Culture Consumption: March 2019

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

Books

It’s been another amazing reading month. I adored Gwendolyn Kiste’s The Rust Maidens, a stunning work of body horror in which young women begin to bodily reflect the decaying undertones of the city in which they live. Their bodies reflect the rust, marred concrete, and broken glass that surrounds them. Check out my full review for a more thorough description and the reasons I love this book.

Speaking of horror, The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes by Sara Tantlinger is a profound and chilling collection, which blend fact and supposition to relate the life and times of the man thought to be America’s first serial killer. The poems are visceral with a fascinating narrative arc. I was excited to have been able to recently interview Sara for the New Books in Poetry podcast, which should be available soon.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi is a stunning book of YA fantasy. Magic in Orïsha is gone, the maji long dead. Only their children remain, marked as outcasts by their silver hair. After a chance encounter with a rogue princess, Zélie learns that magic might have a chance to come back — if Zélie, her brother, and the princess can survive long enough to conduct an ancient ritual. The world building and setting is rich and fascinating, the characters are multi-layered, complex, and strong, and the story presents a compelling epic quest. I can’t wait to read the second book.

Old Man’s War by John Sclazi is the story of John Perry, who joins the Colonial Defense Force at the age of 75. He signs up, like many people his age, for a chance at a second youth and at seeing the universe beyond Earth. I’m not generally a fan of military SF, but I love the way this story is told. I dig how we as readers get to experience Perry’s growing astonishment as the weirdness he encounters out in the universe just keeps getting weirder — and more deadly. It’s a rollicking good story.

Books Read Last Month:
1. The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste
2. Old Man’s War by John Sclazi
3. The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes by Sara Tantlinger
4. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Total Books for the Year: 13

Still in Progress at the End of the Month: The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders and Books of Blood by Clive Barker

Short Stories & Poetry

Under the Sea of Stars” by Seanan McGuire (Lightspeed Magazine) – “We have traveled here, to this most innocuous of country landscapes, to make good on a promise made by my grandfather, Carlton Whitmore, to a girl he loved in his youth.”

3D Printed Brother” by Millie Ho (Strange Horizons) –

“Ma wouldn’t tell me anything,
but I knew. That inkblot bruise
on your belly—it bloomed like
a dying star.”

The Island of Beasts” by Carrie Vaughn (Nightmare Magazine) – “She was a bundle on the bottom of the skiff, tossed in with her skirt and petticoat tangled around her legs, hands bound behind her with a thin chain that also wrapped around her neck.”

The Afterlife Is a Room Full of Windows You Are Trying to Avoid” by Joanna C. Valente (Cotton Xenomorph) –

“In a bodega called Good Foods
on 5th & 41st, a butterfly fluttered around florescent
light as if it didn’t know

florescent lights are ugly

as if it didn’t know it wasn’t outside near
a real light”

Movies

As in previous years, I participated in March Around the World on Letterboxd, the aim of which is to watch 30 movies from 30 different countries in the month of March. I set up my plan with a mix of mainly horror, science fiction, and fantasy movies — and managed to watch 10 in total. Although I enjoyed most of the movies I watched, I’m not going to go into every single one. If you want to know about or discuss any of the other movies, let me know in the comments.

My favorite watch of the month was Traitors (2013). When Malika and her punk band Traitors is presented with an opportunity to make a demo tap, she will do anything to gather together the money required to pay for the recording sessions — even agreeing to drive for a local hash dealer, bringing her into a dangerous world from which she might not be able to escape. From its music, to its overall style, to its characters, this is a fantastically intense film, which is able to offer up ample amounts of anxiety without showcasing any violence. Malika is a badass — not in the “girl power, kicking ass sense, but because when she witnesses an unfairness for another, she takes action and is smart as hell how about how she does it.

Traitors (2013)
Traitors (2013)

The Judge (2017) is a fascinating documentary about Judge Kholoud Al-Faqih, the first woman appointed to a Shari’a court in Palestine and the Middle East. Its not an easy watch using a Western feminist lens, because the inequalities between women and men are clear. However, it provides insight into a court system that’s not well understood by many outside the culture. One of Kholoud’s ongoing concerns is that Shari’a law does in fact provide rights for women, but that women are not educated about these rights and therefore don’t know how to defend themselves when the law comes into question. I appreciated the viewpoint that the film revealed and seeing the faces of a number of women in Palestine who are working within the systems in place in order to try to gain equality within their community.

The-Judge-Kholoud at Desk
The Judge (2017)

Outside of my March challenge, I also watched Summer of ’84, in which a teen begins to belief that the friendly neighborhood cop might actually be a serial killer. Along with his group of other misfit friend, they work together to try to find clues to prove the theory. The movie is designed to specifically hit that 80s nostalgia feeling, which it does well. It features a slow build, with the search for clues feeling more like a game at first with only residual tension — but the ending… man, oh, man, the ending is brutal.

New-to-Me Movies Watched Last Month:
1. Traitors (2013, Morocco)
2. November (2017, Estonia)
3. Terrified / Aterrados (2017, Argentina)
4. Dark Waters (1993, Russia)
5. Bokeh (2017, Iceland)
6. Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion / Joshû 701-gô: Sasori (1973, Japan)
7. Mindfulness and Murder / Sop-mai-ngeap (2011, Thailand)
8. The Judge (documentary) (2017, Palestine)
9. mon mon mon MONSTERS / Guai guai guai guaiwu! (2017, Taiwan)
10. Tenebre (1882, Italy)
11. Summer of ’84 (2018)

Games

I’ve put down FF7 for the time being, putting most of my focus into Skyrim instead (as I mentioned last time two big RPGs is too much at once). I getting more into the groove into the game, building up my sneak and archery skills (which apparently is apparently a whole meme thing). I still seem to be accumulated quests far faster than I complete them and have somehow stumbled into joining the thieves guild, so, um, *shrug*, I guess this is my gaming life now.

I did take a break from Skyrim to play Oxenfree, a beautiful indie horror game from Night School Studio, in which you play a young women venturing out onto an island for a bonfire beach party — except the island is fully of secrets and something waits in the caves to be awakened. The game is narrative based, with the gameplay focused on exploration and dialog choices to drive the story, which is laced with depths of loss and grief. There’s a general sense of eeriness that begins as wonder and soon builds into dread as the game continues. The writing is stellar with believable characters that are all worth caring about — I wanted them all to just be okay in the end.

After finishing the story, I immediately started a second play through to see what other outcomes could be achieved. Due to the time-looping nature of the narrative, playing the game a second time is affected by the first play through. It’s cool to see that the main character remembers, getting a sense of déjà vu. The threat is more obtrusive and frightening as well.

Oxenfree
Oxenfree

Podcasts

I listen to copious amounts of podcasts each month, too many to list in their entirety, but here are a few standouts:

Switchblade Sisters is currently my favorite podcast and I’m working my way through every episode in the back catalog. Host April Wolfe offers smart, well-researched insights into both the film under discussion and the career of the filmmaker being interviewed. A couple episodes I particularly enjoyed are “The Matrix” with actress, writer, and director Vera Miao (ep. 37) and “What We Do In the Shadows” with “At Home with Amy Sedaris” producer Katie Tibaldi (ep. 71).

Writing Excuses #14.11, in which the group discusses writing Magic Without Rules, or magic that doesn’t meet logical scrutiny. Tons of awesome writing advice packed into a cool 20 minutes.

Scriptnotes #392, in which John August and Craig Mazen talk about the importance of The Final Moment in a movie and how to go about making it work — among other things.

In The Poetry Magazine Podcast, Fatimah Asghar reads her poem “Main Na Bhoolunga.” I appreciate the way this show includes both commentary from the poet and from the editors about what makes the poem works.

In the Darkness Dwells podcast, Episode 112, they talk about one of my favorite horror movies Raw and have an amazing conversation with Gwendolyn Kiste author of The Rust Maidens (which I loved).

Imaginary Worlds examined the life and work of Margaret Brundage, the hottest pulp fiction magazine illustrator in the 1930s. It’s fascinating to learn how she changed illustration for genre magazines, and how her influence is still felt today.

The ladies of What’s Good Games interviewed God of War director Cory Barlog, in which they discuss the craft of making a games and reinventing The God of War.


That’s it for me! What are you reading? Watching? Loving right now?


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