Hi, lovelies. Coming in rather late this month, because I’ve been rather overwhelmed. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, games, and podcasts.
Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman is one of my all-time favorite comic book series. When I learned that the characters would live on through stories told by different authors, I was both excited and wary. However, with Nalo Hopkinson (who is known for putting a Carribean spin on fantasy and horror), I knew the story would be in good hands. Her take, The House of Whispers is phenomenal, with gorgeous illustrations by DOMO.
When the Dreaming begins to be disturbed by unusual occurrences, it unleashes strange affects upon the worlds — releasing a strange magical pandemic that makes people to believe they are already dead and causing Erzulie, a deity of voodoo mythology, to crash into the Dreaming. I love all of the characters, all the additions to the world building. I fully appreciate this new perspective. I’ve only read volume one, but I haven’t been this excited about a comic series in a long time. I can’t wait to dive into more.
Helen Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching is the story of the Silver family and their house in Dover, England, which has converted to a bed-and-breakfast. The house, however, has a will of its own — and though it loves the women of the family, it has a malice for strangers.
The youngest daughter, Miranda Silver, developed a pica as a child, an eating disorder that causes her to consume non-edible substances, such as chalk and plaster. After experiencing an intense episode as a teenager, she returns home after a period in the hospital, hopeful of pulling her life together.
Oyeyemi tells the story from multiple points of view, with writing style is rich and lyrical, evoking complex emotional structures of family and home.
Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, games, and podcasts.
As I mentioned last month, I was struggling a bit with reading — until I switched away from the book I was struggling with to read Shutter by Courtney Alameda instead. It was the perfect choice.
Shutter is a a fun YA horror novel about teenagers battling ghosts and other evils. Micheline Helsing is one of the last descendants of Van Helsing, who uses a combination of guns, knives, and a uniquely rigged camera to destroy monsters and exorcise ghosts. When she takes on ghost hunt that turns out to be too much to manager, Micheline and her crew of fellow junior agents find themselves all cursed, fated to die if they can’t find a way to break the soul chains that bind them.
The characters are smart and skilled, and yet still young enough to make mistakes. One of the things I appreciate was how the story handled its elements of romance. The affection between Micheline and Ryder comes from years of growing up together and a sense of earned-respect from working side-by-side in the heat of battle. It feels natural and genuine that they would fall for each other — the only obstacle being Micheline’s father and his expectations for the kind of person she should marry in order to continue to the Helsing line. It makes sense in the context of the world in which they exist and feels natural.
On the whole, this book features a nice blend of action, horror, and teenage romance — making for a fun, quick paced read and the perfect escape.
Another great (though very different) read this month was Sealed by Naomi Booth. Set in rural Australia, Sealed is a psychological body horror novel. Much of the tension is driven by the anxieties of the main character Alice, who is heavily pregnant and her fears about rumors of a bizarre disease that seals people within their own skins. When her obsession with the disease nearly threatens her government job, Alice and her boyfriend Pete (who I find annoying) travel to the countryside in search of solitude and safety. But Alice still sees signs of the disease all around her and she increasingly questions whether they made the right decision.
This book is brilliant in the way it slowly builds uncertainty and tension. The world Alice and Pete inhabits is frightening even without the threat of this new disease, between concerns of poverty, privately controlled social services, and environmental pollution. However, the overshadowing threat of this skin-sealing disease and Alice’s distrust what lies beneath the skin of her pregnant belly amps everything up. It’s a brilliant novel, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for more from Booth.
Apparently, today is National Book Lovers Day — and since I love books — I thought I’d share six books I love to reread over and over again. These are books that connect with me on a deep level. I’ve read each of these books at least twice, and I will likely reread them again in the future.
In fact, just talking about these books makes me want to pick them up again.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Beloved is a book about being haunted — at first Seth is haunted by the memories of being a slave and later by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless. This is a stunningly beautiful book, the culture, the characters, and the layers richly textured. I’ve read Beloved three times and each time I’ve been swept away by the poetry and power of Morrison’s story. Every reading offers new discoveries, new linguistic treasures.
It broke my heart this week to learn of Morrison’s passing. If you want some profound words in honor of her life and work, here are eight black female writers and thinkers on Toni Morrison’s legacy. For my small part, I’ll be rereading Beloved for the fourth time and seeking out some of her work that I haven’t had a chance to read yet.
Dune by Frank Herbert
Dune is a political science fiction book. The Atreides family is sent off to take control Dune, a desert planet and the only place where the spice Melange can be produced — the most valuable substance in the universe. The story is fraught with intrigue, with scheming and betrayal coming from every angle,
Story time: Years ago, I picked up Dune on the same day I was heading over to a friend’s house for a sleepover (because I always bring books with me on the chance I need something to occupy an empty moment). When my friend went off to tell her mother something, I picked up the book intending to read a page or two. . . . Then my friend returned.
What should have happened is me putting down the books so that I could hang out the way a socially aware, polite person would do. What actually happened is I spent the rest of the night reading — pausing only long enough to eat, go to the bathroom, and sleep for an hour or two. I finished the book early the next morning, very grateful that she was still willing to be my friend.
When I reread the book again years later, pretty much the same thing happened (except I had adult responsibilities to attend with).
Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
I’ve long been a fan of apocalyptic dystopian tales, with Parable of the Sower being at the top of my list as one of the best. Set in a California ravaged by poverty, drugs, and chronic water shortages, the story follows Lauren Olamina as she escapes from her home after it burns down. Trying to forge her own path through a dangerous world, she develops a belief system built on the practicalities of the world around her, which she shares with the fellow refugees she gathers around her — all making their way North in pursuit of some somewhere safe to call home.
Parable of the Sower moves me each of the times I’ve read it. In a world full of desperate people, fighting brutally for survival, I love the way these characters come together and care for each other. I also find the Lauren’s parables, presented at the beginning of the chapters, fascinating and beautiful.
Her by Cherry Muhanji
I discovered Her during a summer-long internship at the publisher Aunt Lute Books. The novel, which won the Lamda Literary Award in 1991, explores the relationships between a community of black women in 1950s Detroit. The language is liquid in its beauty, irreverently illuminating the streets of the Motor City, contrasting the hard work of the automotive plants with the rowdy bars leaking jazz out into the night.
My fellow interns and I read Her twice over while helping to helping to copy edit the book for its second edition — and I’ve since read it a third time for the sheer pleasure of the language and the story it enfolds. I’m so honored to have taken any tiny part in working with Aunt Lute on this book.
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
The Martian Chronicles is a novel comprised of interconnected short stories that imagine humanity’s repeated attempts and failures to colonize Mars, from the first visitors to the cities of humans that sprouted over the planet. The stories range in tone and styles, with some being thrilling, others being humorous or haunting.
On the whole, I’ve read The Martian Chronicles twice — but the individual stories, I’ve read many times over. “There Will Come Soft Rains” — one of my all-time favorite short stories and powerful in its standalone compact form — I’ve probably read a dozen times. Below is a recording of Leonard Nimoy reading the story:
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
One of the things my sister and I have in common is our love for Jane Austen, especially her well-loved novel, Pride and Prejudice. We have both over the years read this novel several times over (although I’m certain that my sister has me wildly beat on that count). We love this story of the Bennet sisters and their search for marriage and love, with all its ever present wit and misunderstandings and prideful mistakes. Reading Pride and Prejudice is a soothing pleasure and delight each time I pick it up. In the end, the characters we love come together and find happiness.
Are there any books that you’ve read more than once? Which are your favorites?
For years I’ve been wanting to attend, but haven’t been able to travel to the many wonderful destinations the event appears at around the world. So, when I saw that WorldCon 76 was going to be in San Jose, California (practically my backyard), I jumped at the chance to finally attend — and not only attend, but participate in a reading!
During WorldCon, I still had to work my day job, so I didn’t get a chance to fully experience the event. But even just going in the evenings and on the weekend, I had a fabulous time. I ran into several writer and reader friends, chatted it up with some lovely strangers, and shopped for books and other goodies to my heart’s content (and pocket book’s misery). Here are a few highlights from my first WorldCon.
Watching the Hugo Awards
Rather than going into the grand ballroom, some friends and I gathered in Callahan’s to watch the live stream together — which allowed us the ability to grab some beers and snacks while we were watching. While the ceremonies as a whole were great, one of the best moments of the night was N.K. Jemisin winning the Hugo for Best Novel. She’s the first person to ever have one this award three years in a row, and her acceptance speech was a moving and funny and powerful. I cried seeing it at WorldCon and I cried again rewatching it on video. Check it out. It’s amazing.
Breaking Out of the Margins
Panel with Michi Trota, JY Yang, Foz Meadows, Caroline M. Yoachim, and Sarah Kuhn (moderator)
Breaking Out of the Margins was probably my favorite panel at the event. All of the authors were brilliant, pulling from each of their experiences to form a thoughtful, intelligent discussion on the subject of identity in relation to creative endeavors.
Both Michi Trota andCaroline M. Yoachim noted that when they were young writers, they had defaulted to putting white people as main characters. As they grew as writers, they began including characters who were more like them, representing their own experiences and backgrounds.
Sarah Kuhn noted the people will often ask why the author made the character black or Asian or gay, which reflects the default white straight perspective. But when an author makes a character white, straight, cis-gendered, this also is a choice that they’re making, although it’s not seen as such.
Kuhn also brought up the concept of “Rep Sweats” the stress of watching, reading, or creating a work that is the sole representation of a culture or group of people. Suddenly, there’s a lot of pressure for that work (she used Fresh Off the Boat as an example) to be perfect — in part because if the show fails, then it could be a years before anything like it comes around again.
Foz Meadows replied that when there’s a lack of diverse content in the world, then the little bit of content that is produced has a greater weight to it. So, the solution is to have a wider range of representation that allows authors and creators to have the room to fail.
Meadows also quoted a tumblr post talking about Jupiter Rising, which stated that it’s garbage, but it’s your garbage. The point being that some of the fun of fiction and film and such is being able to enjoy fun trash with characters who represent them.
“Yes,” replied JY Yang. “I just want to make stories about kissing and shooting things in space!”
In the end, “Let us write trash,” became a gleeful rallying cry — and I’m hoping we will all get to read some fantastic new trash from these authors in the future.
Research Rabbit Holes
Karen Joy Fowler, Andy Duncan, Lawrence M. Schoen, Ann Leckie, Irene Radford, and Sarah Pinsker (moderator)
Research Rabbit Holes was a delight of a panel, presenting for the most part stories of the ways the authors had fallen into such holes, how those holes had revealed surprising inspiration for their stories, and a multitude of fun facts they discovered over the years. I unfortunately wasn’t able to retain all of these stories, even though they delighted me.
The panel pointed out that there are two kinds of research — the brainstorming stage (before you start the story) and the plug-in-a-fact stage (when you just need to know one specific thing while you’re writing). The brainstorming stage is the hardest to know when to stop and each writer had their own take on when that moment is. Ann Leckie noted that you don’t need to know all the details before you start writing, while Lawrence M. Schoen explained that he likes to feel fully immersed in the research, knowing he won’t be writing it all out, but that that immersion allows details to come out naturally in his writing.
On being afraid of getting it wrong, Karen Joy Fowler said, “When someone sends me an email saying ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about’ because I’ve intersected two streets in a story that could never intersect, I just think, ‘I gave that person more pleasure by getting it wrong than if I had gotten it right.'”
Petrified Trees, Enchanted Mirrors: The Gothic Universe of Female Mexican Horror Writers
Raquel Castro, Andrea Chapela, Gabriela Damian Miravete, and Pepe Rojo (moderator)
The three panelists — each of whom write horror themselves — provided some fascinating insight into the long tradition of female Mexican horror writers. This is a horror that is specifically feminine, with women using the genre to explore the circumstances of their lives and the stereotypes and repression of women within the country.
There is something about horror that has to do with control, explained Raquel Castro, a control that women don’t have. These stories help women deal with the horrors of their everyday lives that they don’t have control over — providing a way for them to exorcise these feelings. “I’ve heard so many stories of the women’s lives around me, and these stories haunted me,” said Castro. “I wanted to tell these stories — but coded through horror.”
Gabriela Damian Miravete said, “Horror is a place for of creativity and life. Even though it speaks of grim things, it is a safe space. It can give you comfort, as you read it, knowing there’s daylight and that in the end, you can put down the book and escape the haunted house. It’s a joy we must recover.” Miravete also pointed out that as horrors in real life increase, the horror genre tends to decay — but that she hopes that we can reverse the flow, compensating with genre.
The panel named a dozen or so female horror writers in Mexico, but unfortunately I had a hard time getting all the names down. However, The Outer Dark podcast will be sharing the panel in a future episode and plans to provide a list of all the writers and stories suggested. So, I’ll be sure to link to them once that list appears.
On Sunday, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association (SFPA) hosted a reading of speculative poetry. I always find joy and inspiration in hearing poems read, and I was honored to have been read alongside G.O. Clark, Sue Burke, John Phillip Johnson, Mary Soon Lee, Denise Clemons, and Alan Stewart (author website included where I could find it).
Several of the SFPA crew were also on the Science Fiction Aesthetics panel that followed immediately after the reading. I was able to pop in for half of the panel before running off, but enjoyed the discussion while I was there.
The first night I came home from the con, my roommate stared at me in confusion. “Where’s your usual stack of new books?” she asked.
I laughed. “What do you mean? It’s only the first day! I’ll have plenty of books by the end, I promise.”
And I certainly lived up to that promise. Here’s what I grabbed.
My Life, My Body, Plus… by Marge Piercy
The Atheist in the Attic, Plus… by Samuel R Delany
Skies of Wonder, Skies of Danger: An Isle of Write Anthology, edited by John Appel, Jo Miles, and Mary Alexandra Agner
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss
The Long Way to a Strange and Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic, edited by Eduardo Jiménez Mayo & Chris N Brown
I recently watched a video essay on how media scares us, which compared movies to animation to comics, with a loving description of the works of Junji Ito. This video immediately sent me on a bender, in which I quickly devoured as much of Ito’s manga that I could get my hands on. Here’s a bit of that fantastic journey. (Sorry for the crappy cell phone pics.)