China Mountain Zhang ("CMZ") follows the life and career trajectory of Zhang Zhong Shan (aka China Mountain Zhang) and the lives of some of the peopleChina Mountain Zhang ("CMZ") follows the life and career trajectory of Zhang Zhong Shan (aka China Mountain Zhang) and the lives of some of the people around him. The conceit is that Zhang lives in the near future, probably 100 years or so out, where mainland China is the dominant superpower. He is a Hispanic-Chinese New Yorker. His parents chose to have him undergo gene-splicing to hide his Latin roots, attempting to improve his racial lot in life. Zhang has much to hide. His colleagues and friends also need to conceal portions of their identity for various political or bureaucratic reasons. He is also gay, and Chinese policies are violently hostile to same-sex coupling. Though in client states like the US, such policies are rarely enforced. In New York, Zhang and his lovers are furtive and generally frowned upon.
China is the center of the world: cool technology is commonplace, everything is expensive and everyone wants to move there. The US is a more run down version of itself. Martian colonies and attempts at curbing global warming are succeeding slowly and with painful effort.
Through this book, Maureen McHugh manages to remind me simultaneously of Superman: Red Son and Studs Terkel's Working with a dash of The Man in the High Castle. I know that sounds like "all the alternate-history sci-fi stories I know" plus people discussing working hard for a living. Pretty much, except that CMZ is a series of near future vignettes of people striving where many of the racial, economic and social yardsticks have been rearranged.
CMZ is neither WWII in reverse, the revolution, the underground, counter revolution nor struggle under a fully fascist regime. It is much more mellow. The shifting narrative follows the daily lives of people living in stable societies, whether those societies are technologically advanced (China), economically humbled (the US), or frontier colonies (Mars). McHugh does a fantastic job of characterizing these places and the people who inhabit them. I also enjoyed McHugh's consistent broadening and narrowing of scope: societal politics, the everyman trying to get by on the street level, back up to national political movements, back down on the everyman pushing through and around the impacts of these movements, etc. I want to read the rest of her catalogue and I hope for more. ...more
The Zoo Where You're Fed to God (ZWYFTG) features a surgeon who might bA DIVORCED SURGEON GOES TO THE ZOO AND GOES CRAY.
Sort of, not really, kidding.
The Zoo Where You're Fed to God (ZWYFTG) features a surgeon who might be going insane, or possibly having a mid-life crisis, having a spiritual awakening, or having a bad staycation in which he stops being himself. There's a sort of punk pixie girl and she might be manic, but less so than the surgeon. And there is the zoo, the surgeon's ex-wife and his son.
I liked how Ventura poetically explained that the surgeon's existential fear, and that his need to challenge and control the world drove him to study surgery. I admired how the story deftly cut away from surgery to avoid being technical and avoid exposing Ventura as out of his depth.
I liked the chief idea(view spoiler)[: People who hear voices may be spiritual or gently crazy or both. Modern society has a low threshold for sanity, because there are too many of us and no one is really paying much attention to anyone else. Therefore, as long as the spiritual or gently crazy don't get violent or frighten other people, if they pass in society by maintaining a harmless exterior, they should carry on and everyone should let them. They are harmless. And all was well, and all will be well (hide spoiler)].
Ventura has this great passage about how today the boundaries of sanity are defined by a shelf or two of books. Yesterday, they were a different set of books. Tomorrow, they will be a altogether different set of books. Therefore, be yourself, do what you do, read what you read. Speed up the change of those shelves or not, because in the long-run, those boundaries do not matter.
I also like a subsidiary idea that floats through the surgeon's mind(view spoiler)[: Humans are the agency of an extinction event. Humans living longer and continuing to multiply are wiping the world-slate clean instead of an asteroid, an ice age or a pestilence. Whatever we do, we are ruining the environment for ourselves, our fellow animals and insects. But the world will move on and create new beings after this depleted set of creatures is erased by human infestation. Michael Ventura was more melancholy in explaining this thought. I'm giving it a darker spin and not doing him justice. Rather than an excuse to begin pillaging or to stop recycling, I personally find this apocalyptic idea calming (hide spoiler)].
Ventura explores the good and the bad aspects of zoos: People get to see wild animals, but the animals are in cramped cages, but the animals are preserved in zoos while their wild habitats are destroyed, but the captive gene pool is so small that animals no longer resemble their wild counterparts over time, etc.
It's also the first LA book that made me intrigued about the city, which I have not yet seen a point in visiting. In ZWYFTG, LA is a dusty place, wild at its edges, instead of a sprawl filled with Hollywood, porn, violent gangs and violent police.
ZWYFTG is a meditative work. It took me some time to adjust to the book's rhythm. Not much happens for quite a stretch. The author maintains a calm and soothing tone as the protagonist slowly falls out of touch with himself and his family. I had to push myself initially, but I found the novel worthwhile.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
3.5 rounded down to 3 (because I'm cruel). The Blue Fox is precious, almost off-puttingly so, but what redeems it is teeth. Like Björk, for whom the a3.5 rounded down to 3 (because I'm cruel). The Blue Fox is precious, almost off-puttingly so, but what redeems it is teeth. Like Björk, for whom the author has written songs, this novella is cute and violent. The Icelandic stereotype of small, dreamy and stabby is in full effect here....more
The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line is like a decent episode in the TV series. The story takes place two months after the franchise-reviving film. Veronica iThe Thousand-Dollar Tan Line is like a decent episode in the TV series. The story takes place two months after the franchise-reviving film. Veronica is back in her home town. After ditching a career in corporate law for the family private eye business, she takes a case concerning missing spring breakers. (view spoiler)[The book deals better with her processing her sharp career and love life changes; unlike the film, which seems pro forma about Veronica ditching her NYC life. (hide spoiler)]
If you've never watched Veronica Mars, the show is pure Raymond Chandler ported into 90s high school. Initially, I was skeptical of the series, thinking I was in for teen Harriet the Spy. But Veronica Mars is darker and more hardboiled than it seems at first glance. There's verbal wit, class divisions, webs of intrigue and impossibly convoluted twists. Nothing approaches the quality of the first season.
While Chandler's Philip Marlowe series seems to have been preserved by standalone arcs and a lack of principal character development, Veronica Mars went in the opposite direction. All the main characters grow up and get twisted in one long series of narrative knots. I enjoy the franchise, but the characters and narrative have gotten ridiculously tangled. Even though tangles are a hallmark of the genre, comic book continuity problems are close to appearing. For me, the mood and appeal of the franchise still persists over time. But the stories are less believable, and the beach town of Neptune constricts with each instalment.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Winter's Bone is strong, old-school noir. Someone should have beaten this into my head. NOIR NOIR NOIR! I would have reached for it sooner. Ree, a badWinter's Bone is strong, old-school noir. Someone should have beaten this into my head. NOIR NOIR NOIR! I would have reached for it sooner. Ree, a badassed young protagonist, knocks on strange doors, talks to hostile folk, and gets taciturn replies, silence, arguments, and fights that eventually form a logical shape. Winter's Bone reads as if Chandler and Hammett wrote convincingly about the Ozarks instead of cities, and were obsessed with pastoral survivalist settings and nature rather than suits and cars.
Briefly, in the search for her father, Ree crosses many of the frayed lines of power and shadow networks in a group of small communities.
The book has its perceived flaws. The poetic tone combined with country twang is odd at first, but it grew on me, since 1) the tone is internally consistent with itself, and 2) having had my own country family friends, the grammar of the people is consistent with what I have experienced. There is plenty of poetic insight, rough exchanges, and atrocious grammar. The poetic-twangy tone made me feel that the smells and sights of the woods were familiar, while simultaneously underlining the foreignness of navigating the closed mountain subculture.
Ree's encounters are pleasingly dissonant like she is talking to outdoorsy neighbours who are also jailhouse cyborgs from Mars, who would just as soon shake her hand as murder her with hate lasers. Her kin are close-knit but roiling with an anger borne of severe deprivation. They can barely keep their anger in check, and it moves under and into most of the dialogue. Given how pinched and rough their lives are, many of the characters demonstrate remarkable restraint in the moments when they are not violent.
The scene that nagged at me, as a potential flaw, was when Ree reflected in a cave about how her ancestors took refuge in caves during a religious, family feud. The half-forgotten religious concepts and language verged on apocalyptic parody. Totally paraphrasing: "In the old timey-wime, the Fist Gods spake..." However, this scene intimated the creation myth and partial history of how a large, quasi-incestuous group of people could share the same kinship bonds and flinty ethics long after family-religion fades. Survivalism and insular family religions can certainly lead to bad times. This scene is conceptually brilliant despite some awkward phrasing.
Winter's Bone has more than a passing similarity to The Hunger Games: crazy-sad mom, vulnerable younger siblings, tests of mettle, communities of angrily starving people and movies starring Jennifer Lawrence. They are superficially similar, and this could be another way in for readers. The Hunger Games is definitely Ozark sci-fi. But Winter's Bone is solid noir.
This book is brutal, short, and I loved it....more