Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening, pt. 16: Gwyneth Jones

Movies, Books, Music, TV: My favourites of 2015
by Gwyneth Jones 


Girlhood: Celine Sciamma's Bande des Filles
Something totally out of the ordinary, a thrilling, touching, and unexpected story. (I’ve written a long review of this movie in a blog post: but the post is full of spoilers: )

I watched the Oscar-laden Boyhood this year too: but on the tv. I thought the project, the real-time movie-making, was an interesting record. Didn’t see anything else special going on.

Mad Max: Fury Road  George Miller

Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa! The Desert Mothers! Like watching a Suzy McKee Charnas story come to life. I loved it.

Doctors Of The Dark Side, Martha Davies. A documentary account of all the procedures not rated as torture practiced on detainees held without trial or charge; sanctioned by the US authorities and carried out (my God) under medical supervision. It took me a long time to get round to this. A tough watch but essential viewing. 

The Guantanamo 22  (2 episodes: you can watch them on al jazeera) The story of 22 Uighurs, from what used to be Turkistan until the Chinese decided to add it to their territories, who got sold as terrorists to the US, and ended up in Guantanamo Bay; where they spent many years, although everyone agreed they were completely innocent. And of  the courageous people, lawyers and others, who fought with amazing, endless, determination to get them out. Explains, at least, what a bizarre bind the Obama government authorities found themselves in, when they finally tried to release the innocents scooped up in the first “War On Terror”. Does not explain the hideous treatment and conditions these men still had to endure. One of the lawyers puts it like this: “This is never going to go away. Some mistakes are not biodegradable”. Indeed. Humbling and dreadful; dreadful and humbling.


I didn’t read any sf novels that really excited me this year (limited to what is available in the UK nb), so I’m going to go with two non-fiction books about the future-present, that I think everybody should read. They’re both about India, but they’re equally about the darkening world we’re all living in; if not now, then very soon. And about how to repair it.

A River Runs Again, Meera Subramanian; Public Affairs, 2015

Mixed race US/Asian-Indian Meera Subramanian explores the global near future (ie, present day India). Crowded, hot, subject to violent swings in climate, with a government unable or unwilling to face the most vital challenges, the rich and poor living in worlds apart . . . Is there any hope? Well, yes there is. Absorbing, lyrical, down to earth and visionary. This is an beautiful and important book. You should read it.

Behind The Beautiful Forevers, Katherine Boo; Random House; 2012

Actually I saw the stage show of Behind The Beautiful Forevers, this year, done by the National Theatre (UK), in February. But  I immediately sought out the book, and though the stage show is terrific, the book is better. An unflinching, deeply sympathetic documentary account of the most abject poverty, clinging to life in the shadow of the New India’s wealthy elite. Unlike the stage show Katherine Boo’s original text does not find the greed, corruption and ruthless cunning of the destitute  cute & attractive (Oooh look at those poor people down there! They’re just like us! How reassuring!)


Same as science fiction, I really haven’t done much music this year, except for going to the Green Man Festival in the Brecon Beacons (that’s in Wales); in August. Good music, good food, beautiful setting, great atmosphere, beautiful people; but the rain was just unbelievable. And the mud! In a class of its own.
But my music of the year?

Favourite Hit Single: has to be Lean On (Major Laser and DJ Snake; featuring MØ. Probably, mainly, for the absolutely gorgeous candy-coloured video, and MØ & all’s great dancing.

Favourite band: Songhoy Blues  Encounterd this exiled Malian guitar band at Green Man, where they were the hit of the weekend, wonderful to dance to (while the thunder and the hail roared outside the tent). The CD (Music In Exile) is mostly the same material, but slower, more thoughtful; more sad. I haven’t seen their movie They Will Have To Kill Us First yet.

Favourite Artist: Canadian Claire Boucher, aka Grimes I’m sort of hoping to get her album Art Angels for Christmas. But that’s a secret. Wouldn’t be the same if I asked for it.


Elementary. The US version of Sherlock Holmes for the 21st century, and to me Jonny Lee Miller makes much more sense than Benedict Cumberbach’s infantile fop, in the UK’s Sherlock. I really don’t like it when people make out (in all forms of fiction) that very clever people are amoral babies, helpless fools in the real world. I started watching Elementary for Lucy Liu’s wardrobe. She looks amazing throughout, her clothes are absolutely divine. Kept on watching because I got hooked, and also because her “Joan Watson” role is brilliant. 

Series 1 was special. We’re now onto series 4, and inevitably the formula is somewhat formulaic. But still more entertaining than most.

& that’s all I can think of right now. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all.

 Gwyneth Jones is the critically acclaimed author of numerous novels, short stories, and essays. She has been honored with the Philip K. Dick, World Fantasy, Clarke, and Tiptree Awards for her fiction, and the Pilgrim Award for her criticism. Aqueduct Press has published her short fiction collection Universe of Things, her essay collection  Imagination/Space: Essays and Talks on Fiction, Feminism, Technology, and Politics, her novel Life, her short story suite The Buonarrotti Quartet, and ebook editions of her Aleutian novels White Queen, North Wind, Phoenix Cafe, and Spirit. She lives in Brighton, England. 

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