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Finished Yiddish Policeman’s Union. I am struck once again by the irresistible truth that an interesting text, even if not entirely successful, is infinitely better than an uninteresting one, even if completely successful.

Spoilers under the cut

It was maybe premature of me to criticize Chabon’s supposed “disinterest” in the rest of the world, considering the direction the plot winds up going. Still, I don’t feel like I necessarily have egg on my face. I believe that there would be a faction of Sitka Jews who want to reclaim Jerusalem through violence. I even believe that there might be a subset of American Evangelicals who might want to support them… but by failing to frontload the novel with the existence of these Zionist Evangelicals, and by hanging the lampshade on the fact that the Sitka Zionists wouldn’t be able to do it without US aid, I think Chabon oversteers into conspiracy. The secret dominance of Evangelical ideology in American politics is something I am both interested in and skeptical of. Renegade Cut’s doc on Left Behind and the rise of Evangelical politics is fascinating and unnerving, but not entirely convincing. It may be the Marxist in me talking, but I don’t believe (or am not ready to believe) that the underpinning for this country’s most powerful conservative politicians is Evangelical Christianity–I believe, rather, that it’s greed and inertia. Sitka works as an alternate world because it operates on the same basic logic that drives our world: aggressive, violent Zionism as it is represented in the novel feels compelling because we can see our own form of Zionism every single day in the news. Chabon further hangs the lampshade–and again I think fails to compel me as a credulous reader–by waving away the notion that the US might want to install a Zionist government in Israel for political or economic reasons. Nope! It’s all millenarianism, all the time.

Which reads as kind of weak to me because I think it falls apart under the eye of the novel’s most compelling theme: ambition vs practicality, ethically and politically. Jews in Sitka are politically hungry; they’re politically starved. That’s how the left tendencies were turned on each other by uncle Hertz and COINTELPRO, and why the Verbovers were able to grow to such a size, and why there’s seemingly-universal cheering in the streets of Sitka when the Dome of the Rock is bombed (nuked? that’s a weak spot in the plot that felt too-quickly glossed over). It feels like the world is ending–especially if you’re Jewish–so naturally ideology has never been more appealing.

But for Zionist Evangelicals–for white Americans–there’s nothing to indicate that the world is ending. Maybe I’m a cynic, but does anyone here really think that China was pret to receive Hong Kong 1997 from the UK with sincere visions of a worldwide dictatorship of the proletariat? Then why does such a large contingent of the US government–of the army, the state department, the CIA, and so on–in this novel seem to believe so bluntly and so whole-heartedly in the near Revelation, and the necessity of the Jewish people being in Jerusalem?

I still think that the book takes a flabby, decidedly white take on the issues of Indigenous sovereignty. Tlingit government is portrayed as just as craven and land-hungry as any other, and only a cop (which is a whole 'nother can of worms) can cut through the bullshit, man! No, naturally, YPU is more interested in questions of Jewishness–but given that the folly that underpins the climax is all about blood shed and little people killed in the service of lofty goals, it feels like a huge opportunity was missed to say, well, anything about Indigenous erasure and genocide.

Having Bina and Meyer come back together in the end feels trite. Having her do the whole western-tsundere “I still care about you dammit” thing misses an opportunity for what could have been a really interesting sub-narrative about how people fall out of love with each other. Not enough stories show us that it’s okay for a relationship to end–or rather to change into something less romantic, but potentially more emotionally and psychologically intimate.

Considering Chabon’s reputation for writing queer Jews in his other fiction, I was a little let down by the don’t-ask-don’t-tell handling of Mendel’s apparent gayness. There was a brief scene where I found myself asking–wait, is the Messiah trans? And I got really excited before I realized, no, this is just a kind of particularly British bit. Mendel’s queerness seems to be more in service of his general feeling that he’s unfit to be the Tzadik ha-Dor, rather than a root cause of it, which itself is never really explored.

I don’t know–I did find myself slightly let down by his handling of what is an admittedly exceptional premise for a detective novel: the Messiah is killed in a locked-room murder on the eve of a modern Diaspora.

Also–I had sort of hoped-against-hope that his whole James Elroy hard boiled schtick would peter out a little bit. Nope! God damn if Chabon’s not a good writer, though, regardless.

Currently in the middle of Vol. 1 of Capital by Karl Marx, but I’m going to take a slight break from it to read Lovecraft Country. Haven’t read too much on it but the premise seems interesting so we’ll see how it goes.

im on the metro train (badum tsh) with metro 2033 behind me and well into metro 2034. i watched a bunch of the waypoint 101 stuff on the first metro game, which is why i picked the first book up when i spotted it at my local half price books recently. at some point (probably because of the 101 and a subsequent steam sale) i picked up metro 2033 and metro: last light, but never played them, so im planning on playing the games after reading the books and comparing the storytelling. gotta make your own fun in irl apocalyptic times. and, oh boy. these books were published in the 00s, huh?

spoilers ahoy:

i mentioned to friends i was frustrated with that fact that, to my knowledge, there were no named female characters in metro 2033. so then another finger on the monkey’s paw curled, and a whole bunch appeared in metro 2034, but as shallow tropes i am continually galled by. homer’s 20-years-younger wife being despondent without him? i could maybe deal with if the relationship had more development-- i did really like homer’s musings about finding “love” at his age, re: passionate vs companionate relationships (though with what ive seen of glukhovsky’s idea of romance, i dont think he meant to explore that). but everything to do with sasha, pretty much… oh my god.

b r u h. i literally opened a new tab and googled the publication date. 2009! i don’t want to attribute this all to him being a russian writer, because i know no nation/culture is a monolith, so i feel i have to put this mostly on being a (presumably) cishet white dude writing post-apocalyptic fiction. i would guess based on their sudden appearance that he got a little flack for having no women to speak of in his first book, so now… this. i almost wish he hadn’t tried, he has BIG stephen king trying to write women energy. and this forced relationship with hunter, who’s basically a murderous sinkhole now? y’all, im struggling.

im going to finish the book but i dont know if i can recommend it. the first one is worth a look if only for the interesting world-building and some of its meditations on fate (which i know many readers find boring/pretentious, but i thought were endearing considering artyom’s a 20 yr old on an arguably magic quest, like. let the kid have some naive ruminations.), but i don’t know what im ultimately gonna take away from this one.

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Been re-reading old manga lately, running through Kojima/ Koike’s work. Good artwork, intensely exploitative in a very '70s kind of way, and deeply problematic (the sexual politics suck).

that artwork tho

Decided to pick up Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle after seeing it mentioned in this thread by @lemon and @satanicmessiah. Liked it!
For those not familiar, it’s the story of a man who creates a role-playing-by-mail game called Trace Italian, and the tragedies and small joys that ensue. The author tells the story in reverse chronological order which might cause some confusion, but the technique has become so common in storytelling that it seems almost natural to me, no problems.

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I just finished Sanderson’s Mistborn yesterday, which I was reading at my wife’s suggestion. I did not read fantasy novels much, and ended up really loving them. My wife happens to have the next two books in the series, so I can’t wait to read them:-)

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I enjoyed them when I read them last year. The Secret History was quite good as well from what I recall.

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I’ve ordered Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. Been wanting to read it for ages cause it’s a) queer and b) classical, and i’ve been spurred onwards by playing the absolute heck out of Hades the past few weeks.

Rn tho I’m reading Owen Jones’ This Land, a dissection of how the Left’s political project in the UK rose and fell over the past 5 years. It’s… punishing, but balanced & insightful & not utterly devoid of hope!

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I started reading Michael Moorcock’s Corum: The Coming Chaos trilogy and, maybe my brain is turning to mush, but it is kind of beautifully written? Giving me a lot of Gormenghast and Tolkien/Dunsany vibes… there is a really tender sort of melancholy and pleasant lyricism to the writing as a whole. I have simply enjoyed reading chunks of it every night.

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I’m currently reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt as my fiction and James Palmer’s The Bloody White Baron as my non.

I’ve only got about 30-40 pages into Robinson’s but the concept is really cool alternate history which basically posits: what would happen if the Black Death thoroughly wiped out Europe and prevented the rise of the West. The answer is apparently “also lots of death, colonialism and conflict.” It’s written in quite a weird way with Robinson speaking directly to the reader as each chapter ends but I’m enjoying it. I don’t know too much about the book but I’m assuming it will travel through the centuries and given I’m a sucker for alternate history I’m interested to see where it goes.

Palmer’s book meanwhile is a narrative history of the figure referenced in the title, Roman von Ungern-Sternberg, who was a minor noble in Russian Estonia that ended up leading a cavalry army from Mongolia against the Bolshevik government that he inspired through his own messianic interpretation of Buddhist mysticism and fanatical monarchism. The writing reminds me of China Mieville’s narrative telling of the October Revolution and I have a real appreciation after years of reading dry scholarship for my degree of a writer who makes the recounting of history genuinely engaging and exciting.

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Piranesi by Susanna Clarke.


A short, mystery box style novella with fantasy/supernatural elements. Enjoyed it quite a bit!

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I have a little literary curiosity I happened across today. I just got a readers copy of One Billion Years to the End of the World which is a short novella by the Strugatskys who I’ve been interested in since Roadside Picnic blew me away last year.

One particular passage inside struck me:

I was told that this road would take me to the ocean of death, and turned back halfway. Since then crooked, roundabout, godforsaken paths stretch out before me.

It turns out it’s a quotation from a Japanese poet called Yosano Akiko who has a bizarre and fascinating life story. She was a pioneering feminist and anti-war voice in turn-of the century Japan who was hugely controversial both for her portrayal of women as possessing sexual agency and her vehement opposition to the Russo-Japanese war. Her poem ‘Kimi shinitamo koto nakare’ or Brother Do Not Give Your Life inspired popular declamation by government figures and the stoning of her house.
However in her later life she seems to have radically reversed her pacifist views. She glorified the war against the Chinese in the 30s and supported war against the Allied forces in 1941, writing poems that seem in direct opposition to what she had written earlier: rather than the pointlessness of dying for the Emperor she now extolled the virtues of heroic sacrifice. Instead of criticising the bushido tradition she added her full-throated support to it. It’s difficult to say what caused this enormous alteration - she apparently went on a trip through Manchuria in 1928 though I’m not sure anything notable occurred there. Additionally it apparently would’ve been very difficult to have any news whatsoever of the war that wasn’t from propagandistic sources. Maybe she got old and caught up in the nationalistic tide. Maybe her pacifism was always limited. It’s difficult to say but I suppose it’s a reminder and warning against trying to simplify the complex intersections of politics and historical context into neat little heroes and villains.

I’ve done a little bit of digging but I can’t seem to find the poem the quotation hails from so I’m unsure whether it belongs to Akiko’s early or later work. It could almost be from both. Either a grim warning of the complexity and tragedy of living in a society that condemns you for refusing to die for a distant emperor, or a shaming, moralising scold, reprimanding the coward for turning away from death and thus perverting his destiny into crooked paths.

The Strugatskys employ the quotation more in a sense of a struggle for human dignity - in the face of an overwhelming supranormal force do we choose to back down, do we deny our own nature in order to live? And how do we live once we have chosen this?
It’s fascinating to me that in 1977 two Soviet writers would quote a poem that may very well have been in support of Japan’s WWII effort, so I wish I could know more about their decision to use it.

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My library copy of Harrow the Ninth finally came in, I have read about fifty pages and I am in love with how confused I am.

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Reading Brave New World. Grandparents just moved out of their house and had a bunch of “classics” lying about. Through the first few chapters I kept re-checking when it was written. Insanely prescient. The writing has aged, but somebody could do this same plot with the same “future” technology today and nobody would blink.

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Tried reading it to myself a few times and couldn’t get any further than a few chapters. Read it to my 10-year-old as a bedtime story and her enjoyment made it so I could finally enjoy it, too. I still can’t stand how the nostalgia buttons read like a bullet point list most of the time (Hey guys, you remember comic books and D&D, right?), but I didn’t let that be a deal breaker when my kiddo was more interested in hearing about the video games and virtual reality portions.

I’m reading through all of Stephen King’s published novels in release order (no Bachman’s I don’t truck with that edgelord shit), and I’ve just started The Stand.

Saying King is pretty good at what he does is probably the most basic opinion possible but holy shit, The Stand goes for the throat right off the bat. Reading each of these books has impressed upon me that, as problematic as he is, you don’t have the current horror - and even cinema - landscape we do today without King.

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I am now about halfway through Harrow the Ninth and I love it in just about every regard… except it has raised a question/issue I am having as a reader: how much fun should an author have at the potential expense of the reader? By this I mean, this book feels incredibly “online” in a way that can feel distracting and emersion breaking from the story. Maybe it’s my own fault for having an internet corroded mind and catching some of these but it also feels like I am supposed to find these little references, pause often in the middle of a tense scene, and think “hahaha I know tumblr too” or whatever. These moments are stylistic choices and I am not trying to suggest Muir can’t, or shouldn’t, have fun but God reciting the first lines of Poe’s Annabelle Lee, while a little odd fits with the character and this world as opposed to this:


This a description of the cool S. In the middle of a scene following a murder in which Harrow is unsure what she is seeing is real and it just feels so odd to throw a joke in here.

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I haven’t gotten this far in the book yet so I can’t interpret this in the same post-murder context at all (I’m listening to the audiobook) but I do think that Muir throws in some things like this that I read/hear as easter eggs. That said, at least in the first book, I interpreted them not as intended to be immersion breaking but as artifacts that have to be explained (or that are sometimes just left un-explained). Everything in the First House is on Earth, right? But a long forgotten and fallen Earth? So vestiges of that culture have to be internalized as foreign to the contemporary characters the way the S is described in that passage. So while I don’t disagree that it’s tonally a somewhat weird shift, I guess that’s how I get to peace with it.

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Ooh that’s an interesting theory… I hadn’t picked up on that in the first book given it much thought. I think my default position when reading sf/f is to assume it has no relation to our world or reality unless explicitly stated. Maybe that’s the wrong mindset to generally go in with.