Nov 7 2017

Culture Consumption: September & October 2017

Fell a whole month behind and still moving slow, but here we go — presenting my last two months in books, movies, and television.

Books

The Stone Sky is a powerful conclusion to N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. Essun has grown into immense power and is determined to end the seasons (times in which the world tears itself apart), while her daughter, Nassun, with her own power and burdened by the memories of cruelty enacted on her and other orogenes, sets out to destroy the world for good. The character walk through an apocalyptic landscape of ash and cold, a world coming undone, each marching to their own destiny — and in the end a beautiful conclusion full of heartbreak, forgiveness, and ultimately love. The Broken Earth trilogy is brilliant from start to finish — one of my favorite reading experiences in recent years.

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter is a well loved collection, especially the title story “The Bloody Chamber.” People have been telling me about it for years — and now that I’ve read it, I totally understand why so many people love it. The story follows the Bluebeard fairy tale closely: a girl marries a rich man, who gives her the keys to the house telling her that she can open all the doors but one — a test she fails to nearly disastrous results. Carter takes the myth and brings it into the modern world (1970s, when it was first published) and provides more depth to the main character, giving her a history and motivation for the choices she makes. It presents servants that have personalities and her mother, who has fought in revolutions and can advice her over the telephone. The resulting story is at the same time grittily real and subtly magical.

One of my pet peeves about fairy tale retellings is that they often loose the magic when they are modernized. But all of the stories in Carter’s collection present similarly gritty and unsettling takes on old fairy tales, while not loosing that original weirdness and magic. It’s a fantastic collection.

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Nov 3 2017

Happy International Speculative Poetry Day!

I was delighted to learn that the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association (SFPA) “has designated November 3rd as International Speculative Poetry Day to bring attention to the genre of poetry influenced by science fiction, fantasy, horror and other imaginative genres.” This is the first time it’s been held and I’m stoked.

In honor of  International Speculative Poetry Day, here are a few of my favorite collections of speculative poetry.

Southern-Cryptozoology

Southern Cryptozoology: A Field Guide to Beasts of the Southern Wild by Allie Marini

Southern Cryptozoology has been twice nominated for the Elgin Award, which is no surprising to me because it’s one of my favorite poetry reads in the past few years. This collection presents a bestiary of strange, legendary creatures from the Southern parts of the U.S., examining what it means to be monster or human, beast or woman, myth or flesh. The lines are wildly spaces on the page, leaving gaps and holes where truths or secrets or double meanings might slip in. And I discover new things every time I pick up this book.

“A whole town: armed to the teeth,
arming themselves against my teeth.
She-cat of Bladenboro,
I’m here for your dogs,
your sheep, your sons, your blood.
You know who I am, boys.”

– from “The Beast of Bladenboro”
(wordpress likes to compress the spacing, but you canread the complete poem at Drunk Monkeys)

The Moment of Change

The Moment of Change: An Anthology of Feminist Speculative Poetry edited by Rose Lemberg

In this anthology, editor Rose Lemburg offers feminist speculative poetry from diverse perspectives. The quality and range of styles and stories these poems address make this a powerful collection of science fiction, myth, and folklore. (I did a longer review of this book in 2013.)

“Perfection is frictionless —
I need to stub my soul on yours,
I need to lick the slivers in your wounds.”

— from “In Defiance of Sleek-Armed Androids” by Lisa Bradley
.

“This is a story,
and it is true of all stories
that the sound when they slam shut
is like a key turning.”

— from “The Girl with Two Skins” by Catherynne M. Valente

Love in a Time of Robot Apocalypse

Love in a Time of Robot Apocalypse by David Pérez

David Pérez uses speculative imagery in his poems to explore the ways things fall apart at the most intimate levels and how was can pull the pieces together from the chaos. There are poems in this book, like “Tickle Me Elmo on Black Friday,” that haunt me; I’ll be minding my own business and then wham, I’m thinking about them all over again.

“Sarah,
Why bother saving us
when you have fewer scars from machines
than you do from the men who made them?
You don’t have to answer that.”

– from “To the Lady who Carves a Notch in Her M-16 for Every Robot She Leaves Charred and Perforated in the Ruins of Los Angeles”
(here’s a video of Pérez reading the poem)

Transformations

Transformations by Anne Sexton

Anne Sexton’s Transformations presents retellings of classic fairy tales. The poems bring a unsettling, raw beauty to the original tales, while also being darkly humorous.

“No matter what life you lead
the virgin is a lovely number:
cheeks as fragile as cigarette paper,
arms and legs made of Limoges,
lips like Vin Du Rhône,
rolling her china-blue doll eyes
open and shut.”

— from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”
(read the whole poem)

God Went to Beautyf School

God Went to Beauty School by Cynthia Rylant

God Went to Beauty School is a collection of YA poetry that envisions God trying out life on Earth. God goes shopping, gets a job, gets cable, explores all the mundanities of human life — and it’s deeply enchanting.

“He got into nails, of course,
because He’d always loved
hands–
hands were some of the best things
He’d ever done

– from the title poem “God Went to Beauty School”
(read the whole poem)

A few other great reads: Drink by Laura Madeline Wiseman; Shopping After the Apocalypse by Jessie Carty; Sharp Teeth (a novel in poems) by Toby Barlow; and Eating in the Underworld by Rachel Zucker



Sep 20 2017

The Drawing of the Three – Returning to The Dark Tower, Part II

Here’s Part I of my journey through Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. These are my thoughts on rereading The Drawing of the Three, the second book in the series — and as such, there may be spoilers ahead.

Drawing of three-1The Drawing of the Three opens precisely where the first book left off, with the gunslinger Roland alone, collapsed from exhaustion on the shore of a great ocean. As the tide rolls in, he is woken by the incoming tide (which douses his bullets) and is greeted with horrors that drag themselves out of the water. These lobstrocities with their strange questioning sounds attack him as he’s waking — and this attack, which happens in the first five pages, is brutal, leaving him catastrophically wounded.

Undeterred, Roland continues his long, plodding journey toward the Dark Tower. As walks up the beach, with infection from his injuries spreading, he discovers the first door, the first drawing.

In the first book, The Gunslinger, the man in black laid out Roland’s future using a form of tarot cards, presenting three cards in particular that represent the people he would need on his journey to the Dark Tower — The Prisoner, The Lady of Shadows, and Death (but not for the gunslinger). Each door represents one of these cards. When opened, the doors reveal our own world at different time periods, from where (and when) he must draw out the people destined to join him in pursuit of the Tower.

In the afterward to The Drawing of the Three, King wrote, “This longer second volume still leaves many questions unanswered, but I feel that it is a much more complete volume than the first.” And I am in agreement with this sentiment. I enjoyed my reread of The Drawing of the Three more than I did the first book. Where The Gunslinger felt a little disjointed, as though all the pieces didn’t quite fit together, The Drawing of the Three feels whole. The storyline is simple on the surface, with the gunslinger finding three doors and opening them, but each door presents it’s own complications in terms of how the gunslinger can obtain who and what he needs. As new companions are added to the story, things become increasingly character driven, with their flaws driving much of the conflict — as they tend to do in relationships. It makes for interesting character growth for all three of the main characters, and that growth more than anything else is what makes this such a great novel.

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Sep 11 2017

Culture Consumption: August 2017

Coming in a little late, here is my August in books, movies, and television.

Books

The Girl in the RoadWhen I picked up The Girl in the Road, I thought it was going to be an entirely different book than what it was.* Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the story about two very different women making long journeys, both escaping from danger (perceived or real), both looking for hope at the end of the road. One makes her journey as a young girl by sneaking aboard a truck crossing Africa, the other walks along the snakelike spine of the Trail, an energy generation system spanning from India to Ethiopia. This novel is richly textured, with complex characters and explorations of sex, self, and sanity. A great read (although I really didn’t understand the epilogue and if someone wants to explain it to me that would be awesome).
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Aug 25 2017

The Gunslinger – Returning to The Dark Tower, Part I

My love for Stephen King’s books began in high school. At least, that’s when my passion was at its highest peak, a time when I sought out every copy of his work I could find through book stories, libraries, and garage sales and read book after brick-thick book full of nightmares and horrors. Over the years I’ve read over 25 books by King, mostly the novels now considered classics published in the ’70s and ’80s along with several short story collections. I even dedicated a video poem to his work a few years ago to show my appreciation.

The Dark Tower: The GunslingerOf all the numerous King classics I’ve read, the book I held with most love in my memory was The Gunslinger, the first book in The Dark Tower series. I remember being hooked immediately by the opening sentence, “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” It seemed at the time the perfect opening sentence, setting the main characters into place upon the stage and presenting an immediate mystery as the reader wonders, Why? In fact, I loved that opening sentence so much, I memorized it and the line has often come to mind at random moments over the years.

I remember being blown away by the story, with the plodding gunslinger dragging himself through the desert, the man in black, the boy torn from another world. It leveled me and, although purely in a fantastical way, opened up new ways of perceiving the universe (or universes, as the case maybe). It became one of those books I clung to after reading, not wanting it to be over yet.
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