Category: Reading

The Ballad of Black Tom – Victor LaValle

Note: Herein begins a series of reviews of books nominated for this years Hugo Awards. For those who don’t know, I will be attending the Hugos this year in Helsinki, Finland, and have more than a little catching up to do in regards to the nominees. I’ve already reviewed a few nominated stories, which will be back-tagged with the Hugo tag, should you be interested in seeing the group together. 

When my dad first saw Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, he expressed an emotion that, at first, struck me as odd, but as I thought about it, made a great deal of sense. He found the film deeply cathartic. To watch a group of empowered Jews brutalize Nazis, he said, felt good. Really good.

I thought about that for a long while. The second world war carved a deep wound on the entire world, and the holocaust left horrid scar tissue in my people across the diaspora. We are all affected, generations later, no matter our ties to survivors or victims, no matter our beliefs or shifting religious affiliations. As my father said to me once, during my time as a rather angry atheist in college (I’ve since calmed down), the Nazis wouldn’t have cared what you believed. To them, you are a Jew.

The scars left on a people from having atrocities visited upon them last generations, a metastatic stiffness that has a rippling affect on our capacity for integrating into the world around us. And because humanity displays a tremendous weakness for even short-term memory, the victims of history are often blamed for the cultural wounds that shape our collective neuroses.

And so when my dad saw Inglorious Basterds, he saw a power fantasy for a people disempowered by history, in the heart of the greatest and most terrible robbery of their dignity and humanity. He had a chance to live out a dream he’d never known lived deep in him. Watching the film again, I saw what he meant, and completely agreed.

In many respects, I imagine that The Ballad of Black Tom can foster similar catharsis for black Americans. The protagonist undergoes a transformation through the novella, from a wily young man using ignorance and intolerance to his advantage to a powerful, somewhat divine being visiting destruction on those who robbed him of everything. He plays by the rules, bending and weaving through them as he will, getting slightly ahead in a world that perpetually pushes him behind. When he’s pushed into encounters with the supernatural, the comfortable—if harsh and dehumanizing—world cracks at the seams.

And when his father is executed by police for absolutely no reason, the world shatters and Tommy Tester wonders why the rules mattered at all. No matter what he believed, no matter his actions or efforts, he is subhuman. Second-class and worse. He gives in to the darkness that lingers nearby, reaches for the horror that’s held at bay and wraps himself in it. Then, he finds revenge.

Victor LaValle’s writing is spectacular, harkening to Lovecraft (by whom the story must have been inspired, especially given the presence of Cthulhu) but exceeding it. It fits in with the canonical mythos while proving that Lovecraft’s defects—his intolerance, his bigotry—aren’t what makes his brand of horror great. They detract from it. The scars from the horrors visited upon African Americans are ripe for the kind of horrors these tales visit upon the world. With LaValle’s brilliant novella, we get a taste of how sweet that revenge might be.

The Ballad of Black Tom, published by Tor.com, is available on Amazon.

Forest of Memory – Mary Robinette Kowal

I’m steadily working my way up to total fanboy status regarding Mary Robinette Kowal’s work. As I’ve mentioned several times on the blog, her insight, perspective, and wit are one of the great draws of Writing Excuses, and her work that I’ve read (Shades of Milk and Honey, The Lady Astronaut of Mars, and her contribution to the Shadows Beneath anthology) I have absolutely loved.

I have her most recent novel, Ghost Talkers, on my to-read list, as well as Word Puppets, a collection of her shorts, but the book that drew me first was Forest of Memory, a novella published by Tor.com. The cover art, by Victo Ngai, of a surreal forest with an etherial buck jumping away from the viewer, captured my attention wholly.

Paired with the title, the image piqued my interest, and I wanted to know how the seemingly disparate images would connect to each other.

What I found in the novella is yet another example of Kowal’s stellar craftsmanship. The world, though never explicitly seen, feels enormous and lived-in, and the characterization is shows remarkable depth for its quickness.

Forest of Memory also asks a question that is increasingly important these days: in a world of perpetual connectivity, what would it feel like to suddenly find yourself alone? Unable to reach out to the entire world at a moment’s notice? Cut off from the global conversation?

I think about it often, because while I used to disconnect for several months at a time (as a result of working in the mountains), I haven’t truly disconnected from the web in almost a decade.

Almost 10 years of using the internet every single day. It’s remarkable. I wonder if it’s an inextricable part of my life and future. But it’s not all bad, of course. I socialize on the web, and have used the internet to build a life for myself in the writing community, which has been terrifically rewarding and healthy, not to mention profitable in some ways. I use the internet to learn, to laugh, to play, to connect. But I also use it to distract, to numb, to shout into an echo chamber with rage at the political problems of today. It is counterproductive and addictive.

What would it be like to lose something so wonderful and so destructive??

Kowal’s story is near-future science fiction, where the internet is ubiquitous, and devices are directly integrated into the body and brain. The protagonist collects antiquities, and deals in authenticity—the sale of legitimate artifacts and their stories. That last bit might be a little on the nose, but it’s worked well into the plot and setting, and it doesn’t feel as overbearing as it might have with a less skilled author. It does raise a good point, though. Digital facsimiles are all around us, and there may come a time, soon, when replicas are more readily available than the real thing.

I’m digressing from the story again. Spoilers follow, so if you want to read Forest of Memory—and you do—come back here when you’ve finished the 88-page story.

Kowal’s protagonist is riding along on a highway through the forests  Oregon when a group of deer cross her path. She stops and begins recording them, knowing she can sell this moment, this experience, on the web. The moment is interrupted when one of the group, a buck, is shot. An illegal act. The hunter appears and begins working   on the body of the buck, so the protagonist tries to run. She, too, is shot. Tranquilized, it turns out. Like the buck.

She wakes, kidnapped by the hunter, who is doing  something  to the bucks and deer. When she tries to use her tech to connect to the web, to call for help, she discovers that she can’t. She’s offline. She is terrified.

What follows is her strange captivity, watching the man work, wondering what he’s doing to the animals before releasing them, coming to some sort of terms with the discomfort of being disconnected. The hunter assures her that, once his work is done, he will release her and she’ll be able to connect to the net.

She tries to sleuth out what he’s doing, and the reader is lead to understand that he’s installing some sort of signal-blocking technology into the animals, so that the web doesn’t work around them. Through their conversations, he informs her that a wealthy party is interested in having him complete the work, and is additionally interested in purchasing an antique from her—a typewriter—and a story written on the selfsame typewriter about her experience. After her days of captivity, she is released, and soon is able to reconnect to the net.

The experience shakes her, but leaves her (largely) unharmed. For me, reading it, I was left thinking about technology addiction, unadulterated appreciation of nature, and just how good Mary Robnette Kowal is at this whole “writing” thing.

I can’t wait to learn more from her. (I took a short story class with her earlier this year, and am attending the week-long writing excuses cruise this July.)

Forest of Memory is available on Amazon.

Pirate Utopia – Bruce Sterling

Bruce Sterling’s Pirate Utopia is a delightful and odd read. It is a fine work of alternate history focused on a particularly odd time in a little-known city in Europe after the Great War. Because the story of Fiume is so obscure (or, at least was completely unknown to me prior to reading Pirate Utopia), it reads more like historical fantasy than alternate history, and had me pausing regularly to look up people and places I’d never heard of before.

The Free State of Fiume (which is now Rijeka, in Croatia) was an incredible experiment, a strange city-state on the Adriatic run by artists and revolutionaries who were looking toward the future. From the ooze that was the meeting of minds and cultures, drugs and uncertainty, came ideas of socialism, fascism, and anarcho-syndicalism (wherein workers form syndicates in which they control their industrial manufactories; power of the collective in influencing economy and society, etc.). From the moment Fiume declared its independence, it was fought over by its denizens. The four-year experiment ended when Italy decided to annex Fiume in 1924, but the exiled government of Fiume rejected the exile and continued to function, despite the whole affair fizzling out, only to resurface briefly after WWII. Fiume is a fascinating piece of history, well worth examination if this kind of history is your cup of tea.

But I’m not here to talk about the actual history of Fiume. I’m here to talk about Pirate Utopia.

Sterling’s writing conjured an amalgam of Miyazaki (particularly because of Porco Rosso, which is set in the Adriatic) and The Triplets of Belleville, for its surreality and darkness. It’s a book driven not by plot but by character and setting, which have enough going for them to make it a riveting read. The cast have deeply held principles, they’re people of action, deep thinkers, artists, revolutionaries!

But they’re also absurd, in their own way. In a gratifying way. They’re almost caricatures, but I don’t think they’d be that far off from the real thing, given the immense shifts in technology and thought taking place in the twenties. What must it have been like, to be on tons of cocaine and working on radio-controlled weapons and casting down the archaic notions of the past, forging on to a future lit by the fires of industry and war? The thought is intoxicating to some of the characters, even more than the intoxicants themselves.

Pirate Utopia is strange fiction about a time and zeitgeist that may be stranger than the fiction itself. It made me want to discover other odd spandrels left by massive leaps and changes in the world. Was there ever a similar free state nestled in the Americas? In Eurasia? In Africa? Things like Cargo Cults in the pacific, the strange results of colliding culture and knowledge…that’s what Pirate Utopia piqued in my mind.

So, absolutely get this book. Then, maybe join me in a deep dive through Wikipedia to find more cool moments in history.

Pirate Utopia is available on Amazon and from Tachyon Publications.

Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi

John Scalzi is a somewhat enormous figure in genre fiction, having published some 20+ novels, eight non-fiction books, and a generous handful of short fiction and essays. Not only that, but his role as “influencer” is further cemented by the popularity of his “Whatever” blog and his more-than 110,000 followers on Twitter. But we’re not here to talk about Scalzi’s reach as an author, prodigious though it may be. We’re here to talk about the audiobook of Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi I listened to, courtesy of Audible.

The eighteen stories in Miniatures are, as the title suggests, very short. In the introduction, Scalzi says that the longest piece in the collection is only 2,300 words long. The audiobook for the collection is teeny-tiny, clocking in at just under three hours. The stories are funny, and all hover around the central of subverting “conventional” science fiction tropes or dropping a surprise reveal at the end of the story. I enjoyed Miniatures tremendously. The different narrators for each story (and sometimes multiple narrators in a single story) were all excellent, bringing precisely the right kind of humor each moment demanded. Some were deadpan, others matter-of-fact, others over-the-top dramatic. More than once, I found myself having to stifle giggles at my desk, lest I inform the whole world that I’m multitasking.

Some of the stories were more compelling for me than others, as is often the case with collections, but rather than talk about one story that really did. “The Other Large Thing” was a delightful story that introduces a curious protagonist, master of his domain, who watches as a new entity is introduced into his world. This new thing learns to communicate with Sanchez, the protagonist, and acquiesces to all of Sanchez’s demands. Sanchez plots to use this thing to take over the world.

Spoiler: Sanchez is a cat. But you don’t know that until later in the story—though on a second listen, it’s rather obvious. Something about the way that story unfolded had me grinning the entire time I listened to it. Bolstered by the gravelly delivery of the narrator, the Sanchez character is at once absurd and very serious. The way he makes demands, punishes and rewards his “others” and the “other large thing” is delightful. Long story short (no pun intended), it’s a great story that left me curious about how to pull of a similar feat.

For those of us who enjoy audiobooks but are not particularly keen on forty-hour epic fantasies, Miniatures is perfect. Short and sweet, with a host of narrators and wildly different settings (though, like I said, there’s a thematic thread throughout), it’s something I recommend to anyone and everyone. And hey, if it’s not your cup of tea, at least it’s only a few hours long.

Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi is available on Audible and Amazon.

Missing Link – Frank Herbert

When I read Frank Herbert’s Dune as a teenager, it was a revelatory experience. Dune is widely considered to be a crowning achievement in science fiction, and I’ve heard it called “The Lord of the Rings of SF.” I’m aware that it’s polarizing as a book, and that the series as a whole isn’t as well-loved as I’d initially thought, but none of that changes my relationship with those books.

I remember days in high school where I’d float from class to class, not listening to a word any of my teachers were saying, because I was so immersed in the political dealings of the Atreides and Harkonnen, in the zealous fury of the Fremen, and of the extraordinary universe they occupied. Dune hit me like blast to the chest, and changed the way I read.

And even if I hadn’t read anything else by Frank Herbert until somewhat recently (Destination: Voida few years back, which I thought was strange and wonderful), I considered him one of my writing idols. So you can imagine my delight at discovering a short he’d published in 1959 in the Astounding Science Fiction anthology edited by John W. Campbell.

Missing Link is a great example of Frank Herbert’s work. It’s certainly a product of its time, and not without its representational issues, but at its core is intrigue, political maneuvering, and a clever protagonist with an uncanny ability to read between blurry lines in moments. The story revolves around two conversations, though one’s a bit more action-packed than the other.

In the first conversation our protagonist, Lewis Orne, is talking with the superior officer on his ship regarding the risky mission on which he is about to embark. The conversation smacks of Herbert’s other works; tempers brandished like rapiers, a subtle back-and-forth that’s more fencing than discussion. In this case, we have military personnel frustrated with the bureaucracy, and a scientist caught between. The conversation serves to set the why of the short story. A ship has gone missing near the planet they currently orbit. It’s Lewis’s job to investigate, potentially by encountering the—and here’s the representational issue at the heart of the work—the barbaric/savage denizens of the planet.

The second conversation is another great—and very different—example of classic Herbert. Lewis is on the planet, talking with the leader of the hunting party that found him and attacked his vehicle. During the conversation there’s much to distract us, from the fantastic scenery to the seemingly incongruous amount of technological development on the part of the natives—again, that representation thing. But what happens during that conversation behind the scenes, inside of Lewis’s mind, is Herbertian perfection.

Lewis deduces the location of the missing spaceship and its fate by paying close attention to his captor/passenger’s choice of words. He quickly connects linguistics to anthropological phenomena he witnesses, then subtly shifts the conversation in order to corroborate his hypothesis. It’s that kind of intellect, and that approach to sleuthing out the facts, that attracted me to the Dune universe. And though it’s short, Missing Link was an excellent soupçon of the writing I fell in love with as a teenager.

It also provided some important perspective on how the zeitgeist in speculative fiction has changed. After reading Missing Link, I read a few other pieces, including Mary Robinette Kowal’s Forest of Memory, which I’ll review later this week or next week. The two pieces are radically different, and demonstrate how technological advances have changed the way we view the future, how social changes have changed the way we view the world around us, and how exploration needn’t happen at the expense of the explored. There was a beautiful counterpoint in those reading experiences, which together served as yet another reminder that I’m a fortunate person to be able to spend so much of my time reading and thinking about books.

Missing Link is available for free from Gutenberg, or can be purchased on Amazon.

Behold a Pale Horse – William Cooper

Caveat Emptor: I get into a somewhat aggressive discussion about biblical literalism below.

Before I dig into this review, I have a confession to make: I didn’t finish Behold a Pale Horse. I couldn’t. I think that if the election had gone differently, if the world didn’t seem so crazy right now, that I might have been able to finish it.

But I just couldn’t get through it. William Cooper’s frantic writing, logically fallacious conclusions, and absolute certainty about the end-times in which the Illuminati rise to power (the dates of which are well behind us) made it impossible to read. It may be that I’m throwing the baby out with the bathwater here, given the likelihood that there are kernels of truth contained in the sprawling madness of Cooper’s words, but I’m not too bothered by that prospect.

Cooper alleges that all secret societies are connected, that all serve the Illuminati, and that all are working toward a singular goal: the subjugation of humanity. Meh. He also thinks that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is actually an Illuminati document, and pretty much any time the Protocols are invoked, my eyes roll so far into the back of my head that I can see my own neurons shutting down.

What I found most interesting about my partial (around 50%) read of the book was an observation I made regarding Constitutional Purists. Cooper’s rabid loyalty to the Constitution (with which he lumps in the Bill of Rights, a concept I’ll expand on below) reminds me of Biblical Literalists. People whose deeply held beliefs require certain cognitive sacrifices—to actively ignore millennia of human progress; to make use of the consumer benefits of the scientific method while denying the process that leads to those tangible discoveries; to selectively choose that some biblical Truths are more True than others, while still others can be completely ignored.

When Cooper talks about the Constitution, he talks of an infallible work of genius, a document of such tremendous power and unfailing wisdom that it alone could rule the land. And he lumps in the Bill of Rights—the first 10 amendments to that infallible Constitution—along with them.

Think about that for a minute. The Bill of Rights, comprised of those tremendously important changes to the infallible document, specifically having to do with personal freedoms. The thing was designed to change with the changing world.

Change is terrifying, no doubt about that. Our understanding of the world around us is constantly bombarded by new information, and that bombardment has only grown more fierce with the development of the astounding communication technologies on which we rely every day.

Which brings me back to Behold a Pale Horse. Much of the book was written long before its 1991 publication, and in the intervening years many of his certainties about the pending collapse of individual freedoms and the subjugation of humankind have failed to come to pass. 2000 went by without a hitch. As did 2012. No alien takeovers. No government prison camps—aside from the for-profit prison industry, but that’s another can of worms. No Grand Conspiracy. Nowadays, with the prevalence and power of the individual to do research online, Behold a Pale Horse seems more like a guy with a “THE END IS NEAR” sign than a prescient and brilliant book about Hidden Truths.

What drew me to this book was the discussion of the UFO phenomenon, which it does get to, but it dwells far too long on the idea that Alien civilizations are in on the whole “subjugation of humanity” thing. I don’t buy that, either. I don’t think we’re important enough, or valuable enough, frankly. It’s the same audacity of that biblical literalist, that the world was created for us. That we are the most important and magnificent things out there, divinity notwithstanding.

I think it’s much more humbling to acknowledge the truth of the Pale Blue Dot. We’re here, and we have the most remarkable and strange and perhaps unknowable gift of consciousness, and for the tiniest of moments on the cosmic scale, we can observe the most magnificent concert of physics unfolding. To me, that’s much more interesting than bunkers and evil supergovernmental organizations and mean aliens that want to harvest our organs or whatever.

I don’t often put a book down without finishing it, even if I loathe it. This was an exception—I didn’t even hate it, truth be told. I just couldn’t compound the anxiety and frustration of the current political climate with the shenanigans in Behold a Pale Horse. And, for what it’s worth, there are much better UFO books out there.

The Divine Comedy – Dante

This is another one of those cases where I feel that a book I aim to review is out of my league. The Divine Comedy is absolutely beyond the scope of my review blog.  So I will attempt to not review it for its contents.

But what I feel is within my purview is a discussion of the performance of the audiobook, since that was how I made it through the somewhat difficult text.

The first time I tried to read Inferno, as a high-schooler, I wasn’t able to penetrate the form. Try as I might, I just couldn’t get past the second canto. It might have been because I was too focused on looking at it as an epic poem, a work of unparalleled religious zeal.

But listening to Edoardo Ballerini’s performance of the book on Audible was a completely different experience. The form—the epic poem—took a back seat to the wild fantasy that is contained in its stanzas. Ballerini brought the sense of the narrator’s fear and awe, his deep love for Virgil and his beatific image of Beatrice, his curiosity and horror and shame to the forefront of the experience. He gave form to the incredible landscapes of the circles of hell, purgatory, and paradise.

But even so, it took me weeks to listen to the 14-hour audiobook. It was a tough thing to commit to doing when I’d sit in the car—was I going to dive back into obscure references to Italians from the Middle Ages on this particular trip to Trader Joe’s?

Typically, when I listen to an audiobook, it’s all I do until the book is done. When I’m cleaning, cooking, eating, commuting—whatever I do, I power through the books. With Dante, though, I felt compelled to finish not by an eagerness to allow the story to unfold, but by a desire to check “Dante” off the list. And for what it’s worth, I’m glad I did. It’s a remarkable work of fantasy, horror, and rapture.

I think that I was only able to finish it this time thanks to the audiobook, so I’ll heartily recommend Edoadro Ballerini’s reading of Clive James’s translation of The Divine Comedy.

This audiobook is available on Audible, through Amazon.

Binti: Home – Nnedi Okorafor

There seems to be no better day than today, International Women’s Day, to talk about an extraordinary piece of science fiction written by the brilliant Nnedi Okorafor, about belonging and identity from the perspective of a powerful young woman.

You might recall that Binti was one of my two favorite works of science fiction of last year. It was evocative. Beautiful. Frightening. Most importantly, it was different. It managed to pack an incredible and vibrant world, a complex and compelling protagonist, and a spectacular plot into a fairly short piece of fiction. It told a story that could have easily fallen into the category of sci-fi tropes, but it avoided them by applying a unique voice and perspective through Binti, it’s main character.

Binti: Home finds Binti after about a year at Oomza University. A year after she heroically (and accidentally, if I recall correctly) brokered peace between two warring planets. A year after she left home in the dead of night, against the wishes of her family and community, to study what is essentially mathemagics off-world. Binti’s experiences have changed her enormously—represented by a physical transformation: her dreaded hair has become like the tentacles of the jellyfish-like Meduse.

The physical change is a vital piece of the story, not an on-the-nose metaphor for the internal changes in Binti. Much is made of physical appearances in Binti’s world, from the red clay she adorns herself with to the tribal intolerance she suffers at the hands of the upper class on Earth (and at Oomza U), and to the seemingly strange behaviors of the “desert people” that Binti’s tribe finds less-than-worthy of a seat at the table.

As Binti is a story of perseverance and growth in the face of different types of adversity, Binti: Home is a story about shedding preconceived notions and inbuilt intolerances; about how experience inexorably changes us, and changes how the world sees us. The events of Binti were, for the most part, things that happened to Binti. In Binti: Home, she is confronted by the reality that despite her lack of agency or choice in most of the things that happened to her, she is blamed. She is mistrusted. She is made a pariah.

The things that happen to us leave a mark. Sometimes, it’s subtle. Sometimes, it’s as dramatic as having tentacles for hair. Binti: Home explores the intersection between changing personal identity and changed external perception. It’s a fascinating, emotionally resonant exploration of an eminently relatable condition, couched within beautiful prose and a once-again spectacular plot.

Nnedi Okorafor has once again left me deep in thought. While Binti: Home wasn’t as explosive a read for me as its predecessor, it was nevertheless a spectacular book. Nnedi Okorafor’s storytelling is masterful, and she has made a lifelong fan of me with Binti and Binti: Home. I eagerly await the next installment of Binti’s story.

Binti: Home is available on Amazon.

Snapshot – Brandon Sanderson

I’m not sure about other writers in the world, but it seems to me unique that Brandon Sanderson considers writing a new novella to be a break from, well, writing. Granted, he did write Snapshot as a break from working on Oathbringer, the third volume in his mega-epic Stormlight Archive series, but, like, I mean…he wrote a novella as a breather from a bigger project.

Maybe I’m crazy, though. All I know is that I hope to display such fortitude toward the craft in the future, once I strengthen those muscles a bit.

On his blog, Sanderson said that Snapshot was a story idea that wouldn’t leave him alone; something he had to write furiously over the course of a week.

I can see why the idea stuck in is mind. The premise of Snapshot is cool—Cool enough that MGM is already optioning the story—and though it is expansive in potential scope, the story is very focused and leverages the “wow” factor to excellent narrative effect. In the not-so-distant future, something allows for the recreation of a particular day, complete with people, animals, everything, that can be explored by anyone in the present time. In Snapshot, the technology is used for detective work, and the detectives within the snapshots (as the instances of recreated days are called) have special badges that inform any non-person within the snapshot that they are, in fact, a simulation that will perish when the machine is turned off at the end of the night. The moments when people realize they’re artificial are profound and emotional.

There’s a twist within a twist within a twist in Snapshot, and because I enjoyed reading it so much, I’ll forgo talking directly about the plot any further.

What I will talk about is the meat of the idea that drives Snapshot. It’s as though Sanderson took the concept of a “story within a story” and tried to make it literal. There’s something deeply satisfying about reading that structure—the metagame rests in the back of your mind as you read. It’s one of those Inception memes, in the form of an electrifying—and actually very good—story.

What’s especially cool about Sanderson’s execution of this story is that there’s the twist you expect, which occupies the bulk of your subconscious processing while you read, but makes the reveal of the twist you don’t expect a much more powerful experience.

Snapshot is short, focused, and stably-paced. The characters are great, and the action is sporadic, playing a backseat to the general thrill of the story. I can’t recommend it enough—this one will absolutely become a TV show.

Snapshot is available on Amazon.

The Geek Feminist Revolution – Kameron Hurley

It’s difficult to know where to begin when discussing Kameron Hurley’s essay collection, The Geek Feminist Revolution. Heartfelt may be a good word. Expansive may be another. But what keeps coming to my mind, over and again, is important. Vital, even. Especially in today’s America, wherein the once-fringe Gamergate movement has become the de-facto governing philosophy of the country. It sickens me to complete that sentence, but it’s where we are.

Hurley’s book explores nothing new, which is a remarkable enough thought on its own. The problems women and minorities face in the zeitgeist are nothing new, and though things are slowly changing—and we certainly live in a “better” time—we are still unbelievably far from where we need to be. And it feels like we may have just taken a major step backwards.

Hurley’s essays are a no-nonsense, unvarnished look at the status quo, most often through the lens of her personal experiences. Her anger, pain, and passion are evident in her every word, and they suffuse you as you read her essays. It’s frustrating to read, because the very real problems she describes are absurd. Combined with her frank, brutal writing style, the essays achieve their goal easily: to incense the reader. And we should be angry. And we should be galvanized by her words and the words of so many others to take action, to stand beside our fellow humans and say “enough is enough.”

There were more than a few moments while I read the essay collection in which I thought critically about my own experiences. It’s given me pause, and further material for an essay I’ve been considering writing which I’d call something like “On Being an Invisible Minority.” It’d no doubt be controversial, but I worry about writing it, and truth be told, never will. I was able to articulate the thesis of that essay after reading Hurley’s collection, though. So I’ll share the question here: Are we gaslighting individual members of groups for assuming privilege?

I think the core of that question is that privilege is a complicated subject, to say the least. There are so many different qualities that are privileged in our society, but there are also many that disqualify the larger, “superficial” elements of privilege. Just writing that sentence filled me with anxiety. Finishing the thought does, too. Because I’m a white, cis male.

But I’m also Jewish. I’m also a victim of sexual assault. I’m short. I wear glasses. I have a physical disability that resulted from an injury that prevents me from effectively washing the dishes or flipping a pancake without discomfort. I have international experience and dual citizenship. I am multilingual. I am medicated for depression and anxiety, like so many other Americans.  I feel like I’m in constant conflict with myself over the obvious privilege and the not-as-obvious struggles. And everywhere I read that those superficial elements of my privilege supersede the things about me I feel have been much more defining in my journey through life.

Most of those things require digging to discover. But walking down the street, I’m way ahead of the game. I know that. So there’s the duality within me that drives me up the wall: I am immensely privileged, and I acknowledge that and want to do my part to change the status quo. And I have struggled, and continue to struggle.  But comparing the severity of tragedies and struggles is going down a dark, divisive path. I will never do it. I support the fight of my many brothers and sisters who want nothing more than the dignity of an equal opportunity to succeed, to live without fear of assault and discrimination.

Suffice it to say this: in my pursuit of success as an author of genre fiction, some doors will open more easily for me than for my compatriots of color, women, and the litany of others who suffer this systemic discrimination. It is unacceptable. Hurley’s essays shine a bright light on these issues, and for that, it is a work of great import.

This was a difficult review to write. But The Geek Feminist Revolution was not a difficult book to read. It flows, and Hurley’s righteous fury is appropriate and inspiring. Her contribution to the canon of the fight against discrimination, especially in our corner of the zeitgeist, will stand out as a remarkable moment of commitment.  Hurley has cemented herself as a fearless fighter—a woman driven to this end not only by external forces, but an internal strength and perseverance that drives her to shout until she is hoarse, then shout some more. Kameron Hurley, you have written a fantastic collection of essays here. Your work should be considered required reading for anyone who wants to become a “figure” in the genre fiction community.

I’ll be pushing it to every writer I know.

The Geek Feminist Revolution is available on Amazon and directly from the author.