Thursday, February 23, 2012

What I've Been Reading Lately

My latest chewy booklist, with images after the jump.

"Heiresses of Russ 2011: The Year's Best Speculative Lesbian Fiction" edited by Joselle Vanderhooft and Steve Berman, Lethe Press.
I'd been looking forward to this one for months, and got stuck in as soon as it arrived. My favourite story (beyond Swirsky's "Lady who plucked red flowers...") was "Ghost of a horse under a chandelier" by Georgina Bruce. Bruce did a lovely subversion of the tragic lesbian trope that still has me thinking about it days later.
There were a couple of stories that didn't resonate with me, but overall it was a lovely collection with top notch writing.

"Harmony" by Project Itoh. I'd heard so much about this book, I couldn't wait to read it. The prose is crisp and pace solid. The first few chapters set up characters and a world I could really get in to, but then about three-quarters of the way through it seemed to flounder and kept coming back to rehashing philosophical arguments. It struck me as an effort to pad. Even though the three main characters were well drawn women, this dystopian setting seemed to ignore feminism and other activisms and how powerful they would have been in fighting the body politics that took over the world. There was a hint at the start about these women reclaiming their bodies against an invasive system, but then it seemed to lose focus. Well recommended, but a pity we won't get to see the author flourish as he died before the book was released.

 "Midnight Robber" by Nalo Hopkinson. Lush patois that even had me reading lines out loud to get a taste of the language. Half the fun was getting into the narrator's vocal style.

Science Fiction set on a Caribbean colonized world, with deep issues set against the backdrop of Carnival and mythology. There are some difficult scenes and issues which come as a jolt against the colourfulness  but overall a fantastic story which posits some really interesting technology. An intense character in Tan-Tan, interesting aliens, and discussions of colonization. Highly recommended.

"We Who Are About To..." by Joanna Russ. Loved it. LOVED it. Enjoyed it far more than "The Female Man" in fact, but that was pretty dense (and I'll probably get more from it on a revisit). "We Who Are About To..." is a very simple and honest discussion about death on a castaway island, or planet in this case, and how it's not as romantic as pulp science fiction and Gilligan makes out. In fact, it's deadly.

The book, while slim, is really a story of two parts: what the (unnamed) narrator does with her other crash landing victims, and then what she does with herself. The second half is an intense, seemingly drug-fueled hallucination as the narrator starves herself to death. The edition I read comes with an introduction from Samuel R. Delany, as much a cliff notes essay on the book, which made easing my way into Russ' distinctive sharp prose that much easier and enjoyable.

"The Mermaid's Madness" by Jim C. Hines. The sequel to "The Stepsister Scheme", Mermaid follows up on the promise of the original and more. There's even hints that one of the characters could be bisexual, which adds a whole new level to Young Adult adventure I wish I'd had when I was of the age Hines' novels appeal to.

Fun, fast paced, and not your average Young Adult series, Hines is witty and sharp with a definite handle on well rounded, kick-ass female characters, who can be mothers, leaders, sorcerers and assassins all at the same time!

"The Courier's New Bicycle" by Kim Westwood. A reasonably simple action story centred around Melbourne based bicycle courier Sal Forth. The post-oil Australia of this book is under siege from religious conservatives who have taken control of politics and the fertility industry, and labelled genderqueer people like Sal "transgressives".

All the interesting bits are in the discussions of politics, the post-automobile metropolis, how the genderqueer community survives under such a repressive regime, and plummeting fertility which creates the black market industry Sal is involved in. However, all the interesting scene setting, characters and politics leaves the actual story a little thin. Definitely worthwhile as an addition to the personal library as furthering the discussion of genderqueer characters in science fiction.

"Wizard" by John Varley. The sequel to "Titan" is as entertaining and trippy as the original. Cirrocco Jones is almost a completely different person, now an alcoholic from dealing with the eccentric and difficult Gaea. The story is mostly told from the perspective of Chris, a no hoper Earther,  and Robin, a lesbian separatist, who come seeking a cure to their epilepsy-like symptoms. There are unusual friendships and romantic bonds created, including the inter-species love story between Chris and the Titanide Valiha. The Titanides are one of my favourite alien species because of their intersex capabilities and presentations, even though they are individually very definite about their gender. Trying to get one's head around the variations of Titanide mating and fertilization is an interesting challenge!


  1. I will have to check out the speculative lesbian fiction.

    I keep trying and failing to read Joanna Russ. I really, really want to like her, but something about her style in both The Female Man and The Adventures of Alex repelled me! I might give We Who Are About To...' a try sometimes.

  2. Yeah, Russ isn't the most instantly accessible. I struggled with The Female Male. Her prose is very spare and cutting, and doesn't feel like it follows narrative protocol. But that is what is so interesting about her - not only her feminist stories cut through but also her refusal to follow writing rules.