the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘society

Nexhuman by Francesco Verso

Publishing date Aug 14th, 2018 (click here to pre-order)

Where I got it: Received copy for review from Apex Books*

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#sorrynotsorry, I’m going to give you a spoiler right out of the gate:

 

Nexhuman will offer you enough ideas and discussion topics and thought experiments to keep you busy for the next ten years. In fact, an entire Convention programming track could be built just around the questions and ideas in this book.

 

What Nexhuman does not offer is concrete answers to any of the questions that are brought up.

 

It’s something you should know before you pick up this book: If you are the kind of reader who wants a book to ask questions and then cleanly answer them, Nexhuman will be one confusing and disappointing read.  On the flip side, if you enjoy science fiction books that ask questions about how society works, why humans act the way they do, why we make the decisions we make, how obsession and fear and passion work, a book that invites you to pull your own thoughts apart and examine them, and oh  yeah, if you love beautiful prose that doesn’t rely on snark to get a point across, Nexhuman could be the best book you read this year. Interested in how any of this came about? Francesco Verso recently published a short essay in Apex Magazine about the origins of the novel.

 

Another spoiler: Nexhuman does not at all read like your typical popular American-style science fiction novel. What I mean by that is there is no snarky language for the sake of being snarky or shocky,  no sexy cinematic scenes, the language is often raw and blunt, and the characters don’t really care if you like, agree with, relate to, or sympathize with them. I mean no disrespect to science fiction when I say that Nexhuman reads like literature.

 

Most of the novel takes place in or around a dump that overflows with consumer goods. For me, this novel was a connecting keystone for works such as Battle Angel Alita, Wall-E, John Scalzi’s Lock In, Ferrett Steinmetz’s The Uploaded, David Brin’s Kiln People, and other stories that touch on hyperconsumerism and leaving our fleshbodies behind for one reason or another.

 

Peter and his family make their living by clawing through the trash to find bits and pieces that can be resold, recycled, reused. Many household items are 5th, 6th, nth hand. Having something that is brand new is a status symbol, but also a symbol of flagrant waste.  Even Peter’s prosthetic limbs are made of whatever he can find in the dump. If he wants a better arm or a better leg, he better hit the jackpot of finding outdated robot or android parts in the dump. I spent 80% of the book wondering if he was born with a birth defect, or if there had been an accident or infection that led to his amputations. Peter doesn’t like to talk about, and when I found how what had happened to him,  not only did I realize why he hates to talk about it, but everything in the beginning of the book suddenly made a ton more sense!

 

Ok, so what the hell is this book about?  On the edge of the dump is a commercial district. Teenage Peter has a puppy-dog crush on a young woman named Alba who works at the travel agency. He watches her from afar, he shyly says hello to her when she comes to unlock the business in the morning.   He begins to view himself as her protector. She politely engages in conversation with him, asks him how his day is going, says hello. Alba is the first person in his life who has ever shown him the slightest bit of unconditional kindness, so it’s no wonder his crush turns into infatuation.

 

Is it before or after Peter’s brother’s gang attacks Alba and tears her body apart at the seams that Peter realizes she is a Nexhuman?

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The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

published in 1969

where I got it: purchased new

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I was intimidated to read this book. I doubted my ability to “get it”. What if I read and said “ok, that’s nice”? What if I didn’t understand the author’s intent? Endless doubts and what if’s. At my local book club a few months ago, instead of having us all read the same book, the club organizer put a stack of Hugo winners on the table and told us all to pick one.  I grabbed The Left Hand of Darkness off the table.  Doubt can go screw itself.

 

The big idea in The Left Hand of Darkness is how would culture and society be different if there was no gender? Unique among the planets that support human life, the people of Gethen have no fixed gender – they are neither male nor female, and have the ability to both father a child and give birth to a child. These people have never heard the phrase “traditional gender roles” and sexism and gender bias don’t exist in their culture. In their language, the pronouns “he” and “his”, simply mean “person”, and titles and offices that sound male to our ears are inclusive. This book is full of “he” and “his”, but there is only one male character in this book.

 

Genly Ai, Envoy of the Ekumen, has travelled to Gethen to invite the planet to become a part of the Ekumen, which is an interstellar trade federation of sorts.  He has now been residing in the kingdom of Karhide for over a year, and he will stay until the planetary leaders voice their wish to join the Ekumen, or until they tell him to go away (them killing him might also happen). Genly is in some ways incredibly patient, but in other ways impatient.  Not only does he not in anyway understand the local politics, but he also struggles with the idea that his hosts are not men and not women, but potentially either, and always showing traits of both femininity and masculinity, often at the same time.  In return, they view him as a sexual deviant, a genetic freak.

 

Gethen isn’t just a planet of no fixed gender, it’s also a planet that is actively trying to kill you.  Nicknamed “Winter”,  this is a place of never ending ice and snow, with a narrow band near the equator that can support life. No large mammals, no birds, no apex predators.  LeGuin does magic with how the planet shapes the society and culture of the Gethenians – no birds to be curious about means no interest in airplanes,  no large animals to eat means many meals and snacks during the day and strict rules of socializing that revolve around eating. On a planet where frostbite can kill, hospitality towards the stranger is the norm. On a planet where the populace appears to have no fear or distrust of the “other”, there are plenty of arguments, but there has never been an all out war between Karhide and their bureaucratic neighboring country Orgoreyn. Sprinkled through the novel are interim short chapters that include both local folklore and  helpful commentary from anthropologists who visited before Genly.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.