Monday, December 21, 2009

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2009, Pt. 12: Carrie Devall

Reading: 2009
by Carrie Devall

Right now I’m reading Sarah Schulman’s The Mere Future (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2009), a snarky novel about a future NYC where social problems have (supposedly) been solved by the new mayoral administration and everyone works in marketing. I’m also working through Petina Gappah’s collection, An Elegy for Easterly (Faber & Faber, 2009), zingy short stories about life in Zimbabwe, and just started LeAnne Howe’s Miko Kings (Aunt Lute, 2007), about an all-Indian baseball team in 1907 Oklahoma, which seems like it will be as funny and devastating as her amazing Shell Shaker (2001), a Choctaw murder mystery that alternates between the past and the present, with cameos by an “art car,” the Peanutmobile.

Most of the current SF&F that I read this year was short fiction in magazines from 2009 and various “Best of 2008” anthologies. The stories that stayed with me were Geoff Ryman’s “Days of Wonder” (Oct/Nov 2008 F&SF) and Richard Bowes’ “Aka St. Mark’s Place” from The Del Rey Book of Fantasy & Science Fiction, edited by Ellen Datlow (2008).

My favorite 2009 collection was Year’s Best SF 14, ed. David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer. Mentioning this feels a bit like pandering to Aqueduct, because I thought some of the best stories were “Oblivion: A Journey” by Vandana Singh, “Arkfall” by Carolyn Ives Gilman, “Cheats” by Ann Halam (Gwyneth Jones), and it also had Ted Chiang’s “Exhalation,” “Mitigation” by Tobias S. Buckell and Karl Schroeder, and the way cool world-building of “The Ships Like Clouds, Risen By Their Rain” by Jason Sanford.

I have enjoyed the stories I have read so far from Things We Are Not, the October 2009 queer SF anthology edited by Christopher Fletcher of M-Brane SF magazine (, with an awesome cover by Mari Kurisato). Malinda Lo’s novel Ash was a lush YA lesbian take on Cinderella (Little, Brown & Co., 2009).

For older short story collections I enjoyed Martha Randall’s self-published Collected Stories (, 2007), which covers 1975 through 2007. The story that sent me searching for this was “Lázaro and Antonio,” a snazzy riff on Fibonacci-number-based FTL flight and sleazy spaceports. Mary Rosenblum’s old story collection Synthesis & Other Virtual Realities (1996) was also pretty gripping. For older novels, I liked Chris Moriarty’s Spin State (2003), a cyberpunky military SF thriller mixing quantum physics and that old time religion.

As novel research, I read most of the gay novels about AIDS from the 1980s and early 1990s. My favorites of the ones that were new to me were Felice Picano’s Like People in History (1996), and Onyx (2001), both of which contain some really stunning writing. I also still love Sarah Schulman’s fabulist take on ACT UP NY, People in Trouble (1991), and David Feinberg’s Queer and Loathing: Rants and Raves of a Raging AIDS Clone (1995), his columns and essays from the trenches of AIDS treatment activism.

A book that made me cry and also had many memorable passages was Martha Southgate’s Third Girl From the Left (2005), about the silences and relationships between a young filmmaker whose lesbian mother fled to Hollywood in the 70s and ended up in blaxploitation movies, and whose grandmother survived the white lynch mobs of the Tulsa Riots.

Also very thought-provoking was Toi Derricotte’s The Black Notebooks: An Interior Journey (1999), an intensely personal and piercing look at her own and other people’s internalized and externalized racism, from a black writer who is sometimes perceived as white.

I read many novels from queer fiction recommendation lists, the best of which were:

André Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name, a lyrical coming of age romance (2007). Aquamarine by Carol Anshaw (1997), about a swimmer who can’t get over her loss to an enigmatic girl. Stacey D’Erasmo’s prose is awe-inspiring in A Seahorse Year (2004), about a mother whose schizophrenic son disappears. Nairne Holtz’s The Skin Beneath (2007), a noirish novel about a lesbian’s search for the truth about her sister’s death. Stephanie Grant’s The Passion of Alice (1996), the best take I’ve read yet on anorexia and recovery, and, not as tight, her Map of Ireland (2008), about an Irish girl in 60s South Boston who falls for a black girl on her basketball team and her Senegalese French teacher.

Larry Duplechan’s Got 'til It’s Gone (2008) was an amusing and hot rendering of an ‘aging’ black gay man’s relationship angst. T. Cooper’s Some of the Parts (2000), a surprisingly romantic queer novel with great style. Achy Ojebas, Days of Awe (2001), about a Cuban woman's daughter who discovers her father’s family were “hidden Jews,” and Ruins (Akashic, 2009), a funny and moving story about a man who dutifully wants to stay in Cuba while everyone around him is trying to escape, and his obsession with Tiffany lamps.

As for movies, I saw Sleep Dealer before it had a limited 2009 U.S. theatrical run. The special effects and production values were amazing for the tiny budget of this scifi story about future maquiladoras that was made in Mexico, written and directed by Alex Rivera. The story was a little clunky and its use of the female sidekick/ love interest felt slightly dated, but overall it was really impressive. Now available on DVD (Spanish with subtitles).

I went to the five-plus hours of Stephen Soderberg’s Che (also in Spanish with subtitles) in the roadshow edition and never got bored. Benicio Del Toro did a great job as Che Guevara. The two halves of the film, one about Che’s time in Cuba and the other about his death in Bolivia, were suspenseful despite the known historical outcomes.

I also attended some of the Walker Arts Center’s Derek Jarman retrospective, already a fan. The new biographical film, Derek (, by Isaac Julien, about the pioneering gay British experimental filmmaker was fascinating, with great visuals and music, and showed an interesting side of Tilda Swinton, who starred in several of Jarman’s films and was a close friend. I went to Jarman’s first film, Sebastiane, not knowing what to expect: it was the first film to have dialogue all in Latin, and supposedly the first positive portrayal of homosexuality in a British film. As billed, the film was a homoerotic retelling of the story of Saint Sebastian’s crucifixion. The visual style (lingering on the desert landscape and scantily clad young men), music, and poetic dialogue (subtitled) were mesmerizing, and well worth driving in a snowstorm to experience.

Carrie Devall writes speculative fiction in Minneapolis and attended Clarion West in 2007. Her poem "Highsmith" made the short list for the 2009 Chroma magazine queer literary competition. She is working on a fantasy novel about early 1990s queer activism, "The Radical Fairy," and her essay about lesbian speculative fiction can be found in the Aqueduct Gazette, Winter 2009 (Aqueduct Press's newsletter, which is available here).

1 comment:

Nisi said...

I loved The Passion of Alice too. Stephanie Grant was one of the women who shared a time with me at Cottages at Hedgebrook, a wonderful women's writers retreat. It was dark in the daytime, but we were of good cheer. Will look for Maps.