Tuesday, January 1, 2019

2018 notable reads & re-reads

Because this is apparently A Thing I Do, some quick thoughts on my reads this year. I feel certain I'm missing a few, but so be it. A good year, with some good re-reads (both solo and for clubs) and some really good new/new-to-me selections.

  • Octavia Butler's Dawn: A fun re-read with club. The thing about Butler that always get me is how unsettling/unsettled her stories are. She pushes at power dynamics without cleanly laying out right & wrong for the reader to passively receive.
  • Johanna Sinisalo's The Core Of The Sun: This was an unexpected blast. Handmaid's Tale-esque but with better writing (I'll say it). Takes a seemingly-ridiculous premise (outlawing pepper along with a general governmental purity-obsession) and totally sells it, imbuing it with dark, surreal humor alongside biting social critique.
  • Christopher Priest's The Islanders: Almost literally nothing but world-building, which I am here for, though a lot of others might not be. There are some little stories here, but it's not primarily narrative. I enjoyed how much ambiguity is built into what's essentially an incomplete and eclectic traveler's guide. A little disappointed by how much a few of the mini-narratives seemed like encapsulations of other Priest stories.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Thoughts on "Venom" (2018)

What a strange mess of a movie. If it had been just a little bit worse, it would have been more enjoyable—never quite good enough to be immersively entertaining, never quite bad enough that you can laugh at it.

Really the film's only strong feature is Tom Hardy, an unusually vulnerable Eddie Brock. Hardy plays up the character's slight dopiness rather than focusing on the tough guy that you can tell even this film thinks he is at times, keeping a strangely amiable, roll-with it attitude even as things get pretty bonkers.

But what a mess of a film. Pacing is all but nonexistent, with the alien symbiote visibly tentacle-possessing people within the first minute or two. It wants to be a shockingly violent movie, but is incapable of achieving that within the bounds of a PG-13 rating; it wants to capture the character Venom's gross-out cannibal comedy allure, but doesn't know how to achieve that beyond a few hard-to-hear voiceover lines; and most of all it wants to transform a monster we've barely had a chance to meet into an anti-hero we're rooting for, and fails quite remarkably. Venom's "change of heart" is the moment that this film really falls apart: not only is there no plot or visible development leading to this massive 180 in the character, but it's literally just stated, flat out, in a voiceover, "I will save this planet rather than destroy it"—incredibly easy to miss, and never explained or justified.

Monday, September 24, 2018


Hey readers—been powerful quiet on here for a bit, my apologies. Have had a tumultuous year, personally, and have had to scale back some Positron output.

However! Loads and loads of good speculative lit things happening in Chicago. This next stretch of the calendar is particularly jam-packed. Some highlights:
  •  The Chicago Public Library system has picked Philip K. Dick's Do Android's Dream of Electric Sheep? as its next One Book, One Chicago selection, which means there are a ton of book-clubs reading that over the next couple months. There is also a great slew of science-fictional and adjacent programming hosted through April; I'll put some of those on the Positron calendar, and you can find more at the OBOC official site.
There are so many author events on the radar:
There are tons of book clubs, lectures and readings, and other SF-related happenings on Positron's Events Page, check it out!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Otherworld's "Down the Rocky Road and All the Way to Bedlam"

Hey readers, you may have noticed that Positron has been pretty quiet lately—moving offices and lots of disruptions in my normal routine. But! There's lots of good stuff going on in Chicago, and I would be remiss not to direct you to go check out Otherworld Theatre's Down the Rocky Road and all the Way to Bedlam in its final weekend.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018


Hey readers! It's been a minute! I AM SO SORRY.

Silence here notwithstanding, there's been lots of great stuff going on in Chicago, and more on the way. Couple things coming up to have on your radar:
  • Lecture by Emily Maguire this Wednesday, 2/28, at the Evanston Public Library: "Cyborgs, Zombies, and Planets for Rent: Science Fiction in Contemporary Caribbean Literature". Looks really fantastic.
  • Deep Dish returns to Volumes Thursday, 3/1. Chicago's premiere quarterly SFF reading event, hosted by Mary Anne Mohanraj, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Michi Trota. This is one of the most exciting things going on in the SF scene hereabouts, lots of fun, check it out.
  • The Chicago Feminist Film Festival is hosting a science fiction track on Wednesday, March 7: Philip K. Vagina. Free and open to the public, featuring 6 short films.
  • A great chance to hang out with other Chicago Nerds is the illustrious Almost Pi(e) Day, a pie-making, book-donating, math-celebrating party at Open Books. March 10th!
  • Bucket O'Blood and DMen Tap are once again hosting An Unnameable Night of Lovecraftian Delights, celebrating the day ol' Howard died, March 15th. Readings, drinks, generally a delightful time. Details here.
  • Book launch party for Audrey Niffenegger & Eddie Campbell's Bizarre Romance! March 20th at Women & Children First.
  • Ytasha Womack, author of Afrofuturism, will be giving a talk at Bucket O'Blood on March 25. Not to be missed!
A little further down the line, we've got C2E2 coming up (April 6-8), looking to feature a bit more bookish material than usual this year (I spot Nnedi Okorafor and Ada Palmer on the roster, for instance).  DuPaul's annual and always-awesome Pop Culture Conference is, this year, A Celebration of Slashers, April 28.

Our friends at Otherworld Theatre have a number of readings coming up (including a play based on Forster's The Machine Stops, March 19). They're also fundraising to take over the Public House Theatre as a permanent space, which would do amazing things for SFF performance arts in Chicago.

Speaking of fundraisers, please check out Volumes Bookcafe's Indiegogo, which is aiming to pay off some unexpected costs from their initial opening, so they can continue to thrive. Volumes has quickly become one of the main driving forces in the Chicago literary scene, hosting hundreds of events, author talks, book clubs, and more, and it would be a real tragedy to seem them go. Authors and organizations have chipped in a slew of rewards for supporters, consider helping out.

As always, check our Upcoming Events Page and Facebook Events for tons of book clubs and many more miscellaneous events.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Casella's 2017 SFF reflections

This past year has been like...submarines below their depth, and sinking further. Pressure creaking, unsure what hatches are safe to open, long tense moments listening, wondering what's next. I can't believe the piece I wrote after the election is over a year old—it feels like yesterday, and it feels like decades ago.

The political reality has had me one moment ready to write off all this genre fascination as escapism & trivialities, and then the next I'm convinced that it's exactly what we need right now: this cocktail of imagination, empathy, curiosity, silliness, willingness to dream but also to care deeply about reality, about the world and each other.

Also, as you may have seen from my reduced output here: I got busy otherwise, day job taking up a bit more time than previously, so I haven't had as much energy for Positron as I'd like.

But the books have been good. The discussions, the friends and fen, have been a bright spot.