Wednesday, December 21, 2016

My Favorite Things in Books, 2016

The longer the live, the less I believe in objectively good literature. Even subjectively good literature is a concept deserving some scrutiny. When we listen to someone "love" a book, they're generally gushing about one part of it. Too Like the Lightning's plot twists, or Uprooted's dauntless quirkiness.

So this year I don't want to tell you about the "best books" I read. Instead, let's talk about my favorite things in books. Those things that define our memories of the book long after we've put it down. Come with me. Let's enjoy things together.

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson
There is this theory that all Secondary World Fantasy is told to us in translation. The people of Wizard of Earthsea and Sword of Truth don't actually speak English - they live on planets where there was never an England. So all such works are in a contrived translation to us. But that translation has almost always default to a nigh-facsimile of Proper British or Chicago Manual Style English. Thus Sorcerer of the Wildeeps is jarring because its dialogue is relayed entirely in levels of African American Vernacular. Consider:

“Y’all do what you want,” said Mosteyfa called Teef. “But this nigga here?” They called him that for the obvious reason: long, snaggled, missing… “Is going all the way to Olorum.”… pewter-black, moss-green, yellow… “My ass ain’t tryna go right back up to the desert.”… cracked, carious, crooked. “A nigga need some rest behind that motherfucker!”

Demane felt much the same, crudity notwithstanding. A unanimous rumble rolled across the gathering of brothers.

“Anyone?” said the captain. His right hand pantomimed a man walking away, left hand waving goodbye.

“Come this far,” said some brother, “might as well go on.”

“I ain’t never seen Olorum, noway,” said another brother.

“Silver full-boys, y’all!” said a third. “Much as we can grab, y’all!”

There is nothing any more contrived about any of this language than Lord of the Rings's Middle Earth having tobacco and potatoes, or all the Fantasy novels that use the words "aphrodisiac" and "volcano" in worlds where worship was never held for Aphrodite or Vulcan. Wilson mentions "volcanic" in his first chapter, which has to be deliberate. This is fiction highly informed by cultures ignored by too much of mainstream American Fantasy. And while it has great contents all the way to the monster stalking the heroic party at the end - and that monster is the freaking coolest Fantasy monster this side of Helene Wecker's Golem - it's the language that allows access to so much character and culture. After this and The Devil in America, Kai Ashante Wilson has proven one of the most promising voices in our genre.
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