Review: The Rose Throne

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The Rose Throne
Mette Ivie Harrison

★★☆☆☆

2013 • 400 pages • Egmont

The Rose Throne sold itself to me by simply including two princesses as its leads. (Itself, I say, as if there isn’t a marketing team at Egmont who did their job well. Although it does say something positive about the young adult market that they thought promoting two princesses who interact with each other meaningfully was the way to young readers’ hearts…) The cover copy, which I surreptitiously flipped through while I worked at the book store, promised two princesses pitted against each other by court politics in a way that did not make me fear that they would hate each other at first sight because they didn’t get along with other girls or some equally noxious and boring narrative excuse. I dreamed of two princesses finding an alternative solution to whatever court intrigue was at hand. What I got… was almost that in a peculiarly frustrating way.

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Review: The Bonfire of the Vanities

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The Bonfire of the Vanities
by Tom Wolfe

★★★★☆

2008 (originally published 1987) • 704 pages • Picador

And, at last, we come to the New York City reads.

It was inevitable, of course; part of the joy of living here is seeing the city refracted at you in virtually all visual media produced in America. (Captain Cinema and I now have the habit of yelping out locations we’ve been to whenever we see them, including eying the seats in which our not yet born butts will perch forty years later as we watch classic Saturday Night Live.) While I’ve been dying to read The New York City Diaries long before moving here was a sure thing, I decided to save it for my Thanksgiving visit home as a literary tether to civilization in the wilds of suburbia. (The physical tether will, of course, be the stunning amount of hair I’ve shed over this city.) Instead, I reached for Tom Wolfe—it was high time we got reacquainted.

While trying to articulate the peculiar beauty of Wolfe’s writing to Captain Cinema while breezing through one of the Strand’s cozy outposts, I ended up comparing his writing to sleep paralysis. “You know, when you’re so tired that you close your eyes, but you’re not asleep, but you couldn’t open your eyes or move for the life of you, and it’s wonderful?” (If you think I’m long-winded in prose, you should hear me talk.) Sleep paralysis is too extreme a descriptor, of course, but it’s circling what Wolfe’s writing does for me. Reading Wolfe is like submerging into a welcome fever—there’s something warm and compulsive about his writing, that insinuates itself into your mind. After I read The Electric Kool-Aid Test, I woke up with his literary voice in my head the next day. Perversely, this is because Wolfe is such a gifted mimic of not only the human voice, but the human context. I’ll need to read more Wolfe to finalize my conclusions, of course, but, with The Bonfire of the Vanities and The Electric Kool-Aid Test as my data, I find that what sets Wolfe apart is his ability to capture the moments that make up a movement, be it in his own voice or in a fictional one. I’d start pulling quotes, but we’d be here all morning.

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Mixtape: Holding On Until Morning Light

It’s long past midnight and you can’t decide whether to cut your losses or just make it until the cold light of dawn. There’s something else here, but you’re tired. Yearning, after all, is a kind of straining.

Scissor Sisters, “Night Life”

I was a young girl
Knew next to nothing
Living in the suburbs
And my heart was lusting

Haim, “Days are Gone”

Felt like I was walking on a tight rope
Those days are gone, those days are gone
Sometimes I wish I didn’t miss you at all
Those days are gone

MS MR, “Think of You”

Dark clouds follow you around
Your own worst enemy
You only picked me up to bring me down
Down, down, down, down

Keisza, “Hideaway”

But you’re just a chance I take to keep on dreaming
You’re just another day that keeps me breathing

Baby, I love the way that there’s nothing sure
Baby, don’t stop me, hide away with me some more

Robyn, “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do”

Let go, you’re killing me
Ease up, you’re killing me
Calm down, you’re killing me
My god, you’re killing me

Sia, “Chandelier”

But I’m holding on for dear life, won’t look down, won’t open my eyes
Keep my glass full until morning light, ’cause I’m just holding on for tonight
Help me, I’m holding on for dear life, won’t look down, won’t open my eyes
Keep my glass full until morning light, ’cause I’m just holding on for tonight

Keisza, “What Is Love”

I don’t know you’re not there.
I give you my love, but you just don’t care.
Was I right, was I wrong.
Give me a sign.

Page to Screen: Sailor Moon (1992)

sailormoonseasononeSailor Moon
based on the manga by Naoko Takeuchi

★★★★½

1992-1993 • 46 episodes • Toei Animation/Viz Media

When the first major wave of anime hit the United States in the early nineties, I was a small child, both in the sense that I was both young and in the sense that I was not already five six, as I would be before hitting middle school. Already entranced by the television, I began watching fits and snatches of cartoons, although the serial nature of television went over my head. It completely eluded me to the point that I would just turn on the television whenever, which was usually at four in the morning. Madame McBride was not amused. When she came across me watching The World of Richard Scarry at an ungodly early hour, she took it for Are You Afraid of the Dark? and made sure I never lay my hands upon a remote before noon again, so help me God.

This might be why I didn’t understand how television worked until I was fifteen.

But that was how I saw Sailor Moon for the first time. I’ve, in the course of my fits and starts to more personal writing, tried to pinpoint the exact airing schedule of it when I came across it, and have only come to the conclusion that being on the west coast helped. It was DiC’s now infamous American dub of the show, neatly glossing over any cultural inconsistencies, providing neat moral lessons in the Sailor Says segments, and, of course, frantically erasing any violent and queer content, from the first season’s villainous Kunzite and Zoisite to Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus. While I didn’t watch it religiously, Sailor Moon fit neatly into my haphazardly lady-centric view of the universe, even as it faded into the rearview mirror when we left California.

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At The Movies: Interstellar (2014)

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Interstellar

★★★★☆

2014 • 169 minutes • Paramount

Spoilers below.

Sometimes, when I watch a mainstream Hollywood film, I like to play a game. In that game, I imagine what the screen would look like if everyone who is a white dude who doesn’t need to be a white dude wasn’t a white dude. You’d be (not) surprised by how much that supposedly default setting is only really necessary to the marketing campaign. I can usually play this game quite easily with Christopher Nolan’s filmography, but in watching Interstellar, I was, for the first time, thwarted. While Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper doesn’t necessarily need to be white, he does necessarily have to be a man, because Interstellar, among the vast number of themes, concepts, and ideas that populate its three hour running time, offers an alternative take on what it means to be a father.

Towards the end of the film, we discover that Cooper is actually the character’s last name. He is not provided with a first name in either the film’s credits or any supplemental material. (This does lead to the inconsistency that Cooper’s grandson is Cooper Cooper, unless, of course, the child has his mother’s surname. I imagine this is an oversight, but I read the text, the author is dead, etc.) He doesn’t merit a first name, because his main function is to be a father—to his daughter Murphy, to his fellow scientist Dr. Brand, and to humanity. This sounds like the set-up for a Great White Male Savior character. And, in many ways, it is. But I find that the details that complicate it. Despite a speech early on about how humanity used to be full of explorers and not caretakers, Cooper’s paternal function is to sacrifice himself. “They didn’t choose me,” he concludes late in the film. “They chose her,” he marvels.

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Review: When She Woke

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When She Woke
by Hillary Jordan

★★★½☆

2011 • 344 pages • Algonquin Books

What happened to When She Woke? The peculiar pleasures and perils of having such a long reading list (and viewing list and listening list and…) is that by the time I actually get to reading something, I’ve forgotten all about it. But I feel like When She Woke made a very positive splash back in 2011—has it really been three years?—and then vanished. This, in itself, means nothing: our pop culture attention spans have only gotten shorter and shorter, to the point that I initially didn’t watch “Too Many Cooks” because twelve minutes was too long. That’s part of the charm of pop culture—there’s just so much of it that you end up with forgotten treasures squirreled away all over. (The moment I realized that I would never be able to listen to all of the music produced in the eighties was practically a spiritual experience.) Seeing that process in action is just what happens when you pay attention to pop culture.

But When She Woke’s slip into recent, fuzzy memory also has to do with the fact that, from day one, Hillary Jordan made sure that everyone who read it would think of two other novels. In the same way that I half-jokingly refer to Eragon as A New Hope set in Middle-Earth, When She Woke is The Scarlet Letter set in the Republic of Gilead. (All novels are sequels, influence is bliss, et cetera, et cetera, thank you, Michael Chabon.) The high concept pitch has endured the test of time (did you know we don’t know where the term even comes from? Language is magic), but there’s always a danger to the “X meets Y” pitch: if X and Y have stood the test of time, you better hope that XY is good enough—or at least different enough—to make your audience stay and not simply wander back off to X and Y.

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At The Movies: Attack the Block (2011)

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Attack the Block

★★★★★

2011 • 88 minutes • StudioCanal

Out of all the arguments that whiners against diversity in speculative fiction attempt to use, the “shoehorn” argument is one of the worst. In its most insidious form, it attempts to excuse erasure by pointing out that, say, a fantasy novel based on medieval Europe can’t have people of color because of history, neatly ignoring both the existence of people of color in European history (oh, hey there, medievalpoc! Keep up the good work!) and the fact that it’s fantasy. If speculative fiction is used only to repeat the same old stories over and over, then it’s not actually speculative fiction because there’s no speculation necessary. Diversifying speculative fiction requires no herculean efforts or suspensions of disbelief; it merely requires shifting the viewpoint.

Attack the Block, harking back to the low-fi action movies of the eighties, largely focuses on the action inherent in a teenage gang fighting off an alien invasion in their South London housing estate. But while it does include a young, conventionally pretty, and white female lead to soften the focus (and complicate our viewpoint of the leads, since the film opens with them mugging her), it never loses sight of what’s truly harmed these boys: toxic narratives about what it means to be a man and a culture that sees them as threats instead of people. That’s what leads them to kill the first alien that lands, putting everything into motion. It’s only through the rare opportunity to play the hero (albeit through circumstances they created, which the film and the characters own) that the boys—sharp Dennis, slightly kinder Jerome, hangers-on Biggz and Pest, and their leader, John Boyega’s tight-lipped Moses—actually begin to escape from and recognize those narratives. At one point in the film, in a rare and unsettling quiet moment, the kids wonder what the aliens are up to. The normally terse Moses offers this explanation:

No, I reckon yeah, I reckon, the Feds sent them anyway. Government probably bred those things to kill black boys. First they sent in drugs, then they sent guns and now they’re sending monsters in to kill us. They don’t care man. We ain’t killing each other fast enough. So they decided to speed up the process.

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Review: You

grossmanyou

You
Austin Grossman

★★★★☆

2013 • 400 pages • Mulholland Books

The first identity I ever explicitly owned was gamer.

My brother is significantly older than I am, and I experienced his nineties adolescence secondhand as a small child. The signifiers of cool (for a given value where whatever your older sibling does is awesome) were the SEGA Genesis in the corkboard entertainment center in my brother’s room, the familiar weight and heft of a Nintendo 64 controller, and a discarded Street Fighter II strategy guide that I poured over in the family van. I remember perching on a medicine ball and watching him play Warcraft II, the two of us in perfect, rapt silence; I remember fleeing from the room as he faced off with Ganon for the last time in The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. Pop culture starved as I was, video games became my childhood imagination’s major anchor. 

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