Saturday, September 1, 2018

The Black God's Drums by P. Djèlí Clark

Jacqueline is a teenager living on the streets of the Free City of New Orleans, scratching a living in the only free city and independent city in the Confederacy. She is helped by her constant companion - the Orisha Oya, lady of winds.

She doesn’t want to stay - she wants to see the world and Anne Marie, agent of Haiti and the Free Islands, may be the ticket out there on her airship.

But first they have a city to save…. As a Haitian scientist has been captured and with the secret of their most powerful weapon: the Black God’s Drums.

Oooooh, yes, yes this is me intrigued

This is an alternate world, a steampunk world - honestly I don’t even know why I’m calling it a steampunk world because i think there’s only one airship to give me that hint, but the whole sense of this is really evocative of steampunk. In fact the whole book has an incredibly powerful sense of of place and setting. It’s surprising because this is done with very neat language. Normally when I describe a book as evocative and with a strong sense of place it’s a very positive spin on “really overwritten” or “in need of an editor with a big pair of scissors”. But this isn’t overwritten - it’s short and the writing is wonderfully concise at giving this sense of the entire world with minimal info dumping despite a massive amount of information to impart

And this world is fascinating. We have the standards of steampunk with the airships et al. But we also have a mix of magic and religion with the yoruba gods and loa having direct effect on the world and clear other magic systems being powerful influence. The United States is divided, the civil war still ongoing for years albeit with a truce. New Orleans is a free city, fiercely independent with strong allies allowing it to be independent from the Confederacy despite forces trying to undermine that. The Caribbean is independent, the Free Islands, following Haiti’s revolt now aided by powerful technology and divine intervention

It’s a fascinating world setting to take a steampunk setting and then outright addressing and combating the themes of colonialism which are almost inherent to this genre - or completely ignored by this genre. By openly addressing this, addressing the bigotry and oppression and then taking the magic and technology of the setting and using it to overturn some of that, it really does subvert so much of this genre. And any historical genre - there’s so much ”alternate history” fiction out there which basically replicates exactly the same modes of oppression that exist today - and the exact same victors, despite throwing in all kinds of supernatural elements. There’s no reason to repeat the same reality we have today when so much else is changing.

Our protagonist is Jacqueline (known as Creeper), a classic Urban fantasy orphan who lives on the streets of New Orleans. Her mother, a sex worker is gone - but despite that still has multiple maternal figures - from a collection of subversive spying nuns, to the madam at a brothel (and both she and Jacqueline are clear in combating and resisting any sense of shaming of sex workers) who are there to try and grab her off the streets and still look out for her. She also has a deep relationship with the goddess Oya, orisha of the winds, storms etc which is a fun relationship with powers and visions - albeit at Oya’s will not Jacqueline’s - I think Oya definitely has her own agenda

Friday, August 31, 2018

Privileged Actors Playing Minorities

It’s a debate that won’t die as again and again we see cishet white, able bodied actors cast in minority roles. (And yes I had to use that meme). And every single time it happens there’s always a legion of supporters jumping out to say why it’s completely ok.

It is not. It really really isn’t. There are a large number of POC, gay, bi, trans, disabled actors out there who can perform these roles. And cishet, white able bodied actors will be ok folks - 90% of the roles out there are already tailor made for them. They don’t have to have the last 10% as well!

But beyond the fact that cishet, white, able bodied actors already grossly dominate the entertainment industry, casting them in these roles has severely damaging implications with a whole lot of terrible history behind them

We cannot separate what privileged people playing marginalised characters means and has meant, no matter what creators current intention is. Both collectively and for individual minorities. Casting white characters in POC roles cannot be separated from a context of deeply racist abominations and minstral shows. Casting cis people as trans characters cannot be separated from the context of people claiming trans people aren’t REAL men/women and that a trans woman is not distinguishable from a cis man or a that a trans man is not distinguishable from a cis woman. Casting an able bodied actor for a disabled role cannot be separated from the context of people believing disabled actors don’t exist and disabled people cannot actually act at all

You cannot separate these contexts from your casting.

And all of these share a common context of mockery - of privileged people putting on these identities and turning them into clowns, caricatures, something for everyone to savagely laugh at and regard in contempt. POC, disabled, LGBTQ people, all have been worn by cishet white able bodied people to portray something worthy of nothing but revulsion and hilarity. We can all think of numerous examples (and don’t tell me you can’t. You’re lying. You really are).

And all of these share another common assumption of, well, every industry but certainly the entertainment industry, that there is a complete lack of minority actors to fill these roles. This is an excuse trotted out constantly and it’s so blatantly not true. You had to cast Scarlett Johansson because you can’t find a talented Asian actor? Really? Out of the billions of Asian people in the world, you couldn’t find one with a modicum of acting talent? REAAAALY? You cast Jack Whitehall as a gay man because he’s the best actor for the job? Really? A stand up comedian is literally the best actor you could find?

How long did you look? WHERE did you look?

You cannot divorce your acting, your portrayal, from this context. You cannot pretend that your casting exists in isolation, that they do not carry these messages and aren’t perpetuating these issues. Every time we get this privileged casting we have these messages repeated and invoked.

Especially since we also have to remember how much minority actors struggle to get roles. The number of roles for POC is vanishingly small. LGBTQ actors repeatedly have spoken about having to be closeted to get roles and how much being out has harmed their careers. Disabled actors are almost invisible entirely and many people argue they don’t even exist.

Contrast that to how a straight, able bodied actor playing gay or disabled role is almost guaranteed to be award bait. Actors will be hailed for their “courage” and acting like they’ve somehow achieved something impressive by acting this role. They’ll get to gush in numerous interviews about how Important it was and how Hard it was or, even more nauseating, how they are doing such a wonderful service for the minority in question by taking this role, appropriating the story of marginalised people and profiting at it

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Fear the Walking Dead: Season 4, Episode 11: the Code

So we have the super duper storm last episode and Morgan desperately seeks shelter in a convenient truck full of emergency supplies and chocolate

Really? Because I’ve played computer games with fully stocked medikits in every ancient ruin and rubbish bin and they were less convoluted and convenient

He decides to hunker down for the night there and rest. When he wakes up he’s in Mississippi.

Whut… really? I mean really really? Did the writers completely run out of ideas of how to actually get Morgan away from the rest of the cast?

He looks around the truck stop full of amazing supplies, electricity and water and someone calls on the radio - looking for a “Polar Bear” he speaks to her and she says he can take what he needs so long as he leaves what he doesn’t

He stocks up on some supplies, examines some maps, uses the toilets and is interrupted by Wendall, a Black man in a wheelchair with a shotgun who wishes to discuss him using the disabled stall.

He is joined by Sarah, a white woman, and they introduce each other as twins with a “yeah we know it’s not true but you don’t need to know” look. They seem a little surprised that he spoke to someone on the radio but lay out their spiel - they’re truckers. And when the zombie apocalypse hit they were perfectly placed to know where all the warehouses where, to know their way around the roads, where to find petrol and generally able to move supplies around to where they’re needed easily.

Which sounds pretty awesome. But we’re not running with that, yet anyway.

Morgan tells them about Alexandria and where he’s heading and how it’s a super shiny place of people doing good just like the truckers. But when he hears that the storm was a hurricane (which the truck drove through… apparently) Morgan decides he simply must go back to help his friends back in Texas. They give him supplies for the journey

But with some sad music and zombie montages Morgan reaches a perfectly intact bridge and then calls Sarah and Wendall to say that the bridge is out, he’s coming back. Yes he’s lying, no he’s not going back to help. Morgan’s new found saintliness is chipping

He decides to return to the truck stop to meet up with Wendall and Sarah again so they can go to Alexandria together when he finds a man running - tied up, with a bag on his head, being chased by Walkers. Naturally Morgan runs to the rescue despite the fact that the man, Jim, isn’t exactly grateful. Jim clearly isn’t an extra because he’s played by that guy from 12 Monkeys so he’s going to be around for a while

So Jim is a brewer. He makes beer. And he was kidnapped by people who wished to punish him for the heinous crime of inflicting American beer on the world steal his recipe. Jim’s really big about making beer bragging about his awards and his plans for the future - basically make lots of beer and hope the world sorts itself out so he can sell beer. Which… I mean his point that humans will infest the planet in time has merit because humans are worse than cockroaches for that… but I think it’s going to be a while before we get a market economy up and running.

They reunite with Wendell and Sarah - and Wendall points his shotgun again. Seems they were the ones who kidnapped Jim. Because Sarah likes beer

That’s pretty much the whole of their motives

Oh and they stole the truck off a guy in Texas who was using it to charitably leave boxes of emergency supplies at road markers

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Preacher, Season 3, Episode 10: The Light Above

With Jesse finally going back to Angelville it’s time for a flashback - back to when young Jesse first left. Back then he struggled with the idea of killing his grandma, with the struggle being overtly indicated with the presence of both god and satan pushing him in their own chosen direction

But ultimately Marie is right - Jesse is too much a Custer, too afraid of hell to actually take that step and kill her even though she outright brags about killing his parents. Instead he leaves

And Jesse, coming back, tells his younger self he should have killed her then. But he has a chance now.

Naturally this is something of a conquering hero moment for Jesse. TC argues for peace but gets Gensised into shooting his own foot - and yes Genesis has full on telekinesis now.

He could use this to kill Jody in an instant - but that’s not how Jesse wants to end his father’s killer. They go to the tombs and have a brutal knock down fight with boards with nails in, chains et al. Jody may have won but he reminded Jesse of how he killed his dad and this is Hero Rules. Hero always has to lose a fight before finally finding some extra mojo in him to really turn the tables. He finally, brutally, beats Jody to death. Well he has a moment to say how proud he is of Jesse before finally dying…

Jesse burns the body - and TC. He doesn’t know anywhere but Angelville and would rather die than leave it. So he does

And now Jesse goes to confront his grandmother, the ultimate evil. And within seconds he unleashes Genesis and orders her to release Tulip and say Jesse’s debt to her is paid - she does, freeing both from her magical control. And the next plan is to kill her… but she reveals a new deal she made with Satan. If Jesse kills her, he goes to hell. And the Custers are mighty afraid of hell.

He can turn and leave. He’s killed Jody and TC, he’s saved Tulip and rescued himself… he’s won. But that doesn’t sit well with Jesse - because Marie has also won. And she will live another 100 years thanks to the souls they got from Japan, enough to keep her alive: unlike his parents.

So he orders her to destroy the souls… using Genesis

Now it’s a victory. But despite that it still doesn’t feel like Victory… not with her still alive. And despite his huge fear of hell and the deal Marie made with Satan, he finally kills her… using her own soul sucking machine

And this feels like such a huge turn around for Jesse. And is a brilliant, epic conclusion to the Angelville storyline with Jesse finding all his power and finally unleashing the torment he always was going to. Oh it was past time for this to happen and it was utterly perfect - an absolutely awesome, epic finale.

Which… is perhaps the only part of this show that does?

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Killjoys, Season 4, Episode 6: Baby, Face Killer

Having discovered the discrepancy of Dutch’s memories it’s time to see what that means. On utopia there’s an unpleasant guy who can use technology to turn your memories into a film (which he uses for all kinds of unscrupulous ways, of course) and they use this to get transcribe Dutch’s weird Khlyen memories.

First step is to send out images of the fake assassin to see who she is - though she doesn’t appear on any database. Which is suspicious itself.

But it is picked up by an Ominous Blond Guy. He also has a symbol on his neck which is also in Dutch’s Khlyen-vision-dream. Lots of ominous.

On Lucy we have the new Hullen child and Delle Sayah is leaving but not before she gives her son some basic lessons on proper etiquette. Including using the proper utensils (unlike his dad who uses hands) and a name: Ozzman Kit Rin, named after an honoured member of the Nine known for their cunning, greed and never being formally implicated in some terrible atrocity. Such is the accolades among the Nine

Which is where she is going now - the Nine are scared, confused and laying low. And cowards need a leader. Ozzman hugs her goodbye and she reminds him that physical contact is for the poor.

Delle Sayah - awful in the most perfect ways

D’avin isn’t a huge fan of the name since it lacks completely superfluous apostrophes but suggests that Ozzman should pick his own name and make his own choices. Which somewhat confuses Ozzman who rather thinks parents make the choices for kids and D’avin flails a little when confronted by this 2 day old who looks 16. D’avin is generally freaking out about what it means to be a dad and Johnny offers some vague reassurance (their own dad being terrible, D’avin was a father figure for Johnny but also kind of made some big fails there too).

Given what the kid is facing, Dutch suggests he needs training - D’avin asks if she’s offering and she says no, she’s insisting. So begins training with Dutch in weapons, assassination, protection et al which doesn’t mean wearing leather pants but does mean using the crowded Utopia station to teach Ozzman who to be aware of his surroundings even in a crowd

Which is where Ominous Blond Man catches up with them after killing the memory reader, knocking out D’avin and hunting down Ozzman and Dutch. Luckily Ozzman has Hullen woo-woo which alerts him to danger ahead of time letting him dodge some shots and go on the run with Ozzman wanting food and them randomly running through a sex worker’s session meaning Ozzman has lots of questions Dutch really really really isn’t going to answer. But she does insist he has a family with them

Ominous Blond lures them into a trap and holds Ozzman hostage - but it’s apparent he’s not actually there for him. And Dutch wants him alive to answer questions - especially since she recognises the Ominous Symbol on his neck from her Khlyen dream. So when he escapes Dutch then contacts him to invoke Ye Olde Assassin’s code. Which basically means you can invoke a truce so you can talk about assassiny things

Monday, August 27, 2018

Wynonna Earp, Season 3, Episode 6: If We Make It Through December

This is a Christmas episode

In August.

What nonsense is this?!
Ok, getting past that, highly reluctantly, we have an episode with lots of cute costumes and preparing for christmas and Michelle wanting to have a perfect christmas for her family now she’s out of the mental institution. Which means she wants a nice perfect angel on the Christmas tree, not the Menstrual angel Waverley made as a child out of tampons despite it being a family tradition.

She also doesn’t want Doc’s christmas tree - the house has just been cleansed of demons, she doesn’t want to add mites. Also Doc’s a little afraid of them. Wynonna and Waverley still have misgivings about Michelle and want to watch her while still loving the runion and watching her kill wild turkeys for them. Oh and telling Wynonna to go get laid because she’s dramatically inappropriate

Wynonna also tells Waverley about her dad being an angel where she freaks out while Michelle and Wynonna are gloriously blase about the whole thing. Waverley is big into finding out about her dad, Michelle focuses on how nice Julian was and how much better than the cruel and alcoholic Ward Earp - but I do like that Wynonna’s focus is that Julian actually abandoned Michelle. I like this because it’s probably easy to just say “Julian good” or even Julian is better than Ward but Wynonna is there cynically pointing out that no-one is perfect and being better than someone else doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be a saint.

There’s also some complexity around Bobo - who was apparently around when Waverley was born and even when Michelle insults him and calls him awful she suggests inviting him to Christmas dinner and it doesn’t feel like a complete joke

Doc’s rather bedraggled tree is also rejected by Jeremy whose allergies don’t tolerate nature in his space. We do have a really nice scene with Doc empathising with and comforting Jeremy after he feels he has been ghosted by Robin which is really really good. Also he looks good without his moustache.

Time for the monster of the week - it’s Bulshar and he’s kidnapped a kid during the whole Christmas moment (Nedry as Santa of course) and it’s time for the gang to get out there and find him.

Except Nedry. Nicole goes to him but Nedry is broken. He can’t get over the fact that the child was taken virtually in front of him and he did nothing. And he doesn’t even know the point of bringing him back - back to Purgatory where bad things happen. Nedry is burned out completely