[Comics] Arclight by Brandon Graham & Marian Churchland

I haven’t been able to update last week – it was finals week and I’m grading three courses at this point, so that’s a lot of grading. I’m still not done, but I really needed a bit of a breather, so here you have the regular-ish Sunday comic book review. 🙂

I also posted the $275 Patreon reward (a free audio reading of Three Partitions), but I dipped below $300 after the recent fee changes and Patreon going back and forth. The $300 reward, the free blog post version of my massive Twitter trans recommendations thread, will be posted once I am over $300 again.

You also unlocked my book recommendations video, and backers voted on the topic “Trans fiction”, so a trans fiction recommendations video will happen soon. 🙂 G-d willing, but I’m already preparing for it. (Where did I put the charger cable for my DSLR batteries?!)

Until Sunday night, I’m still doing the bonus story recommendations thread where everyone who backs me on Patreon (any tier, $1 is very welcome!) can get a Sudden, Unexpected story recommendation. Comment in the thread and get a rec 😀

And now on to today’s review…

Arclight by Brandon Graham & Marian Churchland. Image Comics, 2017.

Arclight TPB coverThis comic felt like an Anglo take on totally offbeat French SFF comics. I enjoyed both the story and the art, but it just cried out for a Volume 2. It was part of a larger, canceled project (8House), which makes me sad. I already reviewed another volume, Mirror: The Mountain by Emma Ríos and Hwei Lim, but the two books did not seem connected at all.

Arclight was advertised to me as “magical genderqueer knights” and I think that’s a bit of a misnomer; the characters are more gender-nonconforming than explicitly genderqueer. As far as I can tell, the protagonist Arclight is a feminine man, but men can be feminine… and there is no explicit discussion of gender anywhere in the book. I’m even hesitant about the “gender nonconforming” label, because the way the characters present seems totally regular and conforming in their own fictional culture – which is cool, and very refreshing to see. Just don’t go into the book expecting a detailed trans narrative that explicitly identifies itself as such. Again, that’s not a problem at all, but the way this book was marketed made me expect something completely different.

By the way: the characters’ aesthetic is based on the artist’s own aesthetic, as described in an interview before the original single-issue comics launched.

Beyond the genderqueer aspects, there are border animals – animals literally in the shape of a country’s border. Blood geese with tentacles. Both big magical battles and casual everyday magic use. Body switching across species. There is really a lot to enjoy here, if you are OK with a relatively grim take on magic with blood spells and death.

There is a bunch of Polish thrown in, and a fictional alphabet that just spells out English words (the solution is in the back of the book). There is no Big Eastern European Reveal, this is just random flavor, I guess. I honestly feel meh about that, because it feels like it was entirely added for the sake of exoticism, but it’s not a major aspect of the story.

The plot is not very complicated, but it is presented without any explanation of the baroque setting, so it took me two reads to cohere, and I’m still missing the sequel that never materialized.

There is a lot of beauty and grace in this book, and Churchland’s art is beautiful, though it does present a very “acceptable” androgyny – the characters are thin, conventionally attractive, and one of the few people of color (spoiler ROT-13🙂 trgf obql-fangpurq ol gur nagntbavfg. If you read the above interview, Churchland does seem aware of the limitations though, but then I’m not sure why not push a bit against her own biases.

I found myself thinking it might have been worth going with a smaller publisher than Image – this amount of inclusion might be groundbreaking for Image, but right now there is a lot of cutting edge experimentation with gender and other narratives in indie comics spaces; and as someone who repeatedly backs comics Kickstarters, I can say that the production values have gotten amazing. Then maybe we would not have seen another disappointing cancel either. This book could have had a huge audience, but it did not really find it.

Overall I feel Arclight is well worth the read, but it’s not perfect and if you pick it up, you will be left with wanting more. How frustrating that will be will depend a lot on your individual preferences!

Disclosures: Source of the book: Lawrence Public Library. I don’t know the authors at all.

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December diverse book highlights

ICYMI: There has been a big mess with Patreon’s new fee structure – you can head over there and read my free, public update. For my backers (any tier) I added a new, unpublished poem as something that might cheer you up a bit at least. If you don’t like the new changes, you can protest here.

On to the book highlights now!

This time around there is only one part, because there weren’t many highlights – I even went through Amazon coming-soon lists which I seldom do, but, no luck. I already have a massive amount of book highlights coming for January, though!

Juniper Leaves cover

Dec 4: Juniper Leaves by Jaz Joyner [YA/MG] [SFF]

This is a YA novel about Black magical girls, with an F/F relationship, by a Black nonbinary author! I got an ebook reviewer copy and will get a print one after launch too, so I’ll probably review this one very soon (also just because this book looks really promising!).

Emerald Princess cover

Dec 11: The Emerald Princess: and Other Decadent Fantasies by Félicien Champsaur, trans. Brian Stableford [SFF] [Translation]

This is a classic French symbolist collection, translated by an SFF author and definitely presented as part of a fine speculative tradition. It’s interesting how so many of my highlights this month are translations, I guess publishers are more willing to take risk with those launches?

Frail Soul cover

Dec 18: The Frail Soul and Other Stories by Camille Mauclair, translated by Brian Stableford [SFF] [Translation]

Another Symbolist classic – these are put out by Stableford’s press Snuggly Books, and sound like something that might be great for long, cold winter nights. Mauclair’s nonfiction about his artist contemporaries has been widely published and translated, but his fiction not so much. (It’s always so strange to me that there are such gaps even related to very Western literary traditions… but I guess these books might have fallen into the “too speculative for the literary crowd, too literary for the speculative crowd” trap.)

Record of Lodoss War: The Grey Witch cover

Dec 19: Record of Lodoss War: The Grey Witch by Ryo Mizuno [SFF] [Translation]

A very different translation! The Amazon page claims it to be a rerelease, but that might be an error because I couldn’t turn up any earlier English releases? This is a Japanese take on D&D that originated with actual transcripts of adventures, ended up with novelizations, manga, anime and became a massive smash hit.  I read some of the manga adaptation (I love Yoshihiko Ochi’s art) and also watched the anime wayyyyyy back, and now I have all the nostalgic feelings. I’ve always been very curious to see how the actual books read…

Ms. Marvel: Mecca cover

Dec 26: Ms. Marvel vol. 8: Mecca by Wilson, Failla, Olortegui & Herring [YA/MG] [SFF] [Comics]

I find it hard to believe this series is now in its eighth volume. Teen superheroing while being Muslim and multicultural is just so immensely relatable to me as a traditionally observant Jewish person that I hope it keeps on going on and on and on and on. This will be a great time to catch up in the winter break – I’m a bit annoyed that the new volume comes out literally the day after my birthday, though! 😀

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[Nonfiction] Transgender and Jewish by Naomi Zeveloff

I wanted to write a totally different review today, but my very brief Goodreads update that I’ve read this book turned into a review. OK then!

Transgender and Jewish by Naomi Zeveloff. Forward Foundation, 2014.

Transgender & Jewish coverThis is a bunch of trans-related reporting from the Forward newspaper edited into a small book (about 50 pages). I think literally every Jewish trans book is exceedingly important – and I should probably review the previous ones I’ve read, too – but I wish this one had been a bit longer, because what is there is good. Cis author (AFAIK?), but she did her homework and talked to many Jewish trans people. She also covered some topics that frequently go undiscussed, like conversion, or Jewish summer camps. Now I only wish there was more material than what I could read inbetween 2 newspapers at the dinner table, because when I say this book is short, I mean it.

This book was also more NB-inclusive than most of the Jewish trans work out there (sigh),  but there was only one NB person in it, and some rather odd remarks by some of the people the author interviewed – like how NB people are included in a summer camp, but the kids are split into “feminine” and “masculine”… sigh, that wouldn’t be very useful for me.

Also I’m annoyed that in every trans Jewish thing ever, there is always a totally abstract mention of intersex people in Jewish spaces without anyone ever asking an intersex person; or with conflating intersex and trans people and then only asking the latter. But I should probably write a longer rant about that. My frustrations go way beyond this book, this was not a major issue in this book. 🙂

To be honest, I do feel that there are many more gaps to be covered, e.g., the book mostly only featured Jewish community organizers in very liberal spaces who are trans, and not any other kind of trans Jewish people. I know quite a few Jewish trans people who have not been very welcome in Jewish communities, or have not had access to very liberal spaces; and I feel like this approach if not erases, then minimizes our existence. Of course one can make the argument that such people are hard to find, except 1. I don’t think that’s true anymore 2. a lot of high-profile trans writers are Jewish and outspokenly Jewish. Joy Ladin appears in this book, but there is also Kate Bornstein (a nonbinary person!!!), S. Bear Bergman, etc.

I also felt that the book covered trans Jews and intersectionality basically ended there – there was no discussion of trans Jews of color, disabled trans Jews, trans Jewish migrants etc. Though there was a discussion of trans Jewish converts, which I haven’t seen elsewhere, and discussion related to QUILTBAG Jewish conversion in general is very rare – an exception is Found Tribe, ed. Lawrence Schimel, which has multiple gay contributors who converted.

Overall I was glad to have read this book; I hope the Forward continues to cover trans issues. This book is also neatly produced despite its brief length, so the print version could be a good gift to young trans Jews. I also want to note that a lot of Jewish trans coverage constantly references queer cis women rabbis. This book has many trans rabbis. Ask them. Talk to them. Promote them. Thank you 🙂

Disclosures: The book was bought from my wishlist by TJ Berry!! Thank you so much, I seldom get trans books via my wishlist, even though I have quite a few on it. This really cheered me up! / I don’t know the author at all.

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November diverse book highlights, part 2

The second part of my November diverse book highlights is here! You can check out the first one, too. These are the books that I’m especially looking forward to reading this month.

Everyone is gearing up for the holiday season, so November had a lot of books, but December will be more sparse – I’ll only have one page of updates. You can already find it on Patreon if you back at the $5 level, but they will be posted on Dec 14 as a free update. (If you subscribe to the book updates, you can save a lot with the preorder discounts 😉 )

Future Home cover

Nov 14: Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich [Adult] [SFF]

I really enjoy Erdrich’s non-genre fiction and now she’s back with a dystopian novel! This year has seen a lot of religious-themed SFF by minority authors – that seems like a change, but I really like this change. The summary confuses me a bit (what does it mean that evolution is reversed?) but I think I’ll read and see.

Mother of All Pigs cover

Nov 14: Mother of All Pigs by Malu Halasa [Adult]

Debut literary novel by a Jordanian Filipina American author, set in Jordan – Malu Halasa has authored a number of nonfiction books, but this is her first novel, set in Jordan. It seems like the biting kind of fun, feminist, political, just a bit iconoclastic (it has pigs!). Publishers Weekly claims some chapters are written from the viewpoint of the pig – that’s it, I’m sold.

Black Panther volume 4 cover

Nov 21: Black Panther volume 4 by Coates & Torres [Comics] [SFF]

I love this series, but I have maybe two volumes and a side story volume (two??) to catch up on that all came out while I was moving. So I don’t even dare summarize this one, but the more the merrier!

The City of Sand cover

Nov 21: The City of Sand by Tianxia Bachang [SFF] [Translation] [YA/MG]

This is a popular Chinese YA fantasy adventure novel, in translation – there is so little translated YA SFF it borders on the painful, so I’m always happy to pick up another one. The advance reviews were quite aggressive on ‘this is not how a story should be structured’, which always makes me wonder if the book should have gone out to a more diverse set of reviewers…

A Matter of Oaths cover

Nov 23: A Matter of Oaths by Helen S. Wright [SFF] [Rerelease]

This is the odd one out because I’ve already read some of it – it used to be available as a free ebook while the print version was out of print. I read just enough to determine I wanted a print book, but before I could manage to buy one of the original paperbacks, it was lo and behold rereleased. (Can that happen more often?) This is great 1980s space opera with an inventive setting that also hits several of my Yes Please buttons as a reader, and queer themes.

Mass Effect Andromeda: Initiation cover

Nov 28: Mass Effect: Initiation by N.K. Jemisin and Mac Walters [Adult] [SFF]

This book has been delayed a few times and even changed its authorial lineup, so I’m a bit worried about putting it into a roundup, but it looks like this time it might actually be released. It’s a Mass Effect tie-in and I’m a big fan of the video game series, it has my beloved theme of psychic space marines 😉 Initiation is a prequel to the latest game, which I haven’t played yet, so I suppose the book comes first! Also Jemisin + Mass Effect = yes please.

Full Metal Indigiqueer cover

Nov 28: full-metal indigiqueer: the pro(1,0)zoa by Joshua Whitehead [Poetry]

This looks like a highly nerdy poetry collection by a Two-Spirit author. North American indigenous writing has been going really strong this year, and there are more and more QUILTBAG + 2-Spirit authors too (you’ve read Love Beyond Body, right?!). I am very glad to be reading and reading and reading…

 

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[Novel] Red Girls by Kazuki Sakuraba

Red Girls: The Legend of the Akakuchibas by Kazuki Sakuraba. Haikasoru, 2015.

Red Girls cover

This is a massive family saga about three generations of a rich industrial family owning an ironworks in semi-rural Japan. It starts after WWII and ends close to the present day. The story is divided into three parts, each following a different woman protagonist. The clairvoyant Manyo marries into the family and eventually becomes its matriarch; her daughter Kemari becomes the leader of a bosozoku group (a teenage biker gang) and then writes a smash hit manga about her experiences; and finally her daughter Toyo tries to research a grim secret of the family.

The novel explicitly tries to show a broad social vista throughout the lives of the characters – we see how the village develops throughout time, how buildings are erected and then torn down, how companies go in and out of business. Despite this, there is a kind of easygoing gracefulness to the telling; Kazuki Sakuraba is a noted author of light novels (a special Japanese genre) and the book reminded me of light novels fairly frequently, though it is not one per se.

This is a very lengthy book, at 458 pages, and it is not paced very evenly. The beginning of each major section took a while to gather steam, and the last section – presenting a murder mystery – is weaker than the first two. The investigation often consists of the protagonist aimlessly bumbling around, and while I understand that this was probably intended as a commentary on NEETs, I personally felt it wasn’t entirely successful in this sense.

It can be very hard for sweeping family sagas to keep every character distinguishable – especially if there is no index of characters in the back of the book (like here). I never had trouble with Red Girls while reading, though that might also be in part because the characters are all slightly exaggerated and larger-than-life, with the exception of the final section. This made for engrossing reading. (I mean c’mon! Teenage girl biker gangs!)

I had major issues with how the book dealt with QUILTBAG issues, though; and here I must say I was very unpleasantly surprised that this book was on the Tiptree award longlist. This is an anti-queer and anti-trans book, though those aspects are not a major part, but they do crop up every now and then. All of the QUILTBAG characters are deeply unhappy and two thirds of them die very grisly deaths (I counted…). They are presented in a very stereotyped way. A trans woman character is repeatedly misgendered even by people who are shown to love her; yes, she also dies a violent death. The only QUILTBAG character who doesn’t die (a gay man – his partner also dies violently) is shown to be a misogynist. The book goes to great lengths to show the reader the dead bodies of these characters, even when this is entirely unnecessary for plot purposes.

I also felt that Indigenous people were frequently exoticized and othered in the book, though they were presented as positive but mysterious (two of the protagonists are relatively dark-skinned and descend from a group of Indigenous people who live in the mountains). This wasn’t a major part of the narrative, either, though the book kept on suggesting that that might change later in the story, but it never happened. A character from the Philippines was also repeatedly shown to be ignorant, which really grated on my nerves.

So I have very mixed feelings. Some aspects of this novel were absolutely great, beautiful and chilling. At other times I wanted to toss the book across the room (which I wouldn’t do, but mostly only because I try to take good care of books I borrowed from friends). I think the best way to think of it is that I don’t regret that I read Red Girls, but I don’t want to own it. It’s also a good illustration of the sad fact that just because a book is feminist, that doesn’t mean that it is at the same time QUILTBAG-friendly.

Source of the book: Lisa M. Bradley lent it to me (and also had mixed feelings about it) – thank you very much! I don’t know the author or the translator at all.

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November diverse book highlights, Part 1

This month the highlights are a bit delayed – sorry about that!

Houses of Ravicka cover

Nov 1: Houses of Ravicka [Ravicka #4] by Renee Gladman [SFF]

Renee Gladman is a queer Black woman author of highly experimental (and somewhat speculative) fiction and poetry. Sofia Samatar recommended her Ravicka books to me a while ago, and I’m reading these books with great interest right now. They focus on architecture, urban life, intellectual communities and also incredibly ineffable intangible… things. Processes? The new fourth volume just came out, and I already got my library to order it for me and successfully received it; I hope to be reviewing the entire series shortly (G-d willing).

The Speaker cover

Nov 7: The Speaker by Traci Chee [YA/MG] [SFF]

I still need to finish The Reader, the first volume of this middle grade fantasy series – what I read of it was amazing, very inventive and with a great meta-awareness; but all this happened right in the middle of our housing disaster and I just ended up returning it to the library because I didn’t want to pay more than the entire hardcover price in late fees. 🙁 I have to actually buy this book now. And the sequel.

Subject to Change cover

Nov 8: Subject to Change – Trans Poetry and Conversation, ed. H. Melt [Poetry]

This trans poetry anthology has a simply amazing lineup: “Joshua Jennifer Espinoza, Christopher Soto, beyza ozer, Cameron Awkward-Rich, and Kay Ulanday Barrett”. Looks like a must not just for trans people, but for everyone who likes poetry in general.

Jade City cover

Nov 11: Jade City by Fonda Lee [Adult] [SFF]

I recently read and greatly enjoyed Fonda Lee’s Exo, a YA science fiction novel with a very different setting and ambience than Jade City. This is historical fantasy, but 20th century historical fantasy, with Asian gangsters. I’m very intent on reading everything by her – I also just got her Zeroboxer from the library.

Mandelbrot the Magnificent cover

Nov 14: Mandelbrot the Magnificent by Liz Ziemska [Adult] [SFF]

A magical-realist / speculative take on Polish Jewish (-French-American) mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot’s life. I’m not sure if this is ownvoices, but the author has a Polish name, and chose to write about a Polish person, so I am inclined to include it. I have been meaning to read Mandelbrot’s autobiography, so this seems like a cool novella to pair with it!

 

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[Nonfiction] Contesting Intersex by Georgiann Davis

This is the November instalment of my intersex book review series! This series has been brought to you by my Patreon supporters, and this specific instalment was sponsored by D Libris of the Intellectus Speculativus review blog, who bought me the book in question.

Contesting Intersex by Georgiann Davis. New York University Press, 2015.

I am very happy to review an increasing amount of intersex books by intersex authors, and this is one of them too. Further, this is an academic volume that reports on the author’s own empirical study, with interviews and data from many intersex people. I am incredibly elated that such works exist and I can hold them in my hands. Intersex people studying intersex topics!! Imagine me running around and flailing my hands to emphasize this point.

The book discusses both the formulations of “intersex” and various attempts to medicalize and pathologize it (there is quite a lot about “DSD” or “Disorders of sex development” terminology), and it also provides concrete steps for action to improve the lives of intersex people. It packs a huge wealth of information into 170 pages (plus endnotes, plus bibliography and index), but it also explains the basics. I would be happy to recommend this book to anyone interested in the topic. It’s an academic book, but by and large it is written in quite accessible language – to be honest, I have read an intersex-related book aimed at the general public which was a harder read when it comes to language.

Georgiann Davis interviewed 65 individuals, including 36 adults with intersex traits; 17 parents of children with such traits; 10 medical experts on intersex, including surgeons, urologists, endocrinologists, and mental health professionals; and 2 social movement organizational board members who are not medical professionals, do not have an intersex trait, and are not the parents of an intersex child” (p.11). She noted that she had trouble reaching less privileged intersex people, but she was aware of this and further biases. Overall the study struck me as very thoughtful, and her ethnographic approach also included her own personal experience and reflections as an intersex person.

I really appreciated that she tried to reach many people and I learned a lot from this book. I think my experience is somewhat of an outlier, not only because I’m a first-generation migrant from a country with a very different healthcare system (though that matters a lot), but due to a variety of factors; and it is great to read about other intersex people’s experiences too.

The book addresses many misconceptions, but it goes much beyond being a simple 101 book. It gets into detail not just about the present status of intersex people in the US, but also historic developments, and the role of activism. The author also makes sure to differentiate between intersex people’s thoughts and attitudes, and their parents’ thoughts and attitudes, because the two can be radically different. I found myself struck by how much the situation resembled the attitudes of autistic people versus parents of autistic people, which is something I’m quite familiar with (both being autistic and parenting an autistic child).

I do want to highlight one particular point, because I regularly get people in my Twitter mentions – usually well-meaning non-intersex trans men – who tell me that intersex people do not want to be included in the QUILTBAG/GLBTQIA+ acronym. My experience has always been that intersex people are in general in favor of being in the acronym, so I wondered where this information originated. Certainly, maybe my sample is biased, but I know quite a few people and only one of them doesn’t want to be included in the acronym – and for a very different reason than these imaginary intersex people are speculated to want to opt out. This book discusses the situation and examines how in general, it is mostly parents of intersex children would like to remove the I from the acronym due to their general anti-trans sentiments (p. 137-142).

This book is also trans-inclusive. Trans-exclusiveness can be an issue sometimes with intersex books (usually those not written by intersex people), but this is not one of those. Only two people of the study sample were nonbinary/genderqueer, but in general the book brings up the topic whenever relevant, in a respectful way.

This is an all-round solid book and it is also very handy as a reference. I would definitely recommend it to everyone with even a slight interest in intersex topics, and it is also a must for libraries – not just specialized academic libraries, but public libraries in general.

I have to say that one negative is that I personally find the cover rather upsetting to look at – this is also why I haven’t put it in the post in full size, only as a thumbnail. I declined a very invasive intersex-related procedure, as part of being evaluated for further surgery (I was already an adult and had the option to do that), and then experienced medical abuse and also service denial. So it brings up those memories. It might be even more upsetting to people who did not have the option to get away from any kind of surgical intervention, as children. I know intersex issues can be hard to depict, but I really wish the book would have just had some kind of abstract cover.

Source of the book: Gift from D, as mentioned above. I follow the author on Twitter, but we talked so far only briefly.

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[Novella] Monteverde: Memoirs of an Interstellar Linguist by Lola Robles

Monteverde cover

Monteverde: Memoirs of an Interstellar Linguist by Lola Robles. Aqueduct Press, 2016. Translated from the Spanish by Lawrence Schimel

Monteverde is a novella centered around the fictional notes of a linguist traveling to a long-isolated planet to study the languages of the locals, and interviews conducted with her. It has very strong Le Guin vibes – this kind of “anthropologist / linguist / social sciences person running around on an alien planet” has just become really associated with her, in my mind at least. The writing also has a similar poetic quality – I felt Lawrence Schimel’s translation was great.

Each of these stories about the intrepid social sciences explorer has a different focus, and this time we get linguistics. One of the two groups the linguist studies is composed of people who are blind and who (supposedly) live in dark caves, which affects their language use.

Initially there is a huge amount of ableism directed toward these people, by the other group and also from the researcher. (There is also some fat-shaming.) I almost stopped reading, but these themes actually got subverted later on, to the extent that it’s arguably the point of the story. I found out after reading that the author has low vision – it’s in her bio on the last page. This is a par excellence disability ownvoices story that saw absolutely no discussion or promotion in that context. (Such discussion might exist, but I never saw it even after I went and looked for it. Link me and I will be happy!)

Once I got through the initial hurdle of some of the characters being terribly prejudiced, I really appreciated the disability aspects of the novella. I had mixed feelings about the linguistics aspects – the discussion on how different kinds of embodiment affect language and vice versa (a kind of reverse Sapir-Whorf hypothesis) was interesting, but I also felt there was an amount of rather irrelevant linguistics 101 inserted into the story here and there.

Some of the details also didn’t work for me, e.g., much was made out of a language having many cases. By a rather minimalistic reckoning, my native language has 19 cases (some people think it has many more), and as far as I’m aware, Hungarians are ordinary humans. More cases does not equal more expressive power, I can say the same things in English that I can say in Hungarian. One issue with fictional languages is when they accidentally have features that are similar to real languages – for example, Ubykh has a fair bit larger phoneme inventory than one of the fictional languages in Monteverde, described as a language that only blind people can learn to speak due to its very large phoneme inventory. This kind of happenstance can lead to authors exoticizing features that actually exist in real languages.

I also felt that the aspects of social power inherent in the field linguist role were not examined in detail. I expected the story to go there due to some of the remarks in the beginning, but this never really happened – which is something that annoys me in speculative fiction in general. (I have been subjected to anthropology as an informant, and it was not a good experience for me.) It’s not just this story, but I will keep on repeating it about every story whenever it’s relevant. This would also relate to colonialism and imperialism, but by and large these themes are sidestepped in Monteverde. It is possible to show that these topics exist and are relevant even when they are not the main focus, but I thought this didn’t happen in the novella to my satisfaction.

Overall I felt Monteverde was an interesting read, and I’m really happy to see work by multiply marginalized people translated (the author is a disabled queer woman), which happens very infrequently. But I also wasn’t entirely satisfied with this particular story – I did like and appreciate what seemed to me the core of it, but many of the more peripheral elements did not click with me.

I will definitely keep on reading both Lawrence Schimel’s translations, and the Aqueduct chapbook series – I have another one waiting to be reviewed, if I can finally find where I put my copy while moving!

Source of the book: Aqueduct sent a copy to my spouse, Rose Lemberg, as part of compensation for a poem. I don’t know the author at all. Independently, Lawrence Schimel has been periodically sending me reviewer copies of his publications (though this one I didn’t get from him)

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New resource: Intersex book reviews list

I am doing some tidying up on the blog and I made a list of intersex book reviews I have so far. (I need to move a bunch of short story reviews over from the old site.) Good browsing!

I also added upcoming and planned reviews; G-d willing I’ll get to them soon. There is at least one planned for each month, this was one of my Patreon goals that has been successfully reached.

[Poetry] Reacquainted with Life by KOKUMO

This week I will be reviewing two intersex books (G-d willing), because I got a bit behind due to our car accident and there was no intersex-themed book review in October. Both books will be by intersex authors because I’m somewhat fed up with bad intersex-themed books by non-intersex people. Let’s take a look at the first one!

Reacquainted with Life by KOKUMỌ. Topside Press, 2016.

I already posted a bookstagram pic of this book a while ago:

A post shared by Bogi Takács (@bogiperson) on

Since then, I am very happy to say that this poetry collection has won the Lambda award in Transgender Poetry category. Yesssss I was very much cheering for it.

This is a slim collection, just 64 pages altogether, but it packs a huge punch (and a kick, and a shove, and a hug). KOKUMỌ is writing about her life as a Black fat intersex trans femme gender-nonconforming person. From being exploited by the trans movement to being raped to reclaiming divine beauty, there is an emotional arc in this collection that goes from breathtaking lows to incredible highs. It is a very cohesive work and the poems very much draw on each other and their internal sequence and structure.

There is a lot of code-switching and also a very deliberate playing around with code-switching: “31. Love doesn’t let you fall. / 32. Love, don’t let chu fall.” (Prologue: Galactic Bitch-Slap) A repeating stylistic element is the use of the comma to signify diction and rhythm: “My pain, is now magically your platform.” (Psychological Share-Croppin’)  You can also see this on the back cover: “Resilience, has never sounded sexier.” (This is true.)

These poems go back and forth between anger and apotheosis to reach a shining amalgamation of both. There is just an immense amount of forward drive in this collection. It is in your face. You take it or run away, possibly keel over.

There is a lot of sexual violence and physical abuse, depicted very bluntly: “He don’t know how ta say he lumme wit his mouf, / so he say it wittis fis’. / And I don’t ask fa mo. / Cuz my vocabulary ain’t that big eitha.” (Body Language) Being Black and dark-skinned leads to the experience of being used and discarded,  and KOKUMỌ does not shy away from describing it – not just the physical pain, but the emotional pain too. “Why didn’t anybody tell me I was just rehearsal?” (Practice Makes Perfect)

From this low point comes the epic, meteoric rise. “You was lookin fa powa, and you found it, in, dis, hea, flesh.” (I’m Takin Back My Body) Through sheer effort: “wade through rocks / punch fist through earth” (Reacquainted With Life) But also through merciless, unflinching self-examination.

And not just an examination of the self, but an interrogation of “The POC/LGBT Elite” (as labeled in multiple poems) and of outsiders in general, of Twitter culture, subtweeting and ‘amplifying’. “Shh! / Shh! / Shh! / U hea dat? Iz da soun ah my bonez / whistlin from u suckin em dry fa sound bites” (Psychological Share-Croppin’)

After the trials and tribulations we reach transcendence, in the very literal sense – as in the author’s biography here presented in the form of a poem: “When she snaps her fingers, universes appear. / When she smacks her lips, they vanish. / She created your sun, just, to dry her manicure. / And keeps the vacuum of space gusty / All so her makeup won’t smudge.” (About the Author)

But there’s not just this incredible assertiveness, of being not only aware of one’s self-worth but being ready to demolish the world with it if the need arises. There is also much gentleness and a desire to be held and loved: “One day imma be nestled! / Kissed in all my fav’rite places, / and called beautiful too.” (I’se Gon Be Loved) Pregnancy is likewise a repeating theme: “I wanna glow, have people think life growin inside ah me too / of course not like it grow inside you / but ah unique birf / I want you, n na whole wide wurl ta know I’se gettin gravid” (A Diff’rent Kinda Eve).

There is also whimsy and just having pure unadulterated fun, enjoying yourself in your skin after having gone so long without that feeling: “drop my voice four octaves / and at dat moment feel my daintiest” (A Girl Can Dream).

There is power in this book and it might give power to you too.

Source of the book: Bought with my own money. I don’t know the author personally.

Buy the book: (Amazon associate link)

 

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