2016 • 108 minutes • Walt Disney Studios
As an Aunt to Werewolves, I get excited whenever I see something amazing happen that, to them, will be just a part of their childhood and the way the world works. My nieflings will never know an America without marriage equality or a Star Wars without women and people of color. (Sidebar: if you haven’t seen the Rogue One trailer, what you are doing reading this review go watch it immediately.) And they’ll always have had Zootopia to introduce them to complex concepts like bigotry and internalized bias, something I never expected of this movie when we first began hearing about it.
2012 • 130 minutes • Columbia Pictures
Anonymous holds a special place in my biography—it’s the film that introduced me to theaters that serve real food while you watch, planting the seeds for my lifelong devotion to the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. I saw Anonymous because I knew an underclasswoman in college who desperately wanted to see it. But the only place showing the film was a weird theater on the north side of town, so she needed somebody with a car, a free afternoon, and the willingness to submit themselves to Anonymous. And I, connoisseur of bad cinema, was that somebody. Off we went to Cinebistro, a restaraunt/theater joint with luxuriously cushy seats, a full bar, and twenty minutes of previews. I fell in love instantly.
And as for Anonymous? Well, Anonymous may well be one of the greatest bad movies of our times.
The House of Shattered Wings
by Aliette de Bodard
2015 • 402 pages • Gollancz
Urban fantasy is a hard sell for me. It’s not that I dislike the genre as a whole, but more that I was never exposed to sufficient amounts of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a kiddo to develop a taste for it. (Instead, I was exposed to super sufficient amounts of Warcraft and The Legend of Zelda. This means that I bleed unicorns and also means that when it comes to the new Warcraft movie, I am a reverse Alien vs. Predator: no matter if it’s bad or good, I still win.)
So The House of Shattered Wings never even made it on my radar until Tor.com republished author Aliette de Bodard’s “On Colonialism, Evil Empires, and Oppressive Systems” back in September. If you have not read it, I highly recommend it; it is necessary and searing. It made me so excited for The House of Shattered Wings, despite my disinclination for urban fantasy, that I got nervous. (Although it’s not like that’s difficult.) Even after I started reading the thing, I’ve been Johnnie come lately to enough series that I was briefly terrified that I’d rented the second in the series. (This may seem unwarranted, but Memory’s review of An Apprentice to Elves excited me so much I accidentally rented The Tempering of Men instead of the book in question.)
Perhaps urbane fantasy is the best generic moniker to toss The House of Shattered Wings’ way—this is, after all, a novel set in the ruins of Belle Époque Paris, devastated not by World War I but by the war in heaven, brought forward several millennia. Continue reading
Ōoku: The Inner Chambers—Volume 3
by Fumi Yoshinaga
2010 (originally published 2007) • 232 pages • Viz Media LLC
I have recently discovered that I have somehow gotten someone else addicted to Ōoku: The Inner Chambers. In my local library system, books don’t really recirculate back to whatever library from whence they came; they just stay at the library they were most recently returned at. This makes for a surreal browsing experience when I’m trying to milk as much air conditioning as I can out of the library before popping over to the drug store. I’m surrounded by books I’ve already read.
My fellow fan, however, is farther along in the series than I am—which is fine with me, because that means I never have to wait for the next volume.
Previously on Ōoku: The Inner Chambers, we were exploring the origins of the matriarchal (but not quite…) society of Japan, something kept secret from the rest of the world. The Redface Pox continues to cut down Japan’s male population. The secretly female shogun Iemitsu (only her favorite lover calls her Chie) has been happy with her lover and seeming soulmate, the former monk Arikoto. Lady Kasuga, the power behind the throne, approves, so long as Iemitsu provides a male heir.
The only problem is that Arikoto appears to be infertile, forcing Kasuga and Iemitsu to look elsewhere. But even as Kasuga clings to the idea that a male heir is the key to Japan returning to normal, the working women of Japan must face the inevitable fact that the Redface Pox is not going to stop.
Ex Machina: The First Hundred Days
by by Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris
2005 (originally published 2004 to 2005) • 136 pages • WildStorm
It is amazing how time passes. Every once in a while, I’m astonished to realize that it’s no longer the late aughts but 2015, but I usually have a pretty good grip on where I am. (Where am I? Feverishly waiting for Trainwreck to come out next month, that’s where I am.) It’s far more disorienting to read something from George W. Bush’s presidency and have that whole political and pop cultural climate come rushing back. It helps (or hinders) that the early aughts were my political and pop cultural awakening (thanks, The Daily Show and The Lord of the Rings), so it’s sort of realizing that you still know all the words to Liz Phair’s “Why Can’t I” even though you haven’t heard it in years.
That’s what it feels like reading Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris’ Ex Machina, because this series is so pointedly a response to the post-9/11 world that it brings you right back there, all the way back to 2004. Especially with the way the first issue ends—that, my friends, is what you call a hook.
Ex Machina: The First Hundred Days collects the first five issues of Ex Machina, which follows New York Mayor Mitchell Hundred during his four years in office. Of course, Mitchell earned the post largely through his brief stint as the superhero the Great Machine, gifted with the ability to talk to and understand machines, a career that climaxed on 9/11. Despite his notoriety, however, Mitchell is much more dedicated to the law than to his superpowers as an agent of good. Now, if he could only get everyone to believe that on top of running the city that never sleeps during a hideous snow storm, resolve a controversial art piece at a local museum, and solve a string of seemingly connected murders…
Ōoku: The Inner Chambers—Volume 2
by Fumi Yoshinaga
2009 (originally published 2006) • 200 pages • Viz Media LLC
It’s taken me a while to sit down and review this. I tend to have a lot of trouble reviewing middle installments of serialized comics, even if the collection contains a complete arc. If I’ve already covered the premise, it’s hard for me to rehash what I’ve already said unless the new arc does something wildly different. (This is part of the reason why I so rarely review television shows. Good thing Sailor Moon crams a thousand things into every season.) Also, while my current pace of reading lagged behind my previous schedule, it actually still kind of supersedes my current schedule. I actually, for a very welcome first time in a while, have a backlog. Which is magical, but May has been running me ragged. I just need a day to blast through them all.
I’ll get there—I always do—but I did want to mention this by way of apology to Ōoku: The Inner Chambers. The series as a whole does not deserve me dragging my feet, and this volume, in particular, demands only a standing ovation. While Ōoku: The Inner Chambers is serialized, in that each chapter is published in the magazine Melody, it’s also structured in larger, more complete arcs for its yearly publication as a volume of manga. It feels much more like installments in a book series, versus a collection of serialized comics (which is no burn on serialized comics as a medium, I should stress), which speaks to Fumi Yoshinaga’s mastery of the form.
Heart of Iron
by Ekaterina Sedia
2011 • 320 pages • Prime Books
I talk a lot about narrative structure in speculative fiction. Not that it’s not a problem in other genres, but who knew that Britain’s postwar paper shortage would give us so many speculative fiction series that didn’t need to be series? But a separate, although related, problem is narrative heft. In my readings, I have come across many, many stories that either try to stretch out a thin story farther than it can go or, less frequently but more frustrating, attempt to cram too much story into too little words.
I find the latter more frustrating because the fix is simple. In fact, the fix is simple in both cases, but there’s only one where you actually get to indulge yourself. If you have so much story, tell it—don’t compress it.
Ōoku: The Inner Chambers—Volume 1
by Fumi Yoshinaga
2009 (originally published 2005) • 216 pages • VIZ Media LLC
There’s a troubling tendency for texts purporting to explore a world where women are the dominant gender to simply recast the patriarchy as a matriarchy and call it a day, instead of trying to honestly engaging with gender and reimagining it. I am thinking very specifically of Dungeons and Dragons’ drow and other matriarchies that still cater to the male gaze. Because of this tendency, I tend to shrug off stories that largely swap the roles of the gender binary and focus on stories with a more nuanced view towards gender.
However, I always keep my ear to the ground, because I love being proven wrong. Fumi Yoshinaga’s Ōoku: The Inner Chambers comes with impeccable pedigrees, from the now-defunct, now-deleted, and always missed Dreams and Speculation, where I heard of it first, to its James Tiptree Jr. Award (the first for a manga), to its Eisner Award nomination. The matriarchy of Ōoku: The Inner Chambers is not a simple patriarchy/matriarchy swap. After a plague kills seventy-five percent of the male population of Edo Japan, the manga picks up eighty years later, after the culture has changed to reflect the rarity and fragility of men. Women now fill traditionally male roles—to the point that Yoshinaga’s cast is largely composed of female versions of real historical Edo figures—while men are now kept secluded from the world, valued only for their role in reproduction. Men are so rare that only the most wealthy of women can afford to pay a man’s dowry. An entire harem of men, reserved solely for one woman’s pleasure, is the ultimate luxury, and reserved only for the Shogun.
My Real Children
by Jo Walton
2014 • 320 pages • Tor Books
Jo Walton is an unmitigated genius.
Everything I have ever read by her—Tooth and Claw, Among Others, and the astonishing first two installments of her Small Change trilogy—has been consistently spectacular, so when My Real Children was first announced on Tor.com, I was over the moon. But over the course of my move, I lost track of it. Which is why it was meaningful to come across it in the new fiction section at my new local library. That’s in hindsight, of course; in the moment, I snatched it off the shelf and scurried home to binge read it.
My Real Children is the story of Patricia Cowan, an elderly woman suffering from dementia in 2014. Or is that 2015? Patricia’s memory is deteriorating rapidly, and she finds herself remembering two lives that overlap and differ in significant ways. In one life, Patricia was Tricia, wife to the cruel Mark but mother of four beloved children. In the other, Patricia was Pat, a travel writer who raised three children with her beloved biologist Bee. The novel opens and closes with the elderly Patricia, but otherwise tells Patricia’s life story, from her childhood and schooling (the same in both lives) to the divergence point (a marriage proposal cum ultimatum) to the twilight of her lives.
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
For some insane reason, I thought that my final finals season at Agnes meant that I would have tons of time for reading. This was not only a lie, but a damned lie. I checked out every book I could only get at my college library and a handful of books from the local library. Fines piled up on the school books and the local books went home, unread, save for one: The Man in the High Castle. I’d only known Philip K. Dick by reputation, and I had confused The Man in the High Castle, the “Nazis won World War II” story, with another “Nazis won World War II” alternate history short story that was much more dour and depressing. Well, not that this isn’t…