Essays    Reportage    Marginalia    Interviews    Poetry    Fiction    Videos    Everything   
Keeping Tabs: Heroine Complex

Cixin Liu on first contact, Viet Thanh Nguyen on Thanksgiving, the future of Mission Chinese, and new fiction from Rachel Khong.


Last week we entered the depth of darkness in the scope of society and politics, pulling up all the moodiness and frustration of the season. In addressing at least some of that hell, we’ve come to a clear mindset in which to talk about this week’s theme: heroes.

We’re not exactly talking capes and laser vision (nor are we going to discuss Justice League). Think more so in terms of protagonists and the structures surrounding them. Who tells the story? Who’s the hero? And why do we need one? Dayna Evans profiles chef Angela Dimayuga on her new moves and Mia Nakaji Monnier talks to Sarah Kuhn on her first novel, Heroine Complex.


If a Tree Falls in a Forest by Rachel Khong

For Buzzfeed’s new “Dark Times” folio focused on capturing the absurdity of today, writer Rachel Khong does just that in this fast-paced short story. A cringe-worthy appearance on YouTube and frequent thoughts on a former marriage barrage an unnamed narrator amid the background of San Francisco tech.

Occasionally I still see him around the city with his wife. We’re friendly. But his wife — let’s call her Pamela — doesn’t like me, I can tell. Seeing me reminds her that her husband — let’s call him Matt — had an Asian girlfriend before her. I wouldn’t like it, either. Seeing me, I think, reminds her that maybe how we look is just what he’s into — that we might belong to a type. That, if not her, he’d be with someone else like her.

There were many acceptable reasons to flee the city, in my view: running into my ex Harry; having an unsettling encounter; a YouTube video of me going viral. It was high time. I got into my car, a junky little Nissan hatchback that was at home up in West County and stood out against the Minis and Teslas in San Francisco, and opened the garage door by saying, “You little piece of shit.”


Sarah Kuhn’s Superhero Books are a Beacon for Women of Color Seeking Community by Mia Nakaji Monnier

Ok so maybe we can talk about one bonafide superhero situation: author Sarah Kuhn’s first novel questions all the behind the scenes involved for the superhero. Who does their laundry? How do they handle the minutiae of their brand? Kuhn talks on her new book as well as her love of romantic fiction.

During a time of rampant and high-profile whitewashing, particularly in fantasy and sci-fi (see Ghost in the Shell), Kuhn’s trilogy-in-progress lets Asian American women, including mixed-race ones like us, have the spotlight, not as sidekicks or girlfriends but as main characters, literally heroes, and more importantly, ones allowed to be flawed — selfish, stubborn, sensitive — and happy.


What Happens if China Makes First Contact? by Ross Andersen

The space race never ends when the finish line is moved back—this time in the hopes of making contact with extraterrestrial life. While America’s taken a step back on it, China moves full force ahead. Woven through with conversations with Chinese science-fiction writer, Liu Cixin, this piece tackles everything about the very idea of communication with whatever is out there and what it would mean for China to win that victory over America.

Liu Cixin told me he doubts the dish will find one. In a dark-forest cosmos like the one he imagines, no civilization would ever send a beacon unless it were a “death monument,” a powerful broadcast announcing the sender’s impending extinction. If a civilization were about to be invaded by another, or incinerated by a gamma-ray burst, or killed off by some other natural cause, it might use the last of its energy reserves to beam out a dying cry to the most life-friendly planets in its vicinity.

Angela Dimayuga Is Here From the Future to Save Us All by Dayna Evans

Angela Dimayuga had been working at Mission Chinese Food for five years when her Instagram response to a writer from Ivanka Trump’s website went viral. In a neatly written email, the extremely talented young chef made a mark as someone uninterested in pretending for anyone. But this has always been the case; Dimayuga has always been somebody forging her own path with clarity and distinction. She’s also just plain cool, and if she’s not your personal hero, she should be.

Jean Adamson, chef and owner of Vinegar Hill House and Vinegar Hill House Foods, was introduced to Dimayuga just as she was starting out. “I don’t think we talked much about food that day,” Adamson said of the first time they met. “We talked about music and design and things that we were interested in.” At that point, Dimayuga’s plan was to stay in New York for a year, then move to Japan to teach English. But she ended up working the line at Vinegar Hill for three years — “We called her Toots,” Adamson said, though she couldn’t remember why, exactly — went to what Dimayuga called “weird parties” after shifts, then left for a six-month sabbatical, part of which she spent bicycling through Vietnam. When she got back to New York over the holidays in 2011, she was itching to find a new job.


Feeling Conflicted on Thanksgiving by Viet Thanh Nguyen

When we think about the idea of heros, we should also take notice that nobody thinks that they’re villain. Enter the Thanksgiving conundrum: marking a national holiday on loose mythic relationships between Native Americans and early Pilgrim colonizers, disregarding the tense historical background of that relationship and the genocide of Native peoples. This is the stage on which acclaimed author Viet Thanh Nguyen begins to discuss his conflicted feelings about Thanksgiving and American identity.

“Do you know what Thanksgiving means?” I asked him.

“Yes.” He thought about the word I had taught him. “Genocide!”

Some American readers will condemn me for being a politically correct killjoy. Other readers are thinking: “Go back to Vietnam. And take your son with you.” Please refrain from sending me your letters. I already have plenty like them and don’t need any more, thank you.