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A while back I wrote an article about how The Secret of Kells told a medieval Irish story through the idiom of medieval Irish artwork, and how this acts as much more than an aesthetic exercise.Unfortunately, we haven’t seen much of that sort of historicized film-making in animation since then. Cartoon Saloon’s follow-ups Song of the Sea and The Breadwinner do not reconstruct their worlds in this way; the only other example I can think of in the years since is Studio Ghibli’s The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. Kaguya is in many ways even more impressive – Isao Takahata putting in a stupid amount of work to give the film the character of a traditional Japanese brushwork brought to life. And, see, I get it: approaching historical and cultural material this way requires a whole lot of careful attention to detail, especially because you’re tapping into a visual language that by necessity you need to teach your audience as you go along since its outside their lived experience. It is not easy to pull off and I’m sure there are examples I haven’t seen because they never gained the attention that would ensure I’d hear about them, or failed to connect to their source material.

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Martha Wells has a talent for crafting a perfect first paragraph.

I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites. It has been well over 35,000 hours or so since then, with still not much murdering, but probably, I don’t know, a little under 35,000 hours of movies, serials, books, plays, and music consumed. As a heartless killing machine, I was a terrible failure. (9)

That passage encapsulates the main character of All Systems Red (2017) far better than any summary I could give. (more…)

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Some points of interest from the past month: up this time are a novel, a webcomic, a cartoon.

All you need is…to take a break from video games

51djxql872l-_sx326_bo1204203200_I got Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s All You Need is Kill with the intention of writing a full review, but after breezing through this it just didn’t stir much in my brain. There little more to it than the core premise: a soldier in a future war gets the ability to loop back in time and is reborn to the same morning whenever he dies, eventually using what he learns to become an unstoppable seasoned combat savant. There is a level of personal horror inherent in this what if but Sakurazaka only touches on it lightly. The main inspiration for the novel, its main obsession, and its central metaphor is video games. That’s not a bad thing; the experience of playing video games has become an immense part of some peoples’ lives and shouldn’t be dismissed. But Sakurazaka mainly skims off the surface, and it becomes uncomfortable when he imports the culture of online multiplayer deathmatches as manifesting in both the behaviour of the Japanese soldiers and the main character’s relationship with the only other character of note, the “Full Metal Bitch.”

There are a few moments of meditation in the face of destruction and some melancholy pieces near the end, but in this (thankfully) short novel those end up drowned in the noise of combat as filtered through a flickering screen. (more…)

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What to say about The Traitor Baru Cormorant? Just before publication in 2015, it seemed like a concentrated effort to torpedo the book occurred over several prominent SFF review sites and blogs; then shortly after publication came all the counter-arguments and effusive praise, and then it abruptly dropped off my RSS feed. Now it’s three years on with its sequel set for publication in October, and I’ve finally read it.

Seth Dickinson creates a secondary world custom-built for postcolonial theory, or at least that’s how things appear in the first few chapters. The Masquerade, a Granbretanean-style maritime “imperial republic” modelled after the British Empire but where everyone wears masks because masks are cool, conquers Baru Cormorant’s homeland of Taranoke by using paper money. She’s picked up by their schools, educated, and goes out into the world as an imperial accountant in the far-off northern nation of Aurdwynn. (more…)

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On his blog Morphosis, Adam Roberts wrote about fantasy literature’s preoccupation with physical violence. His article covers a lot of ground, but I’m extrapolating on two small parts of it:

  1. How some fantasy (increasingly more of it) portrays killing others without compunction or emotional repercussions as heroic.
  2. How authors use the shock of physical and sexual violence as a shortcut to make the imagined world become relevant to the real one. The common reaction of “things just got real” to a text when the story takes a dark turn is probably the basest example of how the trick operates.

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Yet another jumble of notions for the month.

Comics

I’ve been burning my way through past episodes of The TradeWaiters, a podcast where a group of Canadian web comic artists get together to comic books. The hosts really get into the more technical aspects of draftsmanship, paneling, page and character design, colouring, and lettering, which have all helped deepen my appreciation for the mechanics of visual storytelling. I just don’t linger on the art when I’m reading comics, something I always feel is a bit of a disservice to the time and effort that goes into producing these works, since I can get through something that took years to create in a matter of hours. My thoughts on that are starting to change—the strength of comics is imparting a huge amount of narrative information in a small amount of space, and getting so much meaning at a glance is exactly what makes the medium uniquely powerful for storytelling when in the right hands. (more…)

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I read Spring Log II almost immediately after finishing Wolf and Parchment. Volume 19 of Spice and Wolf continues the gentler peak into the day-to-day life of a married couple that we saw in Spring Log I: another collection of short stories and novellas that run in more-or-less chronological order after a short flashback to an earlier time. Isuna Hasekura has come into his own with short fiction with these last two volumes, choosing character-focused pieces that explore close relationships and emotional states, quite the change from some of the clumsier offerings in the Side Colours volumes of the main Spice and Wolf series. Notably, a good chunk of this book comes comfortably from the wolf goddess Holo’s point of view rather than that of her husband Lawrence, a perspective largely absent from the novels in the series proper. (more…)

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