Category Archives: books

Review – Liar by Justine Larbalestier


***Warning comments will most likely contain spoilers but the post will be major spoiler free***

I want to mention how hard it is to review this book without spoiling it because everything that you want to discuss is a spoiler. It’s a testament to the book that I’m trying at all though because as all my friends will tell you I love me some spoilers but with this book even I agree that it’s best not to be spoiled and so I’m trying to stick with that which will necessitate some vagueness on my part.

First thing I will say is that Liar was one of those books that I got to the end of and my first thought was, ‘Damn, why didn’t I write that!”. Some of you may have heard of the novel because of the controversy of it’s American cover originally featuring a white girl with blond hair when the protagonist is of mixed race background. The whole thing is detailed on Larbalestier’s blog [here and here]. That was what brought the book to my attention initially but I was too bogged down in grad school to really pay attention. Then I started to hear a lot of praise for the book once it was released. After finishing the work I can say I think the praise is well deserved.

Larbalestier does a great job of keeping you guessing. It’s all about a young girl Micah, a girl who freely admits to being a compulsive liar (if not a pathological one…maybe). Micah’s boyfriend has just died which is complicated by a number of facts: his official girlfriend, Micah’s web of lies slowly crumbling and a police investigation. I am not a fan of unreliable narrators, however I have in the past been a fan of novels with unreliable narrators such as From The Notebooks of Dr. Brain by Minister Faust which is an important distinction. Sometimes a works may be amazing and you may feel it needed to be written but you don’t exactly like it for whatever reason.

However Larbalestier achieves which Faust did not (which is not really a criticism since I don’t think it was his intention at all), she makes me really like an unreliable narrator. When you think about that it’s a pretty amazing thing. I am given a character who I cannot trust who openly admits to lying to everyone and I want to believe her, I want to trust her, I want to understand her. It’s a pretty skillful trick to pull off. The very fact that Micah tells us she’s a liar makes the reader want to believe her, to believe that they are special and worthy of the truth where no one else is not. We want to believe that we understand why she lies, and can see the difference and falling into that thinking especially in a book like this is dangerous.

All that being said for me the last fifth of the book seemed weaker than the rest in terms of the balance kept between all the possibilities of Micah’s truth. For me a lot of the genius of this book is that you get to select the truth for yourself from Micah’s tale however in those last pages it felt as if I could see what the author wanted me to believe or the ending that she herself leaned towards. She says on her website that she had no particular preference so it could just be me and as someone who’s not that big a believer in authorial intent this shouldn’t bother me at all anyway but I did find it hampering my enjoyment of the book a little towards the end.

Overall I loved the book and would recommend that everyone pick up a copy and read it. It’s far from a light read so if you’re looking for a traditionally conformative happy ending you may be sorely disappointed…or not depending on how you see it.

I give it four and a half severed elf heads out of five (and if someone makes me a graphic I can use for this rating system you’ll be my favorite ever)

Currently Reading: The Family Tree by Sheri S. Tepper

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Wanna Read Along?

So I am doing an independent study next semester called “Female Protagonists of Colors in Speculative Fiction” and have decided to do most of my reading over this break between semesters to lessen the load in the Spring. A few friends mentioned that they would like to read along with me during this time. So here is the book list:

Required Texts:
James Alan Gardener – Expendable
SM Stirling – Island in the Sea of Time
Octavia Butler – Wild Seed
Nalo Hopkinson – Midnight Robber
Hiromi Goto – The Kappa Child
Larissa Lai – Salt Fish Girl
Leslie Marmon Silko – Almanac of the Dead
Eva Swan – The Bone Whistle
Daina Chaviano – The Island of Eternal Love
Angelica Gorodischer – Kalpa Imperial
Samuel R. Delany – Neveryona
Lizzie Borden’s Born In Flames (film)
Miyazaki’s Nausicca of the Valley of the Winds (graphic novel)

Additional Texts:
David Heath Justice – Kynship
Frank Miller – Give Me Liberty (graphic novel)
Children of Men (film)
Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu – The Shadow Speaker
F.M. Busby – Zelde M’tana

Some are hard to find, like Larissa Lai if you’re in the U.S. because it was Canadian only distribution so feel free to drop some from the list if you guys choose to read along. I’ll be posting about each books as I finish either way. BUT I forgot to post about this until I’d already started so I’ve already (re)read Midnight Robber and will be posting about it later this week.

Just started: Wild Seed

Next Book: Island in the Sea of Time

Probably won’t switch to Island until about January 1st because I’m in thesis crunch time and am trying to finish it before the end of this month by writing about 80 pages. We’ll see if it happens!

Magical Realism

I know that being in Grad School and writing SF/F my stuff will continually be labeled as Magic Realism and it irks me. I’ve always had issues with the genre of magical realism, not because I don’t like the genre or writers but because I think there’s a large tendency in the literary community to lump any People of Color who write Sci-Fiinto Magical Realism. The line between the two genres is more arbitrary and personal I think than anything else. For me it’s where the magic is incorporated into the story and not remarked on as something extraordinary, when the focus of the story is more personal than global and it often revolvesaround family (both of blood and the families you create on your own) but again that’s my personal definition.

But the idea that pisses me off is that if a POC is writing a fantasy at alls then it must be Magical Realism whereas you rarely see white authors treated the same. One example I’ll bring up is Nina Kiriki Hoffman who is one of my favorite authors, her works have many of the hallmarks of magical realism, the subtle magic weaved into an ordinary world but you’ll rarely if ever see her lumped into that category, most of her work is considered urban fantasy. Then you have authors like Nalo Hopkinson – also one of my favorite authors – whose “Brown Girl In The Ring” I see lots of folks terming Magical Realism which I don’t consider it to be because it’s about something that affects a lot of folks in the area and is the hero story of Ti-Jeanne as far as I’m concerned.

Now of course there are pluses and minuses to being considered a Magical Realism writer. The big plus being that you will automatically be given a higher degree of respect and authority within the literary community. The big negative for me is the why POC are automatically Magical Realists. It goes back to the “of the earth” stereotype – that brown folks are somehow closer to the earth and magic than white folks. Which is really a dehumanizing thing because along with this idea is the attitude that magic is something completely disconnected from “civilization” – it’s considered something connected to the primitive and when you look at it that way the fact that any fantastical work by a POC is considered Magical Realism becomes a little insulting because the idea is that if a POC writes about magic they are connecting with some primal force etc…

Magical Realism versus Fantasy is a tricky thing but this goes back to the idea that anything written by an African-American author is automatically shelved in the Af-Am literature section as opposed to its genre. It’s a form of segregation of the books and that’s the same feeling I get when folks divide books that deal with magic into Magical Realism and Fantasy, almost all the POC end up on the MR side and most of the folks on the Fantasy side are white.

Don’t get me wrong I’m not dissing Magical Realism I think it’s an awesome genre and some of my stuff does fit into the category. What I’m angry about is the automatic assumption of any POC who writes SF/F is actually writing Magical Realism. And then of course comes the hand-wringing and wailing over there not being enough POCin SF/F when those who try to break in are often shunted off into Magical Realism.

So yes, that’s my rant for the day.

P.S. – Grad School is totally kicking my ass but I’ve got it all under control…for now.

Forgetting

Posts around here will grow a little more scarce than usual in the coming weeks as I concentrate all my energy on moving across the bay and starting grad school – I feel a curious mix of excitement and nausea. I won’t be disappearing but I don’t know if the one-post a day route is going to work while all this is going on.  I’ll still post often it just won’t be as often as it has been over the last few months, probably more like 2-3 posts a week as opposed to 4-5.

All this packing for a move has clearly given me a severe case of wool-brain since I forgot to mention that the final round of voting in the Feminist SF Top Ten Obscure Works Poll ends tomorrow night! Here’s the post with the covers of the Top 24 books and here is the post with the link to the poll. Go vote!

They’ve Done It Again…

So I was reading Fantasy Debut, one of my daily blogs. I was skimming the review Tia had of The Sellsword (Dragonlance) by Cam Banks, skimming because I could tell it wasn’t the kind SF/F that’s really to my tastes then I hit one of the last lines of the review:

I do have one major criticism, and it has nothing to do with the author. Vanderjack is black. So why does the cover feature a man with pasty white skin? I thought the cover was well-done otherwise.

Now I’ve blogged about this phenomenon before, most recently talking about visual media in, Hollywood Stop Whitening Characters! No Really! Stop It! and just over a year ago at Feminist SF – The Blog talking about books in Judging Books & Their Covers. I’m glad that others are noticing this horrifying trend and bringin attention to it. This is not something that’s over and done it’s something that is still happening with books that come out everyday.

I’ve really said most of what I have to say about this subject in the previous links however, I might have a suggestion: When I talked to my friend Jackie about this phenomenon, she mentioned that when she wrote a review of Larissa (one of the books in my Feminist SF post where the cover girl is white but the protag very clearly black in the text) she suggested that anyone who was outraged at the cover as she was, do this – tear off the offending cover and mail it back to the publisher with a note explaining why. 

I do advocate buying the book first (in case that wasn’t clear), number one so you don’t get arrested for vandalism and number two because I don’t believe in punishing the author for publishing decisions, which these almost always are. I don’t know that doing this will do anything to change the way the industry thinks and acts but at least it’s a constructive way to let the publisher know how you feel and get your anger out at the same time.

EDITED TO ADD – I just wanted to clarify in case it wasn’t clear in the the original post that I do not blame the author for this and if the book sounds like something you would enjoy I say go out and buy it. I love it when folks write POC characters in any kind of fantasy setting and I think we should all support that.

Poll (finally) Up!

After many hours of work the poll for the Top Ten Obscure Works List nominated and voted on by Feminist – SF readers is up.

For those who don’t known this whole thing came along when I say a Top Ten Obscure List in which all the authors were white men and same for all the main characters. And I started to wonder, what would our list look like? One organized by F/SF readers who are anti-sexist, anti-racist, anti-heterosexist and read a wide array of fiction that the mainstream never touches or validates.  So I opened up nominations on Feminist SF – The Blog and got over 100 nominations!

Want to take part? Then head on over and vote and remember to get friends interested in this to vote as well.

So yes the poll is up, let the first round of voting commence.

Still Swamped – Links!

I still have a lot of balls in the air so I have links for you guys today!

First the story of a mother who found herself the subject of a Child Services investigation because there had been an accusation that her autistic daughter was being sexually abused by a man. The evidence for this accusation? Well it seems the educational assistant who works with little Victoria went to see a psychic.

One Memphis officer has been fired and another now riding the desk after they beat a Transwoman in a holding cell because she wanted to be called by her given name and no “he-she”. It’s all on video and from what I hear pretty graphic (I can’t bring myself to watch it yet), she’s beat in the face with handcuffs, sprayed with mace and another officer holds her arms while one beats her and finally when the nurse enters she goes directly to the officer. Trangriot has more.


So Nightshade books released an anthology called Eclipse: One in which the authors were pretty much 50/50 men and women but no women’s names appeared on the cover. There’s was a valid outcry over this. Check out Coffee And Ink’s breakdown of the panel on it that occured at WisCon this year. This includes the fact that at the panel people were told the second volume would be different because of the respondents, the excuse for the first cover being that the men were just more famous.

But the story’s not over because the Table of Contents for the second volume has been released and there’s only one woman that I see. The excuse is of course that whole genderblind defense: “I don’t see gender I see good stories” which of course not only ignores subconscious prejudices but implies that women just don’t write good Science-Fiction. Bring into it the fact that this volumes is supposed to focus on more Science-Fiction than Fantasy and it reinforces that old stereotype of “Men write Sci-Fi, Women write Fantasy” which is of course complete bullshit. Check out some links.

Gender blind, right…

A scenario for you

And for a little perspective a post theangryblackwoman wrote over a year ago: How To Promote Diversity in Fiction Markets


Many of you will recall my post about Marriage Equality and that one of things that bothered me the most was that there were no dissenting voices in this debate, no one who stood up to say that marriage is not a cure-all and in fact is a bit of a fucked up system. Well I started to find some dissent.

In “Marriage Isn’t My Golden Ticket” Miriam Perez points out the way this issue has eclipsed everything else and draws attention away from important issues.

In “Why This Queer Isn’t Celebrating.” AngryBrownButch addresses the way that already marginalized groups within the queer community are becoming even more marginalized by the mainstream face that is being presented by the community.  

Finally “Why One Queer Person Is Not Celebrating California’s Historic Gay Marriage Decision” by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore (who I now want to be my new best friend) breaks a lot of the issues I’ve been struggling to verbalize down.

That’s it for today, enjoy the links.