thiefofvoices: a factory with smokestacks silhouetted against a red sky (the industrial park)
[personal profile] thiefofvoices
Disclaimer: I'm...not actually trying to write a good review of this collection. This is just a (long-winded) writeup of my thoughts, and may or may not be very coherent, as I've been at it all day. /disclaimer

So the other day I was at Borderlands (a specfic-only bookstore), and picked up I-O, a collection of stories by Simon Logan. What caught my eye about it was that it was being billed as "industrial fiction", and this part of the description on the back: "...exploring a world of dead tv's [sic], hallucinogenic chemicals, sad machines and concrete wastelands of scrap metal. the settings are as carcinogenic as a lethal poison, the characters constructed like semi-automatic pistols." In short: it sounds a lot like a few of my own fiction projects, and it sounds like the landscape that makes up my head most days. And honestly, I haven't yet encountered stories like that. This pretty much instantly got added to the pile, and won out over a Haikasoru title I'd picked up, eventually.

And today I sat down and read the whole thing.

Overall, I'm not sure what to make of it as a whole, cohesive unit. It's not really one piece, though all the stories have similar themes running through them. Most of the stories seemed close enough together, within one world (or a few worlds running very closely parallel in dimensions), that the few that didn't fit as close to these were a little jarring. Possibly I would have found it less jarring if the order of the stories had been switched around -- actually, I'm pretty sure I would have. I don't think these stories are really meant to be viewed as a cohesive unit, though, and I took each one of them individually for what they were as well. I'll talk about them individually in a minute.

The worldbuilding is great, especially the fact that he boldly doesn't try to rationalize why any of these things exist. The logic in these worlds is not our world's logic, and I appreciate that he doesn't try to apply it, or try to justify why it's not there. There's no reason the creatures that exist can with these machines soldered and welded and stapled to their flesh. There's no reason characters can or can't die, and no reason why death works the way it does. And Logan doesn't apologize for that; you either have to accept it or you don't, and the way the stories work, I was ready to accept it. Most of the descriptions in this painted a very clear, beautiful picture in my head of the ruined factory yards, the half-alive industrial parks, the workers in them that were barely separate from their surroundings, the nights blanketing everything. The stories, in a way, reminded me a bit of snapshots (specifically, of paintings, either by Jacek Yerka or...that other guy whose name I can't remember) of these worlds, giving me very clear, very short little glimpses into the lives of the things in them.

There were two things that tripped me up the most when reading: first, the prose itself, and second, the treatment of women. Sigh.

The prose itself was clunky in places, and there was a serious its/it's problem through all of them. Many times when I was reading, I found myself muttering the sentences and rearranging the words so they were more concise and got their point across better, or simply flowed better within the paragraph. A few of the dramatic single-line paragraphs elicited a bit of an eyeroll from me*, and there were a couple overwrought descriptions that could have benefited from less thesaurus abuse. The writing did get tighter in some of the later pieces -- either that or I learned to ignore the clunkiness.

The treatment of women, however, bothered me. For the most part, they had no agency, or they were violent and overly sexual. Even in the one story that had a woman who wasn't sexual (I honestly don't care about the violence all that much), who had her own agency and her own ideas, all of that was eventually put aside and discarded -- even within herself. A good chunk of the stories in this, though, consistently had me thinking "Simon Logan does not have problems with women!"** in the back of my head. Without deconstructing the individual stories, though, that's about what I have to say on the matter.

So let's deconstruct the individual stories! :D

Prism: the mechanisation and deconstruction of beauty.
This story underwhelmed me. I loved a lot of the description in it, but the pacing felt rushed and the events in it happened simply because they had to. I didn't feel a lot of urgency; I certainly felt the motivation, but it felt almost forced. It could be that I just hadn't dipped enough into the world yet, but I think that possibly this means this story wasn't the right choice for the first in the volume.

The thing that killed it for me was the story. It's about a scrapyard worker, deformed and fitted with scrap junk (these things are synonymous; it's "the way [he] was born") that finds a woman made of prisms in one of the pieces of scrap he's tearing apart. Since he works alone in a shed, apart from the other workers, due to having to wear an oxygen tank on his back as he can't process the poisoned air the way the others can, he attempts to hide her in his shed by throwing a tarp over her and staying in. Eventually the other workers become curious about his change in behaviour, and figure out he's hiding something, and when he has to come out to change his oxygen tank, they set a trap for him. They poison his tank, and take her out of the shed and kill her.

The main issue I had in all of this was that the woman had absolutely no agency whatsoever. I can't tell if the worker who found her actually found something that was inanimate and was just obsessing over it in his head, or if she really did have agency and just arbitrarily decided that living in this shack under a tarp with someone who obsessed over her was a good idea. I guess it's better than what was outside (people who wanted to kill her), but in order for me to not see the entire thing as not super sketchy, I needed to see something from her. I needed some motivation from her and not the others in the story. Even some agency would have been fine! But as it was, she was a toy, a shiny novel trinket or bauble to hoard and keep whether she liked it or not, which is super sketchy and I'm tired of women being treated like that in fiction.

coaxial creature [above]
This one I liked a bit better. I love the world in this. I'll probably say that for almost every one of these stories, but I really do. The imagery of it was fabulous, and the creature in it reminded me a bit of the aliens in Peter Watts' Blindsight (which is a compliment, here). I didn't feel as much tension in it as I think Logan was reaching for, and I feel like this could have been fixed by letting me feel the connection between the workers on the wires more than telling me about it. But that didn't alienate me from the story, really; I read this as somewhere between a story and a picture. There is a bit of plot, but the story is almost too short to sustain it. However, I don't really think it suffers for this very much, mostly due to the ending of it, because we got a glimpse of what it felt like to be outcasted from a place for outcasts. We got the results of what happened, not just the painting of an event.

But man, you guys, mostly I just want to draw a lot of the imagery in this. Or have someone make it into a short, silent animated film. Because that's what it felt like to me.

This is probably my second-favorite story of the bunch, following a factory worker who deviates from his task by building a small machine that bores into the factory, and eventually is punished for it by being deconstructed and sent down the assembly line themself. The end message pretty much can be summed up in "the factory needs nothing other than itself". The factory is a discrete entity. And that's what I really like about this story; it describes a perfect machine, endlessly recreating itself.

The descriptions were, for the most part, also very awesome. I particularly loved the supervisors and all the visuals we get of them and their creepy piston legs. There's a certain flavor of sick sterilization to the entire story that I also loved a lot.

The only thing that caught me up at all was the two times the author used 'rape' as a descriptor. There was no sexual violence in this story. And I don't honestly feel that using that metaphor within the story helped it in any way.

Oh my god, you guys. I fucking loved this story. There is so much in it that describes my ideas on destruction, and so many quotes from it resonate very deeply. I love the fact that this story describes an intense, strange, asexual relationship (and there aren't many references to the fact that either of the people in it want it to be sexual, which, given the rest of the stories in here somehow shoehorn in something sexual, be it a word or description or action, is saying something for Logan, here). I love that these characters are so intertwined, and yet they're trying to destroy each other. I love that apathy makes up so much of their motivations, and it somehow works, when it's so hard to get that across in writing most of the time. I love that the narrator can't die. I love that the narrator's gender is kept delightfully ambiguous throughout (at least, I don't remember any gendering moment, though I suppose I could have missed it).

It does suffer from a lot of the same issues the others do, with regards to needing a little tightening up/proofing. The only time I was thrown out of the story was right at the end of the first aside, though (what even happened, there?). I feel like this story benefited a lot from being longer, so there was more time to let us get to know the characters and philosophy behind their motivations. I'm also unsure of Shiva's name -- I don't think the tie-in to religion, especially since it seemed a little throwaway, was entirely necessary. One can also make the case that Shiva gets thrown away at the end of the story, that her entire existence becomes wrapped around the narrator and her relationship with them, so that when they no longer need her, she's discarded. But I may be thinking of that in light of the way so many of the other stories are problematic about their women, and to be honest, this worked within the story for me, and it didn't bother me.

But mostly, this was my favorite story of the collection, and stands to be one of my favorite short stories, period.

Foetal Chambers
This one was more of a painting of a character than a story. I like it, but that's what it is, to me. A painting of an idea -- a fascinating idea, what could have been an exercise in body horror if Logan chose to take it that way (he didn'), but an idea. And I really like the character that's shown here. I want to read more about her, see her in a story that isn't just a portrait of her, but in reading this, I felt satisfied with the portrait because that's all it is, and all it's meant to be.

I don't really have more to say on this one than that, without totally spoiling everything about it. It's very short?

The method of pulse
This is another instance story, a short film distilled into story form. It feels more like the backstory for something, or a creation story, than something that stands alone. The imagery is very vivid, almost Dali-like in a lot of places, which I greatly enjoyed, though some of the descriptions are a little bit repetitious, especially when read alongside all the other stories in this collection. The ending, to me, wasn't entirely satisfying -- it didn't wrap up as neatly as 'Foetal Chambers' did, or perhaps it wrapped up too neatly -- but it was a fun little read. It probably does say something that when I came back to my notes on it, which did not contain anything about the happenings in the story or the characters, I couldn't remember anything about it and had to go back in the book, however.

Iron Lung
And here we get back into the Problematic Treatment of Women issue. I was not into this story; it's about a man who either has real or imagined enemies that he has built a bunkerlike house underground to escape from, and taken a girl, Lydia, with him. He's put her into an iron lung "to keep her safe", against her will. I have no idea if he knew her prior to kidnapping her and putting her in this thing or not, and the story seemingly deliberately leaves it ambiguous as to whether or not he's just completely insane. She does end up escaping and trapping him in the lung instead, but that's where it ends. Yes, the narrator gets his, but I was Not Into It and bored long before then, and felt no real satisfaction in the fact that she escapes. I don't get a lot of feeling that this was written with the intent that the reader feel bad for Lydia, only the narrator and his possible psychosis. And as for stories where a man does something horrific to a woman "for her own good", well. Kind of auto-done with that.

Akin to Insects
And this one I honestly almost didn't finish. Not Into It. Bored. To be honest, this read a little bit like the slush horror stories I hear of people sending in their sexual fantasies and calling it science fiction. It's about a cult of groupies who rape and kill musicians. There's some stuff in there about killing god, especially at the end of it, where the main girl kills all the other girls and her girlfriend, which I guess could be kind of interesting, if I wasn't so over it already. I feel like, if there had been more focus on the ties between sex and religion, more focus on defiling/destroying what one "loves" (in this case, obsesses over), and more development of all the characters beyond "drug addled serial killers", it could have had something going here. But all it read as to me was an attempt to shock the reader. Bored.

I did enjoy the one paragraph about killing your gods, in it, which I will probably reproduce at some point, independent of the story. I liked that philosophy, buried in this story. I don't think it's worth it to read the story to get to said philosophy, however.

* (though I'm fully aware that I'm as prone to doing this as Logan >.> -- food for thought, self: all your dramatic pauses and revelations mayyybe don't work as well as you want them to, edit some of that shit out)

** It's an injoke, originating from Silent Hill 2 (in which, in case you weren't aware, all of the protagonist's internalized fear and hatred of women come to life in the form of demons and try to kill him -- no, that's not the plot of it, don't worry). I found a fan icon that someone (don't know who, anymore, someone on LJ) had drawn depicting protag James standing next to a twisted mannequin-monster yelling "I DO NOT HAVE PROBLEMS WITH WOMEN!". Oh, James, honey. Yes you do.
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thiefofvoices: Profile of a person with long black hair in a ponytail wearing a high-collared leather jacket, hair obscuring their eyes (Default)
Thief [if,not.]

June 2013

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