Posts Tagged ‘scifi’

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

January 5, 2014

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes is a wonderful, intoxicating read. She takes a murder thriller, and puts a deft spin on it, working in time travel, obsession, and the power of sexuality. Thinking back on the novel, sex plays an increasingly large role in the narrative. All of the victims are sexually strong women, in control of their lives in every way. The one exception is the one woman who no longer “shines,” falling into drug abuse and mediocrity as an artist. She, also, is the least satisfying kill for Harper, the serial killer who jumps around time, killing off women who “shine,” who have a special quality that  lifts them above the rest. They are gifted.

Talking about sex in The Shining Girls, for much of the novel sex and violence are explicitly tied together with the killer. He jerks off to places where he kills his victims, his erections are noted, the release and the energy of the killing passages could be overlaid a bodice ripper, and the songs would be eerily similar. Harper’s violence is tied to his sexuality, taking its place. It’s evidenced further by the only time he considers giving up the serial killer business is when he establishes a physically intimate relationship with a nurse that he considers his equal. What is interesting is that he considers her his equal largely because he sees her as being as cold, deceptive, and manipulative as he is. Their intimacy is less a shared experience than of two experiences running parallel to one another. based on deceit, of the willful playing of expected roles, both seeing the other as being innately false but finding their attraction in this falsehood. It was not surprising when one crossed a line and Harper brutally murdered his lover. though this was also Harper’s most disorganized killing, building towards nothing, no purpose besides reacting against a betrayal he couldn’t abide.  His lover had drugged him and looked into The Room.

The Room is essentially a trophy case that maps out the killings that would make up Harper’s life. It should be noted that Harper’s lover did not react to the room with revulsion. She did not find Harper suddenly terrifying, a monster in human skin. She offered to work with him, to be his accomplice, to be Bonnie to his clyde, holding up the robust futures of young women and taking them for himself.  She was more alike him than he knew, and for a brief moment, before he killed her, it may have been the one frankly honest communication to pass between them.   So why did Harper kill her? Was it the betrayal or was it the loss of power? With his regular killings, power is a key aspect for Harper. Snuffing out these bright lights, taking them for himself, the idea of being in control is  for him quite stimulating. Perhaps this is the true reason he kills her. By drugging him, and slipping into the one room he has forbidden her from, she has done an ultimate act of power taking. The only way for him to regain any of it is to brutally snuff out her light.

It is this loss of power induced rage at the realization that one of his victims, Kirby, has survived that ultimately leads to Harper’s own demise. He gets sloppy. He gets personal. He consistently loses his fights when it gets personal, seemingly unable to deal with anything he can’t detach himself from.

This isn’t to say that sex isn’t intrinsically linked to power for the other characters. For all of the women who shine, sex is powerful for them, as well. however, it is a power they exert over themselves and weave into their lives rather than a power that is forced over others. One woman is a lesbian at a time and place where lesbianism wouldn’t be the most popular life choice. Another forgoes a lesbian relationship because she knows it isn’t what she ultimately interested in. Another woman is keenly aware of the sexual politics played at her work, and is careful in plotting her course and fending off advances – as well as the repercussions of fending off such advances. And Kirby desires sex, but on her terms, turning down suitors who offend her, holding back when she isn’t sure if another has the same desires.  Sex is a part of their lives, in ways prominent parts, but they are only parts, and they have their place.

As always, here’s the Barnes and Noble link to buy the book.

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The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters – a review

August 24, 2012

Right up front here, this is going to be nothing like the recent review of Ishiguro’s A Pale View of Hills. I didn’t keep what was essentially a reading journal with this. I read the biggest chunk of it the other night between midnight and 330am and it’s really just an addictive read. Reading the back cover, it says it is the first part of atrilogy, and it mentions that everything is happening on the brink of apocalypse, giving it a scifi vibe, but it’s not a scifi novel. It’s a mystery novel, a detective pot boiler, and it’s a helluva lot of fun.  That’s something else I want to get out of the way right at the beginning, it’s a great read, it’s a fun read, I can wholly endorse it if you like detective/mystery stories.

That’s also not what I really want to talk about.

While I said it’s not a scifi novel, it is a scifi novel. In their own ways, I think the majority of detective novels are really scifi novels. Whether they have a glaring scifi element, such as an asteroid hurtling towards Earth and all of the social upheavel going on because of it, or if they don’t have any glaring scifi elements. While reading The Last Policeman, the novel that kept coming to mind was Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn. In each work we are plunged into the head of a detective who is maybe not the brightest flashlight we could pull out of the drawer, but by the end we find them the most reliable.

They are also aliens in their own worlds, as most great fictional detectives are. Even if you remove the End is Nigh plot device Winters uses, his lead detective is still a duck out of water. He doesn’t fit with the other detectives, he doesn’t really fit with the rest of society that he interacts with, everyone just sort of accommodates each other as best they can and try to make the most of it. We see the same thing with the lead character in Motherless Brooklyn, the tourrettes inflicted Lionel. His mental condition sets him apart, makes him alien to everyone else. Sherlock Holmes? He was certainly a bit of an odd-duck, too. As was Hercule Poirot.

If anything, this is part of the wonderful versatility of detective fiction and how it can approach scifi. In scifi, the alien is almost always the other character. They might be protagonists, they might be antagonists, that doesn’t really matter. But they are almost always the other. What detective fiction can do is make the alien the primary point of view, give us a set of eyes to look through that we don’t really get a chance to see otherwise. It allows us to see our own world as the other, as the alien, because the alien’s point of view has become our own.

Okay, back to Winters’ The Last Policeman. It’s a good read, check it out, and there is even some mention of moon bases. You might or might not be better off sitting down at midnight to devour it, though. Here’s the B&N link.