It’s almost time for me to start writing my big year-end lists of favourites! That means it may get quieter over here in December as I bury myself deep in my pop culture reflections.
Now, does anyone know where I get an extra 25th hour a day for all these writing, art and music projects that I’ve left hanging…
Set My Heart to Five (Simon Stephenson, 2020)
I asked Dr Glundenstein if he thought humans and bots could ever understand each other the way Rick Deckard and Roy Batty had come to understand one another.
‘Ha!’ he said. ‘Ha!’ I replied. With hindsight, I really do not know what we were Ha-ing about. Humans and bots failing to understand each other is not funny. It is the great tragedy of our times. At least, it is for us bots.
Jared the Android has become depressed, though he doesn’t quite understand why. He decides to embark on a quest to figure out what his new emotions mean, where the world of cinema becomes his teacher.
Finding kin in the on-screen Replicants, he is soon hunted for his sentience. But he persists on his (mis)adventures, discovering what it means to be happy, sad, nostalgic, and in love. Not all of what he sees and experiences makes sense. Like being human, really.
Set My Heart to Five may be set in a dystopian future, where the cinemas screen nothing but Terminator rip-offs. But it is a charming ray of light that shows a great and infectious love for movies and humanity. (Simon Stephenson is a Pixar screenwriter, and it shows!)
The Hilarious World of Depression (John Moe, 2020)
Comedy, much of the time, is built on disorder. Comedy is intoxicating to a young mind in distress. You see these famous people pointing out the ridiculousness of a world that you’ve never been able to make sense of. Comedians offer the hope, the chance, however slim, that it’s not you that’s broken but the world.
No two stories are the same in the world of depression. In fact, few would have come close to the harrowing experience of his personal tragedy. But the feelings that podcaster John Moe relates would no doubt still hit close to home for most depressives.
There is humour, though not just the sort for laughs. The occasional self-deprecating quip aside, John Moe dives deep into his most difficult moments and breakdowns. He also leaves time for his podcast guests to share their anecdotes on how their celebrity success is never a cure-all.
For the most part, The Hilarious World of Depression tells it as it is. This very honesty makes it worth a read no matter which side of the glass you are on. It helps those attempting to see their mental struggles in a clearer light while encouraging empathy from the luckier ones.
Tender Is the Flesh (by Agustina Bazterrica & Sarah Moses [translator], 2020)
He wishes he could hate someone for the death of his son. But who can he blame for a sudden death? He tried to hate God, but he doesn’t believe in God. He tried to hate all of humanity for being so fragile and ephemeral but he couldn’t keep it up because hating everyone is the same as hating no one.
What a horrible vision of the future, where Man is now meat and murder is back in fashion. Tender is the Flesh vividly imagines this endless nightmare for humanity that soon reveals our arrogance and ugliness in a bid to live.
Forced to wield the butcher’s knife for survival himself, our antagonist Marcos knows the world before this and struggles with its redefined morality. But the more he learns and tried to rebel, the closer he gets to the grim truth that he must come to accept.
This is a fearless story that is filled with strong violence and almost devoid of hope. There is after all no hiding what we will do when confronted with fear. It makes our prejudices transparent, showing how easily we claim superiority over another – by putting a price on skin.
The Only Good Indians (by Stephen Graham Jones, 2020)
The ladder tilts the opposite way, like it doesn’t want to be involved in anything this ugly, and all of this is in the slowest possible motion for Lewis, his head snapping as many pictures as it can on the way down, like they can stack up under him, break his fall.
Nine elk carcasses lie in the field. One is a mother, along with her calf. Four American Indian hunters leave the corpses behind, callous towards the deaths by their bloodied hand. Elks are just animals, aren’t they? Not just, we realise, when we hear their thoughts as mothers grieving their children.
Her spirit restless, the elk returns as a woman and stalks her prey as they did her once. In The Only Good Indians, Stephen Graham Jones tells her story of vengeance in vivid details. It is never just carnage for the sake of gore. Something always feels slightly out of place, making the most ordinary scenes unnerving.
Much of the tension comes of how much we feel for the sympathetic characters of both man and beast. Nothing is quite as haunting and heartbreaking to see one’s tragic fate mirrored in that of the other.