kutsuwamushi: (Default)
I have this problem with books: I'm really bad at reading things for fun.

That's not to say that I deliberately pick something torturous, but I nearly always pick something that requires careful attention. I have perverse puritan work ethic; I can procrastinate for hours doing something of no value whatsoever, like building elaborate temple complexes in the Sims, but when it comes to reading--if I'm reading, it had better learn me something!

So, about a week ago, I picked up a book that has been sitting on my to-read shelf for about ten years that I'd been put off reading because although I love the author, when I'm reading fiction I usually just don't want to read anything too political.

It was The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin.

It's a really good book, although it can sometimes come across as a little didactic, and I had a hard time believing that political theories and systems in an entirely different solar system would be so similar to our own. (The characters are supposed to be related to humans, but I would have had a hard time buying it even if they were fully human.)

One thing that LeGuin is so good at is drilling down and exposing the shaky bedrock on which her societies are founded, and then not proposing any solutions for fixing it. In the end, I think we find that the protagonist's anarchist society is preferable to the capitalist, highly stratified society that he visits, but it's never portrayed as perfect. He leaves it only to find there's no place else to go.

Yeah, I suck at reading things for fun. That was depressing.
kutsuwamushi: (can has yaoi?)
I should have known that a book I found clumsy and amateurish when I was a teenager would be even worse now.

Yes, I am talking about Wraeththu. Why did I pick it up again? Curiosity, I suppose. Despite the bad writing, I did enjoy it enough to finish it back then--and that's saying something because the thing is damn long. I can still see the appeal now.

But oh my God, I somehow managed to block out the floofy fantasy name syndrome even though it's right in the title. I did remember the hilariously flowery portrayal of everything sexual, though.

(Icon so totally appropriate for this post.)
kutsuwamushi: (korra)
While procrastinating on several major assignments, I finally finished the Harry Potter series. I know. It took me forever to get around to it. After Order of the Phoenix I just wasn't as excited to continue, and then I kind of forgot what happened in the previous books and thought I would have to reread them in order for the newer ones to make sense (kind of like why I still haven't read any of the A Song of Ice and Fire books that have been published since I first started the series)...

Anyway.

I was kind of disappointed. It wasn't bad, but it felt like it kind of fizzled out. I should have expected that, because I'm very, very rarely pleased with the ending of a series. It frequently seems like authors are unable to do justice to the conflict that they've spent however many books building up. I don't really blame them; that's hard.

Which makes me wonder, friends list:

What series do you think ended well, that didn't leave you with the lingering feeling of "that's it?"
kutsuwamushi: (don't make me come back there)
See if you can spot the pattern:

In Cameron's Avatar, Jake Sully, an outsider, becomes the champion of the Na'vi, and fights for them against his own people.

In Frank Herbert's Dune, Paul Atriedes, an outsider, joins the Fremen and becomes their tragic messianic figure.

In Robin Hobb's Shaman's Crossing trilogy, Nevare Burvelle, an outsider, becomes magically connected to the Specks, a people who are under attack by his government's attempt to build a road through their land.

In more Star Trek episodes than I can name, the crew of the Enterprise, outsiders, discover that their influence on cultures that they meet is doing them harm.

...

Okay, I'm sure you can spot more than one pattern here, but what I'm getting at is from whose perspective these stories are written. The protagonists are all part of the dominant culture in their universes, and the story of the marginalized culture whose struggle they join is told through their eyes.

Even when the setting is totally invented, when authors have the most freedom, this pattern is still everywhere. I know I'm not pointing out anything new.

Summer is coming up soon, which means that I have time to read books. But instead of reading more of the same, I'd like to read science fiction or fantasy stories where the other viewpoint is the neutral one.

So, does anyone have recommendations? I'm especially interested in stories where both cultures are invented.

[I erased and rewrote several times a tangent about how this is a subset of outsider stories, which don't always involve a conflict with the outsider's culture. Harry Potter would be a different story if the protagonist was a member of Wizarding culture to begin with; Harry's outsider perspective introduces Muggle readers to the Wizarding world with a sense of wonder.

But it's worth asking why one culture is viewed from the outside and the other from the inside so frequently when that conflict does exist. The benefits of an "outsider perspective" can carry their own assumptions, including that the marginalized culture, often "inspired by" real-world cultures, is the one that is the most exotic and most needing to be explained from the outside.]
kutsuwamushi: (don't make me come back there)
I think in the hands of a very talented author the basic world and characters she's created could have had a certain amount of staying power - maybe not Odyssey-like but Middle Earth standard.
-- A commenter on [community profile] fanficrants, in a discussion about the "epic" worldbuilding in the Anita Blake vampire porn series, here.
kutsuwamushi: (don't make me come back there)
I finished The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party -- what a title.

I didn't know what to expect, because by the time I picked it up I had forgotten why I had put it on my list to begin with, but by the time I finished it, I was very impressed. I went to Barnes & Noble the next day to pick up the sequel.

The story begins with the boy Octavian, who is growing up in a house where everyone but he and his mother are given numbers instead of names. It's the years immediately prior to the Revolutionary War, in New England. The house is the Novanglian College of Lucidity, a collection of intellectuals who are interested in all of the aspects of science.

I'm not sure how much I can say without ruining some of the impact, so consider the rest of this post to contain spoilers.

Spoiler cut. )I was surprised when the man at Barnes & Noble helped me find the sequel in the teen fiction section. The themes are difficult. Not that I think that makes them unsuitable for teens; quite the opposite, really. The questions it raises about the early history of the United States are worth raising, and most teens won't get that elsewhere.

This is definitely on my recommended list, and I don't even like historical fiction much.
kutsuwamushi: (don't make me come back there)
I'm working through my "easy reading" list, and am on Dead Until Dark, the first book in Sookie Stackhouse series. The premise is pretty basic: Sookie Stackhouse, small-town waitress with the special ability to hear others' thoughts, gets tangled up with vampires and other creatures in Yet Another Supernatural Romance.

In subject matter and general intent, it's very similar to the Anita Blake novels, but Sookie isn't quite as annoying as Anita (yet). She's uninteresting and shallow, but at least she doesn't make a lot of noise about how haaaaaard it is to be badass oh life is soooo haaaaaaaaaaard why are all these hot men wanting to sleeeeep with me god it suuuuucks ewwww gay people-

Anyway.

The first book matches up pretty closely to the first season of the HBO series, but there were some changes. My thoughts below the cut. Because you don't need to know.

Read more... )I know that the books go on forever, and Sookie keeps racking up suitors--like Anita Blake, again, but I hope that I don't get irritated by that too soon. All in all, it was entertaining and much less objectionable than the Dresden Files book.
kutsuwamushi: (Default)
I'm currently reading the first book in the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher. Most of what I've heard about it is the same: It's good paranormal-detective fun, but the first book is pretty bad. It gets better as the series progresses.

I don't mind the prose. It's not good, but it's not obtrusively bad either; it sort of fades into the background most of the time and only jumps out to go "BLARRRHGH" at you when there is a clumsy info-dump. I'm not far enough along to really judge the plot.

What does stand out is the sexism.

Harry Dresden, the protagonist, is a self-proclaimed "old fashioned" man. For example, he holds doors open for women--not something I would blame him for, but he continues to do it even after they tell him that they don't appreciate it.

In his own words, "men ought to treat women like something other than just shorter, weaker men with breasts." Women should be treated differently, regardless of their feelings on the matter. And this is portrayed as if it makes Dresden more noble.

I'm alright with flawed protagonists--in fact, I love them, but when it seems like those flaws are reflections of the author's prejudices, I'm uncomfortable. I don't like it when an author's racism, sexism, or other -ism is showing. I could accept that this was Harry Dresden's problem, not Jim Butcher's, if not for how sexism suffuses the portrayal of women in the book, which can't always be explained away as being due to Dresden's point of view.

And then it gets worse. )

So, Harry Dresden's old-fashioned values:

Women should be treated differently than men regardless of their opinions about it. Women are more hateful than men, and more subtle than men. It's unexpected if an attractive one has a traditionally male job. They love romance novels land chocolate, and what they're looking for in a man is money. Using a mind-altering substance to get a woman to fall in love with (read: sleep with) is bad because it makes you look desperate.

Really?

May. 13th, 2009 07:08 pm
kutsuwamushi: (don't make me come back there)
"...since there won't be any Native Americans to have already done a certain amount of prepping land for human occupation, nor to be exploited later..."

When The Thirteenth Child was still in the planning stages, Patricia Wrede discussed her idea on rec.arts.sf.composition -- and she said that. [personal profile] elynross has a much longer post about what she said here.

It perfectly illustrates what I meant in my last post about how Patricia Wrede is re-imagining a national myth that is about the discovery and settlement of the Americas by Europeans. Although she recognizes that there were Native Americans present, she can still write of them as "prepping land for human occupation" as if there were no humans already there.

Because Native Americans only exist for the role that they play in the European colonization.
Without Europeans to give them a purpose, they aren't part of the tale, and so Patricia Wrede makes a ridiculous logical contradiction and doesn't notice.

That you can read it as implying that Native Americans are subhuman, well, doesn't help.
kutsuwamushi: (don't make me come back there)
There has been a lot of discussion on [community profile] metafandom about Patricia Wrede's new book, which Jo Walton summarized thus: "This is an alternate version of our world which is full of magic, and where America ('Columbia') was discovered empty of people but full of dangerous animals, many of them magical."

I don't like it either, for reasons that other people have rather eloquently pointed out. Patricia Wrede is, like it or not, the cultural heir of a genocide. The beneficiary. Writing the victims out of existence, when their descendants still struggle for recognition and rights, is problematic to say the least.

Our colonial history is presented as a heroic adventure. Columbus, pilgrims, cowboys, pioneers. The Little House on the Praire. We learn about Native Americans as well - but as supporting characters, or worse, props. The national myth that many of us have instilled in us as young children is one of discovery, exploration, and settlement. That history is about the victors.

It's natural that some writers are drawn towards it. Re-imagining myths, especially ones that are part of your own cultural identity, is one of the oldest storytelling traditions.

But in no way does that mean it's okay to create a world where Native Americans never existed, freeing the Americas for your white characters to explore and populate without any resistance or raising uncomfortable issues about your own history.

There are other ways to write that magical exploration story. There are other re-imaginings. The first, and most obvious, is that white people don't have to be the protagonists.

That isn't as obvious as it should be, unfortunately.

God, I have so many ideas for stories I will never get around to writing as a result of this whole thing.
kutsuwamushi: (Default)
Instead of working on my homework, I took a long, hot bath, and finished The Lions of Al-Rassan.

The story takes place in a very thinly disguised version of medieval Spain. The Asharite kingdoms, which have ruled for centuries, are crumbling, and the Jaddite kingdoms to the North are mobilizing to reconquer the penninsula. The three main characters represent the faiths/cultures that are caught up in this conflict: Ammar ibn Khairan is an Asharite warrior and poet; Rodrigo Belmonte is a Jaddite mercenary; Jehane is a Kindath doctor.I think there are spoilers here. But nothing major. )
kutsuwamushi: (Default)
I know I said that I would be studying, but someone left a book here, hopefully as a joke, called How Starbucks Saved My Life by Michael Gates Gill- and it's hilarious.

It purports to be the story of an former ad executive who was let go for not being young and hip enough, and ends up working on the floor at a Starbucks, where he learns all sort of useful life lessons, such as "being black and working class is different than being white and rich" and "Starbucks can give you the authenticity you crave."

The reviews on Amazon.com seem to think that it's genuine, but whether or not it is, Gill's advertising experience shines through. Some choice quotes, pulled at random:
"Crystal's passion for Starbucks was an integral part of her life."

"Starbucks was not something people decided for or against in a casual way. It was obviously a key part of their lives, an important destination for them every single day."

"Crystal and Starbucks had freed me to be me."

"I could be sincere at Starbucks because I was finally in a work environment that valued those precious moments of truly human interaction."
The writing is so corporate it hurts. Customers are called "Guests" - yes, capitalized. Nearly every other page has dialogue that seems to be Starbucks copy, just slightly modified so that it could plausibly come out of a real person's mouth.

Who in the world left this book at a non-Starbucks shop, and why? I'm tempted to put it in the deposit bag and let whoever does the counting downtown get a laugh out of it too, but if it's something a customer left behind on accident,... I guess I could tell them that I burned it.

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