starlady: Twitter quote: @magneto "come home" (my offer still stands)
What I'm Reading
G. Willow Wilson, Alif the Unseen - I'm falling behind on my Sirens reading challenge, but luckily this book is completely engrossing and even though I only started it this morning, I'm nearly finished. It's full of really smart observations as well as really interesting fantastical elements, and some really sharp things about politics. More when I'm finally finished, but this one is pretty great.

Urasawa Naoki, Billy Bat vol 1 - This is Urasawa's current series, and I'm kind of annoyed at how much it plays to my interests to be honest. I also really question why Urasawa has drawn all of the Japanese or Japanese-American characters with the exception of the current protagonist to look distinctly monkey-ish (it's even more noticeable given that the story opens in 1947). This may be a sophisticated point about representation or it may just be an oogie running bit. Anyway, it's Urasawa; of course it's good, though I'm not quite willing to commit to hauling home the other 15 volumes (it's still running).

What I've Just Read
Molly Gloss, The Dazzle of Day - Quakers in space! Except, well, this novel is actively trying to break the bounds of science fiction as a genre, and…I like science fiction as a genre. Well worth reading, but Joan Slonczewski is still first in my heart in terms of Quaker SF novels. (I've now read two of the four.) Partly that's because this is a very interior book, and Gloss gets at the Quakerism (and everything else) very indirectly, unlike Slonczewski, who puts her Quaker in conflict with or in contrast to other groups or even species.

Yoshinaga Fumi, Ôoku vol 11 & 12 - Immunology, gender, and power. I hope everyone's ready for what's looking to be a really grim ending. I'd estimate we have two and at most three volumes left. It's also interesting to me that Yoshinaga made the most incompetent shogun a hero for the sake of the narrative.

Arakawa Hiromu, Silver Spoon vol. 12 & 13 - Only Arakawa Hiromu could blow through an entire year of school in one volume (12) and make it feel totally fine in terms of pacing and character development. She also has a real sense of how to turn the tables on readers' expectations based on genre cliches: the team's performance at the national equestrian championships in 13 is a case in point. Sadly this series seems to be taking a bit of a backseat to Arslan Senki, but I still love it, and I'll be really interested to see where Hachiken and company wind up by the time they graduate. One thing I appreciate now that I didn't before I saw Bakemono no ko is how subversive it is--Hachiken chooses not to go to college even though he could, his brother fucking dropped out of Todai to be an independent Skype college exam tutor, Komaba drops out of high school to work odd jobs in Tokyo so he can buy a farm, Mikage only decides to go to college after she decides to not inherit her family's farm: and all of this is totally okay. That's very (and characteristically) independent-minded of Arakawa.

Bunn/Walta/Fernandez, Magneto: Infamous and Reversals - My one friend W handed me these two volumes of comics as I was basically walking out the door in Seattle on the grounds that I'm way more into the X-Men than he is, which is true, but in no way means I'm familiar with most of the comics except in broad outlines. Luckily this series, which picks up after Charles Xavier's latest death with Mags relatively depowered but still just as quick to perform vigilante justice (also bald, which I can't help but read as influenced by Charles), is actually pretty good at filling readers in on relevant events without info-dumping. The coloring is really striking, and though I thought the pacing was off at a few points in the second volume, overall the comic is asking some tough questions of just about everyone, including Mags himself, and not letting anyone off the hook. I'm interested to keep reading.

Fraction & Ward, ODY-C vol 1 - Yup, between the art and the diction, this comic is fucking trippy, and I'll be really interested to see how closely Fraction sticks to the actual events of the actual Odyssey: there are plenty of hints, even in this first volume, that things could go off the rails of the familiar narrative in really interesting directions; in some ways, they already have. The "not all men" joke was also pretty flipping fantastic. All in all, it's pretty great.

Tenea Johnson, Smoketown - I don't know if there's a name for the sub-genre that includes this book and Dia Reeves' books, but I put them together in my mind as "speculative fiction set in some version of the South, with POC characters," and like Reeves' books, Johnson doesn't pull her punches. The similarities end there, in some ways: whereas Portero is much more comparable to Night Vale, Johnson's post-climate change apocalypse city is decidedly futuristic but also just weird: the government controls a lot of things and birds are outlawed. Finding out what made the city the way it is, and working to change it, winds up being the crux of the novel, but the book goes at that widdershins, and while I really, really liked the book, I thought there were some plot developments that needed a bit more explanation, and some of the characters were much more vivid than others (but oh, when they're vivid, they're painfully alive). So, while I wanted a bit more of some parts of the book, what was there was wildly inventive and really engrossing, and I recommend it.
starlady: (moon dream)
Slonczewski, Joan. Still Forms on Foxfield. New York: Del Rey, 1980.

"With a book and a steeple,
With a bell and a key,
They would bind it forever--
But they can't!" said he.

I was sold on this book as soon as I understood that it was about Quakers in space, and all in all, both as a science fiction book and a book about Quakers in space, it did not disappoint. For various reasons, though, I'm not sure how this book would play to people who don't have my particular background.

The book follows the colony of Foxfield, and in particular its main systems engineer Allison Thorne, when the unified government of Earth makes recontact with them and insists both that the Foxfielders accept their UNI citizenship and the various impositions, as well as liberties, that it entails. The Foxfielders are a bit of a wonder to the Terrans given that no one on Terra has religion anymore, while the Foxfielders are still practicing the Philadelphia Quakerism they learned from their ancestors, who took ship into the stars from the post-nuclear wasteland of Pennsylvania. It's funny how I'm relatively blase about the concept of New York being a post-nuclear wasteland, but talking about the irradiated ruins of Pennsylvania gets to me a little.

Slonczewski wrote this book after her time at Bryn Mawr College outside of Philadelphia, and it's interesting seeing in this book the viewpoint of someone who was convinced thirty years ago, when there were still Friends wandering around who routinely used informal English pronouns and could remember the time before the Hicksite/Orthodox division was healed. There's a lot of "thee" and "thou" and talking about the Queries and quoting of John Greenleaf Whittier, but there's also a much deeper feminist Quaker commitment at the level of the plot, which doesn't proceed by violence. Consensus and clarity in the Quaker sense of the terms rule the day, and Slonczewski is very good at describing the experience of Meeting, how sometimes you know you have something to say and you're compelled to say it and other times you sit there thinking about nothing in particular or fanfiction or your grocery list. The aliens who are native to the planet are also believably alien, and the Friends live together with them in a manner that is gratifyingly non-exploitative, just as the burgeoning conflict with them over the arrival of the Terrans is resolved believably.

I doubt I've succeeded in making this book sound interesting to those who didn't grow up attending Quaker schools in and around Philadelphia, but I really enjoyed it. It was also, on the level of "gee, the future has changed" an interesting mix of things that seem dated now (the idea of gay marriage as a radical thing in The Future), the historical (i.e. the sketched-out history of the nuclear apocalypse and its aftermath) and the things that I think may have been radical in 1980 but seem pretty unremarkable now, namely having a single mother as the protagonist. Or the fact that everyone on Earth is female and thus by default lesbians. There's a few weird moments with the Japanese systems engineer having to do with cultural history and the Japanese language, but all in all, this was a fascinating little book. And so, so Quaker--even more than Allison and her concern about whether she's letting her Light speak to her properly, the final image of ancient Celia Blyden, filled with the fire of her concern to be a public Friend and go back to Earth and speak truth to those who need to hear it, is as Quaker as it gets. I take off my hat to her, and to Slonczewski.
starlady: (the wizard's oath)
What I'm reading
Still Forms on Foxfield by Joan Slonczewski. Quakers! Quakers in spaaaaace. One possible wrinkle I did not anticipate: tearing up every other chapter, because I may not believe in a god but I do believe in the principles of Quakerism, and it's something I didn't know I was missing, to see them so explicitly laid out in a book by characters who believe in them. (To the point, actually, where I am feeling that I need to brush up on my Quakerism-knowledge. More properly, I need to find a Meeting and start taking First Day classes.) And like, not only Quakerism, but specifically Philadelphia Quakerism. This is, in other words, a book that Speaks To Me.

What I've just read
I finished Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, and I also finished, in the space of about two days, A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan. Further remarks to follow on both of them, but I expect that if you think you'll like the Brennan book from the title, you should pick it up, because you will.

What I'll read next
I have decided that, partly to try to clean out the shelves and partly because YA books generally take less brain, that this year I am going to try to read the backlog of YA books I have built up. (After YA will be the more brain candy-ish end of the SFF spectrum.) At the moment, that means Tamora Pierce's Mastiff (a borrowed book, which I also want to try to finish all of), and then Nnedi Okorafor's Akata Witch. Of course I have other books that get to jump the queue because of various reasons, but YA is very much the goal.

starlady: Quorra fights CLU's black guard programs (for the users and for me)
Someday I should make a post of all the weird things I've found on the Internet while looking for maps of the provinces of the Roman Empire. Hint: you can get porn before you can get a decent map of Pannonia (though technically that was my friend J's search, not mine).

This is one of my absolute favorite poems, and has been since I first read it in high school. Lowell's language is extraordinarily physical--do yourself a favor and read it aloud--but the austere New Englander worldview appeals to me too. Certainly it seems appropriate to post today.



The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket
by Robert Lowell

[FOR WARREN WINSLOW, DEAD AT SEA]

Let man have dominion over the fishes of the sea and the fowls of the air and the beasts of the whole earth,
and every creeping creature that moveth upon the earth.


I

A brackish reach of shoal off Madaket—
The sea was still breaking violently and night
Had steamed into our North Atlantic Fleet,
When the drowned sailor clutched the drag-net. Light
Flashed from his matted head and marble feet,
He grappled at the net
With the coiled, hurdling muscles of his thighs:
The corpse was bloodless, a botch of reds and whites,
Its open, staring eyes
Were lustreless dead-lights
Or cabin-windows on a stranded hulk
Heavy with sand. We weight the body, close
Its eyes and heave it seaward whence it came,
Where the heel-headed dogfish barks its nose
On Ahab’s void and forehead; and the name
Is blocked in yellow chalk.
Sailors, who pitch this portent at the sea
Where dreadnaughts shall confess
Its hell-bent deity,
When you are powerless
To sand-bag this Atlantic bulwark, faced
By the earth-shaker, green, unwearied, chaste
In his steel scales: ask for no Orphean lute/To pluck life back. )
starlady: Anna Maria from PoTC at the helm: "bring me that horizon" (bring me that horizon)
Hochschild, Adam. Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves. Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2005.

I think this might be the best book I have read all year. it is certainly the most inspiring; at one point near the end I was moved to tears, and that is very high praise from me.

Hochschild, a professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley's, school of the same, offers a searing and inspiring history of the fight to end slavery in the British Empire, begun by 12 men in a printing shop in 1787 and ended at last by millions around the world, victorious, in 1833. To this story Hochschild brings an unabashedly and unapologetically contemporary perspective, never wavering in his conviction that democracy despite its faults is the best and most desirable form of government, that racism in and of itself is wrong, and that the same goes for the lack of women's and worker's rights in societies of the day worldwide. Equally salutary and crucially, he is clear on the fact that the abolitionist movement would never have succeeded without the input of slaves and ex-slaves themselves, who in writings (like Olaudah Equiano) described unvarnished the horrors they had survived and surmounted, and who in warfare and rebellion, like the slaves of the former St. Domingue and those of Jamaica 40 years later, made clear that they would not wait to be freed by the white man, but would seize those rights for themselves, with all the violence that had been visited upon them by their masters. (In one of history's more agonizing ironies, Haiti paid and has paid for the two hundred years since a terrible price for its denizens' unwillingness to lie quiet in their oppression.) He is also clear that the movement would never have been reignited without the uncredited goad and example of many women's antislavery organizations, under the leadership of women like Elizabeth Heyrick, who had no patience with the gradualist approach their senior male counterparts espoused. And finally, it is in many ways a testament to the unflinching, radically ethical nature of Quakerism even in the centuries before ideas of equality and human rights took root in discourse. Hochschild is also brilliant on the interconnectedness of slavery with virtually every social, economic and political institution in the empire, particularly the Royal Navy, and lays bare these connections with thoroughgoing zeal. It is a story peopled by characters who seem both larger than life (Thomas Clarkson, Toussaint L'Ouverture) and whose inability to make what seem to be obvious connections (William Wilberforce) are brought to vibrant, contradictory, puzzling life. His unwillingness to gloss over these everyday evils, as well as the sheer banal stupidity of monarchy and its scions, ought to shame many writers of historical fiction.

We live with that hope still.  )
starlady: Feminist Hulk ponder capitalism's complicity in patriarchy: Hulk smash for free (hulk smash for free)
Horner, Emily. A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend. New York: Dial Books, 2010.

Disclaimer: I am personally acquainted with the author. But I'd think this book was as awesome as it is even if I didn't know her from Eve.

So, A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend. One sentence review: Does what it says on the tin, and it's awesome.

The longer version )
So, in conclusion: Quakerism, queerness, biking, ninjas, fake blood, musical theater, what more could you want? Go read it now, seriously.

(Also, note to SFF: if YA can show that it is this easy to incorporate social justice and protagonists who aren't either straight or white or thin or normative but who nonetheless not defined by their non-normativity into great books, there's no reason for you not to step up, IJS.)
starlady: ((say it isn't so))
THE THEOLOGIAN'S TALE: ELIZABETH

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I
"Ah, how short are the days! How soon the night overtakes us!

In the old country the twilight is longer; but here in the forest

Suddenly comes the dark, with hardly a pause in its coming,

Hardly a moment between the two lights, the day and the lamplight;

Yet how grand is the winter! How spotless the snow is, and perfect!"




Of course I have an opinion )
starlady: (remember remember)
I've just finished reading Farthing by Jo Walton (aka [livejournal.com profile] papersky). It is an utterly brilliant, and brilliantly chilling, little book--though it's a quick read, it packs a great deal of wallop into a very unassuming structure, that of the English country-house mystery. In point of fact, I'm reminded more than a little of Robert Altman's movie "Gosford Park," though of course "Gosford Park" doesn't have the naissance of British fascism, in an alternate 1949 in which Britain sued for peace with the Reich in May 1941, hanging in the balance.

Lucy Khan, the renegade daughter of the leaders of the so-called Farthing Set, the faction within the Tories that made peace with Hitler, and her Jewish husband David Khan are prevailed upon by Lucy's mother to come down for the weekend, and when another member of the Set is found dead in his room with a Jewish star skewered to his chest, suspicion inevitably rests heavily on David, though Inspector Carmichael of Scotland Yard is too smart not to do his own thinking (and indeed, perhaps too smart for his own good). Confound their politics,/Frustrate their knavish tricks! )

On an unrelated, happier note, Hallmark sells same-sex couple wedding cards (though the ones I saw were either for male couples or generic. as usual, the lesbians are invisible). If that's not progress, I don't know what is.

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