Category Archives: S/F

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

49th Discussion: Mercedes Lackey’s Magic’s Price

Magic's Price

This is an incredible and empathetic book. Its reconciliation scene between the gay son and father is one of the most touching I’ve read. Written in 1992, it is way ahead of its time, concerning themes of surrogate gay parenthood, religious opposition to homosexuality, etc.

But Javin, Luke and Timmy hadn’t read the book. So these are some discussion questions:

Themes

1. Pedophilia: Vanyel’s taste is inclined towards young, innocent boys. Is it homophobic to portray the major gay character as a pedophile?

2. Sexuality:

a. Insecurity/Vulnerability/Fear of Coming Out: While both Stefan and Vanyel are portrayed as sensitive and vulnerable, afraid to be hurt, Stefan’s vulnerability stems from his history while Vanyel’s from his sexuality. In an episode where Vanyel gathers with other Herald-Mages to re-wire the magic nodes, he expresses his fear that they might reject him because of his sexuality. How is this fear portrayed? And what do the other straight Herald-Mages say to assuage his fear?

b. Sex scenes: There are many, many sex scenes between Stefan and Vanyel. Why do you think the author includes the scenes? Are they necessary?

c. Surrogate parenthood: Vanyel fathers a few children (through the old fashioned way). Why do you think Lackey makes Vanyel a father despite him being gay?

3. Duty: Explain Vanyel’s notion of duty.

4. War and Religion: The other country starts a “holy war” against the Herald-Mages because the country is anti-magic. If we see mages as someone “special,” can we read this “holy war” as a religious war against homosexuals? What is Lackey’s view on religion, as mouthed through Vanyel’s father on p. 220?

5. Ageism: The notion of age keeps coming up. Everyone seems to look SK-2 young. Is there a form of ageism here?

6. Class and Race: Vanyel and Stefan try to eradicate the citizens’ notion of a Herald-Mage being better than a Herald. Is this a metaphor of class or race issues?

7. Family: The reconciliation between gay son (Vanyel) and his father scene is one of the most moving I’ve read. What is the argument that makes the father accept Vanyel for who he is?

Plot

8. Why do you think Mercedes Lackey tries so hard to make Vanyel and Stefan to be “lifebonded”? And why does Lackey make Stefan a reincarnation of Vanyel’s previous lover?

9. Happy Ending: Do you think the ending is too forced? If so, why does Lackey force the ending to be such?

10. Male Rape: Why do you think Lackey writes a scene that Vanyel is raped?

Characters

10. Stefan:

a. What are some of the concerns of rooming Medren (Vanyel’s nephew) with Stefan?

b. What is the “origin” of homosexuality in Stefan, as depicted in the novel? Does the author agree with it?

c. Stefan is portrayed as promiscuous in the book. Is this homophobic? If not, why not? Stefan’s promiscuity makes him insecure about his relationship with Vanyel. Is this homophobic?

d. Stefan is described as “slim,” “slight” and”fragile.” If he were a girl, he would be called “delicate.” Is this homophobic? If not, why not?

e. Stefan is often concerned of his future, afraid to be out in the streets again. What is the author’s intention of showing Stefan in this light?

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Filed under Family, Gay, Love, Mercedes Lackey, Religion, S/F, USA, War

22nd Discussion: Perry Moore’s Hero (15 July)

It’s half-and-half vote for the book. Timmy, Alex, Alexius, Raj liked it because of the idealism although Timmy admitted the novel isn’t original. Jason was on the fence. David, Nicole and Aaron didn’t like it. Javin and Leo lent their moral support.

1. Themes

a. Daddy Issues: Alex pointed out that Thom gives Hal, his father, new hands–a metaphor which we didn’t explore. David pointed out that there is certainly some sexual tension between Thom and Hal. For instance, Thom jerks off to Uberman who is, Thom informs the reader, a superhero of his father’s age, quite like his father. The metaphor of wearing his father suit is wanting to be IN his father, although as Timmy pointed out, Thom is a bottom. What Thom does is to substitute one father figure for another: from his father to Uberman to Goran, who is a father figure, teaching Thom boxing, training him, and taking care of his younger brother. Obviously, the father issue isn’t resolved yet.

b. Mummy Issues: We were surprised about the relatively unimportant role of Thom’s mother in his life since gay novels usually revolve weak father/strong mother stereotypes. Jason noted how appalling it is to kill off the mother in a single sentence.

c. Gender: Continuing on how cruel the author is to the Mom, Nicole, Raj, Timmy et al pointed out that there are no strong woman figures in the story. In fact, the powers of the women are stereotypical of female superheroes. (This being said, Alexius observed that Thom’s power is feminine and passive. Timmy said, It’s because Thom is a bottom.) Even motherhood is portrayed negatively, with Mom instructing Thom to retrieve the ring, slicing his body up. What sort of mother would do that? While some of us thought that the book was sexist, others disagreed. Some say that perhaps this is a book written in a male prospective, for boys, gay boys.

d. Race: Aaron thought that the book is racist in the portrayal of Goran, as if every non-White has to excel in sports, studies and do volunteer work. Furthermore, Goran is metaphorically silenced since he never speaks in his superhero guise. To recognize Goran, Goran has to place Thom’s hands, one covering the forehead, and one the lower half of the face, leaving only the eyes, effectively effacing Goran’s identity. Alexius thought the gesture is romantic, and shouldn’t be misconstrued.

e. Love: Aaron hated the idea that teenagers are made to believe in a fairy tale ending when they should be taught to be realistic and taught that it takes hard work to maintain a relationship. For example, why should Invisible Lass be demonized just because she falls in love with the wrong man? Timmy argued that perhaps Invisible Lass’s sudden and unsentimental death comes from a punishment of not manning up to her mistake. Besides, most members in the group like a happy ending.

f. Media/glamour: Nicole and Jason mentioned the fast pace, action-packedness of the novel; both can envision the novel as a movie. The pace and action are definitely related to Hollywood. For example, in the scene whereby Thom is held captive in the pantry, there are product placement everywhere. Or the superheros themselves are movie-stars, glorifying muscles, and all want to be A-listers. This world, Aaron felt, was contemptible. Jason believed that perhaps the novel is trying to show that superheroes are as superficial and human and liable to err as humans.

g. Ageism: The older generation has to be screwed-up and died to pave the way for a new generation, full of hope.

h. Sexuality: Why do every character know that Thom is gay? Some of us believed that it is just taunting Thom, but, Aaron pointed out, Gary Coleman does it in such a matter-of-factly way that it isn’t a jibe but an observation. David said people just know because there is a difference in thinking between gay and straight people. Some of us questioned if this is really true since gay people can pass very well, a basic skill for survival. But if Perry Moore is suggesting there is indeed a difference between gay and straight people, then, as Nicole claims, isn’t it detrimental to gay people, i.e., gay people are outcasts and weird?

2. Characters: Timmy and Raj liked Ruth because she’s a layered character and has spunk and is accepting of others.

Alex liked Larry because he’s vulnerable and finds it hard to get close to people. Timmy said that Larry is ernest.

Alexius liked Golden Boy because of his immaturity.

David liked Goran because of his painful and dark past.

Jason persuaded Aaron that Justice is the most complex character who struggles between the good and bad within him; Justice wants to go back to the planet that isn’t even there but by doing so, by using Earth’s energy and destroying the planet, there will not be Earth for him to return to. Jason contemplated on the agony of such trauma.

Nicole didn’t have a favorite character. Aaron thought all the characters are one-dimensional and flat. For instance, Ruth only have one issue, and that screws her up for life. Everyone has one issue that screws him/her up in the book – but surely, Aaron thought, they could move on and grow, something the characters haven’t considered.

3. We all concluded that it’s a fast-paced book, easy to read, and we shouldn’t put much thought while reading it because we would end up indignant like Aaron who thought the book is racist, sexist, and ageist. Old curmudgeon fart, he is.

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Filed under Coming of Age, Family, Gay, Love, Perry Moore, Race, S/F, USA, Young Adult

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

11th Discussion: Jeanette Winterson’s The Stone Gods (15 Jul 2010)

We asked the question that why the lesbian writers we read thus far dislike gay men so much. Manfred is described as selfserving and despicable; the another two “gay” men in 1774 have to die. Raj mentioned that all men—not only gay ones—are denigrated in that the men are looking for something they don’t have (eggs, a feminine symbol).

The female characters are portrayed in a significantly better light, as Timmy pointed out. Even Pink, who is supposed to be a Paris Hilton figure, is complex and sympathetic. Judgmental Billie is a thinly veiled stand-in for Jeanette Winterson. Aaron saw this intrusion of author as character egoistic and narcissistic.

Aaron brought up the issue of the West VS the Others, of how Winterson sees the world in dichotomies. She sees China as communist and Arabs as agrarians. Her racism is appalling especially that she wrote the book in 2007, a time when London (where the author lives) is a metropolis with many races.

The notion of Christianity is complicated. The nun loves champagne and sardines, a parody of wine and 5 fish. There is Spike, the AI which is made to evolve and even to become god. Although the notion of Christianity is intricate, Aaron claimed that Winterson’s upbringing as a pentacostal prophet shows in her dictatorship and criticalness – as if she were trying to play God.

Raj brought up an interesting point that the cycle of destruction and construction of worlds mirrors Hinduism.

Isaac, however, argued rather convincingly that there is value in the book. Although Isaac disliked the pedantic nature of the book, he claimed that it is an ambitious work on love and humanity and environment. “Save the world” is one of the messages of the book. Another is that love is what makes humans human. The non-chronological writing style is also interesting.

Aaron The Curmudgeon said that the two messages are commonplace and too simple. An ad on global warming can achieve in 15 seconds what Winterson sets to achieve, taking the reader 3 hours to read her book. Her writing style is old and tired, and, Aaron said, she should retire gracefully into her organic shop instead of trying to make a comeback like Air Supply.

At the end of the day, Isaac’s earnestness and fervor rescued the book when he said that it is a book of potentialities. Aaron The Curmudgeon might have something nasty to retort but Isaac’s benevolence sewed his trap up. Good trumps Evil. Happy Ending.

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Filed under Jeanette Winterson, Lesbian, S/F, UK