Another Pile of Books I’m Reading in the Second Half of 2020

It’s been a while. I didn’t have any spare cash for a bit, then I had slightly too much (as far as the Finanzamt is concerned), and then I realised I’d decided not to blog for a few weeks (thanks pandemic and enragingly piss poor response by Berlin, Germany, Europe, and so very very many str8wyt men in all those places), and now see me trying to make an effort like showing up for the exam and everyone knows I didn’t do the work.

Yallah, a pile of books I’m reading (pretending to read) in the second half of 2020, to which I’ll add another pile because I dunno, not enough money to buy anything substantial but just enough to incur a hefty tax bill if I don’t spend it. Weird how poverty is emplaced through institutional, structural and legislative punishment.

All the poetry, and I do mean all the poetry is entirely because of Omar Sakr. Him and Sunny Singh (of the Jhalak Prize) on Twitter are responsible for a large chunk of my reading, whether directly or retweeting interesting people who turn out to be writers and poets.

So, Aria Aber’s Hard Damage, Ellen Van Neerven’s Throat, Sue Hyon Bae’s Truce Country, all poetry that moves me. It still feels odd to be reading poetry, though it’s been a year since Sakr’s The Lost Arabs and Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan’s Postcolonial Banter — just a year! Feels heaps longer. Yeah, poetry is hitting me right.

Also poetry, semi-poetry, poetry-ish, with a history in a festival, Rachel De-Lahay’s My White Best Friend: (And Other Letters Left Unsaid), mainly because I read anything with Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan in it.

Continuing the theme of books recommended by other authors, or cited in their bibliographies. Olivette Otele’s African Europeans: An Untold History, which I already blogged, but these six-monthly book dumps seem to deserve all the books. No idea where I heard about this, but either Twitter authors or one of the blogs I read. And from that, Geraldine Heng’s The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages. Real-time internet archaeology as I write here, I likely read about both on In the Middle, the medieval studies blog, where, on Monday, Geraldine Heng responded to the hit-piece on her and this book.

Which reminded me of the double bind I periodically find myself in. The first time I personally experienced it was with JT LeRoy, who I read in the early-’00s and thought was a trans femme who I could relate to. Turned out JT only existed as a fiction of a white, cis woman, and she’s still making a profit and career off our lives. Funny how consequences slide off them like teflon. More recently it was Medieval PoC – who I used to contribute photographs of Black and Brown people in art when I was on my museum bender – and a deeply messy history going back years of her claiming Native, Roma, and other ancestry. And this year it’s been a regular feast of white cis women in academia and the arts getting sprung for building their careers on false claims of BIPoC ancestry. On the other side of the double bind, it’s white supremacy trying to flip medieval European history to its own agenda, and a ceaseless barrage of racism, misogyny, transphobia, and all the other shit against cis and trans BIPoC authors, academics, artists, very regularly from white, cis women in academia and the arts, like the 46-page (!!!) hit-piece Heng responds to.

I mean, I just wanna read books and have a good time and learn shit and be amazed and generally chill the fuck out with a bunch of words and instead it’s white people colouring up or white people doing hit jobs.

Last couple in the non-fiction pile, then. Peta Stephenson’s The Outsiders Within: Telling Australia’s Indigenous-Asian Story. The one she wrote before Islam Dreaming: Indigenous Muslims in Australia, which it turns out I may not have blogged either. That latter was a big one for me. And keeping on the Islam history thing, John M. Steele’s A Brief Introduction to Astronomy in the Middle East, recommended to me by Dr. Danielle Kira Adams of Lowell Observatory, and responsible for Two Deserts, One Sky — Arab Star Calendars (novel research things there).

Fiction, then. Science-fiction mostly. Becky Chambers, who I’ve been reading for the last few years and pretty content at the moment in reading another one from her, To Be Taught, If Fortunate. Another also from Charles Stross, Dead Lies Dreaming, though after fifteen years this might be the last I read from him, just not really doing it for me and the trans character is very written by a cis. Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth, which I’ve already read, and the sequel Harrow the Ninth, which I’m currently reading / wading through it’s corpsey gore. Claire G. Coleman’s Terra Nullius, Indigetrans colonial invasion sci-fi but not really sci-fi. And speaking of trans, Juno Dawson’s Wonderland, which I kinda liked but wished the literary fixation on Alice in Wonderland stories didn’t exist (same like I wish dance fixation on ‘reimagining’ Swan Lake and the classics didn’t exist).

Lucky last. Fiction but more like Chingona autobiography ghost story, Myriam Gurba’s Mean. Recommended to me by Vass. Thanks babe, she’s fucking with me.

That’s a lot, eh. Piling up, getting partly read then left, words look smaller than they used to and I need glasses but that means organising shit like ophthalmologist appointments and shelling out cash and fuck it I can squint. Though I wonder if the reason why I’m not reading as much as I used to is ’cos words in book form’s blurry all the time.

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Gideon the Ninth Fukken Metal as Fuck Yeah

“These two cunts are fully harden the fuck up, cunt.”
“Which two cunts, Chica?”
“Gideon and her hate crush Harrow.”
“Sounds sikk. Tell me more.”
“Lezzie dyke undying necromancer gothic space opera horror?”
“10/10 would nonverbal consent.”
“’Member in Iain Banks’ The Algebraist?”
“Iain wiv an M. Banks?”
“The one. Again and always.”
“Wif the creepy but kinda sexy in a bad extra way one wot had diamonds for teeth?”
“Yup. Archimandrite Luseferous.”
“Yup, and?”
“And ’member Ancillary Justice?”
“Ann Leckie who was your safe space when our Iain got indisposed on account of being dead?”
“Am still grieving an’ yup.”
“An’ you were like, if someone wrote a whole novel from the perspective of that toothy psycho and his Starveling Cult, plus pronouns and tea, that’d be Imperial Radch?”
“Pretty much.”
“Orrite, and?”
“Well Gideon the Ninth is like all of that plus Norwegian Black Metal corpse paint.”
“Hectic as.”
“Fully.”
“Goes to eleven?”
“Goes to 666.”
“None More Black?”
“None More Black, Chica.”
“Oooo!”
“Wot then?”
“Forgot. Gideon the Ninth is like all of that plus Norwegian Black Metal corpse paint plus …”
“Plus what?”
Oglaf!
“Sithrak! Cumsprite!”
“Sluts!”
“An’ who is the sharp cunt wot wrote it?”
“That’d be Tamsyn Muir. An’ she comes from Aotearoa.”
“Proper good. An’ who did that cover, ’cos a) that’s metal as fuck and b) cunt can destroy my bones any day or night.”
“That’d be Tommy Arnold and fukken fuck yeah.”
“And you’re smashing it?”
“Very much so.”
“And what else? You gonna tell me there’s a sequel?”
“Fukken sequel!”
“Siiikk! What’s it called?”
Harrow the Ninth!”
“An’ have you ordered it yet?”
“I’m a tardy bint.”
“Get your shit together. Tell me a truth moment, Chica.”
“Hit me.”
“You finished it yet? Did it stick the landing?”
“Nah not yet. But if page 357 was the end, landing was totes stuck. Right horrorshow.”
“High praise from an intolerant cunt.”
“All that.”
“New fave author?”
“Read me to filth there.”
“Anything else?”
“Well obvz I want Gideon to be a righteous trans femme, ’cos I’m simple like that. Book of the Year in any case, not that I’m doing that anymore, but still, that’s where it’s at.”

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Seven Raffi

Seven of Nine was the best part of Voyager twenty years ago and I will fight anyone who says she wasn’t queer as fuck back then.

Star Trek: Picard has been up and down, and by far the finest ups have been Raffaela Musiker and Seven of Nine (and Elnor, who is a doll, but I’m about the ladies here). And the season finished with this. This is correct sci-fi. Shipping the shit out of this.

“What’s Your Porn Category?”

A question I got asked today. I’m writing a lot lately (a long overdue distant continuation of this), and well, sometimes I write, and sometimes nameless horrors what fancy themselves to be comedians write me (& cheers to Vass for leading me down the award ceremony trail).

“Tell me a truth time! What’s your porn category?”
“Hot Action Alien Tentacle Sex 6-Way Shemale Gang Bang?”
“That’s very specific.”
“Where all the tentacle suckers are James Franco’s face going ‘Eyyy, how ya doin’?’ in a shite Brooklyn accent.”
“That’s suddenly Category: Not My Fetish!”
“Bait and Switch, child! The Category is…—”
“Nightmare Porn!”
“Aw, steal my punchline, why doncha?”
“Just like Franco steals your award at the ceremony.”
“Tentacles take stage like Kanye at Taylor Swift, ‘Imma let you finish,’ rips Franco’s face off with razor-toothed Franco suckers.”
“Camera cuts to Xzibit in the audience, ‘Yo dawg, I heard you like James Franco Tentacle Suckers…‘”
“Shit just writes itself, eh?”
“It’s not a porn category unless it starts with ‘Hot Action’.”
“Amateur Porn? naah. Hot Action Amateur Porn? Now that’s a category.”
“Now That’s What I Call Hot Action Amateur Porn!”
“Volume 69.”
“The Soundtrack.”
“Hot moaning and grunting, wet sounds of skin slapping, screams of terror and ripping of flesh, ‘Eyyy, how ya doin’?’”
“Stop. Please. Stop.”
“Won’t stop, can’t stop.”

(Some of) What I Was Reading So Far in 2019

Excluding re-readings of Iain (without the M.) Banks, Steph Swainston, Charles Stross, Alastair Reynolds, and a few others I’ve forgotten because a) too poor for new books, b) too sooky to want to read new books, and c) very much wanting the comfort food of old books, even when I discovered I was hate-reading. Turns out I hate-read. I’m surprised and shamed at my pettiness, but here we are.

New books I did read though:

Built: The Hidden Stories Behind Our Structures, by Roma Agrawal, one on the shortlist for the 2019 Jhalak Prize, which in itself is guaranteed dead solid reading every year. And Roma has a podcast now. Buildings and engineering. Nice!

Bullets and Opium: Real-Life Stories of China After the Tiananmen Square Massacre, by Liao Yiwu, who is the one Chinese political writer everyone should read, up there with Svetlana Alexievich.

Edges, by Linda Nagata, someone I’ve heard about for years and had never read. Strong reminders of Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space trilogy, high probability I’ll keep reading the series.

Fast Ladies: Female Racing Drivers, 1888-1970, by Jean Francois Bouzanquet. Large-format coffee-table-ish book of women hooning the shit out of fast cars. Obviously 10/10.

Geochemistry, by William M. White, which I picked up yesterday and haven’t actually started. One of my periodical forays into geology fun. This one’s packed with formula and equations, which is slightly intimidating.

The Gilded Wolves, by Roshani Chokshi, which I don’t remember much of, except it reminded me a lot of Genevieve Cogman’s Invisible Library series, whose The Mortal Word I also read. Chokshi though, didn’t work for me, despite wanting to like it.

Growing Up African in Australia, by Maxine Beneba Clarke, along with Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff’s (of the awesome gal-dem) Mother Country: Real Stories of the Windrush Children, both collections of autobiographical essays and both critical reading.

Last Days of the Mighty Mekong, by Brian Eyler, which I was expecting a lot more of, and got instead a weirdly messy history of the river like ’90s white Euro-American journalism.

The October Man: A Rivers of London Novella, by Ben Aaronovitch, this one set in Germany (or Germland as I’ve been calling it recently), and a very German take on “What if, Harry Potter, but he’s a black cop in London?” I also re-binged his entire series while in Spain at the rate of a book a day, “Yeah, seven books will be enough for 12 days …” (runs out of books.)

Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991, by Michael Azerrad, which I somehow decided was all about US hardcore. It’s not. A few bands I’ve never listened to, several bands I used to love, revisited while reading and was sad at how they didn’t touch me at all when they used to define the movement of my life. Very worth reading for a particular moment in time and place.

Permafrost. Hello, Alastair Reynolds. Not a novel, sadly, but we had the sequel to Revenger, this year, Shadow Captain, so, can’t be greedy. Basically he’s my Iain M. Banks replacement, and I love his terrifyingly dark Space Opera.

The Raven Tower, by another solid fave and Iain M. Banks replacement, Ann Leckie — probably neither would like being called ‘replacement’, but fuck it, me doing high, awkward praise. This is her venturing out of Space Opera into not-really-fantasy but no obvious spacecraft, and it’s both the best thing she’s written since the Imperial Radch trilogy, and her best stand-alone novel since her first. Very, very, very good.

The Rise of IO, by Wesley Chu, which I have almost no memory of, vague nudgings of recognition when I read the plot, but … nope, not much beyond that.

To Exist is to Resist: Black Feminism in Europe, edited by Akwugo Emejulu and Francesca Sobande, which I’m randomly picking at. Some essays, like dealing with being a black woman academic in Germany, are very head-nodding, yup, it’s all that, uh-huh, others are … Black, cisgender heterosexual (whether middle-class, academic or not) feminism that operates as though trans and queer are things that don’t need to be at all considered, are ancillary, not relevant — like white feminism of the same type — is a thing. Fucked if I know why, either. Especially because my experience of Black feminism / activism in north-west Europe is that it’s hella trans and queer. But maybe they’re not the ones in academia, getting to publish essays.

And that’s it. Potentially acquiring a stack of new books soon, potentially reading them, vague possibility I’ll blog them. It’s all a balance for me between enjoyable focus and going too far with it, pleasure becoming obligation, and all.

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Field Series 2.3

This reminds me of the science-fiction space opera art of John Harris (like the beautiful work he did for Ann Leckie’s Ancillary trilogy) or the artists in Stewart Cowley’s books, like Peter Elson. I thought it’d be awesome to have an app that generates complex gradients and geometry like this, for the visual pleasure of getting lost in its depths, yet again, for me, the tedious, slow, manual process and decisions of making them is what makes them art, what makes them work for me.

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Sci-Fi Post-Kino Potsdamer Platz

Pretty bloody sci-fi looking after a night in the Kino with Dasniya. Semi-regular Hollywood superhero slash hoonage slash sci-fi outings followed by ‘our local’, the restaurant next to the cinema, which, for a tourist joint, is actually kinda good? Film was Captain Marvel, very obvious queer, very obvious Hongi and Pasifika carry-over from Thor: Ragnarok, and lol at the blue eyes.

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Reading: Ann Leckie — Imperial Radch trilogy (2nd time)

Because I had some ‘spare time’ in January, because I wanted the enjoyment of re-reading something I’d loved the first time around, because I have to carefully ration my re-readings of Iain ±M. Banks, because once I’d started Ancillary Justice, I was reminded just how utterly blazingly good a story it is, and a writer Ann Leckie is, so obviously I had to read the following two. Yes, the second novel still dips a little for me, yes, also, the third novel isn’t quite the equal of the first, yes, the ending, which is set up over the course of three novels remains fucking brilliant, yes, it’s still the best — the best — debut, trilogy, space opera, science-fiction, novel(s) of this decade, and effortlessly slides into my top ten of all time. Also, the covers. Perfect. I’m still sad John Harris’ art was never (as far as I know) released as an affordable-ish poster / print.

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People were always sorry. Sorry they had done what…

People were always sorry. Sorry they had done what they had done, sorry they were doing what they were doing, sorry they were going to do what they were going to do; but they still did whatever it is. The sorrow never stopped them; it just made them feel better. And so the sorrow never stopped.

Against a Dark Background, Iain M. Banks

I was going to quote from the same novel, “Fuck every cause that ends in murder and children crying.” I haven't had words these last days. I've had too many words. Too much grief. Too much anger. Too much frustration. I'm not shocked. I'm not “How could this happen here,” or “This is not us,” or any of the others. We all know the truth of those apologies, they're not for us and we all know how this goes. And knowing that, doesn't stop me crying like I have since Friday, doesn't take away the pain. Alhamdulillah. Kia kaha.

Reading: Alastair Reynolds — Shadow Captain

The long-awaited (for me) sequel to Revenger, my Book of the Year in 2017: Alastair Reynolds’ Shadow Captain.

Picking up shortly after Revenger finishes with one of the most delightfully gruesome reveals I’ve ever read, the middle child of the trilogy, Shadow Captain, swaps the narrative from Arafura to her sister Adrana. Remains just as bloody and unhinged. Every book I’ve read of Reynolds has managed a deeply unsettling darkness, like a faint light guttering in the void. Considering he largely keeps his stories bound to a single solar system, and any interstellar travel is slower than light, he creates a horrible sense of vast emptiness and abandoned hopelessness. Shadow Captain is no exception.

I was thinking about disappointing or failed trilogies and series while reading this, ones which start with such brilliance and possibility, and exhaust themselves in the first work. Often they follow a structure in which the shift from first to subsequent is one of qualitative to quantitative. The first is a shift in world view, scouring off normalcy and opening up a larger universe; The Matrix and Star Wars are two examples which have the the most overbearing cultural influence. The subsequent works largely only add to and expand this larger universe, and if there is another shift in perspective or revelations, it functions within this, rather than instigating a comparable usurping of the protagonist’s world to the initial one.

In The Matrix, this moment is Neo taking Morpheus’ red pill (let’s ignore fun speculation he took the blue pill and the remaining two and a half films are him ‘believing what he wants to believe’, but not ignore this is a movie made by two trans women, and there’s heaps more going on here than the first layer reading), and if we lived in the best of all possible worlds, Neo waking up would have been the end of the first movie. Everything that happens after serves to reify this newly established world. It’s a bit like a gigantic cum shot, one and done; there’s nothing left to do, which is the primary failure of the hero’s journey. If you’re invested in the story of a single, usually white, cishet man, then it’s all good, he still has 3/4 of the journey to go to catch up with the rest of us. But if it’s the profound workings of writing characters as real people and imagining worlds that reveal themselves through unfurling layers, it’s gonna be a bad lay. (I don’t know why I’m using this metaphor here.)

So I was reading Shadow Captain knowing on one hand a sequel that is a bare fucking banger as the original — which Revenger is — is setting way high expectations, and dialling it back 20%, pumping the brakes, gives the work a chance to be read for itself. On the other hand, I know Reynolds when he shredding hard.

Revenger’s cover is better. The title is None More Black fucking metal as you can go. I know he has a notebook of fully sick titles, Slow Bullets, for example, and the last of the trilogy is Bone Silence, but I can’t see a better title on my shelves, up there with Feersum Endjinn and Wonderful Blood. Incidentally, if Iain M. Banks wrote a sequel to Feersum Endjinn, it’d be like Reynolds writing a sequel to Revenger. And where the former gets to by the end reminds me quite a bit of where Shadow Captain is at and what it proposes for the final part of the trilogy.

Which is to say, I loved Shadow Captain, and I was judging fucking harshly. It doesn’t have that end reveal, and Reynolds, you are a dark motherfucker right there, but has more than one twist and shift that are dead majestic. Even without these, it’d be better than the majority of sci-fi / fantasy in any medium (and I hoover up this shit like no one’s business). With these, you wanna read a storyteller at the top of their game, and with the circumstances to permit this, Revenger and Shadow Captain are it.

I was thinking of an analogy here, ’cos I know my opinions are marginal (yes, Feersum Endjinn is the exemplary Iain ±M. Banks novel), and went down a bit of an ’80s SST Records trip last night. Hüsker Dü. No, they’re not fucking emo, fuck off. Land Speed Record, Metal Circus. The influence these had on artists and genres from the ’80s till now, rather than the success or fame of the band is what I’m getting at. Revenger and Shadow Captain are like these. Or if this is a crap analogy for you, like Kemistry & Storm’s DJ-Kicks. It’s shit you need to know, you uncultured gronk.

Oh, and I read sisters Arafura and Adrana (and the whole ship’s crew) as totally queer and increasingly trans and non-binary (while still rocking feminine), or whatever words propose an expansiveness of selfhood outside cishet-icity than these, and as I think about all the novels I’ve read from him, wondering how many characters veer towards asexual-ish and neurofuckery (I’m so tired of the word ‘diversity’ right now), and I reckon it’s heaps. Which is a common part of the characters in Banks’ novels I rate, like Whit, so me being so very slow, it’s dawning on me (hi, Elsa!) why I like, or more accurately identify with certain sci-fi and fantasy works.