|Joanne McNeil||Feb 4, 2019|
I just finished Shaun Prescott's The Town. What a novel. Full of riveting scenes and haunting characters. It is easy to get into, especially because it begins with several pages of one of the best depictions of what it is like to try (and fail at) writing a book. Then it doesn’t let up. It reminded me a lot of one of my favorite novels, Christopher Priest's The Affirmation. The vibe is somewhat Welcome to Nightvale meets First Reformed, but it works because the narration is very funny and then despairing in turns. It might be said that every book is about loneliness, but I haven't read a book about loneliness quite like this one.
It was published in Australia in 2017, then the UK last year, and I am curious to see whether it will find a wider audience when the US edition comes out. Reminiscent in a way of how Jeff VanderMeer's Annihilation read like a contemporary take on New Worlds-era sci-fi, in that The Town feels in tribute to Kafka and Abe but with a straightforward, contemporary voice. It’s my second favorite novel of 2019, after Milkman. They pair well together: similar undercurrents, but different approaches. If I could read a book as good as either each month for the rest of the year, everything else will all be worth it.
Researching space habitats and terraforming — long story — I stumbled upon a podcast with a title that might have put me off (Paper Boys) but the episode "Can We Terraform Mars?" was really great. The hosts — two grad students — "read the research papers behind headline science news and give you the details you can't get in the stories." It’s engaging because science, when communicated well, is engaging. There’s no "weird future" gloss or bazinga humor and considerable time is spent debunking science clickbait. I just barely understand what carbon dioxide is and I could follow along.
I love and feel puzzled by this poem [American Journal] by Robert Hayden about an alien visitor reporting on the habits of Americans. I suspect if I read it a dozen more times it will become one of my favorite things ever written. An excerpt:
What else did I like this week? ...well... Alita: Battle Angel.
I mean, I will like anything that plays like the Flesh Fair scene in AI but three times longer and with more exquisitely choreographed stunts. I feel like I could talk about the uncanny valley aspect for hours, which means I should probably *pitch a thing.* It's fun in the way that Mortal Engines was fun: imperfect, unabashedly campy, over-expository and reveling its own discrete little world. The script must be 300 pages long because every scene had so much exposition. I got lost even though I have read some of the Gunnm manga. Rosa Salazar, who plays Alita, is really good in what must have been a tricky performance to nail. Mahershala Ali is mostly wasted and Jennifer Connelly is totally wasted, except that she wears pretty couture dresses with zippers from collar to hem. There’s a real 90s vibe to this one — but not really intentional or nostalgic, which adds to its charm. Except for WETA, it plays like a long lost blockbuster from 1997 (there’s rollerblading, for one thing.) I wasn’t surprised to learn that James Cameron was working on the script about the time he did Dark Angel.
This week I was a guest on the Underfutures podcast with Madeline Ashby, Susan Cox-Smith, and Scott Smith. We talked about depictions of the future — from dystopia to “hopepunk” — in culture. Fun podcast and fun conversation!
Thanks for reading.