Space Invaders – 4/5 stars
This short novel from Chile takes places in late 70s and early 80s in Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship in which tens of thousands of dissenters were placed in concentration camps, killed outright, or both, often having their entire existence bureaucratically eradicated in the process. It was common practice bodies to be burned or dumped in the ocean as well. This novel is a novel of childhood as kids through a main narrator try to make sense of their world. It’s told in small vignettes and memories and it’s powerful evocation of justice and memory. What I find particularly compelling about the novel is the ways in which it highlights a depressing human phenomenon: the ability to allow injustice to exist in far away spaces and to allow people facing this injustice to have zero escape, concept beyond the injustice, and to have an understanding of the world entirely created and dictated by that injustice. And when there’s finally a relief, to simply allow it to more or less happen again and again in different and perhaps lesser ways. The US (where I am positioned) does not have the luxury of “having allowed” these things the ways in which an observer in, say Europe, or other South American countries (well, at least ones that weren’t going their own versions of it). Instead, the US is directly responsible for the deaths and disappearances that formulate the understanding of the world in this novel.
The Promise – 3/5
This time an Argentine novel by the writer Silvina Ocampo who according to the material that comes with this book spend the better part of three decades preparing this small text. She was writing and publishing other short stories and novels, so while this book is the product of that many years, it was a solo product. So the story of this novel is a woman has fallen overboard from a passenger liner in the ocean and the subsequent struggle for survival, the isolation, and the other kinds of feelings associated with this trauma creates a space within which she faces her own memories of childhood, adulthood, and remembers dozens of encounters with people and people themselves. In addition to these interactions she also is flooded with memories not belonging to her, but that function in the same ways. The book we’re reading is positioned as the fulfillment of the promise to publish the accounts of this and so perhaps we can take from this that she has survived to write the version.
This is an interesting book because the role of the text and construct through which this story is told relies on the belief of this survival experience and of course given that the vast majority of the stories and memories and interactions in the text are a catalog of the ways in which our narrator is treated as a woman, the metaphor of falling overboard into trauma and promising to bear witness to memories is both a literal cause of her being able to tell the stories and a metaphor that allows them to be told.
The Fool and Other Moral Tales — 2/5
I don’t think I will read any more Anne Serre books. I read her other recently translated text The Governesses earlier this year, and this collection of short stories soon followed. Like plenty of other writers, Angela Carter, Jeanette Winterson, Michael Cunningham, Samantha Hunt, Kelly Link, Daniel Mallory Ortberg, Italo Calvino, Carmen Maria Machado, etc Anne Serre is using fables and myths to tell modern stories and protray modern ideas. And like with many of the examples above and this one, I am just not super into these. This collection is three different stories. The title story “The Fool” seeks to create a character type based in the tarot card, the Fool, and to illustrate the various ways in which this character appears in stories and lives. The second story “The Narrator” does present some interesting questions about storytelling. If a narrator, whose characters rebel, becomes a character then who is telling the story? It’s a kind of reversal of the acknowledgement of the role of narrator in novels. The last story “The Wishing Table” is story in which fable and storytelling become a way for the victims of trauma to mask that trauma, and is the better story in the collection. Ultimately, I feel like this collection covers a lot of common ground and the risk there is not bringing a vital or new voice to material like that.
A Short Sharp Shock – 3/5
This is the first Kim Stanley Robinson book I’ve read. He’s an author I am really interested in but am kind of intimidated by giving what appears to be the length and breadth of his novels, and more intimidating, their depth. He’s written at least three trilogies that top out well over 1000 pages but now that I’ve found some accessible audiobook versions of them and have read this one, I will dive into them at some point. This short novel has some apparent forebears that come to mind. For one, it’s a lot like the John Carter novels, and even more so CS Lewis’s Perelandra and even reminds me of the episode of Star Trek The Next Generation where the crew starts devolving and it becomes apparent that human evolution is something we recognize and accidentally map onto others. A man wakes up or comes to struggling to swim in the ocean and makes his way on shore. When he does he meets a woman and together they commune and begin travelling. It becomes clear that the entirety of the world they are on–hers, and maybe his, but he has no memory–is made up of this small (but still sizeable) stretch of land. As they travel they face new and myriad dangers as well as new and myriad friends. Like I said, it reminds me of Perelandra, a kind of Adam and Eve novel, but this one is about genetics and memory, not about specific cosmological destiny.
Welcome to America – 3/5
This short novel was published in Sweden in 2016 and recently translated. The novel is told through the perspective of a young girl whose father has recently died. Her mother is reeling but moving toward recovery and her brother is being well as little brothers often are. She however is not only experiencing deep grief that is clearly informed and colored by depression that is going untreated, but also specific guilt because in view of her father’s suffering she wished specific death on her to end his pain, and then he died. Not she herself is in deep pain and finds her guilt too horrifying to continue. So the novel then becomes an exercise of her grief and pain and her inability to understand the feelings inside her and to cope with what she is unsure that they are telling her.
I think this is a novel about the inability to narrate one’s own pain and how that too is painful. In addition, at least in the US we don’t teach people to feel sadness and to understand sadness as one of the many different processes of life. I know I also have that issue. When I feel sad, I feel bad and don’t like it and seek to eradicate my sadness–sometimes with success and sometimes without. But what I fail to do and this novel is showing in much more intense ways is to simply feel sadness and to be allowed to feel sadness.
Beyonders vol 1 – 1/5
This is a new comics series in which a teen boy after being denied entry into college despite his outstanding test scores and academics becomes aware of an international plot that proves the validity of newly every famous historical conspiracy theory.
And I have to say: it’s really not good. It’s deeply commonplace and stereotypical in its storytelling and world-building. The writing is sub-par and the stories themselves are pretty boring. Also the titles of the books are stolen from another fantasy series. The art is perfectly good, but it can’t make up for the rest of the book.
Hidden Kingdom vol 1 – 3/5
This is a new comics series by G Willow Wilson, fantasy novelist and comics writer who brought us the new great Ms Marvel series. The art of this book is very good and the writing is really interesting too, if not a little too familiar. The story takes places with a close-orbit solar system of four planets where trade between the planets is robust, but also so are the differences. The young acolyte of a religious order that wields a large amount of power realizes she must escape the order to help expose the truths it hides and becomes enmeshed with a shipping vessel headed up by a rakish and roguish captain. It goes from there. Like I said, it’s a perfectly familiar story that shares a lot of similarity to Saga, the Mass Effect video games, Binti, and plenty of other well-tread series. But the execution is solid and interesting as well.
Infinite Dark – 3/5
A really fascinating concept that goes awry in a few small ways that I am not clear about, but terrifying and dark as well. This comics series takes place on a human-piloted vessel that is running about 1/5 capacity. So about 3000 people out of a capacity of 15,000. The ship is caught between the fabric of space and time after a universe ending event fractured the known reality. The survivors may or may not be the only humans left (and/or any inhabitants in the whole universe) and the resulting isolation has created the need for a new understanding of what life and reality are.
And so, in that world, they get their first murder. And that’s where the story begins.