Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett. A fantastic satire set in Lagos, the largest city in Nigeria, in which a black man wakes up one morning to find himself quite literally transformed into a white man – except for that titular black ass. The parallels to Kafka and Ovid are deliberate. Furo, as our main character is known, is still jobless, single, and living with his parents at 33, due mostly to Nigeria's overwhelming unemployment rate. That white skin quickly solves all of his problems though, as he is offered one incredible job after another until he finally reaches the heights of a million-dollar government contract; strangers on the street do him spontaneous favors; the high-class mistress of a rich politician takes him on and shows him off to her even more successful friends, etc. Unfortunately Furo is not immune to the temptation to exploit his new privileges, and he is entirely willing to abandon everyone around him to embrace this new life, starting by running away from home without letting his family know what's happened to him.
And yet despite all that, it's not really a novel about race – or at least, no more about race than is required by that summary. The author is primarily interested in identity and how it changes in response to our circumstances. There's a hilarious chapter exploring how Furo's sister presents herself on Twitter (using hashtags to search for her brother, but not above acquiring several thousand new followers in the process), and the secondary narrator, a writer named A. Igoni. Why yes! You may have noticed that this is the same name as the actual author of the book, but as opposed to those irritating literary fiction writers who present semi-autobiographical versions of themselves differentiated only by having a new name, in this case A. Igoni seems to be an entirely fictional creation who shares nothing beyond the name. I gotta say, I like this second method much better. Anyway, the book-version of Igoni meets Furo, realizes what is going on, and becomes determined to get the whole story. In the process Igoni becomes a woman, this second metamorphosis not made clear until quite some time after it's already happened. I've seen a lot of reviews referring to this as a trans narrative, but it struck me as just as mystical and inexplicable as Furo's change, and not much related to real-world gender identities. Not that fiction can't speak to multiple stories, of course.
It's not a perfect book. The plotline about Furo's sister never really has a resolution, and the ending was quite cruel to a character I had a lot of sympathy for. But I liked much more of it than I didn't like – including multiple lovely descriptions of daily life in Lagos – and I'll be keeping an eye out for future books by the author.
Stories of the Raksura, Volume 2: The Dead City & The Dark Earth Below by Martha Wells. Five more short stories, set in the world of the Raksura series. This was reversed from the first collection, starting out with the shortest story and building up to the novella-length one.
The Dead City. Set before The Cloud Roads, just after Moon's first encounter with the Fell, which left him near-suicidal in grief and devastation. Fleeing from the ruined city he'd been living in, he falls in with a group of groundlings and gets involved in their problems, mainly so he can throw himself into a fight without needing to care if he'll live or die. He is surprised and touched when one groundling begins to trust him, and less surprised when another betrays him. Really fascinating worldbuilding in this story, including an entire city of pyramids built underground being invaded by a species of spider-like telepaths.
Mimesis. A very short story about Jade saving one of the warriors from a predator. This was fun, and I was very excited to read a piece with Jade-POV, since that was a first for me.
Trading Lessons. Another short, this one about a trading encounter between two courts of Raksura and a merchant groundling, in which Moon attempts to explain capitalism to his allies. It doesn't really work, but Moon makes a killing.
The Almost Last Voyage of the Wind-Ship Escarpment. A short piece set in the same world as the Raksura stories, but with entirely new characters. Which, I have to admit, disappointed me at first, since I wanted more Moon & co. But once I let myself commit to this story, I really enjoyed the tale of the crew of a small merchant ship hired to deliver a ransom to pirates. As you might guess from the title, things go wrong.
The Dark Earth Below. A novella set between The Siren Depths and The Edge of Worlds. Jade is hugely pregnant with her and Moon's first clutch, which is due any day now, leaving everyone on edge. Meanwhile, several of the Kek (the little stick-people who live at the bottom of the mountain-trees) have gone missing, prompting Stone to investigate. The disappearance turns out to involve a group of merchants, an invisible species, and an attack on the colony. I think the collection of fight scenes in this story was some of the most genuinely horrifying writing I've read from Wells, and the ultimate resolution of the mystery was just so creepy. Thankfully this is balanced by the resolution, which includes a set of very cute babies!
And then I was distraught to be left with no more Raksura stories to read. However, curtana had told me that Martha Wells had set up a Patreon for more, and this news was finally the impetus I needed to set up a Patreon account. If anyone else is interested, there was currently 27 pieces, with two more being added a month (including one just today!), and there is no minimum limit to pledge. In other words, you could get all of them for as low as a dollar! :D Though to be honest, I gave more because I felt I owed it. I haven't read them all yet, but the stories are generally quite short, less than 1000 words, and there's a lot of Stone and Jade – though there's also one longer piece, currently 4 sections long and still going. I especially loved a piece about a conversation between Jade and Balm before their first meeting with Moon; I love their friendship/sisterhood, and getting to see an intimate moment between them was wonderful.
What are you currently reading?
Listening to a Continent Sing: Birdsong by Bicycle from the Atlantic to the Pacific by Donald E. Kroodsma. Still working on this technically, though I don't think I've progressed a page since last Wednesday.
A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch. The Comfortverse! I have finally gotten around to reading this, hooray!
I also want to recommend this wonderful novella: Suradanna and the Sea by Rebecca Fraimow. Two woman accidentally become immortal, and pass one another again and again over the centuries before falling in love. Again the worldbuilding is fantastic, and I particularly loved the way fashions changed, and how small choices grew huge consequences over time. Absolutely recommended.
This entry was originally posted at http://brigdh.dreamwidth.org/31111.html. Please comment there using OpenID.