I was worried I wouldn’t have anything to write about this month. For some reason I thought I hadn’t read a lot this month. But I did, I read a whole lot! So here’s my thoughts on what I read in September, a wonderful assortment of books, webcomics, short stories, and a dissertation, for fun.
Brother to Brother: New Writings by Black Gay Men edited by Essex Hemphill, conceived by Joseph Beam – This book was assigned in an Intro to LGBT Lit class I took maybe ten years ago. We did approximately two readings (the three sticky notes I put in were still there), and I always felt we should have spent more time with it. Finally got around to putting in that time myself. Brother to Brother is an anthology of poems, short stories, memoirs, and essays by black gay men, writing about coming out experiences, family, responsibility, brotherhood, living with AIDS, racism from the gay community, homophobia from the black community, and celebrations of loving themselves and other black men. Essex Hemphill’s Introduction and Jafari Sinclaire Allen, Ph.D.’s “Re-Reading Brother to Brother: Crucial Palimpsest” provide invaluable context on the history of the anthology and Joseph Beam’s work, as well as on the history of black gay life and writing in the United States. My favorite stories were in the “When I Think of Home” section – Charles R. P. Pouncy’s “A first affair” and John Keene, Jr.’s “Adelphus King.” Both have such a tremendous mix of triumph and joy amidst the tensions and violences of racism and homophobia. The essay “Toward a black gay aesthetic: Signifying in contemporary black gay literature” by Charles I. Nero remains just as powerful as when I read it in college, and I’m struck by how little time the class spent with it, even though I think its one of the most important texts I read while in school.
O Human Star by Blue Delliquanti – This one was a friend’s recommend, and came with those warm feelings when someone knows you so well that they can read something and just know if fits the shape of your life. O Human Star follows Alastair Sterling, recently dead and rebuilt as a robot, as Alastair reconnects with past love Brendan Pinsky and his daughter Sulla, while the three of them try to figure out who commissioned and completed the building of the new robot body. Really lovely explorations of gender, love, and what it means to be human. I think Delliquanti knocks it out of the park in writing about both what it would mean if sentient robots existed in society and using metaphors about gender and transition to do so, while also exploring what it means to be a gendered person in society. Too often SFF that tries to explore a marginalization of real world groups using SFF tropes like elves or robots, but then forgets to acknowledge that those real world marginalized groups also exist. Absolutely not an issue in Oh Human Star. A really genuine, gentle, and gripping webcomic. (Did I cry a lot? Absolutely.)
By the Power of My Swipe by Laila Amado – A grandmother tells her grandchildren the story of a the reign and downfall of an evil wizard who made women into objects. Really good mixture of the cute and domestic feeling of a grandmother telling her grandkids a story, along with the pretty horrifying violence a man enacts against the women unfortunate enough to enter his life. The magic mechanics (and their real world inspiration) are inspired, and made me gasp when I realized what was happening.
Useful Guinevere and the Bio-Mechanical Dragons of Neptunias by Tina Connolly – A planet terraformed in the mode of old European myths of course needs a princess to be bait for dragons, and a hero to slay the dragons, but Guinevere is getting disenchanted with the job (and her girlfriend got bored with it months ago). This is such a funny and fun story! The parentheses and asides are deployed with tremendous and delightful effect, and the twist caught me utterly off-guard.
Weather and Ideology in Íslendinga saga: A Case Study of the Volcanic Climate Forcing of the 1257 Samalas eruption by Adam Bierstedt – Sometimes you just gotta keep up on the newest research about the Icelanders’ Saga. This is such a cool dissertation, discussing the appearance of weather phenomena in Íslendinga saga, the difference between a literary weather inclusion and one that may be a reflection of a historical event, and culminating with a case study of the 1257 eruption of Samalas, and potential weather events in Íslendinga saga that resulted from the eruption. I really appreciated the conclusion, which tied the historic response to extreme weather events (the rich continue as they always have) to the the modern response to climate crisis and warned against such a continuation. I read this in conjunction with the article How Weather Ruled the Vikings by Danielle Turner and both were a great trip into historic weather studies.