spindizzy: Taiga staring over her newspaper (*reads suspiciously*)
[personal profile] spindizzy posting in [community profile] ladybusiness
I think this is the first time that I've ever noticed how odd my reading tastes look when I lay them out properly. Feminist criticism from the 80s next to gory horror manga next to historical romance next to dystopian scifi next to... We contain multitudes is what I'm saying, I think.

  1. The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master's House by Audre Lorde [Jump]

  2. Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Volumes 1-14 by Eiji Otsuka and Housui Yamazaki [Jump]

  3. An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole [Jump]

  4. No. 6 Volumes 1-9 by Atsuko Asano and Hinoki Kino [Jump]

  5. All Systems Red by Martha Wells [Jump]

  6. Whole Latte Love by Pike Martell [Jump]

  7. Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time by K. M. Szpara [Jump]

  8. The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang [Jump]

  9. Monstress Volume 3 by Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takada [Jump]

Cover of The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House Cover of Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Volume 1 Cover of Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Volume 2

1. The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master's House by Audre Lorde [Top]
Penguin have started printing tiny pocket-sized "Modern Classics" for like a quid again, and when I saw that they had Audre Lorde, I pounced. The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House is a selection of essays from Audre Lorde, a Black lesbian, poet, writer, teacher, and activist. It doesn't contextualise her work, which seems a little strange for an essay collection, but as an opportunity to just dive straight in it does work. Especially because it's such a tiny collection – it's maybe fifty pages, and contains "Poetry is Not a Luxury", "Uses of the Erotic", the titular "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master's House", "Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism", and "Learning From the 1960s" – so it's got a decent range of topics.

I think the essays were really well chosen, because most of them are still depressingly relevant. “The Master’s Tools” and “Uses of Anger” both cover intersectional feminism (although it doesn’t call it that) – the way that even conferences that should be centring marginalised speakers only actually book those speakers at the eleventh hours, and assigns both (because you can only have two!) to the same panel? Sure sounds familiar from tales of the convention circuit. Especially with the calling out of “Why won’t you educate me?” and “Why won’t you find me WoC to ask to be speakers?” and “I can’t hear you if you’re angry,” as derailing tactics, and the way that white feminism (although she doesn’t call it that) frequently doesn’t account for – or even acknowledge – the experiences of women who are marginalised in other ways, making their entire field of scholarship poorer. The point that she raised about white women not acknowledging the poorer women, especially WoC, who mind their children and clean their homes while the white women attend conferences on feminism, feels a lot like discussions surrounding the Women’s March. “Learning from the 1960s” and its point that revolution is a constant process? Exactly a lesson that people have been trying to hammer home for the latest generation since at least Trump’s initial run as President. You see what I mean about still relevant?

As for the writing itself, Audre Lorde’s words are incisive and beautiful and in the case of “Poetry is Not a Luxury” and “Uses of the Erotic”, lyrical and weird. It’s a collection that I read s l o w l y to make sure that I took it all in, and to revel in her imagery. I love her turns of phrase, and I really want to try her poetry now.

I really liked The Master’s Tool Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House, and I think it’s a pretty good entry point to Audre Lorde’s essays – I’m not an expert though, so I will happily defer to people who’ve read more of her work than I have!

[This review is based off an ARC from Netgalley. Caution warnings: discussion of racism]

2. Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Volumes 1-12 by Eiji Otsuka and Housui Yamazaki [Top]
Another one that got too long for general consumption: Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service! It’s an anthology horror/mystery series (I know right, you’re shocked), following a bunch of shiny new graduates as they use their Particular Sets of Skills (including hacking, embalming, dowsing, either channelling aliens through a handpuppet OR ventriloquism, and getting the dead to talk back) to get the best job they can: delivering corpses to where they want to go.

It’s a weird series that makes me happy considering how gory and horrifying it can be. It swings between humour and horror pretty well, and manages to fit in a lot of social commentary in with the zombies and karmic retribution. It’s a little uneven, because the stories range from silly to insightful and there are some stories where I’m sometimes left hissing “You’re tormenting the wrong person!” at the book, but for the most part, they’re satisfying mysteries with excellent art!

[Caution warnings: suicide, murder, body horror, gore, abuse (sexual and physical), incest, infanticide, kidnapping, mentions of attempted rape]

Cover of An Extraordinary Union Cover of No. 6 Volume 1 Cover of No. 6 Volume 2

3. An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole [Top]
An Extraordinary Union is a romance between Union spies in the American Civil War, one a Black woman with an eidetic memory posing as a slave, one a white man posing as a Confederate soldier. Historical romance with spies! I’m so here for this!

I’m especially here for the way that Alyssa Cole writes her historical romance – as you can probably guess from when it’s set, it is explicitly political, taking on the racism of the Confederates, yes, but also the racism and sexism in the Union, where Elle is considered something of a curiosity instead of the resourceful, knowledgeable spy that she should be! And it’s so tense; Elle is a free woman posing as a slave, and her awareness of the vulnerability she has in that role is horrifying. Especially because Malcolm’s whiteness and privilege means that he gets to be blissfully unaware of it until Elle makes him realise. (The conversation they have about anger is so good.) That slow building of trust is so good and so emotional, especially because Malcolm keeps trying to do better so that he’s worthy of it.

I can’t comment on the historical accuracy of An Extraordinary Union, because anything after about 63AD is outside of my wheelhouse, but I do love that the setting is woven through everything – it’s not just background, or a reason to keep the protagonists apart; it’s an integral part of the story, affecting everything from the character’s motivations to their reactions. Which is as it should be, obviously, but having read a fair amount of historical romances that could have been happening anywhere? I love how rooted it is in its setting. (And on the topic of things that should be obvious: the racist daughter of the house is pretty much a walking Chekhov’s gun and I’m not even mad about it, because quite frankly I’m just enjoying a story where the racist white lady doesn’t get to Learn An Important Lesson from Black people’s sufferings, and no excuses are made for her racism! THIS SHOULD BE THE NORM.)

I love the investigations and teamwork that goes on in An Extraordinary Union, and the emotional beats were perfect – Elle’s frustration, especially! And the ending was brilliant – from Elle’s prioritising to her friends’ plans (hands up if you also internally shrieked when you realised what was going on), to the way that even though the story can’t end with the traditional “and now they’re married” ending because of when it’s set, it still has hope. It’s so good!

Basically, An Extraordinary Union is political and angry and wonderful and I have the sequel waiting for me on my ereader, so, uh, excuse me while I get on that.

[Caution warnings: HELLA RACISM, confederacy, sexual threat]

4. No. 6 Volumes 1-9 by Atsuko Asano and Hinoki Kino [Top]
Okay, my review of No. 6 got a little longer and more spoilery than I anticipated, so here is the short version: No. 6 reads like a lot of the generic dystopian YA novels I read around 2012-2015, where the mostly kind and sheltered protagonist discovers that his utopian city is actually a dystopia and a boy he once rescued has grown up to be a hot nihilist who’ll do Whatever It Takes to bring down the city, only it’s queer! (I’m still stunned that I didn’t know this before I picked it up, I hardly ever stumble across queer fiction in the wild!) EXCEPT that the entire plot hinges on evil parasitic bees. Yes, really.

It’s mostly interesting – it has a slow start and some truly incomprehensible storytelling choices (like, “but WHY is your entire facility built on top of a giant inefficient death trap?” and “why do the female characters consistently get the short end of the stick?” and “seriously there are MULTIPLE MASSACRES going on here involving MULTIPLE GIANT MACHINES OF MURDER, how are people not noticing?”) but for the most part I enjoyed it! It has a level of ridiculous drama and character competence that appeals to me, along with the murderous loyalty trope that hooks me harder than I like. So as much as I might question the narrative choices, I liked it! I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, but as a messy dystopian narrative with EVIL BEES, it works!

[Caution warnings: torture, murder, at least two massacres, cruel and unusual death traps]

Cover of All Systems Red Cover of Whole Latte Love

5. All Systems Red by Martha Wells [Top]
All Systems Red is a novella by Martha Wells about Murderbot, a robot that has overridden its programming and just wants to watch tv and not have to interact with people (#relatable), and instead is on a surveying mission protecting a tiny team from not very much at all. ... At least until the giant worm attacks.

I know, I know, I'm behind on everything again. You've all be telling me that Murderbot is amazing for probably an ENTIRE YEAR and I'm only just getting to it now! But it was definitely worth the wait, because I loved it! It’s just going to be tricky to review, because literally my only notes are "You ruined a perfectly good robot is what you did. Look at it. It's got anxiety."

(Murderbot's anxiety is depicted SO WELL, for the record; its panic and burning desire to not be looked at or interacted with, and uncertainty in how to react to things all felt familiar to me, An Anxious Bean! [personal profile] renay talks about it better here, and about the importance of Murderbot's media consumption!)

Murderbot's determination to protect its clients and the action scenes that follow were all great – the reveals of what was happening and why were exciting, and Murderbot's solutions were suitably dramatic! (I was not expecting Murderbot to have so much flesh, so that made all of the action scenes so much worse.) I also liked the way that Martha Wells showed the humans around Murderbot as decent people, but still participating in multiple terrible systems, some of which they didn't even seem to realise were bad! I'm interested in seeing how those threads are resolved in later novellas, especially considering how open-ended and detached the ending was!

But yes, I loved Murderbot and All Systems Red, and I desperately need to get around to the sequels!

6. Whole Latte Love by Pike Martell [Top]
I’m going to do a full review on The Lesbrary soon, but I’m going to have to reread it first because so much of this book has fallen out of my brain! Whole Latte Love is a queer coffee shop romance between a woman who has just left a convent to figure her life out, and the coffee-shop owner who was her childhood best friend. From what I remember, it has complicated family relationships and realistic problems (like trying to keep a business afloat and choosing between loyalty to a friend and a job that actually pays, and trying to reconcile faith and sexuality), which are all things that I like, but parts of it felt bitty, as though the seams hadn’t been completely sewn in. I remember enjoying it, but as it apparently didn’t stick in my brain that much, maybe wait until I reread it for a proper opinion!

[Connection disclaimer: the author and I have been mutuals on twitter for about a hundred years]

Cover of Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time Cover of The Prince and the Dressmaker Cover of Monstress Volume 3

7. Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time by K. M. Szpara [Top]
I don’t know if anyone remembers the discussion going around a while ago about how no one gets to declare a genre dead until every minority has had a chance to claim it and do new and interesting things with it, but that’s what I was thinking about when I first read Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time. No, we’re not done with “an artist is transformed into a vampire by an attractive man” as a plotline, because trans people aren’t done with it yet.

The world building is excellent — the multiple ways that the protagonist's existence as a trans dude specifically intersects with his new existence as a vampire! From the societal level – vampirism has medical warnings for everyone except trans people, who only get the advice of “don’t,” which sure sounds like a swipe at both the medical field and genre fiction! – to the personal – such as the realisation that he could very well live to see new and different ways for people to be trans and not actually be able to take part in any of them. The laws around vampirism! The details of his transformation! Which are gross and visceral and sometimes horrifying, but completely appropriate for the story being told, just not details I’ve seen considered in vampire fiction before.

(And I like that the characters get to be messy and complicated and make bad decisions all over the place, because hey, look, queer characters get to be arses in the face of stress too!)

If you want a different take on vampiric transformation, this is a pretty good starting point, because it’s goes hard on the narrative of transformation and changes that you choose.

[Caution warnings: transphobia, dysphoria]

8. The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang [Top]
I HAVE WAITED FOR THIS BOOK FOR SO LONG. I saw the first announcements in like 2017 and it’s finally here! Frances is a dressmaker who gets fired for giving a client exactly what she asks for! She’s recruited to be the personal dressmaker of Prince Sebastian, who wants to live his best life as a secretive fashion icon in stellar dresses! Together, they help Sebastian achieve his dream – until they realise that their dreams can't both come true.

It’s excellent. The art is beautiful – it’s a little cartoony and very colourful, and the background details and the beautiful dresses that the story is built around are fantastic! I love the way that Frances and Sebastian’s friendship builds and becomes love! I was utterly betrayed when Frances’ desire to be known for her work (especially to her hero!) clashed with Sebastian’s desire for her to remain his secret! (Seriously, full on whispering “OH NOOOOOOOOO” at the book levels of fretting about this development, I was not happy.) Like, I could tell exactly where the storyline with Sebastian's future brother-in-law was going to go from the minute he showed up (forced outing, great), but the fact that the book overall doesn't end in misery made up for it for me. (The ending made me do a bit of a double-take, but it worked with the story? And I love the way that it incorporated the department store into the resolution!)

Also, Sebastian reads as genderqueer to me from the way that he talks about himself? I am interested in hearing other people’s interpretations though! Please come hang out in the comments and talk to me about it.

BASICALLY, it was worth the wait and I'm glad that I finally got to read it!

[Caution warning: forced outing.]

9. Monstress Volume 3 by Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takada [Top]
I think I’ve hit the point in Monstress where I want to talk about it in depth and pick apart all of these beautiful details and the terrible things that are happening to all of my favourite characters, but I still want to keep it spoiler-free so that people who aren’t reading it in floppies can still feel free to shriek endlessly with me. I think the most that I can say without spoilers is that I am deathly afraid for Kippa, shrieked a little about the Nekomancer, and I am so enjoying both Mika’s tentative alliances, the way these powers are not as under control as anyone hoped, the political nonsense that is going and the new things we’re learning about her monster’s past. … Actually, the stuff we’re learning about Mika’s past is bad enough, because wow. Her mother was shaping her into a tool long before the war. Wow. And that’s without even touching on [the religious order]. I need to pick up the latest issues and cram them into my face so I can shriek endlessly., please feel free to join me in the comments.

[Caution warning: abuse, torture, mistreatment of refugees]

Currently Reading

  • Tokyo Tarareba Girls Volume 1 by Akiko Higashimura – I have literally no idea where this is going. I like the art, and it's nice to see a story about a bunch of women in their thirties being friends, but I'm maybe not the target audience for a story about women who want to find husbands?

  • Farthing by Jo Walton — I've started this, but I'm honestly not sure I can cope with three hundred pages of a world where the Nazis won.

  • Bloodline by Jordan L. Hawk — I started skimming the scenes with the Blatantly Evil Side Characters and found a fishman attack, so it's going a lot better now!

Reading Goals

Reading goal: 217/180 (30 new this post – wtffffffffff) Prose: 111/90 (5 new this post, 60/111 short fiction) Nonfiction: 7/12 (1 new this post)
#getouttamydamnhouse: 25/50 (0 gone this post)
#unofficialqueerafbookclub: 71/50 (14 new this post; The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master's House, No. 6, Whole Latte Love, Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time, The Prince and the Dressmaker, Monstress Volume 3)
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