Category Archives: Blog

I’ve been waiting these two since *checks own blog* well, at least since March. Today they’re both in my hands since Dalkey Archive seems to have an habit of shipping way earlier than release date. It’s also been trickier to get oversea books at a reasonable price but I managed it this time as well, so I’m happy.

This blog post is all about appearances over substance, so it should be meant to be filled with images but, since I’ve jet to join the modern age, I’m still unable to produce pictures of my own and so had to scour the internet, or more specifically twitter to get them. That also required dodging lots of explicit gay porn as apparently “dreaming” of “bottoming” is that kind of thing.

Let’s have those sexy sizes listed here. Starting from the small one, “Jerusalem” by Alan Moore. This one is a standarly shaped hardcover, I like the cover but not much the art, but at least when you look at it it’s big in a standard kind of way, not too daunting if you’re used to big books. Actual interior size is still impressive, though. It falls short of early claims of 1 million words plus, but it’s right on track to qualify for the 600k one. In fact, since it’s available in ebook format as well, I could count precisely and I have a still mind-boggling 615k. I think I’ve yet to read or even own a book this big, my personal previous maximum of books read from beginning to end have been Infinite Jest and Parallel Stories, both around the 550k mark.

I’ve also kept an eye on reviews and this is what I’ve deduced: the book is fairly well received overall, lots of complaints about it being “overwritten” but it’s exactly the norm when paid reviewers have to write an article in record time to maximize exposure. My biggest worry was that the book wasn’t going to be very readable and be instead very esoteric, meaning that even if you put patience in reading it it would still defy comprehension (and enjoyment), making it just dull and frustrating. Instead it seems that even if it’s plenty experimental, weird and also challenging, it’s still within a certain accessibility. It’s is not a book that shoves you away for the sake of literary elitism, or obscurity for obscurity’s sake (and this might even unbelievably apply to the book below).

The more interesting:

The first is a series of walking tours of Northampton, echoing the perambulations of Leopold Bloom in “Ulysses,” undertaken by a number of various characters set in different time periods. This serves to introduce many of the ancestors of Mick and Alma Ward, other significant characters such as Marla the streetwalker and poet Ben Perrit, as well as many ghosts and angels. The history of Northampton is encoded in it’s topography and there are connections that can be drawn throughout the ages.

The middle section of the book chronicles the adventures of four-year-old Mick Warren in the afterlife during the brief time he was dead. He becomes involved with a group of kids who call themselves the Dead Dead Gang. Imagine the Little Rascals as written by a brilliant, philosophical madman with pretensions of explaining the metaphysical mechanisms of the entire universe.

Section three is by far the most challenging. While it appears disjointed at first each of these chapters not only moves the story forward but serves to tie together the many, many threads he has introduced. Mr. Moore writes from different points of view, exploring a variety of styles, some maddeningly experimental. One chapter is written in the form of an epic poem. Another is a crime noir detective story with the main character, who is not what he appears to be, investigating the connections between Northampton and William Blake. There is the script for a stage play which features the ghosts of several poets and thinkers, including Samuel Beckett, which is appropriate given the “Waiting For Godot”-like structure of the play and its meta-commentary on the entire book.

There are the chapters that appear to be overt paeans to Joyce. One is a stream of consciousness flow without punctuation, a la’ Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in “Ulysses.” Another is, without a doubt, the most difficult chapter to read and the one that is most likely to thwart those who try. Earlier in the novel Mr. Moore establishes the idea of the language of the angels: Words that sound like nonsense, but unfold within the mind of the listener to contain layers of meaning and metaphor. This entire chapter is an attempt to capture that experience, composed entirely of a made-up language. It is nonsense poetry spoken by Lucia Joyce (the daughter of James, who spent part of her life in an asylum), that gradually, as it is read, begins to reveal an internal logic and meaning.

I’ve had to decide between UK hardcover by Knockabout or the US Liverlight, in the end the local Amazon decided for me since the US version is still not available for some reason. It’s also available as three paperbacks inside a slipcase but I do my reading comfortably at home, so it’s hardcover for me.

VERY IMPORTANT: DO NOT BUY (if you can choose) the UK/Knockabout version of Jerusalem by Alan Moore, buy the US/Liveright. Page format is baaaad. The UK one is 100 pages shorter, 1174 versus 1262 of the American version, that means more text is crammed on a single page. But the worst aspect is that for some absurd reason they also decided to use huge white margins, so you have all the text into a tiny rectangle on the page, and that means it uses a super-tiny font that’s quite hard to read. The US version, looking at the scans on Amazon, seems to have completely fixed that. I REALLY do regret having bought this version to the point I’m considering sending it back so I can get the other one… (though the UK backcover has few more good quotes, whereas the American only has the funny last one)

And, since you are in a mostly fantasy themed blog, maybe you crave a map, here’s a map, taken from the mapper’s own website (and of course included inside the book flappy flaps).

If Jerusalem wanted to be the literary event of the month, if not the year, when it comes to overambitious, oversize book then it needs to reconsider that, as it is completely BLOWN AWAY by the landing of space-time bending Bottom’s Dream by Arno Schmidt, translated by eminent-professor John E. Woods. This one brings the definition of big book back to medieval terms. You aren’t going to read this one in bed or while commuting, even if it would be fun seeing one trying…

This Bottom’s sizes are an impressive: 14×10.8 inches, 1496 pages, 13 pounds. I had already seen all the images I’m linking below, and yet I was still utterly awed when I finally saw the physical book. It’s just an absurd sight, as if one has the feeling that the proportions are all wrong. It simply stands apart from everything else I’ve seen. And then you open it. It’s a thing of beauty. When you hold it you truly realize that the premium price really isn’t premium at all.

(all images have been scoured from the internet, on twitter specifically. I don’t use the original source because they have the habit of disappearing. If you check my twitter I’ve retweeted them all)

“I have had a dream past the wit of man to say what dream it was,” says Bottom. “I have had a dream, and I wrote a Big Book about it,” Arno Schmidt might have said. Schmidt’s rare vision is a journey into many literary worlds. First and foremost it is about Edgar Allan Poe, or perhaps it is language itself that plays that lead role; and it is certainly about sex in its many Freudian disguises, but about love as well, whether fragile and unfulfilled or crude and wedded. As befits a dream upon a heath populated by elemental spirits, the shapes and figures are protean, its protagonists suddenly transformed into trees, horses, and demigods. In a single day, from one midsummer dawn to a fiery second, Dan and Franzisca, Wilma and Paul explore the labyrinths of literary creation and of their own dreams and desires.

Since its publication in 1970 Zettel’s Traum/Bottom’s Dream has been regarded as Arno Schimdt’s magnum opus, as the definitive work of a titan of postwar German literature. Readers are now invited to explore its verbally provocative landscape in an English translation by John E. Woods.

Hype seems to have preceded both Jerusalem and Bottom’s Dream. If Jerusalem was given at 1+ million words and had to settle for mere 600k, I had Bottom’s Dream given either at 2+ million or 1+ million. No idea of the actual wordcount, or even how you decide how to COUNT those words. Because those words are typographically weird to even defy a wordcount. And some hype about translation too, since I had read the translator worked on it for more than twenty years. Instead there’s in the book a two page “afterword” by the translator himself, making fun a bit of the style of the book.

For the translator, however, there was really only one strategy available, the same one most readers will at least attempt: Start to finish – damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead. Well, perhaps »speed« is the wrong word, it did take me some six years (spread over twelve) of labor, an arduous task to be sure – with sporadic moments of either elation or gloom, the latter due mostly to my sense of inadequacy to the task.

Wilma is right, it does take a »fool« to enter fully into this topsy-turvy linguistic world. And so I set on my fool’s cap, and sang and danced, took pratfalls and belly flops – and occasionally, taking a deep breath, I launched into the Neith-time sky to soar with the bats. The judgement as to whether or not I succeeded in capturing at least something of the aesthetic and intellectual enjoyments of the original (that being, after all, the nirvana of every translator), lies with you, the reader.

My fool’s cap has never left my head, I’m ready. Skimming through the pages is really a pleasure because of how playful the layout is. This is a puzzle more than a book. The language used itself is amazing and even if my only way to decode it right now is merely about flavor and form over any amount of meaning (as in answering: why did he write it that way?), I still delight at this (this quote actually removes some weird characters used that I don’t even know how to reproduce with this keyboard):

pag. 213
: – » – « -. (Alone with the kid in the ficket : cave!). – : »FirSt off hold all supercilia quiet : snaring with lids & snatching with slick lips aren’t alloweD here! – Prick ope your ears : When talk turns to Your cares, Y’ immuddytely b’have ‘sif Y’ had just gobbled up ev’ry evil kno’n since the Creation : surely You overestimaiD Your crim’nall abilities.« / (And still She had not raised her beFringl’d lids ?) /

Repeat for the remaining 1500 pages with a text column 50 lines long every page (well, it’s a slimmer one, thought it essentially never breaks, even when it spirals around).

I love it so much I wish I had two copies. One just to keep there and worship as an idol, another to treat badly and scribble all over it…

This is going to be really fun.

…And after writing all this I spotted this link. So perfectly timed for this blog post!

excessively long books are a form of undemocratic dominance that impoverishes the public discourse by reducing the airtime shared among others.

We Await Silent Tristero’s Empire.

(after reading that article fully, though, I have to say it’s not as ridiculous as that quote out of context would suggest)

Once again on Jemisin-related stuff, giving me an occasion to touch on other things as well.

I have the impression that in the journey toward a more progressive society things are getting very messy, and I’m conflicted between a certain pessimism in observing a decadent society that can only topple on itself, and a very timid optimism about certain healing properties that still exist within society and sometimes seem to also be able to compensate the worst coming out of it.

A lot of this conflict for me is based on the canons that make certain judgements. What defines discrimination, how to recognize it, how to fight it, how to understand and deal with very different and contrasting points of view when things are more blurred. Do you come with absolute certainties or doubts?

I do stop and think. I try to challenge certain points of view, then see my attempts fail making a dent. There’s so much noise and vitriol that it’s impossible to deal with a complex issue.

I do feel I’m being accused directly. But before I turn defensive I once again stop and think. I have my own honesty toward myself, my critical thinking. It’s first and foremost between me and myself, but regardless of my conclusions someone else will look at me and judge me, and decided what I have thought and why. I might be blind to my own racism. I might be dishonest with myself.

What can I do? Should I try defend myself, or defending myself would be just a further proof of being guilty? Should I shut up and just accept I’m a “white male predator” because of my genre and color of skin, those traits written so deep in me that I won’t be able to deal with them or even recognize them?

I feel I can only surrender to these types of arguments, because they are arguments that admit no reply. Should I just submit? Or should I be hypocritically think I’m the exception? The exception to this:

That’s the segment of SFFdom that is generally bewildered by the whole discussion of diversity because Colorblindness™ and I Never Ask What The Gender Of The Writer Is Before I Buy A Book™ even though their personal bookshelves contain 90% white guys.

Yes, I do feel she’s speaking about me. I haven’t checked, but it’s very likely my bookshelf is 90% white guys. I also do claim I don’t care for gender or color of skin when I’m about to look into a book and decide whether to buy it or not. So it’s *me*. I recognize a description of me in those words, and since those words are meant to accuse of an hypocritical stance, then I feel I’m the one being accused of being an hypocrite.

Can I defend myself from that? Tell me what I can do and what I should do. Is there a prescribed reading list so I can begin walking toward the light? Maybe as I white male I can only hope to very partially cleanse my sin, and sins of my fathers? I will always be sullied?

A year or so ago there was some twitter hashtag used to tweet and retween “women in Sci-fi/Fantasy”, with the purpose of showing around those names. Create an awareness to tell potential readers there’s a good but hidden market. Jemisin calls it “the readership’s calls for diversity”. I participated, and it was easy to get 10 names that I thought were good writers people should look into. I still have the list I made (no particular order):
Janny Wurts – Dunnet – Caitlin Kiernan – Jacqueline Carey – JV Jones – Lois McMaster Bujold – N K Jemisin – Kate Elliott – Susanna Clarke – Valente – Robin Hobb – Nnedi Okorafor – Oktavia Butler – Diana Gabaldon – Rasheedah Phillips

The last name specifically is one that isn’t known at all, maybe even Jemisin doesn’t know about her. And it’s something I eventually wanted to bring here on the blog because it’s part of a “movement” called “Black Quantum Futurism” and it’s the very stuff that interests me. A black woman, in the genre, with a political argument, doing stuff that interests me closely. I stumbled on her work because of a very random twitter message from someone I follow, and it lead me to discover something really interesting. This too happened about a year ago.

Same as I did for Jemisin (see the post below where I quoted my forum message), even if I didn’t yet get to read the book(s) to write about at length here on the blog, I did everything I could to show around what I found. To tell people I found something really interesting, at least for me, included with links to Amazon to find the books:

So here’s what I have:
Recurrence Plot

Stuff I randomly spotted on Twitter and instantly proceeded to order (it’s cheap anyway). It’s self-publish stuff, I think, but that increases the curiosity of finding something RARE very few people know and potentially great and also different from everything else out there. Entirely new perspectives. Pioneering!

The two are related, the first is a weird tale that almost looks Danielewsky, it should have a sequel in a couple of months, and boldly claims “Time Travel, Theory & Practice”. There are a few weird schemes and pictures inside, the quality is not good (print quality of the images) but I love looking at convoluted diagrams and tangles of plot and mythology. The second one is some kind of fanzine, just 70-80 pages in a small format, it’s basically the “manifesto” that feeds the first book. I’ll paste here a quote so you understand what we’re dealing with:

[…] The troubling reality of being Black in America. The troubling reality of memory and how it plays a role in our daily lives. What do we chose to remember and what are we trying to forget? What memories are forced upon us and what memories are we forced to forget? What effect do they have over our bodies and psyches? The double conscious that DuBois once prophetically spoke of has transformed into a metafractal of limitless shapes and symmetry within the collective conscious of Black people. What are the dimesions of trauma? Does it work like a satellite routing a collective misery (sadness) to a certain locale? Does its energy participate and reemerge in some other space? How does our trauma affect the cosmos?

Black Quantum Futurism (or BQF) is a new approach to living and experiencing reality by way of the manipulation of space-time in order to see into possible futures, and/or collapse space-time into a desired future in order to bring about that futures reality. This vision and practice derives its facets, tenets, and qualities from quantum physics, futurist traditions, and Black/African cultural traditions of consciousness, time, and space. Inside of the space where these three traditions intersect exists a creative plane that allows for the ability of African-descended people to see into, choose, or create the impending future.

BQF is a new experience of time consciousness that binds modern day physics, ancient African time consciousness, and conceptual notions of futurism. Through Black Quantum Futurism we can increase the “knowability” of the future and the past by treating both modes of time as formally equivalent. This practice develops foresight and hindsight by studying features of time, sources of change, rythms and patterns in larger social patterns, as well as patterns in our personal spheres of experience in order to map out our Black Quantum Futures. Time is change, and to see into the future is merely to anticipate what changes will occur, and what patterns will re-occur. BQF Creatives work to consciously subvert the strict chronological hierarchal characteristic of linear time.

One of the pages is titled: Swahili Conception of Time and Space

Here’s an image of the writer, with Africa-shaped earrings. She basically looks coming straight from The Matrix:

So, it’s Time Travel mythology employed as social activism. A delicious post-modern mix. It’s mythology laid on top of this discourse:

Watch the video because it’s great. I still only just browsed through the two books since I just got them, so can’t really say if what’s in there is actually good. But the premises are more than worth the very small price. I feel like I’m hanging out with the cool people (I’m white and feel I don’t belong, but I still feel it’s cool).

And I also absolutely love this blur of practical mythology, crossing over between fiction and reality, and basically reinvent everything. Even when it’s a failure it’s still exceptional.

Do you see the tone I used? I was excited. Do you see I was trying to get people to participate, even if that call fell dead in the water and people shrug it off? There’s no agenda there. I found something that looks very interesting and so I wanted to share it. EVEN BETTER if it happens to be a black woman writing. (an aside: the movie “Chi-Raq” by Spike Lee is a masterpiece, watch it)

No, I don’t go and don’t accept to go out of my way to look *specifically* for something written by a woman of color. That’s something I respect as a choice, but it’s not my choice and if I made it I’d feel hypocritical. I won’t try to balance my reads to find an ideal ratio of male to woman. I follow my interests, if those interests cross a woman of color, even BETTER. I’m glad. But I really don’t want that to drive my choices.

My impression reading different forums, forums with no agenda beside people loving to discuss the stuff they are passionate about, is that Jemisin won because the book was GOOD. This is what I’m reading. I briefly went to Vox Day blog to read what was the narrative being spun over there, and I even chuckled a bit a this specific quote:

The winners were: black woman, black woman, Asian woman, white woman, none of whom are bestselling or even very well-known authors. This is reliably indicative of increasing irrelevance. It won’t be long before simply being a minority won’t be enough and authors will have to be gay, blind, and crippled just to be nominated.

It’s quite a straw man, but there’s a hint of truth in there. But the important aspect is that Vox Day (beside insulting Jemisin, which is plainly inexcusable no matter what) thinks Jemisin is a “token”. It means she won because of what she represents and not for the quality of her work.

But hey, wait. Because this is one of those rare occasions where she MIGHT have been a token but, call it a coincidence, this is one case where that’s simply NOT TRUE. What I see by reading the forums I usually read is that people with no agenda at all read the book and LOVED it. It’s even a first because in many other occasions the book that won the Hugo wasn’t that much of a favorite. There was more of a disconnect between Hugo voters and general public. Jemisin represents EXCEPTIONALITY for the Hugo, which is why I said the win was predictable (I did predict it, after all) but this time at least a good book ACTUALLY won. Because it wasn’t always the case.

So Vox Day’s thesis is *specifically* wrong this time. It’s this year specifically a case that a good novel won and I see readers celebrate it! It’s not something new because a *black woman* won the Hugo main prize this year, it’s new that a GOOD NOVEL WON based on its own merits instead of just the name on the cover, as it’s usually the case (see Gaiman, this year). The Hugo is all about certain circles, there’s no healthy contamination. It’s a bad prize exactly because it’s so self-referential (but all prizes are, and I really hope we could just get rid of all of them, honestly). This year was an EXCEPTION. A good one. If anything, it’s from this point onward that one should be skeptical, because Jemisin now has a name. She’s not anymore the underdog and won’t represent anymore that side. She has contacts, she is well respected. Beware making her into a totem and proof that the problem is now solved.

But what about me? Jemisin accuses me (indirectly). I wonder, are black women misrepresented because the field is male-dominated, so the market is mostly pointed at males and consequently less women are readers (in the genre) and so less likely to also become writers (though things are definitely changing)? Is it a kind of circular process, like a self-fulfilling prophecy? Is it the publisher that draws this line? In the articles about the recent Hugo victory I saw linked another article by some writer discouraging women to write science fiction, I only gave it a cursory glance but the thesis seems to be that women can’t write action. But what if there’s a little bit of truth there if you correct the otherwise silly angle? What if the thing is not so much that women *can’t* write action, but rather that their preferred styles and themes are more likely oriented elsewhere? Maybe there isn’t an absolute “equality”, and women do write differently and bring to the table a different angle. It’s DIVERSITY that we should TREASURE. And maybe denying that diversity won’t do good to the cause. Because we should bring it out as a quality, instead of hiding it (while still also being wary of turning it into a canon or prejudice). It is different? GOOD!

What I know is that it’s hard for me to find women writers, or black writers, or combinations of those, that write the stuff that might interest me. You know them? BRING THEM ON. I want to know all about them. Every reader who loves reading is constantly waiting for more great things, the struggle is to fish them out in the chaotic sea of publishing. If I haven’t bought and read more books written by women is because I wasn’t able to find them. But that also means you CAN accuse me of having narrow tastes. It might be that I’m far more open to a certain type of diversity, and what I read isn’t branching out enough, that’s a more legitimate accusation than telling me I’m a racist. And maybe Jemisin is the exception, in my case, because she IS writing themes that you wouldn’t as easily find in a novel written by a woman. But I also think that the accusation of not reading books that are diverse enough is so generalized that it will be hard to say where to draw the line. We would once again fall into prescribed reading insanity.

A couple of weeks ago I was reading articles about Jerusalem, by Alan Moore. And in one another big tome was mentioned: Ash: A Secret History. I’ve never heard of it and the more I read reviews and forums posts the more I wanted to have the book in my hands. It’s written by a woman, Mary Gentle. I really wonder why this book never crossed my path and I immediately ordered a copy. But then the UK edition that has all the story in one volume is out of print everywhere, and in the end I had to ordered a used copy through Amazon, so the author won’t see any of that money (but I did get the book and it’s in great condition, yay!).

How do I prove that genre and color of skin don’t stop me, but are actually a positive point, even if it will never be a *decisive* point for me? I have my interests, I have an hard time finding women of color that are excellent writers and that write stuff I’m interested about. My library reflects my interests, not my prejudices (and when I was younger I also dabbed in the “chick lit” genre, that certainly wasn’t a market meant for a male presence). And if I can help to rise awareness about certain writers, I try to do what I can. Recently there was a forum post asking for five favorite fantasy series, I listed just four, because they do something different from the norm, and in my personal third place, after Erikson and Bakker, I put Janny Wurts. She’s not just a writer I recommend, or just a female writer, she’s up there with the very best.

But my library is still very likely 90% white guys. I am still observably guilty.


A while ago I read on twitter that this book won the Man Booker International Prize. So, as usual, I check what kind of book it is, what it is about, and the first thing I notice is that it’s REALLY short. 192 pages. Actual wordcount is 51k, meaning 130 pages in a standard format, barely qualifying as a “novel”.

On the Amazon page this book has the longest list of cover blurbs I’ve seen, all singing high praises. What was hinted about the content was also quite intriguing. The idea of metamorphosis seen as an act of rebellion. And besides, this could be a test. A “literary”, prestigious book prize given to a 130 pages book. That means EVERY LINE must be pure literary bliss. If a book is so short and the praises sung so high, then it must be dense and packed with pure awesomeness.

This is not a review because I did not read the whole book. I was only interested in cracking the code. See what it was all about. I started reading the beginning, some 30-40 pages. Then I jumped to the end and read about as much to see where it was going. That legitimated me just to write some snark on the forums: “It has the longest list of cover blurbs in history, I guess that’s because being so short it feels like free money for minimal work.”

I then produced some actual quotes to show what a book that has to be a masterpiece line by line looks like:

“Before my wife turned vegetarian, I’d always thought of her as completely unremarkable in every way.”

“the inferiority complex I used to have about the size of my penis”

“The only respect in which my wife was at all unusual was that she didn’t like wearing a bra.”

“Her voice as it sounded over the phone, always somehow more distinct than in person, never failed to send me into a state of sexual arousal”

“Well, I was in a dream, and I was standing on my head … leaves were growing from my body, and roots were sprouting from my hands … so I dug down into the earth. On and on … I wanted flowers to bloom from my crotch so I spread my legs; I spread them wide … ”

“Can only trust my breasts now. I like my breasts, nothing can be killed by them. Hand, foot, tongue, gaze, all weapons from which nothing is safe. But not my breasts. With my round breasts, I’m okay.”

“She was standing, motionless, in front of the fridge. The potential options all filled me with fear.”

It reads like parody to me. The fact it won the prize, and the literary establishment loves it must mean something. I do believe that part of it is BECAUSE the book is so short. There’s something. There’s a “low hanging fruit” paradigm to it, but it turns out it’s not just about size. It’s about titillating some “themes” and a certain sense of identity. It must be serviceable.

That was enough for me, but then weeks later I saw the book being discussed on SomethingAwful forums and I used the occasion to be the voice outside the chorus, deliberately against the grain, criticizing without any subtlety. Because I wanted to actually engage in a discussion with someone who loved and understood the depth, see the opposite angle. At the same time I was also going to observe myself with a critical eye, but without interfering with the “act”. I’d play the antagonizing voice. See if it was all pretense. All a game of taking sides.

I’m not going to comment on these further observations, only mention that I’m aware of all of it.

I skim read it and found the writing dreadful, characterization fake and inch-deep, and actual plot trite and mystified without a single idea that’s worth something.

And the revelation at the end of the book? Are you kidding me?

I’m convinced this book won a prize because it’s so short that they rewarded it because no one wants to work hard anymore. Paid reviewers LOVE this because you can read it in a couple of hours and it feels like FREE MONEY. It’s just a pretense of a book. An imitation of good writing and good plot. And then people love it because they love what some institution tells them to love. The book won a prize, so it must be GREAT.

If you think The Vegetarian is about mystery and mystification perhaps you should not skim read it and actually read it.

It wants to imitate that dreamlike, introspective and symbolic atmosphere. I only think it’s dreadful for what it achieves. Symbols are powerful because of what they hide. But being the actual deal here inch-deep, it’s all fluff and mystification. Japanese horror B-movies have more creativity and depth.

The title is of course misleading. It’s not about vegetarianism in ANY way, it’s not even technically correct because she starts already as more like “vegan”. But if they titled the book The Vegan then it would have been even more misleading.

So, it’s just about a very subjective mental illness. The book does a poor job with it. The motivations are fluff. It doesn’t play realistically, and the dreamlike effect is lost because the depth just isn’t there, it’s only imitation of what a million of other books do better.

There are reviewers that TRY to lift it up as a kind of metaphor of Korean culture and society. None of them explain how you could reconcile that theory with a story of very subjective mental illness that has absolutely no point of possible generalization.

It’s a sad story written with the purpose to shock, without ever earning it.

Its a commentary on the nature of how human interaction is always in someway based on consumption and exploitation, and how Korean culture is particularly built around women being consumed for the benefit of men. There is an overwhelming feminist perspective in this book you seem to be completely glazing over.

It’s a disservice to feminism. It’s exploitative. It’s hubris. It’s just a representative act. A show with no actual meaning because, as I said, it’s just imitation of an idea the writer thought would get the attention (as I suspect was the purpose of that title). I only find that manipulative in a bad, unsubtle way. It has an agenda and it’s poorly written. Those you cite as important themes are only gross generalizations. The book is unable to earnestly engage with anything.

What surprises me is that very often you find these big prizes to books that are all form and no content. That happens. But this is a special case where the form itself, the writing line by line, is itself so plain and poor. It’s explicitly bad, it’s not like you need to have a sophisticated literary sense to notice.

And it’s impossible EVEN to engage with the characters on a personal level. The woman not only is mentally ill, but she’s completely unaware of everything around her. So whereas if you were mentally ill you’d notice how people react around you, you’d be self conscious, struggle to blend in and fail (and this could be an interesting and worthwhile story to tell). But this woman doesn’t give a damn. She’s ostensibly weird around people, she makes a deliberate exhibition of it. She’s completely, utterly self-absorbed and without a trace of empathy. She’s essentially not-human, because of how cold she is to everything that surrounds her. But then the book EXPLOITS this by making everyone else around her even more implausibly WORSE. So you’d expect the “sane” people to act differently, but nope. Her husband is a piece of shit who has even less empathy and not a single redeeming quality.

That’s exploitative. It’s a carefully picked selection of the worst human beings with the sole purpose to put the protagonist under an excess of negativity, just to justify what happens to her “internally”.

But I don’t want to offend anyone tastes. I explained the motivations why I think this is dreadful. It’s not just a generalization on my part for a book “I didn’t like”. That’s a subjective, legitimate reaction. But I do think this book is objectively terrible. Those are some of the reasons, so you can make your own mind.

I’m not going to try to persuade people that this book is bad. If you like it, all the better.

“consumption and exploitation of women for the benefit of men” as a KOREAN culture thing? REALLY?! More like an universal human thing in the last thousands of years. So she played a game on the “metaphor”, consumption = eating. “I don’t like consumption of women, so I stop eating.” Whoa! Booker Prize! This is exactly what I mean with “inch-deep”.

because the idealized Korean woman is one who is subdued and complicit in her own abuse.

Yes, I agree with that.

how she was “ideal” to her husband in her total passivity

Yep, the husband being a blatantly piece of shit, and the protagonist made into a convenient symbol. That’s what I call exploitative. The characters are just embodied concepts without any realism and respect.

how a single act of generally meaningless rebellion becomes catastrophic.

But it wasn’t *meaningless* rebellion. It’s self-inflicted pain. That’s why the title is ridiculous. It’s not like she decided to eat “healthily” and started to do something in a different way. The catastrophe is self-inflicted with minimal impact about what happens around herself. It’s more like “doom” and destiny than cause-consequence. Is suicide “meaningless rebellion”?

She’s essentially into self-harm. Being “vegetarian” is utterly misleading unless there’s really someone out there who consider being vegetarian as an act of self-harm. Is self-harm an act of rebellion? I guess it is when recovery is entirely out of the picture. And of course it’s catastrophic, the concept starts that way regardless of what’s around her. She’s trying to kill herself, but of course people around her are so bad that certainly they don’t help.

It’s a legitimately sad story used in an illegitimate exploitative way.

The total point of her passivity is to show the willingness of men to use women for themselves. If she was a more engaged character, not only would the only intellectual base of the plot dissolve, but she would not even be an effective reflection of societal expectations on women.

I still consider this exploitative, convenient (for the book theme) and quite useless as an insightful and meaningful description of society.

And it’s just a tragedy set in motion and described (and made into universal symbol), then you might as well read in a newspaper and don’t need the transformative art of fiction and a novel to do that.

a focused meditation on the predatory nature of human relationships.

On one side I considered those relationships utterly implausible, so neither the relationships nor the characters can work for me that way. It’s a twisted, convenient representation, to my eyes.

Yep, I don’t think human relationships work that way, given this context of the story. Even if you take that, it’s superficial. I don’t know how to better say it than repeating endlessly it’s exploitative.

I do see what you mean, and you do see what I mean. The difference is the angle the writer forced on the story is utterly dishonest and artificial to me, so why it turns into that story into the one I described. She wants those themes, but because the characters are so artificial it all falls apart. We interpret things differently because that angle rings false for me.

You buy into that concept and its use, I don’t.

I don’t see how the characters are implausible to you. In a patriarchal society aren’t men given the expectation that their worth can be measured by the woman they claim? In that same society aren’t fathers measured by the suitability of their daughters? Aren’t mothers measured by their dedication to their children? Aren’t wives measured by their submission to their husbands?

Plenty of marriages have ended because they became socially inconvenient for one of the partners. Plenty of men have cheated on their wives while sexually and emotionally exploiting their mistresses. Does this make these people monstrous? Probably. Does it make them implausibly monstrous? Not at all.

Yeah, let’s hammer themes into things. You certainly don’t want to use a tiny brush.

So yes, I see those things. I don’t see the hammer as the best tool to represent them.

What particularly about the husband or the brother-in-law comes off as inauthentic to you?

The brother-in-law I can’t comment because I skipped that almost entirely. The rest, also because this book is so thin, events proceed like following this one directional convenient thread. So there’s no depth also because there’s no space. The husband isn’t even in a “relationship”, they are just there as strangers because the writer put them there. Very good writers in so little space would give at least the illusion of a relationship. She doesn’t manage that.

But hey, this husband is so perceptive that he always thought his wife was alright before “turning vegetarian”. The premise already falls apart.

That was the forum conversation. I didn’t want to derail it further.

One aspect I did not comment, not knowing if it was allowed or not to openly discuss the ending, is what I took as the final “revelation”. And it’s something that I see in light of other comments down that forum thread:

Being vegetarian can often be viewed as a rejection of a patriachal society.

My reaction -> “?!”

On one side you have the personal story of this woman and how the people around her react to her metamorphosis (however you interpret it), on the other is the leap of faith of pinning this scene to its universal dimension: “a challenging vision of patriarchy”, “some really complex ideas around feminism”, ” the predatory nature of male and female relations”.

The final revelation of the book is that the woman was abused by her father when she was a kid. This is where it really falls apart for me. It’s a sad book and a sad story and that’s all of it. I cannot read any universal dimension into it because I see the cause so horribly specific. It’s a pure, specific act of violence. That’s something I hinted in my comments above. Writing a novel is a process of transformation and of creation. It’s not just a report. Especially a book that takes that dreamlike angle and wants to elevate it, it needs to feed the metaphor ALIVE. Not kill it. Run with it, not stop it dead.

For me this story has no redeeming quality. I interpret it differently. That poor woman was caged, but not by society outside herself, or horrible people around her. She starts with her cage, feeds it, makes it stronger. If left alone she’d have withered anyway. She is a woman who needs help and she isn’t in any way autonomous to fight her battle about institutions that demand her to behave differently. She hurts herself, first and foremost, even if left alone. Even if her “strange behavior” had been respected. All due to the fact she’s a victim of abuse and can’t see a light out of it. How do you respond to this?

A woman that is seen as broken when autonomous. Because that’s how I take the message of the book: she’s a victim of herself. She can’t function, not as a function of a bigger system, but for herself. Her act of rebellion is against herself. An inability to find herself, recover an identity, tear apart the instrumentality to put together again the broken pieces. Reemerge as a woman instead of a tool and symbol. People around her try to help, but because they are horrible people they only manage to give her another shove. It’s a story of failure where the protagonist is not responsible of that failure, but can only see it passively to its end. Powerless. So is this feminism, really? The fetishization of a broken woman in order to exculpate and cleanse a certain literary establishment that sees itself as better than its peers and so able to separate itself from this harsh judgement?

Fake tears shed for a character turned into a convenient tool.

That a character can be exploited in such a way to turn it into some mythical symbol wielded as a nonspecific protest against society is something that has RITUAL vibes. It’s a human sacrifice. A woman had to be tortured and killed so that we grow more complacent and nothing changes.

The fact that this book KILLS its character to exploit it, a woman with no agency beside hurting herself, actualizes and perpetuates its own crime. It’s not “feminism”, it’s a ghoulish parody the same as Fifty Shades of Grey parodies kinky romance.

(and, what the fuck, Erikson’s Mhybe. Yeah. A woman everyone sees as a tool, shoved down an unavoidable path. A broken woman creates a WORLD. That’s writing as a transformative act.)

I’m considering what to do next, with the blog here.

Reading progress stalled again because I’m more than 500 pages into “IT”, by Stephen King (yay, another sidetrack!). This was unplanned and I read the book when I was in my teen (half of it, then I didn’t resist and ended up watching the TV show, and so even the book progress ended there). But I found the book so amazingly good that now I’ll have to keep going till the end, this time.

But between today and tomorrow “Fall of Light” will ship. Probably one or two weeks to arrive because I didn’t order it from local Amazon. I’m not caught up with Malazan (currently reading the last part of book 6) but I’m up to date with this actual pre-series, so I’m going to read it as I receive it.

I’m writing this down in the hope it will make me do it. The thing is, I expect Fall of Light to be VERY good (Forge of Darkness was, for me), but I have this thing that makes me delay indefinitely the stuff I know is good. The bigger the expectations, the more I’m reluctant to have that experience and exhaust it. Instead if I keep it ahead of me it keeps shining, and I don’t won’t to be over with it. It’s a mental thing, one of those compulsive illogical behaviors that keep winning. And that’s also why I keep getting sidetracked reading something else rather than finishing Malazan, it’s just that I don’t want to exhaust that experience, I want to have it ahead of me instead of behind me.

Of course I also enjoy having read a great book. It’s just an illusion that the experience is exhausted, so I keep fighting the compulsive behavior even if it ends up winning a lot of times.

By the time Fall of Light lands here I’ll probably be done with IT, but not with The Bonehunters. So I’ll read both books at the same time anyway. It’s likely I’ll go slow (though the desire to go slow with Fall of Light might make me read faster and finish quickly The Bonehunters as a side-effect), so I think I’ll write some things as I read instead of waiting to finish the book, as long I actually have something to say.

Still lots of Erikson stuff beside the main series. A new novella came out that I’ll get next month, but I still have to read the previous one (I’ve read the other four, though). Then there’s the story collection “The Devil Delivered” that I expect being also excellent and I already have, as well as “Willful Child” that I also own but that has me very skeptical. And then there’s Esslemont’s “Dancer’s Lament” that doesn’t have to wait the main series either, but that I’ll probably only read after the first of Esslemont’s more recent books, so “Return of the Crimson Guard”. Or maybe before.

Beside the Malazan stuff I want to go fairly quickly through Bakker’s series, as well continue with Janny Wurts and Glen Cook’s Instrumentalities. So all these are priorities. The TBR complete pile is way, way bigger with a crazy number of other SERIES in it (from Dune, to Donaldson’s Gap + Covenant, to Neal Stephenson, to Wolfe, Dorothy Dunnett, and more and more, to the more ‘easy’ stuff that goes from Martin to Abercrombie and Sanderson, I’m happy forever).

This ideally belongs to the other white-faced blog-site, but I decided to put here instead for the proximity of themes.

Undertale is a game released last September that progressively won more attention to become a true juggernaut. It’s a thing that annoys me because it’s elusive to grasp, and it’s one of the first games to be wholly meta-game, whose popularity grows and snowballs because of that META. It annoys me because its “secret sauce” is elusive. Do I want to invest 15-20 hours to deconstruct it, in order to grasp its secrets? (the game is way shorter than that, but playing it wouldn’t suffice)

In any case, I now have two cases, almost specular, that can be used as instruments to understand Undertale, at a deeper level.

Undertale is a game about manipulation, and in order for that manipulation to be truly successful it needs to include different audiences.

I introduce you to Lauren The Flute:

She is EXTREMELY important. More important than yourself playing the game first hand. She is the audience of Undertale. She is the one player who truly understand Undertale, line by line, pixel by pixel. She is The Witness incarnate. She can show you what Undertale is, who the game was made FOR.

But while that reveals Undertale true soul, and reveals it fully, it still won’t show the other half of its face.

I guess I won’t introduce you, because he’s kind of popular already, to Pewdiepie:

This will demonstrate better the extent of Undertale’s manipulation. You can see the reflected image of this game on two completely antithetic players. Yet Undertale is made for both, its manipulation is built to work on both.

If you don’t have time for hours-long videos, then focus on this shorter section. This Lauren video, from minute 43:00 onward:

Then mirror the experience with this Pewdiepie video, from 35:30 making sure you go at least to the big revelation at 41:50:

That fourth wall breach is mad genius. But it’s not the whole deal. What’s impressive here, watching Pewdiepie playing before and through that section, is the growing sensation of DOING SOMETHING WRONG. The game instills doubt. You are doing something the wrong way. You can continue because you didn’t hit a Game Over screen, but you feel this creeping sense of wrongness the more you continue doing that “conventional” Pewdiepie approach. The game doesn’t lead you, doesn’t stop you, but it turns the observation/judgement back to you. It turns you, through the game, to a Witness of yourself.

What’s important is NOT THE GAME. You aren’t watching something that goes on the screen. You’re not reading someone’s story. The genius of this game is that the game is a mirror. You look at the game thinking of a cutesy roleplaying game that will shower you with some nice story & world, but the focus is on you. You are looking at yourself. The game is a mirror and you’re watching your own actions. Questioning them. Instill that doubt of WHAT THE HELL I AM DOING. Is this good? Is this wrong? Did I do something wrong?

That transition, from looking at the game to look at yourself, is where it’s at. The genius. The manipulative soul of this game. The cleverness that sends the chills.

This is meant as an answer to something Steven Erikson wrote about the choice to replace the H.P. Lovecraft bust for the World Fantasy Awards, with something else. On the speculation that Lovecraft was a racist:

I have something to say because I’m quite nitpicky about these matters and I feel it’s extremely important to pin down motivations in a way that is clear of ambiguity, otherwise, I think, all is lost and we fade into an endless war of factions and self-identity.

So, while I’m a huge fan of everything Erikson writes and not just for what’s on the surface, I also find a number of issues with this particular article. A few critical points that lead me to challenge that particular view in order to better define the “canon” we use to decide (or personally judge) these matters.

Symbols are potent things.

WFA’s philosophy of inclusiveness and diversity

Am I unique in ‘disrespecting’ Lovecraft (as a symbol of merit in Fantasy)

Adrian Cole chimes in to rail against political correctness and points out that the World Fantasy Award is not about racism, and he’s right. It’s not. So why symbolise it with the bust of a racist? We are then chided on getting ‘too soft’ and life’s too short to be ‘particular’ and ‘sensitive.’ In other words, this life, being so short, is better spent being insensitive, hard of countenance and dismissive of the particular.

(you read the original post for context, of course)

When I was a kid I was a big fan of Lovecraft. Without a doubt my favorite writer, closely followed by Clive Barker. And, especially, I was a fan of Lovecraft as a man, I read his biography and I bought with enthusiasm a book that collected some of his letters. I was an avid reader of the “writer behind the scenes” and interested to backtrack the origin of his imagination. Yet, not even for an instant I perceived or became aware of “Lovecraft as a racist”. Not because I was ALSO a racist, but simply because I didn’t detect anything that made me suspicious of that. For me Lovecraft, the man and the writer both, was an idol, but again it was an idol not colored by racist ideas or principles.

Nowadays Lovecraft has a huge cultural impact. A popular game like Bloodborne can come out, be played by millions of players, and universally recognized as deeply and explicitly “inspired by Lovecraft”. It drips with Lovecraft’s atmosphere and themes, and not superficially either. Yet again, neither the aesthetics nor the deep seated themes have anything to do with racism or other forms of prejudice.

My point? Erikson denounces Lovecraft “as a symbol”. He puts emphasis on this, saying that symbols are potent. But the thing is that Lovecraft was NEVER seen as a symbol of racism. I dare say that pretty much no one who worships Lovecraft, including me as a kid, does it recognizing Lovecraft as a racist. Or BECAUSE Lovecraft was a racist.

What I mean is that celebrating Lovecraft was NEVER a way to implicitly or explicitly celebrate racism. In our modern culture Lovecraft’s influence is completely absent of racist connotations. And now, to transform Lovecraft and denounce Lovecraft as a SYMBOL of racism is from my point of view a manipulation. An appropriation of a symbol, twisted to represent something that it didn’t represent up to this point. And part of a certain modern revisionism that can be quite pervasive with its ‘instrumentation’.

Yet now we know better. We have a poem, written when Lovecraft was 21 or 22 years old, and looking carefully in his private letters, and traces here and there in his stories. You can see enough evidence that, indeed, Lovecraft was likely a racist, and a fairly vicious one. Even if it seems he was also getting saner as time passed. Reading this I personally, definitely, have to reconsider Lovecraft. Yet this doesn’t automatically invalidates what I appreciated until now. Nor it replaces the symbol itself. Nor I will accept the re-framing of that symbol.

Some might raise the observation that Lovecraft was a man of his time, and therefore excusable for his objectionable views on race. Of course, there were other men (and women) of that time, who were not racists. Some of them, indeed, were neither white nor male. Accordingly, to those apologists attempting the ‘historical context’ argument, it just doesn’t fly, folks. The proof of that is plain enough and I’ll state it here: those who seek to apologise for the beliefs and attitudes of people in the past invariably do so in defense of the egregious and the objectionable. Nobody apologises for those people in the past who held virtuous views, do they? No, they laud such people and name them unusually enlightened.

Lovecraft had neighbours who were not racists. The historical context argument is bullshit.

I would turn around that stance. Being a man of his time doesn’t free Lovecraft of responsibilities, but from my point of view makes this problem intangible. We are alive and we judge, but what’s important is our actions.

The problem with Lovecraft being a man of his time is that you can’t face him. This is important. A “racist” is not simply some guy that needs to be judged and condemned, and be made into an example. A racist is someone that needs to be challenged. You have to confront these views, oppose them not as a “campaign”, but by going deep in this mentality, to understand it, expose it and then defuse it. But we can’t do anything like that with Lovecraft. Whether he was a racist or not, whether this deeply affected and nourished his fiction, these are all matters of speculation. We don’t have ways to probe the psyche of a dead man, only delusions that we can from our high moral perch.

This is Mieville:

“Yes, indeed, the depth and viciousness of Lovecraft’s racism is known to me …It goes further, in my opinion, than ‘merely’ *being* a racist – I follow Michel Houellebecq (in this and in no other arena!) in thinking that Lovecraft’s oeuvre, his work itself, is inspired by and deeply structured with race hatred. As Houellebecq said, it is racism itself that raises in Lovecraft a ‘poetic trance’. He was a bilious anti-semite (though one who married a Jew, because, if you please, he granted that she was ‘assimilated’), and if you read stories like ‘The Horror at Red Hook’, the bile you will see towards people of colour, of all kinds (with particular sneering contempt for African Americans unless they were suitably Polite and therefore were patricianly granted the soubriquet ‘Negro’) and the mixed communities of New York and, above all (surprise surprise – Public Enemy were right) ‘miscegenation’ are extended and toxic.”

This for me is comparable to fan-fiction. It’s purely speculation, whether plausible or not, a fictional interpretation of Lovecraft.

This modern certainty of being able to take some piece of fiction and SEIZE the deep psyche of its writer is nothing else but delusional and hubris. And, again, it’s a DELIBERATE manipulation used for personal ends.

Back to the WFA. I don’t see anything wrong in the choice of changing the “symbol” of the award, so I don’t find anything outrageous in the decision to use something else. The problem lies in the identity of that award, of course. One makes an award, and decides what it should ideally represent. An award isn’t a “thing”, it’s an agreement between people to symbolize a certain thing, so there isn’t any antecedent truth to appeal to.

It’s consequential that whatever the WFA people want the award to represent, it will represent. And that they should choose the symbol that better represents that value (and so even acknowledging that Lovecraft is ill suited for that role).

Yet, there lies the problem. Maybe those who already got the award didn’t consider the award to be characterized THAT way. Erikson writes as a premise that the values of WFA are: philosophy of inclusiveness and diversity. But was it always like that? There can be good fantasy even if it doesn’t celebrate diversity as its main purpose. This would be a specific angle to impose on a genre that is otherwise wider.

So it’s even possible that if the WFA, specifically, becomes a “philosophy of inclusiveness and diversity”, then it’s an award that is changing. That is being wielded for a different use. It gains more of a specific identity, but it also begins, if you want, to “discriminate”. To select fiction that is a possible candidate from fiction that won’t be.

A great piece of fantasy that doesn’t, specifically, celebrates diversity as its political point may not be anymore suited for WFA, because WFA acquires a specific slant and color. It embeds a political message that it wants to celebrate.

So, I put emphasis on that. The problem is not that there’s something wrong celebrating those positive values, but that the award might be seen as acquiring a different identity, and so the replacement of its symbol (the bust) follows a change that already happened about identity and purpose. And it is legitimate that some people who treasure “fiction”, don’t want fiction to be strictly caged within an imposed morality or political purpose. Because it’s fiction, and fiction isn’t required to follow political canons to be good. It can be great fiction that is about or includes politics, and is celebrated for that reason too, but it can be also without and still be vehicle of a completely different message.

But again, people change and institutions change. In the end the WFA award can change too, and celebrating inclusiveness and diversity is surely a worthy cause, if hopefully not totalitarian. All these “literary” prizes have very hazy identities and they matter very little, exactly because you can never see explicitly what makes one different from the other, and in the end it’s all more of a social game with its peculiar rules more than anything related to a literary value of any kind.

I’d only conclude with a suggestion. So Lovecraft isn’t exactly ideal if your goal is celebrating diversity. This should be evident to everyone, okay? That means that the decision to replace that symbol is understandable and well motivated. What do you change Lovecraft with, then? My suggestion is that you make a ‘bust’ of Cthulhu instead.

Which by the way would look fucking amazing.

“The only way…
to view the truth of life, Kotomichi…
is to stand apart from it,
to see…
the consequence of every thought,
every action.
But still…
we are bound by time and space,
unable to steer our destiny.”

A relatively non-spoilery quote from “The Man in the High Castle”, the TV series. I’ve finished the book itself a couple of months ago, while currently I’m trying to finish the mammoth of a book that is “Parallel Stories” by Peter Nadas, hopefully within this year.

Now that quote gives the perspective. Usually abstract-talking is more about evoking a mood, to seize a general feel about an idea, that in the end is either trite or whimsical. But that quote not only is precise and spot-on, but it also resonates with the series itself, and so lifting it even higher.

I’m not going to write about my impressions on the series, but I’ll say that I didn’t know there was a series when I read the book, and now I’m surprised to hear it’s getting a second season. The problem is that it ends up in a too tricky spot, and while it managed to stay almost faithful to the book, respecting it, a second season undermines it all. It’s walking a very fine line.

But until this point it sort-of complements the book, without directly belonging to the same space.

“The consequence of every thought, every action” is a good definition of determinism. “Bound by time and space” is a good definition of a life. “The truth of life” is the truth of that dichotomy, the impossibility of true return. Of crossing the barrier that divides the two.

The TV series did a great job putting good characters on the stage, so it did a good job showing people and circumstances. It created a good “story”, where story means linking events in a way that makes sense, showing what’s needed: empathy with characters, without taking sides. The book instead showed pieces of a fictional reality that was held up, hooked to an authoritative system of truth. A greater truth, that you could glimpse, if not belong to. It was about fiction becoming self-aware. Which again is a manifestation of the truth.

But the TV series, with the jump from what it did, and over to what it will try, violates the rules. You cannot simply change one thing in the course of determinism in order to explore alternatives, as if in a multiverse. Because that one element is still produced by what comes before it, you cannot extrapolate in a very convenient way. We are “unable to steer our destiny” because, from the system, we are witnesses, not actors.