The Avengers: Age of Ultron (Whedon 2015) haikus

 

23avengers

 

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I kick much ass yet:

my own ass defines me. That,

and my barren womb.

 

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It’s Thor’s Hammer gags.

Der-du du du, du du du,

Du du. Can’t touch them.

 

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“Fuck this shit,” says Cap,

“another of these fucking

films is all middle.”

 

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Ultron’s radical

green accelerationism.

Not such a bad plan.

AfroSF volume 2 (2015), edited by Ivor W. Hartmann

afrosf2So much has happened since the appearance of Ivor Hartmann’s AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers (2012). It is not just that AfroSF is more visible than it was four years ago, but that the market and venues for it are growing, especially at short story length. This year alone has given us Jalada’s online Afrofuture(s) anthology, Nerine Dorman’s Terra Incognita: New Short Speculative Stories from Africa, Jo Thomas and Margrét Helgadóttir’s African Monsters (2015) and five issues of omenana. This proliferation must have seemed impossible when Hartmann started work on AfroSF 2, but it makes his decision to follow up his anthology of 22 short stories with a collection of just 5 novellas all the more significant.

There is a long tradition of sf writers cutting their teeth on short stories before proceeding, via novella and novelette lengths, to full-length novels. Primarily a peculiar by-product of the demands of mid-twentieth-century US magazine publishing, it nonetheless provided a pragmatic apprenticeship and trajectory. We no longer live in that world (as Eric Flint’s Hugo commentaries spent a bunch of 2015 explaining), and with the majority of sf magazines now electronic rather than hard-copy there is relatively little demand for fiction at those intermediate lengths. But the step-up from short-shorts and shorts and even long-shorts to novels remains a big one. And so AfroSF 2’s change of format represents a conscious commitment to the further development of the field – and of the writers within it. Only two of the six writers in this volume have published a novel before: Nick Wood, whose YA sf The Stone Chameleon appeared all the way back in 2004 (although his sf novel, Azanian Bridges, is due out early next year), and Tade Thompson, whose crime thriller Making Wolf appeared just a couple of months back.

AfroSF 2 opens with Thompson and Wood’s ‘The Last Pantheon’, a sprightly tale of rival African superheroes, called Black-Power and Pan-Africa, that riffs off Luke Cage and Black Panther (and Superman), as well as name-checking Nigeria’s Powerman aka Powerbolt (drawn by a young Dave Gibbons and Brian Bolland) and South Africa’s Mighty Man (but why not Jet Jungle?). Although the backstory covers millions of years, the story itself focuses on their decades-long disagreement over the role they should play in the period of post-WW2 anti-colonial and post-colonial struggle – the assassination of Patrice Lumumba is a watershed moment – and on an attempt to bring them both out of retirement for one last smackdown, to be televised globally. It is all rather canny and quick-moving.

Next up is Mame Bougouma Diene’s ‘Hell Freezes Over’, set in a post-human post-civilisation hanging on in the watery ruins of our world as a new Ice Age advances. The two halves of the story, placed (I think) in reverse chronological order, feature treachery, betrayal, revolution and retribution. Sadly, it is not the kind of story I ever enjoy, regardless of who wrote it (reminded me of Claude Nunes, kinda, but that’s probably too obscure to be helpful), and I read it under considerably less than ideal conditions (involving tube trains, loud drunks, illness and fatigue). But it does contain some quite beautiful passages, such as when the Fish People swim into waters that freeze around them.

I am a big fan of Dilman Dila, and his ‘The Flying Man of Stone’ is for me probably the best piece in the anthology. Like his ‘A Killing in the Sun’, it is about surviving (or not) in the contradictions, uncertainty and sheer randomness of conflicts; like ‘The Healer’ it is about the complex cultural and social identities left in the wake of colonialism; and like ‘Itanda Bridge’ and ‘The Yellow People’ it is about crash-landed aliens living underground and forging ambiguous symbiotic relationships with humans. It is also a superhero story, full of questions about power, responsibility and consequences.

Andrew Dakalira’s ‘VIII’ is set in a near-future Malawi where a series of apparently random killings breaks out just as the world’s population hits eight billion. These attacks turn out to be a global phenomenon, presaging a wider slaughter (there’s a kind of AVP backstory lurking in the backstory). It rattles along at great pace, jumping between multiple viewpoint characters. You wonder how this apocalypse can possibly be averted and, when the story is over, you continue to do so.

Efe Tokunbo Okogu, whose BSFA-nominated ‘Proposition 23’ was one of the highlights of AfroSF, ends the volume with ‘An Indigo Song for Paradise’. It is the longest piece in the anthology, a great big sprawling mess of story that works really well when it does work, but never quite hangs together, especially when it switches from cyberpunkish crime caper action sequences to meandering, sententious speechifying. As with Diene’s ‘Hell Freezes Over’, I found the setting a little too unfocused to get a clear grip on. There is an idyllic Gaia and a post-apocalyptic Terra which also seems to be a post-historical Dying Earth. There is the ironically named Paradise City, presided over by an evil corporation and the remaining few white people (known as vampires), and populated by people of colour who sound a lot like they’ve popped in from the 1990s. And there is a xombie apocalypse. And it might all just be a simulation running on a computer anyway. Everything the author could think of seems to be crammed in somewhere somehow, and some of it might be jokes I just don’t get. But there is no denying the pell-mell energy that dominates stretches of it.

There is, of course, a downside to publishing just novellas. Obviously, Hartmann’s desire to do something new and different with this volume, to help writers step up to the challenges of writing at greater length, means that AfroSF 2 inevitably lacks AfroSF’s wide variety of story types and voices from across the continent and diaspora. This is most obvious in the absence of women writers (discussed with Hartmann and omenana’s editor Chinelo Onwualu on the always fabulous bookshy).

Maybe the next challenge, whether for Hartmann or others, should be an anthology of AfroSF entirely by women writers. It should only be a matter of logistics – as the original AfroSF and other anthologies/magazines clearly demonstrate, there are already more than enough potential contributors out there.

(Many thanks to Ivor for providing me with an ARC.)

Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy 2014)

Nightcrawler-Movie-Posterand so anyway it turns out that the best thing about Nightcrawler (2014) is not that it turns out not to be an X-Men spin-off, though that is a relief, nor is it the always amusing irony of one medium using a slickly seedy story to criticise another medium for being slick and seedy (and to berate the other medium’s audience for their complicity while expecting its own audience not to notice their complicity in watching the film in the first place), no, the best thing about Nightcrawler is Jake Gyllenhaal’s really quite astonishing performance, as if they were after Patrick Bateman but ended up with Sheldon Cooper…

Ant-Man (Peyton Reed 2015)

f4e44383348e5b0e4d9255917926482eand so anyway it turns out that the best thing about Ant-Man ( 2015) is not that it lays bare the ways in which all the MCU movies, from phase meh through to phase yawn, are extremely ordinary if intermittently entertaining films, nor is it the inclusion of a Russian (?) in the trio of comedy ethnic sidekicks as if this somehow eliminates the problem of casting actors of colour in comedy sidekick roles, nor is it the casting of Yanis Varoufakis Mark Strong Corey Stoll as the Hood, thus revealing Disney’s plans for an MCU/Thunderbirds crossover, nor is it the fact that every so often you can hear in Paul Rudd’s lines the rhythms of Edgar Wright’s dialogue, thus enabling you to make your own entertainment by recasting Simon Pegg in the lead, no, the best thing about Ant-Man, which is a little weird but also helps to lay bare a bunch of the creepy-ass stuff that often goes on behind that whole parent-child rift/reconciliation screenplay 101 bullshit, is the decision to confuse Michael Douglas by cutting Evangeline Lilly’s hair so as to make Hank Pym’s daughter look as much like Douglas’s wife as possible…

Zack Snyder to direct Harper Lee adaptation

tumblr_inline_nj88qfHBzl1so4f39It is 1985 in a world subtly different to our own.

Jean Louise Finch (Jennifer Lawrence) returns home from New York to Maycomb, Alabama to visit her family, especially her beloved ailing father, the lawyer and retired state legislator, Atticus Finch (Tommy Lee Jones).

Unknown to them, she is the costumed crimefighter known as Scout, sent by Black Beetle (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to investigate the role played in the death of Edward Black (Michael Jai White) by a secretive organisation calling itself the Citizen’s Council – not suspecting that she will uncover family secrets and a past she did not know.

She is forced to grapple with issues both personal and political as she tries to understand her father’s attitude toward society – and as she comes to realise that former grand wizard Atticus Finch is Rorschach.

Zack Snyder’s Go Set a Watchmen will be in cinemas in 2017.

Alan Moore does not approve.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (Bryan Singer 2014)

x-men-days-of-future-past.25428and so anyway it turns out that the best thing about X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), the sequel to 2011’s queer classic X-Men: First Class aka Brokeback Mutant, is not its inability to work out what to do with female superheroes who aren’t blue and naked – Storm has two whole lines of dialogue, which might be more than Blink does, and one brief meteorological dabble; Rogue, for all that Anna Paquin comes seventh in the credits, gets a two-second wordless cameo; and Kitty Pryde has the clunkiest, most thankless line of exposition in a film full of clunky, thankless and repetitive exposition because if it’s too hard I won’t understand it, and then gets to spend the next two hours kneeling down trying not to stroke Wolverine’s sideburns – nor is it Professor Xavier’s claim that the ‘greatest of powers’ is ‘hope’, when clearly he means ‘cliché’, nor is it that given the opportunity to transport Wolverinator, the huge jackass, back in time to change one thing that will in turn change everything they send him to strut around 1970s New York like some kind of white Shaft rather than to the script conference that set this humdrummery rolling (where he could have killed everyone with impunity because we would never have known this universe containing this dreary mess of a film ever existed – would you like me to exposition that for you a couple of times, or are you keeping up all by yourself?), but the fact that the film is so leaden and uninvolving that nothing, nothing at all, can distract you from coming up with an amusing alternative title for it … although, in a truly damning indictment of just how exhausting work has been the last couple of weeks, the best I, the actual (god’s honest truth) coiner of Brokeback Mutant, could come up with was the half-assed X-Men: Days of Farty Pasta … and in an equally devastating indictment of Fox’s apparent collusion in undermining the one genuinely lucrative Marvel property to which Disney does not own the film rights, it turns out that getting to call this tiresome piece of crap Days of Farty Pasta is actually the very best thing about it…