Reading: Ayize Jama-Everett — The Entropy of Bones

In the previous instalment, the protagonists hitch a ride across the Atlantic on a boat with a dead woman. She’s an aside in the main story, but in The Entropy of Bones, it’s all about her. Chabi, half-black, half-Mongolian, mute, living on a boat and training her teens away in various occult martial arts practices under the tutelage of Narayana, who’s turned up in the previous two books and is the kind of entropic person who would altruistically build orphanages only to see them all burn down, children inside (yup, that’s how Ayize Jama-Everett describes him).

Martial art girl fighting her way into and through life as irresistible force, absent father, problem mother, street tough and walls all round. I like Jama-Everett’s world, writing, imagination—duh, obviously, I’ve just read all three of his books and got through this one between Friday night and Saturday morning (with sleep)—and taking the Liminal War series off away from Taggert, his daughter, that story line and axis of Morocco to London via Marseille, to a distinctly minor character in the second book and building a whole new line from her, that’s good story-telling.

Martial art girl, etc yeah, that’s a bit of a cliché. The most recent I’ve read of that stereotrope is Tricia Sullivan’s Shadowboxer, and both indulge in and suffer from the endless descriptions of fighting, training, and corporeality, the body as a thing that only becomes true when it surmounts technique and training and finds its natural movement. There’s a shit tonne of essentialist problems in that model, as much as it is a fact—a fact that derives from the simple physicality of human bodies, how joints can articulate, muscles contract and release, nerves hold conversations, all the mess of having a body; and you can’t move outside your body without breaking it so, yeah, ‘natural’ movement—that fact doesn’t necessarily correlate to a truth. The truth being postulated is that of the authentic body and self, like Martha fucking Graham saying, “The body doesn’t lie” (yeah dunno if she said that or if it’s been corrupted from “Movement never lies” but much the same), or Star fucking Wars and “Use the Force, Luke” it’s an asshole full of orientalist shit.

And ’cos the protagonist always has to find the passive way, not be the irresistible force, be like wind or grass, which sure, is a legitimate way of fighting, Aikido, Tai Qi others work from these principles, but hitting shit until it breaks is also no less natural movement and authentic self (if we’re gonna talk in those terms), and the unspoken statement here is Chabi (or whoever else) is broken, incomplete, inauthentic until they find this ‘true’ technique-less movement. As someone who’s spent close to two decades training and suffering from the pervasiveness of that bullshit, I think I can say fuck off, and also, drop your essentialism and orientalism, it’s fucked up and it’s like you don’t even realise.

Otherwise, The Entropy of Bones is pretty bloody good. It’s not going to be book of the year—thinking there isn’t going to be a fiction one this year—partially for the above, partially for the stereotrope of ‘tough martial art chick grows up when irresistible force hits immoveable object’, partially for Jama-Everett’s need to mention one character in particular is gay when he never labels any of the others as hetero except for through their actions (a bit like Sullivan’s really awful attempt at a trans/kathoey/wtf?Idunno character), so it’s like he went through a checklist of tokens and … yeah, I’m as cynical as fuck about this stuff (no, I’m totally down with Taggert calling people “Faggot,” that’s the person he is) … partially cos there’s a darkness in these books that—I mean you can’t call any of the protagonists heroes or necessarily good people given what they do, but it’s not that darkness, it’s something underlying that, like a pessimism in the writing where everything is a rearguard action, like Anna Kavan’s Ice, brilliant book but God you come out the other side feeling hopeless and in need of a shot of heroin.

Like I said of the other Liminal books, read this if you love China Miéville (especially his stuff like Kraken, and Un Lun Dun) or Saladin Ahmed, or you’re looking for a world that isn’t full of hero white people.



Had planned to go to Historiska Museet and look at mediæval stuff. Made it as far as Skeppsholmen and going to the Östasiatiskamuseet. “We close in an hour. But an hour is usually enough. For most people.” Even for me. Small and average. The collection of Chinese (and pre-China) pottery and ceramics was the best part. Also the stone sculptures of various Buddhist, Daoist (I know!) deities. The Japan collection was mediocre. I wanted to steal quite a bit of the Tang and Song dynasty. And use it. The Ming stuff looked like Lack of Subtlety by comparison. Even cheap tea would taste better in a Song Dynasty bowl.

Reading: James Palmer — The Bloody White Baron

This is one that fell into my reading list in a couple of disparate but connected ways. The first, or rather more direct, being the author James Palmer, is also responsible for Heaven Cracks, Earth Shakes: The Tangshan Earthquake and the Death of Mao’s China, which is on my upcoming reading list. The second, but chronologically earlier (as in read before, though published after The Baron) is Charles Stross.

Science-fiction to insane White Russian nobility seeped in revolution-era apocalyptic Buddhism? Well, it all started in the Laundry, and to paraphrase somewhat, … Eldritch Abominations, the Wall of Pain on the dead plateau wherein the Sleeper lies imprisoned in the pyramid, CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, the Eater of Souls, “Stop Teapot … Before he makes tea.”

(I have a feeling I’ll be reading The Fuller Memorandum again shortly.)

And we do meet Teapot. And he is making tea.

Back in the slightly more real world, The Bloody White Baron is the biography of one Freiherr Roman Nikolai Maximillian Ungern von Sternberg, of Baltic-German noble descent who found his way through life with such an unfailing fondness for brutality (he would take walks in the fields around his battles, littered with bones and butchered corpses fed upon by wolves and carrion birds, because he found it peaceful and calming), and ripened with a demented, anti-Semitic, Buddhist shamanism, that the character Charlie grows from the real Ungern and places in a Lovecraftian universe of horror from other dimensions doesn’t seem so unlikely at all.

The actual book is more in the line of Peter Hopkirk, slightly sensationalist but rollicking-good story of Central Asian and far-East Orientalism adventurism in the last days of Empire, which is to say despite the endnotes, this is more a generalist work than my usual tendencies towards academic-ish texts.

Not to imply this isn’t well-researched (as far as I can tell; Russia and north of Tien Shan not being a region I know much about) and James does a commendable job of balancing the hysterical complexity of multiple falling empires, revolutionary nationalists, upstart imperialists, straggling enclaves and exclaves of the former, and various Mongolian and Steppe groups and religious powers all variously forming shifting alliances and slaughtering each other.

I was often reminded, during reading this (yes, I’ve already finished, so this is a quasi-/crypto-review) the similarities between eastern Europe and eastern Siberia, Mongolia and the Steppe; both being ground underfoot repeatedly by advancing and routed ideologies, and both to this day having their histories unwritten, commensurate to say, Germany or China. As he points out in the epilogue, exactly what happened to Mongolian Buddhism in the ’20s and ’30s under Soviet-led or -inspired communism happened in Tibet under Mao. The difference being the latter is something Brad Pitt gets banned permanently from China for (I watched Seven Years in Tibet last night as a distraction), whereas the former is a footnote.

straight outta mongolia

Mongolian pride, speed metal, Gengis Khan all get together in Ulan Bataar’s hard-rockin’ band Hurd and their CD I was Born in Mongolia were in New York Times yesterday, and seen at China Digital News.

China built the Great Wall more than 2,000 years ago to keep out invaders from the north. But the Chinese are having a harder time repulsing modern interlopers like these: long-haired Mongolian men in black, whose office décor features a wolf pelt, a portrait of Genghis Khan and a music store poster of Eminem.

So the Chinese police got nervous when they heard that Hurd was crossing the Gobi Desert, coming down from Mongolia, 600 miles to the north. With their new hit CD, “I Was Born in Mongolia,” Hurd, a heavy metal, Mongolian-pride group, was coming for a three-day tour, culminating Nov. 1 with a performance in Hohhot, capital of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

“The morning we were to get on the train, the translator guy called and said ‘Your performances are cancelled,’ ” Damba Ganbayar, Hurd’s keyboardist and producer, said glumly as he lounged in a white plastic chair. “He said, ‘I will call with details.’ I never got the details.”


Performing contemporary dance on the plains of Mongolia, with the audience coming to watch with their yurts, and slaughtering a lamb as a welcome gift is probably one of the most memorable dance festivals in the world. Arabesque Contemporary Dance Centre recently held the 2nd Festival of Contemporary Dance in Ulaan Baatar and Manzushir Monastary in the Tuv Province.

The 2nd International Festival of Contemporary Dance is intend to introduce Mongolian audience with various dance theatres and companies or independent dancers who develop modern and contemporary dance techniques and forms of expression. This event is also a unique opportunity for Mongolians and its participants to exchange ideas and experiences of dance which have been developed all over the world. Past companies to have performed at the Festival include Kilina Cremona from France/Croatia, and Phillip Adams’ balletlab from Melbourne, Australia.

Together with Mongolian dancers they will help to increase people’s understanding of modern dance, which is very new form of contemporary art for Mongolians.