August Roundup

Archaeology & History, Books, Monthly Roundup, Recs & Reviews

So maybe we’re a week into September already, but I was busy being very gay on holiday in Berlin last weekend, and didn’t have time to finish this post then. I’ve decided to try out these monthly little („little“) roundup posts, to keep track of things I’ve read that I might have opinions about and want to recommend. Let’s see how it goes. 📚💫

There will be:

  • Short Fiction/Poetry
  • Books
  • Articles and Interesting Tweets

Short Fiction/Poetry

A Vector Alphabet of Interstellar Travel by Yoon Ha Lee — a series of poetic little cultural wordbuilding vignetes on approaches to spaceflight. Nerdy and pretty to look at and turn around in your brain, like a piece of geometric art. (CN death)

Dayspring by Anthony Oliveira — a story I feel a little at a loss to describe, but which ruined me emotionally. It plays with stories and mythology and time in a way that feels good and real. Also it’s very queer and about the death of Jesus. So. You know. (CN violence, death, homophobia)

Seonag and the Seawolves by M. Evan MacGriogair — an otherworldly mythic tale that’s just a satisfying progression all the way through, and I like the use of Gaelic (which I don’t speak even a little bit but am always joyed by the survival of). I tend to find stories that Clearly State The Moral at the end a little annoying, but it does at least suit the tone here, I suppose. (CN death, violence, a little body horror)

Some poems by 13th century Sephardic scholar Yehuda Alharizi — that I came across on twitter and which punched me right in the chest. People have been having gay emotions for all time.


Ich, Pierre Seel, deportiert und vergessen by Pierre Seel and Jean Le Bitoux

I’ve wanted to read this memoir of Pierre Seel’s deportation by the Nazis and fight for recognition afterwards ever since this mention of it in Gregory Woods’s Homintern almost made me cry on public transport:

Individual homosexuals, too, survived the Nazi assault on sexual minorities — though many did not. Having been imprisoned, tortured, raped, subjected to mock execution, deported and then forced to fight for the Germans in the Wehrmacht on the Russian front, the Frenchman Pierre Seel eventually made his way homeward towards Alsace on foot. There is a brief but heart-warming passage in his memoirs when he recounts having sheltered for the night in a deserted cottage in a forest. In the morning, he slicked his hair down with sewing-machine oil and made a few camp gestures, smiling at himself in the mirror, before walking on. In this moment, a young queen’s rediscovery of himelf in the other-worldly remoteness of a fairy-tale setting, Seel enacts in miniature the survival of his kind.

I’ve been on a great 20th century queer art & history kick all year, and recently I’ve been trying to fill the post-World-Wars pre-Stonewall gap in my knowledge. This was a depressing read but also illuminating, and inspiring. I’d read The Oldest Gay In The Village by George Montague a few weeks before (making this book my third ever memoir, a new genre for me), and was a little put off by the lack of self-examination and connection to larger context in that one, both of which Ich, Pierre Seel definitely has—I especially appreciated the endnotes from the editor concerning historical details and statistics. Added a few of the citations to my to-read list, too.

I am angry, though, with the translator’s choice to change the title (originally Moi, Pierre Seel, déporté homosexuel, „deported homosexual“) into deportiert und vergessen („deported an forgotten“). Considering the entire latter half of the book is about his shame and fight to have his suffering as specifically a homosexual victim of the Nazis recognised, that choice feels extraordinarily cowardly.

I visited the memorial for homosexuals persecuted by the Nazis in Berlin last week, which is a beautiful statement of queer presence despite past and ongoing (the memorial is often vandalised) attempts at supression. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. There’s always going to be queers in the world.

Alright, on to lighter topics, I spent the rest of the month reading some good queer sff.

The Tea Master and the Detective and In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard

Aliette de Bodard does genre-bending adaptations! The Tea Master and the Detective is a Sherlock Holmes story with a space ship as the Watson figure. I love Holmes adaptations (almost all of them) and I love all sentient AI spaceship characters, so this was honestly a hole made for me and it did not disappoint. I’m definitely going to seek out AdB’s other stories in this universe. Her concept of how AIs fit into society is lovely and refreshing—she writes about it here: ‚AI as the Other, AI as Family‚ . In the Vanishers’ Palace is kind of a Beauty and the Beast riff, although it takes a lot of different turns after the inital setup. I loved the subtle worldbuilding here, and especially the way AdB manages to convey the degrees of intimacy in terms of adress that English doesn’t really have. You feel the significance of shifts like going from calling someone „aunt“ to „older sister“. As someone who adores the strategic use of formal language in ficiton for maximum fraught romance I applaud it. My only quibble is that the ending felt a little rushed, like it wanted to get to plot and thematic payoffs it didn’t quite have the chance to set up.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

SAD ROBOTS SAD ROBOTS SAD ROBOTS. Please read this story about a depressed mercenary bot who has broken its programming and only wants to use its freedom to watch space Netflix and be left alone. I’m going to write more about my thoughts on this book later in a post I have planned about relationship arcs in fiction, but for now know that I love this book and I love Murderbot with all my heart.

The Red Threads of Fortune (Tensorate #2) by J.Y. Yang

I liked the second part of the Tensorate series even better than the first, which I didn’t expect—a POV character shift often makes me resentfully miss the first character for a little while. But it took me very little time to attach myself happily to this narrator too, and enjoy the escalating trauma and dinosaur and magic adventures. I’m dying a little bit about the fact that I won’t get to read the next two parts for a little while.

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

I started another book at the same time as this one and had to abandon it as Memory Called Empire totally pulled me under and left me no room for anything else. A story about a diplomat sent to a large encroaching empire and dealing with knotty space politics, very satisfyinglly explored different cultural concepts of self and memory, huge disaster bisexuals. This one I’m also going to write about more later but I’ll say that the ending was very satisfying! There’s a sequel planned and I’m very curious about where the story goes, but this book also feels complete in itself.

Articles and Interesting Tweets

A selection thereof, anyway (I read so much this month?) in no particular thematic order

How an Augmented Reality Game Escalated into Real-World Spy Warfare by Elizabeth Ballou — the title really oversells what this article is, it’s just about the absurd lengths people go to while playing Ingress, which is kind of fascinating to me in the way things that have nothing to do with your own life are sometimes.

This Is Why Men Meet For Sex In Public Toilets by Patrick Strudwick — I found this artice via this tweet about some bizarre hostile architecture plans. It’s a really interesting report on people’s varied experiences of cottaging and official responses to it. (CN for homophobia and sexual assault)

Listen to Hieronymus Bosch’s “500-Year-Old Butt Song From Hell” by Alyssa Buffenstein — hey did you know that like four years ago someone transcribed a melody written on someone’s butt in Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights. I love humans.

This tweet thread by @SeamusBlackley

hey did you know that people are baking with yeast from ~2500BCE. I love! humans!

A quick guide on how to counteract online right-wing propaganda aimed at any white teenage boys you might be responsible for by @iproposethis

This tweet thread by @JohnHyphen

I love learning about cool new historical figures, especially if they are also total babes.

My new favourite twitter account, Working Class History, which I encountered through this excellent tweet and attached article:

Pocket Miscellanies by Jonah Coman — little zine guides on medieval visual culture, so pleasing and I wish I could afford to back the creator on Patreon at a level high enough to get the physical copies

On colonialism, imperialism, and ignoring medieval history by Dr Eleanor Janega — I love medievalists with good politics. An article arguing that medieval history teaching is skewed in favour of glorifying the Roman Empire and the Rennaisance, because to look at it more accurately would undermine the narrative of British colonial superiority. It’s fairly convincing, although the writer lets the rest of Europe get off much too lighty for our own colonial atrocities, imo.

One last twitter thread by @erik_kaars

Lastly, I’ve been really enjoying browsing the Met’s open access collection, where the top image for this post comes from.

Alright, this post turned out pretty long, but I guess I just picked up a lot of quality content on my journey through the internet last month. Let’s see what September brings.

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