Saturday, April 15, 2017

Think Galactic- A Taste of Honey

For the April meeting of Think Galactic, we discussed A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson.

Set in the same sci-fantasy world as Wilson's Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, the novella follows a young man, minor nobility in the kingdom of Olorumi, as he has an affair with a soldier from a distant land. These chapters alternate with scenes from Aqib's life years and decades later, as he lives out a very different life than he would have had if he'd fled with his lover.

We generally quite liked this! Brief notes and possible spoilers below:
  • We were intrigued by the way that men's work and women's work are split up here; since math, science, and technology are in the women's sphere, but our point of view is largely male/patriarchal, a lot of how this world works is kept out of the narrative.
  • We liked the pacing and the details (language, clothing, social cues) but had much debate about the ending twist—some of us really liked, others really didn't.
  • Noted that the ending made the queer tropes less frustrating than they would have been—it saves it from being a fantasy version of the 1950s "tragic repressed gay life story" novel.
  • We liked the different cultural influences here—Egyptian, Roman, etc.
  • Yeah, lots of talk about that ending. Comparisons made to It's A Wonderful Life and Walton's My Real Children.
  • We did like how the alternating chapters, and Aqib's choice at the end, highlight the kind of tragic youthful choices people have to make—especially when it comes to the question of coming out (and in many other areas, romantic or otherwise) there's this way in which you have to make a choice in a time-frame where you can't possibly have enough knowledge/experience to make it wisely. Aqib having to discover this side of himself and then make a massive life-altering decision about it, in the space of ten days, was a good snapshot of that.
  • Talked about societal & family loyalty versus being true to your own desires; also how quickly one can revise one's worldview, particularly where family and authority figures are concerned. The way Lucrio abruptly gives Aqib a very different take on his brother & father is a great scene.
  • Talking about how age & experience change our views on things, mentioned The Catcher in the Rye and the way there seems to be a reader age-window where it's non-obnoxious.
  • Lots of discussion of Aqib's relationships with Fenymede & their daughter Lucretia. We also enjoyed the "baby on the ceiling" bit.
  • Noted the Yoruban influence on the Asheans.
  • Talked a bit about the dialog and dialects here—we liked the way Lucrio reveals class differences in how he talks, and also talked about the filthy Latin passages (which some clever Google-translate-fu can make explicit).
  • We were interested in the glimpses of class structure and classism here, particularly in how Aqib treats the menials. We also thought that having science & technology be a female domain here is an interesting looking at gender-based valuation of work. We wondered how much men are really in charge here, much as it looks patriarchal on the surface.
  • Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Dart brought up for the idea that "that which yields is not always weak."
  • Talked a bit about repercussion differences in A Taste of Honey versus Sorcerer of the Wildeeps—in the latter, there's cultural/situational context that makes the queer romance play out differently.
  • Talked about the novel, novella, & novelette lengths, mostly for laughs. Various theories advanced to explain genre bloat, and cheers given for the rise of great shorter-length works—we'd recently read and greatly enjoyed LaValle's The Ballad of Black Tom, also a Tor novella.
  • Lots of talk and questions about the structure of this story—both the braiding of the romantic episode with Aqib's entire life, and the reveal at the end. I think I finally figured out what I think about the prevalence of double-timeline story-telling: I can dig it when it's for poignancy; I hate it used for suspense.
  • Cannot fail to mention some of the other "Tastes of Honey" books out there.
  • The Sybil! Talked about various sybils, fates, oracles, the history of the word "python", and dragon-y Sybil showing up in Vampire Junction, as well.
Fun book, fun discussion! Next time, Think Galactic is discussing works from Wiscon Guests of Honor Kelly Sue DeConnick and Amal El-Mohtar. Check the Think Galactic page for details.

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