Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Summer Prince: Questions

Even before I finished reading The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson I realized that I had some questions, or points that I wanted to study. I hope to explore a few of them during my next reading of the book (whenever that will be) so I wanted to put them down here.

If you're sensitive to spoilers and haven't read the book, you might want to skip this post. There are a few questions that are definitely spoilers, including one that will spoil the ending.

1) What's the symbolism of the tree(s)? (Tree of life?)

2) Matriarchy vs. patriarchy. Both are shown as being problematic. What are the differences (if any) between the two? Are either shown as having any actual good points in the novel?

3) Patriotism. What is it?

4) What makes a traitor?

5) What is art?

6) Compare to Gilgamesh.
a. How does June fit into the picture?
b. Enkidu is a wild man to be tamed. Enki is wild, but remains untamed. Why?
c. Gil doesn't seem to be a king of any sort. What's up with that?
d. Themes of death/immortality in epic vs. novel.
e. Or is there really anything to compare here? It's easier to list differences than similarities. I may have just gotten focused on this since it's what first got my attention about the book.

7) What changes June's relationship with her mother (and step-mother)? What is the turning point of that?

8) Why does Enki want to be king? I'm not sure if that was never said, or if I just missed it when I was busy blinking in surprise at how much is packed into this novel.

9) Why is the step-mother different from the other Aunties? Or is she?

10) Exile theme -- Enki, his mother.

11) Why do the aunties start calling Enki prince? Why does that fail to diminish his power? And why is the novel titled The Summer Prince instead of The Summer King?

12) Was it Enki's plan from the beginning to choose a different queen? If not, when/why did he come up with that idea?

I'm sort of wanting to compare this book to The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, and I can't quite put my finger on why. Some of the questions are the same, such as questions about patriotism, what makes a traitor, and exile. And yes they're both science fiction, but they're also very different books. Why am I wanting to say they're somehow similar?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Summer Prince

I just finished reading a book that will do double duty for both LGBT Month and The Artful Readers Club. It wasn't actually on my list for the latter, but I took so long reading it that I didn't touch anything on that list last month. So the list is about to get altered.

The novel in question is The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson. I was expecting it to be a light read, and I guess I got bogged down when I realized that it wasn't quite so simple. There are so many layers to the book. I wasn't expecting that.

On the surface it's about a matriarchal country where a king is sacrificed in the choosing of the queen, and it's the story of one of those kings. But it's also more than that.

It's about the nature of art. Love. Family. Betrayal. Forgiveness. Death. Life. Matriarchy versus patriarchy. Politics. Friendship. Loss. Sacrifice. Technology. Reconciling the old and the new. I don't really know how to say more without saying too much.

Part of what caught my attention about the novel was that someone compared it loosely to the Epic of Gilgamesh. When I got excited about "OMG Gilgamesh!!!" I was told that it was a very loose comparison. I acknowledged what I was told, but said I'd have to write about the similarities and differences between the epic and this.

And I'm here to say, this book needs a second reading before I can say anything intelligent on the matter. I suspect it's possible to write a comparison, and two of the names (Enki and Gil) certainly indicate that the author had Gilgamesh in mind, but I'm puzzled. I'm only bothering to mention this because if the person who recommended it sees this post, she'll probably wonder "Yes...but how do you think it compares to Gilgamesh? You said you'd write about that." I still want to, but that'll have to be at another time.

Of course, since this book is part of LGBT Month, I should discuss the LGBT side of things. At least three, maybe four, of the characters are bisexual. They're very open about who they love, and the novel shows different kinds of relationships. One person is married to someone who she is in a committed and closed relationship with, and I'm basing my assumption of her bisexuality on the gender of her previous spouse who she had also been in love with. Two others are in a very open relationship and are definitely into more than one gender. The fourth, whose sexual orientation I'm just guessing at, only has one lover during the book. I've got to say, I like that it shows different possibilities in terms of relationships. That is, some prefer multiple partners, while others are happy with just one person.

One thing I have to address: Any bisexual will notice when reading this book is that the B word is never actually used. That is, no one is ever called bisexual. This is something that is sometimes done with bi characters because of uncertainty how to approach the subject, or because the writer doesn't want to put words into the character's mouth. It's something that irks a lot of us, since refusal to use the B word can be a way of pretending we don't exist. Since any bisexual will be noticing the absences of that word, I want to suggest a different reason for why it isn't used.

This book takes place in the far future (I didn't mention that, did I?) in an imaginary city whose culture is so different from anything I know that I may have stared at the book in shock. I suppose it's possible that the author just didn't want to use the word bisexual, but I prefer to think that in her imaginary world any sexual orientation is considered unremarkable. Possibly even something that they don't have labels for. It's certainly something that's never mentioned.

This is the first art for The Artful Readers Club that I'm actually properly pleased with. It seemed appropriate to rethink how I draw trees for this book.


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