Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Books and movies in 2017: July

I am currently listening to Tom Sawyer by Rush so I'm feeling rather bombastic. Though I am sad to report that it was another low month for book reading and movie-watching. I need to get a bit less of a life, or quit my job, or both. One day I will realise my life's ambition to win the lottery so I can drink tea and read/watch films all day.

Movies I watched in July (in the order I watched them)

1. Baby Driver
As someone who isn't into Edgar Wright stuff - "Not even Scott Pilgrim?" - "Surely you like Spaced, it's even co-written by a woman?" - No to both - I wasn't expecting to like Baby Driver, and I did not like it. There are multiple problems with every aspect of it. In terms of being a heist movie - these endlessly quirky crew members (Darling with her pink cropped fur coat, the guy with the Hat tattoo, Bats dressing like Michael Jackson from Thriller, and Baby, a 6ft 3in dork) rob banks in their own clothes and then just wander around the city as if CCTV had never been invented. The women may as well be cardboard cutouts - note to Edgar Wright, giving a woman a gun isn't the same thing as giving her agency - and just because a hot waitress is lonely at a diner doesn't mean she'll abscond with the first enigmatic weirdo that comes her way because he knows a song that uses her name. Baby doesn't learn from his mistakes and the ending is white privilege served with no acknowledgement or irony. I know people have been saying it's their film of the year but those people need their heads examined.

You wanna watch a cool heist film? Then watch Heat, The Town, The Inside Man, Triple 9, Point Break, hell even the Point Break remake has more going on, or Sleepless, which is a high concept mess. I could list about 50 others.

2. Spider-man Homecoming
If there's one constant thing about my personality it's that i hate every incarnation of Spider-man. I literally only watched it because I was worried I wasn't using my Cineworld card enough, but actually it was great! I enjoyed it so much I actually recommended it to people. I think Tom Holland portrays that teenage sense of arrogance in a breezy, engaging way. Michael Keaton is excellent, and while it had the same ending of every Marvel movie for the last x years, it worked better in Homecoming because they made an effort to develop the characters. Marisa Tomei should've been given more to do but it was still great.

3. War for the Planet of the Apes
I loved Dawn and Rise and so was expecting to enjoy War but I was sorely disappointed. I know it's gotten rave reviews from basically everyone but THE PLOT IS UNBELIEVABLY DULL AND MAKES NO SENSE. Like absolutely no sense. Just think about it for a minute. Yes, from that bit, to that bit, and ending up at, with them, just ... doesn't make sense. There's loads of little nods to Apocalypse Now and other serious films, but referencing a great film is not enough to make your film great. The movie looks stunning, and the CGI of the apes is fantastic (though the weight of the apes is still a bit off) but overall it feels like a missed opportunity to detail the last gasp of humanity as Caesar grapples with his.

4. Dunkirk
I was apprehensive about this because Interstellar was such a crushing disappointment - I still get flashbacks of those wheat fields. Wheat fields have no place in a science fiction movie - are you listening Alien: Covenant?

Dunkirk does have it's problems: the whitewashing of the soldiers on the beaches and the total lack of women don't stack up with historical accounts and yet must have been an active decision, which is concerning. However, the movie is visually stunning. It felt more like an experience than a movie, and I got really caught up in that sense of foreboding every time anybody boarded a ship. The choppy timeline wasn't necessary but I didn't mind it, once I figured out what was going on.

I actually knew very little about Dunkirk until I read Connie Willis's  historical time travel  novel Blackout last year, but was enchanted by the small vessels. I thought Dunkirk did a really good job of wordlessly conveying the individual choices of people trying to do the right thing, it's just a shame that Nolan took the decision to only tell white men's stories.

The best film I saw in July and the movie I'm most likely to re watch was Spider-man: Homecoming

Books I read in July (in the order I read them)

1. Infomocracy by Malka Older
3 stars. There are some interesting elements to Infomocracy: the centenal jurisdictions, some of the political positioning and Mishima is an interesting character. However, as someone with a knowledge of election systems I found a lot of the conspiracy to be ill-focused and the ending rushed and dissatisfying. The voting irregularities stuff is years old, which is a bit silly for a novel that is supposed to be a relegation in how to mess with democracy. There are also too many characters and some just disappear mid-way through the book with no wrap up of their journey.

2. The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
2 stars. I feel bad for being disappointed by The Princess Diarist. I love Carrie Fisher, and there are some funny moments and interesting insights, but i just found it too rambling and unfocused. I'm just gonna go back and watch Carrie Fisher's cameo in 30 Rock again instead. 

3. The Power by Naomi Alderman
3.5 stars. The world building and the positioning of how the power rolls across the world is fantastic. The little nods to modern sexism are initially very illuminating, though become a bit repetitive. However the characters and the plot very pretty pedestrian and overall it seemed like a missed opportunity to explore how a matriarchy might create a different world (as opposed to just mirroring a patriarchy). 

However I definitely think it's worth reading and if you enjoyed this you should also check out Ammonite by Nicola Griffith and Women on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy.

The best book I read in July was The Power by Naomi Alderman

Also, my boyfriend made me watch Robocop, which I had never seen before. I'd been refusing to watch it as I thought it would be sexist but after some careful cajoling from the boyf - "your cries of sexism have finally jumped the shark" and "you have literally no idea what you are talking about" - I decided to watch it, if only to stop him from fucking going on about it. It is actually less sexist than I thought it was, but I still found Robocop quite boring. Still, at least now I get to make the boyf watch Nicholas Cage's USS Indianapolis with me. 

I also watched Dear White People (the TV show, though I've seen the movie too), which was excellent, and started watching Insecure, with Issa Rae, who I've loved since the Awkward Black Girl web series. I live in hope that one day Netflix will show a sci-fi series I can bear to watch but I've tried and given up on the OA, the Expanse and Killjoys so I think I'll give sci-fi a rest for a bit. 

OMG, I also saw the Stranger Things 2 trailer and it's so perfect that I want to cry. I dressed up as Eleven for Halloween last year (along with about a million other women) and so plan to watch the whole of the new series in my Eleven costume. Yes, I am in my thirties. 

Next month: I'm going on holiday to Center Parcs so that should mean more reading time. I'm hoping to get through Kameron Hurley's The Geek Feminist Revolution and a couple of others. 

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Books and Movies in 2017: June

In June I went to Margate and swam in the disturbingly warm sea because there just wasn't that many movies I wanted to watch. In previous years I might have slogged my way through Hampstead, Gifted, My Cousin Rachel and Churchill but I have less free time these days and so want to spend it more wisely.

I did invest in The Keepers on Netflix, which was a spectacular true crime series. Deeply depressing and frustrating, the courage of the women who had been horribly abused but went public to tell their stories was phenomenal.

I also watched Ava DuVerney's documentary 13th. I thought I knew a lot about the US prison industrial complex but actually it really opened my eyes. It should be required watching for everyone.

Movies I watched in June (in the order I watched them)

1. Wonder Woman
I am really happy that this movie made tons of money, inspired women the World over and proved that women can make successful big budget movies, but WW just didn't do it for me. As I have written in a previous blogpost, I hate superheroes, especially the superhuman, invincible ones. While I thought Gal Gadot's Diana was sweet and well-meaning, she did what all superheroes seem to do these days, which is fight with other superhuman creatures whilst accidentally laying waste to the human world around them. The plot was thin at the best of times and completely fell apart by the final act. However, I know that this movie wasn't for me, so I did still recommend it to friends of mine, who did enjoy it.

2. The Mummy
It pains me to say it, as I am a massive fan of Tom Cruise, but the last movie I saw that was as incoherent and tonally bizarre as The Mummy was Ultraviolet, and I still think that Ultraviolet was a more coherent movie overall. Ultraviolet had a budget of $30m and an unknown cast (apart from Milla Jovovich) whereas The Mummy had a budget of $125m and two A-list stars with a well-regarded supporting cast.

The Mummy is about 3 different films edited into one. The continuity is all over the place: it goes from daylight to the dead of night, then dawn in the space of about 15 seconds. Characters crack jokes then act serious then crack jokes again. It has a similar setting and plot to the messy and incoherent X-Men Apocalypse, but Apocalypse looks like Hamlet in comparison to The Mummy.

Russell Crowe is the best thing in it, as he has seemingly cottoned on to the fact that the movie is a mess and has decided to pull-out his hammiest performance and plummiest English accent. Sadly, the Mummy doesn't even fall into so-bad-it's-good territory. It's just a mess that someone thought was salvageable. It isn't.

3. Transformers: The Last Knight.
I saw the first Transformers movie with Shia LeBeouf, but hadn't seen any of the others until I sat down to watch The Last Knight. I was tempted by the trailer's use of medieval knights, and I was intrigued to see what they did with my favourite bit of English folklore. I was not disappointed.

First things first. The Last Knight may was well be called Cocaine: The movie as there's about 200 different scenes set over a couple of dozen countries with about a dozen plot threads that kinda tie together including a bunch of people that probably didn't need to be on set. John Turturro hangs out by a payphone in Cuba and occasionally talks to people. Josh Duhamel turns up to be an army dude in the desert in Africa, in the mid-West and then in England. You'd think there were only 3 guys left in the US Army. Standout bits include Grimlock, Anthony Hopkins giving London the finger while being driven around in a Maserati and a robot that is a ripoff of C3PO and Hellboy's clockwork Nazi. It's not a good film but any objective measure but I did enjoy it. Like all Transformers films it is easily 40mins too long.

The best film I saw in June and the movie I'm most likely to re watch was Transformers: The Last Knight.

Books I read in June (in the order I read them)

1. Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
3 stars. I couldn't explain to you what calendrical warfare or the heptarchate are, and I couldn't tell you why heresies need to be brutally crushed. I couldn't even tell you if I liked this book. It's highly original and interesting, but I also found the lack of explanation of the rules of the world so confusing. Shuos Jedao is a great character and there are hints of a Dune-esque space opera but I felt all of it needs more more explanation.

2. Death's End by Cixin Liu
5 stars. I'm rarely impressed, but Death's End ambition and imagination continually astounded me. Although having Chen Xin as the protagonist felt a bit odd after Liu Ji's journey in Dark Forest, her mostly passive observer works really well as the eyes of mankind. However, the expansive, multi-narrative and masterful plot and detail of increasingly advanced technology were what drew me in far more than the characters. 

The 'fairytales' section and how it linked back to the central plot was an absolutely phenomenal piece of writing. Death's End is that rare end to a trilogy that is the better than the previous books. One of the most impressive, if not the most impressive science fiction novel I've ever read.

3. The Space Between The Stars by Anne Corlett
3 stars. ** spoiler alert ** The premise was great, and the main characters quirks and fears written in an interesting and engaging way but the book is badly let down by the perfunctory plot. 

The novel is set in space but it's not science fiction at all which I found frustrating. Its also just too convenient that a virus that kills 99.99999% of the human population spares the two people that the main character has unfinished business with. Also food and supplies just magically appear without anything rotting or anyone having to make even a half-hearted effort to source them.

If you're interested in a great post-apocalyptic story with a strong female character there are other novels I'd read first. My faves are the Wool Trilogy by Huw Howey, The Passage by Justin Cronin, Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel or Planetfall by Emma Newman.

4. Agents of Dreamland by Caitlyn Kiernan
3 stars. It reminds me so much of an episode of the X-files. The mystery is engaging, the story well-written and the characters are unusual. However, it ends just as you are become invested in the world.

The best book I read in June was Death's End by Cixin Liu.

Next month: I'll be reviewing Baby Driver which I found to be every bit as dull as I expected it to be. 

Saturday, 10 June 2017

I hate Superheroes.

I hate Superheroes.

And I'm not sorry about it.

Even as a child I never understood why other kids loved superheroes. While they were pretending to be Superman or Spider-man I was pretending to be a foreign spy who out-smarted James Bond. When Star Wars was everywhere I always had more sympathy for Darth Vader than Luke Skywalker. 

As an adult I am even more baffled by other adults love of superheroes. I've never been into comic books so I went through my childhood blissfully unaware of the exploits of the near-identical white men superheroes that my peers loved so much. Yet, over the last ten years the superhero genre has really blown up in movies and I no longer have the luxury of being totally ignorant of these stories.

The easiest thing would be to just avoid these movies. I have friends who proudly tell me that they've never seen a comic book movie, or a Star Wars or an Alien film, as they only watch 'proper' movies by rich white people telling poor people's stories. But that's not me at all. I love genre. I will happily bore you to death wanging on about the Fast and the Furious franchise and I am unapologetic in my love of cheesy action movies like Armageddon and Volcano.

I just find stories about exceptional people really, really boring, and, being fully honest, quite depressing.

Why don't you?

Seriously, I just don't get why it's interesting to read/watch a story about an invincible man battling someone always slightly less invincible than himself and always winning in the end. My flatmate will no doubt tell me that it's about their struggle, but still, I would argue invincible people still have it easier than the rest of this normal folk. Superman never has to take a job he really hates to pay the bills. Spider-man may feel totally guilty that his actions lead to Uncle Ben's death but no-one else in his family and friends circle does. He's still supported by family. The choices superheroes have to make are always grand ones, like "I need to save the world but if I do i might lose the person I love most" whereas normal people's choices are "I'm going to lose the person I love because sometimes life puts genuinely insurmountable barriers in people's way and there's no upside to it."

Here's where my flatmate would say: "but superhero/comic book movies are escapism, some people don't want to be reminded of grimdark reality all the time." Yet to me I just don't find it relaxing or engaging or entertaining, I find stories like that mildly irritating, because life doesn't provide you with a clear purpose, or a big bad to topple. Life is a meandering and confusing road and you don't know whether or not you've taken the right decision until it's too late. Why would I want to watch a story about someone who was born to do an interesting and exciting thing, when I will never get to do anything of the sort?

Am I just jealous? Yeah, a bit. I think i'd be a pretty good Batman, but I'm never gonna be a billionaire. 

Also, and this is the thing I find most irritating, is the positioning that the most intelligent, organised person in the story will be the villain. This is a general problem in cinema, not just superhero movies, but it drives me nuts. In the whole of cinema it's hard to recall a character that shares personality traits with me (ambitious, determined, smart and driven to achieve something) who isn't also a villain. Spock from Star Trek comes closest, but even then, he spends most of his time just going wherever Kirk wants them to go, most of the time he isn't driven to achieve something for himself. I've also been compared to Doctor Manhattan, but he's not a hero, even if he isn't strictly a bad guy (it's debatable). 

Yet, to me, the ambitious, flawed characters are the ones I find most interesting. Despite what most superhero stories would have you believe, I am 100% sure that you don't have to be uniquely innocent or special (see Superman, Spider-man, Thor, Captain America, Katniss Everdeen) to be a hero. There's also that subset of angry 'bad boy' superheroes which include Batman, Deadpool, Iron Man, Hulk etc, and while I do enjoy Batman, and to a lesser extent Iron Man, they are just completely not relatable to me. 

With that in mind, I decided to go and watch the new Wonder Woman movie last night. There were parts of it I enjoyed, but overall it had far too many of the superhero staples for me to truly enjoy it. In case you are interested, my superhero pet hates are: a hero filled with childlike wonder; a re-imagining of a historically tragic event saved by an invincible person, and; my personal bugbear, the idea that LOVE can save the world. 

WHAT ABOUT SCIENCE? *angrily shakes fist* Is it that hard for people to acknowledge that actually the defining achievement of the human race is not love, which is a biological instinct that we are hardwired to feel in certain circumstances, but our intellectual curiosity? Our intellectual curiosity has led us to develop life saving medicines, to better understand our environment and even allows us to live among the stars (just the ISS for now, but in the future who knows?). Yet in so many of these superhero movies it is the innovative scientist who is the bad guy, or bad girl, in the case of Wonder Woman. The motives for why these clever people have gone bad often go unmentioned, or a hand waved away with a reference to wanting power. In what universe have scientists ever been particularly powerful? For every scientist that created the atomic bomb there are literally thousands doing thankless yet necessary research to improve their lives. We need more scientists, not more people that know Krav Maga, so we should really stop ragging on them in movies so kids might actually see science as a heroic career. 

Anyway, I'm rambling and even I have forgotten what point I was trying to make. That I'm probably not alone in having this opinion and it would be nice if mass-market story-telling could cater to the majority of us who aren't rich or 'special'. It'd also be great if highly organised, intelligent people were allowed to be the hero occasionally, rather than being pilloried as the villain.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Books and movies in 2017: May

This month was my birthday and i was super-excited to receive a Kindle and a stack of new science-fiction books which i look forward to reviewing soon. I didn't read as much as I would have liked this month as I've been really busy at work, but I still found myself at the cinema a whopping seven times.

Movies I watched in May (in the order I watched them)

1. Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2
Full disclosure, I am the only person in the galaxy who thought the first movie was incoherent and boring, so I had really low expectations of this one. I thought it was entertaining enough, even though people just show up and go places at random without their being any reason to it. Michael Rooker and Dave Bautista were great, as usual, though the sub-plot where Bautista repeatedly makes fun of a woman's appearance for laughs felt a bit misguided.

2. Guardian of the Galaxy vol. 2
Saw it again 48hrs after seeing it the first time. Still reasonably funny. The Gamora and Nebula sub-plot felt really forced.

3. A Dog's Purpose
Tears rolled down my cheeks as I watched this heartbreaking yet upliftingly schmaltzy story about a dog that keeps on being reincarnated. Even the fact that the woman next to me wouldn't stop texting and told me to fuck off when I queried why she'd bothered to come to a cinema that costs £18 a ticket (I have a monthly card) only to brandish her phone like a torch couldn't dampen my enjoyment of it. Seriously, the woman also left 15mins before the end of the film, so she never found out if the dog found his purpose. Fucking mentalist. A must for dog lovers everywhere.

4. Sleepless
Feels like it should be good, as it's high concept is Miami Vice meets Die Hard with Jamie Foxx having to battle drug dealers, internal affairs agents and corrupt cops to save his son whilst trapped inside a Vegas casino. Unfortunately the plot is ludicrous, the characters unlikeable and the twist obvious from the very beginning.

5. Alien: Covenant
My expectations were already on the floor due to Prometheus but this was so much worse than I thought it would be. My favourite part of the movie was watching my boyfriend open-mouthed in disbelief that a 5min scene showing Michael Fassbender teaching Michael Fassbender how to play a recorder made it into the final cut of the movie. Fassbender and Danny McBride are fantastic, but everyone else seems muted and I felt Katherine Waterston was miscast here. The CGI is also not good, the plot is dull and the ending retroactively ruins the original Alien timeline. Can someone please stop Ridley Scott making these movies? I will pay mucho cash.

6. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.
I actually loved this. It butchers the King Arthur myth with giant CGI elephants (and so much more) and included historically inaccurate language (Charlie Hunnam is forever calling people MATE and bellowing for his LADS). However, it is hilarious. Standouts are top notch scene-chewing from Jude Law and Aiden Gillen and the bit where Charlie Hunnam ingests medieval LSD before marching unarmed into the castle to battle Jude Law had me crying tears of laughter. Women film-makers will have achieved equality when they can also get a £150m budget to make a similar history-baiting chumfest. While Excalibur will always remain the best King Arthur epic, I have genuinely recommended LADS OF THE ROUND TABLE to anyone who wants a light-hearted romp to watch while hungover.

7. Baywatch
As someone who is down for every Rock and Zefron movie I was pretty disappointed in Baywatch. The plot and dialogue aren't up to much, but where it fails I think is it's insistence on focusing on hetero relationships between its main cast. There's a really cringe-worthy romance between Kelly Rohrbach and Jon Bass, and similarly awkward attempts to create sexual tension between Zac Efron and Alexandra Daddario but the random kissing scene between Ilfenesh Hadera and the Rock feels ickiest of all. Zefron and the Rock have really great chemistry together, and I would've preferred it if we'd let their bromance be explicit, or even unspoken without the script clunkily trying to convince us that they are straight. Frankly, the idea California in 2017 wouldn't have at least one gay lifeguard is ridiculous. The drug dealing sub-plot is daytime TV levels of pedestrian and Priyanka Chopra's death, while funny, feels excessive.

The best film I saw in May was A Dog's Purpose but the movie I'm most likely to re-watch is King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.

Books I read in May (in the order I read them)

1. Brimstone by Cherie Priest
3.5 stars. It's a really intriguing idea, with unusual characters and I found the plot both pacy and engaging. However, I felt that the villain lacked depth: his motivation was very thin and rather inconsistent. I was also disappointed that the final confrontation was over in half a page. I did really enjoy it though (much more than Boneshaker) and I would recommend it to others.

2. The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
4 stars. Really interesting characters that instantly drew me in, although the story took a long time to set up (over 100 pages). Almost everyone is highly duplicitous and profane, which caused quiet lols as I was reading. Lots of central female characters which was great, but they all felt very similar: if you described each without their name I doubt you could tell them all apart. However, I am definitely hooked and can't wait to read the next one. 

A solid space opera, reminiscent of the Culture, Foundation and Dune novels.

3. When You Find Out the World Is Against You: And Other Funny Memories About Awful Moments by Kelly Oxford

3 stars. I don't go in for idols, but if I did Kelly Oxford would be one of mine. The stories in When You Find Out The World Is Against You are in turn funny, sweet, sad and depressing, and Kelly is a great writer, but overall I think the book would have packed a bigger punch if some of the stories were reordered.

4. Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuire
4 stars. I wish this had come out when I was a teenager. The world building is fantastic and the characters are diverse and interesting. The portrayal of friendship and difference is done very eloquently. It is very similar to the Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children series, but I like Every Heart A Doorway better.

The best book I read in May was Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Next month: I'll be reviewing Ninefox Gambit, from my WorldCon 75 Hugo supporters pack, and probably at least one of the novels i received for my birthday. Also looking to review The Space Between The Stars by Anne Corlett, as Tor UK sent me a copy for winning a Twitter competition. 

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Books and movies in 2017: April

I struggled to read as much this month as I finished one day job and started another, which led to much TV watching as I tried to adjust to the new workload and schedule. I know that some people manage to read a book every couple of days, but i really can't manage to do that unless I'm not doing anything else.

Movies I watched in April (in the order I watched them)

1. The Boss Baby
I generally steer clear of children's movies because i dislike uplifting quasi-moral tales with a happy ending, but i liked The Boss Baby so much more than i was expecting, to. This was mainly due to Alec Baldwin's wonderful voice acting although the story is clever too. There's plenty here for adults, though it's not as sophisticated as the best Pixar movies.

2. The Fate of the Furious
The Fast and the Furious franchise is like marmite, you either love it or you hate it. While the story makes no sense whatsoever, and Vin Diesel spends fully half the movie sitting in his car staring out the window, I still absolutely loved it. The Rock and Jason Statham were the standout stars and Tyrese, as always, needs more one liners, but it's a great addition to the Fast 'family'.

3. The Handmaiden
Quite unlike most other Chan-Wook Park movies, this Korean romantic thriller is very light on the horrific torture dismemberment. However, don't let that put you off, the movie is spectacular. The scenery, the acting and the story are all intricate and engaging, and i was so tense at the end, really rooting for the characters. There are some explicit lesbian sex scenes which raised some eyebrows in the cinema when i watched it on a Sunday afternoon.

4. Rules Don't Apply
As someone who generally isn't into Warren Beatty or Howard Hughes, I should've known to give Rules Don't Apply a miss. I was sadly swayed by the marketing that suggested this was a romance between Alden Ehrenreich and Lilly Collins. That is the first half of the movie, but the second half is just about eccentric Hughes becoming more eccentric. It's well acted and interesting, just really disjointed.

5. Ghost in the Shell
I didn't think i would like it, and I didn't. While it looks beautiful the story is so thin and ScarJo's performance is just... odd. About 80% of the movie is shots of the backs of people's heads walking through doors. Pilou Asbaek is excellent, and Takeshi Kitano is playing himself but there's very little of interest here.

6. Mad Max: Blood and Chrome
While i can't decide if I prefer it to the colour version, Blood and Chrome is spectacular and the black and white really focusses your eye on specific bits of action that the original didn't. Love it.

The best film I saw in April was Mad Max: Blood and Chrome but the movie I'm most likely to re-watch is The Fate of the Furious.

Books I read in April (in the order I read them)

1. China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh
The world building is great and Zhong Zhang is an interesting character but I found the story very slow and difficult to get into. We didn't get enough of the supporting characters to really enrich the story so their addition confused me more than anything else. The section set in China felt the most engaging.

2. The Loneliness of Distant Beings by Kate Ling
The world building is thin and poorly explained, the plot is not believable and sometimes the writing is so convoluted I found the story difficult to follow. This book is so similar to three other books that were all published before this: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman, The 100 by Kass Morgan and Journey Into Space by Toby Litt. If teen space romance is your thing then you should read The Illuminae Files instead of this series.

3. Ink by Alice Broadway
The worldbuilding is great, and the folklore elements added depth to the story. Leora's journey is multi-layered and engaging, and I liked her teenaged certainty about things. However I found the ending disappointing as I was confused by it, too many story threads were left hanging. I am interested to see the direction of the next book though.

4. Deathless by Catherynne Valente
The writing is really evocative, and the insights into a long-term relationship between two people are both rare to see in books, and, I felt, spot on. However, as a reader who no knowledge of Russian fairytales I felt that the story didn't really draw me in and I didn't know quite what to make of it. However I would definitely read more books by the author.

The best book I read in April was Ink by Alice Broadway.

Next month: I've found an excellent second hand bookshop nearby and managed to snag myself a copy of the newly released Brimstone by Cherie Priest and The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi, so i will hopefully be reviewing those next month. 

Books and movies in 2017: March

I'm increasingly watching movies multiple times at the cinema. While you could see this as a ringing endorsement of the movie in question, it's usually because both my friend and my fella want to watch the same movies with me and given i have a Cineworld card i can watch the same movie endlessly at no cost to me. Though sometimes I see a movie a bunch of times in the cinema because I love it. The Force Awakens, I am looking at you.

Movies i watched in March

1. Logan
It's no secret that I am one of those heathens that just doesn't like the X-men movies, so i was very sceptical when i heard the buzz that Logan "was actually really good." While it is much better than X-men: Apocalypse (what isn't, I hear you cry) and parts of it were really affecting, the story felt really bitty, and didn't really mesh as a coherent whole.

2. Kong: Skull Island
While I wouldn't say that it's a great film, I thought Kong: Skull Island was enjoyable guff. I liked the CG fights, and Tom Hiddleston and Jon C. Reilly were just the right amount of silly.

3. Logan
I enjoyed it more the second time as I wasn't trying to figure out how the story fitted together and just let it all wash over me.

4. Get Out
This movie made me so tense that I felt nauseous for hours afterwards, but i was so invested in the story and really rooted for the main character. Amazing.

5. Beauty and the Beast
It's pretty much a shot for shot remake of the animated Disney movie, but Emma Watson and Dan Stevens just didn't have the chemistry for me. Even the rest of the cast felt a bit sterile in comparison to the Disney animated version. Luke Evans as Gaston was fantastic and totally worth the price of admission though.

6. The Age of Shadows
I really enjoyed this Korean language movie, even though it was incredibly long and meandering and had at least four 'endings'. There's some really tense scenes, interspersed with shocking torture scenes and the occasional fight, but there is also so much talking that does nothing to further the plot. If someone re cut it to trim off 40mins I think it would be excellent.

The best film i saw this month was Get Out, but the one I'm most likely to re watch is Kong: Skull Island.

Books I read in March

1. The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley
The world-building is fantastic, the story is pacy and the protagonist's dilemma, 'who to trust when you can't recall why you are on your quest' was very intriguing. However the two parts of the story didn't really hold together for me. As much as I loved Zan's 'reverse Dante's inferno' journey it felt like a different book to the story of the first 140 pages. I also felt the novel ended too soon, given how much of the fantasy elements (world birthing etc) remained totally unexplained. 

2. Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
I got this book after watching the movie and I think that it should be required reading for everyone! It makes me really angry that these women's hard won achievements have been kept in the dark for decades. It makes me even more angry that the tales of struggling to have professional experience recognised and being passed over for less-qualified men are things that I am still dealing with over 60yrs later.

3. Fortune's Pawn by Rachel Bach
Space military/mercenary novels aren't usually my thing but I loved Fortune's Pawn. It's really pacy, well-written with an engaging central mystery but lots of other smaller mysteries too. Can't wait to read the next one.

4. Hold Back The Stars by Katie Khan
The premise "what do you do when love is banned?" is interesting but love isn't actually banned in the novel so there is a mismatch between the back-cover blurb and the story. The world building is good but the characters are unlikeable and their love story implausible. Carys is a smug know-it-all and Max is an entitled douchebag who puts Carys down constantly. We are told that they are in deeply in love but there is nothing loving about their relationship. 

The ending was expected right from the beginning but was set up as if it was a twist. Journey into Space by Toby Litt and the movies Passengers, Oblivion and the Abyss do the "sci-fi star-crossed lovers" story better.

The day I finished the book I got sick and accidentally vomited all over the cover, which seemed quite apt.

5. Some of the Best from Tor.com: 2016 
While some of these stories are brilliant, I felt the quality of the writing was really variable, and overall the collection was very samey. It would have been good to get a bit more variety.

My favourite stories were:
Finnegan's Field by Angela Slatter
The Maiden Thief by Melissa Marr
A Dead Djinn in Cairo by P. Djeli Clark 
That Game We Played During The War by Carrie Vaughn
Her Scales Shine Like Music by Rajnar Vajra

The best book i read in March was Hidden Figures, as I thought i knew loads about the space programme, but I'd never heard any of these stories before.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Books and Movies in 2017: February

In February I watched a lot of movies but didn't make it through quite so many books.

Movies watched in February (in the order I watched them)

1. Hacksaw Ridge
I was surprised that Hacksaw Ridge got two Oscar nominations as while Andrew Garfield's performance is great the movie didn't hang together very well. The first half of the film was relentlessly mawkish and the second half was wondrously gun-ho and yet terribly American. I can only assume that it wanted to be like Full Metal Jacket or The Pacific, but doesn't quite manage to be as emotionally engaging as either, which is a shame.

2. Lion
I'm not the type to cry at movies, but Lion constantly had me welling up. The scenes with young Saroo in Kolkata are fist in mouth tense, as he veers from one dangerous situation to another. It's a heartbreaking true story that also shines a spotlight on poverty and deprivation. Dev Patel is brilliant as the man trying to find closure by finding his family.

3. The Space Between Us
Entirely predictable by enjoyable tale about a boy born on Mars trying to learn what it means to be human. I guessed every single beat before it happened but Asa Butterfield's enthusiastic yet sensitive performance meant that I still enjoyed the tale.

4. Moonlight
I found it quite a difficult watch as I really wanted Little/Chiron to stand up for himself just so he would stop getting beat up all the time. Mahershala Ali is excellent as the drug dealer who has a lasting influence on Chiron. For me the final act with Trevante Rhodes as Chiron trying to reconcile the person he'd become with the person he really was the most powerful. The movie reminds you that however tough you think he might have had it, that a poor, gay kid with a crack addict mother had it much tougher than you did.

5. John Wick Chapter 2
Excellent. Better than the original in that it doubles the body count, plays it straight but knows exactly how ridiculous it is. The catacombs/club fight is the stand out but my personal favourite was John Wick killing his way across New York.

6. John Wick Chapter 2
I enjoyed it so much I went to see it again less than 48hrs later. It was still excellent.

7. Hidden Figures
As a woman that has always been a massive fan of NASA and space travel I was mega furious that I had no idea that women had been working for NASA in such numbers in the 60s (and even earlier). The movie is an excellent way of humanising these numbers by telling three specifics tales of black women mathematicians overcoming adversity to be recognised for their hard work and talents. I've since bought the book by Margot Lee Shetterly and it should be required reading for all women.

8. Great Wall
While Great Wall is both predictable and bizarre Matt Damon's absurdly good archer isn't the white saviour that some of the reviews have suggested. It's really a fantasy movie more than anything else, and i think it would have done better if the trailers had played up that angle.

The best movie I watched this month was Lion but the movie I'm most likely to rewatch is John Wick Chapter 2.

Books read in February (in the order I read them)

1. Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
The world building is great, and the ideas in the story pretty unique, as far as I am aware. I was intrigued and I wanted to know what happened next but the story held far too many unanswered questions for me to truly love it. 3 stars.

2. The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu
I loved this. The first 100 or so pages are a slog, and the hard science explanations seem a bit laboured but it once it gets going the story is spectacularly good. The slow burn intensity built around the Wallfacers, Wallbreakers and the evolution of the space fleet is gripping. 4.5 stars

3. A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
The story is engaging, sweet and there's a great humanity to Chamber's writing that is really unusual. However, as with 'Long Way' the lack of hard science in this novel really bugged me. What are the Aeluon, Aandrisks et al breathing when they are mingling together in Port Coriol? That, and the fact that anything science-y was hand waved away with a "I don't know how it works, it just works" was a source of continual frustration for me.

4. Too Like The Lightning by Ada Palmer
Too Light The Lightning is sets up a up hugely rich world full of complex characters and political intrigue but I found the story ultimately unsatisfying. The focus on repeatedly mislabelling gender while pointing out gender to repeat that gender was no longer important felt too obvious, and a bit laboured. 

A number of interesting mysteries are set up but absolutely nothing is resolved by the end of the novel, which I resent. Also the sudden appearance of Saladin two thirds of the way through felt far too convenient.

The best book I read this month was The Dark Forest. 

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