Jemisin’s fiction (@nkjemisin) constantly amazes me – it can be incredibly subtle and also inexorably direct and clear; it can be wildly imaginative and yet also pay homage to its sources straightforwardly; it can be maddeningly obtuse and frighteningly transparent. The Kingdom of Gods, the third and final novel in the Inheritance trilogy, lives up to all of these prosal characteristics, and like every other novel of hers that I’ve read I had trouble putting it down.
- This series (much like the other series of hers that I have read, the Broken Earth series) is chock full of discussions of identity and essential natures. Jemisin is way too smart to offer us easy answers to these questions, and her usage of Sieh as a first-person narrator in this novel fits that pattern.
- Sieh is a trickster god, an honored tradition in many pantheons. In the first novel of the series we see a lot of Sieh, and he’s pretty repellent, a childish purely libidinal creature with the powers of a god.
- That changes in this book, mostly because of the love he has for two mortals. Sieh talks about being true to his own nature, but he is able to transform by the end of the novel (no spoiler alert because I won’t say how).
- Jemisin doesn’t make that change an easy one. In fact, it requires enormous sacrifices on Sieh’s part, and because we are in a first-person narration we get Sieh’s not always completely self-aware understanding of how and why he is changing.
- From my perspective this approach to the essential nature of identity is a compelling one, especially in a fictional genre that tends to deal in often overblown archetypes. Jemisin’s insistence that we have no essential nature makes more sense when presented in this context, I think, because rather than assume that there are unchangeable parts of ourselves what we see are the ways in which cultural training in combination with our own reactions, strategies, and hard-wiring make certain combinations of actions seem inevitable, and thus natural.
- This approach is an incredibly complicated one to pull off, and I found myself looking constantly for markers that helped me locate my own reading experience. I wanted desperately to make the gods Greek, a fallback based upon my own training in the canon and the fluid sexuality of many of her characters. That approach is limited, but I think it sort of helped.
- I then kept thinking of trickster characters, especially the ones that I know from southwestern religious structures. Jemisin’s focusing this novel on Sieh as trickster nicely sets up this discussion of essential natures, especially since it follows other novels in which she has a mortal become a founding god because the essence of a founding god has been located in her.
- Yien, that god, transforms the one who was hidden in her, a comment perhaps upon Harry Potter and embedded wizards and such.
- Sieh, though, is forced to grow up, and that process changes him utterly in ways that trickster gods should not adhere to – he becomes interested more in stability than chaos, and becomes an actual change agent in ways fit neatly with these ideas of how identity changes.
- All of this is done while simultaneously exploiting the generic obsession with stable characters. Wow…
Caddyshack has reappeared in my life a couple of times recently. It was released the year I graduated high school and left for college, and it played on the midnight movies a lot, so I saw it (a lot). I’ll not swear that I saw it in any clear-minded state, but oh my word I laughed a bunch, every time, so the fact that it has reappeared makes me happy, and makes me wonder…
I haven’t watched it in its entirety for several years, but when I saw it was on an option on a recent flight I didn’t hesitate. I giggled quietly and hysterically to myself for the next two hours, and since then I have sat down and watched it again. I’m a little embarrassed to admit this but I laughed at all the same places, most of which are here.
However, what makes me want to write about the film is what it satires. There are recent films (and series) that poke fun at the rich (the first two seasons of Arrested Development are genius, I think), but they seemingly can’t end without the rich people being either proven to be evil in some fundamental way or finding a way to redeem themselves. The idea that they have taken advantage of structural, systemic advantages in a skewed, unequal system seems impossible for contemporary Hollywood to comprehend, and the resulting cultural work that is done seems predictable – it justifies the rich and their place in our culture.
I’m not arguing somehow that the 80s films were better in a more socially conscious way – saying that Caddyshack is some sort of hyper-intentional shredding of the way that the rich function in our culture is a hard argument to make, and there are definitely indie films that satirize the uber-wealthy in funny and useful ways. Coming hard on the heels of the hyper-earnestness of the Sixties, films like Caddyshack got shredded by the left for reducing the debate about wealth accumulation to ridiculous levels and thus invalidating the entire discussion. There’s something to be said for that argument, of course. Continue Reading
This post will get a bit political, so hold on to yer hats and stop reading if you’re more interested in travel writing (I will touch on that as well, but…)
I’m preparing to teach a class next spring on mapping the city, a course I usually teach in Rome. I’ve been asked to reconfigure it for our rust belt cities, and moving from the glamor, squalor, and glamorous squalor (or squalorly glamour?) of Rome has been a bit of a haul. Rome after all is self-billed as the Eternal City, and there are no cities in the U.S. that have been around long enough to even be called the Been Here a Long Time City, so there’s a bit of a conundrum inherent in the conversion.
In the U.S., of course, we idealize small- and medium-sized cities much like the one that I live in. My neighborhood is one of those that fits the carefully-sculpted mainstream narrative – middle-class, mixed blue and white-collar, 99 percent white, 95 percent straight. The houses are older, so we all have front porches, which means that I often know more than I want to know about my neighbors’ business. We do have some immigrants moving in, but in general the neighborhood has not changed significantly in forty years. Continue Reading
This is book two of her Broken Earth series, and she’s not kidding about the title of the series – the earth is definitely broken. Unlike many of the fantasy series I’ve read recently this one takes place in a sort of identifiable earth from thousands of years in the future.
- This novel slowed down the action a bit from the first in the series (The Fifth Season, which I seem to have forgotten to review). Whereas the first one went dizzingly fast, not worrying about readerly comfort, this one took a second to allow us glimpses of the past in order to explain (ew) why the planet is so broken.
- It’s broken because of us, of course, but rather than make this series a dystopia Jemisin simply shows how she imagines humans (as well as the rest of the planet) evolving to meet these changed conditions.
- One of the ways that humans have evolved is that some of us (an important distinction) have developed another central nervous system stem, something she calls the sessinapae (it’s always italicized in the novels). This new organ is not exactly explained, but it has a mystical function – it enables those who have it to manipulate earth’s energies directly. The orogenes (the name for those who have this organ) can use these powers for good and protect human settlements from the earthquakes and other massive shakes of the earth’s crust that happen constantly.
- As with all human powers, of course, they’re also used for not-so-savory purposes – control, revenge, and so on.
- These unsavory uses are at the heart of the plotline, as characters try to focus their powers in ways to protect their kin.
- Jemisin neatly doesn’t focus much on the ways in which the planet was broken – this series is not a morality play. We do get the history in bits, though, and as one might expect it’s not pretty.
- It seems that climate change got increasingly more devastating (there are hints of gaia theory here, as the planet tries to shake off us human fleas), and we tried to mitigate its effects in increasingly more drastic ways. The final way we as humans tried to make the planet inhabitable despite these effects involved us somehow moving the moon (I guess in order to eliminate tides, which had probably grown into tsunami-sized events).
- This triggered the advent of the fifth season (the name of the book in the series), a devastatingly long disruption of the sun caused by volcanic ash and featuring toxic air being released from the earth’s crust.
- There are hints that all of this is intentional, but they are just hints, and the agent is the planet itself.
- The communities that survived did so barely, and often had to practice cannibalism to do so, so much so that while the characters talk about the practice with distaste it’s definitely not taboo.
- The orogenes come about because humans tried to adapt to the fifth season. Animal and plant species either died out or adapted in their own ways, and human evolution did the same thing. Our evolution, of course, is far less balanced.
- This is getting way too long, but there’s tons going on here, in addition to being a page-turning read. Jemisin is also offering us a look at how our lizard brains continue to want to divide us into tribes and constantly thwart our best, most idealistic impulses, and she posits a couple of different ways that humans can adapt (including beings called stone eaters that I don’t completely understand, as they seem almost god-like).
- There are also lots and lots of deadciv ruins that are often deadly and that current humans mostly leave untouched.
- I will be talking about this series more – it’s brilliant and fascinating.
Persepolis Rising is the seventh novel in The Expanse series by the pseudonymous James S.A. Covey. There is chatter about it being the first novel in the final trilogy, and if that breakdown helps readers place it more effectively than I can only encourage them to adopt it. For me the series makes sense as written, in an almost-too-straightforward way.
- Giving up the Rocinante is as hard for Covey as is it clearly is for Holden and Naomi. ‘Nuff said…
- This series has such been such a page-turner for me that I worry that I’m missing lots of the science that’s going on. The military seems to come directly from the world of Battlestar Galactica (at least until this novel), but the descriptions of astrophysics and their effects on spaceship movement are really interesting but get in the way of my enjoyment of the plot (that’s a self-deprecating remark – they shouldn’t). Wish I had time for a re-read…
- I think what’s most interesting to me is the way that this feels like a space opera, with relatively easy-to-recognize combatants, until the protomolecule appears. The authors keep it hovering in the background, and they don’t reveal much about it until it changes everything.
- As someone who is always looking for that Gibsonian moment when-it-all-changed, I’m intrigued by the alien stuff. Again, it’s perhaps not as interesting from the perspective of identity (like BSG), but what it neatly derails I think is the narrative line in which human exploration of the galaxy continues at a steady pace, and the universe looks very much like a place that is friendly for humans.
- Star Wars, for example, cannot imagine a planet that has harsher terrain than bitter cold or desert. Star Wars, of course, is a Western set in space.
- Even Star Trek cannot imagine truly alien worlds. The alien species that humans encounter are recognizably anthropoidal, and what we think of as alien is actually very close to us.
- I’m especially curious to see if the very specific reading of Darwin that Covey does (survival of the fittest is the basic principle) changes as the series finishes. I wouldn’t be surprised – the authors are clearly holding a lot back about the protomolecule and what its presence says about the universe, so a change to that specific reading of Darwin might well be in the works…
This will be quick, because Ready Player One is a particularly Spielsbergian piece of fluff that (SPOILER ALERT, BUT NOT IF YOU READ THE BOOK) ends with the good guys winning and all of us ready to forsake the machines and only live in OASIS part-time. YAY (and END SPOILERS)
- The tweaks on the book were interesting – they use The Shining to stand in for a whole bunch of 80s trivia. The book tended to drown in that, so I was okay with those decisions.
- The visuals were amazing, especially with the ways in which the OASIS is portrayed. They even carry the story a bunch, as is best evidenced by the ode to GTA that is the first part of the movie.
- The nods to various pieces of software felt great until they weren’t – it’s weird to see anachronistic product placement that probably works (I’m thinking Minecraft).
- As seems to happen with these films, the reasons why we now live in dystopias are simple and we own them. In this case, we simply stopped living outside of OASIS (I guess because it’s so good), for entirely predictable reasons.
- Thus the solution – we have log out on Tuesdays and Saturdays – will fix what ails us.
- I know Cline has a writing credit, but I can’t believe he’s completely okay with this. The evil corporation in the book is pretty evil, and the crazy inventive genius who manages to set up the ultimate game but still almost gives everything away to the evil corporation comes across as much crazier than he appears here, in which he essentially knew how things were going to end all along, in an EFF-for-the-win way.
I spent time at Romics 2018 yesterday, letting my phreak phlag phly. Thoughts and pics below:
- This was a huge event, and I’d love to know attendance numbers. Trenitalia was clearly ready, as they were checking bags and had extra personnel on hand to do crowd control and navigation.
- As I was searching for the train platform that I needed to find to get on my train from Roma Ostiense, I looked about a bit frantically (I didn’t waste time waiting for trains) until I saw a bunch of Final Fantasy characters hanging out on binario 12. Ah, my people…
These are not Final Fantasy characters, you doubters.
- I’m excited about the future for these folks, even if I wish a bit more analysis went on. I don’t long for the days of 47 of my best friends going to a comic-con, and listening to dramatic appeals, spoken as if from a lonely Arctic outpost, for somehow finding more attendees before comic-con died.
- We are clearly beyond those days.
- The mix between enormous corporations and small, local entrepeneurs, artists, and craftsfolk is fascinating. The cottage industries that have grown up around Star Wars, for example (full disclosure – I think Star Wars sort of sucks, as the series in my mind consists with one exception simply of morality tales set in space), have become full-fledged in ways that make me think of the ancillary industries that support old industrial plants. Without the support of specialized tool-and-die manufacturers, and problem-solvers from the outside, the auto and other industries would not have been as adaptable or flexible as they would otherwise have been.
- The failure of that system in the 1980s became evident when we visited the Papal Palace at Castel Gandalfo and saw the former popemobiles, a subject I will blog about in a future post.
- The level of attachment to something like Star Wars is worthy of lots of academic work and conversation among scifi authors (and it is, as witnessed at pop culture conferences and the loathing shown SW by the cyberpunk crowd).
- There were lots of institutions selling their academic wares here as well, including our friends at Vigamus. The academics were all visual arts-oriented, with little devoted to helping develop story-telling. It’s an interesting phenomenon to me, as game developers constantly talk about how they can’t find good writers, and yet I rarely see resources devoted to helping writers develop their craft. I hear the same thing in web content development…sounds like a project I should investigate.
- I was particularly interested in the ways that VIGAMUS had set up their space – they had a Dinosaur Jr. cover band (really) playing when I first walked by, but they had also brought a couple of old arcade games for folks to play, and they had a couple of gaming PCs fired up with older versions of some of the games that I saw people cosplaying – final fantasy, zelda, myst, and so on. Smart approach, I think, to getting people involved in the history of gaming. Perhaps that’s the best way to help gamers both casual and hard-core become more invested in approaching their diversion of choice from a more analytical perspective.
- I’ll write more about this in future posts…there was an entire exhibition hall devoted to e-sports (league of legends and FIFA soccer), and I’ve got a few words to say about the art on display as well…