The Magicians 2.4, “The Flying Forest”

This week I’ve been working a bunch and desperately trying not to catch the nasty cold that’s cutting a swath through my coworkers. On the more positive side, I’ve been writing and playing music and spending time with people I like, but those things also take a toll physically and emotionally. What I’m trying to say, here, is that I really wanted to just watch The Magicians tonight and enjoy it, without worrying about cranking out a coherent 500-1000 word recap.

Instead, I decided to live tweet the show. It’s not as comprehensive as my usual, but it was still fun. The official show account teased me for criticizing the writing, but I stand by what I said. Here’s a storify of my tweets from the hour:

Like I said, not as much detail as we’re used to, but if there are things I missed that you want to discuss, hit me up in the comments!

Review: The Xenogenesis Trilogy/Lilith’s Brood

Octavia Butler’s Xenogensis Trilogy consists of Dawn, Adulthood Rights, and Imago, published as separate novels in 1987, ’88, and ’89. In 2000, the whole series was released in one volume titled Lilith’s Brood. In our internet and ebook age, it’s possible to find the series either way.

I decided to write one post to cover all three books. Each novel is distinct, but together they tell one story about first contact and the future of the human race. By the time I finished Dawn I knew I wanted to get my hands on the other two books and find out what happens next.

dawn cover
I almost posted a picture of a Lilith’s Brood cover but then I found some Palencar art for the trilogy, so that’s what you’re getting

Before reading the books, I had heard Xenogensis described as “hopeful” science fiction. Lilith, a human woman, wakes up on a spaceship with no idea how she got there. The ship belongs to the Oankali, aliens who rescued Lilith and other humans from a war-torn, dying Earth. The Oankali are willing to help restore the planet and bring the survivors back, on one condition—any human who wants to have children has to mate with the aliens, producing a new hybrid race.

At first Lilith is frightened by the Oankali, understandably so, since for the most part they’re gray humanoids with lots of tentacles and a varying number of arms. After living on the ship for some time, she comes to understand and even love them. It could be read as a parable about racism. We can become familiar with the unfamiliar. We can find common ground despite our differences.

That’s a great message, but I think there’s more to Butler’s vision. Racism isn’t about perceived differences and personal fears; it’s about power. I don’t think it’s an accident that a lot of the significant human characters in these books are people of color. Before the war, Lilith is a black woman living in 20th century America. She understands what it means to feel powerless. After the war, the dynamics shift. Oankali have power over humans. They assert that power peacefully, and with the best of intentions. Nonetheless, they control the future of our race.

In cooperating with the Oankali, Lilith does what oppressed people have done for centuries. She survives at any cost. She assimilates into the culture of the oppressor in the hopes that she can help other humans. To break the system, she has to get inside the system.

This isn’t to say the Oankali are villains. They want to help, and they do, in their own way. Lilith does genuinely care for them, but sometimes she feels that she’s betrayed her own people. Then again, without the Oankali, humans would have gone extinct, so were her actions really wrong? It’s that kind of moral and emotional ambiguity that makes this series so much more than just a simple allegory.

The second and third books focus on Lilith’s part-human, part-Oankali children. In Adulthood Rites, her son Akin concerns himself with the plight of the humans who have chosen not to mate with Oankali. Imago is about Jodahs, the first human-oankali hybrid to develop into an ooloi, the Oankali third gender.

Introducing a third gender is cool, even as a science fiction concept. The ooloi can change their appearance and alter any living being’s gene structure. Still, the books treat sex and gender as immutable biological facts. Oankali society isn’t so much accepting of nonbinary genders as it’s…used to having another one, I guess?  Jodahs doesn’t read as gender non-conforming to me, it just has the body of an ooloi. Also, the use of the pronoun “it” for the ooloi seems dated, kind of like the hermaphrodites in the Vorkosigan Saga (which started around the same time period, The Warrior’s Apprentice introduced the world to Bel Thorne in 1986).

I have so many questions about the gender and sexuality politics in this series. What happened to all the gay humans? What happens to anyone who doesn’t want to have children? I don’t think the books create a believable representation of the range of human gender and sexuality, but it does introduce an alien culture that thinks about these concepts differently.

The Xenogenesis Trilogy came out right around the time I was born, but it still felt fresh and relevant to me. Sometimes the forward march of real life science and technology outruns science fiction and makes it obsolete. Even books that avoid being dated can seem diluted after a couple dozen other writers have remixed and riffed on the original idea. Maybe it’s because the science fiction I read mostly doesn’t have aliens, so I’m not familiar with the tropes. But maybe it’s because Butler took a truly unique idea and built a timeless world populated with complex characters.

Either way, these books deserve their status as classics. Highly recommended, especially if you love sci-fi but need a break from the bleakness. If you’re feeling dystopia fatigue, Xenogenesis might be the cure.

Introduction

Hi, welcome to my blog! My name is Andrea Biagini, and I like to talk about books.

I’ve lived most of my life in New England. From the time I graduated from college up until June of 2015, I was working in various schools, usually (but not always) teaching music. During the summer, my husband’s job moved us temporarily to North Carolina. Being sort of fed up with my ongoing search for a permanent teaching job, I decided to take the year off and work on my other passion, writing fiction.

Writing full-time can be a lonely business. The hard part for me, semi-social butterfly and perennial teacher’s pet, is to be in a situation where I’m not getting daily feedback. My goal with this blog is to get some writing practice that also allows me to connect with other people who want to talk about the things I want to talk about. Also, shameless self-promotion alert, a way to connect with potential readers.

What to expect on this blog

I am a reader. Reading is most of what I do with my spare time. This will primarily be a book blog, because books are my favorite thing to think about and most of what I want to talk about. I’ll be posting individual book reviews, but also some more general posts about my reading life and habits. I read mostly novels, and genre-wise I gravitate towards fantasy, but I don’t limit myself to that and I’ll post about all sorts of different books here.

I’m also giving myself the freedom to talk about other things that interest me. So here’s a short, non-comprehensive list of other topics you might find, in among the books:

– My writing- updates on and possibly some excerpts from my novel-in-progress or some of my short fiction

-Food and drink- pictures and recipes very probable.

-TV- especially if it somehow relates to books. Don’t expect 2000-word Game of Thrones episode recaps, but also don’t expect me not to mention it.

-Music- I am still a band geek in my heart, so if you have a day when you really just need to talk about Holst—or whatever!— I am here for you.

To start I’m going update three times a week, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

My rating system

When I review a book, I’ll use a five-star system. Of course that means something different to everyone, so here’s how I use my stars:

One star: Totally hated it and struggled to finish, or poor writing quality. I want people to come here to discuss books and maybe find something new that they would like, so I probably won’t even post any one-star reviews unless I feel like I’m doing a real public service by letting you know that this book is the worst.

Two stars: Finished but didn’t like it, too many problematic elements (in writing or content) to enjoy.

Three stars: Liked it and/or found the writing quality to be average to above average. Would recommend to a friend if it dealt with something they were specifically into.

Four stars: Liked it a lot and/or found the writing to be above average. Would recommend to friends.

Five stars: Loved it, would recommend to everyone. I usually reserve this for real favorites or things that have held up to a re-reading.

The “and/or” you see up there is a warning that sometimes I will dislike a book that is considered well written. The opposite is probably going to happen even more, where I will really love something that is objectively bad. “It was not good, but I liked it,” is a thing I find myself saying upon finishing many types of media.

The rating has more to do with me and what I like than anything else. But I’m assuming that if you weren’t at least a little interested in my opinion you wouldn’t be here in the first place, so that’s how I’m going to roll.

I think that about covers it. If there’s anything else you’re curious about, please leave a comment! I’m really excited to talk about books with you. Thanks for reading.

Coming up next: My review of Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor.