Tag: pirates

Ten Characters Who Should Have Their Own Novel

  1. November – Palimpsest, Catherynne M. Valente. November is admittedly one of the protagonists of Palimpsest, but there are also four of them, so we don’t get to spend that much time with her. I’d love to know more about her past, or even her future in Palimpsest.
  2. Balthamos – The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman. It could be called THE ADVENTURES OF A SARCASTIC GAY ANGEL. (Except it couldn’t, because that’s a terrible title.)
  3. Adora Belle Dearheart – Going Postal, Terry Pratchett. THE ADVENTURES OF A STEAMPUNK BUSINESSWOMAN WHO AIN’T TAKING YOUR SHIT.
  4. Innon – The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin. I couldn’t remember his name when I was brainstorming this list, so I called him “that bisexual pirate from The Fifth Season“. Which just about covers it all, really.
  5. Belladonna Took – The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien. Because there’s a point when Gandalf refers to her as “poor Belladonna”, and as far as I know nobody ever explains why. Also, The Hobbit uses the word “she” once. Once.
  6. Lieutenant Tisarwat – Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie. What’s it like being half-tyrant? Not really knowing who you are any more? Tisarwat is a fascinating character who deserves more screentime.
  7. Foaly – Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer. Foaly is hands-down the best supporting character in Colfer’s series: sarcastic and paranoid and clever and brave in his own way. How did he end up as LEPrecon’s version of Q?
  8. Catherine Harcourt – Temeraire, Naomi Novik. What’s it like being a woman in the Aviator Corps? Does she experience sexism from her fellow officers? Her crew? How does she feel about being completely and irrevocably cut off from genteel society? Does she want to get married? Did she always know she was going to be an aviator? SO MANY QUESTIONS.
  9. Mogget – Sabriel, Garth Nix. We know that Mogget gets up to all kinds of mischief between his appearances in the books. How does he manage that? And why? There’s also an opportunity here to explore the morality of enslaving Mogget: on the one hand he’s a highly dangerous Free Magic creature; on the other hand, he’s a sentient being, and definitely unhappy with his situation. The books don’t really go into this, but there could be a rich seam of storytelling here.
  10. Miranda Carroll – Station Eleven, Emily St John Mandel. Miranda gets one of my favourite lines ever: “You don’t have to understand it. It’s mine.” I’d like to know more about the comic she’s writing about Station Eleven, about her marriage to Arthur Leander, about her life before the flu comes.

(The prompt for this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

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50-Word Review: Retribution Falls

Retribution Falls, Chris Wooding

Retribution Falls is a steam/dieselpunk romp with an ensemble cast of sky pirates. As many reviewers have noted, it’s not dissimilar to Firefly – except it’s less interested in undercutting our narrative expectations. Unsurprisingly, the women get short shrift here (TW for sexual violence), and the ending’s consolatory. Fun, though.

50-Word Review: Master and Commander

Master and Commander, Patrick O’Brian

Set during the Napoleonic Wars, Master and Commander follows hot-headed Captain Aubrey as he hunts enemy ships. A meticulously-researched comedy of manners, the novel’s interested in the social structures of the time. Published in 1969, it’s essentially conservative, centring a white man, but does feature a gay man and POCs.

Word count: 50

Top Ten Films

Have I really never done this post before? OK, then…

  1. Les Miserables, dir. Tom Hooper. This is the one with Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman and (mmm) Eddie Redmayne. The first time I saw it I was so wonderstruck I nearly walked in front of a taxi. The music is a cut above that of most musicals, the story is an acknowledged heart-breaker, and I will never see a better Marius than Eddie Remayne, though I admit he is not really a singer.
  2. The Return of the King, dir. Peter Jackson. This film has a gazillion endings, and they are all perfect, and then comes that most wonderful of songs, Annie Lennox’s “Into the West”. There are things Jackson gets wrong (*side-eyes Faramir’s truncated character arc), but in essence the film captures the heart of the books in a way that’s sadly rare for book-to-film adaptations.
  3. The Fellowship of the Ring, dir. Peter Jackson. You can see how this list is going to go down, can’t you? (Though the Hobbit films are an abomination against all that is good and holy.) I love the lightness of Fellowship, our introduction to hobbits who are still (relatively) carefree, the character dynamics of the Fellowship which we don’t see in later films. Fellowship is still an adventure. They’ve yet to slog through the battlefields of the second film in the trilogy…
  4. The Two Towers, dir. Peter Jackson. This is really only here for completeness’ sake: Towers is my least favourite book in the trilogy just as it’s my least favourite film of the three. Helm’s Deep bores me. Frodo and Sam walk through the same carbon-fibre set of rocks about a zillion times. Andy Serkis’ Gollum, though, is a masterpiece.
  5. Stardust, dir. Matthew Vaughn. Stardust is based on Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name, so naturally it is secretly sexist. (It’s totally OK to kidnap an injured woman if she turns out to be your True Love.) But, oh, how delightfully fluffy this film is! Its Fairyland is wild and dangerous and strange but not too strange, and it’s full of everything you want to find in Fairyland: princes and witches and weird bloody necklaces and desperate horseback rides and magical markets and epic landscapes, unscrupulous merchants and captive princesses and sky pirates and Babylon candles. It’s funny and magical and I love it with all my fannish heart.
  6. The Matrix, dir. the Wachowski sisters. I like The Matrix because it is cool. That is all. I love the cyberpunk aesthetic. I think bullet time looks awesome. I like the way the hackers’ handles all have deeper meanings. The soundtrack is perfect. Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss both look very attractive in their badass cyberpunk outfits. And the film manages to pull off “and the World was Saved by Love” with style.
  7. Cloud Atlas, dir. the Wachowski sisters. Cloud Atlas was controversial among the critics, but I was already a fan of the novel, so I was halfway there. I came out of the cinema after watching Cloud Atlas feeling like I did when I finished the book: like I’d glimpsed some overarching structure to the universe, that there was some ambitious and elusive truth amid the disconnected flashes of experience that make up all our histories.
  8. The Social Network, dir. David Fincher. The Social Network is carried by Jesse Eisenberg, an astonishingly high-energy actor who specialises in making arseholes supremely watchable. Plus, the screenwriter is Aaron Sorkin, he of The West Wing, and the film zings with his swift, intelligent, witty dialogue.
  9. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, dir. Russell T. Davies. This is my favourite Shakespeare adaptation: gloriously camp and colourful, diverse and carnivalesque, a flash of bright left-wing hope against the thunderclouds of Trump and Brexit and irreversible climate change. I cried at the end, so defiantly triumphant was it.
  10. The Muppet Christmas Carol, dir. Brian Henson. YES, I am a grown English student and I still watch this every Christmas (much to the disgruntlement of my sister, who is naturally much cooler than I am). It’s so Christmassy and delightful! And is surprisingly faithful, in story and in spirit (no pun intended), to Dickens’ original.

(The prompt for this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

Top Ten Things on My Reading Wishlist

  1. More books by Marisha Pessl. I think I’m just in that kind of reading mood at the moment: I want twisty, Gothicky, sparky novels about people who think too much about things.
  2. More New Crobuzon novels. I just love China Mieville’s steampunky, politically fraught city: like all real cities, it’s hypnotic, oppressive, dirty and alive.
  3. A book about a supernatural detective in a real city. I appreciate this probably already exists, but I haven’t found it yet. I think the detective story is a great way of exploring a new world; and I’m fascinated by urban stories that channel the energies of the city.
  4. Space pirates. I think I actually want a novel about The Mechanisms. Because that would be awesome.
  5. A book set on a ship. Ships are just fascinating, aren’t they? Like little worlds of their own, warring against the elements. And ship crew dynamics tend to be really interesting too.
  6. A grown-up fairytale. Something perfectly formed and resonant and gorgeous like Catherynne Valente’s writing, and something a bit like The Hobbit too: “So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their ending.” Something that keeps Fairyland mysterious and strange and wonderful and dangerous.
  7. Decopunk. Like Valente’s Radiance: the rage and social revolution of steampunk combined with the aesthetics of the 1920s.
  8. Books about unconventional relationships. Because I think it’s important to tell stories that resist our cultural norms and create new paradigms; because our relationship norms are based so much in old-fashioned misogyny and power imbalances.
  9. More books about science and society. What I loved about Greg Egan’s The Clockwork Rocket was that science and culture aren’t opposed, they’re inextricably intertwined. That’s how science works, or how it should work, anyway: it’s important that we remember that science isn’t some obscure process carried out by people in white rooms, it’s something that affects all of our lives, all the time.
  10. Steampunk books! I’m building up a collection of steampunk coffee-table books, basically, for writing inspiration and just because I like looking at the pictures.

(The theme for this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

Music Review: The Bifrost Incident

I don’t often write about music, because I’m not very good at it.

I’m making an exception for The Bifrost Incident, partly because I don’t actually have anything else to write about, and partly because it is, of course, very good.

The Bifrost Incident is the fourth album from Oxford-based steampunk band The Mechanisms, who perform as a band of immortal space pirates swaggering their way through the universe aboard their starship Aurora.

The Mechanisms tell stories, in a mixture of spoken word and folk-rock-inflected song. Their first album, Once Upon a Time (In Space), riffs on Anglo-American fairytale; Ulysses Dies at Dawn is based on Greek mythology, rendered in noirish jazz; High Noon Over Camelot is a mashup of Arthurian legend with a spaghetti Western sound and narrative aesthetic.

The Bifrost Incident is based on Norse mythology, which I am not familiar with at all. It collides with something more modern later on, but I won’t spoil that.

The framing schtick is a little different this time around: instead of narrating the story, the Mechanisms are acting it, verbatim. The story’s narrator (voiced by the Aurora‘s definitely-first-mate Jonny d’Ville) is Inspector Second Class Leofrisyr Edda (that’s a very rough guess at spelling, by the way, and is probably wrong) of the New Midgard Transport Police, assigned to investigate the mysterious reappearance of a train, the Ratatosk Express, which disappeared eighty years ago with the entire ruling class of Asgard aboard on its maiden voyage through man-made wormhole the Bifrost.

Musically, it’s moved a little away from folk-rock into seventies prog rock: a bit Jethro Tull/Genesis, a bit Led Zeppelin, at least in the musical set-pieces between the narration, which is still counterpointed by rippling piano/violin harmony.

It works best as a piece of storytelling, though, grounding what is by the end of the album genuinely chilling cosmic horror in personal tragedy – both that of the gradually unravelling Edda and that of the doomed lovers Loki and Sigyn (both female in this rendition). The music builds tension throughout the story and then breaks it, perfectly, in “End of the Line” (which made me cry) and “Terminus” (which made me want to put Christmas music on and dance about madly to try and shake off the horror of it. But in a good way).

It’s definitely their most pessimistic album; the first three may have had downbeat endings but there was always a thread of survival, a bit of hope that life would go on. Here, the only survivors are the Mechanisms themselves, the amoral tellers of the tale. The witness-bearers, perhaps. I think there’s something interesting going on with the ways in which Bifrost plays with its various framing devices (parts of the tale are taken from the Ratatosk‘s black box as Edda tries to work out what went on aboard the train) and its multiple levels of narration (Jonny narrating Edda narrating the black box).

All of which, as usual, is a tortuous way of saying: I liked it. You should listen to it. (At least, you should on January 29th, when it’s released to non-Kickstarters.)

Film Review: Serenity

This review contains spoilers.

My brain keeps sort of sliding off Serenity, Joss Whedon’s filmic sequel to Firefly, which I think illustrates nicely the level of canonicity I mentally ascribe to it.

Plot-wise, it’s essentially an embellished retread of Objects in Space. A brutal, nameless Alliance operative hunts the Serenity in an attempt to regain River, who, it turns out, has been subliminally programmed to be an equally brutal killing machine. She’s also psychic (as established in Objects in Space; it’s to Whedon’s credit that this decidedly fantastical device never quite destroys our suspension of disbelief), and has been inadvertently exposed to one of the Alliance’s most terrible secrets, which involves an outer planet called Miranda. The rest of the film sees Mal and the gang travel to Miranda, discover the secret and attempt to broadcast it to the ‘verse – all while evading the Operative.

There are obvious themes here which carry over from the late episodes of the series; in particular a kind of discussion of the social construction of the other. In particular, Whedon picks up on the idea that Jubal Early is weaponised by the very Alliance which constructed him as Other in the character of the Operative, who is quite literally only a tool (nameless, pastless, hobbyless); never is he granted full personhood. (Is it troubling that both Jubal Early and the Operative are black? Or is this a wry comment on processes of marginalisation that look like acceptance?) The problem with the Alliance, the film suggests, is that it sees people as units to be controlled and used; not as full, rounded individuals with social links and histories. And this social construct is a source of othering: one of the great revelations of Serenity is that the Reavers, the bands of crazed spacefarers carrying out unspeakable acts of violence, murder and rape on unwary spacecraft and outer colonies, were created by an Alliance experiment in crowd control gone horribly wrong. So not only does this othering harm the othered; it harms the society it’s supposed to protect and keep stable.

And though this is an interesting (and unexpected) tack for what is essentially a sci-fi blockbuster to take, my feeling is that Serenity elides a lot of the complexity of the world of Firefly. Firefly’s Alliance has never really felt like a dystopia, as it does in Serenity, and I think that’s one of the show’s strengths: it looks at social processes that happen in our own world, on planet Earth, and unrolls them on a slightly different canvas. Firefly takes place in a world in which evils are made worse by oppressive government; Serenity takes place in a world in which all evils are created by Secrit Gub’mint Conspiracies. Firefly‘s world is one in which heroes and villains are just a hairsbreadth apart. Firefly is a show in which small and contingent victories are the only victories you can hope to gain. Serenity is a film in which large victories are the only victories that exist.

There are complexities to Serenity, it’s true: the Alliance is not brought down by the broadcasting of Miranda’s secret, only weakened; beloved characters are, notoriously, killed; Mal and Inara’s romantic tension remains unresolved. And these darknesses are, again, unusual to see in an SF film of this type. I liked Serenity. I had a Firefly hangover for about a week after I saw it. I just think that the kinds of stories Firefly told are not the kinds of stories that are particularly compatible with the explosive demands of Hollywood film studios.