Saturday, 11 February 2017

Rereadathon #5: Day 6-8 - The One That Got Away

This week has been all about returning to books we've read before, whether it's the second time of reading, or the seventy-seventh. But is there a book from your past you'd like to read again, if only you could find a copy? Maybe it's out of print, or maybe it's half-forgotten but you can remember just enough details to make you want to return to that book if only you could identify it. Feel free to tell us what you can remember, and maybe your readers can help you track it down.

The first book was, I think, called Red, White and Blue, and I read it at the age of twelve or thirteen. It was narrated by a teenage boy called Gawain (his brother was Lance; his parents had a rather romantic streak, evidently) and the same story was told in three ways on three different coloured paper. White was a school project, red was his personal diary, and blue was his fantasy novel which drew heavily from his experiences. It charted his fraught relationship with his bullying older brother, coming to terms with his mother's new boyfriend - I seem to recall he was a writer named Richard Curtis, but surely not Four Weddings and a Funeral Richard Curtis. Even Goodreads isn't helping, as I guess it's a very common title.

I read the other book a couple of years later. Both came from the teenage section of the public library. Teen fiction wasn't such a huge market back in the early '00s, and the books were rather faded and dull-looking paperbacks for the most part, and padded out with books for younger readers, such as Karen McCombie's Ally's World and the Babysitters' Club. One book  I checked out a few times was Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden, the first  book I read depicting a romance between two girls. I'd encountered a few gay side characters in fiction - usually a boy the female narrator had an unrequited crush on - but this was the first time they got to tell their own story. I don't suppose it would stand out now, when the YA market is so far ahead of mainstream adult fiction in LGBT* representation, but that faded green paperback was important when I was a teenager.

Friday stats:

Books read from today: Kindred by Octavia Butler
Pages read: 75
Total books finished: 3
What else have I been up to?: Went to Chocolate Island cafe in Godshill with a friend, lots of pottering about doing nothing. 

Saturday stats:

Books read from today: Kindred by Octavia Butler
Pages read: 36
Total books finished: 3

Sunday stats:

Books read from today: Kindred by Octavia Butler, All of the Above by Juno Dawson
Pages read: 504
Total books finished: 5
What else have I been up to?: Designed and knitted a fair isle hat.

Final rereadathon stats:

Books read this week: 5
Pages read: 1325
Average pages per day: 165.6
Best reading day: Sunday (12th)
Worst reading day: Saturday
Favourite reread: Kindred

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Rereadathon #5: Day 5 Mini-Challenge - Bookish Collections

I've accumulated several bookish-themed objects over the years (quite aside from the books themselves.) There are several Harry-Potter bits of merchandise, for a start, and last year I finally completed my Malory Towers series in the editions that I grew up with, a quest that started back in about 1994. But today I'd like to show off my Lord of the Rings Lego sets, because, let's face it, I never really grew up.

And of course I have my Anne of Green Gables collection. Up until last year I resisted calling it a collection. I had a very sensible three copies: the big two-in-one hardback with Anne of Avonlea that my parents bought me when I was eight, the 100th anniversary paperback to keep in my bag when out and about, and a second-hand Puffin classics edition for reading in the bath or other times when it might get a bit battered. But then I discovered the little hardback with gold edges and the original illustrations and it really, truly would fit into your pocket, and how could I resist that? Then, my sister ended up with a spare copy and brought it home for me, and when you've got five copies of the same book you might as well go all out and do it properly, right? Not the whole series, of course - that would just be silly. And then there's quite a few bits of stationery as well: Notebooks and journals, address book and pens, and even a colouring book. If it's Anne, it's mine.

Do you have any bookish collections? Maybe you've got one publisher whose books look so good on your shelves that you have to complete the set, or like me with Anne you have several editions of the same book. Or maybe it's bookish tote bags, mugs, or other merchandise. If so, do please show me or tell me about it, linking in the widget below. 

Thursday Stats:

Books read from today: The Handmaid's Tale
Pages read today: 199
Total books finished: 3
What else have I been up to?: Chores.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Rereadathon #5: Days 3 and 4 - Different Perspectives

Hi all. Hope you're enjoying becoming reacquainted with old books this week.

One quick notice before we begin: I'll be hosting a Twitter chat tonight at 8PM (using the hashtag #rereadathon) so we can get to know each other a bit better and chat about what we've been up to. Hope to see you all there.

Different Perspectives mini-challenge.

This mini-challenge is hosted by Gee, who writes:
Today I'd like you to reflect on different perspectives that a re-read has given you, for the better or the worse. Maybe you've re-read a book and found it wasn't quite as good as you've remembered. Maybe you've re-read a book and found it was actually much better than you first thought. Maybe you've picked up on little details you missed first time around. Good or bad, I want to hear about it.
When I was sixteen, I fell into the fantasy genre in a big way. It's easy to pinpoint how and when that happened, as the first of the Lord of the Rings films was released that winter. I couldn't wait another year to find out what happened next, so I picked up my dad's illustrated hardback and zipped through it in about a week flat. Then I set off to the library - not having very much money - to see what else I could find in the genre. And one thing I learned was that epic fantasy rarely came in stand-alone novels, and there were few series that the library had in their entirety. One of the shorter ones I managed to find was David Eddings' Elenuum trilogy. The first book had a gorgeous cover depicting a beautiful queen encased in diamond. The story followed her protector knight Sparhawk as he gathered together another band of knights to break the curse and restore her to life. So far, so fairy-tale. But I loved the cast of characters, I liked the affably "misguided" villain, the sadness that he and Sparhawk had once been friends. And it was partially responsible for me starting to write my own fantasy novel at the age of seventeen.

Years passed, books upon books were read, and an English Literature with Creative Writing degree was earned. A few years ago I picked up the first Elenium book again, and to my amazement and dismay, I really struggled to finish it, this magical fairy-tale that I reread several times in my teens! Whether it was because I'd studied how to write well, or because my tastes had moved away from high fantasy into other varieties, or because I'd just read so many better books since, I got bored. The dialogue sounded stilted, the prose simplistic, and even the characters felt one-dimensional. Plus, having since read Eddings' other series, The Belgariad, I recognised that he was an author with one story, one cast of characters, who would change the names, perspective and details, but use the same shape of the plot over and over. I never picked up the second and third books - although I can't bring myself to get rid of them. There are two other series of books I fell in love with sitting alongside them on my bookcase and I'm a little afraid to reread them now, in case the same happens with them.

However, not to end on a depressing note, the opposite happened to me with Neil Gaiman's American Gods. After Neverwhere, I didn't instantly "click" with the book generally held to be his masterpiece. I quite liked Shadow's tale, and I particularly liked the relatively quiet and normal part of the book set in the cosy town of Lakeside, but the story about the war between the gods, and all the little "coming to America" stories didn't grab me. There was too much going on, too many characters to care about all of them. But there was enough that held my interest to get me to reread the book a year or two later, and this time, being familiar with Shadow's story, I was able to pay more attention to the bits around the edges, pick up on details and nuances I'd missed the first time around. I've read it three or four times now, and every time I enjoy it more; I know where I'm going now, so I can focus more attention on enjoying the scenery.

Tuesday Stats:
Books read from today: Rainbow Valley
Pages read today: 158
Total books finished: 2
What else have I been up to?: Grocery shopping, chores

Wednesday Stats:
Books read from today: The Handmaid's Tale
Pages read today: 122
Total books finished: 2
What else have I been up to?: Made the most amazing chilli! (Tom Kerridge's recipe from The Dopamine Diet book)

Monday, 6 February 2017

Rereadathon #5: Day 2 Mini-Challenge - That One Book.

I think we all have that one book. It's more than just something we read and loved, more even than an obsession. This particular book spoke to us personally, came to life within us and is something we've carried around with us ever since. Maybe we found ourselves represented within the pages for the first time, or the best time, and realised the power of an author to get inside our heads. Or perhaps we simply found it at just the right time and it helped us through a difficult time. This is the book that made us.

For today's mini-challenge, I'd like you to tell me what your "one book" is, and to create a visual representation of it. You can use a photograph, a collage, selfie, MS paint, doodles, stick figures or Lego bricks; be as arty or as plain, literal or abstract as you like. Then leave a link to your blog, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube or other post so I can come and see what you've done.

For me, (and I can see Bex smiling because she knows what I'm going to say) there can be only one choice. There have been a handful of books that have really changed my life, but the first one, the one that has been with me constantly throughout the last twentymumble years, is Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables. I was bought the first two books in an omnibus edition when I was about eight years old, and its heroine, the fiery, imaginative and scatterbrained Anne Shirley was the first time I felt that a character was real and alive, a true "kindred spirit," and it really didn't matter that I was flesh and blood while she was ink and paper.

I'm cheating a bit with my picture, as it is a notebook that I covered a long time ago. (Though it's my challenge, I make the rules, and therefore I say it's not cheating. You can absolutely use something you made earlier.)

Monday Stats:

\Books read from: Rainbow Valley by L. M. Montgomery
Pages read: 67
Total books finished: 1
What else have I been up to: Dug an old writing project out of mothballs and pulled together all the false starts, notes and outlines into one place/

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Rereadathon #5: Day 1 - Introductory survey

It's here! The Rereadathon is probably my favourite blogging event, and this year I've signed up to co-host the event with Bex and Gee. This week we've got a busy schedule of challenges and blogging prompts, and I'll be hosting a Twitter chat on Wednesday. You're welcome to take part in any, all or none of these; most importantly, it's about the reading. It's lovely to take some time out of your week to rediscover old favourite books and return to the story worlds that feel like a second home - or a holiday you loved once and have been long meaning to return to.

So, without any further ado, let's start with a mini-questionnaire from Bex!

1. Tell us a little about yourself. 

I'm Katie, I live on the Isle of Wight and as well as being a voracious reader, I'm a massive sci-fi and fantasy geek in other genres. I've written a book for children and I'm just about ready for it to leave home and go out into the world. I enjoy crafts such as cross-stitching, knitting and crochet, love bright colours and have a very sweet tooth.

2. Have you participated in a re-readathon before? How often do you re-read books?

Yes, I've been doing this from the beginning, but this is my first time co-hosting anything. I re-read fairly regularly, but not as often as I would like due to my feelings of guilt about my ever-increasing to-read pile.

3. What is your current favourite book? 

You'll hear all about my all-time favourite book tomorrow, but the best thing I've read in the last year is Becky Chambers' debut novel, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. Set in a far-distant future, where the human race has quite recently joined an interstellar alliance, it follows the lives of a spaceship crew, an engineering team commissioned with the job of building a hyperspace wormhole in uncharted territory. But it's not about the job so much as the journey; Chambers has created a wonderfully diverse universe, celebrating the unity of different types of people discovering the things they have in common. I loved spending time with her characters and exploring her world-building, and the optimistic view of the future.

4. What do you love most about re-reading? Or what makes you wish you re-read more?

I love the feeling of being reunited with a good friend, and of noticing new things that you might have missed before, picking up on nuances and concentrating on different elements of what you're  reading, rather that racing ahead to find out what happens next.

5. What's on your TBR? What are you going to read first?

"Here's one I prepared earlier!" I've been adding books to my list over the last few months and came up with this lovely grey-and-orange pile.

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. Apparently this book has shot to the top of the bestseller charts in the last week or two, for some reason... I studied this one for A-Level, and wrote an essay about how it seemed to predict the future. That was back in around 2003 - how much more relevant it'll seem fourteen years later, I am curious and a little fearful to discover.

Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb. Part of a series of trilogies; I read this one ten years ago, and it just so happened that three of my friends were reading it at the same time, so we had an informal series of book clubs involving wine and deep discussions - sometimes even about the book! Two of the friends have moved away now, one to Gloucestershire, the other to Canada, but the remaining two of us still have our very own mini book clubs from time to time, in memory of these days.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. Another dystopia, another A-Level book, and another one that cries out to be read again in 2017.

Kindred by Octavia Butler. A time-travel story, but more historical than science fiction. We're used to white men travelling here, there and everywhere in fiction, where all they need to come to terms with is the right clothes and language. But for a black woman in Maryland, the past is a very dangerous place indeed. With her narrative, Butler joins the dots between past and present and reminds readers that it is not a straightforward thing to say "that was then, everything is different now." And again, sadly, I am reminded more than ever that the past does not stay safely locked away. I think this book, often harrowing and heart-breaking even the first time around, is going to be even more difficult to read today. But that's just what makes it so important!

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. This is just pure fun and escapism, a treasure-hunt story stuffed full of nerdy '80s references. Some I know, some I am less familiar with, but they are a geek's delight.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. I went into this novel the first time around knowing nothing about it, and I think that's the best way to read it; to gradually come to terms with what is going on in the seemingly idyllic English setting alongside the characters. It'll be interesting to read it with that extra knowledge a second time. There won't be the surprises, but I'll be curious to see what significant details I overlooked first time around.

All of the Above by Juno Dawson (published under the name James Dawson.) A book for young adults about a teenage girl trying to figure out her own identity while campaigning with her friends to save their favourite hangout spot.

The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan. I really loved this book and read it two or three times a while back. A precocious young girl tries to investigate what has happened to a missing man from her Welsh village. I remember it being quite quirky, with a childlike innocence unwittingly revealing a darkness the narrator does not quite understand, but the reader does. 

But the first book I read for the rereadathon was one I started a couple of days ago: Anne of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery. It's the sixth book in the Anne of Green Gables series, chronologically, though written last. It's been one of my least favourites on my last readthrough, only ahead of Anne of Windy Willows/Poplars, but I warmed to it more this time around. The focus is shared between Anne and her children, and we see a down-to-earth reality of the ups and downs of family life after the "happily ever after" of Anne of the Island and Anne's House of Dreams. I've also got the next book, Rainbow Valley lined up for this week, or next - I do not expect to finish ten books in eight days. 

Sunday's Stats:

Books read from: Anne of Ingleside
Books completed: 1
Pages read: 164
On the menu: Pizza, cookies and ice cream, blackberry wine.
What else have I been up to?: Feeling bunged up with a cold, watching Labyrinth (again) with a friend and introducing her to Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell BBC series.

You can use the linky below to share all your rereadathon posts.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Rereadathon #5 is coming!

Well, here we are more than halfway through January already. The festivities of Christmas and the New Year feel like a long time ago now, but (in the Northern Hemisphere) winter stretches out ahead of us for another month or two of dreariness. It's time for a little bit of self-care and indulgence, and if you're a bookish sort of person, a readathon is just the ticket. Bex's rereadathon is a particularly cosy event, because it gives you the excuse to put aside all your other obligations and return to the fictional worlds that you know are going to welcome you home. Whether you are a habitual rereader or someone who would just like to go back to an old favourite if only you had the time, the rereadathon gives you that permission. There are no rules, and no obligations. You can devote all your time to rereading, or pick up an old favourite alongside something new; retreat for a week in a fort made out of duvets and books, or just snatch a few pages in your lunch break. It's entirely up to you.

I've been enjoying the rereadathon since it started, and this year I'll be co-hosting the event alongside Bex and Gee. The Rereadathon takes place between Sunday 5th and Sunday 12th February, and to make it a social event for the unsociable, we invite you to share your thoughts and pictures on your blogs and social media. We'll be running reread-themed blog post prompts and challenges, and also a Twitter chat (time and date to be confirmed.) You can sign up to take part in the linky below, just link to a tweet, instagram picture, vlog or blog post saying you're going to take part. The more the merrier, of course, but even just a few people can make the rereadathon brilliant if we join with each other to chat and compare notes.

Sign up here:

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Sunday Summary: Do It Anyway

Happy new year to you all. (Is it too late to be saying this now?) I hope you're all not too gloomy about Christmas being all over now and the return to normality - although Christmas isn't really over until the last of the snack food is gone. Fact. Or if you're a fellow retailer, perhaps you're relieved.

I quite like the beginning of a new year. The empty pages in the calendar with their infinite possibility; though I don't really do resolutions, I like to take the time to look over my life and see what has been a success in the last 12 months, and what changes I could make. This year has a massive change on the cards: I've handed in my notice at work, and will be leaving in four weeks' time. There is still a lot I love about my bookshop job, and I'm very proud of what I've achieved there in the last eight years, but I'm afraid of stagnating, and all the signs seem to be pointing towards it being time for me to say goodbye. But I'm leaving without anything certain to go to yet, which is almost as frightening. Financially I'll be OK for a while, as long as I only buy necessities, but of course the sooner I find a new job, the better. (In the spirit of "Do It Anyway," I've promised myself the reward of a trip to visit a friend in Canada if he's still there when I'm back in work.)

With the dark grey weather and long evenings, it's a good time to get back into my books, and Jessie Burton's The Muse is easing me out of my recent reading slump. I really loved her debut novel The Miniaturist, and The Muse is shaping up to be just as good, although I've reached a perspective-shift and need to adjust to the new characters and setting.

With my change in financial circumstances I'm going to be very strict with my spending and am enforcing a partial book-buying-ban (though I do intend to go to Bex's second London Bookshop Crawl next month, mostly for the social element and with a strict budget.) There are a few books out now or coming soon that I want to buy, such as Juno Dawson's new book Margot and Me, and the short "Spinster Club" book And A Happy New Year by Holly Bourne. But I shall also be making more use of the library and second-hand bookshops this year (as well as continuing the battle with my to-read pile and all the books I want to reread.)

I recently watched Netflix's surprise series The OA, which turned up with little fanfare. I'm not really sure what to make of it. It's the story of a young woman who reappears after going missing seven years previously. But she used to be blind and now she can see! As she struggles to adjust back to living an ordinary life, she meets with a few other people and tells them the story of her strange experiences in captivity. But how reliable is she? I'm not really sure if The OA was a bit good or really, really (but endearingly) bad. Certainly there were some elements that were utterly ridiculous; in particular the "movements" that were supposed to have mystical powers. But as much as I laughed at the weird interpretative dance scenes, I was left pondering over questions of reality and narrative, and thinking about the characters after the credits had finished.

Also there was the return of BBC's Sherlock on New Year's Eve, with another episode tonight and a third next Sunday. I wrote a rave review of the first series of Sherlock all the way back in 2010 when it first aired. I was a huge admirer of Stephen Moffat, one of the series' creators and also head writer of Doctor Who. But Moffat has come under fire a lot in the past few years, and his Doctor Who and Sherlock with it; although I don't agree with a lot of the things I read, I can't help but keep in mind some of the criticism when viewing his work, and I think my enjoyment of the stories has suffered as a result. And the series has never reached the heights of the first episode "A Study in Pink." I think that the rules of TV mean that each story has to be bigger than the last, the stakes higher, the conflict darker, and it has moved away from the source material a bit. Last week's episode was a thriller more than a mystery, and it employed an egregious use of a much-criticised narrative trope that I don't think is likely to be forgiven any time soon. I understand some of the reasons why the writers made the decision that they did, but it's disappointing. A good writer has awareness of the tools of their trade; not just their words, but the character archetypes, tropes, cliches to avoid, common narratives to subvert. And unfortunately in that regard, Moffat and Gatiss are perhaps not quite such great storytellers as I used to believe.

Edited later: Although I still haven't forgiven them for last week's "twist," this week's episode, "The Lying Detective" was pretty epic, with a genuinely creepy villain and some real shockers - some that I'd foreseen in part, others that I think were deliberately written to make you kick yourself for not seeing and exposing even the supposedly savvy viewers' internalised prejudices and assumptions. Okay, Moffat and Gattiss, you win round 2.

One more episode of the season, and although I do enjoy Sherlock over all, I kind of hope this'll be the last series, to leave us wanting more instead of carrying on past its welcome, as too often happens with popular series. Best to go out on top, I think.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

2016 in Review

Normally this blog post would start with a comment along the lines of "Can you believe the year's over already?" But 2016 has been a year unlike any other. I'm not superstitious; I'm well aware that the start and end of a calendar year is arbitrary, that the world does not switch off and on again when Big Ben strikes twelve. But the year has come to feel cursed, a sentient and malignant being that is out to destroy all that is good and bright. It began with the death of David Bowie, of course, followed mere days later by Alan Rickman and joined by radio and TV personality Sir Terry Wogan before the month was out. Harper Lee, Prince, Muhammed Ali, Victoria Wood, Anton Yelchin, Leonard Cohen were all victims of this terrible year (and I am quite sure that I've missed more.) In the last week alone, we lost George Michael, Liz Smith (from The Royle Family), Richard Adams (author of Watership Down) and - when I thought no more celebrity deaths could upset me - Princess Leia herself, Carrie Fisher, and one day later, her mother, Hollywood actress Debbie Reynolds.

It was the year when the British public who wanted to name an exploration ship "Boaty McBoatface" were entrusted with the country's future in the EU, armed with only the promises of politicians and the propaganda of the press. It was the year when terrifying clowns were on the loose, a fad that stopped as soon as their leader was elected to the White House. (I hold each and every person who voted for that man personally responsible for the consequences of having such a reckless, ignorant, arrogant and hateful president, a man with as few redeeming features as humanly possible. There can be no plea of ignorance, everything he said and did was in the public eye.) Months may pass quickly, but the year has been very long indeed.

And yet, on a personal note, it's not been bad. I kept a "good days" journal, filled an entire notebook and started another, to remember my experiences throughout 2016. I've been on days out and trips away, book signings, bookshop crawls, the Harry Potter studios and the Isle of Wight music festival; I've finished a novel - not just a first draft, but have got it to a point where I can start sending it to publishers - and entered a writing competition. I've spent lots of time with old and new friends, and I think that over all my mental health has been relatively stable. I started the year by taking part in Ali Edwards' One Little Word, a scrapbooking and journalling project that, although I let it slide in the second half of the year, has had a lasting impact on my life, and challenged my outlook in unexpected ways. Although I won't be doing One Little Word next year, I've given myself a motto for 2017:
Curiously, I've been seeing that motto circulated a lot in the last few days as part of a quotation from Carrie Fisher.
"Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What's important is the action. You don't have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow."
My Books of the Year:

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik
The Stand by Stephen King
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

My Soundtrack of the Year:

Hamilton - by Lin-Manuel Miranda and the original Broadway Cast.
Best of Bowie - David Bowie
A Night at the Opera and Innuendo - Queen
Selected hits from The Who
Selected songs from The Lounge Kittens.

Films of the Year


Quote of the Year:
"DON'T THINK OF IT AS DYING. JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH." - from Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. 

Yep. It's been an interesting year, all right. Here's to a better 2017.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Sunday Summary: Pre-Christmas catch-up

Hello all! We're well and truly into the run-up to Christmas now; who's ready? I've bought all but maybe two of my presents, but have only written three cards so far. I spent this afternoon wrapping parcels while listening to the Elvis CD with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, which although it is only a year old has already got Christmassy associations for me. It's getting busier at work, and yesterday was quite stressful, but overall I've come to realise that I don't mind retail Christmas after all. It's late September/early October that is the worst part, when we start getting massive deliveries (and this year was the worst because our lift broke down around then. And I work upstairs. Carrying heavy boxes upstairs one at a time was not fun.) I wouldn't even mind working through everyone else's Christmas holidays if I could have plenty of time off at the same time but someone's stolen my time machine and therefore expect me to be privately grumbly underneath my jolly exterior on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day.

I keep trying to hold myself to a book-buying ban until Christmas, but when I see a bargain at the moment I just have to snap it up. And yet I've fallen into a bit of a reading slump of late; I've been reading The Passage by Justin Cronin along with my best friend and her boyfriend, but it's rather a slog, and none of us seem to be in much of a hurry to get back to the story. The only things I've really read have been Anne Digby's Trebizon books - a series of boarding-school stories from the '80s and '90s - and The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily. Meanwhile, the piles on my to-read shelf are towering reproachfully over me, telling me that despite my attempts to reduce it, I have about 20 more unread books than I did at the start of the year. Oh well. Books don't go off.

At the end of November my cousin Stewart got married, the first of our generation to tie the knot. (There are some other married cousins, but they are much older and don't quite count.) It was a lovely, wedding, with a church ceremony, then onto a hotel the other side of the Dartford crossing, Those of us who came from the Isle of Wight had rooms at the hotel, meaning that we could dance all night. (I don't dance. I can't dance. But that night I made the exception, figuring that my terrible boogying wasn't going to ruin anyone else's evening, and so I just didn't care.) It was so much fun, perhaps my best day of the year.

Yesterday I went to see local theatre group the Apollo Players put on a production of Terry Pratchett's Wyrd Sisters. The three witches were spot-on; I was particularly impressed by Magrat (who might have walked off the pages of a Paul Kidby illustration) and Nanny Ogg. Duke Felmet was gloriously hammy, but also rather horrifying as he became more and more unhinged by guilt. Wyrd Sisters' themes and commentary on the theatre made it a particular fitting story to see on the stage, and everyone enjoyed themselves immensely. I hope that the play won over some new Discworld fans. (I also realised that sometimes I have a really dirty laugh.)

And on that subject, next year, Bex will be hosting a Discworldathon, a year-long reading event for readers and bloggers to lose ourselves in Pratchett's creation. Looking at her introductory post, it looks like it'll be a huge party, with post prompts, challenges and readalongs, and several guest hosts taking charge of different events. I've been a fan of Discworld since I was about fourteen, and have read all but three or four - so in 2017 I will finally finish the series, as well as revisiting old favourites and taking part in some of the challenges. So whether you're an old fan who needs no excuse, or a newcomer wandering what the fuss is all about, I urge you check out the Discworldathon. It doesn't have to be a big commitment; you can participate as much or as little as you like, blogging, reading, joining social media discussions or taking part in other ways.  

I've mentioned Mark Does Stuff several times over the years. Mark Oshiro is a blogger who goes into popular books and series completely unspoiled, and writes about his thoughts, predictions and criticisms chapter by chapter or episode by episode. He's currently working his way through the Discworld series and his posts are a fascinating read, supported by a great, intelligent community of readers who can offer all sorts of perspectives and insight. No two people read the same book, they say, and so the discussions present familiar stories in a brand-new light.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Sci Fi Month: Science Fiction in 2016... and beyond

Find out all about Lisa and Rinn's Sci Fi Month here.
Hi friends old and new. Apologies for falling off the radar last week; I had a family wedding to go to at the weekend, which fell during a time when I wasn't allowed to take holiday from work, so I ended up swapping shifts with a colleague and working for nine consecutive days. Good old retail(!) But I'm back just in time to wrap up November by having a look back on just a few highlights from 2016's science fiction films.

Star Trek Beyond: I'll try to keep this brief, as I still haven't got around to reviewing Star Trek Into Darkness, and I'd eventually like to have the set of full-length reviews. Star Trek Beyond coincided with the franchise's fiftieth anniversary, and in many ways the latest film went back to its roots. Into Darkness was, as suggested by the title, a rather gritty tale, with terrorism, revenge and moral ambiguities (mixed in with a lot of borrowing from The Wrath of Khan and the episode "Space Seed.) Beyond returns to the more hopeful Utopia that Gene Roddenberry conceived - even if all is not as it seems beneath the surface. The plot is fairly standard Star Trek fare; there are too many explosions and action sequences, but it is a wonderful celebration of the characters, who spend a decent chunk of the film separated and working in pairs. After a rather irritating start in the prequel films, Chris Pine has settled well into the role of Captain Kirk, away from the popular perception of the character as a cocky womaniser, and closer to how he actually was. Bones and Spock's bickering friendship is a thing of beauty; their scenes together were the highlight of the film. There was also a moving tribute to the original Spock, Leonard Nimoy, who passed away last spring. And of course there was a double-whammy this time around with the death of Anton Yelchin this year; his Chekov played only a small part in the proceedings, but lit up the screen whenever he appeared, and we finally got to hear what was "inwented in Russia." A talented actor and an endearing character; he is irreplaceable and will be sadly missed.

Ghostbusters (2016 reboot): To be quite honest I wasn't sure whether to include this as science fiction, or whether it would be more strictly classified as supernatural horror. Ghosts aren't usually a feature of sci-fi, but, like the 1980s original, the team use science and technology instead of excorcism and magic in order to defeat the forces of darkness, so I'll include it anyway.

The new film attracted a lot of criticism when it was release, particularly from die-hard fans of the original cult classic. Remaking something so beloved is always a risky move. Although I've enjoyed the original, I must confess that I don't have a particular attachment to it (it is dryly amusing but I really don't see it as a comedy) and so I was happy enough to see what the new cast had to offer. It is more overtly comedic than the original, with varying levels of humour - some jokes were not to my taste, while others made me giggle like a schoolgirl in the cinema. On a repeat viewing, I wasn't sure it held up to my memory of it; perhaps being in a room full of laughing people made it seem funnier than watching alone at home. But the ghostbusting quartet (Kirsten Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones and the amazing Kate McKinnon) form a formidable team. The film does not make a point of the team being remarkable despite or because of being women, they just get on with the job in hand without a mention of their gender - just like their male predecessors do! It's a rare movie not to have even a whiff of romance, unless you include Kirsten Wiig's character finding Chris Hemsworth to be pretty, or Kate McKinnon's Holtzmann finding her pretty. It's all about strong friendships and fighting the apocolypse.

Perhaps there is a pointed lack of subtlety in the villain being a marginalised geek who has been bullied and sneered at all his life, and has taken to sneering at the rest of the world. I can see why he might upset Ghostbusters fanboys. But he has his foil in the Ghostbusters themselves. They too have lived with being the outsiders, the geeks, the "ghost girl" and the freak. It's no excuse, the movie says. You get to choose how your experiences shape you. Use your weirdness for good or for ill.

I suspect the new Ghostbusters will not join its predecessor in the cinematic history books as a classic; there are no plans for a sequel, but that's okay. The last thing we need is another never-ending franchise outstaying its welcome. As a stand-alone, it is fun and enjoyable, and a good example to little girls who want representation in the world beyond princesses and fairies.

Arrival: Most of the films I've seen in cinemas in recent years have either been based upon books I've read, or part of an ongoing franchise. Arrival is the exception; it was originally a short story, but not one I've read, so I went in knowing hardly anything about it. This is the best way to experience Arrtival, and I can't say very much without spoilers. It is the tale of a linguist (Amy Adams) who is tasked with communicating with aliens whose vessels appear above twelve spots around the world. Arrival is a quiet, gently paced film with a small main cast, balancing a deeply personal, bittersweet story with the big implications of extraterrestrial life, the links between language and understanding the universe. It is an intelligent movie, thought-provoking and hushing, combining sadness and hope, and it was very satisfying to my geeky heart and mind.

I've found it interesting to notice that the stand-out sci-fi of this year has been rather more optimistic than of late. How many dystopian futures have we seen in the twentieth century? How many darker and edgier remakes? (Battlestar Galactica, I'm looking at you!) Arrival is bittersweet but ultimately optimistic about humanity. Star Trek turned its back on the "grimdark" and returned to its hopeful vision of teamwork. And I've absolutely fallen in love with Becky Chambers' novels, with their vision of a far-distant future with good intergalactic relationships and alliances.

But science fiction inevitably is influenced by the time it was written, and 2016 has been a time of great change - and not for the better. The dark spectres of humanity have crept out of the shadows; people begin to forget the lessons learned from history's shames. The new year will bring with it a very different understanding of the world than many people held as we entered 2016. So I wonder how science fiction creators are going to respond to this changing world. Will we be deluged once more with dystopian warnings? There is a valuable place for this, but also for hope. Remember that Star Trek first aired in the 1960s, during the Cold War, in a time and place of great racial and gender inequality, and the show helped pave the way for social change. And I think we need that now as much as ever.
What were your science fiction highlights of 2016? Where do you think the genre will take us in the next few years? I'd love to hear your thoughts below.
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