Reading: Genevieve Cogman — The Invisible Library

My book for Düsseldorf, as recommended by Charles Stross (ooh yeah, authors on Twitter!) (And I finally worked out it’s possible to search single user’s Tweets, otherwise I’d be saying “as recommended by Ysabeau Wilce or Anne Leckie or Saladin Ahmed or someone completely other.) It lasted on the train from Berlin to around Bielefeld. Isabelle said, “Have you finished it already??!?!” I made sad face.

Wow it’s awesome when you read a writer’s first published novel and it’s like they’ve popped out fully formed and mature and running like buggery and causing mayhem. Anne Leckie, I’m looking at you! Saladin Ahmed! Genevieve Cogman now also. Considering how bereft I was when Iain Banks died, thinking I’d never have so much fun in skiffy again, I mean, I’m biting my foot over here, far too much amazingness for me.

So I was trying to think what I’d read recently that it reminded me a bit of, The Lies of Locke Lamora? Nah, a bit but not really, The Folding Knife? Also nah-a-bit-but-not-really, I think Living with Ghosts, but maybe I’m making that up. It’s actually a crime suspense thriller with a library, so I should mention Among Others, though it’s far from that. Anyway, when a good writer throws out a killer tale of inter-dimensional libraries (Legend of Korra!) I am totally there and down with it.

So we’ve established I loved The Invisible Library and I will read the shit out of whatever Cogman writes next, and this has turned into a review. A moment of criticism then. Basically I expect three things from any fiction I read (sci-fi & fantasy, cos I don’t read anything else), things that largely I don’t get from the dominant genre written by straight white men, things that don’t necessarily appear just because an author isn’t one of that triad: I want a lot of women, women who are complete characters and not tropes or clichés; I want fucking queerness (for want of a better word), bisexuality, gender diversity, bodies that reflect the reality that science has been unambiguous about for decades now; I want different skin colours, eye colours, hair colours—and not just on the ‘aliens’. Of course if it’s a specific dystopia or whatever where there’s a clear and justifiable reason (not fucking likely, but) for not having this, then ok. Probably not going to read it though.

The Invisible Library is kinda gothic, vampire, steam-punk-ish—or at least draws on tropes and clichés from these and other skiffy/fantasy worlds—because of particular (magical-ish) plot devices. Unfortunately in these tropes as they exist in the history of real novels published in this world, vampires tend to be pale, white, european, blonde (maaaybe not if it’s a Christopher Lee type reference), historical fantasy novels tend to this also (and so very much in the history of sci-fi), and there seemed to be a lot of characters here who were pale and blah. Maybe it’s how I read it, maybe even some of the central characters weren’t this. It’s not about individuals, it’s the milieu in which they exist, and I just have this memory of being introduced frequently to characters described as pale. (I did a quick re-read in case my brain actually was tofu, and Kai, Brandamant, Silver were all described as pale; Vale as an “aquiline … perfect example of a lead protagonist in certain types of detective fiction”, so I’m presuming Bogart white; Coppelia and Dominic (who was murdered) as dark. Interestingly Irene, from whose perspective the story comes from is never described this way; (unless I—yah likely—missed something) her lack of definition seems a purposeful decision). Anyway, I want black or Chinese or Persian vampires fuck it. (Or pale and Turkish?) Look at Mr. Vampire, it’s not as though there isn’t at least 30 years of precedent. Same applies also for relationships, attraction, desire, looks, gazes. Even two of the main characters (Kai and Vale) who seemed ambiguous, or at least bisexual were somehow corralled towards the end into more overt or defined heterosexual identities. I want sex and desire in my fiction reading like I get it in Oglaf!

I’m cheering, but it’s a bit subdued. I wanna like The Invisible Library as much as I think it deserves, but I’m kinda suspicious over here, I’m not entirely convinced, even though it’s published by Tor Books, even though it’s really good. I have this feeling that there are things here that I can’t quite explain away by the narrative device of staging within a world where fantasy clichés have come to life. Or perhaps I’m too uptight about this stuff from always seeing the world in this way and need to smoke a joint before reading & blogging.