Culture Consumption: August 2018

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, and games. 🙂

Books

The Changeling by Victor LaValleThe Changeling by Victor LaValle is a powerful novel, presenting a variety of horror, both mundane and supernatural, a mix of folklore and familial love and violence. Apollo Kagwa is a book man, tracking down rare first editions to make his living. When he falls in love with Emma and they have a son together, he is determined to be a better father than the man who abandoned him when he was young. But Emma begins acting in strange and unsettling ways, building to a terrible act before vanishing — and Apollo’s world is spun out of control.

What makes the horrors of this novel work so effectively is how rooted the story is in normal, everyday life before slowly gathering in strange moments one-by-one. It’s beautifully evoked, layering in the anxieties of fatherhood and dealing with racism and the ways we fail to be compassionate to loved ones when things are hard and the male ego and so much more — all combined with its undertones of folklore. The worst horrors are not always of the supernatural kind, and this story parallels them well — making for a frightening and deeply moving tale.

This is the second book by LaValle that I’ve read (the first being The Ballad of Black Tom) and I’m itching to read more of his work.

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Culture Consumption: June 2018

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, and games.

Books

All Systems Red-Martha WellsMartha Wells’ novella All Systems Red presents the diaries of a company-supplied security android designed to provide protection for survey teams exploring planets for possible resources. Murderbot, as it calls itself, just wants to be left alone to watch hours of vids in peace. But when another survey team mysteriously goes silent, it has to work with it’s team of clients to discover the truth before they’re all killed.

I loved this book. Murderbot is cynical about humans and the world in general, an attitude that is totally understandable given its circumstances and understanding of the universe. But the team of scientists he’s assigned to give him a broader perspective on humanity, showing him people who are able to work together with compassion and intelligence — such considerations they show not just to each other but to Murderbot itself, as they continue to work with and rely on it. It’s so wonderful to read a story that centers people who are good to each other. Plus, the action is intense, making this short and rapid read.

I also completed Wonderbook, Jeff Vandermeer’s massive tome containing a beautifully illustrated toolboox for writers of fantastical fiction (which I wrote about here).

And I read through the 2018 Rhysling Anthology, which essentially acts as a voters packet for the Rhysling Awards. It’s a fantastic overview of the best short and long form speculative poetry from the previous year, as nominated by members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry association, showcasing a wide array of poetic voices, styles, and forms.

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Culture Consumption: May 2018

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, and games.

Books

It’s been a fantastic reading month for me — both in terms of sheer numbers as well as a multitude of books that I loved. Most notably was my delve into the works of manga artist and writer Junji Ito, including Uzumaki, Gyo, and the Shiver collection of short stories. As I mentioned in a previous post, Ito is a master of weird, cosmic, and body horror (sometimes all at once). It’s beautiful, disturbing, wonderful work.

The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-GarciaI was also delighted by The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Love, deception, and etiquette are a the center of this story in which a young women travels to the city of Loisail for her first Grand Season. The aim of her trip is to mingle with the Beautiful Ones who make up the wealthy high society in the city in the hopes that she’ll find a suitable husband. Unfortunately, her manner and her telekinetic abilities make her a target for gossip. When she meets telekinetic performer Hector Auvray, she thinks she’s found the kind of love one reads about in books — but learns that no one is what the seem in Loisail.

This is a charming fantasy of manners, full of polite but cruel society and wonderful explorations of the people who live in it. I have so far bought and read three of Moreno-Garcia’s books and I have loved all three of them. The Beautiful Ones was no exception, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

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Culture Consumption: April 2018

Here’s my month in books, movies, television, and games.

Books

Orphaned Lewis Barnavelt is sent to live with his oddball, wizard uncle in a strange mansion with a next door neighbor who’s a witch. Everything is cheerfully weird until Lewis learns about the clock in the walls, always ticking away with a subtle, persistent malice. I didn’t know about this book series until I saw the trailer for the forthcoming movie (which looks like it will be quite fun), and I’m so glad I picked it up. The reality of living in a home with a clock ticking down to … something is wonderfully haunting and creepy. And yet, the story maintains a joy for magic and youthful discovery. Also, finding out that the book includes illustrations by Edward Gorey was a bonus delight.

The trailer looks like the movie could be a fun adaptation.

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Culture Consumption: March 2018

Here’s my month in books, movies, and television.

Books

Danielle Cain (a “queer punk rock traveller”) is looking for answers regarding her friend’s death, which leads her to Freedom, Iowa — a squatter town that professes to be a utopia. However, something’s wrong in down, and it’s not just the heartless animal life wandering around as though they aren’t really dead. I freaking love The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion — which I grabbed off the shelf because of its amazing title and strange eerie cover. It’s strange and surprising, while offering a variety of interesting, believable characters. I just sort of clutched it to my chest when it was over, wanting so much more of these people and this world.

Another great read over the course of the month was Nalo Hopkinson’s collection of stories, Falling in Love with Hominids. fantastic collection of stories from Hopkinson, showing the depth and range in her skill as a writer. The stories in this collection are strange, beautiful, and often unsettling. The opening story, “The Easthound,” begins with kids playing word games against an apocalyptic backdrop (a sweetspot for me). Beginning with this playful banter, the story grows more and more tense as we learn what the source of the apocalypse is. Meanwhile, “Emily Breakfast,” presents a lovely domestic normalcy, involving picking homegrown spinach, tending to the chickens — although it’s a normalcy that includes cats with wings and other animal deviations. “Blushing” is a completely terrifying Bluebeard retelling. And there are many more tales in this collection that are equally worth exploring.

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Culture Consumption: February 2018

Here’s my month in books, movies, and television.

Books

As I already mentioned, I adored Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi, which is a stunning book of gods and bodies and fractured minds. The writing is stunning, and I highly recommend picking up this book. I’m planning to read everything I can from this author from here on out.

The Night Masquerade by Nnedi OkoraforAnother great read was Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor. This is a powerful conclusion to the trilogy, which had me crying in front of strangers on several occasions. The trilogy has been imaginative and moving from start to finish. I love Binti as a character in every way and she grows more and more strong and interesting with each book. I’m sad that the series has ended, because I could always read more Binti.

I also did a reread of Stephen King’s Wizard and Glass, the fourth book in The Dark Tower series — which I already wrote over 2,000 words on, but I’ll just say that it was fun to return to the story of Roland’s youth and I’m excited to pick up the next book in the series (new territory for me).

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Culture Consumption: November & December 2017

Hi, all. Hope you’ve had a good November. Here’s my month in books, movies, and television.

Books

Tipping the VelvetTipping the Velvet presents the life and times of Nancy Astly, an oyster girl, who falls in love with male impersonator Kitty Butler. After forming a friendship with Kitty, she follows her into the theaters of London, where she works as a dresser (helping Kitty with costumes) before becoming a performer herself. This beautifully told story is a sensual exploration of love and the ability of gender roles. Waters is a master of historical fiction and I loved this almost as much as I loved Fingersmith.

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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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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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Watching and Reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

I read Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, the story of two very different and contrary magician who bring magic back to England in the early 1800s, years ago. It blew me away with its wit and complex magical world building, mixing actually historical events with invented ones. So, of course, I was unable to contain my squee when I learned that the BBC was going to make a mini-series of the book. The trailers were fantastic, which just added to my glee.

I gathered together with friends over a series of Saturday nights to watch. I was not disappointed.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

One of the most important things for me was that the adaptation capture the qualities of the two main characters — Strange and Norrell — both intelligent, flawed and arrogant in their own way. Eddie Marsan is particularly fantastic Norrell, capturing the shrinking, shrewd, hoarding qualities of the character. Sometimes he appears rat-like in his fussy white wig, which is exactly how I imagined the character. Bertie Carvel is also wonderful in his role as Strange, revealing the arrogance and flightiness behind the handsome face and charm.

There are also a ton of side characters from the book and the mini-series does a good job of trying to cover them all and tell each of their stories despite the limitations of TV screen time. Not every portrayal was perfect (Childermass could have been more foreboding and the Gentleman with the thistledown hair could have hair that was more like thistledown), but most were handled well.

Strange on the King's Roads
Strange on the King’s Roads.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a rather large book (800+ pages if I remember correctly) representing a story that spans many years and, thus, it must have been a difficult book to adapt. Although the mini-series was seven episodes long, I could easily imagine a version that was ten or more episodes long and that’s without including all the footnotes with additional stories that could never make it on screen.

The writers did an excellent job distilling as much of the plot as possible, merging scenes and characters in some places, removing others where they needed to, while maintaining the clarity of the storyline as much as possible. Of all the seven episodes, I was only confused once when several story points were tightened up into a ten minute span (or so). I noticed they changed Strange’s character and his relationship to his wife some, making him a more romantic figure and their story more of a romance than the book portrayed. I suppose this makes sense, as it makes Strange more sympathetic and the magicians more heroic during the final battle.

The changes didn’t bother me, partly because it had been so long since I read the book I didn’t remember many of the details. But even so, any annoyances would have been minor, as on the whole watching Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was great fun.

(Although one of my favorite moments in watching was listening to my friend rant about the absurdity of men’s pants in that time period. I wish I could remember half of the things she said, so I could quote them here.)


“Can a magician kill a man by magic?” Lord Wellington asked Strange. Strange frowned. He seemed to dislike the question. “I suppose a magician might,” he admitted, “but a gentleman never would.”

Of course, as soon as I finished the mini-series, I knew I needed to reread the book so that I could become reacquainted with all that I had forgotten and was left out of the mini-series — most notably the footnotes. So, I listened to the novel on the audio book performed by Simon Prebble, who was fantastic.

There is SOOOOOO much that the mini-series left out (one of my favorite footnotes was the story of the statue of the Virgin Mary brought to life to catch a murderer). The story is rich with humor and interesting side stories. Stephen Black’s character in particular is much fuller and more interesting in the novel, as he is a well educated black man, working as a servant in a country that will never see him as anything more than a novelty. There are also subtle and not-so-subtle references the uncomfortable restrictions of women’s roles.

Clarke has created an amazingly rich historical world, full of imaginary books and complex magical histories, poetry and prophecies. I was dazzled all over again by how great her writing and wit and storytelling is. Although the miniseries is fun and wonderful and everything it should be, it’s nothing to the extent of awesome that is the book (no surprise, I’m sure, to most readers). This is to say, if you haven’t read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell yet, you most definitely should.

“There is nothing else in magic but the wild thought of the bird as it casts itself into the void. There is no creature upon the earth with such potential for magic. Even the least of them may fly straight out of this world and come by chance to the Other Lands. Where does the wind come from that blows upon your face, that fans the pages of your book? Where the harum-scarum magic of small wild creatures meets the magic of Man, where the language of the wind and the rain and the trees can be understood, there we will find the Raven King.”

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