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Spotlight: Laline Paull’s The Bees

First and most importantly, I hope everyone’s keeping safe and well during this hellish time. You won’t see much of me (not that you did anyway) since as a supermarket worker I’m still at work and it’s been just a little busy, but I thought I should throw out a quick recommendation for everyone who’s at home and in need of something new to occupy themselves for a while.

The Bees, by Laline Paull. This book is weird as hell, in all the best ways. It’s the story of a bee hive, with all the different castes of workers and their different roles, the drones and the queen. They go about their normal lives, foraging for nectar and pollen, feeding the larvae, clearing away the dead, fighting off wasps, going into semi-trance to survive the winter.

And at the same time it’s also the story of a cult-led society that’s almost dystopian, with religion and ritual and drugging pheromones used to control and enslave the population. It’s similar to Watership Down if that was set almost entirely in Cowslip’s creepy warren. It’s an interesting story in its own right and there’s this nice subtle touch of unacknowledged horror that I really enjoyed.

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2020 in loten

 

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Spotlight: BBC’s Call The Midwife

Something different to start off the new year; not a book, but a television show – Call The Midwife. For those in the UK or with access to BBC iPlayer, the first eight series are all available now, and Series 9 has just begun. For everyone else, the first seven series are on Netflix and presumably they’ll get the rest in due course.

The show tells the story of a group of nurses and midwives in a very poor area of London through the 1950s and 1960s. Around half the (very talented) cast are Protestant nuns of the medical order of St Raymond Nonnatus (don’t worry, the religion isn’t shoved down anyone’s throats); the rest are a diverse body of young nurses from all walks of life. It’s based around the memoirs of Nurse Jenny Lee, one of the main characters for the first couple of series, and most of the stories are true.

As you can guess this means the show has to be accompanied by warnings. There’s a lot of childbirth (obviously), and it’s real, not the usual sanitised television version. There’s blood and gore, kept to a minimum with camera angles. There are sad stories, with birth defects and complications. There are other medical cases not related to birth. There are stories concerning death and disease, abortion, prostitution, addiction, poverty, racism, mental illness, rape and abuse, and many don’t have happy endings.

You’re likely wondering why I’m recommending it, given all that (and given that I emphatically don’t do small children unless they have fur and four legs). Despite the sometimes grim content, it’s still overall a wholesome, hopeful show. More stories end happily than badly, particularly in the later series as medical science advances over time. The characters are fantastically portrayed (I will fight to the death for Shelagh) and most of the non-medical stories are sweet and with just the right amount of humour. Even when the main plot of an episode ends in sadness, it still often makes you smile. It’s gentle rather than grim, while still not shying away from the facts; real without being edgy. A great many authors could take notes – this is what real mature storytelling is.

It’s historically accurate, too. My parents grew up in this era and while they were far better off than the people of the borough of Poplar they’ve confirmed a lot of it, as have many reviewers. Those who read my fics may see some of my inspiration for certain backstories. A lot of it highlights just how fortunate we are in the modern era, and how far science has come in a relatively short space of time, and I appreciate the sense of wonder they bring to things I’ve never bothered to think about.

Also, the romance (yes, there’s romance). Again, authors should take notes. There are examples of bad romance tropes, abuse and unhealthy relationships, and they’re all reserved for patients who are only around for an episode or two; and all are called out and speculated about and discussed by the nuns and nurses. They’re not dismissed as acceptable, though often there’s an acknowledgement that it cannot be changed – yet. And the romance stories concerning the main cast are all sweet and believable and feelgood, even the ones that end badly, without being sappy or naive.

They try to be as inclusive as the setting allows, but Series 1 takes place in 1957 and at the time of writing Series 9 has just begun in 1965. Homosexuality is illegal, transgenderism is unheard of and racism and misogyny are rife. They introduce characters of colour to the main cast as soon as it’s plausible for them to do so, and there is one onscreen gay relationship, mainly dealing with the struggles of having to keep it a secret.

The soundtrack is great as well, by the by. There was a lot of fantastic music around at the time.

If your mental health can cope with the dark and sad moments, I encourage you to give it a try (maybe keep some cartoons or animal videos on standby for after the worst moments, if you need to, or watch with your furbaby if you have one). It’s overall a wholesome, sweet series, and there’s a sense of gentle optimism and strength that I think everyone can use more of these days.


A brief note – no more attempts at a schedule because life kicks my teeth in every time I try. I’ll do a spotlight whenever I have something to recommend. I’m still mulling over ideas for a new series, and there’s whatever we end up doing about Harry Potter. Time will tell.

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2020 in loten

 

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Happy holidays

Happy winter-festival-of-your-choice, everyone. Hopefully the new year will yield some actual content again, I know this hiatus has lasted a while – I had some health issues, my mother had some health issues, my niece had some health issues, the Christmas Retail Monster ate all my time and energy…. but fingers crossed that everything is sorted out and beginning to calm down now. Let’s hope that 2020 is less crazy for everyone, I think we could all use a bit of a break. Take care and hopefully I’ll see you all soon.

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2019 in loten

 

Deniability is no longer plausible. Stand with trans people.

I should apologise for not having written recently; there are lots of things I want to talk about (and frankly should have talked about), but my depression’s been really getting to me and I’ve barely had the energy to be functional a lot of the time.

That said, I’m a bit late to the party on this one, but I think I/we need to weigh in because we’ve discussed the subject here before (there’s been a spike in hits to a certain chapter of the Silkworm review, as there often is when something like this happens). As I don’t use Twitter, I’ll be commenting on the brouhaha here instead.

Joanne Rowling is a transphobic asshole, click through to see it in her own words. She’s not even trying to hide it any more. No more “oops how does the internet work, what is a like button teehee” shenanigans. No more “but Cormoran Strike is transphobic, that doesn’t mean she necessarily agrees with him” excuses.

Let’s unpack this just a little bit. She’s literally going out of her way to perform wokeness on as many other axes of bigotry as possible, before getting to the punchline of “trans women? nope, not them”. Unlike everyone else, she seems to say, trans people deserve special condemnation and transphobes are the real victims.

(A helpful bit of context in case it isn’t clear what she’s commenting on there.)

I can’t say I’m surprised. This isn’t news; everyone who’s more than vaguely aware of the things Rowling says on Twitter should already know this (as friend of the blog Ana Mardoll has already pointed out), but she said the quiet part out loud this time so more people are noticing. Good.

(This made me laugh, admittedly. Image of a fanzine titled “Harry Potter and the Problematic Author”)

I’m not going to tell anyone they shouldn’t read her writing or can’t continue to be fans of Harry Potter, if they get something out of it. Goodness knows my life wouldn’t be the same if not for those books; Harry Potter fandom is the reason I met the person I love most in the world, and I can’t imagine who I’d be if I hadn’t. Go ahead and employ death of the author to your heart’s content and make something better out of them (but maybe give someone else your money).

But that fondness is not an excuse to ignore transphobia, or any other form of bigotry. I realise it can be hard to be a fan of problematic things while still acknowledging those problems, but the alternative is denial and apologetics. You can like things without them being perfect, and you can like things without that necessarily being a referendum on your character. Nearly everything is problematic in some way, after all. But we cannot deny the existence of bigotry just to make ourselves feel better.

And the natural consequence of that sort of denial is extrapolating it. If we train ourselves to think that a certain work of fiction we like can’t possibly contain bigotry because we’d feel uncomfortable liking it if it did, what then happens if we come across a similar example of bigotry in real life? The easiest way to resolve that cognitive dissonance is to refuse to see the real life example also, and that tends to be what people do.

So it is likewise important to acknowledge when a person has shitty beliefs, and that those beliefs might come out in their work.

I’ll say this as nicely as I possibly can: fuck off, J.K. Rowling.

There is a serious problem with transphobia (and specifically the TERF variety which parasitises and exploits feminist rhetoric) in the world right now, and it’s especially virulent in Britain for some reason. This is not to say it’s not a problem elsewhere, of course, but we can’t ignore the trend. Pay attention.

And if you know a trans person, for fuck’s sake let them know you support them.

[I don’t have anything else to add except to repeat: fuck off, J K Rowling.]

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2019 in mitchell

 

The Discworld City Watch TV series may be a crushing disappointment.

I’m still technically on hiatus, but I want to talk about this and frankly don’t know anyone personally who would care, so you lot get to listen instead.

Tor recently posted about the latest casting news for the City Watch series that’s been promised for several years now. The character descriptions are… very telling, and not in a good way.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2019 in loten

 

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Temporary Hiatus

There’s been a lot of stuff happening offline for me recently. I’m fine, there’s no need to worry, but right now I’m not really able to express myself very coherently, and the remaining spotlights I have lined up will be longer posts that need more effort than I can put in at the moment. I’ve not been reading much either so no new gems have presented themselves to provide a quick post.

I had a couple of non-spotlight posts slowly ticking over in the back of my head as well but those too need more brainpower than I have available right now.

No idea how long this is going to last. Hopefully by the end of next month life will be more stable and so will I, but I’ve learned my lesson about promising anything specific.

See you when I see you, and thanks for sticking with me.

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2019 in loten

 

No spotlight this month

No spotlight this month, I just don’t have the motivation at the moment.

 
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Posted by on July 27, 2019 in Uncategorized