On being Welsh

Posted 8 May, 2014 by Nikki in General / 9 Comments

I went looking for reviews of a book I picked up from the library yesterday, and boy, do I regret it. The book in question is The Rook, by Daniel O’Malley, and the problem was the protagonist’s name. See, the protagonist’s name is Welsh: Myfanwy Thomas. I don’t think you could get much more Welsh unless you had a guy called Evan Evans or something. Now, the author screwed up to begin with, because he decided he didn’t like the way ‘Myfanwy’ is actually pronounced. He wanted it to rhyme with ‘Tiffany’. So that’s what he has his character say, on the first page. That’s… actually annoying enough to me that I’m considering dropping the book without even opening it, but that’s not really the thing.

The thing was, going to look at reviews and finding a whole bunch where the reviewers are just so amused by this weird name. One of them said they constantly read it as ‘my fanny’. Some of them couldn’t spell it, even with it right there in front of them on the book or, even without the book, on the blurb on the very page they were reviewing on.

I remember as a kid asking my mum or dad why I didn’t have a Welsh name, since my mother’s all about being Welsh and proud. The answer I got was, “We thought other kids would make fun of you.” But there I was growing up with a strong Welsh identity in England, so although I’m assured by English people that this doesn’t happen, I was nonetheless bullied for that anyway. And the school sucked at dealing with it: a boy said ‘nigger’ to a friend in the playground, and the whole school got a half hour lecture about cultural sensitivity; I was bullied to tears, called Taffy and thief, on and on, and it was ignored. Inappropriate suggestions about me and sheep were also made, very graphically, from when I was eleven on up, but that wasn’t harassment of any kind.

I didn’t read a book by an author people recognised as Welsh until I was twenty-one (it was Margiad Evans’ Country Dance). In the introduction, Caitrin Collier wrote this:

I grew up in Wales in the 1950s and 60s, yet [Margiad Evans’] work was never mentioned at my school or local library. Whenever I asked the eternal question ‘What should I read next?’ I was directed towards Russian, English, American, German and French novelists. I discovered a few — a precious few — Welsh authors for myself, which only added weight to my teachers’s pronouncement that ‘people like you (translate as South Wales valley born) don’t write’.

That was my experience, too, though granted in England in the 90s and 00s. It mirrors stuff I’ve read about the experience of many more widely recognised minorities — people of colour, the queer community, women, people of non-dominant religions… Some of the discussions I’ve had about figuring out identity, about language — specifically, not speaking your ‘own’ language, or being encouraged not to — and fitting in all chimed with this issue for me.

I pointed out to a couple of these reviewers what kind of cultural issues they were trampling on. But nobody gives a shit, it’s ‘only’ Wales, it’s just a personal sob story about a name that isn’t even mine. (The fact that I don’t have a Welsh name because of exactly these issues doesn’t seem to mean anything.)

“Go and find your own place to tell these stories,” someone said to me, when I brought up that issue of identifying with those issues of other minority groups. “People will listen to you because you’re privileged, and they won’t listen to us. By talking about it here, you’re taking away the attention we need for our issues.”

I can understand why they wanted to keep the boundaries of their space clear, but I wonder why on earth they thought anyone would listen to me? I’m still looking for that mythical place where people will. Half the time, I find myself wondering if I’ve got anything interesting to say at all, but every now and then, someone else reaches back and says, yeah, I felt this too. So I’m not quite alone.

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What are you reading Wednesday: the sleepiest edition

Posted 8 May, 2014 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker. I was riveted in a way I haven’t been for a while, in that rare enchanting way that makes you want to grab everything written by the author. I still need to write up my review, but I think that’ll have to wait for tomorrow. I enjoyed it, though: he comes up with really cool ideas, and creates fantasy worlds that don’t feel in any way typical.

What are you currently reading?
I’ve rescued Elantris (Brandon Sanderson) from the stack of books languishing on my currently-reading pile, on the strength of Warbreaker and a memory of enjoying what I did read of it. I’ve started over to make sure I remember all the details, so I’m not very far into it.

The other two books are The Buried Life (Carrie Patel), which I still need to finish, and My Real Children (Jo Walton), because now I have an ARC. I’m only two chapters into that, which is only really enough to whet my curiosity. Must try and turn down work tomorrow, and just curl up in my nest of teddies, pillows and blankets to read.

What will you read next?
It’s pretty much been established that if I claim to have any real idea, I’m telling lies, but I think it’ll be a library book. My library today had a fun discussion with me on the somewhat baffling subject of how many books the machine will let me have at once: it started at twelve, spiked to fifteen, and then dropped again to twelve — only for me to find out that it’s only meant to let me have ten! Quite bemusing, but they checked out the books I wanted anyway, which made me a happy bunny. So I think The Rook (Daniel O’ Malley) or Attachments (Rainbow Rowell) might be next — though The Rook annoys me by, in the very first page, announcing that Myfanwy is pronounced like Tiffany. Granted, it notes that it isn’t the traditional pronunciation, but still. Arrghh.

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Review – Uncanny X-Force: Let It Bleed

Posted 7 May, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Uncanny X-force: Let It BleedUncanny X-Force: Let It Bleed, Sam Humphries, Ron Garney, Adrian Alphona, Dexter Soy

I liked the art of this TPB, liked what little I gleaned about the characters and the line-up, but… I finished the book wondering what the heck happened here, whether it has any relevance to any other Marvel plotline I can think of, and whether I would have understood what was going on better with more X-force context. I agree with people who say it was a really fast read, etc, but that’s because little is happening. Maybe with some more emotional hooks, like knowing in advance what Fantomex and Psylocke’s relationship was, or more about Bishop, or… just about anything.

It’s a lovely looking book, but it doesn’t seem to be a good starting point. Which is odd, because I thought that was somewhat the point of Marvel Now. Alternately, it’s just not a very good comic anyway.

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Review – The Bluffer’s Guide to Rugby

Posted 6 May, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of The Bluffer's Guide to Rugby by Steven GaugeThe Bluffer’s Guide to Rugby, Steven Gauge

I was at the Wales vs England game during the Six Nations in 2013. I know enough about rugby to know that other Welsh people will often want to kick me when I declare this, given that Wales won. Especially when I point out that my grandfather’s seats are just over the centre of the pitch, at a nice height to see everything but still close enough to pick out the individual players and feel the heat from those enormous flares they set off. Apart from all that, however, I pretty much rely on the other spectators to keep me vaguely orientated towards what is actually going on in the game. (The last game I attended was Wales vs Italy with my sister, and she helped me figure out precisely when to scream at the ref, etc.)

Anyway, this book helps somewhat with that, explaining amidst the humour what each member of the team does and a few of the rules. Mostly, though, and unhelpfully, it advocates not bothering to know the rules and just playing it by ear. It’s true that I suspect most teams of doing that, but I would like to acquire a vague idea of why the referee is awarding penalties, assuming he knows why he’s awarding penalties and isn’t just doing it because he doesn’t like the look of the hooker (not that kind of hooker).

It’s funny, and somewhat helpful, but not really substantial.

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Review – Market Forces

Posted 4 May, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Market Forces by Richard MorganMarket Forces, Richard Morgan

I’m torn between the fact that I like Morgan’s writing — it’s slick, tight, packs a punch — and the fact that his world is just too ridiculously ultra-violent for me, and the characters I like don’t come out well. I liked Chris’ wife Carla, but of course, she loses her husband in the worst of way: he’s not dead, but he’s thrown himself into a life she hates, and refused to accept her help in getting him out of it. And he’s cheated on her, of course: let’s not forget that.

I find the world-building interesting, though in this case not entirely convincing (duels in cars? how does that really come about? it doesn’t sound like something top executives would realistically end up doing), but of course all of it is a way of examining capitalism and the free market, of making brutally clear the way that competition can ruin lives.

If the point then is to take a guy who seems decent at the beginning, like Chris, and watch as that competition warps him, then Morgan does a great job — but it’s hard to enjoy it as a story, particularly given the bodycount. Very much a case of not-really-my-thing, though, and I’m sure that people who’re less squicked out by violence will enjoy this a lot more than me, assuming our tastes are otherwise the same.

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Review – The Rithmatist

Posted 3 May, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Rithmatist by Brandon SandersonThe Rithmatist, Brandon Sanderson

I haven’t read much of Sanderson’s work yet, but I have a generally good impression of it. I was hesitant about The Rithmatist (I think I preferred the original title, Scribbler) because it’s YA and some people have made comments about the magic system being too complex, some even feeling it’s boring. But! I actually loved it.

In a way, it’s nothing new. It’s essentially set at a wizarding school, there’s a Snape-like character, there’s a red-haired sidekick (more Ron than Hermione, despite being a girl), there’s people who can do magic and people who can’t, and various divides between them… I was also reminded of Garth Nix, somehow; something about the world-building, I think.

There are differences, too, of course: it’s definitely a world of its own, and I liked the magic system a lot. I didn’t find it boring at all — beyond me, at times, yes, but not boring. I loved Joel’s enthusiasm for it, his boundless wonder for the whole thing. His interest made what could have been boring, all the detail of the magic system, quite interesting.

I loved that some things weren’t typical: a second chance at something doesn’t always make you special and fix what went wrong the first time, I didn’t see Joel’s conclusions at the end coming, I don’t feel that romance between Melody and Joel is inevitable at all (possible, I guess, but definitely not so clearly telegraphed that it warps their personalities and the plot)…

All in all, I read this in a couple of hours, and even stayed up late when I really shouldn’t to finish it and get my work done. I thought it was a lot of fun, and I’m glad I did pick it up to fill out a three for two offer way back whenever!

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 3 May, 2014 by Nikki in General / 17 Comments

Yep, you guessed it, it’s Saturday, time for Tynga’s Reviews‘ Stacking the Shelves. I haven’t bought anything this week, either, but for some reason the library has increased my borrowing limit so I indulged a little there, and I have one ARC.

ARC/review copy

Cover of Shield and Crocus by Michael R. Underwood

Library books

Cover of The Door Into Summer by Robert A. Heinlein Cover of Mindstar Rising by Peter F. Hamilton Cover of Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews Cover of Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews Cover of Warbreaker, by Brandon Sanderson

I’ve already started on Warbreaker, since I enjoyed The Rithmatist earlier this week. I wasn’t quite ready to dive into the Mistborn books…

What’s everyone been reading?

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Review – Green Lantern Corps: Fearsome

Posted 2 May, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Green Lantern Corps: FearsomeGreen Lantern Corps: Fearsome, Peter J. Tomasi, Fernando Pasarin, Scott Hanna

On the one hand, this is a heck of an introduction to the Green Lanterns. There’s so many characters and concepts packed in, and I had to play a fair amount of catchup. I was never sure what was a New 52 innovation and what was established canon, how I should be judging the storyline. So I couldn’t tell you if someone was suddenly overpowered or turned into an enormous asshole.

I did enjoy it, though. It’s a bit thin on character because there are so many Green Lanterns in the story, but it gives us an introduction to the Corps and who they are, what they believe in. There are some interesting character moments for John Stewart, which I found intriguing: he makes some rough decisions and has to live with them, and does so honorably, to my mind.

I actually enjoyed this enough that I will pick up other Green Lantern comics in the future, at least to try.

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Review – White Cat

Posted 2 May, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of White Cat by Holly BlackWhite Cat, Holly Black

I started this unsure, thanks to some reviews I read, moved to being quite intrigued, and then stopped on page 125 to inform the internet that I knew the entire plot and I would be very surprised if I was wrong. The disappointing thing is that I was completely right. Everything panned out exactly the way I expected, which was discouraging, and became boring.

At first, I was interested in Cassel, in the way he worked all the angles, his cons. I liked the setup of a mob family with magic: all of that worked fine. What didn’t work fine was the fact that Cassel’s meant to be smart, meant to have his eye on all the angles, and yet he’s so easily manipulated and conned. He doesn’t see the most obvious things.

Like, one example: we’re told about blowback, something that happens to people who use their powers; whatever they’ve done rebounds upon then. So he’s pretty sure his memories are being messed with — sure enough to mutilate himself to try and prevent it — but when someone he knows well has big gaps in their memory and uses a journal to remind themselves of what they’re doing/saying, he doesn’t even think of blowback. He doesn’t seem to think much of it at all, even. And he asks about how this kind of magic works, and someone tells him and then starts to mention his brother and he… cuts her off. It seems a bit like plot-induced stupidity and just completely pushed me out of the story.

So I won’t be finishing this series. It is light fun reading, if you can get past points like that or you don’t see it from the angle I do, but I like some subtlety in the narration (even if I already knew the ending, the example I gave is just too blatantly signalling it for me).

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On the Hugos

Posted 1 May, 2014 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

I’m sure nobody was desperate to know what I think about the Hugos and the controversy about Theodore Beale/Vox Day, etc, but I do have thoughts and a supporting membership to Loncon. I’ve been following the various commentaries: Kameron Hurley’s On Writing the Good Fight, Scalzi’s views on reading everything that’s on the ballot and the criticisms thereof, posts explicitly talking about Vox Day’s track record… and yes, I even revisited some of Vox Day’s greatest hits, like that one where he calls N.K. Jemisin “an educated, but ignorant half-savage”.

So here’s my thoughts. A lot of great writers are on the ballot this year, like Catherynne M. Valente, Aliette de Bodard, Rachel Swirsky, Kameron Hurley, Brian K. Vaughan, Max Gladstone, Brandon Sanderson… not to mention at least one great editor, Angry Robot’s Lee Harris. And other authors I haven’t read yet, but really must. I think there’s probably more diversity than ever before, and certainly I’m really excited to see how this all pans out.

My personal approach is going to be to give everyone a fair shake. I suspect me and Vox Day are never going to get on: I’ve never read anything of his, but nor have I ever heard anything good, and I do believe that we can’t entirely separate the writer from the writing when we’re talking about an award that gives such real clout like the Hugos. I’ll read his novella, though, when I get my voter packet, and do my level best to be honest and fair in voting. The Hugos is to some extent a popularity contest, but given the stature of the award, I’m not gonna half-ass it or base it solely on my experience of the writers on Twitter or whatever.

However, I wouldn’t presume to advise that approach for others or suggest it’s unfair not to do it that way. Vox Day’s words are poisonous and upsetting, and refusing to give him time or space in your life is a valid response. This isn’t some kind of freedom of speech issue: the idea is freedom of speech, not freedom to make people listen. Go with your gut: it’s as fair an assessment as any, and however fair you try to be, that gut reaction is going to creep in anyway. He pretty readily admits that they were gaming the system (allegedly to “test” it): I suspect people that nominated according to that slate are equally likely to have gone on gut reactions based on politics.

Let’s be at least as honest as them, and more. The Hugos recognise achievement in science fiction fandom. As Teresa Nielsen Hayden said, ultimately, ‘The awards we give out are are a giant signal saying “This is what we love, this is what we value, this is what we think is important.”‘

Let’s do that.

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