Book Lounge Launch of Green Lion by Henrietta Rose-Innes

Last night was the launch of Green Lion by Henrietta Rose-Innes, and I think it’s quite possible that I was there because of this gorgeous cover:

GL Full

I splurged on the first edition because it’s a stunning piece amidst the generic or boring covers that most books get, and because I’ve slowly been building a collection of favourite and beautiful books in hardcover. For me, the cover can be a major selling point, the reason that I’ll spend extra for the best possible edition instead of waiting for it to hit the bargain bins, opting for a cheaper eBook (if there is one) or borrowing it from the library.

Having bought a first edition, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to get it signed, so off I went to the Book Lounge, where some dedicated soul had reproduced the cover on the window:

Gl window display

I wasn’t just there to indulge my book fetish of course; I love hearing authors talk about their work, and Rose-Innes had a great discussion with Hedley Twidle, a lecturer in English Language and Literature at UCT.

GL Launch

You can read Twidle’s review of Green Lion over at Books LIVE. I loved the observation he made at the beginning of the conversation: he referred to Ivan Vladislavić’s quote on the cover, which says that the novel is “as full of life as the Ark”, and noted that the ark is, of course, full of the very last of all types of life.

That grim paradox seems perfect for Green Lion. It’s set in a future where many more wild animals and environments have been lost, and Table Mountain has been fenced off as a kind of ark where surviving species are preserved. Rhodes Memorial has become a research institute where attempts are being made to bring animals back from extinction, like the attempt to bring back the quagga. It’s the home of Sekhmet, the last living black-maned lioness, at least until she mauls someone and escapes. Con, a friend of the man who was mauled, travels up the mountain to track her down.

This was the inciting image, says Rose-Innes – a man travelling up a mountain, finding revelation, and coming back down. What she did then was fill in all the human impulses leading up to that. She described the story as wedge-shaped – it begins with all the chaos of human complexity, then narrows to focus on one moment of disaster and transcendence.

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It’s also a novel about Table Mountain and Cape Town, but she sought to subvert the usual images and approach it from a fresh perspective. The wilderness she depicts is hybrid and corrupt, abutted by human construction. Having destroyed so much, people are now fenced off from nature in an attempt to save it. Rose-Innes describes it as the poignant human impulse to stop death, but emphasises that that cause is fraught with contradiction. We seek to preserve animals not for their own sake but because of the emotional and symbolic meaning they hold for us. Animals are fetishized and idealised, symbolising what is beautiful, meaningful and lost, but these ideas are divorced from the reality of the animals themselves. We need to rethink our ideas of pristine nature, which often exists in isolation from nature. I’m guessing then, that this is how a man gets mauled in the beginning of the novel – because his idea of the lion is a fantasy far-removed from the reality of a dangerous carnivore.

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The term “green lion” comes from a similar sort of mysticism. In alchemy, Rose-Innes explained, green lion (possibly sulphuric acid) is a substance used in the creation of the philosopher’s stone – the ultimate goal of alchemy. The reference to this fruitless quest parallels the implausibility of bringing dead things back to life in the novel.

The novel is a bleak vision of loss, says Rose-Innes, and that makes me a little apprehensive about reading it, because environmental destruction and extinction are issues that I find deeply disturbing. At the same time though, I’m fascinated by the portrayal of our relationship with animals. Our use of animals as tourist attractions has always bothered me. I hate zoos. I’ve never been especially interested in game drives. I love animals, so I’m grateful that these things play a role in conservation, but most people aren’t interested in conservation for its own sake; they just want to protect the animals they like. So it’s always the beautiful or majestic endangered animals that are chosen to represent conservation projects, because no one would care about some dull brown bird or ugly frog, regardless of its role in the ecosystem. And what happens if we lose that emotional connection to animals and environments? There’ll be no respect for life to back it up.

So, death and futile conservation. Not a happy subject, but I’m keen to see how the book tackles it. Perhaps the beauty of the book itself can help me handle whatever lies in its pages.

 

GL Umuzi

Daily Reads: 5 May 2015

BM bag

Sjoe, I haven’t done one of these for a while! Time to get back into the swing of things. The past month was a bit slow in terms of reading, but I do have a review of Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes in the works and I got my sister Ruth to take a few shots of the book, as you can see above and on the cover of my Facebook page.

I’ve been slacking on my online reading, so yesterday I took some time out to see what had been posted recently. One of the most notable things to pop up on my feed was Cat Hellisen’s new novel Charm, which is available for FREE on her blog in serial form. Here’s the synopsis:

Irene Kerry thinks she’s dealing with her mother’s suicide just fine until the day her best friend Rain falls in love with a much older man. A man who knew her mother, and believes Irene is a magician like her. In order to protect her friend and family, Irene must hunt an ancient magician who steals and eats magic, and discover the truth behind her mother’s life and death.

The first chapter of twenty-two went up on Friday, and subsequent chapters will be posted every Wednesday. If you don’t want to wait, you can buy the whole book on Smashwords.

If you enjoy read-alongs, you’re a Jacqueline Carey fan, or you’ve always wanted to read Kushiel’s Dart, there’s a great read-along starting this week with some of the awesome bloggers who I’ve joined for previous read-alongs. You can find the schedule here. Leave a comment if you want to be added to the mailing list. If you’re interested in this and other read-alongs, you can also join our new Goodreads group – SF/F Read Alongs – to keep in touch.

Then I went trawling for interesting articles on sff. I loved Jennie Goloboy’s article “Never Enough Farmers! Class and Writing Fantasy Novels” in this month’s issue of Apex Magazine. She writes about the way fantasy authors tend to project their modern, middle-class values onto pre-industrial societies where those values or assumptions would never fit. For example, there’s too much focus on towns and cities, given that most people would have been farmers. Too many characters focus on time even though people in that sort of period wouldn’t have had the technology to keep track of time – “none of that ‘I have fourteen summers’ please – that’s still too precise!” she says.

Goloboy proposes a fantasy about a farmer who never leaves the farm. It probably wouldn’t be epic fantasy, but there are lots of place-bound genres – horror, mystery, Gothic, romance. And I think that sounds like a great idea. I think an author like Tom Holt, who also happens to be a historian, could do something amazing with that.

Finally, Foz Meadows has an article about The Importance of Writing Sex Scenes, and things to consider when writing them. I particularly like her comments about the way scenes of positive consensual sex are typically considered gratuitous or taboo while scenes of bad sex, sexual assault or rape are not:

it’s often assumed that positive, consensual sex scenes serve a strictly pornographic function, such that, unless you’re actively trying to titillate your audience, the only sex that ought to appear in other genres is bad sex, or sexual assault, or rape. The logic here is maddening: that only violent, unpleasant or non-consensual sexual encounters can have such a transformative, narratively relevant effect on the characters that you’re justified in showing them in detail, rather than simply fading to black or leaving it up to the reader’s imagination.

[…] if you feel comfortable including rape, sexual assault, bad sex or sex that only one party enjoys in your stories, but aren’t similarly willing to write positive, consensual sex scenes, too, because you think they’re too porny or irrelevant, then you’re a hypocrite.

[…] to the extent that you’re willing to include sexual content at all, it makes no sense – and is, I’d argue, actively problematic – to restrict yourself to purely negative depictions across the board. Sex in all its forms can serve a narrative purpose, and if it also happens to be titillating sometimes, then so what? Literature is meant to make us feel things, and I see no reason bar a culturally ingrained sense of puritan shame that arousal should be considered a less valid, worthy response to evoke than fear, or grief, or horror.

And that’s it from me today guys. I hope I’ve given you some good reads and interesting ideas to chew on. It looks like it’s about pour with rain on this grey day in Cape Town, so I’m going to brew another cup of coffee and get into the grim details of Broken Monsters.

Happy reading!

Daily Reads helps me organise my online reading and share my favourite posts with you. If you know of any good SF/F and other literary articles, link to it in the comments.

Photography for this post is courtesy of Ruth Smith. You can view or buy her work here, follow her on Facebook or contact her at photobunny24@gmail.com.

Two Serpents Rise read-along: Final

Two Serpents RiseIt’s the final week of the the Two Serpents Rise read-along! Things suddenly got very brutal and bloody, although that’s exactly what you’d expect when you’re reading a book based on Aztec mythology. Nothing I couldn’t handle, but I did have a few issues with the way certain things turned out. Luckily, our host, Lynn from Little Lion Lynnet’s, set some questions that let me get to grips with what happened. Please let me know what you thought in the comments.

This section naturally covers all the final events of the book, so don’t even look at the questions if you want to avoid spoilers!

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1. I think we all pegged Mal as being involved with whatever is going wrong in Dresediel Lex after the way Book 3 ended last week. How do you feel about discovering how deep that involvement goes?

The massacre at Bay Station was a shock; I didn’t expect that she’d go right back there and slaughter everyone. It was an entertaining kind of shock, but it bothers me. Caleb showed Qet to her as a surprise; she didn’t seem to know the god was still alive, where he was, or how to get there. Did she just decide to kill him, cut off the water supply and send the city into a rioting panic on the spur of the moment? If Caleb hadn’t shown her Qet, what would she have done? Surely she should have been busy doing it, preparing for the rise of the serpents, not going on a pre-apocalypse date with Caleb.

And it’s not like she just decided to cut off the water supply in addition to whatever else she was planning – it was an essential step that crippled RKC and left the Red King unable to fight back.

Plot holes aside, I’m not quite sure how I feel about Mal’s role. It was no surprise that she was the villain and I loved that she was, but I expected her to be a more sympathetic. Instead she ends up being the psycho vengeance monster who can’t be reasoned with and has to die. At one point it’s stated outright that this is what motivates her:

She was rage, dying, and born again she was vengeance.

 

I find that a bit simplistic, given the scope of her plan and the nobility of her commitment to saving the world. Maybe it’s a way of making it easier for the reader to side with Caleb and accept Mal’s demise? She’s at least a bit more complex than Denovo in the first book, but I would have liked the narrative to be more sympathetic towards Mal and made the reader feel genuinely dreadful that either she or Caleb had to lose. Personally, I didn’t really feel bad about it even though I mostly agreed with what she was trying to do.

She’s not that different from Caleb, Temoc or Kopil though. Each of them is so set in their convictions that they can’t be swayed, except perhaps for Caleb and Kopil, at the very end. Was Mal’s decision to take down RKC so different from Kopil’s decision to fight the gods or Temoc’s terrorist activities? Is her hatred for RKC any different from Caleb’s hatred of the gods? And, as it turns out, her ideas are actually great, which is why Caleb adopts them at the end. She was doing the right thing, just in the wrong way.

I was thinking a while back about how “mal” in French means “wrong” or “immoral”, and you see it in English words like “malfunction”, “maladroit”, “malpractice”. In the South African language Afrikaans, “mal” literally means “mad” or “crazy”, referring to both anger and insanity. At the time I thought maybe it was a bit too obvious if Mal were a psycho villain, but… yeah.

 

2. Caleb and Temoc have to work together to save Dresediel Lex (and the world) from certain destruction. Do you think they make a good team?

No, not really. I mean they did a decent job of working together for a while, but neither of them can compromise for the other. Caleb refuses to sacrifice even one person to safe Dresediel Lex, even if the sacrifice is willing. Temoc agrees to Caleb’s plan, but this turns out to be a ruse to allow him to sacrifice Teo. Temoc also refuses to use an optera because it goes against his religious principles, which is a bit ludicrous given that he’d just tried to convince Caleb to kill someone. And then they end up beating the crap out of each other… They can work together, but they’re a terrible team.

 

3. What do you think of the narrative’s overall treatment of Teo? Especially in light of her role in the finale?

This is actually something that’s been bothering me very slightly throughout the book, although I wasn’t quite sure how to articulate it or if it was worth discussing, so I didn’t say anything. I immediately liked Teo, but I got the sense that she was there to be a helper of some sort – for the reader, for Caleb, for the plot. The first thing she does in the book is explain a key aspect of Caleb’s character – that he’s become afraid to take risks and his life is a bit dull. Then she pops up whenever he needs to talk, providing an opportunity for conversations that the reader needs to hear. She’s Caleb’s best friend and she works at RKC, so Caleb is free to discuss pretty much anything with her.

She has other traits that seem to exist for their own sake, making her a fuller character, but then these things all end up being what makes her the perfect sacrifice for Temoc – lesbian (so never had sex with a man, supposedly), noble blood, feisty, brave, committed. On the one hand, I loved that twist and thought it was quite clever. I totally didn’t see it coming, and it was all so neat in a way I quite like. On the other hand, Teo ended up being used for the narrative’s convenience, again. I like it, but I don’t like it. Is it efficient writing, or is Teo used as a plot device? I don’t know.

But what the fuck is up with this virgin sacrifice crap? I get the stupid purity thing, but how is Teo more “innocent” because she’s never had sex with a man? Even if she’s really never had sex with a man (something Temoc just assumed) I don’t consider her a virgin, and I hardly think she would call herself one. And surely it’s the physical and emotional intimacy of sex that changes you, not the physical act of penetration by a penis? Does Temoc know anything about lesbian sex? Anyway, the whole thing is a crock of bullshit.

 

4. In the epilogue Caleb seems to have found a way to compromise between the ways of his father and the new world brought about by the God Wars. Do you think he’ll succeed in his goals?

Yeah, I think he will, given that he has Kopil’s support. Also, it might have some major benefits other than sustainability, like opening the oceans to travel and industry again. Caleb mentioned that, without the gods, the sea was just too dangerous for fishing, but with his new scheme he might be able to fix that.

 

Overall, I didn’t like this as much as the first book. It’s not bad, and I’d keep reading the series, but i wouldn’t get terribly excited about it.

 

LOLs
Things get pretty serious at the end, but I had a few little laughs:

– “You did not tell me you were seeing anyone.” [Temoc, when Caleb tells him that his girlfriend is the villain. The absurdity of this man expecting Caleb to keep him up to date on his personal life :D]

– “I apologize for hitting you.” Temoc bowed his head. “I do not relish striking women.” “Thank you,” Teo said with a cold edge, “for your condescending, sexist apology.” [Yay Teo!]

– Temoc, Priest of All Gods, sipped water from a blue coffee mug emblazoned with the words “World’s Best Daughter” above a picture of a goddess suckling a serpent. [This city is weird.]

– “The trouble with atheism,” Temoc said, “is that it offers a limited range of curses.” [A lot less guilt though.]

The Feminine Future edited by Mike Ashley

The Feminine FutureTitle: The Feminine Future: Early Science Fiction by Women Writers
Editor: Mike Ashley
Published: 18 March 2015
Publisher: Dover Publications
Source: eARC from the publisher via NetGalley
Genre: science fiction, short stories
Rating: 4/10

As editor Mike Ashley notes in his introduction, it’s often assumed that women only recently started writing science fiction, despite the fact that Frankenstein, one of the first works regarded as sf, was written by a woman. The Feminine Future attempts to dispel that misconception with a collection of sf short stories by women, published between 1873 and 1930.

You probably won’t know most of the authors (I’d only heard of Edith Nesbit), but there are some historic names here. Clare Winger Harris was the first woman to contribute to the first sf magazine, Amazing Stories, and several of the other authors here made regular contributions to the early pulp magazines.

Many of these women were among the first to explore new ideas. Edna W. Underwood was inspired by the increased use of anaesthetics when she wrote “The Painter of Dead Women”, where drugs are used to preserve the human body in a comatose state. The light-hearted “Ely’s Automatic Housemaid” by Elizabeth W. Bellamy was published at a time when many new inventions were being patented and, like other stories of that period, it takes a humorous approach to “madcap inventions that go awry”. In “The Ray of Displacement”, Harriet Prescott Spofford uses ideas about atomic theory to imagine a device that dissipates matter, allowing an individual to walk through walls. “The Artificial Man by Clare Winger Harris is one of the first stories about an augmented human or cyborg.

Historic details aside though, it’s worth noting that this is not, in fact, a feminist anthology. Only a few of the stories are gender-conscious or have feminist themes. Most of them have male protagonists. Some of them don’t even have female characters. I’m not trying to suggest that female writers have a duty to write feminist fiction – they don’t – but if that’s what you’re looking for, be warned that you’re not going to get it.

The stories that are openly feminist tend to take a simplistic approach to gender. In “A Divided Republic – An Allegory of the Future” by Lilli Devereux, women get so fed up with men that they set up their own society. With no one to either nag them or take care of them, the men go out and get drunk whenever they want, never shave, and live in filth. On the women’s side, there’s no drinking, everything is pretty and well organised, but it’s a tad boring.

“Friend Island” by Francis Stevens also suggests that women are rather delicate in some ways, even when they’re in power. In the world of the story, it’s long been established that women are superior to men. A lowly little man boldly goes to a tea shop where female engineers and pilots like to hang out, and, ignoring the stares, buys an old sailoress a cup of tea and a plate of macaroons in the hope of hearing some of her stories. She tells him about the time she was stranded on a sentient island. She could tell, from the island’s behaviour, that it was a “lady” which is why her volcano erupted when a man came to the island and swore too much. Ladies, apparently, cannot abide swearing. Even when they’re islands. And, again, women just naturally choose tea over alcohol. How cute.

There’s another matriarchal society in “Via the Hewitt Ray” by M.F. Rupert, and I sort of liked this one for being adventurous, but with some serious reservations. A man travels to another dimension and, when he fails to return, his daughter, a pilot, goes to rescue him. She finds herself in a world with three vastly different societies, including a technologically advanced city of women who keep a few docile men around for reproduction and pleasure. One of the men gets sentenced to electroshock therapy and sterilisation for his insubordination, but the heroine saves him by asking if she can take him home for experiments. The women are in conflict with a more highly evolved race, and it’s decided that they’ll use the father’s tech to wipe out this super-intelligent race. The heroine gleefully helps them with this impromptu genocide and goes in, blasting enemies with a ray gun. She doesn’t feel bad because these people are so highly evolved that they’ve got giant heads to contain their giant brains and are therefore quite ugly. Later, she goes home with her sexy man-slave, and when he behaves too timidly, as he’s been taught, she yells at him and tells him to be a man, that men are superior to women (a lie to boost his confidence), and that he needs to bully any woman who disagrees with him. She then claims that she doesn’t mind being considered inferior by the “right man”. Overall, “Via the Hewitt Ray” was one of the most ridiculous stories I’ve ever read, topped only by other stories in this anthology.

And this brings me to the main reason I didn’t like this – it’s pulp fiction. And, as it turns out, I really don’t like pulp fiction. While it was interesting to see some of the early expressions of feminism in sf, no matter how absurd, there was little else about the anthology that interested me. The title suggests that these stories are gender-conscious, but it’s really more like a general collection of early pulp sf by women.

This gives it some distinctive and – depending on your tastes – unpleasant characteristics. For the most part, it’s all just silly. Obviously, it’s also dated. The writing is often stiff and formal (to my ear, at least) with many tedious infodumps, so some stories could be a real chore to read. Kooky science is to be expected, but there’s also a weird lack of rationality to the characters and plots.

It’s no surprise that the stories are conservative too, and I’m not just talking about the assumption that ladies don’t swear or drink. The Christian god is frequently invoked as a certainty, something that I never see go unquestioned in contemporary fiction. The religion remains benign, but some of the other conservative content is pretty offensive, usually because it involves the assumption that some people are naturally inferior to others. Sexism is rampant, even in the more progressive stories. One story is casually ableist: “The Artificial Man” by Clare Winger Harris, about a man whose lost limbs and other body parts are replaced by augments, is based on the premise that the title character is mentally and spiritually corrupted every time he loses part of his original body.

Racism rears its ugly head. Edith Nesbit’s story, “The Third Drug” begins with a man being attacked by “Apaches” – a term for muggers or gangsters, based on European assumptions about Native American Indians. “The Great Beast of Kafue” by Clotilde Graves not only refers to a “black man-ape” but also uses the word “kaffir”, a South African racial slur so offensive that its use is actionable in this country. I really felt that the editor should have written a footnote to accompany these slurs rather than allowing them to pass without remark. Or better yet, pick stories without racial slurs.

Then, as I mentioned there’s the genocide of the ugly smart people in “Via the Hewitt Ray”, which is not even the only thoughtless mass killing in the anthology. In “Creatures of the Light” by Sophie Wenzel Ellis (quite possibly the most absurd story in an anthology of absurd stories), the main character (sort of accidentally) wipes out an entire community, babies and children included, and doesn’t give this a second thought except to keep an eye out for survivors on the way back to the airship that will take him home. This story also includes an attempt at eugenic marriage, which the main character quite happily agrees to when he sees a picture of the beautiful woman who has been promised to him.

Did I like any of these stories? Well the first one, “When Time Turned” by Ethel Watts Mumford is quite touching. It’s about a man who experiences his life twice – once normally, and then in reverse, watching passively as his life rewinds. The idea is similar to “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, but was written twenty years earlier.

I also liked the end of “The Painter of Dead Women” by Edna W. Underwood, when the protagonist – a stunningly beautiful socialite – effortlessly escapes a serial killer through her athletic skill and endurance. Similarly, “The Ray of Displacement” by Harriet Prescott Spofford ends with a wonderful moral complication that I enjoyed more than the rest of the tale. I experienced most of the other stories in this way – I liked one or two aspects, but not the whole thing.

So yeah, if you already like pulp sf, this would be a good anthology for you, especially if you want to know more about women writers in the genre. But if, like me, you’re more interested in the feminist angle but aren’t a fan of pulp, you might not like it either.

Two Serpents Rise read-along: part three

Two Serpents RiseHey everyone! It’s week 3 of the Two Serpents Rise read-along, and I’m glad I happen to be the host for this week because “Part Three” has been the most interesting part of the book for me so far. The relationship between the two main characters finally starts to develop and together they grapple with the core ethical issues of the plot. There’s some more incredible worldbuilding, and another cliffhanger to whet your appetite for the final section.

Please feel free to leave a link to your post in the comments, and I’ll add it to the blog hop list at the end of this post.

For those who haven’t been reading along, be warned that there are plenty of SPOILERS ahead!

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1. After the fight at Seven Leaf, Caleb apologises to Mal and they finally start dating. What do you think of the way their relationship has developed? Do you agree with Mal that Caleb chased her because he needs gods in his life?

I’m so glad that something finally happened between these two. I really wasn’t feeling their chemistry, but when they started having some actual dates and in-depth conversations (without any blood or death) I could imagine them as a couple.

I don’t quite agree with Mal’s idea about Caleb’s motives; I wouldn’t say he longs for gods per se, but everyone needs a sense of purpose for which they’re willing to make sacrifices. It just so happens that religion fills that role for some people. Caleb was in a rut, as evidenced by his recent tendency to play it safe when playing cards. Gambling probably offered a temporary solution to the need for purpose and risk, but I don’t think it’s sustainable. His work clearly isn’t all that fulfiling either. So when he met Mal, he found something (someone) to bleed for.

One last thing: Gladstone totally wins the award for most original sex scene – lying on a magical ocean, half-devoured by a shark, with fireworks going off in the background. Definitely haven’t come across that before. Don’t know if it’s cool or just absurd.

2. This section has been quite philosophical. Where do you stand on the debate – gods, no gods, or some kind of compromise? Do you agree with Caleb’s idea of sacrificing your morality because the religious alternative is even worse?

I think this, more than anything else so far, has got me invested in the novel.

Clearly the current system isn’t sustainable. It’s going to wreck the environment and then, as Mal speculates, Dresediel Lex will cannabilise other cities in order to survive. Caleb’s argument about sacrificing morality is a particularly interesting one. I think Qet was an extreme example, and doesn’t apply to the general populace since most don’t know about him, but most citizens probably do see – and ignore – all the terrible things that have to happen to allow them to go one with their lives. And that applies to the real world too – we all know that our environment is being ruined, species are being driven to extinction, people work hard only to live in poverty, etc., but we generally just ignore it so we can go on living the way we want to. Caleb seems to think this kind of moral bankruptcy is the only choice for Dresediel Lex.

And yes, I have to agree with him that they shouldn’t go back to the old system of human sacrifice. Maybe the sacrifices are willing, but what happens to the loved ones they leave behind? And what happens when the priests don’t have enough volunteers?

So I guess Mal’s idea is the only viable option:

“We should bring [the gods] back, on our terms. We form a society with sacrifice, but without death.”

I don’t know how that would work, but I certainly agree with her principle in general. For any society. I think most of us live too easily without knowing what it takes to make our lives possible. Paying money for things isn’t the same as knowing what they cost. The price of my food tells me nothing about the environmental effects of producing it. The price of a t-shirt would reveal nothing about whether or not the person who sewed it gets a decent wage.

So yeah, I like the idea that there should be some system of sacrifice so that people can engage with the way the world works on a personal level, but the sacrifices shouldn’t have to be fatal. Death surely makes the system unfair – some die, others live off those deaths. Rather, you should be able to enjoy the benefits of your sacrifice.

3. Gladstone is still unveiling amazing things in his world, like a sport based on myth, the eclipse festival, walking on water, and a half-dead sea god whose heart is being used for desalination. What interested you the most? 

“Meh” tends to be my reaction to almost any sport, but I thought the scarred ocean was quite a cool idea. And I really want to walk on the ocean! Terrifying and amazing, not to mention a great thing to show your date, assuming at least one of you has the power to chase away sharks and other nasties from the depths. Caleb made a good bet when he packed that condom.

Qet was the most awe-inspiring thing for me though – the scale of his body and the horror of his undead state and the way it’s been appropriated.

4. Mal has noted twice that they don’t have much time, and she apologises to Caleb while he sleeps on the ocean. Then Alaxic kills himself and tries to kill Temoc – the last two priests of the old Quechal. What do you think is going on here? Any speculation about how it might turn out?

Wow, I didn’t see that coming. This seems to confirm that Temoc hasn’t been involved. Instead, he’s in the way. Alaxic’s suicide and assassination attempt suggests that he’s much more progressive than I assumed him to be, if he’s trying to make way for a new way of thinking and doing things. So I’m a bit worried that Temoc got away.

I only have vague ideas of how this will turn out. It sounds to me like Mal knows exactly what’s coming, and she and Alaxic both seem to believe in a new way of doing things (sacrifice without death). Based on the title I still think the serpents will awaken, unless the title has some alternative meaning.

Randoms
– I like how you pay small amounts of soul for everything you use, like hot water. It would certainly make people more conscious of their usage!

Check out what others had to say:
Lynn – Lynn’s Book Blog
Heather – The Bastard Title
Ria – Bibliotropic
Susan – Dab of Darkness

Two Serpents Rise read-along: part two

Two Serpents RiseIt’s week two of the Two Serpents Rise read-along and we’ve already had a boss fight! Lisa from Over the Effing Rainbow is our host this week, and has us working through all the drama, so lets get into it.

SPOILERS, of course :)

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1)  So we’re halfway in, and we seem to have uncovered the culprit already… What did you make of the confrontation at Seven Leaf?

I highly doubt that Allesandre is the culprit; the boss fight never happens in the middle. My mind has leapt to conspiracy theories. Was this set up so that Allesandre would attack and then be defeated? In “Interlude: Flame”, Alaxic describes Allesandre as his “sacrifice”, so I’m guessing that her death is part of the plan.

And who would stand to gain from that? Mal, perhaps, because by killing Allesandre she proves her loyalty to Kopil and RKC. Is she Alaxic’s agent for a scheme involving the serpents? Now that we know something about her religious beliefs and we’ve heard some criticisms of the environmental impact of RKC’s systems, it seems to be the most likely option.

By the way, did anyone else feel like this fight escalated unexpectedly? At first it just seemed like an investigation with a few guard for safety’s sake, and then suddenly Mal is talking about going to war and the whole thing gets dire fast. I thought the pacing was a bit off there.

2)  Temoc is still turning up at random, and still protesting his innocence. Doth he protest too much…?

Now that you’ve mentioned it, I guess it’s a possibility, but I’m still inclined to believe that he’s telling the truth.

Also, while I’m unlikely to side with a religious terrorist, fantatic, Temoc has made some thought-provoking comments to Caleb about RKC:

you are part of a system that will one day destroy our city and our planet

 

Your system kills, too. You’ve not eliminated sacrifices, you’ve democratized them—everyone dies a little every day, and the poor and desperate are the worst injured.

 

In Three Parts Dead, we saw a compromise between religious and secular perspectives. Part of the debate manifested in the relationship between Tara and Abelard. Will we see something similar in this plot and in Caleb’s relationship with his father? The plight of the zombies does seem rather dire, if people choose to be undead workers to pay off their debts. Choosing to be a willing sacrifice to a god doesn’t seem much better; is there a middle ground?

3)  The Red King. Discuss.

First and foremost: HOW DOES A SKELETON DRINK COFFEE? Caleb specifically states that Kopil doesn’t have an oesophagus. I’m not even sure if he has dried-out flesh draped over his bones, like a mummy, to contain anything he eats or drinks. I’m reminded of that scene in Pirates of the Caribbean, when Captain Barbosa first reveals his undead skeleton form, and drinks some wine that just splashes out between his ribs.

Why would Kopil even need coffee? Surely, at this stage in his “life” he has better pick-me-ups?

I kind of like Kopil though. He’s a bit scary and possibly evil, but he feels real somehow. I sympathise with the heavy burden he’s clearly bearing – replacing the gods he defeated. He seems lonely too. He lost his lover, and in the process of avenging him he became a creature that’s basically doomed to be alone.

And, he’s funny, in a dry sort of way:

This room isn’t large, but the whole building belongs to me, so I don’t feel cramped.

 

“This room doesn’t have any doors.”

“Who needs them?”
“Most people.”
Kopil shrugged, and sipped tequila.

 

By the way, do people drink tequila neat, on the rocks? I thought you drank it in shots with lemon and salt to get hammered. It doesn’t seem like a drink so refined as to be sipped. Or is this just Deathless King sort of habit?

4)  And let’s not forget Mal! I confess, I did not see any of those surprises coming. What do you think of Caleb’s ‘sweetheart’ now?

I’m suspicious. Very suspicious. She’s very secretive and I don’t think she’s on the same side Caleb is fighting for even if she just helped restore the supply of clean drinking water to the city.

Which is not to say that I think badly of her. Given the issues that have been raised about zombies and environmental damage, it’s quite possible that Caleb is fighting for the “wrong side” and we will come to sympathise with Mal’s point of view. She could be the villain who becomes our hero.

On a related note, I’m not feeling the chemistry between these two at all. I understand the mutual attraction, but that’s about it. I didn’t feel excited seeing them finally get a bit closer. Perhaps this is intentional though, with the point being that Caleb is a fool who fell for a pretty face.

 

Randoms

– Loved Sam’s snake art as a metaphor for the city.

– How fucking big are those magisterium trees if several of the Couatl – the larger, battle-bred Couatl – can sit on one stump? Would love to see one of those.

– That Heartstone contract! If I was a lawyer I would cry. And negotiate a suitably monstrous raise.

The thing is seventy thousand pages long. They folded space to fit it in one conference room for the signing. It’s not even all on paper: some paragraphs are carved on stone plinths, some on the pyramid itself. Nothing that complex is safe.

 

 

Two Serpents Rise read-along: Part one

Two Serpents RiseHey everyone and welcome to Part One of the Two Serpents Rise read-along! After having such a good time with Three Parts Dead, the first in Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence, we decided to jump into a read-along of book two. Our host is Susan from Dab of Darkness, so be sure to hop over to her blog for links to everyone else’s posts. I might also post a list of links once they’re available. And er, if I remember…

But nevermind that, on with the questions. This discussion covers Part One of the novel, and I think it’s suitably spoiler-free for you to read even if you haven’t read this content or book one.

Poison in the Bright Mirror reservoir! What are your thoughts on the infestation? Then an explosion later on! Any ideas of who is the culprit yet? Are the two events related?

I assume they must be related, and I’m pretty sure that Temoc is telling the truth when he says he’s not responsible. I’m suspicious of Alaxic and The Red King, although that’s partly because there just aren’t that many suspects to choose from, and I don’t understand the situation well enough yet to figure out who stands to gain and sketch out a suspect we haven’t met yet.

What I can glean is that the culprit plans to sabotage the city’s basic infrastructure, given that they’re targeted the water and electricity supply. This will hit the general public hard, so I would guess that whever they want to achieve involves the masses being scared and desperate. With both events, they used something from the old, mythological world (a demon, a god). So perhaps someone is trying to demonstrate the anger and power of the gods and reinstate the old order? Or use that as a ruse to take power by purging the old gods and their creatures once and for all?

Let’s talk about Mal and the sport of cliff running. Care to compare this sport to one here in our real world? What do you think Mal gets out of the sport?

Cliffrunning reminds me of parkour. I would guess that Mal loves the adrenaline, and the freedom of not being restricted to moving on the ground. I often look at my cat and wonder how different the world might look if I were so agile that every surface presented itself as a place to jump from or to, if I could move around at any level between the ground and the rooftops, and simply leap over obstacles. It must feel quite rebellious and liberating. It’s even more so in this case, since cliffrunning is illegal. The cliffrunners personify defiance. As such, they’re an interesting contrast to the very strict way the city is structured and maintained – the contracts binding everything, the frightening Wardens keeping the peace.

Are you enjoying the deities and culture this book is infused with? Has any of the architecture wowed or frightened you? 

Definitely! I mean, when we’re talking gods and mythology I’m already there like a bear, and it’s nice to mix it up with some Aztec mythology for a change. It’s so bloody and dramatic with all the sacrifices and fascinating creatures. I might sign up as a Warden if it means I get to ride a Couatl!

I love the way everything is bound by contracts of Craft and that Caleb could use that to chase Mal. I also thought Kopil’s obsidian pyramid was very cool, although I’m inclined to be wowed rather than frightened since I get to enjoy it all at a distance. I’m fairly certain I’ll never have to attend a meeting where the table is a massive stone altar drenched in the blood of countless victims, so I’m free to appreciate how incredibly badass that is. My desk just used to be a dining table.

The Red King is a pretty serious guy. Will he make the deal with Alaxic concerning the powerhouses known as Achel & Aquel? 

I’m not sure what the environmental consequences of this would be (but it probably starts with killing a lot of ocean life), but aside from that it sounds like an excellent idea. Unlimited energy and a new supply of fresh water? Life in the city might improve drastically, so it seems that The Red King would be inclined to make this deal. Of course the downside is that you need to keep the serpents asleep so they don’t rise up and kill everyone… And based on the title, that’s exactly what’s going to happen, unless there’s a twist somewhere.

Is this perhaps an analogy for nuclear power? Some argue that it’s clean and sustainable, others argue that it’s too dangerous and destructive.

Finally, Caleb has a wealth of scars, linguistic skills, and a complex relationship with his father. Discuss!

Caleb reminds me of Tara in several ways – he’s rebelling against his origins, he’s very good at what he does, he has a tendency to be reckless, and he notes that his employers have given him “a wonderful opportunity to fail”. His scars also remind me of Tara’s sigils, although it seems that Caleb’s are frowned upon. Tara was also at the beginning of her career, whereas Caleb’s been in the game for a while and people are worrying that he’s lost his edge as a result. Now it seems that he’s about to undergo a period of re-self-discovery, thanks to Mal and his determination to help her.

In book one we saw religious and non-religious characters working together and challenging each other’s points of view. It’s an interesting clash of minds, and I think it might be the same here, with Caleb and his father. Although it seems that their relationship has made Caleb very hostile to religion: human sacrifices and scars aren’t quite as appealing as Christmas and Easter eggs for convincing children to be faithful, I’m sure. That said, Caleb’s background does have some benefits: I love the way he can speak fluent High Quechal to the religious fanatics who stumble through the language.

 

Randoms:

– I don’t think I mentioned this in the previous read-along, but I find it quite strange that you can pay animals like rats and horses for providing a service. Do the animals then exchange that for food and shelter? Are they smarter than the animals of our world

– Another oddity in both books is the fashion. It’s very modern – jeans, business suits – while the setting is sort of steampunk Victorian. It’s a strange combination that I can’t quite imagine, although I would guess that neither looks exactly like we know it to be; the designs would be a mixture of old and new, so that the jeans don’t look quite like our jeans, and the carriages aren’t quite like traditional carriages. Frankly, I’m not sure if this combination really works, but I’d love to see an artist’s rendition of it.

– I love that valuable items can be cursed so that terrible things happen to the thief until the item is returned! Way better than insurance.

– When the Wardens pitch up at his apartment, Caleb hopes that there’s “[n]othing incriminating about a woman spending the night at a single man’s house.” Interesting bit of worldbuilding here – suggests that society has only recently become more liberal. Caleb doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with Mal being there, but it still occurs to him that there could be.

– Kopil’s reveal about his lover was surprisingly touching, considering that he’s a frightening, six-foot-tall skeleton. I wonder how that will play into the story.