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I've been sick for two full months and am halfway into a third. I'm finally pulling myself out of the pool of lack of productivity. \o/ The less said about my reading goals (heck, all my goals, from exercise to promised favors for friends to OTW work to sorting out socks with holes from my drawers) the better. Doreen's gone on a small vacation, but she'll be back soon.

(Also, I am bad at resting and not working which probably did not help me recover. DON'T BE ME.)

I'm still boggling over our recent addition as a Hugo finalist, too. I keep stopping to check the website, going "Is this real?" I guess it's hard for me to believe because I struggle constantly with the idea that any writing I do or any editorial influence I have is only passable (especially because I am a loudmouth critic who is still learning). And the Hugo is a small award, but it's very important to the people who give it their time, money, and energy, so I can't really sit and go, "Well, they're gonna figure out I'm faking eventually and I'm not that great." because that's insulting. My therapist and I have talked a lot about not robbing people of their feelings to force my own insecurities and anxieties on them. Let people have their opinions, Anxiety Brain! You aren't the boss of them!

So, to the people who nominated Lady Business, even if nothing I did influenced your decision (I mean, I do have great co-editors who are super rad)...

Thanks. :)

Recent Reading

My Love Story!! by Kazune Kawahara & Aruko — Well, [ profile] rozurashii took me to Uwajimaya and it was a revelation. They have a bookstore! And cool snacks (dried SQUID!)! And mochi ice cream (I loved it)! And so many types of ramen! I went three times at least. Anyway, in the bookstore she showed me this series and recced it and so when I got back from our trip I found it in our library (a pleasant surprise). I read the first volume and went, "Yes, this is cute!", picked up the second volume and proceeded to fall head over heels in love with all the characters and their relationships. It is adorable and tense in the best way because you know things are going to work out and the suspense comes from watching these kids navigate their lives and find the best way forward because they are genuinely kind people. You root for them to figure it out.

The whole premise is that Takeo likes these shallow girls who never like him back, but always want to hook up with his conventionally attractive best friend, Sunakawa. This doesn't make him resentful toward Suna (Suna never dates them when they reveal their feelings), which is nice and their friendship stays super solid with no jealousy or contempt. cover of My Love Story!! Volume 1 Then there's a situation where Takeo saves a girl, Yamato, from a harasser, and automatically assumes she's going to want to date Suna instead of him. It's a running gag the whole comic; Takeo saves people and Suna gets the credit and to be the face of all Takeo's heroics. They're like a superhero team. It's very cute and Takeo doesn't care about acknowledgement for anything—he's a good person.

It's awesome to watch Takeo, who has lived with girls constantly trailing after Suna, slowly realize how much he likes Yamato and how much she likes him in return. It could be painful watching him operate under the assumption she's trailing after them because she likes Suna, but it comes out pretty fast she's in it to attract him, they get on the same page quickly, and then it's multiple volumes of them being absolutely adorable with each other while navigating their super sweet feelings. And because they get together so quickly, the comic becomes about their friends and family life, and how they balance their relationship with their other friendships, and the way they fit themselves together as they grow up. I'm a big fan of non-stressful stories that center affection and friendship and kindness, and this manga absolutely delivers on every aspect.

Yamato is always making Takeo delicious snacks. Food is a hugely important aspect of this manga, especially in the way characters use it to show affection. Ugh, it's so cute.

Plus there's an awesome storyline about Takeo's mom that had me in tears. Ugh, I love this manga. I'm only through Volume 7, but feel totally confident in wholesale reccing this series because I don't doubt this writer/artist can absolutely nail the end given what I've seen so far.

The Vagrant by Peter Newman — I wrote about this book for B&N so if you want a general overview minus the spoilers and grumbling check that out. As per usual I had additional feelings.

Originally, I was excited about The Vagrant because it combined a dude walking across a wasteland with a baby. I'm a sucker for dudes and babies together. It's a weakness. cover of The Vagrant The cover made it look like your average oppressive, gritty fantasy adventure, but with a baby, I thought, maybe, maybe it would be different.

Unless the baby was food (slight potential), possessed (possible), or a sacrifice (probable), but I tried not to go there without evidence.

The Vagrant has no name, no voice, and travels with his tiny baby across Hellscape World where demonic forces have come along out of the Breach to ruin everyone's decade. They possessed humans or reanimated and cobbled together random parts of former humans and started an eight year campaign to take over everything. Also, there are DEFCON 3 levels of gore.

The Vagrant is traveling toward The Shining City to return a magical sword owned by one of the The Seven, Gamma, before she got carved up and used as a meat suit by the bad guys. She seemed fairly angelic compared to aforementioned evil invading the world but the angel/demon divide is never made super explicit. Only Gamma fought and died and turned into a gruesome demon costume; where the other members of The Seven are is a mystery (we do, eventually, find out).

Along the way the Vagrant adds to his retinue. First, he buys a goat to help feed the baby. The goat, who is very disgruntled most of the time, spends a good majority of the book attempting to get away from him and being a brilliant asshole. He then adds a soft-hearted dude called Harm. Harm opts to travel with them because they remind him of good things and seem better than the crapsack place he lives, squabbling for crumbs among desperate people and a weak rebellion. And finally, the Vagrant picks up one of the massive demonic monsters created by the leader of the evil forces, called the Hammer, who he manages to subdue with shiny objects. Harm then promptly adopts her. It's a family road trip story across a depressing and desolate world eaten up by grotesque evil! There are fights! Chase scenes! Suffering! Cute baby antics! Political maneuvering! Hiding dirty diapers in people's houses! Also the demonic forces are having their own civil war as the disparate pieces get addicted to that excellent drug, Personal Autonomy. Demons deserve the right to make their own choice, too!

100 pages into this book I was somewhere between "wtf is happening?" and "am I too dumb for omniscient narrators???". But something about the pivot when the Vagrant adds Harm to his team through Harm's quiet determination to not get left behind, I got hooked. Up until that point the only people who speak are the people the Vagrant comes into contact with and most of them are self-serving, jerks, or thieves. The ones that aren't mostly end up dead super quick.

But something about Harm made me pause and continue; the way he acted toward the baby, the way he touched the Vagrant and was touched in return, the way he spoke to him, the way the Vagrant immediately trusts him with the baby, and the way their affection continued to grow throughout the narrative. I'm so hungry for queer stories in my SF that of course I stuck with this book because of Harm. I'm super glad I did because I ended up pretty fond. It's a story of love and family wrapped up in a bleak package. You unwrap it and you're like, "oh, this is nice! There's optimism! I like this!" The Vagrant does his level best to stab, slice, and destroy injustice as he moves through the world. I'm so here for a hero who is simply a kind person trapped in an impossible odds situation; it's like the best bait and switch from the vibe this book has via its cover art. He's like a silent superhero who goes, "Well, that isn't right, let me fix it with this magical sword since I'm here, anyway!"

In fact, I found the sword that the Vagrant carries which has wings and an eye that opens to rain down judgment and pain (creepy), fascinating, because it often seems like he's arguing with it. The way the POV works in the book we don't get his complete inner thoughts, but sometimes when he's using the sword I get the feeling that Gamma, although her physical body is currently being used as a skin robe elsewhere, is still kicking around in a significant way. The magic of the sword isn't really explained thoroughly, but there's a sequel coming and I am pretty stoked.

All the bad guys call the sword The Malice and I love it. It's a sentient sword and it is so pissed that its anger means these demons can track it. This made fight scenes a lot more interesting, too.

But the end of this novel let me down when it came to the queerbaiting. Now we're in spoiler territory (although not for plot details), so look alive!

The narrative convinced me that the Vagrant and Harm care very deeply for each other, i.e. they are totally fucking at the end of this book. I had someone tell me while I was ranting about it in chat, that they assumed the Vagrant and Harm ended up together. The evidence of their partnership is right there in front of the reader but only subtextually. But because the narrative also gives the Vagrant an explicitly heterosexual backstory, to let the queer characters (bisexual for the Vagrant, but with Harm his past is unclear) exist as queer in the narrative you've also gotta make that explicit, too. Forcing queer readers to rely on assumptions and subtext is another form of erasure that I'm 100% over. It's showing all the ways they might be together, but never having any intention of paying that back to the reader in acknowledgement. This book gave me the Hetero Lifemate brush off and I'm salty about it. I am the lumbering, annoyed, sentient version of Aja's rant about this very issue a few years ago.

Friends have intimacy. But intimacy between romantic partners is different; this book felt like it wanted it both ways. Having "maybe queer characters" which queer readers would be able to easily see because we've been trained to read the subtext, but heterosexual readers could brush it off as friendship if they happened to be homophobic or heterosexist: problem solved! Two queer dudes of indeterminate race (I am assuming white? The narrative never specifies so of course I would, although I liked reading Harm as POC because the narrative called such attention to his eyes in some effective foreshadowing) is about as safe as you get these days! So what's the problem with addressing it? I'm tired of heterosexual readers getting to benefit like this. They have about a million other stories to read; is it going to kill writers who write mainstream SF and publishers who publish it to let queer characters be open and affectionate and intimate with their partners in ways that everyone can recognize instead of only people used to reading queer subtext?

The Vagrant walks over to the goat but Harm steps in the way. "Don't ignore me, I'm talking to you!" He reaches up, a hand cupping the Vagrant's cheek. "Look at me, please." When he turns the Vagrant's face toward his, there is no resistance.

Harm studies the defenceless expression and his hostility evaporates, burnt away by other feelings, complex.

They embrace, the Vagrant hesitant at first, then accepting. Snuggled between them, the baby exhales noisily, a sigh aspiring to be a tune.

There's so much sleight of hand happening here to give bigots the evidence to no-homo this relationship!!! Queer readers have to make assumptions. I'm so annoyed. LET QUEER CHARACTERS LIVE.

I'm disappointed about the Vagrant and Harm because by the end they checked all the boxes of full-on committed partners with a kid. But inevitably there's nothing explicit about it being romantic or sexual. Especially when we know the Vagrant probably isn't asexual because of his backstory. If a reader who hates queers in their SF and wouldn't dream of empathizing with them, this doesn't force those readers to come to terms with the sexuality of the characters which, up until that point, they perhaps liked and cared for. They can brush it off and disclaim it. Heterosexism thrives and queers get the subtext scraps again.

I really enjoyed this book, but this aspect bummed me out.

Anyway, The Vagrant is a nice subversion of blood, guts, and body parts and a nasty mean narrator who goes into the world to be nasty and mean. I mean, the oozing parts and skins made out of human corpses for giant demons are definitely there, but there's a lot of humanity traveling underneath the skeeve that comes out in bright pockets of kindness and hope. The level of compassion and empathy in this book is super high, the critique of survival at any cost is great, the care between the characters well done and often heartbreaking, the baby is adorable, and there are solid, non-toxic friendships at the core of the story.

Plus, I really love that goat.

Other reviews: A Fantastical Librarian, yours?


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