Sunday, December 23, 2018
The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2018, part 21: Kristin King
By Kristin King
Let’s be honest: this world is all messed up and backwards and inside out. My favorite works this year challenged my perceptions of the universe and especially of human society. By way of explanation, I’ll throw you directly into the pages of my first recommended work, The Gloria Anzaldua Reader ed. AnaLouise Keating:
“Transformations occur in this in-between place, an unstable, unpredictable, precarious, always-in-transition space lacking clear boundaries. Nepantla es tierra desconocida, and living in this liminal zone means being in a constant state of displacement—an uncomfortable, even alarming feeling.” (p. 243)
Next let’s move on to Doctor Who because you know me, I’m all about him. Er, I mean. . . her? They?
This season of Doctor Who, with Jodie Whittaker taking over as “the madman in a box”, has been a delight. At home our family is wrestling with pronouns. To be fair, “they” is the most descriptive pronoun for a character who has had at least twelve bodies, especially since some episodes feature several of them at once. But habits die slowly.
This season took risks that many previous show-runners would not have dared or even wanted to take, above and beyond making the Doctor a woman. Half the Tardis crew was female/trans/nonbinary and half was people of color. All were richly drawn, by a diverse group writers and directors who clearly did their homework. Also, the show went to historical times and places it’s never dared to go before: Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, or the border of Pakistan and India at the time of the Partition. It neither made light of nor sugarcoated these terrible times.
The Doctor, meanwhile, stayed consistent with their character. Confident, mercurial, curious, questioning, authoritative, and full of schemes. But she wasn’t overconfident, didn’t flanut her authority, and I honestly did struggle with this. One of the aspects of the show I enjoy is the dance of power between the Doctor and the villain. But this Doctor was simply forthright. “I’m not going to let you do that.” Whenever she spoke those words she meant them, and she was right. As always, I’ve enjoyed the Verity podcast (https://veritypodcast.wordpress.com/) for their reactions and their insights into the show. The latest episode discusses whether or not this Doctor had a character arc, or a strong character, with much friendly disagreement especially over whether lack of angst represents lack of character. I personally think she hid her feelings to a much greater extent than the four male Doctors who immediately preceded her. The Verities are also quick to point out the similarities between this season and Classic Who, comparing her especially to Patrick Troughton and Peter Davison. I agree.
Sorry to Bother You by Boots Riley
I don’t want to give spoilers, but if you can only watch one movie next year, this is the one. There’s a surprise behind (almost) every door. Well-earned comedy. Speaks truths we spend a good deal of energy hiding. Fits into at least seven different genres at once. Takes reality, makes it strange, heightens the realism through unreality, turns the unreality into comedy. It’s delicious: call in the cavalry.
The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
I don’t know how to explain why I was constantly on the edge of my seat wondering whether a librarian, a trainee, a detective, and a police officer will make it to the Natural History on time to get a book.
Some writing advice by Samuel Delany
I came across the anthology Clarion, ed. Robin Scott Wilson, 1971. It’s got a lot of great stories, interesting stories, and, um, “products of their time,” but what sticks out is this writing advice. After decades of reading about writing, this one is new. Thank you, Samuel Delany.
"The young painter who has set about learning to paint 'realistically' is often surprised that the eye must do the learning . . . Examine your reaction when you are excited; as well, when you are bored. . . Look closely at what individualizes people; explore those moments when you are vividly aware of a personality. Explore the others when you cannot fathom a given person's actions at all. . . . [I]t will always be a paradox to the young artist of whatever medium that the only element of the imagination that can be consciously and conscientiously trained is the ability to observe what is."
Romeo And/or Juliet: A Chooseable-Path Adventure by Ryan North
North is quite clear on the ultimate, deep heart of this sacrosanct Work by Famous and Revered Playwright William Shakespeare: angsty teens desperate to get laid. It’s a “Choose Your Own Adventure” type book, and you can either wander down the standard narrative or take a different side path based on all the other choices these teens had available to them. The standard narrative provides ample opportunities to explore the flowery language or, alternately, the plain-truth version. Oh, also, there’s no way to get through it without repeatedly changing genders. A note about the sex scene: it’s a Mad Libs version. Nothing in this book goes past PG13 and as such, I’d recommend it to any schoolkid forced to contend with our Important Works of Western Literature.
Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling
Half the fun of this book was reading the inventive stories, and the other half was looking in the back to see which trope the stories demolished. I do have a bit of a gripe, though: if I recall correctly, the tropes in the back were listed by trope and not by story, so I got a few “spoilers” on other stories I hadn’t yet finished. Especially memorable were “Lazzrus” by Nisi Shawl and “Can you tell me how to get to Paprika Place?” by Michael R. Underwood.
Passing for Human: Benaroya Chronicles by Jody Scott
I’m so sorry Jody Scott is no longer with us, selfishly, because I wish I could read more of her books. The alien main character, a dolphin who can put on a human body like we put on clothes, and picks Brenda Starr and Emma Peel to blend in, simply cannot grasp our human concept of mortality. This book first came out in 1977 and was freshly released in 2015.
Revisionary and Unbound by Jim C. Hines
You already know I like Doctor Who. I like stories about libraries and librarians. So how could I possibly resist a series in which the main character can pull any item that fits, out of the pages of a book? These books are sequels to Libriomancer. It’s worth mentioning that our hero gets into a relationship involving a complicated and problematic situation of consent. Hines handles that issue admirably.
Walkaway by Cory Doctorow
In the late 1980s I read a lot of dystopias and post-apocalyptic fiction, meant to warn humanity against trouble to come. Now that such trouble is here, it’s helpful to have a book that starts with our dystopia and imagines a route to a more hopeful future. The main strategy of the people wishing to build a better society is to literally walk away from messed-up places, be it a capitalist city or a commune that’s suddenly gone authoritarian, and to build afresh. As somebody who has had to metaphorically walk away from three organizations, I can see the appeal! You can’t do it forever, though. Eventually, people have to put down roots and make a stand somewhere. It’s clear to me that Doctorow thoroughly researched the frustrations, and successes, of leftist organizing.
Kiki Strike series by Kirsten Miller
I found this YA book series on the shelves at Powell’s Books, drawn in by the title, and I’m glad I did. Our narrator finds herself mixed up in espionage in the underground tunnels of Manhattan (the “Shadow City”), following a charismatic but dishonest Kiki Strike.
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.