Pleasures of 2013
by Carrie Devall
2013 was the first year that I spent a lot more time listening to fiction and people talking about fiction than reading fiction on the page. I read ebooks on my phone during the commute and listened to podcasts and audiobooks during runs and workouts, with only a small amount of time to read paper books. This changed my tastes somewhat. I also listened to many books I would not have read, due to the limited availability of books in audio formats.
One highlight of this year’s listening was Richard Bowes’ story “The Queen and the Cambion.” I first read this in his Aqueduct story collection, The Queen, The Cambion, and Seven Others ebook, and it was good. However, Wilson Fowlie’s podcast reading of this story (PodCastle # 257) added a whole other layer, fleshing out the characters, Queen Victoria and Merlin, and making the prose pop. I was also very happy to get to purchase two new Rick Bowes books in the same year, as Dust Devil on a Quiet Street came out through Lethe Press.
I was also pleased to find out that a story I had recommended to many people but that was only available (as far as I knew) in old paper copies of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Charlie Jane Anders’ “Love Might Be Too Strong a Word,” had been reprinted in Lightspeed in audio format. This story not only explores the possibilities for gendered bodies in a thought-provoking manner, it does so with class and/or caste as a primary feature of gender. I was glad to see that it had not aged at all and was still as provocative, and now is easily accessed.
On a non-SFF tangent, I was surprised to enjoy the audiobook for Keith Richards’ autobiography, Life, as much as I did. This audiobook is greatly enhanced by being read alternately by Keef himself, his pal Johnny Depp, and John Hurley. At times, Richards recounts stories from growing up in Dartford in the aftermath of WWII, the formation of the Rolling Stones, their initial obsessive search for blues authenticity, the perils of touring in America, and partying with the long list of names you would expect. He makes insightful comments about the personalities and the dynamics that were playing out between them that makes this a lot more than an exercise in name-dropping. At other times, he gets into deep discussions of the structure of blues music, the technical things he and other players did to get the rich and unique sounds they are known for, and the vagaries of the music business. The biggest surprise was that he addresses Stones-style sexism and racial appropriation, not quite head-on and by no means ‘perfectly’ but more than once and with more sensitivity than I expected.
I’m currently reading Ruth Long’s The Treachery of Beautiful Things, a YA take on becoming lost in fairyland that is very creepy. I started the year reading Graham Joyce’s Some Kind of Fairy Tale, which takes a more cerebral and convoluted route through the same territory, focused on questions of what is real and what is not and just who can make that distinction with any authority. His take on similar source material was also a compelling read.
I read and watched a lot of horror this year, and the best of the lot had to be Carrie, the 2013 remake. Obviously, I’m biased towards the title, and I love the Stephen King book. I’m also a big fan of Kimberly Pierce, the director of Carrie, based on her prior movies Boys Don’t Cry and Stop Loss. She brings the same kind of layering and focus on what is behind the violence to Carrie, and weaves together timeless and new forms of bullying in interesting ways. She makes it clear that she is bucking the teen horror movie trend of having the girl from the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ be the menacing evil, such as in The Craft. She also draws the horror even more directly than King did from the clash between fundamentalist phobia of sex and eroticism with teenage coming into being and the body, adding a modern flavor with social media and allusions to the recent wave of school shootings. Julianne Moore, as Carrie’s mother, as well as Chloe Grace Moretz as Carrie White do an amazing job of making that work without crossing into caricature.
The most unusual movie I saw I 2013 was Strange Frame, an animated musical scifi lesbian adventure movie. I was hesitant about expecting too much after seeing trailers. On the one hand, it was focused on lesbians of color, the music sounded great, the animation was very stylish and well-produced, and Tim Curry, Karen Black, Alan Tudyck, and George Takei are among the voice actors. On the other hand, a dude made it, like the celebrated “lesbian” movie of the year Blue is the Warmest Color. But the narrative is very engaging. The music and animation are lush and enhance the story, which succeeds pretty well as a scifi film and as a love story. While I wish lesbians in movies that try to sell to a wider audience did not always have to display their bodies to men in a monetized context in order for the movies to be deemed ‘sexy’ enough for prime time, this is used in a hearty critique of the entertainment industry and the animated heroines are not one-dimensional.
The book I have been reading for the longest period of time in 2013, which is a testament to its thriller pacing and captivating little details, is Reamde by Neal Stephenson. I am only two thirds of the way through its 1,000-plus pages, and I’ve been reading it in between finishing other books just for the sake of finishing a complete narrative, but it has remained a page turner that I can’t put down for long. The plot is somewhat far-fetched and not all that different from the other cyberpunk thrillers I’ve read, but the wide-ranging characters really got under my skin and made me want to know what happens next, in the “real world” and the cyberworld of the MMORPG run by one of the main characters. It also makes me laugh out loud a lot on public transportation, and then have to look furtively around to make sure no one noticed.
A similarly far-fetched and funny novel I devoured in short order was Rule 43 by Charles Stross, a quicksilver story about cybercops, a serial killer, and a family guy just trying to get their lives together after being released from prison for cybercrimes. An added bonus is the fact that none of the characters are very “straight,” which at times is a little stilted but overall rings true and adds that much more room for plot-complicating entanglements. Another thriller that never stopped moving was Tobias Buckell’s Arctic Rising, which I happened to read just as Greenpeace activists were being arrested by Russia in the Arctic. I also whipped through all of Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s crime thrillers about an Icelandic lawyer who solves gory murders with supernatural or occult themes while raising her two teenagers.
The funniest book about science I read in 2013, though not science fiction, was Lake Overturn by Vestal MacIntyre. Slightly more subtle than Carrie (and Footloose), this book uses the clash between fundamentalism and a science fair to tell engaging stories of a variety of gay and straight people in a town that is too small for their lives.
Somehow, this reminds me of a very quiet book that was at the same time a very powerful exploration of what it takes to live as an artist or writer, Fair Play by Tove Jansson, of Moomintroll fame. Her other novels that I read this year, The True Deceivers and The Summer Book, were also very good, but Fair Play was incredibly subtle and intricate, using very few words to great effect.
Carrie Devall writes obfuscating legalese and science fiction from Minneapolis, MN, when not running or skiing.