Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

What’s that? A bird? A plane? A review of an anthology paying tribute to one of science fiction’s most singularly game-changing writers?

It’s probably that last one.

It should go without saying but: spoilers below. It is difficult to review anything without spoiling something. Thus, there will be no kvetching about spoilers.

Octavia’s Brood edited by adrienne maree brown and Walidah Imarisha, out April 14, is a collection of stories, essays, and–in one remarkable case–a T.V. script, which seeks to capture the visionary fiction aesthetic and social justice mentality of the great Octavia Butler. Brown and Imarisha solicited its contents from a wide range of activists, from journalist Dani McClain to actor LeVar Burton. The stories include speculative fiction of all stripes, including more recognizable spaceships-and-aliens sci-fi, fabulism, zombie apocalyptic horror, and–unsurprisingly–plenty of dystopian fiction.

In other words, there’s pretty much something for everyone between the covers of Octavia’s Brood, provided you’re interested in having your ideas and social assumptions challenged. Much like Butler’s work, this is an anthology driven by questioning and the questions asked–about race, gender, and sexuality in society–are not easy ones. Consequently, I recommend it as a slower read. Take some time to chew on what you’ve been given. Think about the stories and go back to them if you can. This is a book that requires patience and introspection; if you blow through it, you’re not going to get anything much out of it.

But assuming you are that kind of reader–and if you love Butler, you almost certainly are–definitely pick up this book. If you can, read it with some likeminded (or maybe slightly different-minded) friends. It will precipitate the types of conversations many of us want and need to have. Good fiction, like Butler’s fiction, can do that for us. It can make us grapple with the issues of our identity, the ways in which we conceive of one another, the often unnoticed harm that happens to those of us outside the margins.

That’s all well and good, Julia, you might be saying, but how were the stories? That’s what we read anthologies for, after all. Ideas can only get us so far.

I’ll admit, not everything in here was my cup of tea in terms of plot and structure, but as I said, that doesn’t seem to be the goal. There’s something sort of scattershot, sort of busy, in this approach–a cramming in of different types of stories to spur as much conversation as possible. And, because many of these people aren’t writers by trade, the quality of prose can be a little uneven at times. Some stories seemed to need more room to breathe. Others felt sluggishly paced. But there were plenty of gems, too, by my estimation.

My top five were:

“Revolution Shuffle” by Bao Phi. The anthology opener kicked it off with a socially conscious zombie twist worthy of early Romero. Hit all the right buttons for me and gave us that “on the edge of revolution” feel that persisted throughout Octavia’s Brood.

“The River” by adrienne maree brown. Hands down the most beautifully written story in the book and the prose lent itself to the eerier qualities of this ghostly story set in post-industrial Detroit.

“The Long Memory” by Morrigan Phillips. An unusual sort of tale that deals with the issue of cultural and social memory and the problems we encounter when only a handful of people are aware of that inheritance.

“The Surfacing” by Autumn Brown. Interesting in media res approach which details the ousting of a woman from her subterranean society, only for her to discover everything above wasn’t quite as she thought.

“Lalibela” by Gabriel Teodros. This story that shifts through space and time reminds us how much has changed and how little.

It should be noted, too, that the essays at the end of the anthology are pretty fantastic all on their own, especially if you like talking about Butler’s work or Star Wars.

On the whole, despite its flaws, I was glad for the opportunity to read Octavia’s Brood and dwell on its questions. I sincerely hope there will be more anthologies like it in the future.

7/10.

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There’s been a lot of web buzz about this most recent season of Game of Thrones, particularly on the topic of sexual assault in the series and the A Song of Ice and Fire novels. There is much, much more rape in the books than the tv show–arguably more than be accounted for by the show’s condensed format. And just today, George R.R. Martin himself weighed in on the issue, saying: “I want to portray struggle.”

I gave up on Game of Thrones pretty much after season 2–in part because I stopped getting HBO, but honestly I haven’t missed it. I’ve read the books up to the most recently released fifth installment. I’m on the fence about whether I want to keep reading. To be very blunt, I haven’t particularly enjoyed the books since A Storm of Swords (no. 3). I’d say intellectually I get the appeal, but it’s honestly something I wonder about. Why do so many people love Game of Thrones? And by extension, why do we love high fantasy?

To just about everyone who knows me, I’ve been “the girl who loves zombies” for many years now (more than a decade) because my love of horror is one of my defining features. But not many people know that before my devotion to the grim, grotesque, and macabre, I read a lot of fantasy. Big, fat epic, high fantasy novels. From ages 11-14, that was pretty much all I read. (That and Animorphs. I adore Animorphs.) Then I discovered Stephen King and Mary Shelley and George A. Romero’s Dead movies and there wasn’t much looking back. (I regret nothing.)

So there’s probably a part of me that feels a little nostalgic about fantasy or even maybe unfairly associates the genre with early adolescence. But given its prevalence in popular culture today, I think fantasy has rounded a corner from the late nineties when you were still a huge nerd for having a dragon on your t-shirt. Martin is obviously a major, major part of this, as were The Lord of the Rings movies in the early 2000s. We could debate the dynamics of how that happened. However, I’m more interested in the cultural function of those texts.

Specifically, I’m curious about Martin’s desire to recreate a particular time period accurately (with a touch of magic added)–and our subsequent attraction to the brutality of that era. Put another way: why did we want to read/watch a story with such extraordinary violence in the first place? As many have pointed out, rape is hardly a new plot point to Game of Thrones–why did we want to see it?

I’ve had a couple of conversations lately trying to distill the speculative genres down to their most essential elements. Science fiction at its most basic looks to the future.Horror is, you could easily claim, the genre of the present moment–a genre driven most by emotion, particularly dread. Arguably, most fantasy (especially high fantasy) looks to the past.

The question becomes, then, what do we get out of these glances backwards? Martin insists that it would be dishonest to create a utopia where there was none, but what is the benefit to returning to an “accurate” reimagining of a specific subsection of history? Is it simple relief that we’ve progressed beyond such brutality? A recognition of the ways in which we haven’t? Is it merely escapism–a chance to disappear into a complex world, to experience the battle and intrigue and extraordinary loss between the pages?

To put it another way: if the frequency of sexual assault is somehow necessary to the efficacy of A Song of Ice and Fire as a creative work, what is the end result of that work?  What is its aim? What do we get in exchange? Why is it worth it?

I don’t think it’s accidental that many, many high fantasy novels are war novels. The Lord of the Rings is one of the great fantastic war stories. A Song of Ice and Fire is certainly a series about war, as Martin has made clear. As a society, we find war mesmerizing–so much so that we read about fictional wars in worlds that never existed. But one of the great–I believe–successes of The Lord of Rings that it doesn’t deal in violence gratuitously. It tracks the marks war leaves on people in subtler, quieter ways. That may make it less “gritty” and “realistic” than Game of Thrones but…well, what of it?

Because at the end of the day, when we talk about fantasy–whatever history or pseudo-history on which the world is based–we’re talking about pure invention. We’re talking about completely fabricated universes. Fantasy worlds can be absolutely anything. They are no more bound by “historical accuracy” than they are the laws of physics. And every aspect of a fantastic world is therefore a choice made by the author. To say anything else is to deal in some serious bullshit. As much as it is to say that people of color are absent or oppressed in fantastic works because of similar historical restrictions. No, the author chose to leave them out, whether consciously or unconsciously. They may have done it out of a love for medieval Anglo-Saxon society, but if they’re not actively writing a historical novel, there’s nothing stopping them but their own limitations.

The reality is we choose to delve into the brutality of Westeros and Essos. On some level, we find it entertaining–we should be honest about that. And rape as a plot point is nothing more than an easy (one might say lazy) expression of that brutality. It is no more demanded by the setting than any other aspect of the story. The reality is that we demand it–we expect it. It has become part of our cultural language for women. It’s a shorthand for “female character development.”

But we’re not required to use it. As with all storytelling, it’s a choice.

The 15 in ’15 series concludes with this year’s exciting new genre literature!

[Note: It was most convenient to link to Amazon in this case, but please consider purchasing from your local bookstore.]

  1.  The Just City by Jo Walton (1/13) Time traveling Athena? Greek philosophy as spec fic? Yes, please.
  2. Get in Trouble by Kelly Link (2/3) Link is at the top of the Pantheon in American dark fantasy/magical realism.
  3. Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman (2/3) Gaiman only releases new collections every several years, so there are many reasons to be excited about his newest compilation.
  4. Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear (2/3) Old West steampunk from a Hugo-award winning storyteller.
  5. Shutter by Courtney Alameda (2/3) Debut horror with a promising premise–always worth a look.
  6. The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen Johnson  (2/10) I tried to avoid sequels as much as possible for this list but the Shades of London series is so good you should just go read it anyway. Besides, it’s Maureen Johnson.
  7. The Death House by Sarah Pinborough (2/26) Sounds thoroughly creepy.
  8. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (3/3) From the genius who brought us Never Let Me Go, his first novel in a decade.
  9. Harrison Squared by Daryl Gregory (3/24) Lovecraft meets family drama in this macabre tale of a boy searching for his mother.
  10. The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu (4/7) His debut novel! (If you haven’t read his stories, get to it.)
  11. The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor ( 5/5) Prequel to the amazing Who Fears Death, a story of another powerful woman making her way through an unforgiving world.
  12. Uprooted by Naomi Novik (5/19) From the brilliant author of the Temeraire series, a different take on dragons and sacrifices.
  13. The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi (5/26) Bacigalupi returns to a climate change ravaged future to explore a new dimension of our diminishing resources–the men who protect water supplies in desert cities.
  14. Time Salvager by Wesley Chu (7/7) A compelling new take on time travel and environmental issues.
  15. Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente (8/26) From the author of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, a reimagining of film and Hollywood in an alternate universe.

 

What books are you looking forward to in 2015?

The 15 in ’15 series continues with this year’s exciting new genre television!

1. Galavant (showing now) [ABC] It’s hilarious, deliberately corny at times, and doesn’t take the musical genre too seriously. Plus, they’ve gotten some fantastic people to guest star, including Hugh Bonneville and Weird Al. And they’re so very diverse!

2. Agent Carter (showing now) [ABC] I cannot believe this isn’t getting better ratings. This show is everything I wanted and more. Here’s hoping it kicks open the door to a wider range of stories being told in comic book adaptations.

3. Face Off (showing now) [SyFy] I appreciate that SyFy tries to do something a bit different every season. For 8, they’ve brought back three champions to mentor the current group of aspiring make-up artists. The friendliest reality TV show on the air.

4. Last Man on Earth (3/1) Following in the footsteps of films like ZombielandLast Man on Earth aims for a comedic post-apocalypse. It’s good for us to laugh at this subgenre, I think.

5. Community (3/17) Saved from the clutches of cancellation by Yahoo, your favorite community college tv show returns for season 6. And if you don’t think this counts as a genre show, you’ve clearly never seen any of their fantastic pastiche episodes.

6. iZombie (3/17) [CW] Yup, they had me at zombie.

7. Daredevil (4/10) [Netflix] I will watch this for two reasons: 1) it’s humanly impossible for it to be worse than the Ben Affleck movie and 2) Netflix has been kicking ass at its original series.

8. Orphan Black Season 3 (4/18) [BBC America] I have been madly, madly in love with this show since the first episode and last season ended with a killer plot twist. Plus the teaser will give you chills.

9. Penny Dreadful Season 2 (4/26) [Showtime] This show is a wonderfully fun–but not campy–celebration of gothic literature. It’s great to see the genre dealt with so lovingly.

10. Wayward Pines (5/14) [Fox] I am genuinely curious to see how M. Night will handle this new medium. It might be that his deep affection for plot twists will serve him better on the small screen. Unless this goes the route of Lost, of course.

11. Supergirl (Unknown) [CBS] See my comments for Agent Carter.

12. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (Unknown) [BBC America] The book is amazing; I have no doubt the BBC will do a beautiful job with it. And I am thrilled at the prospect of a fantastic series that isn’t utterly ridiculous (looking at you, Once Upon a Time).

13. Humans (Unknown) [Xbox] It’ll be interesting to see how this approach works for XBox. It’s heartening that they’re collaborating on the production of this show, which has an intriguing premise and supposedly very good source material in its Swedish counterpart.

14. The Magicians (Unknown) [SyFy] You never know how a Syfy show will turn out or whether it will last. I am, however, a Sera Gamble fan, so it’s encouraging to know she’s onboard for this adaptation of Lev Grossman’s very popular book.

15. Scream Queens (Unknown)[Fox] Three words: Jamie Lee Curtis.

What TV shows are you looking forward to in 2015?

Warning: As you might imagine, this is a very visceral short. Gorgeous but not for the faint of heart.

I like to reread books in December.

January is all about devouring the books I got for Christmas and studying the release calendar while preordering waaaay too many new titles. But in December, it’s nice to revisit old favorites.

Most recently, I’ve been rereading The Hobbit. And yes, everyone has a lot to say about it recently, with the third film leading the box office and fans and critics weighing in all over the interwebz. I haven’t seen Battle of the Five Armies and frankly I don’t plan to while it’s in theaters. I was fed up after the second movie and its 20-minute action sequences.

Rather than face further disappointment, I went back to the novel. It was nice to remember why it’s such a great story–in many ways more appealing than The Fellowship of the Ring, which takes ages to get going and doesn’t really know what it’s about until the last third of the book. The Hobbit knows what it is: an adventure.

The Lord of the Rings has adventures in it, of course, but I will always think of it as a war story. There is much of the political and social to be considered. It has a huge cast and arguably multiple protagonists. The Hobbit is about Bilbo Baggins. Full stop.

Yes, the dwarves are quite important. So is Beorn the bear-man and the elf king and Bard and Gandalf. Even the Necromancer is somewhat important, although not as important as Peter Jackson would make him. (Yes, I know he’s Sauron. The Hobbit is not about Sauron.)

But without Bilbo none of them matter. He shapes the story. It’s his adventure. His development as a hero. And as such, it’s not terribly dark or gritty. Sure, frightening or upsetting things happen. (An awful lot of ponies seem to get eaten in The Hobbit. There’s also the spiders. And the fate of Lake Town.) But tonally it’s incredibly different. It’s charming. It’s funny. It’s whimsical.

Some of that whimsy showed up in the first film. It’s hard to bleed out the good-natured fun of the dwarves’ arrival or the encounter with the trolls. Martin Freeman is hilariously stuffy as Bilbo. And the addition of Sylvester McCoy as Radagast was pretty wonderful. But in his attempts to tie everything neatly to the Quest of the Ring, Jackson saps a lot of the inherent joy out of the middle section of the book. And the third film looks downright depressing. (Yes, yes, yes, things go poorly at the end but it’s not all dragon-song and corruption, is it?)

I have often wondered how Guillermo del Toro’s vision might have been different: whether we would have had two neater films which explore the wonderful weirdness of Middle Earth through Biblo’s eyes, whether the allusions to the plot of Lord of the Rings would have been smart and subtle instead of so ham-handed and overbearing, and whether an extra character like Tauriel would have felt meaningful instead of pandering. Because The Hobbit could have been a great movie (or two). Instead it just feels forced.

But this also seems to be characteristic of epic fantasy recently–particularly in film and television. It seems that in its quest to be taken seriously, fantasy has committed itself to a particular tone and format, à la Game of Thrones. It’s leached itself of fun–of whimsy.

And mind you, it’s not impossible to retain that sense while still addressing weighty topics, e.g., Beasts of the Southern Wild. (It may be, in fact, that the answer to this issue lies in magical realism.) But it seems a shame that heroic fantasy be reduced to one tragic note.

We’re back with the gift guides! Get your ideas for fantasy and science fiction in today’s The Girl Who Loved Zombies doubleheader.

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What do you get for that one friend who eats, sleeps, and breathes World of Warcraft? The Tolkien expert in your life? (It’s pronounced “meeeethrillll.”) The Magic the Gathering all-time champ? Some ideas:

  1. Munchkin. Any and all varieties, expansions, etc.
  2. An epic dragon clock.
  3. This lovely boxed set of Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles.
  4. Their very own Harry Potter house robe. Or socks, depending on your budget.
  5. A Feast of Ice and Fire.
  6. Dragon Age tea.
  7. The Witch King battle from The Return of the Kingin Legos.
  8. The Digger omnibus.
  9. Squishable Dick. Go read Looking for Group before you starting giving me odd looks.
  10. The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman.
  11. This Deathwing (WoW) toy from POP.
  12. Shadows Over Camelot.
  13. A Princess Zelda-inspired ring.
  14. This trio of fantasy classics from Jim Henson Studios.