Monday, April 14, 2014

Reading Update

In the 2014 Reading Experiment I'm doing, in which I'm reading books only written by female authors for the year, I've finished a few recently.

After Kushiel's Dart, I was up for some shorter books, so I opted first for Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake.  Atwood's speculative fiction is, in my opinion, unparalleled today. Oryx does not pass the Bechdel Test, yet I read the book as a critique on entitled young masculinity, in addition to being a warning/critique of online culture, genetic modification, and environmental degradation.

I'm also greatly entertained by her understated, dark humor.  The main character in Oryx, Jimmy/Snowman is not particularly likable - after all, he was somewhat complicit in (spoiler alert) wiping out the rest of humanity. This character, however, spends most of his time in the book traipsing around in a grimy sheet while being physically and mentally miserable in a hell-on-earth of his (and his buddy's) own making. 

Several similes in the book were notable to me, including when the main character referenced his aloof mother, who was, "smiling her increasingly weird smile, as if someone had yelled Smile! and goosed her with a fork."  Another time, the narrator explains that some of the genetic experiments had to be stopped because, "who needed a cane toad with a prehensile tale like a chameleon's that might climb in through the bathroom window and blind you while you were brushing your teeth."

The second book I read was Octavia Butler's collection Bloodchild and Other Stories.  I read Butler's Lilith's Brood a few years ago and was reminded, once again, that Butler was truly a master of science fiction.

Included in Bloodchild were Butler's thoughts on her own writing and her explanations of how she came up with the ideas for the stories in this collection. To me, that extra was a treat for me to read - especially given the themes of her stories, which include gestation, intra-specie relations, colonization, and communication. I also see her stories as containing layers upon layers of interpretation.

The first story in the collection, Bloodchild, is notable as it explores male pregnancy and what that might look like, particularly in an environment of questionable consent on the part of the men who become pregnant.  Rather than having women be the impregnators of men, she creates a world in which an alien race of centipede-like beings has taken over the world and use primarily male bodies in which to lay their eggs.  Birth itself is both painful and life-threatening.

To this scenario, Butler adds moral complexity.  Humans and aliens develop a love, of sorts, to one another, with the aliens bonding with the individual they've chosen to bear their young.  Humans are portrayed as having adapted to this alien invasion, with some even "volunteering" to carry eggs. In this alternate world removed from the real world where erosion of reproductive rights is common, the atrociousness of forcing people to be pregnant seemed particularly striking and obvious to me.

Butler also includes an essay on the act and art of writing itself, including this bit of advise for aspiring writers, "First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you're inspired or not."

So, if you've read either of these books, feel free to share your thoughts!  Next up in my queue is CS Friedman's Feast of Souls.  That book will be the 4th trilogy I'll be in the middle of, but several readers recommended it, so here we go!

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