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review 2018-06-26 16:46
The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin
The Dispossessed - Ursula K. Le Guin

Le Guin's famous novel cannot hide its time of conception: it's clearly a work influenced by the Cold War. But without doubt it's still relevant today; I think it should be required reading, not only for Science Fiction-fans, but for everyone, especially in a time that's so busy building walls.


The Dispossessed is a successful though-experiment on how and where an anarchist society - or anarcho-syndicalist society, more to the point - could actually work (answer: in an isolated system with limited, but not too limited resources). Le Guin has put a lot of thought into her topic and into her ambiguous utopia, with ambiguous being the key-word here; every objection I could think of she had already covered. It's a smart book that's not as didactic as I feared, but it didn't leave me fully satisfied. My problems don't stem from political disagreement, mind you. Quite the opposite: I can agree with her too much, on too many points, and that's always bound to turn out a bit boring. I prefer books that make me bristle, leave me uncomfortable, force me to rethink my opinions. No such luck here, although that's hardly Le Guin's fault.


I also found the book to be less successful as an entertaining Science Fiction-story. It's dry, even for Le Guin's standard, who's never been an especially juicy author to start with. I've seen other reviewers argue that the dry tone is meant to mirror either the barren world of Anarres or Shevek's thought-processes as a physicists. Both takes sound logic to me, but don't exactly make the story more enjoyable to read. It didn't help that I'm the one SF-fan that's not at all interested in math and physics. I needed to force myself not to skip the endless passages on Shevek's work, as important as they may be.


That's not to say the book is badly written; it's Le Guin after all. You can find some delightful turns of phrase and even some humour here and there. But she tells her story from above, turns us readers into spectators rather than letting us experience things from ground-level. It's a veritable story-telling technique and maybe even appropriate for what she set out to do here, but I can't say I liked it very much. I missed detail. Take the food, for example: She describes how the people of A-Io like to have these big parties with fanciful meals and drinks, but never mentions what exactly it is they eat and drink. I missed immersion. She rarely lets us in on her characters feelings, into their heads. She tells us about their feelings and thoughts, but most of the time she keeps us at a distance. When she finally deems to get down into the personal POV, when her characters become more than spokespersons for her ideas – which happens a lot more often in the second half than in the first - she manages to create some poignant moments.


So, an important book, but not a favourite. I guess I would've enjoyed it more had I read it 20, 22 years ago, at a more impressionable age, when I was just starting to learn about Anarchism and Taoism. Of course, that's completely my own fucking fault.


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review 2018-05-14 19:58
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.

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text 2018-02-08 17:38
Chandler Klang Smith - The Sky is Yours
The Sky is Yours - Chandler Klang Smith

Here is a city, and the city is burning.


There are two dragons, the yellow and the green. One would be an aberration, a hundred would be a proliferation, but two: two is a species, either dying off or just getting started.


The city is burning, and yet people stay. Stubborn, persistent, stupid: people stay. The penniless poor and the filthy rich, the ones with nowhere left to go, the ones who haven't learned to live anywhere else: people stay. Someone always stays behind.


Here is what scientists have learned:

1. The dragons lever land.

2. The dragons never eat.

3. The dragons never sleep.

4. Ballistics, rockets, stun guns, paratroopers, lassos toxic sprays, nets, high-pitched sounds, mass hysteria, and prayer do nothing to deter the dragons.

5. The dragons will not let us be.


This is a story about a city, a story about what it means to be young, and it has been compared to many things. Let me have my try: it's like The Princess Bride and Infinite Jest had a baby and had her raised by Jeff VanderMeer, reading her bedtime stories by Mervyn Peake. What this girl dreams then might be this story. (The author claims she was inspired by Jane Austen.)


It's sprawling, and funny, and harrowing; it's a satire, and some don't like its bite. It's ambitious, and totally crazy, and far from perfect. The first act is gold, the second act drags; when our young heroes should be questing, they sit around talking all the time (it's really a very dialogue-heavy work; the ghost of Austen, I suspect.) The third act closes the circle. All questions answered? No way, no how, but that's life, ain't it?

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review 2017-11-15 14:55
The Einstein Intersection - Samuel R. Delany
The Einstein Intersection - Samuel R. Delany,Neil Gaiman
**Slightly spoilery and full of pretension.**
You remember the legend of the Beatles? You remember the Beatle Ringo left his love even though she treated him tender. He was the one Beatle who did not sing, so the earliest forms of the legend go. After a hard day's night he and the rest of the Beatles were torn apart by screaming girls, and he and the other Beatles returned, finally at one, with the great rock and the great roll.
Given a long enough time-span, our reality will turn to myth. When we are lucky, what we know about our lives will survive in stories, fuel the imagination of others, being re-lived in the grand tales and the small.
There is no death, only love.
On the surface, The Einstein Intersection is a quest. Lobey loses his beloved Friza and goes on a journey to wrestle her back from death. He has monsters to fight, cattle to tend to, and underworlds to enter. He has to leave old friends behind, to make new acquaintances and foes. Just like every hero, he has to confront his arch-nemesis, Kid Death, a read-headed child-devil.
It's a quest, a coming-of-age story, and a re-enactment of myths. Lobey and the other characters channel mythic figures, more than one at a time. Lobey is Orpheus and Theseus, further we have Minotaurs and oracles, a Cyclops who is also Jesus, the traitor who is every traitor combined, Persephone who is Jean Harlow who is every dream you ever had, and Death who is Billy the Kid who is the Devil. Through re-enacting, Delany confronts our myths and our myth-making. He uses the hero's quest as a rumination about differences and how we come to terms with them. These differences are the heart of the story, as are the contrasts: live and death and the in-between, village and town and city, feral Minotaurs and cattle-like dragons and tame dogs, the old tryst and the lost love and the object of pure desire. Lo and La and Le.
There is no death, only rhythm.
Delany creates an irrational universe in spellbinding prose. His writing is lyrical; it has rhythm. Poetic descriptions are juxtaposed with action sequences channelling classic pulp, in the best tradition of Alfred Bester (I have been told Delany is a fan).
While the prose is beautiful on a sentence to sentence level, and the individual episodes of Lobey's quest are fun to read, they don't connect all that well. I have too little familiarity with ancient myths to say if Delany was trying to imitate them here, or if he was simply making things up as he went along.
Each chapter – or rather episode, as there are no real chapter breaks – starts with an epigraph, some of them taken from Delany's own author's journal. That's more than a bit pretentious; but Delany was just in his mid-twenties when he wrote this book, a young author very full of himself (and, to the most part, rightly so); I'm willing to cut him some slack. 
There is no death. Only music.
Lobey is a musician. His flute is also his machete, an instrument to create and to destroy. It's one example for Delany's surrealist, metaphorical writing. It sometimes reaches obscurity and leaves the reader with an ending that is, just like the author wanted it to be, inconclusive.
No answers, but are the questions really that important? Endings can only be inconclusive, because there are no endings. This post-apocalyptic world is peopled with aliens who have taken over humanity's legacy, trying to walk in our shoes. But just like Lobey must transcend his role as Orpheus, earth's new inhabitants must learn to transcend the old myths and go on, making their own stories, to fully become themselves. A new beginning.
The appropriate soundtrack here would be the Beatles. But I'm really not that into the Beatles, so I chose the Orpheus tale from someone who is one of the greatest storytellers the great rock and the great roll ever had: The Lyre of Orpheus


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review 2017-09-06 00:00
Anathema: Spec from the Margins, April 2017 (Anathema, #1)
Anathema: Spec from the Margins, April 2... Anathema: Spec from the Margins, April 2017 (Anathema, #1) - Michael Matheson,Chinelo Onwualu,Andrew Wilmot,S. Qiouyi Lu,Tony Pi,Ayodele Olofintuade,Brent Lambert,Stephanie Chan First issue of a magazine dedicated to stories by queer writers of colour. I always say that collections are a mixed bag, but I honestly really liked everything in this anthology save one story (life is too short for AIDS metaphors). I think the mermaid story "The Woman with a Thousand Stars in Her Hair" was my favourite this issue. Also excellent, the essay about using Kenyan vernacular to define a place for marginalised people, especially in relation to SFF.
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