Melting eyes | January-March 2019

Books

  • The Spy Who Came In From The Cold – John Le Carre (1963)
  • Annihilation – Jeff VanDerMeer (2014)
  • Authority – Jeff VanDerMeer (2014)
  • Acceptance – Jeff VanDerMeer (2014)
  • The Year’s Best Science Fiction | Volume 2 – Gardner Dozois (1984)
  • The Sympathizer – Viet Thanh Nguyen (2015)
  • Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel (2009)
  • The Last Girlfriend on Earth & Other Stories – Simon Rich (2013)
  • The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien (1937)
  • CivilWarLand in Bad Decline – George Saunders (1996)
  • The Tetris Effect – Dan Ackerman (2016)
  • Breakfast of Champions – Kurt Vonnegut (1973)
  • Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump – David Neiwert (2017)
  • The Age of Jihad: Islamic State and the Great War for the Middle East – Patrick Cockburn (2016)
  • V – Thomas Pynchon (1963)
  • Think Like A Freak – Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner (2014)
  • Mistborn Book One: The Final Empire – Brandon Sanderson (2006)
  • Convenience Store Woman – Sayaka Murata (2016)
  • In Persuasion Nation – George Saunders (2006)
  • Wolf in White Van – John Darnielle (2014)
  • Goodbye Columbus and Five Short Stories – Philip Roth (1959)
  • Nicotine – Nell Zink (2016)
  • The Crying of Lot 49 – Thomas Pynchon (1966)
  • Mistborn Book Two: The Well of Ascension – Brandon Sanderson (2007)
  • The BBC: Myth of a Public Service – Tom Mills (2016)
  • Lethal White – Robert Galbraith (2018)
  • NW – Zadie Smith (2012)
  • Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders (2017)

Annihilation is a brilliant film, creepy, evocative, brilliantly performed. I wasn’t wild about Ex Machina, but was relieved to see Alex Garland’s ambitions more evenly matched by the source material. The Southern Reach trilogy of books it is based on shares very little in common with its adaptation. Characters are a tad broader, there’s a tighter focus on the environmental history, and the closing in particular veers closer to existential dread. Ironically, the movie is internal as all hell, almost monomaniacally revolving around the emotional struggle of Natalie Portman’s character. For a medium commonly extolled as being better suited to the machinations of the inner mind, Southern Reach is ultimately a story about nature’s dominance over humanity, and the awe of the closing sequence is simultaneously climate-affirming and anthropologically bleak. Reading the series in the midst of a worsening crisis of capricious fucks ruining the natural world offered its own kind of comfort, a horror story where we’re all the villains and the foliage fights back.


Wolf Hall is the 2nd Hilary Mantel book I’ve read (the first was A Place of Greater Safety) and I don’t know if I’ve picked bad times to read them, or I barrelled through them too fast to pick up on the nuances, or if I’m just uninterested in historical fiction. I wanted to like them, but I went through entire passages without picking up anything, and felt weirdly empty by the time I ended it. I hate feeling like I’m missing something major, as Mantel is clearly a skilled and accomplished writer, but it did nothing for me and I can’t get myself interested enough to continue reading the series or getting interested in the final book in the trilogy coming out this year.

On a similar note, I think I’ve finally figured out that I don’t naturally enjoy Kurt Vonnegut. Breakfast of Champions was an annoying read, with characters that were aggravating to be around, running gags that had no steam, and an inconsequentialism that should keep me interested but just made me speed read the latter half just to get it over with. Vonnegut was an interesting guy, and one I’d love to have over for a dinner party, but I’ve read about five of his books so far, and none of them made me yearn for more. So it goes.


I finally got the library card in the town I currently live in around this time, and tore through Nell Zink’s Nicotine, John Darnielle’s Wolf in White Van, and George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo, all of which I enjoyed for their humour, well-realised characters and spins on the staid format of SeRiOuS lItErAtUrE. I also used it to read JK Rowling’s most recent mystery novel without having to pay for it, which was a load of old codswallop. I liked the first two books in this series fine enough, but it fell onto its face so dramatically that they’ve gone down in my estimation in hindsight. Rowling can’t seem to write a story without it devolving into another 700 pages of whining about how hard it is to be famous. All characters are neoliberal caricatures with no recognisable inner lives (behold the socialist thought leader who’s only into class struggle to crush pussy; marvel at the overly litigious and condescending Tory minister; what Rowling proposes is, they’re not that different?), and she’s more interested in score-settling and a baffling central romance over writing a decent mystery. The scenes where Strike explains the play-by-play of the central evil plot are embarrassingly bad, as if they were copy-pasted from her original notes with basic drama sellotaped on. I’ve thought about re-reading Harry Potter a few times over the past couple of years (been nearly a decade since I read them) but the bloody-minded awfulness of her recent work has left too much of a stink.


Most of my reading material while I was in college was non-fiction, and when I wrapped up my masters last year I had a deep yearning for some good fantasy and science-fiction, genres I’ve neglected in my mad scramble for true stories and information. I started the year off with Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy, which pleasantly upped the stakes and complication after a relatively simple first instalment. My forays into this world is still in its early stages admittedly, but I’m eager to get more into it.


TV

  • A Series of Unfortunate Events – Season 3 (2019) e1-7
  • Danger and Eggs – Season 1 (2017) e1-13
  • The Tick – Season 1 (2017) e1-12
  • Forever – Season 1 (2017) e1-8
  • South Park – Season 22 (2017) e6-10
  • The Good Place – Season 3 (2019) e11-13
  • You’re the Worst – Season 4 (2019) e1-7
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine – Season 6 (2019) e1-7
  • Crazy Ex-Girlfriend – Season 4 (2019) e9-16
  • Corporate – Season 2 (2019) e1-7
  • Scrubs – Season 1 (2001) e1-12
  • Game of Thrones – Season 5 (2015) e1-10
  • This Time with Alan Partridge – Season 1 (2019) e1
  • The Eric Andre Show – Season 1 e1
  • Game of Thrones – Season 6 (2016) e1-10

Danger & Eggs is an animated childrens’ show about the misadventures of D.D. Danger, an Evel Knievil-style daredevil and her best friend Phillip, a traumatophobic talking egg who lives inside a giant chicken. It is adorable, wholesome and not afraid to include some dark themes and characters: D.D.’s father has been left paralysed and mute following a lifetime of stunts, a minor character was abandoned by his parents and has grown to middle age in the woods still believing he is a child… The season ends with the government attempting to invade the park and assassinate Phillip’s mother. A second season is unlikely, but if you’re looking for something to fill the Adventure Time mold of wacky shenanigans, only not insufferable, then it’s worth checking out.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is one of my favourite shows ever, and the finale was aggressively fine, a bit too neat and rushed. To be honest, I could have watched the characters just living life and being friends for another 5 seasons, but there’s something to be said for how it recognised the logical end point of its central story. I just wish it took a bigger leap before it attempted the landing.

I had to give up on You’re The Worst this season. I don’t think stories need to have likable characters to be interesting, and indeed one of the show’s virtues is how unpleasant everyone in this nasty little shitshow of privilege of squalor is. That said, the final season was just a drag that smothered any interest in the flashforwards and arc closures. I will admit that this is mostly down to me just having no interest whatsoever in Los Angeles/Hollywood satire anymore, the kind of show that’s like reading a script designed by an AV Club comment section smug-bot. I’m looking at you too, Bojack Horseman.


Movies

  • You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsey, 2017)
  • Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 (Cody Cameron & Kris Pearn, 2013)
  • Batman Ninja (Junpei Mizusaki, 2018)
  • Three Identical Strangers (Tim Wardle, 2018)
  • Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (David Slade, 2018)
  • Gangs of New York (Martin Scorsese, 2002)
  • Vice (Adam McKay, 2018)
  • Moneyball (Bennett Miller, 2011)
  • Hot Rod (Akiva Schaffer, 2007)
  • Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (Declan Lowney, 2013)
  • The Lego Movie 2 (Mike Mitchell, 2019)
  • Captain Marvel (Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, 2019)

There’s a scene in Vice that shows footage from the 2005 London Underground attacks. I saw the film at a full cinema in Central London. The silence and tension during that few seconds will haunt me to my grave.


Comics

  • Captain Marvel: Earth’s Mightiest Hero, Vol. 1 – DeConnick
  • East of West, Vol. 7 – Hickman/Dragotta
  • Captain Marvel: Earth’s Mightiest Hero, Vol. 2 – DeConnick
  • East of West, Vol. 8 – Hickman/Dragotta
  • Day of Vengeance – Willingham/Justiniano
  • The OMAC Project – Rucka/Saiz
  • Rann-Thanagar War – Gibbons/Reis
  • Villains United – Simone/Eaglesham
  • Infinite Crisis – Johns/Jimenez
  • Babyteeth, Vol. 1 – Cates/Brown
  • Prism Stalker, Vol. 1 – Leong
  • Captain Marvel: Earth’s Mightiest Hero, Vol. 3 – DeConnick
  • Ody-C, Vol. 1 – Fraction/Ward
  • Captain Marvel: Earth’s Mightiest Hero, Vol. 4 – DeConnick
  • Paper Girls, Vol. 1 – Vaughan/Chiang 5
  • The Ultimates, Vol. 1 – Hickman/Ribic
  • Cage! – Tartakovsky
  • X-Men Red, Vol. 1 – Taylor/Asrar
  • 52, Vol. 1 – Johns/Morrison/Rucka/Waid
  • Babyteeth, Vol. 2 – Cates/Brown
  • Paper Girls, Vol. 2 – Vaughan/Chang
  • Mister Miracle – King/Gerads
  • Ody-C, Vol. 2 – Fraction/Ward
  • 52, Vol. 2 – Johns/Morrison/Rucka/Waid
  • Paper Girls, Vol. 3 – Vaughan/Chang
  • The Wicked and the Divine, Vol. 8
  • Paper Girls, Vol. 4 – Vaughan/Chang

If 2019 has thought me one thing, it is probably the following. One of the joys of having a full-time job is the ability to buy comics regularly. By the same token, one of the most grounding realities of having a full-time job is how easily that hobby can become expensive, repetitive, and attritional. Either way, I’ve read a lot of good comics this year, and finally got around to stuff I’ve been putting off for ages, particularly in the DC universe, which I’m not as well versed in as Marvel. Of course, the most exciting stuff in comics isn’t necessarily superhero related – if done right, tv/movie adaptations of East of West, Wicked + The Divine, and Paper Girls would be phenomenons, but no matter if they’re not, the books are already ridiculously good. Image Comics are on a blinder.


Video Games

  • Spider-Man: Silver Lining (DLC)
  • Spyro the Dragon 120%
  • Spyro the Dragon: Ripto’s Revenge 100%
  • Sypro The Dragon: Year of the Dragon 117%
  • Dirt Rally (Achieved #1 championship)
  • Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
  • Tetris Effect
  • Rayman Legends
  • Saints Row IV
  • Sleeping Dogs
  • Uncharted

I had a mostly pretty good time with the Spyro Reignited Trilogy, though it was limited somewhat by some factors baked into the concept of remakes, some decisions that neutered the humour and character somewhat, and the obvious rush-job that resulted in two-thirds of the under-animated content not being included in the disc. I thought B-Mask did a pretty good job of covering the positives and negatives:

I will say this, though: The new design of Spyro is adorable and I want to hug him.

I nearly gave up on Witcher 3 several times due to how slow and laborious its opening few hours are, but I’m glad I stuck with it and regret that I rushed through the rest of the story without getting involved in the side quests, though there’s always the option of replaying it if I ever become unemployed or am bedridden for 6 months.

I am emphatically not a sports person, but I did always have a fondness for motorsport, and DIRT Rally pushed a lot of those buttons pretty effectively. It felt pretty damn good to win a championship given how difficult the game is designed to be, though I haven’t managed to be nearly as good at it since and the fact that I haven’t attempted with a different car or set up makes the achievement effectively moot.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s