I was cleaning out my browser bookmarks last night, first time in years, bookmarks going back to the early-’00s, thousands of them. I opened them in batches, every one, to see if I wanted to keep them. Hundreds, thousands of dead sites, no longer found, no longer existing. All that history and culture vanished as if it never was, only the link and title in my bookmarks proving they once existed, and once I deleted that …
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.
A couple of weeks ago I wandered into Shakespeare & Co. my english bookshop in Vienna, intent for something to rectify my empty reading pile. I went to the counter and said, “Do you have—” looking down and seeing there the exact thing I was hoping for, “that?” I finished, pointing at Iain Banks final work. “Why yes, how many would you like?” “Just the one would be brilliant.” and just as with my latest read, off I peddled to Café Prückel to sit outside and read.
I thought I might leave this one until back in Berlin, the subject matter along with Banks’ death I suspected would put me in a foul mood. Nonetheless, the urge to read overcame that wariness, and I pelted through The Quarry in my usual few days (usual meaning I was being trying for slow).
A week or so before, I’d picked up The Wasp Factory, almost the last of his I don’t have on my shelves, and the one I haven’t read in years. There was a sharp similarity between the two, a teenage boy living with his father in a house where changes were immanent. Of course that’s where much of the similarity ends. The rest has more in common with the worlds of Stonemouth, The Steep Approach to Garbadale, or perhaps Whit, especially in the writing which is definitely in the recent style rather than in those works from the ’90s.
I’d love to say this is a sublime ending to three decades of writing, but it isn’t. It’s one of my least favourite, and to be honest his non-M. Banks work since Garbadale pales next to his recent sci-fi works. Surface Detail, The Hydrogen Sonata, Transition (yes, non-M but not really) are all seriously accomplished works by someone who knows what they’re doing. The Quarry on the other hand is like the more egregious rants from Complicity without any of their necessity, meeting the awkwardness of Dead Air. It feels rushed, which it may have been given Banks’ discovering he himself was being dealt with from within exactly as Kit’s father during the late stages of writing. It also feels very much like not a last book, not the one you’d write if you knew all your plans for other novels were about to come to nothing.
I thought perhaps these were better separate from a Yoga+Bondage workshop. The last few days have been busy at
nameless, and the weekend was a workshop with Dasniya. After lunch, before Japanese tea ceremony, we explored the upper rooms. I found more pigeons making no-hands cartwheels. It seems it causes them to loose their feathers and so on. I wonder how one’s head becomes so removed from one’s neck?
It reminded me a little of China Miéville’s Handstand, except the pigeon was perhaps making a no-handed cartwheel.
We have been in
nameless today preparing one of the spaces for a weekend Yoga+Bondage workshop and future adventures. Me with scrapers and a breathing filter, Dasniya with power tools; me trying to rid the wooden floor of the least resistant of the worst mess (resin, latex, paint mess, pigeon shit), Dasniya cutting holes, kicking down walls (really!), drilling at stuff and setting up some suspension points.
Yesterday we looked at another room, this one with large hooks bolted to the iron ceiling beams. The light there is different, and it feels tranquil. Perhaps in there to lay some kind of foam padding and dance flooring, to make use of these hooks.
The room is decked in years of pigeon droppings though, and cleaning would be a big job (my preferred method would be to waterblast the entire space). Also there, the cartwheeling pigeon, caught forever mid-tumble, bejewelled in the carapaces of long-hatched maggots.