Film and Television.
Maybe I should point out that I only review the things that are worth talking about. I watch a lot of news and documentaries, and some DVDs. I rarely watch drama series as they air.
Harry Potter: A History Of Magic**** was on BBC2 and was highly recommended (I watched it on iPlayer) but I was mildly disappointed. There was a lot of fascinating information about the history of magic in general but I did think we could have done with more shots of the artefacts and documents and fewer of JKR admiring them. The programme was made to coincide with the opening of the exhibition of the same name at the British Library. However, I’m not going to London… There’s a tie-in book with the same name but it’s expensive and I’m not sure, after seeing the programme, that it would necessarily be worth the money. I might look out for a ‘used and new’ copy. I was interested to hear that JKR has no fewer than four copies of Culpeper’s Complete Herbal and clearly refers to it often. I had a copy, also as a reference book for my fantasy work, but it has gone up in smoke in our recent disaster (the Portuguese fires for any reader who doesn’t know already). That’s something I must replace. An online version is not nearly as usable ven though it promises an interactive digital experience. (The thing is, I know I will want to use it as a reference book, not a single one way journey or for dipping into!) If the programme is still available on iPlayer, it’s worth watching.
Little Ashes***** This is a drama based on Salvador Dali’s memoirs, only shared in his final years, detailing his unconsummated love affair with the poet Lorca. Obviously, given the subject matter, it’s dark and tragic and the knowledge of Lorca’s death at the hands of Franco’s thugs hangs over the early part of the film, giving it a curiously sad quality even when the characters are enjoying themselves. The film is well structured and scripted, and quite beautifully shot. The acting is superb and I was amazed to realise that Robert Pattinson, the beloved of the Twilight fans, is a seriously good actor. His portrayal of Dali, a complex character if ever there was one, is brilliant. Beside him, the Spanish actor, Javier Beltrán, who plays Lorca was competent enough and very good looking but seemed almost wooden beside Pattinson, who shone. The only flaw in the film was the sound quality – something that seems more and more frequent in the last decade. Highly recommended viewing.
The Secret Life of the Zoo Season 4***** I love this series and was glad to see its return this autumn. I have only seen two episodes so far but will be sure to watch all the rest either as they are aired or on CatchUp (Channel 4 for UK viewers – no idea if it’s available elsewhere.)
This was a bit of a non-fiction month, with a focus on two of the books recommended here plus various copies of New Scientist, Private Eye, National Geographic and recipe magazines.
First of all, the five star brigade, with only one work of complete fiction this time.
Wake Up Call by JL Merrow (Porthkennack)*****
This is part of the Porthkennack series where a number of authors get to play in the same fictional Cornish town and give us interesting and well written m/m romances.. I love Merrow’s style of writing which seems superficially casual but in fact is layered with a deep knowledge of regional micro-cultures, speech patterns and little known facts. Devan, a motor mechanic of mixed race, adopted then orphaned, is seeking his birth family, and in the process meets Kyle, a barrister diagnosed with narcolepsy and cataplexy. It’s a fascinating story with great minor characters too. Highly recommended.
The Science of Discworld by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen*****
The science chapters which alternate with a Discworld story ( a novella rather than a novel) are almost as fascinating as the discussions held by the wizards of Unseen University. I struggled with the astronomy sections – this is a subject well outside my comfort zone – but the evolution and paleontology parts were fine so I have to assume the science contributors know what they’re talking about when it comes to the cosmos, and I did learn something about the universe even if I might not remember it all or be able to recount what I read. The wizards, you see, have a project on the go, which involves creating a world and indeed a universe, and watching it develop. I will be requesting the later books in the same mini-series as future gifts. This one was a birthday present and I am truly grateful for it. Highly recommended.
Academia Obscura by Glen Wright*****
This is a book to dip into rather than read in a linear fashion. It’s a wonderfully funny and informative account of academic publishing. I subscribed to it on Unbound and am pleased with the book. Though I think I’ve said in the past that I am not going to use Unbound again – it’s anyone’s guess as to when you get your copy (or a copy you want to give someone else) and the touted access to the writer’s thoughts as they complete their work is not particularly interesting. This was the last of the books I’d subscribed to in a rush of enthusiasm. Worth reading and now available on Amazon at a reasonable price so it would make a good Christmas gift for any academics in your life.
Somehow, I bypassed any good-but-not-outstanding books this month and ended up with three three star ones:
Hex in the City edited by Kerrie Hughes (In the Fiction River series)***
This book was meant to be the cutting edge of urban fantasy, a theme that appeals to me. But the collection of stories was not brilliant. I have read much better examples elsewhere, even by some of the writers ‘showcased’ here (e.g. Seanan McGuire). There was nothing dire, but equally nothing special. I bought this as part of a Women in Fantasy story bundle and I hope the other books in the set are better than this one. The only story that has really stayed with me is Somebody Else’s Problem by Annie Bellet and I might look for this author again. Bellet introduces the idea of ‘a future/ alternate Detroit where magic is only somewhat legal and rats are used to sniff out the illegal magic.’ The only other story worth mentioning is The Scottish Play by Kristine Kathryn Rusch who helped edit the collection and gave us her own version of magic in theatreland. The proofreading (on all the contents) could have used some work. Worth reading if you find it at the library but not worth paying for.
Colorado Connection by Sara York(Colorado Heart 6)***
This story of a guy who lost his lover in Afghanistan and was recruited into some kind of black ops group on his return didn’t really appeal to me, partly because I don’t totally approve of black ops and therefore felt disinclined to empathise with the main characters – but also because I think a lot of the story would have made more sense if I’d read the earlier books in the series first. However, I won’t be reading them. The writing was competent and the characters were well developed. The criticism is personal and should not deter readers who might like the theme.
A Stranger in Skoria and A Slave in Skoria by John Tristan***
Two novellas that I have lumped together because they are quite short. I believe there’s a further story (at least) in the offing but I won’t be buying it. The idea of aliens and slaves fascinates me, but in this case the situation was just an excuse for some very explicit m/m sex writing with very little in the way of character development, and some rather banal world building. Technically, the writing was quite good but I found the overall effect disappointing.
…and one that scraped two stars by the skin of its teeth.
Wolves of the Northern Rift by Jon Messenger (Magic and Machinery 1)**
I certainly won’t be buying book 2! I really enjoy steampunk and looked forward to this, especially as it also featured werewolves. But although the writing was technically competent with reasonable grammar etc., the plot was clumsy, the world building was poor, and the further addition of demons did nothing to recommend the story to me. It was as if a computer had been asked to write something that included everything currently popular in the fantasy genre. Maybe that’s what actually happened here? Not recommended.
Despite being fanfic, neither of this month’s recs are ‘slash’ (m/m) or het (f/m) love stories. They are what is known as ‘gen’ with no real romance elements whatsoever.
I finished reading the stories contributed to The Professionals Big Bang 2017. You can see the whole collection at http://archiveofourown.org/collections/Pros_Big_Bang_2017 if you’re a fan of the show but most of the fics are probably not very accessible to a wider readership. I do want to recommend Nice-Orno Ltd by Fiorenza_a***** which is at http://archiveofourown.org/collections/Pros_Big_Bang_2017/works/12457350
It’s fairly true to canon despite being tongue-in-cheek. It has a delighful humour to it and a great twist at the end that makes it a suitable story to amuse you at Christmas. And at just over 33,000 words it’s a satisfyingly long read.
I’ve also been wandering through the Stargate Atlantis reverse big bang, where the art is what inspires the story rather than the other way around. I’ve also been reading contributions to the annual Monsterfest at a LiveJournal/Dreamwidth writing community. I’m usually active in this, though not this year. However the upshot is that I must recommend the writings of one of my online friends. ‘Brumeier’ writes both fanfic and original fiction and her work appears in both the collections mentioned. I want you all to go and read the three stories already posted in After the Eclipse***** at http://archiveofourown.org/series/839529. There are only just over six thousand words altogether so it won’t take you long to enjoy this quirky small town fantasy. Think Pratchett meets Dr Who with a helping of Welcome to the Night Vale. Superb!