Posts Tagged ‘China Mieville’


June 1, 2011

My review of China Mieville’s Embassytown is up at the Green Man Review.


Gender Born, Gender Made

May 4, 2011

So today in what seems maybe to have been an act of divine providence, this book “Gender Born, Gender Made,” by a psychologist named Diane Ehrensaft fell into my lap. I don’t know why it’s in my store, a week before it comes out, just a single copy- maybe Chris ordered it, I don’t know- but I snatched it up and started reading it on my lunch break and had to stop reading it because I was starting to cry.

It’s a book about gender variant- a phrase she wants to replace with “gender creative,” which sounds kind of hippie but also you can’t argue with the way “gender variant” centers cisnormative genders/gender performances- kids, and how to be a child therapist for them without being a fucking J Mike or Ken Zucker. In the first chapter, she’s already talked about how aversion therapy doesn’t work, and how samples are skewed and controls don’t exist in the experiments Zucker & co cite, and just about how bad the science is there- and, most importantly, how if you’re doing counseling, you’re supposed to do no fucking harm, and it’s just blatantly, infuriatingly clear how much harm reparative/aversion therapy does, if you look at it from any perspective other than ‘transsexuality is unacceptable.’

I’ve always hoped that this stuff was out there in the legitimate psychological literature, but in the context of the prevalence of the ‘make your kid cry until they stop being such fuckin queers’ school of psychology, I haven’t seen it anywhere. And I’ve been in the process of figuring out how to go to school to shout down that busted-up school of psychology, figuring that I was going to have to burn down my own path to even start talking about how much harm this kind of praxis does, so seeing this in print just feels like breathing after not being able to breathe. Or some better metaphor.

So anyway it certainly might let me down and break my heart- desert me- but I just want to tell you how much I hope it doesn’t. And you know how pessimistic I am about books that aren’t written by Kathy Acker or Dennis Cooper or maybe Angela Carter- it’s hard for me to be optimistic.

Also I’m supposed to be reading this advance copy of Embassytown that Cat gave me, to review for The Green Man Review– which I’m super into, actually. It’s nice to read anti-colonial science fiction about semiotics. But I am going to be on buses for like ten hours tomorrow, and I feel like I’m gonna have to shirk my responsibility to Cat and China to read this book about trans kids (which is about other things than trans kids, obvs) first.

It’s the hard knock life, etc

Perdido Street Station

March 20, 2011

GOD DAMMIT should I just change the name of this blog to “the I Am Sick of Rape Culture Book Blog?” I just finished Perdido Street Station and it was chugging along so nicely, the whole way, I was so into it, like the monsters were cool and the people got so beat up, and the desperation in the hospital scene was absolutely phenomenal- and then in the last 20 pages, here’s the sexual assault! It’s like okay yes I get that this is a total bummer. The book club I started at my store to discuss it is called the Total Bummer Book Club. But… y’know it was the good kind of total bummer up until that last twenty pages- the heroes are a motley crew oppressed by the privileged who sort of triumph, against all odds, against a scary monster problem that’s one of the heroes’ fault. And like, the characters whose oppression is a metaphor for (primarily) racial or ethnic oppression, they have actual honest-to-god inner emotional lives! The scene where Lin is thinking about her relationship with her ethnic or racial or xenian community is another one that’ll stick with me; and I guess in retrospect what happens to Lin is representative of that fact that, when you get down to it, like a lot of manarchist/man…ialist, I guess, like dudebro radical socialists?, just doesn’t do a good job with women’s experiences of gender-based oppression (uh eg sexism I guess).

And here be spoilers:

Just, like, he does a good job with Lin. She is probably the most interesting character in the book. And I would even be okay with the fact that she gets it the worst in the end, if it weren’t for the fact that, y’know, as soon as we see deeply into her three dimensions, she becomes the kidnapped pawn girlfriend and disappears out of the story. Which again might even be fine if not for the fact that just before the end of the book we find out that one of the characters we’re been rooting for is in this whole mess in the first place because of something mysterious to do with rape.

And then the way Mieville deals with the rape just doesn’t work. It’s a kind of rape in another culture, that someone in our culture can’t understand or judge. Uh, okay, fine. Then we hear all about Yagharek’s pain and suffering and how much he feels bad because he committed this kind of sexual assault that we can’t understand. Like, okay, yes, and in the world of the book that makes sense, it’s not like it feels out of place- but just, like, in the world outside the book, I can’t think of a good reason for Mieville to go “now I’ll introduce sexual assault to this narrative.” Y’know? And in the last twenty pages there’s a lot of sexual assault. So why would he as the author decide to bring that in? I mean okay sure it’s a bummer and the whole point of the book is that it’s one long bummer but then why introduce the moral-ambiguity-around-this-kind-of-sexual-assault idea? It just completely took me out of the world of the book and made me question, I think for the first time in the now four books I’ve read by him, whether I trust him as an author completely. I mean, I’ll finish the Scar, and I’ll probably read King Rat and Un Lun Dun and whatever else he publishes, but… I don’t know, the theme of “the regretful rapist” that ends up being retroactively applied to the novel seems like an enormous misstep, especially in a book that metatextually addresses complex things like racism, fatphobia, classism, the prison-industrial complex, socialism, anti-governmental organizing, and unions so seemingly effortlessly. Y’know? Why then, at the end- just to punch me in the belly one last time really hard, I guess, but it is a shitty punch I wish hadn’t been there.

And I mean that makes me question: maybe it is as stressful to read the way he writes about cultural segregation if you don’t have all the racial/cultural privilege I have. I don’t know. It’s just, for me, y’know, he fucked it up at the end. Maybe, like in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, I can write “this book ends here” and draw a line right before Kar’uchai shows up, ’cause then this book would earn five skulls on fire with guts on ’em.

Trouble On Triton

March 20, 2011

I have a friend who is cool. When I lived in Oakland and she did too she told me that I should read Samuel Delany. Well, we talked about books for a little while a couple times, and I was like “I just discovered China Mieville-” this was like six months ago, before I’d read much of anything he’d written- and she was the one who told me to read Iron Council first, and that Perdido Street Station is a total bummer. But she was like “Oh, Stone Gods was like Jeanette Winterson had heard of science fiction novels but never actually read one, so she decided to write one.”

I was like “oh BAM I kinda liked that book okay though” and she was like “yeah science fiction is kind of my shit” and I was like “oh okay I don’t really know much about science fiction except for what Mordicai tells me, and he lives hecka far away from me now! Tell me what I should know about science fiction!”

She was like “Okay duuuuuude Samuel Delany” and I was like “Oh, okay, I’ve got a copy of that enormous doorstop Dhalgren somebody sold to the store and I bought it ’cause I don’t remember why” and she was like “uh, okay, you could read that one, but it’s kind of a bad first one.”

I was like “okay” and we decided to have a two-person book group and then I moved to Portland Maine and she moved back to Philadelphia even though we’re both from New Jersey. But didn’t know each other when we lived in New Jersey. Also we’re both really tall.

Then she came to visit a friend who was living in my house in Portland for January of this year and they hung out a lot and we talked about books for a minute one time (she has an Ursula LeGuin-themed band project) and one night I came home from work after kind of a stupid day and they were watching Love, Actually and I was like “omfg are you guys watching Love, Actually” and they were like “we’re trying to get to know you better!” because I have a Love, Actually tattoo.

Which is true.

Anyway then when my tall friend left she left me a cute note like ‘let’s have a book club and maybe make out sometime’ and I was like ‘ok’ and she was like “Since you have such an enormous, indestructible metaphysical boner for Kathy Acker what Kathy Acker book should I read since I’ve never read her” and I was like “I dunno, probably one of the eighties ones where she was appropriating other people’s titles, like Great Expectations of Don Quixote. Probably Don Quixote ’cause I was just flipping through it looking for band names for the RPM challenge album I’m never going to finish and I thought ‘Kiss Your Mother the Raven’ was pretty good but Alex didn’t BUT if you’re going to read a Kathy Acker novel I want to know which Samuel Delany novel I should read because I know he’s your favorite and you told me the story about how he wears the same wrestling shirt to every literary event.”

And she was like “Ok Trouble on Triton” and I was like, “Great,” and I ordered it, and it just came into the book store, and KATHY ACKER WROTE THE GODDAM INTRODUCTION TO THIS EDITION LIKE A YEAR BEFORE SHE DIED (FOR YOUR SINS). Which just seems like a pretty sweet coincidence, you know?

Here is what I wrote on twitter for Valentine’s Day (it’s a modified Acker quote; guess which part I added):

Literature is that
which denounces and slashes apart
the repressing machine
at the level of the signified,

Perdido Street Station

March 20, 2011

Mr Mieville uses the word “russet” kind of a lot in Perdido Street Station.


March 20, 2011

When I was younger and less of a boring old person, the first post on a new blog was always the most fun part, and then as my enthusiasm flagged so did the frequency of my posts. (Except on livejournal when I used to be on livejournal, which I calculated had replace television, at least in terms of time spent staring at something while drinking.) But now I’m like, Jesus. I want to have a book blog. I read books. People seemed to like it when I posted things to Goodreads, back before I had three hundred people following my reviews there and I completely choked and stopped posting there.

Anyway whatever. As of today I’m actively in the middle of Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville, and The Reapers Are the Angels, by some dude somewhere; there are also always lots of books around that I’m partway through but about which I’ve forgotten. I’m doing a book club about the China Mieville book at the store where I work, but nobody is buying it so the night the book club meets- the Total Bummer Book Club- it’s probably going to be me, by myself, eyes Sharpied onto my hands so I can have puppets to talk to.

“Check me out,” says my left hand, “I’m a Xenian!”

“I’m a human who doesn’t acknowledge my human privilege,” says my right. For two hours. Of drinking alone in the bookstore.