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Oblong Obsession Posts

Don’t except to see Jane Campion directing a superhero film

You won’t catch Sydney based New Zealand born film director Jane Campion helming a superhero movie. She loathes them. It’s a good thing, there’s a tad too many superhero movies in the world anyway.

Campion is the latest acclaimed director to criticise superhero films, following on Martin Scorsese, who compared them to “theme parks” in 2019, and Ridley Scott, who called them “fucking boring as shit” earlier this month. Both Marvel and DC have tried to bring over more auteurs, most recently Chloé Zhao, the Oscar-winning Nomadland director who made this month’s Eternals. But the film has become the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s worst reviewed offering to date.

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Goodreads Choice Awards 2021

Goodreads Choice Awards 2021 banner

The first round of voting is open in the 2021 Goodreads Choice Awards. From now until Saturday 28 November 2021, Goodreads members will be able to vote for their favourite title of twenty books, across seventeen categories, including fiction, romance, horror, science fiction, nonfiction, memoir, graphic novels, and young adult.

In the second round of voting, which will be open from 30 November to 5 December, titles will be whittled down to ten books per category, and members will be able to vote for their preferred book in each. The winners of each category will be announced on Thursday 9 December (which is less than three weeks now hereabouts).

Books published in the United States in English, including works in translation and other significant rereleases, between November 18, 2020, and November 16, 2021, are eligible for the 2021 Goodreads Choice Awards.

The Goodreads Choice Awards are said to be the only major book awards decided by readers.

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Genesis Owusu wins Triple J/RAGE music video of the year 2021

Australian musician Genesis Owusu has been named winner of the J Award for both best album and music video of 2021. The Other Black Dog took out the music video award, being a track lifted from his debut long-player Smiling with No Teeth, winner of the album of the year gong. The J Award is presented by radio station Triple J, and late night weekend music TV show RAGE, every November as part of Ausmusic Month.

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Seven and a Half, by Christos Tsiolkas

Seven and a Half, Christos Tsiolkas, book cover

The premise of Seven and a Half (published by Allen & Unwin, November 2021) by Melbourne based Australian author Christos Tsiolkas, reminds me a little of the concept of the Metaverse. In short, an array of technologies, many that are currently still in some form of development, will allow us to live in one world while we inhabit another, or maybe even several, as the case may be.

You could be in Sydney, but sitting in on a meeting of colleagues in London, and feel like you were in the same room. Later you could be “present” at a concert in Los Angeles, again feeling as if you were really there. But back to Seven and a Half. An author has travelled to a small coastal Australian town. Free of the distractions of city life, he begins to write. His novel is about an author trying to write a novel. Here we have meta-fiction, rather than Metaverse though.

The protagonist of Tsiolkas’ “written-author” story is a retired porn star named Paul, who has been offered a chance to make a comeback. The “written-author” seeks to write sensual prose, drawing on the author’s present proximity to nature and the ocean, without becoming sordid. A challenge perhaps, as Paul becomes immersed in the dubious merits of the world he is returning to.

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State of the (Writing) Nation 2021

Australian writer Alice Pung presented this year’s State of the (Writing) Nation oration, an initiative of Writers Victoria and the Wheeler Centre. Melbourne based writer Christos Tsiolkas, speaking before the oration, introduced Shu-Ling Chau, an emerging author also based in Melbourne. Pung’s address focussed on the production, promotion, and reception process of the writing process.

William Hazlitt wrote that ‘the smallest pain in our little finger causes us more concern than the destruction of our fellow human beings’. In her address, Pung will consider what kind of writing matters in the face of our small hurts and large griefs, and take an unflinching look at the excessive weight we place on literature to ameliorate our feelings. If you’re only half-grudgingly woke, is it better to just stay asleep? Pung will explore the pitfalls of this self-motivated obsession with using literature to educate, and examine whose expense it comes at.

Pung spoke about the experiences of disadvantaged writers in Australia, be they immigrants, refugees, disabled, indigenous, queer, or poor. This is essential listening for anyone with an interest in Australian literature.

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How to write one hundred thousand words daily

American writer Matthew Plunkett tackles the question of writing one hundred thousand words every day. Put it this way, it’s not for the faint-hearted.

My first blog post appeared online in 2008 when I explained how I attained my top ranking on a popular worldwide online game. Since then, I haven’t stopped writing. If you’re wondering whether this level of output will hinder your relationships with friends and lovers, let me set you straight. Life is about decisions. Either you write 100,000 words a day or you meet people and develop ties of affection. You can’t do both.

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The Voss Literary Prize shortlist 2021

Gail Jones, Vivian Pham, and Nardi Simpson, are among authors named on the shortlist of this year’s Voss Literary Prize. The award, initially intended to honour the best written work in the world, yes, the whole world – whether published or unpublished – each year, was established in honour of Australian historian Vivian Robert de Vaux Voss who died in 1963. While originally conceived by Voss in 1955, the first award was made in 2014, following the death of the original beneficiary of Voss’ will. Tara June Winch, the winning author in 2020, with her novel The Yield, took home five-thousand dollars in prize money.

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Waves of Change, music by Juhi Bansal

An ethereal soundtrack composed by Juhi Bansal accompanies the video clip for Waves of Change.

Waves of Change takes inspiration from the story of the Bangladesh Girls Surf Club, a group started years ago in the Cox Bazaar region of Bangladesh. In a place where girls are forbidden from even entering the water, kept from an education and typically married away at 11-12 years of age, a group of young girls learned to surf and imagined a world for themselves full of freedom and choices.

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On quitting the day jobs to become a published author like Christian White

Golf buggy driver. Call centre operator. Editor of porn videos. These were some of the jobs Australian thriller writer Christian White worked on the way to becoming a published author. If you want to succeed, and have the requisite determination to succeed, you will succeed, says White, in an interview with Melbourne based journalist Kylie Northover.

White, 40, has wanted to be a writer since he was a teenager, having an “iron-clad plan” to be a best-selling author by 25. “That shifted because 25 came and went, so I changed it to 30, which also came and went,” he says. “When I went past 30 and there was still no career in sight, I made the decision to just focus on writing for the love it – I really do just love the craft.”

And then there’s this nugget of wisdom:

He also realised he’d be better off writing the kinds of books he’d like to read. “Early on I was going to write deep, thoughtful novels – it wasn’t until I started writing thrillers I went oh! Because I love reading thrillers,” he says.

Write what you like reading. I think it’s something many aspiring authors overlook in the burning desire to become a published author. White’s third novel Wild Place was published last month.

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Emerging Poets Mentorship 2022

Applications are open for the Emerging Poets Mentorship, which will be hosted online early in 2022, by the Stella Prize’s Virtual Writer in Residence, afshan d’souza-lodhi.

Run by Stella’s Virtual Writer in Residence, afshan d’souza-lodhi, the mentorship is open to an emerging woman or non-binary poet based in Melbourne, and seeks to support them in developing an unpublished collection of poetry.

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Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke, book cover

Not that it’s my intention to traumatise you with the workings of my subconscious, but the premise to Piranesi (published by Bloomsbury Publishing, August 2021), by British author Susanna Clarke sounds like the sort of dream I might have. The setting is an old, dilapidated multi-level building, and is home to the titular protagonist known as Piranesi, who refers to the enigmatic structure as the “House.”

And dream-like is the best way to describe the dwelling. An ocean floods the lower levels of this labyrinth, providing food and fuel – in the form of seaweed – for Piranesi. The sprawling hallways of the house’s mid-section stories are lined with statues, while the upper floors are shrouded in clouds. Save for an old scholar, whom Piranesi calls the “Other”, who makes brief appearances a few times a week, the building is otherwise deserted.

But one day Piranesi begins to notice messages chalked onto walkways around the House. Do they point to the presence of a third person within the building? The Other sees them a portent of bad things to come. In order to discover the identity of this mysterious third person, and what they want, Piranesi will need to learn more about the House and its history.

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Can turning to the light side of the force change the world?

Can the light side of the force (à la the Star Wars universe) change the world? Washington D.C. based American author Stephen Kent, writer of How the Force Can Fix the World, believes some of the core principles of the Star Wars stories – hope, humility, and balance among them – can be of help to humanity in times of uncertainty.

We’re living in a time of unprecedented and rapid change. An age of chaos. Democracies are in decline worldwide. Dictators are ascendant. Civic organizations are crumbling. People feel lonelier and more rudderless than in any other time in recent history. We’ve tried to slow down, and in some cases we, like Anakin, have tried stop the change, but failed at every turn. The fears that come with living in an age of disruption have produced public anger, and that anger has swelled movements of hate.

And for those who are strong with the force, American journalist and editor Meg Dowell recently interviewed Kent about the book and its concepts, on the Followers of the Force Podcast.

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Klara and the Sun and AFs. What are AFs, and why are they needed?

Klara and the Sun representation

WARNING: while there are no explicit spoilers here (for instance I don’t describe how Klara and the Sun ends) this article does give away some story points…

Klara, the titular character of Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2021 novel Klara and the Sun, is an AF. She is an artificial friend. AFs are robots that are able to walk, talk, think, and perceive the world around them. In the near-future universe Ishiguro has crafted in his eighth novel, AFs, who appear to be similar in appearance to humans, are highly intelligent companions for teenagers. Despite their human-like qualities though, AFs are easily distinguishable from people. But Klara is said to differ from her AF contemporaries by way of her keen perception and curiosity.

As narrator of the story, Klara often describes in great detail what she sees, or hears, even if she doesn’t always fully comprehend what she has witnessed. Early in the story, as she sits in the display window of a store selling AFs, she watches two older people – a man and a woman – run into each other on the outside street. Their joy at meeting for what may be the first time in decades, is palpable, but Klara is confused by the obvious pain the two people also appear to experience.

While then we may be walking into a future where children will one day have keenly smart and perceptive android-like friends, the question remains as to why there is a need for AFs in the first place. In an introduction to the story’s plot on the Klara and the Sun Wikipedia page, we are told children are schooled at home by tutors through tablet devices (objects Klara refers to as oblongs). For this reason, families who can afford it, buy an AF for their housebound children, as opportunities to socialise with people the same age are said to be limited. But is that really the case?

Soon after coming into the service of a teenage girl called Josie, Klara meets many of her (human) friends at a gathering called an interaction party, hosted by Josie’s mother. The name alone suggests such gatherings are standard, but not necessarily. The dynamic among Josie’s guests implies most the teenagers know each other well. While interaction parties, by virtue of their name, sound like regular affairs, that the event takes place at Josie’s house is notable. For one thing, she lives in a remote region, restricting opportunities to interact with people her age.

But what of her friends? Do they also live in similar circumstances? It seems unlikely every last one does, meaning many would be able to see other teenagers living nearby, outside of schooling hours, thus negating the need (and cost) of an AF. It is also obvious Klara is something of a novelty to some of Josie’s friends. While they’re familiar with AFs, and the attributes of models like Klara, few have actually seen one before. This suggests AF ownership is an exception, most people don’t need them, as they probably live relatively close to others.

For instance, at one point Klara travels with Josie and her mother, Chrissie, to the city where they stay at the apartment of a family friend. While there are vaguely alluded to significant problems in the world Klara and Josie inhabit, they have not resulted in a mass exodus from large urban centres, nor their abandonment. People continue to live and work in cities as usual. Those residing in remote areas then do so by choice. And while we know Josie is ill, and may not get out as much as other teenagers, the need for a carer for her alone would not be reason enough to fill the world with AFs.

It is through this illness – the unfortunate side effect of what seems to be a common genetic modification procedure some teenagers go through – we come to realise Chrissie, Josie’s mother, has another possible purpose in mind for Klara. But again this idea is not the usual intended function of an AF. We’re still left wondering why there is an apparent wide need for AFs such as Klara. Might they then be there to undertake tasks or parental obligations that some parents are unable, or unwilling, to fulfil themselves? For example we know Klara acted as a chaperone at times.

When Rick visited the bedbound Josie in her room, Klara was told to always be present. While she sat with her back to Josie and Rick, Klara could still hear what they were saying and doing. When once asked to leave Josie’s room during one of Rick’s visits, Klara initially resisted, saying she’d been “instructed to ensure against hanky-panky.” But that directive had been issued by the ever-present, live-in, housekeeper, Melania. If she, and by extension Chrissie, was so concerned about “hanky-panky”, surely Melania could’ve been present during Rick’s relatively short visits.

So far there’s little an AF can do that another person – be it a friend, or family member – couldn’t. Josie certainly had plenty of both in her life. Perhaps then AFs were a vanity item. Something you had to have, so you stood apart from other people. A must have, though ultimately dispensable, gimmick. Or was an AF’s unswerving loyalty and devotion the reason they came into being? Like an artificial intelligence chatbot, “someone” who’s always there, who’s always ready to listen, and someone who is never offended no matter how badly they are treated?

What a world to live in…

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