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book cover showing a partial body shot of a chromatic girl with a lit up leaf design trailing all down her right arm


'I think for a long time, I thought that art could save us, could save all of us. That our capacity to create beauty was enough to buoy us above the tide of bullshit.

I thought being visible for others who had to experience the god-help-us-all or worse that we had to experience – I thought this could give comfort, company, solace in desperate hours.

I saw it all in relation to the book-of-all-books, the book of everything that’s ever been written, that has the weight of history in it, which is always written by those in power, which is likely not the side anyone reading this is usually, overtly on. It felt really important to testify, to enter into the record that we were here, that we resisted, that there was dissent. I believed that art could save lives...

Part of me still knows that art can save lives, change minds, bear witness. But it’s not enough to talk about ending homelessness, ending rape, ending war. We need to be out there – however we can do it. Making things happen on more than just a linguistic level. Because words just aren’t enough. No one has died for lack of a poem. But people die every day for lack of food and shelter...

But what I wish it could do — any poetry could do — is save the world, whether by recuperating American letters and horror movies into a feminist construct, for example (Final Girl), or by re-membering female historical figures (Kissing Dead Girls), or documenting the prostitutes killed by a serial killer (Why Things Burn), or striking out at injustice in Gotham. But it won’t work. I only have a very small cape. And there is so much to write.'- (Daphne Gottlieb interviewed at The Rumpus)


"The Summer Prince" takes questions of art and political engagement, and examines them by winding its characters up in age old artistic struggles. Can art change the world? Are artists activists? How can artists use fame to change the political establishment? And perhaps most importantly of all, what good is art if it can’t save a life?

'There’s a song.'



At the same time, because of certain problematic elements in the world-building of "The Summer Prince" (pointed out to me by various smart commentators with knowledge of and ties to current Brazil) "The Summer Prince" ends up posing critical meta-questions about how art functions in the world. How do we react to a book that adds to the diversity of science fiction, but makes clumsy futuristic changes to real world settings which end up reinforcing stereotypical outsider views? How do we react when a narrative that contains bisexual characters only goes so far in re-imagining a narrative and ends up re-creating what is a painfully familiar ending in LGBTQ literature? How do we write about this kind of book in a way that encompasses the love we may have initially felt and the knowledge you gained later? The answer – complexly, extremely differently depending on who we are and with if you’re me, with a lot help for my more well-informed friends.

'The lush city of Palmares Três shimmers with tech and tradition, with screaming gossip casters and practiced politicians. In the midst of this vibrant metropolis, June Costa creates art that’s sure to make her legendary. But her dreams of fame become something more when she meets Enki, the bold new Summer King. The whole city falls in love with him (including June’s best friend, Gil). But June sees more to Enki than amber eyes and a lethal samba. She sees a fellow artist.

Together, June and Enki will stage explosive, dramatic projects that Palmares Três will never forget. They will add fuel to a growing rebellion against the government’s strict limits on new tech. And June will fall deeply, unfortunately in love with Enki. Because like all Summer Kings before him, Enki is destined to die.' (source)


Enki’s aim is to use his status as Summer Prince to make a real impact on his society. Art is highly prized in the city of Palamares Três and Summer Princes seem to be elected based on how well they perform. This performance is formal and public, with candidates called on to display a speciality and to wow the electorate with their skill in order to win votes. It is also subtle, or more political, as candidates choosing how best to present themselves and their words in order to woo supporters; using words and speeches as tools much like when our own political candidates use carefully manicured displays of rhetoric. June says that Enki uses ‘his body like a canvas’ and really that’s what all the candidates do as they vie to win – they become a piece of art posing to create a particular effect. While the Summer Prince’s artistic skill is generally used to gain support, fame and adoration Enki wants to take it further. He wants to use his art as a tool to highlight the inequalities in Palamares Três and to effect societal change by using public art as political critique. When he gains a collaborator in June, he begins to go beyond critique and use art to produce full blown exposes of truth by incorporating elements of hidden, politically charged conversations into his art.

At first, Enki creates spectacles of dance that call out the privilege of the ruling elite. Through political theatre, he rallies the people of Palamares Três to openly act against the government as he plays the role of ‘the people’s prince’, reminding the people of the verde that their interests are separate from those of the ruling elite. I’d suggest that the way June initially understands what Enki is doing with his art and his ‘canvas’, as a means of calling out to people and to reflect their lives, and that this is the performance art version of what Daphne Gottleib refers to above as making things happen on ‘just a linguistic level’. But Enki knocks his actions up a level when he collaborates with June on a massive public art project and includes a sound recording of a politically charged conversation. From there, both Enki and June negotiate how much they want to be ‘Making things happen on more than just a linguistic level.’.

June is also an artistic protester, who scales the walls to leave politically charged graffiti for cameras to capture at significant times. Unlike Enki, she is tied to a conservative system that she can’t quite untangle art from. June is from a high tier family, the daughter of a famous musician and now the step-daughter of a high-ranking Auntie (or Advisor) who works in Palamares Três’ matriarchal government. She wants to distance herself from the unequal system she sees around her (in Palamares Trê people under thirty have their views disregarded and citizens of the verde live in poverty) but what she perhaps doesn’t realise until late on in the novel is that she is part of that system, supported by it and given opportunities even as she attempts to reject that system. As such, June imagines protest and revolution within the logic of the system she is protected by. And this leads to her being compromised.

June uses her body as a canvas too, inserting ‘tech’ under her skin to create a tree of glowing lights. Her description of Enki using ‘his body like a canvas’ highlights this link between them, but as the novel progresses the reader sees the contrast between the way Enki works art for social change and the way June falters as she tries to do the same but ends up ‘…playing at being radical, trying on transgression like my skin lights, secure that I could cut it out and go right back to graduating and university just as soon as the year was over.’. The tree stands as an image of that difference between them and by the end of the novel has been used to explained their difference in two ways; Enki is a committed, activist artist while June has to find her way to a deeper art activism that goes beyond daring display. At the same time, Enki’s use of his 'canvas' destroys him while June is left to grow stronger like a tree.

See, Enki is 'the boy from the verde' and a walking murder victim. Already determined not to bow to regular social pressures, he has as June eventually realises, submitted himself for sacrifice not because he wants to die but because his life is all he can use to effect change. The Summer Prince dies every year and, freed from social convention by this inevitable fact, Enki pushes the boundaries of life. Instead of using his year to party, or enjoy as much sex and forbidden tech as his status entitles him to (although he doesn’t shy away from any of those things) Enki is galvanised to disrupt the system of the Aunties and the Queen. He wants better lives for his people and he wants to keep other boys from going through the sacrificial ritual he has signed up for. He will use his death to achieve those aims.

June has to grapple the most with how involved she wants to get and how much she wants to sacrifice to change the world. It’s understandable that June is the most conflicted – Enki has very little to lose if he disobeys the Queen because he’s already a dead man walking and he has no surviving family. June is more vulnerable, not only because she wants to keep living but because she has a driving passion she will do anything to pursue. June has been offered a chance at the Queen’s prize; the most prestigious art award in Palamares Três. It could catapult June and her art into the spotlight, and she believes that large exposure will help her change the world through art. Will she throw away her chance to have her art seen and recognised by millions in order to help Enki? Will she abandon what she thinks is her best chance at changing the world through art by getting kicked out of the running? Doesn’t she want to live free with her art? So she goes back and forth in her revolution. At one point, she uses the media in a desperate attempt to save lives. Later she finds it difficult to publically name a corrupt Auntie, who has harmed the people of the city in order to advance her own political agenda, and she cheats a friend out of the Queen’s award. All of this makes June a frustrating political character when compared to the pure and certain Enki (although Enki is frustrating in his own way), but also a figure that it is much easier for mortal readers to relate to. Can you say you would give up everything, possibly even die for a cause? I’m not a hero like Marie Colvin or Malala Yousafazi and I can’t say for certain that I would. I’m like June and I want to live.

In the end, the narrative allows June to avoid driving into the fire of fundamentalism. Enki gives her his blessing and absolution as he finds himself slightly compromised by love, which means the reader can feel more at home with her actions. Unable to give up the name of the offending Auntie because the Queen threatens to hurt Gil, his favourite male lover and June’s best friend, he tells June 'I shouldn’t have called you to testify… You have a right to your own life. Like you said, you’re the one who will get to live it.' . However, June does eventually give up trying to work within the system, or trying to use political art to win herself a bigger establishment platform. 'I’ll become a famous artist, and then I’ll do good – when I have a position and influence and a life to do it with. If I make this one futile gesture, then what? I never get to see my home again?' June says at one point and in that I thought I could hear echoes of the frustrated dreams of other artists from disenfranchised groups who hoped that insider power would allow them to bring about change, for example Arundhati Roy saying that:

‘A few carefully bred turkeys — the local elites of various countries, a community of wealthy immigrants, investment bankers, the occasional Colin Powell, or Condoleezza Rice, some singers, some writers (like myself) — are given absolution and a pass to Frying Pan Park.’


However, just because "The Summer Prince" echoes the voice of chromatic artist’s frustration and includes chromatic central characters that doesn’t necessarily mean it comes without problems. Race, like gender or sexuality, does not consist of one homogenous community. All of these top level groupings like this are inter-sectional, and so a chromatic author may (just as a woman, or a member of the LGBTQ community may) show a lack of knowledge when creating a story about a section of a top level group which is outside of their experience. According to several commentators who know Brazil well, Alaya Dawn Johnson, has set her novel about a racially diverse society where bisexuality is the norm in a futuristic Brazilian world that simplifies and stereotypes Brazilian culture. Representation of various races is really important in SF, but placing those representations in what sounds like a futuristic version of Brazil based on the parts of Brazil that are known to outsiders (samba as the only form of dance culture, simple language and what Ana at The Book Smugglers pointed out looks like a weird version of Aztec legend) creates problems of its own. Quite a few people had opinions on this, so I’ll come back to look at this in more depth later.

June eventually realises that winning the Queen’s award will not bring her what she wants and that realisation allows her to rebel. She can now let go of the restrictions the Palamares Três’ government places on her. Before she saw no point in trying to save Enki; his death was inevitable and it was more important to June to use the time he was alive in order to work at their projects. Now, despite its impossibility June attempts to save Enki anyway at the request of her best friend.

'But I know better than anyone how dangerous trying can be, and how destructive. Maybe it's better to let bad things happen than tear yourself apart trying to stop the inevitable.'


It’s a common turn of phrase in our world to say that 'We must keep trying even if everything seems hopeless'. June takes up this idea that the act of effort, the act of belief is important in itself; in the end she has to do something, anything, rather than continuing to logically explain to herself about why saving Enki is a lost cause. Once she enters into the spirit of trying, she gets swept up - believing that they can escape and Enki can survive. Of course, Enki knows all along that he can’t. The city needs his death and anyway his ultimate plan to change Palamares Três requires his death. Setting June up as an eventual ‘trier’ makes he character serve as a criticism of society’s tendency to talk around a project and conclude that it is impossible before anything has even been done started. I know I’ve looked at projects and thought that they were too big for me to accomplish as an individual, or too difficult to do ‘properly’ without certain resources. And I think this attitude could use deconstructing. I’m a big fan of Clare’s advice that 'done is better than perfect' and I try to keep it in mind. I’m inspired when I see people talk about projects that once seemed impossible but which they’ve managed to get done after a lot of work:

'And we did it. We talked about something we thought was wrong, something we thought should be fixed and we did it. We brought a book back from the dead. My friend Katrina and I....well, it's a small thing and it won't bring peace to the world or cure dreadful diseases or stop climate change or convince Congress to grow up (please!) but still we did something. And I think that is a pretty big deal when you think about it. I think it's something to be proud of.'- ( Colleen Mondor talking at Chasing Ray about becoming a small publisher)


There is another side to ‘just trying’, which the book doesn’t explore. The George Clooney school of political effort espouses that trying without achieving is always enough. This is the kind of effort that leaves people feeling their badly conceived attempt at action means they get to shout all their critics down as ‘haters’. It’s the kind of political action that Good Intentions are Not Enough would be quick to call out because it’s often as damaging as not trying (for example, clothing companies ‘try’ to help people in developing countries by donating textiles and shoes which causes problems for the countries’ local markets).

June’s doomed attempt to ‘do something’ is admirable because it is the last desperate action available to her. Even with her privileged status as a high tier citizen, she can’t save Enki’s life any other way. In the same way, the actions of the Quangels from "Alone in Berlin" are admirable despite their ineffective nature. The Quangels have no other way to protest the Nazi regime which killed their son, so they start dropping postcards around Berlin calling out the fascist regime. No one reads their cards, they bring about no change, and the Quangels are eventually caught but they feel heroic because they make the only, ineffective stand they can against a wrong system. They avoid collaboration through activity. June and the Quangel’s actions are different than those of celebrities who claim to be ‘doing something’ but whose actions are proven ineffective because they do not take a perverse pride in their ineffective actions. They don’t let bluster about how they’ve 'taken action' blot out the tragedy of what they have failed to achieve. Both may say they are glad to have stood against the system whether it worked or not, but I can’t imagine either using their ineffective action as a shaming rod to prod other people with. Their cry would never be ’At least we’re doing something’, which smacks of the emphasis being put on the need for humans to do to keep themselves occupied until death, instead of a genuine need for the things these people do. Instead it is 'We have to try', which places the emphasis on the urgent necessity for something to occur; the need to try because they are driven to try, urged on by circumstances. It’s all a matter of emphasis and context which is slippery but important too.

Art’s ability to save the world isn’t totally discarded by the end of the novel, even though it can’t save Enki. June may not save Enki through her art, but Enki saves his society through his. Ironically, it will be a mixture of established power and subversion of this power that allows Palamares Três to change. Enki uses his body as the ultimate act of death performance art – naming June as future Queen, hoping she will end the tradition of Summer Princes and restore equality to the people. And it’s his whole performance, his entire life lived as art and the artistic revolution he has undertaken, that has allowed him to reach a status where this final act of performance is incontrovertible. June takes control and deposes the current machinating Queen because the people support their prince’s death wish. Palmares society isn’t perfectly equal by the end of the novel, but the reader must trust that June’s time with Enki will have galvanised her to change the city and the world. It’s a little bit fairy-tale, although in a dark way which cuts some of the sweet improbability, and the ending feels rushed but art has definitely saved the world.

And so, I think, we come back around to Gottleib’s thoughts about whether art can save the world. It certainly can in the world of "The Summer Prince" but there’s no denying that art has to have action behind it in this story too. June and Enki do little just by putting art on paper or on a wall. It’s the actions of the creators (June shouting that the cables on a transport pod are unsafe; Enki’s final death act; the pair of them releasing the taped conversation of political machinations) which back up the ideals of the art they create which bring about change. Melvyn Bragg once wrote a book called Twelve Books That Changed the World". All but one of the books listed are non-fiction, books designed to push factual knowledge into the world, and many of them were books which required physical action to be taken after the writing was done in order for the world to change. I think art can change the world person by person, and it can save individual lives. I also think it has the potential to change the world in a wider way - the same wide way the non-fiction highlighted in Bragg’s book did. If there are people behind the books pushing forward on the issues they write about, and if widening the scope of stories allows those who are being represented to move into positions of power or where they earn greater material wealth, art can physically change the wider world. It’s a complicated business, but I think it can be done.

Can "The Summer Prince" change the world itself? Well, that’s debateable.

‘There’s a song.’



So, we come to the problematic part of "The Summer Prince" that I mentioned a couple of times above. Palamares Três, is a fictional Brazilian city which I think is meant to be located in Pernambuco. At least that’s where the real life city of Palmeres is, the naming of Palmeres (which, according to Wikipedia, was named '…by the Portuguese people who named it that due to the number of palm trees in the area where run-away slaves had created approximately 16 quilombos, led by Zumbi.') seems to have at least some association with the fictional history of Palamares Três and the characters are sometimes referred to as 'pernambucos'. I’m always excited to see SF stories that take place outside Western settings as these often dominate the genre and especially excited when authors use those settings to include chromatic characters. However, it’s important for me, as a white Western reader, to remember that just because these novels seem to broaden the diversity of the SF genre that doesn’t automatically mean that they offer SF stories which look accurate or well-executed to readers who actually come from these countries.

When I mentioned that I was reading "The Summer Prince" Ana, and Ana from The Book Smugglers, said they were wary about reading a piece of Brazilian/South American SF written by an author who wasn’t from South America. Ana worried that if The Summer Prince didn’t take significant care with Brazilian culture she would end up feeling similarly to the way that Japanese readers felt when they read Stormdancer. And, when flagging up "The Summer Prince" in a Smuggler’s Stash post, Ana mentioned that it seemed weird to name a Brazilian character June. She also did the textual equivalent of rolling her eyes at the blurb’s reference to 'a lethal samba'.

Now, I don’t know anything about modern day Brazil. I mean, I could name you some Brazilian sports people and the capital city but that’s about it. And I certainly can’t speak Portuguese. So, when I was powering through The Summer Prince, I was concerned that the way Portuguese was used in the novel might not be correct (after hearing about so many language mishaps in novels, I’m always aware that snippets of included language might not stack up for readers who speak that language). However, without these two ladies to signpost me I wouldn’t have been aware that anything else in this novel could have been a cause for concern for Brazilian readers. Once I understood and really thought about these potential problems, I wanted to make sure to listen and take on-board Brazilian opinions about the book. I did a little internet digging and came up with some interesting results. I put some of the character names into Google to see if they were really Brazilian names, because Ana’s concerns about the use of the name June flagged that naming conventions might be a problem in this novel. Bebel seems to be a Brazilian name, one related to Joao Gilberto Prado Pereira de Oliveira who also features in The Summer Prince (she was the composer’s daughter in real life). Gil didn’t turn up anywhere but I suppose could be short for Gilberto. Enki, however is the name of an ancient Sumerian god; Sumer is now modern day Iraq so it seemed a little odd to name a Brazilian character, who is sort of worshipped like a god, after a Sumerian deity. I also looked again at the way the novel explains June’s English name (because it does at least textually recognise that an English name may seem a little strange in a novel about futuristic Brazil):

'I’m called June because I was born on the first day of June, though that’s not much of an explanation since I’m called June, not Junia or something. English names aren’t unheard of. There are still some English families in Palamares Três, ones who came here during the great migration after the plague and the bombs and the cold, gray fall out (we just ended up with something like seasons, but the poor North Americans! I know there are still people who live in New York but I’d die if I had to wear thermal underwear every day.)
So the real reason is my mamae. Mother.'


I considered whether this explanation, or any connection June’s English name had to other themes in the novel, was strong enough to carry the author’s decision to give a South American girl an English name instead of a more common Brazilian name. In an SF culture where Brazilian characters are uncommon and the author is free to choose her character’s names I’m 90% sure that the explanation is a weak justification.

I also found these comments from Brazilian readers on Scott Westerfeld’s signal boosting post for the novel:

'But I couldn’t really enjoy it. All the portuguese words made me cringe because they were not used in a normal or even acceptable way. Or are plain wrong, like the plural of our currency (reais and not reals).

The mentions to the Brazilian culture were also a little off and, being it MY culture, prevented me from truly enjoying the book. It has its high points, like being a society were sex and love are free, but it got to a point that every time I read a “mamãe” I had to take a break.' – Lais


'I wrote about it on my blog, but I agree what Lais said. The book’s misuse of my culture and language was distracting to the point where I couldn’t enjoy the plot and the history. All her characters had the vocabulary of five year olds, the names were a lot of times completely of, she reinforces the stereotype that samba is the only type of music we have, she changes dates and habits for no reason whatsoever. It makes me a little worried to think that some people might think that that is an accurate representation of Brazil (as I’ve seen reviews saying that it was “recognizable Brazilian”), because it isn’t.' – Erika.


And then a later comment seemed to speak to Ana’s concern that "The Summer Prince" might use a culture foreign to its author in the same way that Stormdancer. did:

'My problem isn’t with the future part. Is that she doesn’t know enough about the country (or the region) to know what to put in the future and how to work it in a believable way. A Brazilian author would know what part of us are strong enough to remain and they would know how to change stuff that we have today to something else without making it too weird. The fact that she couldn’t even get the most basic vocabulary right and that whatever that remained were in the most part stereotypes that aren’t even true today makes it a problem.

But like I said, other than that the book IS pretty cool. Read it and enjoy it! Just please keep in mind there is nothing Brazilian about it. Just cross out any reference to Brazil and Bahia, and pretend it’s somewhere else in the world.' – Lais


Inaccurate research about a non-Western country doesn’t exactly say 'world changing' to me.

I’d really like to find out more about whether "The Summer Prince" incorporates Brazilian culture into its future world in a weird way. Specifically, if anyone wants to talk about how it uses samba music and projects it into future culture I would love to listen. In The Summer Prince samba is called ‘classical music’ and I would really like to know if this works – if old samba music would be called ‘classical’ because it fits into a similar space as the classical standards of other cultures, or if classical music in Brazil is the old European standards, or another kind of music entirely, and older samba music is titled somehow differently? The book also seems to advance samba as the exclusive musical tradition found in Brazil in the future. I can’t imagine samba is the only music in Brazil, it’d be like saying Britain only produces Brit-pop (really, we have had other bands since Oasis and Blur). A concentration on one particular form of music could be used for an artistic purpose, an exploration of samba culture for example, but it sits oddly in a book so interested in talking about so many diverse art forms. And it feels particularly strange in a book set in the future to be honest. Art evolves just like technology and we might expect Palmares Três’ culture to have developed some different kinds of music just as it had developed its own technology. Sure its isolated state, cut off from free trade with other areas by its government, would keep outside cultures from its musical scene but internal musicians would surely have developed interesting variations rather than just different kinds of samba music.

Ana’s review has this, among many other things, to say about the way the futuristic city sets up Brazilian culture:

'And you know, Brazil is a place of huge cultural diversity. This is also true within each state. So it bugs me that in Palmares Tres everybody seems to share the same religion (a syncretism of Catholicism and Candomble) and to universally love and dance Samba to the point of obsession. And yes: those religions, samba, capoeira are all part of our cultural make-up but those are also the only parts that most foreigners seem to know and care about so to see that reinforced and repeated ad nauseam is just off-putting. Like, for example the protagonist’s father who is a musician and who loves 20th century music and who visits the ruins of what once was Rio de Janeiro’s Ipanema beach so that he could imagine where Tom Jobin saw the girl from Ipanema *rolls eyes to infinity*. (I don’t know a single Brazilian who can actually stomach that freaking song).'


"The Summer Prince" is definitely part of the movement to shape SF into a diverse genre space. It’s main and secondary characters span the chromatic scale. It includes characters from two different countries, of two different races. The two main male characters are bisexual, and in a loving relationship with each other (although this is yet another book where a romantic relationship between two men is ended by death) and they’re not the only characters in caring, same sex relationships – June’s mother fell in love with a woman and married her after June’s father’s death. Same sex relationships, bi-sexual characters and polyamarous relationships are so common that no one blinks an eye. And, unlike lots of other SF these relationships aren’t just 'present in society'. The main characters are involved in a loosely polyamarous relationship which hinges on Enki - no, Enki, Gil and June’s relationship is not part of a love triangle, as the cover blurb disastrously implies. Although it takes a long while for June and Enki to become physical, and June does experience pangs when Gil is first chosen to be Enki’s consort, this is not a story of jealousy among friends. Both Gil and June are supportive of the other’s feelings. And their friendship, which has at times been added to by a sexual partnership, is one of the highlights of the book.

Johnson also deconstructs the trope of warring girls. At the beginning of the book, June’s female classmate Bebel is her nemesis because she is just that little bit smarter and better than June. June assumes when Bebel talks to her she is slyly taunting her, or scoring points, but as the book goes on June is startled to realise that Bebel views her as something like a best rival. Once June understands that, the girls form a friendship based around artistic interests and healthy competition. Women can be competitive without hating each other. That shouldn’t be a revolutionary statement to find in a book but it is.

What else? Well the world is controlled by a matriarchal society (you know how I love those). The novel acknowledges class differences and classism, female sexuality (although the setting for June’s masturbation scene was a little odd – not sure I’d be doing it out in the open like that). There’s a dead father to balance out a dead mother character. And technology is compared to an art form (hearts). The novel’s ideas about revolution are guaranteed to be rousing. And then there are the engaging characters – Enki, a big unstable balls of fire, knives and sunlight whose energy reminded me a little of Nahadoth from N. K. Jemisin’s "The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms"; Gil who is lovely and I think gets short changed by the other character’s assessment of him sometimes, and June who is just so real in her imperfections and dreams. The novel critiques society’s fame obsession. It’s a big bundle of great in different many ways, and a book that swept me up in its writing, style and feels. It’s just a terrible shame that this novel seems like it may be marred significantly by its approach to creating a futuristic Brazil and presenting Brazilian culture.

'There’s always a song'



‘I have gray hair and love and art haven’t saved us yet. And maybe sometimes we just have to scream, even if we’re screaming at the wall.’(Daphne Gottlieb interviewed at The Rumpus)


The Summer Prince doesn’t propose a workable way for us to save the world with art. Nor, though it tries, does it totally, successfully work at expanding the SF worlds represented in Western media. It’s not going to be a book that many can feel comfortable while reading and that is a great shame for those readers who I’m sure would like great SF set in a country they love/ see a story where men who love each other aren’t torn apart by death. It presents a world where a two boys and a girl can love each other, where they can try to save the world, and there something great in that. I just wish this were a book that could be recommended all around, instead of another work to come with caveats.

I wrote this post for Aarti's A More Diverse Universe event

Other Reviews

The Book Smugglers
Foz Meadows
The Intergalactic Academy
Black Girl Nerds

Date: 2013-11-17 07:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] necromancyneverpays.wordpress.com
Wow. Any book that can generate that much discussion goes on my list.

Date: 2013-11-17 07:58 pm (UTC)
nymeth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nymeth
Just wanted to say I think you did a fabulous job with this review - you highlighted both the things that are exciting about the story and the things that are saddening in a really balanced way. It's such a shame, like you said - there's SO much that makes it sound like a perfect book for me, but I wouldn't be able to not see the problems and the frustration would probably overwhelm everything else. And just to be clear and avoid falling intro any appropriative traps, as frustrating as I think reading it would be for me, I'm totally aware that my own feelings of connection and protectiveness towards my partner's culture pale in comparison to what I imagine reading it must be like to actual Brazilian readers. (I think I get a good glimpse if I think of Speaker for the Dead.)

Also, I'm really grateful for reviews like yours and Ana's, because between Publisher Weekly's "recognizably Brazilian setting" comment and some other commentary I read, I felt like this novel was being embraced as the end-all and be-all of progressive and diverse SFF in ways that made me really uncomfortable. Obviously I don't hold lack of knowledge against anyone who doesn't speak Portuguese or lacks the cultural and historical context you need to unpack the problems (with a different setting that could easily have been me), but it's so great to read posts by people who either know because it's their country and history, like Ana and all the commenters you cited, or listened and were thoughtful and did a lot of research, like you.

So yeah, not to discount all the ways in which The Summer Prince takes significant steps forward (which sound so awesome and I wish weren't barred from me), but there are still people who will, to borrow Ann Leckie's analogy, feel punched in the face by this book, and that's a great shame.

Date: 2013-11-17 08:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] aartichapati.com
Oh, I LOVE this review. Thank you so much! One of the A More Diverse Universe participants last year really didn't want to post a negative review of the book she read because she thought it wasn't in spirit of the blog tour, but it IS. It's not so much about going out to read books by people of different backgrounds and loving all of them, it's going out and reading books by people of different backgrounds in order to better inform yourself and add to the conversation. And, as we can see from your post above, people from different backgrounds are just as likely to fall into the patterns of stereotyping or mono-culturing and all the rest. But it's only by getting more and more of these voices out there that we can begin to construct our own points of view and paint our own pictures of the world.

I don't think I was at all eloquent in saying what I mean above, but basically - I am glad that we can review a book by someone who is different from us without walking on eggshells, and secure that when we do so, we are not putting every author of that background into one bucket. So thank you very much for this. It's wonderful.

Date: 2013-11-17 09:24 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I wouldn't say Brazil is a non-western culture. In terms of values, beliefs and costumes, Brazilian society is actually very similar to southern Europe - Portuguese and Italian influence is particularly strong. Even the followers of African-Brazilian religions (0.3% of the total population) are very much embedded in a wider, European-based culture in most other aspects of their lives. Native influences in day-to-day life are even smaller. I see this as evidence of how efficient European methods of colonization were. For example, native languages were by and large wiped out (until the 18th century, a Tupi-based language called Língua Geral was widely spoken, but its use was then forbidden by the Portuguese crown). Nearly 100% of the population speaks Portuguese and only Portuguese as their native language.
 
High culture in Brazil is European through-and-through. Until the 1920s, literature was written in European Portuguese. There was also a huge influence of francophone writers and thinkers. With Modernism, authors endeavored to write like Brazilians actually spoke; classical composers like Heitor Villa-Lobos incorporated folk traditions in their music (much like, say, Béla Bartók in Hungary). But this didn't actually represent a clean break with Europe. The Brazilian elite has always been raised within the Western tradition, and it controls the media and all means of mass communication in the country.
 
When it comes to popular art, Brazil is very much a melting pot of different influences. There is a great variety of genres like choro, samba, baião, etc. And even within each genre, there isn't a monolithic tradition. In the case of samba, I think the closest point of comparison in the anglophone world would be American blues. Both first appeared in African-Brazilian and African-American communities, but they changed a lot over the decades. They were incorporated in mainstream society and played on the radio. Roda Viva, the song you posted above (which I really like, btw), IS samba, but it sounds very different from what we call samba de raiz ("root" samba) - not entirely unlike the rock'n'roll vs blues distinction. Also, that song was written by Chico Buarque, whose status as a songwriter is not unlike Dylan in America or Cohen in Canada.
 
So, to answer your question, it seems absurd to me that samba would be viewed as classical music in the future, unless you completely redefined what "classical music" meant. Would Bob Dylan ever be considered a classical composer? He does represent a more high brow type of popular culture, but I very much doubt he would ever be slotted in the "classical composer" category. That this would happen to folk and rock music as a whole is even more unlikely.

- Matheus

Date: 2013-11-18 10:11 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
These are very good points, all.

I have been thinking about the use of music and of Roda-Viva in particular in the book since I read it and I am still mostly unsure about it all.

Like for example the use of Roda-Viva in the context of the story - because you know, Roda-Viva is a song from a play , a play that was so important at that moment in time (1968) in the context of the militant movement against the Military Government. 1968 is an important year in the history of Brazil, and the play itself was censored, the actors were attacked so that play as well as what it means in that particular political context needs to be taken into consideration. Roda-Viva-the-song was written for that play and Chico Buarque and MPB4 sang it at the Popular Music Festival which were such an important part of the cultural and political make up of the time. All of this, I think, needs to be put in context and thought about also in terms of how Chico Buarque and MPB4 were from Rio de Janeiro and that both the play and the festival were enacted in the Southern of Brazil (Sao Paulo, Rio, and the Southern States) all as part of a cultural elite (white, middle to high class). So I don't really know if the author knew all of that when using the song and the feeling I had was that the characters felt it was a cool song to sing and dance to(!!) in a way that stripped this political, social, cultural context from it? For reals, I listen to that song and I cry every.single.time because I know what it means and it has such a powerful meaning but I don't think this was captured in the novel at all?

Ana - Book Smugglers

Date: 2013-11-18 02:51 pm (UTC)
lab: (evil seers)
From: [personal profile] lab
This is a fantastic review. Thank you for untangling some of the threads in this book that I found incredibly frustrating and for pointing out its successes and failings so well. (Word on everything you said on the novel's Treatment of Brazil and thank you for pointing me in the direction of more discussion thereof - what I found most jarring was that given the novelists' ability to engage with a the complex relationships of power and oppression, sexuality and relationships is that her vision of a future Brazil was very flat, stereotpyical, at times cringe-worthy and just not very inspired. There's art! And samba! And everybody is very passionate! Yey.)*

*) And then the roda viva reference out of nowhere. I ... don't really feel competent in discussing this and offering talking points, its usage just felt really odd to me, given the its political/historical context.

Idk *Hands* I wanted to enjoy this book so much, but it did frustrate me to no end.

Date: 2013-11-23 05:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] theliteraryomnivore.wordpress.com
What a marvelous review. The dialogue around this book is incredibly thoughtful and thought-provoking.

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