1) Stamets is so delightfully weird when he's not being a dick.
2) I like how we continue to see Sarek as a flawed character--and confirm that Michael is older than Spock/"left home" first.
3) I'm really starting to like Lorca--he is way more than the warmongerer he's been presented as/ he's incredibly damaged and in a believable way.
4) Still totally shippin' Lorca/Tyler and Burnham/Tilley. Yup yup.
Joyce Chng, Water Into Wine. Annorlunda Books, 2017. Pp 138. ISBN 978-1-944354-30-5. $8.99.
I wonder how the wine will taste. Will people taste the fear—the terror and anxiety—when they drink? A tart wine with hints of berry and blood? A spicy wine with cinnamon and gunpowder, great for a summer evening? (46)
Ping Xin inherits a vineyard on the planet Tertullian VI from his grandfather, and uproots his children and aging mother to start over after a divorce; his husband left when Xin decided to transition to male. (N.B. I’m using the pronouns “he/his” to discuss the character here; told from Xin’s point of view, no pronouns used to describe the character appear in the book until the end, but more on that momentarily.) Shortly after the move, the Secessionist War, a conflict between the Loyalists to an interplanetary Alliance and the Traitors who wish to leave, starts, and the sky is lit up by space battles far above the surface on a regular basis, while on the ground, life largely continues. Xin hires the mysterious and handsome Galliano, an experienced vintner to assist in the work of cultivation, harvesting, pressing, and bottling. Chng’s prose in these scenes is particularly strong, evoking both the heavy work required and the beauty that is working with living things. After a start and stop budding romance, Xin and Galliano become lovers, just as their world starts to come to pieces.
The “war” scenes of the book will be strikingly familiar to anyone who has watched the news of the last five years. Xin and his family try to maintain as normal a routine as possible, amid closed schools, alarm sirens and bomb shelters, and military on both sides that don’t hesitate to put landmines on country roads, shoot down civilian craft, or harass farmers for food or loot. Xin is repeatedly encouraged to leave but refuses: the vineyard, and Tertullian VI, is his home and all that he has. But through all this there are periods of normalcy, too, which are stressful in their own right, like bottling and selling the new wine, worrying over vine blight, or dealing with a rebellious teenage son who wants to join the fight.
Most of the time the war is a distant, unreal thing, even when its victims are dying in your arms. “We were not captains in heartless metal starships ordered to fire into the atmosphere of planets. We were not politicians who postured and spouted hot air. We were only civilians, trying to survive, trying to have decent lives,” Xin says at the end (133-34). Xin and his family survive, but at a cost: twice they have to kill soldiers who threaten their lives. The scenes of sudden and shocking violence are brief, but remain a shadow throughout the rest of the book, as one can never choose to kill—even in self-defense—and remain unchanged.
Xin’s transition comes up several times, especially when he is unable to get the hormone pills he needs as access to the town and to supplies are cut off. His periods restart; several times he is addressed as “ma’am,” though it’s unclear if this is direct insult or only ignorance. When a peace is declared at the end (which may well be only a temporary one), he declines to start taking the pills again, choosing to embrace a gender identity that is neither male nor female. “I give myself my own pronoun. I am qar. I am me. I am Ping Xin,” Xin says (138).
Water Into Wine is one of the most enjoyable reads I’ve had in a while; for all the seriousness of the subject matter, Chng has a light touch throughout. Xin’s point of view also credibly rewrites the common tropes of space opera: wars are very different on the ground and for minorities. But above all the story is suffused with hope and optimism, that the wars will conclude, and that the spaces we make for ourselves and for our families will continue.
I knew I didn't feel like I belong; I'm not now nor have ever been someone from the Ivies, much of my scholarship has been devoted to popular culture, etc. (I'm so tempted to add "I'm not a self-absorbed prat" but that seems mean since it doesn't apply to a number of people, even if it does to a bunch of others.) To my surprise I asked Todd if he felt he did, and he said no as well; he's a white dude, maybe he didn't go to Ivies but he def went to the tiers after that, he's very focused on traditional print history.
I'm still trying to process, but I would argue that acknowledging gaps, erasures, and so on do not remedy them. There's still work to be done. But will it, and will it be within the established context of the powerful hierarchies involved?
( SPOILERS )
In other news, Scott's off to Spain (didn't he pick a great time to go, just when Catalonia is voting for independence and their are violent crackdowns and whatnot?) and I'm off to a conference the day after tomorrow. I think my nerves are getting worse; I started feeling anxious about my trip yesterday. My flights will be in the 3-3 1/2 hour range and I feel sick, and I'm thinking about submitting to a conference in England next year which would be a good 10 hours or whatever. (I have no idea how I survived my trip to Japan a decade ago. Oh wait, I was young and not an anxious stressball. What was that like again?)
I continue to be behind on All the Things. I'll find a way to finish them, but everything seems hard. Oy.
2) In an ideal world, the season finale will be Michael time traveling to save Georgiou.
3) I really can't help but notice the sheer numbers of ladies and POC aboard the ship. It makes me so happy!
4) Scott's quote of the night....not quite relevant to the episode but still said while watching, "I'd be such a great Vulcan warlord!!"
( SPOILERS )
I'm also overly aware of how far behind I am in the things I need to do. (I'm also aware that almost all deadlines are self-imposed and therefore the guilt I'm giving myself is pointless and blah blah blah but look that's ~rational.~) I mean, if I push myself I can do it: Finish the chapter essay I'm working on this month, make a point of doing a diss chapter for Nano, and then rewarding myself by writing fiction for December.
I did at least get my shit together to send out a CFP for the vampire book (in memoriam of Candace) and already got an inquiry/proposal from a well-regarded scholar, along with some encouragement on the project, so that's something. My ideal timeline has proposals in Dec 1, and a book proposal packet sent to the publisher in January, with the book itself appearing in 2019. Which is doable, so here's hoping.
I'm heading to a conference next week; I got rejected from actually giving a paper, but I'll get to hang out with my diss chair and with Todd (and with any luck will not randomly burst into tears on them, because apparently that's just where I AM these days). So, here's hoping.
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2) The comment I keep seeing is that "This doesn't feel like Star Trek to me." Which....is subjective, but more than anything, the vibe of this episode was a cross between that one TNG ep about the junior officers just going about their days and doing missions with only part of the information available, and latter-day DS9. The emphasis on information--and who has it--appears to be a major theme.
ETA: I just had a thought while I was in the shower (as you do) about Enterprise, Reboot, and Discovery all being Millennial Star Trek: the main themes of all three are about the collisions between the ideals of Starfleet and how they change/are challenged by terrorism and wartime. I need to think on this some more.
( SPOILERS )
Kathryn Evans, More of Me. Amulet Books, 2017. Pp. 312. ISBN 978-1-4197-2372-8. $17.95.
In my experience of reading YA, many authors adopt just enough SFF elements (whether climate catastrophe, vampires and werewolves, or spaceships) to provide a decorative veneer for the romance they’re actually telling. Kathryn Evans’s More of Medoes the exact opposite, adopting a teenage girl protagonist and her messy high school life as cover for a story about genetic engineering and cloning. It’s not a particularly deep story: the science is hand-wavey, the plot twists are predictable, the characters are teenagers, but for all that it is compulsively readable.
Teva is a sixteen year old Everygirl, middle-class but not popular, and self-absorbed with her family drama, her best friend Madeeha, and her boyfriend Ollie. There’s something like the near-obligatory love triangle, complicated by the fact that it’s really a love quadrangle. You see, Teva harbors a secret: she unwillingly clones herself each year, cells multiplying and splitting off until a second, mirror self detaches. That self will become the “new” Teva and take over a public life of school and friends, while her previous incarnations from Fifteen to Six stay hidden away at home, unaging. Their mother, an overweight and depressive dowd who makes ends meet by rotely producing romance novels, wants to keep her children safe by limiting their exposure to the outside world, and thus her own; we are told the only person she ever sees is the grocery man, though it’s unclear if she goes out for shopping or if everything is delivered, though in the vague present day of the story we can assume the latter. Teva’s relationship with Ollie is complicated because Fifteen is still in love with him, while Teva only goes through the motions. In this stultifying atmosphere, Teva dreads the moment when she must inevitably disappear and her own clone take over, and she begins an unlikely search for answers that lead her to her long-lost father.
Teva’s predicament is painfully highlighted when her Textiles teacher wants her to take part in a school fashion show with invited company representatives who can provide college scholarships and work internships—the sort of coveted prizes that are of no use to Teva herself, who will never be able to attend school or have a career, but which will be passed down to her future clones. Like Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s constant apocalypses, Teva’s clones are a metaphor for most teenagers’ inability to imagine or plan for a future, or rather, a future that doesn’t threaten her being. When the split begins early, starting with the development of a second fingernail and then a second finger, she goes to the Internet for help: creating a blog and a Facebook account under pseudonyms, and begging for help this way. This is perhaps the most realistic part of the book, as… nothing happens. The only responses are Viagra spammers, and a handful of anonymous, encouraging comments. The net is neither a panacea nor a threat to a random teenager, and for once this is reflected (in contrast to another YA book I read this summer, Zan Romanoff’s Grace and the Fever, in which a lot happens because of social media). Like perhaps too many teenagers, Teva doesn’t have a handy “trusted adult” to confide in, or ask for help; she has to solve things for herself as best she can.
The final act of the book is the messiest, with a lot happening in a short period of time. There are several vivid scenes of body horror that may leave some readers queasy, though at the same time they provide some of Evan’s finest writing. The descriptions are sharp and visceral, and in high contrast to the emotional anxiety of the rest of the novel. There is also an epilogue that provides something like a happy ending, but leaves the story the weaker for it; the reader by this point has earned the right to see how things have changed organically. As it is, the epilogue ties up almost as many loose ends as the infamous conclusion to the Harry Potter series, though only in a space of months rather than years.
More of Me comes incredibly close to being a true departure in genre and form because of its emphasis on the logic of cloning (a logic that in some ways recalls that of Flowers for Algernon), but in the end Evans chooses to play it safe, repeating those steps that have worked for other YA efforts. Robert Heinlein had the old saw that to write a juvenile novel, you made the protagonist seventeen and told the rest of the story the way you would have done anyway. Evans’s novel draws upon this dictum, but ultimately discards it for the familiar YA story beats we have come to expect.
Spoilery: ( SPOILERS )A closing grump: The one change I would have made to the show would be for the first two episodes to be aired a single movie-length episode--because that's how it functioned. Only the first one was shown on television, and a lot of (admittedly old white, who would never have liked it anyway) people tuned out. The thing is, all of the work that goes into the first episode in building characters who have interesting relationships with one another...that pays off in a dark way. (The only thing I can think of that's similar is the HYDRA reveal in the first season of Agents of SHIELD.) And it makes a lot of people's complaints obsolete, but then, they were probably never going to watch it for any reason but to bitch about it anyway. "Fans," I swear!
First of all, Lady Macbeth's "unsex me now" speech is 100% better when delivered by a hot dude in leather briefs.
Secondly, apparently my new aesthetic is tribal tatts, bass beats, and iambic pentameter. I can work with this.
The show took place in "The Pit of Acheron" which is apparently a metal club? Lots of dancing, which worked for me. Rather than using weapons, the men would extend their hands with palms to the side, which worked really well for the fighting dance choreography, and in balancing the "Is this a dagger I see before me?" and the obsessive handwashing. That said, as Scott pointed out, it also looked like everyone was using the force.
The lighting/staging were really neat: alchemical symbols on the floor, which had multiple rotating sections; was a little disappointed than they didn't create new symbols when the flooring realigned. The lighting was also projected through a massive glass-looking ceiling thing that looked like a pentagram, and there were lights on the doors at all ends (this was a round theater with five exits). A lot of action also took place in the aisles, with some audience interaction: newly crowned Macbeth extended his hand to be kissed or taken by audience members, and at one point he stole a woman's program to fend off the ghost of Banquo.
Some other nice moments: This is the first production I've ever seen where Lady Macduff fights back as opposed to running offstage. And at the big finale, as Macbeth is fighting Macduff, suddenly the lighting changes, and he is confronted by the ghosts of everyone he has killed throughout the play, and each of whom delivers a killing blow--finishing with Lady Macduff.
The one thing that bothered me: Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, and a number of minor characters were all POC. The Malcolms/court were white. The whiteness of the "return to order" at the end bugged me. I doubt they had that in mind when casting or what have you, but....still. Why couldn't one of the other POCS played Malcolm?
I have SO MANY feels about the new Star Trek! More tomorrow!!
I could do with some tea now, to be honest. I feel like I'm on the edge of a cold. (Which bodes ill, as it were, since I'm supposed to go to the clinic for blood work tomorrow. Catch-22: Shall I go and get it over with, and exacerbate the cold, or postpone it til Monday, then likely get another cold from being in the waiting room anyway? *is such a pathetic little canary of a human*)
I'm going to be interviewed for a blogpost and am trying to draft answers to the questions. I'm sure the incipient cold doesn't help, but I'm a little frustrated--if I could have put my research into 1500 words in a meaningful way, I would have done so and moved on! So instead I am dithering and backing up my files because....I need to do that anyway. And it's brainless, so.
I have a new article out at TWC: The margins of print? Fan fiction as book history. I also got cited in another article in the same journal issue, which is exciting!! With my colleague Kate O, we also relaunched the Women in Book History Bibliography last week with a new searchable interface, and I've been doing a lot of data entry from our backlog with it, adding some 250 citations in the past week so that we're at over 900 now! This is extra exciting since when we started we had just over 100, so yay blooming and growing!
I've really appreciated the messages of support I've gotten from you guys about working my way through depression--it really helps knowing that others share the feeling, and so on. <3
Probably more of a thought experiment, but...I'm wondering what an Outlanderey Kirk/McCoy AU would look like. Bones time-travels 200 years to the past where he meets Jim Kirk--who is definitely not Scottish or kilted--who he falls in love with (and okay if he abandons Jocelyn, but what about Joanna?!) and has to marry For Reasons, and they try to stop....something (WW3?). Doctoring, profanity, and sex ensue.
I've pretty consistently overslept almost every day for the past month. I have managed to get some decent chunks of writing done, which gives me hope because I had set several deadlines for myself and I'd like to *keep* them, but. To quote Bilbo Baggins (the Hobbit and not my dog), I feel like too little butter spread over too much bread. Or more originally, like an overblown balloon that needs to be drained a little, or it will hit something and POP! rather violently. But I'm not really sure what to do about that, except take it day by day, which I have to...anyway.
Judy Juanita, De Facto Feminism: Essays Straight Outta Oakland.EquiDistance Press, 2016. Pp 226. ISBN 978-0-9716352-1-0. $19.95.
Judy Juanita’s collection of essays De Facto Feminism: Essays Straight Outta Oakland is a mixture of previously published material from her long career in activism, including poetry, and more recent autobiographical reminiscences that relate to her 2013 novel Virgin Soul. This work does not relate to genre per se (unless we think of being Black in America today as being a dystopian experience, which, to be honest, we might well do). The sixteen essays, half dozen poems, and a collection of digital correspondence span from 1967 to 2015, much of which is drawn from the online magazine The Weeklings, cover expansive territory on Juanita’s career as an activist and an artist: she has been a member of the Black Panther Party, has taught in the first Black Studies program in the US, and is a playwright, poet, novelist and professor. She reminds us that creative work is activism too.
The earliest pieces in the volume, like ‘My California Childhood—a freedom childhood,’ ‘White Out,’ ‘Five Comrades in The Black Panther Party, 1967-1970,’ and ‘Black Womanhood #1’ revolve around Juanita’s coming of age in Oakland in the 1950s and 1960s, her time as a student and then teacher and activist, and how each identity informs the other. In ‘Black Womanhood #1’ she writes, “The black woman has her own turbulent and dialectical process of self-transforming. I know because I’m living it every day” (51). Though those words were originally written in 1967, they are still true now, for the author and millions of other women today. The following essay, ‘Tough Luck,’ focuses on another form of identity, with the author as poet. Juanita incorporates the text of several of her poems published during the period into the body of the memoir, demonstrating how she used her poetry and art to come to grips with her divorce and motherhood, and how these topics both bridged and separated her from the community of poets she was a part of.
‘Cleaning Other People’s Houses’ also utilizes a poem written during the period, when Juanita joins a friend’s cleaning business for a brief period. She does the work for extra cash and for the experience of having done so, to the horror of friends and colleagues. Cleaning other people’s homes is a voyeuristic experience: she sees a book about AIDS on a nightstand, followed by other books, followed by the revelation that one of the men she’s working for has been diagnosed with the disease. Another time she is semi-forced into another kind of labor when the matron of the house finishes reading Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and wants to discuss it with Juanita; she dryly notes that Walker championed Zora Neale Hurston, another Black novelist who worked in domestic labor to make ends meet. ‘A Playwright-in-progress’ describes her experiences in a series of writing workshops, trying to nail down exactly what she does want to write even as she faces the often unrelenting whiteness of most workshop and fellowship programs (a topic that author Junot Diaz has also written about, rather scathingly), while ‘Putting the Funny in the Novel’ recounts an ironic encounter with an editor who wants more humor in her experiences as a black woman and a Black Panther.
Juanita turns to literary criticism as well as reminiscence in ‘The N-word: Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.’ She discusses the multivariated uses the word takes on in August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Fences (1987), cruel and affectionate, abusive and matter-of-fact. She also discusses the discomfort her students feel when they discuss the word, and the play, in class, and the discomfort she herself feels when the word is inflected differently by Black, white, and Asian students. She feels a discomfort about the divide between literary and genre fiction in ‘All the Women in My Family Read Terry Macmillan.’ Macmillan’s most famous novel is Waiting to Exhale (1992), a book that heralded a phenomenon of “black chick lit” that Juanita thinks has overtaken African-American literary fiction, and thus complicating the struggles of Black women writers like herself.
‘The Gun as Ultimate Performance Poem,’ nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2015, is a stand-out essay ruminating on the aftermath of the murder of Trayvon Martin and on the author’s own previous love affair with ‘the Gun’:
The Gun was the shatterer of the boundary between the personal and the political. I liked guns. They were talismanic and palm-friendly… The Gun is a revolt of the mind, an expulsion of hatred and thus a cleansing agent. Once it is fired, the act done, the two opposites are united forever, the killer and the killed written into history, memorialized or castigated.Taking up literal arms was how the Black Panther Party stood in opposition to the Black Arts Movement, but over time those guns became increasingly metaphorical instead. The “performance” of The Gun, Juanita argues, has taken over America in schools, theaters, and on the street. She concludes, “I liked guns. I hate The Gun” (115).
To shun The Gun is to fear recklessness, to abhor chaos. Yet activists, oft called anarchistic, despise artists who don’t overtly join them. (107-8)
The final entry in the book is entitled ‘Acknowledge Me’ and consists of a series of emails with a colleague regarding the death of their mutual friend Peter Thorpe, a fellow playwright and mentor. The correspondence includes poems, imagined dialogues with Peter, discussions on works-in-progress, and ultimately coming to terms with grief. Most of the emails are dated from 2007, with a single entry in 2008, and then a rhapsodic conclusion in 2011 when the author’s novel is sold to Viking: “I’M A NOVELIST, I’M A NOVELIST, I’M A NOVELIST.” That shift from the literary form of writing—essays to fiction—reiterates a shift in identity as well, one that closes the book and, seemingly, provides a sense of closure for its author.
De Facto Feminism: Essays Straight Outta Oakland is a thought-provoking collection, one that should be read and taught alongside such classics as Bulkin, Pratt, and Smith’s 1984 Yours in Struggle: Three Feminist Perspectives on Anti-Semitism and Racism, Alice Walker’s 1998 Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer’s Activism, and Patricia Hill Collins’s 2008 Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Though the book was prepared for print and published prior to Trump’s election in the US and the Resistance movement that has followed, its appearance when so many American readers and writers are struggling with how to incorporate political activism into their work makes the book incredibly timely and necessary. Art is survival, too.
But my gods, am I tired of the bad apples.
I swear I have been on the edge of a nervous breakdown for the past week, but it feels longer. Every new day is a new horror, a new threat, exponentially elevated from the past months of new horrors and new threats.
And today's horror was at UVA, and ...I know that campus so well. I know people there--good, good people. And to see it taken over by murderous goddamn fucking Nazis breaks my heart and fills me with something that I can't name, past fear and anger and revulsion. It is not hatred, because I know that well, and because hatred doesn't touch on the pure contempt I feel for the murderers out there in force today.
We outnumber you, motherfuckers. And the quality of our mercy is increasingly strained.
I do not think we will have a second civil war, as some do; I do not think the numbers bear it out. I think we will have several years of social unrest, and protests, and movements, and eventually, the goddamn Nazis will melt back into the rotting shadows from which they emerged to begin with, and die there. But they are going to make it damn unpleasant for us in the meantime.
Do not give up. Do not give in.
Hold light in your hearts, and put it together with mine, and let the light burn away the darkness.