Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, games, and podcasts.
Charlie Jane Anders is now an author whose books I will buy instantly and without hesitation. Her second novel, The City in the Middle of the Night, is about humanity striving to survive on a tidal locked planet, where the same side of the plant is always facing the sun. The humans who have left the mothership have developed ways to exist in the twilight, close enough to the day to garner some warmth without burning, far enough from the night to keep from freezing. In the city of Xiosphant, the people’s lives are strictly regulated according to circadian rhythms — straying from routine or stepping out of the rules even a little bit can result in severe punishment. Sophie, a young student from the dark side of town, discovers this herself when her upper class friend Bianca steals a few food dollars. Sophie takes the blame and finds herself sent to her death in the night, where the temperatures are subzero and the dark landscape is rife with deadly wildlife. But she survives the dark with the help from a surprising and unexpected new friend.
The world building in The City in the Middle of the Night is fascinating, with portrayals of how different people approach the harsh reality of this world with dwindling resources. I imagine a vast amount of research went into understanding the science behind life surviving on a tidal locked planet, from how the atmosphere would work to the weather conditions, to the evolution of life on the world. It’s captivating.
At the heart of this story is the deep intimate relationships between the characters, the love and heartbreak that comes from being emotionally invested in another human. There is a great need to feel connected to another person, a need that is sometimes confounded by an individual’s own misperceptions in how they see the other person and how the other person may see them. Sometimes these issues can be worked through over time, reaching a point in which the relationship can be strengthened and healed despite the betrayals and misunderstandings that came before. Sometimes time reveals all the ways the relationship has been broken from the start, with love feeling more like a chain than a bond. I think this book beautifully explores all the various aspects of these relationships. It’s a strange, beautiful book.
I’ve also really enjoyed The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. The Broken Kingdoms is the second book in Jemisin’s Inheritance trilogy. The story switches POVs from the first book, following Oree Shoth, a blind artist who can see only magic. She lives in the city of Shadow, beneath the World Tree, and makes her living selling cheap trinkets to pilgrims in a local market. When she takes in a man she finds in a garbage heap, she finds herself engulfed by a dangerous conspiracy in which godlings are being hunted and killed. It has been a long time since I read the first book, but I was able to follow along with the story without any problem. I love the way these stories portray the interactions between the humans and gods in this world, with all the complexities of getting caught up in powers so far beyond mortals. This story presents a beautiful blend of perseverance, love, redemption, and forgiveness. I’m now wanting to go reread the first book and then pick up the third to finish out the storyline.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Prime Meridian is also fantastic. Amelia is struggling to get by, taking odd gigs where she can find them while dreaming of traveling to and living on Mars. This story feels like a very probably vision of the future, one in which the classes remain dramatically divided and the daily task of keeping your head above the proverbial water is an ongoing tedium and apathy. The resolution isn’t easy, but it’s entirely satisfying. I loved this, as I have with all of Moreno-Garcia’s work thus far.
I also enjoyed reading Too Animal, Not Enough Machine by Christine Jessica Margaret Reilly, a chapbook of poetry that explores the Hansel & Gretel fairy tale in which Hansel goes looking for his lost sister through a strange, dystopian modern world.
Books Read Last Month:
1. The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
2. Prime Meridian by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
3. Too Animal, Not Enough Machine by Christine Jessica Margaret Reilly
4. The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders
Total Books for the Year: 19
Still in Progress at the End of the Month: Oculus by Sally Wen Mao, As One Fire Consumes Another by John Sibley Williams, and Books of Blood by Clive Barker
Short Stories & Poetry
“The Creative Drive” by Catherine Barnett (POETRY):
A recent study found that poems increased
the sale price of a home by close to $9,000.
The years, however, have not been kind to poems.
“A Conch Shell’s Notes” by Shweta Adhyam (Lightspeed): “This is the story of a conch-shell, and the man who answered its call to adventure.”
“Nobody Cares About Walter Skinner” by Joanna C. Valente:
Everyone called you a murderer. Everyone believed it.
You believed it. You wanted to die. You wanted
“Under the Sea of Stars” by Seanan McGuire (Lightspeed): “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. How foolish that sounds, writ down so!”
“What Use Is Knowing Anything If No One Is Around” by Kaveh Akbar (The New Yorker):
What use is knowing anything if no one is around
to watch you know it? Plants reinvent sugar daily
and hardly anyone applauds. Once as a boy I sat
in a corner covering my ears, singing Quranic verse
“White Noise” by Kai Hudson (PseudoPod): “‘It’s a hearing aid,’ Nina says, with a careful smile.”
“The Polite Monster” by Courtney Bates-Hardy (Collective Unrest):
The polite monster says ‘please’
and ‘thank you’ as he buys you
a glass of wine
I saw the premier of a new documentary, The Devil’s Road: A Baja Adventure, a kind of travelogue about the history, culture, and unique nature of the Baja peninsula in Mexico. The film provides a fun look at Baja and taught me quite a bit about the region that I had not known before, as well as information about naturalism and a science in the early 1900s. The filmmaking team is starting to look into getting the doc into festivals and hopefully it will find distribution after.
While on the plane ride home from Italy, I did a double feature of two 2018 films about the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg — On the Basis of Sex, a narrative biopic, and RBG, a documentary. One immediately followed the other, starting with the Hollywood style retelling with it’s subtle changes and alterations to make the start of her career fit a neater storyline. As soon as I was finished, I found myself curious to learn more about her life, which launched me into the documentary, which was fascinating. I’m now wanting to look into seeing what good biographies might be out there, because I’d like to learn more about her point of view and the court cases that she worked on and succeeded in early in her career.
New-to-Me Movies Watched Last Month:
1. The House with a Clock in Its Walls (2018)
2. On the Basis of Sex (2018)
3. RBG (2018)
4. The Devil’s Road: A Baja Adventure (2019)
While I was captive on a plane for 10 hours, I watched six episodes The Handmaid’s Tale, Season Two, and then finished off the season as soon as I got home. The season starts with Ofred and the other handmaids being punished for standing up to the Aunt and shortly after Ofred is given a chance to escape. I won’t say much more than that, but the story goes through several turns as the relationships and power structures evolve and shift. The story doesn’t quite have the same level of tight cohesiveness that the first season did, which is likely because it steps away from Ofred more, providing a deeper looking into the lives of others in the communities around her. Nevertheless, the show remains intense and it’s interesting to learn more about the wider world. I was invested in everything that happened — right up until the ending, which I would be happy to discuss with someone in the comments.
I am and forevermore shall be in the midst of Skyrim. My world is Skyrim. My life is Skyrim. I shall never escape the Skyrim and all its endless quests, which grow evermore. For every task completed, ten more take it’s place.
Does that sound overdramatic? Maybe I’m being overdramatic.
That said, I’m still enjoying my journey and gameplay of Skyrim. I am super sneaky. I am the sneakiest of archers — which is to say I’m still enjoying leveling up my character along this one very specific path. I’m curious to see what I can achieve by being a sneaky little elf. So, I’ll keep playing for now and will mix in some other shorter games here and there to mix things up.
I got to see a few podcasts performed live last month, which was a fun night, including My Brother, My Brother and Me, a hilarious “advice” show, and Schmanners, which discussed the life of Mr. Rogers.
Athena Dixon interviews Frances Donovan about her new book “Mad Quick Hand of the Seashore” for New Books in Poetry.
On Writing Excuses, the hosts discuss how your setting can be a telegraph, quickly relating what kind of story is being told.
Eric Molinksy discusses Rod Serling’s Key of Imagination in creating The Twighlight Zone on Imaginary Worlds.
On Scriptnotes, John and Craig welcome Andrea Berloff (writer of films such as Straight Outta Compton and World Trade Center) for a discussion of the importance of sound in film and how writers can use sound within their scripts to help relate the story.
On Switchblade Sisters, April Wolfe speaks with Amy Seimetz (actor in Pet Semetary and co-creator of The Girlfriend Experience) about what has to be one of the strangest and creepiest kids movies ever made, The Peanut Butter Solution — which I now feel like I need to seek out and watch.
Tim Ferriss get his chance to finally have a conversation with Neil Gaiman on The Tim Ferriss Show, and it’s delightful.
That’s it for me! What are you reading? Watching? Loving right now?