Things I read this last month:
Deji Bryce Olukotun, Nigerians in Space: I’m reviewing this elsewhere, but I’d love more people to read it and for there to be a larger conversation about it, particularly among science fiction fans, for whom the question of who can imagine the future and in what terms has felt particularly relevant recently.
Phillip Mann, The Disestablishment of Paradise: I’d read two of the books on the Clarke Award shortlist, and thought it would be a good idea to read the other four. This was one of the weaker books on the list, full of gender essentialism and uncomfortable prose. I’d have liked it to be a lot better than it was.
Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice: Also on the Clarke shortlist, and the eventual winner. I’d have had to read this eventually, but I wish I’d come to it earlier. It’s good, and I enjoyed it, but after months of hearing about how revolutionary it was in its approach to gender and to colonialism, I found myself looking for more than I found.
Christopher Priest, The Adjacent: This was certainly a Christopher Priest book. Not my favourite of his work (but still good); I may have done it an injustice by rushing through it in time for the award to be announced. I’d like to come back to it at some point. For now: if you’re an alternate-history Islamic republic, why are you italicising “burqa”?
Ramez Naam, Nexus: I could probably have dealt with the lazy gender and race stereotypes, the dubious science, the accidental (lol, whoops!) sexual assault at the beginning, and the army of Chinese clones who all look alike (no really) if there had been any basic competence to the text itself. Nexus isn’t a bad novel, it’s a novel that has no conception of what narrative prose does. Also everything Dan Hartland says here; his disgust heals my own.
Karen Russell, Sleep Donation: I think I may need a reread of this before any proper commentary can happen. It’s very Karen Russell, which is a good thing.
Anita Nair, Idris, Keeper of the Light: Historical fiction set in coastal India pre-British rule, from the perspective of a traveller from Africa? I really wanted this to be good. I was disappointed. A review should be published in The Hindustan Times in the near future.
Dorothea Moore, A Runaway Princess or H.R.H. Smith at School, Brenda of Beech House: Is there an entire subgenre of school stories in which Ruritanian royals go to boarding school after reading many school stories? EBD’s The Princess of the Chalet School is still the best of these, but I did like the two Moore stories (particularly Brenda).
Evelyn Smith, The Small Sixth Form: I assumed from the title that this was a sequel to The First Fifth Form, which I read last year and enjoyed. It was not a sequel, but it was great anyway. Some of Robin’s early exchanges with her new classmates have an almost Vance-ish feel to them, the sensible, straight-thinking newcomer facing an onslaught of wit and fancy and wordplay. As the book progresses it settles down into a more ordinary (and still very good) school story, but those earlier scenes are unlike anything I’ve read in the genre, and they’re wonderful.
M.C. Beaton, Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham: The kindle edition was cheap. I’m not a huge fan of this series—I like that Agatha’s an unlikeable middle-aged woman, but that’s really the only thing about them that really appeals to me, and it makes it hard to see them as more than a vaguely pleasant distraction on an evening off.
Suniti Namjoshi, The Mothers of Maya Diip: I wrote about this here.
Manil Suri, City of Devi: I did a column on this, and it will be on the blog soon.
And because I’ve been doing such a terrible job of writing about movies, here (very briefly) are some things I’ve watched over the last couple of months also:
Captain America: The Winter Soldier: I kept thinking I’d write about this at length and now it’s been out ages and I’m not sure I have anything new to say. It is good? And comes a little too close to undermining its own premises? And made me feel things? I have thoughts about its portrayal of Black Widow that probably do need addressing at some point.
Under the Skin: Gorgeous, with one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in a while. But I’m reading the book and I have some reservations about the directions this adaptation chose to take, both in regard to the gendering of its protagonist and in its refusal to provide me visuals of space llamas with prehensile tails. I will be writing about it at length eventually. Someday. Probably.
Only Lovers Left Alive: Lovely and funny and dark and quiet and beautiful. There was wine, and it made me giggly, but I think I’d have laughed through this anyway. I’d like to watch it again before attempting any further thought, though.
The Grand Budapest Hotel: As tends to happen to me with Wes Anderson films I loved every moment of this while I was watching it, immediately ceased to have feelings about it once I’d left the theatre, and subsequently missed the large quantities of online conversation about it and I am okay with this.
A Story of Children and Film: This was lovely; Mark Cousins having thoughts on children in film, tied (loosely) together by his own niece and nephew and their reaction to the camera. As with all such collections (or canons, though I don’t think Cousins is trying to do that) there was a certain amount of indignant “but what about?” on behalf of things one loved that had been left out. But it was smart, and charming and I don’t even mind that much that it left most of my anarchic school story films out.
Transcendence: I’ll be writing more about this. It was mostly very bad, redeemed only by the prettiness of its cinematography and of many of its actors.
300: Rise of an Empire: The film in which we discover that the evil camp brown people from the first movie a) hate us for our freedom (“us” because I don’t think it ever imagines that a “them” would be watching) b) are not smart enough to be a threat unless led by an evil white person. Said EWP is Eva Green, whose backstory is one of rape and sworn vengeance and who wears a lot of leather in her quest for said vengeance. It is not a movie with many redeeming qualities. It is quite pretty, I suppose. At one point during a battle at sea a horse gallops from one barge to another. And there is the least sexy sex scene any of us had ever seen. And Eva Green dies just as Lena Headey boards the ship on which she is, so that not only is there no chance of this movie ever passing the Bechdel test (hollow laugh), but it almost feels as if that fact is being thrown in the audience’s face.
Drinking Buddies: Pleasant, and Olivia Wilde’s face is very nice, and she and guy-from-New-Girl turned me into my father and I spent much of the film wondering if it was really so hard to comb your hair and make your bed.
Super 8: I realise I was supposed to be thinking about E.T., but I was thinking about Home Movies instead and that made it better. This is very much a Spielberg tribute movie, and it comes with all the flaws of such a thing, but it (and its film-within-a-film) made me happy.
We Are The Best: I WATCHED THIS TODAY AND I WANT TO ADOPT EVERYONE.