I have been chastised in the past – and rightly so – for saying ‘I don’t like horror’ and then trying to justify something as ‘not being real horror’ and therefore ok for me to like. I’ve only done this a few times, I think, and I have been super aware of not doing it since that particularly poor attitude was pointed out.
(And for me, horror and thriller are close enough that they go together. I don’t enjoy them, in general, for the same reason: I do not like being scared.)
So I do not like horror. This is, though, the second time I’ve read this book.
Many, many years ago, I went to visit my mum interstate because my beloved aunt had cancer, and we knew it was terminal. A day or so after I arrived, she died, and so I was fortunate to be able to stay for the funeral. This did mean, of course, that I didn’t have enough clothes for while I was there… and, oh so small in the pile of consequences, I didn’t have a book to read.
All of this context makes sense of the fact that I read this book. Despite the title, if I had read the blurb I would never have read this book ordinarily; I do not tend to enjoy vampire stories, and I don’t know much about the historical or literary Dracula, so there’s no appeal there. But my mum had it, and I was bored and needed distraction, and so I read it. And, yes, I enjoyed it. Enough so that when my mum was clearing out books, I took it with me – mostly for nostalgia.
I recently re-read it, and I enjoyed it again. It wasn’t as scary this time – not only because I knew what was coming (I had mostly forgotten) but also because I wasn’t reading it stupidly late at night…
I like the way it’s basically a series of found documents; done well, it’s a very clever and appealing style for me. The one thing that irritated me was the letters sounding far too literary, even for a bunch of academics. Anyway – there’s letters from various people, across time; and historical documents, and the occasional bit of narrative to join it together.
In some ways this is almost a Dirk Pitt or Indiana Jones version of history: following one improbably clue after another, happening to meet useful people and locating useful documents in unlikely places. Nonetheless I enjoy reading about historians in archives, doing real primary research!
It doesn’t make me interested in going to read more about vampires. In thinking about where this sits in horror/thriller territory, I would guess that some horror fans wouldn’t class it as horror – but since I’m not one, I’m not sure, and I’m also not au fait enough with the intricacies of the genre. The level of violence isn’t greater than other books I read; I suspect I managed to read it because the focus isn’t on scaring me out of my wits. Is this a “it’s horror but…” argument? maybe. Are there bits I found frightening? yep. The first time I read it, I read it late at night a couple times, and that was definitely a bad idea. Does this mean that I might enjoy other books in the horror or thriller genre? Maybe, but there are so many other books I want to read where I’m in little danger of increasing my fear of the dark, I probably won’t seek them out.
I mean. What a film.
I love T2, and I really enjoyed Genisys, but this… this is another league.
Mostly, I love Sarah. I really, really love Sarah, and what she represents:
- I love that she’s so competent.
- I love her determination.
- I am saddened by her bitterness, but everything about her subsequent actions makes sense.
- I love that SHE gets some of the great lines to call back to the first movies.
And I really, really love that basically Sarah is living out the unreconstructed second-wave feminism attitude at its worst – the assumption that it’s about Dani’s child, the grumpiness about being Mother Mary and wombs, etc. And then Dani and Grace are there as third-wave feminism: this is the first time a protagonist hasn’t been white! And a modern-day Terminator not set in middle class white American burbs! It’s race and class and women being both tough and vulnerable, which Sarah has never been allowed to be simultaneously – she’s one or the other. I love how Sarah comes to realise the truth, and the fact that she accepts it and keeps going (looking at you, TERFs).
And I also love Karl. Like, seriously.
- Karl, the draper.
- The ‘give a little girl butterflies on her curtains’ terminator.
- (And the fact that apparently this aspect arose out of Arnie’s actual interest in home decor.) His whole deadpan explanation about why his relationship with his wife works – HELLO HEALTHY MASCULINITY.
- And of course, this is the logical conclusion of the exploration of terminator / humanity boundaries. The machine who knows what he is and consciously – even logically – becomes more human.
- Plus, he has a great sense of humour.
None of this is to detract from Grace and Dani, either.
- Grace: another logical conclusion for the franchise – an augmented human – and her augmentation comes, of course, with frailty, because human bodies aren’t built for the sort of output of a terminator. I am always amused by her less than gracious arrival into the past. I love her.
- Dani: somewhat bewildered and hapless, like an early Sarah, but definitely catches on faster – which makes sense given that she’s clearly had a tougher life than pre-terminator Sarah, and she’s been managing her family. She also gets a ruder awakening, arguably, since her “father” (she doesn’t know it’s a terminator) is killed in front of her and then her brother dies too. She seems to know her limits and yet still push against them. She’s determined and angry and she’s really, really great.
I love this film.
I was thinking that I should review Salvation, Genisys and Dark Fate together, because then it’s two trilogies, in a sense… but then, no. Because Dark Fate definitely gets its own post.
Therefore, a few thoughts on Terminator: Salvation:
And then Terminator: Genisys.
- This is only the second time I’ve seen this film, too, and now I am surprised at myself. The DVD has a quote from someone calling it the best Terminator film since Judgement Day, and they’re not wrong.
- I was suuuuuper dubious about someone else being Sarah, and when I saw that they had re-done That Photo to make it Emilia Clarke I was very angry; like Hayden Christensen at the end of Jedi angry. However, Clarke made it work… and this Sarah is a very different Sarah, after all.
- Timeline? WHAT TIMELINE? Nah man, now we’re into the multiverse, and everything you thought you knew has gone out the window. (Theoretically.) And this is why there was no ‘watching in internal chronology’.
- Once again Kyle Reese is very much the focus, except this time he’s an adult… and rather than getting to be the hero as T1 Reese did, now he’s thrown into a very unexpected situation and he struggles to keep up. To his credit, though, he eventually does; and he usually pulls his weight along the way. I think Courtney was fine in the role.
- I really, really enjoyed the way that this film played with so much of T1, and even bits of T2. Everything from “on your feet, soldier”, to the molten metal… the arrival of the Model 101 (with a body double for Arnie, I’m told), and the punks, was beautifully screwed with. And Reese’s flight from a cop who turns out to be a T1000 – that was magic.
- I’ve decided the T1000 is my favourite Terminator. Way more interesting than the 101, and not as distressingly overpowered as the TX.
- I think, and I hope, that Arnie enjoyed playing this version of the Terminator. From “old, but not obsolete” to “Nice to meet you” [insert terrifying grin] – it’s such a glorious evolution for an actor, not to mention the character.
- Sarah was very interesting! She’s not quite as hard as T2-Sarah, but she’s pretty close; probably saved from absolute paranoia by not having been institutionalised. In fact she’s remarkably well socialised for someone largely brought up by a machine (and if you didn’t laugh when Arnie said “Sarah Connor, seat belt” as they are literally trying to escape an inferno, you were not paying enough attention). I love the gradual revelation that she deeply resents having known a lot about how her life will pan out; and I love her unreserved and defiant affection for Pops.
- And then there’s John Connor. This Connor (when he’s Connor-proper) is slightly more interesting than the Bale Connor, I think; and then to completely flip the tables and throw them across the floor by making Connor a Terminator… honestly, that’s just genius. Connor v Model 101 but now you’re on the side of the 101! Such a logical place to go, I guess, if you’re messing with the Terminator franchise; and I love it.
- So… Genisys is the unholy lovechild of Apple and Google, right? Synching across all of your devices and everything you know about yourself? Cool cool cool.
Salvation gave us a machine built from a man, who doesn’t know he’s a machine and doesn’t want to be and ends up working for the humans. Genisys gave us a man turned into a man/machine hybrid who knows exactly what he is, and works for the machines. And Dark Fate… well, I guess it’s the final, logical conclusion: to have a machine who knows he’s a machine become wonderfully human.
I don’t remember how but we got started talking about the Terminator movies. One thing led to another, and suddenly we own all of them on DVD (trust me, it didn’t cost much), and we’re watching them all.
Ah, but in what order? Like our Marvel watch last year, I really wanted to do it in internal chronological order… but HAHAHA no. That’s all a bit too hard. So production order it is.
Some reflections on the first three films, therefore…
- I’m not sure, but I think T2 might have been my first Arnie movie. Looking at the dates of his films, I don’t think I would have seen any of the others in the cinema. I didn’t see T2 in the cinema either; I distinctly remember the sleepover birthday party where I saw it (on VHS, children). And when he gets into those black clothes, and puts on the sunglasses… that really is my image of him; my expectation of what he looks like. Apparently that imprinted on me more deeply than I had realised.
- And so, the opening moments: those energy bubbles. The progression of technology in terms of what the bubbles look like is fascinating! I really like the fact that each of these movies keeps that as the opening, recreates the crouched figure, and so on. My reaction to Arnie in T1 was that he looked truly inhuman, with the ludicrously defined muscles. He’s still impossibly buff in the next two movies, but looks slightly less… sculpted?
- Which brings me to technology – within the film, imagined for the future, and used in the making. Within the film, of course, each is a microcosm of its day. Landlines and eventually mobiles (although Kate Brewster’s phone still looks super old fashioned). The cars! The TVs! By T3, the internet and how it could be connected and infected.
- The terminators themselves are a spectacular example of how future tech is imagined. Model 101 is a robot with human skin, and while he has no pain and copes with infinitely more damage than a human, that’s about it. A bit faster, perhaps. But then the T1000 suddenly has the ability to shapeshift, and can resume shape after being a liquid, and is just generally more impressive. And then TX… a shift up again. Far more resistant to damage, able to create complex machines as part of her anatomy rather than just blades – and able to talk to modems – she’s magnificent. I love this idea that in order to defeat humans, the machines must evolve. There’s something to explore in that.
- And what the terminators are like also reflects what SFX were able to do. I hadn’t realised before but when the 101 is just the robot, at the end of T1, it’s actually stop-motion – and it’s really obvious to me now. The T1000’s beautifully liquid reassembly is still a joy to watch. And while it’s utterly cheesy and made me roll my eyes, the TX being able to morph so that she is basically able to use her body like rope is another change in the technology available for such effects.
- I love Sarah Connor. I quite like her in T1, although she’s not all that much more than a damsel in distress. But then what Cameron does with her in T2 is spectacular; I do wonder how much that was inspired by Ellen Ripley. Making her a Cassandra is a great narrative choice, for all it’s hideous to watch her in the asylum, and seeing the evolution of her attitude towards the Model 101 is fascinating. Also, filling her coffin with weapons for later? Most badass request ever put in a will.
- Not gonna lie: had posters of Edward Furlong on my wall as a teen. I think he still stacks up as a teen actor. Nick Stahl, unfortunately, is just not that great in T3. He’s probably the most disappointing part of the film.
- The films as objects are also interesting. T1 is definitely of its time – it feels so slow, and some of the chase scenes get pretty boring. Also Kyle Reese is a boor in much of his interaction with Sarah (I do really like Michael Biehn in the role), and I find it quite hard to watch these days. T2 is by far the best of the trilogy, although that might also reflect my childhood viewing of it. The pace, Sarah, the explosions, getting Dyson on side… it’s just a well-constructed narrative overall. T3 isn’t a disaster but it’s also not a masterpiece. What I do love about it, though, is that there’s so little hope, in comparison with the other two. And I guess that’s the point. For all that they’ve done, for all their attempts at circumventing Armageddon, the suggestion is that humans just will create their own destruction. Can’t say I necessarily disagree.
Do not regret re-watching these films at all. May regret either Salvation or Genesis… stay tuned.
I read this courtesy of NetGalley.
Part travel memoir, part personal memoir, and part food history; it’s an intriguing combination. Furstenau discusses her own history – born of Bengali parents, in Thailand, and then growing up in the US. Throughout the book are comments about how hard it was to demonstrate that her visa to India ought to reflect that heritage, but given a lack of paperwork for her parents, it wasn’t to be. This sense of questioning where she belongs is woven through her discussion of “Indian” food, as she looks into the histories of both ingredients and dishes. “Indian” because some of what is discussed is about how now-common ingredients in Indian food actually came to India (green peas, chillis, potato… cheese…); and also some things you might think of as Indian are not, and some things appropriated by others are, of course, from India.
The author travels around India, sometimes visiting relatives and sometimes finding food-connected people, who talk about history and share recipes and teach her to cook some of the dishes. And these recipes are included, of course – Sandesh and Nolen Gur Cheesecake; Kedgeree (which is Indian, not Scottish, and the story of it becoming a breakfast staple is fascinating and I have never eaten it!); Koraishutir Kochuri (puffed bread with green pea filling, and goodness I really want to make this)… and so many others.
This book is very readable; it’s enjoyable to journey around India, it’s varied in what ingredients and ideas it discusses, and the recipes seem easy to follow.
I read this courtesy of NetGalley.
As someone more au fait with anthologies than me pointed out, this anthology doesn’t have a introduction. So there’s no discussion of what speculative fiction is, let alone what African speculative fiction is. Which means that the answer to both of those questions is: These stories. All of them. These authors write that.
A few of these names – Sheree Renee Thomas, Tobias S Buckell – were familiar to me, but most were not. Part of this is that I don’t read a whole heap of short fiction these days, especially not the online magazines – it’s too hard – but it’s also partly about the speculative fiction scene that gets a lot of notice still being really white (I am not very wired into the whole scene these days anyway). Which makes an anthology like this excellent… because we’re a long way away from not needing such a thing, so don’t bring me the “but everyone’s work should be judged on merit” nonsense.
Anyway: the stories! This is a truly diverse set of fiction. There’s magic and there’s robots and there’s myths and there’s so-close-to-reality, and there’s horror (sometimes akin to the close-to-reality); there’s stories set in recognisable places and future places and past places and nowhere-places. Women and men and ungendered and who cares, families and not, hope and not,
I didn’t love every story, but I never do, with an anthology. And some of those were horror, which I pretty much always don’t enjoy. There was only one story that I got impatient with and skimmed over, which is a pretty good hit-rate in 360 pages.
This is great. I hope it’s the first in a long line of such volumes, as the cover page suggests.
I read this courtesy of NetGalley.
I am very late to this Scalzi party, clearly.
I remember when Redshirts first came out and a lot of the discussion about it. But although I’d seen all the Star Trek movies to that point, I’d never watched any of the tv, and I didn’t feel that much affinity for the show – and given all the talk was of this book being a riff on that, I didn’t feel compelled to read it.
Now, though, I have watched all of Voyager; and all of Discovery and Picard to date; and even, perhaps most relevantly, most of Lower Decks. So really, for me, this is the right time to read this book.
I also, at the original publication, had read zero Scalzi. I know, this is kind of amazing for someone so into the genre. But he just never really came across my radar. And then I finally came across the Interdependency trilogy, and gave it ago, and fell very heavily in love with those books. So, now I can say that I like what I’ve read of his work. Again, this timing was good for me.
So, what of Redshirts? Having read Mary Robinette Kowal’s introduction, I was expecting this to be hilarious. And… it wasn’t. At least, not for me. That is, there were some funny bits, mostly in dealing with expectations and stereotypes, sometimes in the language, and such things. But I didn’t laugh out loud. So in that way I was a bit disappointed. As a narrative, though, it really is very clever and very well done; as Kowal also said, it takes an idea at the start – the lowly types of Star Trek etc who never get much screen time – and develops them into characters, and THEN completely turns what you’re expecting not only on its head, but sideways and inside out and into configurations I couldn’t imagine. So all of that was surprising, intriguing, and enjoyable. I will admit that the very end I found … not disappointing, exactly, but perhaps bewildering? That is, I didn’t feel like it added much, if anything, so I was left feeling blinking and a bit confused – there was a lack of resolution, because too much had been added on (perhaps this is the complaint about the “too many endings” of Return of the King…).
Is this a fun book to read? yes. Did I actually have to watch a lot of Star Trek to enjoy it? No; but I think a bit of knowledge does deepen the appreciation of what Scalzi is doing. Does my slight disappointment mean I’ll never read another Scalzi? Oh heck no. I don’t think he’ll ever be a “must buy now” author for me, but I will always be keeping an eye out for his work.
I received this via NetGalley.
What an absolutely remarkable book. It’s not quite what I was expecting – which was a history of, I guess, where xenophobia has occurred, and maybe it consequences. But more interestingly that that, this is a history of the very concept of xenophobia. It does use examples of historical xenophobia – of course it does; you can’t discuss what the word means without showing what it has looked like. But it’s more psychological and philosophical than I was expecting, as a way of getting to the guts of why humans can react so poorly towards strangers, and how we have tried to explain that to ourselves.
And the first thing I learned is that ‘xenophobia’ as a word is brand new. Like, end of the 19th century new. Makari goes through his whole journey of discovery about this – detailing what he read and what explanations he chased down – in what almost amounts to a thriller in terms of sudden clues popping up. This was the first hint that not only was this going to be fascinating information, but also that the style was going to keep me engaged and keep me ploughing through what otherwise might have been overwhelming, both intellectually and emotionally. This was also building on a very personal opening to the book: Makari outlines his own family’s experience of being “xenos” – strangers – descended from Lebanese ancestors, living in America, experiencing the dismissal of “Arabs” and wondering about his family’s place in the world. Being published in 2021, as well, and of course, the question of xenophobia and how “we” react to the “stranger” remains as tragically relevant today as it has been at any time in the past.
Part 1 explores “The Origins of Xenophobia” – where the word originates, how it was used to describe the so-called Boxer Rebellion in China – and therefore the ‘mad’ reaction of Chinese people to Westerners and all the ‘enlightenment’ they could bring. And then how the word was used in colonial contexts – xenophobia is a product of the inferior mind, because ‘they’ don’t understand what ‘we’ (colonisers) are bringing, and they don’t know any better than to be hostile! And then on through Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, flipping that idea of xenophobia around and showing how colonisers might be the scared ones… and then on into discussion of immigration. Sadly, that connects really early on with Jewish migration, and then of course the book leads into the Holocaust.
Part 2, then, explores “Inside the Xenophobic Mind.” I have neither philosophical nor psychological training, so this part both taught me many new things, and was also surprisingly approachable. Well, approachable in terms of understanding in general, although again confronting in some parts – like the experiments to train kids into having phobias to try and understand how such fears can develop… and also because some of the philosophical aspects definitely went over my head. So this section, too, made me think much more both about xenophobia as a concept but also about how different groups have approached the desire to understand it – external or internal reasons, love and projection and can we ever truly know someone else… and so on.
I would heartily recommend this to people who are interested in why humans act the way they do, for people seeking an understanding of the way the world is and has been; whether you’re an historian or not, whether you’ve knowledge of psychology or not, Makari makes difficult concepts relatively straightforward to grasp. And he doesn’t claim to be able to explain all of humanity, but the book does suggest a range of ways that we might try to think about ourselves, and our neighbours, and our leaders… and think about why we react the way we do. And that can only be a good thing, right? In fact, I think that as many people as possible should read this book, so that we can be much better at talking about these things and be a little less defensive.
I read this courtesy of NetGalley.
This is definitely not the sort of book that I can read all in one hit. I took me several weeks, in fact, of dipping in and out. But that’s ok, because this is in no sense a narrative, or a memoir, or something that particularly requires you to remember pertinent details from one moment to the next. Instead, this is a wide-ranging book on the idea of how people relate to trees (and plants in general), how humans are like and unlike trees, what we can learn from them, how various humans have written about or otherwise interpreted trees, and what it might mean for a human to be more like a tree.
Like the editor at Yale who decided to pick this up for their press – it had already been published in India – I too was captivated by the first line: “At first it was the underwear. I wanted to become a tree because trees did not wear bras.”
Reading it in 2021 as I did, perhaps the idea that most (I’m sorry) took root (really, I am sorry) was the idea of tree time. That tight schedules and being rushed and hurried / harried and always needing to be places and do stuff at speed is just… not fun. (Especially when the pandemic makes all of that also feel like running in place.) Tree time, though? Trees, in Roy’s words, show “disobedience to human time”.
I don’t agree with everything that Roy talks about here – I don’t even agree that all of the questions she asks are relevant or useful. But I appreciate her asking them nonetheless, and therefore forcing me to consider them whether I want to or not.
Chapters range across a meditation on why flowers are seen to be attractive but not trees, in art and how children are taught to draw or paint; the ideas of x-raying plants, what the way nature is studied says about humans, what it might mean to have sex with a tree, what death means for trees and how religions connect to and reflect on trees and forests. And a lot more. Roy writes in the first person – this is an intensely personal book for all it’s not a memoir; Roy examines her own memories, and reactions, and hopes and intentions and fears, throughout the book. After all, it’s her musing on becoming a tree that instigates the whole thing; she reflects on her childhood experiences of trees, and how that relationship changes as she gets older; commenting on what it means to be childless and to be ageing, to be in a relationship and part of a family, and how those things are like and unlike the world of trees.
Aside from the meandering consideration of trees and how humans can be / are not like them, one thing that was particularly interesting for this Anglo Australian was the lack of cultural touchstones that I am familiar with. There were a few – a reference to Shakespeare here, Brecht there, DH Lawrence and Ovid. But much of the literature and art and philosophy referenced was foreign to me, which is only right since Roy is writing in India, and comes (I think) from a Bengali background. There are Hindi and Buddhist texts, Indian philosophers and authors… and a bunch of western authors, too, whom I’d never heard of because I don’t go in for philosophy or botany in any great way.
This was an intriguing, insightful, challenging and wide-ranging consideration of plants and humanity. Well worth reading if you’re feeling like humans need to, or could, learn how to be different.
I read this courtesy of NetGalley.
Well.. This was … quite weird. And consequently, kinda hard for me to review. Let me get some thoughts down:
- I don’t tend to go in for circus stories. I have never been fascinated by the circus as a place, so I don’t gravitate to stories about them. Not that I hate them! But I have no comparisons to make as to whether this is a good circus story or not. The circus is not made out to be a deeply loving family or a wonderful magical place… magical, perhaps, and certainly for the punters, but wonderful? Not always.
- The structure of the story is intriguing, and one of the aspects that I really enjoyed it. It opens with what might be a dream or might be a memory. Then moves on to an interview, with the child from the first part now an older woman, talking about her family and her life as a funambulist – a tightrope walker. The interview hides as much as it reveals. The rest of the book then swings between the older women reflecting on her life and the experience of doing that reflecting, and then back in time to the experiences she is re-living.
There’s a biography being revealed, clearly. But it’s also a rumination on the nature of memory and the nature of family and the possibilities of, the realities of, memory. This aspect – how it makes the reader think about how we tell our own stories – was probably, for me, the most intriguing aspect.
- There’s a lot about parents here. The failures of parents and who is a parent – that it’s not just about biology – and what parents can or should or can’t be. What children can, should, and shouldn’t know about their parents. And how all of those things (can) have an impact on children…
- There is also, unsurprisingly!, a lot about learning to walk on a tightrope. As someone who really doesn’t like heights, that was both terrifying and fascinating. But it’s really not the focus – it’s a means to an end, really.
- Overall I enjoyed this story, although it’s very much not my usual sort of thing.