Sunday Sum Up: November 24, 2019

My friends are great. They just roll with it when I text them random questions, such as this:

“Are grapes berries?”

I asked a friend this question on Tuesday. Her initial response was, “I wouldn’t consider them berries”, and so I declared them to be ‘fruit, en masse’. When we got together on Wednesday (not as a result of the grape question), we delved farther into the subject, and it turns out that grapes are berries.

Now you know.

Now for the obligatory Mina photos:

I’ve been worried about Mina jumping onto higher shelves and knocking my camera equipment to the floor. That has not been a problem, but on Friday night I came home to find about thirty feet of Christmas ribbon unspooled around the living room. I can only blame myself for leaving the ribbon where she could get to it, and anyway, it didn’t take long to re-spool it. She must have had a great time on Friday afternoon.

 

What I Finished Reading This Week:

I’ve read and loved The Sleeper and the Spindle before. It’s one of Neil Gaiman’s amazing fairytale retellings where the fairy tale becomes recognizable partway through but doesn’t bother with the boundaries of the original. The variation makes it fresh and new and part of the twenty-first century without it feeling like its making an effort to be cool. If you have to make an effort to be cool, you’re probably not going to succeed. I definitely recommend this audiobook version, which features actors like Lara Pulver and Julian Rind-Tutt.

Miranda in Milan is a beautiful novella that asks, ‘What happened to Miranda after she and Prospero left the island at the end of The Tempest?’. In Katharine Duckett’s story, Miranda finds herself an outcast thanks to her ignorance of customs and manners in upper-class Milan, and because of how closely she resembles her mother, who died when she was a child. Her only companion is Dorothea, a serving girl who has a magic of her own. Together, Miranda and Dorothea must unravel the mystery of family secrets and figure out why Miranda is being kept in seclusion. This is a beautifully written novella with unexpected turns, and while there is some explanation of the plot of The Tempest, it is more understandable if the reader is already familiar with the Shakespearean play.

Labyrinth of Ice is a compelling tale of the Greely Expedition of 1881-1884, which was an American scientific expedition into the northern reaches of Canada and Greenland. Greely and twenty-four men went into the Arctic to study a wide array of scientific phenomena, including weather, the aurora borealis, and polar ice. They also went farther north than any other expedition of their kind. But after two ships failed to make it through the shifting polar ice cap to bring them supplies in the summers of 1882 and 1883, Greely and the men found themselves fighting for their lives in one of Earth’s most hostile environments. The beginning of the story is a little dry, but when supplies begin to run low the tension rises. Levy used journal entries, newspaper reports, and a host of primary sources to piece together his narrative, creating an incredibly detailed and insightful account of Greely’s expedition and its importance to the scientific community.

What I’m Currently Reading:

  • The Crystal Cave (Arthurian Saga #1) by Mary Stewart, audiobook narrated by Derek Perkins (41%)
  • Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield, audiobook narrated by Juliet Stevenson (46%)

I went through a bunch of audiobooks this week in part because both the Overdrive and Libby apps kept getting errors while downloading, and in part because I did not enjoy the voices of several of the narrators. I finally decided to download The Crystal Cave, which is one of my favorite books. It feels a little odd, having listened to book two of this series a few weeks ago, but I am still enjoying it. Stewart’s writing is beautiful, and I love how she blended Arthurian lore with what she knew of England’s history in the post-Roman period.

Once Upon a River is Diane Setterfield’s third novel. It is set in the countryside of Victorian England, upon the banks of the Thames. One winter’s night, while the regulars of the pub, The Swan, are telling stories a badly injured man bursts into the main room carrying a little girl. The little girl is dead, but hours later she begins breathing again and wakes up. The story spreads quickly, different people come to claim the girl as their own, and so the tale begins. Setterfield blends science and magic with storytelling to weave yet another beautiful story. By now, I am thoroughly in love with Setterfield’s novels and look forward to whatever else she will write in the future.

What I Plan to Start Reading This Week:

I’ve been looking forward to reading Dragons and Unicorns and The Tiger’s Daughter for some time. I’ll have a bit of downtime this week, so I should be able to finish Dragons and Unicorns and get through a lot of The Tiger’s Daughter.

I added Every Tool’s a Hammer after Olive at A Book Olive gave it a glowing recommendation on her BookTube channel. I looked it up at my library, and they had several copies available. I picked it up last night and am hoping to dive into it soon.

 

What I’ve Been Watching This Week:

Princess Mononoke (1997)
Fantasy/Anime
Rating: PG-13
Directed by Hayao Miazaki, Adapted by Neil Gaiman
American voice cast: Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Billy Bob Thornton, Minnie Driver, Gillian Anderson, Jada Pinkett Smith

I’ve loved this film since I first saw it in high school in 1998 or 1999, but I’d never been able to see it in the theater. I chanced across an advertisement for an upcoming Ghibli Fest, which included screenings of Princess Mononoke, and I was thrilled to see that it would be here in town for three days. I promptly bought tickets for the Sunday matinee, and a friend and I met up at the theater. It had been a while since I’d watched my DVD version, so there were a few scenes I had forgotten about, but it is as wonderful as I remember. Princess Mononoke is the story of Prince Ashitaka, a young man who is placed under a curse who is forced to leave his homeland and seek the source of the curse far to the east. There, he finds a land at war– the spirits of the forest fight to survive against the new weapons of the people of Iron Town, who want to cut down the forest in order to mine the iron that lies beneath it. Both sides are fighting to survive against forces beyond them, and neither side is wholly good or wholly evil. This is one of the strengths of Princess Mononoke. The characters are all beautifully written and complex, and they all feel like they have lives and motivations beyond what is seen on the screen.

Seeing Princess Mononoke in the theater has also given me an even greater appreciation of the incredible artwork that goes into a Studio Ghibli film. I’ve done a tiny bit of hand animation using traditional methods (like those used by Studio Ghibli and early Disney), so I know what painstaking work and attention go into every frame of film. Studio Ghibli never fails to astound me with the visionary nature of their films which, in my opinion, exceeds Disney’s films at every turn.

Mononoke

 

Star Trek: Discovery, Season 2 (2018)
TV-14
Creators: Bryan Fuller, Alex Kurtzman
Starring: Sonequa Martin-Green, Anson Mount, Doug Jones, Mary Wiseman, Michelle Yeoh, Anthony Rapp, Shazad Latif

I only watched a couple more episodes this week, as I spent some time listening to the audio commentary on the episodes ‘Brother’ and ‘New Eden’. It was great to hear the behind the scenes views of Martin-Green and Kurtzman, each of whom had lovely stories about how Star Trek intersects with the real world. Martin-Green’s story involved her chance meeting with a man in London who said he comes from a very racist family. But when he started watching Discovery he was so involved in the characters’ stories that he didn’t realize Sonequa Martin-Green is a black woman until he’d finished the season. He saw the person, not her skin color.

Kurtzman’s story was about meeting astronaut Mae Jemison, who moderated the Discovery panel at a comic convention in New York. As a child, Jemison was inspired to become an astronaut when she saw Uhura– a fellow woman of color– on Star Trek‘s original series. She was amazed that someone might imagine a world where a black woman could fill an important role on the bridge of a starship. Because of stories like this, Kurtzman and his fellow Discovery producers are dedicated to making diversity a part of the show, and to make it something that is expected. In addition to this, the showrunners give female characters a chance to shine and save the day, rather than having to be rescued by their male crewmates.

The fact that I’d just finished an episode of Discovery when a friend arrived for lunch on Wednesday inspired an interesting conversation. She’s been watching Star Trek: Voyager on Netflix, and has had the same sorts of reactions that I had the last time I watched the series. Namely, we both have issues with the supposed feminism of Voyager. For example, Jennifer Lien (Kes) was replaced by Jeri Ryan (Seven of Nine) in the fourth season, namely because Jennifer Lien looked like someone’s kid sister, while Jeri Ryan (especially in an unlikely silver catsuit and four-inch heels) was much sexier. I remember reading about the controversy at the time, and while the showrunners assured people that the change wasn’t about sex appeal, you only have to look at Jeri Ryan’s costumes to know that sex was part of their decision. Personally, I prefer the Seven of Nine character to Kes (Seven’s backstory and psychology were more interesting character aspects), but there were several storylines that left a bad taste in my mouth. The constant attempts by male characters to train Seven to be the ideal romantic partner.

(spoilers ahead)

And then there’s the fourth season episode, ‘Retrospect’, where Seven accuses a visiting scientist of violating her by strapping her down and stealing some of the Borg nanites in her blood. As the investigation progresses, the accused scientist is constantly shouting about the damage to his reputation, and in the end, they discover that Seven’s memories of the event were false. She’d made a false allegation that damaged a man’s reputation.

Yeah, that didn’t age well.

There are many reasons that Deep Space Nine and Discovery are my favorite Star Trek shows. Their art direction, writing, and plot arcs are a few. Their characters and diversity are the most important ones. Some people complain about continuity issues and plotholes, but to me, the spirit of Star Trek comes from the shows’ ongoing commitment to portraying diverse people striving to work past their differences and make the future better. If Star Trek can inspire young women to become astronauts or help others see past their racist backgrounds, then whatever its iteration, Star Trek has done its job.

Discovery

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