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charles write
All Star Trek stories are Kirk/McCoy unless otherwise stated.
All Avengers stories are Steve/Tony unless otherwise stated.

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Charles mouse
Spoiler alert, just so you're aware--Smaug is actually Khan.

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ETA: Signalboosting The World Hobbit Project, a massive fan study about response to PJ's films. Please take 10-20 minutes to help academics really get what makes fans tick!
Is this a kissing book?
The History and Modern Relevance of Fairy Tales on NPR

With scholars Maria Tatar and Marina Warner and novelist Ellen Kushner.

Fairy tales are everywhere you look today. And they aren’t necessarily for children. In a new English translation of the first Brothers’ Grimm collection, Cinderella’s stepsisters slice off part of their feet to fit a golden slipper. And the evil queen in the Snow White story is her biological mother. Films and TV shows feature well-known stories with modern twists. And many new fairy tales are aimed at a mature teen audience. It seems we have come full circle. Fairy tales were once the realm of adults until Victorians began routinely publishing illustrated collections for the very young. Diane and her guests discuss the history of fairy tales and why they still resonate.

December Flailing

Mochi rockets
Somehow it is already December and I am flailing spastically.

I offered to do a pay-it-forward thing and haven't gotten to it yet. (I don't feel too too bad since everyone else is in the same boat. INTENTIONS OKAY. Which, if you read this and you signed up too? Don't worry about it. I'm a HORRIBLE PERSON, okay, I DO NOT MIND.)

I have to do Christmas presents. Which are hard. I SUCK SO HARD AT ALL SOCIAL NICETIES THIS IS WHY I COOK.

I need to dissertate. And figure out traveling and write papers and stuff.

I just. I'd like to curl up in a little ball all the time? It's the holidays, that is the general effect they have on me. That, and a desire to eat all of the chocolates.

So. This too will pass. But man oh man. Getting there.


Random Thoughts About Constantine

chris vocabulary
I am not quite hate-watching the show; Scott enjoys it much more than I do, as he thinks it is much more "serious" than, say, Supernatural. I find the writing really clunky, and some of the monsters of the week are just boring or stupid. (I'm thinking particularly of the one with the Rom chick and the miners, and also, the fuck is with Pennsylvania and gypsies in pop culture right now?! Hemlock Grove did the same thing, and it's like, ok, of ALL of white America's prejudices, Romani isn't really one of them? And it seems REALLY fucking stupid to act like it is when, you know, freaking Ferguson is going on, you know?)

I also have really mixed feelings about the shift of the setting from London to Atlanta. On the one hand, man is it awesome to have black people on tv in a variety of roles. But--the Afro-Caribbean populations and history is SO DIFFERENT between London and Atlanta, you know? I mean, Atlanta is one of the very few American cities with a significant population of wealthy/middle/upper-class black people, but it is also more segregated than DC and Baltimore are. And it feels like they could be doing some interesting things with this white British dude nonchalantly driving a pick-up truck to go consult with this or that vodoun priest or African or Australian shaman, or whoever needs to do the exposition this week, but they--don't. And it seems to me that it makes more sense for these culturally interstitial crossings to be in London than, you know, freaking ATLANTA, because for all of the cozy "the city too busy to hate" motto, the city also encapsulates way more of contemporary American racial tensions and stuff.

That said, I did like that the climax of one episode happens at The Fox Theater and is actually shot inside of it, and there's also a bit when they break into a museum that may or may not The Fernbank (I haven't been since I was like 14, so I can't quite remember, but I also can't think of where else in Atlanta there would be a museum with dinosaur statues, so).

I *do* quite like Matt Ryan as Constantine--he is one of the few bits that feels absolutely organic and real to me. (I've only seen the one ep with Papa Midnite, and even though the film version got his characterization wrong, Djimon Hounsou **looked** like him perfectly.) That said--he's also too young for the role because, er, he's my age, which means he has the same relationship to the Sex Pistols and 70s punk rock that I do--through CDs obtained as a teenager. And **that** said, I do love the sequence where he has to avoid listening to cursed vinyl by listening to "Anarchy in the UK" because that seems like the most Constantine-y moment to ever be committed to film. But to me it just changes a lot of the character's life story in amusing ways to update him to now (the character was in his late thirties/early forties in the 90s), and now I basically just get entertained imagining Constantine going to shows of Blink 182 and being incredibly bitter about how pop 2000-era punk is, etc.

Anyway, I hope the show gets renewed anyway, just because it could develop in interesting ways once they get through the growing pains. Also, SPN is probably going to wind up this year or next, and I'll have a supernatural horror starring cute dudes gap in my life, and that will make me sad.

Bookmark: Gender and Reading Preferences

Goodreads Poll Finds that Readers Stick to Their Own Gender

Goodreads recently polled 40,000 British citizens on their reading habits and among the many trends that popped up, the one making the rounds today is all about sex. Namely, the surprising gender divide between male and female readers and the writers they prefer.

The survey found that men and women stick closely to their own camps with 90% of the 50 most-read books by men coming from male authors, and an identical 90% of the 50 most-read books by women coming from female authors. Female readers were also slightly more critical in their ratings of books penned by the opposite sex – giving them an average 3.8/5, compared to the 4/5 for works by female writers.


But what’s really disheartening is that we still tend to view books written by women as less substantial and less “important,” which — given Goodreads’ findings — may just say more about who’s in charge at the top newspapers and publishing houses than anything else.

See also: Goodreads' message board discussion on Your Reading Experience > Male or female authors

Sharing is Caring

Status is Not Quo
Can I ask you guys, if you want to do something good today, or tomorrow, or hell, period, please donate to the Ferguson Public Library. (They have a paypal donate button on their homepage.) They have been hosting daily activities for kids while schools etc. have been closed this week and providing safe spaces.

In case anyone every asks "what libraries are for," you can always point to this.


Nov. 25th, 2014

I have come to the conclusion that, if the Vulcans ever do happen to be making their way by our system, that they would put up a "DANGER" sign and get out while they could.

Bookmark: On Genre Fiction

Mochi rockets
A Better Way to Think of the Genre Debate

It’s hard to talk in a clear-headed way about genre. Almost everyone can agree that, over the past few years, the rise of the young-adult genre has highlighted a big change in book culture. For reasons that aren’t fully explicable (Netflix? Tumblr? Kindles? Postmodernism?), it’s no longer taken for granted that important novels must be, in some sense, above, beyond, or “meta” about their genre. A process of genrefication is occurring. ...

The modernists saw, correctly, that novel-writing, once an art, had become an enterprise. More fundamentally, it had internalized a mass view of life—a view in which what matters are social facts rather than individual experiences. It had become affiliated with manufactured culture, with the crowd, and with the sentimentality and repetitive stylization that crowds, in their quest for a common identity, often crave. In reaction, they created a different kind of literature: one centered on inwardness, privacy, and incommunicability. The new books were about individuals, and they needed to be interpreted individually. Instead of being public resources, novels would be private sanctuaries. Instead of being social, they would be spiritual.

Something of that spiritual aura still hovers around our sense of what it means to read and write “literary fiction.” And there are some ways in which the modernist critique of mass literature is just as trenchant today as it was back then. (The modernists never got to see “fandom”; if they had, I doubt they’d be pleased.)

I feel as though I should be grudgingly pleased that the freaking New Yorker acknowledges the existence of fandom--and yet, it's also this offhand dismissal of an entire MEDIUM (I'd argue that fandom is a medium, not a genre itself) of work that is produced by women and esp. queer women is so. freaking. telling.
Cross-posted over at the The Future Fire.

Martha Wells, Stories of the Raksura, Volume 1: The Falling World and The Tale of Indigo and Cloud. Night Shade Books, 2014. pp 206. ISBN 978-1-59780-535-3. $15.99.

This is the first of two projected volumes of novellas and short stories set in the world of the Raksura; the other volume’s projected publication date is April 2015. These books follow Wells’s trilogy of The Cloud Roads (2011), The Serpent Sea (2012), and The Siren Depths (2012), though the reader doesn’t necessarily have to have read them in order to enjoy this book. Stories contains two novellas that have never before been published, two short stories that have previously appeared on the author’s website, and three brief appendices detailing the characters and the world of the books. Altogether, the material forms what can be a useful introduction to the Raksura, and a delightful present for fans of the series.

Wells’s worldbuilding emphasizes two points of departure from common SF/F worlds. First of all, the Raksura are human only in emotion, and in their “groundling,” or humanoid, forms. The rest of the time they are exotically alien: scaled, multi-colored, occasionally winged. Emotional gestures are communicated by relaxed or upright frills, the showing of teeth and the occasional displays of claws. Even better, as the point of view characters are mostly Raksuran themselves, this is all presented as the norm. The other narrative departure is through gender roles: Raksuran courts are matriarchal, with women as the dominant rulers and warriors and men most often as teachers and caregivers. Further than that, the Raksura in their groundling forms are dark-skinned. This is a world where “whiteness” isn’t even a concept, let alone a rule of thumb. The “courts” also have little to do with our human governments or royalty, and refer instead to kinship ties within a localized group.

The first novella, ‘The Falling World,’ is an adventure story set after the original trilogy. Moon is consort to the Queen Jade, who goes missing while on a diplomatic trade mission. Moon insists on going to search for her with a party of warriors; throughout multiple references are made to his “headstrong” nature that must be forgiven. Visitors from a rival court are disapproving at first, but later commend Moon for his bravery in insisting on searching for his mate.

The other novella, ‘The Tale of Indigo and Cloud,’ is a prequel story that sets up some of the world of the books, particularly the setting of the Indigo Cloud court where most of the characters live. Again, we see the inversion of traditional gender roles when the headstrong Queen Indigo rescues Cloud, a consort to a queen in another court who abuses him verbally and physically. This story reads like a semi-typical romance, except it takes place from the point of view of Indigo’s mother Cerise, the ruling Queen of the court, who is more concerned with the political conflicts present than the emotional ones. A brief epilogue has the present day characters of Indigo Cloud—including Moon—coming across the story in a book.

The two short stories are quite short indeed, and also prequels to the novels. The first, ‘The Forest Boy,’ is about a young Moon hiding his true nature from friendly humanoids and finding a home for a brief period of time. The other, ‘Adaptation,’ is about Chime’s unexpected shift from the mentor class to the warrior class; in some ways, this story can be read as a metaphor for puberty, with unexpected bodily changes and emotional frustrations and outbursts. This is also the one story that does more than glance at implied but largely unspoken bisexuality for all Raksuran characters; early on, Chime awakes to find another male has slipped into his bed—by accident. Chime treats the mistake with good-natured annoyance that the male was there for another and not him. As Moon reflects in another story, sexuality among the Raksura largely consists of, “if you want it, ask for it.” There is no angst or confusion about this treatment (in this book, at least), which makes a nice change from older works where overcoming internalized homophobia makes up a great deal of the emotional—if not actually the narrative—arc.

Overall, the book reminded me of the pleasure I took in extended universe short story collections like those by Anne McCaffrey or Marion Zimmer Bradley. The majority of single-author short story collections published these days tend towards collections of previously published material, while multi-author collections tend to be overwhelmingly thematic. A collection like this is most enjoyable because of the uniform quality of material in it; I would hesitate to say if any of the stories is “better” than the others because they were all easy reading. None of them is about Big Ideas per se, but rather character and world explorations that many readers will want for their own sake. Perhaps I have just been reading the wrong books of late, but this one made a nice change; it was a book I could sit down to read, relax, and enjoy thoroughly. Suffice to say that I have neglected reading the earlier trilogy and plan to remedy that in the immediate future.

You can buy it here.

Lone Wolf is one of those m/m romance novels that is evocative of fanfic—in a good way. More than once I’ve had conversations with fannish friends about how we wish that finding books we want to read were as easy as finding fanfics that suit our mood; the “coffeehouse” and “bookstore” stories that are the literary equivalent of hot chocolate or ice cream to comfort and soothe. Lone Wolf evokes both of these tropes, adds some meta discussions about writing and fanfic, and provides the obligatory steamy sexy and happy ending (pun not intended at first, but now it is) that will please many a reader.

The novel is part of Riptide Publishing’s “Bluewater Bay” series, a set of (so far) five novels by ten writers set in a shared universe. The eponymous bay is home to author Hunter Easton, famous for his Wolf’s Landing paranormal novels that are being adapted for a popular television series that is also being shot in the small town in northwest Washington. The popularity of the books and television series is meant to evoke Twilight and Game of Thrones—and does so in a way that encourages even more nods and winks to the audience. After all, it is the vast popularity of rewritten fan novels of Twilight that have given mainstream audiences a knowledge of contemporary fandom that makes a lot of the discussions in Lone Wolf accessible to the reader in a way that they wouldn’t have been even five years ago.

You see, Hunter Easton, famous author, also likes to hang out in his own fan forum using the pseudonym Wolf Hunter, and his best friend in fandom is Lone Wolf. Lone Wolf has just finished his long-awaited fan novel—one that Hunter has been waiting for as eagerly as the other fans online. Disobeying his editor’s injunction to never read fanfic, Hunter has read everything by Lone Wolf, but nothing by anyone else. (This is how we know they have something **special** together.) Hijinks ensue when Hunter finishes the fic, absolutely has to meet Lone Wolf in person, finds out that he is gorgeous, gay, and single, and online friendship quickly becomes in person romance. In the meantime there are discussions of fandom, the writing trade, the con circuit, and all of those things that are one part wishful thinking to three parts absolute accuracy. (Ever been in a miserable writing critique circle when you know you’re a great writer? Yeah, those scenes are here. Ever had long, in-depth conversations about fictional people as if they were real? Those too. Love the perfect coffee shop setting with the elaborate descriptions of delicious caffeine? Oh yes.)

Lone Wolf is a quick, easy read, and the perfect thing to relax with when you’ve had too much “real life”—online, or off.

Bookmark: The Ladies Vanish

ample nacelles
The Ladies Vanish by Shawn Wen:

Andrew Norman Wilson was fired from his contracting job at Google for interacting with what he called a different “class of workers.” He had been watching them for months as they exited the office building adjacent to his. Everyday they left at 2 PM (he later learned that their shifts began at 4 AM). “They were purposefully kept separate. They carried yellow badges that restricted access everywhere besides their own building,” Wilson said.

They were mostly black and Latino—a rare sight on Google’s predominantly white campus. They worked for ScanOps, the team that did the painstaking work of scanning texts that make up Google Books. Intrigued, Wilson attempted to interview some of them. He managed to get a few minutes of tape before he was caught by Google security. He was fired shortly thereafter.

Of course books don’t digitize themselves. Human hands have to individually scan the books, to open the covers and flip the pages. But when Google promotes its project—a database of “millions of books from libraries and publishers worldwide”—they put the technology, the search function and the expansive virtual library in the forefront. The laborers are erased from the narrative, even as we experience their work firsthand when we look at Google Books.


It’s very hard to get accurate statistics on the contingent workforce in the tech industry, as tech companies are less than forthcoming. But researching the demographics of mechanical turkers is even harder, as they are decentralized and anonymous. In 2010, New York University professor Panos Ipeirotis conducted a rare study to assess Amazon’s Mechanical Turk workforce. Ipeirotis discovered that almost half of the work force is American. (In fact, the percentage of Americans on the site has significantly increased since Ipeirotis’ study. Amazon changed its terms of service, requiring identity verification of its turkers, which ruled out many Indian workers who could not provide proper forms.) This upends a common argument used by the company’s defenders, who claim that $0.10 a task or $1.20 an hour goes a long way in countries like Pakistan and India.

But would workers be better off without the site? This was the question Ipeirotis leveled to me when I asked him about the mechanical turkers’ low wages and lack of power. People were on the site “voluntarily”—as much as capitalism allows anyone to work “voluntarily.” Workers on the site were free to leave. Workers on the site tended to be American. They tended to be young. Many were caregivers of young children or the elderly and so it benefited them to work from home. And they tended to be women.

Ipeirotis found that almost 70% of mechanical turkers were women. How shocking: the low prestige, invisible, poorly paid jobs on the internet are filled by women. Women provide the behind the scenes labor that is mystified as the work of computers, unglamorous work transformed into apparent algorithmic perfection.


Female mechanical turkers meet their parallel in the female computers before them. Before the word “computer” came to describe a machine, it was a job title. David Skinner wrote in The New Atlantis, “computing was thought of as women’s work and computers were assumed to be female.” Female mathematicians embraced computing jobs as an alternative to teaching, and they were often hired in place of men because they commanded a fraction of the wages of a man with a similar education.

Though Ada Lovelace is finally getting some notice almost two hundred years after she wrote the first ever computer algorithm, the women who have advanced math and computer science have largely been ignored. When male scientists from University of Pennsylvania invented the Electronic and Numerical Integrator and Computer, the first electronic computer (which would eventually replace female computers), women debugged the machine and programmed it. When these early female computer programmers unveiled the machine to the military, they were mistaken for models hired to stand attractively next to the new invention.

As computing machines gradually took over, mathematicians often measured its computing time in “girl-hours” and computing power in “kilo-girls.” The computer itself is a feminized item. The history of the computer is the history of unappreciated female labor hidden behind “technology,” a screen (a literal screen) erected by boy geniuses.

Silicon Valley really is a man’s world. Men have great ideas. Men code. Men attract money. Men fund start-ups. Men generate jobs. Men hire other men. Men are the next Steve Jobses, the innovators, the inventors, the disruptors. But women complete the tasks that men have not yet programmed computers to do, the tasks that make their “genius” and their “innovation” possible. And they do it for pennies.

ETA: A friend sent me another link: Sweating Out the Words from 2000:

" A generation ago such work was done within the country that generated the paperwork. Women in the United States did most of the keyboarding then, and many still do, for $7-$10 an hour. But in the late eighties, their jobs began emigrating as employers discovered satellites and other telecommunications technology. Before these innovations, a company interested in cheap Third World labor would have had to ship hard copy abroad at great expense in transport and turnaround time. Now, paper is optically scanned and the images zapped to computer screens thousands of miles away, where the relevant information is keyed in by foreign workers and the digitized material speedily returned to the home office.

Bookmark: Let's Talk About Lilith

Let's talk about Lilith, okay

Let’s talk about Lilith, okay.

Let’s talk about how she knew from the start that she was worthy, was great, was equal to anything this new universe could throw at her, and most especially equal to Adam. Let’s talk about the way she wouldn’t compromise herself or her sexuality, wouldn’t take part in sex acts she didn’t like no matter the pressure. Let’s talk about how rather than submit she ran as fast and far as her feet could carry her, and somewhere along the way she stole the name of God like Prometheus stealing fire, the greatest secret in the universe and the biggest cheat code for reality. Let’s talk about how, when God sent angels to drag her back to Adam, she laughed in their faces and used the Name to give them the finger, to banish them from her presence. They couldn’t lay a hand on her.

Let’s talk about how she chose the greatest angel of them all for her consort—not husband, but freaking consort, and no, I’m not talking about Lucifer with his gilded wings and whiny bitchface. Lilith wasn’t interested in a baby throwing a tantrum. No, she picked Sammael, not the most beautiful but the most powerful angel of them all, the angel of Death and justice, who never Fell because God needed him too much to call him on all the shit he pulled. Let’s talk about how the most dangerous, terrifying angel in all the heavenly host fell to his knees for the first woman, loved her and adored her because he saw what she was and could not look away.

Let’s talk about how their children were monstrous but Lilith loved them anyway. Let’s talk about how she refused to abandon them or destroy them, let’s talk about how she gave each and every one its own name, and when they needed a home she had Sammael carve Hell out of the earth for her, for them, so they would always have a safe place away from God and Adam.

Let’s talk about how she heard about Eve—her replacement, her rival—and instead of being jealous sent Sammael to warn her. Let’s talk about how Lilith used her consort to send Eve the apple, to give her knowledge and self-awareness because she wanted Eve to have the same freedom Lilith had found. You don’t have to be a slave, all you are is yours.

It didn’t work, but she tried.

Let’s talk about how Lilith has been used as a warning for thousands of years, the first and best Bad Girl. Be good be quiet obey or you’ll end up just like that. Let’s talk about this woman who refused to bow her head, who told the world to fuck off and snatched immortality from between the bars of her cage, made herself more than human with nothing more than will and fire. Let’s talk about a woman who took an angel for a consort without ever giving up her sovereignty over herself, who cherished her children when others called them evil. Who built her own kingdom when Earth and Heaven didn’t want her, and rules it as an Empress.

You say I’ll end up just like her? That’s all I’ve ever wanted to be.

Bookmarks: Contemporary Literary Production


These economic realities are a huge challenge to both fairness and diversity for authors. Yet, while the debate on diversity and representation rages in the genre – in particularly in the US – almost no one is discussing the how economics of being an author silences the working class. ...

This leads us to the question of George R. R. Martin’s sister. In Virginia Woolf’s classic feminist essay ‘A Room of One’s Own,’ Woolf invents a woman called Judith Shakespeare. In essence, while Judith possessed all the talents of her brother William, because she was a woman she couldn’t got to school, and because she had no education her talents went to waste, unexpressed.

In this vein we will take GRRM’s imaginary sister, Georgia – a woman, we will assume, with all the talent of her brother. The answer to the question of whether Georgia would have made it as a writer in today’s economic climate is simple: she very likely wouldn’t. Women in the US have a higher risk of being downwardly mobile and working class women find it harder than men to escape their social class (and it is bloody hard for men).

Imagine Georgia working long hours in the service industry for minimum wage – a wage that has declined in real terms over the past twenty years – coming home exhausted, barely able to cover the cost of food and rent. No spare money, no spare time, a university education beyond reach, and not even a public library nearby. The itch to write never scratched between six-day working weeks, raising children, and the moment head touches pillow. ...

Modern inequality, social immobility and an inability to talk about class means that at least half of the population are close to being locked out of the profession. They are the silent majority, a rare and disappearing breed, and their stories are not being told. While this endures, the breadth and perspectives of the fiction coming out of the genre will be diminished.

This Old-Fashioned Printing Shop Knows Where It’s @: Fans of Movable Type Buy Up Symbols for Modern Era; ‘#great bargain’

“There is something magical, almost mystical, in creating the printed word,” says Mr. Barrett of Letterpress Things, “When a person sees something that has been letterpress printed there’s a dimensionalism there, there’s a depth. You’re not just seeing a flat surface like a page out of a magazine, you are now…looking into a space.”

A fun, light video and article, but NGL, I am, er, out of sorts (see what I did there?) that they interviewed an old white dude to talk about letterpress printing--especially when it opens up with, "I had no idea what a 'hashtag' was, and then golly, I saw it as a pound sign!"

In contrast, note that Ladies of the Press features younger women as printers and artists. Just sayin'.

Happy Samhain!!!!!!!!

Cait Yatta!
I love you all!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! <3


Sometimes I wish I was French

chris vocabulary
Not only because they have actual laws about protecting their independent bookstores, but because when <a href="">the Minister of Culture admits she hasn't read a book in two years</a>, people are fucking outraged.

<i>Writer Tahar Ben Jelloun, who is on the jury for France’s prestigious Goncourt literature prize, told France Inter radio that Pellerin’s lack of knowledge was “shameful”.

“It’s very sad,” he said. “It is a culture minister's political duty to delve into literature. It is not possible that she hasn’t read a single Modiano novel. It is lamentable, but then we live in an era when culture is not taken seriously at all.” ...

“If you can be a culture minister without reading books, what we are reduced to [culturally] are technicalities and budgets,” he wrote. “Nothing will uplift us, the soul is an illusion and all the great works are reduced to less than the minutes of a cabinet meeting.”</i>

I'm trying to imagine an American equivalent, but all I've got is our intermittent arguments about the "appropriateness" of adults reading YA. Pfft.


mouse heart
So the LDS church released a video this week about their temple garments, ie the "magic underwear" that popular culture has a weird fixation about. I've seen a fair few links to it in social media but haven't watched it because I have this peculiar secondhand embarrassment about it, because, you know, a church is literally showing its underwear to get people to STFU, but people are still obsessed about it.

See, I'm a nice neopagan girl, and my best friend is Mormon. So of course we periodically have discussions about faith and such, plus events and the like (eg, Todd got up at 4:30am once to greet the dawn with me at a Summer Solstice a few years ago; I went to his son's baptism two years ago). I grew up in the South, where the--the only word for it is "fear" I suppose--the fears of Mormons are laughable, but it was something that was invisible to me until I was friends with one and got to witness some of the ridiculousness first hand. Like, I've observed people say things about Todd out of his earshot, and I've had friends and family of mine anxiously inquire whether he was "one of the good ones" or to be careful lest I get "seduced" into the Church and various other lolworthy comments. And on the flipside, I've also heard a fair bit of speculation about sexual practices and suchlike that have basically ended with me going "Oh my God, don't you get that Todd and Jen are my FRIENDS and asking me what I think they do in private is REALLY FREAKING INAPPROPRIATE?!"

And just--on the one hand I understand sexual speculation because "exotic culture," on the other hand, it's kind of creepy and gross? And, I mean, being a nice pagan girl means that sometimes we do rituals skyclad (in the nude) and there's no cultural obsession about that, and so I feel annoyed that I get a free pass/privilege that my friends are denied.

Anyways, that's me being annoyed by tacky people, so.


Cross-posted with The Future Fire.

Jennifer Marie Brissett, Elysium. Aqueduct Press, 2014. Pp. 199. ISBN 978-1-61976-053-0. $18.00.
Reviewed by Cait Coker

Elysium is the sort of novel you read once, and then read again to make sure what you think happened was, in fact, what happened. This is a complex, dense book, and reminds me of the best parts of Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life and David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. Brissett’s novel, her first, is as ambitious and experimental as those works, and I hope it receives similar attention. As the reader perhaps knows, Elysium is the ancient Greek equivalent of Paradise, reserved for righteous heroes. Usually discussions of Paradise prompt one to ask, “How does one get there?” Rather more interestingly, Brissett asks a different question altogether: “How does it function?”

The book unfolds through a series of vignettes, each of which is in some way connected to the previous one. Beginning with an innocuous accident set in contemporary America, we travel to the near future, the far future, a place that may or may not be a mythic past, and several post-apocalyptic stops in between. We have two protagonists, Adrianne and Antoine, who are also sometimes Adrian and Antoinette. In some scenarios they are lovers (shifting in both gender and orientation), in others family members. In this respect the narrative might remind readers of Joanna Russ’s The Female Man or, with regards to the continuing lives of our heroes, Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt. As if this wasn’t enough, intermittently the story is interrupted by bits of computer code, signalling—as if it wasn’t already obvious—that we are reading something far different from a standard narrative, however much it might play with temporality. All is revealed in the final chapters, which is what really made me want to go back and reread to see if the story still works once all of the puzzle pieces have been fit back together again (it does).

Adrian/ne and Antoin/ette, and their friend/lover/protector, Hector/Helen, are utterly believable in each of their incarnations. Too often stories of love tend to revert to a naive simplicity, with a choice between stagnation or consuming passion. Here the characters feel both of those things, in addition to a wide spectrum of other, often conflicting emotions. In one sequence, Adrian cheats on Antoine while the latter is dying of cancer. It’s a brutal sequence because every emotion feels utterly real and empathetic to the reader, inviting a complicity to what we would most likely, as a matter of course, consider a despicable and cowardly act. And yet, as written, we completely understand and empathize with the complete mess that romantic love often is—and which it so seldomly is genuinely portrayed as. The other forms of love depicted here—between siblings, between parents, and between parents and children—are equally complex if less directly inflammatory.

Questions of gender and race aren’t fully investigated here, though some minor plot points seem to mock mainstream expectations. For example, in a brief scene in one of the post-apocalyptic sequences it is revealed that humans with more melanin were better equipped to survive the new world than those with less melanin. If the reader hadn’t thought about the racial make-up of humanity in the end, then the ugly epithets used by the dying on the survivors rather handily makes the point. The sometimes queerness of Adrian/ne and Antoin/ette is similarly understated. Those scenes seem to have less of a political bent and more of a matter of factness to them. In the thousands of possible scenarios that can be visited, the odds favor genderbent and queer love as much as they do heterosexual love. And yet, if we consider that Brissett is indeed asking about the make-up of Paradise, the irrefutable presence of POCs and queer characters succinctly underlines the norms of her world.

Perhaps above all the question that Elysium prompts us to ask is what constitutes immortality and memory. The ancient Greeks of course believed in great deeds and songs of glory; we moderns tend to cast our heroic narratives on a worldwide (if not interstellar) scale. What the book may lack in philosophical meditation it makes up for in emotional resonance: every character Brissett draws is, in one way or another, an emotional survivor—and a visceral one at that. The feeling of loss pervades the novel, reminding us that sometimes it’s not enough to survive, that living requires more than that in ways that only the best writers and thinkers—and stories—can describe.

Some Goings On And Such

Cait pony
I had a too-brief trip to Texas last week to help prep for the symposium that was being run by my dissertation chair and Todd. I taught papermaking and gave a paper that was really well received--like, I got most of the questions after, and as my chair put it, everyone else got academic courtesy/pity questions. So, that was fun. I was really bummed to miss half the symposium, but I flew back to go to a wedding of friends, so, you know, still worth it. I was exhausted but it was lovely and fun. We had provided paper and art supplies on the tables so I can make them a memory book of the event as a present, so I have a box of pages waiting for me to bind them. I will likely go on a mission to get some boards and decorative papers this weekend.

My projects this week are to finish tweaking my prospectus to send to my chair, and then finish a book review I have due. On my docket after that is finish another book review, write two book chapters, do some article revisions, and put together an abstract for a conference. I also have two papers to write that have been accepted to conferences next year. And also, my, you know, dissertation.

And I really want to do NaNo this year but probably shouldn't because of all that stuff. Also, I'm still rather fried from my prelims. Which is apparently totally normal, but oy. 

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