“Cult” is season seven of American Horror Story, and each season has been very different. After the attempt to make a meta-take on horror in season six (Roanoke), this one felt like a combination of The Purge and our current political scene.
- It was meant to feel like the (re)rise of nationalism in particular, and I guess we could view it as a cautionary tale of sorts, if we hadn’t already been there.
- The series works hard to make sure that everyone is inculcated in murder – character we don’t expect to do bad things do, and even the hero (this is not a spoiler) is not clean.
- That’s part of the joy of modern horror, of course – none of us are really clean, even if we may think that we are.
- It’s an even scarier fear when it feels like we are losing our political system as we watch.
- The problem, though, is that the show has to work very hard to make us believe that ordinary people are capable of murder (and that the government will not strike back, hard). There is fairly recent historical evidence of course, but even that isn’t as cut-and-dried as we sometimes think.
- I guess that’s the problem with trying to draw lines to contemporary life too closely. Law and Order was able to do that with varying degrees of success, perhaps because they were not relying on our ability to believe in the supernatural, but it’s a tricky line.
As if life isn’t short enough, I’m almost done with my re-read of the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. Toll the Hounds is book number eight…
- I often think of fantasy as an attempt to rewrite origins and ideals. Tolkien, for instance, wants to go back and rethink history from a time when kings could perhaps be convinced to be virtuous, the Good King imagined as a starting point from which our own culture can derive in a more just and humane way, one that cleaves closer to an image of a just and good godhead.
- A Song of Ice and Fire, as I’ve discussed elsewhere, attempts to revisit European culture by rethinking our relationship with the natural world. It starts at the Enlightenment, which is pretty bold on Martin’s part but not out of character…
- The MOBTF views this rewrite differently, which isn’t surprising. First, I think that Erikson and Esselmont’s universe starts its rewrite from the place in which humans create cultures, of any and all sorts. They’re not interested in only doing part of human history – instead, they often take us back to our Cromag roots. Talk about having large huevos…
- Secondly, their revisit looks at what we think of when we think of first principles. I’ve written an article on this look in terms of war (and whether or not it can be just, a cultural construction if there ever was one I think), but I always think of it as the MOBTF creates its incredibly complicated and sort of irreverent pantheon of gods.
- Authors definitely have obsessions. Tolkien feels very Catholic in his obsession with suffering, and Martin’s obsession with food highlights his fears that we are destroying the natural world. Erikson’s obsession seems to be with domiciles, whether for travelers or for of the common city variety. We do not see much in the way of farm houses (they’re occasionally destroyed as they sit in the path of war) but we do see lots of city apartments and mansions (and even a palace or two).
- My guess is that this has to do with the one first principle that they try to examine, which is the place of love alongside all the pain and misery and war and casual death. Erikson in particular isn’t sappy – he has children both do and suffer some horrific things – but he does occasionally portray a scene in which a stable family manages some peace and love.
- He also spends a lot of time on city life (which I think lends to the Dickens vibe I get from this series). I think I could write reams on this, but I’ll save it for my next post on a piece of non-fiction based in Detroit…
- This series has forced me to rethink how I read fantasy (and maybe more) – my normal process looks like this:
- I try to find the overlying theme (redemption, balance, etc.)
- I try to find the main concern – approaching fascism, with the only option being a good king, approaching planetary degradation caused by climate change, with the diminished presence of humans being the only option, etc.
- I try to find the origin point that the authors want to rewrite
- I’m pretty confident that none of these strategies work for this series (nor do they work for Jemisin)
Notes for this one take the form of a series of quoted passages. Short comments follow. Since I’m trying to keep these sort of short, another will follow shortly.
- Quote #1 – “show me a written history that makes sense and I will show you true fiction.” (66)
- Heh – Erikson perhaps doubts the-history-from-one-perspective that is the purview of most fantasy (and most history as we learn it).
- Quote #2 – “Memory fails. For ever doomed as we seek to fashion scenes, framed, each act described, reasoned and reasonable, irrational and mad, but somewhere beneath there must be the thick, solid sludge of motivation, of significance, of meaning – there must be. The alternative is…unacceptable” (196 – Duiker thinking about his failed attempts to write the story of the Chain of Dogs)
- So much of this series posits whatever forces of good that do exist as hopeless, doomed-to-fail bulwarks against chaos. Duiker represents Erikson’s desire to say how impossible accurate history is to write, an admission that always reminds me of the first season of The Wire, in which the ensemble that created and produced that series somehow made a bunch of arrests of drug lords and some of their most trusted lieutenants feels like an absolute failure.
We finished Season Two of Luke Cage a couple of weeks ago, and I’m catching up on my blogging, so here goes…
- The Netflix series is way different than the comic book. That makes sense, as they come from way different eras, and Luke Cage was originally seen as a side character in Jessica Jones.
- The cultural contexts are too easy – the comic book starts in 1972, at the beginning of the fear the city era (the Dirty Harry/Death Wish) that the sixties devolved into. Luke Cage is the righteous black man who knows right from wrong, and is willing to police his own turf.
- That establishing of borders is played upon in the Netflix series.
- It is designed to speak intentionally to Luke as a wronged man, an intellectual, one who represents a counterpoint to the black rage that was the favorite emotion displayed by characters in blaxploitation films. He never swears, and is often seen with books by folks like Ta-Nehisi Coates in his hands. As played by Mike Colter, he has a sweetness and sense of humor that are not present in the hulking uber-masculine Luke Cage of the comic books.
- The contrast of naked torso to bullet-riddled hoodie is not subtle, but the images of black masculinity that both raise are beautiful end-points to the eras.
- Luke Cage the series also happens as gentrification becomes a phenomenon that is rarely questioned, and thus his defense of the borders of Harlem becomes less a wall than a marker. Part of what Cage is doing is keeping Harlem true to its original spirit even as the forces of late capitalism threaten to turn Harlem into a theme park, and to the show’s credit it never makes that defense easy.
- It’s also exacerbated by Maria Snopes, the villain, someone who comes from a long-line of gangsters who defend Harlem’s borders (but for their own interest). She speaks to raising Harlem up, but seems to be more interested in keeping her own share of the pie.
- She’s played in a fascinating way by Alfre Woodard. I’m guessing some folks have trouble with her character, but for me the way she seems to constantly be on the verge of a panic attack is a powerful physical marker of the many competing precipices that she teeters on the edge of.
- Of all the Defender series, this one seems the least interested (other than Iron Fist, which I can’t bring myself to watch) in exploring the role of the vigilante. The other two Marvel series that we’ve watched (Daredevil as well as JJ) offered subtle, small reminders that the rest of the city was not nearly as excited about having superheroes in their midst as I guess we who are fed a constant barrage of Batmans, Captain Americas, and Supermans are. Luke Cage though intentionally celebrates the idea of a bullet-proof black man. The fact that he wears a hoodie is not an accident either – while the tough inner-city cops who he works with know and respect him, I’m guessing that the George Zimmermans of the world (afraid of teenagers) would pee their pants upon seeing him. Cage’s response would probably be a simple “Sweet Christmas” and offer them paper towels.
- There is a subtext of reparations here that I’m not sure I’ve worked through. Snopes in particular talks about what Harlem is owed, but she never identifies just what that is.
- The final lens to see this series through is probably that worn by millennials. Raised on a raft of Disney musicals and tortured superstars, more comfortable with diversity than previous generations, I am guessing that Luke Cage is the kind of superhero who makes sense. The fact that he has his own anxieties about finances, relationships, and parents who might not be as supportive as they should be fit as well.
Trail of Lightning is the first book in Roanhorse’s Sixth World series, and I will read more as they appear. Roanhorse is Native American and re-envisions the border between the supernatural and natural worlds in a fascinating way, and I had trouble putting it down. Thoughts:
- The climate apocalypse has happened (it’s called the “Big Water”), and the Dine nation has survived, even if barely. There are no direct descriptions, but the fact that the Navajo live in the high desert was probably a distinct advantage.
- The protagonist is Maggie Hoskins, and I liked her as much for her attempts to deal with the damage she has suffered as for her ability to deal damage. Her damage comes from her identity – she’s not Harry Potter, with his orphan status both oppressing him and providing him the means to take on the oppressor, nor is she Buffy (although her kickassery and her sarcasm brought her to mind several times) with her culturally accepted blonde good looks providing the platform from which she shows that young women can be bad asses.
- Instead, Hoskins has to deal with what’s left of the natural world that has been the Dine’s ancestral home, what that’s done to her people (who seem to have been splintered and who have built a huge wall for protection), and the ways that her people’s pantheon has suddenly become flesh (of a sort).
- And these hits damage her in ways that affect how she interacts with her fellow humans (and superhumans). She’s a killer by clan, and that identity is not some cool sort of ninja or assassin thing but instead something that she to come to grips with in a way that allows her to return to her community.
- In initially finding this series I read a review by Katharine Coldiron on Medium, and her description of Roanhorse’s “generosity” as a Native American writer felt particularly compelling. Roanhorse does just enough explaining of her culture to allow me to feel the I had at least begun to understand the rudiments of her culture in ways that she doesn’t owe me as a straight white guy.
- I do however know a little bit about the area she’s from, and her descriptions kept evoking it in ways that felt almost painful. That region is simultaneously painstakingly desolate and beautiful and fragile and unforgiving; Trail of Lightning used all of those characteristics in creating this world.
I should probably be embarrassed that I have to read these texts twice, but the Malazan Book of the Fallen is worth the second read. Thoughts below, although they take a bit of a whole series look and are very much inside baseball if you haven’t read the series:
- Power is embodied, channeled, and somehow tapped into by mages, shaman, and warlocks. It’s also accessed by warriors, card-game players, and gods who were both created that way and ascended.
- I create this list because I’m struggling trying to understand the mechanism by which anyone interacts with all this energy. Do some folks have some sort of physical, biological connection? Do some of us have a wifi brain stem, one that is stirred by concentrating intensely (thus the physical exhaustion)? Are they somehow sending out a radio signal, perhaps from sort of transmitter organ or brain stem?
- And the warrens are a channeled form of older energy – Kron provides the structure, the channels, as somehow part of his body
- So what the Crippled God is trying to do is not destroy the magic in the warrens, but to destroy the warrens themselves, releasing the chaotic energy in its more original, primal form.
- Essentially, the Crippled God has been called to this world by warlocks/mages, came unwillingly, and has since been crippled and chained. He lives in constant pain, and will not heal (I guess).
- So his motive is burn it all down, tear everything apart…
- Finally for this entry, I’m curious about the Azath as well. I think they’re almost like growths, organic or mineral, that have arisen naturally (based on the laws of the world) to trap or hold chaotic, world-destroying energies…
- In this context, Iscarium becomes clearly a metaphor (and the uber-Jaghut)
- and dragons are scary, terrifying, and still incredibly dangerous, but they’re not nuclear bombs, as we see a couple of them get killed in this book.
- I wonder if that’s what the fall of the Eleint is about, as Soletaken (shift-shapers) stole dragonly powers…
- esp. since we see so many of them wounded and chained…
My re-read of Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series continues. At points I’m so overwhelmed by the enormity of the creation that I get a bit starstruck – I’m pretty sure that I have very little critical distance, with my occasional frustration when Erikson gets preachy. Still…
- Tehol Beddict and Bugg are wonderful characters, and the work they do (Beddict in bringing down the economy in order to redistribute wealth to those who have screwed by the system, Bugg (Mael) in his support role for Tehol while playing the long game in the war with the Crippled God is spectacular. I am most fascinated though by how damned consistently funny they are. Their dialogue is a never-ending series of moments in which Tehol feels like a complete moron and Bugg is the long-suffering servant, and yet all the while Tehol is working his magic.
- Brys Beddict’s death still makes me sad.
- Rhulad’s growing insanity fits neatly with the Crippled God’s own mental instability. The premise that his horror is caused by a group of mages who try to add an alien power to defeat their enemies and muck up the process is unlike anything I’ve seen in fantasy.
- I also don’t always know what to do with the epigraphs to each chapter. Ranging from poems to epistolary sections of historical texts, their connection is not always clear, and often make me think way harder than I’m used to doing in fantasy novels.
- The heart of the novel remains the Malazan army, this time the 14th, and with Dujek dead, the Adjunct’s rise (and threat to the Emperor) to challenge Rhulad and Lether (at the end) feels quixotic to the extreme.
- I’m not sure I’ve ever had as profitable a second read of a series as I have had of this one.
- If only Martin could be as prolific as Erikson – maybe he should have played ASOIAF with a friend before sitting down to write…
- And at times I struggle with what I feel are the almost overwhelming sorrows that this series provokes. The intensity of the suffering feels more powerful, I think, because there is very little to hate as all are simply striving to survive in a world that is constantly being less inhabitable. Even Raraku has become an ocean rather than a desert – at least as a desert there were tribes who survived in it, but as an ocean it only holds ghosts (hi Hedge!)