Abracadabra

In headline news: a story published and a story submitted and a story rejected. I am definitely got the feels all the kids are talking about.

This stork (not an ibis) brought me the happy writing news of an impending publication.

This stork (not an ibis) brought me the happy writing news of an impending publication.

Should you wish to read my little story please follow this link. It is entitled Thoth for reasons that will soon become apparent should you mosey over to the Fewer than 500 site.

Also, in a day or two the kind editors of Fewer than 500 will publish a profile on me too.

Please enjoy safely.

Thanks!

 

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Review: Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad felt like a long introduction, followed by a self-generated plot, all to lead up to the next Batman film. I think the writers and producers should have taken notice of the marketing and lead ins for Marvel’s Deadpool and ripped them off so as to knowingly set Squad up as a tale of multiple twisted love stories. Because that’s what it was. Yeah, there was action, yeah, there were jokes and The Joker, yeah, there were political machinations, but mostly it was an examination of control and sacrifice and love to later contrast to Batman’s own upcoming super squad. No doubt that will be about justice and duty and boring cut away shots of wind through long grass.

Anyway, to the movie at hand: it’s prosaic in how it relates the personal cost of being bad. The anti-heroes are bad, with more darkness within, yet had to go to lengths to tell each other. It felt, at times, like group therapy, rather than a comic action franchise flick. More show, less tell.

As for the baddest of the bad: that was Amanda Waller, the state sanctioned baddie. As the puppet master, she makes everyone else look amateur, just like Deadshot makes the professional soldiers look like cadets playing with air rifles. He felt like the most rounded character, but then he got more opportunities to interact with others.

Captain Boomerang could have been lamer as a title, I guess. He could have been called Lord Dropbear. Or something.

Captain Boomerang could have been lamer as a title, I guess. He could have been called Lord Drop Bear. 

As an Australian, I cringed at Captain Boomerang and I wasn’t alone. I can inform DC that no self-respecting criminal would use that title. It sounds like a lame kids TV character. The Postcard Bandit maybe. Captain Boomerang, no. I know these characters are lifted from the comics and the films want to convey gritty authenticity without the ham, but really? George ‘Digger’ Harkness first appeared in 1960 so the source of my unease is this kitsch, and dated US take on what an Australian bad guy might look like, inspired by bush ranging legends, I suppose. I wish in this modern interpretation, if they had to keep the name, they had made it ironic. That would’ve felt more Australian. That’s not to criticise Jai Courtney. He and his unicorn were alright. But I laughed out loud at Waller’s comment about Harkness robbing every bank in Australia. Unless he did it with code, it’s ridiculous. And it wasn’t meant to be funny.

There is a thesis in comic leitmotiv of ponies and unicorns compared and contrasted to Medieval symbolism of concepts of feminine virtue.

There is a thesis in the comic movie leitmotiv of toy ponies & unicorns compared to the Medieval symbolism of concepts of feminine virtue.

As for Harley Quinn and The Joker? So much to say about agency, control, feminism, and I….just can’t much. They are toxic and I can’t be bothered teasing apart the clown and the psychiatrist and their abuse dynamic. It’s not romantic, even if they have pet names for each other. I don’t want to have to work out who is more honest: the torture victim with an eating disorder, or the dreamer of marriage with two kids and a house. That white picket fence delusion is the centre of Harley’s crazy, it is the source of the discord. And, it was implanted by the Joker and that was cruel. She is his creation, his femme fatale denied her implanted desires of a ‘normal’ life, without a second thought about how she lost her identity and career. To me, Amanda Waller is thus the real feminist icon here, breaking glass ceilings, getting the dirty work done and surviving, all in a sensible suit.

While Harley doesn’t fear death, she does have fears of abandonment, just I had fears she was all about being exploited. And she was. But not in the same way as June/the Enchantress. That was a more interesting relationship and had the film spent more time on this, it would have been justified, since the Enchantress was crucial to the plot.

Sooo….

It’s not the worst movie in the world. At least there were no boring bits, but yeah. I wanted it to be: grittier, meaner, crazier, and more liberating for the squad, after all they were meant to find some kind of twisted joy in the mayhem and violence. Mostly though, I felt preached at more than anything and I don’t need that.

For further consideration:

  • compare and contrast acceptance and prejudice via the experiences of Groot and Croc.
  • explore the concept of family in Suicide Squad, Firefly and Guardians of the Galaxy.
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A break in the weather

I’m tired today, and have been unaccountably sad when I have no reason to be. I’m full to the brim of doubt and what ifs and why should Is and what’s the point of it all. It’s a mood I suppose, or a personality pitfall. It’ll pass. All moods do,  even the most bleak.

Yay, flowers.

Yay, flowers.

Of course, this mood has been considerably lightened when I realised my story Epione has just been published by the kind editor at Degenerate Literature.

It’s a special thing to be published. Yes, even now, more than 10 years after my first story was accepted. It reminds me what I’m about, which isn’t being published at all really. Being published is a nice and welcome sometimes by-product of telling stories (that some want to read). I won’t forget that.

Go pay it a visit for me will you?

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Locavore

I enjoy over thinking the latest (or latest I can be bothered with catching up with) in genre fiction from Hollywood as much as anyone. So Star Trek Beyond was a good time, and across a couple of days I enjoyed Matt Damon sciencing the sh*t out of stuff in The Martian. I only just saw 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow the other week. Featuring Tom Cruise being militarised into an alien killing machine there was stuff to commend it. Much of related to the transformation of Cruise’s smarmy character in a more bruised, less smarmy character. I’m not sure humanity got the ending it deserved though. Hey ho.

Any who, what I haven’t mentioned very often is the local entertainment. I mean Australian made. I review the aforementioned big Hollywood movies, yet there are oodles of movies and programs and books by Australians or set in Australia that are worthy of recognition. I don’t watch or read oodles so much any more. I don’t have the attention span, energy or time or disposable income.

Nothing on back with ye olde TV Guide, nothing on now.

Nothing on with ye olde TV Guide, nothing on now.

With Australian fiction, I’m slowly making my way through Charlotte Wood’s much lauded The Natural Way of Things. I want to love it. I understand what it’s doing and the points being made. The book feels important and zeitgeisty and yet….I keep dropping it. Instead I savoured every word and startling image of The Paper House.

Regarding settings beyond Australia, I’m finally reading Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. As a sequel to Wolf Hall the pacing is quicker and its easier to follow, due to less Thomases. I know the broad history of the era, but the details are keeping me going.

Any who, in the Doctor Who interminably long off-season, I recommend The Katering Show. If you haven’t heard of TKS, which began on the YouTube and thence to iView and is now on ABC TV, you’re missing out. I binge watched the second series in one sitting. Granted they were 10 minute episodes, but they were good, painful fun. The Kates behind the genius of this, McCartney and McLennan, are basically, hilarious. It’s the only faux or real cooking show I can stomach these days. I even prefer their mock-awkward Facebook ads to the tiresome manufactured overwroughtness of MasterChef.

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Review: Star Trek Beyond

A little spoilery, k?

On first impressions I probably don’t strike people as the thrill seeking adrenalin chaser type. Bespectacled, literary and socially awkward in unfamiliar surroundings or around new people, I prefer to know what’s expected of me and when ahead of time in many areas of my life. I like to know where I’m going and how to get there before I start. I don’t boldly go anywhere.

Then again, I’m known to appreciate measured doses of adrenalin delivered in relatively secure surroundings. Like the flying lesson I had in a two-seater Cessna when I was 18. The tiny plane rocked like a mosquito on the tarmac, and when I pulled the choke out, midair, my heart just about fell to the ground in a death spiral as the engine slowed. But omg I flew.

Nowadays there’s not so much adrenalin. Not unless I count the hour-long peak time drive to the dentist last week and then me siting there being paralysed with fear. I didn’t run when I could’ve. For the next few months I can add a lisp to my social awkwardness. Yay.

Anyhoo, measured doses of adrenalin come packaged in bright colours and loud music at the cinema now. Which is how I come to Star Trek Beyond.

There was much to commend it. It was Heart of Darkness in space about the dangers of leadership. It was too, an ode to Nathan Hawthorn’s short stories about American settlers escaping the corruption and blood of their civilisation, only to find the frontier exposed their own frailties and histories.

In space, you need maths. Or technology to do the maths.

In space, you need maths. Or technology to do the maths.

I imagine some see the Federation as a kind of intergalactic UN. However, I see it as a kind of idealised United States of America, a bunch of disparate parts together policing the universe, or boldly inserting itself in the affairs of others for universal good, rather than for its own ends. With its ‘classical’ music, and crossing of boundaries, it might have been co-written by a British dude, but it felt American. In many ways notions about frontiers formed America, and thus Trek. And still does: shout out to Sulu and Spock and Uhura, and Scott and Keenser.

Then somehow, Beyond becomes the most quintessential American film of all. A Western. Just like a lot of space movies these days. The lone rangers Lone Ship races across the horizon nebula coming to the rescue of the marooned rancher Space Station beset by attackers to save the day. It is how this rugged band re-establish their purpose and identity even as they confront the violent and doubting parts of themselves. In that way it felt a bit like Serenity. They are united by their struggle.

Bits of it reminded me of a Doctor Who episode (the Viking one) from last year. Other times, I wondered, like Simon Pegg’s character did in Hot Fuzz, about the ‘considerable paperwork’ adrenalin seekers like Capt James T Kirk generate. He crashes his sweet rides all the freaking time, and he still gets to fly. How come Kirk’s insurance premiums haven’t bankrupted his family or the Federation? How are they hedging their investments under his command?

Uhura had a meatier role without anything gratuitous about it. And amid all the crisis, there was room for humour, pathos and team bonding. It is how crews are made. If at times it was preachy, it was countered by Idris Elba’s Krall’s actions. As with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Khan, he too is guided by a kind of loyalty as well as personal resentments at the Federation. It goes to show that the Federation isn’t perfect. No group is, and peace is never peace if individuals or groups are left behind, isolated, or forgotten, as the disaffected Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders supporters demonstrate. It got a bit patriarchal with the Saviour/Dad (captain = God) for me, but at least it’s undercut by Bones being real about everyone’s frailties.

Illustration of night time on the new planet featured in Star Trek Beyond.

Strangely historically accurate illustration of night-time on the new planet from Star Trek Beyond.

New Star Trek writers have been careful to ensure the ‘baddies’ aren’t ‘Other’. They haven’t been the stereotypical ‘Injuns’ of crude and highly offensive old Westerns. The enemies of the Federation are all the scarier, perhaps, because often they are from within. Both Into Darkness and Beyond sheet all the Federation’s weaknesses down to a shady distant past as it defends what it’s currently doing.  That sounds a lot like America as well.

There remains evidence of my thrill seeking days. There’s a VHS tape of me bungee jumping last century.  Like a long-lost ship, I might have to unpack it. Not the video. I mean my old ways. I’m not going to join up, because yeesh, anything like a Federation uniform is a no, but maybe it is time, again, for wind in my hair.

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Double take

In case you’ve missed updates elsewhere, my short story Thylaseen is out now on Kudzu House Quarterly. In addition, my review/think piece, called Winging It, is now on the Criticism Masterclass at the Emerging Writer’s Festival is, voila, also available to read at The Writers Bloc.

I say it with words, but some people say it with flowers.

I say it with words, but some people say it with flowers.

Everyone involved was courteous and easy to deal with, no matter if in Australia or Alabama. Special thanks to Liam Pieper, though, for his encouraging and thoughtful feedback on the first draft of my review.

Good day, all in all.

 

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Review: The Paper House

A fragile thread

Finally, I’ve finished reading The Paper House by Anna Spargo-Ryan.  It could be the newly diagnosed a-typical asthma, but this novel has winded me. I had to pause while reading it, sometimes for a week, because it was painful, but also because I wanted to dwell in it in a way I haven’t with a novel for a while.

I don’t want to tease apart its beauty or examine too closely the pain it depicts. I just need to say I was made breathless by the heat of it, by its intensity, by emotions unwinding around its characters, by the narrative unspooling through the main character, Heather. It is her story and it resolves for the reader to see the truth of her past and a future too.

For a book steeped in grief, the source of the trauma is immediately apparent, but also slowly peeled away, and hinted at, until eventually it blooms like a midsummer rose  in Heather and Dave’s lovingly depicted garden.

Constantly, I was startled by its familiarity, by its lush imagery and tiny local specifics. It’s location was recognisably Melbourne, even if much of the story and its appeal, could be universal.

A wilder and woollier part of Mornington Peninsula than depicted in the novel.

A wilder & woollier bit of Mornington Peninsula than depicted in the novel.

The certitude of Heather’s perspective, and the language most of all, were impressive and evocative from the very first page and the moment of the inciting incident.

I use ‘inciting incident’ deliberately. For a book about a collection of people, including a visual artist, a teacher, and an oil rig worker, this story feels ‘writerly’. This is not a negative, for a first novel, or in fact any kind of novel, for the writing is controlled, when it could have followed Heather headlong into her mental anguish and gone large on the florid and surreal. What I’m trying so clumsily to express is that this is a book writers can truly appreciate without jealousy.

With some novels I can’t escape the feeling that the author is a cipher, or a committee, or could have been anyone – even me. I don’t get that feeling with The Paper House. This book has the stamp of the particular – that there is an actual human who poured over each detail, who left us breathtaking phrases only to move on with the plot, while I want to wait in the garden just beyond suburban Melbourne and beyond its ubiquitous pittosporums.

Actual pittosporums from an actual garden at a house I once lived in. This was their last sunset.

Actual pittosporums from an actual garden at a house I once lived in. This was their last sunset.

Bit of a spoiler

When I was in a short story class back in the day it was remarkable for how so many students, (myself included), who wrote, straight off, for the first time, without prompting, stories about or inspired by…dead mothers.  My effort was eventually published too. If I knew nothing about the Anna Spargo-Ryan or the narrative, I would’ve only guessed it was a first novel because of the character of Shelley. Maybe Her appearance, is a vestigial trope, a hang over from when many more women died a lot younger, due to complications from childbirth.

Perhaps, though, it is more. Not just aspects of auto/biography, but something about identity, I mean authors asserting themselves as individuals. Maybe it is as Freudian as: for writer to live, the mother must die. There is a thesis in that, if there hasn’t been one already.

This is not a flaw, just one more thing this book made me think about again. It was one of the many things I got to contemplate along with the lyrical expressionism of this very fine achievement by the author.

 

 

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