Something Good #86: Late Summer Recos
Hello dear readers. I hope you’ve been having a lovely summer. I myself have had a very filling few months—lots of reading, watching, playing, eating and writing. Here are some things I’ve enjoyed lately.
The first thing I want to talk about is the novel Dawn by the late Octavia Butler. I am way, way overdue on this incredible author, and this was my first book of hers. I think it may be one of the greatest science fiction books I have ever read. Lilith Iyapo is a woman who wakes on an alien spaceship after the death of her husband and child, and the near-destruction of humanity itself, in a nuclear conflict. She and an indeterminate number of other humans have been rescued by the Oankali, an alien race who travels the galaxy “trading” (in their words) with other planetary civilizations. What that actually means: they want to combine DNA with the survivors and create an entirely new species to repopulate the Earth. The survivors do not have a choice. Besides being one of the most thoughtful and nuanced first contact stories I’ve ever read, this book made me feel many things, including some vertiginous moments of body horror. Butler does not hold back, and some people might be put off by how matter-of-fact and unsentimental she can be. I honestly thought it was astonishing. There are two more books in this series, but I want to hold onto this one in my mind for a little while longer before I dare go any further.
Some other good books I have read recently or are currently reading: Translation State by Ann Leckie, a standalone novel in her Imperial Radch universe. I really think Leckie is one of the best sci-fi writers in the game right now. She’s a master of perspective and narrative voice and her worlds have so much texture. Friend-of-the-newsletter Max Read put a finger on why I liked it so much in his review:
It tells the interwoven tales of a diplomatic investigator, an adopted repair-man with odd dreams, and a translator for the Presger, the mysterious and dangerous alien species whose treaty with humans shapes the political economy of the Radchaai Empire. Leckie’s debt to Ursula K. LeGuin comes through wonderfully here, especially in the first half of the novel, not just in her interest in non-binary gender identity but in her exploration of interaction between humans and alien species.
I was thrilled to receive, earlier in the summer, my Kickstarted copy of’s book, a glorious hardcover tome covering a fascinating half-century of game design and narrative exploration. (Longtime readers of Something Good may recall that I interviewed Aaron when the Kickstarter was live.) In addition to the countless fascinating, meticulously-researched stories the book contains, it’s also an object lesson in how to set writing for the web, with its links, footnotes, and general contextual complexity, on the printed page. The printed editions are all sold out, but you can still order the ebook from Aaron’s Itch.io page.
This was a good moviegoing summer for me! Besides all the new stuff, for the most part a mixed bag in my opinion, I was lucky enough to see some true classics on the big screen, thanks mostly to the good people at my local micro-movie-theater, the Cinéma Moderne. That included Hsiao-Hsien Hou’s ravishing 2001 Millennium Mambo, a story about confused and beautiful lost youth in turn-of-the-century Taipei, with a glorious electronic soundtrack I’ve been trying, with only partial success, to track down ever since.
I was also able to see, for the first time, William Friedkin’s 1977 thriller Sorcerer, just a few weeks before the great director passed away. Based on, or rather, inspired by, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1953 The Wages of Fear, this is the cinéma de scumbag at its absolute sweatiest. Four men on the lam in South America agree to transport a ludicrous amount of highly volatile nitroglycerin on rickety trucks through the jungle; I would say things go wrong, but nothing about the situation is right to begin with. From the very first frames, shit goes down in this movie like you wouldn’t believe and never lets up. A grimy masterpiece.
As for TV, I don’t really have anything to say about it. These days I’m very much feeling that any given two hours of movie-watching is time so much better spent than the equivalent hours spent watching TV, even the shows I like. Your mileage may vary, and I would of course like to express my unwavering support for all the writers and actors on the picket lines, across the entire entertainment spectrum. They deserve more and the execs in charge deserve infinitely less.
A couple years ago I did a sort of autopsy of my on-set fanny pack, in which I waxed rhapsodic about my “tactical,” aka, my pathetic nickname for the small portable flashlight I found so useful when navigating dark outdoor locations, reading the small print of script sides, etc. Well, that flashlight turned out to be a dud, and lasted only a few weeks later. I would now like to recommend a couple, better, alternatives, having fallen down an internet flashlight rabbit hole this summer (all it took was one camping trip).
Pictured above is the Emisar D4V2, my current favourite. This brand is almost entirely the product of one man, Hank Wang, who makes them to order in a small workshop in Singapore and sells them on his website. Devoted fans know them as “Hanklights,” and they are gorgeous little devices which somehow end up costing about the same as a generic alternative from Amazon. There are many models and options, but I like the D4V2 in the nice cyan blue pictured, and my current favourite emitter is the de-domed 5000K Nichia 519a. OK, I’ll stop now. I’ll stop.
Some music I’ve enjoyed: Avalon Emerson & the Charm. Jessy Lanza’s Love Hallucination. Revisiting the Pet Shop Boys with their SMASH compilation, their billionth singles comp, but I barely need an excuse. The new Susanne Sundfør, blómi—I’ve resigned myself to the idea that she’ll never make another Ten Love Songs, but I’ll follow wherever she goes. Caroline Polachek’s Desire, I Want to Turn Into You.
All good stuff.
Some things I’d be remiss in not mentioning; CFCF’s original score for You Can Live Forever, now available on streaming services! (As is the movie, which you can buy or rent from any of the usual places, and I would encourage you to do so.)
We’re still going strong over at Barely a Book Club, having just finished our session on Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia, with a new selection to be announced any day now. As this is a no-pressure, entirely asynchronous club, I invite you to jump in whenever you feel like.
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