Lightning in a Bottle, an unfilmable story.
Last year, after a decade of speculation, failed starts and mountains of expectation, Peter Jackson released The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first in a trilogy of films adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy novel, The Hobbit, for the big screen. Following in the footsteps of its bigger brother, Jackson’s adaptation of Lord of the Rings, a modern film classic in its own right, The Hobbit was almost destined to disappoint. With his first trilogy, Jackson captured lightning in a bottle. He took the movie industry by storm, and revitalized mainstream excitement for fantasy to a level not seen since the ’80s. He did so, somehow, by executing an enormous passion project that seemed almost impossible under the circumstances: no major stars, a production and special effects company that no one had heard of, a story deemed unfilmable by many fans, and a film industry that had not seen anything of its scale since Lucas’ Star Wars (which, in itself, faced many challenges and doubters before it found success.)
When Jackson first approached New Line Cinema, he pitched them on an adaptation of The Hobbit, with a two-film adaptation of Lord of the Rings to follow. As these things go, film rights to The Hobbit were split between two companies (which would again later impede production of The Hobbit trilogy we know today), while Lord of the Rings was entirely under the umbrella of New Line Cinema’s owner, Saul Zaentz. Jackson, a relative unknown in the world of big budget Hollywood films, was given the reigns to one of the most revered entertainment properties in the world. Continue reading
Best of '13 — My Favourite Books by Women
Note: This article was originally published as part of Smugglivus, a year-end celebration of all things books over at The Book Smugglers. Check out the rest of the fun!
To begin the year, I set myself a challenge: read a perfect split balance of male:female authors in 2013. It was a personal challenge, and I asked no one else to follow along with me. This challenge had two purposes. The first was to provide more exposure for female fantasy and science fiction writers. The second was to expand my own tastes, to discover new authors. As 2013 winds down, I consider this challenge a success, but it wasn’t without some controversy.
In particular, the comments thread generated some salty discussion about my challenge and the idea of ‘quotas’ playing against the natural interests of a reader/critic. I read a lot of the same arguments, mostly about being ‘genderblind’, that I had once made. These arguments are so easy to fall back on, a safety net to avoid falling into blame. At first, I was quick to respond the same way, “I just read what I want to read, and ignore the gender of the author completely.” Well and true, maybe, but I started to recognize that, despite these excuses, there was a large bias (about one to three, female to male) in my reading habits. I began to ask myself why. I still don’t have an answer, but I did recognize that a conscious course correction was something I could be proactive about without needing an answer right away. Continue reading
The Violent Century
Release Date: 20131024
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Lavie Tidhar’s The Violent Century has done for World War II what The Watchmen did for the Cold War (and should have done for the Vietnam War). I make that comparison not because both feature humans with superpowers, but because they offer an opportunity to look at real events through a hyperbolic layer. Tidhar, like Alan Moore, is interrogating real events with the speculative fiction toolkit, looking not at how it happened historically, but at what about the human condition allowed it. The result, in Violent Century’s case isn’t just a great piece of superhero fiction, but a beautiful novel of cultural and literary merit.
[The Violent Century] is the kind of stilted romance built on repressed feelings and unspoken connections.
The jacket copy of the novel reads, “Fogg and Oblivion must face up a past of terrible war and unacknowledged heroism to answer one last, impossible question: what makes a hero” I’m loathe to sum it up so simply. While there are some notions of heroism throughout the novel, the quote describes what a fan reckons a superhero novel ought to be without a sense of the novel’s real themes. In the end, The Violent Century is a love story. Not a tale of heroism or social commentary, although it is those things too, Tidhar’s novel is the kind of stilted romance built on repressed feelings and unspoken connections.
For seventy years Oblivion and Fogg have guarded the British Empire with their abilities as arms of the opaque Retirement Bureau. Divided by a secret from decades past the pair is called back to answer for their actions. Fogg is a child of neglect, exploited for his ability, and asked to do things he finds incongruent with his morality. Oblivion, meanwhile, is more of a cipher, a mystery to solve. There’s also a woman named Klara who sits at the root of the conflict between the novel’s main characters and at the root of how Tidhar’s world is changed from our own. Continue reading
One Small Step: An Anthology of Discoveries
Release Date: 20130522
Publisher: FableCroft Publishing
Crafting an anthology is a bit like making a good playlist: it’s not just the selection of pieces that matters, but whether they suit the overall mood and the way they fit together. I’ve also found – though this might just be a personal preference – that anthologies with a too-specific theme tend to fall flat, the individual stories bleeding together into a single, monotone whole. Particularly if the intention is to showcase a trope-heavy subgenre, like dystopian romance, I frequently find myself losing interest: even if most of the offerings are engaging and original, seeing the same devices used and reused in such close proximity wears me out, and once I’ve reached my saturation point, I find it hard to continue. Continue reading
Release Date: 20131001
Publisher: Orbit Books
On a rural, backwater ice planet, the individual known as Breq is searching for a weapon that shouldn’t exist when her quest yields an unexpected find: Seivarden, a former lieutenant aboard the Radchaai ship Justice of Toren, dying alone in the snow. But Seivarden ought to have been dead for centuries – and Breq should know, as she used to be Justice of Toren, a powerful AI controlling not only a warship, but thousands of once-human ancillary bodies repurposed as Radchaai soldiers. Now, confined to just one body, Breq has a single plan: to take her vengeance on Anaander Mianaai, the many-bodied leader of the Imperial Radch. But when she takes Seivarden under her wing, the decision proves to have dangerous consequences for both of them: for Seivarden is an addict, untrustworthy and desperate, and Breq is pitting herself against the most powerful person in the galaxy.
Sometimes, books sneak up on you. They’re like papery leopards lurking in the darkness, unseen and unheard, until – WHAM! Suddenly you’re pinned to the lounge beneath several hundred pages’ worth of sleek, muscular prose gloved in velvet plotting and set off by a hypnotic, staring premise. This is what happened to me with Ancillary Justice, a book I bought – rather oddly, in hindsight – after seeing it given a rare double ten out of ten by The Book Smugglers, but without having actually read the review itself, meaning that I came to it with an expectation of quality, but lacking any notion of what it was actually about. Continue reading