Each month, we look back over the media we loved in the previous month, from books to film to video games and more.
Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney and Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies by Capcom — I played the original Ace Attorney trilogy on the Nintendo DS many years ago, but the DS is tough on my hands, so when the series was ported to iOS I jumped on the chance to replay it there (multiple times). But the fourth game, Apollo Justice, had never been available on iOS until recently. I finally played last month and enjoyed it so much that within minutes of finishing it, I went to the App Store to download Dual Destinies. These games have some of my favorite characters anywhere, the stories are charming, and the puzzles are challenging without (usually) being too difficult to solve. There's a sixth game that's currently DS-only, so I hope it makes the jump to iOS eventually.
Infomocracy by Malka Older — This book was sold to me by some reviewer, maybe at Nerds of a Feather, as a realistic but ultimately hopeful vision of a near future, which is something I really needed this year. I'm happy to say that it fit the bill, while also being a page-turning political story with some great characters. Also the librarian in me had fun with this vision of a world run by a search company (that's not Google except for how it's totally Google), in both its advantages and pitfalls. I was happy to nominate Malka Older for the Campbell based on the strength of this debut novel (and even happier to see her as a finalist!), and I look forward to seeing what she does next.
Penric's Mission by Lois McMaster Bujold — I got behind on the Penric and Desdemona novellas last year, so for Hugo reading season I took the opportunity to catch up. Of the two released in 2016, this was my favorite. Like any Bujold protagonist, Penric gets himself in and out of trouble in the most charming way possible, and this story introduces Nikys, who I enjoy both in her own right and in her relationship with Penric. I hope the story continues with her as a regular member of the cast.
Runtime by S. B. Divya — Another Hugo ballot novella read, and probably the most exciting and unexpected discovery of the lot. I enjoyed both the story of Marmeg and her quest to win a race and make something of herself, and the world-building of a near-future society that is stratified by immigration status and access to body-modification technology. The world Divya creates is almost terrifyingly prescient, given recent political events. Sometimes novellas leave me wanting more, but while I would happily read more stories about Marmeg, and/or set in this universe, I felt like this one told its story in the perfect amount of space.
The Good Place — I'd been intending to watch this show since I first heard about it, because I'll watch pretty much anything with Kristen Bell in it, and the premise (a woman who lived a not-so-good life accidentally ends up in Heaven, and tries to learn how to fit in) appealed to me. Then I got some strong recommendations that pushed it up the queue, and boy am I glad I did. I don't want to say more here, because even to hint at what makes it special involves major spoilers, but there is more detailed discussion in my journal if you want to know more (or come talk about it with me! It's a show that provides a lot to discuss). The cast is fantastic, too.
The Tears We Cannot Stop by Michael Eric Dyson — Framed as a sermon to white people in America, Dyson breaks down the abuse and suffering that black people are experiencing across the country. He uses both historical context and personal experiences—his, and the experiences of his family/friends—to explain the racial problems in America and how white people are the fuel that allows the bigotry to continue burning. I'm not religious at all, but didn't find the text off-putting, and in fact was moved by some of the ways he appeals to the assumed white reader. If you do dislike religious rhetoric this one may not be for you, but if you don't care it's a easy to understand starting point that appeals to empathy and compassion.
The Lawrence Browne Affair by Cat Sebastian — A friend on Goodreads added this book and it caught my attention. Six hours later I was done with it and had already purchased the sequel to read ASAP. It's about a reclusive earl who invents technological devices whose friends worry over him so much eventually they force him into hiring a secretary. The secretary that they get, of course, is a con artist, planning to rip the earl off and then skedaddle. But as they spend time together their strengths become complementary and they boost each other up and it's super sweet. I really loved the portrayal of mental illness in this; the earl read to me as autistic and the straightforward way the narrative treats him was surprisingly good and kind. The story was heartwarming and it definitely feels like it has great reread value.
Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty — I was convinced I was going to dislike this book, but instead, I enjoyed it a lot! I feel put off by locked room mysteries, since I don't want to get attached to the bad guy (WORST DEVELOPMENT). Any character could be the bad guy and that is Too Stressful for me. This mixed that plot up a bit, complete with legal cloning, Convenient Amnesia, a generation ship on a journey to a new world, a broken A.I., and a potentially doomed mission with high stakes that the characters need desperately to succeed. I loved all the flashbacks and how they helped build the characters as people while at the same time increasing tension and confusion about who was responsible for gumming up the mission (I didn't guess but it was only because my favorite characters were mostly innocent). This locked room mystery gets a thumbs up from me (but dear all the other locked room mysteries: don't get cocky).
The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi — The Interdependency relies on the Flow, a river of space-time, for trade and sustainability since it connects a sprawling interstellar empire. Of course, as a rebellion churns on one of the planets, a new Emperox is ordained in the empire's capital, and a member of a guild house runs into a issue with her citrus franchises, the Flow is beginning to disappear. I loved this book so much. It's probably my new favorite Scalzi novel (sorry, all other Scalzi novels) because I loved the plot and the characters, especially Kiva and Cardenia. I've read it twice now and I will no doubt read it again before the next book comes out...who knows when that will be but it won't be soon enough.
White Tears by Hari Kunzru — This book is fucking bananas. Seth and Carter are young white men obsessed with music—specifically old black music. Seth has some mental problems and Carter is part of an extremely well-connected, wealthy, politically powerful family that's in the prison and security business, and they coast on Carter's money. One day, while out collecting audio when cruising around New York, Seth picks up a song by a black singer he can't remember very well. Carter eventually finds it, gives the artist a made up name—Charlie Shaw—and releases it online. But then someone comes around asking how they know Charlie Shaw and if they have anything else by him, and everything goes from mildly weird to extremely fucking weird lightning fast. I honestly didn't know what I was going to think of this book until the last few pages, and when the author puts a bow on it I was in awe that he made it all work. It's part ghost story, part magical realism, and part horror (or wholesale horror? I can't decide!), with a critique of cultural appropriation running underneath. I regret nothing about reading this book even if it gave me nightmares.
Moonlight — Did I scream when Moonlight won the Oscar it deserves? YES I DID. This film is beautiful, with some of the best performances I've seen all year (the fact that you can recognise Chiron's body language at every age is such a great touch, and all three actors carry so much of his character without words, I love it. Plus, Paula in the third part of the film is pitch perfect with my experience of family in recovery). I really enjoyed the relationships—between Chiron and Juan and Teresa, between Chiron and Kevin, even the complicated relationship between Chiron and Paula. It's beautiful and intimate and made me cry in the cinema.
Plus, for those who've seen it: I really appreciate Juan's explanation being "It's a word used to make gay people feel bad,"—I actually gasped in the cinema, I didn't realise how hard I'd braced for this to hurt until it didn't.
Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdoms by Leigh Bardugo — Friend humans, thebaconfat recommended this series and it is so thoroughly my thing. It has heists, canon queer characters, complicated relationships, interesting world-building and one of the main relationships is like 90% unspoken and killed me with how much I needed it. It feels cinematic in the way that information is revealed to the reader? And the levels of plans and bastardry on offer here are wonderful.
... Seriously, I got this series out of the library and then immediately bought both books and the audiobooks after I finished them. I really liked it. >_>
The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley — I really enjoy Kameron Hurley's non-fiction writing, so her essay collection was almost exactly what I wanted. It's a good mix of her personal essays and her essays on craft (I love her craft essays – the one of copywriting is really neat), and the way she builds themes and narrative in the book's structure is excellent. I wish both the essays on RH had been left out, but that's pretty much my only complaint!
... Of course, now I crave Joanna Russ books, but that's not a bad problem to have.