I just thought I’d pop in to get a few opinions off my chest… in no particular order are reviews of things I have read or seen recently.
Raising Steam was Terry Pratchett’s last Discworld novel…. and it shows. For those of us pretty well versed in the series (I’ve read 31 of 41 books, as well as some of his Discworld short fiction), it seems like Pratchett knew it would be the last: he throws in a lot of references to the earlier books, and not always smoothly. The central characters are a familiar major player (Moist von Lipwig from Going Postal and Making Money, quite possibly my second favorite Discworld character, after Sam Vimes), a familiar secondary character (Harry King (“King of the Golden River”)), and a newcomer (engineer Dick Simnel). Other Discworld Denizens show up for various reasons — Lord Vetinari, of course, as well as Sam Vimes (and assorted Watch members), and the Low King of the dwarfs, Rhys Rhyersson. While the plot is straightforward enough, there are too many throwaway moments that seem almost to be put in so as to get as many references to other books as possible. While playing spot the reference is fun, it can also be distracting, such as when two characters who as far as we know have never met turn out to be old chums who spend a page commenting upon events — and don’t show up in the rest of the novel. What they say to each other has no impact on the plot whatsoever. Raising Steam is good, but lacks the smoothness of, say, Night Watch. If you have not read the other books (especially the last four, including Thud! and Snuff) the book would seem even more disjointed.
I fell behind in keeping abreast of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I missed the Ten Rings movie, and Thor: Love and Thunder has not come to streaming yet. I have however watched all the MCU miniseries on Disney+. Ms. Marvel had wonderful performances and in any case, it was lovely to see a superhero who is not a white male. And hopefully, it will inspire young people to learn more about the history of India and Pakistan, especially the Partition.
And then there is… Moon Knight. I don’t know how to talk about it without giving away spoilers. Oh, well… Oscar Isaacs plays a dweebish museum gift shop clerk, with a fascination for Egyptology and a secret. Stephen Grant finds himself losing time, and discovering himself in dangerous situations with no idea of how he got there. He discovers that he is sharing a body with a mercenary named Marc Spector who is incidentally an avatar of a disgraced Egyptian god. The series swirls together humor and action and suspense, all anchored in Isaacs’s impressive performance as a mentally ill man who is struggling to just figure out what’s going on. I really think I need to see it again to really understand it. I will say that Isaacs captured the panic of someone who has lost time and has no idea how they got to where they are. It’s played for laughs, but it’s not really funny.
I am surprised that I liked the series; I generally feel uncomfortable watching presentations of mental illness in popular culture. I don’t mind works that from their outset have WTF?? written all over them (WandaVision being the prime example), but works where I can’t figure out what happened make me uneasy (I call it “Black Swan syndrome”). One definite quibble: I am appalled by their vision of what a psych ward is like. But all in all, worth watching for Isaacs’s juggling act, if nothing else.
And finally, I need to review the most fascinating show in town, the January 6th Committee’s hearings. Unlike most Congressional hearings, these are actually compelling viewing. The committee has mostly steered a carefully orchestrated course, admirably laying out the appalling story of one of the most horrible days in American history. I found Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony particularly captivating.
They have made the occasional misstep, unfortunately. The most significant involved Senator Josh Hawley. By highlighting the incongruity between Hawley encouraging the mob and then later running from it, they opened up the Missouri senator to mockery from everyone from the Internet to late-night television hosts. While I understand the temptation to point out Hawley’s perfidy, giving in to that temptation made the committee look petty and partisan. It damaged the its credibility and gave a weapon to MAGA faithful to wield against the committee. It was an unforced error — Josh Hawley is not really that important, is he? Hawley has turned the attention into fundraising fodder.
So that’s what I’ve been reading and watching lately.