Go watch I Am Not Your Negro

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The truth is, I will not do a better job telling you about this movie than did A.O. Scott. I strongly recommend watching the movie, and I think that Scott’s review is also worth reading (though considerably less important than the film itself).

But there are elements which I want to share with you, thoughts that I have had in reaction to the movie which seem compelling. Baldwin is astute, observant, painfully accurate in his descriptions, eloquent in his description of the monstrosity involved in thinking that it is acceptable to murder or subjugate another human being and feel good about yourself. And he pulls up an uncanny moment experienced in two very different ways by those who are black and those who are white. He describes the empty sensation of a young black person discovering that the country they call their home and to which they belong has no place for them, and certainly no place amongst its heroes; and calls on white people to recognize that their country, as they have likely experienced it and been told of it, does not exist for blacks. It is, on both sides, a realization that the vision of ‘home’ is a lie. But it is often forced upon non-whites, while whites are permitted to carry on dreaming until some other confrontation occurs.

It’s the kind of thing that makes me struggle with my own desire to write and tell stories.

I feel irresponsible to not take broader action, to not expose these issues. Writing seems inadequate. I admit that these issues in some way inspire me, by encouraging me to tell stories which deal with these realities. But I also fear that any attempt I make may do greater damage than good, or that whatever I do will be insufficient. And I worry that my decision to write fantastical stories, stories about alternate realities which do not immediately impinge upon ours, is in some way unhelpful escapism. Or I consider myself to be a distraction from others whose voices deserve to be heard.

And sometimes I remind myself that not every story can be that particular form of activism. Some stories need to be fun. But I hope that, in some of those things I write which you find fun, I can offer a vision of a world that doesn’t cling to our own world’s prejudices. And when I do draw those elements in, I hope that I can include them in ways which simultaneously allow us to enjoy the story and to see (perhaps for the first time, if I’m so lucky as to have an uninformed reader) the parallels between the problems I include and the world in which we live.

Okay. Enough of me blathering my thoughts. Go watch the damn movie. It’s painful and still remarkably topical, and somehow I found it inspired hope. It’s really good.

p.s. Here’s another good link to someone’s experience of being exposed to James Baldwin’s work.

Hidden Figures

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Damn this is a good movie. I saw it last week, and neglected to tell you because I was busy getting ready for Arisia. This movie made me furious, it made me happy, it made me cry… and it is a story that deserves to be told. I strongly recommend not only watching it, but also staying through the end credits to see the further stories of the people this movie is all about.

I’m sure that there’s some conflation and massaging of truth going on here, with composite characters and such, if only because this holds together so well as a movie and life doesn’t really work that way. But from everything that I understand, this movie hews closely to the real stories of these people’s lives. It also is a truly excellent movie.

With that in mind, do yourself a favor. Go watch Hidden Figures. Enjoy.

Dust Girl, by Sarah Zettel

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Fun! I admit, I was a little worried around sixty pages in that it would be a tropey retread of territory already covered by American Gods. The voice and perspective are significantly different, which helped, but it wasn’t until a bit later that I felt the story really found its stride (around the same time that it decided to double down on fairies). If I weren’t reading this for class and therefore about to rush into another wildly different book, I think I’d enjoy polishing off this series.

Speaking of which, the cover says The American Fairy Trilogy… which is too bad. Obviously, you want to mention that there are more books for your audience to buy; doing otherwise is bad marketing (shooting yourself in the foot, really). But it also shaped my experience of the story in a way that makes analyzing how I feel about the book as a whole more difficult. It’s very obviously not the end of the story, though I think Zettel sticks the landing for this section of it, and I wonder whether I would have preferred to read the whole thing in one go. Or what might have changed if it weren’t divided into parts. There’s a lot to be said for how my genre and story-length expectations shape my reading, and I think that may confound Zettel’s goal here to some extent.

That said, Sarah Zettel very clearly knows what she’s doing, and does it well. The book is catchy, fun to read, and really gets a move on once you get out of the very beginning. Future plot hooks are well established, I feel like I have a decent sense of the characters, and life is plenty complicated for the main character despite (or maybe especially because of) the presence of magic in her life. Well done. If you enjoy YA, fairies, Americana, and blues and swing, you’ll probably enjoy this book.

Later note: with a little more time to reflect on this, I’m less certain that I like how it deals with race and Native American beliefs. I feel like it tries, and wants to do a good job, but I’m not certain whether or not it succeeds. Your mileage may vary.

Miracle at St. Anna

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They’re looking at the narrative, just offscreen.

When I first saw the title and plot summary for Miracle at St. Anna, I thought that I was going to see a refashioned telling of the battle of Sommocolonia (which I’d just read about shortly before watching the movie).  I was totally wrong.  This movie was never quite what I expected it to be.

Possibly valuable, probably confusing, Miracle at St. Anna is a composite of several different stories, all mashed together in a fascinating but bewildering mix of historical fiction that feels more like very subdued historical magical realism.  The narrative focus wanders back and forth, encompassing so many story lines that it never feels like it zeroes in on any one of them.  Nor does it ever focus enough to mold a sense of coherence out of the disparate pieces.  I like the story at its core, I think, but … I feel lost.  It’s almost too nebulous to really understand, in some ways, and it certainly leaves many questions entirely unanswered.  Or maybe it answers some questions, but in unsatisfying ways?  It’s a bit of a mess.

But why?  It seemed so promising, after all.

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Concept: A Tintin Adventure Flowchart

tintinI think I’ve mentioned my love of Tintin previously.  But I’ve just had a fabulous idea, so you’re going to hear about it again.

Some necessary background: Charles Stross wrote an excellent book, The Jennifer Morgue (part of the Atrocity Archives series, very much worth reading).  He based the story (careful, spoilers) on a combination of real world events and James Bond clichés, and did it excellently.  He did this in part by analyzing the Bond oeuvre (I suppose I should say the Fleming oeuvre, but Fleming really didn’t have that much to do with most of the movies) and creating flowcharts of Bond film opening scenes and general plots.

Yes, you read that correctly.  He watched all the Bond films with a friend and wrote up flowcharts to describe what they saw going on.  Here’s the flowchart of a Bond movie opening scene, and here’s the flowchart of a Bond film writ large.

Now, I love Tintin very much, but there are some problems with the old comics.  Consider:

20140112153933!Tintin-mainCastI’m amazed that Castafiore is even included in the cast of characters.

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Yeah, that’s objectionable.

So I’ve been thinking that I should try writing new Tintin stories.  Well, not Tintin per se, but adventure stories like Tintin’s, without the same racist depictions and with better representation all around.  And Stross’ flowcharts have inspired me.  I plan to go through and re-read a number of old Tintin stories, and try to make a Tintin adventure flowchart that I can follow when the time comes.  It might turn out that this is impossible, and Hergé simply had too many different stories, but I suspect that I could pull something useful out of all this.  What do you think?  Are you interested?

Brilliance, by Marcus Sakey

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In my case, Lee Child’s cover blurb is highly inaccurate.  Assuming that he includes himself in the group he describes, I’d guess Lee Child hasn’t read many superhero stories; he certainly should be familiar with a number of the other elements involved in Sakey‘s Brilliance.  The book is an excellent combination of superhero fiction, “spy” thriller, and semi-dystopian intrigue, and while I haven’t read many books that combine all of those elements at once, I’m certainly familiar with each of them individually.  That familiarity leaves me well positioned to appreciate the skill with which Sakey unwinds his plot.

The story is set in a world in which some people (1% of the population, more or less) are extremely capable at pattern recognition, generally focusing on a specific subset of their environment.  Our protagonist, for example, is able to read people’s immediate intent through their body language, making him fabulously good at telling where people are going to move within the next few seconds, and at telling whether or not someone believes what they are saying to be true.  This basis for superpowers is simultaneously remarkably constrained and very wide-ranging.  It doesn’t make people superhuman in immediately noticeable ways, and Sakey does an excellent job of keeping to his original concept without breaking the plausibility of the setting.

This is a fast and fun book, and an easy read.  The main character is a quintessential representation of The Man, and the story offers pulpy action goodness, with a thick helping of intrigue, implicit duplicity, and lies.  If you enjoy quick reads that deal with a moderately dystopian alternate present filled with superhumans who are indistinguishable from the rest of us, and all the problems that entails, then I suggest you pick up this book.  You may want to pick it up even if those keywords don’t set your Must Read alarms buzzing, but I’ll save any more description for after the break, where I keep all my spoilers.

Also, just to warn you, this book definitely deals with racism and the abuse of authority.  I think it does it decently, you may think differently.  I don’t think you’d mind it, Stephanie, but I also don’t know that you’d identify with the narrator at all.

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Now This Is A Story All About How…

I got to where I am right now
So I’d like to take a minute; just sit right there:
I’ll tell you how I got to the set of sociocultural beliefs I’m at right now and why I think it’s important (especially for gamers) to confront sexism/racism/homophobia within our community because minority groups are already not really taken seriously so all of their bad actions reflect on them whereas bad actions of ‘normal’ people just reflect on people which is why things like Steubenville don’t make the majority of our culture say ‘see, I knew football players were no good’ whereas things like this make people say ‘see, I knew gamers were no good’ when really both of them should lead us to the belief that we live in a self-propagating rape culture

…and I did this all after going to high school in a town called Bel-Air?

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