Kraken by China Mieville – Faith Under a Microscope

China Mieville’s fiction has always had this strong but rather conflicted undercurrent of morbid interest in and yet derision of organised faith. This is something I think he’s very aware of and uses to his own advantage to create some interesting ideas.

From the very beginning with King Rat, this idea of music and worship is shown in a relatively negative light with the Pied Piper metaphor. But, at the same time, you have this numinous sense of joy with creating samples and discovering music. This sort of stuff carries forward throughout the Bas-Lag series and the rest of his work: the idea of the numinous divorced from any worshipful context other than sheer, primal wonder. Another thing he usually brews is a sense of the anti-numinous. Or, as he’d probably like to put it, the abnuminous. The idea of beauty and wonder in filth, muck, rust, urban degradation, decay, so on.

In Kraken, the religious themes are pretty much worn on it’s sleeve. A preserved specimen of the Architeuthis Dux gets stolen from the Darwin Centre of the Natural History Museum in London. Billy Harrow, the curator, gets sucked into a world of crazy cults, magic, metropolitan police jurisdiction, heartless mercenaries and plenty more of Mievillesque madness. But what this whole thing is about is really worship and a justification for worship outside any sort of ritual or spiritual context. A lot of it may very well be autobiographical. The cephalopod has had a strange appeal to Mieville for most of his career and stands historically as a sort of symbol for the weird.

Mieville’s writing usually makes any writer jealous of not coming close to ever having an idea as cool as a peripheral one he just uses on the fly. That is more than usually true for this book. You have something new and strange and wonderful with every page.

The thing is, anti-religion in popular fiction is something I’ve come to accept. I see past it almost always, because my beliefs are my beliefs and I’d hate to only read stories that are congruent with my worldview. But this is probably my favourite book I totally ethically and morally disagree with and still love (of which there are a lot, including ones by the same author). The reason is simple. It may fundamentally disagree with in a higher power but it understands it and identifies with it. That sort of thing is not common with left-wing writers writing normal fiction and even genre fiction (the distinctions are real blurry nowadays and I’ll get a post up about the loss of wonder in modern spec-fic and genre-fic sometime this aeon) these days.

A lot of the beauty in Mieville’s fiction stems from a very formal, very academic form of the introspection most of us do on a regular basis. He’s perfectly aware of these games he plays with religion because he’s perfectly aware that science-fiction often swoops in to take the place of religion. Look at the sort of fan communities that develop around sci-fi/fantasy shows. How different is Comic-Con from a Pentecostal Revival minus some weird costumes. How much of fandom is underpinned by worship?

Whatever you believe, you should probably give Kraken a look.

You can buy Kraken by China Mieville here

Advertisements

The Wattppad Spotlight – Bloodistan by David V.M.

Am I shamelessly plugging my own work? Damn right, I am. Because let’s not beat around the bush, the point of almost every blog (to some extent at least) is self promotion. So here I am, promoting myself. Ta da.

Bloodistan is a story about vampires. Kinda. It’s also about politics. Kinda. It’s also about news and the media in a post-Snowden world. Kinda. I’ll just tell you about the story before things get a little too confusing.

It is set in a fictional island nation to the east of Cyprus called Damya, where a mixed population of Arabs, Russians and Turks have coexisted since settlements began there in the Soviet era. These communities also have to deal with their not-so-human neighbours. The kind that sorta need blood to survive, need to kill human women in order to reproduce and who can’t come out in the sunlight.

The story explores the origins of vampires in this location and the involvement of the US in a murky government conspiracy involving the place through the eyes of three twentysomethings who are forced to deal with the monsters of their past in different ways. And by monsters, I mean figurative monsters. But I also mean literal monsters. The kind with fangs.

If you’re into vampire stories with a twist, stuff that you’d find in the weird side of the bookstore and/or conspiracy thrillers, you might enjoy Bloodistan. Full disclosure, I’m probably really biased about this since I wrote it. But I’d be honoured if you could check it out.

You can read Bloodistan here.

Music Musings – Laura Marling’s Semper Femina and Kanye West’s Yeezus are two sides of the same coin

 

Chill.

Fans of either artist who read this (lol, who am I kidding, I pray every night for more than one person to read these scraps of nonsense also thank you mom) will go through the whole tearing their hair out, sackcloth and ashes routine.

A more likely question to be floating around in your noggin right now, dear reader (mom), would be: “Why are you talking about that chauvinistic egomaniac freak in 2017 and also who the fuck is Laura Marling?”

To answer your first question, because he’s interesting. We have more than enough bland reflections on life and the inner journey pumped out year after year by independant record labels and listened to by pubescent girls in their chokers and winged eyeliner pretending that abhorring Justin Bieber, Drake and those four Irish boys with peculiar hair whilst adoring electronic indie trite (OH WONDER) ridden with more ‘piercing the fabric of the intellect’ platitudes than  the bedroom of an educated stoner. Where’s the edge? Where’s the balls to do something properly different in the confines of pop-expectations? Kanye stole all of the balls.

Who’s Laura Marling? Laura Marling is the only one all the critics took seriously from the whole Communion group that we called nu-folk that was taking over London in 2010. She’s also the one who’s been most artistically consistent out of the whole lot. Noah and the Whale wrote a break up album and then disappeared. Mumford & Sons remodelled themselves into a rock outfit and wove out and then back into my heart. But Laura Marling has been singing about the same things she’s been singing about since she was seventeen. Melancholia and the burden of womanhood.

Only, with her, you could always buy that. She always looked burdened by something very elusive. Maybe she didn’t know it was femininity when she was sixteen. But this has been a sort of touchstone for almost every album she’s ever done. The juxtaposition (I love that word, can’t you tell) between so many different emotions, all relating to womanhood has been something she’s been obsessed with. The power it brings, the responsibility, the frailty, the fickle nature, the vulnerability, the demand to deny that vulnerability, &ct. Her feminism is always heartfelt and earnest.

So is Kanye’s masculinity. This is where things get a little un-PC because I’m going to have to defend Kanye’s chauvinism. I like to think of it more as violent masculinity, though. And that violence permeates the album Yeezus from the word go. It is abrasive and hostile from the beginning to end. But, there’s something very insecure in the middle of all of this as well. The art isn’t insecure, for certain. And it isn’t overcompensating, whatever that means. People who make claims like that don’t really understand Kanye as an art form.

Kanye as a person, I’ll be the first to admit, even I don’t understand. But Kanye the artist is undeniably extremely talented. We could talk for hours here about his production skills (and Miss Marling’s guitar skills) but let’s cut right to the chase and explore what both these artists are all about and also what they have in common. Which happens to be the same thing.

If you pick apart all of Kanye’s oeuvre for a theme, the best answer would be identity. That identity is a  fluid concept is something Kanye knows all too well. There is something very self obsessed with Kanye’s sense of identity but that is what is so genius about the whole thing. In the framework of rap, introspection (and it’s leaner, meaner cousin narcissism) rarely ever stand out. To brag is the norm. And that basically gives Kanye a ticket to explore every facet of his own psyche and identity he wishes to from his Christianity to his heartbreak to his race and sex.

Race and sex happens to be what Laura Marling is interested in as well, only she’s a lot more soothing than Kanye. So soothing that you’re tempted to almost stop listening to what she’s saying and hear legit the most beautiful voice on the planet overlaid with Blake Mills’s sweet sweet production. Ah. Eargasms. But if you actually listen, what Marling’s trying to do with femininity is interesting. As a concept album, the guist of it is that it is about women from the perspective of men, only written by a woman. So it goes sort of like the Ouroboros. How much of the album is written to herself, I do not know. But, buried under the standoffish subtlety that has come to define Laura Marling, you have a healthy vein of introspection that is most Kanye like.

The first song from Semper Femina is a song about sex. Soothing (arranged like an inevitable, tribal doom ritual) follows a protagonist who is forced to grapple between her reluctance to allow someone to enter her life and her burning lust for this person. That’s what the album title is all about. The Virgil reference. Woman is fickle and changeable always.

Most of the songs from Yeezus are about the same thing. The pressures of married life choking away his previously vibrant sex life. This may seem terrifically banal and gauche compared to Marling’s contemplative reflections on womanhood but scratch the surface and you’ll find he’s railing against the same thing. It isn’t a entirely societal, the expectation for male promiscuity. It is something deep rooted in our collective psyche and he feels the need to live up to that. But he also wants something rich and meaningful from his marriage, as Bound 2 shows us.

Both of them are railing against norms put on them by things they do not fully comprehend. And both speak their pieces beautifully.

But you know what they say. Speaking about music is like dancing about architecture. So I’ll leave you with these:

 

 

The Wattpad Spotlight – Let’s Go For A Pint by Marian Cavlovic

This is my comfort read.

Honestly, you don’t know how nice it is to have something like that. I finish a hard day’s studying/writing/kraken hunting/muscle developing/wench deflowering/exaggerating and fall into bed, my hands feeling for the cool surface of my phone. Then I find this book in my library and read a couple of chapters and I just feel cozy. It’s a little like watching Friends. Only, more paranormal.

This whole thing may be a reaction to urban fantasy tropes. It may be a reaction to the exceedingly cloying ism-ism that seems to have seems to have permeated popular culture in recent years. Or it may just be a funny vampire story. Who knows, it could perhaps even be all of those things put together.

The story follow Lena, a vampire (well, duh) as she deals with day-to-day problems like getting along with humans, going to parties, dealing with amputee-witches, fending off rabid admirers and much more. It is told in episodic fashion, kind of like a sitcom. There is some level of continuity between chapters but the structure doesn’t follow the arc structure I’ve come to expect from fiction. It is very serialized.

And that is precisely why I chose this story for the spotlight. It is one of the few I’ve come across on Wattpad that has made full use of the serialized nature of the medium. This story is perfect for Wattpad. You can return to it after a week-long hiatus and have no problem getting back into the story. More than that, it does what sitcoms do best. Give you characters to fall in love with. Because here, the characters (and they’re a weird bunch, let me tell you) are always the focus.

It’s funny and charming and tongue-in-cheek and delightful and you’ll fall in love with it very quickly.

You can read Let’s Go For A Pint here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wattpad Spotlight – The Purpose Of Miss Shepley by Arden Brooks

I’m a Jane Eyre person. Everyone is either a Wuthering Heights person or a Jane Eyre person, even if you’ve read neither. Because both are suppressed and passionate and violently lashing out against the straitjackets (ahem I meant corsets) society was putting on their writers. But the former wears that passion on its sleeve. It’s boisterous and loud and bombastic. Rolling hills and what have you. Jane Eyre was always the more quiet of the two.

I haven’t really come across any Historical Fiction that managed to nail that passionate yet held back tone that permeates Jane Eyre. This one comes pretty close. Only apparently, it isn’t Historical Fiction.

The Purpose of Miss Shepley is ostensibly a Fantasy novel. The Fantastic elements are not obvious. It is only hinted in brief flashes of lore that something extraordinary is going on in the background. But we aren’t allowed to hear most of it because our protagonist and first person narrator is whisked away halfway through overhearing most important conversations so lemon paste can be applied to her (perhaps plain perhaps pretty) visage.

And I have a strong feeling that that sort of thing is very intentional. While also reinforcing its theme of repression and individual agency vis a vis social norms and a family legacy, it also creates a lot of mystery about the fantastic elements.

The story follows Edith Shepley, whose mother belonged to the very noble house (or perhaps Barony) of Ewert. The background of her father, on the other hand, is a lot more ambiguous. We don’t know who he is. But we do know for sure that Edith looks like a Wyrm. The story so far is an interesting peek at Noble life in the world it is set in. What I like about nineteenth century literature (and biographies of royalty. Yes. I’m that guy. Deal with it) is this juxtaposition between the ordinarily free and playful process of courtship and the far more imperious matters of lineages and ideal matches. This wasn’t really a problem in most other cultures where marriages were (and yet are) arranged by parents.

In Regency England, that was still probably the case, especially among Royalty but there’s always this almost farcical attempt at trying to maintain the structures of courtship and agency. Wooing and the like. This was probably what exasperated most fathers of daughters back then and irritated most men.

This sort of emotional and political complexity set against the backdrop of idyllic landscapes, domestic scenes and the comforts of royalty is what The Purpose of Miss Shepley is all about.

It requires a patient reader, to be sure. The opening is a little meandering and it takes its time establishing its characters. The characterisation, though, is very well done. The dialogue, descriptions and overall prose style are very effective.

You can read The Purpose of Miss Shepley here

What’s To Come

What?

I don’t know, honestly. At this point, anything could happen. I’m at that point where I want to blog seriously but I have no idea what exactly to blog about. So, here’s a very quick preview of the verbiage that is about to splatter across your beautiful laptops and iPads in the days and weeks to come.

Wattpad reviews. Basically, reviews of serialized fiction from the online platform, Wattpad. Keep an eye out for a review of Imalroc by @smaoineamh coming soon.

This thing on Clark Ashton Smith. And a thing on Lovecraft.

And yeah, that’s about it, honestly.

Stay tuned, whoever you are. Unless it’s just you, dead air. In which case, hello, old friend.

Arrival – Alien Linguistics

I’m sure I’m not the only one to have picked up on this recent trend in Science Fiction cinema for personal stories. The big, original, high concept sci-fi movies that we tend to remember at the end of every year seem to be complicated character studies of complicated people rather than the space opera/alien invasion stories of yester-century. Not that the Space Opera has in any way diminished in popularity, though. Guardians of the Galaxy and The Force Awakens have shown that there’s still a fertile market for that sort of stuff. But, the success of both those movies rides on the hyperactively franchise-based nature of American blockbusters today. I can’t really seem to remember any original regular science fiction that did well over the past few years. Shyamalan’s  After Earth was a complete travesty. Jupiter Ascending was kinda meh, to be honest. And even from the more successful franchise side of things, the big critical hits seem to be Rogue One and Prometheus which are both a lot more personal in scope than either of their predecessors.

But the movies that have been at the vanguard of this new personal trend in Science Fiction cinema have mostly been original, independent works. There’s Ex Machina and the very passionate Interstellar (yeah, I’m a fan) and The Martian. And then there’s Arrival.

The moment I got what Arrival was about, the Embassytown comparison was the first thing to spring to my mind. But, that wasn’t particularly fair. Both are stories about cognition that is entirely alien from ours. Both are stories about language and linguistics. But the similarities end there.

Arrival follows Louise Banks (with a strangely melancholic performance by the usually peppy Amy Adams), a linguist who is tasked with learning to communicate with aliens who have parked their spaceships on several almost random locations on the earth. These creatures are utterly alien from us. They are vast and lumbering things with eight, spidery appendages. We call them heptapods. Their language is entirely entirely written and makes use of a complicated set of symbols.

The cinematography and music are very reminiscent of two recent movies I’ve already mentioned: Ex Machina and Interstellar. Villeneuve goes for a mostly naturalistic approach to the environment and we’re choked with imagery of rolling hills, fields, lakes and the threat of rain from the word go. The score is orchestral, sparse and burgeoning, building up along with the film into a towering crescendo.

And both of these serve as a contrasting backdrop in front of which Villeneuve places his main character. Louise is cold and cut-off for most of the movie. She is based on a trope we don’t really see often in fiction, let alone science fiction. She is a character waiting for instructions on how to live. And towards the end of the movie, she gets them.

Jeremy Renner is surprisingly charming and Forest Whitaker is very Forest Whitaker.

If you’re into cerebral science fiction and you like complex character studies, I’d definitely give this one a go.