Reading: Nicole Kornher-Stace — Archivist Wasp

Another brilliant title. As usual, I forget where I read about Nicole Kornher-Stace’s Archivist Wasp, but I read about it often enough that each time I saw the title, I remembered I already put it on my list. And I’ve been needing some fiction lately also, so picked this one up a couple of weeks ago, same time as Slow Bullets. It lasted more than breakfast, but not the weekend.

When I see the title, I imagine a world with sentient Vespidae, and there’s this one who’s an archivist, and we all know the trouble that churns over when archives are messed with. Besides being human, that’s approximately the story. Human, and far future, post-war, technological collapse mediæval, it slides between fantasy (ghosts and ghost worlds), and science-fiction (not ghosts, sort of amnesiac avatars of long-dead people). The world of Wasp is not a cheerful or pleasant one, and neither is her life, commencing with her annual death duel against girls who would take her place as Archivist.

And it’s categorised as Young Adult. Predictably, the majority of the impressively good fiction I’ve read in the last years has been in this tendentious category. (Well, there is an awful lot of mediocre, plot by-the-numbers, ‘dystopian’ bollocks from this YA wellspring getting movie-fied of late.) What I think qualifies as YA here are the internal narratives which occasionally read like profoundly simplistic, immature self-reflection from a person—Wasp—who given her extremely violent, abusive, and competitive upbringing probably wouldn’t frame such thoughts in these terms, if she’d even have them. Against that, the kind of internal conversations someone like Wasp would have, likely would recategorised this out of YA altogether. So there’s a tension between the need for her internal life to be legible, and that life to be commensurate with the intended audience. I imagine it wouldn’t fly so well if her internal narrative was kindred to Frank in The Wasp Factory. (Though I’d read the shit out of that also.)

As I’ve been incredibly slow in reading blogging lately, it’s been almost a month since I read this. It reminded me a little of Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina, which I loved, and Kari Sperring’s The Grass King’s Concubine, or her Living with Ghosts (liked not so much, and almost liked very much, respectively). It had a happy-ish ending, which seemed a little formulaic, though I’m not sure where she could have gone with the story without committing to a few hundred more pages. What’s more interesting is the world she’s created is magnificent and barely explored—not that I’m looking for dreary origin stories or a neat, potted history to explain everything—but as with say, Iain M. Banks’ Culture, she’s already proposed a timescale on the tens of millennia scale and (as much as I’m ambivalent about novel series) I really hope she continues with Wasp.