Wednesday 5 December 2012


Kameron Hurley, 2012
(November 2012)

So, those Bond parallels. Within the first five chapters our main protagonist has managed to screw two separate women immediately prior to screwing them over. Fortunately though neither has a pathetically transparent innuendo as a name, and this first is ‘older, and plumper’ and covered with scars while the second ‘truly was unremarkable in every way’. Not exactly Slavic supermodels then.

Hurley certainly isn’t averse to putting her characters through the wringer. Most notably Rhys, our favourite inept magician with the oddly Welsh moniker, who continues to receive a damn sound thrashing with the shitty stick. Every. Single. Time. In a world populated entirely by the luckless and unloved he still manages to stand out due to the way he gets fucked over by the author at every turn, to the point it becomes a little wearying; you find yourself gritting your teeth slightly when his next PoV chapter comes up because you know it ain’t going to end well. 

There’s a fine line between uncompromising and bleak, and from there it’s just a short hop to nihilistic. The first third of Rapture wavers a little too often between the three. I was never tempted to put it down, but I was having to place a little too much faith in what I’d read before instead of what I was reading at the time.

The Bel Dame Apocrypha has never been exactly light and fluffy, so that might sound like a slightly odd issue to be having this far into things. But in God’s War it was tempered by the obvious authorial glee in exploring the world, and Infidel benefitted from better control and pacing. We’ve got more of the frantic plate-spinning of the first book here, but this time out it’s the plot, not the concept, that is in constant danger of coming crashing down. Nyx gets hauled out of retirement for one last MacGuffin hunt, and there are apparently some politics and stuff. I think everything got explained in a bit of a rush at the end, but I didn’t exactly follow it. Or really care all that much.

And that’s OK. If you accept the plot as the transparent excuse it is for exploring the world and the characters then, once you get past the opening sections, this is a great book. If Infidel was all about getting the gang back together, then Rapture’s main strength is in its new characters. Nyx’s new mercenary crew all come complete with pleasingly well-developed backstories and hinterlands and there’s a new big bad (sorta) who initially comes across a little T-X but seemingly provides a genuine threat for our (anti)heros to bang up against.

The most interesting of the new crew is, to me, Isao Kage. Or just Kage, because, “Second name first, with Drucians.” ‘Druce’ of course being a thinly veiled Japan. So thinly you could spit right through it. Kage is small, fragile, inscrutable and unfathomably honour-bound, with, “yellow, petite features.” As a character she’s very absorbing and well-drawn, but as an avatar for something bigger she’s throws a lot of the stuff that’s been nagging me about this series into sharper relief. There are two possible reasons for this:

1. The Rationalization
'Angry Space Muslims' is, as cultural appropriation goes, actually fairly non-specific. The holy book’s called the Kitab, ‘book’ in Arabic and a number of other languages, and so covers a multitude of sins. There are obvious influences from right across the muslim (and latterly christian) present day sphere of influence. Mullahs and priests all happily screwing things up left, right, and centre. I’m obviously fine with that more cynical interpretation of religion and the way it’s used as an excuse for division and violence, and islam’s as valid a target for that as any other sect you’d care to mention. Hurley draws her cultural influences from all over Africa and the Near- and Middle-East, so it’s very hard to be more specific than ‘islamic’ when sourcing those influences. You can’t neatly say that Ras Tieg = Iran, for example.

As a white western writer (and reader), it’s a fairly courageous approach but also fairly risky, as the islamic world is very obviously ‘other’ (for both of us). Over the course of the trilogy it skated a fine line at times, but I felt Hurley generally pulled it off because once you’d settled into the story it wasn’t ‘other’ any more, it was just the way the world was. And it was pretty shitty. The religious influences were very obviously second fiddle to the more personal and political drives of the very human people involved, and I can certainly be on board with that.

And then we get Kage. The other ‘other’. Obviously alien even in this (initially) alien (but eventually normalized) milieu. Regarded with suspicion by everyone she meets and pursued relentlessly by ninjas The Avengers fukushu-sha. The italics are in the book. 'Kitab' isn’t italicized, nor are any other of the loanwords to English that spatter the half-dozen or so languages spoken by characters in universe. If we accept that several millennia in the future this deep space human colony has preserved a mutated and cross-bred version of present day humanity, then the Japanese/ Drucians are still remarkably separate from that cross-pollination. The retention and mutation of the word ‘book’ for a holy text is all too feasible, but fukushu-sha is incredibly specific. Even in this multi-cultural and multi-lingual world the Drucians are other and apart.

And that would be fine. The world’s a dystopian shithole. Of course there would be ‘others’. Of course they would be regarded with suspicion and contempt. But after going to significant lengths to muddy the waters with our conceptions of The Other and The Norm it seems pretty lazy and awkward just to lift those other ‘others’ off the peg from a single, obvious contemporary source. Ras Tieg may not be Iran, But Druce is definitely Japan.

The saving grace is that, as I said, Kage’s such a well formed and convincing character that you could almost skate over the wholesale and clichéd appropriation of her culture's real-world inspiration.

2. The Guilty Suspicion
You’re only noticing the Japanese stuff because you have stronger links to that culture. You were fine with the islamic stuff so don’t whine about this. Hypocrite.

You pays your money and you takes your choice, I guess. I’d advise that your choice be to read this though, despite all that. The writing’s very good and the characters are really what sell the story, which is as it should be. The trek across the desert is especially well done and has a pleasingly spacey air to it, which really captures the disorientation and disintegration the characters experience. Form and function, right there. The supporting cast all feel real and fully formed and the eventual dynamic between Nyx and Rhys validates all that’s gone before it. I also loved the Sopranos-esqe ending

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