Monday, December 12, 2011

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2011, part 3: Tansy Rayner Roberts

Pleasurable Culture Consumed in 2011
by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Books first! So many, many books.

Lev A.C. Rosen's All Men of Genius is a delightful story that mashes up Twelfth Night, The Importance of Being Earnest, steampunk, and feminist giant robots. Even now, I want to cuddle it.

Akata Witch, by Nnedi Okorafor, is a powerful story of African magic, being an outsider, and soccer. I loved the complex, messy magic system, and the way that the issue of powerful magical teenagers (and how to handle their parents) was expressed.

Glenda Larke concluded her magnificent, epic desert fantasy series Watergivers with the third book, Stormlord's Exile, which shows what a powerful writer she is.

I also very much enjoyed Debris by Jo Anderton, Roil by Trent Jamieson, Red Glove by Holly Black and Deathless by Catherynne M Valente, The Shattering by Karen Healey, and so many other books. Ack, I keep remembering more. The Courier's New Bicycle by Kim Westwood, Among Others by Jo Walton, Zoo City by Lauren Beukes... God's War by Kameron Hurley.

I can also highly recommend the Twelve Planets series of mini short story collections by female Australian SF and fantasy writers: especially Nightsiders by Sue Isle (genderqueer stories set in post-apocalyptic Perth). My favourite short story anthology of the year was Eclipse 4 by Jonathan Strahan, and my favourite online source for short stories was the extraordinary YA Special Summer Issue of Subterranean Online.

My big reading excitement for the year has been my rediscovery of my love of graphic novels and comics in general. It began with my research into the works of Alison Bechdel, leading me to discover The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For, a compelling 20 year archive of strip comics about a community of lesbians and their friends who grow up and change as the world changes around them; also Fun Home, an extraordinary memoir about the artist's relationship with her father which shows the creative potential in graphic novels. What better way to capture your own childhood than with an artform that allows you to recreate your past, down to the details of the wallpaper?

But it's not all earnest literary comics. I discovered the existence of Justice League: Generation Lost, a two-volume love letter to my favorite era of my favorite super team of all time. And then the DC reboot hit, and I got swept up in my old superhero addiction. I'm now reading several monthly DC titles electronically, my favourites being Batgirl, Batwoman, and Wonder Woman. Having three iconic female characters written and drawn so excellently right now feels like the height of luxury, and certainly not something I take for granted.

My rabid interest in comics has led me hunting graphic novels like a wild thing, especially those with women at the forefront of the story. Favorite trade paperbacks I've read recently include Power Girl: A New Beginning by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti with art by Amanda Conner; Runaways by Brian K Vaughn, She-Hulk by Dan Slott, Batgirl Rising and Batgirl: The Flood by Bryan Q Millar. I also fell deeply in love with the Ultimate Spiderman, the Ultimates, and even developed a fondness for the Ultimate Fantastic Four, something I never saw coming. Apparently I'm a Marvel girl now as WELL as a DC girl. Talk about time-consuming.

I also discovered Tiny Titans, an adorable kids comic (available in a great number of inexpensive trades) which enabled me to share my favorite characters in the DC Universe with my six-year-old daughter. Well, okay, I'd already sold her on many of the superhero characters via the Justice League Unlimited TV series, but Tiny Titans came along just as she was learning to read independently, and she adores it. The jokes work on levels for kids and comics-obsessed-adults, the art is DID I MENTION ADORABLE and it's packed with boy and girl characters who all, in my daughter's words, "get to do actiony stuff, not just boy stuff or girl stuff." I appreciate how much these cute comics provide a cynical but good natured commentary on their adult counterparts, and give my daughter some other options for role models beyond Disney princesses and Dora.

As usual, my current obsessions are mirrored by the podcasts I choose to follow, and luckily for me two great Australian podcasts about comics (with the right kind of feminist, lefty, racially aware, GLBTQ friendly attitudes that I look for) started up at just the right time: Panel2Panel, hosted by Grant & Kitty, and How I Got My Boyfriend Into Comics, hosted by Zoe/the Wolverina & Chris. They have become the new podcasts that make me bounce with excitement when a fresh episode loads.

I've enjoyed many viewing pleasures this year, including the sixth season of Doctor Who, the new Torchwood (yes, really, I thought it was excellent if problematic in places, and liked very much how they explored the character of action hero and working mother Gwen Cooper), Community, Fringe, and I have rediscovered my deep love of costume dramas through Downton Abbey. Despite all this, my main media consumption has been audio.

I continue to collect the awesome audio productions from Big Finish, who make original Doctor Who spin-off plays (as well as other properties such as Sherlock Holmes, Sapphire and Steel, Stargate and shortly Blake's 7). My favorite plays from their monthly Doctor Who range this year included The Silver Turk, in which Mary Shelley joins the 8th Doctor as his new companion and faces off against steampunk Cybermen; Robophobia, a sequel to classic story Robots of Death featuring the Seventh Doctor and Ruth from Spooks; and Heroes of Sontar, a satirical comedy featuring Sontarans, the Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Turlough, and Nyssa. I've also been working to catch up on the older Bernice Summerfield and Gallifrey spin-off series, which I love for their strong female leads, charismatic co-stars and snappy dialogue. There's also a four-story miniseries called simply UNIT, which features the British military hunting aliens, X-Files style, and David Tennant playing (in the final episode) a filthy-talking, bad-tempered Scottish Colonel, who is an absolute joy to listen to.

This year, I discovered that while I'm not a fan of audiobooks as my first point of contact with a story, I rather love them for re-reading. After being ruined for all other audiobooks ever by Lenny Henry's versatile and wicked performance of Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys, I wandered in the Audible wilderness for some time before realising this was a brilliant opportunity to reread a whole lot of Terry Pratchett novels. This led of course to a blog series reviewing how he handles his female characters, but I am enjoying the 'rereads' for their own sake too. The later books read by Stephen Briggs have better accent choices than the earlier ones by Nigel Planer, and I very much enjoyed that Wyrd Sisters is not only read by (gasp!) a woman, but that it's Celia Imrie, one of my favourite obscure older British actresses.

Music... I haven't been in the music state of mind this year at all. It's a thing that comes and goes with me, and my car journeys are filled with podcasts or audioplays whenever I get a chance to choose. However, my eldest daughter's fierce love of trock (Doctor Who fan music) continues unabated, and I'm pretty sure the only new album I bought this year was the long-awaited new Chameleon Circuit CD (I even bought the physical copy because the cover was SO PRETTY). This is what comes of raising fangirls.

Tansy Rayner Roberts is an Australian fantasy writer, recently the author of the Creature Court trilogy, and short story collection Love and Romanpunk. She blogs at, tweets as @tansyrr, and is one of the voices of Galactic Suburbia, a feminist podcast of science fiction news, book reviews, and chat.

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