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Review: Provenance by Ann Leckie

At some point I will write a very blog post. A incredibly blog post — about how to translate things. I have a draft of the post. But right now it’s easier to just post a review of something else. Books! They’re fun. Mild spoilers below, and some speculation about the foundation of the Unites States of America.

ProvenanceProvenance by Ann Leckie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Uncertain about what to focus on in the review. I admire the thematic precision implied in the title: everything that happens is so tightly wound around, so clearly fuelled by, the theme of provenance. Through the concept of ‘vestiges’ — memorabilia, essentially, of anything that happened and which accrue value — Leckie talks about how we make history and inject history onto objects. How the past is malleable: several or most of the vestiges pivotal to the culture of Hwae are actually fakes manufactured for various political purposes. History is just politics. The commentary is obvious, especially when it comes to the document of the Declar- er, the Rejection of Obligations. It’s a physical document that declares the independence of the planet of Hwae from an empire across the sea (the sea of vacuum). And it’s a fake. I think it’s pretty obvious what Leckie is implying: the United States Declaration of Independece is a big phony lie cooked up by liars and served with a side of lie, and science fiction is the only safe way to get this theory out there past the United States Goskomizdat.

Or, in a less facetious interpretation, assigning cultural sacredness to objects alters the perception of the events. Time warps the course of events. It’s stressed in the book that it’s the words that matter, not the paper they’re printed (written?) on. There are proper ways of remembering the past and respecting history. Like in the Ancillary trilogy, Leckie includes an undercurrent of social justice (although I hesitate to use that term because of how the internet works with its toxic tentacles poisoning words left right and centre). There are injustices, and they get addressed. Never solved, but they get airtime. There are never any quick solves.

Also there were aliens and intrigue and character arcs and such, that was cool too.

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Real Reviews and Such

Reader, I am writing to say that for some reason I’m using Goodreads now and writing reviews of things I read there. The some reason is that I want to make sure I learn something from each book I read or something. Or at least each book I finish. Also, if you look at my reviews you’re not allowed to judge me for how few books I read or something like that. I’m a complicated maelstrom of soggy emotions and sometimes I don’t read books, okay. Right now I’m reading loads though.

www.goodreads.com/user/show/33168595-johannes-punkt

Here’s my latest review, of Alastair Reynolds’ Poseidon’s Wake. I’ve just copypasted the thing on Goodreads that says “blog this review” so I hope it looks nice. (I don’t actually believe in rating things with stars, but, y’know.) EDIT: Okay it didn’t look nice so I’m fixing it.

Poseidon's Wake (Poseidon's Children, #3)Poseidon’s Wake by Alastair Reynolds
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Man, what an anticlimax. I was looking up synonyms for “anticlimax” because the word didn’t contain all the nuances I wanted and I stumbled over “bathos” under ‘related words’, and well, bathos is also an appropriate word to use when talking about this book. It’s like the lack of awards and overwhelmingly positive hard-sci-fi reader responses fizzled out Reynolds’ enthusiasm for this series and left all the characters flat and bathic, the emotional scenes mostly off-key. Though they hit a few notes right, that feels more like a statistical certainty than an understanding of humanity and emotions. I don’t expect prose mastery from Reynolds and I get none. In this book’s defence, I guess, it is very easy to read the sentences. Because there is no weight behind them, nothing that can make me stop and contemplate. I just don’t believe the words.

And now you’re thinking, why read space opera if you’re looking for emotions and prose? Well, this is supposed to be Reynolds’ softer sci-fi, and space opera is based on character, and I was led to believe based on the first — amazing — book in this series, and based on what the book is clearly aspiring to do, that I should expect at least some of these things from this series. Instead I get another one of Reynolds’ signature moves: an ancient alien race has discovered an impending doom and it has far-reaching consequences for the future of humankind. This time, that race has buggered off or whatever. I wanted the arc of the Uplifting of elephants to be more satisfying, but it feels to me like it finished like someone ending my breakfast by putting out their cigarette in my orange juice. The first book ends with Geoffrey realizing he thought his Butler was an elephant-killer and that’s why the elephants killed him (long story but it has telepathy). The elephant arc ends with similar themes drawn from that moment: humans have endowed elephants with sin and free will and all those other things that burden us. But it feels wrong. It hits the wrong notes. An unsatisfying fugue dissolving in the evening. I can’t even bring myself to analyse it more than this. Goodbye.

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Untitled

I cannot promise you I’ll write about this
I cannot promise you I won’t

Nettle

Found a nettle growing under a bridge. Start of summer, I was out looking for shards of your heart between the cobblestones.

A single nettle. Tall, even gangly. Like someone had dropped a needle there and walked away. Sat on my haunches by it, feet pointing at Chimère St. and Byson across the canal. Reached out a hand as if picking a flower for a lover, gloveless. Held it between thumb and forefinger and anticipated the sting, brushing it up and down my underarms over the area where your tattoo goes. Expecting, in vain, the skin to react at all.

Another Villanelle

It’s fair to say I know a thing or two
about the art of leaving something good.
However, I would like to stay with you.

I may not be deserving, sweet, or true
but with me you’d be unmisunderstood.
It’s fair to say I know a thing or two

about the bitten hand. And I may woo —
I too have stooped to doing what I could,
however I would like, to stay with you.

It won’t redeem my soul, that benthic blue
ifreet, for never knowing what it should.
It’s fair to say. I know a thing or two

about the wish economy though, too;
I’ll spend the night that I saved up. I would,
however, I would. Like, to stay with you

is sweeter than a world-engirdled view.
So of this hollowness, pariahhood,
it’s fair to say I know a thing or two.
However, I would like to stay with you.

~

Another exercise in making the same words mean different things. With the help of Richard Kirby on the refrain.

Abscission

A haiku for the wrong season.

~

If you need somewhere
safe to come down, I wrote my
address in your phone.

Augury

One day a stray walked onto the set in the middle of a scene, distracting the actresses. It was unclear how it could have got there, as no-one had seen it before it stalked into frame. We kept the film rolling, though. We got distracted – the director too, despite his reputation. That’s how it looked for a split-second. But he stayed himself. Maybe for headlines, maybe he’s just like that. He gutted the dog right there with a knife that he apparently carries on his person at all times, spilling the entrails like vague futures all over the plastic carpet.

Two of Them

You left your pills on the counter like
you meant to take them.

Interview with Yours Truly

Dear All,

Reckoning editor Michael J. DeLuca interviewed me about bees, and also about that story I wrote for Reckoning 1. In case you’re wondering, who’s that mysterious figure behind the mask? you should click the following link to enlighten yourself: reckoning.press/johannes-punkt-interview-the-bumblebee-makers-kiss/

Over on the site, you will also find the story to read so that you can know what we’re talking about. As I said back in December, when Reckoning 1 came out and you had to pay money to read it, I’m really very proud of this story. I hope you will like the story and the interview. I say things like “The bees are still here, being shipped about in big trucks all over your continent, dying, surviving, amnesiac and medicated” and “lofty basement mimeograph pipe dreams” in the interview, if that’s any carrot.

08-feb-2017

The brightness of the music: she was almost blinded
while playing the flute, absent-minded.

Rob Mitchelmore (of jamesjoycewaskorean.com) and I wrote a poem. I furnished him with the punchline and he delivered the context, proving once again that even sophisticated-seeming poetry is just dirty jokes all the way down. I’m amazed at the result and very proud of our creation, and I hope you’re proud of us too.