Tag Archives: Tor

New Review: The Geek Feminist Revolution

Kameron Hurley

Tor Books (2016)

ISBN: 9780765386250

I think I’ve read more non-fiction for pleasure in the past two years than I have in my entire life up to that point. I’m not sure if it’s my reading habits evolving or just whether I finally found things I want to read about, but honestly, The Geek Feminist Revolution could not be more up my alley. After hearing Tansy rave about the book on Galactic Suburbia (that podcast really ought to come with a warning: you will spend money because of listening!), I bought a copy on the spot, and started reading pretty much immediately. I have read some Hurley pieces before (and I do follow the author on Twitter), but was pleasantly surprised to realise that most of the essays in the book were new to me. They were also exactly what I needed to be reading right now, I think – thoughtful, provocative, powerful and highly readable. It probably helped that I had at least a passing knowledge of many of the things she was responding to or writing about (just from being in geek circles over the past several years), which helped with context, but I don’t think my enjoyment of the essays would have been hindered even if I came to the book cold.

Hurley’s non-fiction style is highly accessible – she offers enough depth to draw out the understandings she’s working to impart, without overwhelming the reader in minutiae. If I have one complaint, it’s that a few of the essays felt like they finished too soon – there was actually more I wanted to know about the issue or situation being discussed but they were tied off fairly abruptly. That said, it was only something I noticed in a couple of pieces, and didn’t impact on my understanding of the arguments being presented.

I liked the way the book was sectioned, with like-pieces clustered together under the headings of Level Up, Geek, Let’s Get Personal and Revolution. Personally, I got the most out of Level Up and Revolution, but I enjoyed every single essay, whether I wholeheartedly agreed with Hurley’s arguments or not. I found myself highlighting excerpts as I read, which is both a sign I was engaged with the piece and that it was speaking to me. For example, in “The Complexity of Desires: Expectations of Sex and Sexuality in Science Fiction” I noted: “But normal is a lie. Normal is a story. As a writer, it’s my job to construct new normals for people. It’s my job to show folks what’s possible. It’s my job to rewrite narratives … We’re all only as normal as the stories we tell ourselves.” This resonated because the continuing discussion about diversity in books, film and TV, and the importance of readers/viewers seeing themselves, is something I’ve become very interested in and find myself noticing more and more (both when it’s done badly and when it’s done well). But there were several others that really jumped out and struck a chord, for various reasons, and made me think outside my box, which is always a good thing.

As a bonus to the ebook reading experience, all the notes and references Hurley makes through the book are linked to (where possible) – it was fantastic to get to the end of the book and then be able to hit the links and continue reading more excellent pieces, some by Hurley, others she responds to or bounces off. Love living in the future!

In all, this was an excellent reading experience for the content in hand, which has also made me keen to give Hurley’s novel-length fiction a try, thanks to the way she writes about the thought processes behind her work in some of the essays. This is intelligent, informed and at heart completely geeky feminist writing, informative and entertaining at every turn. Highly recommended.

 

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New Review: Forest of Memory (2016)

Mary Robinette Kowal

Tor

ISBN: 978-0-7653-8389-1

This is one of those books where you get to the end of the story and start grumbling that it’s not a novel. Or for that matter, a series of novels that let you have more of this character, more of this world, more of the twisty ideas threading throughout the piece which tug at ideas that are bigger than the story being told.

Our narrator (and she is literally the narrator of the story) is Katya Gould, an Authenticities dealer in a future where everyone is online and retro is big bucks. After making an acquisition, Katya is on her way home from a “shopping trip” when she stumbles across a man doing something he shouldn’t be, shooting protected deer from the forest. This is the beginning of the somewhat surreal tale Katya tells her mysterious buyer, and throws her into a situation she could never have imagined: offline, out of touch and out of reach, alone in the forest with a strange man who is tagging the deer, and uncertain of her fate.

I loved the more abstract elements of this piece the most – it seemed to me that Kowal was unpicking aspects of environmentalism in confrontation with technological reliance, and examining these in a context that was just off-kilter enough to disturb. The discussion of memory, and the way we process life through filters (some of them ours, some of them imposed) was elegant and thoughtful, and cleverly reflected through the deliberate use of typographical errors and cross-outs throughout the text (the conceit being the story is being written on the typewriter Katya acquires at the beginning of the story). Yes, reading a story with errors deliberately left in was a challenge, but the effect becomes powerful as the story unfolds.

Forest of Memory is a story that both ends exactly where it needs to but also leaves you yearning for more – it seems there is so much more of Katya’s world to explore and understand, and I would be very happy to hear Kowal intends to do just that.

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