What I read
Finished Amnesty, and I think that was a good ending: not descending into grimdark but not fluffy-bunnies either, in keeping with the general tenor and a small note of hope.
Also finally finished The Strange Case of Harriet Hall and really, this is yet another 'neglected Golden Age detective novelist' that one can see why, really.
Catherine Dain, Dead Man's Hand (1997), which is the one where our protag has reached a place where the reader can see that perhaps the author did not quite know where to go next, which is the problem when you have a protag who changes and grows and is affected by the things that happen... I also started Dain's Angel in the Dark (A New Age Mystery #1) (1999), which failed to grab me and went into the donation bag. (Apparently there was a #2 in this series which I shall not be seeking out.)
And then I fell down an Amanda Cross rabbit hole, no, I don't know why, it just happened, they were on the shelf and I succumbed, I'm not even reading them in any particular order: Honest Doubt (2000), The Edge of Doom (2002), An Imperfect Spy (1995), The Puzzled Heart (1998), A Trap for Fools (1989), The Players Come Again (1990). And my sense is that Cross/Carolyn Heilbrun was having fun with these and being playful and not caring if they adhered to the Detective Club rules or even had a murder in them and was using that strategy of writing in genre so that she could do the late C20th version of 'o, it is only a novel' while having plots in which noxious professors get defenestrated, women bond &/or find life after unsatisfactory marriage, etc.
On the go
Amanda Cross, Poetic Justice (1970) - this must be one, I think, I bought somewhere like Sisterwrite or Compendium Books, way back in the day.
Charlotte Lennox still on the go.
Apart from more Amanda Cross, I have, I think, somewhere, a couple of collections of Heilbrun's essays.
Squats: 5x5 at 90kg
Hip thrust: 3x5 at 40kg
Dumbbell bent-over row: 5x5 at 15kg/arm
Deadlift: 3x8 at 50kg
Lat raise: 3x10 at 7kg/arm
Scap raise: 3x10 at 4kg/arm
Military press: 3x8 at 4kg/arm.
Exercise bike: 2km in 05:10.
Dreadful Company by Vivian Shaw is the second book about Dr. Greta Helsing, contemporary descendant of the Dracula Dr. Helsing, who is a doctor for supernatural beings. She's traveled to Paris for a conference on supernatural medicine, as a last-minute replacement for someone else. Greta spends most of this book caught up in someone else's revenge plot, but does quite a lot for other people (beings?) at the same time, which I found extremely satisfying. Winston was my favorite (I will not spoil Winston's identity). I was happy to learn that a third book is now available for pre-order, and amused to learn that Shaw is married to Arkady Martine, whose book I read last week.
I also re-read The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison because the Kindle version is on sale, and I'd been meaning to re-read it anyway. I ended up switching between the electronic version on my phone and the hardcover at home; sadly, print books do not automatically synch with e-books, but I managed! Enough time has passed since the book came out that I'd forgotten some plot twists, which only added to my enjoyment of revisiting Maia and his world. I'm so happy there is going to be a sequel. It was a good choice for a difficult week, with so many terrible things happening all over the world.
I opened all the windows today; later I turned on the a/c in the living room, which gets quite warm quite fast in the bright sun, but my bedroom window stayed open and the room is perfectly airy and cool. J and I walked three or four miles on our date, getting sprinkled on by lackadaisical rain, because that's our idea of fun. My feet are tired from the walk, but I'm still at my standing desk because I'm not going to sit in the stuffy living room when I could stand in front of my window and feel the breeze brushing gently up against me.
Alex is crouched on the sill, where I suspect he has spent most of the day, ogling the birds and drinking the fresh air. He ought to be an outdoor cat, poor guy, and this is the best he can get. On the other hand, if he were an outdoor cat, he wouldn't get to nap curled up in the crook of my C-shaped body pillow, which I have learned to leave arranged just how he likes it when I get up for the day. As I wrote this, he came over and chirped at me for pattins, so I hope he does feel he gets enough perks for being our cat and not his own.
I should be working, here at my lovely new desk, but I needed to share this moment, this sweet foot-ache, this purring cat, this generous breeze with all of you.
There may be a clue in the film's tagline: Immigration is hell. What do you call a coyote when he works across open water instead of desert borders? That's the American skipper of the Carrie Lynn (Antoni Corone), accepting a fat envelope of bills to run a Cuban father and daughter (Mario Ernesto Sánchez and Taylor Rouviere) overnight into Miami as if they were the crew of his shrimp trawler, rigging the nets and picking through dumped weed and bycatch of crabs to the clang and clatter of the winch and the engine, the low hum of sodium light, and the reggae lilt of Sister Nancy's "Bam Bam." And then the apophenia kicks in. He's much too corporeal for a ghost, this beautiful young man scraped off the seabed with barnacles crusting his brown skin like cowries and a wet fringe of weed and tangled shells trailing from the stumps of both knees and one wrist (he is played by real-life triple amputee Moise Brutus), but what in the shape of this story is he? Put me back, he repeats ever more urgently in a language no one else on the boat understands, heaving for breath like a landed fish; his skin glistens stickily. We are all dead. Does he mean the people on the boat with him, the people under the water where he came from? His face swirled with barnacles like tribal scars, his shoulders patched with sea-growth recall the coral-colonized sculptures of Jason deCaires Taylor, whose Vicissitudes (2007) was not after all a tribute to the dead of the Middle Passage; where did he come from? What to do now he's here? "We got to help him," the father says to the skipper. "Why don't you go help him?" the skipper says back. Neither of them move. The girl at the tiller sings aimlessly in the windy night. The skipper stares at the palm of the hand that touched the sea-stranger, grabs the shotgun with it. Propped against the railing, his skin drying, the stranger gasps, She's coming for me—
It feels important to me that we never see clearly or even properly understand her, even in the film's final moments of voices rising like a storm-babble out of the overcast, empty, translucently green sea, but that sense of fractured pattern means I can't tell if any of the associations the last shot evokes for me were the filmmakers' intentions. I wondered about anglerfish. I thought of Peter Maxwell Davies' The Lighthouse—it smells of cold sea-graves in here, of sea-wrecks, of sea-death. The sea shall give up her dead. This film is based on true events, the opening titles informed us, but which ones? The trawler found drifting in Biscayne Bay? The exploitation of immigrants? Refugees lost at sea, enslaved captives thrown overboard? Who's the title, even? American hauntings, American drownings; it makes more of a prose poem than a narrative, but I'm still thinking about it. One of the features I'm enjoying about the Criterion Channel lately is its wealth of short films I might not otherwise run into, but fortunately for recommendation purposes this one is also freely streaming. I wouldn't mind seeing it at a festival someday, both for the practical effects of the stranger and the close-quarters sea-sway of the cinematography by Noah Chamis. The small, isolated fragility of the trawler is a constant, the vast abyss of the sea that upholds it, and yet one shot of the Carrie Lynn seen from underneath, silhouetted by her own smoky, rippling, amniotic light, is as powerful for beauty and menace as anything in a deep-sea documentary. This catch brought to you by my enigmatic backers at Patreon.
( Whoever hath her wish, though hast they Will )
( you knew no human thing you did not know even how to breathe )
Friends at the Table is an actual play podcast about critical worldbuilding, smart characterization, and fun interaction between good friends.
(Actual play = recording themselves playing a tabletop roleplaying game.)
I often like to just binge back catalogs, as in, not so long ago I listened to all 250+ episodes of No Such Thing as a Fish. I'd just finished the back seasons of the much shorter Iditapod, and was not really feeling anything I had queued up, so I figured I'd give this a shot. I went with the Marielda arc, because skygiants had said it was the shortest and was easy to jump into, though it had "maybe the weakest thematic ending in that it goes sideways in a way nobody really expects." For a bunch of this time I was the only adult in the house, which means doing all the dog walking and therefore having more time than usual to listen, so I finished up the arc this morning. I am extremely tired but if I don't write something tonight it won't get written, so let me throw some stuff at the wall.
First, some thoughts on listening to an actual play podcast generally, and this one specifically; no spoilers.
( cut for length )
Second, ( SPOILERS )
Outside the cut question: this, Uprooted, Welcome to Night Vale, and Lord of the Rings all have creepy forests. Do places with jungles or rain forests also have creepy-forest stories, I wonder, or is it more a temperate-climate thing?
As I said on Twitter: massive respect for Ann Leckie's mineral protagonist progression from 'passive-aggressive AI' to 'literally just a very sulky rock.'
I'll admit it took me some time to come round on the sulky rock, but then the rock insisted on being hauled halfway across the continent in a large unwieldy carriage out of sheer bloody-mindedness despite several protestations from annoyed divine friends, and suddenly I loved that rock. We are all what we are.
( Technically something that may be a spoiler )
As with Ancillary Justice, I found this a slow build and an increasingly rewarding one as it went on. Things that Ann Leckie clearly likes and is good at, in combination with mineral protagonists:
- unusual and somewhat deliberately distancing narration
- non-human entities moved to action by feelings of affection and responsibility towards specific humans
- very long-game revenge plots
- careful plot-relevant linguistic exploration! MY FAVORITE PART
( Some ending thoughts that are definitely spoilers )
Golden Kamuy up vol 8 by Satoru Noda This all that’s currently been translated into English so I have to stop here for the moment. I’m still really enjoying the historical setting and all food details. However these volumes got pretty gruesome and also spent a lot of time alway form core character hanging out with less nice people. And there were some villainous tragic queers. So that wasn’t great. But I do like the main characters and will probably read more when it is available.
Yotsuba&!, Vols 8-9 by Kiyohiko Azuma Still very cute! I have few more volumes out form the library.
Not For Use In Navigation: Thirteen Stories by Iona Datt Sharma I am working my way very slowly through this. "Akbar learns to Read and Write" was lovely meditation on learning. I have one novella "Quarter Days", left I've read it before so I know its really good. But I’ve gotten sick and this isn’t the kind of thing I can read when sick -- to much detail to miss. So something to look forward to when I feel better.
I also got a couple of the Hugo shortlisted art books out of the library. I wouldn’t have called The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition an art book but it sure is pretty. Makes me want to do an Earthsea reread. Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History is fun to look at for nostalgia but not really my favorite kind of art.
And I’ve read quite lot of Guardian fic. Maybe I need a way to keep track of the fic that I read? I don’t k
IMPORTANT NOTE: I don't hear lyrics; I respond to the mood of the music. I'm thinking something cinematic. I also prefer music not to be glitchy/noisy/shouty/screamy--there's nothing wrong with genres like punk/metal/etc., but they're not for me.
Right now, as a stopgap, I'm listening to Clamavi De Profundis (hat-tip to telophase).
The game is more or less hexarchate- and ethics-themed (specifically Shuos). The rules are two pages long. Play would run either on Discord or Google Hangouts, whatever is agreeable to the group.
Please PM me or email me (requiescat at gmail dot com) if you're interested in volunteering and I'll give you more info.
Be advised that we are no longer able to offer interlibrary loan services due to provincial budget cuts to the Southern Ontario Library Service (SOLS) and Ontario Library Service North (OLSN), which operate these services between library systems.
Customers may visit other local library systems to borrow materials not held by Kitchener Public Library. As per our long-standing reciprocal borrowing agreements, residents of Kitchener may sign up for free library cards with Waterloo Public Library, Region of Waterloo Libraries, and Idea Exchange.
"...you mean novels?" he added, with a flicker of mockery. "They're not real books. They’re written, like magazines. They're not actual people, or actual memories. They’re invented..." [loc. 3793]
Emmett Farmer has worked on his family's farm all his life: this summer, though, he was struck down by a mysterious illness, and now he to weak to manage his share of the harvesting. Fortunately -- fortunately? -- he has been requested as an apprentice by a binder, an old woman who lives out on the road to the marshes, and binds books.
( spoilers, concealed in white font )
1) You were in Women Destroy Science Fiction–a project I greatly admire. What appeals to you about the project? What was your story like?
The Destroy series has been so phenomenally successful and huge that it’s hard to remember that it started as an announcement that basically went, “You know what? Screw this. We’re going to do a thing. Details forthcoming, let us know if you’re in.” I’m both irritable and prone to scheming wild projects, so an announcement like that is a perfect recipe to pique my interest. I sent them my info: i actually volunteered to read their hate mail for them since I get a bit of a kick out of getting hate mail. I have a weekly quota of cackling I have to meet and reading hate mail makes it really easy for me to hit it.
They did not take me up on that offer, but did ask me to write a personal essay for a series they were putting up on their Kickstarter page. There’s less cackling involved in that sort of support, but I was game. It’s pretty short and you can still read it online if you want. It’s mostly about how I found SF at just the right moment for it to assure me that I wasn’t as alone or strange as I thought I was.
What I like most about the Destroy project as it’s grown and developed is how conversations around it have grown and developed. A lot of voices that were always there, but usually at the edges or hard to go find have been amplified and brought closer to the main stream of the conversation. That’s the kind of effect that stretches beyond a single anthology or project. Twenty or thirty years from now, I’ll get to be the pedant droning on in convention hallways about how this and that other thing taken for granted ties back to this project and here see all the ways I can tie them together. People will humor me and act like I’m being terribly interesting, and when they finally escape, I’ll cackle. (I’ll probably still have a quota to meet.)
You have an unpublished novel. You quote what John O’Neill had to say about it: “…an unpublished novel set in a gorgeously baroque far future where a woman who is not what she seems visits a sleepy space port… and quickly runs afoul of a subtle trap for careless spies.” Can you tell us more? How did you come up with the idea, and did it surprise you where it went?
That novel was a bit of an experiment. I had a big, sprawling space opera universe that I’d been building in the back of my head for years while working on other things. It was time to start actually working on things there, but while I knew a lot about it, things in the back of my head tend to be squishy and hard to work with. So I decided to do a safety novel first, something that would let me touch on the major set pieces without any risk of pinning myself in later or breaking something I’d need.
Which meant I had no idea what I was going to do with it when I sat down. I knew I wanted a pair of sisters as the protagonists, and I wanted the younger sister to do some protecting of the older sister, then just kept throwing things out there to see what happened.
You used to podcast poetry–how do you go about figuring how to give a poem voice?
I hosted the Strange Horizons poetry podcast, but I did as little reading of the poetry as possible; that’s our venue for getting in a variety of voices and it seems to me that if people are particularly invested in my voice, they can get plenty of it in the fiction podcast.
That said, I would step in when we were short on readers or there was a poem that particularly caught my eye. (Editor’s privilege is a marvelous thing!) Reading poetry is both easier and harder than reading prose; poems are frequently crafted with a very deliberate ear toward how they sound, which means you’re not likely to find the text dull to interpret vocally. At the same time, you then have to do justice to the choices made in how the poem was put together, and justify it being you doing the reading rather than any given reader’s interior head voice. So I look for the tools the poet gave me, then look for the ways I’m best suited to using those tools and build my performance around that. I’m a complete sucker for consonant clusters and sibilants.
What was wonderful about running the Strange Horizons podcast?
Running the Strange Horizons podcast is fantastic. I’ve given the poetry podcast over to Ciro Faienza, who was one of our staff readers for the poetry podcast and the single most common provocation of fanmail the podcast has gotten. That podcast takes a lot of work, and I’d gotten to the point where I was very aware of a lot of ways it could be better, but realistically wasn’t ever going to have the time to implement any of those improvements. Ciro immediately made some great changes and I’m really looking forward to what he does as he gets into his groove.
The politic, and mostly true, answer to what’s fantastic about doing the fiction podcast is getting to read the stories early and then pull them apart and put them back together in order to give a good reading. The slightly more true answer, which has been growing over the course of the podcast, is the responses I get to the podcasts from the writers and the audience. I pretty much only consume short fiction in audio form these days, which leaves me very grateful to all the places that are making it available. Every time somebody reminds me that I’m one of those people is really great, especially when they’re reminding me because they liked what I did.
But also, I really like getting to pull the stories apart and put them back together.
So, on your website, you claim that the rumors I am a figment of your imagination are compelling. What are those rumors and why are you compelled by them?
I actually exist as a multi-bodied individual quietly working to bring the world under the rule of a mischievous alien intelligence through widespread distribution of coffee and sunlight. We’ve already conquered most of California and are making great headway in Washington. Every sip of coffee you take, and every day with bright, clear skies, our agenda advances that much further.
Once, upon being informed of this (it’s no fun to subvert an entire civilization if they don’t know it’s happening – you have to advertise) the person I was warning expressed skepticism about the veracity of my claims. Apparently, according to them, the very concept of a multi-bodied individual is imaginative speculation and the idea of being one even more so.
There’s not a lot I can do in the face of such claims. There are people who don’t believe in the moon landing. There’s not a lot I can do about people who insist on remaining skeptical about coffee and sunshine powered conspiracies. But I do find such relentless denial of obvious reality to provide a fascinating insight into human psychology, especially when the stakes are this high.
The projects question: got anything you’d like to mention to readers?
Mirrored from Rachel Swirsky.
Rita Indiana Hernández is a Dominican writer, singer/songwriter, and model. Her short novel Tentacle (La mucama de omicunlé, translated by Achy Obejas) contains dystopian, magical, and queer elements as well as political themes ranging from artistic and environmental to post-colonial issues, cleverly woven together into a very complex story for a book of 132 pages. As contemporary SFF in the category of climate fiction, it is easily readable as a commentary on present-day life and politics in the Dominican Republic and on the forces that threaten to destroy both it and, ultimately, all human life on Earth. It is also the sneakiest post-Lovecraftian book I’ve come across.
The beginning of Tentacle is set in 2037 in Santo Domingo, and presents us with a post-apocalyptic Dominican Republic where the vast majority of the people can’t afford cars, flatscreen televisions, electric household appliances, or toys and shoes for their children, while a tiny rich minority controls everything through influence and bribery. This doesn’t sound much like a narrative set in the future? Oh wait, there is an additional apocalypse: after a biological weapons spill caused by an earthquake off the island’s coastline, the reefs are dead, the ocean around them reduced to a polluted broth that can’t sustain animal life.
Enter the tentacular star of the novel: an ancient sacred anemone (or what’s left of it after the disaster), kept in a tank inside the apartment of its current guardian, the Yoruba practitioner and holy woman Esther Escudero, better known as Omicunlé. She is also advisor to the Dominican President in all spiritual matters, and she is currently on the search for the major water deity Olokun’s prophesied legitimate son, Omo Olokun, the Lord of the Deep, “the one who [knows] what lies at the bottom of the sea” (p. 50). He is the only one who can supposedly save the ocean by reaching through time and preventing the president from buying the weapons that will destroy the reefs and ultimately infect all of the planet’s oceans.
So far, so generic, even in a setting that seems exotic to the Western reader. We think we’ve come across all possible iterations of time travel, as well as every interpretation of the trope of the chosen one, the prophesied savior—including the unwilling ones, the converted or corrupted ones, and the ones that turn out to be the hero of the prophecy even if they are of a different gender. We haven’t met Acilde Figueroa, though.
Acilde is introduced to us as Esther Escudero’s new maid, and a very untrained one as such. Then we learn that Acilde—who is referred to as “she” and as “a tomboy” (p. 14)—was working as a boy prostitute, dressed as a boy and selling blowjobs to mainly old rich married men (p. 11), when one of Esther’s close associates discovered her, desired her, raped her, and ended up offering her money, food, and ultimately a better-paying job, all of which she accepted. This sequence is an emotionally grueling read, but it isn’t gratuitous: it merely sets the parameters for what Acilde will put up with to achieve her dream. She is saving up for Rainbow Brite, a drug which promises “a complete sex change without surgery” (p. 15). My take on Rainbow Brite is that it probably operates via nanobots, since it transforms the person who takes it to such an extent that after the procedure their body will be producing different hormones by itself—and kudos to the writer for subtly hinting at this without doing a big infodump. When Acilde gets her hands on the drug after a lot of severe complications with huge (legal) consequences, she is finally able to transform into the chosen one and to be ritually dedicated to Olokun for the journey that lies ahead—or, more strictly speaking, in the past.
Amidst all this, I have a significant problem with the book: why, if Acilde is transgender and has always identified as a man, is the character of Acilde introduced as “she” and only switches to being a “he” when the physical transformation is complete? This isn’t necessary for the novel’s plot to work, either. In my view this is a highly problematic act of misgendering a literary character and could be handled so much better, resulting in a better reading experience for everyone (not just, but including trans* readers.)
Our other major plotline starts in the late 1990s, where we meet Argenis, nicknamed Goya at art school for having mastered styles that the other students (and indeed many teachers) consider outmoded and obsolete. After college he couldn’t find work as an artist, and now he is in the process of losing his depressing cubicle job. He drinks too much, he doesn’t object to the occasional nose of cocaine, he has zero self-esteem left, and after being divorced by his wife he has moved back in with his mother. He may not know what lies at the bottom of the sea (yet), but he knows rock bottom when he sees it.In a seeming stroke of luck, local art patron Giorgio Menicucci invites Argenis to participate in a group workshop project, to be conducted in seclusion at Menicucci’s pivate beach resort Playa Bo. Menicucci promises the participating artists much fame and publicity. The money gained from this is supposed to be invested in turning Playa Bo into a nature sanctuary, building a marine reseach laboratory, and ultimately, saving the ocean.
Shortly after joining the project, while swimming in the reef and semi-seriously chasing his patron’s wife, Argenis has an accident involving an anemone. He swims through a hole in the reef—which we may remember from Omicunlé’s prophecy directed at Acilde: “Don’t pass over holes or go into holes, holes in the street or holes in the countryside, because the earth will swallow you up” (p. 19)—and is touched by the anemone’s tendrils before being brought back to shore sick, feverish and hallucinating. As he recovers, he begins to make sense of his hallucinations, which to him are just as real as the reality surrounding him, and which he experiences like a coherent second life in double exposure. He isn’t dreaming; he has acquired a time-shifted other self, which he can control like a puppet in lucid (day)dreams. He now simultaneously exists as Argenis in a 1990s art commune and as his copy-self, pulled from the sea by a group of buccaneers deep in the island’s colonial past and nicknamed Côte de Fer (shortened from “celui qui a survécu à la Côte de Fer” p. 57). He is forced to work if he wants to eat. This sort of applies to both realities.
Tenses blur as Argenis keeps experiencing the two time periods simultaneously, often in the same sentence. His relationship with Roque, one of the buccaneers, becomes more complicated than he can handle, as he is torn between the contrasting experiences of forced male companionship based on survival strategies, violence, and forced labour, and a blossoming understanding of his own new homosocial, and potentially homosexual, desires. A traumatic memory comes to the surface: it is the memory of being condemned for craving physical affection, of being called a “faggot” for trying to kiss his father on the mouth when he was a little boy (p. 67).
After a surprising erotic encounter, “he feels disoriented and happy, protected by time, because for him, that past he still didn’t recognize as totally his had no repercussions in the present, where he was still a true macho and where no one knew anything. […] He wants to protect Roque, he wants to impress him” (p. 93). These moments of being torn between love and fear, acceptance and (self-)hatred, read like moments of hope for the character of Argenis. But can his 1990s self profit from his time-travel experience and develop into a more mature and more self-accepting version of himself?
Later, in both his bodies, that of Argenis and of Côte de Fer, he went to the beach muttering, ‘Faggot, loco, crazy faggot’, and those words cut him inside with a sharpness like the edges of the reef in whose nooks and crannies he recognized the broad nose and thick lips of his father’s profile as if in a paranoid painting by Dalí. (p. 96)
This novel’s characters are, then, alive and multi-faceted. Even in moments when they are making amoral choices (or no choices at all), it is easy to engage with them. The language and images Indiana uses alternate between harsh and poetic like ocean waves at different times of day, and the many references add a feeling of authenticity to the various timelines. Even though some of its central minority characters in this book turn out to be either eternal victims or turn into actual villains, it is a delight to read—as much as it’s possible to say this about a post-apocalyptic narrative.
Indeed, the narrative foregrounds raw, bleak themes such as survival, forced labour, physical violence, rough landscapes and the constant threat of death. While Argenis is being reduced to little more than his own remote audience in the timeline at 1990s Playa Bo, in the past Côte de Fer channels all his overflowing energy and desire into a spontaneous creative project, making woodcuts of his surroundings and the people in them, then printing them on a traded press using cow’s blood put aside from their day-job of killing cows and curing hides.All this is intercut, however, by brief glimpses of beauty and fleeting serenity. This is mirrored in the language and the descriptions of the artwork based on Côte de Fer’s impressions. Faces as well as elements of nature are described using references to the visual arts. A language of desire develops, which transcends gender and sexuality. Everything is affected by the ever-changing, living ocean.
Back at 1990s Playa Bo, the other artists also use various media to explore, express and hopefully influence their problematic relationships with themselves, most of which are due to their everyday experiences with racism, as in the case of Malagueta, who lives and works in a hut close to Argenis’ and seems to be in constant rivalry with him:
“Black,” he heard himself say as he breathed smoke out of his mouth. A small word swollen over time by other meanings, all of them hateful. Every time somebody said it to mean poor, dirty, inferior, or criminal, the word grew; it must have been about to burst, and when it finally did, it would once again mean what it meant in the beginning: a color. (p. 120)
Ever since he was nine years old, Malagueta has been drawing Goku from Dragon Ball in order to dispel the pain inflicted by white people’s insults: “When he was little, every time somebody called him ‘monkey’, or ‘goddamned monkey,’ or ‘the devil’s monkey,’ he’d draw Goku kicking something or using one of his special powers” (p. 121). Filling whole notebooks, he kept wishing for a teacher, a sensei, dreaming of superpowers to fight—to survive—“the words that would sometimes come out even from his mother’s mouth, or his brothers’” (p. 121).
By now we are all wishing and hoping that in every timeline, concerning the fates and lives of Argenis, Malagueta, and the others, of Omo Olokun and the ocean, of the whole nation, the power of art will be revealed to transform experiences, to transform politics and through them reality. Instead, what the author gives us is a series of cruel plot-twists. Omo Olokun is revealed to have already been in both the 1990s timeline and the colonial timeline, using other bodies made by the anemone time-portal. He must have started out fighting the conditions that endanger humanity’s survival, and which he has experienced in a former life (as Acilde), started out working for a marine sanctuary and for securing a future for the ocean and for mankind, and then he must have got sidetracked by temptation: by the myriad possibilities granted him through money and influence and through anemone magic.
All this time, Omo Olokun has been setting people up, playing with their emotions, their reactions, their potential and skills, according to a complex plan—exploiting them for the benefit of not the ocean, not humanity, not the orishas Olokun and Yemayà, guardians of the sea (orishas being deities in the Yoruba religion, originally brought to the Caribbean from West Africa and further influenced by Roman Catholicism)—but his own favourite anemone-copied self. This narrative choice again emphasises the enormous influence in the world of a small handful of very powerful, highly influential people—and their ability to destroy the existences of many others, who to them are of no value whatsoever.
Even though we end up where we started—in a dystopian narrative where money and power are prioritized over people and nature—this book is a tremendously enjoyable read. And it is chuck-full of references to arts and media, music, popular culture and literature, so there are meaningful references and metaphors galore.
In the near-future timeline, there is mention of a falsified draft of a supposedly unpublished manuscript entitled Olokun, which tries to explain the myth of Olokun using a maze of nestled references to other sources (manuscripts, letters and unrecorded conversations), simultaneously complicating and obscuring any claim to legitimacy in a manner that recalls the structure of H. P. Lovecraft’s famous 1926 short story “The Call of Cthulhu”—deliberately, as it turns out. Referencing an account that claims that “black Cubans called a marine creature Olokun”, the writer adds (to Acilde, of all people), “It could travel back in time, dude, very Lovecraftian” (p. 105).
This deliberate connecting of Lovecraftian Great Old Ones with orisha occurs in other places too, for example when a character witnesses a fertility ritual and experiences: “… the extreme poverty suffered by Haitian workers, the tragic ties with which this ancient ceremony held on to the present, the permanency of a kind of slavery that now dressed itself up as paid labor, and the power of a music that lodged deities in human bodies, deities powerful enough to swallow the world” (112f).
Rita Indiana knows her Weird fiction, and what an impact this established connection will have on the reader. In a final post-Lovecraftian twist, which in the end works rather well as an extended metaphor about humanity and current critical perspectives on climate politics, she suggests that, at the core of her complicated anti-protagonists’s choices, there is a motivation which is nothing less than Lovecraftian: if you have three selves which have served your interests well, and you can only reassume a normal life (and an interference-free timeline) by letting two of them go and living as the third, which one will you choose? This is not just a matter of avoiding the problems inherent in time travel; it is also very much about egoism and convenience. And if you can have it all—wealth, power, sex, a strong, healthy (masculine) body—are you willing to sacrifice Earth in return?
Thus, in the end, the Nietzschean monster turns out to have been late capitalism all along.