Culture Consumption: September 2019

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

Books

I really enjoyed The RavenTower by Ann Leckie (which I discussed here), a beautiful and fascinating fantasy novel about a world in which gods are able to directly interact with humanity and all the power structures that come from such interactions.

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (The Road to Nowhere #1) by Meg ElisonAnother phenomenal read was The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison. The story is a set in an apocalyptic world in which the population has been decimated by an illness that was particularly hard on women and children. The result is a world in which children are nonexistent, women are rare, and most men rove around in gangs claiming the few women left as slaves. The midwife — whose diaries have been preserved by a future society — survives by pretending to be a male and issues what little help she can to the women she meets in the form of contraceptives and medical care.

There is a certain bleakness that tends to come out of this kind of storyline — much of the worst of humanity is revealed. And yet, this book doesn’t fully dwell there. For all the awful things that happen, there are people who are trying to help or at the very least trying to just survive without doing harm. Interesting cultural structures crop up, which reverse power roles and people are capable of trust and be good to one another, if they try hard enough. This is, in the end, a story of hope in a brutal world — and it moved me to tears several times. I loved it.

Locus by Jason BayaniI also read a lot of poetry this month. One of my favorites was Locus by Jason Bayani, which draws on his heritage and cultural experience to delve into the fragmented identities of Pilipinx Americans. Blending memoir and lyricism and inspired by hip-hop and DJ culture, these poems do powerful work in recovering the voices of silenced communities, reflecting on the importance of family and community in tying us to ourselves.

I met Bayani at a reading he was doing and was fortunate to be able to have a moving conversation with him for the New Books in Poetry podcast, which I should be able to share soon.

A number of the other poetry books and chapbooks I read were in honor of the Elgin Awards for the purposes of voting. There were so many amazing works nominated and, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to read every nominated book cover to cover, although some I had read earlier in the year. A few of the ones that I finished over the past month were: Death by Sex Machine (Sibling Rivalry Press) by Franny Choi, a stunning book that explores the Asian female experience through the lens of android characters in film; screaming (Lion Tamer Press) by John Reinhart, a haunting collection of beautifully surreal nightmares; dispatches from the mushroom kingdom (Hyacinth Girl Press) by Noel Pabillo Mariano, which uses video game tropes to explore the experience of loss and memory; The Bone-Joiner (Sycorax Press) by Sandi Leibowitz, which explores witchcraft, intimacy, and art; Invocabulary (Aqueduct Press) by Gemma Files, the author’s first foray into poetry examining the dark underbelly of the world through folklore and hauntings; and No Comet, That Serpent in the Sky Means Noise (Kore Press) by Sueyeun Juliette Lee, which explores human meaning and longing through richly detailed language. 

Books Read Last Month:
1. The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie
2. Infected by Scott Sigler
3. dispatches from the mushroom kingdom, poetry by Noel Pabillo Mariano
5. Origami Lilies: A Collection of Science Fiction Tankas by Joshua Gage
6. Death by Sex Machine, poetry by Franny Choi
7. screaming, poetry by John Reinhart
8. The Bone-Joiner, poetry by Sandi Leibowitz
9. Invocabulary, poetry by Gemma Files
10. No Comet, That Serpent in the Sky Means Noise, poetry by Sueyeun Juliette Lee
11. Locus, poetry by Jason Bayani
12. The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison

Total Books for the Year: 48

Still in Progress at the End of the Month: Children of Lovecraft edited by Ellen Datlow

Short Stories & Poetry

Sleeves” by Allie Marini (matchbook) – “I see him on the subway every morning, head tucked down, reading. He’s as unremarkable as me.”

Only a Shadow” by Carmen Giminéz Smith (Poetry Foundation) –

“My daughter gathers the seeds she finds in our desert, calls them
spirits  —  the spirits are us, she says when I worry those orbs in my fingers”

Flight of the Crow Boys” by Micah Dean Hicks (LightSpeed) – “People around here never wanted our family. Crow boys, they called us, a flock of five brothers and our father, all of us with long black hair. Flapping our over-sized, garage sale sleeves and falling over the fences the neighbors put between us and them. And maybe too because of the feathers.”

The Hundred or So Drunk Texts I Sent You Last Night” by Marissa Crane (Alien Literary Magazine) –

“look
I’ve never told anyone this before but
my sex um well it sorta kills people”

Birds of Passage” by Gordon B. White (Pseudopod) – “If I didn’t inherit my father’s natural instinct for adventure, it was drummed into me steadily enough by the time I was a young man that you wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. If you don’t go looking for adventure, he would say, adventure will come looking for you.”

Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings” by Joy Harjo (Poetry Foundation) –

“Recognize whose lands these are on which we stand.
Ask the deer, turtle, and the crane.
Make sure the spirits of these lands are respected and treated with goodwill.
The land is a being who remembers everything.
You will have to answer to your children, and their children, and theirs—”

The Loosening Grip” by Becky Robison (Longleaf Review) – “Of course she asks if she can keep it. She usually hoards whatever she finds floating near the stern—empty beer cans, folded tourist maps, shredded bike tires—without asking permission. But this is something else, and she must know it. At first glance I think it’s a glove, but it doesn’t droop the way a soaked glove should.”

Deer on the Side of an American Highway” by Devin Kelly (drDOCTOR) –

“You said there, & there, & there,
& then we blitzed on & they disappeared.

The way a deer emerges from a thicket
is the opposite of a wound.”

Look What I Have Done” by Sara Ryan (Anmly) –

“I welcomed you like a hood of antlers.

like bone broke down to velvet. like growth
and the wind that raised me. in my mind,”

Away with the Wolves” by Sarah Gailey (Uncanny Magazine) – “When I wake, I am curled up as small as a seed. My hands are tucked between my knees, my face pressed into sweet loam. Morning dew blankets my skin like thick, glistening fur.”

Wolfside Out, Girlside In” by Lucia Iglesias (Corvid Queen) – “My mother always told me to keep my girlside out and my wolfside in. She would know. She spent a year and a day wolfside-out, hiding from hunters sent by her King-Father. He wanted to wrap her up in wedding vows and tie the knot.”

Movies

In Us, a family on vacation in Santa Cruz is attacked by a group that looks eerily like themselves and they have to fight for their lives in order to survive.  This is a fun, mind bendy premise about doppelgängers coming up out of the dark to kill you, and I loved it. Sure, I figured out the twist at the very beginning, and yeah, it didn’t really scare me, but Us held a tightly wound tension from beginning to end that kept me on edge and it presented a family I could care about and root for — pretty much all I needed. I’m here for whatever horror projects Peele might have next up his sleeve. Plus, hot-damn if Lupita Nyong’o isn’t a fantastic actress to be able to carry out this dual role in the way she does.

When I first saw the 1990 adaptation of IT, I found myself enchanted and thrilled by the story of the kids being terrorized by Pennywise, but utterly bored by the adults. However, one of the things It Chapter Two does extremely well is make the adult storylines as compelling as the kids. This is in part because I’m fond of the actors chosen for these roles — each of whom bring nuanced performances.

The Losers Club (It Chapter Two).

I also think this is an example of adaptation done well. The storyline is vastly different from Stephen King’s book (which I love), but the changes are in service to the world presented by the movie. Combined with current special effects capabilities, the movie is able to solve some of the challenges present in adapting King’s grand, cosmic book ending.

As with Chapter One, this movie relies heavily on CGI (sometimes distracting the viewer from Bill Skarsgård’s great performance). It presents a kind of theatricality that’s beautifully disturbing if not outright scary. This combined with a blending of perfectly timed humor made for an entirely fun movie experience.

I never watched the Downton Abbey TV show — but my sister loves it and really wanted to see the recently released movie, so I went to see it for her. I’ve heard many great things about the show over the years, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the level of charm, wit, and fun that the movie offered. The story centers around the household preparing for a visit from the King and Queen, which sends everything into upheaval, as the staff is pushed aside by the royals servants and the family tries to put their best foot forward. The concerns — although important to those in the movie — seem small in comparison to what the world is dealing with right now, which lends the story a kind of innocence for me. And yet, the lack of high drama or stakes made it no less interesting to me. These are interesting characters living a story that is well told, and that’s beautiful.

New-to-Me Movies Watched Last Month:
1. It Chapter Two (2019)
2. Us (2019)
3. Downton Abbey (2019)

Television

The Good Place has been consistently excellent, and season three is no exception. The season has brought our humans back to live on Earth to see whether they can improve as humans on their own and earn their way into the good place without intervention — although that plan immediately goes awry when Michael and Janet nudge the group together, which leads to things going very, very wrong. Season three was probably the most emotionally moving to me, as the characters have an opportunity to interact with family in a way that allows them to grow as people. It’s also an interesting look at just how hard it is to be a good person in the world today. This show is amazing. The fourth and final season is coming soon, and I cannot wait to see how they wrap things up.

The Good Place, Season 3

Carnival Row is a new show on Amazon Prime, which is set in a pseudo-European world in which the fae (fairies and other mythical creatures) are forced to flee their homelands and live as refugees in the Burgue. While the plot focuses on a series of unsolved murders and unresolved love, interwoven throughout is an exploration of class systems, politics, and prejudice.

Carnival Row

Orlando Bloom stars as Philo, a police detective investigating the murders, and Cara Delevingne as Vignette, a fae who recently escaped the homeland and is trying to find her way in the Burgue as a refugee. Although a number of characters and relationships crop up throughout the show, struggling for power and position in society, the heart of the story is these two characters, who loved each other during the war and are now trying to figure out how they fit together outside of that context. I enjoyed the first season, and I’ll definitely be tuning in to see where the creators take things from here.

Carnival Row

I’ve been rewatching Stargate SG-1 as something to just put on as background while I work on other things. I loved the show back in the day and I still enjoy its unique blend of seriousness and silliness from time to time.

Games

I completed The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan, a story-based horror game from the creators of Before Dawn (which I’ve heard great things about), and I’m not a huge fan. The story is about a group of twenty-somethings heading out to look for undiscovered sunken ships, who run into pirates and find themselves trapped on a military ghost ship. It has a very B-movie feel to it, with the events not always following a clear logical sense, the characters making bizarre choices, and the acting being just so-so.

Man of Medan

The gameplay (what little of it there was) too was frustrating — since it was largely based on quicktime events, which had to be rapid and precise in order to keep the characters alive. Quicktime events are fine, I suppose, except that much of the game is passive, either walking through hallways and examining object or watching cut-scenes of the story unfolding — so that, when a quicktime event happens, I found myself suddenly having to jump into action and not quite being able to get back into pace before the quicktime event was over.

Man of Medan

I don’t regret buying Man of Medan (especially since it was only $20). The animation is beautiful and it definitely had a few great jump scares and creepy moments that gave it some entertaining moments. I played the game solo, and I’m curious is some of the multi-player options might make it more fun.

I am in the middle of playing two new games — The Wolf Among Us and Borderlands 3. I downloaded The Wolf Among Us, so that I’d have a game to play while on a work trip. It’s a story-based adventure game based on one of my favorite graphic novel series Fables by Bill Willingham. Honestly, if I had known about this game sooner, I would have played this game sooner.

The Wolf Among Us

In the game (as in the comics), fairy tale characters have escaped from their home worlds as refugees and are living in New York, hidden under the guise of glamor. It’s a fairy tale retelling with the dark, seedy undertones of a noire novel. You play Bigby Wolf (aka, the Big Bad Wolf), who is now serving as sheriff of the Fables community — which has all kinds moral implications. Although a treaty absolves villains of their past crimes, not all the former victims are entirely forgiving. The story focuses on a murder mystery, and as sheriff, it’s Bigby’s job to find the killer. I’m a couple of chapters into the story, and t’s so awesome to see the comic books come alive in this beautiful way, I love these characters, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. I’m already wanting to play the game again to see how my choices might play out differently.

Borderlands 3 is a first person shooter, which can be played alone or as a multiplayer PVE (player versus environment). I’ve never played the first two Borderlands games and have never played a game with multi-player elements — but the comic-book style game design looked rad and it was an opportunity to play with my brother, so I jumped on. In the story, you play as one of four Vault Hunters (each with their own unique abilities) who joins up with the Crimson Raiders on the planet Pandora to prevent a massive group of bandit factions from discovering how to access secret vaults full of technology and resources before you do. The game is fast paced and fun, with a multitude of side quests, entertaining characters, and a wicked sense of humor. I’ve only had a chance to play it a few times because of my schedule over the past month, but I’m looking forward to hopping back into it.

Borderlands 3

I’m still working my way through LEGO Tower, and I’ve almost reached level 50 — at which point, I’ll be able to start the tower over with the benefit of a gold brick that boost stats for whatever level I lay it into. There’s no real end-point to this game as far as I can tell. You just keep building and then rebuilding. So, I suppose the closest thing to a goal would be finally create a tower made entirely out of gold bricks. It’s a good idle moments game, and I’ll keep playing until I’m bored.

Podcasts

I listened to a fantastic episode of Switchblade Sisters, in which director Mattie Do (Dearest Sister, The Long Walk) discusses the horror film The Witch with April Wolfe — and director Issa López (Tigers Are Not Afraid) joins in for a fun game of what frivolous thing would you feel your soul for?

I loved the Annotated episode on The Baby-Sitters Club, which explores how the book series became a phenomenon impacting readers across decades.

Scriptnotes offered up two great episodes. In Fantasy Worldbuilding, they discuss how to create fictional worlds with Alison Luhrs, and in  The One with David Koepp (screenwriter of Jurassic Park, Death Becomes Her, Carlito’s Way, Mission: Impossible, and Spider-Man), they discuss Koepp’s long career in the industry.

Among Writing Excuses’ continually fantastic episodes, over the past month, I particularly enjoyed Languages and Naming and Positioning Your Book in the Marketplace.

Slums of Film History has a fun (and maybe a bit disturbing) two part exploration of Maniacal Moms and Despicable Dads


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


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