Feb 022013

alternately titled: 2013-02-02 14.17.05Isle of Dead Spacegirls*

So I read Isle of the Dead mostly because I’m dating two Zelazny fans who rightly want me to read more Zelazny, and what is polyamory even FOR if not to gather a wider range of book recs?

The prose is amazing: exploring ideas, playing with language. A grandiose epic of godhood and worldbuilding is framed in an action-driven story of petty personal jealousy and revenge. The main character, Frank Sandow, is this cool, anti-heroic worldbuilder who may or may not be literally inhabited by a god, and who smokes and drinks and deals and survives like a motherfucking rock star. And seriously, the writing is such a joy to read! In the same book, you get moons called Flopsus, Mopsus, and Kattontallus and descriptions like this:

“Dwelling beside a body of water is a tonic for the weary psyche. Sea smells, sea birds, seawrack, sands–alternately cool, warm, moist and dry–a taste of brine and the presence of the rocking, slopping bluegraygreen spit-flecked waters, has the effect of rinsing the emotions, bathing the outlook, bleaching the conscience.”

My favorite writing styles involve sentences that make me grin. This book has them, and is fun. On the other hand, though, I was bothered by it.

When I was about halfway through Isle, and talking with someone about the difficulty of finding video games I can relate to, I realized why I’ve mostly skipped reading the really great older sci-fi. It’s all men. I mean, it isn’t *all* men, obvs, but there’s just so much where women don’t exist as people. Modern bookshelves do a much better job of satisfying my desires as a reader, so that’s where I stay, and I’ve often felt like I’m not doing my duty as a proper fan, but I’m going to feel a lot less guilt about that from now on.

Characters in Isle are interesting, flawed, dynamic…. and all dudes. I wouldn’t so much call the women characters. There’s a space-courtesan at the beginning. Sandow’s spacesecretary gets to marry him** and then she gets to die — twice! — for his character development, and at the very end there’s an ex-lover of his who will die (a second time) unless he has enough positive character development to save her (spoiler: he does).

None of them are characters. They don’t have emotions, dreams, or fears like the men do. There’s nothing for me to relate to. Normally I’d be all over self-inserting with a spacewhore or a spacesecretary, but it would be like relating to a wind-up toy. There’s no hook. This is a story about a future where immortality and godhood are achievable — unless you’re like me, and then you’re there to fuck the people who get to do the cool stuff.

So yes, this is a great book, and no, I don’t particularly recommend it. As much as I like fucking people who do cool stuff, I also like to think I have a little more purpose in life than that.



*alternately-alternately titled: I guess I’m just going to use this blog to write about books I’m reading and post recipes that no one else needs, and you could probably read something about my mental state into that, or you could assume that I like my mental privacy as much as I like blogging.

** I had a tiny fit reading the scene where he recalls the beginning of their relationship, where she’s overeducated as a secretary, so he takes her in hand and manfully fixes/vintagizes her. (Part of me wants to take this not as a condemnation of educating women but as a condemnation of complications arising from modernization, which I can totally get behind, but I have to work to interpret it that way.) He falls in love with her and they get married and a few years later she dies. How did she feel about any of this? The reader has no idea, although Sandow’s recollections of male characters generally include some sketching of their emotional landscapes, so I don’t think this is a way of showing an indifference to people around him.

Jan 212013


I’ve been enjoying the fuck out of Westward, an ongoing independent comic title currently taking pre-orders for its fourth issue. It is, I swear to god, a gritty steampunk Inspector Gadget. The art is gorgeous. I know the art is great because I stop on every page just to look at it, and my lack of attention to the art is one of the main reasons that I rarely read comics. The storytelling is slow but has depth, the protagonist is an unreliable mess of deadly gadgets (the scientists, well, they did the best they could, and they’re so sorry, but the defeat and secrecy surrounding him make his scenes delightfully tense), and the worldbuilding, while light so far, is promising.

2013-01-21 21.18.07

My treasured signed/velociraptor’d copy of Pegasus, an issue of Westward, and some other books I got for Christmas that I ought to read soon.

I want to be Penny. I mean, I always wanted to be Penny, with her handheld computer and goofy dog Brain and ability to save the day every episode. When I was a kid, the whole point of the Inspector Gadget cartoon was how much smarter I really was than all the grown-ups around me. So this Penny, all wistful and interesting in waist-cincher, gloves, and goggles while she helps her uncle out, was bound to be high on my list of favorite comic characters.

Westward is good. I recommend it.

Other Stuff I’m Reading

This post seems like a good place to mention that I’ve started updating a page of stuff I’ve read in 2013. You can access it by clicking “Reading” over there in the sidebar, under “Pages”. I might even keep it updated! So far, writing the page has been keeping me motivated to finish books instead of starting four and then only finishing one.

Jan 072013

I spent a few hours playing this PC adventure game Primordia. If I recall correctly, chaos ordered it for me when I was mourning Glitch and complaining that I hadn’t liked a PC game since Myst.

It was both fun and irritating in all the usual ways of adventure games. You get a blowtorch but rarely get to burn things. The inventory puzzles are frustrating (but could be much worse).* I admit that I used a walkthrough at times, and didn’t feel the slightest bit guilty about ruining the purity of my experience.

There are some well-written reviews of the game that will actually describe it for you and help you decide if you want to drop a few dollars to play it (just don’t read the comments, unless you enjoy mild console-vs-PC flamewars).

What I don’t see reviewers mentioning is the sexism in the game. Really interesting sci-fi adventures that examine societal identity and creation issues should do better than lazy titty jokes and references to “gynoids” — in my opinion, anyway. Why is the little floating circular sidekick robot interested in human sex characteristics in an all-robot society that barely believes humans ever existed? Is this some sort of commentary on how boobs are inherently interesting to all intelligent life forms? Why is there a little female robot who ends up as a romantic prize for the sidekick once he completes the quest to “find the courage to talk to a girl” (a quest that is completed by, and I’m not making this up, talking to a lamp for practice)? Maybe that little female robot had hopes and dreams of her own. Maybe she’s a better conversationalist than a lamp.

There is one decently developed female character, who travels with the protagonist for a while and is primarily interested in the law, but she’s also the only character who has a humanoid shape with secondary sex characteristics and doesn’t wear head-to-toe baggy clothes. She has nice gynoid boobs and shapely legs, but I never get to see how hunky the robots are (and I’d be objecting less to the term gynoid if the males were actually called androids, but they’re not). I have problems with the final boss, too, and without giving away the whole game, there are some elements of “bad things happen when a woman gets uppity and tries to leave the kitchen to do men’s work.”

None of this was purposeful, I don’t think, and I’m sure that if the gaming community read this they’d call me a whiny baby for even caring, but these elements bounced me out of the narrative of an otherwise fun game. It may have been avoided if there’d been some women involved in production (I don’t think there were any based on watching the credits). Anyway, it all contributes to the feeling I’ve always had that my money is good in gaming stores but I’m not the target audience for games. I’m either an afterthought or a prize.


* This footnote is a nonsensical excuse to link to this hilarious fancybears thing.