The Memory Librarian: And Other Stories of Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe

[Image ID: The cover of Janelle Monáe's "The Memory Librarian: And Other Stories of Dirty Computer" Janelle Monáe is front and center as Jane dressed as a Torch as she is in "Dirty Computer - An Emotion Picture." The Snapchat caption reads: "Fully forgot I preordered this XD" End ID]

“The Memory Librarian” is a fantastic dive back into the world of Janelle Monáe’s 2018 concept album “Dirty Computer.” In addition to giving us more of Jane, Zen and Ché, we get to see what the rest of the world is like, from impoverished children to the people at the very top who monitor society. If it’s been a while since you last watched “Dirty Computer – An Emotion Picture,” I highly recommend doing so before jumping in to read to refresh yourself on the world. Now let’s look at the stories:

The Memory Librarian feat. Alaya Dawn Johnson: This story introduces us to Seshet, the director librarian of Little Delta, who wanted to better the world through her work within the system of New Dawn, but not in the typical sense that New Dawn wants to better the world. A Black woman, with a number of opinions and feature that could  see her labeled a dirty computer, she keeps her eyes away from areas known to be congregating spaces for dirty computers as she monitors the memories of people in the city and this story sees her juggling her personal desires with the careful line she has to tread with her superiors. 

[Image ID: A snap of the text. The highlighted segment reads "Well, don't they fucking know? Is it possible that they haven't even realized? What has she done, wise Seshet, compassionate Seshet, even while precarious in power? She has not looked." The Snapchat captions reads: "The rebellion of not watching in a surveillance state" End ID]

This story introduces us to the system of New Dawn that is in place and digs into an idea introduced in “Dirty Computer – An Emotion Picture” of things that get caught up in memory collectors that aren’t memories, like dreams. 

Nevermind feat. Danny Lore: Here we meet Jane and Zen again and learn what they (and Ché) have been up to. Jane and Zen are living at the Pynk Hotel (as seen in “Pynk”) while also helping to rescue others from New Dawn. Jane shares the protagonist with a nonbinary individual named Neer, and we see, through the events of the story and an attack on the hotel, the importance of fighting for radical acceptance as well as showcasing, incredibly cleverly, how willing exclusionists are to get chummy with the oppressor, but also how important it is to show compassion to people who maybe are only reacting out of ignorance or lack of options. 

On that note, this story introduces us to blushounds, genetically augmented humans who can smell emotions. Used by New Dawn to track dissidents, they are themselves victims of New Dawn as we learned from one of them, Bat, who goes on to stay and heal at the Pynk Hotel. 

Save Changes feat. Yohanca Delgado: This story follows the daughters of Diana Morel, a woman who had rebelled and been caught alongside Jane, but had been caught and unable to escape the same way. Now she’s not fully there, canning Twinkies in Windex, and under the care of her daughters, because, apparently, something went wrong in her cleaning. Her daughters also have to deal with the stigma of being related to a noted rebel. 

[Image ID: A snap of the text. The highlighted portion reads: "...the promise of a fresh start at school had shriveled up on Amber's first day at City College, when one by one, each of her professors made her sit in the front row of each class and read a statement from New Dawn, informing her classmates who she was and warning them that any decision to fraternize with her was one they made at their own risk." The snapchat caption is a row of four grimace emojis. End ID]

This story also asks us, what if you had a single opportunity to change the past? While this is a sci-fi world overall, there are specific moments of magic throughout. It’s not explained it just is. In this story, it’s a stone that purports to be able to turn back time passed down to Amber by their father before he died. 

Timebox feat. Eve L. Ewing and Timbox Altar(ed) feat. Sheree Renée Thomas: I’ve put these two together, even though they aren’t next to each other in the book (they frame “Save Changes”) because they are similar in several ways, while they are opposites in others. 

 In “Timebox” a young couple getting their first apartment together find that time stops when they are in their pantry and a disagreement erupts about how to use it, which also brings to the surfaces differing opinions on activism and community aid based on the class differences they experienced growing up.  Between the disagreements and their own uses of the box, they fall apart and the story ends painfully unresolved with more questions than there are answers. I was genuinely startled when I hit the end and realized there wasn’t any more. 

“Timebox Altar(ed)” on the other hand, revolved around a group of children, living in an incredibly impoverished area, outside of a larger New Dawn-monitored city, mostly forgotten unless someone is flagged to be taken away for cleaning. Stumbling into an abandoned railroad crossing full of junk, they build an ark and, after a kind stranger instructs them on working with intention it turns out that when an individual sits inside the ark, they are transported somewhere that gives them a glimpse of a beautiful, hopeful future and “The Power of Yet.” As the last story in the collection, the message of a healed future ushered in by the youngest generations was a powerful note to end on. 

This is so much longer than I usually go, but I really wanted to talk a bit about each story, because they all have so much to offer, and are incredible as a whole. If you enjoy sci-fi, Afrofuturism and/or urban fantasy, this is definitely a book for you.

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Queer, There and Everywhere: 23 People who Changed the World by Sarah Prager

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[Edit: Originally published July 8, 2017]

Queer, There, and Everyone is a really wonderful book. It’s well researched, informative, and best of all it’s accessible. As I’ve discovered seeking out books for my thesis, when it comes to queer texts they aren’t always the easiest to get your hands on or even read when it comes to more theoretical texts. There are a lot of queer texts that are mainly geared at adults. Queer, There, and Everywhere, provides good summaries of the amazing lives of twenty-three incredible people in language that you don’t need to be a college student to understand. As a voracious reader myself, I breezed through it in a couple hours.

Several of the people included in this book were people whose memoirs I’d already read, including Lili Elbe’s Man into Woman (though what I read was the renamed Kindle version Lili: A Portrait of the First Sex Change) and Josef Kohout’s The Men with the Pink Triangle. Queer, There, and Everywhere does a really great job of summarizing the stories in these books. Of course Lili and Josef’s sections were not only summaries of their memoirs, in fact, it wasn’t until this book that I learned Josef’s name, because his name is not included in The Men with the Pink Triangle. He chose to remain anonymous when the book was first published. 

Queer, There, and Everywhere is also one of those books that makes a great stepping stone for further research. The bibliography in the back is organized by section and so if there’s a particular person you find yourself wanting to look into further, it’s very easy to find other books or resources to pursue. I know I intend to invest in some of the books used as references for the sections on Renée Richards and Sylvia Rivera. The bibliographies of queer texts are your best friend when it comes to finding further readings, especially if you’re like me who’s really bad at googling things.

The people in this book range from the year 203 (Elagabalus) to today (George Takei). It’s not meant to be a comprehensive history by any means, there’s entirely too much rich and complex history for that. But our history has been one that gets overshadowed and ignored so often that this book feels really great.

Warnings:

There are a couple of deaths, Elagabalus’ and Harvey Milk’s that are, for this level of book, pretty graphically described. Those two both left me feeling distressed and I actually had to put the book down for a bit after the Harvey Milk section. It may have been the fact that both of these people were murdered that made their deaths hit particularly hard.

You can find it here.

Related Reviews: Christopher and his Kind

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Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

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[Edit: Originally published January 7, 2017]

A delightfully funny and entertaining read. An angel and demon who are kind of friends, a misplaced anti-christ, the four horse persons of the apocalypse, and the one single prophetess who was actually right with her predictions. 

It’s got a pretty large cast of characters, which are helpfully listed in a “Dramatis Personae” section at the beginning of the book. Despite the cast sized it’s pretty easy to keep track of all the story lines in the book. Except for one small section that involves playing the cup and ball game with three babies. I found it a bit confusing to read, but much easier to understand when listened to once I got my hands on the audiobook.

There isn’t a moment that you’re bored as Aziraphale and Crowley (the aforementioned angel and demon), and the rest of the cast work, their way through the days leading up to the apocalypse that they’re trying to stop. Though Aziraphale and Crowley aren’t actually supposed to be trying to stop it, ineffability and all that.

A few notes about the audiobook specifically. I really enjoyed the way the narrator, Martin Jarvis, did the voices for everyone. Each character had their own specific voice and they were really good and fit the characters really well. My only complaint would be that I didn’t think Pollution’s voice was quite slimy enough, however, that’s on me, because I’m very picky about anything regarding Pollution since he’s my favorite character. 

Martin Jarvis was also very clear with his speaking and was very easy to understand. I found his voice very pleasant to listen to. For readers who enjoy and/or prefer audiobooks, I would really recommend this one. It’s very good.

Warnings: 

There are some sexist, racist, and one homophobic comment(s). These however reflect the opinions of specific characters and not the book in general. 

The homophobic remark really caught me off guard when I was listening, because I’d forgotten about it. It’s a miscommunication about the word “faggot.” One character is using it in the very archaic sense to mean, a bundle of wood the person he’s talking to assumes it’s meant as the slur. I found it tasteless, but all in all it’s really the only even semi-large beef I have with the book. 

You can find the book here.

Related Reviews: The Graveyard Book

No snaps, because audiobook. I will however, leave you with a quote, because I love it so much. 

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions. (This is not actually true. The road to Hell is paved with frozen door-to-door salesmen. On weekends, many of the younger demons go ice skating down it.)” – Good Omens

The Known World by Edward P. Jones

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[Edit: Originally published November  19, 2016]

Set in the fictional Manchester County in Virginia, The Known World is the story of Henry Townsend, a Black man who owns slaves, and those slaves. One of the main characters the story follows is named Moses, but one of the beautiful things about the book is that it develops all it’s minor characters in such a way that they don’t feel like minor characters anymore. They all get their own backstory and a glimpse into the future. Of course there are characters that get more attention than others, but you can’t say that any of the characters in this book are underdeveloped. 

I found the structure a little confusing at first. The story is not told entirely chronologically. There is a major storyline that progresses chronologically, but in telling about the characters it often jumps around between the characters’ past present and future. It takes a bit of adjusting if you aren’t expecting the story to be told that way. In the end, however, I very much enjoyed the way that the book ended up flowing.

It’s kind of a heavy book, it’s about slavery. Not a book to pick up if you’re looking for something light-hearted. But also not a book that should be overlooked just because it deals with heavier subject matter. It’s an engaging read and beautifully written. The characters are some of the most beautiful complex and well developed I’ve read in a long time, you reach a level of attachment that leaves you devastated when something happens to them. 

Some warnings:

Death – human and animal.

Torture – this is a book about slavery, it features abuse and tortures that go in line with that.

Sex – There’s nothing super explicit, but it’s there.

You can get the book here.

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The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

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[Edit: Originally published on June 4, 2016]

I was in middle school, seventh, possibly eighth grade, when I attempted to struggle my way through the Iliad. I did it. I don’t remember it, but I did it. Either way, years later when I was just starting college, I heard about The Song of Achilles. It was the story of Patroclus and Achilles from the Iliad, but more accessible and with a focus on all the gay shit. 

It was the first LGBTQ book I ever read and boy did I need it. [Edit: This was not actually the first book LGBTQ book I ever read, but it was the first book I read after I came out. There was a book I forgot about. Whoops.] I wasn’t feeling particularly confident about my gender identity or sexuality at the time. I was trying to feel it out but I was being hammered with a million things that made me doubt and I was scared and this book was a life-line for me. Something queer I could hold on to. I can’t remember how many times I read it that summer. It was the one book I brought to Canada with me when we went to visit my mom’s extended family. I was surrounded by people I didn’t know and I was being misgendered 24/7, but I had my binder and I had this book.

The Song of Achilles, the story of Achilles and his lover Patroclus, is told from Patroclus’ perspective. We don’t meet Achilles right away. We meet him early, but he isn’t named until later. We meet Achilles when Patroclus meets Achilles, because this is after all Patroclus’s story of Achilles and Patroclus does not meet Achilles properly until he is ten. From there we see them go from friends to lovers.

The lovers part is what is so important about this book. This is not a book about the Trojan War, thought the Trojan War does happen in it. This is not a story about Achilles though it is about Achilles. It’s first and foremost a story about Achilles and Patroclus. There is a reason that Patroclus is the narrator. 

Patroclus allows us to see the human behind the legend that is Achilles, but we also can never forget that Achilles is half-god and more importantly, we get to see Patroclus. We get to Patroclus grow alongside Achilles. I knew the name Achilles long before I knew the name Patroclus. I think it’s time more people learned about Patroclus.

Now does this book answer the eons-old question of did Achilles top or bottom. No it doesn’t. But it far beats out the adaptations where they try to tell you that Achilles and Patroclus were cousins. They weren’t they were lovers and The Song of Achilles gives you their story. 

The biggest warning I would give for this book would be for rape, and discussion of rape. The scenes where this happens are sparse, and you should be able to skip over them without interfering with your understanding of the story.

You can find the book here.

Related Reviews: Changing Times, Love in the Time of Global Warming

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Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

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[Edit: Originally published May 12, 2016]

What is time really? The citizen’s of Night Vale certainly don’t know. Beloved local scientist Carlos, could probably make some guesses, but most people accept that time just doesn’t work in Night Vale. There are many things that do not work in Night Vale: remembering the man in the tan jacket, for example.  

Join Jackie Fierro and Diane Crayton as they discover the origins of the man in the tan jacket, as well as just what is up with that King City place, and who the hell is Troy? And what does all this have to do with Diane’s son Josh?

This book takes place over a series of weeks. Or maybe it’s one single day. It seems like Cecil’s broadcast only spans one day, yet it runs through the entire book, which according to our lovely protagonists, has events that span several weeks, give or take some altercations with the lawn flamingos.

If you know Night Vale and listen to the podcasts, you will know this is completely normal. Completely normal, just like the Glow Cloud and the fact that writing implements such as pens and pencils are illegal.

If you enjoy the podcast the book is a must read. And by must read, I mean must buy. Don’t take the risk of going to a library, it’s just too dangerous. Particularly since this is fiction, and nothing attracts a librarian more than fiction. Diane and Jackie enter the library in search of information on the mysterious King City and very nearly lose their lives. Don’t put yourself in such danger, buy the book, don’t risk the librarians.

Amazon is convenient location to buy the book. Though it’s sold in other places too.

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