Giving Thanks: 2016

I honor the holiday of Thanksgiving less as a historical commemoration than as a time to set negativity aside and focus on the people and things we love. One thing for which I never cease to be thankful is fiction in all its varied forms — stories that sweep me away, touch my heart, and spark my imagination, pointing me in creative directions of my own. Every year brings new fiction for which I can give thanks. For Thanksgiving 2016, I salute the following:

New authors I have tried.

Four in particular have delighted me in the past several months. Todd Lockwood introduced me to a tough, resourceful heroine and a charming, fast-growing female dragonet in his debut novel The Summer Dragon. Karen Lord helped me see the power of common-sense possibility and darn fine cooking in Redemption in Indigo. Zen Cho took me to an alternate Regency London just begging for an unorthodox heroine to shake it up and force it to reconsider its sexist, racist ways in Sorcerer to the Crown. And Leigh Barduro brought together a band of troubled misfits, including two heroines after my own heart, and turned them loose in a detailed quasi-European urban landscape in Six of Crows. These authors have me wanting more, and I’m eager to see what’s next.

Supergirl, Season 2.

I wasn’t sure how the move from CBS to the CW would affect the quality of my favorite among last year’s freshman series, but I was quite disappointed to learn that Calista Flockhart’s Cat Grant, by far the funniest and on occasion the most moving character, would be demoted from regular to recurring because the Vancouver filming locale posed problems for the actress. Yet surprise of surprises, I find the show more compelling than ever. We may not get Cat Grant’s amusing and often incisive bon mots every week, but we have the confident, capable, out-and-proud detective Maggie Sawyer, as well as intriguingly ambiguous figures like Lena Luthor and M’gann, a.k.a. Miss Martian. Plus we have James Olsen showing how a non-superpowered individual can become a crime-fighting hero. There’s so much going on this season that I’ve scarcely had time to miss Ms. Grant. All the same, hopefully she’ll put in an appearance within the next few episodes…

British television on PBS.

It seems an odd thing to be grateful for at this proudly-American time of year, but some of my favorite entertainment over the past two months has come with a British accent. First there’s Poldark, a potboiler set in 18th century Cornwall, not only narratively engaging (despite, or perhaps because of, the lead character’s frequent bad decisions) but pictorially gorgeous, from its seaside vistas to its hunky lead actor Aidan Turner. Eleanor Tomlinson’s Demelza, with her fiercely intelligent green eyes, lilting voice, and pre-Raphaelite red hair blowing in the wind, is my new girl crush (but I still love you, Peggy Carter).

Then there’s The Durrells (US title: The Durrells in Corfu), which my husband aptly describes as Malcolm in the Middle set in 1930s Greece. If the mood of Poldark is one of stormy angst fueled by bad luck and betrayal, the tone of The Durrells is breezy and full of hope. The characters may stumble and hurt themselves and each other, but in the end, love and understanding prevail, thanks largely to the clan’s matriarch, Louisa, wonderfully played by Keeley Hawes. Playing a very traditional feminine role, Louisa is the kind of character I might have been tempted to overlook, but Hawes invests her with such intelligence, warmth, and humor that I can’t help but admire her, and I understand her even when she is in error.

The Durrells has finished its PBS run for the year, and Poldark has only one episode remaining. But both shows will be back next year, and for that I’m quite thankful.

Movies… the best is yet to come.

In a previous post I mentioned I haven’t been thrilled with the roles given to female characters in this year’s movies; only in Zootopia and the Ghostbusters remake have female heroes had a chance to shine. In the time since that post, no movie I’ve seen has made me change my mind. Yet hope is on the horizon. There’s Arrival, out in theaters now but yet to be seen by me, featuring Amy Adams as a linguist lending her expertise to a first-contact situation. There’s Moana, which early reviews assure me (despite all the advertising) is really about the girl and not about the Dwayne Johnson-voiced demigod who travels with her. And of course there’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, with Felicity Jones’ courageous rebel. And there may be female heroes in a number of films that haven’t yet flashed on my radar screen. Even in its last weeks, 2016 still has time to turn things around. My fingers are crossed.

The books in my future.

Trudi Canavan, Kate Elliott, Zen Cho, Brandon Sanderson (Oathbringer!), Laini Taylor, Martha Wells, Max Gladstone, and Django Wexler all have new books coming out in 2017. As long as writers keep writing books I want to read, I have cause for gladness.

So I am thankful for stories, since stories give savor to life. Stories open our eyes to possibilities in ourselves and in others. Stories give us the chance to see through the eyes and walk in the shoes of people different from us. Stories open up common ground. A fiction-less life is a barren, tragic life indeed, and anyone who tries to tell us that fiction is “a lie” without purpose or value deserves our utmost pity.

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

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