Friday, October 12, 2018

Ellen Goodlett

Ellen Goodlett writes science fiction because otherwise she would spend her days plotting to take over the world. She figures that the former would benefit humanity ever so slightly more than the latter (which would be disastrous and involve a lot of cats in government positions). She lives in New York City with two demons masquerading as felines. She is a proud graduate of Bryn Mawr College and a Pittsburgh expat.

Goodlett's new novel is Rule.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I try to read a little bit of everything, not just any one genre. My personal favorites are young adult (of course, since that’s what I write), science fiction, and memoir. But recently I’ve been on a creative nonfiction kick, as well as trying to catch up on all the new and great titles coming out in the young adult world lately.

Since I read so much, I’ll try to stick to just the couple of titles that have really stuck out to me, of the ones I’ve read this year. When it comes to nonfiction, the one that blew my mind is Homo Deus. It’s not just the big, trippy concepts that the author, Yuval Noah Harari, is confronting, either (ideas like the future of humanity, the terrifying knife’s edge we’re balanced on when it comes to AI, and how we got to this point of civilization in the first place). What struck me more is the way Harari writes about mankind—with a bird’s-eye view, as though he’s somehow managed to zoom his focus out to the point where humanity is just a concept on paper, one he can easily trace and parse and dissect to understand it.

I envy his ability to write about complex, difficult topics with both a remote remove and deep empathy at the same time. He doesn’t dismiss or trivialize the struggles people face every day. Nor does he offer trite placations. He just assesses where we stand as a species, and all the good, bad and horrible things we’ve done to reach this point, and the good, bad and horrible things we may do in the future to maintain our notion of superiority as a species. It’s the kind of perspective that I think all writers strive for—the ability to tell a story as the narrator, removed from the characters, and yet to paint those characters in all their three-dimensional, messy truth.

When it comes to fiction, in the adult realm, I just finished The Shadowed Sun, the second book in the Dreamblood series, a duology from N.K. Jemisin. She’s undoubtedly one of the best SFF writers working today (as evidenced by all three of the novels in her Broken Earth trilogy winning the Hugo in each consecutive year, among many other awards), and I love all of her other novels. The Shadowed Sun, though, felt like her most complex yet. This whole series addresses cultures—how they’re built, how they define themselves, and how religious devotion to a god can unite that culture.

Funnily enough, in Homo Deus and its prequel Sapiens, Harari posits that humanity has reached the point where we are today because of our ability to build religious structures—to convince people to sacrifice their work, even their lives, to a greater being. Whether or not that being exists, it’s the sacrifice of individuals to the group that make us strong. Jemisin’s Dreamblood series feels like the fictional examination of that concept—among many others. She also touches on interracial relations, prejudices, how your culture affects your view of the world—and how interacting with or colliding with other cultures can change or broaden your perspective. That’s something I think we could all benefit from reading in more depth nowadays.

And finally, when it comes to the YA world right now—god, there are so many fantastic new books out this year, it’s hard to narrow it down to just the highlights. I want to talk about Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation, and Claire LeGrand’s Furyborn, and Meredith Russo’s If I Was Your Girl. But I think I’ve got to go with the one that kept me up all night, literally. I started reading Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give on a redeye flight home to the East Coast from Ireland. It was an 8-hour flight. I figured I’d read a few chapters, then get a few hours of sleep and land back home with minimum jetlag.

Instead, I kept flipping pages all night long, and as the plane landed, I was still devouring the final chapters. I finished it on my train back to where I’m staying from the airport, and even then, it was difficult to put the story down. I started to flip back through to reread, to catch everything I missed. This book touches on so many important things—police violence, code-switching and all the guilt that may accompany it, deep community and family bonds, and what happens when those two are at odds. It also touches on subtler, less “obvious” (at least to some people) forms of racism that abound in modern society. I wish this book were required reading at schools everywhere, because I think it’s exactly what America—and the world, really—needs to be reading right now. It’s a study in cultural heritage, in empathy, in finding your voice and using it, even in the face of impossible odds.
Visit Ellen Goodlett's website.

My Book, The Movie: Rule.

The Page 69 Test: Rule.

--Marshal Zeringue