Recent Books+ I’ve Clutched In My Hands With Joy: February 2021

My February list is a mash up of science fiction by Black women and Danish TV dramas. Got that?

Seed to Harvest (Patternmaster #1-4) by Octavia E. Butler

Last month, I wrote about the first two books in the Patternmaster series, Wild Seed and Mind of My Mind. Those books remain my favorite in this series, but I was glad to finish it out with Clay's Ark and Patternmaster. Clay's Ark is a brief-feeling tale of what happens when an astronaut reluctantly brings a highly-contagious, transformative virus from space to an Earth that is already consumed with violence and inequality. It is a deeply violent book. Patternmaster then pits the (off stage) survivors of that virus, who become more animalistic, against the two heirs apparent of a network of psionic humans controlled by a single, dying man. Patternmaster is the original book in this series, and also feels as brief as Clay's Ark; I wished both were about three times as much story. However, as with the first two books, I loved the way both stories invite us to think about what it means to make personal choices, good and bad, within toxic systems. Also, reading about a terrible virus is, you know, timely.

Unexpected Stories by Octavia E. Butler

This book is a collection of two short stories, "A Necessary Being" and "Childminder." The former is about a woman forced to lead a nation because of her race's unique warrior skills, and how she deals with a mandate to force another, younger member of her people into her same, unwanted position. It's a lot of intense world-building in a very small number of pages. "Childminder" is also brief, but is a totally different world that feels apiece with Butler's Patternmaster books. This story dives into the choices a woman with psionic abilities has to make to protect children with the same abilities from the rest of the pattern group. There is a clear theme across both these stories about our responsibility to younger generations and the costs of making our own personal peace with a toxic system in order to survive. As with all Butler stories, I just wished they were longer.

Binti (series) by Nnedi Okorafor

Oh, these are so fun. Okorafor has written three novellas about Binti, a young woman from the insular Himba nation on Earth as she first runs away to go to university on another planet and then returns to her home, much changed. Binti is herself a fascinating character, a mathematically talented outsider who is forced to change through horrible circumstances and then figure out what all her new identities mean. The world building, though, takes the stories to such a rich place. Okorafor offers us all manner of fascinating peoples, including the least/most likeable sidekick, Okwu, who is a sort of jelly-fish-like, gas-spewing innovator from a war-loving people. I could go on; there's so much to love in these stories. I don't listen to a lot of audio books, but I can imagine these being especially satisfying to listen to and not just read.

Rita on Netflix through DR

It's not the premise of the show that got me hooked on Rita. A woman who speaks her mind and does as she mostly pleases is hardly groundbreaking, though the actress who plays Rita is a force. Instead, what really kept me watching was the complexity of the secondary characters and, yes, the Danish lamps. Everywhere the Danish lamps.

Rita is a contrarian teacher at a suburban public school in Denmark. Highjinks ensue, but with beautiful lamps, chairs, beanbags and a love interest who you would never see on American TV. There is even a scene where one of the characters is shown reading a book about chair design in his spare time. Wowza. The first season relies a lot on trite tropes, but the show gets better and better as it goes along. I especially loved the fourth season, where the writers broke from the previous seasons' formula and loved the hell out of the complex intensity of female friendship. Rita is a familiar sitcom, but wonderfully human.

Herrens veje (Ride Upon The Storm) on Netflix though DR

If Rita is a more typical sitcom, Herrens veje is the stuff of a limited series HBO drama. The story revolves around the family of a charismatic priest named Johannes, and specifically how Johannes' selfish choices impact his wife and sons. This show is deep on the discussion of religion in a broad sense as well as the long, barbed tail of patriarchy--and, its antidote. It's beautiful to see men talking to each other at length about friendship and feelings without much backslapping or a manly display of boxing or golfing or something; you literally don't see this on American TV. Herrens veje is also rich with beautiful photography. We get stunning views of the Himalayas, perfect shots of a wooden cross in a park right before someone begins speaking in tongues, a fiery Easter tableau, etc. And yes, lamps. The show is most similar to Empire, but, you know, Danish and about God. 

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Recent Books+ I've Clutched In My Hands With Joy: January 2021