Coping strategy
LOOKING ASKANCE - Joseph Gonzales (The Freeman) - August 2, 2020 - 12:00am

Books have always provided a means of escape, and more so nowadays. Over the past few months, while we have been battling isolation, uncertainty over the future, incompetent governance, and disruption in just about everything we do, books offer a relaxing avenue to divert attention and decompress.

And I took up that offer. Aside from getting around to opening books that have been waiting at my bedside for years, I also devoured all the old Diana Wynn-Jones I’ve steadily collected. Purchased not just in the regular local bookstores, I had actually managed to locate unavailable titles in Kinokuniya bookstore in Singapore and Bangkok. (Yes, Wynn-Jones’s stories are all from the magical fantasy young adult genre - so judge me. These days, we all need some magic.)

When Fully Booked finally opened in HighStreet BGC after the Enhanced Community Quarantine, I got me a couple of months more of supply. Angela Carter, Trevor Noah, Ian Rankin - short stories, memoirs, crime fiction - it was a free-for-all, because who knows what mood we’re going to be in on any particular day?

I trawled that fail-safe fallback of book lovers, Amazon, for titles I couldn’t find, and so Richard Morgan and William Gibson dropped into my shopping cart, wended their way to Manila. Dumped in this pile were the latest 2020 had to offer, including from lesbian black authoress, N.K. Jemisin.

This was The City We Became, which I just finished. What a read! While not as world-bending as her other novels, this one is just as delightfully realized as her other universes, with the usual interwoven allusions on race, politics, and gender identity that she has already skillfully employed in other novels.

I’m wondering whether this will also win the Hugo Awards, the most prestigious science fiction prize. Jemisin has already won Best Novel for three years straight, each year for each installment of her Fifth Season trilogy. (Now that trio, rooted as they were in evolved beings with the power to manipulate tectonic plates, are earth-rocking and mind-ripping.)

But in this particular book, N.K. Jemisin takes a shot at her detractors and those right wing alt-white bloc that had politicized her writing. (Which, if we think about it, might not be so strange, considering that she does inject politics in her book, so triggering a negative reaction from nervous right-wingers may have been expected.)

At the same time as her earliest nomination for a Hugo, a movement by white extremists whined about the fact that science fiction (and the awards body and the trophy-giving) were being hijacked by people of color, or some such shallow critique.

What they were really protesting about was the idea of celebrating diversity in science fiction, and so in an attempt to prevent a discussion on white colonialism and more focus on race and gender, alt-right activists tried to game the Hugos by pushing for their own (pathetic) nominees to win the awards. Jemisin was the most visible target, having already caught the ire of one of their leaders (she was dismissed as a “half-savage”), and so the game was on.

Fortunately, the literary community saw decency prevail, and in a nod to her unquestionable talent, Jemisin won that year (2016). And the next. And again, the next. In her acceptance speech in 2018, Jemisin acknowledged that the years had been hard for her, and she had written the books to speak of that struggle --and her formula for succeeding.

So while acknowledging that she lived “in a world that seems determined to break you, a world of people who constantly question your competence, your relevance, your very existence”, she didn’t focus on the negatives. Instead, she recognized that “life in a hard world is never just a struggle. Life is is means celebrating victory, no matter how small.”

Jemisin’s life story is uplifting, her books are cosmic, and her words are inspiring. A recipe for survival these dark days.

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