Reading: Ben Aaronovitch — The Hanging Tree

Let’s get the car out of the way first: PC Grant and The Folly score a Ferrari 288 GTO. Hashtag Merking. (And I’m taking this a poignant homage to Iain Banks’ The Business, also, yes, again, “Brutal.”, also no, I’ll never not “Brutal” if a Ferrari turns up in a skiffy or fantasy novel.)

And, youse who read me regularly all know my pruneface when a cis author attempts a trans woman character, so pruneface, I called it a Trannyphant, ’cos it’s the trans elephant in the room, ’cos none of you authors were doing it 10 years ago and it’s only ‘fashion’ (or ‘trans tipping point’) that you’re doing it now, and fuck me your obsession with genitals and surgery and medicalisation of trans women’s bodies is nasty — and it’s almost always trans women, and playing us for laughs? So, here’s a lesson in how you do it right:

Guleed passed me the completed IID on Caroline Linden-Limmer and pointed out a note which registered that she’d been granted a Gender Recognition Certificate when she was eighteen — changing her legal gender from male to female.
‘So …’ I started, but was cut off by the vast silence emanating from Stephanopoulos behind us.
I looked over at Nightingale, who looked quizzically back, and decided to explain the implications later. Surprisingly, when I did, his reaction was outrage that someone had to apply to a panel to determine what gender they were — he didn’t say it, but I got the strong impression that he felt such panels were intrinsically un-British. Like eugenics legislation, banning the burka and air conditioning.
I thought of the little girl in the blue dress — you can’t get a certificate until you’re 18 — it must have felt like a long wait.
Her mother, when I met her, didn’t strike me as someone who liked to wait.

The tall bit in an earlier section can go either way, and there’s plenty implicit in characters in the scene which doesn’t get conveyed here. But Aaronovitch has already done BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic — I know, it’s a clunky term, but working with what’s available here) and queer, and Muslim — and all wrapped in Police, and it reads believable to me (and if anyone’s all, “Frances, fam, you’re being taken for a ride there, and not in a 288 GTO.” I’ll own that), and that’s it. A few lines, and we move on with a real person who has a full life and this is one of the least remarkable parts about her.

Meandering elsewhere, Aaronovitch does police acronym soup and gadget geekery with the casual humour of someone who knows a story isn’t the equipment, but loves throwing in a bit anyway. I criticised this in recent Laundry Files novels, where technical paraphernalia overwhelms the story, inducing a fast-forwarding through the pages. So far, Aaronovitch hasn’t fallen into this, though contra that, the pace of his novels, and what he’s set himself up to get through in a novel-length work, leaves some character development or response hanging. Like how PC Grant’s partner, PC Leslie May takes up with the Faceless Man and betrays him. Grant muses it’s because the Faceless Man knows how to repair her destroyed face, but this feels a little unsatisfactory. It may be Aaronovitch is playing a longer game with May here, or that this in fact speaks directly of Grant’s poor emotional and interpersonal development (he did have a junkie for a father) which, along with his habit of getting lost in details instead of focussing on the larger issues, may denote a disconnect between how he sees himself — and the stories are told in first person — and the actual liability he is as both a person and PC.

Or maybe it’s that May is a white woman and like so many of them has little moral compunction in selling out her not-white mates if that gives her a leg-up. Aaronovitch makes it delightfully clear that the Faceless Man, Martin Chorley, is one of those rich, white supremacist types, who thinks British Empire is the natural order, which doesn’t paint May in a good light:

‘So apart from the face,’ I said, ‘Why are you working with this guy?’
Lesley ignored me, but the question obviously irritated Martin Chorley.
‘Because she’s properly British,’ he said.
‘And I’m not?’
‘No, ’ he said, ‘Not that I blame you for it, you understand. Your mother was no doubt enticed over to fill some vacancy in the NHS or to drive a bus, or some other job that the working man was too feckless to do himself.’
[…]
‘But Lesley is a proper Brit,’ said Martin Chorley, who I realised had probably been waiting years for an audience. ‘That wonderful blend of Romano-Celt and Anglo-Saxon with a flavouring of Dane and a pinch of Norman French. That happy breed that conquered the world and could again if all their children were kind and natural.’

As the UK stands, on the brink of a racist, white supremacist, elitist-driven Brexit, with 60,000 Nazis gathered in Warsaw yesterday, and every day feeling the tide of the genocide they want to bring rolling further in, I love this simplicity in Aaronovitch’s writing. We’re long past pretending white supremacists are anything more complex. And anyway, all this was known and clear if not in the first Rivers of London novel, then certainly in the second, Moon Over Soho. Aaronovitch has never written anything other than London, the real London.

Ben Aaronovitch — The Hanging Tree
Ben Aaronovitch — The Hanging Tree

Reading: Ben Aaronovitch — Foxglove Summer

City boy goes to the country. Country things happen to city boy.

Taking a breather from Ben Aaronovitch’s on-going story of the Faceless Man, and giving PC Peter Grant a break after having his partner, PC Lesley May turn traitor and join with said Faceless Man to drop a brutalist high-rise apartment block — the story of Grant and architecture right there. Off to Herefordshire.

About half-way through Foxglove Summer, I opened Maps and traced the story, based in Leominster, following the River Lugg up to Mortimer’s Cross, up the gorge to Aymestrey, into the parks and forests of Croft Castle and Gatley Park, where the land folds in long, north-east to south-west ridges, all the way to Raymond Erith’s Folly, with its domed roof, full of bees. It took a while, but worth it.

This could almost be read on its own, if you were prepared to let references to past events slide, and characters arrive with little or no establishing scenes. Sometimes I like that, an antidote to the plodding literalism of much genre fiction which has to tell and explain every step. So we have fairies, retired wizards (with granddaughters with said bees), unicorns, Roman roads — and Romans, countryside relationships (even queer ones, ’cos rural doesn’t mean parochial), Beverley Brook, goddess of the same river in London, who arranges for a small stream near the Lugg to be reborn (with help from Peter) kidnapped children and changelings, and the original forest of Britain. Just the kind of diversion he needs — and just the kind of opening up of the series so it doesn’t become one tiresome slog to nail a singular evildoer.

And if I could not like this series more, there’s a quiet love of hoonage throughout, from PC Grant’s Ford ASBO, to Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale’s Jaguar Mark 2 with the 3.8 litre XK6 engine, to the Utes of Herefordshire, and a Ferrari 288 GTO in the next novel (which I’m taking as a poignant homage to Iain Banks’ The Business, also, yes, “Brutal.”). He’s got my heart here, Muslim ninja cops and hoonage.

Ben Aaronovitch — Foxglove Summer
Ben Aaronovitch — Foxglove Summer

Reading: Ben Aaronovitch — Broken Homes

Book 4 of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series, that I’ve been smashing the last six weeks. This one goes firmly back into the grand narrative of the series, the Faceless Man, the big, tectonic forces moving PC Grant, and goes from the underground of Whispers Under Ground into the council housing towers of South London’s Elephant and Castle.

Spoilers all over here, PC Leslie May turning traitor and working with the Faceless Man was not what I was expecting at all, and still hurts, two novels later. Aaronovitch is dealing with the superstructure of London here, class divisions, the rich using the poor, immigration and racism. It reminds me of straight people’s unwillingness to see or read queer or trans relationships and identities in fiction (“Oh, they’re just good friends, good friends hold hands sometimes.”) — you could get through (almost) all his novels and pretend this is not what it’s about, but if you’re reading from another side, it’s so gloriously obvious. That’s why I’m reading them. Like being in Peckham with Onyx, Carly, and Naretha, and we’re all saying, yeah, this feels like home here, this feels right.

And if it’s not abundantly clear by now, Aaronovitch’s main characters are the rivers of London, the architecture, the underground, what Onyx called density, history layered and compressed on itself, and capriciousness, one day in love with you, the next, ruins. There’s this idea that genre fiction of the sci-fi and fantasy type is about ideas; contrasting that to literature or whatever, ‘nice’ novels, which are about people. This shows an impoverishment in understanding genre, as well as — again — a classist, elitist devaluing. The best sci-fi and fantasy is only about people (not devaluing a different ‘best’ ripping a banging adventure). Sure, people wrapped up in things that don’t happen in the world right now, but stories of people nonetheless, who we come to know across the pages, who we follow as they grow. And when I say people, unlike so often those nice novels, I mean anything which has subjectivity and agency: a ship’s Mind, or the landscape of a planet in Banks’ novels; or the rivers in Aaronvitch’s, all people as well.

So, devouring these novels here and trying to say something worthwhile about each. Read if you liked Harry Potter or Charles Stross’ Laundry Files but wanted more, wanted a London like Peckham.

Ben Aaronovitch — Broken Homes
Ben Aaronovitch — Broken Homes

Reading: Ben Aaronovitch — Whispers Under Ground

After reading Moon Over Soho and Rivers of London, books 2 and 1 respectively of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series, I ordered the lot (except the latest, it seems), and read them. And I was in London! So I was all, “I love this city!” and felt like I knew it so much because of these novels. What I call “Harry Potter if he was a black cop in London, played by a young Idris Elba, or Stormzy, and Hermione Granger was a Somali Muslim cop on the Murder Squad.”

I slammed the whole series over the last two months, as they arrived, and usually in a couple of days per novel, except when I was on tour — so they’re also firmly bound with the joys of travel and rivers for me now, the Danube and Thames, which is fitting. Whispers Under Ground doesn’t obviously follow the larger story of the Faceless Man, which almost makes these first three stand-alone works. It does introduce a whole pile of characters, locations, peoples, who fill out the world of the series in this and later novels.

I’m probably going to re-binge the whole series in the coming weeks (just need to re-buy Rivers of London first), which tells how much I’m enjoying these. Funny that they’re a series too, ’cos I’m always reluctant to commit, but cheers to Gala for introducing me to this. Best joyous fantasy read of the twenty-tens.

Ben Aaronovitch — Whispers Under Ground
Ben Aaronovitch — Whispers Under Ground

Reading: Ben Aaronovitch — Rivers of London

Just as Gala handed off Moon Over Soho to me, so do I hand off Rivers of London. I finish it beside the Danube, just upstream from Ottensheim. It’s been my book for the week I’ve been there. I bought two because I’d mostly finished this, but that’s how much reading time I had. I pass it on to Kali Rose, I say, “I think you might like it,” ’cos as much as we’re all at reading the theory and non-fiction for what we’re up against, part of it is seeing ourselves, or just seeing representation in fiction. It’s a political act to write fiction, and to read it. (Also ’cos I didn’t have room in my bag to bring it back on the plane, which means I’ll have to buy it again.)

I’m way behind on my writing about reading at the moment, so this isn’t going to be a slab of text like I wrote for the Moon Over Soho, Ben Aaronovitch’s second novel in the PC Grant series. Rivers of London is the first, and is probably better. Whether that’s because of the foreshadowing hanging over it because I know where the story is going with face-mangling magic, and what it means for PCs Peter Grant and Leslie May. Equally a lot of the river story and characters in the second novel — which we’re supposed to know what he’s talking about with, ’cos we’ve read the first, eh? — take on their proper form. Still, yes, you can read second before first and it’s solid and stand-alone enough to not feel disappointment and confusion.

The crime story of Rivers of London is perhaps more grandiose — and goes on some real, deliberate trips — than that of Moon Over Soho — possibly because I was crossing the Danube multiple times a night and had only its waters for company, some of which is still in my lungs. Moon Over Soho, on the other hand brings PC Grant’s family into play, and that was what grabbed me so much, though there’s enough of growing up Black and BAME in London in the first novel that if I’d only read that one I’d still be ordering the whole set.

All of them. All seven of them. All large typeface so I can read them while I fall asleep and pretend I don’t need glasses. Better than Harry Potter? Yeah. Better than Charles Stross’ Laundry Files series? Yeah. All I want to do is order the rest and take a week off, shack up on a nice sofa in the autumn sun (in Berlin, Frances?) and read them all. Are you going to read them too? Yeah. Should they be movies? Yeah.

Ben Aaronovitch — Rivers of London
Ben Aaronovitch — Rivers of London

Reading: Genevieve Cogman — The Burning Page

The third in Genvieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library series, which I started reading late-2015 with The Invisible Library, and followed a year ago with The Masked City. Read what I blabbed about both of those so you know what I’m on about with The Burning Page.

It’s afternoon and I have work and other bollocks to be doing, so this isn’t going to be a long one. I also came straight off Revenger into reading this, so I’m a little un-nuanced here, that being such a brilliant, consummate piece of story-telling. This was the weakest for me of the three, like the middle child, or the second act when it’s used as a setup for the final bout of mayhem. I felt like she’d told the story before in the first novel, and let neither the characters nor the implied story to progress.

I’ve been watching Shadowhunters lately. Ok more than lately, it’s on the second season and I’m still watching. Not for the soggy white tea-towels of Clary and Simon, but for everyone else. It’s frankly trashy as a story. Young Adult vampire werewolf fantasy dirge with profoundly derivative narrative and action of the “bad decisions made for drama!” kind. Yet the supporting actors — who carry the weight of the show and are far more interesting, as well as being a solid multiethnic and queer mob — are deliciously entrancing to watch. Plus sexy as all fuck. But the show doesn’t commit to them or their stories.

And that’s the problem here and, after three books, the series. Let them fuck, ditch Irene, or let her be competent operator she we saw in the first book. We’re two stories on from that and she’s both kicked arse and had hers handed, yet I’m not reading any of those scars or notches she’s earned. There’s a really good story possible in the world Cogman’s created, but it isn’t here.

Genevieve Cogman — The Burning Page
Genevieve Cogman — The Burning Page

Reading: Tricia Sullivan — Shadowboxer

A couple of months ago, I decided I needed some more fiction to read—right about now I’m in the same frame of mind, so will probably go off on a book-ordering spree shortly. One of the first to arrive was Tricia Sullivan’s Shadowboxer. I read her Double Vision a long time ago, I’d bought that in Zürich when I was going through two books a week during rehearsals. I hadn’t read any of her since, but being in a mood where I want to punch stuff, this being a book about mixed martial arts and sitting somewhere on the fantasy side of things, it slid onto my shelf with minimum of fuss.

I read it a couple of months ago, which shows clearly how far behind on book blogging I am. It also means anything I write is through a dim blur of partially rememberedness. I do remember liking the main character, Jade, who was quick to punch on and anything that needed ending she would end. Fists before thinking. Which of course gets her into all kinds of shit and sent off to Thailand to train in a not-posh establishment, the kind foreigners would only pay to avoid.

It’s around here it got a little wonky for me. I’ve read a lot of fiction which has either been set in or at some point of the narrative has ended up in Asia. The further south it goes, the more it generates something suspicious in me. Hong Kong stories in the ’90s are a good example of this, as are quite a few expat-y ones set in Bangkok. The last thing I read by Neal Stephenson before deciding he was serious in his ’Murica parochialism, Reamde was right up in this for southern China. Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl is another recent one so full of problems, yet so loved by an audience that really needs to read Orientalism.

Lately, another exotic locale getting its own orientalising is trans women. William Gibson had one in the otherwise pretty fucking good The Peripheral, as did Rachel Hartman’s Shadow Scale. There’s one here too, probably because if a book is set in Thailand it has to.

Gibson based his trans-signifying characteristics around ‘big hands’ (Fukkin’ WTF? I know!) and a propensity to cry (LOL trannies, amirite?) It was so obviously a weak attempt at a cash-in on what someone somewhere—ok what Gibson has decided is cool right now, and so very poorly executed. Lately I’ve been wondering how this can happen. A book—or any work of art—doesn’t exist in a vacuum, there’s always editors, proofreaders, blahdeblahers who are reading this shit long before it goes to print, and when not one of them picks up on it, it’s clear either no one in the room has the skills, or no one gives a shit. I have to wonder if cis people should be allowed to make art about trans people when they so evidently fuck it up every time.

I don’t remember so well the bollocks in Shadow Scale (a book I did like a lot), except it was a bro smashing things on top of a mountain who later on—when met in real life—was a chick. So, the angsty transition cliché. Yeah, ok, this stuff is real, but about the only good representation of a trans character I’ve seen lately is Nomi in Sense8, and that’s got Lana Wachowski writing/directing/producing so you’d kinda expect absence of fuckery. (Laverne Cox on Orange is the New Black somewhat counts. She’s brilliant, but the series itself has big problems beyond just the awful white fool front and centre.) I want to see cis writers not falling for the trans clichés which cis people themselves manufactured and if they can’t bring themselves to do that, I want them to fuck right off.

Then there’s Shadow Boxer. I’m still not sure what I read, though I think the male Thai martial art star was supposed to have been kathoey of the beautiful, extremely feminine female type. Or it could have been the other way: beautiful feminine female got up on T and turned into international male kickboxing hero. My first problem here was—presuming the former is correct—the interpretation is Sullivan wrote a trans female character who detransitions. (I’m obfucating here between trans and kathoey; they’re not interchangeable, however I do think Sullivan is writing a Western cliché of kathoey which does not see one as different from the other.) The subsequent problem is she wrote that for the sake of some narrative trickery, cos it’s all about this bro in Las Vegas and this other chick in Bangkok and woah! Same person!

In fact, this is exactly what Gibson did, so neither of these novels had a character who was trans, instead they just used trans identities to pull a bait and switch. It’s important to remember here that not telling your lover you’re trans can result in a person being changed with sexual assault (in the UK and elsewhere) and that ‘trans panic defense’ is a real thing which men who’ve just beaten a trans woman to death can and do successfully use to get acquitted. So writing in a trans character just to use them for this kind of gimmick is … currently I’m listening to Syringe Stick-Up Mama, Te hare cavar tu tumba.

I don’t want to go into an excruciating analysis of this, but I have some highly dodgy feelings around Sullivan and her fiction. Even more than with the Gibson stuff she should have known better. She gets the MMA and Muay Thai, has all this down convincingly (less so when the setting moves to Thailand and partakes in quite a few clichés), yet around kathoey and trans stuff it turns right shady. It’s the downside of representation. We all want to see ourselves in works of fiction (look no further than the response to Empire for evidence), yet once this becomes a selling point, we end up with an ocean of shoddy ‘representation’ that demonstrates the lack of diversity within the industry (be it publishing, television, whatever) by virtue of being allowed through.

Tricia Sullivan — Shadowboxer
Tricia Sullivan — Shadowboxer

Reading: Nicola Griffith — Stay

Bought on Saturday; read on Sunday. Fiction is such a different thing for me to read. Caroline Walker Bynum’s Fragmentation and Redemption (as with all her works) takes me weeks to months to read, and most other non-fiction is a steady plod over weeks, which I usually intersperse with skiffy and fantasy (yeah, turns out fantasy, which I was so leery of I’m now reading kinda regularly). Which I haven’t been doing lately, so instead I sit on laptop late at night and don’t sleep so well.

Off to the bookshop! So I decided to read some earlier stuff of Nicola Griffith, she of the awesome HildStay is what would happen if Hild was born in the late-20th century, where working with fists and violence is not such a high-class job. And it’s crime fiction. I haven’t read crime fiction for years. The last was probably James Ellroy on a plane somewhere, though OK, Neal Stephenson’s and William Gibson’s recent work (besides the latter’s The Peripheral) slipped out of sci-fi/fantasy into that nebulous world of ‘thriller’, which shares much with crime fiction, and OK too, most stuff I read technically revolves somewhere in the plot around a crime committed, at least from the perspective of the protagonists. Anyway, actual crime fiction, not for years.

Was kinda weird. Crime fiction. Almost hard-boiled, thing, whatshisname, the famous one, Chandler, a bit like Chandler, also a bit like Ellroy, in the damage of the main character, the one who fixes things. If the background was changed, like a cyclorama, pulled up into the grid and a new one labelled ‘sci-fi’ or ‘fantasy’ was dropped in, the former with space opera, latter with dragons, Stay, like most fiction, would still work. Yesterday I was talking with a friend, who differentiated the genres by naming what isn’t, “high literature.” So you scene change and high literature becomes genre.

I kept wondering when the main evil guy would resurface. Because I watch far, far too many Hollywood action films, and Main Evil Guy always, always returns in the last scene to fist it out with Main Good Guy. After making monologuing at each other. He didn’t. He was stepped out not even half-way through. Aud still got to bring it and finish it on a couple of others. Actually she’d make a good addition to team Fast and Furious. The Rock and Vin would love her, in that platonic way they do with co-brawlers, though she wouldn’t stick around.

What else? It’s not Hild, but there’s much of what will become her world and herself here. It’s the second book in a series, the first I haven’t read, but I liked that missing knowledge, things unsaid and unexplained. The landscape, and Aud working, that I could read for a whole novel, especially with her dead girlfriend holding conversation while Aud beats herself up in the forest at night.

Nicola Griffith — Stay
Nicola Griffith — Stay

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.

Genevieve Cogman — The Invisible Library
Genevieve Cogman — The Invisible Library

Reading: Philip K. Dick — Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Another one of the pile I recently collected of older science-fiction works. This one I’ve read before, and the film it became is perhaps my all-time favourite; director’s cut or original. I’ve just finished the mammoth Water Margin, so this is quite an abrupt change — only 200 pages, American science-fiction of the psychologically disturbing kind instead of classical Chinese epic of the drunken brawling kind.

Sometime long ago, but after seeing Bladerunner, I read Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, but somehow don’t have a complete memory of it. Perhaps I stopped before getting all the way through, as even from the beginning it’s not that film, and by the tenth chapter has gone somewhere completely different, reminding me of the film of A Scanner Darkly, and the precarious conditionality of memory, identity and self. The language also is beautiful at times, a viscerally descriptive style that seems to confront the fragility of the mind with a that of slight but pervasive corporeal revulsion.

It’s amusing and awkward and curious to read these old sci-fi books that anachronistically manage to remain futuristic in some aspects, and yet fail entirely in other; the beginnings of interstellar colonisation by the early ’90s with a still existent Soviet Union, yet still dealing with carbon-copies and cathode-ray technology, compared with in 2012 the latter three barely remembered while the former a far more distant spectre than in 1968 when the book was written.

So I shall enjoy this, also knowing two of my favourite authors are waiting for me to collect; a treat I shall reserve until I’ve got through my books of the year list later next week, and got through a mass of art and dance and (oh horror!) funding applications.

Philip K. Dick — Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Philip K. Dick — Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?