First Draft of the Revolution

Word-based stories are what we deal in here at NBP. While those are usually in the form of books, other types exist and today I want to share an interactive story with ya’ll. It’s First Draft of the Revolution by Emily Short, who is rather famous in IF, interactive fiction, circles for good reason. First Draft is particularly exciting to me because it is an interactive epistolary story. Instead of entering commands like in traditional IF, you “help” the various characters write letters to each other. The particular brilliance of First Draft is that you get a lot of story and character while editing, many things that don’t end up in the final versions you send. It is excellent and honestly made my day. Go play it! It won’t take long!

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Wild Seed by Octavia Butler (A More Diverse Universe)

Like a couple of others, I decided to (re)read Wild Seed for Aarti & Co’s More Diverse Universe Blog Tour. Any regular reader of NBP knows that diverse reading is important to me, so signing up for the tour was a no-brainer. The real question was what to read. I have several SF&F books written by POC that have been on my TBR for a while (A Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Who Fears Death, etc), but I’ve been meaning to reread Wild Seed for years so that I could continue on with the rest of the Patternmaster series which I haven’t read. Since it’s been on my TBR list for the longest, Wild Seed won.

Anyway, tl;dr for why I chose Wild Seed. Onto the book itself!

From Amazon (that link is to just Wild Seed, but I would recommend, if you are interested, in instead getting Seed to Harvest, the compilation of the four Patternmaster books): “Doro is an entity who changes bodies like clothes, killing his hosts by reflex — or design. He fears no one — until he meets Anyanwu. Anyanwu is a shapeshifter who can absorb bullets and heal with a kiss…and savage anyone who threatens those she loves. She fears no one — until she meets Doro. From African jungles to the colonies of America, Doro and Anyanwu weave together a pattern of destiny that not even immortals can imagine.”

The good: I love this book. It explores many of the same themes of other Butler novels: race, gender, sex, power. Butler also explores what it means to be truly immortal, in Doro’s case, or effectively immortal, in Anyanwu’s case. She explores the loneliness that each experience and their differing ways of dealing with it. She explores the relationship between morality and mortality. Wild Seed is about the relationship between Doro and Anyanwu, and is really a prequel to the rest of the series, so there isn’t an arcing plot. I’m fine with that, enjoy it even, but beware if you’re the type of reader who wants a big bad to fight or whatever. I should perhaps mention here that the next section will have spoilers, but given the not-so-plotful nature of the book, I don’t think it will ruin your experience. Still, don’t read the next section if you hate spoilers!

The rough: Many (most? all?) of Butler’s novels have an at least partially uncomfortable sexual and/or romantic relationship and this is no exception. Anyanwu and Doro are very different people and, truthfully, the one thing that keeps them together is that they are the only two immortal people they know of in the world. Doro’s lack of empathy, his obsession with his breeding program, and his ultimate power mean that he uses people, including Anyanwu, in very gross ways. I don’t blame Anyanwu for growing to hate him, and I don’t judge her for growing close to him again, in the end. If I was immortal in a world where almost everybody and everything is mortal, I don’t know that I could forever stay away from another immortal person. Anyanwu realizes this for herself and realizes that her only real choice is to either let herself die (which she can do, and which Doro cannot) or live with him. She chooses the latter and I refuse to belittle her choice. And I strongly disagree with Fangs for the Fantasy that that choice makes Anyanwu a long-suffering mammy. (I also disagree that Anyanwu and Doro’s ability to change sex, whilst still retaining their gender, and having relationships with women and men respectively is in any way excluding LGBT experiences and, in fact, is inclusive of trans* experiences. I do think Fangs for the Fantasy makes an important point about Anyanwu’s healing and what the books says about disability and the problems therein, but I do not think there is as much erasure/negativity as they are saying. I will have to think more on it. Anyway, head on over and see what they had to say!)

The bad/overall: For me, there is nothing, really, to say here. If you like book plots to have a distinct arc, you may have trouble. If you are sensitive to or triggered by race/gender/sex issues, I would recommend it only with extreme caution. Otherwise, I highly recommend it to everyone. If you haven’t read any Butler at all, you are seriously missing out! Get thee to the library/bookstore!

The Einstein Intersection, by Samuel R. Delany (A More Diverse Universe)

The Einstein Intersection

by Samuel R. Delany

“The Einstein Intersection won the Nebula Award for best science fiction novel of 1967. The surface story tells of the problems a member of an alien race, Lo Lobey, has assimilating the mythology of earth, where his kind have settled among the leftover artifacts of humanity. The deeper tale concerns, however, the way those who are “different” must deal with the dominant cultural ideology. The tale follows Lobey’s mythic quest for his lost love, Friza. In luminous and hallucinated language, it explores what new myths might emerge from the detritus of the human world as those who are “different” try to seize history and the day.” (via Amazon)

Good Things: As I’m sure other reviewers of this book have said before me, The Einstein Intersection (or, if you want to call it by its intended title, A Fabulous, Formless Darkness) is a tough book to talk about. It’s short, clocking in at around 150 pages, but it’s not a breezy read. Samuel Delany wrote it in his early twenties, and the book’s sections of narrative are interspersed with short journal entries that Delany jotted down while writing the book during a trip around Greece. That’s not a surprise, because The Einstein Intersection is dense with mythological references to the Minotaur, to Orpheus, to Phaedra, and many more besides that I’m sure went over my head. The main characters are all aliens who have come to Earth and inhabited the planet long after humanity has ceased to exist, and have taken human form for reasons never fully explicated. The main character, Lobey, describes himself as an oddly-shaped 23-year-old brown person with a bottom half larger than his top half, with hand-like feet and a great love of music. In this world, many people are born deformed, terminally disabled, or otherwise “different,” and Lobey begins to learn that he himself is “different” in a way that could endanger his life. When the also-“different” girl he loves, Friza, is killed, he sets out to find her killer and deal with him himself.

The language of The Einstein Intersection is often beautiful and fits the dreamlike structure of the story. I felt the atmosphere quite vividly the whole time I was reading, and there are certain scenes that will probably occupy my brain for quite a while. There are also moments of surprising humor that make me smile and which help define Lobey’s character and the world around him:

I began to learn what I was doing when about twenty dragons got stuck in a mintbog (a slushy quicksand bog covered with huge bushes of windy mint, right? Mintbog). (p. 68-69)

There are interesting explorations of gender and able-bodied-ness and able-minded-ness that are often ignored in science-fiction; it’s a very thoughtful, cerebral book that wanders through mythology, genetics, history, music, and death, touching on all and asking questions that it doesn’t necessarily answer.

Bad Things: All that meandering, that dreamscape quality, that obliqueness of the text? Is probably frustrating for some readers. It’s not a book that makes itself easily accessible to a lot of people. Do you know how it is when you get the feeling that the book you’re reading is probably smarter than you are? That’s sort of what reading The Einstein Intersection feels like. I felt a little lost at times when I didn’t get the mythological references or the talk about parthenogenesis and haploids, and I think some readers might end up feeling left out and quit reading partway through. I don’t believe it’s something Delany does on purpose; he was and is a brilliant man, and his books definitely go through cycles of being more or less accessible to a wide audience. The Einstein Intersection in and of itself feels less like a straightforward novel and more like an exploration of the themes mentioned earlier, hung on a fictional frame. The ideas explored don’t always come to a satisfactory conclusion–for me, particularly the parts regarding ableism and gender could have been taken farther and to more interesting places (why do the androgynes make Lobey so uncomfortable? difference and the true meaning of “functional” are discussed, but why is it okay to stick the severely non-functional disabled in “kages” and treat them as not-people?) .

I also felt a little sad that, of the few female (and neither-male-nor-female) characters in the story, none of them had much in the way of agency; La Dire exists to give Lobey direction and set him on his journey, Friza and Dorik die early on, and Dove is used by–who?–at Branning-at-sea to keep genetic lines from becoming too inbred.

Overall: Not easy reading, and may turn some readers off with its oblique references and shaky plot. Interesting and thoughtful, though, and a clear beginning of some of the ideas that Delany explores more thoroughly in later books. For more casual readers looking for more developed ideas and a stronger plot in POC-centered science-fiction, I’d suggest Nova, Babel-17 (reviewed at chasing bawa and to-be-reviewed at Necromancy Never Pays on Thursday), or Trouble on Triton over The Einstein Intersection, but it’s still nothing to sneeze at. Plus, the current edition available at Amazon has a foreword by Neil Gaiman! And who doesn’t like Gaiman, huh? (Don’t answer that.)

Links

Two pairs of Justine Larbalestier posts, one educational: How to Write a Novel/Writing Your First Novel and one that made me go, “Oh holy hell YES Iloveyousomuchmarryme”: Please, Please, Please, Give Your Protag Friends, a Sibling, Parents/Girls Who Hate Girls (make sure to read the comments, especially for the last one).
Muslim girls in YA fiction, in particular a new book called Rebels by Accident by Patricia Dunn.
That’s five whole links, but because four of them are by one person, I asked Mia for a link to help fill out the post:

Dylan Meconis breaks down ten common mistakes by the ill-informed in comics criticism.

Would you describe brushstrokes as “paint patches” or a song bridge as “transition verse?” Would you call a fictional plot an “event structure” or a pas de deux a “two-person dance?” No, you would not, because you’re a professional, and you make it a point to understand the terms that define the medium you are concerned with. Nor would you spend overmuch time in a review defining these terms for readers, since it behooves you to assume that they are already interested in what you are talking about (and are capable of looking up terms they don’t recognize).

 

What Kind of Reader

I came across these two lists by the Atlanic via bookshelves of doom, and just had to share. I can’t pick just one that I am, not even one from each list, because like Walt Whitman, I contain multitudes.

From the first list, I identify with three types. One: the Cross-Under, obviously. Two: the Delayed Onset Reader #1 and somewhat relatedly, three: The Bookophile. (Though to be clear, I do not love books more than reading, but I do love books as objects aside from their content.)

From the second list, I have shades of being Easily Influenced, though I think it’s more that I’m a hard sell without a recommendation from a blog or person I trust. Going along with that is also a dash of Sharer, but the real winner here is It’s Complicated. “Each book means a new type of reader exists in your soul; you refuse to be defined or categorized.” Yup, that sounds about right.

“Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered”

I was reading The Atlantic’s great list of great lists that have appeared in books and this one by Italo Calvino in particular caught my eye. I haven’t read If on a winter’s night a traveler, though my brother did and I know he didn’t like it. I don’t know, Brian, based on this excerpt alone, the book must be awesome!

So, then, you noticed in a newspaper that If on a winter’s night a traveler had appeared, the new book by Italo Calvino, who hadn’t published for several years. You went to the bookshop and bought the volume. Good for you.

In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover with the title you were looking for. Following this visual trail, you have forced your way through the shop past the thick barricade of Books You Haven’t Read, which were frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you. But you know you must never allow yourself to be awed, that among them there extend for acres and acres the Books You Needn’t Read, the Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading, Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong To The Category Of Books Read Before Being Written. And thus you pass the outer girdle of ramparts, but then you are attacked by the infantry of the Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered. With a rapid maneuver you bypass them and move into the phalanxes of the Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First, the Books Too Expensive Now And You’ll Wait Till They’re Remaindered, the Books ditto When They Come Out In Paperback, Books You Can Borrow From Somebody, Books That Everybody’s Read So It’s As If You Had Read Them, Too. Eluding these assaults, you come up beneath the towers of the fortress, where other troops are holding out:

the Books You’ve Been Planning To Read For Ages,
the Books You’ve Been Hunting For Years Without Success,
the Books Dealing With Something You’re Working On At The Moment,
the Books You Want To Own So They’ll Be Handy Just In Case,
the Books You Could Put Aside Maybe To Read This Summer,
the Books You Need To Go With Other Books On Your Shelves,
the Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified.

(and so on.)