Having failed to update Goodreads (I knew it), I have at least managed to track the media I’ve consumed during February. It’s been a fun month, busy workwise, book deal announcing writing wise and even a party or two.

My bestie Nige’s Big Birthday Bash was a challenge. His girlfriend Holly told me it was a fancy dress party with the theme of movies and TV. She ignored my costume ideas such a ‘token extra’ or ‘brown person who dies first’ and I was given clear instructions to wear an actual costume.

I chose High Queen Margo Hanson. I love the Magicians (as mentioned last month) and Margo is fantastic. Plus it was pretty easy to become Margo; all it took was a posh frock, nice jewellery and a small gold crown. The hardest part was getting my hair to stay up. After trying about five different updos that wouldn’t actually stay up, I found a young Asian woman on Youtube who had hair just like mine. And for the first time in, well, ever, my hair stayed up all night.

My fancy party hair.

My fancy party hair.

Admittedly only a handful of people knew who Margo was, but I did interest a bunch of the others into watching the show. Result!

Writing

I’m still editing THE CURSED HEIR and have really dug into the edits. I’m about a third of the way through, so mostly on track to hand it off to Jennie. (It’s a loose deadline.)

I also did a minor edit on GODDESS OF THE NORTH. My wonderful LGBT sensitivity reader gave me a really comprehensive report detailing good and bad aspects of my portrayal of a trans male character. The report was incredibly helpful in highlighting how to fix the issues and I’m much happier with the end result.

Books

No desi representation in my reading this month. Partly due to catching up on a series I’d started and not finished (The Machineries of Empire series) and an ARC.

Ninefox Gambit, and the sequel were both interesting and fun reads. While it took me a little time to begin Ninefox Gambit, once I learned the in-world vocabulary I sped up. As someone who struggles with remembering names, this book was also a challenge (the reason I’d started it & hadn’t finished). But this time I persevered and I forced the very similar names into something my memory would accept. I was less keen on Shuos Mikodez’s relationships in Raven Stratagem, but that was my main problem with the series. (I’m tired of incest plotlines, they seem to be everywhere.)  Otherwise, it takes everything good from Ninefox Gambit and improves on it. While this book has a good, solid ending, I understand there is a third book to follow.

The Illumination of Ursula Flight (ARC) was a completely different book. A mostly light, fun story of a young woman during the reign of King Charles. Ursula is a fantastic lead character. She’s smart and wants to learn, has no time in being held back by anyone, and refuses to let a hypocritical patriarchal society destroy her. This was a real surprise treat.

I picked up Phasma as a 99p Kindle daily read. I don’t normally read tie-in fiction, but Star Wars has upped its game recently and I thought I’d give it a chance. I’d loved the idea of Captain Phasma since before The Force Awakens, when all the marketing teased this important woman, before letting us down when they wasted her entirely. Well, I felt a little let down with this novel, too. While it’s called Phasma, the main viewpoint character is a Rebel spy who tells stories she’s heard of the mysterious Phasma. Because of this, the stories are all pretty similar – Phasma is a vicious killer who will do anything to survive – and we never get to understand what’s going on in her mind. Only in the final chapter are we given her point of view and it just cements the ‘do anything to survive’ trait we already saw.

“You sound like someone who doesn’t even know he’s just a tool for a tyrant.”

“And you sound like someone who just wants to watch the galaxy burn.”

Films

I also failed to see any representation in any films this month. (I think this will be recurring throughout the year).

The stand out has to be Black Panther. Hands down the best Marvel movie yet (and this is after I swooned over Taika Waititi’s Thor Ragnarok). It’s pretty heartening to know the two best films are helmed by men of colour.

I could gush about Black Panther but so much has been said already by people more qualified to say.  It’s funny, smart, thoughtful, has things to say about homeland and diaspora, culture and society. Everything really zinged, the portrayal of women, the villain (who was almost right, but who went about it oh so wrong including killing his own girlfriend), Nakia the ‘love interest’ who was so much more than just that, Shuri the little sister who stole the damn film.

Even the cross-cultural exchanges, from the Filipino influences on the Dora Milaje to the mention of Hanuman with the vegetarian Jabari, showed the depth of thought gone into building this incredible world.

Don’t scare me like that, coloniser!

God’s Own Country was a little closer to home. Set in the Yorkshire Moors, it takes a good, hard look at the prejudices facing a gay man and a Romanian immigrant. Considering how hard this country, and this county, has swung to the right, this film seems timely and apt. It was an absolute gem and I adore it. I wish more people had seen it and honestly think it deserved best film at the Bafta’s this year.

The Death of Stalin is an Armando Iannucci film. I’ve long loved his work, from Alan Partridge to The Thick of it and Veep, and The Death of Stalin is another strong example of his skills in making dark political comedy. Highly recommended.

All the best doctors are in the gulag or dead.

Mute is the latest by Duncan Jones. I’m usually a huge fan of his work, but while the aesthetic was glorious, the soundtrack incandescent, the actual story was a little meh. It seemed to homage older films, a strong yet silent protagonist searching for his missing girlfriend. Drunken men in strip clubs, other men exploiting sex workers, there were women in the film, but very much as background eye-candy. Things to be acted upon, never acting. Unfortunately, this held out until the very end. I was fine with this for Moon. An enclosed space with ‘one’ person worked. There was no excuse here.

TV

Television – my old friend. Thank you for representing me this month. Not only is the Magicians continuing to indulge me, but the Good Place, Star Trek Discovery and a returning iZombie all have main desi cast members.

iZombie has literally just returned – episode one of season four, but it had a strong opening and Ravi Chakrabarti is still an important character. Not only is he continuing to research the zombie virus, but he’s become a kind of were-zombie (no, really) because of his semi-functional vaccine.

The brain appears healthy, damage from the blunt force trauma aside. It’s, uh Pink. Firm. A smell of lilacs. Taste of Melon. Honeydew, I would think.

Ravi Chakrabarti

Ravi Chakrabarti.

At the other end of the scale, both The Good Place and Star Trek Discovery ended their respective seasons in February. The Good Place, with main Tahani Al Jamil and recurring cast Vicky the demon, is wonderful desi rep and wonderful TV. Tahani is a complex character, with incredible growth even in the short time from season one to the end of season two. Vikki is smart, conniving and bold. I have so much time for her, even if she is super evil.

I was never going to be enough for you. Never going to earn your respect.

I’m sorry we didn’t have a better relationship. And I wish you both the best.

Star Trek Discovery was less good desi rep*. It feels that three desi cast should be good, but since one was killed off in a terrible way for shock value, one was a blink and missed extra and the last, well, I’ll get to Ash later.

Star Trek has long failed to represent me. Apart from Khan Noonien Singh (played either by a Latino – acceptable for the time – or a white guy – horrific do not ever tell me it was okay), and the lovely Julian Bashir for DS9, we’ve had to scrabble at hints of perhaps, maybe, well, possiblys throughout the many series, original movies and even rebooted movies. That’s a lot of hours of entertainment where I just don’t exist.

A white woman in dark makeup pretending to be south asian

‘Representation’ in Star Trek.

Then Discovery gave me Ellen Landry. She was introduced to us early on as a no-nonsense tough and capable security Commander. She leads her people through a high-risk situation out to the other side. I liked her a lot. However, in episode four, she had suddenly lost all capacity for reasoned thought and died because of her own actions. Landry argued with lead Burnham over the space monster tardigrade. Burnham had her ideas how to progress, as did Landry. However, when the writers decided Landry would go in guns blazing (that they knew didn’t work on the tardigrade anyway), with no backup, no security shields, no anything really, well, it’s no wonder it has been dubbed the ‘dumbest death since Tasha Yar’.

Also, I liked that she was a tough, no-nonsense leader.  She had every right to be hostile to Burnham, a known mutineer who had caused the deaths of her crew. As Commander of security, it was her role to keep an eye on this risk. When Lorca acted the same way, the audience lapped it up. How come everyone hated Landry when she had similar traits (you know why).

Also, as soon as Landry died, all the questioning of Burnham’s mutineer status died with her. I still find it hard to believe people forgive and forget such a huge catastrophic decision.

That leads me on to Ash. Ash Tyler – who was also the Klingon Voq. This was the prevailing theory during the short break and I hoped it wasn’t true. Sadly, the most predictable plot was the one we got. There was an Ash Tyler, once, before Voq took him over. Yet, once Voq transformed into Ash, Ash still suffered from sexual assault and ongoing PTSD. Despite his origins, the Ash that the Discovery crew knew, and the Ash who exists at the end of the season, is still a victim of sexual assault and PTSD gained while a member of the federation. Yet the writing failed to recognize it. As soon as ‘Ash is a Klingon’ it became okay to fear and hate him. It was clear the writing focus had been on the lead Michael Burnham’s reactions, which is understandable, but representation is so rare, we take it where we can, and what I saw was that it was okay to treat Ash abominably. During the uplifting ending with Burnham getting a medal and Stamets missing Hugh, I wondered why Ash Tyler wasn’t mentioned. He helped them, more than once, but now he was effectively struck from history.

The galaxy might once more be at peace and protected by the nice safe ideal Federation – but if these are the foundations it’s been built on, I’m not impressed.

*  Don’t get me wrong, having Sonequa and Michelle as two kickass leaders is incredible, but it doesn’t mean I can’t highlight the less good representation. When was the last time an Asian man of colour, specifically a British Pakistani, was a romantic lead? To dangle that possibility only to unceremoniously kick it aside isn’t great writing. (I’m not even getting into watching how ugly the Star Trek fandom got over ‘that Arab terrorist’). Right now, Landry is dead and Ash is who-knows-where with his abuser (thanks for that, writers), so my interest in season two is substantially lower than I’d have hoped for a woman of colour led show.

Similarly to Mute, Altered Carbon was a cyberpunk mystery show but instead of a lack of women, there were women everywhere. Women murder victims, women to be murdered, women to be exploited (then probably murdered.) Basically, there was a lot of violence done to women. When I saw an article on The Guardian by the author saying ‘There’s no limit to my capacity for violence’ I knew this wasn’t the series for me. I have heard that the books are better, and Google Play Books did offer me the first to try so I’ll compare it next month.

One Day at a Time returned for season two on Netflix. It’s such a warm-hearted show about a Cuban American family living in the USA that can be equally uplifting and tear-inducing. It’s amazing rep, single mother with two kids, her mother living with them. The eldest girl is queer, dating a non-binary character Syd and starts on the path to be a social activist. This is a sitcom with a literal studio audience laughing away, but it covers sexism, gender binary, racism and immigration, homophobia, depression and PTSD, ageing etc. etc. It’s incredible.

Black Lightning started last month, but I only saw one ep. Now I’ve seen five (I think we’re a week behind the US schedule) and I can say without a doubt that I love it. It has a strong voice musing on both the positives and negatives to being black in America and balances the superheroics with the right amount of family drama. The political message isn’t subtle, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s not all about Jefferson, the titular Black Lightning. His eldest daughter Anissa has come into her own powers and I’m excited as to where it might take her. Plus her relationship with her girlfriend Grace is wonderful. DC TV are doing great things for LGBT rep and I hope Marvel/Disney wise up to this.

Games

I’ve not played that much this month as it’s been so busy, but we did manage to squeak in some multiplayer Civilisation V. It’s such a good game, especially played cooperatively, and we’re enjoying destroying the world. *happy sigh*.

I also tried out the Final Fantasy XV. I’ve been excited to play it since it appeared on consoles and my good friend Henry has made me chomp at the bit with his descriptions, so when a demo appeared I slammed the install button. I can see why they made a demo. Instead of the usual half-arsed Square Enix ports, this one has been ported from console extremely well. I can remap the keys to (mostly) what I need, the menus are great, it feels well optimised. Plus, wow, it’s fun. I had seen many pictures of the four leads but none had stood out, yet within a couple of minutes of the game and I knew the difference between them all. Considering how bad I am at names, that was done well.

I could end on the Solo trailer, but I’d rather end on a highlight, so I’ll mention the SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch. I’m not getting into if it was a big stunt or not, I’m talking about the sheer fun and awe of watching this launch live and watching those boosters slide back down to earth and land in perfect synch. Plus I am weak when it comes to Bowie’s Starman playing while a red sportscar spins above the earth with the stars and the planet reflected on its shiny surface.

A space in space with the earth behind it, stars and the planet reflected in the paintjob

Roadster in space.

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