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April 2021 Books Read Standouts: Heterogenia Linguistico, Vol.1 / Ring Shout

 Heterogenia Linguistico, Vol. 1

    Honestly, I’ve been staring at this blinking cursor for a good chunk of this Mad Men, wondering how I can even begin to describe a book that I absolutely cannot be objective about because it feels like it was written exactly, specifically for me. Then I remembered that I’m under no obligation to be objective, just like Pete Campbell is apparently under no obligation to have anything resembling a redeeming or relatable fucking character trait
    God, I’ve started this paragraph over so many times, I’m just gonna go for it. Okay so Hakaba, a young, bookish man is forced by cruel circumstance to take his master’s place on a mission into the goddamn land of monsters. For why? To what end, besides INEVITABLE CHOMPENING and the necessary, if tragic, culling of the annual apprentice population? I will tell you, my friends: BECAUSE HE IS A LINGUISTIC ANTHROPOLOGIST, and it is his job–his privilege–his duty–to assemble the first human-to-werewolf dictionary and visitor’s guide to werewolf culture

Brb, I think I just qualified for a new loanword

    Okay look, either that sentence grabbed you or it didn’t, there’s only so much work I can do on behalf of an idea this incredibly specific and niche. If that sounds like your scene, come join the fuckin’ party, because it’s CHOCK FULLA good shit like Hakaba, being a hu-man, having different respiratory and vocal physiology than his werewolf hosts and therefore having to work around sounds in their language that he physically can’t pronounce, which is expressed visually by having his dialogue lisp when he’s speaking werewolf. I will die mad that somebody thought of that before me, and I am so endlessly grateful to live in a world full of people smarter, funnier and more creative than I am so I can enjoy their hard work.
    Heterogenia Linguistico has a lot of other things working in its favor as well that, again, seem like they’re aimed specifically at me: Hakaba fully immerses himself in monster cultural customs and cuisine as well as language without judgment and in an amazingly pure spirit of real cultural exchange and learning, he gets an adorable wee werepup companion to protect his killable human ass in the Monstrous Country, and as if those weren’t enough, every volume includes at least once instance of my actual kryptonite: a detailed list of Hakaba’s equipment and supplies, or a description of werewolf tools and cultural items.
    One of the biggest points of Heterogenia Linguistico is that once you spend enough time with them, ‘monster’ becomes a meaningless term. Every instance of ‘monstrosity’ is, with context, revealed to simply be a cultural quirk or point of values dissonance; their weird worm-loaf is the tastiest, most nutritious thing they can make out of available local wildlife just like your awful regional sandwich everyone pretends not to hate, and my dude if you should accidentally propose interspecies marriage to a surprisingly amenable lizard-lady then you just let her down easy, because your own societal marriage norms are probably just as baffling to them. Ultimately, like any work that boils down to an honest, good-hearted exploration of the way others live, it comes to an inescapable conclusion of joyous cultural relativism, and it doesn’t hurt when the food is good.
    I love this series so much and I am genuinely shocked every time a new volume comes out, because like, how, man? How can a title like this survive in a market fulla spiky-haired orphans with special destinies and teams of uniformed solar-system defending girls and One-Punching Men? I don’t have the answers; I’m just glad I’m still able to ask the question, and I’ll ask it for as long–and in as many languages–as I can. 
Score: 9/10 Humans Trying To Translate From The Lizardmannish Dialect Of Werewolf Into Standard Werewolf Into The Humannish Dialect Of Werewolf Into Human, Like In That Lucy Bit

Ring Shout – P. Djèlí Clark

    Okay I’m gonna take a step back from what I said a second ago; sometimes ‘monster’ does just mean ‘person/being I just don’t understand yet’, but yeah sometimes it does also mean ‘person who has actively extinguished the light of humanity from their soul’, and sometimes it can also mean ‘six-eyed, pointy-headed gangrel-nightmare from the Dimension of Meat and Teeth’. SUCH IS THE CASE HERE, CITIZENS.
    So, what if a work of art could change the world–not just metaphorically, but metaphysically? What if a film could portray its version of the truth so powerfully, so convincingly that the warp and weft of reality actually began to shift and melt, the crystal and grain of the plane we inhabit twisting like the splintered flesh of a green branch to match the image on the screen?
    And what if the world on the screen, the world that’s trying to infect yours and lay glistening eggs in its belly, is a world where all you will ever be is an animal, bred to be eaten alive and screaming?

    P. Djèlí Clark is the fuckin’ guy, is what. All of his Cairoverse stories are incredible, starting with A Dead Djinn In Cairo, which is bite-sized but absolutely packed with mouthwatering worldbuilding-chunkums, and his steampunk novella The Black God’s Drums, which I haven’t read yet–
    —sorry, I just lost three literal goddamn hours and many dollars hunting through various SF&F/Speculative/Weird Fiction anthologies trying to see where the shit I can read his short story The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington, which as far as I can tell has never been published as a digital single; what the hell, Tor? Get on that, jeez! Don’t worry, I’ll yell at them about it on Twitter, put the fear of Blog into them, that oughta do it. Anyway dude is very possibly the presiding monarch of alternate black history; N.K. Jemisin would naturally also be up for the title, but she likes to speculate far and wide, whereas Clark seems to prefer–and is very good at–versions of our actual world. 

    Okay so Ring Shout takes place in our world, and supposes that D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation–which I will remind the reader was singlehandedly responsible for the revivification and second era of the Ku Klux Klan after it had been dead and fallow for forty years, it was that fucking racist–is literally a magical Working, a spell on celluloid, designed to fertilize our world for the arrival of parties from…Somewhere Else, whose footsoldiers are already here: ten-foot-tall, six-limbed, pointy-headed, six-eyed tooth maelstroms called Ku Kluxes, which KKK uniforms and regalia are pathetic human imitations of.
    But! Fortunately! And as always! Black women and men are here to save our asses and get none of the credit, and no small portion of the blame, somehow. And they’ve got mystical firepower of their own, blades and blessings on behalf of the benevolent Powers That Be from the New World and the Old, both of which are aggressively interested in making sure the Management that the Ku Kluxes answer to don’t get their foot in the door.
    Ring Shout kicks ass, and is sad, and frustrating, and funnier than you’d think, and if you’re a linguistic anthropology nerd like me the strings of Carolinian Gullah dialect are gonna crank your pupils wide open. Racism is monstrous, and in our world that’s an internal quality, but it’s–not exactly nice, but maybe satisfying–to be reminded that internal or not, visible or not, to consider another less than human makes you less than human, and we would do well to question what powers are served in this world or others by imagining that for us to be more than what we are, others must be less, for surely we will not be the only ones making that consideration.

Score: 9/10 Restaurants Where ‘How May We Serve You’ Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Does

i’m gonna bribe the officials, i’m gonna kill all the judges

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