The Real Baahubali: Legend Through The Lens of History

#SpoilerAlert for Baahubali 1 & 2. Don’t read if you haven’t watched. 

When we talk about Baahubali and we talk about history, it’s easy to get caught up in the fact that this duology of historical-fantasy/action/drama/romance movies has become the first in the history of Indian cinema to gross a 1000 crores rupees worldwide. It also just happens to be the most expensive Indian film ever made which goes to show that huge investments lead to equally huge payoffs if everyone’s heart’s in it (Peter Jackson wink wink nudge nudge). It also happens to not be a Bollywood film and not star any of the Khans.

The film also fundamentally presents itself as a history. Or does it? That’s what this post is going to explore.

Broadly, Baahubali is the story of a particular phase in the history of the fictional empire of Mahishmati (not to be confused with the real 13th century city of Mahishmati which was the principal city of the Avanti Mahajanapadha). It follows the lives of two members of the royal family, Bhallaldeva and Amarendra Baahubali who are raised together by the Queen Mother, Shivagami under the promise that the one who is wiser, stronger, more just and more fit to rule will eventually become king. Bhallaldeva is very evil because he has a scary scar and a nasty mean look and his father looks like the Grinch.

The Grinch Who Stole Navratri

Baahubali is awesome because he’s got a very friendly looking mustache, fighting skills second to none, abs, unparalleled strategic skills, more abs, the love and respect of the entire kingdom, yet more abs, the ability to charm anything sentient and did I mention the mustache?

Basically, things go south for the good guy. He wins the test, mommy says he’s going to be King, stays awesome for a bit, goes on a tour, falls in love, gets schemed against (by the grinch, no less), loses the throne, gets married, creates a fetus, loses admission to the palace, lives with the proles, stays awesome, gets schemed against by the grinch again, gets killed by his uncle/slave/best-friend/mentor.

The aforementioned fetus grows up in the bottom of a waterfall, gets raised by an old Malayalam movie actress, moves a Shiva lingam with this bare hands to the bottom of a waterfall, sees a butterfly woman in a bikini, chases after her up the mountain, finds out she’s real but not in a bikini, proceeds to get her into a bikini, goes sledding with her, takes up bikini-girl’s mission of saving the old woman tied up in the middle of Mahishmati, gets chased by Bhallaldeva’s son (in other words, the grandson of the Grinch who is still very much alive by the way) and the uncle/slave/best-friend/mentor, kills the prince, gets told the whole story by the slave, goes into battle with evil meany king, burns him and becomes king.

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The real reason people climb mountains

That’s about it.

I wasn’t a big fan the first time I watched Baahubali 2: The Conclusion. The whole thing was very unrealistic. The Baahubalis, father and son, were both morally perfect beings of mustachioed physical and mental puissance par excellence. Nothing could ever kill either of them (other than betrayal by daddy’s closest ally, of course). Because one sword can kill a man when fifty arrows can’t. The villains were irredeemably bad, grinchy looking, brutal, uncivilised, lacking in strategic capability and cartoonishly sadistic.

On a rewatch, I got it. I understood what all of it meant.

Baahubali isn’t a history. It’s a legend. What’s the difference, you may be asking? Well, for the purposes of this discussion, think about it like this: it’s the story of this phase in Mahishmati’s history written by a dude hired Baahubali. Who happens to be the emperor of a very powerful empire with a lot of soldiers and pointy things that kill so you really don’t want to get on this guy’s bad side. So obviously, he’s handsome and upright and perfect and loved by everyone and can be killed by no one. Also obviously, his rivals are evil and mean and grinchy looking.

The movies don’t really try to hide this fact. Literally half the overall story is narrated by a very guilty man who killed the main character of his story to the son of the man he killed. And the other half is so over-the-top it’s obviously trying to be mythic or legendary.

One of the  ways the director Rajamouli pushes this theme through is with the use of divine symbols. This was very common with the myriad of rulers who established themselves through ancient and medieval India. Many of them would try to associate themselves with a particular god. Many would, without trying to outright suggest it, say that they were gods themselves. The way they would spread these messages would be through paintings, carvings and, of course, legends passed on from generation to generations.

The movie uses divine symbols not directly but not subtly either. Baahubali the Younger is named Shivu by the Malayalam actress who adopts him. The Elder uses the same sobriquet when he’s trying to charm the princess he falls in love with (so that she can see his true character instead his riches or whatevs). The musical theme that plays when Baahubali does something awesome translates to “Hail Shiva!”. There’s an extended song sequence in the second part where the princess sings a lullaby for the god Krishna as part of a festival. The song cuts between Baahubali and the idol of Krishna, some of the offerings being made to the latter reflecting to the former.

This changes the way you look at the entire story of Baahubali because you can sort of assume most of it is skewed in the favour of Baahubali & Son. But, the broad strokes of the story probably did happen, just not in the way the legend describes it.

So how do we uncover the real story? The usual approach is to find other sources. No historian in her good senses would consider a mythic or legendary story as being anywhere near authoritative. The historian would dig around for material remains (like Indiana Jones with less swag), find sculptures, reconstruct ordinary patterns of life and collate all that information together to find something that approximates to the closest extent what actually happened.

But with Baahubali, we don’t have any of that because the story didn’t actually happen. Instead we have a multi-crore budget cinematic exaggerated legend of a story that was in reality probably very different, if it would have actually happened.

So the next idea is to de-exaggerate the legend and try to come up with a more plausible version of the events that could have happened. To do this, we use the metrics of other examples from history and a fair bit of common sense.

The Baahubalis were not perfect. We know that because we know from common sense that literally no one is perfect, especially not rulers of vast empires. On a less abstract basis, we know Amarendra wasn’t perfect for the apparent reason that he died. In fact, if you trace his political history, devoid of its mythic backstory, you’ll find the story of a classic failure rather than the wounded martyr figure the legend presents to us.

Things started out pretty good for Amarendra Baahubali. We can assume that he was probably better loved by the general public than his more politically minded half brother. He was probably not loved unanimously by every living human soul in Mahishmati as the legend would have you believe but he was probably the more popular among the two. That was probably what would have swayed the Queen Mother to initially crown him King, not a moral lesson after a very cinematic battle sequence.

From there, the legend says that he falls in love with Devasena, the princess of the Kuntala Kingdom south of Mahishmati. Romance makes for delightful storytelling (and equally delightful dance sequences on lotus boats in the sky) but from what we know from the political history of India, love had little to do with marriages among royal families. We can assume a more plausible turn of events. Amarendra attempts to enter into some sort of alliance with the southern kingdom. The Queen Mother is not pleased (probably because she warned against it by the Grinch) and demands that he either break the alliance or give up his throne. He goes for the latter option for what could be a variety of reasons. Perhaps he favoured the more absolute control over the smaller kingdom rather than puppet authority over the empire. Perhaps he really was a little in love with the beautiful princess. Perhaps it was a fit of youthful rage that was not very strategically thought out.

So then, he accedes his throne to Meany McMeanypants Bhallaldeva and becomes the Commander of the Army. Then, he loses that position as well. Why? Was it because of a passionate outburst by his fiery bride like the legend says it is? Not likely, given the social position of women (especially the wives of powerful men) in early Indian history. Influential? Certainly but rarely directly. Which is why the character of Shivagami is a bit implausible as well but it makes sense as an exceptional circumstance. Things like that have happened.

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No, he’s not a Power Ranger.

So why was Baahubali exiled? A conflict of interests is the most likely answer. His dethronement was because of what was most likely an alliance with a subsidiary state. If a political figure became closely linked with both the ruling hierarchy of one kingdom and the military of another empire, the rulers of that empire would obviously get a little testy.

So, Amarendra’s response was to live among the people. Again, possible but not entirely likely. What is more likely would be that he established base in his wife’s kingdom. A downgrade, for sure given the prestige he previously enjoyed.

This also explains why the new king would want to kill him. Given the guy’s general awesomeness and popularity with common folk, an uprising of the Kuntala kingdom under Baahubali’s command would be very very possible. Was he killed of by his uncle-slave-buddy? Again, great storytelling but unlikely. It could very well have been just a random assassin.

So the end result is that this person was first the most powerful person alive in a very powerful empire and eventually ended up dethroned, weakened, exiled and finally killed. Doesn’t sound very perfect to me.

Machiavelli would have called him a bad prince.

So Baahubali the legend is flawless. Baahubali the man is quite obviously flawed. What are those flaws?

We know for sure that he wasn’t the real son of the Queen Mother. Perfectly plausible there. People get adopted all the time, even into royal families. That fact was most likely a psychological complex, clouding Amarendra’s political judgement with this strong sense of loyalty and adoration to the woman who elevated someone who wasn’t even the fruit of her womb to the highest position in the empire. The Queen Mother had Baahubali wrapped around her finger. Any order that came from her would be followed without question. That is quite a strong weakness in a man with the hopes of ruling over the empire.

Added to that is this naivete about the people around him whom he expected would all follow the dharma or righteous law his mother had so earnestly taught him.

He probably never saw it coming. The literally-on-fire sequence where he gets stabbed in the back probably never happened. It is much more likely that he was lying on a hammock in the Kuntala backyard, combing his mustache and thinking he wasn’t a threat to anyone in the world out here when he was shot by a poisoned dart or something. Idk.

So Baahubali isn’t perfect. By extension, Mahishmati probably isn’t perfect either. This is openly alluded to by Baahuballi’s waifu in a fiery, impassioned speech which is just the kind of thing that would get you exiled. The empire was operating on the basis of an extrapolated edition of the dharma that left plenty of loopholes for characters like the grinch to manipulate to achieve their own ends. Bureaucracy outweighed righteousness. Protocol trumped justice. The popular choice was chilling out with waifu while Evil McEvilpants was allowed to rule.

Speaking of Mister Evil, the reality is that nobody could really ever be that evil. In brief chinks in  the fabric of the legend, Rajamouli gives us a glimpse of the real Bhallaldeva behind the grey highlights and abs. A political man, perhaps. A lot more ambitious than his adopted sibling and a lot more aware of the people’s love for said sibling than the sibling himself. A little insecure. A little too much of a daddy’s boy just as Baahubali’s a little too much of a mommy’s boy.

And what of daddy himself, the Grinch Who Stole Christmas? He was probably just very resentful. Resentful that the throne went to a woman instead of him. Resentful of his disability. Maybe he suffered from the same ailment most Indian parents suffer from: the need to vicariously live out their fantasies through their children. My beta will be an engineer/King because I couldn’t be.

And that leaves us with Baahubali the Son. He suffers from essentially the same character flaws as his dad (probably because he is the same character as his dad). His obsession with what his mother(s) want him to do and truckloads of naivete. We can envision a similar future for the real Mahishmati, backseat ruled by Devasena instead of Shivagami.

Which is why the ending of the movie is rather curious. The movie is expected to end when the S.S. Rajamouli seal is stamped right next to Baahubali II’s face at the end of his speech. But it doesn’t. It’s followed by this sequence where the golden head of the statue of Bhallaldeva rolls down the same path that Shivu followed up the mountain to chase his destiny. The statue eventually comes to a stop in front of the Shiva lingam that Shivu moved with his bare hands so long ago in Movie 1. Plaintive, sad music plays throughout this sequence and you’re left a little confused. What does that mean? That good triumphs over evil? That the will of God prevailed over human greed and ambition? Or is it trying to draw attention to the fact that this is the legend of a god among men? But who decides who god is? The person who tells the story, of course. But like I said, the story is obviously skewed in Baahubali’s favour.

Baahubali is a treasure trove for the amateur historian. It is the work of a confident film-maker who operates on multiple levels. The legend of Baahubali is a stirring story of good triumphing over evil. The history of Baahubali is a more complicated affair concerned with the politics of managing a large empire, the ambitions of two aristocrats and the women behind them and human flaws in human beings on both sides. And both stories and in there. It’s just that one of them takes a little digging.

Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. : Wickedness & Weakness, Hopelessness & Damnation

Is it wickedness? Is it weakness? 

As Kendrick Lamar albums go, this one is his most subtle one ever, at least as far as large-scale album spanning concepts go. All of his work so far just has to be enjoyed as a total album experience rather than as individual songs that just happened to be released at the same time. Good Kid, M.A.A.D City tells a very obvious story of the titular good kid in a city which acts as a machine operating against him, whatever he does to rail against that. That sort of desperate totality of gang-life and the nothing-elseness of it is laid out in front of you plainly but with a lot of grace and subtlety. To Pimp A Butterfly could be one of the most important musical projects of our generation, using song after song, each one adding a couple of verses to a desolate but ultimately hopeful poem he had been reciting to Tupac all along.

DAMN. doesn’t wear it’s concept on its sleeve. Certain resonances through the fourteen tracks that make up this LP are obvious from first listen. Or even  first look. Similarly themed songs are put next to each other in pairs. BLOOD. and DNA. LUST. and LOVE. GOD. and DUCKWORTH.  And even though the story elements are less pervasive, they are there. The album opens with a parable of sorts that loops back in on itself in very interesting ways.

The real elements that tie this album together, though, are these little leitmotifs: these lyrics or lines that are occasionally shouted, whispered, growled, moaned and screamed in several odd places through this album:

Whatever happens on earth stays on earth.

and

ain’t nobody prayin’ for me

And that cements DAMN.’s place as the successor to To Pimp A Butterfly. TPaB was an album that reflected back to the burden of history on this race of people in America and also looked forward with cautious hope for a brighter future. This hope was very solidly placed in the context of his own faith.

When you know, we been hurt, been down before, nigga
When our pride was low, lookin’ at the world like, “where do we go, nigga?”
And we hate Popo, wanna kill us dead in the street for sure, nigga
I’m at the preacher’s door
My knees gettin’ weak and my gun might blow but we gon’ be alright

  • Alright, To Pimp A Butterfly

A few of those lines are heard in DAMN. as well but in an entirely different context. Kendrick samples a voice clip of Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera.

This is why I say that hip-hop has done more damage to young African-Americans than racism in recent years

Rivera says after quoting the aforementioned Alright lines. He excludes the part about being alright though.

Kendrick Lamar does the same thing on DAMN. This isn’t an album about being alright. This is an album about week knees and blowing guns, about lust as a vice and love as a crutch, about hardwired ambition and hardwired wickedness struggling for supremacy in very young, very malleable souls, about damnation, about curses, about punishment and about no buts. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel. There’s no hope for salvation.

There is only this all pervading sense of damnation. This is the forty years in the wilderness album.

Kendrick alludes to that himself in XXX., the most politically charged song of an already politically charged LP.

Donald Trump’s in office
We lost Barack and promised to never doubt him again
But is America honest, or do we bask in sin?

  • XXX., DAMN.

It’s easy to see how much has changed in the two years since To Pimp A Butterfly. XXX also reveals how conflicting faith has become for Kendrick Lamar since that other record.

Yesterday I got a call like from my dog like 101
Said they killed his only son because of insufficient funds
He was sobbin’, he was mobbin’, way belligerent and drunk
Talkin’ out his head, philosophin’ on what the Lord had done
He said: “K-Dot, can you pray for me?
It’s been a fucked up day for me
I know that you anointed, show me how to overcome.”
He was lookin’ for some closure
Hopin’ I could bring him closer
To the spiritual, my spirit do no better, but I told him
“I can’t sugarcoat the answer for you, this is how I feel:
If somebody kill my son, that mean somebody gettin’ killed.”
Tell me what you do for love, loyalty, and passion of
All the memories collected, moments you could never touch
I’ll wait in front a niggas spot and watch him hit his block
I’ll catch a nigga leavin’ service if that’s all I got
I’ll chip a nigga, then throw the blower in his lap
Walk myself to the court like, “Bitch, I did that!”
Ain’t no Black Power when your baby killed by a coward
I can’t even keep the peace, don’t you fuck with one of ours
It be murder in the street, it be bodies in the hour
Ghetto bird be on the street, paramedics on the dial
Let somebody touch my mama
Touch my sister, touch my woman
Touch my daddy, touch my niece
Touch my nephew, touch my brother
You should chip a nigga, then throw the blower in his lap

What I always loved about Kendrick was how, unlike other Christian rappers, he addressed the complexity of the world he lived in. But his religion was always  a stable anchor, holding him down while the storms raged around him. Now, even that is up in the air.

And what’s frightening, but also rather beautiful is that there is a totality to this concept. God in this album is the fire and brimstone God of the Old Testament and Kendrick and his kin are the Israelites, sinning, paying for that sin and going eye for an eye for that shit. 

All of this is a tad unnerving, especially for the faithful among us for whom Lacrae just doesn’t cut it and have been listening to Lamar with pride for years now. But, it isn’t very unbiblical. If you think it is, you haven’t been paying attention to your Psalms. In fact, that’s the most obvious vibe you can catch from this album: a man of God grappling with some frame of reference to put suffering into perspective. Job is mentioned once and the comparison is apt, though quite obvious.

Even the ‘blasphemous’ GOD. feels more weary and sarcastic than any real attempt a chest-puff.

But the overall message is what we’re all here for, yes? That’s what Kendrick Lamar does best. Tie fourteen tracks together to tell a story. A prose-poem. A novel in verse.

The leitmotifs reveal what I think he’s trying to say and the message is possibly one of the most complex ideas he’s ever grappled with.

Ain’t nobody prayin’ for me. He has been pushed up as the spiritual figurehead of a fallen, immoral generation. But who prays for the pastor? And what if the pastor doesn’t have any easy answer? What if the pastor himself feels like he can’t quite bring himself to turn the other cheek when his momma, his sister, his nephew, his niece, his cousin, his woman, his daddy or his brother is on the line.

Whatever happens on earth stays on earth. That is the only comfort this wounded, conflicted pastor has to offer. But he doesn’t quite come out and talk about the better place outside this earth. Because this album isn’t about that. This album is about earth and about wickedness and weakness and all of us struggling under the weight of random circumstances and souls and free will.

And he doesn’t give you this message through fuzzy old drums and synths intercut with friendly voice recordings or with comforting jazz and brass. He speaks in the language of 2017. Trap beats, Rihanna features, wickedness and weakness.

You can buy DAMN. here

China Mieville’s The City & The City : Crime Cliches and Urban Prose

So this has very rapidly turned into a China Mieville jerk-off fest. I promise you, I honestly did not mean for this blog to turn into that but, during an incredibly busy time of my life (an exam season that’s stretching on for two months), I’m beginning to turn more than ever to literature for comfort. I’m reading two big works of nonfiction right now, both vaguely history related and I’m hoping to touch on both of them when I finish them.

But the main comfort reads for me during this time, the stories I turn to for rest and succour, just happen to be the entire bibliography of China Mieville which I’m working through in no discernible order in the middle of Marginal Utility, JavaScript and the Cold War. So why not blog about it as I go along?

Today’s blog is going to be about The City & The City, one of the later books of China’s career. This could broadly fit into his ‘middle period’ (at least as far as the works he’s published already. according to him, he’s just moving into his middle period now). It’s place just after the Bas Lag trilogy and Looking For Jake is important, I think because it jumps off from a lot of the obsessions the Bas Lag stories revel in.

The idea of obsessions is something that’s always attracted me to Mieville. Some of his obsessions include octopuses, trains, garbage, forbidding landscapes, urbanity and language. The City & The City is Mieville’s penultimate city book (duh) but a lot of the other things he’s interested in, particularly language and squalor play a pretty major role in the novel.

It is set in two cities, Besz  and Ul-Qoma, both of which occupy the same geographic space. Yeah, that sentence means exactly what it says. Both cities are literally in the same location with the inhabitants of one city not interacting with those of the other. But the division is not watertight. There are some areas where both cities crosshatch and the inhabitants of one can see, hear or smell those of the other. Only they’re not allowed to see. So they unsee. And if they don’t unsee, Breach, the mysterious force that polices the division between the city and the city, will prosecute lethally and suddenly.

That is merely the set-up, though. The story is, for the most part, a police-procedural following Tyador Borlu of the Besel Extreme Crime Squad as he tries to investigate the death of a mysterious young woman who was found in Beszel but doesn’t quite belong there.

During my second reading of this story, a few things struck me. The first is the prose. It is almost entirely devoid of the delightful baroqueness that so characterises most of Mieville’s oeuvre.

A lot of it has to do with the first person narration, I imagine. There’s something similar in Embassytown. The prose does occasionally indulge in Mieville’s word games but for the most part, it is sparse, stripped down and very direct. But that just means that his usual ruminations on language are divorced from their direct prose congruities rather than be an additional representation of them. The language is tackled entirely on its own terms.

One of the concepts I’ve mentioned before is unseeing and unhearing. When the residents of Besel see those of Ul-Qoma and vice versa, they are legally, socially and to an extent, prudentially obliged not only to disregard them but to unregard them. To undo the act of ever regarding them in the first place. That is the concept of unseeing. This translates to language as well. Bes and Illitan are distinct languages used by those from Beszel and those from Ul-Qoma respectively and despite the fact that they share the same linguistic roots, both sides are obliged to unhear them. However, people from both sides are commonly versed in both languages. That concept of forbidden or accidentally learned language is something that fascinates me about this book.

And then there’s the crime/police-procedural base to the speculative elements. Within that base, Mieville maintains a lot of fidelity to the genre, playing around with the tropes that genre provides in his weird environment. The story opens as a sort of buddy-cop rookie and pro style narrative. From the second act, it shifts to a different buddy-cop narrative with initial dislike growing to grudging mutual respect. And then finally, it becomes a straight up political conspiracy thriller.

So, very surreptitiously, it does something Mieville absolutely adores but in a very subtle way. It explores as many subgenres within the genre as it can. The thing with Mieville is that the line between cliche and genre is often very hazy. Genre is in itself just a collection of cliches under which people reiterate. Mieville never consciously smashes that axiom but plays around with it, mixing and matching as he sees fit. So with Iron Council you have a strong political thriller about the nature of society juxtaposed with a western with some romance elements in it. You can say the same about most of his books (and if I really stick with this, I’ll probably talk about all those other books in later posts so lucky you).

But the thing with The City & The City is that all those elements are handled so subtly that you’d never really realise they were there till you’ve read it a little more watchfully the second time through. It is Mieville at his most discreet and understated.

You can buy The City & The City here.

 

Kraken by China Mieville – Faith Under a Microscope

China Mieville’s fiction has always had this strong but rather conflicted undercurrent of morbid interest in and yet derision of organised faith. This is something I think he’s very aware of and uses to his own advantage to create some interesting ideas.

From the very beginning with King Rat, this idea of music and worship is shown in a relatively negative light with the Pied Piper metaphor. But, at the same time, you have this numinous sense of joy with creating samples and discovering music. This sort of stuff carries forward throughout the Bas-Lag series and the rest of his work: the idea of the numinous divorced from any worshipful context other than sheer, primal wonder. Another thing he usually brews is a sense of the anti-numinous. Or, as he’d probably like to put it, the abnuminous. The idea of beauty and wonder in filth, muck, rust, urban degradation, decay, so on.

In Kraken, the religious themes are pretty much worn on it’s sleeve. A preserved specimen of the Architeuthis Dux gets stolen from the Darwin Centre of the Natural History Museum in London. Billy Harrow, the curator, gets sucked into a world of crazy cults, magic, metropolitan police jurisdiction, heartless mercenaries and plenty more of Mievillesque madness. But what this whole thing is about is really worship and a justification for worship outside any sort of ritual or spiritual context. A lot of it may very well be autobiographical. The cephalopod has had a strange appeal to Mieville for most of his career and stands historically as a sort of symbol for the weird.

Mieville’s writing usually makes any writer jealous of not coming close to ever having an idea as cool as a peripheral one he just uses on the fly. That is more than usually true for this book. You have something new and strange and wonderful with every page.

The thing is, anti-religion in popular fiction is something I’ve come to accept. I see past it almost always, because my beliefs are my beliefs and I’d hate to only read stories that are congruent with my worldview. But this is probably my favourite book I totally ethically and morally disagree with and still love (of which there are a lot, including ones by the same author). The reason is simple. It may fundamentally disagree with in a higher power but it understands it and identifies with it. That sort of thing is not common with left-wing writers writing normal fiction and even genre fiction (the distinctions are real blurry nowadays and I’ll get a post up about the loss of wonder in modern spec-fic and genre-fic sometime this aeon) these days.

A lot of the beauty in Mieville’s fiction stems from a very formal, very academic form of the introspection most of us do on a regular basis. He’s perfectly aware of these games he plays with religion because he’s perfectly aware that science-fiction often swoops in to take the place of religion. Look at the sort of fan communities that develop around sci-fi/fantasy shows. How different is Comic-Con from a Pentecostal Revival minus some weird costumes. How much of fandom is underpinned by worship?

Whatever you believe, you should probably give Kraken a look.

You can buy Kraken by China Mieville here

The Wattpad Spotlight – Let’s Go For A Pint by Marian Cavlovic

This is my comfort read.

Honestly, you don’t know how nice it is to have something like that. I finish a hard day’s studying/writing/kraken hunting/muscle developing/wench deflowering/exaggerating and fall into bed, my hands feeling for the cool surface of my phone. Then I find this book in my library and read a couple of chapters and I just feel cozy. It’s a little like watching Friends. Only, more paranormal.

This whole thing may be a reaction to urban fantasy tropes. It may be a reaction to the exceedingly cloying ism-ism that seems to have seems to have permeated popular culture in recent years. Or it may just be a funny vampire story. Who knows, it could perhaps even be all of those things put together.

The story follow Lena, a vampire (well, duh) as she deals with day-to-day problems like getting along with humans, going to parties, dealing with amputee-witches, fending off rabid admirers and much more. It is told in episodic fashion, kind of like a sitcom. There is some level of continuity between chapters but the structure doesn’t follow the arc structure I’ve come to expect from fiction. It is very serialized.

And that is precisely why I chose this story for the spotlight. It is one of the few I’ve come across on Wattpad that has made full use of the serialized nature of the medium. This story is perfect for Wattpad. You can return to it after a week-long hiatus and have no problem getting back into the story. More than that, it does what sitcoms do best. Give you characters to fall in love with. Because here, the characters (and they’re a weird bunch, let me tell you) are always the focus.

It’s funny and charming and tongue-in-cheek and delightful and you’ll fall in love with it very quickly.

You can read Let’s Go For A Pint here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wattpad Spotlight – The Purpose Of Miss Shepley by Arden Brooks

I’m a Jane Eyre person. Everyone is either a Wuthering Heights person or a Jane Eyre person, even if you’ve read neither. Because both are suppressed and passionate and violently lashing out against the straitjackets (ahem I meant corsets) society was putting on their writers. But the former wears that passion on its sleeve. It’s boisterous and loud and bombastic. Rolling hills and what have you. Jane Eyre was always the more quiet of the two.

I haven’t really come across any Historical Fiction that managed to nail that passionate yet held back tone that permeates Jane Eyre. This one comes pretty close. Only apparently, it isn’t Historical Fiction.

The Purpose of Miss Shepley is ostensibly a Fantasy novel. The Fantastic elements are not obvious. It is only hinted in brief flashes of lore that something extraordinary is going on in the background. But we aren’t allowed to hear most of it because our protagonist and first person narrator is whisked away halfway through overhearing most important conversations so lemon paste can be applied to her (perhaps plain perhaps pretty) visage.

And I have a strong feeling that that sort of thing is very intentional. While also reinforcing its theme of repression and individual agency vis a vis social norms and a family legacy, it also creates a lot of mystery about the fantastic elements.

The story follows Edith Shepley, whose mother belonged to the very noble house (or perhaps Barony) of Ewert. The background of her father, on the other hand, is a lot more ambiguous. We don’t know who he is. But we do know for sure that Edith looks like a Wyrm. The story so far is an interesting peek at Noble life in the world it is set in. What I like about nineteenth century literature (and biographies of royalty. Yes. I’m that guy. Deal with it) is this juxtaposition between the ordinarily free and playful process of courtship and the far more imperious matters of lineages and ideal matches. This wasn’t really a problem in most other cultures where marriages were (and yet are) arranged by parents.

In Regency England, that was still probably the case, especially among Royalty but there’s always this almost farcical attempt at trying to maintain the structures of courtship and agency. Wooing and the like. This was probably what exasperated most fathers of daughters back then and irritated most men.

This sort of emotional and political complexity set against the backdrop of idyllic landscapes, domestic scenes and the comforts of royalty is what The Purpose of Miss Shepley is all about.

It requires a patient reader, to be sure. The opening is a little meandering and it takes its time establishing its characters. The characterisation, though, is very well done. The dialogue, descriptions and overall prose style are very effective.

You can read The Purpose of Miss Shepley here

Arrival – Alien Linguistics

I’m sure I’m not the only one to have picked up on this recent trend in Science Fiction cinema for personal stories. The big, original, high concept sci-fi movies that we tend to remember at the end of every year seem to be complicated character studies of complicated people rather than the space opera/alien invasion stories of yester-century. Not that the Space Opera has in any way diminished in popularity, though. Guardians of the Galaxy and The Force Awakens have shown that there’s still a fertile market for that sort of stuff. But, the success of both those movies rides on the hyperactively franchise-based nature of American blockbusters today. I can’t really seem to remember any original regular science fiction that did well over the past few years. Shyamalan’s  After Earth was a complete travesty. Jupiter Ascending was kinda meh, to be honest. And even from the more successful franchise side of things, the big critical hits seem to be Rogue One and Prometheus which are both a lot more personal in scope than either of their predecessors.

But the movies that have been at the vanguard of this new personal trend in Science Fiction cinema have mostly been original, independent works. There’s Ex Machina and the very passionate Interstellar (yeah, I’m a fan) and The Martian. And then there’s Arrival.

The moment I got what Arrival was about, the Embassytown comparison was the first thing to spring to my mind. But, that wasn’t particularly fair. Both are stories about cognition that is entirely alien from ours. Both are stories about language and linguistics. But the similarities end there.

Arrival follows Louise Banks (with a strangely melancholic performance by the usually peppy Amy Adams), a linguist who is tasked with learning to communicate with aliens who have parked their spaceships on several almost random locations on the earth. These creatures are utterly alien from us. They are vast and lumbering things with eight, spidery appendages. We call them heptapods. Their language is entirely entirely written and makes use of a complicated set of symbols.

The cinematography and music are very reminiscent of two recent movies I’ve already mentioned: Ex Machina and Interstellar. Villeneuve goes for a mostly naturalistic approach to the environment and we’re choked with imagery of rolling hills, fields, lakes and the threat of rain from the word go. The score is orchestral, sparse and burgeoning, building up along with the film into a towering crescendo.

And both of these serve as a contrasting backdrop in front of which Villeneuve places his main character. Louise is cold and cut-off for most of the movie. She is based on a trope we don’t really see often in fiction, let alone science fiction. She is a character waiting for instructions on how to live. And towards the end of the movie, she gets them.

Jeremy Renner is surprisingly charming and Forest Whitaker is very Forest Whitaker.

If you’re into cerebral science fiction and you like complex character studies, I’d definitely give this one a go.