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Three Emmas

2020 seems to be the year of Emma. Early in the spring, we saw the release of a new film adaptation of the novel, the first since the Gwyneth Paltrow-starring one from 1996 (though there have been a few TV versions in the interim). Not long after, the world of pop culture conversation joined in a celebration of Amy Heckerling's Clueless, arguably the definitive screen adaptation of the novel, on the occasion of its twenty-fifth anniversary. And now in the fall, I've finally gotten around to reading Mahesh Rao's Polite Society, which like Clueless, retells the story of Emma in a modern setting, this time the enclaves of the super-rich, old money families of New Delhi. OK, so I'm cheating a bit with that last one. Rao's novel was actually published last year (and a year earlier than that in India). But the confluence of the three adaptations in my own personal cultural landscape has been an opportunity to revisit my feelings towards the original novel, which stands a…

The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox

"I think he gets everything from novels," Taryn explained to Berger.  
Berger was exasperated. "Everyone gets everything from novels."  New Zealand author Elizabeth Knox is a literary nomad. In a career that has spanned thirty years and nearly twenty novels, she has written historical romance (The Vintner's Luck, 1998), YA fantasy (Mortal Fire, 2013; The Dreamhunter Duet, 2005 & 2007), and Stephen King-esque horror (Wake, 2013). Her most recent novel, The Absolute Book, is at once a leveling up and an inevitable culmination of this wandering quality in Knox's career. It is, as its title suggests, a novel about books and their magic. But it is also a novel about stories and how they shape the world. The result has a bit of a magpie quality to it, dipping into different genres and story types, mixing various references and homages, often losing the thread of its story in cul-de-sacs and set-pieces that are more interesting than the whole that contains them.…

Review: The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez, at Strange Horizons

My review of Simon Jimenez's debut novel The Vanished Birdsappears today in Strange Horizons. This is a fantastic novel that hasn't really gotten the attention it deserves--perhaps because its title and artsy cover design obscured its meat-and-potatoes SF premise, which in turn may have alienated readers who picked it up expecting a straightforward literary novel. Whatever the reason, if you're a fan of smart, well-written, thought-provoking science fiction, you should absolutely pick up The Vanished Birds, which riffs off the space freighter found family premise (familiar to us from everything from Firefly to the novels of Becky Chambers) in several intriguing ways, and uses it to give readers a glimpse of how the logic of capitalism asserts itself in far-future, spacefaring civilization.The Vanished Birds both honors the space freighter premise and dismantles it—at one point, literally. Only part of the novel is set on a ship and among a crew, and by its end both feel ir…

The 2020 Hugo Awards: The Political Hugo

We are a week from the end of this year's Hugo voting period (a rather shortened window, though the nominees have been known since April, and the Hugo Voter Packet has been around since late May). With everything else going on in the world right now--and with Worldcon itself going virtual this year--it's easy to lose sight of the award. Who gets to take home a rocket (or, well, have it mailed to them) suddenly feels a lot less important, even for people like myself who have been following and obsessing about the award for years. And yet, I also feel as if 2020 offers Hugo voters the opportunity to make a statement. We are in the midst of a global pandemic, a wave of anti-racist protest, a blow to the world's economy (one whose full extent we are only beginning to comprehend), a reevaluation of our understanding of work, leisure, and education, and a challenge to long-accepted ideas on the role of government, policing, and social aid. It is, in short, a time of upheaval, ex…

In the Loop: Thoughts on Dark

The era of streaming TV is now about a decade old, and every now and then critics of the form will get to discussing whether it has produced any actual masterpieces. Has the different economic model, the ability to free artists from the constraints of a time slot and the demands of advertisers, resulted in an expansion of what TV is capable of, or have we simply been inundated with a flood of slickly-made good-but-not-great shows? This latter point is an accusation frequently lobbed at Netflix, still the dominant platform for streaming TV, with dozens of original series but, it often feels, very few that one can point at and call enduring, important art. Orange is the New Black, Unbelievable, Master of None, When They See Us... that seems like a fairly comprehensive list. 
When it comes to genre shows, the situation seems even more dire—if you're a fan of science fiction,  fantasy, or horror, has Netflix produced anything that might stay with you and become a touchstone of your cul…

Recent Reading Roundup 52

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This latest batch of books is a bit of a grab-bag, stuff I've read in the last few months that felt worth talking about. Not listed here, but discussed at Lawyers, Guns & Money: Lauren Wilkinson's American Spy, an espionage thriller about a black FBI agent recruited to spy on a left-wing African leader that overcame my skepticism towards its genre with its handling of an uncommon subject matter. Highly recommended. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo - I read two books by Evaristo a few years ago, and my reaction at the time was that she was an author ahead of the curve. We've seen a flowering of high profile books about the African and African diaspora experience in recent years, as publishers finally wake up to the financial viability of such works and start putting money and publicity muscle behind them. Evaristo's playful, quasi-experimental books—one a novel-in-verse, the other an alternate history—felt perfectly suited to the late teens, except that they…