Review: The Secret History

Donna Tartt’s The Secret History is set at an exclusive college in rural Vermont. Our Narrator is Richard Papen, an ambitious but not particularly well-off young man who, by way of an esoteric course in Ancient Greek, falls in with a group of fantastically wealthy students.

It has what I think of as a Gothic structure: one that turns in on itself, compulsively enacting a sort of Freudian return of the repressed. Right at its centre (literally and metaphorically) there is a murder: the entire novel revolves around that still point, as we discover why it happened and the effect that it’s had on these students’ lives. It is an essentially stagnant structure: the narrative’s constant return to the image of the murder reflects the characters’ inability to escape its consequences. As Richard explains in the prologue, their lives will contain no other story but this one. They are trapped in this moment of trauma, defined by it, even as they move further in time from the event itself.

It’s not quite Gothic enough for me, though: it lacks the hallucinatory overwriting of a proper Gothic novel (think Gormenghast or The Mysteries of Udolpho). Tartt’s prose is just a little too conventionally “realistic” to suck you in, cloak you in the abject horror of the repressed returning past. I enjoyed The Secret History, but it felt just a little too controlled; a little too carefully structured.

Review: White Tears

At last! A Tournament of Books contender that I don’t hate!

Well now, that’s a little unfair. I like Ruth Ozeki’s work, and Station Eleven is lovely, and I really enjoyed thinking about Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko. Bu-ut, generally, the people who follow and read along with the ToB are looking for different things in their reading than I am. As a case in point, Hari Kunzru’s White Tears, which I think is doing unusual and important work, didn’t make it out of the first round of this year’s Tournament, despite a relatively high seeding, which means my memory has apparently fabricated a rich vein of discussion about it. (The ToB is possibly the only place on the internet where it’s not only safe but actually productive to read the comments.)

Anyway. The very fact that White Tears made it into the ToB in the first place means that, although it draws on genre elements, it falls squarely into the Literary camp: it relies more on affect than plot to generate meaning. But a bare-bones plot summary might go something like this.

The novel follows two young white men, astronomically wealthy Carter and un-wealthy, unworldly Seth. Carter draws impressionable, eager-to-please Seth down with him into the depths of an appropriative obsession with Black music, a search for a spurious “authenticity” which they think the Black people they actually meet in college lack. Together, they form a production company specialising in creating this “authentic” sound for (mostly white) musicians, using the substantial library of original 1920s records Carter has put together. Things take a sinister turn, however, when Carter releases online a blues track put together by Seth out of a couple of enigmatic recordings he’s made while walking the city; Carter passes the song off as genuine, claiming that it’s by an artist named Charlie Shaw. An ex-collector reveals that Charlie Shaw was in fact a real Black artist – and decades of systematic racism, oppression and appropriation literally come back to haunt Carter and Seth.

Literally: a couple of commenters on the one ToB judgement White Tears did manage wanted to know what “really happens” towards the end of the book, when Seth apparently experiences flashes from the life of Charlie Shaw and possibly other Black victims of institutional racism. Kunzru also sets up a couple of murder mysteries that never get solved comprehensively, at least not in the way we’d expect from the detective-story traditions he draws on. I think that asking what literally happens misses Kunzru’s point here, or is, rather, the exact opposite of Kunzru’s point: these flashbacks, these lacunae, deliberately disturb the “logical”, “rational” surface of the text, the level on which we can rationalise out motives and psychologies and chains of cause and effect. They, precisely, haunt the text, as the spectre of racism haunts America. The novel isn’t interested in logical, rational explanations because it’s not interested in allowing us to construct racism and appropriation as logical, rational responses.

There is something here, too, that’s to do with artistic and narrative erasure. On the most obvious level, Carter and Seth are erasing Black artists, and the cultural tragedy their work is rooted in, by appropriating their “authenticity” for their own profit. (It’s worth noting here that Carter’s family has made their fortune off Black labour and Black lives.) So the novel eschews conventional narrative solutions as a way of performing this erasure: Charlie Shaw, the brilliant young artist, is denied the narrative arc that would (and, under the terms of the novel, should) bring him to fame, fortune and recognition by a system that exploits his labour and life: his career is derailed before it’s even begun by white capitalists who refuse to acknowledge his humanity.

I wonder if my not minding the novel’s refusal to provide logical explanations has to do with genre reading protocols? While it refers to our murder mystery expectations only to subvert them, it’s also clearly drawing on horror tropes to frame its discussion of racism and appropriation – and I suspect that not fully understanding a text on a rational level bothers readers of speculative literature (including horror) less than it does readers who primarily favour mimetic litfic. Or maybe that’s a gross simplification of people’s actual reading habits; I don’t know. In any case, I think this ghost story/murder mystery/Literary novel is a really effective way of laying bare the connections between the slave trade, institutional racism and oppression and cultural appropriation, and the utter savagery of those systems.

Review: The Future is Blue

The title story of Catherynne M. Valente’s latest short story collection The Future is Blue is set in the mid to far future, when the hungry seas, fed by climate change, have swallowed up Earth’s land. What’s left is

Nothing but ocean and more ocean and a handful of drifty lifeboat cities…circling the world like horses on a broken-down carousel. Nothing but blue.

One of those cities, the one in which the story is set, is Garbagetown, a floating patch of rubbish the size of Texas, made habitable by the labour of people who

spent [their] whole life moving rubbish from one end of the patch to the other so that a pile of crap could turn into a country and babies could be born in places like Candle Hole or Scrapmetal Abbey or Pill Hill or Toyside or Teagate.

The Garbagetowners, in other words, dwell literally in the shadow of our rubbish. Which got me thinking about the salvagepunk aspects of Valente’s work, and especially this collection. At the micro level, one of the building blocks of Valente’s whimsical, faux-naive prose style is the list. From “The Future is Blue”:

I love encyclopedias, a cassette I found when I was eight that says Madeleine Brix’s Superboss Mixtape ’97 on it in very nice handwriting, plays by Mr. Shakespeare or Mr. Webster or Mr. Beckett, lipstick, Garbagetown, and my twin brother Maruchan.

Items of junk, items of value and people all get the same treatment here, partly for effect, but there’s also something going on here to do with excess. The story’s heroine lives among junk, in the shadow of junk, and so for her it’s difficult to distinguish what is junk from what is important. The importance of rubbish in Garbagetown has its echo in the next story in the collection, “No One Dies in Nowhere”, which is set in a kind of purgatory: the dead bring with them the objects they used or dwelt on in their last day alive, but over the centuries these relics lose all trace of meaning and are traded away for the small items that others have brought with them. They become items of junk, despite/because of the fact that they are the only things the dead have left.

Evan Calder Williams has this to say about salvagepunk:

Perhaps, then, the salvagepunk world should be seen primarily as the dreamwork of choice and construction…it is a world of stealing from the ruins, robbing the graves, and rearranging the leftovers.

This is, Williams goes on to add, a kind of reaction to the “doomed-to-repeat trajectory” of late capitalism: salvagepunk as resistance to, and rejection of, a “fluid”, comfortable worldview that we nevertheless have little choice but to participate in. So one of the things salvagepunk aims to do is change our relationship to capitalism, and thus to its products, junk, salvage, the detritus of our consumer existence. The heroine of “The Future is Blue” rejects, at great personal cost, the kind of resource-hungry, capitalist sense of entitlement that drowned the world in the first place and, in her view, threatens to destroy her world a second time:

They were gonna use up every last drop of Garbagetown’s power to go nowhere and do nothing and instead of measuring out teaspoons of good, honest gas, so that it lasts and we last all together, no single thing on the patch would ever turn on again, and we’d go dark, really dark, forever…This is the future. Garbagetown and the sea…We are so lucky. Life is so good.

And the meaningless system of trade and barter that the dead of “No One Dies in Nowhere” engage in to pass the time is only an echo of our own meaningless consumerism, trading junk we think will give us status and power and above all individuality. The goods of the dead do not serve to identify them one from the other.

This reimagination of our relation to the status quo is of a piece with the rest of the collection. Almost all of these stories are about existing in the shadow of ancestors who have fucked everything up – whether that’s (my personal favourite) “Down and Out in R’lyeh”, in which millenial Lovecraftian monsters complain about the Elder Gods having stolen all the limelight and done everything worth doing, or “A Fall Counts Anywhere”, which recounts humankind’s betrayal of fairykind through the medium of a robot v. fairy wrestling match. And all of these stories end with a fundamental reimagining of the status quo; a reimagining that, in fact, breaks the story, makes it impossible to continue because the terms have so radically changed.

(An exception – albeit a very honourable one – is “The Limitless Perspective of Master Peek, or, The Luminescence of Debauchery”. It is, nonetheless, probably my second favourite story in the collection, and I recommend it wholeheartedly.)

Rarely is this an entirely positive thing. Hearts are broken. Things are lost. People die. War comes. That is the terrible poignancy of The Future is Blue: broken systems need changing, but it’s impossible to change them without losing things that are good. It’s a book that feels fiercely of its time, of this time, when the neoliberal capitalist system is so broken, and yet even beginning to change it seems an impossible task.

2018 Roundup

Behold, from deep in the Valley of the Christmas Holidays, a roundup post…

I’m going to try and post a bit more regularly in 2019. Starting next week, that is.

My Favourite Things of 2018

Book: The Stone Sky – N.K. Jemisin. The Stone Sky made me cry in Stansted Airport. The last book in Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, it is not a happy book. It is not one I’ll return to for comfort or reassurance. It is just stunningly good.

TV: Doctor Who: The Tsuranga Conundrum. I’ve been really terrible at reviewing TV on the blog this year: it’s basically just been Doctor Who. But what a series of Doctor Who! Tsuranga encapsulates everything I love about it. It is hopeful, inclusive and searching, a story that asks us to reimagine what Doctor Who is and what it’s for.

Film: Jupiter AscendingYeah, the film reviewing has fallen a bit by the wayside this year, too. And I’m pretty bad at seeing films, anyway. So let’s go with Jupiter Ascending, a film from the Wachowski sisters that is absolutely bizarre, utterly gorgeous to look at and contains Eddie Redmayne.

Spreadsheet time!

  • I read 76 books in 2018 – ten short of my total of 86, dammit.
  • The longest book I read was Kim Stanley Robinson’s Green Earth, which at 1069 pages is technically three novels in one, and probably one of my favourite books of 2018. Meanwhile, the shortest was Jorge Luis Borges’ A Universal History of Iniquity, at a slim and forgettable 105 pages. Overall, I read 30,048 pages – unsurprisingly not quite as good as last year’s 30,893 (although, not that far off…)
  • The oldest book I read in 2018 was Charles Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge, published in 1841. The average age of the books I read in 2018 was 42, down from last year’s 44. (I’m pretty sure this average is dragged down quite a lot by my annual Tolkien reread.)
  • Genre: The genre split of my reading has shifted quite a lot this year – I relied much more on the local library than I have in previous years, and the SFF section only goes so far. So: 36% of my reading was fantasy, down from 45% last year; 21% was science fiction, the same as last year. 17% was lit fic, significantly up from 9% last year, and 12% was non-fiction, again significantly up from last year’s 6%. The rest was split between historical, contemporary, crime and humour (all the annoying interchangeable categories, in other words).
  • 9% of the books I read in 2018 were re-reads – down from last year’s 11%, which is great.
  • 53% of the books I read in 2018 were by women – up from last year’s disappointing 46%.
  • And 24% of the books I read in 2018 were by authors of colour, another increase on last year’s 18%.

Ten Fictional Bookworms

  1. Blue van Meer – Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Marisha Pessl. I love that Blue sees the world filtered through the dubious gauze of academia and literary thought and scientific theory, and that this isn’t necessarily a good thing. I can relate: it’s always tempting to overlay mundanity with deeper meaning.
  2. Catherine Morland – Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen. Catherine’s much like Blue: she sees everything in terms of her beloved Gothic novels, when there’s usually something less melodramatic but more insidiously serious going on.
  3. Lirael – Lirael, Garth Nix. Lirael’s bookishness is more a matter of convenience than a choice, I guess: she works in the fabulous Library of the Clayr because it’s quiet and she can avoid her endless cousins, rather than because she particularly likes books. But her librarian background stays with her through all her adventures, and it really is an awesome library, so I’m counting it.
  4. Alana – Saga, Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples. Alana believes, right down in the core of her being, that a book can change the world. What bookworm doesn’t relate to that fervour? And, who knows, she might be right.
  5. Ariel Manto – The End of Mr Y, Scarlett Thomas. Ariel spends her last £50 on a rare book. She’s one of us, all right.
  6. Meggie Folchart – Inkheart, Cornelia Funke. Meggie sleeps with a book under a pillow at night! When she goes on adventures she takes the books that will give her courage! Lots of my reading habits are modelled on hers – I read this when I was like eight, and it’s stayed with me ever since.
  7. Hermione Granger – the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling. I mean. I basically have to include Hermione, who is obviously the best of the three Harry Potter kids. (Much more interesting than Harry.)
  8. Francesca – A Novel Bookstore, Laurence Cosse. If only because her dream of opening the perfect bookshop, a bookshop that sells only the best literature, is so perfect, and a thing I want to see so much. “We want books that leave nothing out: neither human tragedy nor everyday wonders, books that bring fresh air to our lungs.”
  9. Katin Crawford – Nova, Samuel Delany. Katin’s…a little out of touch with the world, to put it mildly. In the far-future world of Nova, the novel as an art form is thousands of years obsolete. But Katin still wants to write one, to draw together all the strands of the historical moment he inhabits. He’s fascinated by them. He’s like all of us: a thinker, a dreamer, a person who knows there are other worlds than these.
  10. The creature – Frankenstein, Mary Shelley. The creature gets his entire education from Paradise Lost, basically. Which, in all honesty, is probably precisely as healthy as basing your childhood morality on The Lord of the Rings. Which I definitely did not do. Ever. *coughs*

(The prompt for this post comes from the weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

Top Ten Books I’ve Read So Far in 2018

  1. The Stone Sky – N.K. Jemisin. The conclusion to the Broken Earth trilogy, and I think the only book that’s made me cry so far this year. In an airport. It is devastating and hopeful, bleak and beautiful all at once. It’s a book about climate change and motherhood and the trauma that systematic oppression inflicts on its victims and its perpetrators alike. It’s extremely unusual, to say the least, to find a fantasy novel that’s even half as ambitious and important.
  2. Tipping the Velvet – Sarah Waters. I finished this just today, in fact, and it came pretty close to being the second book to make me cry this year. It’s a novel about a Victorian oyster-girl who falls in love with a male impersonator at the theatre, and follows her to London. Waters is amazing at romantic suspense, at writing the sweet painful bliss of seduction, and I spent the four days it took me to read Tipping the Velvet utterly under its spell.
  3. Rosemary and Rue – Seanan McGuire. The first novel in McGuire’s Toby Daye series was exactly what I hoped it would be: smart and fun and not afraid of dealing with darkness, and set in a version of Faerie that’s magical without being twee.
  4. What Are We Doing Here? – Marilynne Robinson. This is a dense book, a collection of essays delving into the depths of philosophy, theology, history and aesthetics. But it’s worth taking the time and the care to engage with it: it’s a book that advocates empathy, and thorough engagement with the world, and the importance of the humanities in this career-obsessed society.
  5. Green Earth – Kim Stanley Robinson. 2018 for me has so far been marked by a growing awareness, and a concomitant grief, of just what a parlous state we’ve brought our planet to. Green Earth contributed to that awareness, but it also gave me some hope: hope that maybe we can fix our broken social system and find the political and social will to do something about rampant climate change before it’s too late.
  6. Space Opera – Catherynne M. Valente. Space Opera’s rather grown on me since I finished it and found it a little insubstantial. Sure, it’s a story about Eurovision in space. Sure, its ending is schmaltzy as all get-out. But it’s hard to resist its glitter and its goodwill and its generous, inclusive approach to the aliens who inhabit the galaxy – as well as the humans fighting for Earth’s survival.
  7. The Refrigerator Monologues – Catherynne M. Valente. While I was reading it, I enjoyed The Refrigerator Monologues a lot more than Space Opera. But…it’s faded a little in my memory by comparison. Partly I think that’s because it’s a collection of short stories about superheroes, or, rather, the girlfriends of superheroes, women who are “fridged” to advance the stories of men. I see Valente’s point, and it’s well and beautifully made, but I just don’t find superheroes that interesting. And the collection as a whole is a little one-note.
  8. Imaginary Cities – Darran Anderson. This is just a fascinating look at how cities have been portrayed and conceived of throughout human history, romping through sources as diverse as Thomas More’s Utopia and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, looping round and round its points in a kind of collage without ever quite saying what it means. I’m fascinated by the connections between architecture and literature, so this was absolutely perfect for me.
  9. The Real-Town Murders – Adam Roberts. This is a novel I admired more than liked. I mean, I enjoyed reading it; but not as much as I enjoyed nearly everything else on this list. But, like all of Roberts’ writing, it is doing complex, interesting work with genre, and genre expectations, and the headlong splintering of our shared culture.
  10. Provenance – Ann Leckie. Provenance has this fascinating double structure – just when you think you’ve got to the bottom of things you find a whole nother world behind them. Like Leckie’s Ancillary series, it places a lot of emphasis on identity politics and cultural norms and etiquette. And it does some very heavy lifting in imagining a culture that’s genuinely different from our own Western one, especially when it comes to gender norms and family structures.

(The prompt for this post came from the weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

Review: Fury

This review contains spoilers.

TW: incest.

Salman Rushdie’s Fury made me, appropriately, furious. It would be nice if I could think that this was a response Rushdie intended to elicit, a deliberate and knowing effect working in concert with the themes of the novel. I’m not at all confident that it is, though. And, for reasons I’ll outline below, I’m not particularly inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt.

Our Protagonist is Malik Solanka, an academic and dollmaker born in New Delhi but lately of London. When the novel begins, he’s left his wife Eleanor and young son to flee to New York, pursued by a nameless fury that he fears will see him murder his family. But there’s fury in New York, too: a serial killer’s on the loose, whacking wealthy young women on the head with lumps of concrete. There’s also a simmering subplot about a small Caribbean nation locked in the throes of a land dispute whose roots lie ultimately in colonialism – a story which Solanka co-opts in the later half of the novel for a multi-media franchise starring his dolls (which in turn starts feeding the conflict).

There’s a lot to unpack here, and Fury would be a fascinating novel if not for its women.

Simply put: Solanka, or Rushdie, or both, see women as objects. Or, at best, as sacrificial supports for Solanka’s own self-actualisation. He becomes entangled with two different women in the course of his sojourn in New York, both of whom he turns into dolls, more or less literally. The first is Mila, a twenty-something manager of a group of Silicon Valley-type techies who are Changing the World, “a girl of exceptional beauty”. Mila reminds Solanka of Little Brain, a doll he created for a TV show exploring the great philosophers, whose character and concept quickly spun out of her creator’s control and became super-famous. He begins thinking of her as Little Brain; and, far from resisting this objectification, Mila leans into it. She dresses like Little Brain and acts like Little Brain, and the whole thing spirals very quickly into a disturbing not-quite-affair with semi-incestuous overtones. (In short, Mila has daddy issues. Oh, such original characterisation! Such nuance!)

Then there’s Neela. Neela is literally so beautiful that men – only men, apparently – routinely drop stuff, fall over and randomly beg her for dates (or, rather, appeal to Solanka for permission to date her, ugh) in the street when she passes. They are unable to control themselves in her presence, see. (This is rape culture speaking, of course.) Solanka turns Neela into a doll: not one but two of the characters in his multi-media franchise are based on her. And then she dies in the conflict that his franchise has helped to engineer. To teach him a lesson in irony, perhaps. Or something like that: I can’t be bothered to work it out when she is so obviously disposable to the narrative, sacrificed on the altar of male self-examination and male woe.

In that respect she’s like those three murdered rich girls, incidentally, who are killed just so Rushdie can prove a point. We’re invited to see the serial killer’s fury as analogous to Solanka’s; indeed, for a time we wonder if Solanka actually killed them. As it turns out, they’re murdered by their boyfriends, who are involved in a violent sex cult whose excesses Rushdie links to the ills of capitalism. There are actually interesting thoughts about ownership and male entitlement and male violence going on here; but they’re overshadowed by how the rest of Fury‘s women get treated. And, anyway, the point still stands that Rushdie’s not interested in these women and the way their lives have been taken from them in a moment of horrific violence. They’re only symbols whose meanings Solanka can fear and ponder on; they’re only objects.

One of the things that makes it difficult to tell whether this objectification is something the novel’s aware of, and working purposefully with, is Rushdie’s prose, which is a headlong rush of detail:

Professor Malik Solanka, retired historian of ideas, irascible dollmaker, and since his recent fifty-fifth birthday celibate and solitary by his own (much criticized) choice, in his silvered years found himself living in a golden age.

That’s the first sentence of the novel. And there are so many currents and undercurrents of meaning going on there: in those parentheses especially we see the traditionally omniscient third person singular clashing with free indirect discourse, with Solanka’s own narrative of himself. In short: we don’t ever quite know whether it’s Rushdie talking or Solanka; whether we’re meant to read Solanka as a misogynist, or whether Rushdie actually is one.

Of course, there are plenty of other avenues we can go down when we’re talking about this particular prose style. But, my gods, I’m so fucking sick of not seeing myself represented in literary fiction; of being relentlessly objectified in the service of endless male existential crises. I don’t want to have to wrestle constantly with male entitlement just to think productively about the latest critical darling. I am so done with excusing literary fiction. That’s not what I want to read for.

Review: Rosemary and Rue

This review contains spoilers.

TW: sexual abuse.

I finally got round to starting Seanan McGuire’s Toby Daye series, which came highly recommended by my TolkSoc friends and geekdom in general, and which has been on my must-read-series list for, oh, quite a long time.

The eponymous October “Toby” Daye is a changeling: half human, half fae. She can pass for human in the right light, or with just a little bit of magic. As Rosemary and Rue begins, she’s working nights in a 7-Eleven, hiding from her fae heritage, trying to make ends meet. It’s not working out great, as you might expect, and everything changes when a fae aristocrat, Evening Winterrose, is murdered. Evening’s last act is to lay a curse on Toby – she has to find the killer, or die in the attempt.

It’s obvious from the word go that McGuire is not! fucking! around! here: the novel literally starts with Our Heroine being turned by an evil fae into a koi carp for fourteen years, losing her human husband and child in the process, which is, you know, fairly traumatic. And it goes on to do some pretty heavy lifting for a novel that’s so squarely, unpretentiously of its genre.

At its heart Rosemary and Rue is a novel about class. As a changeling, Toby’s considered a second-class citizen by most of the pureblooded fae. Her magic’s nowhere near as strong, and though she’ll live a couple of centuries that’s nothing compared to the near-immortality of the purebloods. More importantly, changelings are shunned, pushed to the borders of fae society even as they’re unable to live fulfilling human lives.

Shunned by both races, many changeling children end up at Home. And this is what I really want to talk about, because this is where the novel does some of its best, and also its most troubling, work.

Home is run by a changeling called Devin. Devin is, to put it baldly, an abuser. He takes changeling children in, teaches them to do his work (which mainly involves politicking with the various faerie courts), teaches them to fear him, and rapes some of them. Toby spent much of her teenagerhood at Home, as Devin’s favourite and his “lover” (as she puts it to herself). She’s known at Home as the only one who ever escaped Devin’s clutches, rescued as she was by a friend of her fae mother.

So when Toby finds that her only option for solving Evening’s murder is to go Home and call in some favours…well, there are a couple of ways this could have gone. Devin acts every inch the concerned lover towards Toby – she’s seriously injured several times in quick succession, and he pulls out all the stops to save her. He does her favours without asking for anything in return – something that’s practically unheard of amongst the fae. For a while, it sort of looks like we’re maybe supposed to root for Devin as the romantic interest, which, given everything we and Toby know about him, is pretty damn creepy.

But McGuire, it turns out, is better than that: in the last few chapters of Rosemary and Rue, it turns out that Devin’s been working against Toby all along. And I love how clear-eyed the novel in retrospect is about Devin’s behaviour: like any abuser’s, it’s all about power and control, and McGuire doesn’t flinch from that. I kind of wish I could give Rosemary and Rue to every teenager obsessed by Twilight.

Except I also kind of don’t, because there’s something a little reactionary going on with the treatment of Devin that I want to unpack a bit. Devin betrays Toby because he feels his lot as a changeling is unfair. He wants eternal life, a pureblood’s life, and there’s a McGuffin in the novel that can give it to him, and Toby’s in the way.

Of course Devin is a monster. But I’m a little…troubled by the idea that at least part of his monstrosity is rooted in not knowing his place. Striving for the benefits the purebloods get automatically – benefits they could share, the text suggests, with the changelings – is in itself an evil thing to do, it seems.

It’s an effect exacerbated by Toby’s relatively privileged social position: sure, she’s a changeling, but she’s got the ear of the leaders of at least three different fae realms thanks to her mother’s bloodline. Toby is not remotely in the same situation as Devin. And yet I felt that I was being encouraged to compare them: Toby is a good person because she accepts her position in life. She feels it isn’t fair, yes, but she doesn’t do anything positive to change it. Devin, on the other hand, is a monster because he’s not willing just to take the scraps thrown to him by the purebloods. The very framing of the question is suspect.

I mean: this wasn’t really something that affected how much I enjoyed Rosemary and Rue, which I did, a lot. It’s pacy and fascinating and full of faerie lore; it balances magic and modernity really quite well. And I think there’s certainly room for a more nuanced reading of Devin’s monstrosity: that it’s a symptom of the social divisions in fae society, something rotten in the state of Faerie, rather than a dramatisation of reactionary anti-social-mobility sentiment. I mean, I’ve heard that the later books double down on Rosemary and Rue‘s treatment of class, so maybe not. But I’ll still be hanging round for those later books.

Ten Books That Would Make Good TV

  1. The Dark Tower series – Stephen King. A Dark Tower TV series is already in the works, but given it’s associated with the decidedly lacklustre film I have basically no confidence it will be any good. The whole series is crying out to be televised, with a prestige TV budget: the battle of Jericho! Blaine the Mono and the waste lands! The desert, and the man in black. Roland of Gilead weeping. It would be fucking fantastic. Someone get it done, please. (I can’t believe there wouldn’t be an audience for it, given King’s readership.)
  2. The Silmarillion – J.R.R. Tolkien. Does Peter Jackson do television? Yes, I know he made an unholy mess of The Hobbit (STILL NOT OVER IT), but The Silmarillion is another kind of beast altogether: properly epic and wonderful in the way the Lord of the Rings films are. It wouldn’t work as a film (please don’t do this, anyone, or I will cry) because there’s like a million characters and no overarching plot except for “everyone dies and everything is shit”, but it could make for beautiful TV.
  3. Lirael – Garth Nix. Only, I’m imagining like a version where Lirael stays in the Library and has magical monster-of-the-week adventures with the Disreputable Dog and gradually learns to make friends and accept herself and it would be wholesome and wonderful and full of books.
  4. Perdido Street StationChina Mieville. I know, I know, I wrote a whole post a couple of weeks ago about how Mieville doesn’t work on TV and it should never happen again, but on a purely superficial level I think New Crobuzon would be amazing on screen, if it was done properly. Plus, the novel has that sprawling Dickensian quality that would give a TV series time to explore the world properly while, y’know, having a plot.
  5. The Discworld series – Terry Pratchett. There was a series called The Watch that was happening a while ago. Wikipedia the Fount of All Knowledge claims it is still happening. I’m hoping a) that it does happen and b) that it is not shit. (The films are fairly shit, but it is pretty fun seeing Discworld come to life, however underfunded it is.)
  6. A Madness of Angels – Kate Griffin. This is another one that would work really well as a monster-of-the-week show, carried by its wise-cracking protagonist and BBC special effects that are dodgy enough to look a little bit real. (See also Doctor Who.)
  7. Soulless – Gail Carriger. Steampunk and vampires and werewolves, oh my! (Seriously, this book is obsessed by scenery. If anything was written for TV it’s this.)
  8. The Temeraire series – Naomi Novik. Temeraire is adorable, and the books are really fascinated by relationships in a way that I think would work well on TV. You could flesh out the arcs of some of the supporting characters, and it would be like Downton Abbey but with dragons. And naval battles.
  9. Night Film – Marisha Pessl. For obvious reasons, this would work well on screen: I mean, it’s literally about film. And you could translate some of the novel’s narrative tricks pretty well into TV. I can also see how a TV adaptation could be disastrous, though.
  10. Green Earth – Kim Stanley Robinson. It would be like The West Wing, except with climate change! And lord knows climate change could do with raising its profile.

(The prompt for this post was suggested by the weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

Top Ten Queer Characters

  1. Innon – The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin. A bi, poly pirate who’s also really hot. *mic drop*
  2. Sissix – The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, Becky Chambers. Sissix and Rosemary’s relationship is one of my favourite things about this book. They actually TALK about things instead of trying to guess at what the other person’s feeling. And visibly support each other. Also! I think this was the first queer SF book I read, and I read it when I was just starting to come out (to myself as much as anyone), and I was so grateful that Sissix/Rosemary could exist.
  3. Nyx – God’s War, Kameron Hurley. “Nyx sold her womb somewhere between Punjai and Faleen, on the edge of the desert.” Boom! Nyx is bi – as are most of the characters in the novel, actually – and defiantly, violently female, and lord knows she’d be a terrible person to have dinner with but she’s a great character to read about.
  4. Lila – A Darker Shade of Magic, V.E. Schwab. Lila is a cross-dressing, genderfluid steampunk pirate who (at least in the first book) shows no interest in romance, and it’s great.
  5. November – Palimpsest, Catherynne M. Valente. I mean. Everyone in Palimpsest is queer. I like November most, though: I’m drawn to lonely, unassuming characters trying to fill the spaces left by their hopes.
  6. Alma – The Real-Town Murders, Adam Roberts. So Alma is here because she’s incredibly unusual in fiction: she’s in a long-term relationship with another woman, who she cares for 24/7. And they’ve been together so long (and Marguerite is so ill) that it’s not even particularly romantic any more. It’s a couple dynamic we see very rarely in fiction – although Roberts presents it so matter-of-factly it’s easy to miss how radical it is.
  7. Pencil Khan – The Glass Republic, Tom Pollock. Pen’s another really unusual character: a teenage girl, practising Muslim and trauma survivor who gets a queer romance that’s believable and adorable without getting in the way of the very real dangers she faces. All this is brilliant in a YA novel.
  8. Ingray Aughskold – Provenance, Ann Leckie. This is another novel where Everyone is Queer (the best kind of novel), and Ingray’s developing crush on a female police captain is just adorable. And one of those romances that make you want to shout “JUST KISS ALREADY!”
  9. Avice Benner Cho – Embassytown, China Mieville. I just remembered this one! Avice is in an asexual relationship with her husband Scile, because they don’t enjoy sex together but still want to be partners. Which is another unusual, and welcome, dynamic.
  10. Fevvers – Nights at the Circus, Angela Carter. OK, so it’s never confirmed that Fevvers is in a relationship with her chaperone? agent? friend? Lizzie, but my word this book is definitely queer. And Fevvers is brilliant: larger than life, subversively feminine, altogether wonderful.

(The prompt for this post comes from the weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)