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 A.E. Ash, SFF writer and poet, nerd, gamer and author of Luminous
So it is no mystery to anybody reading this that 2016 has been reminiscent of a mix of the Bog of Eternal Stench (Labyrinth makes me think of David Bowie, RIP, which makes me think of 2016), the Springfield Tire Fire from The Simpsons, and a million Sharknados but instead of sharks, it was Horrifying Truths About My Country and the People it is Hurting Plus Big Scary in the World At Large. Well, okay, there were sharks, too but they looked kinda cute next to everything else.
To get through a rather rough year, I resorted to squee, and to reveling in things that gave me joy and hope—squees old, new, and sundry. I now present to you Amanda’s 12 Yays of Smugglivus.
1. For the first yay of Smugglivus, music gave to me:
Not new, but newly-ish beloved of me…Best Coast. An indie duo from Cali, Bethany Cosentino and guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno bring to the world a unique brand of dreamy pop and la-la-low-fi hearkening back to those girl bands from the 1960’s, the ones where voices echoed out into reverb a mile wide and jangly guitar managed to sound so perfect and bittersweet. California Nights is Best Coast’s newest album, and I resorted to it time and time again when I needed a pick-me-up, with Feeling Okay leading the radio charge (Wasted Time is my favorite track on the album). I recommend all Best Coast albums, though–I’ve not been disappointed once. <3
2. The second yay was wholly unexpected:
Voltron: Legendary Defender from Netflix, produced by DreamWorks Animation and World Events Productions and animated by Studio Mir. Yep, a Voltron reboot. I noticed Steven Yeun would be doing voice acting for the show, that it was already a highly-rated Netflix hit by the time I became aware of it and cheesy or not, I have always adored the original. So I gave it a shot. And by shot, I mean I marathoned all of the available episodes in one day. I was crushed when I realized the second season was not yet out (but hey, 2017…you’re gonna make it all better, right? Season two won’t break my heart, yeah?). I cannot talk about some of my favorite things due to spoilers, but I will say any female characters I encountered in the course of the show are RAD and I adore Princess Allura SO MUCH. The humor tempers the whole giant robot made of giant lions thing (hey that was always one of my favorite parts), and heightens the pathos when it happens. In the end, though, the show does one of my favorite things of all times–it tells the story of a developing, ad-hoc family, and how these disparate individuals must work together to make their world better and save the galaxy in the process. For all you mech-anime lovers, go watch it. You’ll not regret it.
3. Ms. Marvel is my third yay. Yep, she’s still yay-worthy.
I cannot say enough about how important it is to push for a wide, diverse array of female characters in narratives consumed by youthful (all ages, for that matter) audiences. I just know that if I were younger, I’d have freaking loved Kamala maybe even more than I do now—I’d have wanted to be her best friend, in fact. I know this For Reasons. She’s a fangirl, a colossal dork, loyal to her friends, has a fantastic sense of humor, and is just all around the relatable and awesome. And in a time when there is so much hate in the world, it’s important beyond what I can say that young peeps—male, female, any ethnicity—have ways to see the world through others’ eyes, ways to see the beautiful, rich diversity around them as a big and good thing, and to see these things in mass media and giant pop culture. So yeah, go read all of Ms. Marvel. DO EET.
4. The fourth yay of Smugglivus? All the AWESOME ladies of Marvel TV shows but most recently, the female cast of Luke Cage–especially Mariah Dillard.
I was intrigued by the complexity of Karen’s character in Daredevil, fascinated by curiosity regarding her backstory. Claire Temple won my heart the moment Rosario walked onscreen. Enter Jessica Jones, and a whole lotta power in the characterization department–and not just Jessica herself. Trish, Hogarth (who is just delightfully menacing)–there so much believably flawed complexity in these characters, so many remarkable strengths. Which brings me to the women of Luke Cage. This show may Luke’s headlining moment, but it’s not Power Man’s power that impacted me…it was Misty Knight, Claire Temple, even compelling side characters like Aisha, Priscilla, and even Candace. It was most especially, for me, Mariah Dillard. I did not know about the “Black Mariah” Marvel character, antagonist to Power Man, until I started doing a little investigating the Power Man’s origin in comics. The original Mariah was larger than life in the worst sort of way– and it makes the moment that Cornell calls his cousin “Black Mariah” hit that much harder. What wowed me about Mariah is how she took character complexity to a whole new level–I truly believe she is bones-deep passionate about Harlem, but she is in the end a master of owning the narratives surrounding her–she is powerful, clever, mean as hell, a survivor in the most terrifying way (those Mama Mabel vignettes chilled me to my core, and that is where Mariah was taught), and ultimately, she is selfish enough to continue to be a survivor. Talk about strong women is easy when it’s the good guys but when it comes to characters like Mariah who make the hard call and it’s in their favor, that is a powerful statement about strength going all ways–about agency in narrative. She was ultimately what sold the series for me, and I cannot wait to see more of women in all these series–they are so far a breath of fresh (awesome) air in a world of women in superhero and comic narratives.
5.-8. This next one is a composite. They are all good and separate, but yays that fall into one giant theme for me—the yays of rereads that made my world better.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, A String in the Harp by Nancy Bond, Sunshine by Robin McKinley and Jovah’s Angel by Sharon Shinn made it back to my Kindle this year.
I needed the comfort of familiar narratives, and I noticed that I went seeking strong, oddball, flawed, dryly witty, intelligent, wonderfully memorable female characters in all of them. Meg Murray in A Wrinkle in Time is always one of my go-to favorites (I see so many of my girlhood friends in her), and I related always to her angry stubbornness. Reading L’Engle led me to reading Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley back in 5th grade…my life was never the same and in the best way. My next re-read, A String in the Harp is a quietly magical, at times tense, and entirely relatable family drama and I so relate to Jen Morgan, the elder sister (I am an older sister myself) trying to help reconstruct her family in the face of loss. Sunshine is like nothing I’ve ever read, and McKinley, a perennial favorite of mine, creates the scariest vampires I have read, perhaps—and I love it. Finally, Jovah’s Angel has my favorite of all Sharon Shinn’s remarkable ladies—Alleya. Pragmatic, unromantic, intellectually curious, and ultimately a character I respect and admire for her gentle tenacity. I keep these characters close to me because they make the world a better place, and remind me that other women are out there as ever they have been forging amazing stories, looking for the jagged, complex, and resplendent in others, and shaping them into the best we can all be as I hope to do myself in both life and fiction. I needed this.
9. The ninth Smugglivus yay is another not new but oh so needed in the world thing: Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli.
This year, Fathom Events did a special in-theaters re-release of one of my all-time favorite movies (and likely most-watched, since this is my happy place) and it holds up more beautifully than I can even say. The gorgeous, pure-art animation, a truly remarkable world, a soundtrack that is etched in my brain (6th Station is still a go-to piece when I need to be somewhere gently melancholy), and so much humor, light, and even at times, real danger overcome by love and hard work…I cannot say enough good. Chihiro embarks on her own form of hero’s journey through a world of dangerous (but not evil) creatures and of complex, at times nearly impossible to navigate situations–who to trust, how to act–not much is clear, and so many times she has to rely on her heart, instincts and cleverness then when those are exhausted, her force of will. In the end, though, even antagonists are seen as not being what they appear–Chihiro gives others a fair chance, trusts in herself and finds friendship and hope in the wake of fear. This movie is the best magic—the magic that transforms in a way that is cathartic but in the end, joyful, hopeful, and luminous.
10. My tenth Smugglivus yay is New Synth/Synthpop/Whatever
Ya’ll wanna call music that hearkens back to the 80’s when my hair was at its worst. Talk to ten year-old me, and she won’t be able to articulate that Cyndi Lauper and Tears for Fears are hope, and that all of the music she is furtively taping off the radio is empowering and positive in a way that makes the dark times not so dark. Pan camera to me today, and New Synth. I won’t even try to make a list of awesome acts but I’ve long loved synth and effervescent electronic pop from my days growing up in the 80’s. These days, I am thrilled to see music offering homages to what I loved in those days in ways that are delightfully fresh, and that give my heart the most wonderful, hot-pink-and-hypercolor hope that the future cannot be all zombified and gray. Acts like M83 and Royksopp have been a while for a bit then Naked and Famous, Chvrches, Phoenix get notice as they trickle into play. Unabashedly retro-aesthetic entire packages like Gunship (those videos, though–tapping into 80’s action movie glory) or instrumental offerings like VHS Dreams and Le Matos keep the vibe going, and all of the hundreds of other acts scattered over the radio waves (and streaming playlists) for a few years now and I cannot get enough of it. With the amount of music that is legit and which I see tagged as New Synth or related genres coming out all the time, it looks like the good is just going to keep on coming. I’m okay with this–I’ll let the waves of drum machines and hope wash over me as I march into 2017 with renewed focus and purpose. /hefts boom box onto shoulder/
11. Speaking of new synth, I shall tell you of my tenth Smugglivus yay—Stranger Things.
ELEVEN. *ahem* And no, I mean the character Eleven. <3<3<3
But that Poltergeist reference, though. And E.T. And Gremlins and Critters and did you see how the Tupperware and that uglyass Corningware were the same ones my mom had and holy crap that VHS rewinder I mean, that’s fancy stuff and I wanted walkie-talkies so bad I couldn’t even and the music was perfect (I will never feel the same way about one of my favorite Clash songs again) and WHY AM I NOT WATCHING SEASON TWO RIGHT NOW? *ahem again*
All of that said, what set this show apart for me was how the characters grew and changed throughout the season, or at least, how we were given glimpses into their complexity. That’s not always easy to do with a large cast and easier still would be adhering to tropes without allowing characters room to grow but IMHO, Stranger Things did a good job of allowing most of the characters I cared about to have arcs. Now, this is not to say the show was perfect. *cough BARB cough* but it was an incredibly immersive experiences, and seeing the characters arcs interweave so beautifully amongst the painstaking detail of set and scene…well, I’m going to go listen to that opening theme now.
12. And on the 12th yay of Smugglivus, I shall give you squeeeeee…for Arrival, the movie that made me and the people I saw it with sit in stunned silence until the credits were spent and the lights came on in the theater and we were utterly transformed.
I love quiet, thoughtful sci-fi movies. Back in the day it was Close Encounters of the 3rd kind then I found Contact, Solaris, and a few others that got me thinking thinkythoughts. The past years have not disappointed with thought-provoking films like Gravity, Interstellar, Ex Machina and The Martian, which is another of my all-time favorites because of its optimism. Arrival, though, is paradigm-shifting, mind-blowing, achingly beautiful and just visually arresting. Arrival presented concepts of enormous scope and complexity but I was grounded, always, in the humanness of the narrative center–one of the best ways to communicate expansiveness and deep questioning. I won’t spend time on the plot because that warrants an entire other review but the viewing itself (go to theaters if you can, ya’ll) was an immersive journey that I will not soon forget. I came away from the experience altered—even the lights in my own home seemed richer, and stranger when I finally collapsed into a chair, petting a cat, halfway immersed even then in the world of the movie…and I am still thinking about it. You will likely cry, if you are the affected-by-onions sort like I am, but it’s good. I promise you. Go see it. Go be changed for the better.