Toni Morrison’s Opus About Confronting a Terrible Past

Time for some Toni Morrison and her most cancelled book.

Beloved is the magnum opus of the late, great Toni Morrison. It has become a key piece of literature taught in schools and is considered one of the great pieces of American literature. To understand Beloved, we must first look at the woman behind the pages: Nobel Prize Winner Toni Morrison.

Hosted by Lindsay Ellis and Princess Weekes, It’s Lit! is a show about our favorite books, genres, and why we love to read. It’s Lit is made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

Book review: Callahan’s Legacy by Spider Robinson

Callahan's Legacy (Mary's Place #2, Callahan's #7)Callahan’s Legacy by Spider Robinson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The next round is on me.

Jack and Zoey are two bar owners expecting their first child last week. The bar’s patrons are also their close friends who hail from all walks of life, time, and weird occurrences involving saving the world. What should be just another fun evening of drinks and song is interrupted by new patrons and trouble.

The Callahan novels were recommended to me via a list of humorous books. The only one I could lay my hands on easily was Callahan’s Legacy, one of the later instalments in the series. It seems to be representative of the rest of the books, as near as I can tell, and fans seem to enjoy it.

I’m really not sure what to say and how to rate this book. It was mildly amusing, the banter flowed freely, and some of the puns were ingenious. But I could pretty fairly say that virtually nothing happened in the story. This was pretty much a novel devoted to documenting an evening of drinks between friends, some of whom are aliens, resurrected early 20th-century scientists, and people from the future.

I’ll be generous and give this 3 stars because I quite liked the joke about the Buddhist Burger Joint that made you one with everything.

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Book vs Movie: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – What’s the Difference?

This month in What’s the Difference? let’s discuss a classic five-part novel trilogy and its movie adaptation.

Video: Lost in Adaptation – Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy part 1
Video: Lost in Adaptation – Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy part 2

I love the Hitchhiker’s books. In the above videos, Dominic Noble covers a lot of what was changed from the book(s) to the movie and I agree with his points about how they managed to ruin the adaptation. But unlike Dominic, I don’t have any particularly strong feelings about the movie. I think this comes down to how I largely dismissed the film as either:

  • A very American homage to the Hitchhiker’s books, or;
  • A very soulless adaptation by the Hollywood machine.

Take, for example, the point about Arthur Dent being portrayed as a snivelling loser with all the cringe humour to support that portrayal. I really don’t enjoy cringe humour and laughing at “losers”. Having them be the main character is an even worse idea. But I can see how an American or Hollywood adaptation would take the idea of an incompetent and insecure (i.e. British) character and make them into Loser McCringefest.

The stamp of this failure to understand what the jokes actually were is all over the movie. And it seems to be a common problem when American studios take British material and try to adapt it. There are numerous TV shows that American audiences have loved, which a production studio takes as the impetus to make a version without subtitles*, and then somehow they make a pilot or show that just mangles the entire point. American audiences really deserve better.

There’s actually a good documentary on this issue done as part of the Red Dwarf DVD extras. Essentially, the production studios don’t really understand what is funny about the source material and thus what any changes they make will do to the adaptation.

So I don’t hate the movie adaptation of one of my favourite books. Because I don’t regard it as a real adaptation.

* Oh, you think I jest? I’m afraid not. When I visited the US of A I was surprised to see subtitles being used when people of non-North American origin spoke English. I mean, Scottish people having subtitles I can kinda understand, but Irish people? At least it was good to bust the myth that Americans can’t watch stuff with subtitles…

Book review: War on Peace by Ronan Farrow

War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American InfluenceWar on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence by Ronan Farrow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Diplomacy? No idea where that is. Do they have any schools that we can bomb there?

In War on Peace, Ronan Farrow argues that since the end of the Cold War, the USA has been gradually cutting back its diplomatic resources whilst supercharging militarism. He attempts to document examples of how military figures have access, resources, and influence on the way the US (and its allies) conducts itself internationally to the detriment of peace and (sigh) US interests.

Ever since I saw the US market the post-9/11 war in Iraq as a totally good idea and certainly not based on an easily disprovable lie, I’ve been interested in understanding war and diplomacy. Unfortunately, few books want to look at the bigger picture, instead focussing on the “mistakes” of a conflict or the “harrowing true story” of a kid who was promised free university if they went and secured oil resources freedom in another country. War on Peace is one of the few bigger picture books that try to document how we got here.

This book has a lot of good insights into how diplomacy has been defunded, marginalised, and under-resourced while the military has been placed front and centre. As the saying goes, wouldn’t it be great if we gave diplomacy a try for once? I think Farrow also shows that we can’t just blame any one government or side of politics. And he also gives examples of how the militarism approach has embedded all sorts of issues that make the world far less safe.

Where I think War on Peace stumbles is in its American Exceptionalism and Supremacy. Laced throughout is this deep current of the USA wanting to control the world to meet its needs as though that is a good thing. And along for the ride is the idea that the USA is the “good guy”, all while documenting plenty of examples where the USA was clearly the “bad guy”. This would have been hilarious and worthy of being labelled satire if it wasn’t exactly the sort of thing these kinds of very serious US journalism books do without even a hint of irony.

Further to this point, the US-centric nature of the book neglects the international trends in diplomacy vs militarism. There is a small mention of China’s moves in this area, but it would have really helped the central argument to document, at the very least, changes in US-allies’ investment in diplomacy.

This is an important book on an important topic if you can get past the blinkered parochialism.

Comments while reading:
Not particularly shocking to hear that President “Drain The Swamp” turfed out the experts in favour of either not replacing people or looking for partisan hacks. But it was interesting to hear that this has been a trend since the 90s and the end of the cold war. That ties in with Jeremy Scahill’s writing on the rise of the private military, outsourcing, and militarisation.

I find it kinda funny to hear someone lamenting the decline of diplomacy continually utter it in the context of American Exceptionalism and Supremacy. “Decline in control of the region” is uttered at the same time as “negotiation for nuclear non-proliferation”, while oblivious to the irony of a nuclear power wanting to dictate terms.

President “drone strike” Obama’s first term being filled with warhawk generals taking over diplomatic roles is not particularly surprising. It was quite notable how much of the placating of the establishment Democrats and appeasement of Republicans resulted in his brand of Hope being watered down to Status Quo. The military angle was a big part of that.

Interesting that the diplomatic successes of Obama’s second term appear to have been a lot of hard work over the whole two terms and in spite of the administration. That this came from Hilary Clinton recognising various efforts being made and offering (the minimum of) support is telling given so many of the problems come back to Bill’s time as President.

I laughed out loud when, without a hint of irony, Farrow called China a country “who are wanting to be an international leader without acknowledging their continued human rights abuses.” Farrow, the former diplomat, whose bosses helped suppress human rights abuses, some of which are mentioned in this very book, wrote this down. His bosses also helped go after Julian Assange and Wikileaks for exposing US war crimes. Neither of these human rights abuses has been acknowledged and any accountability held.

But on the plus side, they did imprison, ruin the careers, and took a blind eye to the murder of those who exposed the human rights abuses of the US military.

Remember kids, it’s not human rights abuses when we, the good guys, do it!

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Book review: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

To Say Nothing of the Dog (Oxford Time Travel, #2)To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

And never mind the cat.

The Oxford History Department has changed a lot since the invention of time travel. Ned Henry, a history student, has been tasked by the department’s wealthy benefactor with locating the Bishop’s Bird Stump. But Ned is overworked, time-lagged, and in desperate need of a vacation. So his professor assigns him some R&R in Victorian England… and a very important mission to fix the time continuum before history is completely destroyed.

After finishing The Time Machine Did It, I saw a list of other humorous novels. Ever on the lookout for entertaining reads, I started matching titles with my library’s catalogue. As luck would have it, To Say Nothing of the Dog was available and just desperately wanting to be read.

And it was fine.

The book is light and whimsical without ever being hilarious. The story is solid without ever feeling too tense. And the continual obstacles Ned and Verity have to overcome never feel insurmountable. As a result, I came away from To Say Nothing of the Dog with the sense of having enjoyed myself but not having relished the experience.

Something that I think is worth highlighting is that this book is nice. As in, there are no fights, no evil people doing bad things, no heroes with dark problems, and surprisingly, for a time travel book, not one person ceasing to exist because of time-ripple-magic-stuff. Instead, Willis grounds the conflict in the more ordinary and the stakes in the people vs events. I mention this as it can be quite refreshing to read a book that doesn’t feel the need to be gritty, mean, dark, or focused on people you’d pretend you don’t recognise at a party before sneaking out the upstairs penthouse bathroom window.

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Why Edgar Allan Poe Isn’t Just a Sad Boy

Let’s talk about one of the greats of fiction with this month’s It’s Lit!

Video: Why Edgar Allan Poe Isn’t Just a Sad Boy

My first memory of reading Poe was in high school. We read The Cask of Amontillado in English Lit class, which was either about exposing us to one of the greatest short stories of all time, or our teacher subtly hinting at what he’d have like to have done to his students.

I can’t remember when it was that I decided to read as much Poe as possible. I’m guessing it was during that standard phase everyone goes through sometime in their teens or early 20s. You know, the one that involves you wearing a lot of black and insisting that The Cure made awesome music you can dance to. And since that would have been the late 90s for me, it would definitely have involved a Brandon Lee poster of The Crow hanging on my wall.

Anyway, I remember being highly disappointed with Poe. I wanted to read The Pit and the Pendulum but the collection I’d found of his work hid it in amongst other far more cheery and sarcastic work. So, in some respects, I was aware that Poe was more than just a dark gothic author. Although, I don’t remember noting his sci-fi leanings and may have to revisit him as a result.

And I wouldn’t be a child of the 90s if my favourite Poe moment wasn’t also a Simpsons moment:

Video: The Simpsons adaptation of The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe (archive version here)
Image: I’m just a Poe boy, nobody loves me. He’s just a Poe boy from a Poe family.

We remember Edgar Allan Poe for his tales of horror and the macabre as well as inventing the entire Detective Fiction Genre. But unlike many of the great authors of Western classic literature, he has become an icon unto himself, recognized to this day by name and face almost more than the titles of his stories and poems. But his legacy is more complicated than school books may have lead us to believe.

Hosted by Lindsay Ellis and Princess Weekes, It’s Lit! is a show about our favorite books, genres, and why we love to read. It’s Lit is made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

Book review: The Resurrection Key by Andy McDermott

The Resurrection Key (Nina Wilde & Eddie Chase #15)The Resurrection Key by Andy McDermott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Looking really good for 100,000 years old.

Nina and Eddie are trying to settle down, with Eddie hitting the big 5-0, and Nina in a cushy teaching job. That is until an ambitious student drags them both into an artefact purchase. From then on it is a race to uncover long-hidden technology and stop rich people and governments and their nefarious plans. But is that who they have to worry about?

Just before Xmas, my son realised that I was going to be the only person in our family without a present under the tree. So I was forced, forced I say, to go shopping for a suitable present from my local bookstore. This was the book I bought.

I continue to enjoy the Nina and Eddie adventures. There is a fun, fast-paced, action-packed nature to the books that I really appreciate. Other Artefact-McGuffin-Adventures often take themselves far too seriously for what are ridiculous premises. Andy leans into that ridiculousness and makes it fun and humorous.

Also, I have to commend Andy for writing a portrayal of Aussies and Australia that didn’t make me actively cringe. It is clear he puts some effort into the details that other authors don’t bother with, who instead opt to rewatch Crocodile Dundee while staring at a shirtless poster of Hugh Jackman.

I bought a few ebooks of Andy’s to read in the coming months/years/what is time now anyway? I think I’ll need some fun reading in the coming future.

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Why We Keep Retelling the Classics

This month’s It’d Lit! is all about stealing your story ideas from others.

I’ve previously discussed how few plots there are and how certain archetypes trace their origins back as far as we have records for. One example of this is the wandering hero, or knight errant, arriving in town to take on the bad guys before moving off for the next adventure. This is a popular genre – think Jack Reacher – and has its origins at least as far back as the Greek myths and East Asian folklore.

So is this recycling or is it about the formula storytellers use as the basic backbone to hang their narrative off of?

I’d argue the latter. This is especially true of the examples of “inspired by” or “fan-fic” from the video (and elsewhere). The storyteller will have been thinking about that awesome story and what they’d have liked to do differently, or set it in a different location.

For example, the best Die Hard sequels haven’t been in the Die Hard franchise. Instead, they have been Die Hard On a Bus, or Die Hard On a Plane, or Die Hard In the Whitehouse. The fact you probably know exactly which movies those refer to shows how the basic premise being adapted doesn’t cut down on the creativity. Well, mostly.

And even if the recycling isn’t quite as overt as Die Hard On a Boat, all stories are inspired by or are a combination of the stories that came before. The storyteller has to start somewhere. Preferably not with Die Hard On a Train, the sequel to Die Hard On a Boat.

From James Joyce’s Ulysses to Bridget Jones’s Diary, you’ve probably read a book that was just a modern retelling of a well-established story. Which is to say nothing of other forms of media and their own obsessions with retellings.

And despite what your Writing 101 instincts might tell you, this is neither bad nor lazy writing—or even a new concept. Because let’s be honest: sometimes a story is just so dang good, it bears repeating. Sometimes more than once. Sometimes multiple times. I’m looking at you, Jane Austen.

Hosted by Lindsay Ellis and Princess Weekes, It’s Lit! is a show about our favorite books, genres and why we love to read. It’s Lit has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

Book Review: Last Human and Backwards by Grant Naylor

Last Human (Red Dwarf, #3)Last Human and Backwards by Doug Naylor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s cold outside, there’s no kind of atmosphere, I’m all alone, more or less.

Last Human and Backwards continues the adventures of the crew of Red Dwarf after the events of Better Than Life. Doug Naylor tells the tale of Lister reuniting with his crew and adventuring into an alternate universe where they are mistaken for versions of themselves accused of crimes. Rob Grant tells the tale of Lister reuniting with the crew only to be stuck in the backward universe.

After Grant Naylor split up and became Doug Naylor and Rob Grant to write their respective third instalments in the Red Dwarf series, interesting things happened. I’m reviewing both books as one because I read both back to back and wanted to compare the two.

Last Human is the better of the two third instalments (4 stars). The adventure is a challenge for everyone and shows how far all the characters have come. While not as humorous as the previous books, it does manage to revel in the absurdity. I especially like (and remember from when I originally read this book 25 years ago) the luck virus and its part in the story.

Superficially, Backwards is the more absurd and humorous premise (2 stars). The multiverse crossovers, Ace Rimmer, and the Agonoids should make for an amazing adventure. But I found the jokes a bit flat and the story felt like a series of set-pieces – which is unsurprising given the previous instalments and that this was based on episodic TV scripts.

The main difference I wanted to discuss was the pig. I can still remember this mean “joke” from when I first read the series in the 90s. The “joke” in question appears in Backwards and it becomes apparent that the pig was actually a woman who had become morbidly obese and depressed as a result of being sexually assaulted as a teen by Cat.

The first time I read Backwards I felt sad for that character. This time I felt that Grant didn’t like his characters and would go as far as to be unnecessarily mean to them for fun and sadistic “laughs”.

This is also true of Rimmer. In Last Human, Rimmer is still the coward but manages to grow and be the character who says “Smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back for breakfast”. Naylor lets him become more than a joke. Whereas in Backwards, Grant rubs in just how terrible Rimmer is and how one decision had irreversibly led him to be the loser we’re meant to laugh at.

As Grant Naylor, I think the rough edges of both writers were smoothed out. Gestalt really is a great term for their partnership. But without Naylor, I think that Grant became mean (his own books seem to paint people as incompetent and dumb, and his stories are very dark).

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Book vs Movie: Dune – What’s the Difference?

With the new Dune movie coming soon, it’s time to look at the 80s adaptation’s differences from the classic novel.

On the train to work the other day I noticed that in my carriage half the people reading books were reading Dune – mostly the first novel but some were reading other parts of the series. It was somewhat surprising.

Then about a week later I was in a book store and saw that they had an entire shelf of Dune novels and a new edition of the first novel in piles at the front of the store. It was then that I remembered Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation was coming out soon.

Now of course, I’m so ahead of the game that I read Dune *checks notes* 3 years ago. I even discussed the Dune series’ importance just last year.

For me the main thing about the David Lynch adaptation was that it needed to be a political thriller. Instead it was a drama.

Not that the film isn’t without tension and thrills, like the running across the desert without the thumpers and trying to avoid the worms. But the book needed to be stripped back to that political thriller plot to hang the conflict and civil war on.

I’m not sure what Villeneuve plans to do, but he is a very accomplished storyteller. It will be interesting to see if he succeeds where Lynch managed to find himself crying in the corner he’d painted himself into.

Dune is coming back to the big screen while Denis Villenueve and Timothee Chalamet crashing a sandworm into your HBO Max as well, so it’s time to take a look back at the adaptation from David Lynch back in 1984. Based on the Frank Herbert epic, Dune is considered to be one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time. So how did an indie auteur make a big budget Hollywood adaptation out of a dense fantasy epic? It’s time to remember, fear is the mind killer as we ask, What’s the Difference?

Starring Kyle MacLachlan as Paul Atreides, Sting as the space-underwear clad Feyd-Rautha and the soon-to-be Captain Picard Patrick Stewart, Lynch brought together a fascinating group of 80s character actors like Dean Stockwell, Linda Hunt and Jurgen Prochnow to fill out the cast. A critical and commercial failure when it came out, and in light of prior failed attempts to adapt the sci fi fantasy all-timer, which included Jodorowsky’s Dune, the book was long thought to be unfilmable. With the Atreides and Harkonnen rekindling their big screen rivalry in the form of Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Zendaya and a cast as stellar as the one Lynch assembled, we’ll see how 2021’s adaptation fares.

Book review: Better Than Life by Grant Naylor

Better than Life (Red Dwarf #2)Better than Life by Grant Naylor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The only time watching snooker isn’t boring is when you scale it up.

The crew of Red Dwarf are trapped in the most addictive game of all time: Better Than Life. Most people become trapped because they don’t even realise they are in the game, but Lister, Rimmer, Cat, and Kryten know it. They’ve even thought of leaving. Can they get out before Holly and the Toaster manage to crash into a black hole?

After reading Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers (Red Dwarf #1), I couldn’t help but continue straight into Better Than Life. The former finished with the Red Dwarf crew stuck in BTL, which is something of a cliffhanger. BTL similarly finishes on a bit of a cliffhanger that appears to lead into Backwards (although, Last Human is also a direct sequel to this, because reasons*).

Much like the first novel, this fleshes out ideas and episodes from the first few seasons of Red Dwarf. While it has been quite a while since I watched the show, I think the books do more with the material and rely on less of the banter/insults for humour. And like the first novel, I was pleasantly reminded of just how funny these books (and the show) are.

I’m looking forward to reading Backwards and Last Human soon.

* The reason being that Rob Grant and Doug Naylor had two more books on their contract to deliver and they had decided to separate as a writing team. The exact reasons for the separation are unclear, even to the duo themselves it seems, and Doug Naylor has continued Red Dwarf without Grant.

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Why Do People Think Huck Finn Is Racist?

This month’s It’s Lit is going to talk about one of the most controversial classics of literature.

I read Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn when I was very young. The former was an easy and entertaining read, but the latter I remember being a slog to get through. When I revisited Huck Finn as an adult I came across some history of the book which suggested Twain had battled to write the book over many years. This was certainly how the novel felt in reading.

Both times I read Huck Finn, I was struck by just how infantalised Jim’s character was. It felt wrong. And giving it any level of thought leads you to conclude that this was the way white people viewed African Americans at the time the book was written.

You could argue that this is to draw the reader in and have them empathise with the plight of African Americans. But then wouldn’t you also have Jim grow to become an adult equal to other people by the end of the novel? Or was that something Twain struggled with, as it may have not being judged “realistic” to his audience?

Previously, I’ve discussed banned books and Huckleberry Finn. Something this video raised is what I had said about schools teaching Huck Finn, and that is the idea of complex discussions. It’s hard to teach an older text, provide the context, provide the complex subject matter, and do it all justice. Especially when that subject and context is something like racism.

People might say they are no longer teaching or will attempt to ban Huck Finn because of the N-word. But realistically, it’s because they aren’t willing to put the effort into teaching a complex topic and text. Double that unwillingness if they are someone who wants to pretend racism doesn’t exist.

I’m still a fan of old Samuel Clemens. But as noted in the video, this book isn’t without flaws and there are plenty of other authors and books who probably need highlighting more than Twain and Huck Finn.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by American author Mark Twain is both considered one of the great American novels and one of the most frequently banned and contested novels due to its use of the N-word and racial stereotypes. This has launched many debates as to if the work should even be taught in schools.

Today we are going to attempt to crack the case: is Huckleberry Finn an anti-racist work? Or is it just plain ol’ racist?

Hosted by Lindsay Ellis and Princess Weekes, It’s Lit! is a show about our favorite books, genres, and why we love to read. It’s Lit has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

Book review: Ack-Ack Macaque by Gareth L Powell

Ack-Ack Macaque (Ack-Ack Macaque, #1)Ack-Ack Macaque by Gareth L. Powell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Is a monkey with guns better or worse than a monkey with a handful of poo?

Victoria Valois has returned to Great Britain after the death of her ex-husband. She immediately realises that something is up when the killer comes back to murder her as well. Meanwhile across the pond, the prince and his girlfriend break into his mother’s labs to free the sentient AI of Ack-Ack Macaque. Things do not go according to plan. Victoria barely survives her attack and finds her path crossing the prince and Ack-Ack Macaque as they try to stop a cabal trying to wipe out humanity.

One of Gareth L Powell’s novels came up as a recommendation so I tried to find it at my local library. Instead, I found Ack-Ack Macaque. It was a pleasant surprise.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect after seeing the cover art. Are monkies with revolvers dressed in WW2 flight gear representative of sci-fi novels?

Then the first chapter didn’t exactly grab me.

But the novel picks up after that sluggish start and doesn’t let up. This was fast-paced, enjoyable, and toyed with some of the ideas around sentience and what makes us who we are. At 300-odd pages, this was also a very quick read.

My wife also enjoyed Ack-Ack Macaque, although somewhat less than myself. Probably because there is a reasonably large amount of action and all the elements (characters, themes, etc) can feel superficial.

I’m looking forward to reading some more from Powell.

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Book review: Permutation City by Greg Egan

Permutation City (Subjective Cosmology #2)Permutation City by Greg Egan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Just assume I’m right, I’m the protagonist.

Permutation City is about a guy – I’m sure he had a name, but as most reviews and the back cover indicate, it doesn’t matter – who believes he can create an immortal universe in cyberspace. His doubters think he is a conman, his backers want a copy of themselves there, and his colleagues think he’s still crazy. Can he create an everlasting future in Permutation City?

This was my second attempt at reading Permutation City. A few years ago, this novel and Egan’s work in general, were recommended to me by a friend. I gave up after a couple of chapters. This time I made it all the way through. I’m not entirely sure it was worth it.

Egan is excellent at imaginative and interesting ideas. There is a lot going on in this book that will tickle fans of hard sci-fi in all the right spots. But that was pretty much the only interesting aspect of the book. Everything else was bland or unimportant.

For example, I can’t remember the protagonist’s name nor any character traits. And since I’ve returned the novel to the library, I can’t look it up there. I’d check some of the reviews to remind myself, but none of them mention the protagonist either. There’s a Wikipedia page, which eventually mentions the protagonist (Paul Durham) roughly two thirds through the page.

The main characters didn’t matter.

I can’t recommend this book. Plenty of hard sci-fi fans disagree with me. YMMV.

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Book vs Movie: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – What’s the Difference?

Did you know that Quentin Tarantino had novelised his ninth film? Neither did I. Let’s take a look and What’s the Difference?

As a Tarantino fan since the early 90s – geez, that makes me sound even older than I am – I have to come clean on Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. I didn’t like it.

I’ll even go a step further and say that his previous film, Hateful Eight, wasn’t good either.

Unlike Hateful Eight, which had a decisive moment when the film fell apart (Tarantino’s voice over setting up the third act just ruined everything for me), Once Upon A Time In Hollywood was entirely pedestrian. It always felt like a film avoiding being anything other than a love letter to Hollywood films of the 60s.

In fairness to the movie, Tarantino was clearly trying to subvert many of the usual movie moments and be more about actors making great films. For example, the scene at the ranch was setup for a fight for Pitt’s character (Cliff Booth) and the Manson acolytes. Instead, Tarantino subverts that moment and there is no fight, allowing us plenty more time for DiCaprio’s character to learn about method acting from his child co-star.

That the novelisation is quite different from the film isn’t particularly surprising. It’s pretty difficult to make Brad Pitt into a thoroughly unlikable character in a movie. Something to do with charisma and production credits. But the book is unconstrained by actor charisma, which makes it a good opportunity to throw the character under the bus.

Regardless of Tarantino’s future literary aspirations, I hope his tenth/final film is able to cement his career as one of the greats.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: Who is Cliff Booth anyway?

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a celebrated installment in writer/director Quentin Tarantino’s oeuvre. So when he came out with a book adaptation of the story, we were first in line to read it. But was the book markedly different from the film, and do those differences mean something big? We think so and we’ll explain in this Book vs. Film on Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – The New Ending.

The Unappreciated Female Writers Who Invented the Novel

This month’s It’s Lit covers Amatory Fiction.

This is an interesting video for several reasons. I’m always amused when the topic of rethinking “great authors” comes up and people without pearls start clutching them.

The literary canon excluding certain types of authors and books shouldn’t be news to people. But there always seems to be plenty of reactionary debate making excuses for why, for example, Grapes of Wrath got published while Sanora Babb’s Whose Names Are Unknown (written the same year on the same topic, both using Babb’s notes) took 65 years to be released. Yeah, that was a thing.

I’ve covered this before when calls have been made to increase the diversity of the literary lists for students in the hopes that more diversity of texts will be taught. Getting people who don’t read much to acknowledge that “literary greats” are less about talent than luck (timing, contacts, $$, etc) is a hard task. Trying to get those same people to acknowledge that women, people of colour, and non-Americans might have written books throughout history is often a hurdle they are unwilling to even attempt jumping.

Which brings me around to one of my favourite topics here: snobbery and guilty pleasures. The It’s Lit video shows how snobbery essentially relegated an important part of literature to the unknown and unappreciated baskets of history. Combine that snobbery with a bit of the old bigotry of the pants and you will have people trying to ignore a segment of literature that broke boundaries (e.g. Behn wrote one of the earliest anti-slavery novels).

For more on Sanora Babb’s novel, it is worth watching this video:

The guy typically credited with inventing what we know as the modern novel was Miguel de Cervantes with his cumbersome 800+ page book, Don Quixote. But what if I told you that the real antecedent for the modern novel was created by… ladies.

Before the rise of what would become the modern novel, there was Amatory fiction. Amatory fiction was a genre of fiction that became popular in Britain in the late 17th century and early 18th century. As its name implies, amatory fiction is preoccupied with sexual love and romance. Most of its works were short stories, it was dominated by women, and women were the ones responsible for sharing and promoting their own work.

Hosted by Lindsay Ellis and Princess Weekes, It’s Lit! is a show about our favorite books, genres, and why we love to read. It’s Lit has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

Octavia Butler, The Grand Dame of Science Fiction

This month’s It’s Lit! covers Octavia E Butler.

The most interesting part of this particular video for me isn’t about Octavia Butler. It’s about what I did after watching it.

Let’s face it, her novels sound really interesting. It feels wrong to use the term “fresh voice” for an author who went pro before I was born. But that’s what I thought when her work was being described.

So I logged onto my library e-reading app. Nothing.

I logged onto my local library catalogue. Nothing.

Okay. Don’t panic. Check the state library catalogue and get the local library to request it… Nothing.

Wait, let’s revise that search for all libraries in the state, not just the main library. Ah, success!

Literally. We have a suburb named Success and their library has a copy of Parable of the Sower. That ordering it from Success probably also means the pages have been dipped in meth and I’ll be able to read it in an hour is probably a bonus.

The point I’m making is one I’ve made about several non-cis-het-white-guy authors. It seems common for them to be less available to read. This is annoying. How can we discover new and exciting authors if they aren’t in libraries and stores?

But sure, keep plenty of Dan Brown books on the shelves.

If you are a fan of science fiction a name you should be familiar with is Octavia E. Butler (cough especially if you watched our telly award-winning Afro-Futurism video cough) One of the most prolific and important Black authors in the genre, Butler’s storytelling pushed the boundaries of what Black people were allowed to be in science fiction. Today we will be highlighting the Grand Dame herself, how her novels were important, and sometimes, oddly predictive.

Hosted by Lindsay Ellis and Princess Weekes, It’s Lit! is a show about our favorite books, genres and why we love to read. It’s Lit has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

Book vs Movie: Coraline – What’s the Difference?

This month’s What’s the Difference? is on Coraline.

This is another in the long line of books and movies I haven’t yet gotten to. The best I have on Coraline is that one of my writers’ group friends is a big fan of the book.

Okay, tenuous link.

Look, if you want me to read and watch everything, you’re going to have to invent more hours in the day.

In 2009, artisanal stop motion animation house Laika released their first feature film, Coraline. Based on Neil Gaman’s book of the same name, the film follows a young girl stumbling into a fantastic ‘other’ world to become a sneak-up scary kids movie classic. But how did the film adapt the realistic elements of the book into the visual whimsy of a creative juggernaut making its mark in Hollywood? It’s time to ask, What’s the Difference?

Written for the screen and directed by Henry Selick, of The Nightmare Before Christmas fame, both the book and the movie draw lines between Coraline’s worlds of fantasy and reality. The book is able to make it more distinct thanks while the movie is all stop motion whimsy, all the time. So what changes need to be made to the story to account for that Laika trademark look?

Book review: Burn Bright by Marianne de Pierres

Burn Bright (Night Creatures, #1)Burn Bright by Marianne de Pierres
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There’s a pill for that: a guide to partying on Ixion island.

Retra’s only friend, her brother, abandoned her to seek pleasure away from the stifling culture of Grave. She decides to follow him to Ixion, enduring the pain of an obedience implant to do so. Once there, everyone is encouraged to party until they burn out and get too old. Retra is more concerned about finding her brother. But in doing so, she uncovers the secrets about Ixion and upsets those in charge.

Burn Bright was fine. It had a fast pace and an interesting world.

I think I was halfway through the book when I made the comment, “I don’t know where de Pierres is heading with this, if anywhere.” I guessed straight away that the various Ixion inhabitants were using the kids as cattle in some way. My assumption was that they were vampires, to be honest. It took until the second last chapter for the big reveal, which wasn’t different enough from my assumption to be much of a “twist”.

This could just be the jaded reader in me wanting something fresher. I wasn’t sure where de Pierres was headed with Burn Bright because it felt like the obvious reveal couldn’t be what we were building to. But it was. Essentially, the big mystery was not interesting enough to make everything else payoff.

Burn Bright is entertaining enough, but I feel like this is a book for younger less jaded readers than me.

View all my reviews

What’s in a (Pen) Name?

This month’s It’s Lit! discusses author names and why they are often pseudonyms.

One of the things not discussed in the video is just how ancient the idea of pen names are and how they are/have been used to denote multiple authors.

Homer’s works were probably written by many people, making Homer a pen name. Lao Tzu was also likely to be an attribution for the Taoist collection Tao Te Ching, based upon a semi-mythical founder of the philosophy and religion. The author favoured by business and military leaders, and people with aspirations to being serial killers, Sun Tzu, is believed to have never existed. Instead, decades or centuries of knowledge was collected under the name.

More recently, we see pen names being taken for collaborations. James SA Corey of The Expanse fame is the pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. Grant Naylor of Red Dwarf fame is actually Rob Grant and Doug Naylor. Ilona Gordon and Andrew Gordon write under the name Ilona Andrews for their adventures in urban fantasy. And Tom Clancy is famously half-a-dozen homicidal monkeys taped together.

In all these instances, you can see why a pen name was utilised. Having two authors on the cover of a book is reserved for franchises, like James Paterson and Clive Cussler. The name that will sell the book is at the top in bold, and the flunky who actually wrote it is attributed somewhere they’ll be missed. So writing teams need a pen name. The more historical examples appear to be about attribution to a progenitor or (semi) mythical figure, either to honour the inspiration for later works (particularly from more oral traditions), or to collect work under one banner.

This makes pen names very interesting. Particularly as knowledge of the author/s fades into history. The art outlives the artist. Yet we still try to figure out who they were and how they came to entertain and influence us long after their passing.

Maybe one day our descendants will be arguing whether James Paterson was a real author or just a marketing brand for blooding new authors. Maybe by then the Clancy monkeys might have mellowed out a bit.

To some people, the idea of a pen name seems kind of weird. If I, a writer, am going to put countless hours of hard work and thought into my masterpiece, why wouldn’t I want to put my own name underneath the title?

But from Stephen King to Ben Franklin to …., who had their own secret aliases, to Mark Twain and Dr. Seuss, whose pseudonyms became so famous that they are remembered by their pen names and not their actual names, the nom de plume has a long and proud history in the literary world.

Hosted by Lindsay Ellis and Princess Weekes, It’s Lit! is a show about our favorite books, genres, and why we love to read. It’s Lit has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.