After Picnic on Paradise, I wasn't convinced by Russ's fiction. (Though, her vaunted nonfiction collection How To Suppress Women's Writing was an excellent read.)

A friend convinced me to try again by loaning me We Who Are About To... and Souls, both later works of hers that veered away from “badass government agent” setup of Picnic (a premise that, though revelatory and subversive around its initial publication in 1968, when it ran counter to many pulp sci-fi tropes, was less interesting to me).

Who Who Are About To... in particular stood out as an attack on colonialism-in-space, survivalist narratives, and forced-birth premises. Though written from a different era, the book felt like an antidote to several recent popular sci-fi series I've read, where humans defeat the outside alien scourge or survive great odds thanks to the depth of the human spirit, so on and so on. When Russ's protagonists crashland, there's no “foreign space enemies” on the new planet, like in many space travel narratives — the travelers feel compelled to settle the planet regardless. With no hope of rescue, the group's leaders concoct an illogical plan to breed, despite having no survival skills, no ability to farm or hunt or build, and no real sense of reason or purpose for continuing to exist, beyond the thought that they probably ought to because that's what you do.

The book turns into an intense indictment of “survival at all costs” stories, as well as an attack on forced-birth, eugenicist, “survival of the species” narratives that pervade older sci-fi (and persist in subtler forms in modern franchises). Though the comparison to Lord of the Flies might be tempting, the book is less interested in mankind's reversion to its savage nature; it's more interested in questions about the cost (and value) of survival at all.

(Fascinatingly enough, Russ wrote the book as a direct response to Darkover Landfall, the Marion Zimmer Bradley novel infamously panned by Vonda M. McIntyre for being anti-feminist, pro-forced-brith, etc. Shoutout to Sandstone for bringing that to my attention — the back-and-forth between critics documented on the Fanlore wiki is fascinating.)

Souls, overall, was a lot less fascinating to me — although if you're a reader interested in 12th-century Viking conquests and weird metaphysical musings that mirror aliens, the Catholic church, and religious transcendence, this might be a novella for you.

#y2022 #books #scifi #adultfiction #sffclassics #essays

I'm a data journalist and media educator based in the Pacific Northwest. Follow what I'm reading live on Storygraph. You can subscribe to this blog via email or via the Fediverse Find me at @petrinkae on Twitter or on Mastodon.

just finished Davey Davis' X, which feels very much like an heir to Patrick Califia's lesser-read work (and only published novel, iirc) Doc and Fluff.

It's not that they're particularly similar. Beyond starring transmasculine protagonists who have a ton of BDSM sex, much of it well outside of SSC or RACK paradigms while navigating romantic relationships, sex work, and queer intracommunity conflict... they're pretty dissimilar in tone, politics, approach to character and relationship. I'm not sure I particularly enjoyed either, and I have thwarted feelings about where to place them on any objective rating scale.

But there's something to be said for the fact that there's not much out there like it: dystopias often focus on a promised hero (especially in the YA vein of Divergent/Hunger Games), or an everyday office schmuck (ah — Calvin Kasulke's several people are typing), or grizzled survivors (Walking Dead, various zombie comedies, Torrey Peters' infect your friends and loved ones). Not a lot start from the lives of people already on the outside of society structures, struggling to make rent & stay housed just on a normal day. People who just function under passively, banally evil bureaucracies in futuristic worlds that are near-identical to modern reality.

(the treatment of bureaucratic evil also feels in line with Bornstein/Sullivan's approach to nearly roadkill's fumbling internet regulators, although that book's world is certainly more fun and less graphically violent & dour than Califia or Davis.)

curious whether there's an entire genre of banal dystopias that I need to hunt down, or whether this is just a strange trans stub-genre that rears its head once a decade and disappears.

#y2022 #books #horror #dystopia #essays

I'm a data journalist and media educator based in the Pacific Northwest. Follow what I'm reading live on Storygraph. You can subscribe to this blog via email or via the Fediverse Find me at @petrinkae on Twitter or on Mastodon.

Catching up on the LaRocca craze, as I managed to entirely miss the hype (which I guess? occurred? via people on TikTok hating on things have gotten worse since we last spoke). Not sure how I missed it, as it's queer body horror that makes people mad. aka. my genre.

you've lost a lot of blood manages to meld two wildly different premises: the cold-blooded queer murderer, vis a vis Poppy Z Brite's exquisite corpse, and time loop/virtual reality shenanigans (Cronenberg –> eXistenZ?) through a nested novella. The murderer and his boyfriend argue about the nature of art & horror vs. exploitation (lol) while characters in the murderer's book have a very bad time running from horrific creatures while trapped in a madman's postmortem magnum opus. Also, poems are threaded in. There's a lot of philosophy and genre commentary packed in here, at times sarcastically so, and some of it is fun but some of it is just annoying. Still, the collection as a whole was fun, weird, creepy, etc. Never quite grabbed me at the character level, but consistently entertained at the conceptual one.

we can never leave this place landed less well for me. a tale of a girl living in sewage in a crumbling home that her mother refuses to abandon, even as war rages around them. after her father dies (while trying to abandon them), her mother takes in the malicious Rake, who promises to bring back the girl's father. Which is, of course, a trap. There's a lot going on in this one, nearly all allegorical, and for me there was just too much metaphor and not enough literal for everything to work for me. it's about grief & survival, but through the dark fairytale lens with indulgent prose and symbolic characters. eh.

bonus: interesting brief piece on poorly behaved queers & reactionary criticism against their existence in books. More relevant to you've lost a lot of blood / things have gotten worse since we last spoke. some interesting framing for LaRocca's work & certain criticisms of it.

#y2022 #books #novellas #horror #adultfiction #essays #reviews

I'm a data journalist and media educator based in the Pacific Northwest. Follow what I'm reading live on Storygraph. You can subscribe to this blog via email or via the Fediverse Find me at @petrinkae on Twitter or on Mastodon.

Or, a review of Susanna Clarke's Piranesi, kindof

Publication Date: September 2020
Attributes: adult fiction, short novel, general fiction
Tags: The Plot Is The Myth, protagonist with amnesia, labyrinths, vaguely bisexual, fantastic travelogue

The trouble with queer specfic: It's nearly impossible to filter for it without setting some arbitrary constraints.

Both “queer” and “specfic” are two categories both wildly broad and obnoxiously debated.

Specfic itself is gigantic, covering every genre as long as the writer applies the right type of speculation. (What's the right type? Good luck getting a consistent answer on that one.) And academics have argued that queer covers everything from dyed-in-the-wool ~HoMoSeXuAlS~ to robots that look at you with a certain je ne sais quoi. The queer community tries to narrow that, but then you end up with arguments that some gay people aren't queer, and asexual people aren't queer, and... and... and....

In fiction, you end up with months-long fandom debates about, say, what it takes to queer-validate a popular media property depicting two immortal beings who don't really jive with gender but do present as men and have essentially lived as life partners for millennia. Do they have to kiss on screen? Is holding hands enough? Does a cheeky slip of an implied handhold juuuust out of viewer sights count as queer, or queerbaiting?

All of this to say, Piranesi isn't queer by a lot of definitions. Okay, yes, the main character does lovingly detail the sartorial choices of a man he repeatedly calls “handsome.” But many would say the author's refusal to use on-the-page identifiers or depict romance or mention the gender of past lovers — however plot implausible — disqualifies it from queerness.

I'm writing about it here anyway. One, because I feel like it. Two, because I'm not really interested in a “textual gate-keeping definition of queer.” Three, because I've never read a truly straight book about getting lost in a labyrinth, and I'm not going to start with this one. (A labyrinth, as with a book, is just as much about what you bring into it as it is about what's already there.)

For people who came for a proper review, I'll say this: Piranesi is a puzzle of a book, and its unraveling is a delight. The story is told in the form of journals written by a man who lives in a great labyrinth. The format is deeply relational: Instead of Julian dates, the writer marks time by important things that occur; he tells time and space from the goings of inexplicable tides and grand statues. The unnamed narrator knows the halls of the labyrinth better than he knows himself. In fact, he does not even know his own name, in the beginning.

The journey is as much about discovering the world-truth as it is discovering the narrator; the two are well-twined. As he learns more about himself, the mystery draws him to places beyond the labyrinth.

Fans of Patricia A. McKillip will enjoy a more restrained approach to a similar storytelling ethos. (I never read Clarke's beloved 2004 novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, so I can't say how that compares.)

Though there is a “plot,” and a “mystery,” and a sort of “battle” between some people who mean the narrator harm and some people who hope to help him, the book is as much meandering travelogue and fable-esque architectural digest as it is a linear narrative.

It joins a long line of delightful fiction that serves as an ode to the people who feel lured to imagined worlds. This one also follows many of my favorite pieces, which are interested more in getting lost than getting to a destination.

More like this: Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges, much by Patricia A. McKillip, Imaginary Prisons: Giovanni Battista Piranesi Prints

#backlist #reviews #books #novels #adultfiction #essays #y2020

I'm a data journalist and media educator based in the Pacific Northwest. Follow what I'm reading live on Storygraph. You can subscribe to this blog via email or via the Fediverse Find me at @petrinkae on Twitter or on Mastodon.