Abraham Lincoln

Ken and Robin Consume Media: Hand, le Carre, and, once more, The Mandalorian

December 29th, 2020 | Robin

Ken and Robin Consume Media is brought to you by the discriminating and good-looking backers of the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Patreon. Each week we provide capsule reviews of the books, movies, TV seasons and more we cram into our hyper-analytical sensoriums. Join the Patreon to help pick the items we’ll talk about in greater depth on a little podcast segment we like to call Tell Me More.


Curious Toys (Fiction, Elizabeth Hand, 2019) Living in Chicago’s Riverview amusement park in 1915, gamine Pin stumbles onto a serial killer of young girls. Featuring cameos by Charlie Chaplin and Ben Hecht, Hand’s assured thriller prods and pokes (and gazes) at femininity and the images thereof. Story elements such as Chicago’s film industry and especially Pin’s erratic confidant Henry Darger bring those themes effortlessly into focus. –KH

Hard Light (Fiction, Elizabeth Hand, 2016) Pill-popping punk photographer Cass Neary gets dragooned into a series of murders with roots in the 1970s groupie scene and in an experimental occult film shot in Cornwall. Hand’s almost-occult crime series again satisfyingly walks several high-wires: broken but appealing protagonist, forgotten past and collapsing present, crime and horror. Hand’s Cass Neary series by now withstands comparison to William Gibson’s Bigend trilogy. –KH

Hunter with Harpoon (Fiction, Markoosie Patsauq, 1970) Inuit hunters embark on a deadly journey to find and kill a rogue polar bear. Harrowing novella of life and death in an unforgiving environment, packed with incident and told with startling, straightforward authority.—RDL

Lord of Light (Fiction, Roger Zelazny, 1967) The Buddha attempts to destroy the rule of the Hindu gods; alternately, an immortal culture-jamming spaceship crewman named Sam sabotages his fellow immortals’ attempt to keep their descendants’ planet culturally static. Zelazny deliberately wrote this SF novel in a fantasy register, or vice versa, in a critical test of Clarke’s Third Law. Cosmic scope packed into 250-odd pages makes for a heady read, as does Zelazny at the height of control over his own style. –KH

The Mandalorian Season 2 (Television, US, Jon Favreau, Disney+, 2020) Mandalorian fundamentalist (Pedro Pascal) quests to fulfill his geas and return Grogu (Baby Yoda) to the Jedi for further training. Punchy, minimalist episodes (again inspired by 1960s serial TV such as The Rifleman and Kung Fu) let the production design and interstitial dialogue build upon (and build out) the Star Wars universe while the themes (and Ludwig Göransson’s theme) carry the emotional weight. All this, plus the return of Space Bill Burr! –KH

A Perfect Spy (Fiction, John le Carré, 1986) When his con man father dies, the M16 Head of Station in Vienna drops out of sight with the embassy burnbox, to write a memoir addressed to his son and his mentor. Literary fiction techniques come to the fore in this quasi-autobiographical novel from the tail end of le Carré’s Cold War phase.—RDL

La tête d’un homme [A Man’s Head] (Film, France, Julien Duvivier, 1933) Chief Inspector Maigret (Harry Baur) suspects that the bumpkinish delivery man arrested for the murder of a wealthy American matron is merely a patsy. Simenon adaptation builds from clipped police procedural to a crescendo of expressionist dread and melancholy.—RDL


The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life (Nonfiction, John Le Carré, 2016) The celebrated spy novelist presents his finest anecdotes about his encounters with heads of state, warlords, movie people, and other shady characters. With the possible exception of his piece on his con man father, the real David Cornwell remains as staunchly in the background as George Smiley ever could.—RDL

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