Why I Love Libraries

When I got my library card, that’s when my life began – Rita Mae Brown

Before writing this I searched for quotes about libraries and the one I’ve quoted above spoke to me the most. I can’t imagine what my life, what everyone I know lives, would have been like without libraries.

A few things need to be understood. Growing up, while my family was never poor we were never rich either. Both my parents worked as soon as my sister was old enough and neither of them came from much wealth. I’m only a generation removed from working on a tobacco farm and only because my father managed to get to college and find work in a bank.

Because of my father’s work we moved around a lot. Between that and my family’s finances I didn’t own a lot of books growing up. Most of the books I own I’ve bought in the last decade when I finally landed a job that could support my bibliophile ways.

Libraries made sure I never lacked for reading material growing up.

I was the kid who checked out stacks of books every couple weeks and returned hungry for more. I was a voracious reader growing up, devouring anything I could get my hands on. The various libraries I visited growing up introduced me to Asmiov and Tolkein, and so many other authors.

Family trips stuck in the back of the car with my annoying sister were made tolerable by the numerous thick sci-fi and fantasy books I dragged along. I was even forbidden comic books because I read them too quickly.

Don’t worry, I’ve corrected that oversight now that I’m older, but my buying habits remain the same in that I’ll buy trade paperbacks rather than individual issues. I love seeing the full arc of a comic rather than getting it in dribs and drabs.

Without libraries I wouldn’t be in the position I am now to buy and support authors and friends. Without libraries hundreds if not thousands of dollars would have been spent on Nascar and nachos instead of books. Without libraries then bookstores and Amazon would be that much poorer (okay, probably not Amazon but I’m engaging in hyperbole here so just run with it).

Libraries will always have a special place in my heart, and I will fight you if you try and close them.

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The New She Ra Will Be Awesome Because Of Noelle Stevenson

Early when my ex and I started dating she gifted me a copy of Nimona by Noelle Stevenson. To say that I loved it is an understatement, but I have a feeling I never truly expressed to my ex how much I loved that gift.

Nimona is the reason why I know the new She Ra will be awesome.

Let’s be honest, the original She Ra was just as terrible as all the other 80’s cartoons; high concept with poor execution. It’s okay to admit that most of the stuff we watched in our youth, the foundational stories that shaped us, were utter garbage. That doesn’t invalidate the effect they had on us.

Thankfully the world has changed since the 80’s, much for the better as far as I’m concerned, and a new She Ra needs an artist that can capture the essence of the original’s concept without the baggage an existing creation brings with it.

In Nimona, Stevenson created a powerful and interesting female character that was at turns violent and vulnerable, delivering an emotional gut punch by the end of the story. As a writer I can appreciate the craftsmanship needed to accomplish that.

There’s been a lot of talk on Twitter recently about how the character design for She Ra in the new cartoon is “boyish” or “butch”. All I have to say to that is, so what? The look is in the same mold as Nimona or Stevenson’s other major work, Lumberjanes (another comic I would recommend, especially for your daughter if you have one). I appreciate the fact that the new She Ra looks like she could actually put up a real fight and is wearing practical armour instead of resembling a skinny model in a corset.

The new design riffs on the old while retaining the crucial iconic elements, a worthy update. If you don’t like it, that’s fine, that just means the character or even the show is not for you. Live with it.

I know I’m not the target market for the new She Ra, but with Noelle Stevenson at the helm I’m certainly going to check it out when it drops on Netflix in November.

Deep Dive: The Poppy War

I’ve already written a review of The Poppy War, which can be found here, but I feel this work deserves a deeper critical examination. When I write reviews my main goal is to express why you should pick up a book, what about makes it worth spending your time on, without any spoilers or an intense analysis. Mostly that’s due to time and energy. Not having much of either I tend to be parsimonious with both, and hold them for my own fiction writing. However, The Poppy War has struck a cord with me and I’m going to do my first Deep Dive on it. Who knows, this may become a regular feature.

CW: Spoilers and discussion of sexual assault/excessive violence.

The core idea of The Poppy War is violence and the trauma it inflicts, with a focus on violence against women. A major part of the book is the destruction of Golyn Niis, a take on the Rape of Nanjing. R.F. Kuang has declared as much in this blog post. The parallels are plain to see to anyone who has even a cursory knowledge of Chinese history or has spent any time focused on the Pacific Theater of WW2.

However, the obliteration of Golyn Niis is not the inciting incident of the book. Rather, it’s Rin, the main character, passing the Keju, a government-run examination to recruit and place young people in the appropriate schools, that first introduces how systemic violence actually is in the empire Rin occupies. Never mind that the level of self-harm Rin must perform to ace the Keju, the reward for her excellence isn’t admission to the fantasy equivalent of Harvard, or more appropriately a job as minister in a pastiche Chinese bureaucracy, but admission to the equivalent of West Point, Sinegard.

Yes, the reward for being a good student is to get sent to military school where she will be further brutalized before, ultimately voluntarily mutilating herself in order to compete in a system that’s stacked against her before being thrust into a military conflict that will push her to embrace a fiery spirit of pure destruction.

If that was all this book did that would be enough to make it worth reading. What interests me and prompted this deep dive was how The Poppy War deals with colonialism in its world-building.

The fantasy counterpart China and Japan are there without an equivalent European colonial power involved. Yes, it could be argued that Hesperia stands in for Europe or the United States, but it doesn’t fit the role as a colonial power. In fact, in The Poppy War the true colonial power is the Japan equivalent, the Mugen Federation.

This intrigues me because it can be questioned in actual history if Japan would have been a colonial power without the influence of Europe and the United States. The isolationist policy under the Tokugawa was forcibly ended by the intervention of colonial powers, but even before then Japan had a history of foreign adventures, such as the invasion of Korea in the 1590’s.

In the end, The Poppy War is fiction, even if it is steeped heavily in historical events. It’s an interesting thought experiment to wonder how East Asian history would have shaken out without the influence of Western colonial powers, and R.F. Kuang has crafted an intriguing tale. I reiterate my recommendation that you should read this book and I hope this deep dive has provided some points to consider while you do.

 

 

 

 

The Dork Review: The Poppy War

One of my influences as a writer growing was David Gemmell, especially his book Legend. I still remember being swept away by that book, in it’s tragedy and heroism and brutality.

R.F. Kuang is a worthy successor to Gemmell, as she’s proven with The Poppy War.

Keep in mind, I don’t intend to reduce her to a copy of a older male author. What she’s accomplished with her debut book is a success all of her own making, riding on the coattails of no one. What I mean is, if you enjoy Gemmell then I’d highly recommend checking out The Poppy War.

To call this novel brutal would be an understatement. It’s grimdark at its finest, seething with raw emotion and horror with nuanced protagonists and enough action and mystery to keep me turning the pages.

Additionally, if you’re a student of history, especially of China and Japan, you’ll understand the historical events Kuang draws upon that give The Poppy War a verisimilitude I’ve not experienced in ages.

Honestly, I could spend ages breaking down why this book is a masterpiece and why you should pick it up. Instead, I’ll just say so get it now.