Book Review: Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, by Samuel R. Delany

cover of "Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand"I’ll be going to the Nebula Awards in May, and the grandmaster is the amazing, groundbreaking writer, Samuel R. Delany.  In an attempt to seem like an intelligent and well-read person, I sat down to read his most famous novel, Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand.

Well.

I work on a schedule in which I need to read a complete book every three days on average.  To read Stars properly would take me three years.  It’s not because the language is terribly difficult.  It’s because the book is marvelously thematically dense.  This book explores multiple alien cultures and in doing so it explores race, gender, sexuality, slavery, knowledge and access to knowledge, culture, language, biology, politics, and economics.  There are people who have two tongues and who say different words with each tongue.  There’s a poet who uses “shift runes”.  These are letters which are pronounced differently depending on where they are placed in the text.  There’s a whole sequence about dragon hunting – when you “catch” the dragon you experience life as a dragon for a time.  There are worlds in which every expression of sexuality is permitted and worlds which are oppressive, and one world in which the only thing you aren’t legally allowed to do is have sex with someone much shorter than yourself.  There’s a lot going on here.

The plot is basically this:  There’s a world in which you can volunteer to have your anxieties removed.  You mellow right out, but you also become barely cognitively functioning and you become a slave.  It’s not a trick – when you volunteer, you’re told that you’ll become a slave – a basically mindless slave.  A character who is hereafter referred to as “Rat Korga” has this procedure done.  The first section of the book is a futuristic slave narrative in which various things happen to Rat Korga – none of which he understands.

Rat’s world is destroyed and he is the only survivor (it’s more complicated than that, but basically he’s the only one).   He is rescued by people from yet another world.  There are lots of worlds, and I’m using the word “people” to describe any sentient being.  Since Earth is never identified, from the readers’ point of view every character is an alien.  Anyway, a diplomat named Marq is told that Rat Korga, who has been all fixed up and who’s brain is more or less restored, is his “perfect erotic match”.  Will Rat and Marq be happy together?  It turns out that the answer to this has repercussions that affect an entire civilization, so…no pressure.

My advice is to give yourself a season of Stars and read no more than one chapter a week.  Read slow and read when you are awake – don’t try to read this when you have a huge deadline on your mind, or the flu, or a headache.  You’ll want to be able to really pay attention.  Some readers have said that they were captivated by the plot.  For me, this wasn’t the case.  I found the book very easy to put down. I found it difficult to connect to some of the characters and I found some of the passages to be repellent, especially during the first section of the book, when Rat is a slave.  What made me keep picking it up again was lines like this:

To say the name of your perfect erotic object is always to say it for the first time.

And I love this beautiful passage, in which Marq tries to explain his fascination with hands:

It’s a beautiful universe, Japril, wondrous and the more exciting because no one has written plays and poems and built sculptures to indicate the structure of desire I negotiate every day as I move about in it.  It’s a universe where hands and faces are all luminous all attractive, all open for infinite contemplation, not only the ones that are sexual and obsessive but the ones that are ordinary and even ugly, because they still belong to the categories where the possibility of the sexual lies.  It’s a universe where what is built, what is written, what has been made, makes hands hold the beauty they do; and what is thought, or felt, or wondered over is marvelous because somebody clutched their hands, or held them very still, or merely moved them slightly during the feeling or thinking of it.

Stars is a humbling experience and one I’ll have to revisit many times.  There’s so much to absorb and think about within its pages.  A lot of the story is about ambiguity, and I thought this quote by the author, Samuel R. Delany, was telling, so I’ll leave with this:

I was a young black man, light-skinned enough that four out of five people who met me, of whatever race, assumed I was white…I was a homosexual who now knew he could function heterosexually.

And I was a young writer whose early attempts had already gotten him a handful of prizes…

So, I thought, you are neither black nor white.

You are neither male nor female.

And you are that most ambiguous of citizens, the writer.

There was something at once very satisfying and very sad, placing myself at this pivotal suspension.  It seemed, in the park at dawn, a kind of revelation – a kind of center, formed of a play of ambiguities, from which I might move in any direction.

― Samuel R. DelanyThe Motion Of Light In Water: Sex And Science Fiction Writing In The East Village

 

 

An Interview With Tim Hanley, Author of “Wonder Woman Unbound”

cover of Wonder Woman UnboundToday we are thrilled to have an interview with Tim Hanley, author of Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine.  This book is a detailed, entertaining, and endlessly interesting look at Wonder Woman, from her first appearance in comics in 1941 to her portrayal in comics and other media today.  Wonder Woman is a beloved icon who has had many different roles to play as society and the comics industry has changed over time.

Of all the superheroes that have come and gone, why has Wonder Woman stood out as an iconic vision of a strong woman, even when her comics haven’t always portrayed her as such?

Tim:  I think there are two big reasons. First, for decades she’s been THE female superhero. There have been lots of other great female superheroes, but they come and go. They’re often in team books, and their solo stuff rarely lasts for long. Wonder Woman’s become the archetype. She’s starred in her own series for over 70 years now, and she’s the only consistent female superhero in a sea of male heroes. What she means to readers, particularly girls, just by existing in this male-dominated world holds a lot of power and strength, regardless of what’s actually going on in her comics.

cover of first issue of Wonder Woman

Second, since Ms. magazine and the Wonder Woman TV show in the 1970s, Wonder Woman has superseded her comic books to some degree. Wonder Woman the icon has trumped Wonder Woman the character. Millions of people know Wonder Woman from lunchboxes and “Girl Power!” t-shirts, while for the past few decades her comics have only been read in the tens of thousands. She’s a symbol now, equated with an idea of a “strong woman” to the general public.

Plus, even in her weakest comic book incarnations, Wonder Woman’s always fought the bad guys and saved the day. There’s always something strong and positive to latch onto.

If the original, Marston-version Wonder Woman could talk to the modern Wonder Woman, what would she say to her?  Would she have any advice?  Any praise or criticism?

Tim:  The original Wonder Woman was all about supporting and encouraging other women, so she’d definitely lead with praise. I think she’d be impressed with the modern Wonder Woman’s fighting prowess, and proud to see that her primary storyline in her New 52 comic has been protecting and inspiring another woman who is now displaying her own heroism. The original Wonder Woman would probably have some constructive criticism about her modern counterpart’s relationship with Superman, and her constant second fiddle role therein. Also, comics these days tend to be pretty violent, and Wonder Woman’s no exception; the original Wonder Woman might kindly suggest that today’s Wonder Woman might want to try to talk first and not throw punches so quickly.

 

Superman and Wonder woman

Art by Shane Davis

Do you have a favorite Woman Woman writer?  How about favorite artist?  What do you look for or hope for in a Wonder Woman comic?

Picking a favourite writer is hard. I really liked Phil Jimenez’s run, and what Darwyn Cooke did with Wonder Woman in New Frontier was so good. And I love the old stuff, particularly Marston’s tenure. But overall, I’d have to say Greg Rucka. I really like how he combined the peaceful, diplomatic side of Wonder Woman with the warrior Amazon who’s prepared to fight when it’s needed.

For artists, I absolutely love what Cliff Chiang is doing on Wonder Woman right now. He captures her so powerfully and beautifully, and the world he’s built around her is fantastic as well. I like his stuff so much that I actually own a page from one of his Wonder Woman issues.

As for what I hope for in a Wonder Woman comic, what I’m looking for above all else is a kind but strong Wonder Woman who challenges something about our world. It doesn’t have to be obvious or ham-fisted (subtlety is always preferable), but to me Wonder Woman is the ultimate outsider who knows what she thinks is important and has no truck whatsoever with the way things have always been in our world, be it patriarchy or poverty or what have you.

 

Art by Cliff chiang

Art by Cliff chiang

 

With so much fan demand for a Wonder Woman movie, do you think we are any closer to getting one?  What would have to happen for a Wonder Woman movie to finally take off?

It seems like we might be moving towards a Wonder Woman movie, but it will be quite a while until we get it. She’ll be in the Man of Steel sequel, and presumably a Justice League movie after that, so maybe we’ll get a solo film then, but we may well see another Superman movie or a new Batman or Flash film before they get to Wonder Woman. It wouldn’t at all surprise me if Marvel put out a Black Widow and/or Captain Marvel movie before Wonder Woman gets off the ground either. Everything Warner Bros. has said about Wonder Woman suggests that they don’t particularly get the character nor are they in any great rush to do anything with her. I think that for a Wonder Woman movie to happen, there might have to be some new people at the top who will bring in someone with a strong vision for the character.

Do you see the comics industry changing as more women are involved in making and buying comics?

 Absolutely. The diversification of the creators and audience seems to directly coincide with a diversity of stories and genres. Since the 1980s, dark, violent comics have been the norm in comic book shops, but we’re starting to see a big shift. In the 2000s, people started to break out of that mold within the comic book industry, but also a lot of folks who were disinterested in the comic book industry started making their own, different comics elsewhere. The new audience brought in by both of these shifts has led to a wider, more diverse readership and now more diverse creators as well. There are so many great, different books out there right now, and it’s fantastic to see and will only grow from here.

 

Wonder Woman Cover Art

Art by Jill Thompson

What issues or arcs would you recommend to a new reader?

For an old school appreciation of Wonder Woman, the first volume of the Wonder Woman Chronicles is a good, affordable intro to the Golden Age, and the first volume of Showcase Presents: Wonder Woman is the same for the Silver Age. In terms of today, new readers might enjoy Greg Rucka and J.G. Jones’ Wonder Woman: The Hiketia graphic novel, the first collection of Gail Simone and Terry and Rachel Dodson’s arc in Wonder Woman: The Circle, or the New 52 Wonder Woman’s first collection, Wonder Woman Volume 1: Blood. Also, Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier has an amazing Wonder Woman, and is a great story in general. Oh, and for kids, Ralph Cosentino’s Wonder Woman: The Story of the Amazon Princess is delightful.

Cover of Wonder Woman: The Story of an Amazon Princess

This Week’s Arrow: “Seeing Red”

Arrow Tv show logo

What the Hell was that?

I’d deliver my highlights of Arrow as promised, but excuse me I’m BUSY CRYING HYSTERICALLY.  Jesus, is this show trying to kill me?  Wait a minute…is this Game of Thrones?

So as you all know, this is the more or less weekly feature where I share my two cents on Arrow.  It’s not a full recap.  Recaps abound online, I highly recommend io9.com, which does hilarious and insightful recaps.  This is more a thing where I watch Arrow by myself and then I pretend that we are all hanging out chatting or, in this weeks’ case, curled up in fetal position waiting to die.   SPOILERS ABOUND HEREAFTER.

That Thing That Happened

So…this thing happened.  Now we are all depressed.  I don’t want to talk about it except to say the same thing I say about Slade every week: What. A. Whiner.  Yes, also a murderous evil wacko guy, but above all a whiner.  Death by Whiner is a terrible way to go.  I can’t even.  No, I’m not gonna say who died – go watch the episode so you, too, can be utterly miserable.

I know I said spoilers, and I also know this is already all over the Internet.  But whether it’s because I’m sad or spoiler-adverse, I still don’t want to say much about this except that it was very, very well done.  One thing I liked is that the death was about the person, and their emotional arc, and their experience, not just about Ollie.  It was brutal and upsetting and it would should be great for our surviving characters to catch a break.  If this season ends on a cliffhanger I will not be amused.

 

I bring you these therapy animals.  Feel better?

I bring you these therapy animals. Feel better?

The Magnificent Brats Rock On

In other news, Roy goes crazy because of all that pesky mirakuru in his system.  I have not been a fan of the actor who plays Roy, Colton Hayes, but I gotta hand it to him – he plays “whacked out on mirakuru” in a truly terrifying manner.  We get to see Sin again (yay) and her interacting with Thea again (double yay – I love their friendship) but although I get that redemption is important to the show, it was pretty disturbing to see not one but two women ardently defend the man they’ve been attacked by.  Weirdly, even though that aspect of the story completely creeped me out, I still want Roy and Thea to have a happy ending.  I guess I’m just Team Thea and I want her to have what she wants.  Although what I really want is a Thea/Sin spin-off show.  Also, no matter how many times she does it, I never get tired of hearing Sin refer to Roy as “Abercrombie”.

Once again, Thea makes me proud.  Go, you magnificent brat, go!

Once again, Thea makes me proud. Go, you magnificent brat, go!

True Love – Or Not

Romantically, this episode makes it painfully obvious that Ollie has no chemistry with either Laurel or Sara.  I’ve always maintained that Ollie’s friendship with Sara is important, because he needs to spend time with someone who understand vigilante life and his past experiences.  But I’ve also always maintained that Ollie should be friends with Sara and in a romantic relationship with someone who isn’t like him, someone who balances his chronic “mopey” disposition (someone like, say…Felicity!).  Finally Sara agrees with me and she breaks up with Ollie.  I think it’s interesting that people keep telling her that she’s not a killer even though her profession for many years has been killer.  What do they think she did as an Assasain?  Still, I see great heroism in Sara and I’m worried about her as she seems to accept that she is a dark person.  On the other hand, she’s visiting an “old friend”.  Maybe it’s Nyssa!  Maybe Nyssa and Sara will kick Slade’s ass!  This I would love to see.

 

Come back, Nyssa!  We love you!  Sara is single now!

Come back, Nyssa! We love you! Sara is single now!

Best lines:

There is one clear winner for best line of the night, and it’s not a shock that that goes to Felicity, who is horrified by Ollie’s determination to jab his injured knee full of painkillers and keep on limping after the bad guys:

“Are you sure thats a good idea?  Can you even get into those leather pants with that knee?”

Ouch.

Ouch.

Book Review: A Corner of White, by Jaclyn Moriarty

cover of "A Corner of White"A Corner of White is a lovely story but it took me a long time to realize how powerful it is.  I spent much of the book thinking it was sort of cute and whimsical and wouldn’t you know it, it turned out to be about powerful stuff.  This is the kind of “coming of age story” that gives “coming of age story” a good name.

This book has two protagonists who live in parallel worlds.  Elliot lives in the Kingdom of Cello.  The people of Cello are under attack periodically by Colours.  Elliot’s father disappeared a year ago, and Elliot believes that his father was taken by Purples, despite increasing evidence that his father ran away with a teacher.  Elliot wants to go search for his father, but a series of events conspires to keep him in town, and meanwhile it seems more and more likely that Elliot is going to have to face up to hard truths about his Dad.

Meanwhile in our own, modern world, fourteen-year-old Madeline is adjusting to a new life.  Madeline used to run away from home a lot.  On her final try, her mom comes with her.  Now they live in Cambridge, and Madeline’s mom seems increasingly disconnected and strange.  Madeline may seem to be the person with the common sense, but Madeline’s story of how she misses her life as a rich girl with friends and a father doesn’t make sense either.  If Madeline’s Dad is so great, why was she always running away, and why did her mom come, and why did her old friends have names like “Tinsel”?

Madeline and Elliot exchange letters through a “crack”.  They are not each other’s primary relationship, but they comment on each other’s lives in illuminating ways.  As Madeline puts it towards the end of the book:

It’s like we’re complementary colors…You know what those are, right?  Colours that make each other disappear? So, if you cross red with green – or blue with orange, or yellow with purple – you get a pale, pale color, almost white. (Issac called it a “faint, anonymous color.”)  (I’m not talking about paint here – red and green paint don’t cancel each other out, they just make mud-brown).

Interestingly, though, if you put complementary colors next to each other, they make each other shoe much more brightly, (They glow with more than their natural brilliance, is how Leonardo Da Vinci put it).

I wonder what would happen if you and I met?  Would we kill each other off, or make each other glow?  Maybe both.

The people of Cello know about The World, but the people of The World don’t know about Cello.  This creates interesting tension between Madeline and Elliot, since Elliot believes in Madeline but Madeline assumes that Elliot is creating a fantasy.  The truth, of course, is that everyone in the story is creating a fantasy of some kind.  This is a book about perception and assumption and imagination and reality.  Part of the trick of growing up for the characters (and there are many vibrant characters other than Elliot and Madeline) is that they have to release illusion and accept reality, without losing a sense of wonder and imagination.  It’s this tension that gives the book its power, and the moments in which reality shows itself are almost brutal in their emotional impact even thought they are all moments that play out quietly.

This book is the beginning of a series, and frankly I have mixed feelings about that.  I love the book, the characters, and the settings, so a sequel fills me with joy, but it doesn’t need a sequel.  It’s true that there are still mysteries in Cello (some of which seem tacked on at the last minute), but for the most part everyone learned what they needed to learn.  There was resolution.  and the resolution was hard but also healing.  This is a deeply optimistic book.

I read a lot of romance, and I love it, but I think what draws me to romance isn’t so much the focus on romantic love as the focus on relationships leading to growth.  This is not a romance but it had that quality of expressing that relationships are important, whether they are friendly, romantic, familial, or neighborly.  Elliot and Madeline have no romantic feelings for each other but they change each other’s lives in profound ways, and their lives are also affected profoundly by the other people in their lives.

New Joss Whedon film, “In Your Eyes” released online!

Joss whedonStop the presses!  Joss Whedon’s new independent film, In your Eyes, was released today on Vimeo.  This was a surprise release and Whedon fans across the land are no doubt canceling appointments right and left so as to watch this right away – heaven knows I am!

This movie is described as a paranormal romance film.  Two people live on opposite sides of the country, but they are able to sense what the other is feeling.  The film is written by Joss Whedon and directed by Brin Hill.

OK, I gotta go to the movies!  In my PJs!  This is the best job ever.