Archive for November, 2016

November 27, 2016

Of Interest (27 November, 2016)

Recovery, Escape, Consolation:

Via Shailja Patel, a curriculum for men to challenge male supremacy.

This intervention and deescalation resource list.

Christina Sharp on the uses of kinship and (putting them together because I read them together, and I think reading them together was good) Muna Mire on resisting (and fearing) Trump’s Islamophobia.

Space Crone on the Black Mirror episode “San Junipero” (via JR).

Kanishk Tharoor in Kill Screen on the Civilization series (via Aaron Bady).

Patricks Blanchfield and Iber on America/Banana Republic comparisons.

Bettina Judd’s “The Break”, via Nicole Chung.

Ndinda Kioko and Phoebe Boswell in conversation.

Interview with several Canadian spec-fic authors of colour (inc. Hopkinson, Goto, Moreno-Garcia).

Poundstoremike on Harry Potter everywhere and the drifting away from real politics (and real consequences) of political commentary. (I still have unarticulated quibbles with this piece, but I like most of it very much.)

Rudo Mudiwa on Zimbabwe’s bond notes, crisis, and resistance. (Not to make it all about us, but Indian readers might find this particularly pertinent right now.)

Usha Ramanathan on India’s demonetisation mess.

Elissa Washuta on words, and whiteness, and apocalypse (via Kate Schapira).

Janelle Monae, interviewed by Tyler Young, on (among other things) Hidden Figures, i.e. probably the only reason to hope 2017 happens at all.

This interview/profile of Alex Wheatle by Homa Khaleeli did things to my heart and I’m so glad he won the children’s fiction prize, and I’m so glad of his black and purple socks.

P.E. Garcia on poetry after the American election (via Kip Manley). Mainly for this:

I feel as though I’ve been saying I love you a lot lately, but maybe that’s not true. Maybe I simply feel it more acutely when I say it now, as though each time I say it to someone I love, I mean it desperately; my love is clawing at the air as it sinks into quicksand.

Hilton Als reviews Loving.

This important cat story.

This small story from Beard and Hopkins’s The Colosseum (via Vajra Chandrasekera)

 

 

 

November 24, 2016

Adventuring

Back in July, I wrote a short thing for Scroll.in, based on some thoughts I had after Keisha McKenzie’s really great set of tweets about Pokémon Go. At the time, I was also sorting through some of the thoughts that would become this review, and I’m not sure if reading them together might be instructive, or if I’m likely to repeat myself quite a bit. Anyway, the published version of this piece is linked above; here is a slightly edited (or slightly less edited) version:

 

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Amidst the flood of Pokémon Go stories that have dominated the news in the last week or so (to whatever extent a single story can be said to have dominated this week’s news) one recurring theme has been that of the game’s straying into the real world in unfortunate ways. This is unsurprising—the very aspect of the game that is newsworthy is the relationship between its virtual space and the tangible, material space that we all exist in. Exhorting its users to “step outside and explore the world”, the game turns travelling through mundane urban landscapes (more rural areas haven’t been quite as well catered for) into an adventure, making you the protagonist of your own fantastic quest.

There is both joy and genuine radical potential in this sort of transformation of space—as anyone who has ever been a child ought to recognise. Children turn environments made for people not them into different spaces all the time, layering fiction over fact to create a space for play. Other groups also perform versions of this reimagining of space—some practitioners of parkour, for example, describe the practice as a subversive way of reclaiming urban spaces by using them in unconventional and disruptive ways. In a sense, Pokémon Go might be said to be performing the sort of “re-enchantment” of the world that Michael Saler describes in As If, his study of fantasy and virtual reality as responses to modernity. Which is all (as far as it goes) wonderful.

Yet the subversive potential of reimagining the world depends largely on who is doing this reimagining.

Keisha E. McKenzie, an academic, technical communicator and consultant, compares Pokémon Go’s overlaying of real and virtual terrain to the mapping of the world by European explorers in the age of Empire. “Wherever their maps showed the fountain of youth or the city of gold, even if those locations overlaid entire nations and peoples, they claimed the right to go, explore, discover, and capture, and people’s lives became their gamespace.”

It’s hardly surprising that much of modern fantasy, and its associated virtual reality, grows directly out of the genre sometimes called imperial romance—in these adventure stories, the strange terrain through which our heroes must travel in order to complete the quest is that of Asia, or Africa, or South America. They return home wiser, better (and often richer) men. Considered through this body of literature, the vast majority of the globe sometimes appears to exist purely so that British men will have somewhere to have adventures. This would all be very charming, but obviously it’s no coincidence that the genre’s heyday coincided with that of European imperialism. Explorers were romanticised in popular culture, with “real” accounts of their doings proving as popular as adventure novels, and there was an open understanding that the readers of these stories, both real and fictional, would grow up to participate in the protection and governance of the empire. As the nineteenth century drew to a close, however, explorers were running out of “blank space[s] of delightful mystery” (as Conrad describes them in Heart of Darkness) to map, explore and claim. Again, it’s no coincidence that the beginning of the twentieth century should see a flowering of fantasy and science fiction, providing heroes with new worlds (and planets) in which to go questing. Spaces in which, essentially, to be imperialists.

The colonisers had had a vested interest in ridding the land, as far as possible, of competing histories and significances, discounting existing, indigenous cultural and geographical understandings of the space (at this point the author goes off into a separate monologue about the historical uses to which Terra nullius was put). The effect of this in narrative was to rid the territory of any purpose other than the protagonist’s personal or material quest. In fantasy, of course, this is literally true—the fantasy world only exists for the purposes of the quest narrative. Diana Wynne Jones begins her brilliant Tough Guide to Fantasyland (a tourist’s guidebook that takes on practically every cliché of the genre) with the injunction to “find the MAP … if you take this Tour, you are going to have to visit every single place on this Map, whether it is marked or not. This is a Rule.” Local landmarks, where they appear, figure as stages of a sort of obstacle course on the protagonist’s journey to collect (or destroy) the magical object. Or they are reduced to a form of scenery–as Farah Mendlesohn notes (in Rhetorics of Fantasy), the fact that the hero moves through the space has the effect of rendering the world itself static. (The local population is similarly mostly absent, though it sometimes presents another obstacle in the form of a faceless barbarian horde.)

To be able to treat a space as something inherently designed for one’s own personal material or spiritual benefit is to be in a position of power, and these particular spatial power relations continue into the real world and into other genres of writing—at one level, King Solomon’s Mines, Eat, Pray, Love and The Hobbit are all versions of the same story. That this power, this assumption of the fundamental availability of spaces and of one’s own welcome within them, are not available to everyone has become clear over the weeks since the popularity of Pokémon Go has risen—see, for example, Omari Akil’s piece on the potential danger of playing the game as a black man in America, or the conversation initiated by Ana Mardoll, among others, around the difficulties of playing the game for people with disabilities.

The fantasy cannot re-enchant the world without being fundamentally connected to the world, and in the past few days we’ve been reminded of this several times when the demands of the real and virtual spaces have collided—such as the appearance of Pokémon at Auschwitz, at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, and at the 9/11 memorial, spaces with too much cultural significance (and specifically, places of mourning) to be easily subsumed into the landscape of the quest (and there’s an important conversation to be had about which are understood to be sacred ). There have also been gruesome stories of people coming across corpses while playing the game.

The possibility of stumbling across a (real) dead body is remote, but there are plenty of good reasons to be wary of Pokémon Go, and other people have already articulated them. It’s unlikely that it will make much of a difference (and sources of joy are few enough in the world at the moment that it’s hard to judge anyone who chooses to ignore the dire warnings). But many of those who play the game will find themselves inevitably negotiating the obstacles that are part of the real world; constant reminders of who does, or does not, have power over the space, and who fantasy quests are really for.

 

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November 13, 2016

Of Interest (13 November, 2016)

Not dividing these by category this week–think of them as miscellaneous things that are not entirely about the American election (it’s not escapism if we cannot escape it, and anyway some of these kind of are about the American election).

 

Misc.:

A new Kuzhali Manickavel story in The Forge.

Anne Boyer in The White Review.

Via Kate Schapira, Diane di Prima’s Revolutionary Letters.

A chapter of Christina Sharpe’s In The Wake: “On The Violent Language of the Refugee Crisis”.

Hannah Black in The Towner on Brexit and British racism.

Hannah Black (again) interviews Mariame Kaba here.

I’ve linked to it before, but (about three quarters of the way down the page) Angela Carter’s “Anger in a Black Landscape” has been helpful today.

Via Bhuvi Gupta, this, by Baidurya Chakrabarti, on this week’s demonetization mess.

Amit Kumar and Arif Ayaz Parrey on Kashmir, and not being India.

 

And this.

November 6, 2016

Of Interest (6 November, 2016)

After a couple of weeks’ absence I return with some links about books:

 

Via Rohan Venkat, Hugh Ryan on Michelle Tea’s Black Wave and ending, adulthood, apocalypse, etc.

I’ve loved Anita Roy’s recent columns for BLInk, and this, on a particular school of nature writing, is particularly great.

Irenosen Okojie (in an interview by Kit Caless) on “sly” narratives, genre, travel, gunk, and Speak Gigantular.

Via Christina Sharpe on twitter, M. Milks here reviews (and thinks with, and around) Sarah Schulman’s Conflict Is Not Abuse:

In her introduction, she invites us to encounter Conflict Is Not Abuse as a dialogic text: “This is not a book to be agreed with, an exhibition of evidence or display of proof. It is instead designed for engaged and dynamic interactive collective thinking.” On these grounds, she succeeds. I talked to the book while reading it; I have been talking about it with everyone I know.

Alexander Chee on Elena Ferrante’s Frantumaglia.

Charles Finch on Austin Tappan Wright’s Islandia.

Kai Ashante Wilson on writing dialect as a person of colour. (“In other words, this essay could consider the needs of white or POC writers, but not of both and still be brief.” <3)

Ken Liu on the Chineseness of Chinese SF.

Jonathan Sturgeon returns to Quentin Anderson’s The Imperial Self in the time of Franzen.

Anoud on the Iraq + 100 anthology and writing SFF.

Via Vajra Chandrasekera, Amy De’ath on Bhanu Kapil’s Ban en Banlieue.

 

November 2, 2016

October Reading

In October I had a birthday, wrote a few thousand words, spent a lot of time on the beach. I didn’t read very much–though in addition to the books here, I’ve also been (slowly) reading Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement, the new Alice Oswald collection, and several short stories on (shameless plug alert) the beautiful new Strange Horizons site.

 

Malorie Blackman, Chasing The Stars: I’ll be reviewing this properly elsewhere. For now, I’m a bit underwhelmed. For much of the book I thought perhaps conceptually its Shakespeare-in-Space plot wasn’t working for me; having finished it I feel that the Shakespearean core worked fine, whereas the space setting was where it fell down–sometimes in the ways that much classic space-y SF fails, and sometimes in … other ways. Still interesting and ambitious, and I did get tear-y, but I’d have liked this book to be so much more.

Joyce Chng and Kim Miranda, Sundragon’s Song Vol.1 No. 1: A mini review identical to almost every other mini review I’ve ever written about the first volume of a comic series; i.e. I have no idea what’s happening yet, and can’t judge till there’s considerably more of this to work with. At the moment, the art is rather nice, there are dragons, and a small child whose arc I suspect will involve Proving Oneself in some capacity. I like it enough to continue, which is good enough for now.

Evelyn Smith, Nicky of the Lower Fourth: I really like the few Evelyn Smith books I’ve read–more than many of the school stories I’m familiar with, these are interior, good on character and enjoy their own prose. This particular book feels a bit lightweight, and I was a bit disappointed, but it was an enjoying afternoon.

Robin Stevens, Mistletoe and Murder: At the time of writing (this is always liable to change) I think this and Arsenic for Tea may be my favourite Wells and Wong mysteries (see comment below re. emotional narrative). A Christmas murder set in Cambridge, it’s already deliciously trope-y, and then you get: twins, unrequited love, spinster aunts possibly named after Chalet School characters, teenage feelings in several directions, surprise(!) Bengalis (about whom I’m tempted to write much more, but perhaps that can wait). Of these, it’s the teenage feelings I’m particularly into (the emotional narrative that this series manages to present and not talk about is really quite special), but there was also one particular murder that a (detective fiction-loving) friend and I have jokingly wished for in our literature in the past, and there it was.