After what has felt like a lot of links that aren't about texts, lets see if we can get back to talking about words and books. (I'm also turning comments on for this post. In general, I think comments are terrible unless well-moderated, which I'm not up to, but we'll see what happens)
1 - @ActuallyAisha is reading the Carnegie Medal shortlist (as she did last year), and her review of Lies We Tell Ourselves acknowledges both the "tremendously effective writing" at the opening sequence, and questions the assumed audience
if I hadn’t committed to reading this book for the award I might have stopped reading. I began to suspect that perhaps Talley’s book was assuming an audience that needed to know what having racist slurs yelled at them felt like. I still don’t know if that was unfair.
This review gave me a great feel for the strengths of the book, the weaknesses in its false equivalencies, and as Aisha revealed some of the questions she asked herself, she inspired me to ask a few more of myself.
The purpose of this quest is to destroy not a magic ring of power with charmed letters written upon it, but a completely different artefact: a magic sword of power with charmed letters written upon it.
I've noticed a few things about Adam Roberts' reviews. First, he cares a great deal about language and style, which I generally ignore (this is what comes of growing up on the fantasy of the 80s and 90s). At one point, Roberts laments:
Cherryh is an expert Latinist, and taught the language for many years, so she knows the difference between a ‘thee is’ and a ‘thou art’; but she insists on using the former idiom the whole way through her novel. Ah well
Second, Roberts has read a lot more SF and Fantasy than I have, and he's better at picking out common elements than I, as seen in the first quote. Third and most importantly, Roberts is a deeply forgiving reader. He mentions that his criticism "does not capture the flavor of reading the novel", and ends with the conclusion of the novel "- it's surprisingly affecting". I'd like to be better at both nailing the weaknesses of a book I read and also capturing some of the essence I enjoyed. Plus, of course, more reviewers should use the word wrongfooted.
3 - Meanwhile and entirely differently, Jo Lindsay Walton has launched the Sputnik Awards. In general, I think that book awards can be fun way to share and discuss great books, but that too often the discussions are either some kind of genre boundary policing, or about "community" instead of books. The Sputniks seem to afford the chance to talk about wonderful books and stay focused on having fun. I've joined the advisory board (and submitted a wandering monster list). Go forth and nominate!
4 - I'm going to spend some time setting up this next link which I got from Will Ellwood. First of all, let's note that the byline on the Wired piece is from Jonah Lehrer. It's not clear to me that even if Lehrer is taking journalistic ethics seriously, there's any need for him to be rehabilitated - it's not as though there's a shortage of white guys writing about random studies and extrapolating how we should be in the world. But let's set that aside and look at the actual article (which exists with some variation in both Wired and The Guardian - each even managed to find a writer covering this beat who does the very counterintuitive thing the study suggests!). Apparently a single study (and this came from UC San Diego, so the students were probably pretty WIERD) suggests that people may enjoy stories more with the endings spoiled.
And the thing is, this might actually be interesting. It's possible that expanding on this study could give us some interesting ideas about games and narratives. And even without the study, I'd be really interested in hearing some authors and critics talking about foreshadowing and narrative techniques. But this is one single study, it's hardly rigorous theory. And Lehrer extrapolates from this study to the "no spoilers" culture on the internet.
In this age of information, we’ve become mildly obsessed with avoiding spoilers, staying away from social media lest we learn about the series finale of Lost or the surprising twist in the latest blockbuster.
I'm just spitballing here, but what if part of avoiding spoilers is being respectful of the lots of different standards that different people have? Some people will actually enjoy a story less after spoilers. When I watched Hamilton recently, I was really glad I'd listened to the soundtrack so I could follow what was happening, but I wish I hadn't trolled through YouTube for clips quite so obsessively - I would've like the visual experience to be a bit more ... unspoiled. The point being that there might be an interesting conversation to be had around spoilers, or really a couple, some around individual enjoyment and others around social media communities, but summarizing this single study in a media outlet and attributing real significance to it is pretty silly. Wired did. So did the Guardian. So did more than a few other places.
5 - Deryni reading continues. Joe Sherry is continuing his Deryni reread at Nerds of a Feather. Like Joe, I've imprinted on this series and I'm incapable of being objective about it, but I'm enjoying following along with him. In this case, Joe nails his feeling while reading the book.
When I wrote about Camber of Culdi and Saint Camber, I talked around the Deryni persecutions because the persecutions were much less the focus on those novels and were rather more a looming threat. This gave me the space to think about religion and grace and the ethical use of Deryni magic. That space is now tightly contracted because Camber the Heretic is all about the bloody persecution of the Deryni race.
I'm not sure how this read would be for someone unfamiliar with the series, but I'm loving it.
6 - Two reviews that are both good reviews of a story and also also have a broader point to make. Jonathan McCalmont reviews James Tiptree Jr.'s The Screwfly Solution in the anthology Sisters of the Revolution by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer. The first part of this essay considers whether this story fits into the anthology (I have enjoyed McCalmont thinking about what constitutes a good anthology, even if mostly to argue with him), the second part is a close reading of the story and how Tiptree (a pen-name for Alice Sheldon) leads us through thinking about gender roles and the ways they intrude and become dysfunctional. Meanwhile, I've just discovered the superdoomedplanet blog via this post on Borges' Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius. The point that this is worldbuilding via essay rather than narrative, and then the consideration of what sort of worldbuilding is being done here is very good.
Another, the kind of worldbuilding Borges is doing here, is concerned with how people in this imagined world think–not so much their surface opinions as the underlying philosophies and fundamental beliefs. What makes them tick.
The Tlonites tick differently.
This post exists in the shadow of the Hugo awards, and so it is also a post about community. Wesley draws a connection between the worldbuilding of Tlon and the geek cultural impulse to catalog, collecting facts and keeping anyone else unable to recite the same facts out of the gates. I'm inclined to agree with the general point that toxic aspects of geek culture are sadly omnipresent, but there's a couple paragraphs that, while individually reasonable, I find contradictory when juxtaposed together.
So really among these links, four good posts all butted up together.
7 - My 'Oriental' Father: On The Words We Use To Describe Ourselves. This piece from Kat Chow of NPR Code Switch on the language she and her father use, and her experiences growing up is excellent. I was particularly struck by this line.
To some degree, these things come down to the words available to us in the first place.