Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Pleasures of Reading, Listening, and Viewing in 2014, pt. 14: Liz Henry

Pleasures 2014
by Liz Henry

I have a lot of recommendations this year for works that I’ve enjoyed. It is an extra pleasure to get to pass them along to other Aqueduct readers and writers!

At you can sign up for a near-daily newsletter on the #Ferguson protests, with links and information from Netta and DeRay. Also follow them on Twitter as @deray and @Nettaaaaaaaa. This is a good guide to what’s happening and where your support may be useful!

Elysium by Jennifer Marie Brissett. I’m recommending this with huge enthusiasm on all channels!
This is the story of Adrian(ne), Antoine(ette), Hector/Helen moving through time and identities as the world is fragmented and destroyed. Their love of each other and the world comes through vividly in each glimpse you get of their stories, interrupted by head injuries, dying or death, insanity, war, interspersed with a somewhat sly, poetic, internal computer dialogue in code. Gorgeous writing, haunting characters and a fast pace (but good if you slow down to savor it.) It has a great structural beauty and will make you think of fugues, both musical and mental.

The World of the Indigenous Americas, ed. Robert Warrior. This book was briefly free for the Kindle this year, but is now over $100. It is a good book to suggest to your local library. If you don’t mind academic writing, it’s excellent and mind-expanding. I’m still in mid-book, but have particularly enjoyed the chapters on the Zapatista concept of rights and collective decision making, the one on Alaskan native politics since the Alaskan Native Claims Settlement Act, and the article on Yoeme geographies which describe awareness among the Yoeme people around Tuscon but across the border into Mexico of their history of generations of fighting in several splintered groups over the last hundred years.

The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal. The Kingdom has the surreal feeling of a fantasy world or a fairy tale, but I’d call it speculative historical fiction. It’s set in a 16th-century Scandinavian palace. The story cuts between several protagonists who are in different social classes in palace life. The politics of sugar production and empire, and the horrible fact that everyone has syphilis, are central elements. I think it is a fairy tale about sugar and syphilis not just about syphilis and that’s important! Really, really not for the faint of heart. You know the part in Octavian Nothing where his mom dies of smallpox? This entire book is like that bit. Power and politics are rather horribly embodied. I am amazed anyone classified this as YA. Rape, intense racism, invasive gynecological “exams”, putrescence, and more rape. If you can handle that, this is an AMAZING book. It even has a happy ending, sort of.

The Mirror Empire: Worldbreaker Saga 1 by Kameron Hurley. Another weird and wild story with multiple realities and worlds. There is an inter-dimensional civil war! Sentient, scary plants! Weird magic and biological weaponry! Hurley’s usual lushly complicated, brutal, perturbing, and awesome world building, with bad-ass characters caught up in cosmic battles. I love super vivid epic fantasy with big casts of characters! I’m looking forward to the next book in this saga!

Framing the Rape Victim: Gender and Agency Reconsidered, by Carine M. Mardorossian. Great food for thought in here. I am very intrigued by how Mardorossian frames violence as always sexualized. This is an intense, thinky book that’s taking me a while to finish.

The Boy at the End of the World by Greg Van Eekhout. A fun and satisfying kids’ book good for middle grade readers. The protagonist wakes up in a sort of cold storage facility and realizes he’s the last person on earth. He roams around the post-apocalypse world, fishing, eating bugs, and looking for the other Arks along with a friendly but somewhat clueless janitor robot, a pygmy mammoth, and a giant talking mutant prairie dog who loves her blaster pistol collection. This is one of the books I’m recommending to people who ask for recent science fiction (not fantasy), not so intense or graphically violent as books that are classified as YA — along with True Meaning of Smekday, MM9, and Cryptid Hunters.

Ra by Sam Hughes. This hugely popular web serial is about a world where magic was discovered in 1970 and works kind of like computer science. It starts as the story of twin sisters, one a theoretical thaumaturge and the other more into experimental and practical science, exploring the use of magic as they re-think the tragic death of their mother who disappeared while trying to rescue an exploding space shuttle. This book one-ups itself every couple of pages as its characters discover what they thought was true has to be turned on its head. The way that it wipes out reality so quickly and the constant techno-magic babble made me laugh pretty hard.

Stranger by Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown. A good read about life in the post apocalypse environmental disaster Southwestern US. There is great tension over who does and doesn’t have mutant psychic powers. Life in a multiethnic far-future small town. Hard to fail with mutant teenagers having drama, giant crystalline vampire trees, and a border war.

Kabu Kabu by Nnedi Okorafor. Every single short story in this collection blew me away! Super
fabulous. I will always read everything Nnedi writes. She’s funny, deep, superb on every level in her far-ranging stories. This is a brilliant book!

Sansûkh by determamfidd. (Archive of Our Own). Thorin, Fili, and Kili wake up after death surrounded by loving family in the halls of the creator of the Dwarves. By gazing into a tv-like pool they can enter Middle Earth to watch and be present as the events of LOTR unfold. Thorin alone has the gift of being sometimes seen or heard by the living in their dreams or unconscious mind. The rich history of the Dwarves unfolds, including many explorations of the strong and powerful women of their clans, along with drawings of them. The dead watch and discuss the doings of the living collectively in a way that is very reflective of fan culture. G-rated by the way. This is a very long, epic book, and the writing is sometimes a little clumsy but well worth it as a total re-write of LOTR from the point of view of the dead, re-centering Gimli as a hero of great depth while exploring Thorin’s flaws and personal/political damage.

An Expected Journey by MarieJacquelyn. (Archive of Our Own). This is definitely not G-rated. Bilbo dies and goes back into his body when he was 50, just before the events of The Hobbit, with a chance to live it all over again and do things “right” this time. He so desperately loves Thorin and wants to save Thorin, Fili, and Kili from death.

Born from the Earth by venusm. (Archive of Our Own). This alpha/beta/omega Avengers fic is definitely not for the faint of heart and is for Mature audiences only. Some very interesting worldbuilding including biological details and social background here. It centers around Tony Stark as a severely traumatized abuse survivor who resists his social role. If you

A Night to Surrender by Tessa Dare (Spindle Cove Book 1). This is the first in a series of romance novels set in Spindle Cove, a small seaside town where misfit debutantes come to enjoy an independent life where they get to be active, do scientific research, and learn to shoot in the company of like-minded women. A military regiment comes to town. Hijinks ensue. These are often funny and good. But sometimes veer into what I feel is rapey or non-con territory.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Everyone I know who read this enjoyed it and its insistence that we hold every object we own, and only keep it if provides us with a “spark of joy.” If you don’t feel the spark of joy, thank the object for its service and what it taught us. Then get rid of it. Also notable is Kondo’s charming and loving anthropomorphic descriptions of how socks feel if they are folded incorrectly in your drawer.

Cheesemonger by Gordon Edgar. (aka gordonzola). Edgar writes an interesting journey into work and the politics of food, describing what it’s like to work at the Rainbow Grocery co-operative and his years of learning about cheese. Honk if you like politics in your cheese!

Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins. Every story in this anthology was good! “Most written chronicles of history, and most speculative stories, put rulers, conquerors, and invaders front and center," the editors wrote in the project description. "People with less power, money, or status—enslaved people, indigenous people, people of color, queer people, laborers, women, people with disabilities, the very young and very old, and religious minorities, among others—are relegated to the margins.” Except in this book where they are front and center!

Nazi Literature in America by Roberto Bolaño. Bolaño is an awesome writer in general. This book is probably not everyone’s cup of tea. It parodies literary criticism in a series of essays about (fake) Nazi authors over the 20th century and their influences on various literary scenes.

Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko. No question in my mind this is one of the Great American Novels. I could just suggest it every year.

I have been enjoying Spotify! For a low monthly cost it gives access to a very good selection of music. I’ve been impressed at how well their Latin American music coverage has gotten. You can construct playlists and download them for offline playing.

Tkay Maidtza. Switch Tape. Super fun hip hop with weird electronic or dubstep bits. Peppy and energetic! U-Huh is a very catchy song.

Kelis. An incredibly versatile artist. I have especially enjoyed her album “Flesh Tone” and recommend for your feminist science fiction playlist, 22nd Century, Brave, and Lil Star.

Janelle Monae, Electric Lady. Great stuff! Listen and watch!

Felicia Alima, Know Me. I only have found a few songs by Alima but they are very catchy hip hop. I hope to hear more work by her in the future!

The Best of Bootie series. This is a free, downloadable, yearly compilation of mashups. My favorites from 2013 are “Funky Black Party Starter”, “iwantthatPOWER” and “The Next Episode in the Thrift Shop”. Harking back to 2011 I have to mention Gucci Gucci Girl Power, a mashup of Kreayshawn, Toni Basil, Le Tigre, the Ting Tings, and the Trashwomen. This song includes meowing. Guilty pleasure indeed! (

The Red Aunts. Try Detroit Valentine if you like screamy punk rock! The Shitbirds. Oh Joy is also on this year’s “screamy punk rock” list. Brody Dalle, Diploid Love. Riot Grrrl action!

Viewing (with some listening included)
The “Internet Feminists are Watching You” sticker. This is available at the Double Union feminist hackerspace in San Francisco. It is hilariously effective to perturb people who notice it on my laptop.

It’s Raining Men, a music video by the Weather Girls. I spent an enjoyable day recently foraying into the work of Martha Wash, whose career spans disco, house, and club music. She backed Sylvester and then formed her own group with Izora Rhodes, the Weather Girls. You can hear her powerful voice in Everybody Everybody and C+C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat”. She was regularly denied credit for her work on songs and albums. Music videos of her songs replaced her with a lip syncing model since music company marketing people declared she was unmarketable due to her weight. At some point Wash successfully sued to get vocalist credit and royalties. This case led to successful legislation requiring credit for vocalists in music videos and albums. Anyway, she kicks ass. We can count this video as speculative fiction, as well, based on its representation of Mother Nature and all those fabulous angels. Watch the video for a loving, hilarious, positive expression of desire straight from the 80s:

Monument Valley is a very beautiful and emotionally moving little puzzle game, for iOS or Android. It is a little girl walking around an Escher-like landscape. The plot is minimal but evocative. I played the game through twice along with its prequel, Forgotten Shores. I also watched my son play through both games and enjoyed watching him think through the puzzles, have his mind blown by the solutions, and react emotionally to the beauty of the art and music of the game. We both marveled at how strong our feelings were for the “Totem”, the friend of the princess, basically a stack of yellow lego-like blocks with a single eyeball. How can we love a stack of blocks with an eyeball on it quite so much? An impressive array of fan art is collected on

A Dark Room is a brilliant game especially if you’ve played a lot of text adventures and games of economic balance. Extra bonus if you know rogue-like games and played Nethack. Though I don’t think that is necessary, I felt many insights into those categories of games and my own enjoyment of them. This game has versions that aren’t quite right (or official) for Android. To play it fully, you need to play it on iOS. The prose is very minimal but affecting. The pace is brilliant. To say more would really spoiler it. It pushes the boundaries of what “text-only” means. I found the game’s impact to be emotionally devastating in the best of ways.

Clash of Clans is a MMORPG that looks very simple at first but which has some nice strategy if you like directing armies and tower defense games. I got a little bit bored with Kingdom Rush (which is still great) and feel this kicks it up a notch. I can play solo or attack other players with my barbarians, goblins, giants, and wizard armies. I joined my 7 year old nephew’s clan along with my sister, our dad, her husband, and my kids. The pace of the game is slow. It’s not something you really play for hours, but rather something you can check on and fiddle for a little while with every day or so, upgrading your elixir collectors and mines, sending out armies, watching replays of attacks on your village, and so on. It is pleasantly addictive without leading me to destroy my hands with over-play. Warning, if you give this game to a small child, be sure to disable in-game purchases, as they can “accidentally” spend real money to accelerate the game pace.

Ascension and Ticket to Ride both have good mobile game versions with the option to play an AI, play locally (with others on your wifi) or against remote opponents. They aren’t mind blowing but they’re fun and very playable. A good way to pass some time if you are stuck in bed on painkillers, as I sometimes am.

Ingress wins my pick of the year though. I have been playing it endlessly. It is a geographically based game which was bought by Google and has a huge, huge player base around the world. As you look at the game on your phone, you see an overlay on the actual map around you. Mostly, you can only affect things in the game that are close to you. The game’s premise is that works of public art, like statues or graffiti or murals, and including interesting signs on businesses, are portals leaking exotic matter from another dimension into our universe. Players are on either the Blue or the Green teams, Resistance and Enlightenment. (I am Resistance. Join us!) As you walk, or roll in my case, by portals, you can hack them to get equipment, or blow them up and place your resonators around them to occupy and defend them. You can also link a nearby portal to other portals to draw lines and fields. As you progress in the game, you often end up meeting and chatting with other players in your neighborhood. People are playing this game all around you!! It can be played solo and in many styles, not necessarily competitive or goal-driven. Or, you can pick various goals to drive your style and pace of play.

The creepy part of Ingress, of course, is that when you play it, Google has all your location data and knows a fair bit about your behavior. One of the nice parts of the game is the strong feeling I have of engagement with the map. I am now aware of this extra dimension of geography all around me. My family (also playing the game) refers to these half-imaginary landmarks. I can tell my son how to get to the post office entirely navigating by portals instead of street names. I realize that I will never forget the sequence of portals going down Mission in my neighborhood between 30th and Cesar Chavez streets or my many epic battles here. The murals and shops will change over time but it will remain a strong memory! That is pretty cool. There are other cities I have visited, Portland and Montreal, whose downtown areas I know much more intimately that I would have years ago, because I was motivated to roam around hacking portals.

Liz Henry is a true Renaissance woman. She blogs, hacks, writes poetry, and commits activism on a variety of fronts with panache, effect, and affect. Aqueduct Press published her book of poetry, Unruly Islands, in 2012, and a book she edited, The WisCon Chronicles, Vol. 3 in 2009.

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