Screening Room: The Oscars Get It Wrong

You would have thought that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would have thought that 2017 was a good year for engaging with a raging body politic and fracturing republic. Not so much.

You can read “In a Turbulent Year, the Oscars Retreat to Fantasy” at Eyes Wide Open:

What did [the Academy] decide? That in the midst of skyrocketing levels of economic inequality, near-weekly threats to the norms of American democracy, occasional panic about the itchiness of not one but two megalomaniacs’ nuclear-trigger fingers, and the normalization of white nationalism, the most nominated movie of the year was a fantasy about a woman in love with a merman.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

Writer’s Desk: No Labels

One of our great writers of not just science fiction and fantasy but literature period is no longer with us. Ursula K. Le Guin passed away last week–read Margaret Atwood’s obituary here–and the world of letters is less for it.

She told John Wray a few years back that she got a little prickly when boxed in as just a “sci-fi writer”:

Don’t shove me into your pigeonhole, where I don’t fit, because I’m all over. My tentacles are coming out of the pigeonhole in all directions.

Listen to what Le Guin said. Send your writer’s tentacles everywhere.

Reader’s Corner: Decolonize the Shelves

Junot Diaz (The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao) spoke to a packed crowd of booksellers and other literary business folk at this year’s Winter Institute in Memphis. The Dominican-born Diaz, whose latest book Islandborn will be out this March, talked about the importance of books to an immigrant like him:

… [arriving] in the United States completely illiterate, if it hadn’t been for the kindness of librarians,” he probably wouldn’t have found books. But he did. “Books became my shelter against the white world that sometimes felt like it was trying to destroy me.”

He stressed the need for book curators to help “decolonize the shelves”:

Bookstore owners and librarians are on the front line. It’s the smallest intervention that can sometimes create the most important, lasting change … I wrote my children’s book, Islandborn, because I believe there are things immigrants can teach that we all need to hear without which we will never understand this stolen land we inhabit.

Screening Room: ‘The Opera House’

 The Opera House is a curiously fascinating documentary about the Metropolitan Opera’s highly fraught move in the 1960s from their old house on Broadway to the brand-new Lincoln Center after an entire immigrant neighborhood was bulldozed to make room.

My review is at Film Journal International.

Here’s the trailer.

Reader’s Corner: ‘Extreme Cities’

My review of Ashley Dawson’s Extreme Cities: The Peril and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change, was published in the Winter 2017–2018 edition of RainTaxi Review of Books:

[E]ven though logic would dictate transforming low-lying shorelines into storm surge-absorbing wetlands, planners in cities like New York and Miami continue building right up to the water line. Meanwhile, even conservative modeling has seas rising over six feet by 2100. Set against that inexorable future, Dawson’s description of a “feckless capitalist culture of ruinous growth” has the ring of truth…

TV Room: ‘Altered Carbon’

Richard K. Morgan’s cyberpunk noir novels posited a future world where death is mostly a thing of the past. Everyone’s mind can be downloaded into a surgically implanted “stack” which at the point of death can then be “resleeved” into a new body of whatever gender or race one prefers. It’s a fascinating concept that Morgan mined for a hardboiled capitalist critique but is worked out for mostly action-junkie hijinks in the derivative 10-part streaming adaptation of Altered Carbon, the first novel in the series.

Altered Carbon premieres on Netflix February 2. My review is at The Playlist.

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Find a Group

In his great literary guide and memoir On Writing—read it now, if you haven’t already—Stephen King unpacked many secrets of the scrivening trade. Among the more salient was this:

Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference.

Finding a writers’ group helps. So does suborning your friends and family to read what you’re working on. Feedback is never a waste, even if you end up ignoring it completely.