Year End: Recapping 2016

It’s that time of year again! December is working towards a close, and it’s time to go over what I’ve read and tell you all about it in one dump post! This year I’ve picked five short stories, three novellas, and five novels, since I’ve been reading more widely. These weren’t necessarily published this year, just read this year.

Best Short Stories


I read so many short stories this year. In the end, I decided to pick five that I loved a lot and would love for you to read, too. They are:

What Becomes of the Third-Hearted, by A. Merc Rustard

Published in Shimmer Magazine, which does some delightfully surreal pieces, this story is short, cerebral, and heart-breaking. A meditation on the sharply bittersweet nature of love, which is also the nature of loss. Read it, weep.

And You Shall Know Her by Her Trail of Dead, by Brooke Bolander

This story is gritty-lovely, with some gender bending that I greatly appreciated. If you’re into Matrix-style crime thrillers, women crushing it, and booze, I recommend.

The Jaws that Bite, the Claws that Catch, by Seanan McGuire

I had two stories by Seanan on my shortlist here, but I ended up with this one because Alice in Wonderland is best, and also because I want to be a Jabberwock when I grow up. For a hopeful story about who the real monsters are, look no farther.

TumbleDown, by Kameron Hurley

This story was published on Kameron Hurley’s Patreon. If you’re not subscribed to that, you should be. It was delicious, carrying all of Hurley’s trademark violence and rigorous world-building in a tiny, edible package. Also the main character is a super badass disabled woman so read it if for no other reason than that.

The Key to Saint Medusa’s, by Kat Howard

So screwed up thing about my childhood – when I was little, my parents got my brother and I each a folk story on tape. My brother got Hans Christian Anderson’s “Tinderbox,” the story of a soldier who is kind of a jerk but gets a princess and a castle and a happy ever after. I got “Bluebeard.” If you aren’t familiar, that’s a story about a girl who gets married off to a very rich man who, spoiler warning, murders all of his wives. And they wonder why I turned out to be a feminist. Anyway, check out this Bluebeard re-imagining. I imagine you’ll appreciate it if, like me, you’re the curious kind of woman.

Special mention: At the Mouth of the River of Bees. I couldn’t pick one story from this collection, because they were without exception amazing. Also “The Dragon’s Tears” by Aliette de Bodard got beat out last minute by “TumbleDown,” but I still love it so check it out.

Best Novellas

I only picked three of these because I don’t read a lot of novellas. I enjoy them immensely when I get to them, though. I would recommend these three novellas at the expense of every other item on these lists, so if you’re questioning where to start, here is a good idea.

The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle

I wrote a whole blog post about this novella, with spoilers. Read the novella, read the blog post, feel amazing.

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, by Kij Johnson

Kij Johnson also wrote At the Mouth of the River of Bees, if short stories are more your speed. This was a Lovecraftian work of love, with awesome social critique. Very similar to The Ballad of Black Tom in that way, in fact. I’m detecting a pattern here….

The Raven and the Reindeer, by T. Kingfisher

I’m not going to lie, this is probably my favorite thing in this post. This novella is wonderful, absolutely so. It’s the re-imagining of The Snow Queen I would have liked to see go to film in place of Frozen. Fittingly, it is nothing like that movie. Yes, there is a quest, and a queen made of ice. But true to the original story, the quest is about a girl going to find a boy and save him. Unlike the original story, it’s very debatable as to if this boy deserves saving. The research into the underlying culture and mythology were rad, so if you are fans of fairytales, organic magical systems, and talking birds, I recommend. Also the romance in this book is one of my favorites I’ve read recently.

Best Novels

Okay, let the drumroll commence. This is what you have probably been reading for. In fact, some of you probably scrolled right to the novels. I don’t blame you. This is my predominant medium of consuming literature as well. So let’s hit it.


In no particular order, my favorite books from 2016 are:

The Obelisk Gate, by N.K. Jemisin

It’s perhaps no surprise to you that this book makes the list. Sequel to The Fifth Season, which made my best of list last year and also won a Nebula, this book was a natural for me to read this year. It came out in August, and it was not a disappointment. I had no idea how the author was going to write a sequel given the way the first book was set up, but she surprised me in a very good way. Jemisin is pushing boundaries in fantasy convention, and doing it well.

The Water Knife, by Paolo Bacigalupi

So I mentioned on Twitter recently that I have a special place in my heart for bilingual books. The Water Knife, set in Phoenix in the near future, is one of those books. It also happens to be set in the city I was born in, and where some of our extended family still live. The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb in this case, as my extended family is predominantly Latina and of no blood relation. They are near and dear to my heart, though, and Phoenix is part of me. Reading this book was insanely hard because of that. It’s not a happy book. It’s a pretty damn scary book, actually. But it’s beautifully written, believable, and worth the damn read. Also everyone I love on the west coast definitely dies in this near-future scenario, so if I could enjoy it and admire it despite that you are probably going to be fine, dear reader.

Ghost Talkers, Mary Robinette Kowal

On the list of books that made me cry but are just awesomely researched and written, I have to add this one. Set in World War I, this book is a solid piece of literature which incorporates a very interesting magic system (as Kowal is wont to do) overlaid with dense and historically accurate world-building that nonetheless treats women and minorities as people. That’s right, folks, if you like historical fiction but dislike the bad taste it often leaves in your mouth in regards to representation, I have not one, but two recommendations for you this year! Really you can read any of Kowal’s historical fantasy works and trust that this is the case.

Fire, by Kristin Cashore

Moving further into the lighter end of things, I offer this lovely novel. It is technically a standalone, in that you don’t really need to read Graceling, the first book in this series, to enjoy it. I would recommend reading Graceling, however, though I did not enjoy it nearly as much as I enjoyed Fire. It’s one of those book that made me cry with joy and with the feeling of being understood. It has an innocence that the narrative of the first two novels on this short list lack, which is really refreshing sometimes, honestly.

FEED, by Mira Grant

Ya’ll had to suspect I was going to include this one, didn’t you? It’s one of my favorite books I’ve read in an age, despite the many people who argue that it isn’t really a zombie book. It is a zombie book, and it is a hella smart one. Grant did her research on this book, guys, and it shows. She also displays her customary acutely real portrayal of human nature and its complexities. Mira Grant, for those who don’t know, is Seanan McGuire’s pseudonym for horror and mad science, so expect a little less of her general complicated but generally happy endings and a little more of the grisly destruction.

Have you read one of these? What were your favorite stories this year? Let me know in the comments!

A Yuletide post

Happy Holidays to one and all! No matter what you celebrate, I hope you have a great time this year. Heavens knows we need it.

One of the things I want to talk about with this post is the importance of making space for yourself, of making time to be quiet and small in vastness, to be lost and still. So much of the time, especially leading up to the last month of the year, we find ourselves running around frantically. Searching for gifts, bombarded with music and lights and stimulus cutting through the dark. There is definitely a good part to this. It’s nice to have warmth and light and cheer in the face of the steadily lengthening nights, the often crummy weather, but we pay a price for that cheer. Nothing is free. The price is often in our sanity, in our time alone, in our comfort and health.

We can, if careful, balance ourselves, and use these bright moments to power us through the long, dark month of January into the snowy brightness of February and the gusting winds of March. But for many of us, especially us introverts, that requires care.

I have not necessarily been taking care of myself lately. I’ve been juggling too many things – there are a lot of things, after all, that go into a wedding, not to mention the normal stresses of a Christmas season. I do celebrate Christmas, after a fashion. It’s a pseudo-secular version – no babies in mangers or anything, just pretty holly branches and candles and shiny lights. I partake of presents wrapped up with bows and good food shared with the family, though our food is enchiladas and homemade salsa and rice and beans. Christmas to me is chili peppers and Kahlua and pine needles. I rationalize it by saying that most of the Christmas traditions were stolen ones, but you know, it’s really just easier to go with the flow on this one. The lights are so pretty, after all. The house is warm, the songs are familiar. And I don’t mind a holiday that’s about giving. One of my favorite things is to pick out gifts for people. Books are the most fun, because you get to hear how they liked it afterwards. But kitchen supplies and gourmet coffees and star maps and little rocket ships have all featured on my gift lists over the years past. It’s fun to find the things that will make a person light up. You can’t find it with everyone – we all have dud years, for sure – but when you do get it right, it’s absolutely delicious.

This year, though, much of my gift-acquisition has been haphazard. Everyone is getting small things, because between holding down a full-time job, writing, and gift shopping I have also been hunting for a dress, trying to pin down a caterer, figuring out decoration themes, coordinating with my Brewmaster Extraordinaire, contemplating a honeymoon, looking for a house, sending out save the dates and designing invitations….the list, I must admit, is long. You never realize just how long the list is, until you start marching forward with the list. Who made the list so long?

One of the things I have had to do to hold on to the bits of sanity I need to enjoy this holiday season and not set it all on fire is to schedule me-time. Now, me-time that is scheduled is not, to my feeling, quite as lovely as me-time that is unscheduled, but beggars cannot be choosers, as the very classist saying goes, so I must schedule or lose any hope of me-time. Some of the things I do to wind down include long showers, anime marathons, take out, and reading books. Sex, cuddles, and general positive partner time also help me, though mileage may vary, of course. Some people really would rather just be alone, and I certainly have those days. But the S.O. and I have date nights where we just don’t talk about any of this planning stuff, and it has been a relationship and life saver. Going to see a movie with the person I love is so much more enjoyable than bugging him about his schedule or the paperwork we haven’t filed yet. Looking for those moments of personal joy is just as important as trying to bring joy to others.

So this holiday season, do yourself an act of service, whatever kind it is. Buy yourself a chocolate, get a massage, or just take a moment to sit down and enjoy a cup of tea with the cat in your lap. It’s your gift to yourself, and it is the season for giving gifts. Your loved ones will appreciate it when you don’t burn down their house in rage, and you will feel better.

Lots of love, my dears. And Happiest of Holidays to all of you.

 

 

Creating as a woman

The other day, a friend and I were discussing the movie The Fifth Element. My S.O. loves that movie. It is ironically one of the only science fiction movies that he enjoys. I chalk this up to nostalgia – not that I don’t enjoy the movie, the opposite, but it’s not really his kind of science fiction. His speed is more Interstellar or something else vastly cerebral.

Anyway, so my friend and I were discussing this and she mentioned that The Fifth Element would have been vastly better with some gender-flipping. The trope of the woman as sacred object, the naive woman who needed a man to save her and help her navigate the world, was tiring for her. Make Bruce Willis be Leeloo, and have Milla Jovovich be the tough cab driver with a mysterious past. I suggested going one further – keep Jovovich as the mystical Leeloo, and cast some hard-bitten older woman in Bruce Willis’ role. Her name could be Kora, or Ervin. You already have several speaking male side characters, including the very prominent role of the antagonist. Why not?

In a separate conversation on one of the social media sites I subscribe to, I found this post which talked about the role of female heroes in writing. I want to talk about how it made me feel in light of the above and in light of my identity as a writer. I swear it connects to the above.

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Writing as a woman is hard, because you’re covered in sticky cobwebs of male gaze and you don’t even know it. The post above mentions male writers, but male writers, as male directors, are only part of the problem. They are a huge part of the problem, sure. But the other part of the problem is that we as female creators often perpetuate their tropes.

Unfortunately, even once you awaken to the tropes in question, it can be hard to shake them, mostly because there aren’t any mainstream models of the kind of story you do want to tell. You end up making it up as you go along. I was lucky. I found authors like Martha Wells and Laurie J. Marks early. I knew I loved what they were writing, but I didn’t really understand why. It took me years, four of them spent at an all women’s undergraduate college, to really recognize what it was that was so fulfilling about these stories for me. It was because those stories were written for me. They weren’t written for the male gaze, but for mine. The characters in them, both male and female, were not indefinably crippled by the assumptions that so often come up in our stories: the woman must be saved, the woman must be beautiful, the woman must be perfect, the woman must have volition, but not too much. She must not overshadow the male protagonist. She must be good.

Nowadays I have added a plethora of authors to my list who are writing the kinds of stories I want to write, and to read. Seanan McGuire, Catherynne Valente, Kameron Hurley, N.K. Jemisin – they are all doing amazing things, testing the boundaries of their genres, and generally rocking out. They are telling the kinds of stories that I want to tell

But it is still hard, despite that, to shake the tropes that have so often reoccurred in mainstream fiction and genre fiction. I still read through a story or a paragraph and realize, oh, I have done the thing that I did not want to do. I have reduced my character to her attractiveness, to her goodness, and not let any of the dark survive to give her flavor. Writing as a woman is a balancing act between being true to your heart and being pulled in by the assumptions you never realized that you were taught to make. You can guarantee that if you are true to your heart, someone will accuse you of being an SJW, of distracting from the story, of advancing an agenda. And if you get pulled the other way, if you give up – well, you have even more left to lose. It is hard.

But the best things in life are rarely easy. So chin up, buttercup. Write your heart.

(P.S. if someone wants to write that Fifth Element AU I will totally read it. Totally.)

New York, Lorca, and Movies

There are whole essays written on Federico Garcia Lorca, whose work has appeared on this blog before and who continues to be an important part of my literary education, mostly because all of my literary education of note has occurred in Spanish and El Ogro, soul of my soul, professor of the highest order, may he rest in peace, taught me most of it. I doubt this will be the last time I talk about Lorca. He influenced  Neruda, and was influenced in turn by Whitman, two of my favorite poets. He was a powerhouse, and he died far too young, victim of a fascist regime that targeted him for his words and his sexuality.

One of his most studied collections is Poeta en Nueva York, or Poet in New York, which chronicles the poetry that he wrote in and about New York City in 1929 and 1930. New York is an old city, and profoundly important historically. Yet I rarely feel the depth and vivacity of it in film. This was no less true on Thanksgiving when I watched Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which I have critiqued thoroughly here, and critique of which brought me to reread some of Lorca to find his depictions of New York.

Lorca visited New York in 1929, as the United States was falling into the Great Depression. It was the end of the Jazz Age, which is relevant to the aforementioned Fantastic Beasts in that this movie was based in the Jazz Age. Other writers will better speak of the history and context of the body of work that he produced there, including the loss of the original manuscript in which it was compiled. I’m not your girl for that, and that’s probably not what you’re here for. I’m a science fiction and fantasy buff who also really happens to like Spanish, seeing as I got a degree in it, and reads a deal of poetry from time to time. And I’m also a person that, as mentioned, was really unsettled to see the total lack of believable, historically accurate setting in a movie meant to appeal to a wide audience of predominately young people and young adults who might not know better than to take at face value that New York was a bastion of whiteness.

There is a poem in Poeta en Nueva York called “El rey de Harlem,” “The King of Harlem.” It is not about whiteness. It is about los negros, the black people to whom Lorca writes one of the longest and most vivid odes within this work. There is, indeed, a whole section of this collection entitled “Los negros,” dedicated to the black people who lived in New York City. It is telling that a Spanish poet who visited during this time found that black life and existence within New York was so impressing, so large a portion of the fabric of American life, that he dedicated three poems specifically to them. The refrain of “The King of Harlem,”or my rough translation of it, is particularly poignant in this context, as black Americans were ubiquitous as service members in many parts of the city.

“Oh Harlem, Oh Harlem, Oh Harlem!

There is no anguish which compares to your oppressed eyes

To your blood strewn within this dark eclipse

To your pomegranate violence, deaf and dumb in the shadows,

To your great king, prisoner, within the jacket of a doorman.”

Lorca’s depictions of black residents of New York were certainly not without their problems. But he did depict them, he did not shy away from the diversity of the city – perhaps because he himself often ventured into Harlem for the more selfish reason of trysting with lovers and other such activities. This was the time of Prohibition, after all, when much happened behind closed doors. It was a messy, chaotic time that birthed “The Wasteland” by T.S. Eliot, The Great Gatsby, and other such classics. It was also the time of the Harlem Renaissance, a fact conveniently glossed over in many depictions of 1920s New York, including that of Fantastic Beasts.

I am not a scholar of this time. There is no way in this brief blogpost that I can effectively encompass and illustrate all of the complexity of New York in the 1920s, and I know that I have missed things a more thorough student of such things would know. But I can leave you with the words of Langston Hughes, whose New York should have shaped the setting and plot of this movie, and hope that Hollywood might remember them the next time it seeks to whitewash the seat of black urban culture. And if you’re fed up with this lazy storytelling, I recommend “The Ballad of Black Tom” or watching some Luke Cage to get the taste out of your mouth. Let’s all hope for more depictions of our history that seek to include instead of erase.

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Hurricane Heels, by Isabel Yap

So Book Smugglers hooked me up with an ARC of Hurricane Heels by Isabel Yap, and I have to say I really enjoyed it.

The book will be released on December 5th, which is tomorrow, so this is a special Sunday book post. You may see some more of these as I get more ARCs in the future. The review will be spoiler-free as much as I can manage, so no major plot points given away, and therefore pretty short. So no need to run screaming in fear of spoiling a good book.

The concept behind this book is pretty straightforward at first blush. It is a “magical girl” novel, following tropes of the anime genre that gave rise to such classics as Sailor Moon and Madoka Magica. That said, this is not a fluffy book. There are some serious moral questions raised about the prospect of being a child, as these girls generally are, gifted with powers and expected to fight unnameable evils, risking their lives for the good of humankind and some nebulous promise of victory. There’s also some good delving into PTSD and the psychological pressure associated with a life of endless battles.

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Picture from the first chapter of Hurricane Heels.

The book follows five girls who have all been selected to fight evils called Greystones. Like an RPG, each Greystone releases a glass heart, which contains energy that allows their divine benefactor, the goddess (otherwise unnamed) to gain power. The story takes place primarily in the weeks leading up to the wedding of one of the five, Selena. Simultaneous flashbacks show the group’s history together, building their characters and making you care about them. Yap manages the timelines adeptly in each chapter, building a whole out of fragmented moments. The structure of this book actually reminded me of Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire, and I would recommend it to anyone who likes Seanan McGuire’s work.

In addition, the book references its anime inspiration with some great drawings of the viewpoint characters at the beginning of each chapter. My only wish was for a drawing of all of the girls together at the beginning, since it would have helped me to keep them apart in my head better. I found the earliest chapter hard to follow as I assigned names to personalities and histories, but I don’t know if that was due to me reading it on my phone (quite possible). Maybe the cover will show all of them together – I’m very excited to see it!

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Please have a cover that looks like this.

If you’re into a dark re-imagining of Sailor Moon with great representation of POC and LGBTQ folks, this is the book for you. Prepare yourself for a lot of wedding talk, bachelorette parties, and monster guts.

EDIT: So this is the actual cover for Hurricane Heels! I like it, though I still want to see some fanart of them all arrayed Sailor-Senshi style.

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Fantastic Beasts: my feelings

So I felt really, really upset after watching Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them this past week. Some people seem to have really liked it, which is baffling to me. I grew up on Harry Potter, like many in my generation, generally loved the books, and for me this movie was an uncomfortable, disconcerting experience – like hearing an old friend you hadn’t seen in years say something incredibly racist in casual conversation. It’s that moment where the world is slightly out of kilter because you’re in shock. Eventually that shock devolves into rage, at least for me. So if you continue to read this blog post, you will be on the rage side of the spectrum, because that is the head space that I wrote it in. A warning if this was a movie you enjoyed – you’re probably going to feel uncomfortable if you stick around. Honestly, that might be a good thing, but its your call. If you want a quick summary, since this is a long post, skip to the last few paragraphs.

First of all, full disclosure, I wasn’t planning on seeing this movie in theaters. I’m a huge Harry Potter fan, but I had a mixed response to the movies (I’m generally more of a book girl) and was pretty unimpressed with the Fantastic Beasts trailers as well as the early promotional stuff that went on at Pottermore. I went with my parents, who had zero problems with the movie, which is honestly unsurprising. And I have seen some lovely, positive reviews of this movie and some of the male characterization, so if you’re interested in hearing about the things the movie got right (few though they are) I welcome you to check out this article over on The Bustle.

There will, as always, be spoilers. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, bail out here. Also, my language is not nice, so buckle up.

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If you’re still with me, I’ve broken this down into subheadings for easier digestion, and also because it is super long. Here, then, were my issues with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

1) The beasts felt like an afterthought.

I liked Newt. I liked his Beasts. I would have been there for a story just about him and his Beasts and running from the law. I was not there for the evil wizard thing tacked onto the anti-magic fundamentalist child abusers. We have two competing plots in this movie, or maybe three, and I got whiplash. This may not hold true for other viewers (I’ve heard different things) but for me it felt forced. Basically I really enjoyed the first half of the movie, minus some awkward moments, and abjectly disliked the second half. That’s all I’m going to say on this point for now, but if you want some expansion I’ll get back to it in Item 4. So let’s move along to the more important bits.

2) I didn’t buy the characters.

There were four main characters in this movie that you were meant to care about, not including the poor kid who gets obliterated at the end after a lifetime of child abuse, and his really twisted, younger sister. They were, in no particular order: Newt, a head-in-the-clouds sort with a strong sense of justice and a potentially unhealthy attachment to animals which could possibly eat him; Jacob, the “No-Maj,” overweight, nice guy character who really likes pastries (by the way, my favorite character despite the fact that he was consistently used for comic relief, mostly because he was the only halfway decent person Newt encountered for the first half hour of the film); Queenie, the quintessential ditzy blonde who really turns out to be smart and loyal (second favorite character, and honestly I shipped her and Jacob so hard); and Tina. Tina, why did you ruin everything? Between you and Seraphina I lost all faith in this movie from the opening scenes.

I know that this is not the actress who played either character’s fault. They did the best with the script they were given, it is obvious. But let me just say that the kind of person who can continually talk over and dismiss her subordinates but then gets angry when that subordinate comes to her with vital information after the fact and punishes her for it, the type of gross incompetence that Seraphina as president of MCUSA displays – that was not believable for me for a woman, much less a woman of color, in such a powerful position in the 1920s – at least barring some very real world-building that would account for it, which I just didn’t see. And Tina. Goddess bless, Tina.

Let’s talk about Tina.

We are meant to believe that Newt is sort of incompetent with people and that he has been harmed by that before but that he generally gets out of things by being a somewhat shifty and yet strangely earnest person. Okay, I have some issues with that, but I will buy it. Socially awkward people abound and when you get to know them they are generally pretty cool. That’s what we’re going with and I get it.

Tina was also supposed to be that socially awkward character I think, in sharp contrast to the glowing Queenie, her sister who was also a Legimens. We can imagine that this social awkwardness is what makes people dislike her so much (enough for her coworkers to murder her viciously without question???? WHAT WAS THAT SCENE?) but I don’t buy that someone who had been a successful Auror and screws up once is such a damn idiot. Like, I get that she is socially awkward and has bad timing. Okay. But there is socially-awkward-and-has-bad-timing and then there is “holy shit what is wrong with you.” You march a guy into a convention of your Magical Congress (I assume that was what that was, it was not explicitly stated) inside a courtroom which is obviously only used for such grandiose meetings and other similar high-faluting activities, and just start running off at the mouth without even having the situational awareness to realize a meeting is in session? Running off at the mouth when you know there is an open investigation regarding murders in the city committed by some kind of creature? And then you have the nerve to be surprised when you get your friend arrested, his animals probably exterminated? You don’t survive as an Auror without being aware of your surroundings, no matter how good you are with spells and how strong your sense of justice. Socially awkward only takes me so far, and it did not take me to the realm of Tina. I didn’t believe in her at all until about the last half of the movie, and at that point I was just along for the ride (see above). Which brings me to…

3) Everyone in the government was a dick. (#Sorrynotsorry)

Why would you even want to live in America? This is apparently the question J.K. Rowling asked herself throughout writing this movie.

The staff of MCUSA is a bunch of sociopaths apparently, with possibly more money/power than sense. We’ve seen that theme in other Harry Potter movies, so its not surprising. What is surprising is that I can see absolutely no reason for the government officials to act the way they do if they have even a shred of self-preservation, especially (as mentioned above) Seraphina. So given all that it is very confusing to me that Tina has any loyalty to them at all. (You thought we were going to stop bashing Tina, didn’t you?)

I get the draconian laws about obliviating everyone everywhere because of the apparently heightened tension between discovery by the non-magical community and the witching community. One presumes that this is exacerbated by the emerging technologies of cameras and shit. Though apparently an obliviate charm can work on the paper (talk about a deus ex machina at the end of this movie, I can’t…ick. That was Into Darkness level.)

The government of non-magical USA is also full of dicks apparently, as evidenced by senator what’s-his-bottom, son of the newspaper tycoon who looked like he was going to have a bigger part and then….didn’t. I was actually okay with him dying because who is that much of a shit to a kid? I get he was supposed to be a spoiled rich boy or something but is no one nice in this damn city?? Can’t anyone catch a break? Especially the poor orphans?

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Take his picture of Jacob being a doll to make the rest of this review go down easier. He looks as dismayed as I feel.

4) Can we stop with the Salem witch trials?

Speaking of orphans, I have some REAL problems with this whole story arc. First of all, did anyone else feel like they were watching two movies, neither of which was really developed into anything? Because I really liked the “gather all the escaped animals and fall in love” plot, and I get that we had to have Grindelwald in there doing his fascist racial superiority gag as Voldemort 2.0, but we did NOT need those poor kids in this movie.

I had some strong emotional reactions to this plot arc because:

a) I was raised as a Wiccan/Neo-Pagan which is probably why I bonded to Harry Potter so thoroughly in the first place and watching that little girl chanting about all the ways to hang me or kill me for my religious beliefs was a little much. I get that it is just a movie, you can tell me I was too serious or that it was supposed to be unsettling, but as far as I can tell it didn’t advance the plot or really build the world and I would have preferred to spend that time elsewhere for my psychological health and enjoyment of the damn film.

b) I also happen to be a woman who thinks and generally likes my unmarried lifestyle as a working lady on birth control already living with her S.O. despite the lack of marriage thing, so depictions of religious extremism make me uncomfortable especially when handled poorly. This was handled poorly, since I never got a real reason for why any of these people would even connect the idea of witches/wizards with modern day, licentious, 1920s New York, where I imagine there were much bigger fish to fry historically (more on that later).

c) Graphic depictions of child abuse are not cool to me, especially on a movie that definitely will catch some kids in the audience. No one needs to see that or normalize it. Harry Potter as a franchise is of course built on the abused child being brought into a world of magic and emancipated. I’m good with that. This movie did not do that. This movie took a bunch of abused kids and punished those who helped them, and then murdered one of those children in cold blood. That’s pretty messed up.

d) I am so tired of this damn trope – like do you think this didn’t happen in the U.K./Europe? Is America supposed to be the only place where women were killed for looking at you wrong, because I can guarantee that that is not the case. We didn’t come by those ideas in vacuum – you only have to look to such episodes as the Inquisition to see that people in Europe have been killing each other for being or believing differently forever, and one particularly salacious episode in Salem is still somehow the defining moment in early American history. The Salem Witch Trials were not even slightly contemporary with 1920s New York City, and it just felt sad and tired to have that moment be the center of this story when there were so many more interesting things that Rowling could have tapped into given the setting she chose. Too much was obviously trying to be done with this movie, and it definitely suffered for it, especially since…

5) Where was this movie even?

Despite 1920s New York City being a hotbed of culture and inspiration, the setting of this movie was Not Great, and that was a fucking shame. I was left with about a thousand questions, including: Where do witches live? What do they do? How do they stay hidden? Are there different factions of witches (ethnically, religiously, racially)? Why were the black people singing in the speakeasy made into CGI goblins, whose fucking idea was that? And, most importantly, where were all of the OTHER black people who were definitely living in New York in the 1920s? Better minds than mine have asked these questions, and I’m going to delve into a bit of why the last was such a problem next week. But yeah, total face-plant on this part.

It is a reminder that even if we get some things right as creators, we will often get many things wrong, and that we must be careful in whom we trust to advise us in patching up our blind spots.

Okay, so, in closing, this movie was a clusterfuck. It was a visually appealing clusterfuck with lots of great graphics and CGI. I thought the beasts were cool for sure. Jacob’s character was best. Newt’s character was solid, and I really wish we had seen more of his reasons for being in New York. It seems unlikely that will happen, given the ending.

Despite those good things, this movie erases or ignores marginalized communities and the diverse setting of 1920s New York. It lacks grounding, relying on action and flashy graphics to distract from that. And it plays off of tired tropes. One of the reason that we all feared Voldemort so much was because he had taken something away from Harry, who we loved; and because he was so feared, because the setting of the wizarding world in the original books was so well developed as to make him fearful. All of that was missing here, and the magic of the wizarding world that made the first series so attractive for viewers was largely overshadowed by a grim reality that every character in this movie with the exception of Newt, Jacob, Queenie, and eventually Tina, was a terrible person who seemed to lack basic compassion. When wizards at large are rendered faceless murderers in wide-brimmed hats, you have to question if you are improving your world or not.

I hate that I had this reaction to this movie, because I am immensely grateful to J.K. Rowling for her previous works. It is not very reassuring to me that she had so much creative license with this movie and still managed to drive what could have been a wonderful film into the ground. It would have taken very little in terms of reaching out to marginalized communities to fix a lot of the problems listed above, though not all of them, and it would have made for a stronger movie. It is a reminder that even if we get some things right as creators, we will often get many things wrong, and that we must be careful in whom we trust to advise us in patching up our blind spots.

There will doubtless be plenty of people like my parents who were able to sail along on nostalgia and shiny explosions and bypass all of the stuff that I have talked about above. More power to you, I suppose. For the rest of us, I guess it’s time to go make a whiskey on the rocks and try to avoid contaminating our childhood memories with this unfortunate episode. Tune in next week for a meditation on 1920s New York inspired by a Spanish poet, just because.