Reading: Gwenda Bond — The Woken Gods

I have no idea why I put this on my reading list, or where I originally fell across it, though I do have a recollection I was quite keen to get hold of it, and almost ordered it twice. I’m pretty sure it was … eh, I have no idea. I did end up on her website about a month ago, so I was doing Human Flesh Search Engine in deciding if I wanted to read it. This was also around the time I was diligently trying to find some new Skiffy and/or Fantasy to read.

The Woken Gods arrived last week, same day as a large stash of other stuff, which I’m also reading, and I began it a couple of days ago. Slight disappointment when I discover it’s Young Adult, a genre I hated even during those years I qualified as, which I thought was a synonym for patronisingly simple story set in large type with small words, and with characters who would hate me if they met me – this was a mutual sentiment; and barely disguised Morality Tale. Yes, I was a peculiar child. I have read stuff that falls under the ægis of YA which I find brilliant, China Miéville’s Railsea, Jo Walton’s Among Others, some of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, all of which I would foist on someone of an age who deserved to be reading proper fiction (and not that ghastly stuff that pretends to be genre-less). The Woken Gods isn’t one of them.

It reminds me of some of Cory Doctorow’s near-ish future stuff, or Alif the Unseen (or a light Neil Gaiman’s American Gods), where the characters are too earnest and fulfilling a role rather than an identity with agency. They read like pastiches of the idea of a person in the situation the story inhabits, and exist only to this end. The narrative and mise en scene also suffer from this, and sometimes I wonder if it’s a world build around, “What if Harry Potter was an emo girl in Washington and instead of magic there were all the gods from everywhere?” I wonder sometimes if my approach to reading is a little severe.

The first person language and dialogue is equally very American, or perhaps the idea of teenage American, though curiously no one says, “doing it for teh lulz,” or “haters gonna hate” or other phrases that would somehow denote a near-future location, rather it feels like Mean Girls might be sitting at the next table over. Anyway, I don’t find any personal affinity with the protagonists. I keep reading though, curious as to how Bond will resolve the story.

twlight of the door gods

Watch any Chinese martial arts movie and somewhere there will always be a set of double doors with fearsome, demonic looking bearded warriors with big swords, and other deadly weapons towering 12 or more feet high. These are the door gods whose terrible aspect would frighten off wayward ghosts and other miscreants. So what happens when spot-welded steel piping in a shiny chrome finish becomes more effective than the Tang Dynasty generals a holding the fort?

The fate of the Door Gods is symptomatic of the slow death of folk arts throughout China, said Yu Shixu, art professor at Xiamen University. Yu has written a textbook to teach her students about Chinese folk art and has been researching Door God art.

“It’s almost impossible for such art to be reborn now,” Yu said. “The environment for the development of folk art is long gone.”

She said Door Gods made a brief comeback in the early 1980s, when people worried about the uncertainties of the economic reforms that had just begun.

But China’s diverse folk art reflected the insularity of Chinese society and the great distances that separated different parts of the country. “The more open China becomes, the sooner folk art dies,” she said, “unless they mass-manufacture them as tourist souvenirs.”