I Want an all Amazon Film | WONDER WOMAN, Film Thoughts

The movie pretty much all of us have been waiting for is here. WONDER WOMAN has crushed essentially everything else in the box office, bursting onto the scene as an all-out success. Undoubtedly, WONDER WOMAN is going to be the film to spear head more female-led (including women of colour) superhero films, action films and more women behind the scenes in industry.

Since I’m fresh out of the cinema and a little tired, I’m going to relay what I liked, what I thought and what I didn’t like about WONDER WOMAN with the convenience and simple wording of beautiful, WONDERful dot-points.

I won’t be getting into a deconstruction of the mythology (both correct and more interpretative) in this film within this post. I’m saving that for next week’s Mythology Monday so look out for that!

-       My first love of the film was the Amazons. Everything about the Amazons. I want a whole film that is just the Amazons- start to finish just Amazon women doing Amazon things, that would be the dream.

-       On that note, what I really loved was that the Amazon women weren’t all white women. Though I do wish however more of the PoC and Asian women had more speaking roles, existed in larger numbers and just had generally more screen time. What would also have been amazing would have been to see some undeniably trans women Amazons and Amazons living with disability how fucken great would that have been?

-       I need an Amazon film. Need it.

-       The action throughout the film was A+, looking a little comic-booky in special effects but I thought that served the story pretty well (intentional or not). It reminded me a little of SPARTACUS (Starz TV) with a nice balance between slow motion and rapidity but throughout you could actually see the action, were given time to process it and enjoy it instead of being bombarded by shaky cam and quick fired editing.

-       On a similar note the use of colour was particularly great in this film as opposed other films in the DCEU. The juxtaposition between the bright, idealist paradise of Themyscira versus war-torn, industrial Europe was well realised. The depiction of the war itself is not far outside of other war based films, grey colour palette, tight but rough depictions of terror, injury and devastation.

-       I admit I got a bit teary in certain parts of this film. Mainly in the first forty or so minutes. Just generally overwhelmed (and if you know me personally, you know I am decidedly not an emotional person) that this was an actually thing, and that I was in a cinema with 80% other women, generally, seeing these women on screen being celebrated. It got to me.

-       One of the first notes I took while watching was simply this: you know what I didn’t need in my Wonder Woman film? Men. Romance subplot. I stand by that statement. I remember writing this as Chris Pine crashed into the ocean.

-       Another direct note: Amazon women fucken badass, scared and aroused. (Later one of the characters in the film actually says this, neither of us are the originators of this quote, that goes to SNL.)

-       I specifically noted getting teary eyed during that first battle scene between the Germans and the Amazons THIS is the film I want, a whole movie of Amazon women working together, kicking ass, fucken ascending the film they’re within. God bless.

-       On the issue of diversity, I really, really spent the majority of the film uncomfortably side-eyeing the face that the only visible woman with a disability (Dr. Maru) was coded (as so commonly happens) as the bad guy. Was this entirely necessary, and if so then why have her as literally the only women living with disability or disfigurement (can you imagine how powerful it would be to have disfigured amazon warriors, amputee Amazonians, 10/10 would watch).

-       I suppose this is why I can’t say (unlike others) that WONDER WOMAN is a feminist film, can a feminist reading of it be done, yes of course (like all things), does it do some great things for representation, women in film and industry and bashes down a few walls, yeah it gives a few blows but overall it is no reflective of modern day (third wave) feminism and rather something far more antiquated, ahem, white and exclusionary.

A third wave feminist film would be utterly amazing for this property and that is what I hoped it would have been, but something like that really needs to be spearheaded from a creative and practical side by a woman of colour and really actually, several, coming at the film from all sides, breaking down the barriers of whiteness that seep through in this film.

-       Diana has flawless eyeliner like through the entire film, I envy her.

-       Though the film later argues against it in that first half of the film the idea that Ares is the driving force behind the Great War is pretty uncomfortable. Also portraying all of the bad guys as German is also pretty cringe given this is the first world war and not the second, and seems like the cop-out option considering the Allied forces fought Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria. Still, I don’t know my WW1 history well enough to take this as a serious criticism.

-       I found it funny how many modern-day languages or versions of those Dianna/the Amazon’s could supposedly speak. Like, modern day German and drastically different from the German that would have been known in c.470 BC,

-       Direct note: most of the humor between Diana and Pine isn’t working for me because of the drenching romantic undertone. Beat for beat predictable, nothing new or particularly cute or interesting. Just romance for the tired trope of eventual loss/sacrifice. *Spoilers I was totally right*

-       When the German general takes the strengthening gas for the first time I giggled in my seat because Deus Ex Mac-fart-ina; that sudden air just happened to blow that particular paper ball Dr. Maru’s way which just happened to be the one paper ball she needed. Lucky, eh?

-       Direct note: I want wonder woman’s cloak.

-       Diana’s reaction to babies is MY reaction to babies. Precious.

-       Direct note: Gal Gadot in glasses, dressed like that is my new sexuality.

-       Direct note: Remus Lupin is the bad guy. *Spoilers, I was right again!*

-       Hearing every man go on and on about how pretty Dianna is pretty kinda annoyed me. Yep we get it, she’d gorgeous, I know it, you know it, there’s other things right, there’s like a war going on, and she was a sword.

-       Direct note:  I like Charlie. Mad Sweeny tehehe

-       ‘I am both frighten and Aroused!’ plagiarism!

-       Was a really powerful moment of craft and storytelling for this film when Dianna is torn on the battle field wanting to help the young boy crying for help, the injured solider, the towns people and the horses being whipped. Did in a minute or so a better job of the message Superman’s dad tried so desperately (and wrongfully) tried to instill in him throughout Man of Steel. This is the overall strength of WONDER WOMAN over other DCU films the showing as opposed to telling us the emotion weight, the morality, the difficulties of being a hero.

-       Teary eyed again as Diana charged across the No Man’s Land the symbolism of this moment, the strength of it, god it got to me. Seeing the men inspired and in awe and protected by her. It was so powerful, probably (apart from the Amazon’s) my favourite part of the film.

-       I really REALLY wanted ALL of the Amazon women fighting in the war. Can you imagine that scene CAN YOU IMAGINE IT? AN ARMY OF POWERFUL DIVERSE WOMEN ANHILATING A BLOCKADE OF WHITE MEN?

-       Direct note: Of fucken course it snows, Gilmore Girls making snow romantic since 2000.

-       Direct note: of fucken course he moves the little bit of hair out of her face, of course. God, I did not need this in this film give me more kick ass Diana!

-       All this romance bagging on reminds me that this is entirely my own personal preference, not any objective analysis of the romance in the film (aside from noting how they hit all the damn tropes in all the same order as almost every other hetero romance since the dawn of time). I am a bitter aro marshmallow.

-       ‘Who would sing for us’ oh god, my heart. So sweet. THAT is the kind of relationship I wanted out of this film, Diana making meaningful relationships and connections with men outside of the confines of a Hollywood romance.

-       Deus Ex Car-china just because you wave it off saying there was just a field of WORKING UNGUARDED cars out there does not make it any less lazy storytelling film that I am enjoying immensely. 

-       Direct note: Yep, really hate what they did with Dr. Maru. Hate everything about it. So uncomfortable.

-       Diana’s little speech before striking and General Erich Ludendorff/Ares has me thinking of THE PRINCESS BRIDE. 

-       ‘Maybe people aren’t always good…’ from a storytelling perspective it would have been more powerful if he’d said us instead of them in this little speech.  

-       He then went on to say we “we’re all to blame” and yep, good message, better message than the film initially sets up. Cue Castiel from SUPERNATURAL:

-       Remus is Ares and I fucken knew it. Big named actor was a dead giveaway.

-       On this note with Ares and everything; Wonder Woman’s mum is a real Ben Kenobi I mean a lot of this could have been avoided or easier if you’d just told Diana that she’s the godkiller? I mean, you could of told her what the flip was going on!

-       Direct note: Charlie is me. 

-       Seeing Remus Lupin act all Voldemort-y is very strange and doing things to my heart.

-       Ares armor looks awesome (like it did in the comics) but this is undercut by the fact you can see Remus’ face would have been a lot more intimidating if they’d had blacked it out with like glowing eyes, more like the comics.

-       ARES WHAT ARE YOU DOING. YOU CAN’T WEILD LIGHTNING??

-       I like the addition of Ares merely inspiring, planting seeds in people’s minds as often this is how Gods operated in Greek/Roman Mythology (Ares in particular) as shown most prominently in the Iliad with the gods walking invisibly amongst the soldiers on either side of the Trojan War, interfering at will and drawing lots. 

 

Ultimately, I really enjoyed WONDER WOMAN, but it could have been truly groundbreaking and a little more daring.

Now, I am not any really Wonder Woman fan (comics) but I was a bit surprised by some of the changes to Diana’s backstory from what I knew of the comics.

So, as far as I’m aware the original Wonder Woman comics depicted Diana’s origin story as yes, a child crafted from clay by her mother Hippolyta, but it wasn’t Zeus who Pinocchio-ed Diana to life but rather the goddess Aphrodite (who you can read my Mythology Monday post about here).

The change though seemingly arbitrary actually has deep and reverberating consequences for the message of the film and Wonder Woman throughout.

Having Zeus as Diana’s ‘father’ is pretty shitty. I mean, Zeus is undeniably the worst god, the most misogynistic, patriarchal figure in Greek and Roman mythology. If Zeus was around today he would be all about the hash tag #NotAllMen, wear a fedora unironically and think it’s funny to have spread sexts of his ex’s around. He probably would have voted for Trump.

Zeus’ involvement in Diana’s birth weakens the femininity of Diana’s origin (think about how many times Zeus’ name was spoken in the film as opposed to ANY of the Greek/Roman goddesses?), as well as erasing the symbolic queerness of Diana’s birth (between Aphrodite and Hippolyta) making it symbolically a heterosexual union.

It would have been stronger subtexually and from a story telling perspective to keep Aphrodite (and in fact many of the other Patron goddesses) as key figures in Diana’s existence and culture.

It would have been a more layered story, a more textured story to maintain Aphrodite as Diana’s chief patron, and have her gift Diana with the strength and power to overcome Ares, a more layered story for the fact that Ares was in fact one of Aphrodite’s lovers, the father to some of her children and would mirror the theme of personal sacrifice rife throughout the film.

It stick out to me because not only was Aphrodite removed from Diana’s story but all the patron goddesses who had a hand in Wonder Woman’s tale were not even mentioned. Take this panel from the Wonder Woman comics:

How much more could the story had been if these diverse and powerful goddesses were the ones to gift Diana with her power? Using the strength and power of ferocious mothers and women to defeat a god based around masculine destruction and violence?

Fucken kickass right?

Ultimately what we got instead was a predictably monotheistic template of good vs evil, ie. God vs Satan/Lucifer, Zeus vs Ares. A story which places Diana more in a position of a tool of man-ish devices rather than a heroine in her own right.

Dunno, just thinking of what could have been, it keeps you up at night. 

As you can see I had a lot of thoughts throughout this film, which overall, I thought was a great film. At 2.5 hours long, there wasn’t any moment where I was bored or checking the time, I was engaged and interested and invested from start to end and though I do have some critiques it is definitely strong film and undoubtedly the best in DC’s cinematic universe

I am definitely going to do a more in-depth and analytical post about the mythology of this version of Wonder Woman for Mythology Monday next Monday. Make sure to follow that up because (though I touched a little on some of the idea’s here) there is A LOT to talk about.

Fandom Fun and Fiction | QUEENS OF GEEK, Book Thoughts

First, an acknowledgement.

I am overly critical (and skeptical) of people who write about geekdom/fandom/nerd culture.

I suppose because, like so many lifelong geeks, I have been burned before with stories like THE BIG BANG THEORY and just in general life. For forever nerd culture has been the butt of the joke,  has been exploited and picked on for years in almost every facet, from almost every angle, so I feel that it’s understandable one might be a wee bit (a lot bit) anxious about the sudden influx of mainstream attention on out little corner of the multiverse.

Us geeks, gee, we’ve become somewhat used to having stories be about us but not made for us.

QUEENS OF GEEK is part of a (thankfully) growing trend of geeks taking the reins and telling their own stories. Exposing the soft underbelly of nerd culture only to give us a bit of a hug, a bit of a pat and tell us we’re doing okay and the things we like and the way we like them are great.

I probably put a lot of pressure on my reading of QUEENS OF GEEK (particularly because I grew up a geek, be a geek, breathe a geek and because my current MS deals in a lot of similar elements) but seriously, my fears and worries were unfounded with this novel.

It is clear QUEENS OF GEEK comes from not only a place of deep love and appreciation for everything nerdy but also from experience. From the first couple of pages I could tell from the references alone (since references are our primary form of communication as nerds) that this story was in knowing, careful, appreciative hands. Wilde correctly and deftly paints for us a scene with our characters not only in the centre of the ‘SupaCon’ *cough SDCC cough* but also undeniably our people.

We kick off with three Aussies attending the northern hemisphere’s biggest convention. Supa Con. Wilde captures the casual convention scene pretty well, whether it’s your first time attending, photo ops and signing lines, the artists lane, it’s a familiar landscape. Our three protags (two main p.o.v characters) are something beautiful about this book. We have Taylor a bookophile who’s heavily into the bookish scene, cosplaying her favourite character and in love with her best mate Jamie and Charlie a famous Youtuber and indie actress but nonetheless nerdy like the rest of us.

There is strength in the portrayal of these characters. In their uniquely #LoveOzYA diversity and intersectionality that goes far past a certain identity and fleshes them into human beings (because they just are).

I’m not on the Aespie spectrum but a lot of Taylor’s experiences of anxiety and dissociation resonated quite strongly with me (and I suspect other people with some form of anxiety disorder). Her experiences as a person on the spectrum were so well realised and so well written that it was incredibly heartening to read about. Charlie also, our other main protag was great bisexual rep on the page, unashamed, untethered by expectation and stereotyping, I really enjoyed that facets (see: most facets) of her character. And the way these two found spaces for themselves in nerd culture is a real staple of what this scene is for many of us. Many geeky fans are marginalised people, albeit it in different ways (race, sexuality, gender, disability or neuro-typically *not a word, now a word*) because we can easy carve out spaces and even whole communities with others who share a powerful and unique passion for the things we love.

I loved seeing this element of real life nerdom on the page. A true reflection of the nerd environment I grew up in.

Wilde crafts all her characters with sensitivity towards their identity experiences. This all came across the page as an honest and truthful portrayal that resonates with like-living readers.

The romantic relationships (understandably if you know anything about me) weren’t my favourite part of the story, I felt that rather the characters shined brighter as individuals, overcoming personal challenges and fears.

Though this is probably not insta-love (I am not a great judge of insta-love) it did feel a bit like it (with both main characters/relationship) then again, I’ve been conditioned by fanfiction to believe that anything under 120,000 words of pining and soulful glancing is insta-love so—again, the love stories were not a highlight for me personally. They didn’t bother me (and they’re not badly written or told at all) just it isn’t/wasn’t my cuppa tea, they didn’t engage my interest as much as the scenes and experiences of the individual characters personal growth and triumph.

There were elements of the story that felt a little too fluffy as well, a little too feel good and perfect (pretty much all of Jamie’s character) but again, not a bad thing! There were a lot of great messages to take away from this work about body positivity, self-appreciation and self-acceptance, but at times they got a little soliloquy-esque, towards the end especially since the audience for this book and most of its readers are either aware of these messages or see similar ideas regularly posted on Tumblr.

In general this was a lighter fluffier look at nerd culture and fandom, touching briefly on some of the scene’s chief issues (online racism, sexism, fetishizing of RP and queer relationships, bullying, appropriation and classism) but not really delving into them. Truly, I didn’t expect for the work to.

The intensity, heaviness and obsession that can be fandom/nerd culture was overlooked for a lighter, more relatable feel and that’s not a bad thing, just something I noticed. Again, this read more as a light celebration of geekery and less so a dive into all facets of the culture.

Overall, this is the book that got me out of my reading slump. A fluffy feel good read and a great outlook on the con scene or geekery for those of us who’ve never really gotten to see that in print before (outside of what we write ourselves).

QUEENS OF GEEK was like reading a book that spoke my language (naming my OTP Destiel? Jen, you stole my heart), with references and name drops that within my world carry a weight and meaning all of their own. Great intersectionality, a peak #LoveOzYA read that reflected back to me a world I not only recognise but also live in.


My mum (OUTLANDERS Druid), brother (Kylo Ren, STARWARS), sister (Kaylee Frye, FIREFLY) and I (Cable, MARVEL) all cosplaying for a convention last year (2016).

#LoveOzYA | BEGIN, END, BEGIN, Book Thoughts

Fairly recently I’ve been welcomed warmly into the #LoveOzYA community.

Growing up (in a small rural town, where our school library was the town library) the amount of YA we had to begin with was pretty abysmal. Just the bare basics. Utterly entirely white. Utterly entirety American. I was actually inspired to begin writing my own stories because I struggled throughout high school for years trying to find every queer YA book I could (I found seven) and of that seven only one was by an Australian author (shout out to Lili Wilkinson).

The lack or rather; the ‘Great Swallowing’ of  Aussie YA by American authors, stories, voices, was never something that really bothered me, really registered for me until I began to write myself. I realised that there was a massive gap between what I could call familiar, relatable, home, and what was presented to me in the young adult fiction that dominated the book shops I frequented and the schools I attended. The Aussie YA fiction that was available ~wavy hand gesture~ it was very selective, rarely actually relatable beyond some spelling and kids saying ‘Uni’ instead of ‘College’.

I know I’m not the only one who felt like this growing up. #LoveOzYA the hashtag, the movement the call to arms, reflects this desire for more Australian visibility in the YA sphere world over, but more importantly right here at home.

#LoveOzYA represents a grassroots movement devoted to the promotion of Australian writers, Australian authors and Australian stories.

BEGIN END BEGIN is a celebration of the success and continuing growth of this movement.

Editor and contributor to the newly released BEGIN END BEGIN: A #LoveOzYA ANTHOLOGY, Danielle Binks writes; "Books create communities,” this is something that has been proven true to me time and time again. No community is perfect, as communities are made up of individuals, but the individuality of #LoveOzYA, those in publishing and editing and writing, and of course those blogging and reading, is where it gathers its power. Its force, its diversity (which is a particular note of importance and something we are all still striving to grow and support and fight for both in our stories and how we craft/sell them).

BEGIN END BEGIN as a collection of short stories by celebrated Aussie authors champions this mission. Filled to the page border with a variety of stories some including space travel, modern day psychics, teen pregnancy, magic realism and every day contemporary, BEGIN END BEGIN presents a great sampling of what Aussie YA Lit has to offer. More than that, it shows us a cliff edge from which we can fly, beginnings, endings, mushy middle ground that isn’t quite either—overall the collection does not disappoint.

Love Oz YA is about the inclusion of voices,” writes Binks in a letter to us, me, you, the reader and she is spot on. The breath and depth of voices shown here is something really special to behold and only speaks to more diversity in stories and story tellers in the #LoveOzYA family.

One Small Step by Amie Kaufman
A very cute quick story, but….IN SPACE….

I Can See The Ending by Will Kostakis
A great concept and excellent execution! As always Kostakis delivers.

In a Heartbeat by Alice Pung
Possibly my favourite of the lot. Hits down on hard truths and family relationships.

First Casualty by Michael Pryor
I love how this unfolded, also good not too strenuous worldbuilding.

Sundays by Melissa Keil
Very cute. And very real. Also one of my favorites.

Missing Persons by Ellie Marney
Very sweet and cute, though I feel as though I am missing something, prequel to something maybe? XD

Oona Underground by Lili Wilkinson
Love the blending and almost surrealist realism. Lili Always delivers!

The Feeling from Over Here by Gabrielle Tozer
I am all about buses and meet-cutes. Felt very grounded.

Last Night at the Mount Solemn Observatory by Danielle Binks
This hits parts of me I didn’t even know could feel emotion… damnit

Competition Entry #349 by Jaclyn Moriarty
Fantastic character voice here, a definite fave. A perfect way to cap off a lovely anthology.

Snapshots, pieces, fragments, just a taste. Some authors I have read before (and loved) some new authors too who’ve given me some new titles to add to my reading list. My personal highlights were Will Kostakis, Alice Pung, Lili Wilkinson, Jaclyn Moriarty, Melissa Keil and Danielle Binks but ALL of the contributors were brought together to do what they do best. Tell damn great stories and tell them well.

Honestly, in reading stories all brought together like this, I’ve never felt more proud, excited, emboldened and challenged to be a young Australian writer and specifically, a writer for other young Australians.

I most certainly loved reading this. I love celebrating this. I truly #LoveOzYA and all of the people who came together and continue to come together to make it happen.

If you #LoveOzYA, this is an anthology for you. 

 

WELCOME TO AMERICA | Thoughts on S1E01 American Gods

Anyone who knows me (or has read my first ever post on this blog) knows that my favourite book (possibly of all time) is AMERICAN GODS by Neil Gaiman.

Now, I don’t want to spend too much time rehashing what I’ve already talked about in that post (namely talking about the adaptation as opposed to the book, the diverse cast of characters and the overall book plot/story) so, if you’d like to see my thoughts of the show before I actually saw the show, click here.

Beware: spoilers ahead and in that blog post as well.

Read it? Caught up, cool, let’s watch STARZ’s adaptation of AMERICAN GODS.


OPENING TITLE…

We open up with the theme (because, of course we do). Now the visuals here are utterly gorgeous, blending the mythological, the technological and this subversive almost hyper realism, having a similarly smooth opening as a show like  WEST WORLD (HBO) but the score for this is a little abrasive to listen to (do not recommend ear phones for this one).

The tone is right, it sets us on edge, throws us into an almost club like thrall with challenging imagery, needles and pills mixed in with godly idols and neon lights. This is just about the only instance where the sound mixing in this first episode isn’t A plus, but it does set the precedent for the imagery of the episode which (as we will get into) the pilot's real strength.

In the way of Gaiman stories (i.e. stories about stories) we open up on a book, a quill and ink. As the words ‘Coming to America’ are scrawled onto the parchment, we meet our first God Mr. Ibis (Thoth). Similarly to the AMERICAN GODS book we begin with a story about old gods being brought to America by the people who believed in them.
 

COMING TO AMERICA…

STARZ has a particular way of working action, CGI and special effects into their projects. Anyone who has seen SPARTACUS knows what I’m talking about; the abject Uncanny-Valley fakery that somehow works in a graphics sense while not being too gruesomely realistic or off putting.

These bursts of action far exceed the book (that did have its moments, but was narrated with that usual Gaiman-esque detachment that it was more like looking at a painting than picturing any action visually happening in front of you), but again, these action scenes are painted so abstractly and even at points are so hilariously overblown that it’s almost self-aware and entirely self-indulgent. Despite everything else in the show edging along that line of surrealism and realism, the action and ‘soft gore’ avoids those bounds completely, intentionally. We're not supposed to think it is real because unlike everything else (or say, something like GAME OF THRONES), it’s not trying to be realistic.

This comic-book like appearance (noticed mainly in the moments of slow-mo action and with their blood) is offset by the downright stellar costuming and setting.

In this prologue Mr. Ibis details the story of a band of Norse explorers making landfall in America and, after suffering horribly, turning to their gods (Odin namely) for the wind needed so their ships can sail home again.

Unlike the book, there is no room for subtlety in Bryan Fuller’s blood bath what with the Nordic men stabbing themselves in the eyes, hosting sacrificial burnings and eventually civil wars framed as human sacrifice, all just so they can get home.

I do love how they’ve kept in these small self-contained stories; each one about the relationship between gods and humans, belief, prayer and action and how that thematically works within the overall story of Shadow Moon, Mr. Wednesday and others. I would love to see more of these almost slice of life parables (perhaps one opening up each or every few episodes?) as they were at times with the slog that was AMERICAN GODS (novel) a great appetizer or relief throughout the story.


SHADOW MOON…

Shadow Moon is one of my favorite fictional characters.  

I wasn’t immediately in love with Ricky Whittles performance, the Shadow I know is larger, softer, less confident and more quiet than the Shadow Ricky showed us in those opening scenes. He plays Shadow as a seemingly younger man; not as beaten and defeated as the Shadow in the books. He speaks with too much self assurance, even with the way he sits, watches, observes. He isn’t the same kind of man Shadow is/should be in those opening notes, not bad, just not Shadow (at least not yet).

Shadow is the kind of man who keeps his eyes down while Ricky didn’t sell me on that right away.

Low Key, (Loki) Shadow’s cell mate I instantly went; "yes, this is Loki, suck that Hiddleston, yes."

We’re introduced to Laura and her relationship to Shadow over a phone call, they are terribly cute, were in the books (Laura’s affectionate nick name for Shadow is Puppy and that kills me) and though they don’t have actual screen time together as of this episode, I feel as if the chemistry is already there, waiting to unfold on screen.

It is here that AMERICAN GODS takes a turn, diving full frontal, head first into the surrealism of the opening. Shadow lies in bed, his cell wall cracks open (beautifully rendered) and his wife is there, telling him she loves him, then he walks alone in the Bone Orchard (absolutely stunning visually, that night sky gives me shivers) and I find myself thinking “I am so glad this exists” because I love the book I do, but there is a very different sensation, a very different appreciation for seeing a magickal world or visual right in front of you as opposed to having to imagine it up yourself.

AMERICAN GODS lends itself very well to a visual format.

Shadow’s release and learning of Laura’s death is something we rarely get out of TV’s shows now-a-days (actually the whole of AMERICAN GODS feels like something we’re not normally treated to with TV), the show proves itself here by showing us it is not afraid of silence. Silence between characters, between scenes. Shadow goes through the motions of his release utterly quiet (that’s the Shadow I know) and so, for a while, no one on screen speaks, there is just ominous yet poignant piano keys being struck and little else.

This is not the only instance where sound craft and cinematography are given a place to shine in the episode. Not the only instance of diegetic silence well used.

Travelling to his home in Eaglepoint Shadow falls into the orbit of Mr. Wednesday (Odin, played by Ian McShane), a con man who waxes philosophical about everything under the sun and is more than he seems.

Mr. Wednesday is introduced perfectly. The music playing as he swindles the Air hostess (boarding lady?) is masterful and another great example of the depth and breath Michael Green and Bryan Fuller have gone to to make music and sound work for them and work for the story as opposed to simply being filler or even overpowering the visuals. I constantly found myself loving their choices in music and scoring, small details often only lasting a few minutes at best, but effective.

When Shadow is bumped up to first class beside Mr. Wednesday I am pleased. Mr. Wednesday orders him one of my favourite drinks (Jack’n’Coke).

“I’m nervous,” says Shadow a little quietly, a little shakily when Wednesday asks him how he's fairing.

“That’s it Baby! That’s my Shadow right there!” I yell at my computer screen. “He’s in there Ricky, you just gotta let him out!”

There is some really great chemistry between Mr. Wednesday and Shadow which is so important as their interactions and relationship is perhaps the key most important thing to get right in the show.

And the pilot showcases that spectacularly.


SOMEWHERE IN AMERICA…

I would love to watch someone watching Bilquis’ scene for the first time having no context from the book or foreknowledge.

I would love to see their expression, hear their thoughts and their questions.

Her whole character would make for an interesting feminist reading—especially since show runners and producers Michael Green and Bryan Fuller have decided to enhance the roles of the women characters in the show as opposed to the sausage fest that was the book.

The actual visual of that scene (you know what scene, if not turn away—vaginal swallowing—) was pretty laughable, more so than perhaps it was meant to be? But no more than the severed arm in the Coming To American section sailing through the air still holding a sword and spearing a man right in the throat. You win some and you lose some with the STARZ model of special effects, needless to say they garner more respect from their practical effects. (Still an excellent scene though).

Back on the trip to Eaglepoint with Shadow he is accosted again in a bar by Mr. Wednesday and what follows is an absolutely awesome moment of cinematography, mise en scène and scoring (Zap Mama’s Iko-iko) that I haven’t seen an equal of since Death’s entrance in the show SUPERNATURAL. It’s just a quick, cute moment so out of sync with any other show or scene so far with this show and so it sits perfectly at home. Works perfectly.

It’s the little details in AMERICAN GODS which keep standing out to me more and more. 

And then we meet Pornstache, I mean Ranga Pornstache, I mean Mad Sweeney.

Pornstache makes a great leprechaun and we get a the rest of the bar scene that is so deeply attuned to the book I’m truly impressed with the outcome. While still standing its own in a visual medium, the rest of the bar scene shows us the rougher side to our ex-con protagonist as he’s sucked more and more into Mr. Wednesday’s and admittedly the world’s games.

Gratuitous slow mo, gratuitous blood *kisses fingers*.

“Now you fight for the sheer and unholy fucken delight of it.”

There are two sides to this cinematic coin, proving to me once and for all that AMERICAN GODS is in safe hands; Green and Fuller both having an incredible restraint and generosity given to their staging and pacing. They know when moments need to be quiet, music soft, diegetic sound lessened to the barest of piano plucks.

They also know when to get rowdy, bloody, fast paced action that’s fueled on by a techno bass beat setting your heart to rhythm with a thump thump thump even as the punches fall uneven.

Shadow is knocked out and when he next wakes up he’s in the back of Wednesday's car with one of Mad Sweeny’s ‘magick’ coins.

“Red is not your colour” Wednesday tells Shadow as they drive, referring to his previous (now ditched) ride.

And I agree he looked ridiculous in that little red thing earlier but, I digress.

Aesthetically again, most shots particularly those opening a scene, are arresting and beautiful. There’s so much visually to see in every shot and rarely now-a-days do I find myself so taken with the composition of separate scenes. One or two will pop out in an episode but to be continuously delighted by the direction and cinematography of a single episode (let alone a season’s first episode?) Rarely happens to me outside of Indy films.

With all the fun and onscreen magick I’ve almost forgotten that Laura’s dead.

“That’s the Shadow I know!” I cry, watching my poor smol son suffer loss and bereavement.

By this point I concede that Ricky is doing a good job. *Claps for Ricky*

Laura is also really pretty dead, just, putting that out there…in the cosmos…

Shadow’s heartbreak over Laura is great (I’m a masochist like that), no I mean it is well realised considering we’re supposed to feel something for a couple we actually haven’t seen really interact yet.

Audrey is far more sympathetic than she comes across as in the book. I noticed they left out the Audrey spitting on Laura’s dead body scene which really stuck at me in the book. It is not a massive loss, especially considering later in the graveyard after Shadow gives Laura the coin he won from Mad Sweeney, Audrey breaks down before him then in a way that is both raw and unique to this story and is heartbreaking.

“God, did anyone even hug you? Shit you just got out of prison you haven’t been hugged in how long? Heard that’s a thing with ex-cons.”

And then they hug, a far more powerful scene (and raw scene) than was presented in the book. Fuller and Green already seem to be owning up to their promise of fleshing out the female characters Gaiman crafted (but were cast a little to the side in the novel).

As Shadow walks the streets alone the lights around him go out.

My notes for this technology-face hugger latching onto him consisted of “ahhh!” “Oh sweet oh sweet, Aliens! Ahh!”

This following scene is utterly and entirely remade from the image in the book. The drastic shift of the show to harsh metallic scratching’s and sounds, glossy high-end CGI, blocked in spacing, would feel like a different program if it wasn’t for the shared characters.

And I loved it. That’s the kind of dichotomy I want to see, between the old gods and the new gods, mythology, technology, the past and the future. Shown symbolically and physically on screen. Yes!

I feel this attention to detail and thought only speaks for more beautiful things to come with this show.

Shadow my son (or half-a- son you’re not quite there Ricky yet!) get’s beaten and hung, but alas, saved and the episode ends with a gruesome pseudo-real blood bath for our enjoyment and contemplation.

Just who saved Shadow? (We know) Who was the strange toad smoking kid? (We know) How will the show evolve from here, now that this pilot was basically a play by play of the book yet the minds behind it said the show will essentially be fan fiction, taking on some new and ‘unexpected’ turns?

Overall, this is a strong debut of an existing property, adding (just as a visual medium should) just enough new to remake the old, enhance the story and extend its reach out further. I cannot wait to watch as the rest of the series starts to find its legs, and some of my favourite characters get their moments to shine (Sam Black Crow, Eostre, Mr Nancy, Mr Ibis and Salim). I am desperately interested in the 'fan fiction' take Fuller and Green talked about taking the series. I know the story Gaiman told, and I know what this world is capable of, but if this pilot has shown me anything it is that AMERICAN GODS has found its place on filmography soil.

I am keen to see the war. See this picturesque road trip story filled with supernatural creatures and crisscrossing the United States in a big old American car, unfurl (wow, I have a type don’t I? Gee...)

I’m also going to need an AMERICAN GODS soundtrack CD like right now please. *gimmie gimmie*

Author Voice vs Author Style; Being Critical of Stuff We Like | THE INEXPLICABLE LOGIC OF MY LIFE, Book Thoughts

So, confession; I’m that one guy in every writing workshop who goes on about character voice.

I’m a real stickler for it. I spent all of uni (and really for as long as I’ve been reading) trying to pin-point the differences between Author voice, character voice and style. Outside of all those nebulous words and subjective ‘feelings’.

Sitting down with books, both for class and in my own time, about what makes a strong character voice strong? What makes one weak? What is the difference between the two? What is author style? How is character voice conveyed alongside author style? And the minute of all this is ongoing, and I believe, downright necessary for aspiring authors, editors, writers to think about.

A crash course in my findings for those interested; author voice is the personality of the writer coming through the language they use and the idea they present and the word choices they make. On the other hand, author style is how that voice is conveyed through punctuation, formatting, sentence structure, tone, story construction and pacing. Style is a lot broader than voice. It can be ornate—long, can consist of complex beautiful sentences strung together with purple metaphors and sweet similes. Or it can be more straightforward; sparse prose. Made up of short, simple sentences, etc.

TL,DR; Voice is what you say, style is the way you say it.

A character’s voice though, especially in YA, I think is the most important thing. We hear it all the time from professors, reviewers and editors; ‘authentic voice’ ‘realistic voice’ ‘strong characters’.

It’s the thing we fall in love with, what makes a character feel real to us. This gem comes down to things as in specific character word choices (In dialogue and—if using first person pov, in narration), how the character acts, reacts, how they relay emotions, relationships, thoughts, what they say, so on.

For this reason, I’ve rarely ever loved a book from first person perspective, in fact, nine times out of ten that simple pov choice is enough to turn me off a book entirely.

It’s really hard to write a book in first person perspective with the voice of your character instead of writing with your own voice, that authors voice.

All too often, character voice is forgone for author voice in 1st pov. Characters don’t sound realistic, whole novels read as though they’re written by thirty year olds instead of teenagers. Dull, flat, too intelligent, too unintelligent.

While style applies to the whole book and the way it is written, a character’s voice is the way the author narrates the story through the eyes of that character (i.e the way the character’s behavior, thoughts, mannerisms and dialogue are expressed in the story).

Most of us can tell pretty quickly when the voice is the character’s or the author’s (and a lot of people don’t mind either way).

Me? This bugs me, it takes me out of the story, sometimes it downright pisses me off. The characters just don’t sound real, or even sound separate enough to the other characters (side and other mains) that they share the book with.

For example: with first person pov, if your protagonist is a fedora-wearing smart arse wannabe poet then the narrative and style will have to reflect the douchebagery thoughts and speech patterns of that character. But that voice and style, character voice and author style should all compliment each other and not be each other.

Not only that, but with first pov you’ve gotta describe the rest of the world, the rest of the characters and filter everything again, through that fuck-boy point of view. That is the point of first person pov (I have a lot of thoughts about first pov, forgive me, I’ll move on).

An author can have different character voices in different books, yet their writing style may be the same. For example, our good ole Hemingway. His style’s always the same—minimalist, straight forward, unadorned—but each of his characters have different voices across all of his different works.

And well, I’m of the opinion that we should as both readers and particularly, writers strive for that consistency.

So yeah, right off the bat, character voice distinct from an authors voice is very hard to accomplish in a book and it’s something I’m a real stickler about (with my own subjective and personal world view, mind. All opinions above and below are entirely my own).

ARI AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE in 2015 was the first book I loved told through first person perspective.

But it was not the first Benjamin Sáenz book I ever read.

HE FORGOT TO SAY GOODBYE was my first Sáenz book. A good book, not a great book, but good enough that it had me looking for more of Sáenz's work, and stumbling over ARI AND DANTE with enough enthusiasm I didn’t wince when it was in first person pov.

Ramiro Lopez and Jake Upthegrove have distinct character voices, both from each other and then in comparison to both Ari and Dante. The book switches perspectives between the both of them throughout the story and I rarely was I confused or irked by which character was which, who was speaking, or thinking something along the lines of  ‘no, no the Jake I know wouldn’t say this…’ or ‘hey mate you sound a bit contrived here saying that, where’s your personality?’

And then, again, I read, ARI AND DANTE and Ari’s voice, Ari’s voice, the way he thought and reacted, the idea’s he had and the way he conveyed them was so distinct and unique and utterly different to anything else I had read—it was as close to perfect as a character voice can get.

But then THE INEXPLICABLE LOGIC OF MY LIFE came along and I thought, yes, he’s done it several times before, now I am going to get another unique, heartfelt and individual feeling young male protag.

But I didn’t.

I got Ari with a different name.

Sáenz’s style is something of a common thread across all of his work (not just ARI AND DANTE). He’s a choppy but poetic writer, dealing with big picture and existential crisis ideas. His stories are small, character focused, his simple but at times lyrical (this taken to its peak with ARI AND DANTE) prose is a staple. He mainly centres on the relationships between characters and the internal thoughts of his MC’s rather than a strict course of events. He waxes beautiful philosophy one moment then stumbles over “yeah,” “yeah” in the next.

ARI AND DANTE is the pinnacle of this, HE FORGOT is something of the origin story. The O-G. Both have the same style but are made distinct from one another almost entirely by character voice.

Basically what I’m trying to get at here is that Salvador and Aristotle are utterly indistinct from one another in terms of voice. Salvador has no voice of his own, he is an almost exact copy (right down to some of his exact thoughts, right down to some of his exact feelings, right down to some of his exact lines) carbon copy of Ari.

And that ruins some of the magic of ARI AND DANTE for me, because that, more than anything else, was what made the story so compelling, is what made Ari and Dante, ARI AND DANTE.

And that ultimately, is what makes INEXPLICABLE LOGIC fall short of expectation.  

In saying this INEXPLICABLE LOGIC is not a bad book, it’s a great book even, and while this was the biggest problem with the book for me (I enjoyed it yes, but in the same breath I’d be sitting there feeling just some of the specialness of ARI AND DANTE wisp away) it does have other positives and other problems.

Problems first up; let’s get real. A bunch of people have issue with how some sensitive subject matter is handled in this (attempted sexual assault), with ableist, stereotypical and homophobic language and wordage, words and phrases that aren’t challenged either in the work itself or really in the narrative of the story. With the examples I’ve seen and read in the book I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with all this personally (generally most teenagers, especially teenage boys use ableist, stereotypical and homophobic language,) if these thoughts and assumptions were challenged and confronted in the text itself, by the characters.

But they weren’t and so they are normalised, and so they are seen as okay and for that seen as not okay by me and other readers.

I was taken out of the story a bit, having something of a (really, when you think about it) sadistic giggle because every mum in this book dies.

I mean every mum.

Sal’s mum, Sam’s and Fito’s mum’s, Vicente’s (Sal’s dad) mum. The name for this novel should be One Day; All Mums Shall Perish, because, fuck they are dropping like damn dominos in this. There must be something in the water.

INEXPLICABLE LOGIC is not a small book. It is about 400 pages. And having a book utterly character over plot driven for 400 pages is no mean feet. Particularly, because this books deals with some heavy and sensitive subjects; mortality, belonging, grief, love, family, it is and also feels like a long book.

I both liked and didn’t like this aspect of the book as a lot of Salvador’s conclusions and questions just felt like rehashed versions of what Ari thought and said. Salvador just wasn’t enough of his own person, outside of Sáenz, outside of Ari, to offer all that much new and compelling material.

His family though were utter gems.

This book is a book without romance at its centre, without really any romance at all which is, gosh, I really loved that about it. It’s about the friendships that form, both new and old, that adapt and change as we adapt and change, and the family you make, not necessarily the one you are born into.

Sal was at his strongest when he had his best mate Sam or his father Vicente to bounce off of. He and Sam are best mates, both straight both cis, who have no romantic or sexual attraction to each other and are friends and are happy to stay that way. That is a beautiful thing.

The novel follows Salvador (y’all know how I feel about him, Ari my son I love you but you were supposed to be that one in a million), his father, his best mate Sam and his newer friend Fito. All of them draw together and become something of a patchwork family when tragedies (see: all the dead mums) start befalling them.

The book is all about platonic relationships (the relationship between Salvador and his Dad really striking a chord with me as it reminds me of my relationships to my parents a little).

But again, I iterate, this book passively uses ableist (something I’m working on myself personally), homophobic and derogatory language, presents these in Salvador’s thoughts and side passes an issue of sexual assault in a way that can be seen as problematic, and importantly, does not challenge any of this textually.

That does matter.

It did though raise an interesting thought of nature vs nurture in terms of heritage, as Salvador; a white boy, is adopted by a Mexican family and identifies as Mexican because of that.

I feel that less was more with the characters, finding myself more deeply invested in the characters I got less dialogue and time with, Fito for instance was endearing, Salvador’s dad Vicente I connected with immediately (reminds me of my dad a lot) and his budding relationship with Marco had me rooting from the sidelines.

Sal’s grandmother was one of the many dead mums ( *breath* seriously this is a point I can’t seem to get past, I understand Sáenz was channelling some of his own grief over the loss of his own mother into this story (which is heartbreaking.) But this novel kills 4 outta 4 mums, not they're not really different from each other and not really explored in the differences they did have in terms of grief and the children they left behind *breath out*) that I wished, got to stick around. Not for Salvador’s sake or because of his grief, more because she was genuinely an interesting character, a character with a singular voice.

*Quietly mourns, again, the loss of that special Ari flavour*

Vicente is a really lovely character, probably my favourite of the bunch. It’s not often that I come out of a book thinking the parental figure is the best character in the story, but here I did. He felt real, authentic (specifically for me, outside of writing craft and style) and identifiable.

(He deserved a better book).

All in all, THE INEXPLICABLE LOGIC OF MY LIFE is a heavy book but removes itself from some of that heaviness with Sáenz's usual sparse and intellectually/poetically removed style.

The things I generally loved ARI AND DANTE for, made me resent this book though it isn’t actually bad. If ARI AND DANTE didn’t exist (and we got rid of those couple’a lines that make everyone so uncomfortable to read, or even just, again challenged them and Salvador’s use/attitude toward them) then I probably would have loved this book on par with the love I feel (though a little dampened now, *shakes fist*) for ARI AND DANTE.

Is it fair to judge a book so heavily, so harshly because of the book that came before it?

Well it wouldn’t be, if this book had tried more to be its own, unique thing. To have its own voice. To not try and recreate the one and a million magic that was ARI AND DANTE.

Like the shot-for-shot, live action reboot of Disney’s THE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, when you try to recreate something that’s already pretty much perfect; you’re always going to fall short, there’s always going to be that comparison. And most of the time, everyone pretty much always agrees.

What came first, did it better.

Fluff, Fun and Superpowers | NOT YOUR SIDEKICK, Book Thoughts

NOT YOUR SIDEKICK by C.B.Lee fills a spot for me as a queer reader that more and more I’m getting and itch for in mainstream media (basically, anything outside of Fanfic). That being; the thirst for cutesy, fun and sweet queer stories-stories with little to no angst, no coming out, no anything- just fun, just sweetness.

NOT YOUR SIDEKICK is very sweet.

It’s a book full of genuine feeling queer characters, who get to crush on their crushes, save the world and hang out with friends regardless of their race, gender or orientation. NOT YOUR SIDEKICK has all the fluffy-fun of YURI ON ICE but allows a young biracial (Vietnamese -Chinese) bisexual girl to champion the story.

Overall, Jessica Tran makes a great protagonist. She’s dorky, somewhat average in her grades and general life and aside from the fact that her parents and older sister are superheroes and her younger brother’s a genius, Jess is also the only one in her family who doesn't seem to have any super powers.

Jess feels authentic and awkward and really, all the characters in the book at time seem to present quite a lot of depth and complexity, oftentimes leaning into tropes and stereotypes if only to either commentate on them or twist them with a diverse/queer lens. Their voices feel real; they all have quirks, shortcomings, goals and strengths of their own (particularly one of Jess’ best friends, Bells).

I loved reading all of the relationships of the characters. The supporting characters were wonderful, real highlights of the story. The book’s inclusivity branches across the queer spectrum, various cultures and ethnicities from Jess’ crush Abby, to her mates Emma and Bells to her parents and the various supers (villains and heroes alike). No one was tokenistic, feeling like genuine representations of all sorts of people. I am thrilled that the sequel is going to be from Bells’ point of view as I felt he could easily have carried a book on his own.

What you can draw from this is that I loved the book for what it was, almost like a pop corn movie in summer time, though there were a couple of issues I had with it in retrospect and through the reading.

For one thing, the pacing was a bit off, some sections feeling as though they were escalating and happening too quickly, others dragging and feeling as though aspects of the book weren’t given enough time to develop (like Jess’ relationship with her sister for one).

The plot itself is extremely predictable. None of the mysteries coming across as very mysterious; ten or so pages into the story I could see the plot laid out in front of me beat for beat. There’s an element of intentionality to some of these predictabilities (Abby liking Jess back for example) but overall nothing really surprised me or was unexpected. 

There were also times when Jess would come across as pretty observant and thoughtful when it came to noticing small details but, when the plot needed her not to, she suddenly became oblivious.

The only thing that caught me off guard with the book was the one thing I thought the story would actually be better without, that being Jess having a superpower (the power of direction, which admittedly is probably the most everyday useful superpower presented in the story).

Still, I had a great time with this book. NOT YOUR SIDEKICK was a breath of fresh air to a superhero genre filled with dark and gritty reboots, and a YA readership filled with white female heroines and dystopias. NOT YOUR SIDEKICK gives us something fun, light, fluffy and different. It is respectful to its characters and its readers. As an advocate for more intersectional and inclusive YA reads, I definitely think that SIDEKICKS stands out as a fun read for both older and younger YA lovers.

 

 

 

Such a Sucka for an Odyssey | LONG WAY TO A SMALL AND ANGRY PLANET, Book Thoughts

I was mad when this book ended.

Not because of anything in the book mind, but rather because the book had to end at all. I’m incredibly picky with my sci-fi, what I watch, what I read, what I play, and I fell in love with this book, or rather its characters, enough that the reality of finishing their story, of leaving them made me mad at the world and everything in it.

If this isn’t a testament enough to the book, let’s talk a little bit about it.

1.     Looking for High Stakes Action? Then Look Away

Action-packed, adventure, yeah THE LONG WAY doesn’t have much of that, there are moment of tension, there are moments of action yes, but a a novel, the book is more focused on examining the everyday lives of its characters than putting together some supermassive (black hole) plotty story. This reads as a nice change of pace for Sci-fi.

The story essentially follows this one year journey the crew of the Wayfarer takes to a newly accessible region of space, plot coming as almost of an afterthought. The final act of course is relatively eventful, but the bulk of the novel is made up character-focused moments (TV STAR TREK for example), scenes and tales over the more explosive, epic star-warsen adventure (Film STAR TREK for example).

2.     The Story

As I said, THE LONG WAY focuses on the small inner workings of the space ship Wayfarer, the crew’s everyday life, relationships, incidents, pasts, secrets and conflicts. He crew is a mish-mash of sapient humans (from differing backgrounds cultures) and ‘alien’ species, as well as the ship’s sentient AI, Lovelace, known as Lovey.

Together, the crew of the Wayfarer is responsible for opening (punching) up new hyperspace lanes (wormholes) between various regions/systems of space. At the beginning of the book, the Wayfarer picks up a big contract; opening up a sub-space tunnel between the GC (sort of like the Galactic United Nations) space and Toremi Ka space. It’s an opportunity that is too good in both money and opportunity to pass up, even if it means working in unstable space.

We’re led through various aspects of life on ship and in this expansive universe, including creating wormholes, shopping planet side in various locations, encountering different races/cultures, both belligerent or friendly. The ‘long journey to a small an angry planet’ itself creates issues, stresses and dangers for the crew, as they interact with each other, cope with danger and boredom all in a way that reveals more about their characters and environment in the process. There is always a lightness of touch to the tone of the novel, with some serious, tense, sad and even philosophical moments, also cultivating in a satisfying and even purposeful ending for the story and crew.

Are there slow moments? Yes, slow but never boring.

3.     Our Motley Crew

The crew of the Wayfarer is why I was mad when the book ended I didn’t want to leave them. Especially since learning that the sequel novel A CLOSE AND COMMON ORBIT doesn’t follow the same characters/crew (with only two familiar faces in the bunch), I was a little heartbroken to learn this, which I think stands as a testament to how likeable and enjoyable the Wayfarer crew is.

Refreshingly diverse and distinctive, each character gets some love, some conflict throughout the work, getting his/her/their/xyr time in the spotlight. The gender diversity is something to note in THE LONG WAY which I loved but I’ll go into more below. Chambers through the crew explores an impressive spread of subjects particularly with the novel’s feel-good vibe; subjects such as gender, identity, family, parent/person hood, race, tradition, religion, choice and compromise.

Throughout the novel we learn more and more about the crew. Jenks (the ships technician) and Lovey (the ship’s AI) have fallen in love and the two are trying to buy a robotic kit for Lovey, something which is against galactic law. Sissix, the Wayfarer’s pilot from a feathered reptilian species visits her home world and we learn about her species and where she came from. When Corbin’s arrested, we learn more about his past and his relationship with his estranged father. We learn the terrible war filled and genocidal history of Dr Chef’s world. The world is enriched and expanded by every character and in turn every character is fleshed out and placed within context in their world.

Despite how vast and foreign this may seem, each character is actually remarkably grounded and often times relatable. Interactions and dialogue shift from fun and amusing to heartfelt and touching, such small moments and touches by Chambers, are really a part of this warm and engaging books strength.

4.     Representation

In speaking about these characters, we have to note representation. There are characters in THE LONG WAY that upset the gender binary. Some people use xe/xyr or they as pronouns, some change sex throughout their natural lifetime going from female to male to neither and this is natural biology. There is also an expansive cast of queer and PoC characters (with two of my favourite characters Sissix and Rosemary entering a poly/lesbian relationship), there are many androgynous characters, and the universe is filled with people and species and culture that defy strict societal norms here on earth.

In saying this THE LONG WAY has both been ridiculed and praised for its gender diversity.

The water always gets a little murky when you talk about representation in alien species, some feeling offended to be associated with someone ‘alien’ ‘inhuman’ or ‘other’, other’s not minding so much. I’m personally a part of the latter.

THE LONG WAY has great, great characters who are queer, gender and culturally diverse. But I will say that it is probably best to not recommend one of the ships crew members Ohan (the fuzzy, Wookie like navigator) as good representation of being genderneutral/genderqueer. Though they do use they/them pronouns it is revealed later on that they are inhabited by a parasitic symbiote (like STAR GATES Goa'uld) turning them from a singular consciousness to a ‘pair’.

Thoughtful recommendations I think are the best. There are other gender neutral and queer characters in the novel, but non using they/them pronouns in the main Wayfarer crew apart from Ohan.

THE LONG WAY is a good deconstruction of the sci-fi trope ‘look at all the aliens so different from us but they’re still either female or male’. Good, but not perfect and that has to be acknowledged.

5.     The Universe

Most of the novels individual characters, both main and brief, are well realised, seeming real people from the start. Characters emerge and relationships develop well, for the most part world building is threaded nicely throughout conversation, context and in story explanation (with only a few slogging examples against this toward the beginning) but each part relays a world that is expansive enough and interesting enough to keep me interested.

Many standard SF tropes appear in the story (it’s hard to escape them at this point) but thy are given enough quirks or approached in enough different angles to not be contrite or predictable.

THE LONG WAY’S universe feels like a full universe, a lived in universe, with many potential developments which any other SF novel would drag into the spotlight. Instead THE LONG WAY explores this world through the characters, never getting bigger, fully explored this allows for a richer, more personal engagement between reader and story. We care about the issue of AI sentience, the ethics of supplying military hardware, cultural sensitivity, humans who practice physical enhancement and other groups who struggle with technology, religion, and the diplomacy and politics between species.

We care because we care about the people involved- something which SF novels in particular tend to lack more-often-than-not.

Ultimately, it is a world I can see myself revisiting, but there will be a bit of a sour tinge if the characters of the Wayfarer themselves aren’t involved.

If any of the above interests you or captures your attention, then read this book. It’s fun, heart-warming, feel-good and fluffy. I think of it with a lot of affection as a lot of thought and love has gone into it’s characters and story. It’s easily my most fun read of 2017 so far. As a fan of sci-fi I give it a thumbs up. An excellent debut by Becky Chambers and a great read cuddled up on a rainy day.

Novel Expectations vs Outcome; The Bar is Set for 2017 | IDA, Book Thoughts

Since the earliest days of fiction (with authors like Charles Dickens, H.G.Wells and Enrique Gasper y Rimbau) we’ve been enchanted by the idea of time travel; travelling forward into the future or sinking back into the past. Time travel plots as part of the sci-fi/fantasy genres are some of the most popular, imaginative and well-known tales in any medium; that explore not only ourselves but themes, lives and situations that would be impossible for us to otherwise experience. Tldr; the perfect playground for fiction.

IDA, however, is not a story about time travel.

Being able to re-do mistakes, to take the other road bent in undergrowth is, I think, one of the single most popular and wishful fantasies we’re capable of conceiving. I know I’d kill for such an ability, and in coming from a sci-fi connoisseur family I loving seeing stories that play with this idea and with works like IDA I’m more than happy to read them.

I did expect a different story coming off the blurb of IDA and starting on that first page. From the blurb; I assumed Ida knew the truth of her ability—but somehow, these turned out to be instead important reveals and core pieces of information for plot, tense and drama which, having read the blurb, had me know more than Ida did,  which lessened that particular plot thread/reveal and Ida’s subsequent reactions for me.

In fact, the bulk of the novel’s plot is Ida trying to figure out why these doppelgängers of herself (their self? The whole novel was in first person so I don’t know Ida’s pronouns for sure) keep popping up everywhere with only the final quarter of the novel being what I originally thought the novel was going to be about (uh, solving the whole problem). It felt a little like the blurb had set up separate expectations and spoiled a bit story for me, not a major gripe or anything (lord knows authors can’t control reader expectation) but it would be disingenuous for me to say this didn’t colour my experience with the book.

Which was still a great experience, I really did enjoy this book. Parallel universes have been a long mainstay in Sci-fi/fantasy films and stories (for good reason) they’re the rich soil from which unique, thoughtful and oftentimes challenging stories bloom. Just a side note I categorise IDA as a parallel universe/multiverse story rather than just universe hopping due to the nature of the universes we see her go into (similar yet different realities) and the fact that she does indeed hop or ‘switch’ back and forth them (suggesting that though the parallel universes exist individually, they’re stringed together in the multiverse, making such jumps or switches possible), which feeds into Ida’s mistake of thinking she was/is time travelling.

With a (sub)genre as expansive and all-encompassing as Time Travel/The Multiverse, it’s easy to fall into common trope pitfalls and predictability (especially if you’ve read/watched as many variations of these ideas as I have), the novel does try to elevate this a little with the addition of it's own 'take', but because of these familiar tropes/plot points a quarter of the way or so through the novel I knew where it was headed (narratively) but I still was immersed enough to read on.

Why? Well, by this point I’d already and remarkably easily, become attached  to Ida. Along with the little freshness thrown in by secondary characters like Damaris and Adrastos, I kept on reading despite knowing how the story would unfold. (Were IDA a TV show I’d demand a spin off).

The novel is more character focused than anything, honing in on Ida (with first person perspective) and her companions. Surprisingly for me; I rather liked the romance between Ida and Daisy (meaning I had no squicks or nit-picks), I thought it was well realised and articulated and just genuinely really sweet. Unlike so many other books I’ve read lately (really it’s YA what do I expect) the romance didn’t overpower the rest of the story or characters but complimented them, deepening my appreciation and investment.

Speaking of, IDA is remarkably well balanced overall, between plot, characters, romance and exposition, it's slow a little in places but overall flows nicely. Frank, Ida’s cousin, was a wonderful addition to the ensemble, reserved, quietly intriguing, like Damaris and Adrastos I’d love to see more of him.

I liked Ida almost from the get go—though I’m not a fan of first person perspective (again, hard because YA is FULL of it) I thought my initial qualms with first person p.o.v were offset against Evan’s grounding Ida’s character less so in her ‘effervescent and intangible thoughts’ and more so in sensation, in the awareness (or at times lack there of) of what was going on around her.  There’s a tendency in first person p.o.v for characters to get lost in their thoughts and feelings, I didn’t feel Ida nor IDA had this issue.

In saying this though, Ida’s immense and prolonging hate of her job and hospitality did get a little tired towards the final third of the novel- it’s not a big plot point or anything, but it was something of a constant complaint throughout the work. Yep hospitality sucks, people suck, we get it. (Note: this is more of a personal nit-pick rather than anything actually about the story, so don’t take this as a serious criticism, there are lots of people out there who hate their jobs, lord knows I’ve had some stinkers see: door knocker for excruciating details).

On the flip side, I found Ida’s listlessness refreshing, I always find it great when a young protagonist doesn’t know what they want to do with their lives, doesn’t want to go to uni, isn’t even really independent yet still figuring out this mess we call ‘adulting’. Which I think subverted my expectations of the novel most of all.

I anticipated being invested in okay-to-good characters and being swept away by an engaging plot. When actually I finished feeling more on frequency with the cast and Ida in particular rather than the plot and her universe jumping abilities. Because in IDA, the characters, the ideas of these characters felt real. IDA may not completely stand out in the time travel/multiverse perspective but it hits on some underlining truth enough that it’s clear this is the novels strength. Feelings of insecurity, of “playing at adulthood,” are powerful and not often-explored in YA given our tendency towards trying to escape those exact same feelings through fictional fantasies, and the general age-range of YA, but it is still an important exploration.

IDA is at it’s best when it allows us into this (seemingly) fully fledged world of realism and people; when it focuses on the small moments like lying beside someone you love, talking with your dad over the breakfast table, yes hating your job and even just hanging out with a friend, deciding where you will ‘vacation’ together after your next ‘mission’. These moment shine rather than the grand, sweeping cosmic changes that happen as a result of Ida messing with the space-time continuum.

I’ve been wanting to read this book for a while, you’ll know this if you’ve read my 2017 anticipation round up, or glimpsed my twitter, and I’m so thankful and happy that IDA was my first book of the new year, ushering me in well.

What really grabbed my attention at the Youth Centre for Literature's YA Showcase back in 2016 about IDA was, of course, the novels inclusion of queer characters and a diverse cast. Now, I’m not going to make a big deal of it because it shouldn’t be a big deal it should just be a normal and accepted part of life (and fiction) but I do have endless praise for IDA bringing me this; queer characters, non-binary, trans, a whole plethora of queerness, and just having it as an accepted part of everyday life and living, (but not downplaying the reality of such people/identities). There’s little else to say, I’m sure many other reviewers have and will rain accolades down on IDA for it’s diversity so I’m just saying this;

That’s how I like my diversity, real and grounded with little fanfare, hoopla or flashing lights.

Overall, IDA is a strong novel working well within the conventions of sci-fi to give us something at times both relatable and all the way through enjoyable.

I recommend it highly to kick off your reading year. 

Prehistoric Humanity, Feminism and A Killer Harmony | FIREBRINGER, Musical Thoughts

As a long time fan of StarKid, I’ve been waiting in anticipation for their latest musical FIREBRINGER to be posted online (which it was Jan 1st woot woot) for awhile. FIREBRINGER, the headlining show for the StarKid Summer Season, is the tenth full length musical the company has produced and was funded by Kickstarter back in June. Maybe though, the most notable thing about the production is that it is the first StarKid show to have women not only involved by leading the writing, directing and music composition- but also isthe first to give the show two female leads.

The show is lead by StarKid faves Lauren Lopez and Meredith Stepien, directed by Julia Albain and Nick Lang and takes us right back to the stone-age, focusing on a prehistoric tribe of early humans who are just trying to learn more about the world around them and survive from one day to another. Newly appointed tribe leader Jemilla, Peacemaker (Meredith Stepien) is beloved by her people, a strong delegator and rational (as much as a prehistoric person can be) person. Her life is changed when previous leader of the tribe Molog (Lauren Walker) tells her that everything they have previously believed about the world is a lie (from one of the tribeswomen being the sole reason the sky remains above them, to the duck they worship being just that… a duck). Things only take a turn for the worst when tribe rebel Zazzilil (Lauren Lopez) begins questioning Jemilla’s authority. One night Zazzilil’s newly created (and banned) spear is struck by lightning, suddenly giving her and the tribe something they have never had access to before; fire.

Though the above seems like a jam packed paragraph, from a writing and narrative perspective not much of anything really…happens in FIREBRINGER. The first hour just shows us the inner workings of the group and then really only does so on a two-dimensional/surface level. It’s not the kind of world building that offers any real investment in the characters, with a lot of time which could have been spent on strengthening the two leads (Jemilla and Zazzilil) diluted amongst the rest of the cast for smell ball jokes and fake comedy sketches (a great deal of time also is offered to the side plot of a typical awkward, love story between Emberly and Grunt -Rachael Soglin and Joe Ritcher).  Narratively speaking the show feels a little cartoonish, reminding me of their TRAIL TO OREGON show rather than their more poignant and character driven musical TWISTED.

In saying this FIREBRINGER is still incredibly enjoyable to watch.

Known for their crude language and ‘potty humour’ StarKid ups the ante by not relying on cheap shots to entertain. With a mix of bottom barrel humour, meta humour, and delightfully funny/light commentary (with many of their jokes stemming from real-life social issues, religion and politics) FIREBRINGER is probably one of their funnier shows. The jokes are evidence of a wider intellect, both cheeky and scathing in places, showing that a feminist message or story can be just as hilarious (if not at times more so) than less socially conscious works.

The ensemble songs and dance numbers come across as tightly rehearsed and in synchronisation. The music and voices behind these moves, similarly, are seriously good. From a funky R&B tune wherein Zazzilil announces that she’s not in the mood to do any work today, to a Lion King-esque number with excellent puppetry both of the furry and shadow kind depicting the 'monster' Snarl. The show’s music is percussion based, leading to a lot of energetic, up-beat tunes that are as fun to listen and watch as they are to dance to. Costumes and set designs also feed into the light-hearted, fun feel of the piece and the large, high-quality puppets really show that the team is taking things to the next level.

Towards the end of the show there’s a particularly haunting song called ‘Chorn’ that I love, it’s short but the vocals in it are so powerful (by Jamie Burns) that I downloaded it on Itunes.

"This is the dawn, the dawn of our time.

We are mankind, with the gift of a greater mind.

This is the dawn, the dawn of our time.

We are womankind, with the gift of a stronger mind."

I think what I found most enjoyable was that FIREBRINGER, as a goofy, creative and fun show still works feminism and politics into its core rather subtly. I’ve personally been waiting for a female led StarKid production for ages, as well as a production that features queer characters without them being the butt of a joke (and in this play they make the leads! Pretty much everyone is some form of queer!) FIREBRINGER is a great example of what feminist media is, can and should be, a refreshing change from the cliché of “strong woman who no one believes in because of her gender sets out to prove them wrong”, because such an issue isn’t around in this world. There is no question of women’s rights, leadership and involvement because all of these things just exist. Of course, it’s important to acknowledge the struggles women have faced in order to gain rights in our society, but being presented a story where female characters are powerful without being questioned for it is refreshing.

The two leading women butt heads in the show, yeah, but it’s never set up as a hero vs villian conflict; both are painted sympathetically, as women who, despite their shortcomings and occasional lack of good judgment, just want to live the best lives possible.

With a cast of seven women and three guys, men take the backseat while the ladies play out the drama as leaders, inventors, comedians, and friends. There’s no one Strong Female Character trope at work here, either; as each of the women at times present a unique dynamic that demolishes that stereotype and explores the spectrum of female power and character.

On the other side of it the guys in the show are allowed to be sensitive, in peril (without being mocked for it), and tend to show a reflective self-awareness that pokes fun at traditionally masculine/macho myths in another set of trope reversals.

As with pretty much all the StarKid productions, the cast’s onstage dynamic really shines—a testament to their long standing friendship.

Throughout all of their parodies and original musicals, Team StarKid has covered a lot of ground. Their production quality in FIREBRINGER has also skyrocketed from those early 2009 days and their debut with A VERY POTTER MUSICAL at the university of Michigan. Overall it’s clear to see the team and their work is developing and expanding into an increasingly equal and more conscious age, but their heart and style have kept pace. FIREBRINGER is not only hot but shining. Definitely worth the watch, which you can do so here.

Star Wars, Politics and The Worst Year-Just the Worst | ROGUE ONE, Film Thoughts

STAR WARS, a veritable touchstone for popular culture as we know it, is a franchise and universe that is so heavy in lore and almost occultish history, that trying to strike a balance for both old fans and casual movie goers is pretty much a herculean task.

Set immediately before A NEW HOPE, ROGUE ONE is a film based upon a story- legend even- we’re so familiar with that it’s almost a part of our collective conscious. How the Rebel Alliance thwarted the Empire’s imperial forces, captured the plans for the Death Star and sent those plans out, perhaps (definitely) saving the known galaxy. This is a story so engrained in nerd memory there's no doubt a movie rendition would be full of nostalgic pitfalls. Yet, in saying this ROGUE ONE navigates these pitfalls with accuracy, skimming around the edges and dipping in occasionally, but never busting a tire and causing us all to groan out loud and throw our Maltesers at the screen.

Some of the more— dull online voices have made it clear that they think this STAR WARS feature is the first in the series to be a film about…war. Conveniently forgetting that the entire saga is set in a period of wartime, of corrupt rule and influence, (remember all those negotiations in PHANTOM MENANCE, all those space battles, the uhh...CLONE WARS?) to be fair though it can be said that ROGUE ONE is, indeed the first proper war time film in the saga (as our understanding of war is). And in this way is more accessible than the others, grittier and infinitely more tragic.

ROGUE ONE introduces us to a universe we recognise, but also one unfamiliar, dehumanised by decades of Imperial oppression. Humanity/other terrestrial species are suffering, struggling to survive and reflecting their cruel environment in even harsher and crueler ways. But, classically it is in this way we are introduced to Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) a criminal ‘rescued’ by the Rebellion (equally hollowed out, equally broken) as her father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), has had a key role in the construction of a certain planet killer under the command of Imperial overseer Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn). Banded together with a motley crew (Diego Luna as Cassian Andor, Jiang Wen as Baze Malbus, Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe, and Alan Tudyk as K-2SO) Jyn navigates the war-torn galaxy, coming around to the Rebellion's cause, and reinvigorating hope in their forces trying to turn the tide of the galactic war.

Admittedly, it took me a little while to get attached to this cast of characters. I wasn’t utterly in love with the first third of the film, what I like to call the establishing phase. Establishing setting, scene, characters— particularly, the first ten-fifteen minutes is a constant jumping from location to location that took me out of the film a bit. But as the film settled into itself, it’s transitions became smoother, it’s characters a little deeper than their archetypal roles (but not that much more complex or unpredictable unfortunately) and by the time of the final third and climax; I felt the tension, the fervor and the emotion that the actions and eventual deaths such characters deserved.

In saying this, I think it’s interesting that I came out of the film- after that ending god- understanding that little, if no characters would have been able to truly fill the roles that particular story prescribed. The battle for the Death Star plans, in fact the whole fight between the Rebellion and the Empire is a far bigger story than the people and characters involved. I like to think that ROGUE ONE, in essence, reflected this; seating ‘hope’ at the film's helm rather than any one particular character, cameo or action sequence.

So despite the somewhat choppy start off, the film came out strong and came out swinging- made again, like THE FORCE AWAKENS, by people who care about the franchise and want to see it evolve.

I was pretty surprised by some of the film's cameos- really surprised considering one of the actors is deceased and the other has aged about forty years. But fully rendered in CGI, Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Crushing), and young Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher)- while not %100 percent perfect, were pretty freakin’ impressive. Enough that it wasn’t until after the film was finished I wondered about the ethical considerations and dilemma such a cameo on Tarkin’s part presented. Their apperances didn’t venture entirely into uncanny valley—and the technology and how it was implemented I think—only speaks for good things to come in the rest of the saga’s films and direction.

I’m always a critic for the case of nostalgia, but in speaking of old film cameo’s it can’t go amiss that Darth Vader was a real, real gem in ROGUE ONE. Once again fully decked out in his towering armor and presence (with the help and return of voice actor James Earl Jones) Vader in ROGUE ONE has made a come back to badassery, no longer that sand hating, pod-racing, “nooooo!” crying wannabe, Vader is evil. Vader is intimidating, and with renewed light saber effects, better effects in general and upped choreography, those few minutes Vader is on screen, particularly that ending scene-are some of the best I’ve seen in any of the saga’s films, truly scary, truly exhilarating— that entire ending sequence was my absolute favourite of the whole movie, demanding I instantly go home and watch A NEW HOPE despite the fact it was 3AM in the morning.  Darth Vader’s reemergence is strong (with this one), worthy of the gravitas the character upholds, and renewed my awe for one of the galaxies most impressive villain’s.

A lot of credit towards the character authenticity and interest I think goes to the fact that ROGUE ONE feels like a STAR WARS lived in universe, completely dissimilar to the prequels. Every street, every face, every ship and every briefing room feels real, looks dirty and real- giving ROGUE ONE a sense of place that has been desperately missing from the latest four STAR WARS films (the FORCE AWAKENS made an improvement, but was still a little too polished).  

This mise en scène of ROGUE ONE makes the world of STAR WARS once more feel real, textured, layered, from the dirt beneath character’s fingernails to the blue Bantha milk on the table in the opening scene- this is perhaps the most impressive recreation of a stories/films aesthetic, better than THE FORCE AWAKENS – that’s what really stuck out to me. I watched this film and as it found its feet at the halfway mark (and definitely that final third,) I felt transported. But not entirely removed from reality.

As a grim, unflinching war movie, absent of mysticism, Jedi and light sabers (right till the end) ROGUE ONE feels more like a STAR WARS movie then anything we’ve had since the Orig-Trig.

The story and legend of ROGUE ONE is simple, a story about a group of people who impossibly dash themselves against the rocks to prove that there is something worth fighting for, that hope remains amidst adversity and the horrific and soul crushing oppression of Imperial rule. There’s more weight and tension in this story—even though we know how it ends. We feel the desperation of thousands of ordinary people and creatures that have become almost broken under the Empire’s rule, struggling to fight, struggling to fight the feeling of futility or loss—something that resonates painfully for viewers, especially coming out of the back end of a year that has been dubbed by many marginalised, disenfranchised and vulnerable people— as the worst, just the worst.

As a film ROGUE ONE offers more complexity than Abram’s addition to the franchise, echoes enough of the old Lucas films to feel organic, while building upon Lucas’ socio-political dabbling’s from the prequels.

Clearly, there’s also strong influences from our own world and history with director Edward's leaning heavily on war imagery from World War II, Vietnam, Iraq and as always allusions to political parties and dictators among those like the Nazi party and Hitler. ROGUE ONE gives us a single story with more human texture and growth then STAR WARS previous, resurrecting those themes of rebellion and uniting people against tyranny. Really— ROGUE ONE feels to me as both some sort of catharsis for 2016, as well as a strong motivator to fight. And it’s safe to say as more and more people watch, review and speculate about the film— I’m not alone in this opinion. 

Rowlet is ADORABLE | POKéMON SUN and MOON, Game Thoughts

Having played Pokémon since I could use a D-pad (LEAF GREEN and FIRE RED anyone?) I was hugely anticipating the series’ most recent release; Pokémon SUN AND MOON marking the series 20th anniversary.

I pre-ordered the game earlier this year, (selecting MOON which proved to be one of the most stupidly hard and least impactful decisions of 2016) waited with bated breath and then soared my way through the campaign mode in between general end-of-year business and sessions of writing. Now, coming out of the main campaign, about to hit post game, I thought I’d speak a little about my thoughts on this game, its strengths and how I anticipate the Pokémon handheld series going forward.

I’m a pretty big critic of nostalgia, being—probably a little harsher than I should—on our latest obsession with things bygone, with creators feeding on this desire for the past (see: STRANGER THINGS). Yet, with SUN AND MOON, while the game does appeal to our nostalgia; it also harnesses enough new elements, experiences and content to feel familiar enough but also decidedly fresh.

I fell off the main Pokémon series a little after the fifth generation (the mystery dungeon fever stealing my interest with POKEMON RED AND BLUE RESCUE TEAM, POKEMON EXPLORERS OF TIME AND SPACE and POKEMON SUPER MYSTER DUNGEON which, far more successfully fed my interest in narrative focused games). I mean, after twenty years of basically the same narrative formula and objectives it was hard to stay truly invested in the Pokémon series, especially when I knew exactly how things were going to turn out after a little early-level grinding.

SUN AND MOON though, has taken a little innovation with Pokémon’s standard game formula. Dropping us Trainers into the Hawaiian/Polynesian inspired Alola region, taking away our 8 Pokémon gyms and our HM’s while giving us Island Trials, Pokémon helpers called to us with the Poke Pager, and the adorable opportunity to not only interact with our beloved Pokémon NINTENDO DOGS style, but also groom and heal them after battle of certain status conditions.

These new features in particular are what have rejuvenated the franchise. Getting rid of the tedious need for particular HM knowing Pokémon in your party to advance through certain environments, getting rid of the repetitive mini games and Poké-Amie to give us genuinely cute interactions with our Pokémon. And (particularly for gamers like me who struggled after the fifth gen remembering which new types were strong/weak against which other types) giving Pokémon moves the value of learned experience by labeling moves which are effective/ineffective against other Pokémon species you have battled before.

For the most part SUN AND MOON are taking the Pokémon series in a fresh direction, setting out Alola a bit like the Galapagos Islands and Hawaii bringing us new variations of other region’s Pokémon (gorgeous white and Ice type’s Sandshrew and Vulpix, ghost and fire type Marowak and Exeggutor reminiscent of palm trees, something I never knew I needed until this game). I was so attracted to the idea of Alolan forms; changes in appearance and type for some of our first Gen Pokémon in this new region (Dugtrio though looks freaking ridiculous, along with a couple of others) and though there is a hefty amount of Pokémon missing from the game (meaning you have to transfer them) the region itself still has a good mix of old and new, all of them well dispersed in terms of type and availability.

I found SUN AND MOON a huge step up from a graphics standpoint (have I mentioned how much I love interacting with my level 63 Rowlet in Pokémon Refresh?) a good level of creativity has been maintained in the new Pokémon designs. With the game set in Alola’s tropical region, with beaches, jungles and volcanoes, this is undoubtedly the best looking Pokémon game we’ve had in years. The aesthetic of the Z-moves in battle is also pretty cool, but as a stand in for Mega-Evolutions and the like—I use them far less frequently.

The narrative gameplay has been a big draw for me, (though a little slow to get into to) the lore of Pokémon has only deepened with SUN AND MOON. In particular, the sprawling cast of character’s, the deepening of narrative tension and direction (note: this is a kid’s game, though not surprising/revolutionary, it is still a great story to be enveloped in) puts this installment a step above the rest, balancing it out for both veteran trainers and new gamers. Clearly Pokémon SUN AND MOON is the beginning of a new Pokémon era, ironing out some great ideas from previous games and branching out with new experiences, breaking from and rejuvenating the series as a whole.

All in all, there is a bunch of new features that greatly enhance the gameplay experience of Pokémon, but both SUN AND MOON retain enough of the original series’ DNA to make sure that they don’t feel utterly removed to players who’ve been ‘catching them all’ since 1996.

And while I dive into MOON’s post game—I can’t wait to see where the series goes next.

The Universe Review Feat. Gratuitous Supernatural GIFs | HOLDING UP THE UNIVERSE, Book Thoughts

HOLDING UP THE UNIVERSE by (fellow SUPERNATURAL fangirl Jennifer Niven) was almost equal parts enjoyable and frustrating for me. Despite writing over a million words of the same two characters falling in love, and then reading hundreds of thousands of stories about those same two characters being in love again and again, I’m actually really picky with my romance stories, and I’m only getting pickier by the day.

So there were things that I really liked about this book, and things that bothered me. Niven has a real talent for writing a large cast of characters, revealing their complexities little by little. I felt that in ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES Niven’s strength came through in her writing of the platonic relationships in her book, her MC’s relationships with their friends and families—and I think that holds true for HOLDING UP THE UNIVERSE.

One of my favourite parts of the novel was Jack’s (MC) complicated and authentic relationship with his family, particularly with his little brother Dusty. Their close moments together, and the revelation of Jack’s struggles at home and Dusty’s problems at school effected me the way good writing should.

I liked how the story is about being ‘seen’. Being equal parts about how you see yourself, how others see you and how you see them. It was a candid yet comforting storyline of those who have been labelled and ostracised from their peers.

This certainly was a unique story in many ways, after the death of her mother and withdrawal from the world Libby is labelled as America's Fattest Teen and made into a spectacle. Now three years later, she has taken control of her health and is determined to enjoy the adolescent experience. Attending school. Meeting new friends. Learning to drive a car. She doesn’t allow for others to diminish the respect and love she has developed for herself, but that’s not always easy to achieve in high school. (Like Niven, she also loves the TV show SUPERNATURAL! Making this fellow Fangirl feel instantly in the loop.) 

Meanwhile Jack feels as though he is living a façade. Though popular and attractive (with a  kick ass fro) Jack lives with a cognitive disorder called prosopagnosia. A condition where sufferers use ‘identifiers’ to recognise family, friends and those around them, such as sounds, physical cues and body shape. ((REC: another great YA read that has a MC with prosopagnosia is Laura Ruby’s BONE GAP, truly beautiful, one of my favourite novels now after I read it last year)).

The narration alternates between both Libby and Jack, effectively getting readers into both kids’ heads. The discomfort and fear that Jack feels comes through clearly, as he constantly rehearses the “identifiers” of everyone he knows, feels immense isolation even within his own home, and struggles in his words ‘not to be an asshole as to protect his secret from coming out. Libby's particular anxieties as well are a major driver of her perspective: will she get stuck behind her desk? Will her peers ever look past her weight? Her desire and love of dance (twirling) also characterises her perspective.

Yet, both characters are clearly written in Niven’s voice, with no distinctive voices of their own—this is not a bad thing, just something worth noting.

I’ve done a little reading and apparently Niven drew upon some of her own personal experiences/relationships/family to write this novel. Taking I guess, I think this comes from both Libby’s and Jacks (in particular) relationships with their families- which again I felt was the strength of the novel. Niven artfully depicts the pain, secrets, fear, and healing that comes with living amongst complicated family relationships.

What did end up bothering my about HOLDING UP THE UNIVERSE is mostly down to my own tastes as a reader/writer rather than any real objective opinions.

When I first started the novel I couldn’t shake the sensation that the plot of this was about two teens who are solely characterised by their weight and prosopagnosia, and how these elements are specifically a part of the book to create an angsty romance.

I didn’t understand the controversy that arouse from this title (before the book was even out mind) about Libby being called "America's Fattest Teen" or that a major plot point is a high school game called "Fat Girl Rodeo". These things are gross and offensive, but you know what is gross and offensive? American media’s tendency to make everything into a reality show ((SEE one Donald Dick-Bag Trump)) and yep, also high schoolers.

Jack’s and Libby’s relationship felt really shallow. Orchestrated, which is the nature of writing but shouldn’t really come across in the writing itself. It felt like the characters were a means to an end for the purposes of creating a relationship and isolating their differences so that they were SOLELY DEFINED by those differences for the sake again of a Romeo and Juliet relationship.

Again, this is a romance, I knew that coming in and was fine with that. But when you craft a narrative where the sole purpose of the overarching story is to bring two characters who are labeled by the world as "freaks" to fall in love with each other with not a whole lot of chemistry with each other then it reads a little reductively. I hate that feeling when I read romance. I feel this was probably multiplied because of the ‘issues’ concerning Niven’s characters throughout the work.

I applaud anyone who does the research and writes genuinely from the heart about experiences outside their own ((SEE: Niven’s previous book, ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES)) but reducing characters solely to a "condition" or "status" is a real problem in trying to write diversely, intersectionally and truthfully. I struggle with this a lot as an able bodied white writer, making sure to not shape a character's experiences solely by those ‘diverse’ terms. People (even those in stories) are more dimensional and complex than that. Yes, those experiences are essential to the person's life and identity, but they are not the sole definition points you should be using to shape that identity. Sure, exploring the challenges of attitudes that may be put to the person with that condition, and also exploring the fears, doubts, that person may have with that experience is essential and necessary but you have to be careful in exploring that.

Though I felt this a little less as the novel went on (with the DEFINITE exception of Jack suddenly being about to SEE Libby because he Loves her—I cringed a bit at that) it was still a point of contention for me in figuring out how I feel about this having finished.

This isn’t to say I disliked HOLDING UP THE UNIVERSE by any means, It’s actually very important to be more critical of the things you like and enjoy. To explore them a little deeper, to look past the surface and really uncover what it is about the work that you enjoy, the things you don’t and the things you’re still unsure about.

Judaism, Homosexuality & Coming Out YA | THE BOYS OWN MANUAL TO BEING A PROPER JEW, Book Thoughts

THE BOY’S OWN MANUAL TO BEING A PROPER JEW is a nice quick read. Aussie YA deserves credit for many things, but like all other youth literature communities we’re still working on making our YA lit sections of bookstores as varied and diverse and multifaceted as our YA readers and writers. It’s interesting to note how few and far between even within all our fiction, are stories dealing with faith and queerness in a thoughtful and in-depth way.

It’s been a topic of discussion in the YA writer’s world for a while that the way queer characters are being written is changing for the better. Mainly because ‘coming out’ stories aren’t so prevalent, and more and more we’re actually reading queer characters for whom being queer is not the most interesting thing about them, their stories don’t revolve around this – it’s just one facet of who they are.

Yet, it is this intersection of faith and sexuality that makes THE BOY’S OWN MANUAL TO BEING A PROPER JEW stand out among the usual malaise of ‘coming out’ stories. It deals with two seemingly ‘warring’identities from a new and honest perspective.

What I first off really loved was the sense of community that comes through the book. It’s a story set in Melbourne, specifically in Caulfield, a suburb with an undeniably strong Jewish culture and society, a sense of community reminiscent of the CHEERS bar, a place where everyone knows your name.

Glasman writes a lot of little details about main protag Yossi’s community and culture that sharpen not only the setting of the work but Jewish sects and culture at large. Details like Yossi’s family being part of the Lubavitch sect, their synagogue being an exact replica of leader Lubavitcher Rebbe’s synagogue in New York.

Glasman through his prose and this story lets us readers intimately in on Judaism, doing a very adept job of bringing us into a world that many won’t be familiar with. He doesn’t write Yossi’s life like a theology lesson, but rather lets us in on the less familiar terms and traditions of Judaism, like how you’re not allowed to sit on the same level as a siddur, a prayer book, there are certain ways to wash dishes, certain times where technology can’t be used. Though this (particularly in the beginning of the story) can be a bit didactic in the beginning, Glasman moves along forward with the story smoothly, immersing us deeper with these characters that feel very authentic and moving in their troubles.

On the whole, I enjoyed this book, finished it in a day. The ending felt incredibly abrupt though, and Josh's character basically disappeared in the last thirty or so pages, as though he'd served his purpose in helping Yossi accept his sexuality, and therefore he wasn't needed any more. I wasn’t sure how to feel about that, but still the emotionality of the ending between Yossi his sister and his father was still rather moving.

There was this great element to the book that I enjoyed; with Yossi being able to accept his homosexuality alongside his faith Glasman showed a teenager who was not only incredibly insightful and perceptive, but also one who thought critically and independently of himself and others, instead of letting school, religion and family do the thinking for him.

THE BOY’S OWN MANUAL TO BEING A PROPER JEW is in fact a coming out story, but it is one that was desperately needed in the YA lit scene. A great Aussie debute and addition to the growing collection of stories that reflect Australia’s intersectional and diverse people. Hopefully it’s the beginning of a long line of novels that depict teens questioning their queerness alongside their religious faith.

Emotionally, I'd Give this Book the Sun but also Remind it of the Age of Consent | I'LL GIVE YOU THE SUN, Book Thoughts

I actually really enjoyed I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson. More so than I anticipated I would.

My expectations for the novel were a little lukewarm, like I said in my TBR sum-up; I’d expected the large emphasis on YA romance to take a little of my enjoyment out of the work (some of it did, I’ll get into that later) but for the most part I was actually really surprised by how caught up in this book I became.

Firstly, I quickly warmed to the characters; twins Jude and (particularly) Noah, had me gripped right from the start. I was first interested in how the story alternates between the voices of twins Noah and Jude; where Noah's story takes place when they are 13 and Jude's takes place when they are 16. The unique form injected a whole different layer to the work, propelling me forward so I just had to read what happened next, flicking pages between the past and the present with the kind of speed usually afforded to Sonic. The tension between this jumping of perspective throughout the story was precisely handled to the point where it never became boring and I was literally restraining myself from jumping ahead to find out what happened I just had to know how it all fit together. The tension and cliffhangers were real, folks, REAL.

In the three years separating their stories, a number of circumstances have driven Jude and Noah apart to the point where they have gone from being spooky-twin-close to barely speaking. It was a sibling relationship that was so complex and layered that it was really the strength of the work as a whole. The arcs of the Noah and Jude together and separate were fantastic and how their stories (and a lot of side characters) all began to weave together was really interesting, and well realised. Each very developed and layered, you can tell through reading that Nelson paid almost meticulous attention to the when and where details were dropped, the how and what we as readers were allowed to know/figure stuff out.

Both threads were compelling- in Noah's we see an introverted young artist falling in love for the first time; discovering that with his (only) friend Brian, he is able to really be himself, gawky dorky bits and all. But there’s a darker undercurrent at work, with his family slowly falling apart, jealously tearing between him and his twin Jude, their competitive natures growing, secrets emerging and being hidden.

With Jude, we see after ‘the tragedy’, when Noah has changed so completely and withdraw into himself, while Jude has become a superstitious hypochondriac barely speaking to anyone anymore- haunted by ghosts of the past both literal and metaphorical.

Admittedly the prose itself was on and off for me. Most of the time the writing works well; is expressive and nuanced, with unique imagery. You can really tell that Jandy Nelson thought and thought, and thought again about every word in the novel. It’s an incredibly tight novel, very polished, tied tightly to the stories overall thematic imagery and interpretation. 

On the other hand, sometimes this take was a little too much; too flowery and metaphorical seemingly just for the purpose of being flowery and metaphorical, without any real purpose, falling a little too outside of each character’s voice. Voices that were otherwise the strength of the novel, very clearly defined, organic and real (majority of the time). Noah and Jude are probably the most flawed and complex teen characters I've read ever. I honestly can't think of more broken, fragile and alive characters that exist in YA fiction, at least not in anything I’ve read from memory.

The themes of I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN are explored wonderfully - and the plot follows in a very sophisticated manner.  Definitely a form-follows-function book - but it's done so damn well that you get sucked in pretty early and spat up a little in awe, blinking up at the sun like coming out of a movie theatre in the day.

The added magic realism and supernatural element to the story was a surprise! I didn’t expect it from the blurb of the book so it was a really great joy to have that element of unreality weaved throughout the story.

Though I enjoyed the work, again, it’s not a perfect novel by any means.

The ending felt rushed, I’m just gonna say it, it did. And though ultimately satisfying it was also pretty predictable/convenient, as though the novel had spent all of its twists and turns in the first two thirds and at the final most crucial point went ‘and they all lived happily ever after. The End.’

Also, and I said I’d come back to it—Jude’s ‘romance’ in the novel threw me off. Her love interest Oscar (WHO IS NINETEEN) is the quintessential YA boy—I just couldn’t take him seriously; essentially just a collection of every stereotypical Badboy dream list; here’s just a few.

- older (NINETEEN)
- English accent
- Rides a motorcycle
- Has scars
- Has tattoos
- Has a dark past.
- Says "I'm pretty sure the things I've done are far worse than whatever it is you've done.
- Bad boy vices (drugs, alcohol e.t.c)
- Says: Your eyes are so ethereal, your whole face is. I stared at pictures of you for hours last night. You give me chills.
- Has leather jacket
- Does the James dean lean LITERALLY DESCRIBED AS THE JAMES DEAN LEAN
- Is a Playboy but gives it up for ‘true love’
- Is a tough-guy posturing but also so sensitive
- Is an orphan
- Is enigmatic/charming
- Has unconventional good looks (TWO DIFFERENT COLOURED EYES, fucken Christ)
- Is a charismatic and passionate orator: he's like a roller coaster that talks.

His romance with Jude (WHO IS SIXTEEN, HE IS NINETEEN, HE IS IN COLLEGE, SHE IS IN HIGHSCHOOL) squisked me something majorly (also kinda boring ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ). Yes, they’re prophesized to be together, yes it’s all v-a-r romantic and she traded ‘the sun the earth the ocean the trees’ for his portrait by Noah, blah blah it’s still CREEPY when she’s only SIXTEEN and he is NINETEEN. IT IS CREEPY.

Toward the end, and I mean the very end. The story finally address this age gap business and I thought yes, redeemed, you are redeemed for me Oscar with your jacket and your lean— so Oscar brings up his very valid concerns about their age gap (which again, creepy) and then Jude just goes ‘I won’t give up on our t-r-u-w love so easily- and they make out.

So uh. Yeah. Good…convo?

All in all; I liked this book. The platonic relationships for me were the most interesting and well written (thought Noah and Brian were adorable as fuck, their friendship first and that tension was really sustaining. Jude and Oscar? Not so much) the prose had its moments of brilliance but also stumbled a little. All in all it was a unique book, an unexpected joy that was both refreshing and unique.

A good book to pick up for any YA reader.

Guilty Pleasures and Some Other Sinful Things | INFERNO, Book/Film Thoughts

If you subscribe to Dan Brown’s reputation as the worst prose writer, or author in the known universe, you’ll probably think less of me for saying that I do and have, always thoroughly enjoyed his Robert Langdon series. Yes, I’m aware of his particular brand of mixed metaphors (“A searing hot pain tore into his arm"); Brown's obsession with the word "ping"; and his inability to give any of his characters any sense of distinct voice or character, and the very formulaic and repetitive nature of his ‘adventure’ plots where Langdon is the ultimate Mary Sue of all Mary Sues—but in saying this, I think, there are two very common ways people engage with this (assumed) caliber of work.

You can either thrash it across the internet, kicking and screaming and whip the damn work to ribbons, because oh lord how the hell did something so shitty get published? 

Or, like some greasy Maccas double-cheeseburger or slice of chocolate mud-cake from Gloria Jeans, you can indulge in this junk-food equivalent of a book and gobble it up faster than you actually meant to. Only to after try and read something ‘literary’ to make up for the transgression (dusting off that old copy of ULYSSES I see? Hmm…).

It’s weird that we feel this way, I think. To feel guilt from our own enjoyment. Guilty pleasures, everybody has a few. They contradict our (often carefully honed) sense of taste, and are something we keep close to ourselves or only discuss in a self-deprecating light only with those who are close and that we hope are not judging.

I like to say I have a wide and varied literary appetite, everything from fan fiction online to both fiction and non-fiction award winners and bestsellers; some of each live up to the hype and some do not.  And I still devour these with varying degrees of glee and disappointment (some really are as bad as you would think).

 I wasn’t disappointed when I read Dan Browns INFERNO in early 2013. And I wasn’t disappointed, per-say with its latest film adaptation (now out in cinemas). But I do think that a couple elements of the story (criticised frequently in the films current reviews) either aren't given the credit they deserve, or would have made the story all so much better to be included in the film like they were the book. 

There was a visual element to the INFERNO film that I really enjoyed seeing. This transcription of Dante’s Hellscape is something I’ve loved to see on film and INFERNO actually executes some pretty jarring and frankly ghoulish Hell imagery particularly into its first act. It wasn’t something I was expecting with the work but it was something I really enjoyed, with the grotesqueness lending itself well to the illusory and jilted direction of the films action.

INFERNO opens up with one of these frighteningly vivid dream sequences, based entirely on artists’ depictions of Dante’s experiences in hell. Then Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) awakens in a hospital room in Florence, tended to by a woman (who in the book is bald with a blond wig, but in the film is brunette and decidedly non bald), Dr. Sienna Brooks.

Where I liked INFERNO the film enough, my real pleasure in it literary form came from the works ideas (not always well realised I admit). My interest in theology and mythology was what introduced to me Dan Brown (Through ANGELS AND DEMONS, rather than THE DA VINCI CODE) and with Dante’s DIVINA COMMEDIA being one of my favourites, Brown already had a fan in me by just attempting to shape the vast material into something a modern originality.   

He does this best with his work in INFERNO. He takes on the controversial issues of overpopulation, a difficult subject to talk about in fiction, let alone with any real objectivity in the mainstream. It’s considered to be politically incorrect for liberals and environmentalists. Regarded as anti-capitalist and undemocratic for most conservatives, and morally abhorrent to the religious community and to a lot of other folks too.

In INFERNO Brown gives us a ‘quote-unquote’ made scientist (helpfully leaving a video of his evil intentions and a series of Dante inspired clues for Langdon and us to follow) who unapologetically makes the case for overpopulation being the driving force behind all of the worlds major challenges - climate change, peak resources, etc.—and he implies that the likely endpoint of continued overpopulation will be a collapse of our civilisation. But Brown’s antagonist Zobrist goes much further than just defining the problem, he actually has a plan to stop it (temporarily).

Tethered beneath the surface of a gloomy underground lagoon, not in Florence, lies a bag filled with yellow-brown goop that holds enough of a mysterious virus to render a third of humanity’s population infertile—somehow. There were actually moments in the novel that I felt genuinely compelled by Zobrist, or at least where I thought wow, maybe this is how far we have to go to stop this.

In the film this is changed a bit. The ideology and imagery of the black plague is invoked in the films cinematography, mixed with Dante’s own hellish-landscape, INFERNO the film puts the idea of a genetically engineered plague as the forefront attempt to end overpopulation but culling (instead of sterilising) half the population.

In both the film and the book, Dante’s nightmare visions of Hell become the stories visceral correlative for what we, as a species are allowing to happen to our world by simply just letting it.

As a Dante enthusiast, I appreciated Brown's reinterpretation of Dante’s work, some of the original and clever ways he incorporated Comedy lore into Langdon’s clues and trysts.  Dan Brown may not be the greatest writer on the planet, but he is deservedly recognised for the amount of research he does for his novels.

I think INFERNO also shows a certain amount of growth in part of Brown’s writing. It seems that Brown has been learning some things about writing prose. Where in THE DA VINCI CODE, ANGELS AND DEMONS or THE LOST SYMBOL Brown would use three weak adjectives to describe something, in INFERNO he uses one, and it’s more-often-than-not a good one. Where we were given endless character monologues lasting pages in his other work, showing the range and depth of his (impressive) research in INFERNO Brown offers us stronger dialogue, clever details, and back story/information in digestible chunks that don’t take us readers too out of the story. There’s that beginning understanding of less is more showing up in Browns INFERNO prose and Brown’s thriller/mystery Florentine Odyssey reads better for it.

It’s still not anything revolutionary or jaw-dropping. But then again I don’t think it needs to be, I like the fact that it isn’t.

Perhaps the intentionality of guilty pleasure reading gives the term it’s ‘guilt’. Reading is a necessarily deliberate activity, and seeking out “high-brow” or “difficult” works to read is often seen as a badge of honor. The Low-brow, more like that temporary stamp that allows you back into the nightclub after you go out to grab a breath less cloying. But as anyone who loves both fanfiction and Dante knows, loving the lowbrow doesn’t preclude loving the high. Even the snootiest readers will flip a couple pages of a crummy airport romance novella, watch a thriller/action movie with plot holes and inconsistencies for different reasons and to correspond to different moods. So why is reading a Dan Brown book for pure enjoyment, for fun, mindless or otherwise, unacceptable?

Honestly it’s not. But it may still take a little bit to shake of the guilt part of guilty pleasure.

As for the INFERNO film, I liked it-I did, but I can see why it’s not doing so hot in critic reviews at the moment. I think people’s reactions to INFERNO would have changed for the positive, if the film followed the path of the book and had its far less ‘Hollywood’ and more impactful ending. Really walking the line of morality, a lot more surprising, a lot more (personally and thematically) effecting to me, at least. I won’t spoil that ending here, but I do think that INFERNO is Brown’s best work, and with its original ending intact; is well worth the read and even probably the watch just be prepared to watch a lot of running.

The Swimmer, the Rebel, the Nerd & the Geek Who Loved All Three of Them | THE SIDEKICKS, Book Thoughts

If you've read through my last few posts my last few posts you know I've been meaning to read THE SIDEKICKS by Will Kostakis for awhile.  In my last blog post, I wrote about my expectations for the novel; how it has been recommended to me by various others, how I found its premise promising and was interested in Will Kostakis' work from the get go.

I'm pretty good at controlling my expectation levels, and though my expectations for this work were high, I didn't think I'd love it.

 But I do. I really loved reading THE SIDEKICKS. 

I find it difficult, at times, to write about the stuff that I really like. It’s a lot easier to be critical of things that are crappy or not your cuppa-tea; to pick and dig at their flaws. That’s not to say THE SIDEKICKS is flawless but that, like most literature, it doesn’t need to be. It just needs to be ‘good’; some effervescent level of measurement that THE SIDEKICKS far surpasses. 

I found SIDEKICKS to be honest, grounded and relatable. Written from the three different perspectives of three friends; SIDEKICKS gives us a front row seat to how these guys, and even those around them, dealt with with grief and loss. But even more than that; seeing how this loss of someone so important to each of them, changed them, made them kinder or braver or more open.

Ryan ‘the swimmer’, Harley ‘the rebel’ and Miles ‘the nerd’ have little in common other than Isaac, a character who we only see and experience through their eyes (a very clever choice on Kostakis’ part I have to say). Isaac, though integral to the story, is show as something almost illusory which speaks volumes for SIDEKICKS thematic exploration (in my view) into identity and friendship.

The use of labels (Swimmer, Rebel, Nerd) here I took to be a deliberate invitation to discuss and to think about this idea of identity being more fluid and multifaceted than it is often believed/written about of high school students. The contradictory crux of the novel really compelled me, that being: Harley, Miles and Ryan all striving to prove they are more than the label ascribed to them, yet holding their own preconceptions about the other guys, based on those same limiting definitions.

I also really enjoyed how Isaac in particular was 'revealed' throughout the work. Seen in one way by Ryan, another by Harley and again differently by Miles. I think it's very true to life; that our perceptions of peoples identities are constructed in the moments of our interactions and our witnessing of their interactions with others. But that's never the full story. The persons full identity. As Miles, Ryan and Harley found of Isaac, unpacking their own different memories and experiences of him with each other. 

Kostakis’ depiction of Ryan, Harley and Miles in turn is spot on, each one drawn authentically, organically and almost heartbreakingly whole. I found myself getting sucked into each differently narrated section, sad to leave one guy’s perspective behind, but keen to barrel right on into the next. 

For me that's the strength of this novel, its three distinct-and more than that-natural voices. I usually don't enjoy first person p.o.v- but here each section was so attuned to its narrator I barely even registered the 'I' perspective. Each voice read as unique and distinct but not in any way forced. I could easily pick up on a sense of each character through the reading of their point of view.

Miles for one, true to his label; thinks and speaks without contractions, with perfect grammar, in a serious and analytical tone, but still with bursts of humour.

Ryan who opens up the story; is more your unassuming, traditional prose, with very sweet tender moments ( my favourites being between his-at the time boyfriend-Toby and his mum). He's very internalised, very reasonable but very emotive as well.

Harley was very distinct with his slang, with short quick sentences, minimal descriptions and little changes in temporality (for instance: spelling 'Mom' instead of 'Mum' showing more subtle elements of his personality and experience).

I found myself connecting with all three of these characters and was actually rather surprised by how relatable they all felt to me, each in very different  but very genuine ways. 

To sum up; the story and characters are fully realised, the plot has great depth but is still really engaging. It's a quick read (I read it in only a couple hours) but it really packs a punch. Insightful, simple and even a little beautiful at times, THE SIDEKICKS is definitely a work that has climbed its way into my top favourites; highlighting a really genuine account of growth, loss and friendship.

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan Made Me Angry | TWO BOYS KISSING, Book Thoughts

So… Let’s talk about TWO BOYS KISSING.

This little 196-page book packs more of a punch than some 800-page puppy squishers. It’s rare that a novel effect’s me with such profundity that I sit for a while after just crying. 

Yeah, I cried. I cried because I wished 2008!me had read this book—believing if I had, my high school experience would have been very different.

I rarely cry when I’m actually sad, I mostly just go silent. That's something that still held true for me in the reading of TWO BOYS KISSING, because after I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t wistful, I was angry. I felt a lot of loss and anger after reading this story, but not at Levithan (the man’s a lamb) or at the novel or even at myself. I just felt this indescribable anger towards existence as it is. I was angry that I’d been feeling a certain way my whole life and only now- because of the words and their order within this book- has the feeling shifted. I was angry that I'd even been made aware of this feeling in the first place. I felt cheated out of being made to feel this way, that I had needed to read this book at all and even that the book was something that could be written— that’s the only way I can describe it. The world all at once seemed indescribably unfair.

David Levithan is just the knees of the bees knees; if the knees of bees themselves had knees of their own. He's great. Every time I find my chest aching for an queer book or a meaningful read, it’s in Leviathan’s works that I will look forward to plunge myself into. I got the incredible opportunity to meet and speak with him at the Melbourne Writers Festival this year and I’ve gotta say the man is as articulate and lovely as his novels suggest.

TWO BOYS KISSING is probably my favourite of his works. The beginning may be rough for some readers—it was for me, but it's worth it. Having the story narrated by a Greek style Chorus of gay men who've lost their lives to AIDs was at first odd, and to be honest, rather disconcerting. Definitely an experimental leap beyond Leviathan’s usual work. I think their "we" really hit me–yes they were gay men and this was for the most part a story of gay/bisexual men, but the book and it's characters and messages (yes plural) transcended the precognitions of gender/labels and can speak to all Queer folk. Perhaps even all those on the fringes, the marginalized- that's how raw and interpretive the emotion is here. It's relatable.

The Chorus’ collective speech as well as their abject voyeurism and commentary was uncomfortable and even a little creepy at times. But as the story progressed I grew to appreciate this originality, and can say with absolute confidence that TWO BOYS KISSING would in no way bear the same amount of poignancy had it not been narrated by this generation of gay men lost to AIDs. 

As with most of my favourite novels it’s told through multiple perspectives. Admittedly in TWO BOYS KISSING, some of these stories are more interesting, emotional or more relatable than others but they are all still cleverly told. The characters are authentic and well realised and more importantly, their emotions and motivations are conveyed well. Each story follows a gay teenager and their daily plights being just that—a queer teen, in a world where such a thing is so deeply frowned upon by far too many, and even when it isn’t it is still incredibly, painfully and curiously hard. This is a problem so many queer teens face today: their struggle both internal and external, seeing such contempt towards queer people as a whole (almost every time they turn on the television) criticized and analysed, knowing they are inherently on the outer, inherently ‘abnormal’. There is a well captured hesitation on the part of Levithan’s characters to interrogate who they are, and then be who that is, despite all the outside circumstances that come into play with such a plight. This is what David Levithan depicts with TWO BOYS KISSING, how god damned hard this all is, across generations and people, circumstances and perspectives. It’s just hard. Sometimes he does this subtly, sometimes not, but then the daily, and historical and even present challenges against Queer people are not subtle—why should our complicated feelings toward it all be?

All in all, I highly recommend it. Everything about this novel was authentic and moving (even If I'm still trying to figure out my reaction to it). TWO BOYS KISSING is an important book to read. Particularly for queer people but also not. It is extremely powerful, difficult, reminding us of those who’ve come before us and those still with us. And that they will only be still with us when perspectives towards queer people and hell- difference as a whole takes a drastic change. It’s a book that leaves you thinking long, long after you've finished reading it. With a unique writing concept, it’s a true challenge to the traditional form of writing and that’s good.

Queer stories work best when queerly written.

 

I’m Crying and It’s Nothing to do with Life and Everything to do with Cartoon Characters | AVATAR/KORRA, TV Thoughts

Over the last week or so I’ve been binging AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER, a show I’ve heard accolades and seen snippets of for years but haven’t had the chance to sit down and watch myself.

Coming out from the other side of the binge I’ve gotta say as far as intended kid’s series go—it really holds up to the hype.

The term ‘best ever’ in any medium isn’t one that I can use lightly. For me— to earn that title the book or show (and rarely movie) has to fundamentally change my opinion on its medium in a profound way. Give me that ‘dayum’ moment- strike me hard in the feels.

The set up for AVATAR is fairly stock. An evil force/empire is out to take over the world, and only the chosen one can stop it and restore balance. It’s not an original story-plot by any means, but what AVATAR does with that is what lends me to say its not the best but is definitely among the top ten. The show takes that basic premise and refines it incredibly well for what can be named a ‘kids show’.

AVATAR’s animation is some of the smoothest on TV, still holding up despite the series ending in 2008. Every fights scene’s a spectacle. Every design interesting and colourful.

Beyond the visuals, the writing is some of the best I’ve encountered—animated series or otherwise. I couldn’t find any bad episodes in all three series—only ones a little weaker set by the standards of the show itself.

AVATAR’s story with a deeply grounded mythos is legitimately educational, entertaining and enlightening. Beautifully framed by East-Asian philosophy, it teaches morals and spiritual understanding—reinforcing a philosophy of balance, something important for anyone of any age.

What’s brilliant about this and from more recent shows is that more and more animators, creators, writers are taking this lead.

Outside of the beauty of Disney’s Pixar (ZOOTOPIA, INSIDE OUT), Studio Ghibli (SPIRITED AWAY, NAUSSICA VALLEY OF THE WIND) and other TV shows (GAME OF THRONES, DAREDEVIL, STRANGER THINGS), animated TV for both kids and older has gotten so good I’d argue its doing a better job than most movies.

Issues you didn’t even realise could be explored in such a classically ‘kids’ medium are now the norm. In the last couple of years, creators have been pushing the boundaries of what’s normally expected of cartoon programming. People are going the extra mile to produce content that’s relevant to kids and adults whilst also entertaining.

A favourite animated show of mine STEVEN UNIVERSE gives a deep and surprisingly complex look into identity and sexuality (also with stunning visuals). Shows like ADVENTURE TIME and GRAVITY FALLS also deal with themes of identity, relationships and how each relate to social norms.

In environments where anything can happen, creators are starting to see the possibilities of the medium and how far they can push that. They’re experimentation more and more, raising the metaphorical bar that they hold their work and ideas to.

And its not just animation traditionally aimed at kids. While shows like THE SIMPSONS have always had a strong social and political undercurrent—todays programs that seems like utter nonsense are proving to be smarter than they look.

BOJACK HORSEMAN probably the oddest thing I’ve watched in years, between talking animals and a literal horse protagonist- takes a harsh and even dramatic look into the reality of being in the public eye. Undeniably fucked up; RICK AND MORTY has a deep rooting in philosophy and science, drawing upon Lovecraftian horror to pose serious and even unanswerable questions about society and existence. Even SOUTHPARK—one of the great controversial social commentators has taken a risk with its most recent season acting as one big allegory for neoliberalism and PC culture.

More than ever before shows that seem like mindless nonsense, just for kids or relying on shock humour are proving themselves as something deep, funny but also really thoughtful. Taking the frameworks of animation and subtext within hand to use to their full advantage.

Again, with the kids shows in particular, animation with traditionally simple story structures and characters are given surprising innovation in their motivations and identity. Probably why I think that the biggest strength of these shows and in particular AVATAR is their characters.

In AVATAR just about everyone, hero, villain, or somewhere in-between is fleshed out.

Aang is one of the most likeable characters to ever be drawn. He's a good-natured kid, but he's also flawed and just that a kid, with a huge responsibility on his shoulders. As the series unfolds he goes through inner turmoil trying to deal with who he is and all the work and responsibility that’s required of him. Also, he had to learn the techniques required of being the Avatar instead of just having them from the beginning. It was great seeing him go through so much development, still retaining his core values despite having to make the tough choices.

Katara is just as equally awesome. She's kind, motherly but also has her limits and will gladly stick up for herself when she needs to. And while her water-bending techniques are pretty spectacular to see there’s a darker side to her that’s ferocious in it’s intensity, coming out as a desire for revenge for all she has lost in the war, and in a horror story ability known as blood-bending.

Sokka, while somewhat annoying in the beginning episodes, probably went through the best development later on in the series. Transforming from full-time comedic relief, to insecure young man, to badass warrior and wise leader who could still be funny and goofy but cares very deeply about all those under him.

As for ‘villains’ I use quotations because very rarely is villain an accurate term in the Avatar series. The buildup to Fire Lord Ozai's reveal was perfect. He was perceived as a huge threat for the first two seasons, and when he was finally revealed, he did not disappoint. This guy was evil but also human, looking very much like his son Zuko that by that time in the series we’d grown attached to. His fight with Aang in the final episodes of the third season is among one of the greatest fights I've ever seen in any animated show.

As for Zuko, for much of the series caught somewhere in the middle of bad and good, we fall into a spiral of complexity, self identity and grey-morality. Moving from him as the primary antagonist, to a heartbreaking slow reveal of his past and motivations to a conflicted soul on the wrong side of the battle. He both is and grows from someone of great pain to an awkwardly funny young man of great strength and honor, knowing what’s right deep down and acting on it even toward his own sacrifice.

The writing of the show from this cast to their story is timeless and really just good writing.

As a whole the show’s fun, insightful, silly, Artistic and smart. Something that you begin to realise in watching has a plan, and intends to leave an impact.

You feel particularly in the final episodes of the first season and the rest of the way throughout that you’re watching something massive and important. Neither going too long or ending on a bad note—staying just as long as it needed to for the story to work and end on the best note possible.

And the best thing is, shows like this are no longer the rarity—their intelligent, funny, thought-provoking and increasingly abundant.

Hopefully THE LEGEND OF KORRA, AVATAR's sister series, is just as good.

Why you should watch (and read) American Gods | AMERICAN GODS, Book/TV Thoughts

Anyone with a finger to the pulse point of Nerdom knows that when it comes to myth and fantasy, Neil Gaiman is one of the visionaries. His Nebula award-winning novel, AMERICAN GODS, published in 2001 is often said to be the best of his fantasy fiction, or really, any of his fiction, and yes… they’re pretty much right.

The novel in its meandering drawl, is everything and nothing at all like a road-trip story. It depicts a world where all the god’s and goddesses that human civilisation has ever held belief in (and some before humanity) are right here on Earth, specifically, they're trapped in America. The story centres on Shadow Moon, a self-convicted ex-con who, in the wake of personal tragedy, begins working as a bodyguard for con-artist Mr. Wednesday (who’s really one of the older gods, try and guess who!).

Together Shadow and Wednesday travel across America recruiting old Gods to wage war against a new pantheon of Gods. Those of technology, media, money and celebrity, who are all trying to wrest power from the old gods. It’s violent, fantastical, unexpected, and surprisingly American (not for the title but for Gaiman being a born-and-bred British gentleman, or a morbidly dressed punk-librarian, really either fits). Distilling America down into black scratching’s on paper, GODS depicts the different states and towns of US of A with their fitting minuscule Americanisms- it’s really quite the feat to make something that just feels so very American that is in no way contrived or belittling. Alongside this, GODS is also as much about the immigrant experience as it is about America, the main story and Gaiman's Gods, having as much to do with coming to American as to living there.

The universe of GODS is massive with a tenth anniversary edition of the work being sold with an additional 12,000 words (12,000 entirely crucial words in my opinion) to the main story, as well as numerous short stories and even a spin-off ANANSI BOY'S all written by Gaiman all in the same universe. GODS is expansive, detailed, fascinating, and oddly (for again, its meandering tone and slow slow pacing, that is all so deliciously and frustratingly Gaiman-esque) refreshing. A novel that defies expectation.

The crux of that I think rests on the shoulders of giants, or rather Shadow Moon. Shadow is a nice guy and I mean- he's a nice guy. Not the creepy Nice Guy trope of a dude who believes he’s forever victimised by the evil women who won’t ‘give him a chance’. I mean he is genuinely a nice person; with a quiet sense of integrity and nobility that’s really rather touching. His relationship with his wife Laura (rife with problems but not in the way you'd expect) is weirdly one of my favourite aspects of the book. She calls him Puppy and I melt inside because; despite their problems they’re both so loving and sweet to one another- I could gush for an age about this relationship so I’ll just keep moving.

 ‘Hey,’ said Shadow. 'Huginn or Muninn, or whoever you are.’  
The bird turned, head tipped, suspiciously, on one side, and it stared at him with bright eyes.  

'Say “Nevermore”,’ said Shadow.
 'Fuck you,’ said the raven.
 

The story itself has a bizarre narrative flow, not in the experimental way of poetry but for the weight of the research behind the piece. It's made up of undercurrent sub plots and stories, weaving multiple main stories throughout these so that any real sense of action-and-consequence plot is echoed most of the time only briefly. The real story is the characters, the real story is America. GODS paints itself as a modern dream-scape one moment, and painfully mundane the next, with it's byways and highways, making American Roadside attractions into delightful or just plain weird moments. In reading, it’s easy to see that GODS is actually doing something a little different. Not just different, but challenging.

The pacing is slower than anything I’ve ever read outside of non-fiction. The imagery darker, almost gothic. It takes the idea of a road trip and makes it gritty, unreal and larger than anything it would normally be. Gaiman through his prose makes you feel it- the aches after a long car trip, the annoyance of car travel and all combining a surreal fantasy element that creates an almost pseudo-America in the mind of the reader. Maybe this is actually what America is like- a battleground for the old gods and the new, a place with shape and history and life- never too fantastical, but always removed from the everyday. This, coupled with Shadow- our eyes and ears into the otherworld- makes the whole thing more three dimensional.

For a story so unique, so rich so expansive how is it that some studio (HBO *cough cough*) hasn’t snatched up the source material?

Well, actually they have.

The AMERICAN GODS TV series is happening. Filming has officially begun on the 10-episode first season. Shooting will be in Toronto and will continue in various American Locations. Set to hit our screens in 2017. In getting a glimpse (or five hundred) of the trailer shown off at this years SDCC, I have to agree with Gaiman when I say it's looking 'shit hot' (which is apparently a good thing?).

STARZ, the same network that brought us the half-naked and tomato-blood show SPARTACUS ("Jupiter’s cock!") announced their own take on AMERICAN GODS in 2014, and this year at SDCC they showed the first fruits of their labour. Through tweets, interviews and behind the scenes, STARZ has proven to be just as fanatic for the cult-hit as the rest of Gaiman's fans- almost being hand-picked by Gaiman himself to carry the proverbial mantle.

Studios haven't been too kind to book adaptations (in films even less so) but GODS fans got physically pumped when Bryan Fuller (PUSHING DASIES, WONDERFALLS, HANNIBAL) was revealed as show runner. His projects always lean themselves to the supernatural so he's well suited to the roll. Combined with his strong knack for disturbing and unique visuals and his co-show runner found in HEROES writer Michael Green, it seems like GODS fans and Gaiman have hit the lucky jackpot.  

That being said, all three; Gaiman, Fuller and Green have told fans that the show won't be a straight adaptation of the novel. Something that has been met with mixed feedback. I think it's a suitable choice for the story given the drastic change of medium. Gaiman's reductive narrative style, the character focus and road-trip story itself, only littered with brief interludes of action and plot, isn't suited to long-form TV. And it seems the STARS team feel the same way.

It'll be: 'fanfiction, in a wonderful way,' says Fuller adding, 'In success we may have spin-offs...that follow the lesser gods in greater detail than you might in the main series.' And I've gotta say, in spite the deviation from Gaiman's plot (which surprised me and tricked me and had my pulling on my hair) I'm pretty excited .

I actually can't tell you how amped I am for the show. The cast looks fantastic, the story (thus far) beautifully interpreted. And, there's just so much about that trailer; the character’s casting (Shadow-played by THE 100's Ricky Whittle, and Wednesday-by Ian McShane, in particular) that's so spot on! The whole hyper-real and southern gothic direction they seem to be taking is inspired and that version of 'Where Did You Sleep Last Night' (song featured) *Kisses Fingers* it's gorgeous!

GODS as a novel has become one of those comfort books for me, like a close friend, one you've known for years and even when you don't see each other for a while, you can always catch up over a cuppa and pick right back from where you've left off. The first time I finished GODS, i went right back to the beginning and read it again wanting to catch all of the little clues I missed out on in the first reading, and re-read all of the sections I'd dog-eared and loved (yes I'm one of those abominations, fight me).

With the TV adaptation, Gaiman himself seems nothing but happy with the way the show is turning out. He's said that he knew GODS was in good hands when he asked that the only thing he wanted 'in stone' was that the diversity in GODS be maintained for the cast of the show. No white-washing.

 No white-washing; isn't that bloody refreshing?

In the past, Gaiman's been proven to outright refuse request adaptations of his work for years, knowing how most studios push for things like white-washing or queer-erasure. The latter, a point- particularly close to my own heart; as two of my favourite queer characters from GODS are already being talked about having their roles expanded in the series, with actors Omid Abtahi playing Salim and Mousa Kraish reoccurring as the Jinn. And though my other favourite queer character Sam Black Crow hasn't been cast yet for season one, there's no doubt she'll play a large role throughout the rest of the series *squee!*

It's refreshing, again, that Fuller and Green have been very forthright and open talking about the importance of cultural sensitivity, ethnic diversity and even gender diversity in their TV adaptation. 'When you have so much that is about people’s cultures coming in, you need to be culturally literate in all respects,' Green adds, 'you’re dealing with ancient mythologies and gods. Those come from places and look a certain way. That just set the tenor of the whole thing.'

Gaiman is frequently consulted, particularly in the area of casting. 'The fun thing is, we’re not colour-blind casting, we’re actually very consciously aware of colour in the cast and ethnic specificity, because the book is so culturally specific,' says Fuller. 'There have been times where a character has been described as having very dark skin, and we’ve made a suggestion to Neil, and he’s like, ‘Oh, that actor is black. The character needs to be Indian. Even though it’s written that they have very dark skin, the character is absolutely Indian and it needs to be an Indian actor.’ That’s been kind of a great relief, because it’s a map that we just stick to.'  

To anyone who's read the book you know at times the story can be a bit of a sausage-fest, and it's actually great to hear that, with the more 'fanfiction' form Green and Fuller are taking with the series that they can expand the vision of GODS and grow some of the 'fantastic female characters' that Gaiman created.

And I think oddly enough, that's why I'm so excited. I love AMERICAN GODS but even I can admit it has its problems ( particularly the above-mentioned dick-fest), and in talking about that there's such a sense of completeness to the work that even with the couple short stories and spin-offs provided by Gaiman, that I'm still- like many fans- left wanting more.  

It's of no doubt to me that AMERICAN GODS is one of Gaiman's best works, although many of his novels are good. I truly think, before 2017-you should read it. That you should let the story make you happy and sad and laugh and pull out your hair and go back and read it all over again because 'Damnnit you didn't see...coming!'.

The TV show is going to give us an opportunity to discover a 'whole new world' inside of a story we already know. For once I'm more than happy to see an adaptation taking on a different path from the original source material- using its canon as a guidebook and less of a Google Maps route (smooth-as-fudge road-trip allegory right?!)

'If you’ve read it [GODS] before,' says Gaiman, 'You are definitely ahead of the people who have not read the book, but we have surprises for you, too.'

'However you come to this,' says Fuller, 'you’re in good hands.'

And you know what? I actually believe them.