The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2015
by Kristin King
Here is a short sampling of some of the books, movies, and music that have touched me this year.
Everfair by Nisi Shawl
I got a sneak peek at Everfair, by Nisi Shawl, which will come out in 2016. It will be well worth the wait. A horrible era in human history, the time of King Leopold II’s brutal reign over the Belgian Congo, is transformed in this steampunk novel by a utopian project led by a diverse and wide-ranging cast of characters. And by hot-air balloons. Each character is compelling enough on their own to merit a novel, but it’s the story of the place that brings them all together, the common dream they share. This novel is an epic, fantastical journey through time.
The Verity podcast < https://veritypodcast.wordpress.com/> made my list of Pleasures in 2014, and it’s back again for helping guide me through what was for me a rocky year in Doctor Who. Series 9 of the show, while brilliant and masterfully done, dug deep into the horror of having to be an immortal hero, or that hero’s friend. I was glad to share in the Verities’ enjoyment of the show and especially glad to have the company of Erika, who, like me, was intensely upset by “Face the Raven.”
Persona by Genevieve Valentine
Persona by Genevieve Valentine is a gripping dystopic thriller, a romance, a spy novel, and a mystery all rolled into one. Our hero, diplomat Suyana Supaki, is trying to save the rainforests by playing a role as a celebrity to charm the public. Instead, she ends up on the run with a partner she can’t trust -- a photographer in a totalitarian society where photography is illegal. My review of this book appeared in The Cascadia Subduction Zone in July 2015.
The Jewel and the Key by Louise Spiegler
The Jewel and the Key by Louise Spiegler is a lovely young-adult time travel story. The reader knows time traveling is happening but the main character does not, at least at first. Addie travels across town to a gorgeous new theater, the Jewel, where she falls in love with the sets and the costumes and the actors, but does not realize she has also traveled from the (unspecified) present day to the early 1900s. War is looming in both times, and as she comes to a gradual realization that the Jewel is crumbling, she also understand that there is something important she must do. The novel got bonus points from me not only for mentioning the Wobblies who were active in Seattle in the early 1900s, but for mentioning that we still exist.
Kabu Kabu by Nnedi Okorafor
Kabu Kabu by Nnedi Okorafor is a delicious book of short stories arranged around the illegal Nigerian taxi motif. They’re inventive, magical, fun, startling -- but also quite dangerous. You might not get out alive. The narrator of the first story smashes the “Magical Negro” trope into a thousand pieces and then jumps out of the story to grab you by the lapels and tell you what’s what. Next up, the novella “Kabu Kabu,” co-authored by Alan Dean Foster, is a hilarious tale of a magical cab ride. And the stories just get wilder from there.
2Cellos by 2Cellos
2Cellos is the debut album by the Croation duo 2Cellos. I knew that cellos have a soul-filled, sonorous voice, but until I heard this CD I had no idea it could master rock music or impersonate a fiddle or that it could be played with so much intensity. For a taste of their work, you can watch their version of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” on youtube. < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mx0xCI1jaUM>
Still Got Legs by Chameleon Circuit
The band Chameleon Circuit plays in a genre called “Time Lord Rock” or “Trock” for short. The songs in Still Got Legs cover Series Five of Doctor Who, from the time the tenth Doctor regenerated to the time the eleventh Doctor faced the universe’s second Big Bang. The haunting and catchy melodies have an astonishing breadth of emotion, from the sadness of the tenth Doctor’s death to the pure silliness of the series finale and everything in between. I am especially struck by the gentle angst of the song “Mr. Pond,” which tells a simple story of a husband worrying about his wife.
Cold Magic by Kate Elliott
The fantasy novel Cold Magic by Kate Elliott is anything but predictable. The worldbuilding is amazing -- it’s an alternate history in which the Roman Empire lasted well into the Middle Ages, and the cultures are Afro-Celtic. Our main character is a Phoenician young woman, well-established in her home and community, who must suddenly confront the reality that her life has been a lie when she is forced into a surprise marriage, then kidnapped and dragged off on an adventure she never wanted. The complexity of the world and the gripping suspense provide the perfect balance in this enjoyable read.
Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson
I reread Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson this year, and it enthralled me even more than it had on its first reading, several years ago. Tan-Tan, who is stolen away from her peaceful home by the thoughtless actions of her father, must learn to survive, and maintain her strength of spirit, on the rough-and-tumble world of New Half-Way Tree. She is duty-bound to save two lives, and it takes the whole book to understand what that means. It’s scary and sad, but Granny Nanny is there, with her beautiful Caribbean storytelling voice, to bring us through.
The Sarah Jane Adventures episode "Death of the Doctor"
The Sarah Jane Adventures episode "Death of the Doctor," which aired in 2010, is a two-parter that is enjoyable in its own right but also a joy for fans who care about the show’s companions and its canon. Sarah Jane finds out that many of the companions from Classic Who have grown into powerful women with happy lives -- especially Jo Grant, who has been quite the rabble-rouser. Also interesting: when the (white) Doctor bodyswaps with a black teenager, we also learn that Time Lords can regenerate as either white or black. You wouldn’t think this would need to be explicitly stated, considering that every other aspect of their appearance can change. But it does. This year Doctor Who showed a Time Lord changing from a white male to a black female, and a certain segment of the fan base was shocked at this “change” to the canon. So it makes me very happy that this “change” was set in place way back in 2010.
The Midnighters trilogy by Scott Westerfeld
The Midnighters trilogy by Scott Westerfeld, like Midnight Robber, called out to me for a reread. Teenagers with sensory processing difficulties, like sensitivity to light, find that everything changes in that secret hour of midnight, where the world turns blue and everyone they know is frozen in time. They find powers they never knew they had, and fight monsters nobody else can see. It’s a beautiful, thrilling ride.
Vi Hart Videos
Vi Hart’s youtube videos. Vi Hart is a “mathemusician” who does recreational math on youtube. In her confident and softly humorous voice, she’ll start the video with something like “Say you’re me in math class, and you’re doodling . . .” And then she’ll be off on some grand mathematical adventure, involving Fibonacci sequences, fractals, logarithms, or maybe the “in-between-finite” nature of pi. She’s mesmerizing. It’s math as it should be: beautiful. One of my favorites is “Doodling in Math Class: Spirals, Fibonacci, and Being a Plant [2 of 3]” < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lOIP_Z_-0Hs>
Kristin King (http://kristinking.wordpress.com) is a writer, parent, and activist who lives in Seattle. Her work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Calyx, The Pushcart Prize XXII (1998), and other places. Two of her stories appeared in an Aqueduct Press anthology, Missing Links and Secret Histories: A Selection of Wikipedia Entries Lost, Suppressed, or Misplaced in Time. A selection of her short fiction has been collected in Misfits from the Beehive State.