Anticipation

(This is a personal post.)

In little over a week, I’ll be setting out for a long month of events, starting with Nine Worlds Geekfest, followed immediately by Worldcon in Helsinki, and then a week later my annual trip to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I’m excited and eager, but there’s one little bit of me wondering if it’s a bit too much.

The first convention I attended was Loncon3, the 2014 Worldcon in London. Overall it was pretty great, I enjoyed the panels and readings, but the whole thing was undercut with frustration at myself for not being able to socialise. I’m far too self conscious and uncomfortable to approach people I don’t already know, and I tend to end up staying isolated even among these big groups of people with presumably shared interests. I’m very grateful to Meg Frank, who generously showed me around and introduced me to a bunch of people at Worldcon, but even then I wasn’t really able to engage with people and didn’t feel comfortable approaching them again afterward.

The anxiety and frustration culminated in a bit of a breakdown in my hotel room on the last night, where I’d retreated after leaving the Hugo ceremony and finding I didn’t really know what to do with myself while everyone else was heading off to the various parties. I found myself venting on Twitter, which helped me calm down but wasn’t exactly a good idea.

The second convention I attended was Nine Worlds 2016. I loved Nine Worlds – it covers a very broad range of geeky interests, but comes at every part of it with a focus on inclusion, and the understanding you can love things and still be critical of them. It just ticked all my boxes as far as the programme content went, which is why I immediately bought a ticket to go again this year. But in between panels, I spent most of my time hanging around the edges, sitting alone watching everyone else. I managed to have some fun in the games room, but half my visits there still involved me standing around awkwardly for a few minutes then leaving. This disconnection from the other attendees wasn’t helped by having a hotel room ten minutes walk away. Once again, the con ended with me falling apart back in my room and venting on Twitter.

(I should probably be embarrassed at myself for those tweet threads, but somehow I’m not? I still don’t know if I was attention-seeking or just thinking out loud.)

Which brings me to next month. My third and fourth conventions, back to back. I’m really looking forward to it, and I expect to enjoy it a lot – I’m not really anxious, at the moment. But I think back on those two nights, the hour or so I let myself fall apart each time, and I wonder. What is it going to be like for me, going through that not for 3 or 4 nights but for two long weekends in a row? I don’t see any reason why I should struggle with it now, but I was hardly having a rational reaction the other times it happened. I honestly don’t know if this will get to me again on the same level, or possibly worse.

Overall I expect to enjoy the experience, I just feel like I’ll be going into it constantly anticipating those anxiety-induced tears.

(I guess I’m lucky I only get anxiety, and not depression.)

Colossal

colossal_28film29Colossal, written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo, is a strange film to have to describe to someone. When you say “it’s a dark black comedy about alcoholism and abusive relationships starring Anne Hathaway, who finds out she’s causing a giant monster to attack Seoul”, you get some puzzled looks, because yes, this is a weird mashup of genres. I wasn’t sure what to expect going in; what little I’d heard suggested it would either be a huge disaster, or that I would love it. And hey, it’s not a disaster.

Anne Hathaway’s character, Gloria, is an unemployed writer with an alcohol problem. After being kicked out by her boyfriend she moves back to her home town, where she runs into her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who offers her a job at his bar. Gloria quickly settles into a pattern of drinking all night with Oscar and his buddies, often waking the next day with no memory of the night before.

And then the news starts reporting about a giant monster that has been materialising in Seoul, South Korea, causing terror and destruction. Gloria quickly comes to the realisation that she is in fact causing the monster to appear, and it is mimicking her actions.

It’s a pretty blatant metaphor: the monster destroying Seoul as a stand in for the damage Gloria causes to those around her with her self-destructive drunken behaviour. Where things get really interesting is after she shares her discovery with Oscar and his friends; Gloria’s relationship with Oscar begins to take a darker turn, and their influence over the events in Korea become part of an increasingly abusive cycle.

It’s so obvious what the film is doing with this premise that it seems like it shouldn’t work at all, but somehow it does. Despite some jarring swings in tone in the early parts – when the monster attacks are first reported I felt like this would fall apart after all – the film really manages to sell the idea that this is what is happening, and this is what real, flawed people would do with that power. The performance by Sudeikis in particular, with the gradual reveal of his abusive nature, is excellent.

This can be a very dark film, and it is tackling some serious subject matter, but it also manages to have incredibly funny moments, even when what’s happening perhaps isn’t something that should be laughed at.  The tone does clash at times, but for the most part it’s handled well, and I think the portrayal of domestic abuse is something the film does well and treats somewhat respectfully. If there’s one problem on that end it’s that the resolution of their conflict is maybe a little too easy and neat.

One final thing I feel is worth bringing up, and which adds a small caveat to my otherwise strong recommendation, is that this is a film about two white Americans in New England whose personal problems are acted out upon the lives of thousands of South Koreans; the very real death and destruction they cause is far removed from them, existing for the purposes of the film as part of an extended metaphor for the control abusers can hold over their victims. As a white westerner myself I don’t think there’s much I can say about that, but the use of Asian lives like this without providing them a real presence or agency in the film seems like something that deserves addressing.

That said, Colossal is unique, weird, and features some brilliant performances. It might not work for everyone, but I very much enjoyed it and would recommend checking it out. It’s in cinemas in the UK right now (though not in all of them; I had to travel a little out of my way to see it).

You Should Be Watching: Movies with Mikey

Movies with Mikey is a video series by Mikey Neumann on youtube channel Chainsawsuit Original (which he shares with Kris Straub), and it is just awesome. Mikey’s distinctive style and humour in his videos manage to bring across a real love for the films he’s discussing, and he has a real knack for finding the heart in those films (yes, some of his videos will make you cry). And pretty often he manages to come at films from a different direction than I might have expected.

This really is an excellent series and I highly recommend watching and subscribing to the channel. Here are a few of my favourite Movies with Mikey videos to get you started:

What Remains of Edith Finch

What Remains (Logo)
I first heard of the game What Remains of Edith Finch when Jim Sterling posted a video about it, and immediately I knew I wanted to play it. As much a piece of interactive storytelling as a game, it reminded me of Gone Home, a game I loved, which involved your character exploring an empty house, reading documents and receiving pieces of story through voiceover narration.

Gone Home, however, contained very little game – it mostly involved picking up objects to read them, and occasionally inserting a cassette tape into a stereo. On that measure, What Remains of Edith Finch is quite different. While the basic mechanic of exploring a large, empty house is similar, Edith Finch uses this framework to connect a series of short stories, each told in a different style through a different mini-game, with varying levels of interactivity. The first, for example, is the diary of a young girl, and you play as her through the increasingly fantastic story she tells in her final entry, with the movement and actions changing as the story twists and turns in the way that stories by small children often do. Other stories can be as simple as a slideshow, or a flipbook cartoon.

The story goes like this: about a century ago, the Finch family travelled to America from Norway in an attempt to escape the family “curse”. After arriving, they built the big, strange house in which the family has lived since, and it’s in and around this home that each member of the family has died, one by one, some as children, some as parents, very few having reached old age. In the game, Edith Finch Jr., currently the only living member of the Finch family, has returned to the house in search of their stories. The lives of the Finch family are preserved in their rooms, each one abandoned exactly as it had been when the occupant died, and later sealed shut; the rooms hold their stories, and each story is about a death.

This could have been a very dark game. It’s definitely a sad one. But the game doesn’t just tell us how a group of people died, one by one – it tells us the stories about how they died, each coloured by the perspective of the storyteller, and often with a dose of whimsy that cuts through the sadness. The darkest, saddest chapters in this narrative are also usually the most fantastical. The death of children is always going to be a difficult subject, but What Remains of Edith Finch manages to capture in each child’s story the sense of wonder and happiness those children held in themselves while they were alive.

In a sense, Edith Finch is about the power of stories. This is a family that is constantly telling stories about itself, the “family curse” among them. We see stories used as a way to come to terms with loss, but we also see stories that keep people trapped, preventing them from moving on. Maybe Great Grandma Edie was wrong for keeping the stories alive; maybe her daughter Dawn was wrong for protecting Edith Jr. from those same stories. This game isn’t about giving definitive answers to such things. These stories aren’t there to give us the truth but the feeling of it; just as the game is not so much a challenge as an experience.

I played What Remains of Edith Finch on the PC, but it’s also available on the PS4; I hear the controls might be a bit better there – they could be a bit finicky in places with the mouse. Either way, I highly recommend giving it a try. It’s a short game – about a couple of hours – but worth it.

Hello World, Once Again

This is an introduction post. It might seem strange for a blog that’s somewhere around a decade old to post an introduction, but in that decade I don’t really think I’ve made much of an impression on anyone, so it seems like a fresh start might be in order. (Plus my About page probably needs an update.)

My name is Alan, I’m a 30-something guy from the UK, and I’ve been reading fantasy novels for pretty much my whole life, and regularly reading comics for around a decade. This blog is a place for me to talk about those things, along with my other interests, and hopefully share some of my enthusiasm for that stuff with like-minded readers.

Because I think it’s worth stating, I’m a liberal; I support intersectional feminism and reject discrimination of all kinds, be it about appearance, ethnicity, disability, sexuality or gender expression, and I believe in promoting representation and diverse voices in our media. I hope I can live up to those beliefs in writing about that media here.

I’ve been very quiet at times over the years – which I’ve blamed on things like World of Warcraft addiction (not true for some time now) – and despite all the times I’ve come back and said I’d write here more frequently, it’s never stuck, and I never allowed myself to develop the habit of regular updates. I’m hoping to finally fix that. Obviously my past performance isn’t very promising, but I want to do more with this space than I have, and I want to finally put in the effort that requires. This might mean more personal posts, and it’ll definitely mean posts about more than just books. I’ll see what I can come up with.

I’ll end with this: Hello, and thanks for visiting my site. Hopefully you’ll find something interesting here.

(Also, you can follow me on Twitter @sometimesKysen.)

Thoughts on the 2017 Hugo Award Nominees

The shortlist for the 2017 Hugo Awards was announced yesterday, and it’s looking pretty strong this year. Here are some of my brief thoughts on the ballot.

First, I’m going to address the Puppy issue. The Rabid Puppy campaign led by human garbage fire Theodore Beale is still around, but thanks to some changes in the way nominations are tallied, they were only able to place a maximum of one work in each category on this year’s ballot. Combined with the change to six nominees per category, this has meant a much smaller influence on the shortlist and a much more satisfying field to choose from. There are some obvious outliers on the ballot, but gone are the days of No Awarding four out of five works.

This is a very good list, folks.

Best Novel
All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders
A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers
Death’s End, by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu
Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee
The Obelisk Gate, by N. K. Jemisin
Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer

I’ve said before that I didn’t read all that much last year, so I’m a bit behind on this category, having only read The Obelisk Gate and All the Birds in the Sky. The latter was good but didn’t quite work for me, but Jemisin’s novel, the sequel to last year’s winner, was every bit as good as the first. I’ve heard very good things about Ninefox Gambit, and Death’s End is the sequel to 2015’s Best Novel winner, The Three-Body Problem. Honestly, this category is anyone’s guess this year.

Best Novella
The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle
The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, by Kij Johnson
Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire
Penric and the Shaman, by Lois McMaster Bujold
A Taste of Honey, by Kai Ashante Wilson
This Census-Taker, by China Miéville

I read A Taste of Honey just this week, and I’m glad to see it here. Kai Ashante Wilson missed out on a Hugo nomination last year because his novella Sorcerer of the Wildeeps came in at just over 40,000 words, pushing it into the Novel category. The rest of these are titles I’ve heard plenty of talk about, but haven’t read myself yet. I look forward to them. (This Census-Taker was a Puppy pick, but it’s China Miéville, so we can hardly hold that against it.)

Best Novelette
Alien Stripper Boned From Behind By The T-Rex, by Stix Hiscock
“The Art of Space Travel”, by Nina Allan
“The Jewel and Her Lapidary”, by Fran Wilde
“The Tomato Thief”, by Ursula Vernon
“Touring with the Alien”, by Carolyn Ives Gilman
“You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay”, by Alyssa Wong

Obvious troll nomination aside, I look forward to reading the work in this category, of which I’ve only read You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay. I suspect I’ll still be rooting for Wong to take the award, though.

Best Short Story
“The City Born Great”, by N. K. Jemisin
“A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers”, by Alyssa Wong
“Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies”, by Brooke Bolander
“Seasons of Glass and Iron”, by Amal El-Mohtar
“That Game We Played During the War”, by Carrie Vaughn
“An Unimaginable Light”, by John C. Wright

On the other hand, I don’t know where my votes will go in this one. Jemisin, Wong, Bolander, and El-Mohtar are all excellent, and I’m not very familiar with Vaughan. John C. Wright can fuck right off, though.

Best Related Work
The Geek Feminist Revolution, by Kameron Hurley
The Princess Diarist, by Carrie Fisher
Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg, by Robert Silverberg and Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
The View From the Cheap Seats, by Neil Gaiman
The Women of Harry Potter, by Sarah Gailey
Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016, by Ursula K. Le Guin

Holy hell this category. Fisher, Silverberg, Gaiman, and Le Guin are all Big Names, and you can’t discount the excellent work by Hurley and Gailey. I suspect this one’s heading Carrie Fisher’s way, given the circumstances, but I think you could be happy with any of these winning.

Best Graphic Story
Black Panther, Volume 1: A Nation Under Our Feet, written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, illustrated by Brian Stelfreeze
Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening, written by Marjorie Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda
Ms. Marvel, Volume 5: Super Famous, written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Takeshi Miyazawa
Paper Girls, Volume 1, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chiang, colored by Matthew Wilson, lettered by Jared Fletcher
Saga, Volume 6, illustrated by Fiona Staples, written by Brian K. Vaughan, lettered by Fonografiks
The Vision, Volume 1: Little Worse Than A Man, written by Tom King, illustrated by Gabriel Hernandez Walta

Another truly excellent selection of work. I’m glad to see Paper Girls make the list, but I’m going to have a very hard time ranking my votes this year. Read all of these, if you haven’t.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
Arrival
Deadpool
Ghostbusters
Hidden Figures
Rogue One
Stranger Things, Season One

This is the one category of the Hugos that tends to be most predictable in terms of nominees, and there aren’t really any surprises here. I’m not sure I agree with Ghostbusters being there – it’s a good film (I saw it twice!) but I wouldn’t say best of the year. I’m also a bit disappointed that 10 Cloverfield Lane didn’t make it. I’ll be rooting for Arrival or Hidden Figures to take the rocket.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
Black Mirror: “San Junipero”
Doctor Who: “The Return of Doctor Mysterio”
The Expanse: “Leviathan Wakes”
Game of Thrones: “Battle of the Bastards”
Game of Thrones: “The Door”
Splendor & Misery [album], by Clipping

Formerly the Doctor Who category, now overtaken by Game of Thrones (though the Doctor still gets his spot). I’m surprised and disappointed that “The Winds of Winter” came third place of the GoT nominations and lost out – the incredible opening sequence alone deserves the recognition. I’m gunning for “San Junipero” from this list – it ripped my heart out (in a good way. Kinda).

Best Series
The Craft Sequence, by Max Gladstone
The Expanse, by James S.A. Corey
The October Daye Books, by Seanan McGuire
The Peter Grant / Rivers of London series, by Ben Aaronovitch
The Temeraire series, by Naomi Novik
The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold

This is a new category, being trialled this year in advance of members voting on whether to make it a permanent one. And it’s a tricky one. With series you’re looking at a larger body of work, over multiple years, which is going to make it harder to keep up with generally. I can’t help feel that this creates a barrier for people who haven’t started the books but want to vote for the Hugos. (Like myself, having only read one book out of any of the above.) It seems like the kind of category where voting will come down to which property has the largest pre-existing fanbase in the Worldcon membership. (I also wonder what will happen when a popular series publishes a new volume every year.) I suspect McGuire and Bujold have a good shot here, but The Expanse has a TV series so could put up a good fight.
For me, I’m going to eventually read The Expanse and the Craft Sequence, but I don’t know if I’ll get round to it this year. I really have too many books waiting to be read, so this category will miss out on my votes.

I don’t really have much to say in the remaining categories, though Best Fan Writer and the Campbell Award booth look good this year. I’ve never felt familiar enough with the publishing and art categories to comment. Overall this is a strong Hugo ballot, I look forward both to reading everything I’ve missed so far, and to attending the awards ceremony itself in Helsinki.

Congratulations to all the nominees!