[Review] The Bookshop

The Bookshop

A book, as Florence Green, hero of The Bookshop, would agree, is a magical thing. It opens a door to another realm filled with love and longing, ideas and inspiration, adventures and maybe an antediluvian horror or two. A book possesses the power to almost whisk you away from the world entirely.

Or so Florence might hope. An unattached war widow, she has the grave misfortune to wash ashore in the ostensibly sleepy town of Hardborough, England with the dream of opening a little bookstore of her very own. With some difficulty, she manages to purchase the “old house” – a reverent fixture in the town – and spruce it up with loving care. Soon enough, and with the help of a few mousy-haired, bespectacled local scouts, the Old House Bookshop is bristling with good old English hardwood shelves and Florence’s carefully curated collection of books, including Nabokov’s Lolita and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

Literature, ho!

Only, poor Florence’s stubborn acquisition of the old house has ruffled the feathers of Hardborough’s lofty elite: Violet Gamart and her simpering cohort, including an oily banker, the languorous do-nothing Milo, and even a dutiful Member of Parliament. In short order, these agents of the aristocracy are arrayed against Florence, seeking to crush her dream beneath their well-turned heels.

Emily Mortimer is superb as the unerringly polite Florence Green. In her face you can read every thought flitting through her head – uncertain smiles shift into puzzled concern, only to be replaced by stormy indignation moments later. She maintains that curious English reserve and yet her emotions always cut through, sharp and clear. Bill Nighy, too, is striking as Edmund Brundish, a Lady Haversham-esque recluse who spends his retirement buried in books and rallies to Florence’s cause. He, too, bubbles over with strong emotions that rarely escape, like steam from a lid.

While the story itself is a fairly brutal and well-trodden triumph of Capitalism and Local Concerns over the Small Independent Business-Owner, The Bookshop holds a certain appeal to the eye. The camerawork is intriguing, rich with strangely intimate close-ups of characters and the beautiful (if Britishly miserable) countryside. The characters are straight out of Boy’s Own Guide to 1960’s England but still manage to carve out a slice of unique personality here and there.

But most of all, The Bookshop feels realistic enough for our modern world, fifty years down the track. When you mess with the rich and the powerful, they can grind you down on a whim. So what can you do? Take refuge in a book, I suppose.

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[Fiction] Trouble at the docks

haunted chapel

Image credit novtilus (DeviantArt)

This story is a small fiction following the events of my group’s first session of Blades in the DarkJohn Harper’s excellent haunted industrial roleplaying game. 

Watch Sergeant Renata Laroze, ranking officer in the Duskvol City Council’s Lawful Cohort (“Bluecoats” to the rabble, so-called for their distinctive navy blue jackets), rubbed her tired eyes and tried again. This night was proving far more taxing than her Myst-addled brain could handle. She kept getting flashes of some ghost’s desperate longing accompanied by a shooting pain through her sinuses. Blasted low-grade stuff from a street hawker, nowhere near as good as Riven’s.

“So let’s go over this again,” she said, surveying the bloody, quivering scoundrel sprawled on the cobblestones before her. “What exactly were you up to tonight then, cully?” The pale man closed his eyes and groaned, pressing a scrap of torn cloth to the ghastly wound near his shoulder. Run through by his own blade, she recalled. “Well?”

“I – I didn’t see anything. Please,” he rasped, painfully. “I need a physicker. Let me go, I swear, I didn’t…” His mumbled pleas broke off into a scream as Renata leaned forward and gripped his injured shoulder firmly, curling her fingers into a malicious claw. Around her on the dock-front, the other Bluecoats didn’t so much as look up from where they were combing through debris or castigating witnesses. Only the small, rotund Inspector with their strange glinting eyepiece glanced over knowingly. Renata shivered a little, and it wasn’t from the Myst. Something about this Inspector creeped her right the kelp out.

“Look, numbskull. It’s one in the morning, we’ve scraped about six of your friends off the boardwalk and you have a hole in you bigger than Lord Strangford’s Leviathan Six, Immortal Emperor protect him. So how about we cut the crap and you tell me just what you saw, hmm?”

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[Science] The chromosomal end is (de)nigh(ed)

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Image by Kosmic Stardust from Deviantart

Our biologic splines reticulate to bare stubs.

No matter how vigilant the telomeres which govern cell reproduction are, flawless duplication is an impossibility and mistakes pile up. Have you ever seen a perfect transliteration? With no amino architect to curate, our genetic code degrades until fold flap A under B; tear C down dotted line is the order reverberating through our multifarious systems. It’s like cell assembly with all the precision of cheerfully misconstrued IKEA manuals. Such vague and muddled instructions do not a long-lived human being make.

Amid all this genetic chaos, the Y chromosome stands aloof. For humans, it’s the loneliest gene-carrier of all. If you peek into the reptile kingdom, you’ll find the warmest li’l croc egg is the one that births a female; male snakes and lizards blossom when the mercury dips in chilly weather. This temperature determinant means that sex specificity is not required, and the Y chromosome can freely swap genes with its X counterpart to keep things fresh. After all, it’s why we mate instead of cloning ourselves like plants – to spice up that genetic mojo (and avoid thorny philosophical quandaries wherein we murder our own doppelgangers, of course).

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[Fiction] Dark coffee gods

dark coffee god

Image property of Trudi Castle (www.trudiart.com). She’s great! Check out her art and support her!

This world teems with tiny gods.

A paper tiger bares its teeth, guarding a crack in a library wall in Delhi. Lights flicker strangely beneath the surface in Scarborough, Rhode Island, as reverent freshwater cod trace restless runes of devotion through never-frozen water. Beatific grins adorn the faces of seventeen matryoshka dolls in a Ukrainian museum, each wooden form home to the fragment of an inconsequential deity.

They say that if you close your eyes and open yourself to the universe, divinity is never far away. I once knew a man who through the use of certain arcane powders and stutter-step-stutter breathing exercises could attune his mind and commune with whatever divinity came knocking. But there’s the problem – when the knock comes on your door, you don’t know if it’s the pizza you ordered or a couple of proselytizers hawking boxed sets of bibles. Me? I prefer to rely on less uncertain methods of communion. And so the cave.

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[Fiction/short story] Rampant speculations: a Syntax Sam adventure

Syntax Sam final

Created by the incredible Katie (@binch_queen)

Syntax Sam stared down at the oily pool of evaporating context on the floor, frowning. They nudged it experimentally with the tip of their left boot, recoiling when it flowed up and around their red combats in a thin sheen. Sam panicked, shaking their leg wildly in an attempt to dislodge the clinging rainbow goop, but it quickly wafted away into irrelevance, followed soon after by the remains of the puddle on the floor.

This was normal: small quantities of context never lasted long in isolation, at least not without some solid fact to anchor to. But Sam’s attention had already drifted. They could swear they’d heard a noise just now too, something they’d never heard before in the Library… there it was again! It sounded like it was coming from just a couple shelves away.

Granted, noise itself was nothing unusual in the Liminal Library. If you were to tiptoe through the polished marble galleries and curving, beshelved corridors of the Bon Mot Monarch’s palatial repository, you would hear a constant gentle susurrus. This ever-present rustle was the heartbeat of the Library: the restless sound of books sliding to fill gaps and exchange positions in an endless cycle of literary self-evaluation.

But the noise in question was not made by a book. It sounded, Sam thought, like the roar of a lion which had been shrunk down to minuscule proportions. Which was odd, because while nearly anything could happen in the Kingdom of Words (and often did), it rarely happened here in the Liminal Library, at the well-guarded center of the Bon Mot Monarch’s seat of power. Sam abandoned their quest for From Die Jesu to Sharkbait Ooh Ha Ha: a Guide to Practical Chanting and set off in search of the tiny lion.
As they emerged into one of the main spokes radiating off of the central hub of the library, they nearly collided with a Well-Phrased Knight going the other way. Sam recognized her as Helene, one of the handful of Knights who regularly patrolled these halls.

While not decked out in armor as she might be on outside duty, Helene was nonetheless clad in the smart fitted tunic and leggings of a palace guard, complete with toughened paper bracers on her forearms and an ink-woven blade at her belt. Her sharp martial outfit made Sam’s own pleated red skirt and pale blue crop top seem pretty shabby and casual in comparison. At least Sam’s combat boots lent them a semblance of professionalism.

Helene snapped a quick salute, which Sam returned with a nod of their head.

“Syntax Sam! I didn’t know you were prowling around in here,” Helene said. She seemed on edge, distracted.

“I was looking for a book, actually, but I thought I heard something a couple of shelves over. Like a little lion roaring,” replied Sam.

“A lion, huh?” said Helene. She kept shooting glances over Sam’s shoulder, towards the heart of the library. Sam picked up on her mood.

“What’s up, Helene? Something the matter?”

“Not exactly… only, I’ve seen an unusual number of Fictlings floating around the shelves today, and I’m wondering if something funny is going on with the fact supply.” Helene gestured to the narrow channel cut into the floor which supplied fact and context to the library’s shelves in a steady stream. “I was just heading in to check it out, make sure everything’s fine.”

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[Review] Mockingbird

107, Redfern
★★★★

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Mockingbird is a darkly comedic family history, of sorts. Energetic counsellor and narrator Tina dances and sways her way through four generations of her family, from her great-grandmother to herself. Her ancestor’s storylines adopts a similar flow: woman meets man, woman gives birth, woman gets locked away for poor mental health. And not just any condition – each woman is diagnosed with postpartum affective disorder (PPD), a mood disorder that can closely follow giving birth.

Writer and lead actor Lisa Brickell developed the script of Mockingbird in consultation with New Zealand’s Changing Minds organisation, which seeks to educate and reduce stigma around mental health. Consequently, the mission of Mockingbird is very clear in the way it challenges preconceptions and assumptions about women’s health in particular. In a world that’s quick to dismiss women as being overly emotional, PPD is an issue both poorly understood and rarely discussed. Many of Tina’s ancestors are dragged away to the nuthouse for traumatic electroshock therapy when all they’re experiencing is a crippling lack of support.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Mockingbird makes a point of injecting ample comedy into what could otherwise be an extremely somber production. Both Lisa Brickell and her accompanist (and occasional voice-in-the-back-of-her-head) Siri Embla are trained clowns who pull off wonderful impressions and burst into humorous songs with plenty of back-and-forth. While there are many sobering moments, the overall tone is light, helping the audience digest the heavy matter at its heart.

Mockingbird is a clever, sensitive exploration of mental health. Funny and moving, it sheds light on an issue that affects many people but remains taboo even in our modern society.

[Humor] Queer Boy’s Guide to: social power systems

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For the previous issue of Queer Boy’s Guide to: common street wildlife, click here.

Society is a complex beast, and like anything else produced by humans it’s impossible to understand and entirely inconsistent. I know what you’re thinking. Queer Boy, how can you possibly hope to write a simple guide to something so monstrously chaotic? Don’t worry – it can be done!

Fortunately, despite the untold millions of societies that rose and fell throughout history, human cohabitation and power structures tend to adopt broadly similar trends. This means we can break down social organization into just a few forms of power distribution, which I’ve summarized in the following list along with tips on how to best navigate whatever system you find yourself in.

Patriarchy

“Those with balls make the calls.”

Summary: One of the most prevalent power structures, the patriarchy is characterized by a dick-heavy distribution where men are in charge of everything whether they’re qualified or not. Generally, if you’re not a dude, you’re in the wrong unless you agree to make up for your shortcomings with apologetic sexual coupling.

How to recognize: Observe a woman. Does she get catcalled and harassed by gross dudes while minding her own business? If so, you’re probably in a patriarchy.

Advice: If you find yourself mired in patriarchy, this author’s advice is to remove yourself to your nearest neighboring matriarchy or lead a swift gender revolution, executing the men in charge. If neither of these are feasible, your best bet is to take advantage of men’s extreme insecurity and fear of ridicule to orchestrate an escape.

Pastriarchy

“Those who rise claim the prize.”

Summary: Common in states with half-baked constitutions, pastriarchies give power to the sweetest and roundest while denying it to the unleavened masses and minorities, such as nuts and loose grains. The upper crust of pastriarchal societies are distinguished by their shiny, flaky skin, gentle sugar dustings, and delicious almond paste center.

How to recognize: Do you feel like it’s unseasonably warm? Is there a crushing, inescapable heat that permeates the air no matter where you go? Do those around you bear vapid, foolish grins? These are sure signs that everyone’s getting baked constantly.

Advice: Honestly, go nuts. So long as you resist the urge to sink your teeth into your fellow citizens, pastriarchies are relatively benign, even to those of a coarser grain. Even if your activities border on the barley legal, authorities are easily buttered up with praise or a judicious bribe of les petits four.

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