Category Archives: Technology

61st Discussion: Maureen F. McHugh’s China Mountain Zhang

Moderator: Aaron
Attendees: Dominic, Faizal, Hisham, Javin, Jiaqi, Timmy

mchugh, maureen - chinamountainzhangThis is one of the rare times that we decided to do a (gay) science fiction book. Everyone had something to pick on with the book – from its setting (Javin found it “unnecessary” and depressing, Dominic thought it was a dauntingly boring disturbia, Jiaqi didn’t think there was enough “sci-fi” and advanced technology to classify it as futuristic) to the writing style (Raj didn’t find it appealing, Timmy thought it was too static and sterile) and even to how prehistoric some concepts were (Aaron scoffed at the idea of cruising despite being set in the future).

THEMES
1. Structure: Jiaqi liked the diversity in showcasing the varied characters, which Javin disagreed with as he could not invest in them as much. Raj hated having to connect all the dots, which Aaron added made the book all the more messy and chaotic. Hisham felt that it could have been done better.

2. Homosexuality: Everyone agreed that homosexuals were stereotypically portrayed here, from the rich ang mohs to the Chinese gays with the inability to say no to everything. The happy ending that Zhang received drew ire from Aaron and Javin, who felt like it was forced, though Raj and Jiaqi thought otherwise, even if it was clichéd.

3. Women: Portrayed negatively except for the Korean woman (Jiaqi), and the doctor, who came across as domineering (Hisham).

4. Racism: Raj quipped that despite being set in the future, the only thing that was progressive was the food. Aaron pointed out that the Chinese characters suffered terrible fates, eliciting a rather long racism rant.

5. Relationships: The gay relationships featured came across as passive (Dominic) and devoid of love (Javin), to which Jiaqi vehemently opposed, commenting that it was filled with affection. Timmy noted that the heterosexual relationships showed the most growth throughout the book.

Dysfunctional, queer (Aaron) and atypical (Raj) were used to describe the familial relationships, though Jiaqi thought the families featured were portrayed normally.

CHARACTERS

1. Jiaqi didn’t think Angel was a fully developed character, and whose only sole purpose in the book was to be the information superhighway to Cinnabar, according to Dominic. Aaron saw her as a fag hag, to which Javin quipped that her being a fag hag gave her the opportunity to win races.

2. Everyone agreed that Peter was the most well-adjusted out of all: partly because he came off as relaxed and was able to come to terms with himself (Javin), and mainly because he was ang moh and didn’t worry about others’ opinions (Raj). Jiaqi deduced that Peter had it easier than Zhang. Peter is Javin’s favourite character.

3. Aaron thought that as a character, Cinnibar was not properly fleshed out.

4. Raj viewed Matador as another typical young gay boy who didn’t give a hoot about the world, to which Aaron concluded that he was another whiny bottom who just wanted to be taken care of.

5. Based on our observations, Hai Bao was set up as Zhang’s (life?) mentor. His suicide served as a milestone in Zhang’s life, causing him to “wake up” from his “catatonic” state.

6. We looked at Martine as a repressed being who had difficulty expressing her emotions. Timmy envisioned her to be like the ultimate on-screen ice queen, Tilda Swinton.

7. Aaron selected Zhang as his favourite character; citing his determination that gave everyone hope. Jiaqi liked that he was funny, relatable and sympathetic.

The question as to whether he was a depressed individual elicited two responses – Jiaqi, Dominic and Timmy didn’t think that he was ever in that state in the first place, while Raj and Aaron believed that he was.

We also questioned his decision/motive of revealing his sexual orientation to San Xiang at the end, and wrote it off as him finally accepting and being comfortable with himself.

In rounding up the discussion, everyone generally had nice things to say about the book – that it was interesting (Dominic), an “MRT-friendly” read (Raj), likeable and memorable characters (Jiaqi) and being enjoyable overall (Timmy). Aaron appreciated the literary values the book brought across, and being one of the only few books that saw the gay man eventually getting his happy ending (pun not intended). Hisham profoundly expressed that the book made our #firstworldproblems seem minute in comparison. Javin succinctly summed it up best: “It’s a gay book.”

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Filed under China, Class, Colonialism, Ecology, Family, Gay, Love, Maureen F. McHugh, Politics, Post-Colonialism, Race, S/F, Space, Technology, USA, War

56th Discussion: Patricia Cornwell’s The Body Farm

Moderator: Aaron
Attendees: Alexius, Chason, Glenn, Javin, Jiaqi, Timmy

body farmOPENING

What did we dislike about the book? Everything about it.

Javin found the entire book “distracting” – from its style, to the proses and the subplots. The excessive subplots and red herrings also irked Timmy. Jiaqi thought the ending was too rushed and suggested that the book would have been more interesting if it talked of the motivation for the murder. Aaron deemed the book homophobic.

THEMES

Jiaqi felt that homosexuality and homosexuals were not dealt deeply with in the book, though he praised its fairly realistic portrayal. Javin found it erratic and the homosexuals were not painted in the most positive light. Aaron added on that no characters in the book were comfortable with homosexuals. Glenn opined that this may be a depiction of the author through the niece.

Conclusively, Jiaqi commented that the book was not written to portray understanding of the LGBT community.

Women were also not favourably portrayed; Aaron questioned whether this was done intentionally or otherwise. Jiaqi noted that there were zero positive relationships between women. Aaron found the relationship between Kay and Lucy to be “encouraging”, though later intuited the two as Cornwell’s personas (the Republican and the lesbian).

Despite this flaw, we noted that the female characters were written as strong, intelligent beings that were, unfortunately, often horny and lonely. This was likely attributed to the lack of strong male companions and thus, the males were often treated as sideshow sex toys. Glenn remarked that during the time the book was being written, society at large (and thus, its characters) was not ready for strong females. The lack of positive portrayal served as “social commentary” of those times.

We briefly discussed the bathroom scene which included Chanel, which Alexius deemed as a “brand endorser.” Jiaqi found it to be a sympathetic scene, whereas Aaron quipped that even though Kay solves crimes, she still has to remain feminine and an elitist, i.e. maintain that “class factor.”

The topic of food was also touched on; according to Aaron, it appeared a lot throughout the book. “Why so specific?” he asked. Alexius joked that Cornwell was trying to be the next Martha Stewart. Javin viewed it as another way of conveying the “atas-ness” of the book and its lead character/s.

Aaron brought up the quote (“It seems this is all about people loving people who don’t love them back”), which he found poignant and stuck a chord with him. Both Glenn and him perceived it as describing of unrequited love.

Timmy questioned the inclusion of Psalm 107 (“They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; these see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep”) and its significance. Everyone agreed that it is about looking beyond the surface.

CHARACTERS

Glenn picked Lucy the niece as his favourite character as she seemed the most realistic out of everyone. Kay was Jiaqi and Timmy’s favourite for being a nice, complex human and a strong female. Both Javin and Aaron had no favourites, though the latter shared his favourite quote (as previously mentioned).

CONCLUSION

Overall, we enjoyed the book: it had a nice story for its time (Javin); it was an entertaining page turner with a strong female lead, which was rare (Jiaqi); and it had good pacing, with something coming up at every chapter (Chason). Despite its “backwards”, conservative mindset, Aaron found it likable. Timmy quipped that the book felt like an episode of CSI – “the Las Vegas version, not the Miami one.”

The only opposing view was from Alexius, who had DNR stamped all over the book and thus, paid more attention to his phone and apps rather than to the discussion.

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Filed under Class, Crime, Family, Food, Lesbian, Love, Patricia Cornwell, S/F, S/M, Technology, USA

41st Discussion: Ali Smith’s There But For The

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Timmy wrote:

This week’s discussion was held at The Pigeon Hole as Raj was admitted into hospital with stomach ulcer (Get well soon!). Thank you to new attendees Andrew and Muslim for joining us this month.

Opening Words

We kicked off the discussion asking everyone’s thoughts on the book. Amit and Har are still reading the book. Amit found the book strange yet interesting, as well as very mysterious as it focuses more on the other characters. Har is appreciative of the novel’s suspense, and found the book anecdotal. Both Isaac and Andrew – the number 1 Ali Smith fanboys – liked the book too. Isaac enjoyed the witticisms and the puns. Both Timmy and Nicole thought the book is funny.

Alexius, however, didn’t particularly like it, feeling that the book was too tedious to be read and was not interesting.

Title

“What does it mean? Why did the author decided to name the book as such?” asked Aaron.

According to Andrew, Ali just decided to name it like that because she “quite liked the phrase.”  He went on: “It doesn’t mean much, but (it) can mean things for other people.” The rest of us just nodded our heads as we didn’t know what else to make of it.

Prologue

Isaac viewed the prologue as a modern fable, concerning youth and the passing of youth. He further elaborated that the man confronting his younger self might even be Miles himself. Alexius felt that this part caught his attention. He thought that the relationship between the boy and the man was never stated, and speculated that it could be alluding to paedophilia.

Short stories

“What’s the point of including them?” Aaron asked.

Alexius felt that the story itself did not hold much context, hence the short stories were add ons to beef up the book. Nicole, meanwhile, thought that the stories contributed to the characterizations. Aaron viewed them as reflections of art, and alluded to Miles’ quote to Brooke. Alexius referenced Jackson Pollock.

Dinner party

Har thought the entire scene was banal, though Timmy felt otherwise. He thought that the entire chapter perfectly captured the mood of the party very well, which Andrew agreed with.

Themes

During the discussion, we briefly touched on death and growing old (Aaron/Isaac); bullying, surveillance and the British system (Isaac); technology (Aaron); philosophy (Alexius); and modern life (Andrew).

We pondered on whether it is better to be cleverest, or cleverist. Aaron felt that the book did not achieve that.

Favourite characters

Amit liked Mark because we are able to glimpse into his thoughts. Aaron described him as hot, although Timmy begged to differ.

Miles was the hot favourite for this discussion, being liked by Isaac, Har, Nicole and Andrew. Brooke followed in second, with votes from Aaron, Andrew and Timmy. They found her precocious and lovable.

Alexius liked the boy in the prologue, describing him as “significant”.

Least favourite

Isaac found Genevieve pretentious and irritating.

Har started disliking Miles after he locks himself in the room.

Alexius cited the man in the prologue as his least favourite.

Last words

Isaac described the book as an anti-novel, almost like giving the middle finger as to how a novel should be written. Har intends to finish reading it, as he appreciates the writing style. Andrew remains as Ali Smith’s fanboy and described the book as a biting social critique of the harsh celebrity life. Nicole said she will have to read till the end; she does, however, like the characters and the tricks Smith employed throughout her novel.

At the other end of the spectrum… Amit remains indifferent to the book. Alexius, however, still finds it boring post-discussing the book, declaring it as too “textbook” and stylistic. He doesn’t plan on continuing reading it. Ernest too didn’t like the book, finding the wordplay too hard to comprehend, and the overall style as being too chunky and dry.

Aaron declared the interactions between Miles and Brooke to be magical, though in closing the discussion, he felt that overall it wasn’t a fruitful one. “The novel is indubitably technically brilliant but it either went over our heads and we couldn’t understand it, or it’s just meaningless that we cannot extract meaning out of it.” Oh dear.

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Filed under Ali Smith, Class, Ecology, Family, Lesbian, Love, Politics, Race, Technology, Time, UK

21st Discussion: Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness (18 Jun)

This was a short session, which didn’t do justice to such a complex book, because the festivity of Pink Dot made it difficult to discuss.

It’s a 2-2 vote for the book. Timmy disliked the book because it was overly scientific and ambitious although he is willing to give the book another go; Alex disliked the later part because of the tedious description of the journey. On the other hand, Raj and Aaron loved the book very much. Not his preferred genre, Raj was surprised at how he could relate the book to real life. Aaron liked the complexity, intricacies and the journey of a homophobic to a non-homophobic person.

1. Favorite character: Alex and Aaron both liked the handsomest “man/woman” in the book because he is evil.

2. Sex: Timmy felt that Le Guin seems to be playing god because she dictates the roles of sex in beings.

a. Incest: Both Timmy and Alex felt that the incest isn’t creepy.

b. Lesbianism.

c. Mother/Father figure: Timmy thought that a being which can be either a mother or a father questions religion.

d. Estraven-Genly Ai: Do they have sex? Alex didn’t think so; Aaron thought it was suggested, like the camera shifting from a kissing scene into the embers of dying fire. Aaron said that it is reasonable for them to have sex because then they would be connected by soul and body. Timmy said that’s cheesy.

e. Prostitution: Alex brought up that it is interesting that there are bordellos and that part should be explored and would potentially be interesting. Timmy related the bordello to a gay sauna.

f. Sexuality: The sexuality of the beings defies any forms of categorization. They are gay, straight, bisexual, and transgender, all roll into one.

3. War: Do wars exist only because of the aggression in the male sex? The novel is ambiguous.

4. Politics: Aaron thought the “shifgrethor” (saving face and avoiding confrontation) is reminiscent of Singapore’s politics; but Timmy suggested that it is applicable to Asian societies.

5. Style: Alex brought up the style of the novel, claiming that the novel is overly complicated with two narrators, legends, myths, etc. Aaron suggests that this would provide an holistic picture, demonstrating Genly’s flaws.

Other issues not discussed are technology, ecology, post-colonialism, religion, and race.

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Filed under Bisexuality, Classics, Family, Intersex, Politics, Post-Colonialism, Queer, Race, Religion, S/F, Space, Technology, Time, Transgender, Transsexualism, Ursula Le Guin, USA, War