sawyl: (Default)
2017-07-19 08:13 pm
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Hurley on the ACA

Kameron Hurley has written an excellent piece on the current ACA mess, probably best considered as a companion to her essay on suviving without healthcare, which contains the following sobering conversation:

If we save the ACA I keep my "in case I'm laid off/fired" healthcare safety net. If we save ACA I could be a full-time writer someday. If we don’t save ACA and I lose my job for any reason, I’ll probably die. Meds are $1500 a month to keep me alive (not counting premiums).

When I went to pick up my latest round of meds and the pharmacy tech asked if I knew the bill ($500) I said "Oh yes. But I’ll die without them. So they kind of have me over a barrel."

And she said, "I guess I would die, then. That’s more than I make in a week."

Makes you realise why socialised medical schemes like the NHS are worth fighting for; why they're as popular as they are once they're implemented; and just what we've got to lose if they disappear...

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2017-07-10 09:09 pm

The Geek Feminist Revolution

Today's featured book is Kameron Hurley's engaging essay collection The Geek Feminist Revolution. Originally a series of articles and blog posts, a number of which have taken on a life of their own, the collection draws them together and puts them alongside other pieces which address similar issues. The tone is impassioned and polemical, rather than dry, closely argued philosophy, Hurley focuses on the person and political, challenging the reader to examine their own preconceptions and privileges.

The book starts with an excellent overview of the nature of writing and eviscerates some of the most common myths — such as the notion that talent is a sufficient condition for success; hell, in some cases, it doesn't even seem to be a necessary one! The second part delves into culture — mostly geek culture — and skilfully takes it apart, often from a feminist perspective, to show its inbuilt assumptions and biases. Hurley's essay on the first series of True Detective, focusing not on the supernatural but on what makes the lead characters monsters, is particularly good — and particularly disturbing, given that much of the perspective comes from first hand experience.

The last two sections of the book deal with the wider world — the justifiably famous and deeply horrifying The Horror Novel You’ll Never Have to Live: Surviving Without Health Insurance should be required reading for politicians of every stripe. The final section, which focuses on revolution and change picks apart moments in history and, although the ideas may not be original — the notion that default views are not apolitical reminds me of, I think, Felix Holt where being a Tory is considered to be apolitical! — they're expressed with clarity and an enjoyable sense of brio.

If the collection has a weakness, it is that all the pieces were originally written as standalone articles. Thus they include slightly more throat-clearing than usual, with Hurley setting out various facts that we've just read about in the previous essay. But that's a minor quibble with a easy solution: simple spread out the essays rather than reading them in one sitting, or dip into them out of order.

(As an aside, I particularly like the llama on the cover which, amusingly, appears to be a slightly modified version of the one the cover Schwartz and Christiansen's Learning Perl. My copy, now 20+ years old, notes that this particular llama comes from a 19th century engraving in the Dover Pictorial Archive, perhaps explaining how it came feature on both covers)
sawyl: (Default)
2017-05-17 08:38 pm
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Catching up: Hurley on healthcare

Catching up with the backlog from my time away, I found Kameron Hurley's excellent piece Cultivating Compassion When We’re All Tired, which completely skewers the notion of healthcare insurance as currently conceived in the United States:

Working under this weight has been really hard. I have a health insurance plan right now with a $5k deductible, which means I paid $1500 for meds last month. Under the new plan, I could be charged like $20,000 a year just in premiums. I could have a $50,000 deductible on top of that, even on an employer plan, because all those regulations that the ACA made to keep insurance companies honest are very likely to go away, because they want people like me to "pay their share."

Newsflash, folks: the whole point of health insurance is to have it cover you in case something horrible happens.

Something horrible happened to me.

The rhetoric coming out of this bullshit regime is like saying that the house insurance you bought isn’t going to cover damage from a fire because you should pay your share. Ummm… like… that’s not how insurance works. It’s literally hedging one’s bets against disaster. My disaster happened already.

The whole essays is required reading. Hurley is characteristically open about her struggle to balance work alongside the problems that life, health, and a disfunctional system, have dished out...

sawyl: (A self portrait)
2017-02-17 06:17 pm

The Stars are Legion

I've been looking forward to Kameron Hurley's The Stars are Legion for a while and I've not been disappointed. A wide-screen baroque space opera of the first order, the story is set among a cluster of vast semi-organic worldships — the titular Legion — where are long-running fight for control of a rogue world called the Mokshi, which promises a way to leave the fleet of ships, is finally seems to be coming to a head.

We begin with Zan, the first of our narrators, awaking with a single memory: that of throwing away a child. Unable to remember the rest of her past, she finds herself dependent on those around her, mostly especially a woman called Jayd who insists that she is Zan's sister. Zan learns that she is on a worldship called Katazyrna, that she has recently returned from an attack on the Mokshi, and that of all the armies sent by Lord Katazyrna against the Mokshi, Zan is the only one who always returns alive, albeit without her memory. Before she knows it, Zan is ordered to lead assault against the rogue ship only to be intercepted by the forces of the world of Bhavaja and its lord, Rasida.

Jayd, meanwhile, finds herself treading carefully around Zan and her amnesia. The pair have a long and complicated history, but every time Zan manages to finally get aboard the Mokshi, she loses her memory and returns as a blank slate. Then, as time passes and she interacts with Jayd and with Anat, Katazyrna's lord, more fragments of her past come back to her until she experiences a mental collapse triggered by the events of her shared past with Jayd. Despite all this, it is clear that the pair have a shared agenda and that Zan, for all that she can't remember her role, is critical to the success of their plan.

Furious at Zan's latest failure Anat comes up with a scheme to cement peace between Katazyrna and Bhavaja: she offers Jayd's to Lord Bhavaja in marriage; a deal sweetened by the unnamed contents of Jayd's womb, currently held in stasis by a drug regime. But Anat, psychotic and controlling, has underestimated her opponent and almost before the blood used to seal the union has cooled, Katazyrna finds itself betrayed. This leaves Jayd a prisoner in all but name and results in Zan being cast down a recycling chute that leads to the heart of Katazyrna where hideous creatures breakdown organic matter, allowing it to be reused by the world.

From this point the two narratives separate. Jayd, now a member of Rasida's court on Bhavaja, tries to further her plan without doing anything that might get herself killed. Zan, meanwhile, finds herself on the long and hard way that leads out of hell and into light. Along the way she picks up companions who start as wary strangers and gradually transform into friends as their long trek back to the surface progresses.

The Stars are Legion is very unlike anything else, with its strange organic worlds full of peculiar grotesqueries. Although it goes completely unremarked in the narrative, everyone in the Legion is female — a feature which makes sense when you discover that each of them is somehow controlled by the ship into giving birth to the various creatures and components it requires in order to sustain its existence.

The central theme of the book is the voyage to self-discovery. Zan starts as a tabula rasa — a useful narrative feature which allows Hurley to build her world without too much awkwardness — only to form herself through her Dantean journey back up from the centre of Katazyrna, before eventually being forced to make a choice about who she truly wants to be: does she want to recover her lost memories and become the person she was before, the person who seems to be stuck in a perpetual loop, or does she want to embrace the new self she has created for herself from the cloth of her trials.

Jayd, meanwhile, knows the entirety of the joint plan, but finds herself required to suppress her knowledge in order to convince Rasida that her loyalty has truly shifted from Katazyrna to Bhavaja. But as Jayd throws herself into her role as a submissive wife, she realises that she has been so successful that she is in danger of losing her autonomy entirely. And when push finally comes to shove, Jayd must decide what to make of her troubled relationship with Zan and how the pair can build a future together.

Despite having some minor issues with the pacing of the opening sections — the build-up to Zan's first assault on the Mokshi feels a bit rushed — I absolutely adored The Stars are Legion when it settled into its stride. I liked its spiky characters — hyper-talkative engineer Casimir was a particular favourite — the visceral nature of the setting — especially in the hellish recycling pit — and the way Hurley stuck the dismount at the end.

Highly recommended.
sawyl: (A self portrait)
2014-09-14 11:57 am

The Mirror Empire

In her latest novel, The Mirror Empire, Kameron Hurley has stepped away from the SF world of the Bel Dame Apocrypha in favour of epic fantasy. Set in a place where magical abilities wax and wane with the complex cycle of a series of moons and where most of the everyday tools of life are biological, teased into shape by the power of the moon Tira. At it's core, the story is an investigation of genocide, with groups of very similar people — in some cases, the very same people, just from a different universe — killing each other over the most minor of differences or to satisfy the hidden agenda of a powerful leader who seems to care not at all for the interests of their own people.

The action takes place in three different states — Dhai, Dorinah, and Saiduan — each of which is mirrored in a parallel universe, where the same person may be a devout pacifist in one world and an ambitious warlord in another. Taken in combination with the large cast of characters and Hurley's decision to eschew info-dumps in favour of allowing meaning to emerge from context, all of this makes the initial chapters feel a little overwhelming but the book is well worth the effort.

At the start of the book, Ahkio Jarvia Garika is happily teaching ethics in a small village when he receives news that his sister, the spiritual and temporal leader of the Dhai, is dying. Initially reluctant to succeed his sister, Ahkio changes his mind when an attempt on his life makes it clear that his life will be in danger regardless of whether he becomes Kai or not. Meanwhile, in the Empire of Saiduan, Maralah Daonia is struggling to counter a powerful and mysterious army of invaders who have the strength to push her forces out of one stronghold after another. Knowing that the moon Oma is on the rise for the first time in two thousand years, Maralah sends the disgraced sanisi Taigan to Dhai to recruit more magicians attuned to its power.

Lilia, a young scullery maid, is living a rather overlooked life in the Temple of Oma when Rohinmey, her only friend, is seriously injured. Realising that the only way she can save Roh's life is to make a bargain with Taigan, who happens to be visiting the temple, Lilia leaves the only existence she has known in the company of the sanisi, with the intention of manipulating him into helping her search for her long ago vanished mother. Off to the east in the Empire of Dorinah, Captain General Zezili Hasaria has been charged by Empress Casalyn to work with a group of of strangers, the Tai Mora, whose orders involve exterminating everyone living in the Dhai slave labour camp.

The different plot threads are tied together by Lilia and Roh, who meet the other major characters on their respective journeys and connect up the events of the Saiduan war with its roots in Dhai history. The different societies are clearly drawn and differentiated, from the pacifistic and open Dhai, with their extended polygamous clans and five different expressions of gender, to the hierarchical and deeply unequal Dorinah, where men are treated as chattel and all manual labour is done by groups of enslaved Dhai. The Saiduan too practice slavery, but unlike the Dorinah, they extend beyond racial groupings with the current rulers enslaving those they have overthrown in their fight to reach power.

The world — worlds, even — are beautifully detailed, with much of the technology provided by trees and plants coaxed into the right shapes by the power of the moon Tira. The forests are harsh environments filled with poisonous plants and dangerous herds of walking, where great skill is required to survive. Lilia, a woodland Dhai, is repeatedly uses her knowledge of the local flora to trick more powerful opponents into potentially deadly situations that leave them at her mercy. The cyclical nature of the lunar orbits means that no particular group of wizards can ever hold absolute power for long, because however strong they may be when their satellite its at its peak, they know that they will inevitably have to deal with the diminution of their power when it sinks again.

The Mirror Empire is a demanding book, especially early on, but it is also a rewarding read and a strong start to what promises to be an interesting series.
sawyl: (A self portrait)
2014-05-18 03:22 pm

Infidel

It feels like a long time since I read Kameron Hurley's God's War — LibraryThing tells me it was two years ago to the day, although I didn't get round to writing it up until early June. Given the timing, I think I was lucky: I caught the ebook version just before it vanished into Night Shade black hole. But it also means I've had to wait a while for the Del Rey UK edition of Infidel and that consequently, it took me a little while to remember the whys and wherefores of things.

Luckily Hurley easies back into things reintroducing Nyx, former Bel Dame assassin gone free-lance, and her new crew Suha and Eshe — the former an recovered venom addict and the latter a shape-changing street boy still slightly to young to get himself sent to the front. The last six years haven't been kind to Nyx and she finds herself increasingly exhausted, unwell, and gripped by a mysterious weight loss that has her magician baffled. Not that any of this stops her from injecting herself into an escalating conflict between a group of rogue Bel Dame and the Queen of Nasheen.

Meanwhile Nyx's old crew, having fled to Tirhan, have done well for themselves. Inaya, working as a clerk in the Ras Tiagan embassy while working for shifter rights in the background, has married Khos and had two children. Rhys, too, is married with children, having picked up a lucrative translating contract with the Ministry of Public Affairs. When Rhys finds himself asked to cover a covert meeting between a the Tirhani government and a pair of Bel Dame with a super-weapon to sell, he puts his nice safe life on collision course with Nyx's savagely dangerous one.

Infidel builds on the solid base established by God's War, cleverly retconning a political explanation for some of the events of the first book. By shifting the action to Tirhan, which sits outside the grinding war of attrition between Chenja and Nasheen, Hurley is able to show that the world isn't necessarily all bad and that they characters have grounds for hoping for a better lot in life even if they don't necessarily get it. Tirhani culture is nicely drawn and detailed, especially the polite fiction that wraps every financial transaction in a narrative that implies that the whole thing was done with no thought of reward — an idiom Nyx and Suha, both blunt to a fault, struggle to grasp.

I very much enjoyed the book, which seems to me to be even better than the first one in the series, and I'm really looking forward to Rapture. I just hope I don't have to wait two years for it to be published in the UK...