Sunday, May 29, 2016

Murchie Plus Books: May 22nd to 28th

The premise: I love my dog and I love books, so I smush the two together by making my dog pose with every book I read.

The photos: go live on Instagram as I edit them and appear here in digest form every Sunday, with descriptive alt tags and additional commentary.

Not pictured: I finally sat down and wrote about UNCANNY X-MEN #126-150, freeing me up to read some more of the series. Whee!

I also started a couple of serial fiction projects I'll tell you about in June as part of a planned spotlight on Serial Box Publishing.

A fuzzy grey poodle, Murchie, lies in a massive beige dog bed in a gazebo. Beside him is a trade paperback copy of The Kingdom of Gods. Its blue-tinged cover features a massive palace hovering slightly above a stormy ocean, seemingly supported by a red burst of magic. An indistinct face hovers behind it.

I'd planned to alternate between N.K. Jemisin novels and review copies, but that quickly fell apart. I only managed to pause between THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS and THE BROKEN KINGDOMS because I had to wait for the library to reopen (Wednesdays being their admin days), and when I finished THE BROKEN KINGDOMS I realized I wanted nothing so much as to start THE KINGDOM OF GODS straight away.

So I did.

And it floored me.

I mean, I loved the first two books, but this one grabbed hold of me in another way entirely. I sank straight into it and never willingly put it down. I devoured thirty-page chapters without a care for how long they took, then decided I could read just one (or two) more of 'em before I turned my attention to some other pressing matter. Like exercise, or sleep, or whatever.

I knew right away it was gonna be a 4-star book. By the midpoint, I strongly suspected it was a rare 4.5er. Right near the end, I recognized it was one of those books I'd rate 4.5 stars for the time being, with the understanding I'd surely bump it up to 5 stars once I'd reread it. Then I realized that was silly, and I might as well cut out a step and give it 5 stars right off the bat.

Now I've gotta decide whether I want to write about these books. I made some attempt at discussing THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS and THE BROKEN KINGDOMS six years ago, and I'm pretty sure I failed at it. (I especially didn't know how to talk about THE BROKEN KINGDOMS. I wrestled with it for days and am scared to look for my old review.) My present self is much better at admitting I simply don't want to dissect my reaction to every book I loved, but I'm not sure if that's actually the case here. I'm right on the line between, "I want to say more about why I loved THE KINGDOM OF GODS so much" and, "I'd rather keep this on the inside, just for me."

Maybe I want to write something about that impulse instead...

Whichever side I come down on, I want y'all to know these books are extremely queer, and this one is the most overtly queer of the lot. That made me very happy.

You should know, too, that I bought my own copy right away; something I almost never do. I enjoyed finishing this series so much that I wanted to give N.K. Jemisin some royalties, so I popped on to Kobo in search of the Inheritance sequel novella. Along the way, I noticed the series omnibus was only $9.99; a tempting deal indeed, especially since it included the novella I was after. Three novels and one novella for $10 is excellent value for money, so I went ahead and bought it.

(It's even cheaper on US Kindle, if you swing that way.)

Murchie hovers behind a white iPod with the cover of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian on his screen. The cover features two stereotyped toys of First Nations people against a black background. Murchie's face is blurred.

Murchie's been especially bad about keeping his head still of late. Oh, pup.

I've backburnered most general fiction while this epic fantasy craving runs its course, but I made an exception for THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie. Alexie's FLIGHT convinced me I needed to read everything he's written, and this one reinforced it. This dude's so, so good at taking readers inside his protagonist's worldview.

He doesn't pull any punches, either, as he tackles the challenges young people from marginalized backgrounds face as they live within North America's racist culture. This particular book follows Junior, a Spokane Indian kid who decides to transfer to a school off his reservation. Alexie examines the pushback from this decision, both within Junior's community and among the white kids he ends up going to school alongside. There's a lot of dark shit on both fronts, but there's also a ton of hope woven throughout. I feel like that's Alexie's signature move, based on the two books I've read so far, and I look forward to seeing him work that angle throughout all his other novels.

Murchie lies in his massive outdoor dog bed with two volumes of Wandering Son propped up in front of it. The bed is tall enough that his head pokes over the top of the books. Only the title of each book is visible, in brown on the left and in red on the right.

I read volumes three and four of Shimura Takako's WANDERING SON over the Victoria Day weekend. It's so different from every other manga I've read; quieter, slower, and far more introspective. I think I'd have enjoyed these two volumes more if I didn't have this epic fantasy thing going on right now.

That said, I'm bitterly disappointed to see Takako reinforce troubling stereotypes where Yuki is concerned. To my Canadian eye, Yuki's interest in Takatsuki reads like pedophilia; however, a lot of that comes from her desire that they bathe together, and I understand Japanese bathing practices differ from Canadian ones. It's possible I'm not equipped to interpret that scene as the creator intends. More universally troubling, though, is that Yuki's comments about Takatsuki's body indicate she doesn't think of herself as a real woman, despite the text's previous assertion that she's a happy, adult trans woman in whose footsteps Shu could someday follow. I was horrified to see this transphobic notion on the page and now have to question whether I want to continue the series.

I did read volume four--the relevant scenes appear in volume three--and I'll try at least one more volume in the hopes the comic decides to unpack and challenge society's notions of "real" instead of buying into them.

Murchie lies in his outdoor dog bed. In front of him is a white iPod with The 100's white cover on its screen. The title dominates the cover, faces just visible within each letter or number.

THE 100, Kass Morgan's novel that inspired the CW show, is one of Scribd's unlimited audios for May, so I figured I'd give it a whirl. I recognized going in that there were bound to be plenty of differences between the show (which is one of my favourites) and its source material, and these made for an interesting compare-and-contrast exercise. Most notably, the showrunners added a ton of new characters (or incorporated characters who don't appear until the second or third books), and the book-spacers' culture has many ties to the show-grounders' setup at Mount Weather. You can see the bones of one in the other, but they work as separately enjoyable entities.

Both are discovery stories. The 100 discover a whole new world on the ground. The reader discovers how life might function three hundred years after the nuclear apocalypse. It's fun stuff, with the promise of darker times over the horizon. I've borrowed the sequel (as an ebook, not on audio) and hope to squeeze it in soon.

Murchie stands on a paved patio, right on the edge of a lawn. Beside him is a trade paperback copy of the first volume of Low. Its blue-toned cover features a woman in a skintight orange diving suit floating upside down against a dark mass.
Rick Remender and Greg Tocchini's LOW takes place in a far future where humanity has retreated to the bottom of the ocean to escape radiation from the ever-expanding sun.

I'm terrified of deep water.

You can see why I was like, "Ah, yes, I'll borrow this comic."

Seriously, there were a few pages that scared the shit out of me, not because they dealt with conventionally horrific acts but because the characters were floating in the open ocean. I had to look away quickly.

Story-wise, this feels like a series I could end up loving, even if I only really like each individual volume. The orange-and-blue colour scheme works well on my eyes, and there's plenty of rich, brutal worldbuilding and ideology to sift through. I do question how many of the women run around in bikinis, though. If it's a natural undersea fashion choice, why aren't the majority of the men in speedos?

(I get that the trappings, including the bikinis and the orange tinge, are partly a reference to the really pulpy planetary SF of old. The finished product still hits the contemporary eye in a particularly gendered way that the text seems disinterested in interrogating.)

I also raise my eyebrows at futuristic SF settings where people still use Mrs rather than Ms, as a general rule. It's such an odd choice, especially given all the bikinis. Next you're gonna tell me these far future people use Fahrenheit.

Murchie lies on a fuzzy beige pillow. In front of him is a trade paperback copy of Southern Bastards Volume Two. Its red-tinted cover features a young white man seated in a locker room. Band aids cross his nose and forehead.

I can't quite tell whether I want to like SOUTHERN BASTARDS more than I do, or I like SOUTHERN BASTARDS more than I want to.

It's certainly an intelligent, well-conceived comic, but I'm not sure it's the intelligent, well-conceived comic for me. Remarkable achievement though it is, it leaves a bad taste in the back of my throat.

The question is, is it a, "I recognize this makes me uncomfortable because it covers important territory, and I want to engage with it intellectually even though it may hurt" sort of taste? Or is it a, "this isn't worth the emotional drain so I should do something else with my time" sort of taste?

Please note that this volume needs a trigger warning for object rape. It happens between panels, but it's pretty obvious where it's going and where it ends up.

Murchie's head hovers beside a white Kobo with The Awakened Kingdom's cover on its screen. The cover features golden metal slats that extend out to outline starbursts against a rusty backdrop. A pale hand props the Kobo up.

I've sort of fallen into the habit of taking a day or two off from prose after I read a really awesome novel. I finished THE KINGDOM OF GODS, paused to read some comics, and picked up THE AWAKENED KINGDOM once the previous volume had had time to settle.

This one's a novella set about three hundred years after the trilogy's end. It follows a baby godling as she figures out how to be, and it's both adorable and horrifying. Adorable because Shill is young and enthusiastic and mostly well-intentioned; horrifying because she's a god who's still figuring out her powers and her personality, and her mistakes come packaged with a hell of a lot more tragic potential than yours or mine. I loved it.

Be aware it spoils the end of THE KINGDOM OF GODS, so you don't want to read this before you've read that (unless you're of Jenny's tribe and you don't care about spoilers).

Full disclosure: since I read the novella as part of the abovementioned omnibus, I pulled the cover art from a Google image search. I do wish more omnbi included the covers of each individual volume, though I suppose publishers leave them out because of Amazon's stance on embedded images.

Murchie lies on his sheep-shaped pillow. A trade paperback copy of Princess Jellyfish Volume One lies at an angle alongside him. Its cover features a Japanese girl with glasses and two long braids. She clutchers her head. Behind her is a person wearing a long, pale pink wig. The manga's title appears against a bubbled pink backdrop directly below the figures.

Akiko Higashimura's PRINCESS JELLYFISH is yet another manga I requested after it was featured on Panels. It's about a jellyfish-obsessed young illustrator who befriends a gender-nonconforming boy with a passion for fashion. These first two volumes were delightful, packed with supreme awkwardness, passionate characters, and scenarios that brim with dramatic potential.

It's expanded my Japanese vocabulary, too, though I haven't found anything that can tell me what Mayaya's hand gestures are all about. I assume they're a Japanese pop cultural trope I've somehow never encountered before, but they clearly aren't one the internet wants to dissect for the uninformed reader.

Trigger warning for roofie usage, by a woman against a man so she can take compromising photos of him.

Next week: Guy Gavriel Kay's latest. Hopefully Intsar Khanani's latest, too. More comics. An increasingly messy pup, since his regular groomer is on maternity leave and the stand-in the vet recommended can't see him until the 13th.


  1. :( re: Wandering Son. I meant to carry on with the series, but I'm not sure I'll bother now. I will, however, most definitely finish the Jemisin trilogy, which I've been meaning to do for far too long.

    1. Definitely read more Jemisin, Ana. Definitely definitely definitely.

  2. Oh goodness, you have me so very excited for the Inheritance trilogy now. Thank you for oh so gently nudging me to buy the omnibus. I really love the queerness of Jemisin's work as well. Have you read THE FIFTH SEASON? I kinda want to chat with folks about some of the queer stuff going on there, but I don't want to unintentionally spoil.

    1. Not yet! I was gonna grab it the other week, but then I stopped and said, "No. I should finish Inheritance before I dive into anything new." So I did.

      Now I'm gonna go back and read the Dreamblood books before I move along to THE FIFTH SEASON, hopefully just a teensy bit ahead of THE OBELISK GATE's release date so I won't have an enormous wait.

  3. In confessions for this week, I do not like Sherman Alexie's writing, even though I badly want to. There's so much about his work that appeals to me, but when it comes down to it, I have only finished one of his books despite having started several. :/

    This Low business is interesting to me, however. I didn't know that's what the premise was. Sounds terrifying to me also! I don't mind so much about deep water, but the, like, awesome power of water is a scary situation for me. Deep ocean's okay. Scary but in a fun way, like ghosts, because it's not like I'm ever going to meet a ghost or end up in the deep ocean.

    (She said blithely, thereby dooming herself to a ghostly, watery grave.)

    1. I expect there are a great many ghosts in the deep ocean. It's part off the reason water freaks me out so much.

  4. Looks like a great reading week! I am definitely going to be getting the Jemisin e-book collection very soon. Just need to work on some other stuff first!