Monthly Archives: August 2013
This is the best book I’ve read this year. It is simply exquisite.
It’s difficult to compare this to any other work and to call it fantasy is to do it a disservice. It is a grotesque and beautiful narrative poem masquerading as a novel.
This is not a book for the faint-hearted, and it manages to ratchet up the sheer weirdness almost on a page-by-page basis.
The eponymous Vorrh is an imaginary but magical jungle in Africa. The book is loosely plotted around three individuals. Tsungali, a hunter and assassin brought out of retirement to hunt Williams, a white man gone native. Both of them are walking legends, larger than life. The third is a cyclops called Ishmael grown, but new to the world.
The plot conspires to bring them together in the Vorrh, but that is simplistic. There are many amazing asides. There is language so beautiful you will read a sentence three times just to feel it caressing your mind.
There is so much that is enigmatic and wonderful and disturbing. There are a number of different magic systems that all have internal consistency.
Love it or hate it, you will not forget this book. It shies away from nothing and you will wonder how the hell the author came up with the ideas.
People say they remember Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech, but it’s celebrated more as a historical event than the call-to-arms that is should be.
I’ve always had a Unified Theory of Discrimination. Be it race, gender, sexuality, ability, mental illness, the principles of discrimination and the weapons for fighting it are similar, even if the flavour is different. I read The Female Eunuch twelve years ago and went on a feminist studies binge, amazed at how generalisable the problems were to racism (yes, I know about the discussions about racism in the feminist movement. That’s for another day).
The news today is full of the commemoration. Tributes to Dr King’s courage, erudition, elocution and delivery spill over as everyone trips over themselves to say how great he was. Yet, like Mandela, we threw this man in prison.
MLK’s speech should be extrapolated to cover all types of discrimination, but do not think the battle is done or won. The commemoration should make us take stock, rather than celebrate.
Me first. I’ll admit, until I worked with LGBT clients I had no idea what difficulty they faced in everyday life. I thought, yeah, lifestyle choice, good on ya, mate. I had one gay Muslim friend with whom I discussed literature and food and philosophy. He bludgeoned his way through life with a fantastic wit and incandescent intelligence. Libidinous as hell, too. Yet he was not out to his parents. That should have told me something, but…well, it didn’t. I wasn’t homophobic, I was homoignorant. That is not enough. The more I see, the more I think we have a duty to learn and teach about the members of society we know little about. Timendi causa est nescire (The true cause of fear is ignorance).
Something else. I’m left-handed. In Western Nigeria I was spanked, called names, refused entry for offering payment with the left hand, and generally vilified because I have mixed brain dominance. This state of affairs raced into absurdity when my mother took me to the doctor to have me “medically changed” to right handedness. I am not kidding or exaggerating; that’s the extent of the ignorant, superstitious bullshit I had to live with. Luckily the doctor laughed her out of the consulting room.
I’m in a developed world, but it’s still designed for the right handed person. Don’t believe me? Pick up a random pencil or pen in your left hand and try to read the writing on the shaft. Yeah.
Jokes aside, on this day that harkens back to 28/08/1963 ask yourself:
How egalitarian is my society?
How many ‘I have a dream’ speeches are going on right now that I am ignoring?
Have I educated myself at least in a cursory way on how (insert minority here) feels discriminated against?
Do I recognise that discrimination has subjective and objective components?
Do I recognise that (shock!horror!) I might be part of the problem?
Do I recognise that I might be part of the solution?
Why does discrimination matter?
When you’ve done that, try this:
- Pick one unfamiliar term from the list below, Google it, and learn some shit.
- Pick one real life friend and talk to them about it.
That would be a start.
Ablist, heteronormative, ageism, dalit, osu, logocism, rayah, affirmative action, reverse racism, glass ceiling, transphobia, cisgender, honour killing, corrective rape, labelling theory, stigma, Jim Crow, antiziganism, cultural assimilation, microinequity and Allport’s Scale.
…or wants to be Batgirl, or has her hair cut short.
Really not caring about that right now.
This short tale is part of the collection ‘The Sandman: Endless Nights’
For the uninitiated, between 1988 and 1996 Neil Gaiman earned his chops writing a comic series called ‘The Sandman’. If you read that sentence as it stands you’re bound to have a dismissive reaction. After all, what the hell is a Sandman? The whole situation is not helped by the cheesy character in a suit, fedora, gas mask and cape that Kirby used to draw.
Gaiman’s Sandman is a sprawling yarn than incorporates mythology, history, sociology and a whole lot of other concepts that I am not smart enough to recognise. What you need to understand for the purposes of this review is that Sandman is the embodiment of dreams. He is one of the Endless, beings who all embody (and are named) Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Despair, Desire and Delirium.
‘Going Inside’ is a tale of Delirium.
Reading the story is a lot like being delirious. I’ll get to the art in a minute. The tale opens on a girl who is catatonic as a result of sexual assault, and her attentive mother. The scene changes and we meet a homeless man who clearly suffers from schizophrenia as illustrated by his fragmented, paranoid thoughts.
“If you paint this message over 1334 Seventh Street will suffer physical damage from who was behind it? The Catholics? The Templars? The A.M.A again?”
This is the start of a curious quest narrative. The five heroes have in common disorders of the mind but seem to be led on by a dog and a raven, familiars of Destruction, Delirium and Dream and the rational anchors of the story. Without the animals ‘Going Inside’ would spin out of control, flung out into boring territory by the authenticity of the streams of consciousness. Being a short story there is little I can say without revealing the plot. The beauty of the writing is in chronicling the fractured reality of the questers while maintaining forward momentum at the same time avoiding the ‘freakshow’ element. This is not as easy as it seems. How do you make people with mental illness protagonists without a. making fun of their disorder or b. using the disorder as entertainment. One way to do that is to avoid using the mentally ill in fiction, but that is absurd and discriminatory. The laziest kind of story uses invented madness rather than researching actual illnesses.
Dream is behind the story, of course, pulling the strings and saying little. This is a rescue mission into territory that even Dream would not dare enter. Negotiating their various psychoses is not easy, but the thread that runs through is the idea that a girl is hurt and they must help.
If you are unfamiliar with Sienkiewicz’s work shame on you. In this story he is in his element with explosions of colour, surreal juxtapositions, black-and-white sections and panel distortions in a mixed-media phantasmagoria. He uses a motif of fishes to lead the reader through what could be a potentially confusing series of images.
I can’t tell you what this story means. In the introduction Gaiman does not say, although he mentions a different story he had planned to do with Sienkiewicz also based on madness. You could attempt a loose interpretation by saying it takes the mentally ill to help the mentally ill. The worst thing that can happen to you reading this tale is you’ll learn what a carcharodon carcharias is.
I would buy ‘Endless Nights’ for this story alone.
No star scoring here; just go read the damn story.
Originally posted on 01/12/2012 in ‘Random Headshots’