An ode to Indigiqueer poets and subversive librarians

Happy Earth Day, Bookwyrms!  Today’s post covers (1) a poetry collection that re-writes Western literature and pop culture from the p.o.v. of a queer Indigenous cyberpunk, and (2) a speculative novella set in a Wild-West future America where a caravan of queer librarians secretly subverts their totalitarian government.

Cover of Full-Metal Indigiqueer, by Joshua Whitehead. A naked man rides a bright red motorcycle down a city street, wearing only a pair of black knee-length boots and wielding a bow and arrow, chasing a herd of bison. His long black hair is streaming behind him. In the background are a three buildings. On the left is a two-story house with cream-colored sides and pale blue edges, surrounded by a white picket fence. In the middle is a grey, two-story storefront with a green strip at the top (maybe an awning) and dark brown shutters on the windows, and to the right is the corner of a building with orange-brown bricks.

Joshua Whitehead.  Full-Metal Indigiqueer.  Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2017.

Rating:  5 out of 5 nights you stay up late to watch Roseanne and Kink and Queer as Folk, the whole time wondering, “whereami|whereami|whereami|”

Recommended if you:  are a computer and/or literature nerd who’s willing to read between the lines of Western lit and pop culture.  I.e. a “resistant reader” and critical thinker.  Also, must be ok with graphic sex talk and some swearing.

Playlist:  Definitely something cyber/electronica.  Maybe one of The Matrix soundtracks.  Or maybe a warped classical remix like Blockhead’s “Insomniac Olympics.”  Or just put that 90s internet dial-up tone on loop.

Bingo square:  An anthology or poetry collection

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I don’t remember exactly where I found out about this collection, but it was back in February and the premise immediately hooked me.  The internal speaker of these poems is a biotech cyberpunk named Zoa (short for protozoa) who hacks into the Western canon to make space for their own identity.  It’s a slim volume, but the speaker spends every line shredding stereotypes and re-programming Western culture to account for readers who were originally excluded or dismissed.

All playfulness aside, this collection gets pretty serious.  The computer code format may be really fun and unique, but the tone and subject matter are very deep, sometimes even harsh.  It mostly deals with everyday discrimination and loneliness in a world that doesn’t seem to realize you exist.  Even more sobering, one of the poems honors the Indigenous Canadian women, girls, and Two Spirit individuals who are missing or were murdered because of their identities.

The book does, however, have an ultimately optimistic outlook.  It’s a story of survival and a plan for regeneration.

I definitely recommend it if you want to become a more mindful reader and critical thinker.

Cover of Upright Women Wanted, by Sarah Gailey. The background looks like a scene turned on its side, so all the people are facing downward. Most of the cover is a yellow sky with mint green clouds. On the left edge are silhouettes of cacti, a few horses, and three women. One woman is standing and the other two are sitting, all around a cooking pot. At the very bottom, one of the horses is drawing a carriage. The title is written in large red letters, in a font similar to Wild West "Wanted" posters. The tag line at the top of the cover says, "Are you a coward or are you a librarian?"

Sarah Gailey.  Upright Women Wanted.  New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2020.  Nook.

Rating:  4.98 out of 5 times you convince yourself you’re totally not sharing a significant look with your totally platonic fellow librarian, nope, nosiree, not this totally law-abiding cowgirl.

Recommended if you like:  Queer westerns, sharp-shooting librarians, hopeful dystopias, and positive portrayals of unconventional relationships (one of the characters was previously in an open relationship and there’s a vague hint that three of the side characters are in a threesome)

Playlist:  Well, obviously I looked for classic Wild West playlists on Spotify, and found this good one.  I also recommend “You Look Like Trouble (But I Guess I Do Too),” by Lisa LeBlanc, for the bandit scene.  I know it’s bluegrass, not western, but it fits, goshdarnit!

Bingo square:  A book published in 2020 (don’t worry, I have another option for the dystopia square).  Which gives me my second bingo!

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This is how much I love Froodian Slip.  The minute I finished reading Heather’s review of this book, I bought myself a copy and stayed up late into the night because it was That. Goshdarn. Awesome.  And, whereas the novella length was a source of slight frustration for Heather, knowing that in advance actually made me more willing to tackle it right away.  It’s not that I don’t want more story; it’s that I’ve been riding the novella train for the past few months and that bite-sized length has been particularly comforting when life in general has felt like a sadistic stress test.

That said, I would sure-as-shootin’ be willing to read a follow-up.  This novella feels like a brilliant teaser/prologue for a longer book or even series (assuming it’s not as brutal as The Hunger Games, of course…there was one brutal bit in the middle of the story).  I could absolutely see Gailey continuing Esther’s story, fleshing out her version of America more deeply and allowing the librarians to finally wage open war with the State.

Also, in case you were wondering (and you totally were), queer westerns are actually a thing, at least according to this episode of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books.

The only reason I docked a fraction of a point was an illogical scene when Esther grabs a galloping horse by the reins, painfully yanking her shoulder out of place in the process, and then immediately helps drag bodies out into the desert like she’s totally fit as a fiddle.

Other than that, Upright Women Wanted is a rootin’ tootin’ thrill ride of bibliophilic proportions.

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So!  What books have kept you sane during these past few months?  Are you more inclined to get lost in long books at a time like this (the more escapism, the better!) or are you taking it easy with shorter stories?

Stay safe and keep up the awesomeness, Bookwyrms!

An image of Justin Timberlake standing with a sword, holding it point down, and wearing a large fur coat like Jon Snow from Game of Thrones. The caption says, "Brace yourselves. It's gonna be May posts are coming."

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“It’s Gonna Be May” image from No Guilt Fangirl.

10 comments

  1. I’m more inclined to get lost in a long book (and I’m leading a book discussion of The Starless Sea for people who signed up for it at my college, so re-reading that one already). I am interested in the Gailey because of you and Heather, though!

  2. Congratulations on that second bingo! I love your take on these different stories and the way you cleverly rate them. It’s so much fun reading your posts. As for me, I’ve been in less of a reading mood and more of a writing mood. I’m sure I’ll have a book to share with you soon!

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