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.

What I Was Reading Earlier This Year

This year I haven’t had much enthusiasm to write about what I’m reading. Maybe that’s because I haven’t had much enthusiasm to write long blog posts in general, or because I’ve been a little too negative lately and tend to emphasise the things I haven’t enjoyed in a work over what I have. Some of these books I’ve enjoyed hugely, but can’t muster enough of a cheer to write a whole post about. Perhaps it’s habit. After years of writing about everything I read, my impulse is to say, nah fuck it, that’s enough. Who am I writing this for anyway, besides myself?

So, a small pile of books I read between February and April, alphabetically.

Two from Alastair Reynolds, he of the madness of Revenger, which I also read again during these months. He also of Slow Bullets. He’s best when he writes women as main characters. Chasm City is one of his Revelation Space novels, and I got a kick out of those. Elysium Fire is a sequel to The Prefect. I like Reynolds, in specific instances. Neither of these two really got me. See what I mean about negative?

Barbara Newman’s Sister of Wisdom: St. Hildegard’s Theology of the Feminine I’m still plodding through. (like I’m still plodding through Gayatri Chakravorti Spivak’s An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Capitalism, 18 months later). Good stuff here, of that dense, Germanic mediæval stuff. Not easy reading, hence the plod.

Bill Gammage’s The Biggest Estate in the World: How Aborigines Made Australia, and Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu: Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident? I read immediately post-Naarm. They cover similar ground but are complimentary rather than duplicating. They should be compulsory reading for all Australians, and I felt fucking ashamed at my ignorance reading these. Fucking ashamed. Another reason why I haven’t been writing about reading is if I did on these two, it’d be a long piece of anger against white invasion and genocide and erasing history. And I feel like so much of my life and the lives of friends and acquaintances is full with anger and fear these last years, ’cos it’s far from being over.

Devdutt Pattanaik’s Shikhandi and Other Queer Tales They Don’t Tell You is a rather sweet short collection of reading Hindu mythology for queer and trans stories. I have absolutely no way to evaluate the scholarship of Pattanaik, but still, one of the barely begun tasks is re-finding the diversity of selfhoods in pre-colonised cultures; we’ve always been here.

Fred Grimm’s »Wir wollen eine andere Welt« Jugend in Deutschland 1900-2010: Eine private Geschichte aus Tagebüchern, Briefen, Dokumenten. Zusammengestellt. has been on my shelves for ages. Katrin gave it to me as a present, and I’ve read bits and pieces of it. I’ve a heap of books I’ve never blogged that I didn’t read in the conventional start-to-finish way like this.

JY Yang. I think I read about them on io9, or maybe on one of the Asia-Pacific blogs I read. It was definitely in the context of an article or two on Singapore sci-fi / fantasy / speculative fiction, and coming off reading The Sea Is Ours: Tales from Steampunk Southeast Asia (which was awesome) so I was vaguely paying attention. I read these in the wrong order, ’cos I liked the cover of The Red Threads of Fortune more than The Black Tides of Heaven. I also liked the former more than the latter, but that’s partly my particular preferences. I seriously love JY Yang and will read anything they write.

I’ve got a whole ’nother stack of books I’ve read since then and not blogged. Maybe doing it like this is the way for me to go for now.

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

beautiful boxer at singapore arts fest

Anyone who even heard of Beautiful Boxer knows what happens when a Muay Thai boxer decides wearing a dress is more fun. Now she’s off to the Singapore Arts Festival with her one-woman all-singing, all-dancing tranny kick-boxing extravaganza. I reckon the WWF are gonna lose alot of fans to Boxing Cabaret. (Needs a better name though … how about Rumble Wrestle Trannie Smackdown … nah, that sounds like the kinda shit I’d make…)

Beautiful Boxer star to make theatrical debut in Singapore

A transsexual Thai kickboxer whose rags-to-riches story was made into an acclaimed film will make her theatrical debut in Singapore next month, she has said.

Parinya Charoenphol, whose film and lipstick-wearing in the ring won the hearts of millions in Thailand and around Asia, is set to make her debut in a one-woman show called “Boxing Cabaret”.

The 22-year-old, better known as Nong Toom, said the show with a mix of broadway and traditional and contemporary Thai dance would open in Singapore on June 17 and be brought to Thailand in August.

“I hope people enjoy it, and understand people like me a little bit better,” Nong Toom told reporters on Wednesday.

The show is in five acts or “rounds” — separated by bells, as in a Muay Thai kickboxing fight — and covers Nong Toom’s life before and after her 2002 sex change operation, men, Muay Thai and love.

She chose to act in a cabaret “because I like singing and dancing, and it comes naturally,” Nong Toom said.

In a scene performed for the media, the budding starlet recalls hearing a mother tell her child to stay away from Nong Toom, or they would end up like her.

“I may be different, but I am an not a transmissible disease,” Nong Toom says in the show, which she performs in English for the Singapore Arts Festival. In Bangkok the show will be in Thai and English.

— Channel NewsAsia

music non-stop

I paid a visit to 這牆 The Wall on Saturday night. Well only got as far as the record shops after gorging myself insensate on yangrouchuan and other staffs of life. My aim was to buy Impiety’s album Paramount Evil … Damn I love Death Metal sometimes. But my desires were thwarted by Hell Ambassador, who did not have it.

But 閃靈 Chthonic, who have had a truly satanic year have just released their single Satan’s Horns, which is the theme for the Mandarin version of Freddy vs Jason.

I got no further than 小白兔橘子 White Wabbit records. Finding most of the back-catalogue of Swans, and a bunch of Sonic Youth on vinyl was just too much. This is one of those shops that anything you buy will be good. What I wanted though was Taiwan bands, and I found enough of them on 蘿蔔一代 Lobo One and 蘿蔔二代 Lobo 2 to keep me happy all week.

金屬永生 satanic beast spawn

This one’s for you, Emile.

What I really needed to do was get out and bang my head, and last night 這牆 The Wall provided the opportunity with six satanic metal bands and earth-shaking noise at Metal Immortal VII 金屬永生. All metal; death, black, speed, satanic, hair and all heavy. I can’t remember all of them because of one truly awesome metal outfit from Singapore.

I walked in on the last song from Infernal Chaos, who do a solid line in American heavy metal, lots of guitar duels and long hair. There was the Iron Maiden impersonators, Eternal who rode the line between horrible and solid metal riffing, sometimes going between the two in a single solo. Tight jeans, pouting and more hair. Both I’d pay to see again.

Soon after, there was the utterly crap Tool, Rage Against the Machine, Machine Head posers (I think 犬儒). Boys, aggro political metal came and went 10 years ago. Also overdriving all your effects until the (very good) sound system has a permanent mid-frequency hum does not make you sound good, or impress any political message. It just makes you sound like mediocre amateurs. I saved my ears for Satan.

But who cares? I came for the face paint and Mongolian throat singing, and I don’t mind a bit of Death Metal er-hu either. 閃靈CthoniC as evil as they are cute. The lead singer looks like the creature from Alien, and does a fearsome black metal scream. Plenty of make-up, big demonic costumes, and blasting drums and guitars. But it was a sad night because their drummer is leaving (to play jazz, spawn of the devil), and he left the room surfing the arms of the crowd while their new drummer took over.

As if it couldn’t get any better. This is hard: Impiety. How can Singapore produce such an evil, demonic group? These guys were fucking aswesome. Two shaved-headed clones who hacked away at their speed-metal riffs in perfect time, swinging their heads like Regan from The Exorcist, and in the middle, the cleaver of goats himself. If Lemmy had an evil twin brother, this is him. Even the head of his bass, permanently pointing to the ceiling was doing a satanic salute. These guys were huge and scary and didn’t fuck around. This is the hardest, blackest hell-metal I’ve ever seen. Half the room bailed out in terror, the other half went nuts, and by the time they’d finished the whole room was shaking and everyone was screaming like maniacs.

We didn’t stay around for the final act, because Impiety slayed us. Whatever followed would either have to be so good we’d drop dead in awe, or wouldn’t cut it. Anyway, Emile, Impiety and 閃靈 CthoniC, check it out and let Morloch reign.

miss tiffany singapore

Miss Tiffany has been crowned for the first time in Singapore. In an imitation of the famous Thailand beauty pageant for transsexuals, over 1300 people came along for the charity event.

“Some of them even brought their families. This is truly a ground-breaking event to show that Singapore is changing,” said Moganaruban, chairman of the non-profit charity organization, Singapore Amalgamated Services Co-operative Society.

Jesse Rogers, a 28-year-old student standing 1.8-meters (5 ft 11 in) tall, was the winner of the Miss Tiffany crown. Rogers walked away with S$5,000 and will represent Singapore in the Miss Tiffany’s Universe contest in Bangkok.

The charity contest raised over S$120,000 ($70,600).

Unlike Thailand, transvestites in Singapore remain on the fringe of society.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, Bugis Street, located near Singapore’s central business district of Singapore, was famous as a red-light district for transvestites and transsexuals.

However, with redevelopment of the area into a shopping center, their activities have since shifted to a quiet leafy suburb at the eastern end of Singapore called Changi Village, not far from the famous airport.

Moganaruban said the event signals the conservative government’s growing tolerance.

seni in singapore

SENI 2004, Singapore’s international visual arts festival opens at the end of the month, and will be a good excuse not to sleep for a couple of weeks, with two day long events and art under your feet at the local MTR.

National Arts Council CEO Lee Suan Hiang said, “Bringing Singapore to the world is one part of the the equation; we would now also like to bring the world of visual art to Singapore and this biennale provides us with the platform to expose our Singaporeans to the world of contemporary arts.”

Artists involved in SENI 2004 hope to prove that art goes beyond museums and galleries.

“One needs to put away conventional ideas about art in order to approach SENI 2004, because you need to have a certain openness to try and understand the experimentation, often with very everyday objects, rather than specially constructed objects of art,” said SENI’s artistic director Professor Chua Beng Huat, a sociology professor at the National University of Singapore.

“Instead of expecting people to go to see art, we literally put art in their path. By just going about their daily life they will become audiences of these art pieces.”

So it looks like you will have to expect the unexpected at this visual arts festival.

There will be more than just paintings and photographs, with video, installation art, soundscapes and multimedia.

And to engage the man on the street, there will be fun interactive exhibitions at public spaces like MRT stations and underpasses.