The Mere Wife Review

I’ve been perpetually struggling to keep up on my reading even as I double down on work and writing. Last week I read The Mere Wife, a novel (affiliate link) by Maria Dahvana Headley, and I found it quite interesting.

To borrow from the blurb on Amazon:

New York Times bestselling author Maria Dahvana Headley presents a modern retelling of the literary classic Beowulf, set in American suburbia as two mothers—a housewife and a battle-hardened veteran—fight to protect those they love in The Mere Wife.

I’d say that this is a bit of an understatement, but it’s a good summary of the book in the sense that you should get an idea of what it is so you can decide whether you’re interested in checking it out further.

If you’re not sold, however, I strongly suggest that you check it out. It’s an interesting, compelling read.

Image courtesy of Amazon and Macmillan.

The whole novel is told in this delightful style, something that falls nicely between stream-of-consciousness and more traditional styles. The result is a book that is occasionally confusing, but only so much so as the complications of reality are to its characters’ minds.

Most of the time, it manages to combine the sort of crisp and clear imagery that one rarely finds outside of epics; I found myself frequently thinking of Homer and Beowulf as I looked at the language and deep descriptions, which are tremendously indulgent but have a sense of action to them, something that you see with many works that belong to an oral tradition.

As far as craft goes, I don’t think I can recommend it enough. It’s rare to get such a great glimpse into characters’ heads,

Thematically, it’s heavy. Many of the themes discussed relate to PTSD, family drama and infidelity, and violence. It’d get a nice graphic R rating if it were made into a movie.

However, while The Mere Wife may occasionally veer into the realm of the grotesque, it does so no more than sacrosanct myths. Where it resorts to vulgarity it does so to depict life as it is, and while I wouldn’t be passing it out on a middle-school reading list, I’d definitely recommend it to a mature reader, especially one who has already become familiar with Beowulf.

Indeed, one of the things that struck me as I read The Mere Wife is how close it manages to feel to that epic. The three act structure is maintained, though it is different, and the characters are all closely drawn from the original myth, but given their own life and meaning.

Honestly, even if you haven’t read Beowulf, I can still recommend The Mere Wife. The protagonist, Dana, is based off of the character of Grendel’s mother, who is barely a footnote in the original epic but comes to life throughout the novel as a tragic figure.

The tragedy plays deeply into the American consciousness, but also in general to the world of the 21st century. The loss of mysticism, digital panopticon, paranoia in the war on terror, and racial tensions of our day all are developed into themes and touched upon, questions that are answered, unanswered, and explored.

Universally, The Mere Wife puts us into the shoes of its characters. Loathsome or ennobling, each gets a fair shake, and we are left feeling sympathy for all of them. It lives up to the legacy of sagas and epics, and I was able to get through all 320 pages of the tale in just a couple days, finding every excuse possible to read it.

I really cannot recommend the book enough. I will conclude with the first paragraph of the novel; it was all the preview I needed to be convinced that it was worth checking out:

Say it. The beginning and end at once. I’m face down in a truck bed, getting ready to be dead. I think about praying, but I’ve never been any good at asking for help. I try to sing. There aren’t any songs for this. All I have is a line I read in a library book. All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.

China’s At It Again

It’s that time of year again when China’s doing its human rights violations.

For those who aren’t quite clear on what time of year that is, it’s all the time.

A couple weeks ago I talked about how China was establishing gulags, but now we have some more information coming out of the Xinjiang province about the persecution of the Muslim minorities in that country.

Now a list of potential reasons why you can get sent to a re-education camp in Xinjiang has emerged, and I’ll give you a hint:

Most of the time, it’s not for actual subversive activity.

At least, not something that would be considered subversive outside of China’s totalitarian regime.

They’re things that are pretty simple. Little things like owning a tent, abstaining from alcohol (Islam forbids the consumption of alcohol), going to a mosque, having a beard, arguing with an official, or owning extra food.

Evidently, if you do any of these things, you’re a hidden radical.

Meanwhile, China’s persecution of Christians continues unabated. Since Xi Jinping has secured his power, he has had no reason to avoid doing this, since he knows for a fact that the rest of the world will do nothing.

Why?

The Chinese are bullies, fond of pointing out the fact that they can exercise power. They know that there’s nowhere with the will to stand up to them, and they’ve managed to acquire debts from a lot of countries and continue to place cultural agents (e.g. the Confucius Institute) in many other countries, and they coerce tech giants into bending their knees in order to access a lucrative market.

So what can you do about it?

Simple. Avoid Chinese goods, let your government officials (ineffective though they may be) know that you have concerns with close affairs with them, and use your influence to spread the word. Do not remain silent. Do not permit this abuse to be swept under the rug.

Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game 30th Anniversary Edition Review

Alright, I couldn’t help myself and I stopped by my FLGS. While there, I found a nice surprise on one of the shelves: the Star Wars WEG 30th Anniversary Edition.

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I Need a New Belt

I’ve fallen off of posting for a while, but I’m still planning to continue uploading my short story collection up here.

Today, however, I had another great weight loss milestone. I was wearing pants that I have to wear a belt with, and throughout the day I noticed that my belt was a little loose despite being configured as tightly as possible.

Long story short, my belt is no longer doing a great job of keeping my pants up, though I discovered this at home and not by having a tragic wardrobe malfunction in public.

I guess getting a new belt can be added to my list of things to do this weekend. I’m a little happy about this because I’ve been worried about not having as much gym time as I would normally get this last week and a half.

My next big focus has to be on getting rid of some of this belly fat. I’ve made really good losses elsewhere, but I’m not as concerned about them for health reasons and otherwise.

I’m thinking that some good core exercises will help, but I’m a little bit of a procrastinator, so I’ll start tomorrow.

Getting more disciplined with exercise overall is a good idea. I’m pretty disciplined (though not perfect, by any means) with my diet, but my exercise routine is anything but.

The Dust Part 2: Arrival

I think that before I really started working on the Dust, I hadn’t really thought of a whole lot of the setting, and then I just sort of made it up as  I went along.

You can tell that there’s some inspirations in mythological tales for the names, but there’s also elements of American culture and other things as well.

Irkalla is mythological, Nuada and Atreon are references to things (I think? Atreon may just be “It sounds cool”), and Aspera is based off of the Latin word for hope (or, more particularly, the saying “Ad astra per aspera”).

Extropy is named after the transhuman Extropian movement, while Providence, Liberty, and Opportunity are all inspired by early American trappings.

The little intro exposition for this piece is inspired by Biblical stylings, and it was really the first effort I made in defining the setting’s boundaries outside of the titular dust of New Haven. I don’t remember if this was the first or second story I wrote after Grace, but I think it came really close after.

Eynsford is inspired in name by the Eynsford-Hills of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion”, though I don’t know if there’s really any significance to the choice of the name. I’ve sort of taken to picturing him like Sadavir Errinwright (spelling?) from The Expanse, for no particular reason other than the beginnings of their names and their similar political role.

The focus of this story was to introduce who the Federals were in a relatively “objective” light. They’re the “villains” of the setting, but I wanted them to not be mustachio-twirling damsel kidnappers. They provide for their own, but they’re also willing to foster conflict and perpetuate themselves where they aren’t needed.

Apparently I’m really fond of Bradford as a military name. I feel like that’s due to the influence of a particular historical figure, but I can’t put a face to the name, as it were. Likewise, I think I got Mikkelsen from a random name generator, but I at least remember Mads Mikkelsen’s existence.

Or it could just be that I went with the first Swedish/Scandinavian name I could think of, though Rose isn’t a particularly Nordic name.


And it was recorded among the first arrivals that there were six-hundred thousand among the frozen. Around the binary stars of Aspera, there were six colonies: Irkalla on New Haven closest to the sun,  Providence and Liberty on Jefferson, Extropy on Narcissus, Opportunity on Atreon, and Dublin-II on Nuada.

Eynsford leaned back in his chair and sighed. Despite his triumph, he could not help but feel a bittersweet twinge of regret in the founding of a new empire. “So it is settled then?”

Aspera had never seen a real war. They were conspiring to shatter that peace. Such had been the vogue on old Earth, or so he had been told. Such things were far in the past.

Of course, so were shooting wars.

The reply came from a gravel voice with the patience of one rarely interrupted underpinned by the urgency of one used to making demands. “The coalition is solid. There is no reason for us not to cooperate. After all, New Haven’s resources are barred from us if we lack a military capable of taking them.”

“You always worry, Secretary Eynsford. Our worlds are more than capable of coming together to mutual prosperity.” Rose Mikkelsen was Aspera’s most dangerous woman, whether or not Extropy would formally pledge allegiance to her, and Patrick Eynsford had to admit that he had thought of her more than once when he was nursing a glass of wine alone after a diplomatic hearing. Her red dress was the sort of thing one expected to see at a gala, not the negotiating table, but he couldn’t help staring just a little.

That was her intention.

“I’ve already prepared replicants for deployment. Give the signal, and we’ll launch a precision strike on Irkalla and bring New Haven to its knees—if we can count on Providence for naval cover.” General Bradford’s rough voice and straightforwardness only added weight to Eynsford’s sorrow, and he found himself reflexively reaching to pour his new cabal drinks. The rumor was that the general was a quiet drunk. Eynsford felt the pressure of wearing his face very distinctly now. It was bad enough to want Mikkelsen and be so close to her without a chance of even the smallest romance, but to have Bradford cheerfully buying into the cult of destruction was too much for his stomach.

He poured each glass himself, passing them to the heads of state from the whole system—barring, of course, the unfortunates of New Haven. They would find out what had transpired the next day, when they found out that they had been condemned to die. He raised his glass, hoping that the poison inside would work on him the same effects their venomous coalition would work on Aspera.

“To the Aspera Federation, may it last beyond our days.”

The estimates had been wrong. Irkalla was not difficult to assail, and each combat replicant was worth dozens of New Haven’s soldiers. The first newsfeeds showed that the new Federal forces were capable of covering the ball of red dust with an ocean of blood.

The elites rejoiced, proclaiming a mission accomplished and anointing their followers with promises of land to settle and minerals to exploit. In exchange for New Haven’s resources, the Federation promised order, law, uniformity. Each citizen would be equal because of their inherent dignity, not their altered carbon sheathes, being the metric of their worth. The tiny settlements squabbling over water and held in the grasp of cybernetic warlords would see their world turned into an oasis and a model for the system.

But when they went on the broadcasts to announce the annexation of New Haven, the rebels punctuated it with violence. He supposed that frauds built on other frauds ought to be repaid in such a way, but the opposition raised a sleeping anger within him: the spite a booted foot feels as it plants its heel into a dissident skull.

Eynsford remembered the confusion in the moment. A bomb had gone off on the stage, turning his earlier proclamation of the Federation’s era of peace and stability into an ironic echo of itself. Bradford and Mikkelsen disappeared in the blast as he had been walking back to the seats. Only the premature detonation had saved his life, not that he had very much of his body left. The doctors were patching him back up, and the vat would regrow his flesh, but he felt he had lost something else, something more important.

The rebels had taken responsibility immediately,  wearing the labels heaped on them by the media with pride and defiance. On New Haven the Federal garrison was hit with a viral attack. Footage circulated of men and women clawing at their faces, the pirate streams reaching out across the mesh on waves of fascination and horror. An image of a soldier who had wandered into the dust and fallen in the scorching sun, his scarred body blackened by the heat was seared in Eynsford’s mind, a haunting image that was the talk of every newscaster on Jefferson.

The victim’s family could not be reached for comment, but that wasn’t enough to buy silence. Everyone had an opinion, and for a while it looked like the Federation might bring its guns on itself, dividing into cells and organs of disparate interest.

It was too early to be sure that the bombing was even a rebel act. There were factions operating behind the scenes, and there were many inside the Federation who would be happy to open up the higher echelons of control for themselves.

Eynsford wanted to cry in the cold blue nebula of the healing pod.

This was the image that had broken his sleep for months. From the first talk of exploiting the reserves of New Haven to the formation of the Federal state. Such a structure was beyond men and women, beyond humanity, somehow greater and more horrible and more terrible. The factories were retooled for war, their labors turned from plowshares to swords. The replicants were too few. Boys and girls were sent to war alongside them.

For every rebel they killed, more took up the banner. The most fervent agitators proclaimed that New Haven’s resources would be opened up all the greater with the extermination of its people. Instead of the expected capitulation, bombs went off on Jefferson and Atreon, the wages of sin. Eynsford’s people paid the price.

Eynsford had become accustomed to eating alone. At the state dinners there were too many ghosts, seats left unfilled by faction or by death. He tried to remember that his intentions had been pure, that this was the natural outcome of unification. The next day would show that it was worth it, that the small pieces of the system came together for a greater machine.

The filet mignon turned to ash with the sorrow. There had been no great intention, no great hope. Just the promise of opportunity. Each grasping hand reached for a rung above it, until the only move left was to claw past others for a clear hold.

He thought of the latest news, a troop transport holed by accidental friendly fire. Fifteen sons and daughters of the Federation who would not be returning home. He had killed them. Eynsford pushed the thought out of his head. Stray railgun rounds had killed them, nothing more or less than the uncaring calculations of a universe in which humanity was an accidental combination of particles and energy.

He wondered when his glass had become empty, and filled it once again. The bitterness washed the ash away, but it was only temporary. The next bite was just as barren as its predecessor. He got up and looked out the window. The light from outside washed over him, casting shadowy reflections across the polished steel surfaces of the flat.

Despite his folly, Providence looked the same as it had for decades before his birth. The same towers slid out of the ground and into the sky, their inhabitants had circulated like blood through the living organism of the colony, but the bones stood tall. The bombings had stopped in recent months. The rebels withdrew to their homefront. It would be over soon.

The security system gently chimed to announce authorized access. Eynsford didn’t bother looking to the doorway. He knew what had come for him. The first shot missed, shattering the window.

They hadn’t even bothered to send a professional. A tear rolled downward, battered by the wind. The second shot pushed him forward, and he felt the sensation of weightlessness.

The Dust Part 1: Grace

The first part of the Dust collection was inspired by the dust storms that occasionally sweep through the Phoenix area.

Out in the middle of the desert there’s not really anything to stop the winds and the sun, so the city winds up getting some pretty big storms. Monsoon season is pretty dramatic, but the dust storms are tremendous by themselves.

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