Welcome back to the Culture Reread! This week, Horza and company arrive at Schar’s World, where of course nothing is going to go as hoped, and they descend into the tunnels below the surface in search of the Mind. We also return to Fal N’Geestra, who has gone up a mountain in search of enlightenment.
Welcome back to the Culture reread! Apologies for having missed last week; it turns out that traveling and reread posting are not necessarily fully compatible. But we’re back on track now, approximately halfway through Consider Phlebas. This week, we finally learn exactly what Damage is. Horza catches up with Kraiklyn and rejoins the crew of the Clear Air Turbulence, and an acquaintance reappears.
Series: The Culture Reread
Welcome back to the Culture reread! Today in chapters 5 and 6 of Consider Phlebas, Kraiklyn continues to prove himself an absolutely terrible captain, another heist goes dreadfully wrong, and Horza is captured by a cult. This entire sequence is one of the most revolting things I’ve read in almost any book anywhere. Don’t read this section while you’re eating, and don’t count on having an appetite for a while after.
Series: The Culture Reread
Welcome to the Culture Reread! Today in chapters 3 and 4 of Consider Phlebas, Horza gets some new friends—well, one, anyway—and in our first “State of Play” break, we drop in on the Culture for a look at the war from their side.
As I write, I am currently reeling a little from the news that Amazon has decided to make Consider Phlebas into their own Altered Carbon, or something like that. Absent a showrunner or cast, I can’t really bring myself to be optimistic or pessimistic at this point, but I can think of a few ways that Amazon could really screw this up. On that subject Damien Walter has a post at Medium that I don’t disagree with. We’ll see.
Series: The Culture Reread
Welcome to the Culture Reread! Today is the first proper post of the series, and we’re off with the prologue and chapters 1 and 2 of Consider Phlebas.
Consider Phlebas, the first Culture novel that Banks completed and published, appeared in 1987. It takes place against the background of a long and destructive war between the Culture and the Idirans. The Culture, of course, is more or less human as we know it, post-scarcity, essentially socialist, and, until the war, largely thought of as a bunch of hedonistic pacifists; the Idirans are three-meter-tall tripedal beings bent on a war of religious conquest. At the time of Consider Phlebas, the war has been going on for four years, with enormous casualties on either side and no sign of surrender either way. One might expect this novel to be the story of some key conflict in the course of that war, something history-changing—whether that’s the case, well, we shall see.
Series: The Culture Reread
The last time I had anything of length to say about the Culture novels of Iain M. Banks, I remarked with regard to Consider Phlebas, Player of Games, Use of Weapons, and the novella The State of the Art that “one of these four works is, in my opinion, Banks’s finest; which one and why I think so is a matter for another, longer examination.” Well, the time has come for that longer examination and … I’m afraid you’ll have to wait a little while longer for the details. But I hope to make it worth your while.
Over the next several months (well in to 2019 and possibly beyond, if I’m honest, given a biweekly publishing schedule and novels that get increasingly doorstop-like as we progress), I’ll be making my way through the Culture novels, in order of publication. We’ll kick things off properly in two weeks, but before we begin, I thought I’d launch with a little background on the series and why I love it, and some remarks on how I’ll be going about this.
Series: The Culture Reread
I was all set to finish a piece on the characters who inhabit the world of Iain M. Banks’s Culture novels, the advanced space-humans and artificial intelligences that drive the novels with their struggles and adventures. I’ve gotten distracted from that original plan, though. For one thing, a bad case of news poisoning has endowed the following paragraph from Banks’s 1994 essay “A Few Notes on the Culture” with a lot more grim humor than they had around this time last year:
The market is a good example of evolution in action; the try-everything-and-see-what-works approach. This might provide a perfectly morally satisfactory resource-management system so long as there was absolutely no question of any sentient creature ever being treated purely as one of those resources. The market, for all its (profoundly inelegant) complexities, remains a crude and essentially blind system, and is—without the sort of drastic amendments liable to cripple the economic efficacy which is its greatest claimed asset—intrinsically incapable of distinguishing between simple non-use of matter resulting from processal superfluity and the acute, prolonged and wide-spread suffering of conscious beings.
This particular moment in history—when unfettered capitalism, oligarchy, and toxic forms of nationalism all too often tend to be the order of the day—is quite a time to be reading about a socialist post-scarcity interstellar civilization, and one can definitely be forgiven for approaching the novels in a spirit of escapism. But one can also find inspiration in the progressive and optimistic worldview that underpins Banks’s novels, which was neatly summarized by the man himself.
Series: Space Opera Week
Let’s face it: a lot of us are pretty weary of zombies by now. On those grounds it might be tempting to give The Girl With All the Gifts a miss. (In fact my spouse told me afterward that if he’d known in advance about the “Hungries,” as they’re called in the film, he would have never set foot in the theatre due to sheer exhaustion with the genre.) But if you did, you’d be missing out on a genuinely good take on zombie horror with a terrific protagonist.
I’m no veteran of film festivals—and indeed, I only started going to Austin’s Fantastic Fest last year. But if it ends up being the only film festival at which I’m a regular, I’m fine with that. It’s a “genre” festival, a term which encompasses high-profile fantasy like Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children (complete with Tim Burton on the festival red carpet), sensational (if not SFnal) art films like Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden, a surprise screening of M. Night Shyamalan’s SPLIT, and some magnificently disreputable midnight movie trash from all over the world. This year also featured horror short films presented as VR experiences, a “Satanic Panic Escape Room,” and the FF traditional evening of debates settled by fisticuffs at a local boxing gym.
And, yes, well, it happened over a month ago, didn’t it. You may be wondering why I’m only just now getting around to writing about more of the films I saw. Well, when Fantastic Fest 2016 kicked off, I was 37.5 weeks pregnant. The weekend after it ended—the weekend that I originally had planned to use to catch up on my reviews—the baby arrived a week ahead of schedule. So I’ve been a little busy since then.
It would probably take another month altogether to write complete reviews for every film that I saw, so for now I’m going to stick to a few specific highlights. I’ll start with Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, which opened the festival and which launches nationwide this weekend.
Let’s face it: a lot of us are pretty weary of zombies by now. On those grounds it might be tempting to give The Girl With All the Gifts—one of a handful of YA genre novel adaptations screening at this year’s Fantastic Fest—a miss. (In fact my spouse told me afterward that if he’d known in advance about the “Hungries”, as they’re called in the film, he would have never set foot in the theatre due to sheer exhaustion with the genre.) But if you did, you’d be missing out on a genuinely good take on zombie horror with a terrific protagonist.
Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children landed at Austin’s Fantastic Fest with an almighty splash. The Alamo Drafthouse has been gearing up for the release of this film with Septemburton, a celebration of Tim Burton’s work that includes special menu items, a Tim Burton issue of BirthMoviesDeath, and a slew of Burton programming. At the festival itself, each screening has been preceded by choice picks from the Burtonize This! contest (many of which have been uproariously funny, it must be said), and the day of the film’s screening was declared Keep Austin Peculiar Day—and Burton himself put in an appearance on the festival red carpet.
It’s quite a lot of froofraw, and there was a certain amount of high expectation going in. After all, the fit between Burton’s filmic sensibilities and the Gothic eeriness of Ransom Riggs’s bestselling novel and its sequels is one of the most natural imaginable. And for the most part, the movie delivers on its potential, save for a a third act that is overwhelmed by the sheer weight of CGI flash.
This article originally published September 11, 2015.
Cyberpunk may have been one of the 1980s’ most quintessential subgenre-movement-phenomena, and it also may have been one of the quickest to descend into self-parody. It was easy to get hung up on the aesthetics—chrome, casual violence, neon reflected in dirty puddles, mirrored sunglasses, neo-Orientalist imagery driven by fears of a economically dominant Japan—while only superficially engaging with the deeper themes of the technology-driven, corporation-dominated near-futures portrayed therein.
Then the Internet age proceeded to co-opt the vocabulary of cyberpunk, much as the world of espionage absorbed the lingo of John le Carré’s fictional spies. Brief resurgences via The Matrix and Snow Crash (which is more satirical than some people realize) notwithstanding, cyberpunk now seems like a quaint retro-future at best, and entirely moribund at worst.
Series: Cyberpunk Week on Tor.com
Electronic eyes, hologram-producing implants, haptic tattoos—these are all examples of body modification that you’ll find throughout cyberpunk fiction. When you learn about artists Neil Harbisson and Moon Ribas and the modifications that they have developed and incorporated into their own bodies, you might be tempted to think of them as science fiction characters, but they’re quite real, down-to-earth, and dedicated to the use of cybernetic implants as a means of expanding the senses and the human experience of the world, a unique intersection of art and technology. They are the co-founders of the Cyborg Foundation, and in May they brought their art to Moogfest, where I had a chance to talk to them about aesthetics and cyborgism.
Series: Cyberpunk Week on Tor.com
Moogfest began as a one-day music festival celebrating both Robert Moog and electronic music in general. Over the last decade, it has grown into a multi-day symposium/festival with a scope that goes well beyond music and the circuit-driven gear that is used to make it. The daytime programming now includes discussions about transhumanism, cyborgs, race, and gender—and this year, the Afrofuturism programming track included a conversation with musician Janelle Monae and screenwriter Allison Schroeder, moderated by Kimberly Drew, who is Associate Online Community Producer at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Their conversation was billed as “Women and Afrofuturism”, but much of the discussion centered on the forthcoming film Hidden Figures, written by Schroeder and starring Monae, Taraji P. Henson, and Octavia Spencer. The film is a look at a little-known piece of space exploration history: the African-American women who worked for NASA during the Gemini and Apollo missions. In telling this story from the past, Schroeder, Monae, and the rest of the film’s team find a way forward; by revealing this untold story of women of color, they want to demonstrate the possibilities for others, whether in art, science, or both.
This review was originally published in October 2015, shortly after the film’s U.S. premiere at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas. High-Rise releases nation-wide today.
I was predisposed to like High-Rise, given my admiration for J.G. Ballard’s fiction and Ben Wheatley’s films. Wheatley is a Fantastic Fest favorite; his previous films Down Terrace, Kill List, Sightseers, and A Field in England all had their US premieres there in previous years, so it’s no surprise that High-Rise was one of the hot tickets for this year’s festival.
Advance word out of TIFF was fairly polarized, and reactions at Fantastic Fest were similarly split. High-Rise is not to all tastes. Overly literal minds will spend too much time wondering why Laing doesn’t just leave the high-rise and go to Tesco instead of doing the notorious thing that he does for food in the opening scene. Some may be slightly disappointed by the fact that it is what they envisioned when they heard “Ben Wheatley is directing an adaptation of High-Rise” and thus lacks some surprise. However, the film largely succeeds—Ben Wheatley and screenwriter/co-editor Amy Jump have created a visually striking, splendidly acted adaptation that accurately captures the sardonic humour and the gimlet observations of human behaviour of Ballard’s novel.
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