page Count: 222,010
Text Number: 706
Read Because: mentioned in Octavia E. Butler by Gerry Canavan, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: An anthology of 20 stories—many of them quite short—of visionary fiction: speculative narratives that explore marginalization, social justice, and radical social change. Many of these stories come from activists who have never written fiction (others are poets, writing here in prose). The lack of experience shows in clumsy, unconvincing worldbuilding, hamfisted social justice themes, and a general dearth of technical skill. There are a few happy exceptions, like the density of "Evidence" by Gumbs and the fluidity of "Lalibela" by Teodros. Editor adrienne maree brown's "the river" is also strong. But, surprisingly, work from published authors isn't much better; the excerpt from Fire on the Mountain by Bisson is the most promising, but it doesn't work as a short story. The intent of this anthology is pointed and brilliant, and there's something refreshing about reading work from activists whom I otherwise might not encounter. But it's simply not very good. The majority of stories share a structure which frontloads worldbuilding and characterization, but cuts off plot while the larger conflict remains unresolved—a logical limitation, given the complexity of the social conflicts at hand and the lengths of these stories, but still repetitive and oddly self-defeating: all these narratives about social change, rarely offering a plan to change society. There are exceptions—there are uplifting stories, cathartic stories, productive stories; but on the whole, this collection feels like an unfulfilled ambition as well as being technically unaccomplished. I admire it, but didn't enjoy it, and don't recommend it.

There are also two nonfiction essays; "The Only Lasting Truth," Tananarive Due writing on Octavia Butler, is a good read and strong finish to the anthology.


Title: The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
Published: Broadway Books, 2014 (2012)
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 375
Total Page Count: 222,385
Text Number: 707
Read Because: co-read with Teja, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: After his crew makes an emergency evacuation, one astronaut is stranded on Mars, left to MacGyver his survival. Remember that bit of Hugh Howey's Wool where someone has to improvise an underwater breathing apparatus in order to repair a generator? that scene, but long form, with an irreverent tone in counterpoint to the harrowing survival situation. This was originally self-published, and feels like it: the tone is repetitive and everything outside of the protagonist's PoV shows this most and worst; the pacing is rendered predictable by condensed foreshadowing and an "everything that can go wrong will go wrong" plot. It's compulsively readable, absolutely—the sudden-onset crises and their clever (nerdy, math-heavy, repetitive, but: clever) solutions makes for a lot of momentum. But there's no cumulative effect or staying power.

(Teja of pretty much the same opinion. He accidentally read it super fast, so I did too, and that's what it has going for it: momentum, speed, action-adventurey survival. He had more tolerance for the tone and voice—also works among this same power nerd demographic, so he has more fond feelings; I actually didn't mind it until external PoVs were introduced, as they are of two types: incredibly dry inanimate object narratives, and the realization that all the characters sound like this & Weir doesn't actually have any grasp of tone, this is just his default. Wouldn't have read on my own, but don't regret reading it—it's harmless. But pls Missy pls stop reading white dudes!!! they're boring!!!!)

(I will tag on to almost anything Teja reads just for the opportunity to read something with someone and talk to them! about books!—but his inclinations v. much run towards "things that appear on a lot of lists" and, surprise, dominant culture reiterates itself & has shitty taste.)
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Title: ZOO
Author: Otsuichi
Translator: Terry Gallagher
Published: San Francisco: Haikusoru, 2006
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 255
Total Page Count: 218,975
Text Number: 693
Read Because: reread for review purposes, from my personal library
Review: Eleven stories which consistently establish Otuichi's common narrative techniques, themes, and tone. His premises are frequently high-concept, sometimes to the extent of thought experiment (exacerbated here by the workman-like translation) and he has a penchant for unreliable narration and a twist in the denouement, which works more often than not—sometimes purely as narrative payoff, but at best these tricks are inextricably tied to the story's themes and character growth, as in "Song of the Sunny Spot." He writes about outsiders, about flawed and abusive interpersonal dynamics; his tone is morbid and, especially here, darkly humorous. I prefer the morbidity (as in the short, creepy "In the Park") to the humor, which can be caricatured or simply off-putting; these characters are frequently awful and unlikable, which keeps me at a distance from this collection especially when compared to the more cerebral Goth or more emotional Calling You. That makes ZOO my least favorite publication from one of my favorite authors—it lacks the profound appeal I find in his other work, but it's consistently satisfying and provides the style and content I look for from Otuichi.


Title: 1Q84
Author: Haruki Murakami
Translator: Jay Rubin, Philip Gabriel
Published: Knopf, 2011 (2009)
Rating: 1 of 5
Page Count: 200 of 1040
Total Page Count: 219,175
Text Number: 694
Read Because: co-read with Teja, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: DNF at ~20%, which was about 200 pages, and as such a sign that my time is more valuable than this book. Murakami possesses an almost hypnotic style, offering surprising flow despite the length and relative mundanity of individual scenes—but this is nonetheless unforgivably long and overwritten (contrasting hilariously with scenes where Tengo obsessively rewrites and edits Air Chrysalis to stubborn perfection—a punishing attention to detail which seems entirely absent in 1Q84). The narrative is slow and padded by graceless infodumping that defies suspension of disbelief; the characters are caricatured, the dialog stiff; a distasteful veil of misogyny shades depictions of female characters and gendered violence such that they're tasteless at best, problematic at worst. This wasn't for me, and doesn't compel me to try any of Murakami's other novels; I don't recommend it.


Title: Stories of Your Life and Others
Author: Ted Chiang
Published: Small Beer Press, 2010 (2002)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 280
Total Page Count: 219,455
Text Number: 695
Read Because: multiple recommendations/having watched Arrival, the film adaptation of "Story of Your Life," ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A collection of only eight stories, many of them on the longer side. It's an idea-based collection; the stories feel like thought experiments and the narrative voices are comparatively understated, even absent. This works best when the concepts are particularly strong, like the evocative, surreal, science fictional take on "Tower of Babylon," or the plot developments are particularly substantial, as in the narrative evolution of "Story of your Life;" elsewise, they can come across as distant or even didactic. But even the second-rate stories are engaging; the concepts may be one-note or implausible, but the explorations of them are expansive. I didn't love this—I find I want a stronger voice, or maybe some characterization—but I consistently enjoyed it; it's substantial, intelligent, and satisfies that high-concept speculative fiction itch.
juushika: Photograph of the torso and legs of a female-bodied figure with a teddy bear. (Bear)
Went to my first Pride on Sunday, with Dee. I only had the energy for the parade, so we left after that and didn't go to the gathering; I'm not sure how that would have changed my opinion of the event.

It was remarkably more corporate/sponsored that I was expecting, and I was expecting plenty—although I do feel like the front-loaded that stuff, which we appreciated & which made for a better final impression. I am of mixed feelings re: some police marching in uniform, the number of companies on display, about acceptable/sanctioned activism vs. what's valuable to the community & in current political climate—the same conflicted feelings everyone's having lately, I'm sure. There were little things, like the company members with aggressively doctored signs, which helped me find a middle place between fears and ideals.

When I was trying to talk myself into going (leaving the house is hard!), Teja and I made a list of What Would Make Pride Worth It: 1) to belong to a community, 2) to support that community, 3) to actually be a present roommate who goes-with, and/or (in any combination), 4) that feeling I got from the recent St. Johns parade: that Portland itself is tolerably unshitty, as things go, and I am grateful for unshitty things especially now and can stand to be reminded they exist.

(The local Montessori school marched in rainbow flag colors at the St Johns parade and I had a moment of realization that, when I attended Montessori, that's not something my school would have done; we were weird hippy liberals but essentially white liberals, who recycled and biked and misgendered trans* people. But the intent to do better was there; it helped to make me who I am. Times have changed. Portland is not Corvallis. And, in the least, the local Montessori school is doing better.)

2) was distantly, approximately achieved; 3) was bare-minimum achieved, but I guess that's the best we can expect of me; 4) occurred, however complicated by thoughts re: the commercialism of Pride, as above.

1) was difficult, is difficult.

At the MAX station on our trip into town, we talked briefly with a woman going to Pride, a woman that had been active within the community for some 40 years, who told us briefly about her work in the community, and about GLAPN; who asked if this was our first Pride, and welcomed us, and told us we would meet friends there. It was a lovely interaction.

We did not make any friends. Did you know that if you don't talk to people and skip the actual gathering part, you don't make friends? A lot of my pre-event angst came from just being a crazy person, but part of it was that I do want 1) to belong to a community—and I don't. Community means interaction, and I'm barred from that, predominately by the crazy (also by the way I conduct my relationships ... which is influenced by the crazy). It would be easy to tell someone else in my position—and believe it!—that their identity isn't defined by the fact that they appear straight or monogamous or cis, but when all of that is rendered moot (albeit in it a frustrating, unfulfilling way) by circumstance then ... it's hard to feel that, to be convinced by it. (Especially relevant given recent conversations online re: identity politics, queer as a slur, LGBTQIA+/MOGAI acronyms and definitions; consider intersectionality while policing identity, and that mental illness can complicate everything from gender expression to romantic/sexual relationships.) Portland would be a great place to make friends, to socialize literally at all, to engage in this community and in other communities which are important to me. And in six years, I've done none of that.

But at the same time, there were fat shirtless people, hairy people, sagging-bare-breast people, and that outreach—the visual but also unexpectedly literal outreach of it, of bodies I don't normally see, obviously non-conforming people, people in triads, queer couples, was viscerally effective. A lot of the world doesn't feel allowed to me—and maybe that's something I still need to work on, or maybe it'll always be a barrier, I don't know. But the world was there, and it still feels present within me. A sum positive experience, I suppose? I feel fragile in the wake of it, and exhausted (my back absolutely gave up the ghost even on pain killers, and it was 80° and the sun came out halfway through—thank goodness for parasols—so a significant portion of the exhaustion is physical), and despondent; and hopeful.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
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.
juushika: Photograph of a stack of books, with one lying open. (Books)
I originally posted this on Tumblr, but it belongs on my rereads tag, aka my favorite tag in the history of all tags.



I’m doing another co-read with Missy, George Orwell’s 1984, a reread for both of us. He read it in school, and hasn’t reread it since then; I read it ages ago and many times since—but not in the last few years, so I suppose I was due.

My copy is inherited/gently stolen from my mother, and was published in 1961; there’s a typo on page 17 ("her sweep supple waist") and pencil notes on the first page, an about the author, to underline Orwell’s name and list "Winston—the everyman; Julia—the everywoman"; it has that distinct almost-musty scent of used books of this specific page weight and quality and era; it once sold for 95 cents; I remember reading it as a … preteen? young teen? while accompanying someone else’s trip to a college campus, and feeling very smug that I read literary canon of my own volition & and that’s why I, too, would belong at college some day.

It’s impossible for me to have a discrete experience with the book, to judge any sort of objective or relative quality or how it’s aged (objectively, relatively); I’m still tied up in that early encounter, because what I took away wasn’t the value of literary canon—rather, it was that the Important, Classic novels I would one day read for school* were also speculative; that genre was literature. It was the first time I encountered that overlap, between "real" books and speculative books. As speculative books go, it’s the definitive opposite of fun, even though dystopias have their own "what if" hook; it’s a weird book to memorize, to fondly recognize all these scenes were people are miserable, miserable in grindy petty banal ways atop the high-concept stuff. But there’s a perfect fondness: the velvet-smooth worn paperback, that distinctive scent, returning to a novel that literally changed me as a reader.

* I never did read it in school, but I did do projects comparing it to other dystopic novels!
juushika: Photograph of a stack of books, with one lying open. (Books)
Title: Anathem
Author: Neal Stephenson
Published: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 955
Total Page Count: 213,570
Text Number: 649
Read Because: co-read with Teja, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Off-world influence forever alters life for the citizens of Arbre and its math-based monastic order. Math-as-philosophy/-as-speculative-concept/-as-worldbuilding is unique and engaging, and kudos to Stephenson for also making it accessible. There's an attempt to balance the math-heavy sections with daily detail, but these details are boring and there's a sincere dearth of interesting characters or interactions (or women); the worldbuilding is clumsy, especially the use of language, and I don't entirely buy the plot (in particular, the importance of human consciousness). A book this long and obnoxiously dense needs to be a virtuoso work. This isn't. Dump the first 50 pages and the middle action sequences, trim it to about 400 pages, and there's some clever concepts worth exploring. But as it is, it's in no ways enjoyable, nor worth the effort.


Title: China Mountain Zhang
Author: Maureen F. McHugh
Published: Orb Books, 1997 (1992)
Rating: 4.5 of 5
Page Count: 315
Total Page Count: 213,885
Text Number: 650
Read Because: recommended by Kalanadi, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: After Chinese-headed socialism has become the leading world power, "Government is big, we are small. We are only free when we slip through the cracks." This is a local, personal-scale novel about individuals surviving within a larger political and social climate that's not quite a dystopia. It can be awful to read, occasionally in predictable or problematic-adjacent ways, and requires trigger warnings for rape and queer suicide. But neither is it tragedy porn; there's mundanity and profundity, too, and an emphasis on sanctuaries and the personal narratives that persist in any setting. The stories of the ensemble cast overlap, but not too neatly; not every section is equally strong, but there's a surprising amount of flow. Worldbuilding is secondary to these aspects without being coy. This is a quiet, unassuming book, and a sincere success.


Title: When the Moon Was Ours
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Published: Thomas Dunne Books, 2016
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 290
Total Page Count: 214,175
Text Number: 651
Read Because: recommended by literarymagpie, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Miel and Sam have been friends ever since she was found in a water tower as a child; now adolescents, their coming of age is sparked by Miel's magical curse, Sam's gender identity, and their burgeoning romance. There's a lean towards the delineated and repetitive in the imagery and character growth—a larger cast or more precise sense of place may have made the work broader and the themes less blatant. But it's all so fundamentally good as to overcome that weakness. The pumpkins and moons, the descriptions of food and color and scent, are lush and beautiful without slipping into pure purple prose. Everything about Sam's gender is handled with grace and respect,* and the cultural and racial diversity, exploration of women's power, depictions of racism and appropriation and self-presentation, are well-interrogated and complex while still providing a positive, productive resolution. This is a profoundly beautiful book, in style—which is best delivered in bite-sizes, which the chapter length encourages—as well as content. I recommend it.

* Miel's trauma isn't as successfully portrayed—while Sam's identity feels like a lived experience, Miel's history feels more metaphorical, to its detriment.


Anathem was Teja's suggestion, part of a list of books he brought with him while traveling, the only book he ended up getting to because of its grinding length; I power-read it for the sake of being done with it, and then ignored the rest of his SF-by-dudes TBR to read three books—two of them reviewed above—that were by/about women and/or PoC and which I knew would have a localized focus on actual characters and/or beautiful, intentional language. Those were not the fundamental flaws of Anathem—that would be worldbuilding and pacing—but they were the ones I most desperately needed to counteract.

And those three books were, independently, quite good; and they felt bonus extra good for the fact that almost anything with any competency would have at that point seemed amazing.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
Missy and Devon and I have spent the last few days reading ballots to one another and being stressed by politics, because alongside the terror that is the presidential race it feels like both Oregon and California are a mess—Oregon in particular is saturated with measures with good intentions and poor execution and candidates that have good credentials but circumspect conservative leanings. But we are all three of us now done voting, after much angst and exhaustion; today Dee and I took Odi walking in the rain, and I dropped my ballot at the library and then had celebratory coffee, and all was good.

There were two candidate votes I ultimately skipped and should't've, but only two; I figure that makes me about 80% Contributing Citizen, which is approximately 79.5% higher than my usual; and voting with a panic disorder is hard, and I am grateful that Oregon's voting process is so accessible, and that I don't live in a state with polling stations; and I am so glad to be done.

I love the height of autumn, as a riot of color and crisp new-season apples and the onset of sweater weather, but this may actually be my favorite time of year, sodden leaf-litter and nearly-bare trees, the rain constant but not yet punishing, Odi's fur clumping into wet feathers along the top of his head.

(And the only talk of Christmas that I've heard on social media so far has actually been reminders that the expectation that everyone celebrates Christmas/that Christmas is a universal two-month event is a form of prejudice—and I am grateful for that, and surprised.)
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
The other day I found myself talking to Teja about that weird cat thing/therianthropy, which is something I rarely discuss these days. Read more... )
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Title: A Scanner Darkly
Author: Philip K. Dick
Published: New York: Vintage Books, 1991 (1977)
Rating: 5 of 5
Page Count: 280
Total Page Count: 189,690
Text Number: 561
Read Because: buddy-read with Teja, from my personal library
Review: Bob Arctor, a narcotics officer, is tasked to investigate himself in his undercover identity as a drug dealer. I'll admit, this is a strange pick for one of my favorite books. It's an undignified look at drug culture, with secondary and sometimes ineffective speculative aspects and significant PoV sexism. But the central issues of identity work so well in concert with the themes and speculative elements, and the voices—even when characters are that their most inane and infuriating--are strong, including Arctor's PoV, which makes for memorable and profound sections. The entire book is written, with respect, from within: it's self-deprecatory, caricatured, mournful, and loving; an honest experience and personal homage. I respect it, and think it's superbly done.

My first encounter with A Scanner Darkly was the film, which is a fantastic and surprisingly faithful adaptation, and may be why I find the dialog particularly strong.


It's hardest to write reviews for the books I really love, especially books like this which seem so hard to love; here, let me have a lot of feels about social white noise and Dick's afterward, instead (as posted on Tumblr):

Read more... )
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Title: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers Book 1)
Author: Becky Chambers
Published: New York: Harper Voyager, 2015 (2014)
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 410
Total Page Count: 187,610
Text Number: 551
Read Because: about a thousand BookTube recommendations, buddy read with Teja, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: The crew of a wormhole-tunneling ship makes a long haul to their next job, a planet occupied by a strange, violent race. So: what it says on the tin, but only nominally because plot is not the point; rather, the journey is a mere vehicle for interpersonal exploration. The crew and their interactions span a wide variety (which is almost satisfactorily alien), and the messages within are often hamfisted but as obviously well-intended. It's creative, snappy, sappy, heartfelt; rather like Mass Effect on a smaller scale. But all of this was ruined for me by one plotline: Ohan's, which is ultimately about spoilers )—a message that hits me close to home and which I find inexcusable. This perhaps shouldn't eclipse the rest of the book's more successful diversity, but, for me, it does. I can't recommend this, or forgive it.


Longer form, more anger, explicit spoilers, as posted to tumblr:Read more... )


Shorter form, more swearing, as sent to Teja: Read more... )

Teja and I have remarkably similar responses to the novel, despite our different tastes (he has more tolerance for feelgood, I have more demands from narrative structure) and the fact that illness and autonomy isn't a hot button issue for him. We've had a lot of back and forth chatter about most character's arcs, which—while not always positive—certainly indicates that these arcs are engaging. We both were disappointed in the dearth of plot, and the fact that the mega-arc was the least developed and most redundant of the bunch. But the book is a promising combination of elements, and I can see why it's had such positive reception; to me it feels like Mass Effect, and he compared it to Firefly—speculative/found family opens the narrative to a lot of creativity and feels. If it hadn't been ruined for me by Ohan's storyline I still wouldn't've loved it, because the tone was too cheesy for me, and he didn't either. It's hard to call a book with such an obvious, weighty, and varied interpersonal focus "insubstantial," but it sort of is nonetheless.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Teja (he formerly known as Express) currently has a twice-weekly work commute and so has gone from being a very rare reader to a somewhat more frequent reader; our tastes have only partial overlap, but when he asked my opinion on Neuromancer I'd just never read it. Because it is what it is as a seminal cyberpunk novel, I bought it otherwise blind—about a million years ago, while visiting Dee in the Seattle area, from the marvelous Duvall Books. It's the used bookstore that daydreams are made of, with gently creaking hardwood floors, packed shelves, and nostalgic actually-used-bookstore prices—I bought Neuromancer for $1.50.

So Teja started reading it on his own, and was unsure what he thought of the first few chapters; so I started reading it along with him, with only the most casual of overlaps and conversations. He's read other books on my recommendation and we've discussed them, but co-reading was much more engaging. There's room in it for spoilers (instead of the perpetually frustrating "I have thoughts, but they take into context/reveal later events") and minutiae as well as larger reflections on narrative and genre. A+ experience; we reading his next book together as well.

The book itself, as expressed, left little impression. There is one particular exception:

"The Villa Straylight," said a jeweled thing on the pedestal, in a voice like music, "is a body grown in upon itself, a Gothic folly. Each space in Straylight is in some way secret, this endless series of chambers linked by passages, by stairwells vaulted like intestines, where the eye is trapped in narrow curves, carried past ornate screens, empty alcoves…"

[…] "In Straylight, the hull’s inner surface is overgrown with a desperate proliferation of structures, forms flowing, interlocking, rising toward a solid core of microcircuitry, our clan’s corporate heart, a cylinder of silicon wormholed with narrow maintenance tunnels, some no wider than a man’s hand. The bright crabs burrow there, the drones, alert for micromechanical decay or sabotage."


Predictably, I'm more invested in -punk as subgenre than as work. The subgenres have the potential to explore the push/pull of their central concept, but in practice rarely do. Steampunk has too much pull, too much idealization and aesthetic, forgetting the necessary anxiety about technology and society. Cyberpunk has too much push, and Neuromancer pushes especially hard: Gibson's novel is all grim and grit and awful characters and pervasive fatigue, even when he's inventing a new technological marvel—it's an awful world to be in.

Villa Straylight was for me the one exception, this interlocking manufactured techno-historical dreamscape populated by wasteful and corrupted residents trapped within their own recursive, futureless pseudo-incest—it's an excessive image but an effective one, and the decadence of the setting was such welcome counterpoint to the pervasive grim tone.

Harder for me to remember is that the novel has pull aspects that I just can't access. I think Case is an awful protagonist, but his male power fantasy isn't for me. Teja pointed out that Rivera even functions as a foil: the overtly misogynistic evil counterpart that turns the author and reader surrogate protagonist into a Nice Guy pseudo-antihero. And unlike modern steampunk, cyberpunk was a direct reflection of the era that birthed it. The pull, the optimism and burgeoning potential of cyber technology, doesn't need to be illustrated: it's innate to the technology of the time.

If cyberpunk is dead, then may it rest in peace; I care less for its contemporary examples than for its post-80s influences, which have a more seductive aesthetic to set against the anxiety of technology(/development/society/change), which I find more enjoyable and effective. And I care more about that push/pull interplay than the subgenres themselves—except mythpunk, which actually gets it right, and asylumpunk, which doesn't even properly exist but in which I am personally invested.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Title: Neuromancer (Sprawl Book 1)
Author: William Gibson
Published: New York: Ace Books, 1984
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 270
Total Page Count: 185,720
Text Number: 547
Read Because: buddy-read with Teja, purchased used (years ago!) from Duvall Books
Review: A burned-out hacker is given a risky second chance when he's hired by a rogue AI. This is a grim, bazaar-style cyberpunk, wandering past a dozen technological inventions and locations; it revels in and cements cyberpunk's aesthetic, but these bits of worldbuilding rarely reappear and only occasionally influence plot. A few do, and those are interesting—namely, the nature of the AI and the Villa Straylight—but the overall effect is tiresome. As is the uninspired protagonist, and the plot which begins with a disconnected travelogue and ends with an straightforward climax. I can appreciate Neuromancer as a historical artifact, but this doesn't offer what I love about -punk genres (I like some idealization to balance the anxiety) and the rest of the narrative fails to impress.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
I only IM with a few people, and only two on a daily basis, and one of them is Express. Express is the reason that my video game Tumblr exists: that I would put my video game liveblogs and gigantic essays there, instead of rapid firing them into his IM window.

So now I liveblog manga into his IM window.

I'm reading the manhwa Let Dai (find it here) and it is giving me a lot of feelings. Jaehee is an average, obedient high schooler until he spots a local gang targeting a classmate and is introduced to Dai, the head of the gang. Dai's intense beauty and psychopathic behavior fascinates Jaehee even as it revolts him, and the two are drawn inexorably together. I will write a review one day when I have finished it (I'm two thirds the way there now), but when I say I'm having a lot of feelings what I mean is OH GOD HOLD ME, MY HEART.

So in lieu of a proper post, I'll do that thing where I harvest my IM monologues and turn them into edited sentences.

I found Let Dai by searching for "twisted relationships manga" because I am super predictable. The site where I'm reading it posts two pages at a time, set at a default size I have to squint to read; magnifying it aggravates my repetitive stress issues: I am literally suffering to read this thing and it is worth it.

Hilariously—in a story which, while sexually inexplicit, is still about gangs and hormonal teenage boys and a psychopath—for the first couple volumes swearing is sometimes rendered as F$#@ing. Really. This is particularly hilarious when Dai shows up with FUCK written on his bandanna and then this becomes an actual thing which actually happens:


It sorta kills the immersion if you know what I mean. (Also the sound effects are ridiculous, especially early in.)

"It's raining crazy hard!," says Naru. "On a day like this, you should lie on your stomach, eat junk food, and read comic books 'til you pass out." Okay yes sounds like a plan I agree.

But under that: it's perfect. SPOILERS EVERYWHERE. Please no end spoilers in comments. )
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
Made the train trip home from San Francisco yesterday, the best overnight trip I've had. They turned off the bright overheads at night (they don't always; yes, it's cruel), my seatmate barely look up her side least of all encroached on mine, and everyone learned an ingenious trick from the woman across the isle: put your feet up on the fold-down tray, do it do it do it. It exhibits no grace or manners, and you can't stretch your legs out all the way, but who cares because it's the only thing on the damn train that creates an acute angle at the hips and so takes pressure off the lower back. I actually got a few hours of sleep, I only took one pill, and I was not in incredible pain.

When in San Francisco I almost feel like I could live there. Express is a fantastic roommate, because we know each other so well and because he works out of the home, and I will drink up all the downtime you give me. The most basic acts of housekeeping seem like miracles to him—he'd do well with a roommate, I think, if it were someone he knew well or a lover: someone to dirty enough dishes to warrant using the dishwasher, and make the occasional miraculous dinner. It makes me feel like some sort of domestic goddess just to make a quiche, so. The city is visually fascinating, although I haven't fallen in love with its social culture. The weather is tolerable—fantastic, for California. There was even a thunderstorm when I was there.

And then we come up over the mountains and down the other side, the evergreens start to fade into deciduous and it begins to rain, and the world outside is the Willamette Valley and I'm like: yanno what, never mind. There are actually a few places in the world that I would love to live, but they all look like this (verdant yellow green against wet black-brown with the spring) and they all have this heart-gripping sense of home.

If I dare try to do something foolish when walking in the door after I've been away—like, say, check my email—August will climb all over me with an awkwardness that's unusual for her and stare at or bite any hand which is not occupied by petting. My best bet is just to lie down so there are no distractions and she can throw herself against me, a black puff made solid by desperation and purr. This time I ended up with her sprawled across my chest and belly (let's face it, she's not a small cat) while I lay on my back, nose nuzzled between my breasts but her tummy up in a dignity-less feat of flexibility, and we touched each other all over until we had been painted in love (and I in cat hair).

I was going to tell a funny cat story here but, you know, I think I'll save it. What matters is that I love her. I love her so much that it feels as though my heart may burst.

And I came home to this on the whiteboard:

The whiteboard when I came home from San Francisco
Best roommate? Best roommate.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
In those late-night conversations I have with Express, I find myself ending every third rambling soliloquy with "and then I realize that everything I say is incredibly depressing." This bout of back pain has been weighing on my thoughts, but it's more general than that. It's a ubiquitous slew of small details.

Amy ([livejournal.com profile] cerulean_chains) finally convinced me to watch (the Vienna 2005 production of) Elizabeth the musical on the basis of these characters and relationships are totally up my alley. And they are, but it's something I've had to watch in pieces—in part because I'm in flighty "play video games for three solid hours, concentrate on anything else for thirty scarce minutes" mode, in part because...

Discussion of suicidal ideation. )

Express looks at the rest of his life half in anticipation and half in fear: he has this great checklist of Life Goals but rails against the idea of longterm commitment. I think it'll work out for the best. He'll angst about choices forever, but his decisions will be good ones. He'll do pretty awesome things.

When I dropped out of college I stopped having goals. For a while, that was because I was unwell and recovering from being unwell. These days I rarely have to notice that I'm still sick—I'm safe, secure, and surrounded by love, I have no responsibilities and few stresses, etc. Life is good. But goals are my trade off. I'm well on a day to day basis because I only function on a day to day basis; looking beyond that could bring all the worst things crashing back, but more than that it just seems impossible. I feel like I couldn't, even if I tried.

I'm premenstrual, in one of those rare cycles where being emotional feels rewarding. Cathartic, maybe; indulgent. Almost relaxing. Today none of this is a bad thing, but it's still a realization of ... something. I have this pain and it isn't going away: this back pain, this depression. Even when I feel like I've forgotten about it, it defines who I am. I know that that's a bad thing, but it doesn't always feel like it. Sometimes it feels like just being me. Sometimes what it means to be me hits me out of the blue, and I notice again that every third thing I say is pretty darn depressing.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)
That moment when you strip the bed and start laundry and almost put a book in the wash.

So I'm heading back to San Francisco this weekend, to spend about ten days with Express. I've been having some sleep issues coupled with another spike in back pain (the sort of which I don't really notice until I mention offhand to the boy that "oh, I've been in excruciating pain lately"—and you think stealth pain would be a blessing, but it just means all of the fatigue with none of the ability to treat it and a bonus feeling of utter disconnect with your own body), so I'm going into this with a mantra of "I can't hear you, I can't hear you." It's not that I won't love being there, it's that I'm afraid I'll exhaust myself just by preparing to be there and then I'll be done with the visit the minute I arrive. So I'm not doing an incredibly intelligent advance packing job, or thinking about it overmuch, but I figure I'll try not to forget underwear and this is Express: I know him, I don't need to fuss about any of this.

And it'll be a good visit.

I was down in Corvallis a week ago, and came back to a cat who for a full 24 hours would not leave me: the only time I was not obligated to hold her is when we were both lying in bed. She hasn't quite caught on yet to the fact that I'm leaving again, but she's starting to figure it out (just wait until I pull the suitcases from the closet). It is ... good to be loved. When I first moved up here, it was on a weird "I don't know if I'm visiting or moving!" basis, and while we'd talked about a cat—a cat has been my lifelong dream; of course we did—it wasn't until I actually started signing paperwork a the shelter that it hit home that I had a ... sister/daughter/dependent. I still manage to spend weeks away, in Corvallis, taking the train down to San Francisco; Dee is an angel who doesn't mind feeding a rabid food-beast (and a half: there's Kuzco, too) and otherwise sharing a cat. But I'm tethered, now—not just to a place, although I love it here (but I've lived in and loved so many places over the last few years—those are less permanent), but to a person, a floofy little cat person who climbs on and over my shoulders until I let her bury herself into my lap.

Last time I was headed to San Francisco I wrote a near identical post—hmm. Oh, except then August had just started to sit in my lap—and now I have a semi-permanent fuzzy black lap tumor, guys, you don't even understand. I fell head over heels for this cat in the first moment, but we have become kin now in a way that's easy to take for granted, the way that mostly sounds like "hey August no one cares shut up" and really means "I love you move than anything in the entire world."

The minutiae of a depressive's daily life are pretty boring, even when half her wishes are fulfilled (cat! friendship! city!). I consume too much media and think about food a lot and have problems sleeping and snuggle with my cat: it ain't fascinating stuff. And when I'm in San Francisco I'll consume more media and think about food and have problems sleeping and snuggle with my friend, who is hugely unlike a cat but I guess that's a good thing. Still it's a bit of a revelation, each time: that in the midst of being me, my life can still be this—not always, which is fine: it would exhaust me; but sometimes it's pretty wonderful.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Allow me to trascribe and edit a chat with Express in lieu of/in order to create a real post.

Tonight, I rewatched and reread a good chunk of Ai no Kotodama (Words of Devotion). The manga by KONNO Keiko is English language licensed but, yes, you can read it here; the film can be streamed in pieces here.

Ai no Kotodama walks that careful line between the miscommunication plots which I hate and the why-people-communicate-and-how plots which push all my good buttons: what motivates our relationships and our communication, for good and ill. That's especially true if you know the full story via the manga, but even as a standalone film—despite low production values and sketchy subtitles—it's not perfect but it's beautiful. I'd even say the film handles its part of the story better—it's a tad less confusing.

Two guys in high school stumble into a sexual relationship when they discover they're attracted to one another; two years later they're in college and living together, but they haven't come out as a couple—even, really, to each other. One is emotionally repressed, both have internalized homophobia, and neither has been able to communicate their intense romantic feelings. But a visit from a high school friend sparks jealousy which enables them to start working their shit out and acknowledge their relationship. The story isn't delivered in order—it begins with them at college, and only the manga flashes back to high school; either way, when spelled out like that it sounds like fairly traditional BL tripe.

But what Ai no Kotodama actually is is an intense look at how and why we define relationships and how those definition change communication within relationships, and the danger of emotional and social repression. It's also a bit humorous and titillating, and it flirts with that will they/won't they thing that makes established relationships seem boring and first time stories so intense—much like the vast majority of BL manga, of course. Unlike the vast majority of BL manga, however, Ai no Kotodama is self-aware.

BL is rooted in heteronormativity and homophobia, however ironic that is: there are assigned pseudo-gender rolls (top and bottom), and tropes like rape is love, and objectification and titillation and general clichés—and, of course, gay fetishization. (See my massively navel-gazy and TL;DR thoughts about reading Friendly Hostility and writing Ghost & Aaron for further ramble on related topics.) But Ai no Kotodama grays a lot of those things. Gender/sex rolls get fucked with: the stereotypical-to-BL top is implied to bottom, but sex roles are never defined and there's no indication that they're fixed (to think! people might assume multiple roles, or roles might have more than one meaning! just like real life!) The will they/won't they is actually a yes they are—there's development within the relationship, but it is an established long term relationship, which is a pretty big deal in its own right. And in the manga in particular, and thus functioning as backstory for the film, the beginning of their sexual relationship is unusual for the genre: they both begin in heterosexual relationships, both seem to fall somewhere on a queer spectrum but their sexualities are never labeled outright, adolescent experimentation isn't just a plot point but rather an important part of sexual development, and love isn't the obligatory conclusion to a sexual encounter.

It's not a collection of tropes; instead, it's a really well developed story and a strong piece of commentary on other collected tropes, the fact of which makes it an even better story.

And then I said to Express: oh god sorry you do not care half this much but man apparently I have Thoughts. But Ai no Kotodama warrants them, and if you've read this far and still give a shit, then why don't you go check it out for yourself?
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Express: ....
HOW DID HE DO THAT
...
>.<
/me just watched mountains appear

Juushika: I know
it just
makes me all fuzzy inside
soothing and magical and hypnotizing

Express: ...
the knife

Juushika: bob ross I love you

Express: how
my mind

Juushika: when clips end I cry inside
when I find concurrent clips
I rejoice
there are layers of clouds, express
layers of happy little clouds
AND THEN THE CLIP ENDS
WHY
WHY YOU DO THIS TO ME

Express: I AM BEING AMAZED
HOW
IT JUST HAPPENS
he puts brush to canvas
THEN MAGIC

Juushika: happy little tree shapes T_T

Express: ...
so calm

Juushika: no mistakes
only happy accidents
and the secret to doing anything
is believing you can do it
bob ross please stop being perfect

Express: "i bet you're sitting there thinkin 'he's really messed up this time'… you may be right"
END OF CLIP



Juushika: NO NO STOP THAT
STOP IT BOB
STOP

Express: i dont even know


and I end leave you with...
Express: LITTLE BIRDS GOTTA HAVE A PLACE TO PUT THEIR FOOTS
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
So I have the best of friends.

You may remember that a while ago, reddogdied illustrated me-as-cat, which is one of the more meaningful gifts I've ever received. In Animal Crossing, you play as a lone human living in a town of anthropomorphic animals. My friend Sabrina also plays, and she draws, and she was illustrating friends as AC villagers. I asked her to draw me. She drew this and then let me sit down and nitpick it to my heart's content, pulling criticisms and preferences out of me even I'd usually give an artist a wide berth around their art, and then Express concurred with the final design, because they both know how important avatar-equivalents are to me—which they are (read more).

Animal Crossing Juu by Yadomi

And she made this. Green eyes! Floofy tail! Orange kitty, hint of tabby, and I would totally wear that outfit if I lived in a land without pants. AC-me is adorable, and I know awesome people, and I am blessed: behold.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)
Devon went Black Friday shopping (don't ask me why), so I took the train down to Corvallis on Saturday. Or at least I tried—after flirting with disaster, I finally got there right after they'd closed the train doors. An employee automatically rescheduled my ticket for that evening, and I called Dee and she came back into town to hang with me for a few hours before my departure. We wandered out from the train station, and then I began to recognize China Town, and then we were on Burnside and I could see the hotel where Express and I stayed last month. We were going to find a Starbucks, but I mentioned that Moonstruck, a Portland chocolater located in St. Johns (that bridge in their logo? that's our bridge), had a café in the building Express worked in, and that they served single-origin drinking chocolate—so we went there. We both tried the Venezuelan—74%, dark and thick even for drinking chocolate, pungent and bold; not the best single origin I've had, but easily the best drinking chocolate, and the employees were fantastic. From there I found us a Starbucks so we could sit and enjoy it, and then get water and lighter fare to finish. I felt so Portland to know where things were. We walked back to the train station and had an hour just to talk before the train got there, and it was easily the best thing to make of a bad situation.

On Sunday I had breakfast with my family—in theory a belated Thanksgiving, but in reality toned down and only made seasonal by homemade applesauce, but it was still lovely. As we were leaving, my sister—who is studying abroad in Italy—got back from a few days spent in Ireland, and we all got the chance to see one another via skippy, delayed webcam. My envy of Ireland is balanced against my admiration of what she's been doing with these last few months. Monday my period hit me hard—and I'm trying to deal with some insurance application stuff that's cast a long black cloud of anxiety over everything I do. But I played ilomilo on Devon's new phone, and I sorted BPAL, and it was good to see the boy. I was there until Wednesday morning—a little longer than usual. I came home to a cat (she seems to know when I'm due back, and turns into attention-hounding terror that morning) who immediately crawled on me to share my nap.

But I'm tired. Hanukkah starts fairly late this year, overlapping Christmas, but I'll probably go home when my sister comes back from Italy—see her, see my family, light the first candle and exchange presents, and then come back to Portland. Devon will probably visit before then, and maybe over Christmas; with me here to give medication to her disgruntled cat, Dee has the freedom to go visit her family for the holidays. I want to stay in one place and do as little as possible. I've met people, done things, gone places, and it's been fantastic, but it's getting to the point that I'm tired just to see days fill up on my calendar. I want to under-schedule this month, hibernate a little, be bare-branches dead and quiet, and recharge.

Adopt one today! Adopt one today! Adopt one today! Adopt one today! Adopt one today! Adopt one today!

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juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)
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