The second book of S.A. Chakraborty’s Daevabad Trilogy. I did not re-read the fat slab of pages of the first, The City of Brass, before reading this, but there was enough exposition to remind me of who’s who and what’s where. I loved the first novel; this one I thought could have used a trim, kinda like how the Harry Potter novels expanded as they went on. It also hit me on a peeve of cliffhanger endings. I don’t read novels to be left unfinished and waiting for the next, that’s what sci-fi TV shows are for — even if it’s a trilogy or series, it’s possible to make each one self-contained without compromising the main narrative. Around the time I was reading this, I also felt a nagging pull to read more than just sci-fi and fantasy (in the fiction realm, I mean). It’s been a ride, the last many years, but with Omar Sakr and a heaving mass of poets and writers who touch me, who feel real and immediate and necessary …
A while ago (like early this decade at the latest), I tried to formulate in words how I ‘audience’. Go where they are. It’s not enough to say, oh I support underrepresented and marginalised ‘x’ demographic. This all too easily becomes oh I want to support ‘x’ but they’re not doing ‘thing I like’. The number of trans women or feminine people, Middle Eastern, Brown, Black, Indigenous, queer, combinations of, and writing sci-fi is approximately fuck all. So if I stick to what I like (in this instance, I like sci-fi), I’m gonna be supporting approximately fuck all. Go where they are. Go where we are. If we’re writing poetry, that’s where we go. If we’re making loud, scary music of ‘currently vilified genre’, that’s where we go. If we’re doing some weird sport, and “I’m not into sport”, child, you are now. I was sitting in my favourite café on Sonnenallee yesterday, having a mad good yarn with someone I’d just met, who said for them, their ability to be engaged in other people’s deep interests is (paraphrasing, ’cos brain like tofu), “I admire their focus.” Go where the people are you want to elevate, whether they’re ‘your’ people or not, admire what they do, even if you don’t (at first) ‘like’ it. Being an audience is not always about oneself. Marginalisation is never going to let many of us in; the terms and conditions for admittance make us palatable and legible to them without them having to make any effort to learn about any of us. So we gotta go where we are. Make being audience a privilege to be before people creating.
Gala came over for a spontaneous equinox visit this week, and spontaneous plans to make a short film. Me and my endlessly riding the Berliner Mauer, calling it art, discovering Tilda did it first (and twice), not caring ’cos it’s not the same, having the Gala with a bike who needs a short “About Me” film for her agency, and me loving the Dreilinden stretch of the former Berlin Wall (plus it’s one of the sections where the Mauer diverges and spreads from the Mauerweg route, and I’m still piecing it together). A Wednesday plan, a Thursday morning prep, a bike via Brandenburger Tor and Hauptbahnhof, S-Bahn to Griebnitzsee, or rather Wannsee ’cos there’s track work, and yes, you can take your bike on the Ersatzverkehr Bus, then biking the bourgie Potsdam side to Glienicke Brücke, and biking back on the forest-y northern side, past Jagdschloss Glienicke and all the bonkers Baroque architecture, around one of the East German exclaves of Klein Glienicke (More cobbles! Hills and cobbles! 2nd worst cobbles I’ve ridden in Berlin, 4/5 Paris-Roubaix stars of terrible joy.) past Steinstücken, along Teltowkanal as the sun came out, and scooting onto the old Autobahn bridge. Then following the sandy tracks where the Autobahn used to run until we went parallel with the A115 and arrived at the bridge by Kontrollpunkt Dreilinden.
After the division of Germany, the West Berlin neighbourhood of Albrechts Teerofen jutted into East Germany like a peninsula. From 1952 onwards, it was cut off to the north, south and east by the East German border fortifications. The Autobahn towards Helmstedt/Hannover passed through the eastern end of the district. This was where the “Border Checkpoint Nowawes” [Babelsberg] was set up. It was later to be called “Drewitz Border Crossing”. When the Autobahn was rerouted on 1969 to pass by the south of Albrechts Teerofen along what is now the A115, the East German government had the Drewitz Border Crossing moved as well. In the summer of 1965, the 42-year-old West Berlin resident Hermann Döbler was shot dead near the old border crossing when his sports boat entered the East German border waters in the Teltowkanal. His female companion was badly wounded and permanently disabled. Although the boat had already turned back. the East German border guards deliberately fired aimed shots at its occupants. In 1981 after lengthy negotiations, the East German government opened traffic along the Teltowkanal near Albrechts Teerofen to freight shipping towards West Berlin. This shortened the barges’ journey by about two days.
Out riding last Thursday with Gala, following the Berliner Mauer from Glienicker Brücke anticlockwise back to Dreilinden in a small, partial remarking on Cycling the Frame, a film I didn’t even know about until after I’d begun orbiting Berlin as an art-ing process. More new bits of the Mauer mapped into me as Wege. More new stretches of cobbles. It’s all about being pounded by the cobbles.
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.
There was a map of West Berlin and the Berlin Wall I saw at the Stasimuseum Berlin, which showed exclaves of West Berlin, as well as some deviations from the path the Berliner Mauerweg takes. Being ‘winter’, and a while since my last proper ride, I thought it was time to go exploring along my regular big ride route again.
I’ve passed through Drelinden along Königsweg a couple of times already, past Checkpoint Bravo, which you drive through shortly after Grünewald if you’re heading south out of Berlin. The path of the wall is a little south also of Königsweg, which you can see on a satellite map as a light sandy scar in the dark forest, curving down to Teltowkanalbrücke and Kontrollpunkt Dreilinden, and over the canal curves again westwards towards Steinstücken, the exclave now split by the S-Bahn and very much not on the signposted Mauerweg. This turned out to be around 7km of sandy, slippery riding getting increasingly rougher on the south side with tree routes and trails broken by horse riding — proper cyclocross fun. Followed by getting lost around Steinstücken. And later realising I’d missed the whole weird Wall Border in Klein Glienicke.
A shitload of fun on a 107km ride on a glorious winter’s day that made me forget all about white cis sportswomen shitting on trans and intersex people.
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.
“I always admired Mat’s career from afar but didn’t get the chance to get to know him better until he joined GreenEDGE. I look up to his work ethic and relate to his love of the Classics, as I love them so much too. His persistence with his favorite race Paris-Roubaix was motivating even before he won it, but I will never forget that epic day. His words “Just keep riding” struck such a deep chord with me and they are words I tell myself regularly when times or races get tough.
“He’s one of the good guys, a friend to all of us women and not just the guys. I hope that he can continue to share his years of experience with riders in the future because he has so much to offer.”