The Best of the Worst Year (#312)

I know of exactly three people who are loving the pandemic lockdown. One is my Genius Nephew who taught himself to read at age 3 and did long division problems for fun on snow days. Genius Nephew loves staying home with the cats. He relishes having complete control of all social interactions via Discord. In October, as his parents and sister struggled with confinement, Genius Nephew sighed contentedly at the dinner table and announced, “This is the greatest year ever!”

At least someone is happy.

The rest of us who’ve followed CDC guidelines and state stay-at-home orders are…less happy. We’ve turned to baking, crafting, walking, and the arts to survive. Yeah, THE ARTS: books, movies, and television. (So think about just who saved your ass the next time you denigrate liberal arts degrees.)

Here’s the list of the books, movies, and shows that made me laugh and cry. Best of all, they took me somewhere else when I couldn’t leave the house.

BOOKS

Network Effect, by Martha Wells. In the first Murderbot novel after four hilarious, action-packed novellas, would-be introvert Murderbot must team up with a moody teenager and an Asshole Research Transport ship to rescue a human survey team. Murderbot has no problem with a potential suicide mission. But dealing with actual feelings? Gross.

The House in the Cerulean Sea, by TJ Klune. The charming, heartwarming story of a repressed social worker investigating an unconventional orphanage of magical children–only to find the family he never knew he needed. Laugh over this island of delightful misfits, but bring your tissues for the end!

In Hench, by Natalie Zina Walschots, superheroes cause more collateral human damage than natural disasters. They also protected by their parent corporation and law enforcement. Until one woman, armed with spreadsheets and a super villain, decides those super bastards are going down.

A Song for a New Day, by Sarah Pinsker. Two women. One is a musician who lives to play for the crowds–until a pandemic hits. The second doesn’t remember life before school, work, and even concerts became virtual. It will take both of them to outwit the Virtual Industrial Complex and bring live music back to humanity.

A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine. Mahit leaves her small mining station to serve as ambassador to a sprawling galactic empire. She discovers her predecessor was murdered. Various imperial factions conspire to consume her home station and its resources. No problem. All she has to do is negotiate deadly intrigue, avert a civil war, and not fall in love with the enemy.

A Deadly Education, by Naomi Novik. There’s nothing warm and cozy about this magical boarding school. Instead of mentors, murderous creatures make hourly attempts to infiltrate the school and eat magical teens (the younger the teen, the tastier!). Can a girl named El survive without allies…or without resorting to dark sorcery? (Note: This book is a total page-turner, but it has some racist/ colonial characterization issues. The biggest is that the heroine El is mixed race. But while her heroic white mother is all things good and supportive, her non-white family gave in to superstition and decided El was evil and should be destroyed. As a child. Yikes.)

MOVIES

The Half of It. Remember “Cyrano de Bergerac?” Okay, how about Steve Martin’s Roxanne? No? That’s fine. This film by Alice Wu borrows the conceit of a genius ghost-writing love letters from a himbo, but it’s deeper and funnier than previous versions. This time, the Chinese-American girl is the writing genius and a Latina is everyone’s love interest. The growing friendship between the genius and the jock gets solid screen time and is equally delightful.

 The Forty-Year-Old Version. Once upon a time, NYC playwright Rhada was dubbed, “young, hot, someone to watch.” Now she’s forty, she’s tired, and she still hasn’t had her big break. Trying to navigate everything from her mother’s death to rich, white theater gatekeepers is exhausting (especially when the old white guy really, really needs to be punched). Rhada finds her voice rapping; Andy and I found her story compelling and pretty damned funny.

 The Old GuardI thought this was going to be another one of Andy’s ubiquitous guns/ car crash/ explosion movies. Instead, I got sucked into a tense, bittersweet story about the joys and horrors of humanity and immortality. Great cast with good banter, too.

MidwayAndy and Baby D picked this one, but I can’t argue (because we didn’t watch many movies). There are cliches galore and the segregation/ rampant racism in the Navy is ignored, but other historical details are spot-on (rarely do filmmakers bother to get the helmets right). The subject matter is inherently dramatic and had us all on the edge of our seats. The special effects were also pretty damned special.

TV SERIES

The Good Wife.” Andy and I never watched this show until COVID. Then we binged through it every night for about a month. Great cast and just enough witty banter to break up all the drama (and there is SO. MUCH. DRAMA.).

Star Trek: Discovery.” I’m a nominal Trekkie at best and thus lack the hangups  many die-hard Trekkies have with “Discovery” (which generally boil down to white men whining about “canon,” i.e., why isn’t the cast all white men and why aren’t all the white men heroic anymore?). The first season has a helluva twist and the third season finally sends the ship into exciting new territory. Andy is enjoying the show so much he hasn’t complained about paying for CBS all-access.

The Expanse.” I love Sci-Fi, but I did not like this show when Andy first started watching it. It was Sci-Fi film noir and I hated most of the characters: way too much screen time for morally questionable white guys (with one obvious, obnoxious shining white knight exception). Gradually, though, the mystery sucked me in. Later seasons had more women; the banter between the Martian Marine and the President of Earth is a show highlight.

The Right Stuff.” Disney’s series based on the Tom Wolfe novel kept us coming back every week to see which astronauts would excel in training while fucking up their personal lives with liquor and infidelity. As one character says, “They’re all great. And they’re all terrible.” Plenty of critics hated seeing their white male heroes being de-glorified, but we enjoyed the realism.

Selena” is a surprisingly funny series. I expected good music and solid drama in this rags-to-riches American story. But the show’s unexpected comedy was my favorite part, especially when the Quintanilla family members and band lovingly roast and mock each other.

Ted Lasso.” This one is my most favorite of all my favorites. Good comedies are rare. Rarer still is one that doesn’t throw in at least a few racist or sexist jokes.  Instead of wandering into that minefield, “Ted Lasso” mines our changing societal expectations for unexpected, delightful laughs. Combining the best of British and American humor, the dialogue is littered with seemingly throwaway lines that land as comedic gems. Brett Goldstein made us laugh out loud as both a writer on the show and on screen as the angry, aging soccer star, Roy Kent.

If you’re looking for more book recommendations, here are my earlier posts on SFF and Mysteries. Feel free to put your own favorites in the comments, too.

Gifting East: Christmas Edition (#311)

Shopping for anyone from a different culture is tricky.

Shopping for your in-laws is tough.

Shopping for your Chinese-American in-laws?

You’re fucked worse than The Martian.

I’ve written before about how difficult it was to get gifts for Andy’s parents. The nicer the gift, the more Sunny was likely to return it, insisting that we should save our money. She wouldn’t accept an exchange or a credit, either. Sunny would demand that some poor clerk dig up our original credit card number and return it on our credit card.

And if the beleaguered cashier couldn’t find our credit card number? Sunny would call Andy and ask him for it.

We sent flowers next. Sunny complained that they were expensive and didn’t last.

Andy sent her live plants like orchids.

Those were acceptable. Or so we thought.

Then we found out that Sunny was refusing delivery of the plants.

We gave up on plants. Once Baby D was born, I sent baby pictures, often in pretty frames. Sometimes I added preschool artwork. When he was old enough, I made sure he wrote notes on the most expensive, elaborate cards I could find.

Delivery was never refused on those, at least.

*****

A few weeks ago, I reminded Andy that he needed to send his mother a Christmas gift. “Especially this year. She’s all alone. No one can even visit her because of COVID.”

“Don’t we have any school photos of Dashiell?”

“The kid didn’t have any school, how the hell would we get pictures?!”

“Couldn’t we get a photographer—”

“It’s too late, and a photo shoot is too risky anyway. Maybe a Harry & David basket of pears and apples since she doesn’t like sweets?” I suggested.

“Can’t send fruit to Hawaii.”

“What about a cheese and meat basket?”

“Makes her gassy.”

“Wait! She drinks wine, right? You can send wine through Harry & David now!”

“Yeah, but you can’t send wine to Hawaii, honey.”

“Ugh, you can’t send ANYTHING good to Hawaii. But…what if we got it delivered from a local liquor place? Remember how my brother just sent you that special bourbon through that Drizly on-demand liquor service? Can you do that?!”

Andy whipped out his phone and scrolled for a few tense minutes before shaking his head. “Doesn’t extend to Hawaii.”

“Surely now, with COVID and people quarantining, especially in Hawaii, surely SOMEONE has created an alcohol delivery service for Honolulu at least. Keep searching!”

Andy did. He searched for days, checked reviews, and made phone calls. Eventually he found a service called Kakaako Wine that not only delivered wine, they even added “local delicacies” and prettied the booze up in a gift basket.

Andy placed his order a few days ago. Then he sweated and fretted: “What if she doesn’t like it? What if…she refuses delivery?!”

“Call her,” I told him. “Call her and tell her you are sending a basket and they’ve already charged you!”

I don’t know if he called her or not. But here’s the text I got December 23rd:

 

A Sunny Visit (#309)

After my father-in-law died, my Chinese-American mother-in-law hunkered down at home for more than a year. Her children flew to Hawaii to visit her. Sunny, who had once longed to travel, only left the house for shopping and walks.

Until my brother-in-law needed help with childcare. Sunny decided to bookend her months at Denny’s house in Northern California with visits to our house in Southern California (and a side trip to Vegas with her sister, of course).

Having had my fill of in-law visits, I went to New York City during the first four days of Sunny’s visit. Don’t be thinking it was filled with shows or shopping, though! I cooked, cleaned, and helped my sister adjust to having a newborn.

When I got home, practically the first thing my son did was complain about eating out.

Now, maybe you think it’s normal for husband and son to eat out when the wife is gone. If so, 1) check yourself on the gender stereotyping and 2) you must be new here. Continue reading A Sunny Visit (#309)