Friday, July 21, 2017

Review: We Are the Ants

We Are the Ants We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I guess I'm reading Shaun David Hutchinson's books in reverse order? Okay then, that's cool. Between this book and At the Edge of the Universe, I've got no problem picking up on a few elements of what seems to be a signature Hutchinson style. Contemporary with sci-fi elements, a gay protagonist making very bad choices because he's very depressed after his first relationship failed, a jackass older brother, family troubles in general, bullyboys...except, in this case, one of the bullyboys is closeted and likes to hook up with our protagonist (or as Hutchinson's narrators seem to like to call it, "fool around"), all in secret, of course. And then there's the mysterious new boy for whom our protagonist falls, who turns out to be into him as well, but has to deal with his dark and troubled past. Also, a ton of triggering elements, ranging from abusive relationships to miscarriages to a grandmother with Alzheimer's and suicide and pictures of assault on the internet and attempted rape.

Yeah, really, it feels like a lot of story elements from this book resurfaced in Hutchinson's next one, but in the latter, I feel like he did it better. I think this one felt a little more detached, but then that was probably the point, highlighting certain insignificances in the grand scheme of things.

Not gonna lie, though. Henry and Diego make a far better couple than any featured in Edge, except Tommy and Ozzie, perhaps. I especially liked how Diego gives this book some bi rep (or possibly pan - it's left ambiguous.)

Next up on my reverse time-travel course through the works of Mr. Hutchinson: The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley. Why my library doesn't have it, though, I'm really not sure.

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Review: Exit West

Exit West Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For my second Mohsin Hamid book, I picked his latest - on Aimal Farooq's recommendation, just like with The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Rather similarly to that book, Exit West is short and lyrical. Unlike TRF, this book is very low-key, not so much a geopolitical thriller, but very much rooted in magical realism. It follows two young lovers, Saeed and Nadia, as they escape their war-torn home and migrate around the world, going a little further west each time. Greece, Austria, England...and then, finally, about as far west as they can go, to the San Francisco suburb of Marin City. Along the way, they keep running into more of the same kinds of trouble - refugee problems, war following them wherever they go, the works. Though this book feels like a short story padded to novella length with its run-on sentences and frequent interludes looking into happenings around the world that are pretty much disconnected from the main narrative of Saeed and Nadia, it's no less quick and addictive a read for it, and is very much worth a look for its unique, dreamlike feel.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

An Atypical Response, As It Were, To Atypical

So today, Netflix dropped the trailer for their upcoming YA-oriented comedy series Atypical, starring Keir Gilchrist from It Follows as an autistic teenager looking for a relationship. More specifically, looking for sex. The reactions I'm seeing from others in the autistic community on Twitter have been overwhelmingly negative, criticizing the show on so many levels. I've seen people say that the show is inaccurate in its portrayal of an autistic character, that the show relies too much on sex jokes (the trailer has quite a barrage of 'em, like the writers were possessed by Chuck Lorre), that casting a neurotypical actor in an autistic role damages the show's diversity factor, and (more on that last point) that the show isn't intersectional enough because it focuses on an allo cishet white guy and perpetuates the amisic idea that people need to have sex in order to be "normal."

All valid criticisms, of course, but remember, no community is a monolith. And I, as another autistic individual, would like to say that based on the trailer, I'm actually very disappointed that Atypical is on Netflix, because it means I won't get to watch it - and I really would relish that opportunity.

Because I saw that trailer and, while Gilchrist's character Sam doesn't mirror me 100%, he mirrors me enough that I feel like, were I to watch the show itself, I'd really enjoy it just for his presence, despite it being pretty well out of my genre comfort zone. In Sam, I see a pretty quirky demeanor, a certain lack of innate sociability (though he isn't without friends, either), a tendency to overdo it on his smile, and a need for headphones in public - all of which he shares with me, and in some cases (especially the headphones, which I've rarely worn myself because I'm more into earbuds) with other autistic people I've known in my life.

I think this could all be some feel-good viewing if I were to watch it. But then I've seen so many other people criticize the show for deciding to write an autistic white guy. Hell, I agree that the show could do better, like casting an actually autistic actor, or casting a Sam who's a woman, or black, or Asian, or Indigenous, or Latinx, or gay, or bi, or pan, or trans, or ace, or aro, or any combination thereof. All great ideas, of course.

But a lot of the criticism makes me scratch my head - like, is autistic rep no longer valid if it happens to come from an allo cishet white guy character? Is Sam too "mainstream" for being an allo cishet white guy, and a reasonably attractive one at that? Is there a point where a marginalized character becomes too privileged to be progressive? There's also the question of whether or not marginalized characters and works should be #ownvoices, with the general consensus being that Atypical is not, with most of the cast and crew being allistic (unless they're autistic but not openly so.) Me, I think that #ownvoices is great, and I write some of that myself (#ownvoices autistic and #ownvoices bisexual, especially), but I won't negatively react to someone else's work just for not being #ownvoices - unless of course they monumentally screw it up.

More pertinent, though, is the suggestion, based on the show's trailer, that it'll focus on Sam's attempts to build a sex life, and use relationships to "normalize" himself, thus alienating aro-ace viewers who are desperate for, and deserving of, good rep. Yes, there's a lot of aro-ace and autistic intersection, so writing Sam as allosexual and amatoromantic was a pretty missed opportunity. But then for those of us who are autistic and allosexual and amatoromantic, this could be good rep too. But then there's also the rise of the "incel" movement. For those unaware, "incel" is "involuntary celibacy," an idea that some autistic people (almost always allo cishet white guys - more privileged people in general, really) are pretty much forever doomed to never have a relationship of any kind because their autism makes them undesirable. (To which I've often seen rejoinders to the effect of, "Yeah, it's not autism making you undesirable, you know," or challenges that "incel" insists that men are somehow "owed" sex.) Let's face it, "incel" types have a way of giving the autistic community a bad name.

Me, I've never once had a relationship, and personally, I do believe my autism is partly at fault, if only on the level of my considerable social awkwardness hindering my efforts at finding love. There's also the fact that I was an absolute dick in high school (no wonder I pretty much don't keep in touch with anyone I knew back then). And even today, I'm (self-diagnosed at best) depressed and very low on self-confidence (except when someone tells me I might be the love child of Andrew Garfield and Grant Gustin), I live with Catholic parents who think I should wait till marriage to have sex, I'm bi and in the closet IRL (which means, in practice, I limit myself to seeking out women and have to be very careful about whether or not to come out to them if we start dating), and I have a strange talent for only feeling romantic and/or sexual interest in people who are already in committed relationships...really, I could go on.

Back to that depression, though. Again, self-diagnosed at best, but it's an insidious beast whose favorite weapon is having me believe that being autistic means I'm undesirable and not allowed to know the love of another. Irrational, I know, but it's hard to argue rationally with a beast that's so bound and determined to consume my brain and my will to live.

Depression is the main reason why I would love to watch Atypical. It may not cure me, but getting to see a guy like Sam learning to accept himself and realize that he doesn't need to be quote-unquote "normal" in any way would be a real help, because as unfortunate as the circumstances of many real-life autistic people are, any form of escapism may be welcome.

(All this from a guy who writes #ownvoices stories that all contain considerable comedy and tragedy both, but that's a topic for another day.)

And while this show may not be intersectional, that's not to say that intersectional autistic show won't come. Hell, I would love to see it happen in the form of a TV or movie adaptation of Corinne Duyvis' novel On the Edge of Gone. If you want #ownvoices autism rep and intersectionality, look no further.

For now, I'm just an autistic bisexual speedster boy, waiting for his sweet snuggly Supergirl.

Till next time, Pinecones...

Remember: Denis Leary is always watching. Always.

Review: Unravel Me

Unravel Me Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Want to read? No, I absolutely cannot. This series is too depressing. Oh boy do I! This book is a must must must read!

Wow, everything is wrong in this world - a world that I really hope this one doesn't turn into. And to think, Tahereh Mafi sounds like such a happy bright young woman in her bio, on her website...and yet she writes this sad sad sad moving moving moving and nightmarish




literary wonder.

If you haven't noticed by now, I love love love the broken fragment-y writing style Mafi uses.

Feels like one of the closest things to authentic teenager speak (the kind that doesn't use 1 2 3 42 atrocious slangy and/or sweary words every 5 10 20 minutes.)

Feels almost like the way I talk. Like Xander or Topher or Coulson or Fitz or whoever will be the next Joss Whedon Author Avatar. So caffeinated. Buzzy like bees flies mosquitoes buzzing things. Deliciously random stream-of-consciousness language spoken when (to quote MGMT) "time takes a rain check." Escapist pleasure like none other.

Beautiful. And it still holds up four years after I first read it.

And also - great cover. Wish the first book had started with this cover style, it's a real improvement. Cannot wait to reread Ignite Me and then move on to the new trilogy, whenever I get my hands on the first of those books!

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Monday, July 17, 2017

Review: And I Darken

And I Darken And I Darken by Kiersten White
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was about to read this book last year, but a Muslim friend advised me against it because she disagreed with its representation of her religion, so I followed her advice and returned it to the library unread. But then recently, another Muslim friend read and reviewed this book pretty favorably, especially in terms of Muslim rep, so inspired by that (and the fact that the sequel is now out), I decided to give And I Darken the chance I would've given it a year ago.

After reading through all almost 500 pages of this book, I've concluded that my thoughts on this novel fall somewhere in between those of my two friends in terms of how we rated it. I didn't dislike it, but I can't really say I liked it, either, not when it was so long and slow and half of it was in the head of Lada, the genderswapped Vlad the Impaler, who proved to be one of the most unlikable (if not the most) protagonists I've seen in the world of YA. Lada is an absolute misanthrope, disdainful of anyone who shows any sign of weakness (including herself), very violent, and suffers from a certain case of internalized misogyny. In short, her head is tons of no fun to inhabit, and it really does drag down my rating for this book, to be honest.

The day to Lada's night, though, is her younger brother Radu, a really gentle soul - and one who has a much easier time making friends, when he's not surrounded by those who think it's cool to beat him up. And also, Radu has a certain appreciation for the finer things in life. Like natural beauty. Or religion. While neither he nor Lada much enjoy the Orthodox Christianity to which they were born and raised, he, unlike his sister, doesn't shy away from religion (unless to use it as a hill to die on for why she thinks the Ottoman Empire is evil incarnate.) Radu takes to Islam like a fish to water, appreciating the religion's relative simplicity and devotion to peace, charity, and virtue in general. And unlike Christianity, where the book focuses on sharp sectarian divisions like Orthodox vs. Catholic, White presents a largely positive outlook on Islam, especially as soon-to-be-sultan Mehmed seeks out multiple interpretations of scripture to expand his education.

The one thing I didn't like about Radu's characterization was how it relied a lot on stereotypes of gay men being effeminate, weak, prone to excessive emotion, etc. Not to mention, in the second half of the story when he comes to realize he's gay, it gives him tons of angst because the society of the time wouldn't accept him for that. To White's credit, though, she does not make religion a reason behind Radu's angst - more his fear of alienating those he loves. But there's that problem with stereotypes rearing its ugly head - not only for Radu, but for Lada as well, because Lada is, again, stricken with some serious internalized misogyny, as she considers being a woman to be a weakness. In early scenes, Radu treats his own puberty like a curiosity, while for Lada, hers is traumatic and terrifying, probably because, well, it only means she's maturing and will be expected to take on traditional female roles to which she cannot, will not, adhere.

In general, though, Lada's refusal to bend to social expectations, while making for interesting reading, also makes her supremely unlikable because it comes across sometimes like she's just super-duper petty. A bit of the worst parts of Daenerys and Cersei, to be honest - and sometimes going beyond the latter's "love to hate." And while we're at it, no, this book is not a YA Game of Thrones - it's not bloody enough (even if it does deal with the early years of an alternate-historical Vlad the Impaler), and there's no magic. The only thing it really has in common with A Song of Ice and Fire is endless politicking.

Though I'm definitely planning to read Now I Rise as soon as possible, I'm going into that one with trepidation because, frankly, I think Lada's just going to get worse from here on out. But at least there should be some nice chapters in Radu's third-person POV to liven things up.

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Saturday, July 15, 2017

Review: Seeker

Seeker Seeker by Veronica Rossi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So this, as I understand it, is supposed to be the end of a duology...but you know what? I really hope not. Not just because I'm not really a fan of the whole duology thing - like, it always feels like the story's a little incomplete, or it should've been a standalone from the get-go, but two books? It's so...weird to me, for some reason. But really, Rossi gives us some really good Four Horsemen mythology, with her own unique spin, and I'd be really disappointed to see it come to an end so soon. But hey, at least we'll have Riders, and now Seeker, told in a pretty cool dual POV - Daryn and Gideon, both of whom play off each other beautifully. Though I didn't quite like this book as much as the first one - the second half tends to get a little confusing and jumbled for me - it still has much of its predecessor's high-intensity action and fun. Really, the thought that this one is the end of the series? It sucks.

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Friday, July 14, 2017

Review: Babylon's Ashes

Babylon's Ashes Babylon's Ashes by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book manages to break my previous rule for this series that even-numbered books are better than odd-numbered ones, because it's really not much of an improvement over Nemesis Games. Instead, Babylon's Ashes manages to take the story threads its predecessor leaves us and focus on the least interesting, most procedural ones, and even manages to turn the military thriller elements surprisingly pedestrian. Of course, the real problem is that Nemesis Games ended with a pretty wild cliffhanger, and this book barely addresses said cliffhanger, leaving the whole plot thread about the ships vanishing through the ring gates dangling like fringe on some 70s-style jacket. I know the Corey team is planning as many as nine novels in this series, but really, at this point it feels like they're stretching it into so much textual taffy. At least this book has its highlights - such as Filip's involvement in the terroristic Free Navy (you can tell if they win, they'll become like the pigs in Animal Farm) and of course Avasarala continuing to be her usual foul-mouthed, venom-tongued self, and with a lot more involvement in the story (not just a voice and face on a screen) because it's an even-numbered book in the series, after all. At least I can now say I'm caught up on the series, with the seventh book pretty close at hand - and I hope the final third of the series really picks things up again. Like that story thread about the ships that keep vanishing.

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