Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Driftglass by Samuel R. Delany

I had a comically hard time finishing the ten stories that comprise Driftglass. Each is basically a dude using a lot of words to tell a story where very little happens. I took it as a challenge to read every story in the collection, enjoyed much vigorous eye-rolling, and got to think about some interesting things along the way.

I read Driftglass in bed and had trouble staying awake through more than a few pages a night. Most of the narrators have a world-weary voice that doesn't quite feel earned, possibly because Delany was in his twenties when these stories were published. Each has a huffing and puffing about them that maybe once read as energetic, but makes the characters incredibly hard to connect to. When they are not explicitly prisoners or thieves, the main characters are mostly workers of some kind, like a disabled utility worker, a grieving mechanic, or a cable-laying widower. These jobs give access to the underbelly of the future, full of fucked-up kids and hustlers. The plots often hinge on these characters--definitely a reflection on the fear and fascination with youth that happened around that time as well as a reaction to the idea that damaged, poor, or weird people are to be used and disposed of.

The stories of Driftglass are from the mid-to-late 60s which came through in many ways: newspapers being a thing, schizophrenia as metaphor, everybody is still basically straight but the family is mutating, bikers, drug-induced powers, name-checking the Moog, and even some silver jumpsuits. What's wild is that even in such superficially dated tales, Delany's made some accurate predictions of future developments like the internet, fake news, surveillance and "pics or it didn't happen" culture: "While Tri-D and radio and news-tapes disperse information all over the worlds, they also spread an alienation from first-hand experience. (How many people go to  sports events or a political rally with their little receivers plugged to their ears to let them know what they are seeing is really happening?)." ["Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones"] Each story ends with a date and a city, which feels like a slightly precious celebration of the stereotypical roving writer's life that added an additional patina of a past era.

I rarely continue with books that aren't doing it for me but I'm glad that I finished this one. The scenarios were fun to think about after I cut through all the purple. I am sorely under read in Delany's catalog and this was not a bad place to start.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Canopy by Karine Bernadou

On a recent long night I decided that big eyes of the main character of Canopy had been staring out from my to-read pile for too long. A wordless comic is a tough sell to me, especially in these times of constant background anxiety, but Karine Bernadou's tale of the loneliness and violence within intimate relationships is a stellar example of the genre. The fact that this is a "translated" work only underlines the how powerfully Bernadou's images communicate--no words needed.

Have you ever searched family photos for clues about how it all went wrong? Canopy opens with a family portrait, a mother, a father and a darling stout red baby, putting us instantly on alert, pinging something that knows that portraits' posed unity rarely lasts. The next spread covers the red girl's childhood and adolescence, economically showing the ways a parent can fuck us up. From there we head out into a hostile world, where the possibility of change occasionally appears in the form of a sex partner and, well, we all know how that goes. There's a bit with sirens and a being looking to get lured away that I really liked; self-destructive partners are often their own siren song for the hurting. Each time the red woman seems to find a bit of peace, her desire to find/replace her absent father pulls her into another nasty situation. By the end of the book she's figured out a few things but the conclusion isn't sweet or even saccharine. If anything there's a melancholy to the character going on to her next adventure with wariness and more baggage than she started with.

Using only red for color, Canopy still manages to evoke a lush, if hostile, world, a forest place filled with biting animals and sentient plants. Bernadou's cute characterizations add a disquieting edge to the surreal and bloody situations she finds herself in, as do the prevalence of human features where one wouldn't expect to find them. I liked how the book played with time, especially through dream sequences. Each is like a mini battle for the main character and she usually doesn't win. Bernadou's pacing creating the sense of a long story being told in a short book and definitely rewards rereading.