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science fiction, new weird, old weird, very weird - and everything else

not always save for work. never nice.

Peter Watts - Sunflower Cycle

To be updated as I read my way through the short stories, novellas and novelettes forming the Sunflower Cycle. There are four entries so far, I chose to read them in chronological order (which is not the order of publication).


1) Hotshot (first published in Jonathan Strahan's Reach for Infinity)  - **

A short story introducing the main character Sunday Ahzmundin and her mission to punsh wormholes into the universe to allow faster than light travel for following generations (or something). It helped to get an impression of her character, but wasn't all that satisfying as a story. It's about Sunday being groomed for her mission and tackles questions of free will vs. determination - yet again. Watts really doesn't believe in free will, but he's told that before, multiple times actually, and here he's so much in the nose about it that it physically hurts. Man, ever heard about subtlety? Over at Goodreads another reviewer descriped the story as self-parody, and tend to agree. Makes one wonder if he has anything else to tell.


2) The Freeze-Frame Revolution (a novella recently published by Tachyon)


3) The Island (short story or possibly novelete?)


4) Giants (short story)

Octavia Butler - Lilith's Brood

Lilith's Brood: Dawn / Adulthood Rites / Imago - Octavia E. Butler

This is not really a review, but it's Octavia Butler's birthday, and I want to use the opportunity to encourage everyone to read this trilogy, one of the most disturbing and brilliant things I've ever read. I first read it about four years ago, taught it three times since then, and it always leads to intense, rewarding discussions. There are so many layers here, every time I read and talk about it, I come away with something new. Likewise, my impression of and opinion about the story's aliens, the Oankali, keeps changing, from horror to approval to longing and back again.

It's here where Butler remarks that humanities core problem is being 'intelligent and hierarchical'. So far,  I haven't found a better assesment.

Laing - Nieselregen


Happy (?) Sunday.

Reading progress update: The Dispossessed - I've read 18%.

The Dispossessed - Ursula K. Le Guin

So far lots of political & philosophical musings and no plot.

Is there a plot? Am I curious enough to find out?


Characters and world(s) seem underdeveloped and liveless, mere ideals, lacking real-life complexity. Yes, a lot more can happen in the coming 82%. But using 18% (and more) of a book for introduction is really pushing it.


(Bis jetzt viel graue Theorie und keine Handlung.

Hat das Buch eine Handlung? Will ich das überhaupt noch wissen?


Die Charaktere und zwei gegensätzlichen Gesellschaften wirken bislang ziemlich blutleer, sind reine Idealbilder ohne Tiefe, Ecken oder Kanten. Klar, da kann noch viel kommen, aber 18% Setup ohne Handlung sind schon eine harte Geduldsprobe für den Leser.)

Jud Nirenberg (ed): Gypsy Sexuality - Romani and Outsider Perspectives on Intimacy

Gypsy Sexuality - Bill Bila, Jud Nirenberg

It's Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month (#GRTHM) in the UK – quite a fitting time to review this collection of essays, interviews, personal testimonies, and study reports, called „Gypsy Sexuality“. Despite the attention-seeking title, the book deals not so much with the hot and horny stuff than with relationships, questions of equality and Roma self-perception.


If you're wondering about the word „Gypsy“ being used in the title: The foreword explains it. In many languages, Gypsy and its equivalents carry racists connotations and negative stereotypes. Many Roma consider it a pejorative. Others don't. Some try to reclaim it, others reject it. My recommendation: Listen to what people are comfortable with.


The individual contributions deal with very diverse topics: They examine the objectification and fetishist views of Roma people in Western art; they explore how Romani women of Eastern Europe see themselves and their culture and what they have to say about gender stereotypes and gender roles; they look at the data available about Roma prostitutes. Romani women and men talk about their relationships both with people from their community and outsiders, researchers look at the changing power-balances in Roma communities in the West. The most harrowing report deals with the coercive sterilization of Romani women in the Czech and Slovak Republic happening between the 1970s and 2004 – at least that's the date of the latest reported case. Women where pressured to sign agreements for being sterilized while already in labour; they were threatened with financial and social disadvantages should they reject; or they were coerced through financial incentives, often without any explanation what they were agreeing to. The Czech and Slovak Republics are by no means the only countries where this happened, but it's the example the authors choose to cover.


While interesting and informative, the collection would have profited from better editing and proof-reading. Nonetheless, I appreciated the variety of different perspectives presented here, coming from researchers, Roma political leaders, and people with very little formal education alike.


Some quotes:


While Roma often explain their actions by saying „this is how Roma do things“, this book will show that there is no one way Roma do anything; one Romani community's norm is another's scandal.


Maybe those who read the collection, Romani readers included, will be less prone to discuss Gypsies as a set of problems to be solved or victims to be saved and more likely to remember that people, even when discussed as a collective, are individuals and are alike only in our (sic) uniqueness.


I cannot stress enough how important the latter statement is.


The book concludes with a short biography of Rita Prigmore, German Sinteza and Porajmos surviver. She and her twin sister were experimented on by a student of Mengele; her sister died, Rita suffered lasting health consequences. Rita later went to live in the USA, but continued to visit Germany for educational events. In a book published in 2011, her words ring somewhat prophetic:


So much has changed in so many ways, it seems that it is going back to the ways of more racial problems... that will never end completely. It is so hard to understand why nothing has been learnt from the past. […] Bring a man like Hitler... and there will be a second Holocaust... their attitudes don't change deep down.


Yep, a pretty gloomy conclusion. The author and editor himself offers a more hopeful look into the future:


At least Roma, Sinti and members of other ethnic groups called 'Gypsy' have learned a hard lesson. We have learned what can happen when stereotypes are left unchallenged and bias is left to grow. Today, many Roma know the importance of challenging the stereotypes that can become the foundation for discriminatory treatment. As Rita Prigmore says, 'it is the knowledge that is important'.


Well, let's hope he's right.


Reading progress update: The Dispossessed - I've read 3%.

The Dispossessed - Ursula K. Le Guin

For instance, this curious matter of superiority, of relative height, was important to the Urrasti; they often used the word "higher" as a synonym for better in their writings, where an Anarresti would use "more central". 


I love it when authors consider linguistic differences and explore how they help to construct different cultural norms and understandings.

The Body Library - Jeff Noon

The Body Library - Jeff Noon

[...]a novel is a labyrinth; a labyrinth is a novel. That's a truth well hidden behind conventional narrative. But a certain kind of reader, we believed, would relish the challenge of this new book.


Well, Jeff Noon's The Body Library is by no means the most labyrinthine novel I've read, although it has a maze in form of a high-rise; nor is it the most challenging. It is, however, a satisfying genre-bender, offering a compelling mystery and some smart meta-discussion about stories and storytelling.


The year is 1959. After the events in A Man of Shadows, private eye John Nyquist has found shelter in the town of Storyville. Just like the name suggests, Storyville is a city made of many tales, supervised by the Narrative Council, which is situated at Kafka Court, because of course it is. Nyquists own story starts when he wakes up next to a dead man – a man he apparently has killed himself. The circumstances of this murder are quite mysterious, as the dead man has been the subject matter of Nyquist's latest investigation. Still confused, Nyquists begins to investigate the strange high-rise where he woke up and meets a woman, Zelda, a prostitute hired by the recently deceased. Soon both find themselves the target of other occupants. A man with a face of scars is looking for answers Nyquist can't give, a young boy is not as harmless as he seems, and something in the high-rise seems to be casting a spell. Nyquist and Zelda can get away, but lose all memory of what exactly happened to them. Soon after, Zelda winds up dead. It looks like suicide, but Nyquists suspects murder and pledges to find Zelda's killer. Meanwhile, the Narrative Council comes knocking and wants some information about a certain body in a certain high-rise... And that's really just the start of it.


Noon described The Body Library as an example of Avantgarde Pulp. It's a detective story in close embrace with the uncanny. I found it a more successful endeavour than it's predecessor. Nyquist second adventure is at the same time more and less classic noir, offering a stronger plot and stronger ties between plot and surrealism. Maybe it helped to finally have a sense of time: The events take place in an alternative 1959, something I didn't get from A Man of Shadows (it's possible I just missed it, but I don't think the year was ever mentioned in that book). The Body Library is also more Noonian (and if this isn't a word, it totally should be).


The hardboiled detective tropes are all in place, but convincingly executed: Nyquist is still the epitome of the noir private eye, taciturn, melancholy and into the ladies, and spends a good deal of the book being beaten up (and worse). But he gains some personality. His prime feature is his stubbornness: Once he's committed to a task, he just won't let go. Of course, a pulp story also needs a dame, some goons, an enigmatic femme who could be fatale. Star of the show is the city itself though, Storyville, where every life is a tale and every tale is alive, where the novelists spin stories and the taletellers deliver verbal accounts of adventures great and small, where whisper poets whisper and shadowy agencies specialise in erasure. In such a setting, it's no great surprise – and no spoiler – that the core of the mystery is a book, the titular The Body Library, and that its mystery is tied to avantgarde techniques of storytelling - like the cut-up technique, of which the title is just the first example.


Creating atmosphere and unforgettable pictures has always been Noon's strong suite, and here he delivers again. The Body Library is ripe with vivid images, from bodies crawling with words to glowing Alphabugs to pages seeping blood (here you can find a few pictures by Alex Storer inspired by this book. I think they complement it quite well). A story about stories is bound to become incredibly meta, and Noon uses this to great effect, too. He incorporates myths and legends and some nods to his older works; places wear the names of great writers and poets, the Narrative Council is a neat addition that Kafka would be proud of, and while seeing characters discussing their own fictionality is not entirely new, I find it always entertaining. And thus the book left me excited for whatever adventure Nyquist encounters next.


Bayuk - Old June


Happy Sunday!


"He felt that a pathway might be available, in the fog, in the night, with himself blindfolded, stumbling forward with his hands outstretched, seeking the next landmark, the next fragment of sense."
The Body Library - Jeff Noon

Me, when reading Foucault. Or Derrida.

The Body Library - Jeff Noon
"Fine grains of soil and root fiber hung in the air, bits of leaf, petals, pollen, strands of cobweb, a dead fly, all suspended. Slowly drifting. It was the dream or a nightmare a plant might have when the sun went down and predators moved in."

Faber - Wem du's heute kannst besorgen


Happy Sunday!

A Man of Shadows - Jeff Noon

A Man of Shadows (Nyquist Mystery) - Jeff Noon

A city of light, everlasting day, burning brightly before your eyes.

A city of unending night, vacant starlight twinkling in the black.

The dusk inbetween, reaching out with foggy fingers.

A man, a girl, a murderer, and time tick-tick-ticking away.




So, Jeff Noon is writing New Weird now. And it's weird, but Jeff Noon writing New Weird is decidedly less weird than Jeff Noon not writing New Weird. There's not one mention of Robos having sex with Dogs, for instance.


A Man of Shadows is almost all atmosphere, with very little story or character development getting in the way. Nyquist is the most generic of all generic noir detectives, strung along by circumstances, with hardly any agenda of his own. The girl, her father, the murderer, everybody else? Hardly there, shadows indeed. Events unfold slowly, ever so slowly, far too slowly to say if they make even the tinies lick of sense in the end. Probably not.

Now, Noon is very, very good at creating atmosphere. Dayzone, Nocturna, and the Dusk build the vivid background for some tremendous set-pieces. But I couldn't shake the feeling that I've read all of this already, and better. Not only in various works of noir and hard-boiled; Nyquist train-ride through the Dusk reads like something that Stephen King discarded from The Mist. And I haven't read much Miéville - I can't say how this here relates to The City and The City for instance; I've read enough to know that both books use the concept of „unseeing“, and enough to suspect Miélville outmatches Noon when it comes to combining atmosphere with an actual story.


A Man of Shadows isn't bad by any means; I just think it would work much better on screen than on page.


Blackfish City - Sam J. Miller

Blackfish City: A Novel - Sam J. Miller

It probably deserves more than 3.5 stars.


Blackfish City is elegantly written, offers tremendous world-building, creating a city, a future, that not only seems plausible but feels very lived in, with lots of history and backstory to it. It's a political thriller taking the political to the personal level. The characters are well crafted and develop in realistic ways. It also has an orcamancer and not only an orca, but also a polar bear.


And yet.


And yet I wasn't fully invested. 

It's not as emotionally intense as I have come to expect from Miller - whose stories belong to the most emotionally intense I've read from an contemporary author, competing only with Kai Ashante Wilson and maybe Watts. Maybe it's a bit too elegant, lacking the rawness and roughness of some of his earlier works. Maybe it's just me. Whatever's the case, I wasn't fully invested in the story, in the characters, and didn't fully care about their fate.


It's still a book that deserves to be read.

And very probably it deserves a more attentive reader, someone with more fucks to give.

Blackfish City Reading progress update: I've read 297 out of 336 pages.

Blackfish City: A Novel - Sam J. Miller

This disease defies everything we thought we understood about how memory works.


Or maybe not.

I find it fascinating how possible the breaks - the disease in question - actually seem. Especially considering that the Arc study was published just this January.

Editors - Hallelujah (So Low)


After the madness of Eurovision, back to normal, back to the roots.

Have a nice Sunday!

Reading progress update: I've read 79 out of 336 pages.

Blackfish City: A Novel - Sam J. Miller

I kinda like Dao.

I expect Dao's going to die somewhere along the line.