March 6th, 2018

comic con // emerald city.

What’s the word for: “I am so sad ECCC is over that I already bought passes to SVCC?” Because, that.

Attending comic conventions is a rather new hobby of mine. When I lived in Texas, cons that actually showcased comics were few and far between. Mostly, they were anime or anime & sci-fi — but with an anime-heavy push — which is, unfortunately, not my fandom. I never felt included or represented at cons.

Last year, I attended both the Silicon Valley & San Francisco ComicCons and discovered a different breed of convention — one focused more on comics, art, creators, and cosplay. This year, I had the opportunity to attend Emerald City ComicCon, which my partner assured me was even more art focused. And, wow! ECCC was more than I could have imagined.

We had weekend passes, but were only able to attend two full days due to our work schedules. Also, I had never been to Seattle before — so that alone was pretty cool.

We arrived early Friday, meeting up with our friend who was in line for a David Tennant autograph. We stopped in for the “official” ECCC merch (I bought so many t-shirts!) because we were obviously going to need a bag for our haul — then, we decided to hit Artist Alley first, and hard. There were several artists of note that I wanted to get merch from, specifically things they weren’t going to be selling online, and I had pre-commissioned an original piece of artwork as well. I am glad we stopped by Artist Alley on the first day, because I went a little crazy and ended up commissioning two more original works of my D&D character, Osiria — receiving these beautiful pieces from artists I admire ended up being the highlight of the entire con for me!

(Art by Jack T. Cole & Katie Longua)

A few other first day highlights: we played Kirby Star Allies for the Switch and it’s crazy fun, I wore my “Crit the Patriarchy” shirt and received a load of compliments — said compliments also inadvertently led me to purchasing some D20 earrings to match, Brad got to meet Stan Sakai (author of Usagi Yojimbo), we sat in on a Critical Roll panel (where there was a fan proposal during the q&a!?), and we tried out the ECCC exclusive brews in the biergarten (yeah, there’s a biergarten). After a couple of ciders, I ran into the Copic marker booth and sang an angelic: “ahhhhhaaaahhh!” which was immediately reciprocated by a booth worker — cons are filled with other dorks and I love it. In the end, I successfully limited myself to five markers, and we all went out for margaritas.

Saturday was a lot more crowded, which was exciting for all the cosplay watching, but definitely increased the difficulty level in navigating the Show Floor. That didn’t stop me! My major goal for the day was to get the first Liveship Traders book signed by Robin Hobb. I have been to a few fantasy literature conventions and I have never seen her signing — so, let’s just say my excitement level was such that I was the literal first person in line. Our interaction was brief, but perfect:

Me: “I loved this book [Ship of Magic] so much, I read it in college and it’s still my favorite.”
RH: “I had so much fun writing it.”
Me: “It was one of the first fantasy books I read with a female protagonist. A lot of male readers have told me they couldn’t get into it for that reason, but it made me really happy.”
RH: “Well, there are other books for them.”

Afterward, our triumvirate had lunch at Mod Pizza with all the cosplayers and I made my way over to Vault Comics (my favorite publisher, at the moment) and ended up spontaneously meeting the creators of Zojaqan (my favorite comic, at the moment) who signed a first issue for me! I didn’t fangirl too hard, and they seemed genuinely happy to meet a fan — the fan / creator interaction is my favorite thing about cons and our mutually enthusiastic interchange just served to underscore that. I also made my most hilarious purchases on Saturday — a Dwight Schrute Lying Cat by Zak Kinsella (which, if you know me, is the peak of two of my fandoms and I also happened to be wearing a Lying Cat shirt that day) and a “Kylo Ren is a Punk Bitch” t-shirt (ugh, I hate the new Star Wars movies so much).

We ended the day with one more trip to the biergarten and a series of photos in the Dark Horse Comics photobooth (sidenote: their props inspired me to attempt my own horned flower crown for Silicon Valley in April — I am going to pretend to be a Tiefling) right as the floor was closing. It was a perfect end to a perfect con and I can’t wait to go back next year. Also, this four day respite was a good reminder to take time for myself and my hobbies because I came back to work in the best mood I have been in for weeks.

February 21st, 2018

book talk // the perfect nanny.

What makes a thriller? In my opinion, it’s fast pacing, exploitative scenarios (there will be an obsession, probably an affair, ultimately a murder), and a generically accessible title.

Aside from the title, The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani is none of those things. Therefore, anyone referring to The Perfect Nanny  as the “French answer to Gone Girl” is doing Slimani a distinct disservice.

The novel opens with two simple lines: “The baby is dead. It only took a few seconds.” Echoes of Hemingway. We know from the beginning that something terrible has happened, but the build is slow and so focused on the inner thoughts of each character that the reader comes up gasping for air, attempting to escape the confines of their minds. The characters, and their inner monologues, are so quietly unsettling, but also entrenched in domesticity and a charade of manners that I hesitate to ascribe the “thriller” label to this novel.

My biggest issue is with the American title — The Perfect Nanny indeed lends itself to a cheap psychological thriller (a la Gone Girl) whereas the French title: Chanson Douce actually means “sweet song” — which the British edition tried to capture in titling the translation Lullaby. America, as usual, missed the point. In this New Yorker article, John Siciliano, Slimani’s editor at Penguin, said, “I didn’t want to call it ‘Lullaby,’ because that sounds sleepily forgettable, and my goal is to reach a big commercial readership. We’re getting this book into places like Walmart and Target.” But, this novel is more understated than all that.

The Perfect Nanny dissects the subtleties of racism, classism, and sexism. Everyone in the novel wants. Myriam, the mother, wants to work, Paul, the father, wants his old, carefree life back, and Louise, the nanny, wants to be needed. Myriam, tired of giving up her freedom to be a slave to her children, convinces her reluctant husband Paul, who assumes she’s a blissful mother, to support her in going back to work. Necessitating the acquisition of a nanny for their two children. As they’re searching for the perfect nanny, Paul says, “Not too old, no veils, no smokers,” and if the nanny has children of her own, “it’s better if they’re back in the homeland” so she is able to devote herself entirely to their whims. Louise is perfect, but Slimani has given Louise, a doll-like blonde woman, the job of an immigrant to increase the obviousness of her fringe existence. Louise, despite her carefully arranged bun and Peter Pan collar, belongs no where. Her abusive husband is dead, her own daughter ran away, and the other nannies are suspicious of her haughty mannerisms. As Myriam and Paul aspire toward a specific upper-middle class existence, Louise becomes integral, but she also becomes their blind spot and their shame.

Slowly, and without anyone overtly noticing, the classism creeps in. When Myriam goes shopping, she hides the new clothes in an old cloth bag and only opens them once Louise has gone. “Paul congratulates her on being so tactful.” Myriam feels guilty about staying out late, but Paul insists, “That’s what Louise is for!” Slimani also probes the concept of motherhood in ways that make the reader squirm. Her description of a new mother in the park is particularly unsettling: “She carries her body of pain and secretions, her body that smells of sour milk and blood. This flesh that she drags around with her, which she gives no care or rest.”

Slimani explores the tender boundaries that, when shattered, cause people to break. Over the course of many months, Louise realizes she has never had a space to call her own, a place she hasn’t shared with others. She has nothing except debts and solitude. She looks at herself, Myriam, and the children — the precariously balanced existence they inhabit — “Someone has to die. Someone has to die for us to be happy,” she repeats to herself. But, again, Slimani does not offer us any concrete answers. There is no big thing that causes Louise to snap, instead it’s a thousand tiny injustices.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that, Slimani is only the 12th woman, ever, to win the prestigious (and historically sexist) Prix Goncourt prize. This award is initially what made me sit up and pay attention to her work, and I’m glad I did as I will be thinking about this book for months to come.

Rating: 5/5
Recommended For: anyone looking for an alternative to mainstream thrillers

February 9th, 2018

dungeons & discourse // not your healer.

Is anyone really surprised that gatekeeping is alive and well in the tabletop gaming community?

An all-female, actual play DnD podcast I follow, The Broadswords, retweeted the meme screencap on the left with the comment “Can we vomit any harder?” Of course, as soon as it was retweeted more than, like, five times, male gamers came out to question, “hey, what’s with all the hate?”

As many females who have played MMOs or tabletop games can attest, we are often relegated (see also: forced) to the role of healer. Usually this happens without an explicit conversation, it’s just (whoops!) the only spot left or it’s incorrectly assumed that the female player wants this role. This hierarchy of female healers and male tanks is an ongoing joke in the lady-gaming community — it’s a stereotype, but, it’s one that male players seem to assume we aspire toward. A cursory browse of a WoW forum post on the topic brought me to this (male-given) explanation for the phenomenon: “Well im a guy and in my personal opinion or my state of mind if you will, i think it might be because that girls have a ‘mother/protective’ like instinct to nurse or take care of others.” The following replies were mostly slight variations of: “motherly nurturing instinct? the lack of a primal destructive competitive edge for DPS,” “ tanking is ‘too much pressure,’” ”mother instinct,” “ I think it is a “power/control” issue,” and, my personal favorite, “DPS on the other hand is very competitive. Your worth is measured in numbers. Girls don’t particularly like that.”  (all grammatical errors have been preserved for posterity)

Personally, I have never enjoyed playing a healer, but I’ve never enjoyed tanking either. I have always tended toward damage dealers or DPS (monk in FFXI / XIV and ranger in DnD), but many male players in my linkshell or gaming groups have asked if I could also level white mage / healer, basically because they didn’t want to — the underlying message being: it’s a girl’s job. And it’s hard to DPS alone, so I generally needed the support of a party or group. In the end, I usually quit due to the frustration of not being taken seriously.

I still see a lot of gatekeeping, in tabletop gaming especially. For example, there was a DnD group I was playing in — five males, who were fairly experienced players, two females, who were newer — and the other female player was essentially boxed out for being too “normie.” So, how can female players ever be expected to learn the game and improve if the barrier to admittance is already knowing the game? If they are too “normie” to be given a chance in the first place? Her voice was essentially silenced and she just wasn’t invited back after two sessions. In retrospect, I wish I had spoken up for her, but I too was new and didn’t want to rock to the boat.

I had a similar experience playing FFXIV where I went into a boss fight without (gasp!) watching a YouTube play through first, so I had no idea what to do. I was unaware that you were supposed to already know how to beat the monster before you’d ever actually encountered it. My linkshell mates (all male) kept yelling at me and interrupting me over chat. So, what I had assumed would be fun, turned out to be a very negative experience, resulting in them telling me I needed to watch more YouTube videos if I was going to play with them again. One must be omniscient, apparently. This experience was the impetus for my leaving the linkshell, and eventually the game itself.

I still have issues with being interrupted while gaming, usually during DnD when I am trying to have a character moment in-game. Players cut in with OOC questions, directing a query at the DM who is engaging me, specifically, in a scene. It annoys me to no end because I feel like my character moments and choices are overshadowed by others’, seemingly more imperative, needs. It’s not a gaming deal-breaker for me, but I don’t like being the only one who constantly has to repeat herself because no one was listening. (Sidenote: as a teacher, I get interrupted enough at my job. I don’t want to constantly deal with being talked over in my personal life too.) This thread on Reddit (it’s about 2 years old, but still applicable) about being a female DM and dealing with interruptions provides two potential solutions for such a scenario. Option A: ”name, I’m explaining something right now, I need you to stop talking until I’ve finished with other name‘s situation so they can make the best choice.” Option B: “You are busy talking and don’t notice a battle axe tied to the tree in front of you.” I prefer Option B.

The group I DM for now is all male — with a twist — I run the table. They are also almost all new players and I am a newer DM — which is fun because the game feels low-stakes and convivial most of the time. No one is more “hardcore” than anyone else. We are all learning and making a few mistakes as we go. Although I was nervous to the point of nausea the first time, we have a good groove going and they are quite respectful toward both me, my role as DM, the story, and one another (well, OOC, the barbarian has some separate issues — haha). Plus, I love story-telling and developing weird, esoteric characters who inhabit my rather in-depth worlds — I never would have had the opportunity to experience this role and develop a passion for it if my partner hadn’t encouraged me to take a leap and become a DM.

To circle back to the meme itself, I am lucky enough to have a partner who is also my DM, and brought me into his group because he genuinely loves me and wants us to spend more time together. Some of the male players suggested I needed an interview beforehand, but he shot that down and said I was nerd enough for all of them. So, this Valentine’s Day, I feel lucky to be both the most important person in his life and his damage-dealing ranger who can speak to hawks. Suck it, gender stereotypes!

February 5th, 2018

book talk // when to stop.

Once I crack the spine of a book, any book, I feel obligated to read it to completion, a compulsion to attain the ending. Luckily, I am a fairly good judge of my own taste and tend to choose books that make this less of an obligation and more of a pleasure. But, sometimes, I choose duds. And still, I will slog through. Usually, this creates a blockage in my reading flow and I will actively avoid the book. Since I am a monogamous book reader, basically this means I just stop reading.

So, this year, I have been practicing the art of stopping and have shelved two books “dnf” (did not finish) on Goodreads.

The first book was Red Clocks by Leni Zumas, which was a rather large disappointment because this was a highly-anticipated 2018 release for me. Described as a “ferociously imaginative novel, [where] abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers” — I thought it would tick a lot of boxes.

However, instead, within the first few pages I was greeted with this description of a gynecological exam: “On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the shrill funk of an elderly cheese and one being no odor at all, how would he rank the smell of the biographer’s vagina? How does it compare with the other vaginas barreling through this exam room, day in, day out, years of vaginas, a crowd of vulvic ghosts? Plenty of women don’t shower beforehand, or are battling a yeast, or just happen naturally to stink in the nethers. [The gynocologist] has sniffed some ripe tangs in his time.”

Perhaps I am just not literary enough to comfortably associate the olfactory qualities of a vagina with varying levels of rotten cheese. I was also not a fan of the writing style, in general, and after 40-50 pages it hadn’t “grabbed” me. At any rate, goodbye, book.

The second book I shan’t be finishing, and the one I felt worse about putting aside, was The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. I mean, this book won a Pulitzer! Surely, it deserves my attention and respect, right? The description paints Oscar as a Dominican ghetto nerd, “[he] dreams of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love.”

Sounds charming, right? Wrong. The book itself is incredibly crude, interspersed with forced nerd jokes to maintain the thematic appeal. I think Diaz truly lost me about 160 pages in, after making a D&D joke while the female character (Oscar’s mother in a flashback of her youth) was subjected to a violent, albeit consensual, sexual encounter. He said she took “4d10″ damage (which is a lot, leading me to believe the act was particularly violent) and I just lost my taste for the story. The casual violence and toxic masculinity had ceased to point a discerning finger and just started to feel gross. Oscar also came across as this whiny, emo boy nerd — “But, I’m a nice guy, why don’t girls like me? I’m so nice! And I love girls! And I am sensitive and nerdy! Here’s a Lord of the Rings joke to prove how nerdy! I tried to get with this one girl with great tits, but she loved a guy who hit her, and I was so nice to her, but she just saw me as a friend! Why didn’t she choose me?”

Another aspect that grated on me were the copious footnotes, sometimes half a page in length, describing Dominican history in minute detail (which was interesting, I just wish it had been incorporated more into the actual narrative rather than approximately twenty-thousand, seemingly random, asides). I generally tend to dislike footnotes that aren’t translations, so this could be a bit of bias on my part.

Now, these two books stare at me like scorned lovers from a discard pile I intend to take to the resale shop — every time I glimpse their spines, I feel a twinge of guilt, of failure. An urge to apologize to inanimate objects. However, life is simply too short and I’ve wasted enough days being pinned down by these narratives. I am being ruthless with my time this year! And I have to keep repeating the mantra: “just because it’s an award winner, doesn’t mean you have to like it.”

January 25th, 2018

dungeons & discourse // no. 3, reunion.

This is part of an ongoing series: (no. 1, saltwater // no. 2, avian)

The air smelled of burning and dense tendrils of silver grey smoke sat heavily within the clearing. Usually a comforting scent, it reminded Osiria of campfires and sleeping under the stars, she instead felt her stomach turn over at the sight of the goddess Umberlee’s charred temple. Ash fell and settled around her like dirty snow.

Once ashore, and rid of the Kenku, Hephaestus had used his influence as fledgling first mate of the Kraken’s Tooth to inquire about the location of Osiria’s missing blood hawk companion, Archimedes. A traveling beastmaster informed him that he’d seen a band of half-elf gypsies attempting to sell a blood hawk earlier that week — they’d had poor control of the animal and their struggle had drawn his attention. Osiria, not one to trust easily, was thankful and could acknowledge that Heph was attempting to endear himself to her. He was somewhat successful.

Within an hour, she’d tracked the roving, gypsy caravans to this spot — the still smoldering temple. Obviously, the nomads intended to loot anything of value and disappear, with Archimedes in tow. “Not going to happen,” Osiria murmured, striding forward. Duma and Heph trailed behind her as she threw the coverings off each caravan.

Archimedes was inside the third caravan she uncovered. He was trussed and hooded like some common fowl. Osiria grimaced at this careless treatment. The creature was obviously distressed — the cage was filled with molted vermillion feathers and she noted a few bald spots on his shoulders.

“Oh, my darling. Let me set you free,” she whispered.

Osiria reached through the bars; viridescent light spilled out of her fingers and coated Archimedes in an aura the color of verdant leaves.

She intended to use their magical link to question him about the potential for an escape, but, at the moment of contact, Archimedes cried out, “Behind you! Look behind you!” And Osiria turned to find herself staring down a crossbow.

The outstretched arm holding said bow was clad in the jolly colors of a bard and, as Osiria’s eyes traveled, the woman attached to the arm clearly favored bardic finery — tassels and small bells adorned her traveling tunic. Her dark hair was pushed back behind a pair of dully pointed ears — not quite elven. Half-elf, then, Osiria decided.

“Raise your arms and back away slowly. No one touches my things!”

“Your things? This hawk is hardly a ‘thing’ and, even less, belonging to you. He’s my companion, and you will release him at once,” Osiria commanded.

The bard did not move.

“You need proof? Archimedes, please indicate our bond with three short calls,” she requested.

“She isn’t going to believe you,” he warned.

“Just do it.”

“Let me scratch her eyes out instead.”

“You’re hardly in the position to be making threats,” Osiria countered.

Archimedes complied with the request, albeit without much enthusiasm.

After the shrill cries of the hawk echoed through the clearing, a tense silence settled like a poisonous second skin. Everyone was on edge. Osiria ran her tongue along the back of her teeth; she could sense Duma twitching the strings of his drawn bow behind her, anxious to end this without time consuming diplomacy.

“You’re a Wood Elf. I know your tricks with animals! You’re a discriminating folk, you’ve never treated us with any respect,” the bard levelled her baseless accusations without disarming the crossbow.

“I travel with a half-elf,” she indicated Heph. “And I harbor no ill will against your kind, though you in particular are getting a little tiresome. The bond I share with my hawk is no trick, I assure you. Here, let me show you his sister, she waits in the trees. You will easily discern the family resemblance, I think.”

Osiria whistled a melody that rose above those on the ground and traveled, like a whisper, into the trees. In a moment, the air shifted as another, smaller crimson hawk propelled her body into view. Osiria smiled at Artemis’ approach. In the next moment, the obnoxious bard shifted the aim of her crossbow and took a spontaneous shot at the bird.

Osiria cried out in alarm, but Artemis daintily dodged the arrow before alighting on Archimedes’ cage where the two called to one another excitedly.

“That’s it,” Osiria snarled, as she drew the curved dagger at her waist and lunged forward.

January 22nd, 2018

book talk // the tiger’s daughter.

I love fantasy novels. However, I am rather particular in my taste. I don’t enjoy the monotony of endless battles or aggressive male tones. I seek, much like I do with my literary fiction, a story that creates a mood, builds an interesting world, and explores characterization. I found that in The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera.

The Tiger’s Daughter is “the story of an infamous Qorin warrior, Barsalayaa Shefali, a spoiled divine warrior empress, O-Shizuka [she's Hokkaran], and a power that can reach through time and space to save a land from a truly insidious evil.”

Before I read the book I made the mistake of noting a few negative reviews on Goodreads. However, I have read several books in the past two years that I adored and Goodreads readers universally disliked or condemned. Still, I went into it with a slight apprehension and was pleasantly surprised.

The Tiger’s Daughter is, what I would call, a tome (~525 pages) told through letters. I’ve always been a fan of the epistolary novel, so I found this revelation to be a delightful one. I also think letters are a solid way to develop background without forcing the reader to entirely relive every little moment, only the important memories.

There is action, however, it’s mostly a character-driven love story. Shefali and Shizuka battle tigers, demons, and blackbloods, but that is not the focus of their tale. The story is also told primarily through Shefali’s letters, which act as flashbacks to their childhood for an older Shizuka, who is presently reading the letters in her palace bedroom. Basically, two warrior girls from differing backgrounds grow up together, fall in love, and battle demons. The writing is rather melodramatic in places, but I loved that the book handled a f/f romance with tenderness. I was very invested in the characters — solid, silent Shefali and spoiled, bossy Shizuka — and their unlikely relationship (considering how it began). Rivera also included a trans character — whose particular abilities, to me, recalled Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness. The inclusivity of this novel is definitely something to love, but the characters and world are what initially grabbed me.

I’ve seen several Goodreads reviews criticizing the racism and slurs used in the book. There’s an insinuation that Hokkaro is based on Japanese culture, while Qorin represents Mongolian and Xian represents Chinese — this is fairly obvious when you read the book — but I think it’s also obvious that the slurs are fictional, based in a fantasy world and, no matter what the similarities may be to our reality, it’s clearly fantasy. Rivera’s use of the slang “ricetongue,” for instance, is employed infrequently to establish a realistic fantasy world where racism and cultural bias exist. She is showing the reality of one culture attempting to subjugate another and the negative interactions that would, naturally, come along with that. As a D&D player, these conversations often occur regarding stereotypes against other races (for instance, elves are often distrustful of non-elves) so, I viewed it as realistic world-building.

My critique (aside from the melodrama) is that when the reader flashes to present Shizuka, the author occasionally flips verb tenses (past vs. present) and it got a little confusing for me in parts. That said, I believe this is Rivera’s first novel, so I am excited to see how her style improves or changes with the next book (The Pheonix Empress – coming out in August). I have a lot of questions that I hope the second book answers! Also, the cover art is incredibly beautiful — how could you pass this one up?

Rating: 4/5
Recommended For: fantasy lovers, people looking for a slow-burn LGBTQ romance

January 15th, 2018

book talk // the vegetarian.

The Vegetarian by Hang Kang is an unconventional novel. It begins with a simple enough premise, Yeong-hye decides to stop eating meat after having a particularly gruesome dream. The novel is told in three parts, first from the perspective of Yeong-hye’s husband, then her brother-in-law, and finally her sister. Her husband describes Yeong-hye as “ordinary,” “normal,” he notes that there is truly nothing he considers special about her. However, when she decides to become a vegetarian, he is disgusted, considering it an affront to their very normal existence. He simply can’t comprehend her behavior and responds first with angry questions, then by sexually assaulting her after her vegetarianism embarrasses him at a company dinner.

Yeong-hye’s husband, as well as the rest of her family, cannot abide this decision and their disagreement on the issue culminates in a violent crescendo that mirrors the subtle psychological terror present in Korean horror movies. Eventually, she has a psychotic break that leads to a sort of anorexic catatonia and, eventually, an extended stay in a mental institution. Yeong-hye no long wants to eat a plant-based diet, but instead live a plant-based life, subsisting solely on sunshine and rainwater. To her, this seems both pure and plausible. To everyone else, it seems utterly unhinged.

Yeong-hye is not a character you really want to believe in or support, and I’m not sure she could even be described as likeable (probably none of the characters in this book could be), but her cause is striking and compelling, if insane. It’s also interesting to me because, at the time of the original Korean publication, marital rape was not yet illegal and Yeong-hye quietly accepts this treatment, walling it up in a place deep inside her. She also lives within a culture where she must be subservient to men (her father, husband, brother even), so this novel makes allegorical sense in that she is trying to assert herself, and perhaps even protect herself, through the only thing she can actually control — food. Additionally, the presumed protagonist, Yeong-hye herself, never gets a chance to vocalize her own experience; the novel is told entirely from outsider points of view, again, indirectly showcasing her inability to control her own life.

This novel has been described by many as Kafka-esque, and I would agree that the tendency toward surrealist themes is definitely there and there is no filler in her writing, no fluff, each word has its intended place. However, the tone is more poetic, the images perhaps more graphic , and I believe this sets Kang in a category all her own. Don’t go into this novel expecting answers — you’ll leave with more questions than you began with — but, instead, savor the fact that Kang has created something sparse, dark, and undeniably moving.

Rating: 5/5
Recommended for: lovers of weird literary fiction, those who want to read more literature-in-translation or specifically Korean literature

January 11th, 2018

dungeons & discourse // no. 2, avian.

This is part of an ongoing series: (no. 1, saltwater)

//

The boat. Why hadn’t they gotten on the damn boat?

Instead, her compatriots decided to dismantle said boat, hide the pieces to protect a potential getaway, and high-tail it over to the lighthouse which sat one mile up the beach. The overarching idea being that someone was operating the thing and it was up to them to discern: friend or foe.

“But we could just leave. The Kraken’s Tooth is only scheduled to dock in Seacrest for another day and I fear they may have already left us,” Osiria had insisted.

To be honest, she was quite done with this island filled with living decay, cursed children, and more secrets than she could hope to discern in a lifetime. She was also incredibly anxious to find Archimedes, whom she had sent back to the mainland with a message the day prior. The shore was only an hour’s flight away, and she knew he wouldn’t have willing stayed gone without some sort of trouble.

Off they went. Two boobytrapped doors and some poison darts later, the foursome was staring down a half-dozen, white-feathered Kenku pirates. After dispatching three of the creatures, a truce was called. The remaining three were bundled off into a closet with the bearded dwarf, Roondar, guarding the door.

The inside of the lighthouse had been transformed into a ghastly nest. Feathers, droppings, and what they kept referring to as “shinies,” covered the floor. The bunks, originally intended for humans, were now outfitted for their half-bird inhabitants, the bed sheets whirled into a rather impressive cocoon of leaves and dried seagrass.

“Love what you’ve done with the place,” Osiria called brightly, dropping her bedroll onto an unblemished spot on the ground.

She largely ignored the other creatures and settled in to read the naturalist tome she had taken from Frogon’s cabin. As she read, she absently braided dried sea grass and adorned it with random beads she found on the floor, “shinies.” Osiria liked to keep her hands busy, especially when she was feeling anxious. Eventually, she tied the braided ornament into her hair and settled into a restful state — that place between sleep and wakefulness the elves inhabited.

When the sun broke over the horizon, Osiria was already awake. She sat, alone, inside one of the smaller nests — it stank, but she didn’t mind — considering her worries about their being abandoned in Seacrest. Not that she particularly minded the town, snow just wasn’t her particular forte. She missed the rugged woods of Evermeet.

A loud snort tore through her meditations.

“The birds, they said there are more coming,” Roondar announced, by way of alarm clock.

Osiria hopped out of the bed and approached her friend.

“Today? Perhaps we can use your spyglass to observe any potential intrusions?”

The dwarf sometimes forgot he possessed the thing and she gently nudged him.

“Two ships,” he acknowledged, peering through the glass. The correct end this time, she noted proudly.

The paladin, Heph, provoked into a rage by this new information, threatened to execute the Kenku prisoners if they didn’t provide more information. Osiria was about to intervene — she’d seen Heph’s temper overflow into hastily considered executions before — when one Kenku, who identified himself as Ki, offered to broker a truce.

“Please,” he clicked his beak in broken Common. “Spare us and I will get you off the island unscathed.”

“Deal!” Osiria shouted. The others agreed as well.

Thus, the party departed: three Kenku tied together by a hempen cord and led into a rowboat by Heph and Roondar, while Osiria and Duma hurried to the lighthouse on foot to prepare for a potential ambush. They were pirates, after all. Artemis circled overhead, until finding a tree to stealthily roost in, and Osiria once again felt a sharp pang in her chest for the missing Archimedes.

Elhenestra, let this go quickly, she silently prayed.

Fortunately, Ki was true to his word and negotiated a hazy truce. The Kenku pirates would bear the displaced group back to Seacrest and then disappear, but only if they were not to be pursued in return. Agreements were made. Hands and talons shook upon it. And they were off.

Osiria, Roondar, Ki, and the pirate leader Ko, plus two additional birds Osiria didn’t know, took off in one ship. Heph, Duma, and the rest of the brigandes were placed in another.

The mid-morning sun bathed the deck in a blue-gold glow and the boat began to rock rhythmically with the waves as they departed. Roondar, still enamored of floating in the water, peered over the side. Osiria sat down and allowed Artemis to go aloft. Her blood hawk had startled the Kenku initially. Osiria was worried they might see her as some sort of bird-controlling menace, but they actually appeared rather astonished by her companionship with the creature.

The Kenku clamored all over the deck, speaking in a series of beak clicks she could not follow. Instead, Osiria hummed a few notes that were caught in her mind and toyed with the sea grass braid again. However, this time, she noticed Ki watching her — well, not her.

“Shinies,” he clicked.

“Oh, yes.”

She looked into his hungry eyes, black and beady — not menacing, but not exactly a comfort either. She unfastened the braid from her hair and held it out to him. He snatched it hungrily and turned his back to her to better admire his new prize. Then, as if by afterthought, Ki turned his head and quickly bobbed an almost imperceptible bow. Osiria nodded back.

Then, she turned her eyes toward the shoreline. Almost there.

January 6th, 2018

book talk // the heart’s invisible furies.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne was recommended to me multiple times and also recently won the Book of the Month “Lolly” award for 2017, so I figured winter break would be a good time to dive into this 580 page tome. However, I have very mixed feelings about this book. While I recognize that John Boyne is addressing important social issues, I felt that many of the characters were simply mouthpieces for the author’s intended viewpoint and the plot devices were so contrived as to border on comical.

The story begins in rural Ireland where Catherine Goggin, an unwed and pregnant teen, is castigated by the parish priest in front of her entire congregation as a “whore.” She is subsequently kicked out of the town she grew up in and disowned by her family. The narrative begins here, in the 1940′s, and spans about sixty-five years, told in seven year intervals. Boyne is clearly making a statement about the course of LGBTQ social issues over this span of time. Initially, the story is told from Catherine’s perspective, but then switches to Cyril’s (her son’s) and tells the rest of the story from his POV.

While the writing is good, albeit not particularly challenging, it’s a lot of tell and no show. The reader is supposed to accept Cyril’s character evolution, but with the several year gaps, we don’t actually see it. Very dramatic and arguably unbelievable events (the pillar collapsing comes to mind) take place in each section bringing about tidy resolutions to each of Cyril’s problems. Then, the reader is pushed forward in the timeline — there is no point for the reader to linger and experience Cyril’s emotional turbulence and, thus, no opportunity to observe his growth.

Due to the aforementioned lack of development, I just never felt like I truly knew Cyril Avery. While I understand and appreciate that he experienced hardships as a gay man in Ireland when being homosexual was still illegal, I just didn’t like what I learned of him. He was selfish, arrogant, and more than a little reckless. Also, his treatment of Alice and then his insistence that she both forgive him and allow him back into her life (while he makes jokes all along the way), while also not being self-aware enough to realize he was just as bad as the man who jilted her before (possibly worse) made me angry on her behalf. While I can appreciate the sentiment of “let bygones be bygones” — his obtuseness regarding the quality of his own character when has has supposedly changed / evolved so much bothered me.

The lens through which Boyne allows the reader to view LGBTQ culture in different countries and decades is what made this book interesting for me. There is a little bit of dark humor, a lot of sex (much of it unpleasant), and some good dialogue. But it just didn’t do much for me. I thought it was terribly overwrought and lengthy. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara deals with these same issues, also spanning the decades of one man’s life, with a good deal more emotional connection and subtlety.

Rating: 3/5
Recommended For: fans of historical fiction, anyone who wants to read more about LGBTQ social issues or if you’re interested in reading more from John Boyne (he also wrote The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, fyi)

January 1st, 2018

bookstore // dark carnival.

One of the greatest benefits to living in the Bay Area has been discovering all the hidden bookstore gems. There’s nothing more fun than a quick adventure to a new-to-me bookstore, followed by tea at a cafe. Most recently, I spent an afternoon checking out Dark Carnival in Berkeley, a store focused primarily on fantasy, science-fiction and thriller/mystery and named after Ray Bradbury’s short story collection of the same name.

Dark Carnival has the feel of an ancient bookstore hermetically sealed in time; a portal to the past. But, fear not, the stock ranges from current releases to highly obscure British imports and out-of-print or signed editions. They also have some very interesting nonfiction sections, including headers such as: Arthuriana, Celtic lore and faeries.

The bookstore itself is small and dark with a distinct smell of old pages — don’t go in expecting a well-lit, Barnes and Noble-esque experience. There is not an entirely discernable method to the organizational madness, it’s what I would describe as “almost alphabetical.” It’s definitely cluttered, but in a charming way, and I look at that more as an opportunity to lose myself in another world for a little while.

As you descend deeper into the first floor depths of the store, you find piles of books, truly stacked to the ceiling, for your rummaging pleasure. The caddy-corner nooks and unexpected vestibules are lit with lamps of varying wattages. Ascending the stairs brings you to yet another floor of genre selections and kitschy toys. Plastic ravens peek out at you from the shelves as you browse. It was here that I discovered a couple of titles I had been hunting for a while and my partner found a 90′s collectible toy of The Confessor.

Overall, this is definitely a local store I will continue to support. Personally, I like the vibe more than the similarly stocked Borderlands in San Francisco, though I acknowledge it may be easier to find a specific title there. The Dark Carnival staff was quiet, but helpful if you had questions. Additionally, if you are using credit, you will have to pay next door at Escapist Comics — but, that just gives you an excuse to pick up a graphic novel too, right?