behind the desk it is easy to act normal. easy to embody a normal that is anchored by a hysterical irony — a sweet rubber mask brushed away to reveal some eldritch horror, laughing and saying what did you expect?

still, we guide people around, we move with a sure grace, we answer questions fast and fluently. people say thank you, thank you. the sheer ability gained by training is pleasant, pleasant just to be in and to do. walking is pleasant, moving, doing tasks, being an authority on anything. it is difficult to admit this pleasure.

we are angry, but we are not angry; we are vulnerable, but we are anything but vulnerable. if we caught the illness today we would not believe it. how could we? we have been perfect today, perfect. …


A stack of Toni Morrison’s novels in chronological order.
A stack of Toni Morrison’s novels in chronological order.

I just finished reading all of Toni Morrison’s novels, and I figured I’d give a personal ranking for anyone who’s never read her before, or has only picked up one or two of her books. Almost everything she ever wrote is gold, but a few of her best books have dropped out of popular knowledge (justice for Love and Tar Baby!), and most ranking lists of her books are clearly by people who haven’t read all of them and are going by reputation. So, if you want to find some hidden gems, try this list.

Morrison wrote 11 novels between 1970 and 2015; I’ve ranked them from ‘worst’ (a relative figure — it’s still Morrison) to best. …


An intriguing premise that falters in scope and ambition

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Credit: Repeater Books; https://johnnybull.uk/

AnIf you tried to deduce how many bisexuals were in the population solely off the number of books that specifically address bisexuality, you’d guess there were maybe 3. There are a few Bi 101 books marketed at teens and young adults, a small body of psychological and psychoanalytic literature, and a couple of notable books of essays from the 90s and 00s, such as Getting Bi (2005) and Bi Any Other Name (1991); I’ve also heard positive things about Shiri Eisner’s Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution (2013), though I haven’t gotten around to reading it myself yet. …


Happy Happy Gaming Fun Time: Thoughts on Fallout: New Vegas

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Credit: Gamescom 2010

i. Freedom

One of the things I love most about New Vegas is the way it subtly acclimatises you to certain mechanics, certain freedoms, then suddenly brings those taken-for-granted game elements into sharp relief by taking them away, or presenting them in a new light. HBomberguy talks about a more extreme and groundbreaking version of mechanics manipulation in his analysis of Pathologic; New Vegas does it in a more peripheral way, but I haven’t really seen it discussed and I think it’s brilliant.

In Dead Money, New Vegas’ first DLC, the game makes you start over from scratch. After becoming a pretty experienced player, gathering great armour and weapons, and becoming sentimentally attached to your particular selection of hard-won kit, you’re suddenly stripped of all your possessions, including weapons, armour and meds. Instantly, combat changes from a fun diversion to life and death. You’d probably forgotten at this point how much your armour does for you, until you take a shot to the torso and lose a third of your health in one go. Oh, and look, you don’t have the medicine that would usually heal you and fix your limbs. Your arm is fucked now. …


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Image credit: Endemol

It is the year 1984, and you are a depressed exile living under a totalitarian, repressive regime. Your friend slips you half of a banned book: it is clearly 1984, although you, of course, do not know the title. To protect it, you cover it in a calendar page from your calendar, which is, of course, a 1984 calendar, for the year 1984, covering a book which is, coincidentally, set in a year that is also 1984.

You are a dazzled new employee working for G̶o̶o̶g̶l̶e a company whose name is G̶o̶o̶g̶l̶e not important. Your company does some vague impressive tech stuff, such as storing Cloud things in the Cloud, and doing some mass surveillance with the innovative approach of What If Cameras, But More. Isn’t this all very exciting? …


Like all self-respecting Twitter users, I do not like getting into legitimately controversial discussions. I like to keep pumping out the ever-faithful ‘trans good’, ‘leftism good’ and ‘capitalism bad’ takes, and to enjoy the lovely chorus I have built up of people who also believe that trans good, leftism good and/or capitalism bad. Unfortunately, I appear to have misplaced my good sense enough to get invested in an area of The Discourse where there are no winners, everyone’s mad at each other, and no matter where you tread, you’re probably treading on a landmine.

This explosive territory, which I mentally call Fourth-Order Queer Nightmare Discourse, involves talking about the complicated edge cases and difficult quandaries that pose inconvenient problems for our understanding of sexuality and gender, such as ‘can genderqueer people experience their attraction to men as gay and to women as gay’, or ‘can a person retain a monosexual identity if they remain in a relationship with a partner who transitions to a gender that conflicts with that identity’. These debates are often centred around lesbianism, mainly because ‘lesbian’ has the unusual status of both historically hosting a lot of very different and complicated people, both sexuality- and gender-wise, yet also historically hosting a principle of exclusion (male exclusion) very fiercely and centrally — even more so considering the long history of misogyny, male abuse and male oppression enforced onto lesbians. …


A luminous, complex debut

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Trans and non-binary characters are still rarely found in adult literary fiction, outside of the occasional offhand mention or plot device, but Andrea Lawlor’s debut Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl is now a welcome exception; its Picador reprint in 2019 has made it one of the few ‘trans novels’ to crack the bigger presses. Paul… is a playful, sexy, deeply thoughtful evocation of ’90s queer culture, featuring a shapeshifting protagonist who can change his body at will. …


A compelling idea let down by execution

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In 1996, we had Bridget Jones. In 2020, we have — what, exactly? A worldwide fascism epidemic; a faded #MeToo mug; a rolling prescription for SSRIs. It’s a strange time for a book heralded as ‘the black Bridget Jones’ to show up, and a strange tagline too, because the marketing around Carty-Williams’ much-anticipated debut cleaves closely to a much more recent trend of sharp, subversive, socially astute novels based around women in their mid-twenties. …


1

when i was 18, i thought i wanted a girlfriend.

in hindsight, i wasn’t trying to find a person or a relationship; i wanted to be baptised into queerness. to have someone give me the sign with their whole hand and say here, you can stop being scared.

here is sex. a locket. a latch to your people. a sentence you can say to stop them barring the door.

because i deeply feared that my queerness wasn’t real, every encounter became a test; a paranoid examination with wildly unfair parameters. of course i was not natural, of course i moved like a wrenched wooden doll. …


Yes, there are too many Oxbridge colleges on University Challenge. But that’s only a small symptom of the wider problem

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Image credit: Phil Fisk

Every year, as University Challenge gets into the swing of its newest season, two recurring questions start to pop up on social media and in the national press: a) why is this show all white dudes with RP accents? and b) why are half of the teams Oxbridge colleges? These are both good questions, and they’re definitely things that bother me — and I think they should bother you, if they don’t already. This is a show that’s meant to represent the UK student population, and it’s obvious that it’s not currently very representative. …

About

Dani Cugini

Contemporary literature graduate, quizzer and tired leftist.

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