Cultural Update: December

So I am clearly a bit late with this and also with end of year summaries. These may occur. However I will plead the fact that I have been off-line for two weeks as a mitigating factor. Anyhow, here is the latest offering, noting that the films for the month are covered elsewhere.

Books

Lavinia Ursula Le Guin This was very readable, and a lovely re-reading of history placing women and the world of women at the centre of what is usually very male dominated history. I enjoyed it, but part of me wanted to like it more. I thought that dragged slightly in the second half, and while the Vergil conceit was interesting, I am not sure if ultimately it added much. But it was very readable and a lovely characterisation of Lavinia and the role of women.

Zero History William Gibson This was wonderful. I think I liked it even more than Spook Country, the denouement of which was slightly anti-climatic. I felt the characterisations in Zero History were wonderful; particularly the growth of Milgrim, the wonderful abrasiveness of Heidi and whats—her-name coming to find her own way through the world. I love how Gibson engages with the present but touches the future in a way which is fascinating and tantilising, but is not the ultimate point of his work. The characters and their grasp on the world is what ultimately is most important, and the story is merely the mechanism to get them there. Am looking forward to finding some time to read it again – immediately after Pattern Recognition (which I totally adored, although that might have been in part because I was teaching semiotics and the Circle of Culture at the time) and Spook Country.

Swallows and Amazons Arthur Ransome A favourite book from my childhood, unread for countless years (well, I probably can count them, but not going to share that information), this was read aloud to small boys – a chance to share something loved from my own childhood. Interestingly, the small boys adored it as much as I remembered loving it when I was young. A few things have to be explained as one goes; in particular the references to natives and savages (and stockings!) which provided one with the educative moment and a chance to reflect on the way culture has changed in 80 years – or even since my own childhood when those kinds of terms were not unfamiliar. But the basic story of children (including one their own age) going off to camp on an island and sail around a lake entirely by themselves for a week is still as thrilling as ever. Reading it as a parent, it is easy to see all the parental controls which have been built in, but it is interesting to ponder how many parents nowadays would let their youngsters do it. From my viewpoint, the story did not disappoint. While it is interesting to observe now how little actually happens in it, it is still very engagingly written with rather a dry wit. We are all looking forward to Swallowdale arriving from The Book Depository so we can follow on with the adventures of our favourite junior sailors.

Television

The Walking Dead This was interesting from the start. Some people raved about it and seemed to think it was the best television ever, while others viewed it as very genre driven. I think I largely agree with {insert review} but I will offer a few thoughts of my own. The opening scenes were brilliant but then it did indeed seem to sink into genre world – waking from a coma to find a world overrun by zombies is not exactly groundbreakingly original. The zombies were brilliantly rendered, it must be said however. The mixed race group encountered in the second episode was also so totally by the numbers (as I will write about elsewhere), particularly as most of those characters barely got past a surface sketch. I was interested when [NAME] at the CIC turned up and thought that perhaps there might be a little humour entering the equation, but that didn’t really last either. I don’t have any problems with a series about zombies drawing heavily on standard genre approaches, but I would like to see it add a little more than The Walking Dead did. That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy it. I did. I just think it needed more purpose. Or something. And my final thought – why don’t the characters just call them zombies?!?! Surely we have to acknowledge that we have all grown up in a world where zombie imagery is rife. But there is no self-reflexiveness in The Walking Dead – which is interesting if, as reported, people like Charlie Sheen might be showing up in the next season as “walkers”. I am hoping that the next season builds on the strengths of the first (the performances were terrific for example) and leaves some of the tired cliches behind.

Doctor Who Christmas Special It was rather nice to be able to watch the Doctor Who special less than 24 hours after it had been viewed in the UK. And it was a very good one. While not detracting from the wonderfulness of David Tennant as the Doctor, I totally adore Matt Smith in the role. This special showed him at his best and was tinged by sadness in the same way that the other Christmas special which drew heavily on cultural references, Voyage of the Damned had. Clever writing and wonderful performances made this one a Christmas special to remember.

 

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100 sci fi women #41: Molly Millions

I had been meaning to write this entry for ages and ages, but when William Gibson started talking about her on Twitter, I knew the time had come. As this isn’t an order of merit at any rate, this is as perfect timing as any other.

Molly Millions  Neuromancer and Johnny Mnemonic (book version) William Gibson

The thing that most distinctly stayed with my about Molly from reading Neuromancer nearly 20 years ago was the fingernails. The razor sharp, deadly fingernails. I think, therefore, the thing that was my greatest disappointment about the film version of Johnny Mnemonic was that she did appear, and was replaced by Jane who didn’t have the deadly fingernails.

Two tweets from Gibson on Molly that really caught my eye:

My idea of Molly is that salient first impression is “deadly”, not “hot”. Later: “Hmm. Deadly, but…hot?”

and

In 1984, amazingly, idea of protagonist’s female buddy kicking more and deadlier ass was considered radical and outre.

And so it is with Molly. She is the powerful and deadly one. With mirrored sight-enhancing glasses sealed into her skin, keeping her real eyes from sight, razor sharp retractable blades in her fingernails and enhanced reflexes and speed, Molly is formidable and dangerous, and for many of us reading in the 1980s or early 1990s, the first time we had encountered a woman who was primarily a weapon. But not an unthinking one, not an undamaged one. Her knowledge and intelligence adds to her deadliness. Molly earned the money for the modifications to make herself the weapon she became by being a “meat puppet”, a prostitute whose mind was blanked. What adds to Molly’s complexity is that she lives with the fact that she knew that her early modifications were being used for very particular kinds of clients but did nothing as she still need ed the money – until she came out of the blank state mid service, covered in blood with a dead body beside her – and alive one who didn’t remain so for long. Molly’s hardness comes from the fact that she was a killer before she knew she was, that things became more out-of-control in her life before she gained the control she was buying through her body enhancements. For Molly, control is important, and control is what she achieves. Mostly.

Because if you try to fuck around with me, you’ll be taking one of the stupidest chances of your whole life.

100 Sci Fi women #17: Chevette Washington

Chevette Washington Virtual Light, Idoru, All Tomorrow’s Parties William Gibson

The fact that Chevette launches the action of the Bridge trilogy by stealing sunglasses from a dude who pissed her off exemplifies what is so appealing in Chevette. She has a cheeky take-no-shit edginess coupled with a curiosity about the world. A victim of abuse as a child, Chevette has grown up to be tough and independent. Making her way as a bike courier, she has a visceral appreciation of machinery. She also has become part of an urban family, who she cares for and who care for her. She isn’t quick to trust, but she does trust. She is smart and wise and knows how to look after herself.

…Chevette finds herself pressed up against his back for a second, not that interrupts whatever infinitely dreary shit he’s laying down for the girl, no, though he does jam hi elbow, hard, back into Chevette’s ribs to get himself more space.

And Chevette, glancing down, sees something sticking out of a pocket in the tobacco-colored leather.

Then it’s in her hand, down the front of her bike-pants, she’s out of the door, and the asshole hasn’t even noticed.

In the sudden quiet of the corridor, party sounds receding as she heads for the elevator, she wants to run. She wants to laugh, too, but now she’s starting to feel scared.