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review 2017-03-11 20:24
Black Wave, Michelle Tea
Black Wave - Michelle Tea

The more I read (and watch movies and TV), the more I value encountering something unlike anything else I ever have before. Black Wave, by Michelle Tea, immersed me in a world new to me in several ways.


Though there are occasionally individual queer characters in the books I read, I haven't read much queer lit where a larger community is represented, especially queer women. Black Wave is set in San Francisco in the 90s at the start, an alternative past where gentrification has strangled most of the culture(s) from the city. In addition, the world appears to be ending due to advanced climate change: it's dangerous to be out in the sun even incidentally, the ocean is a trash wave, many animals are extinct, and invasive species have overtaken the dying native flora. In other words, the environment's death mirrors a cultural and, as is soon apparent, a personal one.


The protagonist, Michelle (like the author), is in her later twenties, and is the kind of addict who tells herself she's not because she doesn't shoot heroin but snorts it and is able to keep her job at a bookstore. She falls in love (or becomes infatuated) easily and hooks up with many of the women who come into her orbit, despite being in a "steady" relationship with a partner more stable than she is. At one point the point of view shifts from Michelle's to her girlfriend's, who thinks she's a sociopath.


That feels pretty accurate, but one of the amazing things about Black Wave is that despite Michelle's objectively unlikable character, I still felt very much invested in her. In part this is due to the humor and energy of the writing. For example:


Michelle seemed more like some sort of compulsively rutting land mammal, a chimera of dog in heat and black widow, a sex fiend that kills its mate. Or else she was merely a sociopath. She was like the android from Blade Runner who didn’t know it was bad to torture a tortoise. She had flipped [her girlfriend] Andy onto her belly in the Armageddon sun and left her there, fins flapping.


I may also personally respond to Michelle because she's a writer, one who's even published and had a sort of local fame. Around the midpoint of the book when she moves to L.A., the narrative is deconstructed as she attempts to write a new book. It becomes clear that not everything we've read so far is as it happened. Another aspect I liked is that somehow this sudden shift doesn't feel like a trick as can happen in many modernist and post-modernist writing and metafiction. How and why I don't know, but after some minor readjustment on my part as a reader, I was still invested.


I've often noted what a structure fanatic I am, and the last major selling point of Black Wave is the way it beautifully spins out in the last third.


Tangents were Michelle’s favorite part of writing, each one a declaration of agency: I know I was going over there but now I’m going over here, don’t be so uptight about it, just come along. A tangent was a fuckup, a teenage runaway. It was a road trip with a full tank of gas. You can’t get lost if you don’t have anywhere to be. This was writing for Michelle: rule free, glorious, sprawling.


As the world ends, people begin dreaming vividly and lucidly about others who exist in the real world, all over the world. They're dreams of connection and love where identity is fluid, and some begin living in them, like Michelle's bosses at the bookstore who hand over the business to her. So the world ends, but somehow Michelle's in a good place, and so was I.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-05-06 22:56
He, She, It, and I
He, She and It - Marge Piercy

I wish I'd been able to read this book when I was assigned it for a graduate class on speculative fiction and utopias/dystopias. It's a rich novel with so much to discuss. As it is, I can imagine I'll only touch on some of the issues the book explores (see my long list of tags) and my reactions as I read.


First, this is the only speculative novel I've read with a Jewish protagonist and characters, steeped in Jewish culture. Woven together with Shira's story and her evolving relationship with Yod, the cyborg, is a story Shira's grandmother, Malkah, tells to Yod about the Jewish ghetto in Prague circa 1600, and the Golem created to defend those living there. At first I was thrown by the story and how it was being told, but after the first such chapter I got it. Obviously, Yod's and the Golem's stories parallel one another in essential ways. Primarily, both explore the question of "humanity" and personhood often raised by SF when androids or cyborgs are involved. I never get tired of this topic.


The novel was published in the early '90s, and so much is dead-on when it comes to our present and probable future--corporations running the world and determining culture; poverty and violence; the role of the internet; the destruction of the environment. The only "futuristic" bit that feels dated (if that makes sense) is the virtual reality-style raid, and that's only because people have been trying to make VR a thing for so long, and predicting it will be, despite it never catching on.


I loved the novel's representations of sexuality and gender, and it's clearly feminist, without being polemic. In its depiction of Tikva, the Jewish "free town" that exists beyond the corporate enclaves and "Glop" (megalopolis), socialism rises as the more humane and diverse system as compared to the rampant capitalism that rules most of the world.


Malkah and the Golem, Joseph, are the most interesting characters to me, and Nili grew on me as well, as she does with Shira. I sometimes struggled with Shira; she can be self-pitying and not always self-aware, though her journey involves coming into her own as a thinker and worker (however, she only comes to trust in herself when she learns she was deliberately not promoted; her stasis had nothing to do with a lack of skill--in other words, validation from others plays a strong role in her own sense of self, which is natural but dangerous). I also never liked Gadi, Shira's childhood love, which made it tougher for me to in turn like Shira.


My only other issue was with the pacing at the end, where for a moment it seems Shira is about to make a disastrous mistake before she quickly comes to her senses. I suppose this is meant as a contrast to the Maharal's way of dealing with Joseph, and a final show of growth for Shira. However, it comes and goes so fast, it felt melodramatic or heavy-handed.


If you like SF at all, or are eager for interesting female characters, or, like me, are maybe developing a deep fascination with A.I., this is a different and engrossing novel.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2015-05-05 20:24
The Stand - Stephen King

My favorite part of this gigantic King novel is the beginning: seeing how the superflu wipes out humanity and how the remaining characters survive and come together. After that, things got dicey for me. So much time is spent in the Free Zone that I wondered what was happening in Vegas, and when we got to Vegas in the last part, things were already falling apart. There's such a build up of some storylines that I think it was hard to make them pay off (perhaps the slimmer version of the novel worked better in that regard). Nadine's story in particular ended rather abruptly, and she was one of the more fascinating characters. In addition, Flagg is felt to be such a huge threat, but in the last part his power is already fading, and you know things will basically work out all right. I suppose pacing in general didn't work for me in the second half. By the end, what unfolds feels anti-climactic, and Stu and Tom's journey home dragged.


The other central beef I had with the book was the characters. I can't say I had a favorite or cared overly much for particular characters. Women in particular are generally given short shrift and stereotypical roles. I liked Dayna, the spy, but she's killed off quickly. Otherwise, the game ends up being in the hands of men, whose characters develop noticeably over the course of the narrative. I wish more post-apocalypse stories resembled The Walking Dead, where women aren't relegated to being only mothers or victims.


There were moments and sequences where I was thoroughly engaged, excited, horrified, frightened, but not enough for me to love this book. I don't read as much King as I used to, but I always wanted to read this one. I'm glad I finally did despite not liking the book as much as I'd anticipated.


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review 2014-07-31 16:03
The Last Policeman, by Ben H. Winters
The Last Policeman - Ben H. Winters

The speculative premise of this book is what drew me to it: an asteroid on a crash course with Earth and how that affects law and order. Those elements also turned out to be my favorite as I read--not just how the government and law enforcement would change with a world-changing disaster a year away, but how people live more generally. The collapse (essentially) of the economy. Increased suicides. Increased drug and alcohol use.


Henry Palace, the first person narrator, is a detective, one of those guys meant to be one. He's meticulous and one of the only members of the police force in Concord, New Hampshire, to follow a suspected murder case (as opposed to the suicide it's assumed to be) as if it still matters. The book can read a bit like a noir detective story, which may or may not be your cup of tea (it's less my cup). But I liked him and his diligence.


The case he works takes lots of turns, some of which I saw coming, many of which I didn't. Sometimes the story is structured so that Palace knows what's going on, but there's a bit of a tease before the reader finds out; that was a little annoying to me, though you're not strung along for too long.


I liked the book; it was enjoyable enough. I saw that there's at least one more book set in this world, though I didn't love this novel enough to want to check out the next in the series. Sometimes one book's enough.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2013-11-23 16:29
DOGS: Bullets & Carnage Vol.8
Dogs, Vol. 8 - Shirow Miwa

Oh my. Oh my oh my oh my.


I'm still processing all the fucked up things being said about death, killing, and intimacy. For now, I'm content with the epic Heine-Naoto fight--or Heine-Angelika, I suppose--(but Heine/Naoto, really), and their pact of sorts to go to the below together and be each other's "last resort." *dies of shipping feels*


We get backstory from Herbst (the priest), a reveal about what happened with the mutant/modified children, and, well, more clones. I'm starting to think everyone's a clone.


I wish this manga came out faster!

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