Ancillary Justice

November 21, 2014

Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch, #1)Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Her use of pronouns has garnered all the attention but the confusion that arises from this is only a reflection of our cultural constructs rather than the structure of the book. Before you realize what’s going on, the interactions between all the ‘women’ in the first couple of chapters will be confusing. And with this, Leckie makes an epic point about our own gender biases and gender norms in language. But that’s not what the book is about. Ultimately, this is a story about defying one’s nature in the name of redemption. Leckie does an amazing job at iterating the space ship Justice of Thoren’s thought process as it redifines its purpose while sprinkling the story with lots of philosophical points about taking action and owning up to the consequences of such. (My favorite: “if you’re going to do something crazy, save it for when it’ll make a difference.”)

Its ability to shine a light on our own perceptions of gender is definitely an intriguing aspect of this book. In the end, we only know that the Breq is the hero of this story but Leckie leaves it up to us to define her gender.

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These Are the 21 Female Authors You Should Be Reading

November 17, 2014


I can’t recall reading too many women authors when I was young. This sucks because I think I might’ve been missing out on some good writing. I’ve been trying to catch up on my reading recently and I’m currently going through a really interesting sci-fi book by Ann Leckie, ‘Ancillary Justice,’ and it happens to be up there with my favorite books this year, ‘The Flame Throwers’ by Rachel Kushner and ‘The Blind Assassin’ by Margaret Atwood, who are, in case you didn’t notice, also women. It shouldn’t be a big deal but considering that the male/female ratio on this planet is around 50/50, it would make sense that half of the stuff we all read is written by women.

Today I came across this is very useful list in the interwebs. I’ve got a few of these authors already on queue. Now I’ve got a few more names to add to that list.

Originally posted on TIME:

On Monday, Donna Tartt won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Goldfinch. It was no surprise, really, since the much-anticipated novel made the New York Times best-seller list during its first week on the shelves. The book was so popular that people flocked to the Frick Collection in record numbers to see the titular painting that features heavily in the Dickensian plot.

Tartt takes a notoriously long time to write her novels: The Goldfinch took 11 years, and she says that we may have to wait just as long for her next book. So now that you’ve finished The Goldfinch — and her other two books, The Secret History and The Little Friend — what to read next to tide you over? At the beginning of 2014, writer and illustrator Joanna Walsh began the Twitter hashtag #readwomen2014 in an effort to encourage readers to pick up more books…

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Where the road leads, no one knows…

September 26, 2014


In the past few months I’ve been on the road, slowly working my way from Miami out to the West Coast. My homegirl Fon asked me to write a little something about my current happenings on the road and how it felt to be back in America. At the time I wrote this, I’d just made it out to Austin, TX.

Originally posted on tripfontastic!:

236089359_d09752be3e_m  Sometimes the search leads you to far flung places you’ve never dreamed of, strange, exotic lands –  a beautiful kaleidoscope of colours, sounds, fragrances and imagery. And, sometimes, that search brings you back to where you started. My good friend, Ruben, is on such a search. You can read it right here:

Where do I begin?

I’ve gone through lots of changes the past few months. My friends back on the other side warned me: of the directness of it all, the bluntness bordering on rudeness, the rudeness itself, the non-stop people on the go-go-go, the price of living, the super-sized portions, the aggressive side of passive aggressiveness. They all made me weary of the impending reverse culture shock awaiting my return. Interestingly, that hasn’t been the biggest source of dissonance since my return to the place I call home, at least not directly.

Just a few months ago…

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September 25, 2014


Marfa was a 6 and a half hour drive from Austin. I crashed on Tim’s futon in a closet that looked like a bedroom but was really a closet. With a ceiling fan. The house on street D, just two blocks from street F and the outskirts of town, had the strangest of layouts. We were surrounded by dirt and dilapidated trailers and houses with overgrown yards and more dirt. And there were flies everywhere. There’s something about flies and the desert, I don’t know how they get there but they’re always there.

We drove that night even though Tim’s place was only a 15 minute walk to the center of town. (I used to walk 15 minutes to the grocery store back in Bangkok and I would barely make it half way up my neighborhood.) We bought bottles of Lonestar for two fifty a pop at the sallow and dust-laden bar Lost Horse Saloon. If you wanted to have a quiet drink, this was the place. There were a few folks here and there but not much going on except a game of pool and everyone was taking things to another bar a few blocks away anyway.

Padre’s was more lively and way more spacious, both indoors and out back. It was also much better kept, even though the shuffle board was missing pieces and their jukebox was out of order. (Then again, every jukebox I’d seen around town was out of order, it must be a desert town thing.) They only served alcohol inside near the stage where a band played, $3 pints of Big Bend Brewing Company porters and Border State IPAs. Cheap and great tasting local brews. I’ve paid more for coffee.

My last meal had been a massive sandwich/donut/burger in a previous lifetime just before leaving Austin, now it was around 1am and I found myself walking down the street looking for the best grilled cheese sandwich I would ever taste in my life, at least that’s what everyone said. I figured it would be a worthy follow-up ‘the Cubano’ from Gourdough’s. I don’t know how you feel about $5 grilled cheese sandwiches but I’ve been cheated before: two slices of some no-name white bread around what couldn’t have been anything but a square of Kraft cheese -fool me once. Johnny Rockets, I’m looking at you. Sadly, this grilled cheese nirvana had already shut its doors for the night.

I walked back to Padre’s to find Tim and his friends chatting up a group of Londoners. They wanted to score some of the mushrooms some nameless face had been giving away. They were on their way to Vegas and looking to party. We all met back at Tim’s place and crowded around 24-pack of Keystone Light. There was an odd dynamic between the locals and the out-of-towners that didn’t feel entirely genuine. At some point the Londoners realized they weren’t getting the chocolates they came for, so they went their way. And that was how the night ended.

I returned to the grilled cheese joint the next day. I had to. As I worked my way up the block, I heartily considered George W. Bush’s life advice: “you’re never going to fool me three times.” Three is the magic number. That meant I could risk another go, besides, I’ve been known to act a fool when hungry and every single person I met that day kept talking about this amazing grilled cheese.

The Museum of Electronic Wonders & Late Night Grilled Cheese Parlour was the place. It operates from 9:30pm to 1am and it is indeed wondrous and futuristic, if the year was 1960. The small waiting room/dining area was filled with furniture straight out of Star Trek, The First Generation; 8-tracks and stacks of ancient TV sets with rabbit-ear antennas covered the walls. The black and white screens glowed in the dimly lit parlor with the image of someone’s moustache. It belonged to the man working behind the counter, the same man who might be the person behind Food Shark. The Food Shark is as ubiquitous an entity as you can get in this tiny town. Marfalafel food trucks, taco stands, international food filled cafeterias, grilled cheese parlours slash museums. Is a grilled cheese sandwich ever worth a 5 dollar bill? Logic says no but under certain circumstances, like the experience of tasting two thick and crunchy slices of buttered-up sour dough bread slapped around a thick layer of yellow goo in a strange little town in the middle of the desert, probably so.

Daydreaming in Kathmandu

September 5, 2014

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People congregate on the ghats along the Bagmati river to pay their respects to the dead before lighting their remains on fire. A few feet away a two cows lap up river water unperturbed by scene around them. Ignored by everyone, they roam freely without restraint, like a pair of stray dogs. Further upstream, a woman squats by the water, soap in hand, with a pile of clothes by her side while a group of children run around laughing and screaming. They jump in and out of the river splashing water on my bare feet. This bridge is the closest I’ll get to the water but I still take it all in.

At least, I try.

Watching something like this unfold amounts to such a surreal experience, the stuff you see in movies or read in books. I’ve read that the ghats of the Ganges in Varanasi, India, are a lot like this.

Suddenly, the smell of burning flesh cuts off my little daydream and I’m in the outskirts of Kathmandu, Nepal, at the Pashupatinath Temple, one of the most sacred among the temples of Shiva, the Destroyer.

Neon Lights

August 31, 2014

It was a typical day in Bangkok, muggy, the air heavy with fumes from cars going nowhere in traffic and I was showing a couple of new faces around town. That was my routine back in those days, slowly getting to know the city with the help of others even less acquainted with their surroundings. It was all about the heat, the humidity and lots of walking.

We spent most of the day working our way through the labyrinth of shops and stalls that make up the Jatujak weekend market. Independent designers, second-hand clothes and shoes, knock-off designer goods, t-shirts, pets, trinkets… if you could think of it, it was probably there but that wasn’t a guarantee that you’d find it.

We had been lugging our purchases for better part of the day and most shops were closing down by the time we decided to look for the exit. Despite thoughts of deep fried pork, fish soups and crab legs crowding our minds, we managed to figure our way out. Knowing that delicious Chinese food awaited at the other end made the long ride in the MRT worthwhile.

I had been to Chinatown once before, for the Chinese New Year celebrations when the main road is closed off to vehicles and Thanon Yaowarat is completely overtaken by foot traffic and street vendors. It’s no weekend market but the stalls are stacked on top of each other along the sides of the road and the smell of food and the sounds of chatter smother you from every direction. Chinese New Year is a long weekend of stage shows, music, eating and mayhem, a time when Chinatown drowns in bodies, thousands of them. But this night was just a regular night. Daylight was quickly fading and I did not know what to expect.

We hopped on the subway from Chatuchak Park and headed to Hua Lamphong, practically the full length of the line. Once we got out, I began to retrace the steps I took that day, many moons before.

I’m pretty good with directions, specially when it comes to places to which I’ve already been, landmarks do the trick but the landscape had shifted significantly without the crowds and the stages. Besides the hard-to-miss Temple of the Golden Buddha, there were no signs telling us where to go and we couldn’t set ourselves adrift in the human currents that once flowed along the streets. While I wasn’t expecting any of that, I was hoping for a little more help.

I got nothing.

A street light would have helped ease the tension slowly creeping into our conversation. I kept my walk steady but the stray, nervous glances of my friends were hard to ignore. I tried to assure them that we would soon get there, I just didn’t know how soon or whether we were even headed in the right direction. My stomach grumbled but not out of anticipation.

We couldn’t have been walking too long but my feet felt like they were racing a marathon. My heart raced even faster. Conversation devolved into incongruous sounds as we tried to fill the emptiness of the night with our own voices. Our jittery small talk trailed off as we rushed through one of those garden variety unlit and deserted blocks, the ones you speed through hoping not to get mugged. And just then, we caught a glimpse of heavy traffic, food stalls, and neon lights.

A quick rant on a recent obsession of mine.

August 22, 2014

For the past few months, I’ve been telling friends that I really enjoy the Dresden Files. At this point, I’m ready to admit that I’ve been lying to them. And I’ve been lying to myself. After 12 books, the flimsiness of the characters has taken its toll on me. For a while, I had hoped for Jim Butcher to allow their personalities to develop naturally through the plot and stop with those annoying one paragraph introductions he includes every time a regular jumps into the fray and maybe, let the reader find out what their deal is all on their own. The problem is that everything you need to know about the characters in the Dresden Files can be boiled down to a paragraph and a few quips. They are not very complex. It bothers me something terrible and it makes his characters predictable, from the cowardly, career-driven but crooked Special Investigations officer all the way up to Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. I don’t ever catch myself wondering what’s going through his mind whenever he crosses paths with anyone in high heels.

Dresden himself boils down to this well-intentioned and highly misunderstood individual with the proclivities of a frat-house reject who hasn’t gotten any lately but has managed to contain his nearly nuclear levels of lust and should be commended for doing so. He also thinks that his constant interactions with the supernatural makes him better suited at deciding the fate of others, but it really doesn’t so he ends up messing things up for his people, professionally, emotionally and/or physically, take your pick. Jim Butcher paints Harry as the underdog, always fighting the odds, standing up against convention and fucking shit up (good and bad shit), while steadily acquiring the silent admiration of the brash, younger folk. He tries to be the nice guy but when it comes down to it, he comes off as the unintentional anti-hero.

Butcher’s female characters are all hotter than Cholula sauce. Harry constantly fetishizes them. You would think one couldn’t get hotter than the next but that’s only because you haven’t met the next contestant, with the exception of Murphy who is only really super cute (just give Molly some time). The traits and personalities of the women around Dresden are constantly overshadowed by their sex appeal, at least whenever the protagonist addresses them. Or talks about them. Or thinks about them. They highlight his sexual instincts and the strength of his will -his power to overcome temptation. If and when temptation overcomes him, it’s only because he’s taking one for the team. Murphy and Molly are the only two who somehow manage to escape this box. Kind of, since Harry still has a thing for them.

The characters in the Dresden Files are more or less defined by their props if not other tropes. The wielder of the Sword of Hope and a Kalashnikov, an agnostic black russian Knight of the Cross (God’s own Delta Force) is as complicated as they get. Everyone else just slips right into their bathrobes and slippers.

Sometimes, I don’t mind someone else doing the thinking for me and I say this not in an attempt to validate my taste for these books by labeling them as a guilty pleasure. I’m not a big fan of Butcher’s character portrayal, yet I’ve made it through 12 volumes.

I don’t hate Dresden. I rather like him in spite of his apparent deal-breakers. It’s not hard to find yourself rooting for the guy regardless of the annoying stuff about him and the people around him. I still think of Dresden as a regular guy, with a gift for magic, and a bunch of Nevernever people problems. I am annoyed at the things that I’ve mentioned because I think that were it not for those things, the Dresden Files would be even better. I love the concept behind many of the characters in the series, but I mean, after 12 books, I don’t expect a drastic change in their portrayal in the remaining 8.

Having said that, it still doesn’t sound like a good enough reason to stick around for so long. What gives?

These stories take place in a vast world that extends beyond the natural and incorporate classic fantasy and other fiction into its universe, while weaving together multiple, intriguing story lines. And I am a sucker for story lines and world building. I’ve become a big fan of the hardboiled tone of the series and I’m digging the underlying plot, Butcher’s take on the supernatural universe and the way he’s incorporated other fantasy books and myths into his own work-the Nevernever (land), Bram Stoker’s Dracula being a manual on how to kill a type of vampire, werewolves, native american shapeshifters, King Arthur, Merlin and Excalibur, dragons, archangels and fallen angels, and the world of the fae to name a few. It’s more than clever, it’s amazing work, something that I came to fully acknowledge around the time Dresden saddled up a zombie dinosaur. It got me hype. And I find myself looking forward to his possible encounter with the Jabberwocky.

While my beef with the characters in the Dresden Files was brought to a boil in Changes, I was still able to enjoy the details that further fleshed out of the world in which Harry operates. It’s not difficult to go through the series but this volume was a rough ride. Among the things that I’ve managed to accept by now is that there’s no way of avoiding the Deus Ex Machina that affects every story, especially since every one of them is about Harry saving the day, regardless of how out-muscled he may be. I’ve come to expect a certain outcome, I think it’s part of reading these books, but I can’t imagine anyone would be aghast at the final twist in Changes, whether or not you know that there are supposed to be 20 books in the series. I am fully vested in the Dresden Files despite my gripes. I enjoy reading them but after this one, I’m going to need a long break before moving onto what’s left.


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