Monthly Archives: October, 2021

Medusa

I received this as a review book from the publisher, Bloomsbury. It’s out on November 1; trade paperback $22.99.

Ah, Medusa. I love her as a character – always have. She has so much to give and so much to say about how women are viewed and used; especially women with power. Burton acknowledges Caravaggio for his portrait of her, as part of the inspiration for this book; I’ve seen Medusa heads in the cisterns under Istanbul. She is an evergreen figure.

The blurb suggests that #MeToo was part of the inspiration for the narrative, and you can see a lot of that here. You can tell a lot about the times in which the story is told from how the, uh, interaction between Poseidon and Medusa is framed. It’s crystal, blindingly, clear here that Medusa was absolutely the innocent. So far so good; not entirely new. But what intrigued me here was the framing of Medusa’s whole life: that she has been accused of being vain – after her neighbours started making comments about her appearance – there’s good commentary here on social expectations and how we just can’t win. And even more than that is the way that Medusa’s sisters talk to her, and what she comes to realise: about her value as a person, and about telling her own story. It’s incredibly powerful. I can well imagine giving this to a mid-teenage kid, frustrated by the messages from the rest of society, and hopefully having good conversations because of it.

Oh also there’s Perseus. Yeah yeah.
Actually that’s unfair – he’s presented in a more complex way here than is often the case, too, and I appreciated that. This is very much Medusa’s story, though, and I love that Perseus is there in service of her growth.

The one thing that disappointed me a bit about the story was that Athena is described as making Medusa’s sisters into Gorgons… but what a Gorgon is never gets explained. It’s not entirely obvious whether this is meant to be punishment, or just a change.

As well as the story, Medusa comes with glorious illustrations. I don’t have the vocabulary to really explain them: there are some examples here, and the most incredible portrait of Medusa is here. Olivia Lomenech Gill has made Medusa glorious – Burton describes the snakes in genuinely loving detail, and Gill has captured that. The pictures throughout are a delight; some are almost like collages; the colours are vibrant, and occasionally juxtaposed with almost pencil sketches. There’s a magnificent four-page set where it’s Medusa on one side of a rock, and Perseus on the other. I’m not entirely ignorant of art, but I don’t always appreciate it as much as I should… these pictures definitely add to the overall quality of the book, and it wouldn’t be the same without.

This is a great addition to the overall discussion of Medusa.

The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova

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.

Terminator: Dark Fate

I MEAN.

Just.

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.

Terminator Salvation and Genisys

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:

  • I think this is only the second time I’ve seen this film. And I am not surprised.
  • I mean. Is it even a Terminator movie without Arnie. I guess it can be. But I’m just a bit suspicious.
  • I really like Sam Worthington usually… and I think he’s quite good here too, actually. I wasn’t sure how I felt about him for the first bit but when he really gets into the meatiness of the role, and the conflicted nature stuff: he brings it.
  • I also usually like Christian Bale and… look, I’m not convinced. He’s better as Connor than Nick Stahl was (not hard), and comparing him to Furlong is ridiculous. It’s Bale, right? he’s fine. I’m just not sure that I buy him as John Connor, which… is more the fault of the writing, and the narrative.
  • Which, blah. Why do we have a leadership group who don’t want to know Connor? I mean I’m fine with that in theory – that’s a great tension to have, and honestly who would believe a dude who says “I’m the leader because…[insert T1-3 plot]”?? But… we don’t see the build-up of that tension, or even hear any discussion of anything about how leadership has developed, how people decided to follow Connor or not, etc. It’s just weak.
  • Wow that’s a young Bryce Dallas Howard. I’m intrigued by the idea of making Kyle the focus of the required rescue this time. I think it works, as a reason for the infiltration etc. Thinking back on T1 I’m not convinced about him as a teenager though.
  • From I guess a technical point of view it’s easy to watch. The FX are great, the chases are generally succinct enough but are still full of energy, and I like the look of the wasteland the world now is.
  • Helena Bonham Carter is awesome.
  • Honestly the best thing about this entire movie is the moral conundrum of Marcus. If you believe you are a human, are you a human? Did Cyberdyne have any right to use his personality and turn it into a terminator? No fate but what we make… T2 saw the Model 101 learn a few human tricks, but neither T1 nor T3 spent much time on that idea. Now we get this idea of a terminator who doesn’t know he is one blasted into our faces and I love it. (And doesn’t it set up Dark Fate in a beautiful way.)
  • 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.

    Terminator 1-3

    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.

    Green Chili and Other Impostors

    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.

    Year’s Best African Speculative Fiction (2021)

    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.