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Sunday, May 7, 2017

Dawn by Octavia E. Butler: Review

Dawn (Xenogenesis, #1)Dawn by Octavia E. Butler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First thing is first. Dawn, by Octavia Butler has one issue in that it sometimes over explains, labors too much on a point or returns to it again and again. In that, this book can sometimes be frustrating, slow, a bit of a slog, and so on.

However, these parts are sparse enough and the ideas and characterizations within it are powerful enough to make these dull bits easier to plow through.

So then, tell me, if the world were going to end, humanity about to exterminate itself, and you woke to find yourself saved, cured of a gene that would lead you to your own demise, by some alien race, and all that was asked was that you would be changed and be used for their purpose, how would you feel? Would you find this to be a fair trade? Would you rebel? Would you kill yourself, or struggle on, even if that meant the end of the human race as it was absorbed into another, jellyfish like race?

These are a few of the questions at the heart of this novel, the first in a series. When Lilith finds herself as the chosen leader of a group of humans, being trained and taught to do this, she must confront these questions. In this story, she is given so much, is even treated kindly, yet there is some insidious nature to it. As if her alien captors, despite their kindness, view her and humanity at large, as somehow lesser, as pets, as subhuman.

Even as they change her and give her more freedom they ignore her reluctance, telling her again and again that she will choose to obey their wishes. Even as she holds onto this reluctance she knows her only chance is the return to earth, where humankind may live or die by its own hand.

Naturally I cannot speak to Butler's intentions when writing this novel, I know little enough about her on the whole and, very tragically, she died young. However, what I really got from this novel is an exploration of what it feels like to be in a society where, perhaps you are not treated as we might classically associate as slaves being treated, but nonetheless, the characters are treated as slaves. As property, their autonomy denied in favor of a select gene.

Even Lilith's gain of freedom and power is just reward for being a good slave. She does as she is told and learns well. Even what love she might feel for one of her captors seems to be, on some level, a calculated necessity for survival.

It is apt then, that Butler choose a black woman to represent these experiences, to better convey the horror and dehumanization that goes hand in hand with being altered as greatly as she is. Indeed, this book is both unbelievably smart and intensely horrifying. A truly great read that everyone should take part in.

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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Kiernan: Review

The Red TreeThe Red Tree by CaitlĂ­n R. Kiernan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book. This fucking book. It was, without a doubt, one of the most horrifying reads that I've ever had the pleasure to sit in a corner, cowering, and enjoy. And not just because of the Lovecraftian weirdness or the Poe style atmosphere being built up over the course of the novel. No, not simply for that.

The plot to this story is a fairly easy to follow one. Sarah Crowe, amidst her seizures and guilt over the suicide of her lover, Amanda, and her own writer's block, has moved to Providence. She has moved into a small country house and is living there, dirt poor, and chronicling her experiences, thoughts, memories, and feelings into a journal.

Simple enough set up. But then things start getting weird. Real weird. And I'm not enough of an asshole to spoil it here so if you want to know then you are going to have to simply hop on over to amazon or go to a book store and buy this beautiful book.

So then, if I'm not willing to get into the oddities of this little gem, if I'm not willing to spoil the impossibilities there within to illustrate just how horrifying this book was to me, how do I convey it? Simply enough, actually. By talking about the other thing this book has going on, by talking about the insight that Kiernan has when it comes to the experience of being a writer.

First there are a few things I want to get out of the way. Namely this: Kiernan has a philosophy when it comes to her writing and that is that she does not believe that horror is a genre so much as an emotion, an feeling experienced and boy does she do well at having her characters--and readers--experience just that. The other thing is that this novel is rife with references to other literature, some of which is obvious, being quoted, some more subtle, and though I've not read nearly enough to say for certain, I get the feeling that some of our character, Sarah Crowe's experiences and feelings on her own writing can be reflected back onto Kiernan herself.

But, much like the character of this novel, I digress.

The thing that really made this book hit home for me was that Sarah Crowe, miserable old bitch though she might be, is somewhere near my own heart. As a writer myself I can attest to that abject misery that comes along with the writing process. Do not misunderstand, I love doing it, in a sick sort of way. In the way that someone might have a fetish for pain to I have a fetish for writing and by god does it terrify me to be in a state where the well has run dry.

I think Bukowski said it best in his poem, "So you want to be a writer," something along the lines of, "Unless being still would drive you to madness of murder." That's what its like, I think. That's the feeling of it. But if it were to run dry, then all you have left is that slow descent into bitterness and madness.

That's what Sarah Crowe had waiting for her, except she was already bitter. And that's frightening. Having nothing left within you to expunge, having nothing but your own need to be right, and your own bitterness. Having all that was good behind you and the only thing waiting for you up ahead is a slow fall into madness.

So, read this book. It is damn good.

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