[Fiction] The Dead Switcher – Week 1

New episodic story that I will be writing every week-ish from now on. Hope you enjoy.

I want to try something: writing an episodic fiction in English. Why episodic? Because the periodicity and the potential audience will make me more willing to go on week after week. I will try my best to post every week but since I can’t commit to serious schedule right now, there will probably be some late posting or sometimes it may not come at all. So don’t expect something every Monday evening, but keep an eye on your notifications.

Also, if you know me or if you’ve been following this site for some time, you know that I’m not a native English speaker, so please excuse me if it doesn’t live up to your expectation of a new Pratchett. I wish I was as good (and funny) as he is, but there is a long long way to go.

So, let’s not wait any longer. Here it is. Please read it and tell your doggy. Don’t hesitate to comment, since I will take any input that help me improve. Or I will answer any question that may come along.

The dead Switcher

Week 1

I shouldn’t have seen that. Nobody is supposed to see themselves dead, even if they gave their body away. There have been countless peer-reviewed studied on the impact of meeting your own former sleeve, let alone seeing it dead, and yet, here I was, bending over it. I recognised it right away. It was covered up to the neck in bloody water, but the face was enough for me. I’ve seen that one so many times in the mirror, several times a day, and I used to hate it.

But somehow, I wasn’t hating it when I saw it in the bathtub. It looked… serene, almost peaceful. I guess anyone who slit their own wrists looks like that, since the lack of blood makes every muscle relax. I didn’t feel any hatred. The face was familiar, but it wasn’t me. Not anymore. It was more like looking at an old passport photo and realising it was someone else. I would look at it like I look at the next stranger with a face that reminds me of someone. I could even find beauty in some features that would have disgusted me when I used to wear them.

Steve yelled at me. “Get a grip” he said. I snapped out of my shock. “What’s wrong with you?” I couldn’t tell him. So, I helped him take the body out of the tub, after the police cleared us and finished with their investigation. Doesn’t seem like a mystery to me to be honest. The poor guy was desperate and didn’t see how he could go on and took his own life. I can relate, I thought about it a lot too after the operation. After I took his body. It wasn’t easy at the beginning. It’s not only a new face that I had to get used to, but a whole new body. And it’s disturbing.

In the old days, they used to do that slowly, with drugs that changed your body over the course of a few years, and you could only change as much as your body would allow. Nobody was equal on that matter. Now, you only need to find someone who is in the same situation as you and is willing to have an exchange. Obviously,you don’t have much choice in the kind of body you will get, but at least it’s genuine. They just show you the body you will get a few weeks before the actual operation, and if you refuse, you get back at the end of the waiting list. We never get to know their name or ask for a cancellation. It’s a one-time thing. You need to be sure that’s what you want before you proceed.

We put the body in the bag and threw it on the stretcher, then at the back of the ambulance. The whole ride to the hospital, I couldn’t help but stare at his face. At least at where his face was supposed to be in the black nylon bag. I guess he was really dead now.

I used to joke about that with my friends after the transfer. That’s how we call it. You may have read about the “switch” in newspapers and on TV. But I don’t like it. I hope if someone ever write a book about that story, it won’t be called “The switcher” or any title with “Switch” in it. With my friends I joked about how “I” was dead. And I was reborn. But now, “I” was actually, literally dead.

Back at the hospital, he went straight to the morgue, and I never got to see him again. It was like having a painful memory of your past giving you one last finger and then vanishing forever. At the end of my shift, I asked to see my psych, who gave me an appointment two days later. Somehow, that’s even more shocking. I still have a hard time processing it.

As usual, I could barely make out a word. It’s been like this forever. It took me years to get where I am now because I couldn’t tell what was troubling me, even to someone whose job is to respectfully listen to anything you have to say. At the end of the session, seeing how troubled I was by all this, and the possible legal implications of the situation, she advised me to record my memories and my thoughts, so I could go over it and better explain next time. I’m not too happy about it but here I am talking into a microphone.

Incidentally, I managed to catch his name from one of the detectives on the scene, so next thing I am gonna do is look him up online. It’s stupid, but I must know.

Quick review: The Handmaid’s Tale (book)

In this review, I am talking about The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian novel written by Margaret Artwood and published in 1985, in which Offred, a young handmaid, is sent to a family to be the surrogate womb of a couple that can’t carry, in a society where women have no right anymore.

The Handmaid’s Tale is getting more popular now thanks to the recent Hulu series, but since I don’t subscribe to Hulu, I decided to read the novel instead. Written by Margaret Atwood and published in 1985, the Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel set in the nation of Gilead, a post-USA theonomic state that is run through a very literal application of the bible. Basically the utopia of white christian (male) supremacists. In this wonderful new country, we follow Offred, who has fallen really low in the social hierarchy, first because she is a woman, and then because she tried to escape this magnificent paradise. The really wise men in power probably didn’t understand why on earth (which is flat obviously) she’d want to do that, so they placed her in the very charitable position of being the surrogate womb of an unlucky couple who can’t have kids, and that way, maybe God will forgive her for her sins. Or else she’s a useless eater, and she would get the rope treatment, 3rd Reich style.

It’s not a story of great heroes. It’s a story of survival and resilience. It’s the story of the people who end up living in a despotic government and keep their head down, accepting every humiliation hoping that some day they will see brighter days. People are not all ready to fight. Here, the resistants seem to exist, maybe, but they are in the background, while Offred is the narrator. It’s her story, her struggle to stay alive until she can find a way out. She tells it from the beginning: she intends to survive. She will do everything she’s asked to do, because she has no other choice. She tried her luck once and she was lucky she wasn’t executed or sent to a labour camp, thanks to being able to carry a child, so she will carry one again, for someone else, and maybe have a better opportunity later. But what opportunity? That’s the biggest question mark. She doesn’t know what would become of her after she gives them a child, especially since it’s the beginning of the new government and they don’t really have thorough regulations on the matter. But she only have hopes, hope that her daughter is fine, hope that maybe her husband has survived, and that’s the only thing that keeps her going.

The Handmaid’s Tale is a really great and frightening story. It’s great because the story is so well crafted that it seems all so plausible. And it’s frightening because, well, it seems so plausible, especially when we hear what some US officials say nowadays. This tale shows us what’s the worse that could happen if we let evangelists and christian extremists run a country, and the thought I couldn’t get out of my head all the time I was reading was that in this novel, the government falls after a coup d’état, but in my opinion this kind of situation is more likely to happen without a civil war. With years and years of carefully escalated despotism, until the time it becomes impossible to stop it without a fight, a theocratic government could be installed without a real struggle. Maybe they didn’t think that it was plausible back in the 80’s. After all, the only example they had of a new theocratic government was Iran, and it had to go through a violent revolution to put it in place, so I can imagine they didn’t think people would willingly vote for the same person who would gleefully take that right to vote away from them, even though it happened before.

I can only recommend this novel. It’s a cautionary tale in the same vein as 1984 and deserve the same appreciation, while we are still allowed to read.

Quick review: The Little Drummer Girl (TV series)

In this article, I talk about The Little Drummer Girl, an adaptation of the 1983 novel of the same name by John Le Carré, a famous British spy novelist. It follows an actor, Charlie, thrown into the world of spies and deception, that she can’t escape without scarring her mind.

The Little Drummer Girl is an adaptation of the 1983 novel of the same name by John Le Carré, a famous British spy novelist. Some recent adaptations of his works include Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Film) and The Night Manager (TV series), both of which are very well crafted and brilliantly adapted. But something sets The Little Drummer Girl apart: the very subject of the story is the spies themselves. The mission is second to the psychology of the protagonists and what they have to go through to complete the mission¹.

 

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Charlie is a British actor. An more than that, she is the opportunity-of-a-lifetime for the Mossad to get to a Palestinian terrorist assassinating Israelis or “Zionists” across Europe. To get into the role, she has to become the life partner of the terrorist’s brother, without ever meeting him. She has to be so convincing in the role so that she survives all the obstacles to reach into the inner circle of the terrorist cell. She becomes so ingrained by the fiction that she has a hard time not falling into her own trap and becoming the enemy. Even the Mossad operatives can’t really tell whether she’s turning or remains loyal.

Directed by Park Chan-Wook, it’s superbly executed. I was particularly glad that he wasn’t showing off like he used to in his Korean productions². This time, he chose to be intimate with the characters, get very close to them, to capture all their emotions, to build empathy and make us feel like we’re in the story. Some POVs of Charlie are also perfectly timed, when she is talking to some influential characters, showing that they’re piercing into her shell. All those direction choices serve the story and the character without showing off.

So, I really loved that TV series. I really think it’s one of the best spy stories directed in recent years, on par with The Americans. I love a show that takes time to introduce their characters and build arcs so meaningful that you want to stay close to them until the end. I am so hooked now that I want to read the book, so I don’t have to leave them just yet.

The Little Drummer Girl is a 6-part TV series available on AMC/BBC One.

¹ The mission isn’t really special in the spy genre and goes pretty smoothly, considering how it affects the characters.

² I really love most of what he’s done in Korea, but to be honest, his art direction is often way over the top and unnecessary.

Quick review: Seveneves (Neil Stephenson)

In this review, I talk about Seveneves, a sci-fi novel by Neil Stephenson, about a cataclysm that makes humanity finds its survival in orbit, waiting to colonise the Earth again. Great story, burdened by too much technical jargon and an abrupt end that it’s just there begging to be continued.

I took time before writing this review. I was wondering if I was going to do it at all. See, I don’t have much time to talk about everything I read or watch, so I try to focus on the works that I really liked, that I can recommend. But I really don’t know what to think about Seveneves. It was so different from what I expected that I still don’t really know if I like it or not. It took me several months to make it to the end⁽¹⁾, just because I really didn’t see if there would be an end at all. And in a sense, there wasn’t.

The back cover says that it’s the story of people who lived in space for several thousands years while Earth recovered from a catastrophe, and were then trying to make it back to the surface. That sounded really interesting. Maybe they didn’t know, or didn’t remember, what happened to Earth and were about to find out while they make the first settlements.

But that’s actually not what it talks about. It starts now when the catastrophe happens, and humanity have two years to find a solutions to send as many people they can to orbit before Earth’s surface gets utterly destroyed by a several-thousand-year moon rain⁽²⁾. And that’s two thirds of the novel. The story advertised is only the last third, and feels so abrupt that it seems like there should be another book following. In some way, this end looks like the end of the Cryptonomicon, where the characters find the treasure and scene. But at least the “quest” of the heroes was finished. In Seveneves, they have just met a new civilization and it’s the conclusion? Seriously? I want to know more. How the fuck did they survive? It’s not explained. I want to know that. Also, right before the meeting, they were that close to going into war with their arch-enemies. How does that go? Is it over? Do they make peace?

I personally find that disappointing. Building up the suspense for 600 hundred pages, to end up on a cliffhanger. But if there is something you can’t take from Neil Stephenson, it’s that he really does his homework. And he really wants to show it off too. At some point it’s an overdose of technical details that are really hard to picture because no such devices or technologies currently exist. So it’s sometimes nauseous and other times plain boring, turning pages of technical details before any action happens… And I get it, it’s hard sci-fi, but does it have to be so much detailed to be categorised as such? If the technical side makes sense, then it’s hard sci-fi, whether it’s explained down to the atom or just enough to understand the concept.

And I really feel sad about this situation, because it’s a very good story but hundred of pages are just dedicated to technical jargon in a level of details that has little to no effect on the actual story. It’s just there for the author to show that he’s not making shit up⁽³⁾, when he could instead focus on detailing some element of story or characters.

So in the end, I really enjoyed the story. It’s really well thought of, with a nice bunch of well-explored characters, but all this is burdened by technical details that tend to make the book more boring than interesting. And the story’s end is so abrupt I’m still wondering if I wasn’t missing another hundred pages.

 

⁽¹⁾ It’s a 850-page novel, but still.

⁽²⁾ They call it the “Hard Rain”. Basically, an unknown event breaks the Moon down into several parts, that subsequently break down into smaller and smaller parts through collision until a million rocks surround the Earth and end up falling on the surface, burning everything. Shiny!

⁽³⁾ Well, he is making shit up though, since it’s science-fiction. It’s just a very-well-researched shit.

Quick review: Patriot (Amazon Prime)

Review of Patriot, an Amazon program where an American spy is tasked on an international mission and messes up at every steps because his depression always comes in the way. An original writing and interesting directing choices makes it a show well worth seeing.

With the release of the season 2 of Patriot (that I have thoroughly binge-watched this weekend), I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about this astonishing program that came well under the radar but is full of awesome ideas. It’s one of the best depictions of depression that I know, and you can’t fail to understand how the character thinks and feels after seeing it.

The story is about John Tavner, an American spy who is tasked by his boss (who is also his father) to give money to help the presidential campaign of an Iranian politician. To do that, he has to get hired under a fake identity in a construction company, and get sent to Luxembourg to meet a man who will in turn bring the money where it needs to go.

But John hate his job, although he can’t quit. Why, you might think? John feels his job is too important to be done wrong, or at least the job is more important than himself, and he has a duty to his father. So he has to do it. And he has to do things that makes him fall every time deeper in depression, especially when he messes up. And he messes up, a lot. Essentially because he is depressed. And nobody notices. NOBODY! Well, until his wife, to whom he can’t say a thing about his job, and his brother, start to see that he isn’t “pretty good”.

One interesting thing about the writing is the atmosphere that gets even more absurd as the story goes. The script doesn’t care about a specific credibility of events. The point is not to make the investigation or the situations realistic, or to have logical dialogues between background characters, but to show that John goes more into madness as he commits crimes. But somehow he retains some form of sanity, he has this drive to see his mission to the end, even if the absurdity of the situation overwhelms him completely. Will he see the light in the darkness? Will his wife come to save him from his mission and his father?

So, if you have some time to kill and a Prime subscription, I would really recommend seeing this series, especially if you like some dark humour. Plus the main actor is incredibly good.

Manga review: The Bride Was a Boy

Follow up on my manga review, here I talk about The Bride Was a Boy, by Chii, who tells us how she managed to find a boyfriend and marry him after she was raised as a boy. All the while explaining what a gender transition is.

As mentioned in my previous article, I will be dedicating a full page on The Bride Was a Boy, a Japanese comic book about a transgender woman, Chii (the author) who is finally getting married, despite all the obstacles that she had to overcome to make it possible. Obviously, being a transgender woman, I deeply relate to the author, even though I live in a country where such barriers don’t exist. We’ll get to that in a moment.

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At first, I was surprised by the title. “The Bride was a Boy” seemed like a weird way to make people understand that transgender women are women and where not actually boys, and I was genuinely scared that it would just make fun of us. But the author clears that up in the very first page: “The Bride was a Boy” is an oversimplification or, as she says “I was a boy, or at least, I looked like one”, and goes on to describe how her life unfolded from growing up as a boy in the eyes of society.

It is a personal account, and like any other personal account (see my review of First Year Out, by Sabrina Symington), the experience differs greatly from person to person. Chii makes a good case of pointing that out. Which is where her manga isn’t just a nice and funny account of a person’s life,

IT IS A PUBLIC SERVICE!

And I don’t mean it lightly. It’s very rare to read an author who wants to be as inclusive and comprehensive as it can, going beyond their own experience. To go into this, we need to look at the structure of the book. The story is divided in 9 chapters, each talking about a significant period in her life. Some overlap (hormone therapy and legal gender change, for example), but overall, it’s mostly chronological. And where this work isn’t just a life story and becomes actually educational, it’s in the fact that between every chapter, Chii explains a transition step or a an issue that can’t put into images because they are quite complex and she wants to make sure it is well understood by anyone who read it.

And it’s very accurate. Where the comic strips tell her life, the educational texts go into a lot of educational details (1), that are still explained in such a simple way anyone will understand, including, and especially, children. She also acknowledge where she lacks the knowledge to explain further, especially when something differs between countries. The most obvious example is the legal name change. She explains how it’s done in Japan, but she can’t possibly tell how other countries deal with it, since there is no two countries that share the same laws and regulations on the matter. But she explains all the important notions necessary to understand the situation for trans people, and she even cites scientific sources at the end of the book.

Finally, I should talk a bit about the art and the tone in itself, because not only it is a great romance in a super cute style,

IT’S ALSO SUPER FUNNY!

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The back cover cracked me up. That’s totally the kind of cute humour the story is full of.

It’s super refreshing. It is a love story that ends well about a transgender woman who gets married with her quirky and funny boyfriend who never at any point doubted she was a woman. Let me say that again.

IT’S A STORY ABOUT A TRANSGENDER WOMAN WHO LIVES A HAPPY LIFE.

And we need that. We need stories where it’s not just about being harassed, assaulted or killed, but where it is possible to actually be happy when and after transitioning. That we can have the same things than any other people, that it’s normal, and that no one comes to take it from us because they don’t like the idea of us.

So, I think you understand now that I totally recommend this book. Read it, give it to your friends and family, because it’s really a comic book for everyone. No question about it. Why are you even still here?

 

(1) She even go as far as talking about the DSM and the difference between Gender Identity Disorder and Gender Dysphoria, and why now GD is preferred by the scientific society but Japan still uses GID. She also points out that any information regarding medical regulation and laws on gender change are true in 2016 when the book is released but may change later.

Quick review of queer mangas

Review of two book: Claudine, a 1978 manga about a transgender man facing bullying; and My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, the true account of a young homosexual woman who had to face depression and social expectations.

After I saw a post on twitter about Claudine, a Japanese comic book about a transgender man that was supposedly very good (for its time), I set out to buy it, and added in my shopping cart a couple of other mangas dealing with LGBT issues: My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, and The Bride Was a Boy.

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So here are the reviews in the reading order.

Claudine, by Ryoko Ikeda:

Claudine is by far the weakest of the three. I was expecting a very powerful art work about trans issues, but instead, I got shallow characters, empty plot and a poor understanding of the subject. Now, it was made in 1978, and it is probably the reflection of the stereotypes of that time, but there are points in this book that make it really not interesting as a story.

And the biggest problem is the main character. He has no other definition than being transgender. We don’t know anything about him. The story is told from the accounts of his psychiatrist who, you’d think would talk about more things than just his struggle with gender identity. But we never know a single thing about Claudine but that she is from a rich family. I think it kills the story entirely, because it is impossible to relate to a character who’s just an empty shell. And the psychiatrist, who is ultimately the voice of the author, kills the whole open-mindedness by saying a very transphobic “Even a true man couldn’t love a woman so utterly” (1).

Then, the plot revolves almost uniquely around a girl who is in love with Claudine and sets out to sabotage every single relationship he (Claudine) has with other girls. And the whole story is like that. Claudine is rather passive. Things happen to her, it’s all about how people react to her, but not much how she reacts. She is like the MacGuffin of her own story.

I can’t really talk about the art form, because I am not used to the manga style, but I was surprised that Claudine was drawn in a very different style than the other characters. Maybe the author wanted him to stand out from the crowd, but for me, it just reinforces the MacGuffin effect, his shallowness, that he is not human, as opposed to all the other characters.

Finally, although there are some good ideas, the book, even by the 70’s standards, this story lacks character development, which was a real turn off to me. I couldn’t see a real person in Claudine, and it was a huge drawback in my opinion.

 

My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, by Nagata Kabi:

This book is a breath of fresh air. It’s powerful, moving and relatable. It’s not a graphic novel. It’s more like an illustrated essay. Every strip is narrated by the author, who tells her own story. A story of feeling like an outcast, because she doesn’t see herself in the expectations of others. And still she tries to meet these expectations, which drives her to be even more miserable, and not knowing why.

It is a powerful tale of getting to know yourself and the cause of your sickness, instead of finding ways to ignore it or inflicting physical pain to oneself to know why it hurts. It touched so close to home on so many occasion, I wanted to cry during most of the book. It’s quite surely a good read to anyone who faced depression and had a hard time recognising the cause, or to people who never had such an experience but would like to understand how oppressing and terrifying this situation is.

It is well crafted; although it’s a real story, the author makes the effort of giving it a pace and a structure, and every act offers to show a real change in her mindset and relationship with her illness (2) until she understands the cause and ultimately gets better by living the life that suits her, instead of trying to get her parents approval on everything (3). Her illustrations are really doing a good work of explaining how her depression worked and how she was feeling most of the time. I think that even someone who’s never had depression and doesn’t understand the concept can have a pretty good idea at how it must feel for people who are afflicted.

And of course, it’s also a story of a lesbian woman in a country that is still very conservative on sexuality, and who ultimately tries to be herself despite social barriers. Just read it people.

 

The Bride Was a Boy, by Chii:

I have a lot to say about this one, so here is a page dedicated to this review.

 

(1) Let’s hope it’s a translation mistake, which is totally possible, seeing how disastrous the translation is. Full of typos, grammar errors, inconsistencies, I had to read some lines several times to make sure I understood.

(2) I shouldn’t have to explain that, but in case anyone misinterpret what I wrote: her illness is not her homosexuality, obviously. It’s the depression that comes from the inability to recognise that she is homosexual and trying to fit into societal expectations.

(3) Yes, I’m spoiling the end, but that was that or killing herself. So since she is writing this book, we can only assume it’s not really a surprise. The whole point of the story is to see how she navigates her depression and heals.