A Desolation Called Peace, by Arkady Martine

Arkady Martine has written another excellent book. A Desolation Called Peace branches out from the space covered in A Memory Called Empire, and while I know there’s more that could be squeezed from the first book’s subject matter I think this evolution serves the story (and the reader) well. And don’t worry, Martine doesn’t abandon anything she built before. Instead, she calls forward elements which had been waiting in the wings; it’s more of a shift of focus than a dismissal of the old.

Specifically, where the first book asked “what does it mean to be human, or a person? Who draws the line, and where?” as a running background theme, this book puts that front and center. And I love that. Those questions are important at any time, but they’re integral elements of a totalizing imperial worldview, and as such they’re critical to this story and setting. Honestly, those questions are part of what I love about science fiction in general, and they’re a big part of what I love about this series in particular.

Now, this book felt a little slower to me, more gradual or less heart-in-throat until nearer to the end. But it’s no less fraught. In many ways, the excruciatingly complicated fusion of the personal and political feels more poignant here, even as the book and that fusion explore new themes. And yes, Martine is still good at digging into the ways hegemony wraps itself around everything, strangling like a ligature until conformity (or death) is achieved.

Now, about this book feeling slower… I wasn’t sucked in head first the same way that I was for the first book, not until further into the book than last time. I’ve had a hard time telling how much of that comes from different reading circumstances, like changes in the time I set aside for reading, versus how much comes from differences between the two books. Either way, I’m pretty sure it took me much longer to read A Desolation Called Peace than it took me to read A Memory Called Empire

But the magic that Martine conjures in the first book is still present. A Desolation Called Peace is still full of heartfelt complicatedness, and confusing wants and desires and struggles, and its *really good*. The conflicts brought to the surface here are wonderful. I like seeing them on the page. I haven’t seen them in other books any time recently, and it feels really good to see Martine explore the ways in which hegemony and empire worm their fingers into everything, no matter how intimate or pedestrian.

Unlike with some other series (e.g. Becky Chambers’ books), order matters here; you should absolutely read A Memory Called Empire before you read this one. If the first book wasn’t to your liking, I’m afraid this one probably won’t be either. But if you’re not a light reader, and if you want good intrigue, ethical dilemmas, questions of humanity, interestingly alien aliens, and the baggage of empire… this is your deal.

A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine

Arkady Martine absolutely knocks this one out of the park. 

A Memory Called Empire is a lot of things, but at its heart is a bittersweet tension of love, admiration, and despair for a culture and civilization which will destroy one’s own. It’s about being caught on the outside, stuck as an outsider despite so much work done to fit in. And it’s a thriller about loyalty and betrayal, both expected and not, from without and within.

It’s an excellent book, as I said when I mentioned it a couple weeks ago.

I’ve struggled to write anything more here, and thrown out a few hundred words that might spoil the book for you. Exploring what Arkady Martine does so well without giving away her story is… challenging for me.

She’s managed to write a compelling culture, one in which I can see traces of several historical imperial courts and practices, and held it up for us the readers as a deep and multi-layered thing tantalizingly out of reach of our own comprehension. The fraught weight of meaning is present and palpable, but just enough is lost in translation for us to experience it mostly as our narrator does, unable to be a full part of it as anything but barbarians.

Speaking as someone who studied linguistics, and specialized in the production of ideology and ideological identity through political speech, this book is a delight. Speaking as someone who loves studying political science, international relations, history, and the rise, fall, and gradual mutations of empire, this book is marvelous. And as someone who deeply appreciates heartfelt stories juxtaposed with intrigue and danger—wow.

I’m trying not to ruin anything for you. Please just go ahead and read the book. It’s really good.

Go watch I Am Not Your Negro

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The truth is, I will not do a better job telling you about this movie than did A.O. Scott. I strongly recommend watching the movie, and I think that Scott’s review is also worth reading (though considerably less important than the film itself).

But there are elements which I want to share with you, thoughts that I have had in reaction to the movie which seem compelling. Baldwin is astute, observant, painfully accurate in his descriptions, eloquent in his description of the monstrosity involved in thinking that it is acceptable to murder or subjugate another human being and feel good about yourself. And he pulls up an uncanny moment experienced in two very different ways by those who are black and those who are white. He describes the empty sensation of a young black person discovering that the country they call their home and to which they belong has no place for them, and certainly no place amongst its heroes; and calls on white people to recognize that their country, as they have likely experienced it and been told of it, does not exist for blacks. It is, on both sides, a realization that the vision of ‘home’ is a lie. But it is often forced upon non-whites, while whites are permitted to carry on dreaming until some other confrontation occurs.

It’s the kind of thing that makes me struggle with my own desire to write and tell stories.

I feel irresponsible to not take broader action, to not expose these issues. Writing seems inadequate. I admit that these issues in some way inspire me, by encouraging me to tell stories which deal with these realities. But I also fear that any attempt I make may do greater damage than good, or that whatever I do will be insufficient. And I worry that my decision to write fantastical stories, stories about alternate realities which do not immediately impinge upon ours, is in some way unhelpful escapism. Or I consider myself to be a distraction from others whose voices deserve to be heard.

And sometimes I remind myself that not every story can be that particular form of activism. Some stories need to be fun. But I hope that, in some of those things I write which you find fun, I can offer a vision of a world that doesn’t cling to our own world’s prejudices. And when I do draw those elements in, I hope that I can include them in ways which simultaneously allow us to enjoy the story and to see (perhaps for the first time, if I’m so lucky as to have an uninformed reader) the parallels between the problems I include and the world in which we live.

Okay. Enough of me blathering my thoughts. Go watch the damn movie. It’s painful and still remarkably topical, and somehow I found it inspired hope. It’s really good.

p.s. Here’s another good link to someone’s experience of being exposed to James Baldwin’s work.

Hidden Figures

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Damn this is a good movie. I saw it last week, and neglected to tell you because I was busy getting ready for Arisia. This movie made me furious, it made me happy, it made me cry… and it is a story that deserves to be told. I strongly recommend not only watching it, but also staying through the end credits to see the further stories of the people this movie is all about.

I’m sure that there’s some conflation and massaging of truth going on here, with composite characters and such, if only because this holds together so well as a movie and life doesn’t really work that way. But from everything that I understand, this movie hews closely to the real stories of these people’s lives. It also is a truly excellent movie.

With that in mind, do yourself a favor. Go watch Hidden Figures. Enjoy.

Godseat, a Wayfinder Adventure

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I should note, I have no idea whether or not this game will actually be chosen for use by Wayfinder.  In fact, I still have to finish writing it and submitting it.  I think it’s a pretty cool concept, and it experiments further with some of the player vs. player mechanics that I explored in the 2014 Staff game (along with my excellent co-writers, you rock).  In the interest of not spoiling you for anything, I’ll refrain from telling you too much about the flow of game.  Instead, this post will give you a brief overview of the setting and what the game is all about.

A Brief History

There are many gods and godlings, but there is only one Most-High.  The Most-High reigns over all from the Godseat, the Throne of Supremacy, the Seat of Knowledge, the Bringer of Good Tidings and Ill News.  Whichever being sits upon the Godseat is acknowledged as the ruler of all, but no one being can sit upon the Throne forever.  The prayers of faithful worshippers, and their propitiations, may sometimes elevate a new being to the Godseat, replacing the previous Most-High and beginning a new reign.  There are some times, perhaps once or twice a decade, when the cycles of the moon and the stars and the seasons coincide just so, when the prayers and rituals of worshippers take on special power in the area around the Godseat; these times are known as the Nights of Ascension.

Long ago, before the Years of Ruin, Continue reading