Book reviews

Welcome to Lovecraft Country, where cosmic horror is a white people problem

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In Lovecraft Country, being called a nigger, refused service at a restaurant, harassed by the police, or treated with contempt by an elite coven of warlocks is just another day. This cast of black characters living in Chicago in 1954 is accustomed to America. They have learned to navigate it. Literally. One of the main characters publishes a travel guide called The Safe Negro Travel Guide. It steers black people around — or, if necessary, through — the more virulent racism in America, especially where Jim Crow laws are still in effect. Which restaurants will serve black customers? Which highways should you not be on after dark? Which garages can you call if your car breaks down?

So the characters in Lovecraft Country don’t seem terribly surprised by the idea that maybe the universe is a vast and ancient expanse of indifference at best, outright hostility at worst. Why would someone go insane from learning what minorities know every day? If you look into the abyss long enough, you still have to ride in the back of the bus on your way to work. Continue reading →

Best thing you’ll read all week: The Three-Body Problem

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Republican Congressman Mike Bost invoked something called “struggle sessions” last month. While talking to journalists, he explained why he wasn’t holding any town hall meetings, which have provided angry constituents a forum to make themselves heard by their Republican representatives. Bost felt holding such a meeting wasn’t a good use of his time. He compared it to “the cleansing that the Orientals used to do where you’d put one person out in front and 900 people yell at them.” That’s how I learned about “struggle sessions”, a form of public humiliation used in Communist Russia and China. Bost later apologized for using the word “Oriental”, but not for shirking his duty as a representative.

The Three-Body Problem, an award-winning “Oriental” science fiction novel, begins with a struggle session during China’s Cultural Revolution. It is the catalyst for everything that happens in the book, which might include the end of the world. It is also an example of the novel’s uniquely Chinese cultural identity.

You’d never know from its beginnings that despite this identity, The Three-Body Problem is literally universal. Continue reading →