Sunday, 20 May 2018

Kameron Hurley Signing at Bakka Phoenix Books

Yesterday I headed to downtown Toronto to see Kameron Hurley, author of, among other things, God's War, The Mirror Empire, and The Stars are Legion.

I wasn't sure if she was doing a reading so I got there a few minutes late. So I missed the opening of the passage she read from her upcoming novel, The Light Brigade. The book sounds awesome.


After the reading she took questions and then signed copies of her books. Her novels aren't for everyone (they're pretty brutal), but she writes fantastic essays and does a podcast that details the writing life - and its many trials. 


It was a fun event. I've missed going to things like this.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Movie Review: Downsizing


Directed by Alexander Payne, 2017

Pros: good acting, interesting concept

Cons: asked some great questions that it didn’t want to answer, meanders

A Norwegian scientist discovers a way to shrink people as a means of reducing humanity’s impact on the planet. Paul Safranek’s life changes drastically when he undergoes the procedure.

I thought the premise of the film was good. Apparently the writers weren’t sure what to do with the shrinking idea though. The first section of the film concerns the idea of shrinking. Then it’s like a different movie started once Safranek took the plunge. Suddenly it focused on Safranek’s aimlessness and potential love affairs.

The first section posed a lot of interesting questions about what humans are doing to the earth and whether/how this solution might help. I thought the film would go into more discussion about the different options - especially when something goes wrong with Safranek’s shrinking plan - but it didn’t. The film just carries on like none of those concerns matter any more once he’s small. Until the very end when suddenly those concerns are apparently very important again, but only for one group of people. I was also concerned that a new friend of Safranek literally states that his business model requires that he exploit small people in poorer countries, and that’s never addressed. Similarly, while people show mild horror at some of the exploitation and abuses involved with shrinking (prisoners forcefully undergoing the procedure for example) this is largely ignored by the film once it’s mentioned.

My husband pointed out a lot of the physics problems concerning the shrinking process itself - and not just the obvious one that you can’t shrink humans that much without causing major internal issues. Things like - shaving off hair won’t help if bits of hair are still left in the follicles (you’d have to do a full body wax). 

I was rather disappointed that we didn’t see more of how things worked in practice. Some people complained about the economics for those left behind and whether small people deserved equal voting rights. These are fascinating questions and they’re brushed aside as unimportant. 

I enjoyed the first part of the film and thought the rest was a boring meander through stuff Safranek does to pass the time and feel good about himself. 

Not recommended.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Shout-Out: The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist

Ninni Holmqvist’s uncanny dystopian novel envisions a society in the not-so-distant future, where women over fifty and men over sixty who are unmarried and childless are sent to a retirement community called the Unit. They’re given lavish apartments set amongst beautiful gardens and state-of-the-art facilities; they’re fed elaborate gourmet meals, surrounded by others just like them. It’s an idyllic place, but there’s a catch: the residents—known as dispensables—must donate their organs, one by one, until the final donation. When Dorrit Weger arrives at the Unit, she resigns herself to this fate, seeking only peace in her final days. But she soon falls in love, and this unexpected, improbable happiness throws the future into doubt.

Clinical and haunting, The Unit is a modern-day classic and a chilling cautionary tale about the value of human life.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Bad Stock Photos of my Job

I saw this on facebook (oddly enough, as it's a twitter hashtag) but it gave me several good laughs, so I'm passing it on.

Type #badstockphotosofmyjob into twitter's search bar and enjoy the delightful mix of bad photos and hilarious captions.

Here are some of my favourites about writers:





















https://twitter.com/BlakeNorthcott/status/996184568561524736





















https://twitter.com/jadana17/status/996261187569537024




















https://twitter.com/SteveRobertz/status/996352998602231808





















https://twitter.com/CherylW50974143/status/996576013403541504




















https://twitter.com/gabrielle_h/status/996765869236629504

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Graphic Novel Review: The Ghost, The Owl Written by Franco and Illustrated by Sara Richard


Pros: gorgeous artwork

Cons: the story jumps around

A ghost girl who doesn’t remember her past is aided by a friendly owl. Meanwhile, the woman who lives nearby is being menaced by an angry man.

The artwork is gorgeous. It’s all flowing waves of monochrome and colour that gives the book a surreal feel. I loved how the waves join objects (like the panel where one eye belongs to the owl, the other to the crow, with the beak being the owl in flight). The animals look realistic, even as the ghost has a dreamy look to her.

The story jumped around a fair bit, bringing in a lot of details but not explaining much. Several things relied more on cliches than development in the story. I did like the idea that your actions can have long term consequences - the owl has helped others and they willingly help him because of that. I was left wondering why the animals didn’t want the owl to help the woman. Sure, they’re different species, but she treats the land much better than the man would.

If you like the cover’s style, the artwork is definitely worth it.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Book Review: Ethiopian Painting in the Late Middle Ages and During the Gondar Dynasty by Jules Leroy


Translated by Claire Pace

Pros: one of the first books to cover the subject, gorgeous reproductions of the paintings discussed 

Cons: at times dismissive of the skill/style

Published in 1967, this is one of the first books to cover Ethiopian painting in the late middle ages and during the Gondar Dynasty. As such, it’s immensely important in bringing examples of this artwork to the attention of the outside world (though Ethiopian history and art still hasn’t gained much Western interest).  

The book consists of two chapters followed by the plates and explanations. Chapter one deals with the generalities of Ethiopian art and architecture for the period. Chapter two deals with specific paintings, the history of Gondar, and outside influences on Ethiopian art and how those influences were modified to reflect Ethiopian traditions.

The bibliography at the back shows just how limited sources on this topic were (and still are). 

While the author admired some aspects of Ethiopian art - enough to write a book on the subject - it’s also clear that he considered other aspects beneath those of Western and Asian artists. On page 24 for example, he writes, “Many Ethiopian paintings of the 15th and 16th Centuries reveal a similar character to that of the Irish miniatures, though with less talent and less subtlety.” Comments like this abound, where he compares the Ethiopian paintings to those of other nations and finds them wanting. 

The book is excellent for pointing out details those unfamiliar with Ethiopian life and Christian tradition might otherwise miss. For example, in images of the Flight into Egypt, a maid is seen accompanying the holy couple. Sometimes she’s carrying the Christ child, others she has a container of injera (flat bread) on her head. 

I found the discourse on how European, Byzantine and Indian art at times influenced that of Ethiopia. It shows that ideas travelled around the world, despite how insular modern audience believe nations were in the past.

While it’s not a perfect book, it is an important one and has some gorgeous artwork. It is out of print, but you may find a university or museum library that has a copy you can read.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Shout-Out: The Poppy War by R. Kuang

When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.
But surprises aren’t always good.
Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.
For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .
Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.