Culture Consumption: June 2019

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

Books

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter - Theodora GossI loved The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss. The story is about Mary Jekyll, left alone and penniless following her mother’s death. Curious about the secrets of her father’s mysterious past, she discovers that Edward Hyde, her father’s former friend and a murderer, may be still be alive. With the hope of a reward to solve her financial challenges, she pursues what little clues she has — only to discover Diana, Hyde’s daughter instead. As the mystery thickens, Mary learns of more women who have been experimented upon by their fathers — Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein. Together, the women begin to uncover a secret society of scientist attempting to transmute the human body in order to unleash it’s potential.

A lot of novels, short stories, comics, and movies have taken on the task of presenting new versions of classic horror and scifi — this was the kind of retelling I didn’t know I was longing for. Reading the Alchemist’s Daughter was a delight, presenting a litany of clever, intelligent, strong women who find companionship and support in each other through their trials, while stuggling against cultural norms.  The style of storytelling is also witty and fun — with the girls interjecting into the record with their own commentary and arguments. I love all of these women and I can’t wait to read about more of their adventures in the next volume.
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16 of My Favorite Reads from 2018

It was a great reading year for me. The vast majority of the 63 books I read in 2018 were excellent, beautifully written, and/or just plain fun — and this could potentially be a much longer list, if I were to include every book that I enjoyed reading last year.

Fiction

freshwater by akwaeke emezi

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emzi

Connected to gods and spirit, Ada navigates her life with a sense of fractured self. Emzi’s debut novel is stunning from top to bottom. Ada’s story is heart wrenching. The writing is lush, vivid, and lyrical. It’s the kind of writing to sink into and get lost in. This book haunts me in the best of ways. (Full review.)

All Systems Red - Martha Wells

The Murderbot Series by Martha Wells

Technically, this is a cheat, since this series constitutes four books — All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, and Exit Strategy — but I’m counting them as one, since they are all just too good. All Murderbot (as it has dubbed itself) wants is to be left alone and watch hours of vids in peace. But as a security robot assigned to protect a team of scientists surveying a new planet, it has to spend a significant amount of its time preventing humans from doing stupid things that could get them killed and then saving those humans when they do those stupid things anyway. This becomes even more difficult when it becomes clear his clients are under threat of being murdered by outside sources. I loved Murderbot and all its depressed sass from page one, and each of the novellas in which it appears is full of thrilling action and humor.

Provenance by Ann Leckie

Provenance by Ann Leckie

Driven by the need to impress her politically motivated mother, Ingray embarked on a dangerous and desperate scheme with unexpected consequences. Leckie is a master of world building, and the planet Hwe on which Ingray resides is a fascinating world of political intrigue. The intercultural confusion that occurs when alien ambassadors and rogue ship captains get mixed up in her scheming makes for an entertaining twists and turns and Ingray stumbles through dramatic conflicts she accidentally sets in motion. Another great book from one of my favorite authors. (Full review.)

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

In order to escape her past, Rosemary joins up with a motley crew of space farers who are tasked with opening the wormholes that enable long distance space travel. The relationships between these lovable goofballs (comprised of a mix of backgrounds and species) is at the center of this novel. Presented in episodic chapters, the novel feels a bit more like a sitcom than an epic space opera — and if you like humor, found families, and stories about compassion, then that’s totally in its favor. (Full review.)

Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor

Believing it can bring her a balm to her trauma and anger from the violence she witnessed on her way to Oomza University, Binti has returned home only to unveil strange new family secrets. While deep in the desert contemplating this new knowledge, she learns that the presence of her friend Okwu (the first of the Meduse species to journey to Earth in peace) has stirred up violent repercussions from the Khoush, putting her family in danger. Can she rush home in time to protect them? The Binti Trilogy is an imaginative and thrilling space opera, with beautiful layers of culture and character woven throughout. The Night Masquerade makes for a wonderful and satisfying conclusion that left me in tears.

Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand

Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand

The island of Sawkill Rock is a idyllic place, where the the ocean crashes against rocky shores, prize horses graze in green pastures, and where the people are lithe and prosperous and unconcerned. Yet the Rock carries a dark secret — girls have been disappearing there for decades and urban legends abound about a monster in the woods. No on has braved out the truth about the missing girls, not until three girls come together to peer into the secrets hidden on the island. I love the way this book puts female relationships at its center, providing the power to root out evil only when three girls come together to fight it. (Full review.)

the changeling by victor lavalle

The Changeling by Victor LaValle

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 — sending Apollo’s world spinning out of control. The 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.

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy

Looking for answers following her friend’s death,Danielle Cain (a “queer punk rock traveller”) finds herself in Freedom, Iowa — a squatter town professing to be a utopia. However, something’s wrong about the place, 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. The story is beautiful, unsettling and surprising with a multitude of interesting, believable characters. When I finished reading, I just sort of clutched it to my chest, wanting so much more of these people and this world.

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

Aster is an adept healer living in the slums of the generation starship, HSS Matilda. The class inequalities between the upper and lower classes are dramatic, with those in the lower decks struggling to survive under the dominance of the police force. Aster is a fascinating character — brilliant, obsessive, curious, and solitary — who pushes back against the strict oppression in what small ways she can, uncovering truths about her mother and the ship in the process. (Full review.)

Stories of Your Life and Other by Ted Chiang

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

Stories of Your Life and Others presents a collection of short stories with characters who are driven by the pursuit of knowledge. The science at the core of these tales is not the flash bang of laser guns or space ships or explosions, but in the contemplation and study of our world through linguistics, mathematics, architecture, and beauty. As I read Chiang’s stories, I was continually impressed by his skill as a writer. (Full review.)

Poetry

If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar

If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar 

If They Come for Us is a stunning collection of poetry that ” captures the experiences of being a young Pakistani Muslim woman in America by braiding together personal and marginalized people’s histories.” These poems are lyrical and powerful and moving. I love the creativity offered, from the way Asghar addresses the political through the personal to the ways she plays with language and uses humor to emphasize the messages within many of these pieces. (Full review.)

R E D by Chase Berggrun

R E D by Chase Berggrun

In R E D, Berggrun presents a series of erasures of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The poems transform the text from a storyline in which women have little to no agency to a stunning exploration of abuse, violence, power dynamics, and femininity.

I am not your final girl by clair c holland

I Am Not Your Final Girl by Claire C. Holland

I Am Not Your Final Girl is a collection of horror-themed poetry draws on the female characters of horror cinema — the survivors, victims, villains, and monsters — who prowl through dark worlds, facing oppression, persecution, violence, and death. The women in this collection channel their pain and rage into a galvanizing force. They fight. They claim power over their own bodies. They take their power back. They do not relent. (Full review.)

Bonus: A couple of amazing chapbooks I read this year include Basement Gemini by Chelsea Margaret Bodnar (interview) and No God In This Room by Athena Dixon (interview) — both of which I highly recommend.

Comics & Graphic Novels

My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris

My Favorite Thing is Monsters, written and illustrated by Emil Ferris

Set in 1960s Chicago, My Favorite Thing is Monsters is told by Karen Reyes a young girl with a passion for pulp horror stories. In her spiral bound journals, she draws out her life in a mix of sketches, journal entries, and comic panels — presenting the interconnected stories of her mother, brother, and the people who live in her community. The use of color and crosshatching makes for some of the most beautiful artwork I’ve seen in any graphic novel, and the story itself is wonderfully complex and layered. (Full review.)

Uzumaki: Spiral Into Horror, written and illustrated by Junji Ito

Uzumaki: Spiral Into Horror, written and illustrated by Junji Ito

I’ve read a multitude of works by Ito in the past year, going into my own spiral of exploring his graphic works of horror. If I had to choose just one of this books to recommend, however, I’ll go with the classic Uzumaki, in which a town is threatened by the looming presence of a simple geometric shape. The image of a spiral fills the town, infusing and consuming the people. The black and white artwork manages to be both beautiful and horrifying at the same time.

Nonfiction

Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer

Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer 

Aimed at writers of speculative fiction (but valuable just about any writer), Wonderbook covers the full range of the writing process, from structural story elements to world building to revision, providing a theory and practice of writing. What sets this above the average writing advice book is the multitude of prompts, writing exercises, and essays from a variety of authors. (Full review.)

What were some of your favorite reads from 2018?


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Jeff VanderMeer’s Wonderbook is a fantastic toolbox for fiction writers

Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer

It’s been a long while since I’ve read a book on the craft of writing. Although I’ve often found such books valuable, in a way, I had grown out of them, focusing more on the act of writing instead of reading about it. But Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer was recommended to me recently with such fervor that I immediately picked it up — and discovered one of the best books on writing craft that I’ve yet to read.

Wonderbook is aimed at writers of speculative fiction, but is valuable to writers of any genre. The main chapters of the book cover the full range of the writing process, including Inspiration and the Creative Life, The Ecosystem of Story (point-of-view, dialog, and other story elements), Beginnings and Endings (with VanderMeer’s novel Finch as a main example), Narrative Design (plot, structure, etc.), Characterization, Worldbuilding, and Revision, along with a few interesting appendices. The chapters discuss the theory and practice of writing, while also providing inspiration, prompts, and writing exercises.

I particularly appreciate that VanderMeer does not prescribe The One Way to Write Them All, but rather cites a multitude of sources and examples to present the many sides of any method and, in fact, many sidebar items either question or direct contradict the view of the main text. In addition, the book offers essays and interviews in which fantasy authors — such as Neil Gaiman, Catherynne M. Valente, George R. R. Martin, and Karen Joy Fowler, among others — each with their own viewpoints. In this way, Wonderbook offers a toolbox of approaches to writing that the writer can pull from in order to discover what works best for them.

The illustrations, maps, charts, and artwork throughout Wonderbook, provided by a number of artists but primarily Jeremy Zerfoss, are a key way that it guides its readers through the murky waters of writing terminology, methods, and advice. They provide playful visual diagrams or inspirational asides that are valuable in and of themselves, making specific  aspects of the writing process more memorable.

illustration by Jeremy Zerfoss
One of the many fantastic illustrations in Wonderbook by Jeremy Zerfoss.

I was hoping to narrow in on a chapter and provide a more detailed look some of Wonderbook’s great advice — but I’ve run out of time, as the library is demanding its copy of the book back. But I just preordered the revised and expanded edition, so I’ll soon have my own copy to peruse at my leisure.

I will point out, however, that Wonderbook had an immediate practical effect on my writing life. While in the middle the section on Revision, I read a bit noting that one of the ways people get stuck is forcing themselves to write the story chronologically — even though it’s just as viable to start at the end or jump around while putting together a draft. I knew this already, though perhaps in more of a theoretical sense. I can’t immediately think of a time when I have applied this to writing my own fiction (essays, yes, fiction, no). But being reminded of this option to jump around in a text launched me into action.

I have a novel that I have been sitting on, after burning out on it a while back. At the time, I had given myself permission at the time to take a break and then come back to it later (that the “later” had turned into over four years is another story). All this time, I have been waiting for the right time to come back to the text, figuring I would need to do a major overhaul of the beginning in order to work through to the end — an expectation that kept me stymied.

While reading Wonderbook, I became so inspired by the idea of writing out of order that I jumped up and began writing down the climatic scene of the novel — a scene that has been playing in my head over and over again for ages. Those thousand words have put me back on the footing of maybe finally getting the novel done. (“Done.” Hah. We’ll see.)

To sum up I’ll say, this excellent and would be a welcome addition to almost any writer’s shelf.

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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