20 Books of Summer is an annual reading extravaganza hosted by Cathy at 746 Books. Now, you might have noticed that I just wrote “20 Books of Summer” but the graphic above reads “10 Books of Summer.” That’s because there are options for us slow and/or indecisive readers. I have a plan, mostly, and it should result in me reading at least 10 books cover to cover between June 1st and September 1st. (Finished Books of Summer are denoted with the ✅.)So, What’s the Plan, Stan? (Read More)
Runtime: 1h 57m
Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt
“You are my lucky star. You… Lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky.”
Initial: A rewatch, though I’ve probably only seen Alien once or twice in the past. I’ve seen Alien³ more often.
What Did I Think:
A couple of observations:
I feel like Alien has gained such a reputation as a horror film that it’s thought of disconnected from the science fiction genre. Given the trailer above, that is what they were going for in the marketing in the first place, but first half of the movie does contain many of the “grandeur of space” scenes that I often associate late 1970s science fiction. You can find the same sweeping shots of stars, moons, and planetscapes, accompanied by an appropriately majestic musical score, in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and StarTrek: The Motion Picture (1979).
James Cameron does such a good job playing off of small details in the sequel, Aliens. Aliens is such a different movie in style, but it’s the little details that keep the two in the same universe: lighting choices, background sounds, cornbread, suspicious artificial humans… I think I mentioned a similar thing when looking at The Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2 (1991). The audience knows these details, even if they’re not necessarily things that stick out.
Army of the Dead
Runtime: 2h 28m
Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: Zack Snyder, Shay Hatten, Joby Harold
Stars: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Ana de la Reguera
“Somewhere between leaving your ass and saving my own, I developed a conscience. It’s exhausting.”
Initial: After watching Peninsula (2020) last month, I figured I should watch the other heist zombie movie.
Production Notes: (Spoiler-ish) Everyone probably knows this by now but… Late in production, allegations of sexual misconduct where brought against Chris D’Elia, who had already filmed his scenes. He was digitally replaced *in the entire movie* with actress Tig Notaro, who was filmed in front of a green screen. The replacement ends up being a little awkward in places, mainly because Notaro has a different energy than the rest of the cast in certain scenes. It would have been fun to have seen her as actually part of the cast.
What Did I Think:
I am not a fan of Zack Snyder. I really haven’t ever forgiven him for making the Persians into deviants in 300 (2007). (You don’t read Xenophon as an undergraduate without having opinions about the ancient Persians.) He over-burdens his films. We can’t have Superman without Supes being a conflicted alien, and we can’t have a heist zombie film without it also being about quarantines and confinement camps.
(Seriously, what’s the deal with the quarantine camp? It’s been long enough since the Las Vegas outbreak for Dave Bautista to be given a medal of honor and then go back to being a short-order cook (and for his daughter to grow up?). Shouldn’t all of these former Las Vegans be relocated?)
And the zombies have to be more than zombies. Which I don’t think are as scary as force-of-nature zombies, really. In Peninsula, the zombies are an obstacle, but an obstacle that can be manipulated. Peninsula‘s story does come down to being “man is worse than zombies,” but also that man can help their fellow man. There is an aspect of fun and hope to Peninsula that is (not surprisingly) absent from Army of the Dead.
This film is about an hour longer than it needed to be, but I do give Snyder props for making it with a budget of $70M–90M.
Getting Back to It
Before yesterday, the last time I played ultimate frisbee was March 10, 2020. It was a Tuesday night league game. At the start of the game, it was drizzling, but not windy. The fields were soft, but not muddy. The rain got heavier and for the sake of the grass (something to be appreciated in the Phoenix area), we called the game off with a score of 8–8. Surprisingly, the rain continued on and off for the next couple of days. I cancelled my Wednesday and Friday pickup games and Thursday night’s league games were cancelled too.
And by the next week, COVID happened. I could have probably run my pickup game for a week or two longer. People were willing to play, but no one quite knew what was going on or how big the risks were. And I am not a risk-taker. Not when it comes to other people’s health anyway.
Happily this week, I restarted the WLDisc pickup game. Not coincidentally, I’m two weeks post-vaccine as of Tuesday. Since the game is a fairly closed group, I’ve also requested that everyone be vaccinated. I want the game to be safe and to be relatively worry-free.
I’m not sure I could have planned such an utterly different game than that one in March 2020. Clear skies, hot sun. It was probably around 95F. We played four-on-four, mostly, on a smaller field. And it was great. I had missed it, but also it wasn’t hard to be relaxed in that normal activity. Other than going to a store, it was the most people I had been around in over a year too.
And hopefully I’ll do it again tomorrow.
Bout of Books 31 Wrap-up
Last week was actually kind of stressful, despite my optimistic Monday attitude. I had a goal of reading 700 pages for BoB and ended up reading 648 pgs. Considering I got into a big don’t-feel-like-reading mood around Thursday, that’s pretty good.
- I finished reading A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark (and reviewed it!). I’ll say it again, I definitely recommend it.
- I also finished Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg. It’s her follow-up to Writing Down the Bones. I’ve been reading a chapter or so of a writing-related book every morning for a while now.
- I made a good start on Mosses from an Old Manse by Nathaniel Hawthorne and read a couple other short stories as well.
An advanced reading copy of A Master of Djinn was provided to me by Macmillan-Tor/Forge via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark
Cairo, 1912: Though Fatma el-Sha’arawi is the youngest woman working for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, she’s certainly not a rookie, especially after preventing the destruction of the universe last summer.
So when someone murders a secret brotherhood dedicated to one of the most famous men in history, al-Jahiz, Agent Fatma is called onto the case. Al-Jahiz transformed the world 50 years ago when he opened up the veil between the magical and mundane realms, before vanishing into the unknown. This murderer claims to be al-Jahiz, returned to condemn the modern age for its social oppressions. His dangerous magical abilities instigate unrest in the streets of Cairo that threaten to spill over onto the global stage.
Alongside her Ministry colleagues and her clever girlfriend Siti, Agent Fatma must unravel the mystery behind this imposter to restore peace to the city—or face the possibility he could be exactly who he seems…Summary via Goodreads
When I reviewed The Haunting of Tram Car 015 last year, I stated that I would definitely be willing to spend more time in Clark’s supernatural/steampunk Cairo. I didn’t realize at the time that a novel was forthcoming!
A Master of Djinn scores high in my three fields of “what makes enjoyable fiction according to Katherine”: setting, characters, and plot.
Obviously, I think very highly of the setting. I love the notion of steampunk, but I think it requires a light touch, especially when magic is also involved. Perhaps 1912 is a little late to be honest-to-goodness steampunk. We have, I suppose, entered the “cog age” by then. The magical elements end up giving the era a technological boost. I’m also a fan of mythical entities that don’t get a lot of play like djinn. (This is what led me to Clark’s fiction in the first place.)
Agent Fatma is possibly one of my favorite characters in fiction. She’s smart, tough, and has a very particular fashion sense. She’s also not perfect and knows when to ask for help, which is kind of important for an investigator. The supporting cast of character are fun and competent but also have their flaws.
The plot is a solid police procedural, though one with trips to djinn-run libraries and interviews with deity-touch informants. There are a few twist and turns (one of which I saw coming) and the conclusion is much bigger than the inciting incident, which is fine. There are of course themes of Fatma being a woman in a man’s world, though for the most part she’s proven herself. More vital to the plot is the casual hypocrisy that happens when an institution says “we’ve hired *a* woman; we’re progressive now!” and how that leads to people in power who believe that their society too is so progressive that there are no more problems of race or class. These aren’t issues that are harped on; Clark doesn’t preach at his reader. But these are issues that are in play and direct certain aspects of the story.
A Master of Djinn is set in the same world as Clark’s A Dead Djinn in Cairo, “The Angel of Khan el-Khalili,” and, aforementioned, The Haunting of Tram Car 015. While events from those plots are referenced and there are shared characters, they are not needed to enjoy A Master of Djinn. But then, I’ve read all of them, so it might be hard for me to tell. (The links above will take you to Tor.com where those stories are currently available for free. A no-risk taste, if you are still undecided.)
I’ve gotten my COVID vaccination so the only thing I’m coming down with is a Bout of Books!*
The Bout of Books readathon is organized by Amanda Shofner and Kelly Rubidoux Apple. It’s a weeklong readathon that begins 12:01am Monday, May 10th and runs through Sunday, May 16th in YOUR time zone. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are reading sprints, Twitter chats, and exclusive Instagram challenges, but they’re all completely optional. For all Bout of Books 31 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. – From the Bout of Books team
I haven’t set goals for Bout of Books in a while, but I want to this time. I’d like to:
- Make it to at least one of the Twitter chats. Monday’s is a prime target.
✅ Took part in Monday’s Tweet-chat! We’ll see is I make it up in time for Saturday’s.
- Take part in some of the reading in place/sprints. Especially around Thursday/Friday when my enthusiasm flags.
😬 Alas, I ended up being pretty hermit-y this week.
- Read 700 pages. That’s a pretty ambitious goal for me, a terribly slow reader.
⭕ Monday: weekly total was at 88 pages, so I’m a smidge behind. But remember, there is no failing Bout of Books!
⭕ Wednesday: At 279 pages read, I’m still a bit behind. Just kinda flailing along this week.
👍 End of Event: 648 pages, which isn’t bad!
- A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark – Already in progress and I intend to finish by Thursday to review it. So far, I’m in love like I knew I would be.
- Mosses from an Old Manse by Nathaniel Hawthorne – My Classics Club book for May. A few of the stories will be rereads, but I’m actually looking forward to that.
- Books of Blood by Clive Barker – Yes, still chipping away at Barker.
- Plus my “regular” reading: a daily chapter of God Emperor of Dune by Frank Herbert, some pages of Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg, and Deal Me In short stories (of which I am currently behind).
*Seriously, if you’re eligible and haven’t yet, get vaccinated. It’s safe; you protect you and you protect your community!
The Bourne Legacy
Runtime: 2h 15m
Director: Tony Gilroy
Writers: Tony Gilroy, Dan Gilroy, Robert Ludlum
Stars: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton
“What kind of weapon system is this guy operating?”
“He’s probably got a rifle.”
“It’s a high-powered rifle.”
Initial: I’m still recovering from my month-long horror-o-thon. I finished watching The Good Place and decided on a rewatch.
What Did I Think:
The Bourne Legacy is one of my comfort movies, which means I love it more than it probably deserves. I admire its chutzpah: a Bourne film without Bourne. I love its exposition: there’s a lot of it and it generally does nothing to elucidate the plot. And, despite its uneven pacing, I’m along for the ride because it’s double competency porn. Ed Norton and company don’t fail because they’re incompetent; they’re just less competent than the operative they’ve created. I also appreciate the Frankenstein overtones. Dork turned bad-ass Rachael Weisz is a scientist who has to face the consequences of Doing Science.
And besides, isn’t a movie about a grand bio-engineering government conspiracy exactly the movie I want to watch after getting my second mRNA vaccine shot?
Production Notes: If you want to watch a more well-regarded Tony Gilroy film (and one of my husband’s frequent rewatches), I recommend Michael Clayton (2007) with George Clooney and Tilda Swinton.