Hench

When the temp agency called, I was struggling to make the math work.

Hench, Natalie Zina Walschots, Harper Collins 2020

Well, this was much more fun and smarter than expected (I feel like I open a lot of posts with that sentence). The summary didn’t particularly help in telling me what to expect – it skipped on the entire science fiction-element – making me think that the main character was going to do the administration for some kind of mob boss.

Nay, she does so for a super villain, and she’s good at it. Because there’s plenty of math and paper work to be done in a world where superheroes don’t mind collateral damage, human or otherwise.

Shenanigans (violent and otherwise) follow while our protagonist has insights about what’s good, what’s evil and how power should come with responsibility but those in power often neglect that tidbit. It’s also just silly fun about life as a henchperson. I was slightly worried about the ending because both possible routes felt unsatisfactorily, but Walschots pulled that off nicely as well. I love it when it story comes together as neatly as this one.

Bumblebee

114 min.

I wrote ‘Hailee Steinfeld surprised me again’ in a review, fully believing that I had already reviewed this film and therefore could connect to it. Reader, I didn’t. Maybe because I was too surprised about liking a Transformers-film? I can hear my brothers sneering that “robots aren’t so dumb after all, eh?”. Anyway, this is a review for the film Bumblebee.

I can still remember the director of this mentioning how this would be an origins-film with heart, similar to The Iron Giant. I can remember because I scoffed at that, loudly. After Michael Bay’s nonsense with endless fight scenes, explosions and jokes about primary and secondary sexual body parts, the bar was below the floor. Try not to have your Transformer sound like a black rapper-cliché first before saying such things, director (they’re two different people, Michael wasn’t involved in this one). Not pestered by nostalgia, I was ready to watch this film with half an eye and still complain the entire way (I’m sure sometimes we pick films/series that can be followed with just half of our interest).

Except for the first couple of minutes, there’s very few robots in this, and because of certain reasons the main one can’t even talk. That’s one point in their favour. Next is – I will absolutely admit it – the fact that Bumblebee is quite adorable and main character Charlie (Steinfeld) really plays well off him. There’s so many charming moments that this could be called a “boy and his dog”-film, instead of it being Actiony Adventure (capitals essential). Bumblebee (not his first name, by the way) is on the run, Charlie is feeling alone and misunderstood, of course they find each other.

Another plus in my book is that there’s room for development of their relationship. Not just a five minute montage to quickly move on to fighting robots and exploding buildings – we get a glimpse at Charlie’s motivations and what’s going on with Bumblebee. Wow.

The run length completes my compliment-trifecta (not going to read back to see if I have three compliments): yes, it’s almost two hours, but you don’t notice because aforementioned room for development. I would have zoned out by number three of six action scenes in a row, but now I didn’t even want to pause for a bathroom break. This film had me.

And yes, just like The Iron Giant, it also made me cry at the end.

Conservation of Shadows

It is not true that the dead cannot be folded.

Conservation of Shadows, Yoon Ha Lee, Prime Books 2020

Now that’s what I call fantasy. Or scifi. Maybe both. Either way, there is fantasy and there is science (fiction) and it’s mind boggling, eerie and beautiful (not just for linguistic and/or math enthusiasts either). Eat that, tropes.

Conservation of Shadows is a collection of (short) stories previously published by the author. It’s about colonialism, wars, music, writing, reincarnation or maybe only death.

Especially the first five – six stories tickled my imagination, but even when you get used to Lee’s style and subject choice the originality stays with you.

My only complaints are that some stories deserve entire novels and that – for an e-book – it’s almost too much, too dense. Experience this relic from a future time through paper, I’d advice.

Frankissstein

Lake Geneva, 1816

Reality is water-soluble.

Now, what to think and say about this one? Unlike The Body in Question, I’m struggling because I’m thinking too much about this story. It’s bewildering, it’s scary, it’s also kind of soothing with showing you how humans and their ideas about identity, life and death have always been around and probably forever will be (in whatever shape).

This isn’t a retelling of Frankenstein, or maybe partly, or maybe only inspired by it. Mary Shelley gets a plot, so does Ry and Victor Stein. There’s layers and century-deep connections, but never in a Gotcha!-way.

Winterson surprised me with a memoir I liked (which doesn’t happen often, as recently mentioned), but I didn’t know what to expect with a novel of hers. After Frankissstein, I still don’t. I find it hard to believe that she could write something like this again, if it’s even a ‘this’.

I’d recommend this novel to everyone who allows themselves to be taken along for a ride. I’d also recommend it because I still don’t know how to place this story and would love to pick other people’s brains. While still in their heads, of course.

Frankissstein, Jeanette Winterson, Jonathan Cape London 2019

Nothing to See Here

In the late spring of 1995, just a few weeks after I’d turned twenty-eight, I got a letter from my friend Madison Roberts.

I don’t mind unlikable protagonists, but in this case I very much wondered if the dislike was from knowing that a male author was writing a female character, that this female character just was too spineless, or that I just can’t handle aggressive passivity. Maybe all of the above. This, combined with the shortness of this novel, made my final amount of stars (the ones I don’t use) end up much lower than I expected when I read the summary of Nothing to See Here.

What is that summary, you ask? Well – screw up is asked to nanny two children that start burning at random moments. Bodies turning into flames without the kids hurting in any way. She is asked this by an old acquaintance she herself calls a friend and it all has to be on the down-low because the children are a politician’s.

This could have turned into scientific sci-fi, something with (a whiff off) magic realism or have this fire turn into something metaphorical, and make the entire story a commentary on class and the gap between haves and have-nots. Instead, there’s just ..situations. If Kevin Wilson solely wanted to communicate how sabotaging poverty and being directionless is, he succeeded. If he wanted me curious about his characters and the world they move around in – not so much.

Nothing to see here, Kevin Wilson, Ecco 2019

Niemand vertelt je hier ooit wat

Ze gaan me opereren vandaag.

Het was een situatie waarin vijf sterren een realiteit waren, en die situatie maak ik niet vaak mee als veel-lezende zeur en extra kritisch persoon op Nederlandse auteurs. Maar verdorie: Erik Nieuwenhuis was mijn intense hekel aan open eindes vergeten. Lap, het boek had zelfs langer gemogen wat mij betreft!

Spoiler. Misschien is het niet eens een echt open einde, het verhaal kan best als afgesloten beschouwd worden. Maar er gebeuren vreemde dingen in het verzorgtehuis waarvan Michiel zich niet eens kan herinneren hoe hij er is gekomen en waarom hij er is. En er wordt steeds meer lucht gepompt in de ballon van ‘WAT DAN?’ maar de ballon ontploft maar niet.

Mensen die wel beter los kunnen laten, of het niet erg vinden om zelf de gaten in te vullen, zullen zeker genieten van het lachwekkende want langzaam in unheimlich verandert.

Is dit nu al het tweede Nederlandse boek dit jaar waar ik positief over ben?

Niemand vertelt je hier ooit wat, Erik Nieuwenhuis, Brooklyn 2019

Russian Doll

8 x 26 min.

In the case of some shows you feel bad about not experiencing at the same time others did it. With some, the experience is just enhanced by going “Ooooh sh-!” to someone else.

Russian Doll posterAnd there’s plenty of moments like that in this TV-show about a woman who just keeps dying and doesn’t know why and can’t get out of this Groundhog day-situation. It being a woman played and written by Natasha Lyonne (you might remember her from Orange is the New Black) this groundhog is more like Final Destination when it comes to dying creatively.

With less than thirty minutes of runtime and eight episodes there’s not enough room for this element to get old: there’s just enough glimmers of clues to feel like you’re onto something just a bit before Nadia does.

The one con is that there’s going to be a second season: this could have been resolved, even in a possibly unsatisfying way in the last two episodes – easily. Now there’s the risk of things becoming stale.

Although Nadia’s back-to-life soundtrack might just be good enough to prevent that.

Russian Doll, Netflix 2019

Trail of Lightning

The monster has been here.

More Charlaine Harris (True Blood and the like) than Eden Robinson, but you can’t always win,and at least I was entertained. Maybe I should have known better when discovering that there had been criticisms about this novel, but I very much enjoy the stories of indigenous people, so I was willing to risk it. On the other side, how could I have known if the author was doing something right or wrong with the very little I know about (North-American) indigenous people?

Anyway, hindsight is 20-20 and it wasn’t her representation of the Navajo – wrongfully or otherwise – that bothered me about this novel. It’s the characters, specifically the main character.

I understand that you’re a pretty tortured soul when you’ve gone through what Maggie has gone through and is still going through, but when it only leads to moping and lamenting – all the goodwill evaporates quickly. There are other characters that are more exciting, I would have loved to learn more about the world this plays out in, but instead I get ponderings-while-looking-in-the-mirror. If there would have been more sex and blood, I would have called this a Laurell K. Hamilton.

Coming down largely on the side of ‘meh’, you can skip this one for your dystopian, sci-fi and or not-just-white story needs.

Trail of Lightning, Rebecca Roanhorse, Simon & Schuster 2018

I Am Mother

113 min.

When you first critique lands about ten minutes in, it’s hard to not view a film without bias. Why is everyone involved white, even the people in the ‘old-timey’ videos the main character views?

I Am Mother posterThen there’s the non-nuanced use of the soundtrack. A good soundtrack builds upon the scene, sharpens the emotions you are already feeling. In this case we got THINGS ARE SCARY pressed upon you while things weren’t all that scary. Or emotional. And lights flickering with no reason don’t mean that we’re worried either, just that we want an explanation about wiring suddenly being faulty when we’re looking for someone.

Is there anything nice to be said about this film? Not really – maybe that with small tweaks it could at least be a commentary on sovereign AI and its relationship with humanity, but that’s been done before – and better – as well. Even the explanation of the things happening is extremely unclear – did I nod off somewhere along the almost two hour ride?

So all in all, it’s just not much of anything. If someone’s mid-parting is the thing I’m irked about most, it doesn’t say any good about the plot. You can’t replace it with music bits either, nor flickering lights.

Good thing about all this is that at least it’s an utterly disbelieving dystopia: more sensible humans would have given up before any AI could get involved.

I Am Mother, Netflix 2019

 

An Ocean of Minutes

People wishing to time travel go to Houston Intercontinental Airport.

Is dystopia less scary to me when it happens in the past? For someone that doesn’t like dystopian stories, this is the second one I read in two months.

This time it’s an epidemic and time travel that gets us where we end up; although – we end up in the past. The protagonist is sent into the future from the eighties, and ends up in 1998. Oof, isn’t that an awful long time ago?

Of course, because that’s how it goes, things go quite awry, and Polly has to adjust not just to a new time, but to new surroundings and societal rules. This being a dystopian story – things didn’t improve.

The twist of this story – it masquerading as a love and time travel story, while it really isn’t – is also the most appealing feature of it. Besides that it’s too muted, lamenting and passive to feel anything but a tinge of relief of having finished this.

An Ocean of Minutes, Thea Lim, Penguin Random House 2018