Culture Consumption: August 2021

Hi, lovelies. Coming in late again, but here’s my month in books, movies, games, and podcasts.

Books

Sorrowland by Rivers SolomonTwo of the books I loved this month focus on women finding power through transformation. In Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon, a heavily pregnant Vern escapes from a religious compound into the woods, where she gives birth to twins. For a while she lives wild, raising her children as she pleases — all the while they are being hunted. As time passes, Vern begins to grow in strength, experiencing a physical transformation she doesn’t understand.

Sorrowland was described to me as gothic horror, though considering the extent of Vern’s physical changes, it could almost be described as body horror. The book definitely carried some dark elements to it, some terrible and terrifying things — but throughout the darkness, there was also a light showing through in the way Vern grows and learns to claim her own identity and space in the world, finding pleasure in the ways her body changed. The love she has for her children and they for her is wonderful, complex, and beautiful. And her family grows when she finds people with whom she can connect can care for, while receiving the same in return. That carries with it such a powerful light of hope through all the dark times she experiences.

Goddess of Filth by V CastroThe second book was Goddess of Filth by V. Castro, in which a group of friends perform a play seance, laughing and drinking — until their friend Fernanda begins chanting in Nahuatl and appearing to be possessed. As time passes, Fernanda continues to act strangely, “smearing herself in black makeup, shredding her hands on rose thorns, sucking sin out of the mouths of the guilty.” With her mother in a moral panic over the changes, Fernanda’s friends try to find a way to help her in any way they can.

I love so many things about this book — first and foremost the way these five friends are wonderful. They support each other, look out for each other, and do what that can for each other.  Another aspect that I loved about is that Fernanda’s possession is not an assault, but more symbiotic. The goddess within her offers wisdom and strength, and Fernanda begins to change, finding strength and confidence in the presence of the goddess. When her friend Lourdes begins to realize this, she works to help Fernanda face this new reality. The story has its terrors, but it is also so beautiful. I’m so glad I read it.

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Litquake: A Conversation Between Rivers Solomon and Charlie Jane Anders

Rovers Solomon and Charlie Jane Anders

Today, I was fortunate to be able to tune in to the Litquake virtual event with Rivers Solomon and Charlie Jane Anders. This event was supported by Green Apple Books in San Francisco and 48 Hills, a source for SF news and culture.

Both Solomon and Anders are phenomenal writers of science fiction and fantasy with several books under their name. I’ve bought, read, and loved all of the books each of these authors has written thus far — so I was so excited to be able to hear them read from and discuss their recently released books.

Here are some bits of goodness from the event.

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Culture Consumption: January 2020

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, games, and podcasts.

Books

My Sister The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite was my favorite read of the month. Set in Nigeria, the story focuses on two sisters — one is who alluringly beautiful and has a tendency to kill her boyfriends, and the other who is a nurse and is often left with cleaning up the mess. At the heart of this novel  and what makes it so compelling — is how it addresses the complexities of sisterhood, with its blend of frustration, jealousy, anger, compassion, and love. Sisters, I just want you to know, I’d help you clean up your messes, too.

Another great read this month was Rivers Solomon’s The Deep, which has a fascinating genesis, as it is based on a song called “The Deep” from experimental hip-hop group Clipping. The story is about a community of mermaids living at the bottom of the ocean. A young mermaid, Yetu, carries all of the memories of her people so that they don’t have to be burdened by their weight. Among these memories is the knowledge that their people are the children of African slaves thrown overboard from the ships that were transporting them to America. The horrors of these memories are tearing Yetu apart, driving her to try to find a way to escape them. It’s a powerful novella, which looks into how our history defines us and considers its value if it’s so heavy.

I also read two stunning poetry collections last month. Soft Science by Franny Choi is a gorgeous book-length collection, which explores queer, Asian American femininity through the lens of robots, cyborgs, and artificial intelligence. Kerrin McCadden’s chapbook, Keep This to Yourself, is a stunning examination of addiction, reflecting the mix of emotions — compassion, frustration, anger, and sorrow — of watching someone go through it.

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16 of My Favorite Reads from 2018

It was a great reading year for me. The vast majority of the 63 books I read in 2018 were excellent, beautifully written, and/or just plain fun — and this could potentially be a much longer list, if I were to include every book that I enjoyed reading last year.

Fiction

freshwater by akwaeke emezi

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emzi

Connected to gods and spirit, Ada navigates her life with a sense of fractured self. Emzi’s debut novel is stunning from top to bottom. Ada’s story is heart wrenching. The writing is lush, vivid, and lyrical. It’s the kind of writing to sink into and get lost in. This book haunts me in the best of ways. (Full review.)

All Systems Red - Martha Wells

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Reading the 2018 Hugos: An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

I’ve been hearing about An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon  for a while now, someone or another popping up in my twitter feed to announce how wonderful the book is. Having read it, I am in complete agreement with the praise it’s received.

Description:

“Aster lives in the low-deck slums of the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South. For generations, the Matilda has ferried the last of humanity to a mythical Promised Land. On its way, the ship’s leaders have imposed harsh moral restrictions and deep indignities on dark-skinned sharecroppers like Aster, who they consider to be less than human.

When the autopsy of Matilda‘s sovereign reveals a surprising link between his death and her mother’s suicide some quarter-century before, Aster retraces her mother’s footsteps. Embroiled in a grudge with a brutal overseer and sowing the seeds of civil war, Aster learns there may be a way off the ship if she’s willing to fight for it.”

Aster is a fascinating character, an adept healer, as well as a scientist with an avid curiosity for how things — machines, the ship, the universe — work.  She’s also brilliant, obsessive, and somewhat solitary due the way many in the community treat her, calling her ogre and freak. She’s The ways she interacts with other people is complicated by her being  aneurotypical. She has difficulties with parsing out meaning behind people’s words, has difficulty recognizing sarcasm, and tends to have difficulty understanding the emotional undertones in her interactions with others.

The few people she is close to — Giselle and Theo — are each hard edged and complicated in their own ways. Giselle, her closest friend, is violently self destructive. Theo, the Surgeon General of the ship, is an ally and friend who helped to educate Aster in medicine and health care. Both act as a kind of foil to Aster, providing pushback and counter perspectives to the way she perceives the world.

It’s Giselle who provides the key Aster’s obsession with discovering more about her mother’s past, providing the key to unlocking her mother’s journals. As she dives more and more deeply into that history, hoping to understand herself, she begins to see how the some of the stories she’s been told may not be what they seem and that the ghosts of the past provide no easy resolution.

This novel provides many layers that could be unpacked.  It’s a stunning and beautiful accomplishment — and I’ll be keeping my eye out for more work from Solomon in the future.


Rivers Solomon is nominated for theJohn W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, an award associated with the Hugos. All my Hugo related posts are under the 2018 Hugos tag and you can check out the complete list of nominated creators and works here.