Here’s some quick reviews for this week:
Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer. This book was kindly loaned to me by my brother-in-law. Watched the movie with Natalie Portman and it was easily one of the most gross and disturbing movies I have ever seen – and I have seen an embarrassing amount of movies. Still, something about the story intrigued me and I wanted to try the book.
The story follows a group of women scientists of different types, all of whom remain nameless, as they make up an 11th? 12th? (I can’t remember, and it doesn’t really matter) expedition into an unknown alien area that resembles Florida. From the start, it’s clear that they have been told nothing that would actually help them figure out what’s going on in this strange environment, and it’s never clear why. Because the main character is a biologist, a lot of focus is put on the natural world, and it’s refreshing to follow a sci-fi story that not a fantasy set in space, or a drama with science-y surroundings, or, really, that’s it’s just not set in space. Annihilation is a book I would call true science fiction, and had me thinking of Day of the Triffids for some reason, another story I would put clearly in science fiction.
Thankfully, the book is much less gruesome than the movie, though just as unsettling as we follow the biologist whilst she morphs into something other than human. An alien? I have no idea, but it is the first book in a trilogy called The Southern Reach, so maybe the other two books explain more about what’s going on. Much like the biologist grew up studying tide pools, her story, too, is something of a tide pool study. The reader is reading a narrative of her observing herself in this new environment. Unfortunately, observation does not equal explanation or lead to the truth of what is happening in this land beyond a border that may or may not exist. Some parts seem it may be simply a journey of her mind, others indicate an alien takeover slowly creeping over the world. That her observations give little answers to, well, anything, was not lost on me. Can this be a criticism of “science” as a whole? The answers that we’ve come up with in observing our world, are they something scientists simply make up? Are our stories of what’s going on on our planet actually true? If we think about it, we can probably remember times when we saw something–a frown, or an argument, or what have you, assumed what was going on, and later, in talking with the people or simply gaining more information, we found that the conclusions we jumped to were incorrect. Observation on its own, was simply not enough. Food for thought.
Silver Spoon by Hiromu Arakawa. I am not obsessed with Japan or Japanese culture—really! I just have, and have always had, friends who are, mostly Millennials. Sometimes I ask myself: Why are so many Millennials obsessed with Japanese stuff? Anime, Manga, the food, the everything? The planners? Ok, don’t get me started on more planning stuff! And then I remember, oh, yeah, there’s plenty of Gen X-ers obsessed with Japan, too. The blame surely falls on Pokemon, somehow, and I have no doubt that a large portion of Generation Z, too, will have the love of all things Japanese. Me, I’m more fond of China, mostly because I lived there, and I like S. Korean drams, but I’m not sure I could breathe in their culture. Same with Japan. But I’ve never been to either country, so it’s really hard to say for sure. Anyway, the point is, Japan is following me, I am not following it.
This was my first time really trying to read a Manga book, or Japanese comic book. I have seen several of the more popular Anime movies in the past decade, so am a bit familiar with how Japanese storytellers tell their stories. And it’s still always so unexpected. At first, I was really dizzy and cross-eyed from trying to read book one of Silver Spoon. Being left-handed, you’d think reading a book from R to L instead of L to R would be easy. Nope. And after having finished the book, it still feels awkward, but I’m really glad I pushed on and read the whole thing.
Silver Spoon is hilarious! It’s about a boy named Yuugo Hachiken who decides to go to an Agricultural high school, thinking it will be easy. Boy, is he ever wrong. As a mostly city person myself, I found I shared some of his freakouts about this strange world of land and farm. In thinking that technology has solved everything, we city people so often forget just how hard and long that the people who run farms and grow the food actually work. People who don’t read Manga, or graphic novels, or even comics often forget that they aren’t all about super heroes and they are not all for kids. Like novels, the genre does offer quite a variety if you know where to look, and if you have a friend who’s obsessed with Japan, they will know just where to direct you. [As an aside, the Japanese anime Weathering with You is awesome. I haven’t written a review of it because I want to see it again before doing so, but have no idea when that will be.]
The Hour. Although I really love the actors in this BBC drama, especially Ben Whishaw (Perfume: The Story of a Murder), and Romola Garai (best Emma ever!), I just couldn’t get into this series. One episode away from finishing season one, or series one, I found I was bored to tears. The plot wasn’t really moving, and the characters had flatlined. Part of it, is the increasing problem with most stories, whether books or movies put out nowadays: Censorship. Not the censorship of old keeping smut off the screen or foul language at bay, no, this new forced “wokeness” that everyone has to conform to actually involves putting smut and bad language on because the stories need to be “real” or something. Stories are never just stories anymore. Characters and storylines must wear their diversity and sex views on their sleeves. These days, one could almost be forgiven in thinking that the only oppressive societies out there must be “right wing,” for that’s so often all the current censorship allows. And The Hour wasn’t even that egregious with the political correctness stuff, either.
The show’s focus was entirely off, spending way too much time on a mundane storyline of infidelity. Ben Whishaw’s rather smart but gamma character does chase after an interesting murder mystery, but it’s so often not at all connected to the producing of this show, The Hour, which is what the series is supposed to be about. It’s also laughable to see how these characters pretend they are standing up to their government telling them what to produce. That is a grand lie that journalists have been telling for decades. I can forgive the writers a little in this one, because it was made in 2011-2012, long before the idea of “fake news” became a thing. Nowadays, it’s hilarious to suggest that any journalist working for any major news organization is doing any free thinking. And they never mean truly free thinking: these supposed wild cards on TV or in movies only spout the same views, whatever current version of political correctness gets one the most virtual signal points. Bo-oring! It was amusing to see the very easily led Bel Rowley (Garai), who clearly is at sea without her smart friend Freddie (Whishaw), be appalled, so, so appalled that she was hired as producer because the big bosses think women are “easily led.” Actually, that part was pretty good. I think the writers were letting some truth into their series, there. Maybe they just weren’t woke enough at the time. Or maybe they were, and now they’re broke? Ha, stupid joke. Maybe The Hour got better in series two, but I doubt it.