Tag: small crush

Small Crush: Blade Runner 2049

I realized how often I must have seen Blade Runner (all the different cuts, too) when I sat down for its 2049 incarnation and felt compelled to watch out for a myriad little details, to see if they where different, if they were just a stale rip-off, or something else. Blade Runner 2049 was a movie that couldn’t possibly win from my perspective: I wanted it to be the same, and I wanted it to be vastly different. Most of all I didn’t want it to be like all those awful sequels I had to mentally disengage myself from over the last years.

I would have been shocked to learn that it did work out after all, only I didn’t have the attention to spare: I was glued to the screen for nearly all of its close to three hours. You’d expect to grow impatient with its meditative pace, but there’s so much tension from the beginning, so much going on under the surface of those poetic images that I almost never felt it lingered too long. It’s the much needed trust in your story and the engagement of your audience’s thoughts that so many other movies lack. It provides the blank spaces and the time you need to tell your own story. Its use of light and color, objects and scenery is powerful, but never heavy-handed.

And the nods to the original are subtle, not the bland rebranded quotes we’ve come to expect. They’re mostly in the visuals and thematic variations. I’m not sure if the story would work entirely on its own, without the groundwork of the first film. To me, it doesn’t matter, because the themes of Blade Runner were extrapolated upon in meaningful ways and adapted to our age of late capitalism and hidden slavery.

But – here come the nitpicks – in 2049, the Blade Runner world still runs on patriarchy. It’s a white man’s (or male replicant’s) world with beautiful virtual girlfriends and replicant sex workers, all there to be enjoyed by our hero. But what if Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright as another complex, super tough woman, yeah) walks home after an exhausting day on the job and wants a come-on from a hot giant holo-boy? Didn’t see one of those lounging in the bleak urban canyons …

And while we’re at it: for Wallace (Jared Leto as another overdone lunatic, meh), I couldn’t see any motivation, he was just your off-the-shelf self-absorbed tech tycoon and his were the only scenes where I wished the film would have mercy and just move on. Bespectacled and mickey-mouse-hairlined Tyrell wins this one easily.

There was no Roy Batty and no tears in the rain either, and that’s a flaw in every movie out there – but apart from that, Blade Runner 2049 was so much more than I had hoped for: a feast of muted colors and beautiful cinematography, an exploration of humanity and its relationship with the other(ed), a story to take away some overwhelming artificial memories from.


Fun fact: This trailer seems to tell a somewhat diverging story, differently emphasized. I can’t see how this would be better, but let those gazillion different cuts come already!

Small Crush: Paper Girls (Vol. 1)

Brian K. Vaughan has written so many interesting comic stories that he was bound to show up here eventually. Some of them I love (Pride of Baghdad will get an entry, too!), some I found intriguing, but they didn’t draw me in.

Paper Girls Vol. 1Paper Girls immediately got me by reminding me of two other immensely popular tales: Like Stranger Things it features teenage heroes riding bikes and getting involved in fantastical and mysterious events, and it seems to hop on the train of 80s nostalgia. Like Lumberjanes, it’s focussed on friendships between girls and shows what a girl gang is capable of, even when confronted with the most improbable events straight out of the cheesiest b-movie inventory.

Paper Girls transcends them both. While the combination of space age and suburban life provides a charming backdrop for the events, the ongoing story doesn’t get stuck in the 80s formula. And there is a distinct sf feel from the beginning, anchoring the onslaught of the supernatural we soon face.

What I liked most – besides the brilliant before-sunrise color scheme – were the characters. Paper Girls develops four very different girls into firmly grounded heroines, without adhering to common types and clichés. Tiffany, the geek, is teenage girl first and geek second, and I’d even hesitate to call her “the geek”, because she’s drawn as a human with many facets (and all four girls are geeks). They have poignant, sometimes shockingly sad backgrounds, and their tough decisions and hasty reactions when their neighbourhood is beleaguered by more than leftover stragglers from Halloween feel all too real. As do the consequences of their actions.

I’m curious about where the story will end up, and I hope there’s at least a half-decent plot in the end. But for the moment, I want to see more of Cliff Chiang’s rad art, and enjoy what turned out to be the most relatable and likeable girl gang of all the all-female casts I encountered in the sf comics field recently.

Small Crush: Every Heart a Doorway

Magical Boarding Schools are not exactly my kind of thing. When characters in stories have to go to school, I tend to skip whole passages, unless it’s Jo Walton’s Morwenna in Among Others, who hates her school experience in a very relatable and well-narrated way.

So I was genuinely surprised when I came upon Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway in my Hugo readings and began to feel this novella was written for me.

Every Heart a DoorwayIts main emotion is longing, an unhealthy and absurd longing not to live in this world anymore. It’s the main motivation of every student in Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, because everyone of the girls (and very few boys) there has once been lost, following a path to another world, and now all they want is to go back there, where they feel they truly belong.

Or so they say.

Their parents see another story, of troubled young minds and traumatised kids they can’t reach anymore.

There are so many layers and ways to read Every Heart a Doorway: is it a metaphor about growing up and leaving childhood dreams behind? Does it tackle mental illness and trauma? Or is it a fairytale, where special children are called to other worlds?

It is, first and foremost, acknowledging that people have very different needs. Some will never fit in, and they will break under the expectations and demands of the world. Unless someone offers them a place to be themselves, and that’s what Eleanor West (whose own story is one of the heartbreaking moments of this novella) does.

But her small bubble of inclusion is threatened when students start to get murdered. The whodunit part of Every Heart a Doorway is not its main feature, though – it’s the diverse and varied bunch of characters and their stories instead. That’s why the murders hit so hard; they show very clearly the stories that are left unfinished. From goth-like, fascinated by death Nancy to wannabe mad scientist Jack, these characters are somewhat quirkier than your standard magical boarding school students.

I’m still not sure what to think about the ending. It was a little bit anticlimatic, so very easy, and it seemed to narrow down the story and to factor out some severe implications. Discussing it with a friend, I found it could still be ambiguous, Pan’s Labyrinth style. If anybody wants to know more or discuss, I’ll write some spoiler-y thoughts in the comments section.

Every Heart a Doorway starts the Wayward Children series, and I’m also not sure I needed to know more, because it was pretty self-contained. But I’m willing to get surprised once more.

Small Crush: Wonder Woman

How can you not have a crush on Wonder Woman?
She is pure wish-fulfilling empowerment, without being debased by the male-gazey fits a Black Widow (and almost every other woman who ever wore a hero’s costume) has to suffer. If you can’t see that, and if you can’t understand how this is able to change the way a woman perceives herself in the world, you probably never struggled with the kind of roles stories had to offer, the kind of dreams you had access to.

It could have gone wrong in so many ways. Diana was destined to be born sexy yesterday. But lo and behold, every time the dreaded “oooh, so this is what a kiss feels like” scene was about to come up, Wonder Woman veered off into another direction. The whole romance was handled very thoughtfully.

Same goes for the camaraderie. My first love in fiction was epic fantasy, so I have this soft spot for ragtag, diverse groups of adventurers going on a quest. I liked Diana’s companions. And the scene when they free a Flemish village is pure joy for many reasons.

Wonder Woman movie release posterWhat I enjoyed most, though, was the movie’s beginning at Themyscira, showing a whole island of women at all levels of society. I could have watched this forever. Actually, I was able to watch it for quite some time, because Wonder Woman starts out slow-paced. Which would have been perfect, hadn’t the rest of the film been totally detached from these scenes. I felt there should have been some reconnection later on, anything to justify the time we spent with that awesome Amazon action.

(Talking about action: Why, oh why, do we still have to put a woman who’s all legs anyway in high heeled boots in 2017? No amazon worth her tiara would ever wear high heels to fight, when it’s all about balance and firm stance.)

The old superhero movie malady of too much thrashing and bashing also raises its ugly head in the finale. It looks good, but doesn’t show anything beyond that, especially in super slowmo and going on forever because the big bossfight has to be epic.

These issues with pacing and focussing are nitpicks, though, and compared to most superhero movies I have seen, Wonder Woman has a strong plot. But it often hinges on the assumption that women can’t do that. Wouldn’t do that. Diana does, astonishment arises, and she wins the day. The story depends on the element of surprise, on the outrage and innovation of a physically overpowering woman. I wonder how Wonder Woman’s plot will develop when this crutch falls away, when she’s accepted as what she is.

We’re not there yet. But Wonder Woman is a beginning, and I’m impatient. With heroines like Diana, we’ll get there.

Small Crush: All Systems Red (Martha Wells)

Murderbot does what it says on the tin (although it doesn’t say ‘Murderbot’ on its tin, it says SecUnit, and Murderbot is just the not-so-ironic nom de guerre it chose for itself): It’s a bot intimidatingly apt at deploying the array of weapons at its disposal. Murderbot is also pretending to be a normal android slave, even though it has attained free will. And it’s addicted to binge-watching a cheesy show called Sanctuary Moon.

If this isn’t the stuff good stories are made of, I don’t know what is.

All Systems Red by Martha WellsMartha Wells has been a staple of my reading life and a long-time favorite of mine. Somehow I had filed her mostly as a fantasy author, although her fantasy novels often include SF elements such as lost technology or steampunk contraptions. All Systems Red is fully-fledged SF, with strong characterization and a fascinating style and POV. Murderbot tells us of its own adventures, and it speaks to the part of us that is withdrawn, socially awkward and needs its alone time (a lot of it, actually).

All Systems Red is written with all the thoughtfulness and empathy of a truly modern SF tale and fits in with other feel-good SF adventures of our time – we join a diverse group of scientists on a planet survey, and they simply like each other and are nice people. And while the plot revolves around something less nice harassing Murderbot’s clients (leading to some biting commentary on capitalism, which turns its deadly side on the protagonists, too), the inner struggle of Murderbot is far more important.

It is a story about truly accepting free will in another – maybe odd – life form, with all consequences. Good intentions may not be good enough, and changing attitudes is always a struggle on both sides. I loved how these themes are tackled in All Systems Red. It comes with a solid adventure story, not too complicated, because it is a novella you can read in one sitting, and features some shiny nuggets of worldbuilding (hey, it’s Martha Wells; she’s a master worldbuilder).

All Systems Red is framed as The Murderbot Diaries 1, and I’m already waiting for the next installment like it was an unwatched episode of Sanctuary Moon.

Small Crush: Six Wakes (Mur Lafferty)

Once in a blue moon, some book’s premise triggers my curiosity so effectively I can’t resist. I. Need. To. Know. I need to know what happens and how it’s done. Mur Lafferty’s Six Wakes is one such story.

Six WakesDormire is a starship with six crew members on a long, long voyage. They all wake up in their cloning tanks with memory loss, while the ship is off course and their murdered former bodies are still floating around in zero gravity, because someone disabled the AI and the basic functions of the ship. One of them did this, but they can’t even trust themselves, because each and every one of them has no memories of the time leading up to the disaster.

I didn’t need to know more to start reading. It’s like playing the RPG Paranoia – you can’t trust anyone and keep staying on your toes. And it’s kind of a derailed cousin of Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. While Angry Planet’s Wayfarer is full of fluff and love, and nothing much happens in an utterly adorable way, Six WakesDormire houses an equally diverse crew (not as colorful, because no aliens), but it’s full of suspicion and flaring tempers, and ALL THE THINGS happen. The whirlwind plot cycles through the characters, the pacing is relentless, and your suspicions shift along with the crew’s. Before long, you expect this dysfunctional team to rush into another killing spree any minute instead of working together to save the ship.

Gradually, the story transcends the fundamental Whodunnit premise and ends up asking questions about cloning ethics and forgiveness. There are even some echoes of Nancy Kress’ Beggars in Spain when you learn about the development of mankind under the influence of cloning. And then to read in the afterword that it all started as an FTL fan fic warmed my gamer heart, although I never would have guessed.

Six Wakes offers no easy camaraderie and feel-good vibes, but an interesting bunch of troubled characters in a dire, dire situation, and the revelation that comfort food helps even in space.

Small Crush: Sleeping Giants (Sylvain Neuvel)

I have a confession to make: I am no giant robots girl. Robots are cool, sure. The Iron Giant is fine, too. But show me Transformers or Gundam style piloted vehicles, and I’m mostly out. So why on earth was I intrigued by a novel evolving around the idea of mankind stumbling upon giant robot parts buried deep in the earth for millennia?

I guess it was the premise to treat these unwieldy and, for me, inefficient huge heaps of metal as a real thing. In the beginning of Sylvain Neuvels debut novel Sleeping Giants, they are exactly what I imagine them to be: weird, giant metal pieces lying around, and nobody knows what to make of them and what to do with them. Nobody knows that they exist, to be exact, because giant body parts emerging from the earth all of a sudden are a top secret thing, of course. And this is the other feature to guarantee a fascinating read: You are let in on a secret. You’re allowed to snoop on the classified files of the giant robot dossier, and that’s what you get to read – interviews, surveillance data, secret reports, and so on. Sleeping Giants is not the first book to do this (World War Z comes to mind, among others), but as much as you have to fill in the blanks and put together the bits and pieces of information, Sleeping Giants has a narrator, kind of: the one who collects the files, a shadowy figure you know nothing about, who conducts interviews, controls and manipulates the events. He (or she?) stays completely opaque, so you’ll gobble up every little bit of (indirect) information about them.

Sleeping GiantsThis “narrator” gathers personnel (recruited from military and science) to study the giant robot parts. Their findings seem to defy everything we know about history and science. It’s the biggest top secret discovery on Earth. Yet people … are people. The protagonists are fascinating, flawed characters, real persons in the face of robot perfection. So real, in fact, that their drama seemed a little bit over the top to me in places, given the surroundings and events of the story. On the other hand, all those boiling emotions are able to close the distance created by the dossier style of Sleeping Giants. Simultaneously, global drama unfolds, and there’s still a whole bunch of questions about those robot pieces.

I don’t know if I like the direction the story is going in the end, but Sleeping Giants kept my eyes glued to the pages, that’s for sure, and Sylvain Neuvel knows a thing or two about the art of suspense and cliffhangers. And while I’m still no giant robots girl, I really liked all the giant robot(s) girls portrayed in this book.

Small Crush: Senlin Ascends (Josiah Bancroft)

What if it’s too early to write a love letter (because I haven’t experienced the whole thing I’m smitten with yet or because I’m not sure if the crush will last)? I confide in you, of course: just some quick thoughts about stories that charmed me recently, about small crushes you might want to check out.

That said, Thomas Senlin, protagonist of Josiah Bancroft’s debut novel Senlin Ascends, is no charmer. He is as stiff as a poker and as cringeworthy as a deer on ice. You expect him to crash and drown any moment, and you’re not sure if you will miss him all that much, because he is incredibly prim and mostly unlikeable. Then, magic happens. Senlin loses his wife in the crowds on the first day of their honeymoon voyage to the famed Tower of Babel, a sprawling mass of people and vastly different levels called “Ringdoms”. And he stays determined to find her against all odds and learns to navigate the Tower, his only aid a tourist guidebook turning out to be a complete failure in the course of the events. It is not so much that Senlin changes (although he does, of course), but that you come to appreciate his stiff and prim qualities (and the flashes of sly humor underneath), because they make for a quirky and unique journey upwards, ever upwards.

Senlin AscendsDespite Senlin’s constant disillusionment and the grim observations about how the Tower wears down people and erodes even the last residues of morale, Senlin Ascends ends up to be a surprisingly upbeat tale. Maybe because it fails to be cynical, and it fails to be hopeless, although Senlin sure has reason for hopelessness at times.

At its heart, it is a tale of exploration, a journey into the unknown. The Tower is shrouded in mystery, and its inner workings are revealed only slowly, accompanied by some very clever twists and turns. Reading Senlin Ascends, I did realize I have a great fondness for stories showing me not one, but a series of worlds; a complete new society and environment at each level of the Tower in this case. (And I wonder, is there a name for this genre? Also found in Tad William’s Otherland, Gregory Frost’s Shadowbridge, or Philip José Farmer’s World of Tiers, among others.) But a series of worlds is nothing if you aren’t intrigued by the overarching connections, so let me tell you this: I can’t wait to read the next book!

And you, too, should enter the Tower of Babel in all its vastness and craziness and mysteriousness, and enjoy capable airship pirate ladies, a totally mad romp of a fight under the influence of drugs, and, equally thrilling, Bancroft’s beautiful prose and storytelling craftsmanship.