July 19th, 2016


Books read, early July

Robin Blackburn, The Making of New World Slavery: From the Baroque to the Modern, 1492-1800. This is a giant tome on the institutions and background of slavery throughout the Western Hemisphere and how it is seriously distinct from, say, the Roman Empire’s slaves, or serfdom. This is mostly institutional and focused on the slaveholders, which is useful in its own way, but if you want focus on the slave narratives–which of course you do, because balance–there will need to be additional books. There was also a lot more direct contrast in the early years. Less of how things had diverged in different parts of the slaveholding New World in 1800, which I would really like, since I know that even within the US or within the Caribbean institutions and customs varied considerably in how people’s lived experience played out. So: good start, more needed.

Steven Brust and Emma Bull, Freedom and Necessity. Reread. Strange how differently things read with different experiences. The very ending got…hmm, I don’t know, practically realistic but emotionally…I am not sure what I think of it any more. The person I am talking to about this is almost done, and I’m glad, so I can have a good spoilery chew over it. Possibly because of reading AS Byatt.

Sean B. Carroll, The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution. This is basically a love song to evolution written for the popular science audience. It’s got all sorts of juicy tidbits, weird things animals have evolved to do. Which monkeys have ruminant stomachs for leaf-eating, which fish have no hemoglobin and why not, how rhodopsins are tuned differently in aquatic animals depending on the depths at which they live. Very cool stuff even if you’ve already got the main thrust of his audience. Highly recommended for a broad audience.

Benedict Jacka, Hidden. The latest in its series, which is fun urban fantasy, like Mike Carey or Ben Aaronovich methadone. This time around he is tackling a bit more of pacifism and urban fantasy head on. I’m afraid I’m losing my taste for this type of series, but I don’t think it’s any fault of the author’s.

Jonas Jonasson, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared. This is…basically Swedish Forrest Gump. In the present-day thread of the book the titular character Has Wacky Adventures; in the flashbacks, same, but with Famous World Figures. Our Swedish relations wanted to share this with us, so I was the fourth person in the American branch of the family to read this copy. Because the Swedes are less obsessed with the Baby Boom than we are, it’s less the voice of a generation than of a century. Still, Swedish Forrest Gump is not far enough off that your reaction to that phrase will probably pretty accurately determine how you’ll feel about the actual book.

David D. Levine, Arabella of Mars. Discussed elsewhere.

Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and Brooke Allen, Lumberjanes: Friendship to the Max. This is gleeful and full-tilt and exactly like my experience of being a Girl Scout. Including the appearance of one unnamed goddess? Yeah, sure, it’s pretty much like Tam Lin was like my experience of college, my brain is flexible that way. Looking forward to more of this.

Gerald Vizenor, Treaty Shirts: October 2034–a Familiar Treatise on the White Earth Nation. This is. People. People. You would not believe the excited noises I made when I saw this in the dealer’s room at Readercon. It is! It is the thing it says it is! It is a science fiction novella that is completely focused on the concerns of the White Earth Nation at the time. The author, Gerald Vizenor, is himself White Earth Anishinaabe (which many of you might better recognize as Ojibwe, okay, that’s a word that’s used too, but that’s not the word he chooses and let’s be respectful). And there are all sorts of concerns with casinos, with treaties with the federal government, with what kinds of totem animal are permissible, whether hybridization is okay or not okay on what levels. The language. If you have read Anishinaabe/Ojibwe poetry, if you have been to a reading/performance/sing of poetry, the prose rhythms feel like that. The way they circle around, the type of deliberate artful repetition. The pace of exposition, the way you can tell things are important by what position they take up within the repetitive structure. This book completely–I can’t even say rejects, because when you reject things you are concerned with them. This book is just not doing what most of science fiction is doing. It’s not sitting around having an argument about whether telling a story of a particular Native group’s future is worth doing, because there is no argument. Of course it’s worth doing. The worth is embedded in the prose, the structure, every line. He just goes on and does it and thank God he does. I am so excited about this book. I am so excited to find more of Vizenor’s stuff, because there’s a bunch more out there. It’s not all SF. I just want to find out what other stories he wants to tell.

Jo Walton, Necessity. Discussed elsewhere.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux


Langston Hughes and the RNC: the 1920s

I turned on my Twitter feed long enough to see that Donald Trump is the official nominee, as we have known he would be for weeks now. They have various people doing the sorts of things a convention does. So here’s your reminder from Langston Hughes that I, Too.

“I, Too” (also often called “I, Too, Sing America”) is both prophetic in an era when our current President is Black, and not prophetic enough. All sorts of Americans are still being sent to eat in the kitchen. It’s also one of the most openly political poems Hughes published in the 1920s. Not that he was apolitical at the time, but he had not come into his full fierceness until the end of that decade–the section I read today was the section of his poems from the 1920s, and they had a lot of jazz lyrics, a lot of blues lyrics, a lot of things that were cultural references, whose political stance was inherent by what they considered important enough to write a poem about, who they considered important enough to write a poem for, rather than overt.

One of the clearest things going on in American history of the time that’s showing up in Hughes’ poems was the Great Migration. Poems like The South and “Migration” are chronicling one of the greatest and most influential movements of people inside the US, ever, and one that was not taught in American history when I was in school. (I hope it is now.) Even some poems that have the form of nature poems are implicitly from the perspective of someone for whom nature has changed, grown chillier and more seasonally sharpened–someone who has gone north.

One of the poems I liked best from this era is one that I can’t find easily online because it’s also the title of a Hughes biography, “Dreamer.” It’s short, and I think some of you will need it, so I’m going to put it here, with more tomorrow. It’s a very young man’s poem. There is nothing wrong with that. Sometimes there is a great deal right with that.


I take my dreams

And make of them a bronze vase

And a wide round fountain

With a beautiful statue in its center,

And a song with a broken heart,

And I ask you:

Do you understand my dreams?

Sometimes you say you do

And sometimes you say you don’t.

Either way

It doesn’t matter.

I continue to dream.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux