Welcome to Smugglivus 2016! Throughout this month, we will have guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2016, looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2017, and more.
Next on Smugglivus 2016, please give a warm welcome to Catherine F. King, Smuggler Contributor and Author of The Ninety-Ninth Bride.
2016 has not been a good year, for anyone. For me, it’s had its bright spots, but October and November completely eclipsed them. And more than anything else, this year has been long. I look back on what I did at the beginning of this year, and I go, “Really? That was just this year? Are you kidding me?”
I made some wonderful discoveries – I read and loved The Curse of Chalion on the recommendation of two friends, I read through a plethora of Catherynne M. Valente, including the entire Fairyland series, and I finally got around to The Shepherd’s Crown, the last novel of Discworld.
But what about the most recent works, the most impressive works? Well, that’s where this retrospective comes in.
I shall start my Smugglivus retrospective the same way I ended last years’: by reviewing a piece of media that actually came out the year before. To 2015! Roll camera three!
“Welcome to the American sector! Feast your eyes on glorious Pluto, her wild frontier, her high standard of living, her rugged, hardworking citizens, her purple mountains majesty!”
Radiance, by Catherynne M. Valente, was a wonder. Through many different lenses, it tells the story of Moon native and auteur documentarian Severin Unck, from her portentous birth to her disappearance investigating the callowhales of Venus. To quote my own Goodreads review, combine “the aesthetic and wonder of George Melies’ “From the Earth to the Moon,” the dirt-under-the-fingernails, urban-used-sci-fi of “Cowboy Bebop,” the endless longing and protean romance of “Millennium Actress,” … and an atmosphere of art deco and wonder” to understand just what Valente has served up here. This book is a mind-bending roller coaster through time and the solar system, through genres and out the other side, to explore the power stories possess – and where they fall short. I utterly loved it.
“I don’t have to turn you into me! I have to turn you into you!”
“That doesn’t make any sense…”
“I know! Thanks, Dads!”
Kung Fu Panda 3 continues the series’ fine tradition of wrapping up a surprisingly profound message in a combination of stunning visuals and goofy humor. Its two major plotlines concern Po, who has to battle the fearsome spirit warrior, Kai, and also connect with his roots as a panda. Kung Fu Panda 3 deeply satisfies, on a level rarely seen in blockbuster sequels. This feels not like a needless continuation, but as a true completion. What Po learned in the first movie, he must now internalize on an even deeper level, to teach others.
States of peace achieved in the second movie are turned upside-down when Po must balance between his two loving fathers – one adoptive, one lost-and-found. Incidents and characters from the first two movies are enriched and developed further in this one. Jennifer Yuh Nelson and her team have created a feast of the eye that also nourishes the spirit.
“If you could see your whole life laid out in front of you, would you change things?”
Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve, was a profoundly thought-provoking film. The best alien invasion-and-human-communication story since Pacific Rim, this story of first contact is shown through the eyes of Amy Adams’ linguist, Louise Brooks. This film stuck with me in a way that few pieces of media have this year. Based on the equally stellar “Story of Your Life,” this movie plays with audience expectations six ways from Sunday: it slows down the results of your “alien invasion” plot to show the repercussions both global and personal, and it played with the language of film, in the process playing with time itself. At the heart of the movie rests the question copied above, and the essential importance of communication – both between aliens and humans, and between humans themselves.
“‘We’ll help you, Ella,’ said Jasper.
‘With what, hair and shoes?’ Ella replied. ‘Because I don’t want that. I want the Garment Guild shut down. I want Jacquard ruined. Jacquard and Garter and everyone else.’”
Disenchanted, by Megan Morrison, is something of a political fairy tale, or perhaps a fairy tale with a social conscience. It is urgently relevant, dealing as it does with the question of, how to enact social change, when it seems like the corruption is all so deeply embedded into the system?
Elegant Coach (just “Ella” to you and me) may go to the ritziest schools and parties of the Blue Kingdom, but she can remember when she and her now-deceased mother were workers in the garment factories. Now Ella wants nothing less than revolution for all of the Blue Kingdom’s underclass. How her choices interact with those of jaded fairy godfather Serge, and Prince Dash, freshly freed from the Charming curse, is the tale told in Morrison’s deft, action-packed, and wonderfully imaginative book. As in the previous Tyme book, Grounded: The Adventures of Rapunzel, Morrison provides a deeply fleshed out take on the original fairy tale. (It is not necessary to have read Grounded to enjoy Disenchanted.)