What I Was Reading In June & July

Continuing with this amended way of blogging about what I’m reading, another small pile of books I picked up a couple of weeks ago and am currently getting through.

Akala came up in my Twit feed a while ago, I watched him utterly destroy at least one idiot white British politician on TV, decided he fitted into where I’m reading at the moment in combinations of UK / London / Colonialism / Black / Grime history, realised he’s the brother of the deadly Ms. Dynamite, laid into it at the same time I was reading Dan Hancox’s Inner City Pressure: The Story of Grime. Pretty much highly recommend Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire, even though he’s kinda weak on the feminism / queer side of things — bit of a cishet male bias there, mate — but he’s talking from his own experience growing up as a black boy and man in London, and it’s grim shit we need to hear and read.

Small aside, I went on a Giggs binge last night. First time I heard him was JME’s and his Man Don’t Care. Dasniya said she liked his voice more, something kinda menacing and slow but also “cinnamon tea”. He was live at Roundhouse earlier this year, and closed with Whippin’ Excursion, just watch the crowd fucking lose it when the bass drops, it’s a madness. Then go back to Talkin’ da Hardest in 2007 or even further, 2003, dejavu FM pirate radio and the Conflict DVD. That’s where grime came from, the rooftops of council housing tower-blocks (yeah I know Giggs isn’t grime, but he works with a lot of grime artists, so, keeping it simple here), rough as guts and dead end and set up to fail and go down or die. So belabouring a point here, the political and social significance of someone like Giggs filling the Roundhouse and having a packed crowd go the fuck off … gives me shivers. Good, deep, world-changing shivers.

I haven’t read Charlie Jane Anders’ Six Months, Three Days, Five Others yet. But I’ll always read her. The more of my sisters in this game, the better.

Corinne Duyvis’ On the Edge of Gone I probably heard of from the usual places, io9, or someone in my Twit feed. Reasons for reading: it’s sci-fi, she’s queer, lives in Amsterdam, is autistic. I’m not sold on the ‘science’ part of the science-fiction yet, set in 2035 and interstellar generation ships are a somewhat mature technology — this might be a ruse, but still, large-scale ships for hundreds or thousands of people, able to launch from Schiphol Airport seems improbable for 17 years from now. Maybe I’m reading that part wrong. Nonetheless, an autistic main character — and you all know my love of Feersum Endjinn and Whit. (I’m not even going to tell you about my own neurofuckery and my spreadsheet which I use to remember people I’ve met.)

Obviously I bought Deji Bryce Olukotun’s Nigerians in Space for the title. I’m still kinda on the whole, “I don’t really read menz” thing, for so long it’s not even a thing, it’s more of a “I read women authors and non-binary authors on the feminine side of things,” because obviously I want to see my people represented and that means all my people and their people and their people’s people. So sometimes I read a book by a guy. I have this habit, where I read an author’s acknowledgements and count the names and divide them into male-ish, female-ish, and I dunno. Pretty reliably, male author’s female-ish names count tops out around 30%, ’cos we all know 1/3 female feels like half or more than half in the real world. It means I tend to read male authors with suspicion, it’s a question of do they really genuinely care about and practice what we currently call intersectionality, or are they fortunate enough (truly though, I mean impoverished) to not have to make it a necessary part of their lives. So far, then — I’ve only read the first dozen pages — Nigerians in Space is a hilarious sci-fi thriller of straight men making really, really bad irreversible decisions.

Lucky last, Nuraliah Norasid’s The Gatekeeper. This one via JY Yang and / or various Twit mentions (I’m taking a long pause from the Twit, ’cos it’s not good for my moodiness or neurofuckery), and / or a bunch of South-East Asian blogs in my feed. I dunno what’s happening over Singapore way, but the sci-fi fantasy spec-fic stuff I’ve been reading is on fire. This is her first novel, and reminded me of Sofia Samatar’s The Winged Histories (or maybe more A Stranger in Olondria). There’s a lot I love in this, but some poor narrative decisions that seem more about manufacturing drama leading to an uncomfortable conclusion where the main character is incarcerated and pregnant and we know her children will be taken away from her to be experimented on. Which is an ongoing reality for colonised indigenous peoples, but here it was more in the vein of the awful Joss Whedon Black Widow trauma porn backstory. There’s a much tighter, more cogent story here that doesn’t rely on weak tropes, and which finesses out the cataclysmic acts of the main character and her sister (I’m ignoring the rich boy, ’cos he could be dropped and the story would only grow). First novel though, another author I’ll read again.

Reading: Jaymee Goh, Joyce Chng (eds.) — The Sea Is Ours: Tales from Steampunk Southeast Asia

I am getting such a kick out of reading this. Definitely going to be on my Book of the Year list.

The Sea Is Ours: Tales from Steampunk Southeast Asia, edited by Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng was published last year, so it’s been on my Want List for, I dunno, pushing a year, I guess. And I have no idea where I heard about it. Not io9 with its monthly list of what’s new (and what will I do for skiffy if io9 vanishes — any more than it already has?); not on Islam and Science Fiction, so that rules out the obvious ones; possibly on Twitter, but searching social networks is the 4Chan of the internet, so, no idea. Whoever brought it to my attention, and into my grubby mitts, well done!

Bill Campbell is responsible for The Sea is Ours, he of Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond, which at the time I wasn’t so into. He’s also Rosarium Publishing, where these anthologies are published. And it’s worth mentioning the publication costs were crowd-funded on Indiegogo: a mere $10,000 brought this rather good collection to print.

Funny thing is, I’m not much into either steampunk or short stories, yet here am I blabbing about both. My ambivalence for short stories I have a feeling I’ve mentioned recently; it’s primarily that I like sinking deep into a story and the characters, for at least a day, ideally much longer, though my reading speed nixes the latter. Short stories at 15 minutes a pop leave me wanting more, it’s like reading the first chapter and being denied the novel.

Steampunk on the other hand, in its typical form, there’s no ambivalence: I find it contrived, a literary and cultural cul-de-sac dangerously uncritical of itself. And this is me talking about context again. The signifiers steampunk plays with are rooted in high industrial colonialism, sliding between mid-19th century Age of Steam proper, and early 20th century post-steam final years of the European imperialism. In fact while technologically rooted in a non-internal combustion engine alternate timeline, steampunk often sits firmly in pre-war 1914 in cultural, social, political signifiers. And I’m basing this on a rather small population of books read, but of those I have, and of my other reading, this is my impression. I also just don’t get the brass, clockwork, steam aesthetic. Partly because the era it fetishises sits atop colonialism and genocide in the real world, and partly because for me it’s even less plausible than dragons and magic.

So, we’ve established my hostility to short stories and steampunk, and yet here we are, me saying this is an excellent collection, I’m loving reading it, I want another, Volume 2: The Sea is Still Ours (2 Sea 2 Furious, or something). I love it because of the list of countries I’ve categorised and tagged this post under, countries I don’t mention enough these days, and though I never lived in any of them, I passed through most at one time or another when Guangzhou was my home. There’s a familiarity in the writing and stories, it’s like coming out of Hong Kong airport into the glorious damp heat on Chek Lap Kok and physically remembering where I am.

There’s another thing in the stories I’ve read so far (about half), which is requisitioning the signifiers of steampunk for use by the other side. It’s another alternate timeline, where the colonised got their hands on the technology of the European empires, merged it with their own technology, culture, world, and turned it against the aggressors. A world where the Maya civilisation resisted the Spanish empire enough to trade with the Philippines, where the Philippines themselves charted a different course. When I’m reading these stories, I keep thinking steampunk was made for this, using the technology of the age of colonialism to imagine other potential histories. It’s a far more satisfying genre written like this.

I was also thinking — and this is thanks to the work of editors Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng — how refreshing it is to read stories that aren’t coming out of the United States (putting aside that it was published there, by an American publisher, and that a couple of the writers live there). Dasniya and I spent an afternoon on the grass in front of the Reichstag yesterday soaking in the warm sun, the conversation moved — as it usually does — to those awkward words, inclusion, diversity, how to talk about one’s work while avoiding the reductionism of these terms yet also needing to make clear that the concerns these terms signify is central. And this is where this collection succeeds for me: certainly within the domestic situation in the States it would be categorised using these terms, but the stories themselves, it’s like a chorus of an entire world from somewhere else, and in this world these words — if they even appear — are framed on their terms. It’s like when I made the fantastic shift from reading feminism coming from Anglo-Euro-American countries to that coming from Arabic, Turkish, Persian, Chinese writers and never looked back.

Bill Campbell, Jaymee Goh, Joyce Chng: more please! And I’d love one with Taiwanese, Cantonese (Jihng Yāt and steampunk pirates!), the sea-facing countries of the north.

Jaymee Goh, Joyce Chng (eds.) — The Sea Is Ours: Tales from Steampunk Southeast Asia
Jaymee Goh, Joyce Chng (eds.) — The Sea Is Ours: Tales from Steampunk Southeast Asia

Daniel Jaber in Kuala Lumpur

Daniel has been on an AsiaLink Performing Arts Residency in Malaysia for the last some months. Snakes? Yes! He has a double bill this weekend, of WG-Spiel (which I love) and Poetic Structure (which is new, I think). I had a strange idea he was also performing degradation, which would have been hilarious, though he probably would be put on the next plane out of the country…

Anyway, probably worth flying there if flying wasn’t so rotten for the world. (I’ll stay in Berlin and pretend I’m there, eating noodles from a street stall in the warm rain…)

WG-Spiel
&
Poetic Structure

a double bill of new works by Daniel Jaber

Where:The Fonteyn Studio Theatre, Level 5, Wisma FAB, 1-3 Jalan 14/22, 46200 Petaling Jaya KUALA LUMPUR
When:Friday 19 & Saturday 20 November @ 7:30pm

Tickets:RM 15 available at the door OR contact Bilqis bilqis@rimbundahan.org

WG Spiel is a ferociously physical dance work from award-winning Australian choreographer Daniel Jaber. The work examines the lives and living habits of 3 housemates as they coexist in close living quarters. Set to a vibrant and energetic electronic soundtrack, the work charges forth through images and choreographic scenarios regarding domestic duties, working life and relationships.

Poetic structure redefines traditional choreography in the context of a modern world. Cyberspace, chartrooms and MSN form the communicative dialogues of the performers as they engage in wickedly abstract choreography created by CSS and HTML coding formulas. Commenting on communication, technology and digital engulfment – Poetic Structure is a sophisticatedly structured short dance work featuring 4 outstanding Malay dancers and created by Daniel Jaber.

Made possible through an Asialink Performing Arts Residency and supported by the Government of South Australia through Arts SA, the Australian Government through the Australia – Malaysia Institute, Rimbun Dahan, Carclew Youth Arts.

miscellaneous tranny stuff … coz we rule

Someone, obviously stupid, whom I haven’t bothered to remember despite having a vague association in the Melbourne contemporary dance SCENE, when finding out early last year Frances was a tranny mused that perhaps I was doing it as a career move, coz y’know, I’m a crazy artist an’ shit. Yeah so jumping on the shemale bandwagon, as Becky points out in her TG Predictions for 2007, “TG Sells”, and I’m a desperate whore for small change.

While still being able to lay claim to being the first foreign tranny choreographer in China, coz every transsexual is first at something, in the meantime before I’m the first tranny to do something else (probably first tranny rock climber in China is another title I’ll claim), here’s all the transsexual, gender, cross-dressing, art, film, music, books, politico-legal-socio-cultural stuff I remembered to bookmark from the last month, and there’s been stacks of it.

First with books and previews from She’s not the man I married, by Helen Boyd, which I really hope I get a copy to review, along with all the other books I prattle on about here.

Then there’s Transparent, Love, Family and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers by Cris Beam that got a write up in San Francisco Gate, “Real women can have penises. And “the brain and the heart are the only organs with a gender, and … all genital modification or lack thereof is simply a personal aesthetic choice.””

I’m quite fond of using science to cudgel ignorance and bigotry if not into realising the error of its ways and subsequently proseletysing, then at least being rendered incapable of further harm. So, a couple of research papers for proof that intelligence begets human rights:

50 under 30: Masculinity and the War on America’s Youth, or “don’t call the police if you get a beating for wearing lipstick, boy”.

More interesting for me in that geeky viscera obsession, Changing your sex changes your brain: influences of testosterone and estrogen on adult human brain structure from European Journal of Endocrinology. I think the title pretty much says it all, and the part of me that goes, “yay, science!” thinks this is quite cool and the next person who inadvertently ‘he’s’ me is gonna get a paint-stripper drenching of vitriolic abuse based on this paper’s abstract. The part of me that is always deeply suspicious of the motives, interpretations, and ethical dubiousness in science, viz. finding a biological cause and subsequently a ‘cure’ for homosexuality, transsexuality and any other otherness thinks, “well in spite of their brain structure in what was a pissy small sample to start they were tranny both before and after hormone treatment, so whatever part of the body this identity resides in, it’s exterior to the scope of this research”.

Anyway, on to where transsexuals belong, in entertainment.

Miss K is continuing the totally fucking rock story of Six Inch Killers, and it’s getting more smacked out by the minute, I’m surprised anyone even remembers they were there.

Over in Thailand, Venus Flytrap have their first album out, plus videos and their first single. Not to be outdone in the battle for Asian tranny-pop (that’s t-pop, like j-pop and canto-pop), Lady have some videos out too.

Off to the movies, and Lee Kyung-Eun, better known as Harisu from Korea is in Bjarne Wong’s Possessed.

A big “I shit on ya!” to any asshole who thought making “he she it?!?” jokes about Santhi Soundarajan was funny. I’m not even going to waste my time trying to explain why I will poison your whole family to seven generations, and give you syphilis till your rotting brain drools out your nose. You don’t use it anyway. She is an unimaginably superior human than you could ever be, and won a silver medal in the 800 meter sprint at the Doha Asia Games to prove it.

And finally, ex-Guangzhou artist Cao Fei gets in on the crossdressing scene too, and asks
男人么?man? 女人么?woman? 男人 man 女人 woman 不是男人 not man 不是女人 not woman 我是男的 I’m man 我是女的 I’m woman 成为男人 be a man 成为女人 be a woman, while looking dead sophisticated in suit and goatee.

satanically un-islamic black metal fatwa

Superstitious religious imbecility coupled with public displays of mental feebleness and decrepitude are almost universally guaranteed to make for high-class comedy. But pre-meditated vindictiveness and a vicious campaign of fear, lies and incitement to hate has always been the keystone of religion, and it makes scant difference if the targets are heathens, sodomites or if you hang out in Malaysia, Black Metal.

I found out early last year my grandmother was Turkish Muslim. I like surprises, and this was an especially good one. Well, Turkey is a long way from Malaysia, and I guess the difference in Islam between the two countries is comparable to the difference in Christianity between say, Australia and Europe, but I wondered what they would make of me in Malaysia, who on the weekend presented 45 minutes of Metallic adoration, and who surpasses their criteria for murtad in a lazily over-acheiving way. To save you clicking of the link, the penalty for apostasy is death. Or not. Depending on what kind of Muslim you are.

Malaysia’s National Fatwa Council has decided Black Metal is against Islamic principles, and their implicit attitude in conceiving such a stance tends to point to a less than benevolent outcome for people who like to head bang, so I guess I won’t be touring hell there any time soon.

Prof Shukor said although Black Metal was just a form of music, its culture often led its followers to worship Satan, to rebel, kill and incite hatred and irreligion.

Black Metal culture, he said, also influenced its followers to perform controversial rituals such as drinking one’s blood mixed with goat blood and burning the Quran.

— The Star

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