pnppl explores her Terran ROOTs (2023)

Keskustelu2023 ROOT CHALLENGE

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pnppl explores her Terran ROOTs (2023)

1pnppl
Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 28, 7:22 pm



Hi everyone! I've been wondering how to get into the community side of LT and this seemed ideal, since I've been sticking to books I own as much as possible this year.

I primarily read speculative fiction. In the past I've ended up mostly reading ebooks while the print books gathered dust. This year I've resolved to change that, mostly by reading a bunch of vintage paperbacks. I love that they actually had cover art back in the day! I have a ton of Philip K. Dick, having resolved to eventually read everything he wrote, which has also gotten me into AE van Vogt. I also have a bunch of obscure/forgotten books by female authors, which helps to balance out the misogyny from PKD and co. somewhat. I also have a stack of magazines I'm well behind on (Asimov's, Interzone, and Not One of Us), a few short fiction anthologies, and a few recent releases.

My current goal of 42 is somewhat arbitrary, consisting of what I have in the room with me right now... it will go up if my current pace holds. But 42 is a highly propitious number.

Everything I've read so far can be seen here:
√ ROOTs only √ · 𓇋 all 2023 𓇋
This year I've been diligent about dashing off at least a few thoughts in the review field.

Highlights so far:
The Gate of Ivory series by Doris Egan
Conscience Place and The Blue Chair by Joyce Thompson
Hellspark by Janet Kagan
To Survive on This Shore - a photo book

At the moment, I'm working on From the Legend of Biel, and... I kind of hate it so far. This is actually my second attempt at it, having tried two years ago and only making it 20 pages due to boredom. It's been a useful soporific, though.

2MissWatson
huhtikuu 2, 8:41 am

Welcome and good luck with your ROOTing!

3rabbitprincess
huhtikuu 2, 1:48 pm

Welcome aboard and good luck with your challenge! I think 42 is the perfect goal for an SFF ROOTS challenge.

4pnppl
huhtikuu 2, 4:09 pm

5Jackie_K
huhtikuu 2, 4:44 pm

Welcome to the group! I hope you find it helpful in reading your own books (some of us, mentioning no names but definitely not me, no definitely not, sometimes find it more enabling of buying more books than reading. Ahem).

6pnppl
huhtikuu 2, 5:33 pm

>5 Jackie_K:
Well, it's only fair to supply your future self with books for next year's ROOT. Otherwise you're just being greedy, reserving everything to your current self.

7Jackie_K
huhtikuu 3, 4:46 am

>6 pnppl: I like your thinking!

8cyderry
huhtikuu 3, 10:09 am

Welcome! Hope all your reads are entertaining!

9pnppl
Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 4, 3:18 am

>8 cyderry:
Thanks!

I finished The Legend of Biel and... it did not improve. I award it one star. Some books are obscure for a reason. Here's a quick review:
Thanks, I hate it.

The prose is bloated and often incomprehensible. Nothing is described plainly, always with excessively poetic descriptions, often using direct contradictions. It's exhausting to try to parse.

The story doesn't make any sense. There aren't likeable characters. There isn't really a plot. It's riddled with typos. The nonsense extends to philosophy: one character explains that primitive people believe things can be owned, but their culture has evolved beyond that, and understands nothing can be owned and struggles to even comprehend the notion. Why do they even understand the word, then? Where did it come from? And later, we learn that their society is based on trade. ???

It wouldn't be obscure 70s sf without some Weird Sex Stuff. Characters are naked a lot for no reason. The prepubescent girl's undeveloped breasts are described. A man rapes a woman but she doesn't seem to mind, and I guess it's because he was in love with her? A woman has sex with her son, and a video of it is shown to her daughter, which she enjoys.

What the fuck. Awful. Completionism is a curse.

I think I'm going back to AE van Vogt next. His stories don't make sense either, but at least they're concise and use (excessively...) plain language.

10pnppl
Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 5, 12:48 am

Mission to the Stars by AE van Vogt
✹✹
I was really enjoying this up until the last third or so, where it turns into this really gross, patriarchal romance, including a sexual assault. Spoiled all my enjoyment of it.

Up next, taking a break from my own tomes. I got The Killing Star with an interlibrary loan, so I have a deadline to read it by.

11rabbitprincess
huhtikuu 5, 11:40 am

Yikes! I hope the next read is better!

12pnppl
Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 6, 7:51 am

>11 rabbitprincess:
Thanks! Yeah, not a good little run there. I'm taking a break from scifi and reading something by one of my favorite authors to break the curse: A Dream of a Woman. Even though I love her writing, it can be kind of emotionally devastating, so I'd been putting it off. It's really good so far. Oh, and Killing Star was ✹✹✹. I put up a fairly long review by my standards: https://www.librarything.com/review/183667315

13Jackie_K
huhtikuu 6, 10:46 am

>9 pnppl: >10 pnppl: Well they don't sound great! Hope the next one is better!

14rabbitprincess
huhtikuu 6, 4:16 pm

>12 pnppl: Great review! And I agree, based on that description it sounds like the library was the way to go. Glad you managed to win the ILL sweepstakes and grab it that way!

15pnppl
Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 6, 11:51 pm

>14 rabbitprincess:

Thanks!

>13 Jackie_K:

It was *much* better!

A Dream of a Woman by Casey Plett
★★★★★
Once again, Plett has written stories about trans women that are fraught and sad and often uncomfortably close to home, full of pain and sex and insight and compassion and a bit of humor. Some of these stories have a much more hopeful aspect to them than I'm used to from her, and the book left me feeling wistful but positive.

Probably the first story sticks out the most and invites the most discussion. My girlfriend thought the protagonist was just horrible, but I was more sympathetic. I think I would feel used if that happened to me.

I always enjoy learning little tidbits about Canadian and Mennonite life from her, and felt proud of myself for knowing right away that "KD" means Kraft mac & cheese.

Next up, I've started an issue of Asimov's from 1984 whose featured story is Butler's Bloodchild. I read it and I was blown away, perfect story. I'm not sure if it should qualify as a ROOT, since it belongs to my girlfriend, but since it's been in my house for years I think I'll count it. Full issue review to come.

16connie53
huhtikuu 7, 11:44 am

Welcome to the ROOTers pnppl. I hope you enjoy this group as much as I do.

17curioussquared
huhtikuu 7, 12:20 pm

Repaying your visit to my thread! Welcome to the group :) You've been reading some interesting stuff. I've never heard of Casey Plett before but your review has me intrigued!

18pnppl
huhtikuu 8, 1:06 am

>16 connie53:
Thanks! So far so good :)

>17 curioussquared:
:) Thanks! Her first book, A Safe Girl to Love is a classic of trans lit. One of the stories is very short and funny and was previously published here: https://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/column-7-the-young-mans-guide-to-wearing-and...

19pnppl
Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 10, 1:49 am

Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, June 1984
✹✹✹✹✹
This issue opens with an editorial by Asimov about the importance of scifi engaging with religious topics, even when that might offend religious readers. Apparently a story they published previously was controversial. Then in the letters to the editor, quite a lot of them are about whether Asimov's should publish sex and violence. It seems like the editors wanted to emphasize their position of not censoring these things, because besides Butler's disturbing cover story, the other novelettes concern atheist aliens and religious zealots, and a man who summons a demon with his computer. There's sex and even drug use. Woohoo!

While the authorship is only about ⅓ women, it's interesting to me, as someone who cares about the erasure of women from scifi, that the letters to the editor are about 50-50.

The art is everywhere and it's gorgeous. There are honest to god advertisements for scifi books. It's quite a window into an earlier era of science fiction, and sadly shows how much Asimov's has declined.

Highlights:
novelette: Bloodchild by Octavia Butler ✷✷✷✷✷
I'm so glad I finally read this masterpiece. It's a perfect scifi story. It raises all sorts of political points without being a simple allegory: it builds a convincing fictional world, with its own rules and concerns. And wow, it's creepy as fuck!

The first thing it makes me think of is abortion and reproductive autonomy more generally. You might read it as a speculation on what if men bore the brunt of reproductive oppression, but actually, the women in the story are still subject to forced birth of the traditional kind: the Tlic leave them alone only so they can produce more humans to use as birthing vessels.

Another obvious connection is to racial oppression. The humans are penned up on reservations and treated like chattel slaves before being brought into the more intimate oppression of family adoption. Particularly interesting here is Gatoi, the liberal Tlic. It's ambiguous whether she truly cares about the humans she owns, but clearly it wouldn't change the fundamentally unequal situation if she did.

Her interest in dulling the humans' pain, but not granting them autonomy, reminded me as much of liberals as of pet ownership. Especially the way the humans behave like pets, cuddling up to the Tlic. Humans in real life fancy that we love our pets, and really do go out of our way to make them happy, but the fact remains that their legal status is chattel.

Just a fantastic story that makes you think about these bigger concepts while still working perfectly on the literal level. That's as good as it gets, in my opinion.

novelette: Saint Theresa of the Aliens by James Patrick Kelly ✷✷✷
This story is so wacky. Tankie aliens who pilot neon-colored monkey bodies around and have names like Twisted Logic. I liked that it engaged with religion directly in a funny and irreverent way. And I just love the idea of the aliens landing and they're Stalinists with squeaky voices who giggle a lot.

short story: Medra by Tanith Lee ✷✷✷
My first time reading Tanith Lee, who is more on the fantasy side of things. That shows in this story.

short story: Wagon, Passing by Paul J. McAuley ✷✷✷✷
A nice story about a post-nuclear world. I loved the smallness of this, the significance of the small things like the exchange of roses, and the reminder to appreciate civ while we still can.

Duds (1-2 stars):
None!

20pnppl
Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 10, 6:23 am

My pivot to short fiction was interrupted by a novel calling my name. This is another one that doesn't technically belong to me, my second ROGT. She's got a good track record so far!

Manhunt by Gretchen Felker-Martin
♀ ♀ ♀ ♀
This was unlike anything I've read before. I'm a little surprised I liked it as much as I did.

This book is filthy. I would love to see the pearl-clutching if the Christfash Book Burning Brigade ever get their hands on it. This book is drenched in gore, piss, shit, sweat, and cum. People fuck constantly, and they all have kinks. The book seems to revel in being gross. That said, it's frontloaded. The book opens with brutality and doesn't let up for a while, but then it calms down. Or maybe I just got desensitized to it! When it was revealed that the zombies have barbs on their dicks, I was momentarily stunned, then I remembered what I was reading and was just like, oh, of course they do.

It's often darkly hilarious. You don't see too much of this in the first section of the book, besides the girl who keeps getting inappropriately turned on by being hunted, but it really comes out later. Sometimes it's less funny and more just aggressively ironic, like the woman who gets murdered by a queer house with a "safe space" sign on the door. The part that made me crack up hardest was when we see the inside of the TERF leader's office, and it's plastered with pictures of trans women. Even in the post-apocalypse, they're still collecting pictures of us! I myself have made it into at least one of their creepy rogues galleries. They are obsessed.

The skewering of TERFs is one of the main selling points here. This book eviscerates them, literally and figuratively. Janice Raymond herself is even an in-universe ringleader who the TERFs call "the doctor" and name a city after. The snark is off the charts. There's a chapter about the TERFs going to war called "Moral Mandate". It's funny as hell and completely unafraid to represent transphobia in its full hideousness.

The other big selling point for me is getting inside the heads of the characters. Their thoughts and relationships are the real meat of the story, not the stuff that gets ripped off victims of T-zombies. I was particularly taken with the complicated relationship between two trans women, one fishy and one a "brick". I feel like trans women envying each other is a well worn topic but not one I see in fiction, and it made me reflect on my potential to thoughtlessly hurt people. The chaser TERF was another highlight; she's absolutely despicable but being in her head was fascinating.

I actually think this works better as a gender novel than a speculative fiction one. I have some gripes about that. If I understand correctly, it's only been three years since everyone with enough testosterone turned into a zombie. And yet, the spironolactone and estrogen have gone bad and houses are rotting. I just don't buy that. If meds go bad that fast, my plan for stockpiling is fucked. Why didn't the author just say they ran out?

Another weird thing is, why didn't they all get orchiectomies? They clearly have the capacity. I am not convinced that herbal treatments like licorice root are very effective; I wouldn't chance it now, much less with the zombification factor. Thankfully, the plot doesn't hinge on this. Similarly, it doesn't make any sense to ingest testes when they could shoot clean estrogen; any efficiency losses in the extraction would be made up for with the increased bioavailability of injection. But it's funny and gross, which is the point, and the plot is unaffected.

I do wonder how much I might have missed, thanks to having intentionally avoided other "gendercide" stories (I always assume they're cissexist, bioessentialist crap). The Maenads, in particular, seem like they didn't go anywhere and are a little out of place with the TERF ideology. Was that a reference to something? Maybe the SCUM Manifesto?

Anyway, it's not a book I'll soon forget. Now every time I have the misfortune of seeing r/TwoXChromosomes, I'll think of The New Womyn's Commonwealth.

21pnppl
huhtikuu 10, 2:12 pm

We're supposed to be REDUCING the unread pile! Bad Thriftbooks! Bad!

22pnppl
Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 12, 5:17 am

DiFate's Catalog of Science Fiction Hardware - a scifi art book
✹✹✹
This is really cute! Instead of just showing artwork, it's sort of a pseudo-encyclopedia, including blueprints. I feel like they kinda overcommitted to the bit, since the paintings are the main thing, but it was fun and definitely an appropriate way to present scifi art. And now I finally know what a waldo is.

One frustrating thing is the binding ruins two-page spreads, and I noticed the printing was cut off on the outer edge once, so this could have been printed better.

I was first turned onto his art by the cover of Killing Star:


Here are a couple of my favorites from the book, "Urban Monad" and "Android" (the cover of Broke Down Engine):

23rabbitprincess
huhtikuu 12, 7:06 pm

Oooh Urban Monad is so pretty! I love the contrast of the blue sky and white buildings.

24pnppl
Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 13, 8:21 am

>23 rabbitprincess:
Lovely right? Wish I could find high-res digital copies of his art for wallpapers.

I haven't gotten much reading done the last few days. My stack of magazines might have to remain unread a while longer. I just can't seem to quite get into the short story mood. Before, I was too depressed to focus my attention on reading for longer than a story or two at a time, and magazines were perfect. But now, I can't seem to focus on a short story all the way through, yet I can chug down a novel in a day. Huh. Maybe because it's more escapist? Every day is an adventure when you're depressed!

Asimov's Science Fiction (July/August 2022)
✹✹✹
It's perhaps a mercy that I'm so behind on my magazines. This issue opens with a piece on an awards ceremony held in person in Florida, maskless. In July '22 this would have been extremely depressing, but now in April '23 I have already lost all faith in humanity.

I liked Silverberg's editorial. He relates how he and Harlan Ellison lifted books from a convention, hahaha. I was honestly a little surprised he didn't wring his hands over it, given the industry attitude toward "piracy".

Kelly's long list of links article rounds up TV adaptations of scifi stories. This alerted me to the existence of a Childhood's End show. Welcome to Paradox sadly didn't make the cut.

Novella: The Goose by Rick Wilber ✷✷
My second time with a Wilber novella, no more successful than the first. This is a time travel story, set in the US in the runup to WWII. It just thought it was boring. Nothing much happens despite a large cast. And it repeats itself a lot, reminding us Laura Ingalls is a Nazi aviator every time she appears, for example. I was interested in some of the historical stuff, like I hadn't heard of the Silver Shirts, but that was about all I got from it.

Highlights:
novelette: Work Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh ✷✷✷✷
This is the second time I've read an Asimov's cyberpunk story by this author about women's oppression, the last being Dollbot Cicily. This one is more down-to-earth but just as cynical. I liked this a lot. I might have to read his novels.

short story: Pollen and Salt by Octavia Cade ✷✷✷✷
A story about grief told through ecological science, with a backdrop of climate change and pandemics. Maybe not a showstopper, but it resonated with me.

novelette: The Secret of Silphium by Megha Spinel ✷✷✷
This is just a cute story. I'm a sucker for AI and for religious phenomena of technological origin. It's a little... I don't know how to put it, it feels fake? There's a very strange yet comforting scene where everyone goes around the room saying they want to die. But anyway, I liked how it all came together at the end.

short story: Ugly by Paul Melko ✷✷✷
In this story, pretty and ugly are physiological states. People undergo a werewolfesque transformation when they become ugly. Very weird.

Duds (1-2 stars):
Goblin Market by Robert R. Chase
I was interested in this since it's an econ story, which is kind of uncommon. But then, rather out of step with the vibe, the author introduces people who try to change their species and get legal rights for it. I couldn't read it as anything but an attack on trans people, and it ends with one of them hanging his head and accepting he's human. Ugh!

25pnppl
Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 17, 8:17 pm

Why Cats Paint: A Theory of Feline Aesthetics by Heather Busch and Burton Silver
★★★
I bought this because I saw it in the list of placeholders while LT calculated my recommendations, and I can't resist weird things or cats. It's not quite what I thought it would be. I figured it would be a parody of abstract art, and it kind of is, but it's also kind of this weird hoax, or like, overcommitment to a bit. It includes evidence that the cats are actually painting, so the art critics are right to look for meaning in the pieces (perhaps more right than ones looking at human artists, since humans can communicate their intentions directly...). It also includes "morphic resonance" which is a bit out of left field, apparently to explain... why cats paint. So it feels less like satire, and more like a strange transmission from an alternate universe. Apparently people can't tell if it's serious, but it was extremely obvious to me that it was a joke. It just wasn't a very funny one.

Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese American by Laura Gao
★★★★
I love graphic memoirs and struggle to review them. This didn't focus on Covid-19 as much as I thought it would, given the emphasis on Wuhanese. It actually doesn't come into play until the end, and is used to emphasize how alienated she is. Fine with me — it was still an interesting and quite beautiful book. I do wish some more of the Chinese had been translated; I had to look up a few things.

26pnppl
Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 17, 8:16 pm

Uhura's Song by Janet Kagan
✹✹✹✹
This was a fun, pleasant read. I'd never read a Star Trek book before, and read this due to the author. It's much like her Hellspark book. There isn't much by way of action. Instead it's more about cultural exchange, getting to know the catlike aliens' society. There's a nice optimism to it too, where most everyone just wants the best for everyone else.

I made the mistake of Googling a term I was unfamiliar with and it spoiled the twist at the end. But the twist really doesn't add anything to the story. It seems like it was put in to encourage a sequel. It's a real shame she didn't get to write one.

I enjoyed this so much that I might read more Star Trek books. Some others have been received just as well. But perhaps I should actually watch through TOS first so I don't get tripped up Googling things.

27pnppl
huhtikuu 21, 10:31 pm

I'm back on my space opera bullshit.

City of Diamond by Jane Emerson (Doris Egan)
✹✹✹✹
I knew reading this was a bit of a gamble. It's a chonker, at over 600 pages, and the sequel may never be written. I think the gamble paid off. I'm left with plenty of unanswered questions, but the strength of the book is more in the characters and world than the plot.

There is a large cast, but they're easy to keep straight because they're all so distinct. My favorite is the "demon", a half-alien of a type known to be sociopathic. He's baffled by humans, like a Data or Spock, but perhaps not as cold-blooded as he at first seems. Another highlight is the "Graykey", a member of an order apparently descended from Scotland, who contract themselves as loyal servants and use spiritual exercises to enter the perspective of their contract-holders. Then there is a man who is essentially king; he's mostly likeable, and somewhat of a reformer, but he's clearly dangerous. He's sort of a Caligula type.

The worldbuilding is great fun. The main setting is a giant spaceship polity run by a medieval theocracy, based on a fusion of Christianity with a mysterious ancient alien species. The Diamond is more secularized than their sister ship The Opal, and we don't learn much about the third one, The Pearl, where the mystics live. They're all pretty ruthless. Even the less backward, secular space station they dock with will space people who can't afford air. It's a grim world, but it's populated with lively, vibrant characters.

Rather unexpectedly, this book briefly used a trope that's close to my heart. A boy hears a rumor that his schoolteacher is trans, spies on her, and discovers she is actually an android! Part of why I like android stories so much is that they parallel trans stories, but I don't think I've seen it spelled out this explicitly before.

If Egan writes a sequel, I will pre-order it without hesitation. This book did not feel like 600 pages.

28connie53
toukokuu 22, 1:43 pm

Hi P. Nice reading. I've read some SF in the past, but not that much and I can't remember a thing about them. Good to see you're back to reading. Small steps, small steps.

29pnppl
toukokuu 22, 3:23 pm

>28 connie53:
Thanks! I know you didn't ask, but if you ever want to read SF that you'll remember, I can't recommend Ted Chiang enough. :) My tomes have been gathering dust the last few weeks as I spend more time outside, but I've been listening to audiobooks during, so it's a wash.

30pnppl
Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 6, 6:00 pm

Well, it's a recently released comic book that just arrived in my mailbox, but it counts as an own-tome in my schema.

You Will Own Nothing and You Will Be Happy #1 by Simon Hanselmann

When I first saw this go on sale, the title made me a little nervous. It's a phrase originating from the World Economic Forum, and aptly describes capitalists' plan for our economy. But from what I know, it's primarily used by the far-right, the types who talk about "bugmen". But the strength of Hanselmann's previous work led me to buy it anyway. He's always been edgy and out of step with liberals, and it's hard to get copies of his self-pubs before they sell out.

Unfortunately, politics is the most interesting thing about this issue. It's the first entry in a new series, previously called Megg, Mogg & Zombies, which is about what it sounds like. It's just the gang during a zombie apocalypse. There was like, maybe one joke (which wasn't funny). I get that it's setting up the story, but basically nothing interesting happened. I mean, Megg drank bongwater, which made me feel better about my own cannabis use, but that's about it. The lovely artwork is there, and there's a pretty nice two-page spread. And it's physically very impressive, especially for a zine; it has a sort of flexible plastic cover with printing on both sides, and a holographic sticker.

And then, after the comic, there's a rant by the author about the state of publishing and politics and so forth, along with reader mail answered. And uh... it's this section that contains everything this release actually has to say. It... isn't great. Besides admitting the zombie idea is garbage to crank out for money, he dedicates a lot of space to criticizing a unionization effort on the grounds that the workers wanted the right to cancel releases by problematic authors. Personally, I think people who actually do a company's work should have the right to decide what that company publishes, but Hanselmann is freaked out about censorship. He criticizes "self-flagellating weirdo race-communist sensitivity readers".

Well, that's setting off some serious warning bells, but ok, Hanselmann gets it from both barrels being a queer edgelord. He's probably more fed up with that whole set of liberals who don't understand how art works than most people. And then he drops the phrase "LGBTQI2SBMAP+ propaganda" seemingly unironically and I'm like fuck this, your goodwill is gone. ("MAP" means pedophile, for those out of the loop.)

Based on some of the comments, I get the impression that he outed himself as moving right with his last release, Below Ambition, which I haven't read yet (partially because I mistakenly thought it was just a re-release of something I already read). I'm almost afraid to find out what he wrote. This all reminded me that there was an antisemitic joke in Crisis Zone. I was upset by it, but I thought it was a fluke and put it aside. Now I'm kinda wishing that I'd bailed on Megg & Mogg forever right then and there. After all, I'm unlikely to ever purchase (much less routinely pre-order!) his work again.

It's sad, not only because I'm losing my favorite cartoonist, but also because it screams self-hating behavior to me. He mentions experiencing gender dysphoria from age 5. Well, maybe consider transitioning instead of making it our problem.

Fuck, what a bummer.

31rocketjk
toukokuu 23, 10:27 am

Hi! I just dropped into your thread, here, and enjoyed your recent posts. I noted the Walter Jon Williams in your thrift store purchase stack. I don't read a whole lot of science fiction these days, but I've been gradually reading through Williams' Hardwired series. I have only the final book, Angel Station, to go. It's a very enjoyable set, although the first book so far is clearly the best. Cheers!

32pnppl
toukokuu 23, 12:38 pm

>31 rocketjk:
Thanks for stopping in! I've heard Hardwired is good, been meaning to read that for ages. I've only read his Praxis series so far (although I'm a book behind on it too).

33connie53
toukokuu 24, 7:25 am

>29 pnppl: I will look for Mr. Chiang's books! Thanks for the tip.

34pnppl
kesäkuu 12, 3:58 pm

ROGT #3/ROOT #34

I've Got A Time Bomb by Sybil Lamb
★★
I wanted to like this more than I did. I love Sybil's online content and unique vocabulary and just generally badassness. I sometimes cannot understand her at all, though, which is why I put off reading this for so many years. It turns out, that wasn't really an issue. While her neologisms and original spellings are intact, the grammar is mostly ordinary and there's punctuation and all that jazz.

So it's linguistically coherent, but it doesn't feel coherent on the plot level. It's less of a novel and more a collection of vignettes. Those vignettes involve some very colorful characters, but they are also repetitive: Sybil falls in with someone who she is attracted to, they do drugs and engage in bizarre and dangerous activities, then they fall out and she moves somewhere else. For all the color of her characters, they start to blur together. Eventually I would read a name and have to remind myself, oh that's the new girl Sybil's with.

I guess the repetition is probably part of the point. It certainly drives home that Sybil's life is precarious, nomadic, and follows a pattern of attaching herself to people she meets for life's necessities. I'm not sure how much of this is drawn from personal experience, but it definitely rings true to stories I've heard from traveling punks, queer kids living on the street, etc. Either way, my interest wore thin at the seemingly endless parade of drugs, sex, and sloppy electrical work.

Even so, I would have probably finished this book in a day rather than slogging for weeks, and rated it higher, except for something that kept tripping me up: namely, the sexual assault. Book-Sybil does not seem to really grasp consent. She drugs boys so she can fondle them; she keeps touching people after they say no; she conceives of sex as a thing, to be obtained through deceit or other means. At one point she explains how she learned this from all the guys who did it to her, and in fact she often goes after violent guys. So in a way, when she targets men, it's presented as a counterbalance on the scale of power? And it's often an expression of begging for love that nobody wants to give her.

Now, the narrative definitely does not suggest that Sybil is always in the right. She makes bad decisions constantly. I'm not trying to take the book/author to task for depicting bad behavior. But it leaves a bad taste in your mouth when the character you're supposed to be rooting for does that, especially since it's treated so casually. It's an example of a tone problem that runs throughout the book: it's so goofy and quirky and fun, but it's also full of this depressing shit and tries to make some serious points. That's a problem because the structural incoherence means that this book is most enjoyable when you're not trying too hard to think about it, and just letting the cute weirdness wash over you. And that's a lot harder to do when the cute weirdness has chunks of sex assault mixed up in it, personally.

I will say that it does a bang-up job communicating the vibe of the '10s when everyone was doing those sketchy designer drugs. On a vibes level it works great. She really puts you into those dingy environments full of people getting fucked up on mystery powders. I think I would have liked this more if I read it when it came out. That it's written from a trans woman's perspective was much more radical in 2014, but even now it's notable to me that this book seems unapologetically written for a trans/queer audience.

Oh, and I somehow forgot to mention the art. This book is illustrated by the author! Her art style rules. The drawings and prose go together perfectly.


Enjoying books much less than I hope due to depictions of sexual violence seems to be a running theme in my life...