Wednesday

Books

Dust, by Elizabeth Bear
I started to re-read this book in June, because it was the only spec fic book I had that had non-cis characters in it. I didn’t finish it before Continuum, the Spec Fic convention. Then I put it away, because it is not a compelling read, and because I have little time for the author personally.

However, it is a book about a dead spaceship and does have a character who does not have a pronoun and another who is referred to by gender neutral pronouns. The idea is much more interesting to me than the execution. I think a lot of this is just that Bear’s style of writing doesn’t suit my style of reading and there is a lot that I don’t get about the story. I don’t understand the ending, I don’t understand the character relationships. Also, I am wary of the story and the world that Bear has created because she said some very weird stuff about race years ago, about the time that I read this first time round. I was definitely reading for the treatment of the non-gender-normative characters.

Chill, by Elizabeth Bear
Already owning book 2, I decided that I would read it once I finished book 1. It was a little bit of a struggle because a lot of the characters spend most of the book missing someone who died in book 1 and I don’t quite understand why. I mean, I get that they loved her, but I don’t know why, or what it felt like to them. Even when it is explained.

Also, the book is way more about the interpersonal relationships of the Conn family that I thought it would be. There is just not the range of characters and character experience that I expected. A whole lot of the character introspection and engagement with the plot is based on centuries old issues with their dad. I’m fascinated by the way history changes and develops, which is what this series promised to be about, but it is not as much about that as I thought. Or, it’s about that in a different way, and it’s disappointing.

I still don’t know whether I want to put myself through book 3. None of my libraries has it.

Films

Guardians of the Galaxy, directed by James Gunn
This was a fun film. It lacked any of the complexity or unexpected character moments that I would have expected from the other branch of Marvel movies; Captain America: Winter Soldier, Thor 2, Iron Man 3 and The Avengers all said something. Guardians of the Galaxy might have done something with the typical plot of selfish outlaw compelled to do their moral duty, al la Han Solo. But there was nothing complex in anything that happened. Even the characters didn’t seem to notice.

The opening is the white guy’s origin story. Which, given that it’s an ensemble film, serves almost entirely to mark Peter Quill as the main character. I would have much rather had some kind of contextualisation of the setting.

It is a lot of fun if you have no expectations. But not as much of a pay off for turning your brain off as Pirates of the Caribbean 4.

Friday

Books

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, by Ambelin Kwaymullina

I picked up this book after seeing Ambelin Kwaymullina at Continuum in June. I read the first few pages in the bookshop and had to force myself to leave. I ended up buying it about a week later and read the first chapter before I had to set it aside to work. So I ended up reading it on a plane, straight through, five hours. I loved it.

The first pages gave me a sense of the setting enough to compare it to The Chrysalids and Obernewtyn. And, sure, it’s a post apocalyptic story about kids who are born with abilities that make them objects of fear and censure of society. They have to use these abilities to fight for their freedom. But it’s also not like the other books because these characters already know and understand their powers, and society knows and formally recognises (controls) these powers. Further, the debate around the place of people with abilities in society hinges on interpretation of the governing principles of society, inherited from the reactions to the apocalypse. In this case, everyone works to maintain the Balance in order to prevent another disaster. So the treatment of people with abilities by society in general is based on whether they are considered part of the Balance or outside the Balance and a threat to it. This is much more interesting to me.

The story itself is great and compellingly told. Ashala (and Kwaymullina’s) love of the land is so wonderful to read. I have book two, waiting for its turn to be read. And I understand there are two further books beyond that, which is fantastic.

Song of the Lioness, by Tamora Pierce

I have just finished rereading the first 12 Tortall books, so I am not going to treat them separately.

This is still my favourite series. OK, so there are few female assigned male presenting characters that I’ve ever encountered in fiction, and I’m sure that that has something to do with it. It may also be that the world is less settled/planned/worked out in this than later books. Alanna’s adventures have a sense of discovery to them that only comes from an author who is discovering their world as they write. That may not be entirely accurate, but certainly the world building aspects of the later series feel different from the way they are here.

Also, Alanna spends a lot of the first two books things ‘friendship, what is that, how does that happen?’ and ‘they wouldn’t like me if they knew I was really a girl’, both of which resonate with me. And she spends time in the desert, which is always good. Living in a country where one leaves the city and eventually reaches desert areas which are the home of people who have an uncertain and difficult relationship with their formal government (to say the least), the scenes among the Bazhir are the most familiar part of the series.

The Immortals, by Tamora Pierce

Everytime I reread this series I like it and Daine more than I thought I would. Which is odd, because I certainly really enjoyed it the first time round. I remember reading book four while sleeping in my grandma’s swag on the floor of her study. I think the bit that gets me is the sentimentality of the ending of book one. And perhaps the transparency of the moral that Daine needs to learn to like Stormwings. Also, Daine’s anxiety for the first book is based on something that she doesn’t reveal to the reader and I expect to find it frustrating once I know what it is. I don’t understand Daine as easily as I understand Alanna, so some of the decisions that drive the plot don’t resonate with me at all.

That said, I still enjoyed reading all these again and devoured them. There are many great things. Some great humour. A broad range of characters and character relationships and developments. The progress of the war and the work that war takes, and diplomacy, too. Having a story at the scale that Pierce does is good to read.

Protector of the Small, by Tamora Pierce

Kel! I think the first time I read this series it took me some hard going. Maybe it was just Kel’s frustration rubbing off on me. This time was much easier, probably because I understand the dilemma of duty better. Also, I can see what Kel admires about Wyldon now. There are more characters in this series and Alanna’s than in Daine’s, which might explain a lot of what I prefer about them. Or, rather, there is a group that moves through the series together, which is something I very much enjoy reading.

I expected a lot of the things that happen to Kel to seem contrived, knowing how certain bits of the plot fit together pretty neatly. For example, when the Griffin shows up, knowing that the Griffin feathers are important. But in fact that didn’t hr example. The Griffin is more annoying and just there as an ongoing thing to deal with and the feathers less critical than I remembered, so that it seems much more natural. Especially, having just spent so much of Daine’s point of view dealing with immortal creatures, and the fact that Pierce established economies around Griffins. There is an integrated world here.

I suppose that is a difference between Alanna’s series and the later ones. The later ones take place within a world where a lot of other things are established to be happening, and the reader’s imagination gives space to what all those other characters are doing. Not just Alanna, Daine, Numair and Raoul, but also Stephan the Groomsman and Gareth then Younger. The glimpses we get of them are of whole people, whereas in Song of the Lioness the backstory, such as Alan’s relationship with Duke Gareth, takes up literal words on the page.

The German Genius, by Peter Watson

This is a book on the history of German thought from about the middle of the seventeenth century, I think, until the present. It has taken me many months to read it, so the beginning is kind of hazy. It is a well written book. The topic is interesting, being a history of waves of influence. Watson’s thesis is that much of what we think of as modern thought finds its roots in German intellectual history. He’s convincing, too.

I was able to pay more attention in the bits that were about times or ideas with which I was already familiar. Once we got to the early twentieth century it was much easier. Also there were then some women discussed, which was a relief. I know that in a book that encompasses so much so briefly, only those people whose ideas were most widely disseminated are going to get mentioned, and the sexism of history means that this is almost exclusively men. But I would have appreciated acknowledgement of this. Or, include in the history a recognition of the status of women in that time and place. It is not as though the status of women and their access to history did not influence history.

That aside, this was an enjoyable and effective blend of examples, anecdotes and historiographical theory.

Films

The Lunchboxdirected by Ritesh Batra

This was lovely. It was brilliant to see Mumbai. The story unfolds so well. It’s relatively straightforward, which gives it room for a lot of little things to happen and a profound shift that is very satisfying. And it is not at all overworked or cloying. Given that most of what I know about how people in India live is from the news (also Rick Stein), this film was new to me in terms of the rhythm of people’s daily life, which was itself a refreshing thing to watch.

Thursday

Books

Republic of Thieves, by Scott Lynch
I finally finished this several weeks ago. After putting it down for a while because it stopped drawing me through. I got back into it pretty quickly, especially once the secondary plot really got going.

I love the world that Lynch has built, both in the close details and the sense of continental history and relationships. It is brilliant and lovely to read a second world fantasy that has a deep cultural life and history. And, having watched the West Wing, the politics in this book was a lot of fun.

I didn’t always properly follow exactly what the untagged dialogue was about, but it was clear enough in the end to understand how things were when the story ended. I think that this book sets up the rest of the series really well. Having seen how large the scope of the world and the story is, the ‘Locke barely escaping while his scheme collapses around him’ story could not have reasonably sustained an ongoing story over four more books. I would have read them and they would have been good, but I am definitely intrigued by how this going to develop.

Phryne Fisher Mysteries, by Kerry Greenwood
I have read seven, and I can’t remember them separately enough to discuss them individually, but in general: They are light and delightful. The story and the narrative carry me along so well. Phryne’s point of view is a lot of fun and occasionally pointed. Other people’s views of Phryne are delightful.

Ruddy Gore made me get out my Gilbert and Sullivan again, reminding why I like Pirates and Mikado so much.

Blood and Circuses has a trans character and an intersex character. Both rang very true to me (although I obviously can’t speak directly to the representation of intersex issues), and I appreciated that both were living lives celebrated by the narrative. Mr Christopher, the intersex character, is the murder victim, but we do get his voice through his diary. Also, in a book when one character talks about another, the subject being discussed is the one who takes up the page. In a tv series, it is the one talking who is the focus.

Greenwood’s balance of characters and ‘issues’ is also apparent in The Green Hill Murder where as well as the sociopathic possibly/presumed to be gay character and the investigation/blackmail of gay characters, which reifies the social censure of homosexuality, there is a happily co-habiting lesbian couple in a small country town.

I will pick the next one up when I’m finished with the current couple of books. They are safe reading, which is saying a lot and is a great relief.

Three

Books
Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed
I loved this. It is interesting to read a second world fantasy stories whose religion/magic is so familiar from real world contexts. It is set in a secondary world fantasy version of the middle east/north Africa, although more culturally that geographically analogous. There is one God and magic is invocations of God. It is also set in a city and takes place almost entirely in the city. The city is a character.

Book two exists, but is not yet titled. No word on actual release date.

The Killing Moon, NK Jemisin
This is also a city book. Egypt based setting, which makes for a great familiar/unfamiliar setting. One of the point of view characters is an outsider, which helps to explain how some things works, but Jemisin is really good as explaining what the characters take for granted without making it strange. Most of the book is mystery so it’s a little like moving through a too dark place, not comfortable. I felt it kind of slow going because I felt a little out of my depth with it. I didn’t quite understand what the problems were. Then it got suddenly epic and fraught and wow!

The Shadowed Sun, NK Jemisin
This is book two of the duology. This was easier to devour because I understood the threat better and was completely freaked out by it. It was fantastic, too, because it built on everything that you learn from the first book about how the world and its magic works. I am less sure how I feel about the ending. I think that that is just because it went where I had expected but then talked myself out of expecting. I think I would have liked to end with Nijiri rather than Hanani, but I also that that is 1) my preference and 2) not actually fair to Hanani who had to do almost everything that got done.

Films

Iron Man
Okay, so you can see how long I’ve been waiting to write this. I saw IM3 twice and it was worth it. It is a good film and a great action film. I don’t think it makes terribly much sense in the specifics, but the broad plot is sensible enough to carry all the action, which is what one needs. Robert Downey Jr is such fun to watch and Don Cheadle and Gwyneth Paltrow get to do great stuff.

It’s weird on disability and injury and patriotic duty. I don’t know how to break down those issues though, certainly not however long later I am writing this.

Two

Book
The Sending, Isobelle Carmody

I enjoyed it, I was relieved by much of what happened. It was brilliant to read a new book with these characters. It included some back story for a recently introduced character. And much more information about the Land’s history. It ends very excitingly and I am hanging out for the next one. OMG cliffhanger!

One

Book
The Stone Key, Isobelle Carmody

This is book five of the Obernewtyn Chronicles and the last of the series that I have already read. There are two more books. I am currently reading book six: The Sending. We are waiting for book seven to be released.

I’ve got more to say about the series as a whole (having reread all the books in the lead up to reading The Sending), especially coming back to the series post Race!Fail and having read more adult fantasy and more global politics. It is worth remembering the first Obernewtyn books was conceived of by a school girl in Australia before the end of the Cold War.

Like books two, three and four, all that I really remembered about The Stone Key was the bits that happened in the last couple of chapters. Everything was kind of new. It’s at least four years since I read it.

Films
Quantum of Solace

My second time watching this, having seen it in the cinema. I watched it preparation for Skyfall, which was not totally necessary. But having seen it again I understand it better. Also, it was nice to recognise Stana Katic.

Skyfall

I had a lot of fun watching this. I have no real critical engagement with spy or action films and am willing to accept some pretty ridiculous things in going along with the plot. (Not Robert Carlyle’s villain in The World is not Enough and not Pierce Brosnon’s Bond hiding behind an invisible car, but all the rest of Die Another Day was fine. The backstory of Salt was fine.) siria has a post from the point of view of the film being problematic. It is worth thinking about these things. At the time I was distressed by everyone laughing so hard at the first confrontation between Silva and Bond and I was creeped out by Bond approaching Sévérine in the shower. The plot of running til you have a place to stand is one I like. And I love the booby traps and following/hiding spy stuff.

I was completely thrilled the Kincaid thought M’s name was Emma. And even more thrilled with, “James. James Bond.”

Bourne Identity

I watched this at W&M’s when they invited me round for pizza and movie on a stupidly hot evening (before a day that got to 41ºC.). It is one of W’s favourite films and a film I had never seen before. It is great. It is more interesting than Skyfall. It is about trying to find stuff out rather than trying to destroy something/someone, so the character is more interesting. It is also much more low key in terms of the fighting and the spy stuff. It seems to be set in the present, whereas Bond seems to be set in the immediate future. Certainly, watching Bourne now – it was released in 2002 – is an interesting contrast in terms of technology and the way it looks. It would have been filmed ON FILM, whereas Bond was digital with digital effects. Skyfall had a budget of $200M, compared to Bourne Identity $60M. It buys you much more in special effects, now, too. I liked the basic-ness of Bourne. Like I prefer earlier Spooks to later Spooks.

The Fugitive

Going back in time with chase/spy/mystery films. We didn’t actually watch this, precisely. W likes it, and it was on, so we had it on mute for a while and turned the sound for the end, because we couldn’t quite remember it, although we could watch about 2/3 without the sound. (Up until the scene in the emergency room.) It lacks the grand emotional payoff and triumphant declaration of innocence that one might expect from films. I remember when m was younger, like young teens if not younger, we watched The 39 Steps and he did not understand that it had ended and did not understand the implication that they got together. The film seemed to stop to him, which would be true to one used to romantic films having an epilogue like Notting Hill does. I like it even more than Bourne for the scraping together just enough to get out of a situation/get information, and the set up makes the being chased/getting information plot stronger. But I do find the amnesia of Bourne compelling (I love amnesia as a plot device) and I also really love the spy skill/background too it.

The Hobbit

I would not necessarily have seen this now, nor seen it alone, but it was 41ºC, our air conditioning is not super effective (and I feel bad about the resources it takes to run it), and I had a movie pass from work. So, the Hobbit.

For the first 40-50 minutes I was thinking that if one were in the mood enjoy it, one probably would but I was not. I had, in fact, been monumentally annoyed by the opening. Backstory info dump with voice over! gah! I suppose to was to link people who have seen the LoTR films but who are not familiar with the books. I still don’t see why we have to have PREQUEL so heftily hammered home. Then there was more backstory info dump/introduction with voice over in telling Thorin’s story. This is not out of character with the book, but telling someone else’s story while they are listening to you tell it is a trope a dislike in fiction. The telling of the story should reveal current dynamic and character.

I was eventually sucked in to the grand epic quest and music of it all. (Although still finding a lot of the music tell-y, actually. This is a problem I had with LoTR, too.) It also took me too long to recognise Richard Armitage. I picked James Nesbitt quite quickly, and his presence did endear the film to me.

So, I uncritically like spy films. I am quietly looking forward to the next Hobbit film. There is not as much Elrond/Gandalf fic as I expected.