Author Archive: Alex

Friends and Rivals

My mum picks such interesting books for me! I hadn’t heard of this before it arrived for my birthday; I had heard of Turner and Richardson but knew nothing about them – I’ve never read anything by any of these women.

Before talking about the great things, there were two things that disappointed me deeply about this book, and they’re both factual errors that really don’t have a connection to the histories themselves but are nonetheless troubling. I can only hope they’re both editorial mistakes. One: in speaking of the English suffragette movement, Niall mentions “Adela Pankhurst and her daughters”. This should be Emmeline – Adela is one of the daughters. Adela was the one who ended up in Australia, so I guess this is an understandable mistake. However, in speaking of Australian suffrage, Niall gives 1908 as the year in which (white, which is also not stressed) Australian women gained the right to vote; it was actually 1902. Like I said, superficially small errors, but pretty significant for the history suffrage.

The book is set up as biographies – primarily literary biographies – of the four women. As individuals their lives are all quite fascinating: Baynton is probably my favourite, although the one I would be least likely to befriend; for instance, she was annoyed at her third husband for refusing the crown of Albania (there’s a whole story about why taking it would have been a dreadful idea). All four of them dealt with a variety of hardships – some particular to their era, the late 19th and early 20th centuries, while others are all too familiar (family hardship, women ignored, the difficulty of being paid as a writer…). Niall writes engagingly and seems to have done spectacular archival research to dig up letters and diaries to get into the mindsets of these very different women.

Turner wanted to be taken seriously as a writer; Seven Little Australians was a money-making machine and she ended up being pigeonholed as a children’s writer (so familiar for too many women). I’d never realised that this book has an urban setting and just how remarkable this was for its time, when Australia was so much about the bush, thank you Banjo and Henry (whom Turner knew). Conversely, Baynton wrote about the bush – but in almost vicious terms; the one story I really want to read was throwing Henry Lawson’s story “The Drover’s Wife” under a bus. Henry Handel Richardson was considered for a Nobel Prize, and also wrote urban stories – and wasn’t especially interested in being considered a particularly “Australian” author, which was intriguing for the time. And Palmer was, for her time, a leading critic and champion of Australian authors – not a leading female critic, but leading critic, period.

My mum knows me well: this books fits within Joanna Russ’ campaign for women to know their literary ancestry – to remember that there have been women writing before them, that we do have a history to be proud of. Australian literature’s history isn’t all bush ballads, or the agony of Patrick White. It’s also the story of girls at private schools, kids in crappy inner-city suburbs, and epic ‘European’ novels. These writers need to be reclaimed as an important part of our heritage.

Olive and Mabel

Like literally millions of people around the world, I have been highly amused by Andrew Cotter’s sports commentary of his two dogs, which began earlier this year (if you missed it somehow, the first one is here: https://youtu.be/vPhpJuraz14). When I heard that he was writing a book, I was amused; and looking forward to reading it; and a bit worried, because what on earth would it be about?

The answer is that Cotter does actually go on remarkable adventures with his two dogs – bagging Munros in particular (that is, climbing mountains in Scotland over a certain height) – and he has a way with words that makes sense given his normal living as a sports commentator. (Yes, it may have been ghost written, given how quickly it came out; no, I wouldn’t blame him; if someone did help write it they did a very good job of capturing his style and tone, or at least the style and tone that come across in the videos.)

The book starts with how the videos came about in the first place – boredom – and then deals with the global reaction to them – which was completely out of proportion to anything he expected, but completely in line with people going spare during lockdown. I really enjoyed the way he discussed having to deal with the unexpected fame, and the pressure to keep creating content, when that wasn’t something he anticipated. Also the way he talked about aaallll the “marketing opportunities” that came his way and he rejected (except for commentating the Phillip Island penguins, which is utter genius and I’m glad it’s in the world – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YIIvTm5xTF0 ).

The rest of the book is about getting Olive, and then a few years later Mabel; a discourse on the Labrador as a breed; and then a lot of descriptions about going hiking in the mountains with two dogs. Which shouldn’t work, but does. This is a gentle, amusing, refreshing book – both an excellent advertisement for having a dog, and an excellent explanation for why having a dog is a terrible idea.

The sort of book you buy for someone in your family and then when everyone’s read it you pass it on to someone else and you know that many people will have had a few hours innocent joy. Much like patting a dog.

Infomocracy

Not sure how I missed this one when it came out a few years ago… some failure of mine or the system, I guess. Anyway, I finally read this (and the rest of the trilogy) last year, and felt a hankering need to reread this year. And apparently I didn’t review it last year, so now’s the time!

There’s no specified year that this book happens; it’s two decades after the near-global institution of micro-democracy, and it’s still a fairly recognisable world aside from that, so mid to late 21st century makes sense. Micro-democracy means that most of the world has been divided into ‘centenals’ – areas of 100,000 people (or is it voters? that’s unclear, I think) – and each centenal votes in their chosen government. The biggest are Heritage, which seems like an ordinary conservative party, and Liberty, which is theoretically all about citizen freedom… then there are some old-nation-based parties, like 1China; and most terrifyingly, there are military-based parties and corporate ones, the largest being PhilipMorris. In the long run I’m not sure which of the latter two are most scary. And then, the party that gets the most centenals over the whole world is the Supermajority and they get… some unspecified powers.

This entire book is about the lead-up to the third global election. I know, it doesn’t sound like it should be riveting. But oh my goodness, it is.

Firstly, this isn’t just a world with micro-democracy. It’s also a world with Information. Information is like Google, I guess, but made a public utility that is genuinely meant to be working for the good of everyone. There’s a touch of cyberpunk in that most everyone can access Information via a handheld device if they must, or via optical implants if they can; depending on your Information settings, you can walk around anywhere and get facts about the construction of buildings, names of plants – and the public Information of the people you’re around. Older begins to explore the consequences of Information here (and I know it’s ‘begins’ because that’s something that continues throughout the trilogy, SORRY SPOILERS). And what happens when Information isn’t available?

Secondly, of course something nefarious happens, and it needs to be rectified. The two focal characters are Mishima – absolutely my favourite – and Ken. Mishima works for Information doing a variety of things, which sometimes involve a stiletto and shuriken and climbing furniture. She also has a ‘narrative disorder’ which is never fully explained but helps (usually) to sort through a mass of data. Ken is a campaigner for one of the middle-tier parties, Policy1st, who ends up finding out some of the nefarious things and gets pulled into the action. Ken’s fine; he’s an interesting mix of altruistic and self-interested that makes sense, and his doubts and angst are portrayed sympathetically but not at annoying length. Mishima is awesome; she is splendidly capable but not all-knowing, and I basically love everything about the way she acts, reacts, and thinks.

This is seriously awesome book. I guess it’s on the ‘techno-thriller’ side of things although exactly what that means I’m a bit hazy on. I would be confident recommending this to someone who doesn’t love SF, because it could almost be tomorrow; the tech’s not that outrageous. It’s fast-paced but not ludicrously so, there are a range of characters who show a range of issues, and it’s just great.

The Ministry for the Future

Kim Stanley Robinson continues to be one of the great voices of climate change fiction – particularly, the consequences of, and how humans might mitigate them (since no way are we avoiding).

The Ministry of the title is the use-name for a small international organisation set up under the auspices of the Paris Climate Agreement, kind of but not entirely associated with the UN and based in Zurich. Their remit is to basically to represent future generations, who currently don’t get a say in what they will inherit, and therefore to advocate for policies that will be good for those future people. It’s a clever way of showing that current decisions have downstream consequences, and of having people whose job it is to focus on that.

Part of the book, therefore, focuses on the Ministry: policy and the struggles of international collaboration. Another large part isn’t even really narrative so much as a series of vignettes from individuals who are either directly affected by some aspect of climate change – like the devastating heat wave that opens the novel – or by people who are involved in climate change mitigation, like farmers in Kerala who are doing awesome things with agriculture. The scope of the book is a couple of decades, thus showcasing the problems as they develop as well as the myriad and varied attempts to deal with the issues.

It’s not a standard linear narrative, therefore; but it is recognisably a Kim Stanley Robinson. For example, New York 2140 had several characters to follow and a few clear narrative threads, which sometimes intertwined, plus the narrator who dumped info on you. This is more experimental, I think, but feels like an extension of what was going on in 2140. I guess there are two main characters, although they probably don’t get quite enough space to really legitimate the title: the head of the Ministry, a middle-aged Irish woman who is awesome; and an American aid worker caught in the Indian heatwave who continues to suffer the repercussions of that for years. If it’s anyone’s story, it’s theirs; although having said that really it’s the planet’s story, and that of the entire population. Which feels so right for a book like this. It makes sense to hear from farmers in India and glaciologists in Antarctica! Less so the bits from the sun, and a carbon atom; but I’m prepared to indulge Robinson’s whims.

I trust Robinson to generally have his science right, if slightly on the outlandish side – that is, his suggestions probably match known science, but they may require more time / other resources than is considered feasible… although actually, this is something that he addresses in the book – that what seems like a large amount of money kinda isn’t when you set it in context. I do wonder whether a copy of this should be sent to people at the UN, and glaciologists, and agriculture people…

This book won’t work for everyone. The structure will annoy some, for sure, because it decentres characters and because it doesn’t really have much of a narrative. It just… covers a period of time, and what happens to the world in that time. So if you like a neat open and close, this probably isn’t for you; if you like really strong characters driving the story, likewise. But I really do recommend this as an exploration of the next few decades on our planet… it’s both optimistic on some levels but also devastating.

Station Eleven

The first question to ask here is, how did I not read this book when it first came out in 2014? And then how did I not read it when it won the Arthur C Clarke Award?

Those of you who have already read this are now possibly backing away in dismay, and reflecting my second question:

How could I read this book this year: did I not know that it involved a… y’know… flu-like virus??

The answer to the second is no, actually, I didn’t. It came as quite a surprise. And it’s a bit of a spoiler I suppose to those who haven’t read it yet but I figure that’s a community service at the moment. Because the thing is, this is a fantastic book and I want to recommend it to everyone… it’s just that, at the moment, such recommendation requires a little delicacy.

“Mum! You should read this book!! … how do you feel about reading about pandemics?”

(That’s not quite verbatim, but close.)

(For the record, she said she was fine with it.)

At any rate, I bought this in one of my spates of book buying this year, as a title I’ve had hanging at the back of my mind for five years and knew basically nothing about. And then I read the whole thing in a day. I would have read it faster than I did but I had to keep stopping to eke it out just a little bit longer. Yes, it’s one of those.

There’s a lot to love about this book. The writing is wonderful, easy to read and utterly absorbing. It takes a particular style to get away with declaring “Of all of them there at the bar that night, the bartender was the one who survived the longest. He died three weeks later on the road out of the city.” In the first part of the book, in particular, this felt a lot like one of the best of Kim Stanley Robinson’s stories (and yes, just to be clear, that’s definitely a compliment from me).

The narrative goes back and forth between times – pre- and post-pandemic – filling in character histories, drawing links between people, giving detail to the world. The two central characters (I would argue) are introduced at the start of the novel – both actors, one old and one a child. Their lives and the people they interact with largely inform the rest of the story. The child, in particular, grows up to be a focal part of the future story, traveling with a group of actors and musicians across an America utterly devastated by pandemic (see? this is why recommending it requires a certain delicacy right now!). These artists use a Star Trek quote as their raison d’ĂȘtre: “because survival is insufficient”. And I love this for many reasons.

As well as flitting between times, the narrative also shifts between characters – all of whom end up having some connection with the two actors, deep or glancing, which is a neat device that Mandel manages to make neither cheesy nor just too convenient. The range of people (rich and not, pleasant and not, etc) allows Mandel to explore multiple human experiences and reactions to disaster – which, let’s face it, is often the point of writing post/apocalyptic narratives. Another sign of a narrative that is well-paced and features multiple characters is that I never got impatient in reading about some new character, wanting to get back to an original – they were all engaging and, especially as the threads started to come together, I always wanted to see what the new character brought.

There’s not that many books about which I can confidently say “I will read you again.” This is one of them.

Hollow Empire

The author sent me a copy of this book at no cost. It comes out on December 1.

I read City of Lies last year, but I didn’t review it because it was for the Norma K Hemming Award, and reviewing when judging feels wrong. It should be noted that this is definitely a sequel – don’t come to it without the first book – and honestly that’s no hardship, since the first book is excellent and I highly recommend it.

In one sense, you could describe these books in a way that makes them seem like well-written but run of the mill secondary world stories: small country beset with difficulties, strange magic system not entirely approved by the powers that be, fights enemies. That would, however, be to entirely miss what makes this series (trilogy, I assume) stand out. The dual-protagonist structure does that: brother and sister, connected to power but not really wielding it, sharing narrative duty. But again, multiple perspectives isn’t all that unusual. Aspects of these siblings, though, is still highly unusual: she has what seems to be something like chronic fatigue, while he has anxiety and the sometimes-awkward coping mechanisms to deal with it. They’re often in the public eye and people sometimes look on these ‘conditions’ with a dubious eye. And they are also both entirely competent at their jobs (diplomacy, and poison-tester) and at managing their health… issues? complications? The two of them are immensely real and relatable, not defined by what others see as (potentially) disability and also not ignoring it. These two, Jovan and Kalina, make Poison Wars unusual and excellent.

Also excellent is the writing; Hawke conjures a fascinating world, with political and commercial intrigue, malice, and cooperation interlaced throughout the different countries and their interactions. Different societies have different belief systems and social mores, and navigating those is a big part of this second book, in particular, as Silasta recovers from its civil war and the problems revealed by that. Silasta must confront its own history, and oppressed people, while also being wary of external threats. I feel that there’s a particular nuance to a story touching on colonialism and empire when it’s written by an Australia (maybe this can also be true of other colonial settings, too, but I find it easiest to see in Australians). Hawke deals with the lived reality of this sort of situation for colonised and colonisers, and I (as a white Australian) think she does so well.

There is excitement here, given its focus on intrigue and discovering whether someone is indeed trying to kill the Chancellor; but there’s not a whole lot of set-piece battles, so if that’s what you’re after, you need to go elsewhere. I really like that the focus is on the people trying to stop an assassination, rather than perpetrate it; in general, the reader gets to be on the morally right side (or at least, I assume we are…) rather than cheering for a person actively trying to kill another, as in those stories focussed on the assassin themself!

Highly enjoyable; read the first book first; definitely one worth throwing yourself into.

Hans Rosling

This book was sent to me by the publisher, Hachette, at no cost. It’s available from November 10; RRP $32.99 for trade PB, $15.99 for ebook.

An important thing to know about me is that I am a very big Hans Rosling fan. I think the first thing I ever saw from him was his TED talk about the Magic Washing Machine – an example of how to think about poverty, and the spread of people in terms of income across the globe, and the difference that a washing machine makes to everyday life. And then there’s the greatest four minutes of stats you’ll ever see: 200 countries, 200 years, in 4 minutes (and 1948 was a great year). It highlights one of Rosling’s key points that he wants people to know: overall, the world has improved dramatically over the last two centuries. (With the caveat that he acknowledged profoundly in his first book, that many part of the world are better but still bad – like a premature baby in a NICU, who is still ill but better than previously.) And if you want to know just how much of a badass he was, watch this interview with a Danish journalist.

… so as you can imagine, when I learned that Rosling had written a memoir (with journalist Fanny Hargestam) in the year before he died (too young), I was very, very excited. His first book, Factfulness, co-written with his son and daughter-in-law (who worked with him at Gapminder) was mostly about the sorts of preconceived notions that impact on the way people view the world (like the Generalisation Instinct that makes us believe everyone in ‘that’ category – race, religion, gender – is exactly the same). Within it, though, were also all sorts of stories about Rosling’s own life – which was a fascinating one.

This is not a standard (auto)biography or even memoir. Rosling wasn’t writing it just to talk about himself, or even just to reflect on his own life, as far as I can tell. His purpose was to use his life and his experiences to teach readers about the world – hence the title. The man who started as a doctor, became a researcher and then a statistician was, in the end, a teacher. You can see that in his TED talks, and get a clear sense of it when he despairs about the lack of knowledge people have about the world. (Many people who take the Ignorance Survey over at Gapminder do worse, in Rosling’s words, than chimps – they at least would choose at random, whereas most people seem to have overwhelmingly negative views about the world.)

This book is amazing. Rosling’s life was amazing, and the writing is beautifully simple. He starts in Sweden, becoming a doctor; spends time in Mozambique as a doctor; investigates a debilitating illness there, and later a similar problem in Cuba; gets into research, and eventually into teaching, and develops the way of presenting stats that – with the bubble charts his son and daughter-in-law created – really made him famous. Which gets him to Davos, and speaking to people like Melinda Gates. (When Factfulness came out, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave a copy to every US college grad that year.) Rosling doesn’t shy away from personal details – some tragic, some wonderful. And he also doesn’t shy away from sharing the difficult, and sometimes bad, decisions that he made over his life. Everything he talks about is aimed at helping the reader to understand him for the sake of understanding how he made his decisions – and what that says about the world. One of the most difficult sections is when he talks about working in an under-resourced, under-staffed, hospital in Mozambique, post-independence. He has to make incredibly difficult decisions. And sometimes they have poor outcomes. Rosling doesn’t attempt to cover that up; it’s all in the context of understanding the world.

One of the great revelations of this book is Agneta Rosling, Hans’ wife. She seems an amazing woman – definitely a match for him. And let’s be honest, you’d have to be, because Hans comes across as one of those people it’s incredible to watch and listen to but would actually be difficult to live with. Agneta had her own career, and actively worked with Hans in some stages of their lives, and supported him – and was supported back.

I read this book very quickly, because it’s an easy read and I really wanted to know everything. There were moments, though, where I had to put it down: occasionally to stare at nothing and consider the world, occasionally to shed a tear, and sometimes to just breathe and let new knowledge settle. I don’t tend to read modern biographies; they usually bore me. This one, though, I will be praising to everyone for a long time. Highly, highly recommended.

The Corfu Trilogy

I read My Family and Other Animals in year 10 English. I adored it and went on to read more of Gerald Durrell’s memoirs, of being a naturalist and collecting animals for various zoological places. I realised that of course this collecting of animals is slightly problematic, but he really does write well.

I watched the tv adaptation of the Durrells in Corfu a few years ago; and for some reason I was reminded of it again recently. Given current circumstances I thought something comforting would be the go. And then I discovered that for barely any more $$ I could get the entire Corfu trilogy – which I didn’t realise existed – rather than only My Family. So, of course, I did.

It’s one of those cases where the Suck Fairy hasn’t entirely ruined what you used to love… but there are definitely elements that were, um, problematic.

Firstly, the positives: while Durrell’s writing does occasionally veer dangerously close to purple, I still adore the evocative descriptions and once again was overcome with the desire to run away to Corfu and live in a rambling villa. Durrell makes Corfu of the 1930s sound like a child’s paradise, with long lazy days of botanical and zoological collecting. And Mum gets to spend all day gardening and cooking and knitting – except when bloody Larry has invited friends over. I enjoyed reading about Gerry’s adventures and he definitely has a turn of phrase when it comes to describing animals. I’ve always thought of magpies as Maggenpies.

However. There are definitely caveats for recommending anyone read this today. Firstly, there’s the condescending nature of Gerry and his family to the ‘peasants’ of Corfu. I guess Gerry is a kid and so he can be forgiven for the fact that he takes advantage of the kind-hearted nature of his neighbours who always want to feed him; but it does get painful. There’s also the odd bit of racism – unpleasant comparisons between races, for instance, and generalisations based on nationality or race. I suspect part of the reason there’s not more is that Gerry is generally disinterested in people, unless they can teach him about natural history or help him acquire animals. So that is something to keep in mind if you considered reading these stories.

Finally, I continue to find it hilarious that the louche and irritating older brother Larry who barely gets anything written because he’s talking about it rather than doing it, became Lawrence Durrell, famous author. And even more hilarious that his Dark Labyrinth is a novel I truly love.

X-Men movies

As well as the MCU films, I’ve also been watching the X-Men movies (yes, thank you Disney). I have been a fan of these films ever since they came out – I’ve seen all of them before; they even inspired me to read some of the comics… once there was a run that was focussed on an all-female team. It is fair to say, though, that not all X-Men movies are created equal. So here’s my order, based almost entirely on my subjective attitude towards the various characters and their portrayals (and it doesn’t include the Deadpool films because they don’t seem like X-Men movies to me… by which lights the Wolverine films ought also not to be here, but I’m not claiming consistency).

  1. X-Men 2: while #1 was fine, I enjoyed this far more; I like the Stryker storyline, I like that the characters are already largely established and we can just get on with a storyline. There might be an element of nostalgia in this ranking, but I’m fine with that.
  2. Logan: I guess it fits here? it sort of feels bad to put a movie like this into the list, because it feels so completely different – on another level really.
  3. X-Men First Class: it’s not entirely about Michael Fassbender as Magneto, although he is enthralling in this role. Despite what I said about X2, in this instance I did enjoy the ‘getting the team together’ aspect and seriously, mucking around with the Cuban Missile Crisis is just hilarious. Also: Kevin Bacon. What’s not to like about Bacon as a villain?
  4. X-Men: Days of Future Past: love me a crazy time travel story, and a film that has both Fassbender and McKellen as Magneto is fine by me (he is such a more compelling character than Charles). Wolverine seems to provide a splendid vehicle for the time travel, although the explanation for why his mind is as resilient as his body is … nonexistent. First Class was 60s, now it’s the 70s (and 50 years later); so much scope for fashion and cars and politics. I really like the way the narrative flicks between then and now; it does excellent things for the tension.
  5. X-Men: The Last Stand. Probably the most controversial of my choices. I really like this film! I like the way it deals with the issue that basically all the films confront: is it necessary to be violent to get the rights you deserve? Also, there’s a fabulous range of mutations here, which is a lot of fun to watch. Hilariously, at the end, after Wolverine has killed Jean Grey and feeling super bummed about it, Jackman’s pose is identical to the pose he strikes at the end of Van Helsing when, as the werewolf, he’s just killed a woman he loves (and he’s shirtless both times, too).
  6. X Men Origins: Wolverine. Apparently Hugh Jackman was way down the list of possible actors to play Wolverine, which… these days is just bizarre. I don’t really get why Wolverine is the character that has been so obsessively followed in the films – I want more Storm, myself – but as origins go this is a pretty good, and horrifying, one.
  7. X-Men: it’s fine. Rogue’s fine. Magneto’s plan is appropriately appalling. It’s just not the best.
  8. X-Men Apocalypse: this is a very silly film. I guess it explains how you go from James MacAvoy’s full head of hair to Patrick Stewart’s chrome dome? Yet another explanation for the pyramids! (I pay Stargate more credit, personally; landing pad for spaceship makes much more sense.) A mutant who can supercharge other mutants is … an idea, sure.
  9. The Wolverine: gosh this film is stupid. Logan is all cut up about Jean – fine. He goes to farewell the Japanese soldier he rescued from the Nagasaki bomb – also fine, I guess? But then family politics and human selfishness happen… and Logan sleeps with a woman so much younger than him it’s just not funny… and things blow up. Meh.
  10. X-Men: Dark Phoenix: this film just makes me angry. It does exactly the same thing as Last Stand, which makes zero sense for a franchise; and it doesn’t even do it better: it removes even more of Jean’s agency, and the added aliens are just ridiculous (sorry, Jessica Chastain, but you were). The idea that Jean’s control is overridden because of some ~~cosmic force~~ is insulting, and she basically becomes a lampshade, which is infuriating and retrograde. And then she sacrifices herself – after killing Mystique, who is afforded a redemption arc – and Charles says that “she’s free”? and Tuner’s voice over says she’s evolved? Get lost.

Avengers: Endgame (MCU 20)

And so it all comes to an end, and many (but not quite all) of the narrative points are tied up, etc. It’s an epic finale (and too long, but that’s basically to be expected), and most people get interesting parts, and there are some great working-together moments too.

Except for what happens to Natasha.

I LOVE the start of this film. That it’s on such a small scale – Tony and Nebula hanging out dying together, and then saved by the BIG DAMN HERO Carol Danvers. Then coming back to Earth, and that’s all a big reunion and so on.

And then it’s five years later.

I was intrigued and a bit boggled by that time jump. It felt so out of place in the entire MCU run – which has been much more about relatively small jumps in time, keeping everything together. On the other hand, from a narrative perspective, how absolutely brilliant and devastating. And the idea that people have, largely, been… getting on with things….

The changes that people have experienced are fascinating. Steve is the one doing the counselling, and Sam is off being a hero. I loathe how Clint has become a vigilante, as if somehow that’s what he would become – it’s not like the people he’s killing are in any way connected to his family’s deaths. I am kinda delighted by Tony and Pepper and Morgan, and their rural retreat. I am devastated by Thor’s reaction to his perceived mistakes, and feel that – while it’s maybe a bit exaggerated, and uncomfortably played for laughs a couple of times – this is entirely believable and in some ways was a bold choice. Genuinely showing the effects of PTS? The idea, at least, is a good one. I do not like BannerHulk at all, but whatever.

And then there’s Natasha. Who has lost her family and is desperately trying to keep it together and I’m not sure people really appreciate all that she’s doing. She is so ill-served in this film.

Then there’s Scott coming back, and somehow The Quantum Realm etc etc oh and NOW we get to have time travel and basically write another massive love letter to the entire franchise. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a neat way to try and deal with the issue, and I love seeing some of those earlier scenes from a different perspective – but let’s not be under any illusions about this being a bit too self-referential and delighted with its own cleverness.

The replay of Steve’s fight in the elevator: brilliant. And fighting himself – hilarious. Tony with his dad – I mean, ok, Stark finally gets to deal with his self-loathing re: dad. Thor getting to see Friga again was wonderful (although no way would she make a jibe about his weight, that’s just offensive). Unsurprisingly I kinda love how Quill is shown to be a douche with his whole dancing routine from the first Guardians film.

And then there’s Natasha. On the one hand I can love that she wants to be sacrificial because she loves Clint and the rest of her family. On the other… it makes me so, so mad that it was her that died. After all she’s been through, and all the evil Clint has done. I refuse to believe that her death was inevitable. It’s the single biggest thing I dislike about… probably the whole franchise, actually.

Finally, the stones are back and we have two Nebulas running around and the final, epic battle. Which once again brings together all of our heroes (Sam’s “on your left” may have brought a wee tear to my eye… again…), and is genuinely a culmination of everything. And how restrained that this is the first and only time the writers used “Avengers, assemble”! I know I’m falling for some emotional manipulation, but golly the whole passing-between-women scene made me happy.

Can we all just agree that Danvers and Wanda are the strongest Avengers, by the way?

And finally proof that Steve can lift Thor’s hammer – everything about that little by-play made me happy.

I know certain people who complain The Return of the King has too many endings. Clearly they’re wrong (because it’s missing one, the scouring of the Shire), but I feel like that’s the case here. I can basically see the point for all of them, but… it does go on a bit.

  1. Tony’s death. Appropriately shocking, and in some ways a bold choice, but so appropriate for the entire franchise that started with him.
  2. Tony’s funeral. yeh yeh, whatever. A small mention of Natasha which also made me scowl.
  3. Thor giving up Asgardian kingship. This is a great moment, actually, and I really want to see a film all about Valkyrie in the role.
  4. Steve returning the stones and then… not coming back. Until he does, as an old man. And this is where I have LOTS OF QUESTIONS. In particular:
    • Which timeline did Steve’s happy ending happen in? because if it was the timeline of the films, how the HECK did Steve and Peggy let Hydra get to that point in SHIELD??
    • If it wasn’t “our” timeline, how did he come back to Sam and Bucky?
    • Other timey-wimey, cranky, questions.

So now the whole Infinity Stones set up has come to its end. The Iron Man saga is done; the Thor saga, as initially set up, is done; the Steve Rogers saga is done. Natasha is dead and I’m still cranky, and Hawkeye does not deserve any sort of standalone. But there’s still room for more Captain Marvel, and how I wish there could be more Black Panther with Chadwick Boseman. And I can imagine there will be more Guardians of the Galaxy but whatevs. I am waaaay more excited for Thor: Love and Thunder.