Archive for August, 2016

August 29, 2016

Of Interest (29 August, 2016)

I’ve been travelling this week, so have done very little reading that wasn’t a) my own conference paper or b) in an archive I’ve been rootling in for another essay. However.


Books, film, TV:

Full text of Perumal Murugan’s recent statement on censorship and attempts to ban his work.

Erin Horáková has this majestic thing on Blakes 7, and what it did and meant, on Strange Horizons.


The world:

Doreen St Félix on the role of racism in Haiti’s cholera crisis.

Shyamolie Singh on a recent interview between Flavia Agnes and Natasha Badhwar, about Mahmood Farooqui’s conviction for rape.

Ballard on Modernist architecture: “I know that most people, myself included, find it difficult to be clear-eyed at all times and rise to the demands of a pure and unadorned geometry.”

Rafia Zakaria on empires’ obsession with women’s clothing, and Musab Younis more specifically on France’s long preoccupation with unveiling women.

August 21, 2016

Of Interest (21 August, 2016)



I could link to all of Your Fat Friend’s posts, but here is one in defense of fat sadness, via Ekaterina Sedia.

Dhrubo Jyoti on the savarna media’s coverage of caste violence.

Nandini Krishnan at The Ladies Finger on gender and abuse in Indian theatre.

I’m still reading this, by Jacob Silverman, on software and privacy and surveillance, but I’m finding it useful to think with.

This baffling story on metafilter, involving two hapless protagonists and a lot of cheese. As you read through the comments and finally receive the whole story, you discover that it too is a story about privacy and surveillance. And also cheese. (Via Erin Horakova)

No one who has met me will be surprised by my love of these photographs by Mirko Nahmijas. Give me all the huge, brutalist buildings.

Related–this Owen Hatherley reading list about Soviet architecture.

Sarah Blackwood on childbirth and “empowerment”.

Kathleen Jamie on Brexit, conservation, anger. Via Sridala Swami.:

Because I’m angry I can’t see straight. Literally. By ‘see’ I mean ‘attend’. My relationship with the natural world has been knocked all to hell. After years of trying to train my eye and attune my ear to nature, to notice and make it matter, to know that everything we have and do derives ultimately from the Earth, and to write accordingly – it’s all taken a hit.

Katie Matlack on Caster Semenya, Dutee Chand, and the gender policing of women in sports.

Sharda Ugra on Dipa Karmakar, PV Sindhu and Sakshi Malik.

Rosa Lyster on getting clothes in books wrong.

Arup K. Chatterjee on cow vigilantism and colonial rule. Via Alok Prasanna Kumar.

I’ve been following the discussion of e.E. Charlton-Trujillo’s When We Was Fierce and the many issues with its invented language. Meanwhile I’m about to read Alex Wheatle’s Liccle Bit and Crongton Knights, and in the context of all those things, this interview with Wheatle, about his invented language, is really interesting.

August 14, 2016

Of Interest (14 August, 2016)


Unsorted because I did a tonne of work today:

Flavia Dzodan (pause while we all give thanks that Flavia is writing things on the internet again) on having a phrase become a meme, capitalism, compensation.

Cheryl Wollner interviews Megan Milks.

Phenderson Djèlí Clark on the Fireside Report and submitting to SF markets as a black writer.

Kelly Hayes on “the little girls who may now believe that they too could be president one day.”

Mildly concerned that this piece by Ben Panko has a tagline from a cheesy movie, but that is the world we are in now.

Molly Smith on the links between criminalisation and violence against sex workers.

Maya Goodfellow on misogynoir and attacks on Diane Abbott.

Janet Stickmon advises aliens on creating a library of books with black characters for children.

Brendan Byrne on Sophia Al-Maria’s Black Friday.  (Related, Al-Maria’s “The Gaze of Sci-Fi Wahabi“)

Gee Imaan Semmalar on the various problems with India’s recent bill for the protection of trans people’s rights.

Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib on Frank Ocean’s deferred album, thirst and performative longing.

Praveen Gopal Krishnan on immigration, property and precarity in the Gulf.

Nisi Shawl, Ayana Jamieson and Cauleen Smith discuss the legacy of Octavia Butler.

Some good things in the South Asian Writing special issue of 91st Meridian, but these Uday Prakash poems, translated by Roomy Naqvy, are my favourite.

I haven’t thought through this piece on the futures of nuclear criticism by Daniel Cordle yet, but there is much there that is relevant to my interests and probably yours as well.

August 12, 2016

Crystal Chan, Bird

After complaining about the whiteness of the Carnegie award for three years in a row now, I’ve been trying to find recent children’s books, by non-white authors, that might have been on the shortlist (or even the longlist) in other circumstances. Would Bird have been eligible for the medal? I’m not sure—it was shortlisted for the Waterstones children’s book prize this year, but I suspect that, if it was eligible at all, it would have been so for last year’s Carnegie, since it first came out in 2014. (To further complicate matters, one of the rules for the prize is also that if published elsewhere first, the book must be published in the UK within three months, and that can be difficult to work out.)

Jewel is twelve, and knows that the home she lives in is an unhappy one. On the day of her birth her older brother, then five, tried to “fly” from the local cliff and plummeted to his death. Since then her birthday has been marked by mourning, her parents unhappy and still blaming one another; and her grandfather, who gave John the nickname “bird” and who blames himself for his death, has not spoken since it happened. Jewel’s multiracial family is also something of an oddity in her small Iowa town; her father’s family are Jamaican, while her mother is half-Mexican. Her father, always superstitious, has forbidden her to go near the cliff, and futilely attempts to grow non-native plants in their garden in order to ward off duppies. Her mother is worried and distracted and would like her daughter to have safer and less extraordinary thoughts and ambitions.

But then Jewel meets John, a boy her own age who is visiting his uncle for the summer, and everything changes. John is fascinated by astronomy in the way that Jewel is by geology; they are awed and respectful of one another’s knowledge, show each other their own particular haunts and secret places, and share some of the complexities of their respective families (John is black, and adopted, and has complicated feelings about his adopted [white] parents). Jewel’s initial discomfort over the coincidence (or is it?) of John’s name being that of her brother soon dissipates, but her grandfather refuses to accept John’s entry into his home.

It’s clear to the reader, if not to Jewel (for a surprisingly long time) that her grandfather believes John to be a duppie—whether or not he is justified in this belief is less clear. Jewel and John’s friendship begins rather eerily—John is a common enough name, but long before the grandfather’s suspicions enter the picture the reader is wondering about his connection to Jewel’s lost brother. Until we know what genre of book we’re reading, we can’t know who or what John really is. There’s much about Bird that teeters on the brink of the supernatural in any case—its spectacular landscapes, the exaggerated (but not, because it’s entirely plausible) extreme of the man who has been silent for over a decade are all there to invoke—if not the strictly SFFnal—a sense of wonder, or the possibility of wonder. Jewel has created a set of rituals for herself involving the rocks she arranges at the top of the cliff, and there too, the reader is left half-believing in them. And Jewel and John’s respective hobbies mean that we’re full alive to the vastness of astronomical space and geological time.

Supernatural (or not) overtones aside, a thing that Bird does particularly well is a set of real, complex, and often awful relationships. The book informs me that the author also grew up as a mixed-race kid (though in Wisconsin, not Iowa) and some of the complexities of Jewel’s situation are presumably drawn from experience. But there are difficult things here (that are hopefully not drawn from experience) and in dealing with them Chan is largely precise and kind. Jewel’s family do, at some level, all love one another, but grief has affected the individual people involved (in varied and complicated ways), as well as the dynamics of their relationships; the impact of that grief is never trivialised and can’t be fully resolved. The book in this aspect is well-named; the shadow of Bird/John’s death lies heavy over the characters. It’s hard to imagine an uncomplicatedly happy ending for this family that doesn’t first involve years of consciously working towards it. But of course “and things were complicated for several years afterwards” isn’t really a satisfying plot structure, and Bird obtains what structure it has from two particular relationships: Jewel and John, who are friends, face conflict, and have to learn to forgive one another; and Jewel and her grandfather, who she has never heard speak in all the 12 years of her life. The second of these is by far the more complicated—and if they’re both a bit too easy and too pat, they’re counterbalanced by still existing in a world where very little else is easy.

And yet, despite all the things about Bird that I like very much, I’m not sure whether I think it works well as a whole object. I applaud its lack of easy resolution and its refusal to simplify its world, but much of what’s going on in the background, however well drawn, feels a bit directionless. I keep changing my mind—either I think it’s got a clever slice-of-life feel to it (here is some stuff that happened over this summer, but life will go on, slightly altered, for these characters; that’s the story) or it’s a bit baggy and slack.

August 7, 2016

Of Interest (7 August, 2016)

Here are some things that I read this week.



A Vision For Black Lives.  Via Christina Sharpe.

Lori Lee Oates on empire and the commercialisation of alternative religion. (It’s not an argument that has space to examine the uneven ways in which things like yoga work in their homelands, but as long as we’re all remembering that that too is a thing…)

I enjoyed this roundtable about terminology in the UK, though I’m not sure why it’s in two parts. (Via Nikesh Shukla, who’s in it.)

Gurminder K. Bhambra on Britishness, empire, brexit, class.

In the wake of this week’s BLM demonstration in London, the context of Jimmy Mubenga’s death feels particularly important to remember.

An interview with Mariame Kaba on prison abolition, race, violence. Via Molly Smith.



Dexter Palmer in conversation with J.D. Schnepf.

I also enjoyed this interview with Metropolarity.

Trisha Gupta in Asymptote on Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay’s Panty.

Robin Ngangom on Pijush Dhar and Shillong. Via Nandini Ramachandran.

Kate Schapira and Valerie Witte in conversation.

Malcolm Harris on China Mieville’s Last Days of New Paris.


August 1, 2016

July Reading

A good month for reading, if not for the world in general.


Crystal Chan, Bird: A children’s book that I rather liked. Chan’s MG novel about friendship and family is a bit uneven and its mysteries aren’t particularly mysterious, but it’s full of big, sweeping ideas and clever little details, and I found that I really enjoyed it. I’ll be writing more about it soon.

Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda, Monstress, #1-6: Whenever I begin a new series I seem to find myself complaining that there’s not enough included in the first issue for me to get into it and decide if I want to continue. Liu and Takeda’s series begins with a huge first issue, and I bought the next five as soon as I’d finished reading it. It’s a big, meaty, sweeping epic fantasy, with hints of huge, inaccessible back story, elements of the just plain weird, almost all the named characters are women, and it’s just satisfying in the ways that secondary world fantasies with chosen-one teenagers and talking cats tend to be. Takeda’s art is beautiful, and the sheer level of detail adds, again, to the sense of the depth of this world.

Jonathan Baird, Kevin Costner and Rick Ross, The Explorers Guild: There isn’t really an appropriate emotion for finding yourself reading a book apparently co-authored by Kevin Costner and enjoying it (though obviously celebrities are people too, and may have interests and talents beyond the ones they’re famous for). I’ll be reviewing this elsewhere–as you’d expect, with a 700+ page imitation imperial adventure novel that keeps asking you to compare it to Kipling (and other reviewers have obliged wholeheartedly) my feelings are many and varied; c.f. my well-documented love of solar topis.

Alice Pung, Laurinda: A school story in which a poor, Chinese-Cambodian teenager wins a scholarship to an exclusive girls’ school. Scholarship student stories are a time-honoured tradition within the school story and I’m hoping, soon, to read this against that genre–and alongside Dear Mrs. Naidu and Robin Stevens’s Wells and Wong books. Soon. For now, I liked it.

Innosanto Nagara, A is for activist: I was in London for a few days, and Erin led me astray into Housmans on a day when something I’d expected to spend a lot of money on had turned out to be free and I was feeling reckless. Result: several books, including things from Stuart Hall’s library, and this board book, which I loved. The art is great, there are several cats, and the entry for “N” is “No”.

Joan Aiken, All But A Few, The People in the Castle: Apparently (I learn from Lizza Aiken’s acknowledgements in another Aiken collection, The Monkey’s Wedding), John Clute has created a bibliography of all of Aiken’s short stories–and there are more than five hundred of them out there in the wild. I suppose I’m glad that such a thing exists, but I’ve always read Aiken in haphazard collections, with occasional surprise repeated stories, and a larger sense that there would always be more, unlimited, Aiken to discover. The People in the Castle is a version of a “best of” anthology, so there are stories I was already familiar with; some of them showed up again in All But A Few when I read it immediately after. But most of each collection was completely new, and all of them astonishingly good. I’ve never yet succeeded in articulating what it is about Aiken that makes her work so good (though if anyone wanted someone to review The People in the Castle, hi, I’d like to) but to read “Watkyn, Comma” or “A Portable Elephant” really is to be in the presence of genius.