House of Flying Daggers is a tragic love triangle, with beautiful costumes, choreography and landscape.
The Wind Rises is a partial biography of a life lived to an ambiguious end. It also has a tragic love affair. It is an animation by Studio Ghibli, and very beautiful.
(I'm finding that as more and more film plots annoy me the look of the film is becoming the thing that I value.)
I don't normally do TV reviews, but considering that TV is getting more hours of my attention than books these days that seems unfair. So, since I'm stuck at home while the handrailer (yes, a word) replaces spindles in the banisters, and had some thoughts last night after watching the final episode of...
Supergirl Season 1 - 20 episodes
Charming YA SF in comic (graphic novel) mode, more than a bit sentimental. Brian has fond memories of Marvel comics and enjoys picking up on the canonical references, which I can't. And I get (at least some of) the celebrity culture jokes, which he doesn't. But we both find it whiles away an enjoyable hour when we are in the mood. Melissa Benoist as Kara/Supergirl is charming in both personas, Mehcad Brooks as Jimmy Olsen is one of the prettiest and nicest men ever, and Calista Flockhart as Cat Grant rocks. All the main characters work for me, though some of the lesser were a bit off. The laws of physics take a bit of a beating, which is fair enough because this is a comic. But if you want women as independently motivated adults to save themselves and the world while being amply supported by (mostly) beautiful men and not too much of the kissy kissy you could do a lot worse. As sf fantasies on tv for women go I like it more than Charmed or Stargate SG1, and although at best it is not as good as the best of Buffy it generally comes off better than the worst. We will be looking for Season 2 when it comes out (in the US in October).
Elementary Season 1 - 24 episodes.
This is a bit odd, I think, but maybe that is just me. It is yet another take on Sherlock Holmes, this time with Sherlock wrestling with his inner demons in New York, and the sidekick is Dr Joan Watson. Again, Brian has detailed knowledge of the literary roots for reference, in the Conan Doyle stories and many of the homages. I have read some of them, but was never that much bothered. Both of us watched Sherlock recently, and having come to dislike that rather a lot we watched the first episode of this with some apprehension. But we found it quite different and liked it enough to carry on.
Each episode of Elementary features Sherlock and Watson using specialist knowledge and deductive reasoning to solve murders, and each episode advances the relationship between Sherlock and Watson, though the balance between murder and relationship varies from episode to episode. If I had to guess I'd say that across the series about a quarter of the dialogue is between Sherlock and Watson about their personal preoccupations and the relationship between them, and about a third between them about the case-of-the-week, with all the rest of the characters and exposition fitted into the remainder. Brian likes the deductive reasoning. I like the relationship and tensions between Sherlock and Watson. Both of us like the speciailist knowledge. I'm not sure the mix actually gels together all that well. In particular, there is usually one or more set pieces where someone, usually Sherlock but sometimes Watson or one of the policemen, explain to the murderer what they did and why - this often comes across as hurried and unconvincing. Nevertheless, I enjoy each episode, although I'm not blown away.
I enjoy the way the characters are drawn. Sherlock is very stiff and abrupt, and speaks in (more-or-less) British grammar, which I like both as a reference to the original stories and as a way of characterising him. He wears tight formal shirts with button-down collars when he's out and about. At home we see him working out doing strength exercises: crunches and planks. Watson, by contrast is a native New Yorker, speaks in soft tones, and is very fluid and flexible. She wears workout gear at home, and does yoga. She goes out in mini dresses with soft cardigans and high heeled boots. I like Watson well enough, and don't actually like Sherlock very much; but then, you are not supposed to.
Most of the sets are pretty standard (for tv) urban exteriors and interiors. But the two spend a lot of time in the brownstone house they share, and here the camera lingers, sepia toned, on wooden floors and and the pattern of light and shadow from the sun, tv screens and fire; on Sherlock seated with his back to the camera tracking five tv screens simultaniously; on Watson framed in doorways or seated cross-legged on the hearthrug, back to the fire. Think Dutch interiors paintings: Vermeer and the like. I've found that the images stay in my mind long after the dialogues and plots are forgotten. Like Breaking Bad, the visuals are a major reason why I have been happy to stick with the series, and maybe even tip the balance between staying and leaving when other aspects do not quite convince.
So off we went for an evening in London like the ones we used to have when we were young. We took train and tube to Westminster, and walked along Horse Guards parade enjoying the summer evening (the Queen has beautiful gardens: https://www.flickr.com/gp/57536449@N07/5
There was some stunning stuff on display, not just by Jackie. Some of the works are shown on the SWA website (http://www.society-women-artists.org.uk/a
And I was particularly and personally pleased by the work of Cathy Read, who has been wandering round the City and seeing some of the same things I see, and painting some of them. She had three paintings in the show, but the one that caught my attention is shown on her website. Do go take a look - you'll see what I mean. http://cathyreadart.com/
And do go and see Jackie's hawk if you can. The exhibition is on until
Bill Bryson - A Short History of Nearly Everything
Margery Fisher - ...Intent Upon Reading
Iain Banks - The Quarry
Terry Pratchett - Snuff
Yell quickly because off to the charity shop they go next week.
Lady Trent does some science and some adventuring, gets her fame, her new husband, and ultimately her name. Still liking these a lot.
One of its members was Elaine Morgan, who wrote The Descent of Women.
The subject is fascinating to me in particular as I look for correspondences and differences between the CCC and TWP. About which I shall have to write some more some other time.
I first met Octavia E. Butler's books around 1980, and I had these 13 books by her on my shelves, including her last novel, Fledgling, waiting to be read for the first time. I was interested to see how memory matched rereading, how the books stand up to the lapse of time, whether the reasons I had bought, read and valued them stand up to the test of time. How did I fare? How does Butler fare?
Both of us fared very well. This was worth doing, for each book and individually, and for the whole. I read three books that I think deserve classic status, several more that are important and should be remembered, and none that failed my personal tests for a book worth reading now.
I remembered reading the five Patternist books in their time, but had very minimal memories of them. They are interesting as science fiction novels, and I suspect would stand well alongside their peers (alas for the time to reread some of her contemporaries as part of this exercise). As literature, however, I think I read a writer's apprentice works, and if they were the sum of her work I would not particularly recommend their rereading.
Kindred was the literary masterpiece that integrated her skills and subjects and allowed her to move on. Kindred remains powerful and astonishing to this day, and should be remembered and reread for a long time to come. But it is still a part work, incomplete, leaving Dana and Kevin with a new understanding of their past and present, but not showing a way into their future.
After Kindred, the Xenogenesis and Parable books are about building futures in the wreck of the present. They stand individually as both science fiction and as literature, with Parable of the Sower as the best of them. But as series both are incomplete, and I speculate for different reasons. I wonder if Xenogenesis is incomplete because to write the Oankali view would require Butler to write the alien, and she couldn't find a way to do that? And notwithstanding the ending of Parable of the Talents, I wonder if the Parable series is incomplete because, knowing what she knew about humanity, Butler had lost faith in the future and perhaps also in her own ability to write it?
After Parable of the Talents we waited seven years for Fledgling, which was her final novel. In Fledgling Butler again integrates her previous work into something new. She writes both the alien and a hopeful vision for the future. And she puts both on trial. And concludes with the judgement that both can go forward even if they must do so on the basis of a flawed and violent present. I think this is another classic to match Kindred on the shelves.
I wish that Butler had lived to give us the books she would have written next. A writer this good who had found a hopeful future and a way to write about it would have been a prize worth having.
I am glad Butler lived to give us the books she did, and I'm glad that she is remembered.
Note: ISFDB identifies 14 books: 12 novels, and 2 collections written from 1971 and published up to 2014. One of the collections - Unexpected Stories - was published in 2014 as an ebook. It is not available in the UK and I haven't been able to get hold of a copy. It has Childfinder, the story she originally sold to but never published by Harlan Ellison for Last Dangerous Visions, alongside another story, A Necessary Being. I read the first (1995) edition of the other collection, Bloodchild and Other Stories, which has two editions, with two additional stories from 2003 in the 2005 later edition that I haven't read.
There's nothing wrong with the book. It's a straightforward 'arrogant adolescent learns better' adventure - second published novel, loose sequel to the first - by a writer whose later Fire / Water / Earth Logic I gulped down in 2008. Viewpoint male character acquires and learns to value a female peer, lots of heightened emotion and adults being brutal to the kids.
By all means read it if this kind of thing is still your thing. It's not mine any more.
At one point when the kerfuffle was down to two birds for a moment the behaviour changed and it looked like one was treading the other.
So presumably this was challenge to mate and actual mating. But we were on the path, too far away for the camera.
First person female narrative, past tense, but this direct to the reader, without a framing journal. Shori, a fifty-three year old vampire, is the product of a genetic manipulation programme to enhance her ability to move around by daylight. But she has just woken up with no conscious memories at all and doesn't know who she is or why she is as she is. She acts on her instincts to survive and re-establish her identity.
Butler likes catastrophic adulthood rites, and here is another. It turns out that Shori-before-the-event was in fact still a child, and the events that have catapulted her into the story have also initiated premature adulthood. When she finds her family and her world again she can't just settle back into childhood and being looked after. She must be an adult actor, tackling the issues around those events head on with more than her own survival at stake.
Here is yet another take on ideas of family. This one is analytical rather than taking families for granted. The issues of identity and trust that confront Shori are important to most of us in various ways, and Butler shows how they weave themselves into a sense of self, and literally gives them their day in court to be examined.
A familiar false note is that this is another book where family is sufficient to itself and the story. Once again, the mechanisms of the state that normally impinge on people's daily lives do not trouble the characters, who can suffer or perpetrate the murder of family members and the destruction of property without attracting any interest from anybody interested in law enforcement.
The importance of touch and sex to the characters is familiar, but a new element is attention to the sense of smell. This is done well, but not as well developed as it could be.
This is a story supremely well told. This is superb science fiction for the twenty-first century.
I mentioned that this is an analytical book. One thing I have had to think about while reading Butler's work is whether I am reading myself and my own preoccupations disproportionately into the books. There is a risk I have been doing this, but this is the book where I had to stop on the way and think "is this me, or is this Butler?". I don't think it's me. I think this is a book in which Butler slows down to examine things she has previously taken somewhat for granted. I think the book gained from that, with the immediacy of action and emotion balanced by a somewhat reflective tone even in scenes of heightened emotion.
I wish this wasn't Butler's last novel. I wish we had more.
Published by yet another new (for first edition) publisher, Seven Stories Press, "a novel" from the author of and five years after Parable of the Sower in 1993. The blurb credits all eleven previous books, specifying a previous Seven Stories edition of PotS. I have the beautiful first edition of PotT, and the publsiher tells me it "...celebrates the usual Butlerian themes of alienation and transcendence, violence and spirituality, slavery and freedom, and separation and community, to astonishing effect..."
The story is told in two voices: Lauren Olamina's journal gets most of the words, continuing the story from PotS; but with each section introduced by her variously-named daughter interjecting from an adult and divergent perspective. Both views are partial.
In PotS the Earthseed community led by Olamina established a fledgling village. In PotT the community first prospers, and is then destroyed, and Olamina loses almost everything. At the start of the book we find out immediately that she has a daughter. At the end we know about both lives, and the relationship between them.
I read this book as conceived in anger.
( I can"t talk about this without spoilers....so this next bit is under the cutCollapse )
There are no easy answers here. Butler writes out much of her anger through the book, and at the end there is a grudging acceptance that things are as they are: recovery without justice; hope without foundation; surivival without reliance on family as its bedrock.
This is Butler's 'If':
"Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools"
I'm reading this for the second time. I wrote a review the first time (posted earlier), almost exactly 22 years ago, and have reread the review a number of times since for various purposes. This is the book of Butler's that I remember best.
First person female narrative, again, told in the form of journal entries written on the day of or shortly after the events described, which is very effective and manages to be both direct and reflective at the same time. Lauren Omalina is the daughter of a Baptist preacher. She has hyperempathy which causes her to suffer sympathetic pain when she sees someone hurt. Just noticed that the blurb says that is hereditary; it is not, it is teratogenic, the consequence of her mother taking a drug in pregnancy, like thalidomide. She lives in a walled community in a disintegrating California. She has her fifteenth birthday at the beginning of the novel, on Saturday 20th July 2024, and she can see that the community will not survive.
The book is divided in two almost-equal halves. In the first half Olamina describes her community and way of life, frets about survival and prepares to survive. In the second half Olamina is on the road, testing her theories on the world outside her walls. The world outside the walls is dreadful, but Olamina does pretty well, considering. Her theories work out better for her than she had any right to expect. There is a happy ending, of sorts.
I am struck this reading by the great and essentially unexplained vacuum at the heart of the book: although "cops" are a feature, they are corrupt or absent or both; but there is no state or national authority maintaining the peace, no regulated refugee camps, no national guard keeping order. It makes for good story, but is difficult to accept when the USA is depicted as still functioning as a political entity. On the other hand, maybe this is the way it would be there: Butler knows more about California than I do after all.
I think this book must have had a greater effect on me than I understood at the time. Olamina has a theory of religion, she calls it Earthseed, and its essence is that God is Change. There is a passage (pp199-202) where she explains her theory to one of her companions, and it sets out very clearly the basis for how I think and act for myself. I have to wonder...did I get it from her wholesale? Wherever it came from for her or for me, it is one that many people might do very well to live by.
Notwithstanding the faintly unrealistic aspects of the world Olamina describes, this is a very good book. I would put it with Kindred as one that people should continue to read.
I looked again at my earlier review. It's a bit flowery, but I can stand by it, I think. I didn't notice the speech marks this time round, except in one conversation I had to go back over a couple of times.
Both short non-fiction pieces reprinted in 1995 in Bloodchild and Other Stories. The first originally published as Birth of a Writer, reprinted under Butller's preferred title of Positive Obsession. Interestingly, that latter phrase also crops up very early in Parable of the Sower...so perhaps more about that later.
Positive Obsession is Butler's own (brief, 14 loosely set pages) account of her reading and writing life, also posing a question: "And what good is all this to Black people".
I think her question is perhaps well answered by subsequent generations. Perhaps she would have been pleased to know that her work has been of use to people who are not, in fact, Black, as well.
She talks about being a Black science fiction writer, and says: "Now there are four of us: Delany, Steven Barnes, Charles R. Saunders and me." She would be pleased, I think, to know how many more there are now. Many such lists have crossed my desktop in the past few years, here's one: https://list.ly/list/qe-black-science-fi
Black is a word that labels an identity other than my own, that carries intimations of ethnicity, citizenship, generation and cultural affiliation. I'm not Black, but I relate directly to many other aspects of her life as recounted here: as a member of a family; as a woman; as a reader; as someone ridiculed for being tall; as someone who "...has something that they can do better than they can do anything else" but has not yet found out what to do about that. There are many points of connection that bring me into sympathy with and help me to understand something about the rest.
I'm glad I read this.
Furor Scribendi is even shorter at just four pages, and is Butler's advice for would-be writers.
Note: Originally posted this just for the first, but the second is so brief I've added it here by editing rather than giving it its own post.
First sentence: "I slipped into my first metamorphosis so quietly that no one noticed."
This is Butler's second novel written in the first person; the first was Kindred. I wish I could say that this one had Kindred's power, but it doesn't, although it has its moments.
We've skipped over fifty years since the end of Adulthood Rites. The dilemmas and challenges of the first two books are history. Lilith and other members of her family, from Dawn, are minor characters; Akin, from Adulthood Rites, is referred to in passing. The action is set in an unnamed area of South America, and there is some local colour and sense of place. There's a lot of touch, and some sex. The personal rewards and costs of association between Humans and Oankali are explored in some detail.
The story takes the main character, Jodahs, Lilith's youngest child, from the brink of adulthood to some kind of maturity. We learn more about the Oankali, their drives, and their family relationships. We meet humans who have survived without interference from the Oankali, and learn about the cost of their survival. Once again the Oankali focus on the main character, and weigh risk against the hoped-for prize. Once again, the Humans are the pawns in the Oankali game. Once again, there is a resolution.
What there is not is a strong idea carrying the story. Jodahs proves that the Oankali are not in control of everything, that they and their creations are at risk from what they do, that the future they desire is not inevitable. This could be a powerful idea, as powerful as the original idea of the Oankali engineering their own future. But somehow there is no tension in it, no power to drive the story. We follow Jodahs' journey, we sympathise with him and his family, but the impetus for the story is the personal experience and the family-making. Somehow the idea of the risk that Jodahs represents is not developed, becomes an afterthought to the happy ending for the characters we have come to know and sympathise with.
In the end I'm in two minds about this trilogy. I wanted some kind of completeness of ideas across the three books, but I don't feel I found that. The Oankali's survival strategy is a powerful idea, but we're focussed on the Dinso, the Oankali/Human hybrids remaining on Earth, and learn little of either the Toaht, the hybrid group that will take the original Oankali ship onwards to another star or the Akjai of either race who will remain unhybridised. We learned all we needed about that idea in the first two volumes; and with its focus on Jodahs' personal experience Imago adds very little. Alternatively, if we look at the ideas of family and gender roles, we have the families comprising both races and three genders, and Imago adds a lot to our understanding of the family dynamics, but we learn little about the Oankali members of the families and there is curiously little detail of the aspects of the families that individuals are not happy with. So I end the trilogy wanting both more and less of it: less to appreciate the focus on the core idea; more to explore the details we are left lacking.
(Two asides: Both Lilith's and Akin's names had meaning in connection with their stories; if Jodahs' has I didn't notice, and though I wondered if the name is directs the reader to think of Judas, betrayer of Christ, and Jodahs is arguably a betrayer, I can't make that link quite fit the book. And there is a strong emphasis on the different and essential characters of the male and female genders, regardless of race, which I don't think you would find in a modern book focussed around ideas of gender and reproduction, but which I don't have time to explore here.)
The new things that appeared in Butler's writing in Dawn recede again here. We're mostly in a rainforest on the edge of a chain of volcanoes, but landscape is not detailed. We're in the forest or the garden, or in Human or Oankali habitations, but again there is little or no detail of place. Even on the Oankali ship we are given just the barest sketch needed to make clear how alien it is to Human sensibilities. There is little consideration of leadership, and references to sex are infrequent and undetailed.
The viewpoint character is a child, Akin, whose childhood is disrupted by violence and conflict. Like Dawn, the story is told through the personal relations of the narrator with its family and other people, both Human and Oankali, and its own ideas of its self and place in the world. Through Akin's eyes and thoughts we readers learn more about the Humans and the Oankali and their plans and hopes for their futures than we knew before. It is a very mixed picture.
More than any of Butler's previous books, this book is about an idea. It is Akin's idea, bred in loneliness and terror. It is disruptive. It is cruel. The Oankali know it won't work. The Humans don't understand it. Only Akin could have that idea or convince others to implement it, but it is nevertheless inexorable, inevitable.
At the end of the book the die is cast, the decision has been made. We have to wait for Imago to find out what happens.
( The idea gave me an insight...spoilers behind the cut.Collapse )
A young woman tells us the story of how she met her prospective future mother-in-law.
This is another story that sits happily alongside the novel of the same year (in this case Dawn). I am thinking of it now as about family and leadership, and leadership in families, and remembering the narrator's fear of becoming what she seems destined to be. But I have read Dawn and Adulthood Rites between reading the story and writing this note, which may have something to do with that. Most of the words in the story are about dealing with the personal and social impact of a very, very nasty hereditary disease.
In her afterword Butler talks very analytically about genetics and personal responsibility, and refers readers to some non-fiction books including Jane Goodall and Oliver Sacks.
I really am glad I am not David Cameron right now.
Yes, a tease. I'll put the actual thought into my forthcoming post - which might not be until next week at this rate.
This will be my last report on this blog on the activities of the Future of Eastercons group. Future updates will be published on our Wordpress and Facebook pages - links are below.
We are changing the way we work as we split into three groups to do three different things. Emails will be going out shortly to people who have previously volunteered to see what they might like to get involved with. If you were thinking of joining in over the next year or so, now would be a good time to get in touch.
The Future of Eastercon group will continue meeting, and will be responsible for reporting on what we do via the internet and at future Eastercons.
The Eastercon Support group will research and discuss options for setting up an organisation to support Eastercons. Note: We do not assume that an organisation is necessary or desirable, and options will include 'do nothing and let Eastercon committees get on with it'. We expect this group to be busy from July until shortly after Eastercon 2017, but it will be a one-off project.
The Eastercon.org group is taking responsibility for the existing Eastercon.org wiki as a permanent resource for UK fandom.
Our new Future of Eastercons Facebook page is at: https://www.facebook.com/FutureOfEasterc
Our web page is at: https://eastercon.wordpress.com/ - find background and history of this discussion there
The Eastercon wiki is at: www.eastercon.org – this provides a wealth of information about the history and practice of Eastercons
68th Eastercon 2017 - Innominate - website: http://eastercon2017.uk/ - next year’s British National Science Fiction Convention, in Birmingham
69th Eastercon 2018 - Follycon - website: https://www.follycon.org.uk/ - the 2018 British National Science Fiction Convention, in Harrogate
People reading this may also be interested in Conrunner, the convention for people who run UK SF conventions, in Nottingham next February: http://www.conrunner.co.uk/
I’ve enjoyed doing these updates. Thanks to everyone who read and took an interest, and shared or retweeted to help keep people informed. Hoping to see you again on Facebook and/or our web page.