Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6

Contains Spoilers

After the emotional turmoil of season five, with the mystery of Dawn's existence, the illness and death of Joyce Summers, the unbeatable villain, and finally Buffy's own death, I thought that season six would be a relief. Buffy would come back, and yes, I had been spoiled on the fact that she "came back wrong," so maybe she'd be a little bit out of control, maybe a bit slay-happy like Faith. I WAS SO WRONG!

I've been observing for seasons that Willow has been getting in too deep with the magic pretty much since she started dabbling in it, and her desperation to bring back her friend gets her doing some very dark spells indeed. The ritual which brings Buffy back to life is horrifying, and is interrupted, leaving us wondering how far it's worked. (And they manage to bring her back to life but are chased away from her grave leaving her to dig herself out - UGH NO!)

No wonder Buffy is traumatised! Who wouldn't be, after her experiences? But as much as Willow wants her friend back, she wants reassurance that she's done the right thing, and Buffy does not give it, because little does Willow know that Buffy had been happy where she was. She had fought a hard battle in the last season, and had found peace, only to be dragged back to a difficult, violent world by those who loved her best. And she can't tell them why she's not okay with being alive again, because the truth would destroy them.

It's not only Buffy who is keeping secrets in season six, and here's where the famous musical episode "Once More With Feeling" comes in. Oh, I have been hearing about this episode ever since it first aired; the one that set the standard for every other series and sitcom. It was all everyone talked about at school the next day, and at Christmas I saw a couple of clips on one of those rubbishy "top ten musicals" countdown shows, which must have been made about ten years ago. The bits I remembered being shown did not do the episode justice AT ALL, bits of songs like "I've got a theory," (fun, but that's it) "What can't we face when we're together?" (which makes it sound all mushy and completely missells the tone of the episode) and "Where do we go from here?" (which is a lot less poignant without context.) There is an amazing mixture of musical styles, each suiting the characters. Buffy gets the big musical numbers, Tara sings a romantic ballad, Spike gets an angry rocky number and Giles performs a very Gilesish acoustic ballad, while Xander and his fiancee Anya have a comic duet with some troubling lyrics. I had expected a cheesy, fun, gimmicky episode, to lighten the mood and take a break from the main season's plotlines, but instead "Once More With Feeling" is the catalyst for all the cats to be let out of the bags. Tara discovers the extent of Willow's magic, Anya and Xander discover each other's reservations about their forthcoming marriage, and everyone learns what really happened to Buffy after she died. Giles decides that he's getting in the way of Buffy learning to stand on her feet again, and flies back to England. Also Spike and Buffy kiss for the first time.

I think it was inevitable that Spike and Buffy would get together at some point, but I didn't want to see it. I loved the chemistry he had with Buffy, and enjoyed their scenes together, but a relationship, if you can call what happens between them that, was never going to work out. This season shows a very damaged dynamic between the characters, and one I found very difficult to watch. This is a relationship of desperation, one that is unbalanced, violent and loveless. I think what Spike calls "love" is more like obsession. I've liked Spike as a villain, a frustrated would-be monster, and then as a lovesick puppy. I love a morally ambiguous character, a villain with a soft side or an anti-hero, but the ambiguity is dashed away after he assaults Buffy in her bathroom. It was a horrible conclusion to a nasty relationship, and I couldn't care about Spike's story after that. He crossed the line and I can't see how there is any coming back from that. I didn't think the story was handled very well: the writers dwelled more on how the attack affected the perpetrator than the victim, and Buffy's story galloped away from the incident without a backward glance. In a world of vampires, robot girlfriends, invisibility rays and beer that turns its drinkers into cavepeople, the only time I've really said "nope, this would never ever happen" was when Buffy decided to entrust her little sister to the care of her would-be rapist. A serious misstep there, I felt.

In season six, Willow really does get in too deep with her magic. It's been hinted at for seasons, and I guessed that sooner or later she would turn to the dark side. I anticipated Evil Willow, but what I got instead was Mean Willow, whose magic became an addiction, and she turned on everyone who tried to help her to see she was in trouble. Willow is my favourite character, but for about half a season I started to dislike her immensely: she kept making the same mistakes over and over, not learning from them, and crying when she had to deal with the consequences of getting caught. It took endangering Dawn's life to get her to realise the error of her ways, and even when she turned her back on witchcraft, I suspected it was only suppressed, not gone for good.

The Scooby gang have come up against all sorts of Big Bads in the past five seasons: vampires, of course, a Frankenstein's Monster, and in the last season even a god, but in season six their "archnemesis...es" are a trio of nerdy students: Warren (creator of the Buffybot) Jonathan (he of "Superstar" fame) and... some other guy. They fancy themselves as comic-book supervillains, the Sunnydale branch of the Evil League of Evil, but basically they are just clueless jerks, stereotypes of geeks. I viewed them with contempt, and they grew more repulsive with each episode - especially Warren, who represented a purely human form of evil. Still I did not expect him to be a serious threat... until the words "he won't be much good without his friends," were spoken, after Jonathan and The Other Guy were carted off to jail. Oh dear. You mustn't say things like that. A couple of minutes before the end of an episode, that line had a ring of Famous Last Words to it, but I didn't realise quite how "last" those words were, before Warren shows up with a gun...

I have been grumbling for a couple of seasons that Willow's girlfriend Tara never showed up in the opening credits montage, but was always relegated to "guest star," the only member of the Scooby gang to fill that role. Finally, after making up with Willow, she is welcomed back into the fold, with an appearance of her own in the credits, and I celebrated. For forty minutes. 


It came from nowhere. Warren appeared, fired a gun in the direction of Xander and Buffy who ducked out of the way. I thought for a moment that Xander would be hurt, or killed. Buffy was wounded. Then cut to Willow, upstairs, with a spray of blood splattered across her clean white shirt... and Tara falls down, dead. I stared at the screen in horror and made several incoherent wounded animal noises. I should have been prepared for this. It is Joss Whedon, after all. How does he manage to get me every time?

Oh Tara! You were not a forceful character, but you were so lovely and sweet and rounded and human, and gradually weasled your way into my affections until without my realising it, you became my favourite character. What will Buffy be without you?

Well, the last three episodes give a pretty dark indication of that, and in the aftermath of her girlfriend's death, we get to see the real Big Bad of season six: Evil Willow. THIS was kind of where I expected her magic storyline to go, though I never dreamed it would be triggered by such an awful, senseless, tragedy. Welcome, Evil Willow, an awesome villain, in a very disturbing way. Willow is ordinarily so sweet, but we've seen glimpses of her inner darkness, and now it takes over as she goes on a rampage of revenge after Warren. Awesome fades to horrifying, after she reprises the line of her vampire doppelganger of many seasons ago: "Bored now," and dispatches Warren in the most gruesome way imaginable.

It seems that no one can stop Willow now.

Hurrah, Giles is back! The first bit of light in several episodes, and it made me very happy. We get to see another side to Giles, the side that can take on Evil Willow, although it seems to be at great cost. I feared for his life at one point, and after Tara, I didn't trust anything - though I thought it was traditionally the series finale in which Joss Whedon kills off his beloved supporting characters. But for Giles to be killed as a direct result of Willow's actions would be taking Buffy into darker territory than any we've seen so far in a series filled with anguish and despair. It'll be hard enough for the character and show to come back from her (well-deserved) murder of Warren. If she killed a good friend, I think there could be no return. It was predicted that no supernatural power could rescue Willow from her magical self. Good thing there is still some good old-fashioned humanity left, then, and she is saved by Xander. Xander has never been my favourite character. I grew out of disliking him after a couple of seasons, but he's not been at his best in season six. But his friendship for Willow is pure, and it is his love and forgiveness that brings her back to her old self, as he declares, even if she destroys the world, he still loves her, and would rather die by her side than anywhere else. Yes, it was corny, but it was what was needed after this remarkably bleak season.

Episodes with the most impact: (This section is getting more and more difficult to describe accurately.)

1-2: Bargaining. Setting up the tone for the entire season, Willow and the Scoobies resurrect Buffy from the dead. But it is not pretty.
7. Once More With Feeling. The Musical Episode! But if, like me, you expect a nice, lighthearted break from the main plot, then you are very mistaken. The musical format advances the plot in powerful ways.
8. Tabula Rasa. Because I was already familiar with this title, I expected it to be emotionally devastating, but it is quite fun. Thanks to Willow's magical meddling, the group lose their memories and have to come to their own conclusions about who they are and how they relate to each other. Introducing Joan the Vampire Slayer and Giles' new family: son Randy (who you know as Spike) and fiancee Anya. THIS is the light-hearted break from the main plot... until the last five minutes which will require tissues.
9-10. Smashed/Wrecked. Willow's magic gets out of control. Buffy and Spike start fighting and end up... not fighting.
11. Gone. A relatively lighthearted episode, involving an invisibility ray.
15. As You Were. Riley returns, with a wife. The last scene between him and Buffy made me cry for personal reasons - I want to get back in touch with my ex before he moves abroad, but can't bear him knowing that my life hasn't changed in the slightest in the years since we've been apart. And yes, I do want reassurance that just because my life can be disappointing, I'm not a complete failure.
16. Hell's Bells. Xander and Anya's wedding day. Xander, afraid of becoming like his awful father, chickens out and jilts Anya at the altar. JOSS WHEDON IS WHY WE CAN'T HAVE NICE THINGS.
17. Normal Again: Is all of Buffy just a delusion of a very sick girl in a mental hospital?
19. Seeing Red: I don't know what to make of this episode, in which Spike assaults Buffy; it is very difficult to watch, and I'm not sure if that necessarily means it's good. And this is the episode that ends with Tara's death. Again: it is powerful and shocking but...
20. Villains: Willow goes over to the Dark Side and becomes very scary indeed.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Star Trek: Generations (VII)

Contains spoilers

After finishing off the Star Trek films with the original cast at the end of last year, I have slowly been working my way through the Next Generation series, when I haven't been watching Buffy. I've only watched the first two seasons (of seven!) so far, but am growing to know and like the new crew of the Enterprise-D: the stern but kindly Captain Picard, his first officer William Riker, and crew including the Klingon Worf, android Data, and Data's good friend Geordi LaForge. I've also come to roll my eyes in exasperation every time Counsellor Troi senses that someone is feeling an emotion, and shout "SHUT UP WESLEY" at each appearance of the precocious teenager Wesley Crusher.

The Next Generation takes place a good century after the original Star Trek, and much has changed in Starfleet. Perhaps the biggest invention is the holodeck, which simulates any setting or environment for training exercises or leisure, and is a useful tool for sending the crew to a historical setting without the contrivance of "Oh look, here is a planet whose society is exactly like the Old West," that you might find in the original series. I'm not a huge fan of the holodeck stories; I think there is something missing in a story when the conflict and drama has been created by the characters and ship's computer out of nothing. But it adds variety. Also, in the 24th century, the crew's families live aboard the Enterprise with them - a bit risky considering how much danger the show puts the ship into every week, and most unprofessional to have the kids running up and down the corridors and getting under the captain's feet. Also, see the aforementioned Wesley: a teenager who has earned himself an honorary position on the bridge because he's just that special. (I bet the lower-ranked Enterprise crew love him!) No doubt Wesley was a character put in to the series for the benefit of child trekkies, a character they could identify with, who was constantly overlooked because he was a child, but would save the day; who could ask personal questions and get away with it because of his big serious eyes... it's not cheek, it's just Wesley Crusher!

I had long been looking forward to watching Star Trek: Generations which brought together the casts of both Star Trek series so far. Or so I had been led to believe. After spending most of my Star Trek time in recent months aboard Captain Picard's Enterprise, it gave me a lovely warm feeling to see the old-style Starfleet uniforms - the red uniforms of the movies from Khan onwards, not the really old uniforms. But here there is no Spock, no McCoy, and only cameo roles from Scotty and Chekov. Captain Kirk was his old self, and I found myself chuckling during a very tense scene thanks to William Shatner's classic face-acting. But it's my opinion that Captain Kirk's strongest characteristics are those shown in relation to Spock and McCoy.

After the glorious send-off in The Undiscovered Country, it is quite awful to realise that as far as his old friends are concerned, Captain Kirk's final fate is the most depressing "missing, presumed killed" on the maiden voyage of the Enterprise-B. Of course, this is not the end for James T. Kirk, but no one knows this for nearly eighty years. Poor Spock!

As the seventh movie in the franchise, I'm sorry to say that Generations lives up to the reputation of the odd-numbered films being less than wonderful. It's not as cringe-inducing as The Final Frontier, but Data gives "row, row, row your boat" a run for its money in the "You think this is funny but it's really rather sad" category, when he has an emotion-chip implanted as an attempt to become more human. It is unnerving, when not just embarrassing, to watch him discover laughter, fear and remorse, but, rather like the Vulcan Spock, I find Data evokes far more emotion when he's not expressing any. (His episode "The Measure of a Man," in which he is at the centre of a tribunal to determine his status as property or person, is one of the greatest episodes of the franchise so far.) I love Data - along with Worf, he is my favourite Next Generation character - but I spent most of his screen time in Generations just begging him to stop.

Generations' main plot is pretty thin, revolving around a timey-wimey phenomenon called the Nexus, which seems to double as a natural holodeck and a time-portal, and here Captain Picard comes face-to-face with his pedecessor. Captain Kirk is living in a simulation of his retirement home, a nice country lodge, where he chops wood and goes horseback riding, and lives with the latest love of his life, Antonia (who we have never heard of before, nor see except as a distant figure on the horizon.) As Kirk potters around his kitchen, barely responding to Captain Picard, I found myself thinking this was all wrong. What's happened to Captain Kirk, to make him so reluctant to face adventure. Retirement doesn't suit Kirk; he's lost without his Enterprise. To be fair, he must be in his late sixties, and he's earned his happy-ever-after, but it's kind of sad to watch. I'd rather have finished watching him about to retire, than see him living a nice, normal life. Of course he joins forces with Picard eventually, and in a race against time, Kirk saves a solar system at the cost of his own life, on (and under) a rickety old bridge. Yes, they literally dropped a bridge on him! Kirk's death scene was moving and well-acted, a heroic sacrifice helping out a fellow-captain of the USS Enterprise, but I still found it a rather disappointing end for such a long-running and well-beloved character. There is no grand funeral, no ceremony, (no bagpipes!) just a lonely grave on an abandoned planet.

Then again, remember The Final Frontier? Kirk always knew he'd die alone.

And again: Poor Spock.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 5

After the weirdness that was the season 4 finale set entirely in the characters' dreams, season five opens with a pretty fun and relatively fluffy episode, in which Buffy comes face to face with Dracula himself. And boy, does he look out of place in the Buffyverse! This Dracula looks like he's wandered off the set of Interview with the Vampire, maybe even from the Volturi of Twilight, and it just felt wrong. I enjoyed seeing the allusions to the original novel, especially poor Xander filling the Renfield role, but overall it was a pretty average episode - right until the end, when we meet Buffy's younger sister, Dawn.

But Buffy doesn't have a sister.

It's not just that we've never seen her or heard her name mentioned. This isn't just a bad-soap retcon; things Buffy says in the next few episodes contradict what we have seen on screen. "It's not like she hasn't grown up in this house!" Buffy grumbled in episode two; but she hasn't. Buffy herself was surprised to see her, for a moment, when she first appeared. I wondered if the Jonathan-centred episode of season 4, "Superstar" was a practice run for season 5's storyline, in which we, with Buffy and her friends, are plunged into an alternative universe without being told, and left to figure it out for ourselves.

Actually, though the Dawn storyline runs through the entire season, we get answers a lot earlier than I had expected; once more Joss Whedon and his team of writers defy the rules of storytelling to bring us something exciting and new. We learn quite early on why Dawn has always been there... but wasn't always there last week. She is a "key" made of "energy" into the form of a human who will be protected by the strongest woman in the world: Buffy Summers, to prevent the season's Big Bad, Glory, from opening up all doors between parallel dimensions and causing another apocalypse. It kind of makes sense in context. Kind of.

I wasn't thrilled to see that Buffy's boyfriend Riley is still around, and still in the title credits. How come he's in the title credits but Tara is still only listed as a guest star? He was okay, but dull, for season four, but now he's outstayed his welcome. After my last review, Laura queried my assessment of him as "nice." Even in the last season he had some unfortunate character traits that reared their heads occasionally: he could be too persistant, a bit needy, and whatever he might say, he didn't really like that Buffy could take care of herself instead of letting him be the big strong protector. In season five, we see these insecurities grow until they overshadow everything likable about Riley, to the point where I was shouting "JUST GO!" every time I saw him. It took him too long, but I have never been so pleased to see such an indifferent character leave. My friend arrived at my house one day to find me shrieking "YES YES HE'S REALLY GONE!" Good riddance, and please don't come back.

And then there's Spike! I liked Spike from the moment he screeched his car into Sunnydale back in season two, and now we get to see another side to his character. In season five, he comes to realise that he has a crush on Buffy.


We've seen Spike as a formidable, quick-witted foe, and we've seen him as a whiny, powerless villain who
no one takes seriously. Now we get to see Spike in love. It is a strange, unsettling story to follow. Certainly Buffy and Spike have chemistry, and are very entertaining to watch together as they fight (and do they ever meet without fighting?) Spike's infatuation made me think of the Phantom of the Opera: simultaneously pitiful and creepy. Sometimes his obsession brings out his better side (even if he is usually only trying to impress Buffy) and sometimes it drives him to disturbing extremes - Buffybot anyone? The two sides of his character do not sit comfortably together; I think we like to be sure whether we feel sorry for a character or are repulsed by them, and Spike evokes both reactions.

We also get to see some of Spike's backstory: as an angsty would-be poet in Victorian England. At first, I thought he could not be more unlike the Spike we've come to know, but as the series progressed and as I thought about it some more, I came to realise that the change was not as great as I'd first thought - and not as great as it should be. This is the change of someone who has lived for over a hundred years, not the change of someone who has had his entire being replaced with that of a monster. Spike seems to be very human, and becoming more so.

For the first time, another character expresses the same reservations I've been having about Willow's use of magic. Her girlfriend, Tara, is a more experienced witch, and as such, has a better understanding of what the limits are. Willow gives Dawn a bit of help in her attempt to do a very dubious spell, and later faces Glory with some terrifying magic. I think it's safe to say that any magic that turns your eyes black is best left alone. But I predict Willow has only just begun and this story will get worse before it gets better.

This season has been all about family: Dawn being inserted into the Summers family and being accepted as one of their own, and the Scooby gang as a family. In the middle of the season is a story revolving more around the Summers women than anything supernatural, when Buffy's mother, Joyce, discovers she has a brain tumour, has surgery, recovers, and then dies from an aneurysm. I'll be honest: I was expecting this since Buffy quipped in season four that she hoped her mother would have a "funny aneurysm" when she saw the cost of her college textbooks. I've lost many hours of my life to the website TvTropes, and I was familiar with the "Funny Aneurysm Moment" trope in which a joke or light-hearted comment is echoed by a far more serious turn of events later on. I didn't know at the time that the page namer came from Buffy, but as soon as she spoke the line, I knew Joyce was doomed. I had not expected the story to be so drawn-out, however, covering several, very well-done episodes, and culminating in "The Body." "The Body" is an extraordinary episode which portrays the shock of grief like nothing else I've ever seen. I realised while watching it that the reason everything seemed so still and silent was that there was no music, no soundtrack, nothing to ease the tension. A very powerful episode indeed, probably the best yet.

In the season five finale, Buffy becomes much darker than ever before, when the Scoobies realise that there is no way they can defeat Glory, and try to make a run for it. Glory has tormented Tara, who is lost and confused within her own mind, and Giles is wounded by a spear through the windscreen of Spike's camper-van (causing Serenity flashbacks: WHY WHEDON, WHY?) Buffy calls Ben, the handsome medical intern she befriended in the hospital when her mother was ill, little knowing that he shares his body with Glory herself. Instead of a glorious (sorry) climactic battle between Buffy and Glory, the villain meets her end at the hands of Giles, while in the form of "Ben." It is chilling to watch as the nice, polite, English librarian kills Ben in cold blood with his bare hands. We've heard before that Giles has a dark past, but this is the first time we really see what that means.

Ben: She could have killed me. Giles: No, she couldn't. Never. And sooner or later Glory will re-emerge, and make Buffy pay for that mercy. And the world with her. Buffy even knows that...and still she couldn't take a human life. She's a hero, you see. She's not like us.Ben: Us?
But even destroying Glory via Ben is not enough to save the world. Only Buffy can do that, by making the greatest sacrifice: her own life. Compare her calm decision with that of the sixteen-year-old at the end of season one, desperate not to die. She's changed a lot: become more serious and grown up, but losing her witty humour. The Slayer's life has not been an easy one, and here it is, cut short. Apparently season five was written to be a potential series finale, and it certainly feels like one. The "previouslies" at the beginning go right back to the very first episode, showing everything that has led up to this point. This finale is darker and more epic than before. All the same, I'm glad that there are still to seasons to come. What a note to end it on!

Best episodes: (It would be misleading to use the word "favourite.)

6. Family: In which we find out a lot more about Tara. The episode end with Spike punching her in the face - which is not usually a thing that one would find heartwarming, but in context is rather lovely.
7. Fool for Love: Showing Spike's backstory. Introducing: William the Bloody (terrible).
10. Into the Woods: I'm only including this because we see the back of Riley. The episode itself is infuriating.
12. Checkpoint: Buffy vs. the Watchers' Council.
13. Blood Ties: In which Dawn discovers her life has been a lie.
15. I Was Made To Love You: A remarkably average robot-girlfriend-of-the-week episode, with a shocking ending. "Mom... Mom?... Mommy?"
16. The Body: "But I don't understand! I don't understand how this all happens. How we go through this. I mean, I knew her, and then she's, there's just a body, and I don't understand why she just can't get back in it and not be dead anymore! It's stupid! It's mortal and stupid! And, and Xander's crying and not talking, and, and I was having fruit punch, and I thought, well Joyce will never have any more fruit punch, ever, and she'll never have eggs, or yawn or brush her hair, not ever, and no one will explain to me why."
17. Forever: Dawn tries to bring her mom back from the dead. Thank goodness we don't get to see the results.
18. Intervention: Spike creates a Buffy-bot. Time to get off the ship. This is not boyfriend material.
19. Tough Love: Willow and Tara have their first quarrel, with tragic results.
22. The Gift: The darkest and most epic finale yet.

Friday, 21 March 2014

The Martian - Andy Weir

It was a ridiculous sequence of events that led to me almost dying, and an even more ridiculous sequence that led to me surviving.

 If an astronaut was accidentally left behind on Mars, could he possibly survive long enough to be rescued? In The Martian, Andy Weir sets out to answer that question in an intelligent, brilliantly-researched and believable way.

This is my food supply. All natural, organic, Martian-grown potatoes. Don't hear that every day, do you?
It took me quite a while to get into The Martian at first. Most of the story is told in astronaut Mark Watney's log, with step-by-step details of: "Here's what I'm going and this is how it works." I'm not very scientifically-minded, so I had to read some passages through a couple of times to understand at least the gist of them, and Weir doesn't spell out the definition of every unfamiliar word: either we know what "Hab," "sol" and "EVA" mean, or we figure it out from context. In the first log entries, I found the mixture of scientific detail and silly humour jarring. But then, of course the humour would feel forced. The man's just been left for dead on Mars, and he's trying to make the best of things. Joking is perhaps not the natural response to this unique situation, but it's a survival mechanism.

But just because this was a slow read, doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it. Spending more time with a book and putting more effort into reading it can be rewarding, and ultimately I think The Martian is the best book I've read this year so far.

It didn't take me very long to appreciate Watney's character: a likable, unflappable and determined guy with a goofy sense of humour. He had to be. Personality is a crucial part of space travel, because if you're stuck in a tin can with just a few people for months on end, you have to not want to kill each other. Also, Watney's resourceful and logical nature in the face of almost certain death makes him a very realistic astronaut. Yes, if surviving alone on Mars for over a year is possible, this man could do it.

"I wonder what he's thinking now."
Log Entry: Sol 61. How come Aquaman can control whales? They're mammals! Makes no sense.
The pace of the story picked up when the narrative switched between Watney's log and NASA discovering his survival and attempting to bring him home. From Earth, we get a broader perspective of what Watney has to deal with, and the efforts put into bringing him home, but there is also an added tension when satellite images reveal obstacles that Watney is unaware of. I grew to dread the switch from first person to third, especially on Mars, because the omniscient narrator was about to tell the reader something that Watney did not know - usually disaster.

Phobos is the god of fear, and I'm letting it be my guide. Not a good sign.
The Martian is a rollercoaster ride (or rover ride, perhaps) of victorious success and catastrophic setbacks, and each obstacle asks the same question anew: how can Watney possibly survive this? I found myself sitting bolt upright, glued to the page and shouting at the book. Watney's survival is never assured, even in the final few pages. The Martian gave me a real adrenaline rush, if a non-traditional one. It is also utterly heartwarming the huge efforts and expense put in to save one man's life, how the entire world comes together to attempt to bring Watney home, refusing to give up while the tiniest bit of hope remains.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 4

Season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer concluded with Buffy and her friends graduating with style, putting high school behind them with all the finality anyone could wish for, burning the school to the ground. Season 4 moves into a brand new stage of life. Buffy, Willow and Oz are off to college, Cordelia, I gather, has vanished over to the other side with Angel (though I haven't watched his series) and Xander is trying to figure out just what he wants to do with his life. As well as graduating from high school, Buffy has decided she no longer needs a Watcher telling her what to do. Giles is still there to advise her, but thankfully there are no more of the arguments about whether or not a Slayer can live an ordinary life.

Buffy: "I'm going to do a thing.
Giles: "You can't do the thing. You're the Slayer."
Buffy: "I never get to do the thing. It's not fair."
Giles: "It might not be fair, but you have a sacred duty. No doing of the thing, not for you."
Buffy: *sulks* *does the thing anyway* *chaos and disaster ensues.*

Now Buffy has to juggle university life, her slayer duties the other side of town, and a brand-new boyfriend, the decent but dull Riley Finn, an older student and member of a top-secret government monster-fighting initiative.

There were some great episodes in season four, but I have to say I wasn't wildly interested in the main plot about the Initiative and the Frankenstein's monster they created. It was all very military and clinical, and I didn't feel that the monster, Adam, was really worthy of being the series' Big Bad. He came across more of a monster-of-the-week. For a while I wondered if Riley might be the ultimate villain; surely someone that bland must have hidden depths. But no. I suppose Buffy does really need someone ordinary and nice in her life. Her boyfriends can't all be tormented vampires. She needs a break and can't always be mixing business and pleasure.

Spike is back in this season, captured by the Initiative and tamed by an implant in his head that means he is unable to harm any human. This new, de-fanged Spike is hilarious to watch: whiny and petty, and constantly frustrated that Buffy and her friends keep on asking for his help. How come they keep forgetting that they are mortal enemies, he hates them and wants to see them dead?

Once again, Joss Whedon managed to take everything I loved and smash it into tiny little pieces in episode six, in which Oz discovers another werewolf in town, and is faced with the terrible dilemma of either letting her run free killing people on the full moon... or betray Willow. The episode goes to great pains to show a true and loving relationship that really ought to be able to survive the strain of jealousy - but the werewolf thing is too much, and Oz leaves town, unable to trust what he might do under the curse of the full moon. Alyson Hannigan's acting is devastating. Poor, poor Willow. (And poor Oz.) Her heartbreak is so painful to watch, and rings so true to anyone who's been on the wrong end of being dumped: denial, bitterness, anger. And there was another level to the sadness from a viewer's point of view, when I noticed Seth Green had gone from the title credits. He really had left, then.

But not for good. Be careful what you wish for around Joss Whedon, because he is an evil mastermind and will give it to you in the most painful way possible: Oz returns once more just as Willow is getting cutely awkward with Tara, a shy girl from her college witchcraft club (the only other witch who practises actual magic instead of talking about "energy" and "auras" and the like. Well... as well as talking about energy and auras.) Oz returns and wants to pick up where he's left off, but Willow isn't in the same place any more. She loves Oz... but she also loves Tara. EVERYTHING IS HORRIBLE. This is what love triangles are like: everyone gets hurt and it is ugly and not in the least bit romantic. CURSE YOU WHEDON!!!!!

All through season 4, I felt that something was a bit off with the storytelling, or the characters: it felt wrong. It was difficult to pin down, but the Scooby gang just didn't feel so much fun to be with any more. The banter was off, the chemistry wasn't the same, they didn't feel so much like a team, but a set of individuals whose stories didn't quite mesh together as well as they used to. And in the last few episodes, it becomes clear that this is a crucial part of the narrative. It is some very subtle storytelling, a commentary on how friendships do sometimes grow apart in a new stage of life, whether that be in college, or when some people get married and start families, or move to different places. But it also builds towards the series finale, in which Spike uses his observations about the characters' insecurities and the widening rift between them, as an attempt to separate Buffy from her friends so that the creature Adam can use and defeat her. A very clever long game - and quite a brave decision to sabotage the overall feel of the show in order to tell a greater story. Of course Spike and Adam don't succeed, and the Initiative storyline is wrapped up with one more episode to go.

Wait, what? That's not how it's meant to happen. Every season of every TV show ever has to end on an epic finale, when the bad guys are defeated, the plot strands are pulled together and everything makes sense, leaving the viewer feeling happy and contented in the knowledge that the writers delivered on their promise. How can they finish a series-long story and then tack one more episode on the end? A standalone is never going to live up to a twenty-odd-episode story, right?

Personally, I love it when writers break the rules of storytelling. Dollhouse (also a Whedon project) was another series which finished the first season too early, and the season finale, "Epitaph One" showed a terrifying flash-forward into an apocalyptic future. So I went into the real finale of Buffy season 4 with some trepidation. What did it have in store?

Well, I can safely say, I was not expecting that. The last episode, "Restless" is probably the most surreal thing I have ever seen on a mainstream television show ever. It takes place almost entirely in dreams, and is far more like real dreams than any dream sequence you will ever see on TV; a mixture of character psychology, foreshadowing and complete nonsense. Picking through the images and dialogue, it's tricky trying to figure out what is going to be significant in the future, what was significant only for that episode, and what can be discarded. We see each of the main characters' fears and insecurities played out in symbolic scenes: Willow, for example, dreaming of being back at high school, and going to her first drama class to find that she was expected to act in a play she had never rehearsed in front of everyone she knew. (I've had that one.) Then, there is this supernatural element in the form of the first Slayer, whose spirit was apparently invoked in Buffy's last battle against Adam in what would ordinarily be the season finale.

In Buffy's dream, there was a bed. Just an ordinary, unmade white bed, and I suddenly remembered several episodes back, she had another dream, wherein she and Faith were making up the same bed. Actually, I remember it as part of Faith's coma-dream. What's going on there? I forgot it, as it didn't lead to anything in that particular storyline. I think Faith said something about "Li'l sis is coming." And then, right at the end of the episode, when the Scoobies have all woken from their nightmares, Buffy walks into a room in her house... and the final image is of that bed. As Buffy would say, "it gave me the wiggins." Who would think a simple piece of furniture would have that power? WHAT DOES IT MEAN? (Don't you dare actually tell me.)

I scribbled down some of the lines that stood out from the weirdness as having an air of foreboding.
"Time is running out."
"I'm never gonna find them here."
and, most significantly:
"You think you know... what's to come... what you are... you haven't even begun."
I think that just about sums it up!

Best episodes

6. Wild at Heart. Oh Willow! Oh Oz! Oh, my heart! This was so upsetting and well-written and brilliant and human and upsetting.
7. Initiative. In which Buffy and Riley work at hilarious cross-purposes, both trying to get the other one out of the way so that they can fight the monsters. A scene which shows Spike attempting to vampire Willow rapidly switches from disturbing to very funny, very quickly.
9. Something Blue. Another comic episode, in which Willow casts a spell to make everything she says come true, with hilarious results.
10. Hush. In which the entire town of Sunnydale is struck mute. A gimmick episode, done very well, in the style of a silent movie. A shame it wasn't made in black and white.
15/16. This Year's Girl/Who Are You?: Faith returns! A far more dynamic storyline than the Top Secret Government Organisation plot, which felt quite cold and un-Buffyish. Also: BODYSWAP! Sarah Michelle Geller and Eliza Dushku do an uncanny job of playing each other's roles. I wonder if that was why Eliza Dushku later got the lead in Dollhouse.
17. Superstar: HUH? Did I miss something? Suddenly, Jonathan, a recurring extra who got promoted to supporting character in one episode near the end of season three, is a Slaying mastermind. And promoted to credits. And appearing everywhere, in the background of every shot. Something is off here. The world has changed, but no one seems to have noticed. This time we are plonked into an alternative universe without being told we're in an alternative universe! (I had figured it out before it was spelled out.) Very clever premise, and a lot of fun.
19. New Moon Rising: Be careful what you wish for. My favourite character returned, and I wish he didn't. Everything is horrible.
22. Restless. The aforementioned dream episode. Mind. Blown. Also, what is going on with the man with the cheese?

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Sunday Summary: Goodbye winter, and good riddance

Hello to you all.

I know I talk a lot about the weather in these blog posts, but what can I say? I'm British. I've spent the last few days really savouring the sunshine, when I've not been at work. It's been lovely to get home when it's still daylight, to go out without a coat, and to sit in the garden or the park with just my book and a cup of coffee (I'm not that British) for company. I'm reading one of Neil Gaiman's short story collections, Smoke and Mirrors, and reading that in the sunshine to the soundtrack of birdsong makes me feel like I'm waking from hibernation. After last year, when winter went on until the end of May, I can barely believe it. We've made it through another winter. There should be badges for that.

I decided this year to give up buying books for Lent, but this week I bought two last books: The Martian by Andy Weir, and Alexander McCall Smith's latest No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency novel, The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon. I've also borrowed The Never List by Koethi Zan from the staffroom mini-library, although from what I gather I have to be in the right mood for that one as it's supposedly pretty gruesome and disturbing. The Alexander McCall Smith books are the opposite: they are very sweet stories set in Botswana, easy to read in an afternoon, philosophical but ultimately a celebration of what it is to be human. The Martian is a new science fiction book that has been whispered about in several parts of the internet, (Sarah reviewed it here) and I bought it in hardback because I couldn't wait to see what all the fuss is about. After Shine, Shine, Shine, An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth and most recently, James Smythe's excellent The Explorer, I can't get enough of the space stuff!

It's been busy at work this week, thanks to World Book Day, when all the kids dress up as their favourite fictional characters, and they also get a £1 book token. I don't know if the book fairs still come round to the schools: three metal fold-up bookcases in the school hall or library, where I acquired my first two-in-one Famous Five books, and later, The Cafe Club and Fiona Kelly's Mystery Kids. I remember dressing up as (of course) Anne Shirley (of Green Gables) when I was about nine, wearing a blue-and-white checked dress, straw boater hat, pigtails and felt-tip-pen freckles. I was not, however, allowed to dye my hair red. It would probably have been as successful as Anne's attempt.

I went to see the Lego Movie last night, which was completely ridiculous, but so much fun. I went into the Lego Movie without knowing much about it, and that's the best way to see it so I won't say much about it. But I recommend it for everyone - kids and parents and nostalgic adults, and definitely for those who insist on keeping each set distinct and separate. (Shudder!) The movie is a celebration of imagination, creation and play, with plenty to geek out about. ("Spaceship!") Everything is Awesome! (And try getting that theme song out of your head. You won't be able to do it.)

I did a little fangirl squeal when the Lego Movie included a tiny, blink-and-you'll-miss-it reference to Fabuland, a long-forgotten Lego town peopled by animal characters, bigger than the usual minifigures, and who made up most of the inhabitants of the Lego world of my childhood. There were storybooks. They had personalities. Most of the Fabuland characters had different names from those they were officially given, and for many years my headcanon was that Edward the Elephant was married to Bonita Bunny, who had two human children, Judith and Jeremy. I was little. I didn't know, or care, about how biology worked, and who's to say what the rules are in the Lego world, anyway? I loved my Lego, and made it my own. I don't know anyone else who remembers the Fabuland creatures. That range ran for 10 years, but was discontinued shortly after I was given my sets, but it has such personal memories for me. This wasn't the Lego that takes up whole walls of the toy shops and has its very own theme parks. This was my childhood, my version of Lego - mine, my own, my precioussss...

My 27th birthday present of Lord of the Rings Lego compares only with my 3rd birthday when I was given that first bucket. I still have it; it lives by my bookcase. I think it once got put away in the attic, but like my Enid Blyton books, I couldn't keep it up there for long.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

The Girl with all the Gifts - M. R. Carey

Melanie is a very unusual child. The only home she's ever known is a military base, where she is taken to her classrooms each day strapped into a wheelchair, and returned to her cell each evening. She is bright and inquisitive, but little does she know that she is being brought up for a particular purpose.

It is clear from the very start that The Girl With All The Gifts is not set in the world we know; though recognisable with mentions of London and other towns, unfamiliar names such as Beacon and Region 6 place it into a dystopia setting before we see outside Melanie's daily routine. It is implied that Melanie and her classmates may not be exactly human, and they are feared by the adults around them, but the novel is slow to reveal exactly what has happened to the world and its people. (Unfortunately, the review blurbs on the cover give a little too much away with their comparisons to other series.) The first act was my favourite part of the story, with its small pieces of information hidden in Melanie's everyday life asking more questions with each one answered.

But this new version of normality does not last long. Disaster strikes, and the second act shows a small group of survivors on the run in a post-apocalyptic England: Sergeant Parks and Private Kieran Gallagher, Dr Caroline Caldwell, a research scientist, and Miss Helen Justineau, former teacher to the strange children. And of course, at the group's heart, feared by some, the hope of others, is Melanie.

The two women, Miss Justineau and Dr Caldwell are portrayed in sharp contrast with each other. Miss Justineau is kind-hearted and idealistic, while Dr Caldwell's approach is cold. Her task is important for the human race's survival, and she is prepared to take any action for the greater good, no matter how morally repugnant. At first, when seen through the infatuated Melanie's eyes, Miss Justineau is the heroine, while Dr Caldwell fills the role of villain, but The Girl with all the Gifts does not show a clear black-and-white morality. Miss Justineau is certainly more sympathetic throughout, yet when the fate of humanity is at stake, I came to understand, if not approve, Dr Caldwell's approach as well. Her research gives the familiar narrative a scientific twist, making this book stand out from the rest of the genre.

Greek mythology recurs throughout the novel, in particular, Melanie's favourite tale about Pandora's Box. "The girl with all the gifts" is a direct translation of Pandora's name, and its relevance is revealed in a shocking plot twist at the end which left me completely taken aback, stunned and perhaps even feeling a little betrayed, but I quickly realised it was the perfect ending for this story.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Three

The last we saw of Buffy Summers was of her taking the bus out of Sunnydale to some unknown destination, after killing her vampire-boyfriend Angel to save the world. As you do. Season three opens showing her working as a waitress under an assumed name. But it's not long before the weirdness follows her and sends her home to face up to the consequences of the season two finale.

Back at Sunnydale, Xander, Willow and the others are trying to fight off the vampires without the leadership of the Slayer. This season addresses the relationship between Willow and Xander. First, Willow fancied the oblivious Xander, and then, once Willow got herself a boyfriend, Xander started to feel jealous. Things have come a long way since we first met these characters, and whereas once I would have been happy to see them get together, now I really didn't like seeing them sneaking smoochies whenever they got the chance. Poor Oz! And poor Cordelia. Still, in one way, I'm glad that the inevitable is out of the way now. Although I don't hate Xander's character, I think Willow deserves so much better. Her relationship with Oz survives their cheating. Xander and Cordelia's does not. (I said before, it was never going to last.)

Some new characters are introduced for season three, most notably Richard Wilkins III, mayor of Sunnydale, an apparently genial, fatherly chap who happens to have some nefarious plans of his own. And Faith, the second slayer (Kendra's replacement) a rebellious, angry young woman who is out of control. Faith is played by Eliza Dushku, who I first encountered in Dollhouse, and I observed at the time that she has a very Buffy-ish look to her. I now think that's no coincidence: they are two sides of the same character, Buffy the light, Faith the dark. Faith is how Buffy could have turned out if she didn't have the support from her friends and her mother to keep her grounded, to give her a strong sense of morality. Buffy's conflict with Faith (which could perhaps be interpreted as a conflict between the different sides of her own nature) and the fight to keep the Mayor from transforming into a giant snake monster, is the main plot arc through season three. Because it concerns new characters, it didn't emotionally hook me so much as the story with Angel in season two, but it was entertaining and satisfying to watch, especially in the finale in which the entire graduating class of Sunnydale High join forces to fight the evil (including flaming arrows, because flaming arrows are always awesome.)

I've always thought of Buffy as a high school series, but as Buffy is sixteen at the start of her story, and each season takes place over the course of a school year (like Harry Potter), the show must grow up and move on, like its characters. Season Three finishes with Buffy and co's graduation from high school, and their preparations for university. I felt sad that Willow, after receiving offers from Harvard and Yale, as well as Oxford, decided to study at the local Sunnydale college, but it makes sense in story terms. How could you have a show where each member of the Scooby gang is in a different state? Not to mention the intricacies of filming the series on location. Better to keep them at a fictional college, and build the set to suit the story's need.

There are some marvellous individual stories within season three. I particularly liked "Band Candy," in which students sell chocolate bars to raise money for the school band, and everyone who eats it acts like an irresponsible teenager again. Principal Snyder was both hilarious and creepy acting like a kid, whereas Giles was hilarious with a tough London accent, in a tight t-shirt instead of his usual tweed. This was surprisingly pleasing - and Buffy's mother Joyce certainly thought so, as we discover later on with much hilarity (although I don't think Buffy would share the amusement.) I loved the moment when she confronted Giles about her mother, and he walked right into a tree with shock.

This season also introduces Sexy Evil Vampire Willow, from a parallel dimension created by Cordelia's wish that Buffy had never come to Sunnydale. Willow has certainly gained a new confidence in this season, with her relationship with Oz, and new-found interest in witchcraft. (I do fear for her in her witchery, however. I've noticed hints that she might be getting in over her head. Foreshadowing for later seasons perhaps?) Alyson Hannigan must have had so much fun playing Willow as a psychotic vampire, with echoes of Drusilla from season two. "Bored now!" She was so entertaining to watch, and as an added bonus, she comes back in another episode to really shine, acting opposite her usual timid, bookish character.

After Giles breaks the Watchers' rules, he is sacked from the Watchers' Council and replaced by Wesley, a younger, Gilesier Giles. It's quite uncanny to watch the two together (simultaneously wiping their glasses with handkerchiefs during an awkward moment.) Wesley is Giles with all the book-knowledge and none of the experience, full of ideas about authority and rules and orders, and not much clue about actually dealing with vampires. Or slayers. Or teenagers in general. All the Watchers seem to be English, all upper-class and probably Oxbridge-educated. Do none of the American universities give a doctorate in Watching? Quite remiss of them, don't you think?

As you could probably predict (considering he has his own TV show) Angel does not stay dead for long, and is the cause of the greatest plot twist yet. After coming back from the dead, his own, good self, and nursed back to health by Buffy, it doesn't take much to turn him evil again: Faith splatters him with blood, and some creepy ninja-dude appears, and boom! Angel is the bad "Angelus" once more. Faith and Angel capture Buffy, chain her up and prepare to torture her. Then we get this marvelous exchange:
Faith: "What can I say? I'm the world's best actor."
Angel: "Second best."
He was acting all along! How's about that for a shocking moment! Wonderful, so unexpected, my favourite moment of the series so far.

I knew Angel wasn't around for all of Buffy, and so many times in season three, it looks as though he and Buffy are going to split up, that he's going to leave town, that they won't see each other again. But it takes the entire season for him to actually get his act together and go! It's not that I dislike them as a couple. I want Buffy to be happy. But if he's going to go, can't he just stop faffing and go? He breaks up with Buffy, finally, a couple of episodes from the end, and this time it actually does seem final, with harsh words spoken and a broken heart, but he sticks around to help defeat the Mayor's evil plan before disappearing into the night at the end of the season finale. I think we've seen the last of him for a while. I believe Angel runs parallel to Buffy from now on, although I don't have the DVDs for that. Is it essential viewing to make sense of Buffy, or can I muddle along without it? I think Angel's an OK character, but it's Buffy, Willow, Giles and the others that I'm really interested in.

Favourite episodes:

6. Band Candy: In which all the adults act like teenagers and Giles gets together with Buffy's mother.
9. The Wish: A very dark It's A Wonderful Life episode, with Xander and Willow as vampires.
13. The Zeppo: In which Xander feels excluded from the vampire slaying, has his own adventures, and we see just snippets of what would ordinarily be the "main" plot.
14-15. Bad Girls/Consequences: In which Faith goes off the rails, and tries to drag Buffy along with her.
16. Doppelgangland: Welcome back Sexy Evil Vampire Willow!
17. Enemies: The one with the big plot twist.
18. Earshot: In which Buffy can hear everyone else's thoughts.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Attachments - Rainbow Rowell

It looks like I'm the last book blogger to read and review Rainbow Rowell's debut novel, Attachments, so I'll try to keep it short. The plot is simple: Lincoln, IT and systems security man at a newspaper office, is responsible for reading any emails flagged as potentially inappropriate sent from company addresses. It is 1999 and the world is still getting used to the internet, and personal emails from company accounts are a definite no-no. Not that this stops Beth and Jennifer! Their names keep popping up again and again, and Lincoln knows he ought to send them a warning, but they are just so likeable and funny that he can't bring himself to do it. And then he realises he's falling in love...

I admit it: I loved Attachments because I'm nosy. Aren't we all? Who can honestly say they've never stalked an ex on Facebook, or spied on twitter-conversations between people we like. Half of Attachments gives that same feeling that we, like Lincoln, are privy to something personal between friends. Like Lincoln, we get to know Beth and Jennifer through their emails, which reveal them to be people who are a lot of fun to hang out with, sharing their relationship and family woes, quirks and insecurities, and a deep abiding friendship.

To my surprise, it was Lincoln that I found myself relating to the most. All three characters are about my age (28) but it is he who has moved back to his mother's house, is in an unsatisfying job, quiet and a bit nerdy and still not over a relationship that ended many years ago. It was part painful, part reassuring to see myself in this character, putting into words the fear that's always in the back of my mind.
"I think I missed my window," he said.
"What window?"
"My get-a-life window. I think I was supposed to figure all this stuff out somewhere between twenty-two and twenty-six, and now it's too late." 
And of course, Lincoln finds out through the course of the novel that it's not too late at all. He's a really lovely character, thoughtful, kind and well-liked by anyone who comes into contact with him. He befriends an older employee in the staff room and enjoys listening to her stories about her dogs, shares his lunch with her and helps her move house. He prefers nights in playing Dungeons and Dragons to nights out partying, and buys violet-patterned bedsheets instead of something more manly, because he likes violets.

Lincoln doesn't need to see Beth to know he's in love with her: her emails to Jennifer are full of fun, kindness and her sense of humour. And occasionally they mention "My Cute Guy," who she has seen about the offices, but whose identity is unknown. On the first mention of this mysterious stranger, I crossed my fingers that he might turn out to be Lincoln. When he did, I may have let out a girly squeal. Their romance - if you can call it a romance when the characters don't interact for most of the book - is really heartwarming and sweet, and I really enjoyed watching it play out towards its conclusion.

If you're looking for a chick lit novel for people who don't like chick lit, let me recommend Attachments. 

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Shine, Shine, Shine - Lydia Netzer

 This is the story of an astronaut who is lost in space, and the wife he left behind.

It took me a while to decide whether or not I was going to like Shine, Shine, Shine. Though quite easy to read, written in a simple, rather Alexander McCall Smith-esque prose, the narration feels quite detached: telling, not showing, although in a deliberate, dreamy way. I wouldn't class this as a science fiction novel so much as a love story set in the very near future. It is realistic but occasionally surreal - both characters experience visions that could be prophetic or could be hallucinations, literal pictures of metaphors explaining their world.

It is specified early on that Maxon and Sunny's son is autistic, and it is clear that he shares traits with his father, who is a brilliant scientist but whose mind needs a formula for every human interaction. A lot of the story takes place in flashback, and at first I found it very hard to relate to the characters. Maxon is a being of logic rather than emotion, though he is curious and eager to learn. (I heard Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation's voice in my head for him.) His conversation is stilted, his humour falls flat, and I wondered at first why he had ever married Sunny. Could it really be love? Their interactions seemed so awkward and uncomfortable. The dialogue with Sunny about why he thinks it is time for them to have a baby made me feel quite uncomfortable. But Shine, Shine, Shine is a novel of gradual revelation; as it fleshes out their history and characters, I came to realise that these two unusual people were made for each other, that their love is touching and all-encompassing, even if not easily expressed, and they are really a beautiful couple.

To all appearances, Sunny is a fairly ordinary suburban housewife, expecting their second child when Maxon blasts off into space. Then something happens, and she makes the decision: no more pretending. The layers are stripped away to reveal a quite extraordinary person. Every aspect of her identity is called upon at once: as daughter, mother and wife - her mother is dying, she is expecting her second child, and her husband is in space - but what does it really mean to be Sunny Mann? How does she reconcile how she appears to the world with who she is inside?

Shine, Shine, Shine has a somewhat open ending, not giving you definite answers on what happens next. The present situation is not what this novel is really about, so much as the people involved, what made them and brought them to this point. Instead of answers, we are shown one of Sunny's visions, which, like Sydney Carton's at the end of A Tale of Two Cities, may or may not be taken as truth, but which end the novel on a note of hope. I recommend Shine, Shine, Shine to fans of The Time-Traveller's Wife: even if you find it a bit difficult to get into at first, it's worth sticking with it to the end.

Favourite Quotes:

"What, do you want to put pinholes in me and screw a bulb into my brain?" she said...
"I don't think I would need pinholes," said Maxon... "I think you would just shine."

How do we love each other? We love each other like naked children in a strange jungle, when every stump turns into and ogress, each orchid into a lump of maggots. We didn't say, 'I love you,' just as we didn't, after a day of wandering, lost in the trees, turn to each other and say, 'We are the only naked children in this jungle.' Everyone else was just a jaguar or a clump of dirt.
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