In a land-locked galaxy that tunnels through our own, the Entire is a bizarre and seductive mix of long-lived quasi-human and alien beings gathered under a sky of fire, called the bright. A land of wonders, the Entire is sustained by monumental storm walls and an exotic, never-ending river. Over all, the elegant and cruel Tarig rule supreme. Into this rich milieu is thrust Titus Quinn, former star pilot, bereft of his beloved wife and daughter who are assumed dead by everyone on earth except Quinn. Believing them trapped in a parallel universe – one where he himself may have been imprisoned – he returns to the Entire without resources, language, or his memories of that former life. He is assisted by Anzi, a woman of the Chalin people, a Chinese culture copied from our own universe and transformed by the kingdom of the bright. Learning of his daughter’s dreadful slavery, Quinn swears to free her. To do so, he must cross the unimaginable distances of the Entire in disguise, for the Tarig are lying in wait for him. As Quinn’s memories return, he discovers why. Quinn’s goal is to penetrate the exotic culture of the Entire – to the heart of Tarig power, the fabulous city of the Ascendancy, to steal the key to his family’s redemption. But will his daughter and wife welcome rescue? Ten years of brutality have forced compromises on everyone. What Quinn will learn to his dismay is what his own choices were, long ago, in the Universe Entire. He will also discover why a fearful multiverse destiny is converging on him and what he must sacrifice to oppose the coming storm.
Bright of the Sky is a soft sci-fi novel that can be roughly summarized as HELLO MY NAME IS KAY KENYON AND I AM A RACIST ORIENTALIST COCKWAD OF THE HIGHEST ORDER, NICE TO MEET YOU, CHINKS!
Now that we’ve got that out of the way.
Note: this review is going to be incoherent, because it’s cobbled together by referring to and copy-pasting an old review I did years ago and giving the epub a quick skimming. I’m very positive about the racism, however.
The plot, insofar as one can be determined to exist, goes: Titus Quinn, our hero, went to this other universe once and came back without his memory or his family. His daughter and wife are trapped–or dead–over there. Due to temporal differences, he was there for ten years, but on Earth he’s been gone only for some two years. Nobody believed his story, of course, until one day the Evil Corporation that employs him suddenly does and coaxes him back into returning to the other universe–the Entire–and thus begins a 400-pages long saga, each page more atrocious and racist than the last, until it spins into some kind of racist marathon blackhole in which all intelligence and self-awareness go to die.
Apart from having a stupid name that makes even a WH40K Space Marine’s look just fine, Quinn doesn’t have a likable bone in his body. He is meant to be a grown man, but acts like a resentful teenager; he is meant to be a genius, having scored high on future!Earth’s version of the SAT (lol), but acts like any straight white middle-class dudebro of unremarkable intelligence, education, and personality. In essence he’s the kind of character a straight white middle-class dudebro will identify with easily, and who can act as a template for such a reader in transmuting a hypersomniac text into a cheap wish-fulfillment thrill–complete with a hilarious neo-colonialist sense of entitlement and racism to go with it all. Because, you see, in the Entire there’s a culture of… alien things, or whatever, who decided they would wear human forms and, in the process, appropriate Chinese culture for their own use. When I say “Chinese,” though, I really mean “Chinese as an especially ignorant white person imagines it” and when I say Kay Kenyon did her research, I really mean “she watched Mulan once and read Terry Prachett’s Interesting Times.”
So, these alien-things. They call themselves the Chalin, model their culture, dress and mode of thought after China including their bureaucratic system, Confucianism, the nine yards. And yet, the Chalin scholars we do meet in the book devote their time variously to medieval European history, European geography, the studies of Latin and English. None of them seems especially interested in Chinese dynasties, different subcultures within China–it’s a fucking big country, you know?–or any other part of Asia because hey, if it’s not in the west it’s all the same, right? Yellow people with slanted eyes who worship the Buddha? Oh, and they don’t actually look Chinese either: Titus Quinn is very alarmed to see folks in Chinese dress whose eyes don’t have “epicanthic fold” because god knows every single Chinese person possesses that particular feature.
In case you think I was being serious: no.
Kenyon’s future!Earth is notably pale. Every character who appears on the pages is a uniform, homogeneous hue of pallid. The States is the heart of Earth, every other nation barely exists, and the American way of thought–and history, and trivia–is so pervasive that one of the Entire aliens, a Tarig lord, quotes Lincoln because hey, there have never been anyone in history that’s worth quoting who wasn’t a Yank. FUCK YEAH AMERICA, GLORY TO THE LAND OF THE FREE. Fittingly, though this future!America has an intellectual elite class of “savvy”–of which Titus Quinn is one–none of the “savvies” who appears on page ever exhibits any suggestion that they are smarter, more charismatic, or anything but painfully average. Which is a fun thing to contemplate if you think about it: in typical, embarrassing ethnocentric Ugly American fashion Kenyon has posited her small-minded, backward view as objective fact in her fiction… and yet, all she has managed to do is portray the States as nothing more than a cliche, a corporate state run by dull, small-minded, and embarrassingly average people.
I think Kenyon might have tried to do something with class issues, because in her version of future!Earth, people are discriminated based on their Standard Test results. Those who don’t quite make it “live on the dole,” which provides virtual entertainment, food, warmth, standards of living, etcetera. Supposedly this is a Very Bad Thing. A living hell, one of the corporate genius scientists calls it. I didn’t see why on the first page of the book. By the time I reached the last, I still didn’t see why. It’s an epic failure of self-awareness. These supposedly discriminated, underprivileged people are nothing more than today’s white middle class. They live in comfortable if not luxurious apartments, throw cocktail parties, drop millions of dollars on toy trains and they’re still fine. This, friends, is the very epitome of how a spoiled, sheltered white middle-class person might think. That her lot in life, or something comparable to it, is just not enough and that she suffers, how she suffers. I bet Kenyon gets sad if she goes a day without several glasses of Starbucks.
Titus Quinn, upon arrival in the Entire, is slapped with culture shock but not to worry: the natives are there to help. He puts his concerns before everything else, and curiously everyone else flocks to give him assistance. Does he endanger an entire world, an entire culture? That’s fine, he’s more worried about his dead wife. People who help him risk disgrace, death, or torture? Fuck every single one of them, his little girl is more important. Someone asks him to wait and have a little patience? He flails and throws tantrums until he gets his way. Acts like a dick, treated like a messiah whom everybody bends over backward to service–and we are never given a compelling reason as to why. Again, as I’ve pointed out, he’s meant to be stunningly intelligent but… isn’t. This is what happens when a painfully average person tries to write a genius.
Yes, if you’re wondering, this is essentially very like James Cameron’s Avatar, but with fake Chinese instead of fake Native American analogues. And yes, yes, it’s racist as fuck. Titus Quinn is like Jake Sully is like Nathan Algren is like John Smith. Nobody has any life of their own except one that revolves around Titus Quinn. The Tarig–supreme overlords of the Entire, powerful beyond imagining, each superhumanly strong and agile, all advanced far beyond human technology–are scared witless of him. One of them loses to him in one-on-one unarmed combat. Twice. He gets to fuck a Tarig lady, whose vagina can just barely accommodate his mighty girth (shades of disturbing “white cock can’t fit into tiny Asian pussy” fantasies here, and possibly “Asian dicks small so Asian women love white cock” too):
They lay on a shining bed, lit from above. Lit from a sky window, releasing the bright over their naked bodies. As he moved, she matched him, angle for angle, curve for curve, keeping contact along the lengths of their bodies, although she was taller than he. She was supple, curious, inexhaustible. He had vowed to stay away from her, and had succeeded for a long while. But eventually, he went to her suite. She rushed to meet him. She could not fully accept him into her, because the divide between her legs was small. Over time this became irrelevant.
Why a completely non-human alien might have anatomy compatible with Titus’, or why one of their females might want to fuck him, is anyone’s guess. But hey, white cock is the mightiest cock, yo.
With a careless tone Ci Dehai murmured, “An immortal must forget, or carry a heavy load.” He looked at Quinn, well aware that his student was not of the Entire. For these practices Quinn had been told to take out his eye lenses since their imperfections hampered his training. But Cl Dehai was calling him to be of the Entire, at least in combat.
Quinn got up, slapping the dust from his pants. “Maybe forgetting is a Chalin failing.” If you forgot who you were, how could you care enough to go on?
You see, when you are being taught someone else’s culture, the foremost thing to do is to be an ass and tell them something they do or believe is virtuous is a failing. For that matter it pisses me off that most of the Chalin talk like fucking fortune cookies, again no doubt in a manner Kenyon believes is authentic to ~Chinese sages and martial artists~ or some shit because:
His Chalin teacher said, “You have too much passion. Find the river, Dal Shen, and it will carry you.” He summoned Quinn, palms up, fingers beckoning.
Fuck off. No actually:
FUCK OFF KAY KENYON YOU ORIENTALIST FUCKWAD
SHUT UP FOREVER JUST SHUT UP
You can see glimpses of good ideas and alien mindsets, but most of it is filtered through the white gaze both through the author and intra-text viewpoint. Titus Quinn assumes his ways are better just because: that the western concept of individuality and defiance and American impatience must, by default, be superior to the meticulous manners, formality and ponderousness of the Entire. And the book supports it. He bulls his way through everything, and things happen for him. In one argument flat he convinces a conservative ruler to see things his way. With a little sneaking, he bluffs and pushes his way through Chalin bureaucracy and gets his scheme approved. People flock to help him because of his past deeds or because of some innate goodness that shines through his eyes (actually the way a Chalin general thinks of him). As in any other identikit Mighty Whitey fantasies, this is a fantasy where the white man is worshiped, honored, and deferred to for no other reason than that he is white: certainly Titus Quinn has no apparent merits, regardless of past events alluded to by the narrative that suggests he was this badass rebel something who struck fear in the heart of the powerful and was a hero or s;kljhs;hkjj I don’t care.
It’s not that the writing is any good, either. Much of the dialogue consists of the proverbial “‘I agree,’ he agreed, nodding his head (he did not nod his shoulder, his wrist, or any other part; no, he nodded his head) in agreement” redundancy. Just in case you don’t get that he’s agreeing.
The cover is pretty, though. Hooray.