Reading: Iain M. Banks — Feersum Endjinn (7th+ time)

Ooo yes! I am reading my favourite book of all time! Iain M. Banks’ Feersum Endjinn. For the 7th time at least. Am I bored? Why would you even ask?

Close seconds to this work of absolute fucking genius are books like Alasdair Reynolds’ Revenger, Sofia Samatar’s A Stranger in Olondria, a couple of other Banks novels (I think I’ve read The Business almost as often), Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice. Others further off, but way up in the collective luminary level that get whole symposiums devoted to them (like Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning). Of all those Feersum Endjinn has the least acclaim and I doubt I will ever love a book more.

Feersum Endjinn. Iain Banks’ unappreciated science-fiction novel — maybe only Against a Dark Background comes close to the “meh. Also, not Culture,” disinterest. More than one person has said trying to deal with Bascule’s dyslexic journal entries has something to do with it. I think that makes them mediocre readers.

“Woak up. Got dresd. Had brekfast. Spoke wif Ergates thi ant who sed itz juzz been wurk wurk wurk 4 u lately master Bascule, Y dont u ½ a holiday?”

This is the equal of that famous first sentence of The Crow Road:

“It was the day my grandmother exploded.”

Well, perhaps that’s a little more pithy and grandiose. He probably came up with that one hooning and almost laughed himself into a ditch. Still, when Bascule starts transliterating a sparrow with a speech impediment called Dartlin, it’s a whole nother level of clever Banksian fuckery.

Ullo, Dartlin. howzit goin?
Fine, Mr Bathcule. I bin tewibwy bizzy, u no; tewibwy bizzy bird i been. I flu thwu 2 thi paliment ov thi cwows & pikd up sum gothip, wood u like 2 here it?

Followed some time later by a lisping sloth. But I’m not reading it for clever fuckery. Or am I? Let’s start with one of the main characters, who we would currently call a trans woman, and a woman of colour:

Floor beneath where lying; pressed earth, light brown with a few small stones pressed in it. The song is birdsong.

Get up slowly, arms back, resting on elbows, looking down towards feet; woman, naked, colour of the ground.

That’s the Asura, Asura (as in, she’s an Asura who decides Asura is a good name so sticks with it), who started — and ended, because Banks is doing one of those Use of Weapons multiple stories in multiple directions here — as Count Alandre Sessine VII. Or rather, Sessine had been designed by the data corpus called the Crypt to become Asura, and Sessine had lived seven lives — unknowingly for the most part — preparing for that. Then there’s “stocky, grey-haired old” Chief Scientist Hortis Gadfium III, as seen through Adijine VI’s implants:

Gadfium. It had annoyed the King throughout his this life-time — and Gadfium’s last two — that she had stuck with the male version of her name; why hadn’t she changed it to Gadfia when he had become a she between incarnations? Wilful type, Gadfium.

Gadfium, who uses bed meetings as a cover for espionage, much like in The Algebraist (and possibly in The Business, which either way had the ‘count to 1024 in binary using your fingers’ bit). The meeting is one where she declines the comfortably jocular offer of sex (more on that in a moment), yet her relationship with another woman, observatory chief Clispier implies a recognisable queerness:

‘There now, dear; let one old lady look after another.’
‘Clisp…’ Gadfium said, sitting up and holding out her arms; they hugged for a moment.
‘It is good to see you again, Gad.’
‘And you,’ Gadfium whispered. Then she took the other woman’s hands and gazed urgently into her eyes. ‘Now; old friend […]’

I say recognisable because there are certain Banksianisms habitually returned to. It’s a feeling, a specific acknowledgement of a relationship he doesn’t need to bludgeon into obviousness. In this instance how they interact is unique in the book, except for two young, minor characters infatuated with each other, and is counterpointed by the joking offer of sex with a man which she amusedly declines.

But back to the gender stuff. Banks’ first published novel, The Wasp Factory was entirely about gender. It’s received somewhat valid criticism of using a nominally trans figure (with whom I share a name, fuck yeah!) as a metaphor for something else (à la the actually shoddy Middlesex), but unlike Middlesex or other novels usually by cisgender, hetero men, Banks had a clear, ongoing interest in gender and identity which draws on both a political, feminist position and something fundamentally subjective. I’m not claiming Banks was trans. Rather, as he stated in an interview, he saw the Culture’s ability for human-basic body types to move between male and female as a strategy for enforcing equality through subjective experience in an utopian environment. But why would anyone move between male and female, or any of the other multitudes of sexes for politics alone?

And some various asides here: Culture bodies transitioning is across the full gamut of physiology. One of the less common, but still well-established trajectories was for a couple (or more) to both get pregnant by alternating sex and delaying gestation, then both continuing pregnancy together (this is one of the narratives in Excession). Some decide to find possibilities for selfhood outside male or female, some even decide to become different species. Incidentally, all these are in Excession, and to varying degrees in Feersum Endjinn. And while I’m aside-ing here, my current — at the time of writing — discomfort with words like sex, gender, identity, leaves me using selfhood as a useful generalisation. The sex/gender binary that still won’t die (see Anne Fausto-Sterling for this) and still proposes something like an immutable, biologic, essentialist sex, and separate, mutable, cultural, performative gender is as useful or factual as the flat Earth model, yet the false binary (like so many false binaries, such as mind-body) gives the believer the luxury of not having to fundamentally critique their methodology. It may be the currently out-of-favour term ‘sex-change’ is a whole lot more precise in describing what happens, even while pointing out the poverty of language on this subject. So, for the moment: sex/gender/identity are out; selfhood is in.

So why would anyone move between the multitudes of selfhoods (including species) for politics alone? Because that’s the kind of utopia Banks is proposing. A civilisation where understanding of self was mutable. To become male or female or Affront acknowledged the process would change you. Yes, self was something that could be separated from a specific sex or gender or corporeal body, via backups, uploads, replacement bodies, but self was ultimately defined by physicality, by being embodied, by experiencing the world in a specific way in a specific body, by being irrevocably changed by this (unless, of course, you reverted to a previous backup). And yes, this politics presupposes hedonism, which the Culture — and Banks — is rightly famous for. What is more glorious than to change sex? Repeatedly. The Culture is the ultimate transgender recruitment tool.

In Feersum Endjinn, we see a variation on specific markers of Banks’ ideas around selfhood which he makes a core principle of the Culture: the ability for self to be stored in the Crypt for multiple (maximum seven) reincarnations; the ability to be reincarnated in the sex/gender/ethnicity of one’s choice (choice being conditional here, because the Crypt has its own agenda); the ability to split oneself off into the Crypt; the ability to share one’s self with those split-off selves via ‘implants’, which are more like the Culture’s genetic modifications and enhancements that you’re born with than actual things implanted, and which bear a striking resemblance to the Culture’s neural lace. Plus whatever else I’ve forgotten.

Let’s have a diversion into names. In one of Banks’ last novels, The Hydrogen Sonata, there’s a Culture Eccentric ship called Mistake Not…. We don’t find out what the ellipsis hides until the end. It’s worth the wait. In Feersum Endjinn, he describes the the fastness Serehfa, a colossal space elevator once called Acsets built to resemble a mediæval castle on the scale of kilometres and mountains, as something where the massiveness we are first confronted by is the bare outskirts, behind which its true scale is like the ship’s full name: “Mistake Not My Current State Of Joshing Gentle Peevishness For The Awesome And Terrible Majesty Of The Towering Seas Of Ire That Are Themselves The Mere Milquetoast Shallows Fringing My Vast Oceans Of Wrath.”

Which leads me into:

Good to see you again. Sometime we must do this for real!
You always say that.
Always mean it. What IS that perfume?
Enough. To business.
Funny name for a … No tickling!

This is the scene where Gadfium is in bed with Sortileger Xemetrio. They arrange to meet like this, giving the appearance of having a secret affair so they can pass information through their conspiracy network. This is not them speaking, either; they are in darkness under the sheets writing in luminous ink on a notepad. It’s the joke on the name that gives it away: Enough. To business. It’s exactly what Banks would have a Culture ship call itself, and Xemetrio saying, “Funny name for a …” signals Banks telling us what’s going on.

Feersum Endjinn is not a Culture novel — officially, in the public perception, maybe even in Banks’ mind. It was published directly after Against a Dark Background, which Banks said was the last novel rewritten from old (pre- or around-Wasp Factory era) material, which is also not a Culture novel. The other not-Culture skiffy novel is The Algebraist. Of the three, the latter is perhaps the most difficult to find parallels with the Culture universe, though Fassin Taak, as a Slow Seer has much in common with both Bascule, and Genar-Hofoen in Excession, so again there’s these layers of geology, architecture, landscape, environment, self that get moved through and change the person.

So it’s not a Culture novel, yet is full with markers of the Culture. The planet of the fastness Serehfa is Earth. A future Earth post-diaspora, when all who remain behind live in technology they can neither control nor comprehend; which is slowly falling in on itself, like parts of the fastness itself, kilometre-high walls and rooms now rubble around volcanic cones; entire levels succumbing to erosionary geological processes.

We know the Culture came to Earth. In The State of the Art, 1970s Earth is decided, after much debate, to be left uncontacted, as a control, to be monitored from outside. If the Earth of Feersum Endjinn is the same as this one (and generally Banks didn’t go much for multiple, parallel universes, except in Transition, and even there there’s an Earth which is this Earth), and sufficiently far in the future, and with so many technological and cultural markers of the Culture, it seems reasonable to suppose the diaspora is at least in part Culture-inspired or derived, and Earth itself is like the anti-technology cult on Vavatch orbital in Consider Phlebas, or the Sarl in the Shellworld of Matter, regressive civilisations embedded in mind-boggling technology. Or perhaps the timeframe is even greater, and this Earth exists post-Culture. We know from Look to Windward the Culture either Sublimes or dies out. The Behemothaur Yoleusenive finds a body that has been floating in space for one Grand Cycle, a complete revolution of the galaxy, about 240 million years, and this conversation takes place:

The creature that is before us was of the name Uagen Zlepe, a scholar who came to study […] from the civilisation which was once known as the Culture.
—These names are not known to us.

Feersum Endjinn sits in the middle period of Banks œvre — though it’s not really possible to divide his work like that; even splitting along M. and non-M., or science-fiction and non-skiffy lines is messy and ultimately misleading. Despite owing much to the Culture novels he’d worked on in the ’70s and ’80s, it belongs equally to ideas he developed in earlier works like The Bridge, the contemporaneous politics of Complicity, subsequent ones like Whit, and his final Culture works, Matter, The Hydrogen Sonata, and Surface Detail. I often think there’s a way of reading Banks in which his novels flow seamlessly together — even the ones that struggle with themselves. I’m not talking about stylistic qualities here, or narrative structures, though obviously that plays a part. It’s something deeper I think he gained a certitude of very early on. This certitude reveals itself in recurring decisions, like why so many of his main characters are women, and why quite a few are brown, and why moving between selfhoods is always there, and why all this is unremarkable, taken as a given, the way things should be.

And with this, there’s the landscape and architecture that we move through, and returns in all his novels. It’s the landscape and architecture of Scotland that is always there, whether we’re in The Crow Road, or Feersum Endjinn. It’s part of this certitude. It’s inseparable from it. So when we find one, we find the other. It is his intention that we read his conventional novels in the same way. Read The Crow Road, or The Steep Approach to Garbadale knowing this, knowing what he proposed for selfhood from the very beginning, knowing it’s in these novels just as the landscape is.

I hadn’t finished my re-reading of Feersum Endjinn when I wrote this, and it’s been a couple of years since my previous reading, so things were forgotten. Things like Clispier falling under suspicion of being the double agent in the conspiracy, who sold them out to the King and Consistory. Like just how funny Bascule is. Particularly when he’s pants full of cack. And on a Bascule note, I was talking with a friend today and we’d both separately came to the same conclusion that — obviously — he’s not fully speaking Scottish or Cockney; he’s got something of an immigrant / South Asian English going on. Bascule’s story told in first person, so there’s never anyone to describe him or hold a mirror up so we see him. But, published as it was, immediately before Whit, with the regular appearance of South-Asian characters in Banks’ novels at the time, for all of that, I’m going with Bascule also being brown.

What I wanted to write about is the ending. And how powerful it is if you’ve paid attention. We have one scene where Asura has roped up all the leaders of various factions, bound and gagged them, exposes their conspiracy and tells them what’s going to happen from now on, in front of an audience of whoever is watching — more or less everyone on the planet. Previously the Crypt practically outright says that Sessine was from his birth planned for this; it was always going to be him becoming the Asura, becoming Asura. Whether or not he changed sex in different reincarnations (the only other one we know of was male), there seems to be a premeditation or a fulfilling of Asura’s true self in Sessine being a woman. So we have a brown, trans woman, representing all the disenfranchised (human, chimeric, data, animal) shutting down the ruling party which is predominately white hetero men, and saving the world. That’s the story Banks tells.

It ends with them high in the Serehfa Fastness. Them being Bascule, a young, dyslexic boy; Gadfium an old, queer woman scientist; Asura, a brown trans woman; something like the maître d’hôtel of the Fastness, who is described as ”brown like polished chestnut”; also a bunch of chimeric Lammergeiers, and an ant called Ergates. They are the future, and as much as there is technology which they set in motion to save the solar system that is the Feersum Endjinn of the title, so too are they together this.

Occasionally Banks would slide out of novel writing and into first-person political diatribes; sometimes whole novels are like this, like Complicity. Once he gave up on novels altogether and hooned around Scotland drinking whiskey and diatribing. What he’s proposing here is less literal than that, but it’s unmistakable what kind of future he ascribes to, whether Culture or not: it’s a bunch of queer, brown, trans women and people.

Reading: Elizabeth Bear — Shoggoths in Bloom

Elizabeth Bear is a writer I’ve heard about for some years, possibly from the attention she received for the short story, Shoggoths in Bloom, which won the Hugo in 2009. At any rate, a name that’s reasonably pervasive in the skiffy/fantasy world. Possibly for that reason – because of the high frequency of disappointment I experience reading authors who are hyped – I’d avoided her till now. Actually I have something of an unconscious self-regulating ‘Do Not Purchase’ protocol when it comes to authors who are receiving a little too much breathless and enthusiastic praise, so it says something about the author that I’d bypassed said protocol and slapped down lazily-earned euros for this collection of short stories.

Once again, Saladin Ahmed is to blame; once again by way of the Fearsome Journeys anthology. Bear’s story, The Ghost Makers was one of at least four that caused me no end of curiousness about the authors and a visit to my regular bookshop. I was somewhat reluctant when I reached her story, I’m really not sure why, possibly I’ve picked up books of hers in the past and given the first pages a whirl then put them back down. Turned out to be rather good.

The third then, from the anthology, after K. J. Parker, and Scott Lynch (slipping in my reading blogging here, three books at least I haven’t gotten to yet). Stories that go from fantasy to near-ish future sci-fi to speculative history, none of which so far follow the deeply worn standard path of any of them. It’s a very good thing I can read fiction at such a frantic pace as I expect I’ll be reading more of her.

Reading: Charles Stross — Neptune’s Brood

Excitement! Not only a new science-fiction, it’s a new Charles Stross, and it’s one set in the universe of Saturn’s Children (which I’ve read I think three times), and hardback with the UK cover (as much as I like porn, I prefer my sci-fi sans use of gratuitous nekkid female bodies that have nothing to do with the story, and the US cover makes me embarrassed to read).

I picked it up from Shakespeare & Co. in the first district, then peddled to Café Prückel for a Große Braun and an hour or so of very, very enjoyable reading. I’m strenuously pacing myself, because it’s also going to be my back-to-Berlin by train reading, and I don’t want to find myself bending the back cover when I’ve got five hours to go of clickity-clack.

Now that dear Iain M. Banks is too busy being dead to write, my triumvirate of skiffy writers has taken quite a dent. There are possible newcomers, depending on what they write next, but my annual cycle filled with Banks, Stross, and Mieville is finished, and as much I love Stross, I love some of him more than others. His Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise are two of my favourites, but sadly he’s said several times he won’t return to that universe due to some world-building issues he thinks are terminal. Saturn’s Children then, is my next favourite universe — yes, even more than the Laundry Files or Halting State series.

The politics and intellectual qualities of these three writers certainly contribute substantially to why I always read them and why they dependably often appear at the top of my favourite books of the year, and of these qualities it’s their conscious commitment to feminist and somehow queer politics that I like the most. Saturn’s Children dealt with this, not merely because the protagonist was nominally female (saying what is female is elusive enough with humans, let alone with synthetic organisms), and Neptune’s Brood continues this, with the added brilliance of considering David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5000 Years, which should be compulsory reading.

Thirty or so pages in and I’m really holding myself back from buying large blocks of chocolate and holing up in bed for a couple of days and knocking this off in one protracted binge; addiction reading at its best.

Reading: Kim Stanley Robinson – 2312

My book for Antwerpen, Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 is up for a Hugo this year, and needing something sci-fi to read I thought it might appeal. I also have Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon sitting here, which is the only other one I think it’s possible to read without getting lost mid-way in a series.

It’s a curious book – obviously I’ve finished it – and the similarities to Charles Stross’ Saturn’s Children are uncanny, notably the Terminator rail city on Mercury and the Smalls; the dismantling of moons in turn, as well as the name given to the technological era also recalls a work of Stross, one of the first I read: Accelerando. The former work is perhaps a good comparison, being one of my favourites in the genre, and having a humour that sits well with the imagining of a near-ish future solar system and the feats of engineering and technology that are required.

Stanley, like so many sci-fi writers these days gets all the details correct. I think of this somewhat as wiki-writing. It’s a particular feeling I get when I know the writer has done their research, but doesn’t really conceptually grasp it. Neal Stephenson and William Gibson both suffer from this. I’m thinking here of descriptions of southern China cities and inner-city Melbourne that were accurate yet missing something. Perhaps it’s a bit like how Germans in Berlin make croissants, as if they’ve heard and seen everything about them, but never tasted one.

Another problem of writers both recent and not so, which often combines with the above, is the imagining of a future in which what is now speculative technology has become real, yet with scant extra in the universe; imagining a future 200 years from now from the perspective of the ’70s where video is still being saved to VHS. This also was a evident in the US-centricism of his writing, despite populating Venus with Chinese (who seemed to have all adopted Native American names and culture) and other multi-culturalism dressing. Particularly so in how he handled gender, which of course is a quick way to piss me off. Really, naming one type of post-human genders ‘Wombmen’ smacks either of complete ignorance of second-wave feminism and all the essentialist genital-centric crap that went with it and the subsequent refutation of that corporeral nationalism, or simply a not caring because it sounds so clever, or worst of all, somehow thinking the likes of Daly have something to offer a near-future understanding of identity. And that’s before I spent a good fifteen minutes frowning at the physiological unlikeliness of the dual-genitaled coupling scene, wondering how he might explain such erogenous zones.

The ending, a post-human marriage of two such complimentary genders (a wombman and the protagonist, with genitals going the other way, so to speak), was insipid, unsatisfactory, and substantially reifying current-day gender identities and roles, whatever the configuration of genitals might be. That, along with plodding denouements that didn’t really make sense left me yearning for a good Stross or Banks or Mieville, people who actually understand this stuff. At least it gave me something to read for a few days.

Reading: Iain M. Banks — Feersum Endjinn

Ah! This is brilliant! What a colossal imagination! This is the book I measure all other science-fiction by, which I haven’t read for years, and in the intervening time have got through a couple of hundred works in that genre, including everything of Iain, with or without and ‘M.’, and subsequently, it has a lot to live up to. Can a novel that was written nearly twenty years ago compare to something of the last couple of years? Is my memory going to disappoint me?

With science-fiction, it’s not such a simple question. A sublime work set in the future can be undermined by referencing already dead technology, or equally, one which holds on to social mores which have become championed only by the constipated right, both of which in various ways speak more about the occluded parts in the imagination of the author than they do of any possible future.

Iain, from the moment I read The Wasp Factory, has maintained a certain aptitude for evading these and other death-strokes of science-fiction — and whose Culture would have to be my future of choice, even if I was more likely to feel at home aboard an Eccentric, or with the Affront. He is, ah yes, that word, my favourite writer, for the corpus of his work if not for the individual works themselves (even though China Miéville has managed to snag my Book of the Year this decade). Other writers I’ve adored for individual works, or even also their entire opus, but Iain I’ve returned to more than others, and find his works — old and new — become more delightful with each reading. It is a seduction, yes.

And so to my book of books, the one I do compare all others to, Feersum Endjinn.

Woak up. Got dresd. Had brekfast. Spoke wif Ergates thi ant …

Oh Bascule, you glorious miscreant! I read the first pages imagining occasionally how this book would be written if it came around the time of, say, The Algebraist, and well, it would probably be much bigger, and bear the refinement of Banks’ fifteen more years of writing, and would be even more of all that it is, but it doesn’t matter that it wasn’t, that it’s towards the end of his second period of writing (I think The Algebraist marks the beginning of his current period); it’s just a fantastically inventive work that how ever many times I’ve read it — I guess this must be at least the sixth — I come to as though it’s new.

Perhaps that’s far too much to place on a single book, and yet, if it were dance, it would be Forsythe’s Artifact, which now almost thirty years old still gives me shivers and still is seldom equalled by any work since. Yes, really that good, and surprisingly underrated in the accolades of Banksianism; usually it’s Excession or The Crow Road that gets the attention. So, I shall savour each page, sentence and word, somehow thankful that such a work exists and I can enjoy it yet again.

Reading: Paolo Bacigalupi — The Windup Girl

Probably when this was first published, amidst all the noise about it, I picked it up and got through a few pages and put it back down, or at least I have a memory of that. This time, well, it was cheap and on the shelves at St George’s but honestly, I should have put it back down.

It’s won a lot of awards, a Nebula, a Hugo alongside China Miéville’s The City and the City, which while that isn’t one of my favourites, I far prefer and it’s probably a good counterpoint to why Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl is a dodgy work of science-fiction despite seeming quite well-written and obviously appealing enough to snarf awards.

I’ll start with the lesser issue, which has been annoying me in such abominable works as Neal Stephenson’s Reamde, and even some of Charles Stross’ more recent stuff. I call it authenticityism, and it’s a plague on literature. It’s the idea that by getting everything right, all the science and setting and ‘world-building’, you make a good story. In its useful guise, it’s called continuity, and it’s really useful: it makes things coherent. But lately it seems to be manifesting as an obsessive fixation on pseudo-accuracy, that the science in the science-fiction makes sense, and is ‘true’ even at the expense of being comprehensible to the reader — Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Fractal Prince falls into this at times, whereas Miéville’s Embassytown doesn’t, despite being equally demanding — or in a hyper-correct location and setting; believability reified through the ceaseless application of detail, which is both in this book’s Bangkok, and Stephenson’s southern China city.

This authenticityism causes a particular sensation in me, that it’s not authentic at all. Stephenson’s city in China seems true in the same way that scraping detail from Google Maps and Street View, Wikipedia, querying locals found by way of blogs and other sources, images from Flickr, videos from YouTube and staring at This Other, willing it to be genuine can give a veneer of authority on a subject. But it’s more an authority like Roland Barthes’ Empire of Signs, a Japan of Japan never visited, though entirely without the critical awareness of Barthes.

There’s a similarity in this writing method with the lot of internet trolls, who flame every small continuity or factual error, as though this scorched-earth correctness is necessary and renders the whole worthless. Possibly unsurprisingly, the writers who I find are most likely to fall into this style are white males who have some background in science or technology.

On to the major problem with this book, then. Oh, yes, I’ve read it. So much for not reviewing. Well, it’s in two parts, so I’ll dispense with one sharply. It’s reminds me a lot of John Burdett’s Bangkok 8, or other works by westerners set in the exotic, inscrutable Orient, in that everything Other is mentioned repeatedly until it becomes a blaring wall of noise against which the story is set. This could be partly another case of authenticityism, but I rather think that pointing Edward Saïd’s Orientalism at it would result in revealing something messy.

The main, fundamental, inescapable problem with The Windup Girl is that it is very much not work that’s good for women. It’s possible that the author genuinely believes he’s writing a work that is like a science-fiction reportage on the atrocious, beastial lives of women (of the genetically modified type, and of the trans type as embodied in two of the characters, one major — the windup girl of the title, and one minor, a plaything for a sleazy genetic engineer) in a third-world post-apocalypse Asian megalopolis, but in fact shows such a profound lack of imagination, empathy, or understanding of what a character who is female might be, that the only way he can illustrate this is through a similar blaring wall of noise comprised of degradation and rape.

It helps that this is so clear, because it also manifests insidiously in the place of the female characters — and there are quite a few. There are approximately five main characters (though one dies part-way through and hangs around till the end as a ghost), of which two are female, and we spend considerable time in all of their heads. The giveaway is that both the female characters are stripped of agency and autonomy, unlike the male characters. Kanya, despite performing the grande Coup d’état in the final scene, is never more than protégée to her dead captain, constantly at her side, judging, assessing, commenting on her actions. Of Emiko, the windup girl, she is (or at least she thinks she is) genetically programmed to obey her master, and even after killing her pimp moves directly on to the next great white saviour, even in the epilogue where she has arrived at some degree of selfhood. Other minor female characters are also there to be saved by a plethora of males, in fact I can’t think of a single female character whose role doesn’t circulate around a male.

Fundamentally, this is a work of a lack of imagination. The best Bacigalupi could do to represent a near-future dystopia is one where sexy, smooth-skinned, lithe and athletic, genetically engineered women are sex slaves, only fit to be saved by a heterosexual white alpha male from the west, who she of course happily fucks. And to underline just how dystopian this near-future is, she has to get raped. A lot. And Bacigalupi writes out pages of it with diligent authenticityism.

Reading (2nd Time): Charles Stross — Rule 34

The first time I read Charles Stross’ Rule 34, I wasn’t writing about why I read certain books. So, taking a break from the recent binge of non-fiction before I plunged into the next cycle, I returned to some favourites, or rather some science-fiction I haven’t read three or four times.

I read Charles Stross because he is intelligent, bitingly witty, and one of the only science-fiction writers who manages to write about (very-) near-futurism without either sounding like a Boy’s Own tech blog or being embarrassingly out of date upon publication (both fates have simultaneously befallen two other writers I used to enjoy hugely, and are now departed from my reading list).

Along with Iain (M. or otherwise) Banks, and China Miéville, I have his upcoming books firmly in my reading list, partly because of the above, and also because all three of them take the subordinate place of women in society seriously and consciously write to address this. Charles also has one of my favourite blogs.

As for Rule 34, yes, definitely worth the second read, though I’m still slightly confused by the implications of the ending — which is to say, I’ll probably read it again just to grasp this better.