Suicide Squad (David Ayer 2016)

suicidesquadheaderand so anyway it turns out that the best thing about Suicide Squad (Ayer 2016) is not that it reminds you of just quite how good – and subtle – a film The Dirty Dozen (Aldrich 1967) is but of just quite how good – and subtle – literally any and every other film you have ever seen is…

Deadpool (Tim Miller 2016)

ew-deadpool-poster.jpgand so anyway it turns out that the best thing about Deadpool (2016) is not the stunning use to which it puts, what was that? three locations? four sets?, nor the way it does its utmost to always cover up the annoying face of piggy-eyed charisma vacuum Ryan Reynolds, nor is it the fact that there is now at last an entry in the X-Men franchise that is intentionally moderately amusing (except it’s not intentional, I suppose, cos while the others meant to be serious and ended up accidentally moderately amusing, I think this one meant to be really really funny and ended up accidentally being moderately amusing from the other direction),  no, the very best thing about Deadpool  is that there is now at last  an entry in the X-Men franchise that is worth watching, wait, what’s the word for less than once but more than not at all?

Captain America: Civil War (Joe and Anthony Russo 2016)

large_large_5N20rQURev5CNDcMjHVUZhpoCNCToday, at the Wellcome Trust, I saw an old poster for Julia Pastrana, who was born with hyperpilosity and travelled the world as a ‘freak’ known as The Nondescript.

Turns out ‘nondescript’ used to mean something like ‘transcendent’, irreducible to your measly human categories.

Tonight I watched Captain America: Civil War (Russo and Russo 2016). Turns out that that is no longer the meaning of ‘nondescript’.

L0033804 Julia Pastrana, "the nondescript", advertised for

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…