Synopsis: A number of ordinary men are abducted and forced to relive the crimes of infamous psychopaths in recent history as part of a bizarre research project.
Book Review: After I finished it, it took me several days of thinking about this book to decide how I felt about it.
It is exceptionally well-written, as one would expect from a long-time, award-winning author. When I read this book, I really felt like I was in the UBO facility. I could see it and feel it around me. But it’s very dark. Like, ugly dark. Many parts of the novel made me feel ugly reading them, and I wanted to purge myself afterwards. Which is also good writing, just not a trip some people want to take.
The thing is, when you get to the end, you’re left wondering, what was all this for? In the penultimate chapter the protagonist gives an answer to that question, but it’s not a satisfying one, and it seems to be contradicted by the final chapter of the novel. And that final chapter… wow. It’s like emerging from underground after being trapped in a collapsed mine for twenty-one days and finally seeing the sky again.
In the end, I think every reader will have to come give their own meaning to this story. For myself, I view it as treatise on depression. The entire book up to the last chapter is what living with depression is. Everything is crumbling and dirty and rotting. All of humanity is wicked, and you are literally unable to gather the will to fight it due to subconscious sabotage. Merely existing is an ugly act. And one keeps asking oneself – why? What is all this for? Why are we enduring all this, what’s the point?
Why am I reading this?
And then the final chapter gives you your answer. It gives you the bloom of color that keeps you going, in spite of it all. Because there is some beauty out there that’s worth it.
I kinda like books that makes me think for days before I know if I like them or not. And I have a long history with depression. So in the end, I’ve decided I love this novel.
In fact, looking back on the past couple years, it seems that I’ve really liked all three horror novels we’ve read. I never read horror, because I associated it with torture-porn and sadistic grossness. But maybe I’m a horror guy at heart? And I should be reading a lot more of it? Something to ponder.
In the meantime: Highly Recommended!
Book Club Review: There’s definitely quite a bit to talk about here. The book is very open to interpretation and imposition of meaning. But as someone pointed out, people often force meaning onto unpleasant and awful things, perhaps in an attempt to make the experience have some value aside from just suffering. “If you were unavoidably hit by a baseball bat every day, you’d find meaning in it…” and so forth. And much of my book club did not think the payoff of having this book to ponder over was worth the price of having to read through depictions of being a killer. I think this is certainly not a good choice for people with certain sensitivities, so I can’t give it blanket recommendation.
But on the other hand, I would have never picked this up myself, because I thought I hate horror. I only read it because it was part of the book club reading, and I’m so glad I did. If you do pick it for a book club, it’s probably best to warn people beforehand. I’d give it a recommendation for provoking discussion, but only with caveats and some knowledge of your members’ personalities.
That being said, if you are me or sufficiently like me, read this!
1. For the past 15+ years you’ve either lived alone or with a housemate whose level of dirtiness tolerance is much higher than your own, and thus you are the primary/sole cleaner of common spaces,
2. You urinate via external genitalia.
Sometimes when I use a public restroom I see cute signs over the toilets or urinals that say “We aim to please! You aim too, please!” As a often-cleaning person (trait A) I absolutely sympathize with these signs. However I’m pretty sure the people who place them don’t have experience urinating with external genitalia (trait B). My penis is, perhaps sadly, not a precisely crafted piece of rigid machinery. It’s a floppy, biological pee-tube. Its physical characteristics vary widely based on temperature, excitement, and recent storage conditions. It sometimes hides subtle kinks or pinches that are not apparent from sensation or visual observation. And there’s no way to “set it to true.”
What I’m saying is, when first one lets loose to pee, ain’t no damn way to tell what’s gonna go where. You just point in a direction, hope for the best, and quickly adjust if expectations don’t match reality. If that’s possible… On occasion a weird pinch will get you a sorta split-stream effect, and adjusting for one makes the other go haywire, and oh god, why is this happening, what did I ever do to deserve this??
This isn’t normally the case, of course. 97% of the time you point, the urine goes basically were you expect, and everyone’s happy. But those other 3% can be a killer.
But even that’s not entirely true. Because even in those 97% of the times that go according to plan, there’s splash. Have you ever let a garden hose trickle from waist-height into a shallow pool of water on the ground? Or held a straw-full of soda a foot over your almost-full glass and then let the liquid drop into the glass? Imagine that effect for 21 seconds. A toilet bowl is deep enough to catch almost all the tiny flying droplets that splatter everywhere… but not quite all. There’ll always be a few little buggers with Olympic aspirations making a leap for freedom that get up onto the seat or rim, or sometimes even further. (This is why carpet in a bathroom is the most disgusting idea known to man. Yes, even worse than pineapple on pizza).
I’m sure that for marking one’s territory far and wide, external genitalia was a godsend. But in the modern era, it is the undisputed inferior way to pee.
And yes, while in theory one could sit to pee like our internal-genitalia’ed brethren, very few people do so.
First, it’s weird. Sitting is what I do to poop. When I sit down on a toilet but I don’t have to crap, my butt gets confused. “What am I doing here?” it asks. “Should I go now? Is it my time? I’m not ready, but ok, here I go…” and the rest of me is all “Wait, no, goddammit! It is not your turn!” And then there’s just chaos.
Second, it’s slow. I gotta take down my pants and undergarments, and turn around, and lower myself, before I can even start. And then I have to do the whole thing again in reverse. Ugh, such a pain. Ain’t no one got time for that.
Third (this is gonna sound kinda sexist, but dammit, I’m stuck in this same patriarchal bullshit as all the rest of you so don’t judge my socially-instilled bad instincts) it feels girly. I know girly isn’t bad. I know this is a stupid emotional reason to not do something that makes sense. But I still live in a time/place where I’ll be looked down on and thought less of for sitting down to pee, but not for spraying urine all over the bathroom stall. Or at least, looked down on less.
But there is one action that solves all of these problems. One blessed act of physical strength and dexterity that turns one from a hated pest to a noble defender of virtue. I speak, of course, of Taking A Knee.
First, Taking A Knee is not weird. There is no confusion with any other common actions, unless one is in the enviable position of being knighted frequently, or in the unenviable position of owning a pair of shoelaces that will not stay tied. Either way, not your butt’s problem.
Second, it’s basically just as fast as standing and peeing. Ok, there’s a split second of extra action required, but it’s barely noticeable. Kneeling has been the preferred way of getting closer to ground for Men of Action since time immemorial, due to how quickly and efficiently one can go from standing to kneeling and back again. It’s literally closer to the starting-spring position of a sprinter than standing is. Should an enemy kick down your door while you are kneel-peeing, you are in a perfect position to launch right into an up-the-wall-flip emergency parkour move to turn the tables on them.
And it solves all the problems of peeing with a squishy meat hose! No matter how that urine stream bursts forth, when you’re starting out at the same level as the toilet’s rim it’s nearly impossible for the pee to travel up and over it. And being mere inches away from the porcelain means it never gains enough velocity to splash more than a smidgen.
Obviously you don’t want to do this in public bathrooms, where everyone else has been peeing on the floor and your knees will be soiled. But in your private dwelling, doing this will save you a ton of cleaning and unpleasantness. My life has been much improved by this simple fix. And if you are at the private residence of someone who you like, and who’s bathroom looks well-kept, consider kneeling at their place too. They’ll thank you for it later. Except, only in their head. Not literally, out-loud, to you. That’d be weird.
What Lies Dreaming just posted it’s 7th chapter this weekend. The story is picking up steam, and in the latest chapter we see a demonic embodiment of Lust summoned into the Colosseum. Cold steel vs sin incarnate – will the Roman mob be sufficiently entertained? WhatLiesDreaming.com
Book Review: I didn’t like it, mainly for personal reasons.
First, the writing style was unbearable. I know I lean purple in my taste. I like flowery, lyrical writing. I love everything Catherine Valente touchers. I even enjoyed the overwrought gothic style of Twilight. Unholy Land is the opposite of that. The prose is utterly flat. It just lies there, dead on the page. Like so:
“He said nothing. His breath was labored and it was loud in the room. The room was underground. The walls were strong.”
“The sunlight was white on the hills.”
It made reading difficult, because I was so bored my mind would wander. I had to force my attention back to the page. I guess he was trying to do the spare Hemingway thing, but it didn’t work out well IMO.
Second, he had lots of cool things that were briefly introduced, but never did anything. Like introducing the kabbalistic Tree of Life as a map for travelling between the various realities, and using kabbalah to twist them. But it’s just a hint and then it’s dropped and it’s frustrating as hell to be teased in this way. It gives the distinct impression that Tidhar thought “This would be cool if it was ever developed, so I’ll just drop it in,” but doing so without developing it or thinking about it just makes it feel shallow and tacked-on. Pointing out a part of you world to say “This could be really cool if this thing was done!” only highlights how lame it is in comparison since that thing wasn’t done. It would have been better off not introduced at all. At least IMO. Again, my complaints about this book are personal-taste in nature.
Thirdly, Tidhar goes to pains to point out–from within the text–that this novel is just pulp trash and shouldn’t be taken seriously. It’s a “Haha, only serious,” kinda thing, because obviously he does want it taken seriously, he has some serious things to say. Which is fine. Pulp can say serious things. But when on more than one occasion the author lampshades how trashy and pulpy the novel is, so you can just ignore anything that doesn’t make perfect sense because none of this is Serious Literature anyway, it infuriates me. Genre Fic has long had Serious People looking down their noses at it, saying it can’t say anything of substance because it’s not Real Literature. For Tidhar to buy into this and perpetuate it, especially as an excuse to preemptively deflect criticism, soured me on the novel. If you’re gonna say serious shit, say your serious shit, and don’t go making excuses and abasing yourself before the EarthFic Snobs who’ll never accept you anyway.
That being said, there are a few parts in here that really do shine. When Tidhar does decide to get philosophical he does so really well. The blurring of identities when you switch between realities was fascinating. His portrayal of someone trying to escape from themselves is great. I enjoyed his use of 1st/2nd/3rd person and the way it allowed him to seamlessly transition between viewpoint changes, although I think it was a bit of a wasted opportunity… he could have done more with it.
And the theme is one I love. The theme comes down to “You can change details, change circumstances, but ultimately that doesn’t solve anything. Because the problems are bigger than some details. The problem is within the person. No matter how much you change things, people stay the same, and so will their problems.”
But… well… I’ve seen this theme done before. And done far better. Tidhar shows us one alternate reality, and how things repeat even when the circumstances are different. He hints at others. There’s a book that shows us this process occurring again and again, with the same cast of characters, repeating the same tragedies over at least a half-dozen universes, in a half-dozen different bodies. But always the core people are the same, and nothing is different because the fault is in them, to the point that they can be reified into god-like archetypes and myths that span millennia and societies. It’s not a fair criticism of Tidhar’s book to say “I read a different book that did this better,” so I apologize for doing so. But I’m just not that impressed with Unholy Land since I have Vellum to compare it to.
In short, Not Recommended.
Book Club Review: As a book club book, this went pretty well. Despite its flaws, it does have several things to say, which will prompt discussion. Since the things I disliked about the book were primarily personal taste things, most other people didn’t dislike those things. But I hold to the idea that most of what this novel does have to say is pretty surface-level, and the novel doesn’t seem to aspire to the levels it should or could (…and very consciously so). It’s better than your average book in terms of book clubs and discussions, but it falls short of a strong recommendation. I suppose… Mild Approval, If You’re Curious.
The problem with blind judging for an award is that sometimes awards are given to people we don’t like.
The Parsec Awards announced their 2018 winners yesterday (edit: link removed, as the page has been taken down). I have been a two-time finalist myself, in 2015 and 2016. One of the things I really appreciate about the award is that it is judged blind. This means that someone like me, who has a relatively small audience, can still potentially win if I put together something really good. I love that it’s based on artistic merit rather than popularity/fame.
I understand why publishers generally don’t read submissions blind. They are in the business of selling novels and/or stories. The name of a well-liked author on the cover of a magazine or book will sell more copies. This is an important consideration, because paying rent is important. Likewise, the name of a hated person who is being shunned or boycotted may sell fewer copies, and may even hurt the publisher’s brand.
But on the rare occasions where money isn’t important (like an award) and it’s feasible to pull off (unlike something that involves the artist directly, like acting), I really like it when things can be blinded. I would prefer for all art to be judged just on it’s artistic merits.
One of the winners of this year’s Parsec Awards is apparently a horrible person. I don’t know who, I don’t keep up with these sorts of things. But their awards committee is being flooded with emails about this person’s reprehensible behavior, and based on the tone of the email I received, they are very worried. They’re asking for time to figure out how to handle the situation.
I think they should let the award stand as it is. I don’t know what the circumstances or allegations are. I understand that it’s possible the award went to an actual violent rapist. Maybe a murderer. But the award was not presented based on the person, it was presented based on the artwork itself. It is unfortunate, but sometimes really awful people make really great art. People who you wouldn’t want breathing the same air as you, predators who should be kept under watch at all times.
That doesn’t change that the art is great. People who are unaware of the monstrosity of the creator may still enjoy it. Ideally, that would be how this art is always enjoyed — without recognition of the artist.
I am glad that blind awards exist. To withdraw an award after the blinding is removed insults the entire process. It says that there is no such thing as artistic merit for its own sake, that in the end everything must be subject to the courts of popularity and politics. Don’t remove one of the few blinded areas that are left. Let the award stand. Sometimes bad people will get an award. This is a price that is worth paying for this thing to remain in existence.
“39.1% of Democrats think that it’s wrong to negatively stereotype people based on their place of birth… AND that Southerners are more racist.
65.2% of Republicans think that people shouldn’t be so easily offended… AND that Black Lives Matter is offensive.
64.6% of Democrats think that a woman has the right to do what she wants with her body… AND that selling organs should be illegal.
48.5% of Democrats think that a woman has the right to do what she wants with her body… AND that prostitution should be illegal.
57.9% of Republicans think that people should be free to express their opinions in the workplace… AND that athletes should not be allowed to sit or kneel during the national anthem.
Over half of Democrats think that Men and women ‘are equal in their talents and abilities.’ AND that women are ‘better at multi-tasking’ and ‘better able to feel empathy.’
More than half of the people who support Trump’s border wall believe that they could get past it.
34.5% of Democrats say that they trust the scientific consensus… AND that GMOs are not safe to eat.”
Just found out that you’re not supposed to drink hot tap water. Why did no one tell me??
The copper alloy pipes within the house could be up to 8% lead before 2014 (tho industry standard was no more than 5%, and some used even less).
In a pilot study, multi-day stagnant hot water did accumulate some lead. This was particularly prevalent in new pipes (since after some time all the readily-accessible lead has been leached out), so you’re actually better off with a few years on your pipes. The CDC recommends not using hot tap water for drinking or cooking
I assuage myself that the levels to be found nowadays are probably too low to worry about much, since all pipes are either made under the new standards, or are already several years old. Especially if one takes the precaution of running the hot water for a while to clear out everything that’s been sitting in the pipes. Nonetheless, I don’t think I’ll be using hot tap water for cooking or tea.
Three things from the midterm elections that [a friend] feels haven’t gotten enough attention:
1.4 million people in Florida just gained the right to vote – that’s over 10% of the currently registered voter population. It’s the largest expansion of voting rights in decades, a long-overdue rebuke of a shitty Jim Crow relic, it empowers marginalized communities, and will make it much harder for anyone running on a platform of bigotry and cruelty to win the state in future elections.
In Texas, a democrat who ran on impeaching Trump and abolishing ICE lost by only 3 points, with coattails that flipped an impressive number of downballot races in the aggressively-gerrymandered state. Texas is purple now.
The withered husk of the GOP was destroyed in the under-45 demographic, especially among women. The existing trend appears to be growing stronger as people who came of age under Bush, Obama, and Trump have developed basically the political attitudes you would expect given that background. There’s a myth that this is a common pattern of past generations: they start off liberal and get more conservative over time. That’s not really true. First: political distributions within a generation don’t change that much as they age. Second: the gap among millennials and gen Z is much bigger than any American political generation gap in the modern era. The effects of the Bush and Trump administrations on developing political attitudes are as real as they are lasting, and barring a dramatic change they have destined the Republican party for irrelevance
The History Behind “Hocus Pocus.” The entire history is worth reading, to get context on how the protestant reformation led to:
“…into this colossal mess walks the Great Hocus Pocus of London! With his billowing stars-and-moons cape and his gift for lifting an object over his head, intoning the solemn, allegedly Latin magic phrase “Hocus Pocus!!” and BOOM, his scarf just becomes a bunny wabbit, or something. He was a great illusionist of the early 1600s. There was no Vatican II yet, so every Catholic liturgy was in Latin and most folk didn’t know Latin. So, it was a common misconception at the time that when the priest lifted the bread and blessed it, he was performing a work of Magic, transforming the bread to the body of Christ, and the wine to the blood. Transubstantiation was something scholars could debate until they were blue in the face; the working class, many of whom still celebrated Yule and Samhain and the rest, knew it was Magic. So the Great Hocus Pocus of London would hold up items, mimicking a Catholic priest, and intone solemnly, “Hoc – us poc – us!” And BOOM! The item changed to something else. Hocus pocus was a seventeenth-century corruption of the Latin phrase “hoc est corpus” (this is the body) from the Eucharist.”
European Court of Human Rights comes out *in favor* of blasphemy laws. From comment: “Saying that blasphemy laws don’t breach human rights is tantamount to saying that freedom of speech and freedom of (from) religion aren’t human rights”
A bunch from Wiblim this month!
“Homo sapiens is a post-truth species, whose power depends on creating and believing fictions. Ever since the stone age, self-reinforcing myths have served to unite human collectives. Indeed, Homo sapiens conquered this planet thanks above all to the unique human ability to create and spread fictions. We are the only mammals that can cooperate with numerous strangers because only we can invent fictional stories,
…I am aware that many people might be upset by my equating religion with fake news, but that’s exactly the point. When a thousand people believe some made-up story for one month, that’s fake news. When a billion people believe it for a thousand years, that’s a religion”
Amazon’s Ring Police Portal For Mass Surveillance
A lot of discussion in the Ycombinator comments, but basically Amazon is offering the police access to all video from their Ring doorbell camera devices. The customer has to opt-in (currently), but as long as the video is on Amazon servers rather than your own, I consider that shaky as hell.
“Ring is just giving this to cops for free and offering customers a discount for letting their video surveillance from their home / doorbell be shared with the police in this portal.
over 50+ local police departments are now partners.
…There is no legal protection for privacy of citizens face’s caught in these cameras and added to their facial recognition algorithms.”
The “In The No” series from Radio Lab is fantastic. (pt 1, pt 2, pt 3)In-depth discussion about today’s social climate around sexual harassment, from many perspectives. Some of the best reporting I’ve seen on this.
Somehow, I missed this in the initial Final Exam sprint. Delightful. And I lol’ed at the best comment:
“I just came in from clicking “random subreddit”, read this whole thing, and now have absolutely no idea what the fuck is going on here”
We Need to Share the Real, Gory, Painful Details of Postpartum Life
“Yes, these details are disturbing, bloody, brutal, messy, gross and uncomfortable. (Did I mention bloody?)
…Why do we hide? Who are we protecting? Not ourselves. When we stay silent, we don’t get the help we desperately need. Not other women. When we stay silent, we simply perpetuate a system that prioritizes babies at the expense of moms.”
Synopsis: Two landed British gentlemen of the Napoleonic era flounce about being prissy, ineffectual twits. Also there are fairies.
Lately I’ve finally been picking up books that I’ve heard great things about for a long time, to great success! To continue this trend, I moved on to “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell” next. I’ve heard from many sources that it’s an astounding novel.
Holy crap were those sources wrong. This is the most tedious, plodding, overhyped exercise in fiction I’ve come across in a while. I began to dread returning to it.
The basic conceit is that the landed gentry of Britain don’t have much to do, and so spend all of their time in frivolous pursuits like reading about old magics, and talking about old magics, and holding sessions about magics and writing great essays about the history of magic, but never actually doing any magic themselves. Until Mr Norrell comes in and changes all that by, I dunno, actually doing some of things they all read and discuss at length. But Norrell is just as ineffectual as everyone else, and the focus of all the action is not about the magic, or the Napoleonic wars, or the machinations of the fairies, or anything of the slightest bit of actual INTEREST. Rather, it focuses on how prissy and shallow and pompous everyone is.
I get that this is supposed to be a comedy. It’s just a type of comedy I find boring to the highest degree. A bunch of befuddled idiots faffing about because they’ve got way too much time and money? I realize this is a popular British thing, a sort of Comedy of Manners or something, and I’ve always found it stupid. This was just like all those. The only thing it did was convince me that all landed gentry need to be rounded up and executed for extracting the wealth of the working class to chase their own worthless follies. We (in the US) didn’t revolt hard enough, dammit. There’s still nobles left!
I read for several hundred pages. Nothing happened. In a book with fairies and the Napoleonic wars! And I didn’t even get halfway through this brick.
The worst part was the teasing. The novel is always right on the edge of interesting. I was always sure that on the next page, or maybe just in the next chapter, something really cool was going to happen. All these neat things are shown just enough to get our attention, and then quickly buried under more tomfoolery with manners and courtesies and being stymied by someone’s utter lack of proper decorum! Until eventually I lost all hope, I realized nothing would ever be fulfilled and I was just being strung along, and I gave up in disgust.
I realize some people find this sort of thing delightful. Some insane reviewer said ‘How can a book of over 800 pages still be too short?’ (paraphrased), because I guess if you love nothing happen it can very well keep not happening forever. But I’m not one of those people. Yeesh.
A few years back, Rainbow Rowell wrote a post titled “Learn to Read, Kid, But Don’t Fall In Love.” Sadly, it’s been taken down, but it can still be found in pdf format around the web, because it was important to many people. Myself included.
It compared the love of reading to addiction. It pointed out that reading is an escape from reality. “Sometimes I worry that I’m not really living. That I’m spending as much time in secondhand lives than I am in the real thing.” Give it a read, it’s short.
I feel I’ve pretty much overcome this addiction. But I worry about the lasting effects.
I often feel detached from the world. I find myself unable to fully trust anyone, to get fully attached to any person or group of people. I don’t trust anything to last, and I live my life so that anything can be dropped if needed, and nothing and no one can be used against me as a weapon.
I suspect one of the reasons for this is that fictional worlds are fraught with peril. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be fun. In these worlds, people you care about die. Hundreds of people across dozens of lives. Everything is stripped from you, again and again, to put you through an arch of struggle which you can grow from as a character and leave you with a satisfying resolution. You begin to question the wisdom of growing close to anything, knowing it’ll be taken away.
And in the end, regardless of how pleasant the story and the fact that no one died and it was a wonderful fairy-tale ending… in the end, all your friends leave you anyway. Because you reached the last page, and that world ceased to exist. Every single book you pick up is another chance to grow connected, and then to have those people leave you and never return. Even a 20-novel series eventually has to end. Everyone dies.
It gets to the point where you have a hard time remembering people’s names in real life, or remember many personal details about them. Because in all the lives you’ve lived, the emotional lesson you’ve learned is that people are disposable. They will be with you for a time, and then they will leave, and you will pick up another book and replace them with someone else. If everyone is interchangeable, how do the little details matter?
Of course, this could all just be a way for me to excuse my rude treatment of others. I certainly don’t have trouble remembering the names of authors I like. It could be a way of avoiding going to therapy and dealing with a childhood of isolation. Maybe I should just consider that I might be depressed. Or maybe there are real effects to running many high-fidelity emotional-trauma simulations in your mind every year. Despite the title of this post, I think it’s not possible for human brains to not update on fictional evidence, at least to some degree. The more engaging and gripping stories are–the “better” they are–the harder it is for the emotional core of the brain not to update on them. After all, the whole point is to “be moved” emotionally in a way beyond one’s control.
This is the spoiler post for Circe, which talks about everything, but specifically the ending.
If you don’t want spoilers, don’t continue.
As I said in my review, I viewed the gods within Circe as a metaphor for The Patriarchy. Circe explores just about every method a woman can use to deal with a Patriarchal society.
She starts out fawning and eager to please. Seeking approval from her father, as if this would provide some sort of protection and security. She sees first hand that this does nothing. A powerless person has nothing to offer and nothing to bargain with. Scylla, the beloved, is mocked with delight by her family when she’s turned into a monster. Circe’s mother is cast aside without a thought when her coupling with Helios proves politically troublesome. Being someone’s pet is terribly insecure, and pretty shitty anyhow.
She tries to be the good wife for her fisherman. She makes him happy, supports him, and eventually elevates him to godhood. And the instant he doesn’t need her anymore, she’s tossed aside as well. Without even the recognition that she’s done anything.
She tries to check out of the system entirely. Exile to an isolated island, just leave her alone. Nope, no can do. The system comes for you, and it will use you how it sees fit.
Then we have a wonderful dialog with her cruel half-sister. The sister points out that she makes poisons and monsters because if she didn’t she would be kept in a cage and bred to death. The system wants to use her up and discard her, and the only way she can live a decent life is to take power. To bend the world to her will through force and cruelty. It’s a wonderful revelation, and it shows just how shitty the Patriarchy is for everyone, even those on top.
We have a similar revelation about Odysseus much later. Where we see first his charming, warm side. And later the cold, violent side, which he was shaped into via this shit-ass system. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
For a while she rages against men, and it’s very emotionally satisfying for the reader, but it leaves her bitter and unhappy with life. Then she finds Odysseus, one of the few good ones, and for a year she’s happy. But eventually the gods catch up with her and ruin that, too. (Also, he wasn’t that great after all… just better than most). She goes into full defensive mode, putting up a wall between herself and the rest of society. And that actually works, for quite a while! But it’s constant effort, and it drains her strength year after year, and if she ever slips for even a second it’ll all come crashing down. This is not sustainable.
So she decides this has to end. She has the most powerful magic in the world on her side. She’s smart as fuck, and she’s had more than enough of this shit. She calls her father down and has the most epic verbal show down with him. She dares him to test her power. She states she would rather ignite a war between the gods and see the world burn than be at their mercy any longer. She renounces her heritage, thinks of gods as “them” rather than “us”, declares that “I’m finished here, one way or another.”
The novel’s inciting incident was the chaining & torture of Prometheus. His rebellion against the gods and compassion for the downtrodden have been a recurring element during the narration. Now, in the final chapters, Circe is armed with a weapon even the gods fear, and she goes on a quest to retrieve the most powerful magical components in existence. I am so fucking happy at this time, because we are about to see some amazing shit. The world will be sundered, and the gods cast down. The Patriarchy will be smashed, and it sounds like Circe may very well die in the process, but fuck them all, it’ll be worth it! The heavens themselves will shake!
To step back just a bit, I didn’t actually expect all that to happen. It was pretty clear that the system is just too big for one person to destroy, even with the world’s most powerful magic. Much like the Patriarchy can’t actually be smashed. But there were hints throughout, hints that the world could be split somehow, and Circe could leave this world behind and enter a better one.
It turns out, Circe does leave this world behind. By committing suicide.
After all that, all her rage and learning and growth and fighting, she ultimately decides to just give up and kill herself.
WHAT. THE. EVER. LIVING. FUCK.
After all the compassion she’s shown for humans (or “everyone else trapped in the Patriarchy” if we’re extending the metaphor), after all her admiration of Prometheus for sacrificing himself so completely to make their lives less awful, she decides everyone else can fend for their fucking selves and she’s just going to nope the fuck out. After all her words about how she won’t put up with the gods’ abuse anymore, she surrenders so utterly that she kills herself for them so they don’t even have to inconvenience themselves with the effort. When she said “I’m finished here, one way or another,” I thought she meant that either this system would end, or she would die fighting it, not that she was abandoning everything. How are we supposed to sympathize with this? How is any of this OK?
To those saying that gods are inhumane because they are inhuman, and becoming humane means one must become human – bullshit. We have proof in the forms of both Prometheus and Circe that one can be a god and be compassionate and humane. To those saying “becoming mortal isn’t suicide” – bullshit. For a god it’s as much suicide as a human deciding to drink themselves to death over the course of years. And in both cases it’s cowardly. And the flash-forward dream-sequence final chapter lingers quite a bit on her eventual death anyway, like that’s the best part of being human. It is a suicide, and it is cowardice. I would have preferred no final chapter at all, an abrupt ending would at least have let me continue believing Circe was a good, courageous person.
Book Review: One of the best things I’ve read this year, right up until the final chapter, which face-plants so hard I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
The novel starts out somewhat slow and a little clunky, IMO, so I wasn’t really sold at first. The story starts with a confused young geek with a good heart constantly being rebuffed and rejected by a world obsessed with superficiality and pettiness, which I’ve seen many times before. But Circe continues to try new and varied techniques to deal with her social situation and her world, growing with each one. So what starts out as a flat character blossoms before our eyes into someone ever more complicated and interesting. She gains knowledge, insight, and awesome magic powers, and yet constantly fails in new, increasingly awful ways. Her occasional victories are all the more sweet for it.
The scene with Odysseus himself is particularly delicious. The characters in conflict have meta-knowledge of each others’ knowledge and destructive powers which they can’t acknowledge, which results in a riveting verbal dance of wit and power dynamics that thrilled me. And far later in the book, when one comes to learn more of Odysseus and his motivations, everything is recast in a new light that still leaves one with admiration, but now tinged with a deep distaste that leaves a complex swirl of emotions in your mind.
What I’m saying is, this is a good book.
By the time we get to the end we have a deep world of screwed up incentives and abusive power structures. And somewhere along the way, I came to realize that the gods and their dynamics are basically a reflection on The Patriarchy. How it scars and abuses both men and women, and flattens all sexual relationships into ugly exchanges. Or at least, that was my take. And rising up through it all is Circe, the outcast, refusing to play that fucked-up game. Right up until the last chapter I was sure this was going to be the best and most memorable thing I’ve read in years.
And then the last chapter was such an unspeakable disappointment that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. How could something this good throw it all away in the end, and turn into such crap? I haven’t been this upset by squandered potential since the Phantom Menace.
Obviously I can’t get into details without massive spoilers. So later today or tomorrow I’ll post a spoiler post discussing why the ending failed so terribly.
But all that said… the entire journey up until the last chapter was worth it. Recommended!
Book Club Review: This book has a lot going for it. It’s relatively short, and quick to read. It’s a dang good book in its own right. And it is likely to spark quite a bit of discussion among a group. Conversation on the nature of gods and archetypes, and the interplay between the inhumane and becoming human. A member of my book club had a very different interpretation of what the gods represent, and what the overall arch of the story was, which led him to find the ending entirely acceptable. We got a lot out of this one, and there wasn’t a single person who didn’t find the novel immersive and enjoyable. Highly Recommended.