“Immersion” by Aliette de Bodard slaps you in the face with the effects of cultural imperialism.
In one strand, Quy is required to wear an “immerser” – a device that allows her to mimic (and appear as) the dominant Galactic culture – when she waits tables or conducts business in the family’s restaurant. She hates it:
She didn’t mind Tam borrowing her stuff, and actually would have been glad to never put on an immerser again—she hated the feeling they gave her, the vague sensation of the system rooting around in her brain to find the best body cues to give her.
In the other strand Agnes has allowed her immerser to take over her life and her own culture and thoughts have become an impenetrable fog. We first encounter Agnes in the second person sections of the narrative. Second person was an effective way for de Bodard to show how distant Agnes was from herself and how deadened her emotions are.
You’re dressed, already—not on your skin, but outside, where it matters, your avatar sporting blue and black and gold, the stylish clothes of a well-traveled, well-connected woman. For a moment, as you turn away from the mirror, the glass shimmers out of focus; and another woman in a dull silk gown stares back at you: smaller, squatter and in every way diminished—a stranger, a distant memory that has ceased to have any meaning.
When we first see Agnes from the outside it is through Quy’s viewpoint and she’s horrified:
Agnes. Quy turned, and looked at the woman for the first time—and flinched. There was no one here: just a thick layer of avatar, so dense and so complex that she couldn’t even guess at the body hidden within.
I find this an affecting story because it’s so easy to empathize with Agnes, the awkwardness she felt in another culture, and the choice she made to allow herself to be subsumed by the immerser, and the struggle she’s having at finding even the scraps of herself. De Bodard wisely doesn’t pin a “villain” tag on Agnes’s husband Galen (who is a Galactic), though Quy initially assumes that he is.
This isn’t a technophobic story – both Agnes and Quy’s sister Tam are adept at electronics, and that’s why Tam is able to articulate the poison pill in the immersers:
“It’s their weapon, too.” Tam pushed at the entertainment unit. “Just like their books and their holos and their live games. It’s fine for them—they put the immersers on tourist settings, they get just what they need to navigate a foreign environment from whatever idiot’s written the Rong script for that thing. But we—we worship them. We wear the immersers on Galactic all the time. We make ourselves like them, because they push, and because we’re naive enough to give in.”
She’s desperately striving for a way to bypass this tech:
Tam’s eyes glinted, as savage as those of the rebels in the history holos. “If I can take them apart, I can rebuild them and disconnect the logical circuits. I can give us the language and the tools to deal with them without being swallowed by them.”
No, the point made is not subtle, but sometimes we need to be slapped in the head. (I recommend reading Aliette’s notes on writing “Immersion”.)
While I find the ending emotionally satisfying, I do find it a little bit too easy. (I would have preferred Quy to have given her the word for older sister.) Still, that is a minor complaint in a story I enjoy quite a bit.
This is my favorite of the three nominees and I hope it wins.
Disclosure: I am friends with Aliette.
Or as I like to call it Bloggers YAY! Security Theater BOO! If only the bloggers in this book wrote anything the least bit interesting in their blog interludes. I find it baffling that I’m supposed to believe these are some of the most popular bloggers in the world. So, on to the spoilers.
Pretty much the first thing I want to say is the worldbuilding in this book is painfully bad on pretty much every level.
I arrived to find James on duty at the guard station, his feet propped on the desk next to monitor and the latest issue of Playboy open on his knees.[p.33]
Really? There has been a worldwide zombie outbreak and I’m supposed to believe that people are still going off and logging trees to make paper for a magazine that’s going to be replaced in a month?
Grant says that everyone wants to work at home but there’s no lack of packaged goods (especially medical tests), no lack of groceries, no problems with electricity, water or sewage treatment. Gas is plentiful despite the US having abandoned Alaska. Solar, wind and other alternate forms of energy seem pretty nonexistent, but when there’s large sections of the country just abandoned, do you really want to have to depend on the infrastructure? Luckily, it seems to be perfectly reliable.
The entire Indian subcontinent has been abandoned for 30 years. Ok, what have the zombies been eating for all that time? Surely they must have run out of food sources pretty quickly and died? It’s not like they will go fishing or raise some rice.
And then there’s the smaller stupid things like when Grant has the narrator explain that building tunnels in California is dangerous. Um, no. Actually it’s that building tunnels is expensive, that’s why they aren’t common replacements for sidewalks. (And I guess we can add construction workers to the list of professions still adequately staffed.)
Then there’s the bit about how Avon’s Skin so Soft is the best insect repellent. You have the mad scientist doctor writing:
If you must go outside while the sun is down, wear long sleeves and bug spray. I recommend Avon Skin-So-Soft. It’s a bath product. It smells like someone fed a Disney Princess through a juicer, but it works better than anything else on the market.[p. 533]
Wow, they still have Avon ladies in the zombipocalypse and no one has heard of Deet, which is much better insect repellent. Avon ought to send Grant a check for the endorsement.
It just doesn’t work for me. I don’t think Grant has ever been through an airlock or seen a BSL-4 laboratory, and for 30 years in the future, the overall feel is basically the present, with added security check points.
And the most important question: Where are the ZOMBIE WHALES? This reader demands a zombie whale cameo.
There’s a lot of running around from crisis to crisis and everyone is out to get our noble team of bloggers. They are:
Shaun: the leader whom everyone loves despite him being an abusive prick (and dangerously unstable.)
Georgia: Shaun’s sister. Dead. (or is she???)
Becks: In love with Shaun for reasons unfathomable.
Alaric: Got a crush on Becks. The new kid.
Dave: Loves Maggie. Doomed.
Maggie: Loves Dave. Is the richest girl in the world.
Mahir: Loved Georgia. Married someone else.
You might think this book is a thriller, but it’s not. It’s a soap opera. I figured that out about the time there was surprise incest. (A neat trick since one of the characters is dead.)
Remember that time on General Hospital when Elizabeth Taylor’s husband was holding the world hostage by threatening to freeze the world with his weather machine? Yeah, the plot of Deadline is a bit like that.
Apparently the evil CDC has been killing people who develop a partial immunity to the zombie virus.
Once it’s been normalized, once it conforms, we can finally get to work on a virus that does what we want it to do, that follows our orders, not anyone else’s. We’ll save the world the way we want to, in our own time, and we’ll get proper credit. [p.446]
Oh, come on! Who talks like that? And what sort of crappy plan is that? You want to kill people for becoming immune in a way you didn’t plan?
Anyway, the CDC has it in for our noble bloggers and in an effort to keep their break-in and escape from the Memphis CDC quiet they start the Second Rising (Apparently no one in the CDC ever saw Jurassic Park or watches the weather channel or has the least lick of common sense.)
For a middle book in a series, it’s basically accessible though it does rather suffer from middle book syndrome. It ends with a huge cliffhanger to distract the reader from the fact that not a thing gets resolved in this book. The entire book is setting us up for the big showdown which I assume will occur in book three.
It’s campily fun, but the poor worldbuilding and the cartoonish motivations of the villains pretty much dooms it.
Is it one of the best books of the year? I think you know the answer to that question.
Hello neglected blog. Sorry I haven’t been posting – will try to write more. Alas, I’m not here to praise a woman writer. So it goes.
Of all the novels in the Hugo voters packet, only one of them is in epub form, so that meant I would be reading it first before the dreaded PDFs. (Ok, I’ve already read Embassytown, but first among the books I got from the voting packet.)
Here is a quick plot summary of Among Others by Jo Walton for those who haven’t read the book: Mor leaves Wales because she doesn’t want to live with her crazy witch mother and to her dad is the only place she can go – she’s also suffering because her twin sister died in a car crash while she and Mor (Morganna to her Morwenna) were thwarting her mother’s nebulous take-over-the-world plans at the request of fairies (or possibly just running away.) She gets shipped off to a posh boarding school where she’s unpopular because she has a limp and is from Wales and is middle class. Books are her only solace, and pretty much her only friend. But then she performs a bit of magic and suddenly she learns of an SF book club and it’s all puppies and kittens – she gets friends, a boyfriend, a chance to talk about all the books she loves, makes plans to go to Worldcon, faces down her mum and makes peace with her sister’s death.
So how is Among Others like Twilight? There are spoilers!
1. The overarching story is basically the same – A young girl (Bella/Mor) who leaves her home in a place she loves (Arizona/Wales) to go live in a place she hates (Forks/Oswestry) to go live with her estranged father, who she calls by his first name, (Charlie/Daniel) and finds her OTP (Edward/Fandom.)
2. The only reason why the magic exists in the story is so that we know that Bella/Mor is special. (And by extension, so is fandom – special snowflakes ahoy!) Walton has gone on the record as saying that Among Other is unquestionably fantasy. I think it is a more interesting book if the fairies are simply the way Mor’s PTSD manifests, so it’s disappointing for Walton to confirm that yes, Mor sees
sparkly vampires fairies. In fact, since Mor did magic to find her OTP, it’s possible the entirety of fandom was created just so Mor could find it. (Of course, Walton also said it was unquestionably fiction but then let loose the dogs of fandom when Jonathan McCalmont suggested Mor was a bit of a psychopath, so maybe we’ll not trust her word so much.)
3. Both Meyer and Walton seem realize late in the book “oh yeah, books need conflict” and there’s an almost entirely superfluous scene where Mor has to battle fairies because they think she should kill herself (which she had already made the decision not to once earlier in the book because she wanted to read some Delany. It’s nice to know Delany can save lives with his fiction, but that’s not going make doing that scene over again very interesting). And then hot on the heels of that, Mor faces down her mother. It’s really rubbish closure that feels completely unearned.
4. Any tension in the big facedowns is undercut by the use of a first person narrator – it’s never in any doubt that Bella won’t get eaten by the evil vampire, just as it is never in any doubt the Mor will kill herself or fall back under her mother’s thumb.
5. Oh the creepytimes. Edward is a creepy stalker and Mor seems to take the things she reads in dodgy SF as without a whit of skepticism. There is a disturbing scene where Mor’s father climbs into her bed and tries to get it on with her. Mor muses that she knows that incest isn’t always bad because Heinlein said so but her dad is drunk and icky and she’s not on the pill. And then it’s never brought up again. I had to pick up the pieces of my head after reading this scene, so this review is later than it might have been.
6. This is the real kicker: They are both boring in exactly the same way. Oh the topic is different, so in Twilight you get:
“What’s your favorite color?” he asked, his face grave.
I rolled my eyes. “It changes from day to day.”
“What’s your favorite color today?” He was still solemn.
“Probably brown.” I tended to dress according to my mood.
He snorted, dropping his serious expression. “Brown?” he asked skeptically.
“Sure. Brown is warm. I miss brown. Everything that’s supposed to be brown — tree trunks, rocks, dirt — is all covered up with squashy green stuff here,” I complained.
He seemed fascinated by my little rant. He considered for a moment, staring into my eyes.
Actually, James Tiptree, Jr.’s Warm Worlds and Otherwise gives The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, Vol II a run for its money. I’d say the Le Guin is still ahead, but it’s not as clear-cut as I thought it was. The other two books in the package from my father today are both Zelazny. I haven’t started them yet. Creatures of Light and Darkness was awfully peculiar.
Teen girls squee at the idea of all-consuming love and fans squee at the mention of books they also love. Which is to say neither book has much interesting to say about the one they love. In fact, they are pretty darn tedious. SF may have been a touchstone to Walton when she was young, but she’s basically cashing in with people who already find it interesting – the mere mention is enough, rather than doing the heavy lifting of making the discussion interesting in and of itself.
That Among Others would be so awful was an unpleasant surprise – considering how much praise it’s gotten and that Walton is a really excellent book blogger, I’d really hoped for more. Apparently fans (and SF critics) really wanted a Twilight of their own.
I’ve recently discovered a new online magazine called Words Without Borders. It publishes stories, poems, graphic stories, etc. that are English translations of works originally written in other languages. (Always near and dear to my heart because I feel my exposure to non-English literature is spotty at best.) Unfortunately, the percentage of women authors featured in the magazine is as strong as I would have liked.
Many of the translations can be viewed side-by-side with the story in its original language. Here’s the page for None of Your Business by Natalia Klyuchareva. I’m fascinated that the original Russian story is so much shorter than the translation. (I think perhaps the end of the story is missing. Otherwise, Russian is a marvelously concise language. Possibly both.)
This is a rather grim story of a boy with alcoholic parents who one day locks his parents out of their flat and refuses to let them back in. Remarkably, it sticks and his parents go on to freeload from friends until they drift away.
Everyone was waiting for Yurka to break. The longer this didn’t happen, the less they sympathized with him. The Krivovs had already attracted the general sympathy.
They lived by migrating among their numerous relatives. They drank, complained about the “monster,” and drank again—until their hosts, out of their wits over their drinking, showed them the door. Then they went on their way. Little by little they moved so far from their own home that even old lady Faya, who knew everything about everyone, lost track of them.
And life goes on for the son who was only in middle school when he evicted his parents – he takes in a lodger and makes ends meet, barely, but the weight of his parents is always in him and something that he carries alone.
The story is rich and grounded in detail, but at the same time almost magical:
When he got back from vacation, Gerka had a gut feeling that something was very wrong. Sparks of a scandal filled the air. Even his hair seemed electrified and stood on end, and his hands, magnetized, stuck to each other.
In the end, family ties are inescapable, and redemption of the parents and the child is, at best, illusion.
On another topic, there’s been a lot of discussion around the internets about the dreadful lack of women in the SF Masterworks series (there are more titles by Philip K. Dick than all women combined) and now there’s a blog devoted to SF Mistressworks (dreadful name, I know.) The only thing I take umbrage with is that young adult SF is not allowed. *shakes cranky old man fist of internet rage* Of course, looking at both proposed Mistressworks list and the Masterworks list, there’s a couple that when I read them I thought they were YA ….
There seems to be a flood of YA dystopian novels these days centered around teens needing to make a decision (or having a decision thrust upon them) when they turn sixteen(ish). As teens of that age are deep into the whole college application hysteria and the sense that the whole rest of your life hinges on this one thing has to be a large part of why books of this type are so popular.
In Matched by Ally Condie people find out their soul mate. In Delirium by Lauren Oliver, people get their ability to love removed. In Enclave by Ann Aguirre, it’s getting a name and learning her career. I could go on and on.
The latest hot book of this type is Divergent by Veronica Roth. In this particular world, the population has divided itself up into five sects which each focus on a single virtue: Amity, Abnegation, Candor, Dauntless, Erudite. There’s also the sectless – the fringes (and downtrodden) of society who failed their initiation into one of the five sects.
Beatrice was born as part of Abnegation, the sect which favors selflessness. She’s not terribly successful at it and yearns to join one of the other sects. During her testing it turns out that she doesn’t have a natural affinity for one of the sects – rather she what’s known as “Divergent” and those in power fear the Divergent as they are free thinkers who are unpredictable.
Tris (as she renames herself) ends up choosing the Dauntless and for most of the book it reminded me a fair amount of Ender’s Game with its pointless competitions and brutality. There is also the obligatory love interest thing where Tris becomes involved with her initiation instructor. (He’s only two years older so it is less creepy than it might be.)
For the most part, I enjoyed this portion of the book – while a number of the kids might as well have “evil” stamped on their heads, there are some interesting interactions among the new initiates. (In particular, when Tris realizes that her friends are much more friendly when they can perceive her as small and weak, but once she excels their feelings change – one to the point that he assists in an attempt to kill her.) Plus, they abseil off the Sears Tower.
I had just about convinced myself that the book would basically end with the initiation – I assumed there would be another attempt on her life/a big standoff where she kicks the ass of the biggest of the bullies.
What I got instead was whiplash. There is a sudden shift to a revolution where all the Dauntless are mind-controlled by the Erudite and attack the Abnegation. In quick succession Tris’s Mom and Dad both die, along with a number of her initiation mates and former friends in the Abnegation. She is able to steal the code for the simulation and at the end she and her boyfriend are on the run.
This whole sequence felt like it almost could have been its own novel and I definitely thought it deserved more space than was devoted to it. (Especially since the pacing in the first half of the novel is rather lackadaisical.) This rush job of a revolution really didn’t work for me.
 I assume wasn’t just me who felt like this.
Wings is the sort of book that doesn’t need to exist. I don’t mean that in the “wow, this book is horrible” way but in the “if only the characters had acted like any rational person, the plot would have been about three pages long” way.
So the question I put to you is if you had piles of riches hanging around (and magic powers) and you really wanted a plot of land not to be sold to potential evildoers, what would your crafty plan be:
a) offer some of those riches to the current owner of the property in exchange for said property.
b) Decide that the best way to gain control of the property is to leave a small child on the owner’s doorstep in hopes that they will adopt the child and some day the child will inherit it.
Please note, the owners have been dying to sell the property and the people with the piles of riches have been brainwiping the prospective buyers so they forget they were interested.
I bet you can guess which choice Pike made.
Anyway, Laurel was left on her parents’ doorstep when she was three and the happy adoption plan worked but now she is sixteen and just starting a new school. She is (of course) totally beautiful (because one of the messages of this book is that
ugly people trolls ugly people are evil) and immediately the hottest guy in town wants her.
In a shocking reversal from Twilight, she is the supernatural one, though she doesn’t know it yet. She finds this out when a big flower blooms on her back indicating that she’s ready to birth some offspring. (She’s a fairy and apparently fairies are plants despite looking just like people. They also eat and breath and fuck like people though sex is the safest around because they can’t get preggers. Oh, and in case you might think she was a regular fairy, of course she is one of the rare and super special ones.)
While she’s back on the special land where she grew up she runs into another fairy because none of these books is complete without a rival love interest of unsurpassable hottness, who can also infodump some important history to her.
Anyway, her parents are selling the magic patch of dirt to someone evil (i.e., ugly.) And the evil guy made her dad really ill (ok, that is pretty evil) for reasons that are about as logical as the whole fairy changeling plot since they were already selling the magic dirt to him.
Do you care why the dirt is magical? No, me either. Anyway, I’m sure you will not be surprised to hear that eventually some fairy who is not a total idiot realizes that if they give her parents money they won’t sell the magic dirt. Also, have a free cure for your dad.
But wait! Did I say there was a supernatural love interest? I bet you were wondering if he is a creepy stalker. All signs point to yes:
“I’ve watched you for years. Watched you grow from a little girl to a full grown faerie. We were best friends when we were little, and I’ve been with you almost every day for the last five years. Is it so unreasonable for me to have fallen in love with you?”
“You’ve waited for me this long?” she asked in a whisper.
Tamani nodded.” And I’ll wait longer. Someday you’ll come to Avalon and when that time comes, I’ll show you what I have to offer you in my world, our world. You’ll choose me. You’ll come home with me
OR ELSE. (ok, he doesn’t actually say that last bit. But you know creepy stalker fairy is thinking it.)
You too can read this book for free if you click the link. I’m not actually suggesting you do so.
Mind you, I’m not actually saying the book is good. Because it is not.
 “It’s such a perfect piece of earth that nature is not the only abundant resource there. Gold and diamonds are as common as sticks and stones”
 I call this the “Goblet of Fire” syndrome – because of course you need a really complicated plan to kidnap Harry Potter rather than just kidnapping any of the nine million other times you have him alone once you’ve had your agent replace Mad Eye Moody.