Chinese sf stories from Clarkesworld: 2014-15


Xia Jia “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler,” trans. Ken Liu (Nov 2015).
Liu Cixin “Another Word: Chinese SF and Chinese Reality,” trans. Ken Liu (Nov 2015)
Han Song “Security Check,” trans. Ken Liu (Aug 2015)
Chen Qiufan “Coming of the Light,” trans. Ken Liu (Mar 2015)
Zhang Ran “Ether,” trans. several (Jan 2015)
Xia Jia “Tongtong’s Summer,” trans. Ken Liu (Dec 2014)
Xia Jia “Spring Festival: Happiness, Anger, Love, Sorrow, Joy,” trans. Ken Liu (Sep 2014)
Cheng Jingbo “Grave of the Fireflies,” trans.Ken Liu (Jan 2014)

“Competitive Wokeness” and Taylor Swift

Didn’t quite get it when I saw this Onion tweet:

But a conservative from the The Atlantic clarifies that “Taylor Swift Succumbs to Competitive Wokeness” (Oct 11, 2018). There he explains:

“I get the sense that the most aggressively “woke” young people are precisely those who find themselves in the most fiercely competitive environments. Status and prestige matter to everyone, of course, but they matter to some more than others. Most of all, they matter to those who find themselves in precarious industries where one’s reputation counts for a great deal and, just as important, to lonely, unattached people who long to feel valued and desired. Delayed marriage and child-rearing ensure that many more young people spend many more years in the mating market and, by extension, orienting their lives around fulfilling their own social and sexual appetites over the care and feeding of children. This is especially true among children of the culturally powerful upper middle class, who’ve been trained to fear downward mobility in a stratified society as much as our primitive ancestors feared being devoured by toothy predators. The result is what you might call a culture of “competitive wokeness.”

Basically: “liberal elites” are convincing young people that they need to be loonie lefties and this is generating a ‘competitive wokeness’ that makes celebrities want to show off how socially progressive they are….Hmm, right. The Onion said it more persuasively with one headline, but it did so in a way that proves the Atlantic guy is wrong: so-called liberals are sensitive to pseduo-wokeness too. “Competitive wokeness” is a rightwing red herring.

Morphine Lollipop and the End of the World

short review of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Now that the movie is a flop I might as well publish this overly detailed review of the book I did some time ago.

Tartt’s novel begins with Theodore Decker, a thirteen year old New Yorker, visiting a downtown museum with this mother. Lingering on the first floor alone Theo meets an enchanting girl just moments before a terrorist attack takes the life of his mother is killed in a terrorist attack. When Theo wakes up he is in shock, lying in the dusty ruins of the museum with a dying old man who turns out to be the girl’s guardian. The man gives him an old ring and tells him to take it to an address on the Lower East Side, and shortly afterwards dies. Still in shock, Theo rescues his mother’s favorite painting, Fabritius’ The Goldfinch, stashing it in his backpack and beginning a lifelong attachment to great art.

Later, when he finds the address the old man gave him, Theo meets the man’s partner, Hobie, who befriends Theo and treats him as an equal in mourning for a lost loved one. Unexpectedly Theo is reunited with the museum girl, Pippa, whom he met but didn’t speak to at the museum on that fatal day. The story takes on an aura of love mysticism from this point, and one day in the hospital Pippa kisses him after sucking on a morphine lollipop, literally making herself intoxicating to him. Tartt’s Theo attempts to reconstruct the presence of his lost mother in various ways—both Pippa and the Fabritius painting are his connection to a maternal “absence” he can’t quite fill up.

A fatal family greed tears the two apart, even though they are so naturally drawn to one another, and we get to a major shift that is one of the few inconsistencies of the book: although Theo is clearly in love with Pippa, he seems to utterly forget about her after she departs for Texas to live with her aunt and he is taken to live in Las Vegas with his estranged father. There is no further recollection of Pippa for the next hundred or so pages, and we are left to assume that Theo has either become very unsentimental or he copes with the loss of Pippa so well because he has already overcome the loss of his mother(?). When Theo meets his best friend, Boris, a Polish-Ukrainian émigré whose father is a cosmopolitan miner, the atmosphere of the novel abruptly shifts to the other side of American culture. As the boys soon discover, the subdivision they live in is a deserted suburban wasteland on the outskirts of Las Vegas, and their shared sense of abandonment seems to weld them together for life. It is in this section that we encounter some really brilliant, unusual dialogue that makes it easy to discern that Tartt, author of another adolescent-focused novel, The Secret History, enjoyed writing this part the most.

It would be unfair to compare Tartt’s novel to Extremely Loud and Very Close, and even though the plot of the marginally upper class young New Yorker who must overcome the loss of a parent due to terrorism by discovering his roots is far too similar, I wish to avoid insulting her work. It’s not a question of Tartt’s book being superior (even though it is), the trauma narrative is not a mystery to be “solved”, but a beginning that takes Theo out of the city and puts him in the middle of the Nevada desert in his father’s enormous, vacant home. There he meets his best friend, Boris, and his life truly begins.

I liked this book a lot more than I thought I would. Tartt’s style is atmospheric but leaves hollow spaces in you after you read it, places that you really want to be filled up with pieces of Theo’s life. The novel is not entirely without problems though, I think. At the end, when Boris sees to it that the painting is returned and earns the reward from the museum for leading to the location of the painting, returning to Theo in his Amsterdam hotel room on Christmas morning, it is not clear why. Boris explains that he has discovered something about fate and the mystery of unintended consequences, but then….[spoiler]? The problem is that although Boris is likable in many ways, he sometimes seems a bit too one-dimensional and all too often the stereotypical Slavic émigré. It also seems implausible that Theo hasn’t opened the painting since he left Las Vegas, and hasn’t discovered Boris’s hated Civics textbook in lieu of the painting.

Despite these minor problems, the book is a page-turner that brilliantly evokes the wonder and amazement of youth, a novel that eschews experimentalism in favor of in-in-the-gut storytelling. It is most definitely worth reading at least once.

Four ★s

As near as I can recall this was written in a blur shortly after I read the book, in 2014.

A Smorgasbord of Chinese E-books (Haodoo.net)

In various formats, via Hao Du (好讀):
沈從文【邊城】
老舍《駱駝祥子》
張愛玲【傳奇】
錢鍾書【圍城】

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Crowds and Don DeLillo’s Mao II

Excerpt from an interesting 1993 lecture by Tom Leclair on Mao II

“The real secret, though, belongs to crowds. Bodies gather together to become one powerful body reciting one powerful idea that will let them forget their uncertainty and their individual bodies. Millions of Maoists create a revolution. Thousands of Moonies chant the end of time. The Islamic revolution unites politics and religion. The crowds at Khomeni’s funeral mourn the passing of a body. The Iranians beat their own bodies to keep the body of their Master from leaving. And then in their religious and political passion they expose the body of their leader. Even Masters have skinny legs.”

Not all crowds achieve the power of certainty and forgetting for themselves. Not the homeless in New York. They are a true band of hostages, pure uncertainty about tomorrow’s home, pure body in the layers of clothes they wear. They are the crowd we want to forget, not just because they indict our social and political and economic system but because they are bodies that cannot hide from themselves. Like us, they are readers but what they read, says Omar, is their own small space. They see themselves in themselves.

The full essay can be found here.