prodigy: Mr Darcy from 2005 film, caption "I put on my coat and Darcy hat." (darcy hat)
Thanks for all thoughts and condolences on the subject of the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week; it's slowly on the mend, I think, and hey, today was warm enough to go out without a hat. A day at the end of January where I actually feel like voluntarily taking a hatless walk counts as a victory, I think. ♥

I'm going to wait until another reading post is actually worthwhile before I make one, but I will always lament the dearth of men in Emma who are actually interesting enough for Emma Woodhouse. I may have a substantial pro-Emma bias, but I can never muster more than polite good will towards George Knightley. I think it's the age difference in their relationship, among other things; oh, well.

Oh! So, lovememe. I've... never actually done a lovememe, it's so contrary to my netsocialization (someday I will write an article on the subject of netsocialization for those of us young enough to have received a "netsocialization," and I promise it will be 500% less silly and facile than most of Slate's--or whoever it is that usually writes these articles--material about internet social norms!), but this one looks like fun so: [personal profile] staranise (which I keep reading as some iteration of the name "Stannis," oops) is doing a words and deeds-focused one and my thread is here.
prodigy: Jadis the White Witch from "Horrors of Literature," illustrated by M.S. Corley. (queen of ice and snow)
Stealing this from [personal profile] qian to give it a try!

What are you reading now?

I know [personal profile] themis will probably roll her eyes at my recurring insistence on braving the Byatt gauntlet despite her overwroughtness and obsession with playing out the same gender roles in fiction over and over, but... I can't help it, her prose style has a certain je ne sais quoi. So I just finished with "Morpho Eugenia" which--had a lot of Byatt weaknesses in it, like uncomfortable exotification of a non-English locale as a metaphorical backdrop for what the English characters are up to, and presenting heterosexuality with that same vaguely predatory, conquest-based framework from the man's perspective, and in general I didn't care for it. But we'll see how I feel about "The Conjugial Angel," which is the second half of Angels & Insects.

My other problem with "Morpho Eugenia" was the really boring and typical treatment of incest. I feel like incest in fiction, unless the story is About Incest in and of itself (and even then), always takes place between these two beautiful ciphers of people who just decide to start defying Westermarck just.. because... and outside the context of the kinds of toxic family environments in which these things actually transpire, and ignores that it's kind of one symptom that usually goes along with a whole syndrome of family dysfunction, not a sexy taboo act that springs out of nowhere. Then again, it's almost always a heavy-handed metaphor for something, or a lurid detail. Sigh.

I'm also reading Emma because I feel like it, which is, of course, much better. Emma Woodhouse! It's kind of fun to mentally exercise yourself trying to speculate what other literary characters she directly influenced.

What did you just finish reading? Apparently what I've read so far in 2013 has been:

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch: Fun! Great fun. I don't say that lightly, I do not generally find crime-procedural urban fantasy to be any fun whatsoever. But it's funny and upbeat and fairly creepy reading, actually, with a pretty horrific villain and supernatural conceit, and Peter Grant and Thomas Nightingale (I think he's a Thomas, anyway) are pretty endearing.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt: I... don't really understand this book's strange, melodramatic appeal, and yet I am sure I would and will reread it sometime. I think it has something to do with Francis. (There's a great YT fic called the mother of beauty from this year.)
The Bone Key by Sarah Monette: Collection of Kyle Murchison Booth stories, which I have finally gotten around to reading all of. They're... uneven overall, and variable, and have a tendency to be kind of anachronistic, and I don't really like how Monette writes women in her horror stories, it cleaves rather closely and without much subversion to many misogynistic horror tropes (and horror is basically a collection of misogynistic tropes). But I'd read more of them, I admit. I like "The Green Glass Paperweight" and "Drowning Palmer."
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter: One of those "things I never got around to reading in the stage in my development when I should've!" It's... good, although I think it suffers from some Seinfeld Is Unfunny for younger people like me through no fault of its own and due to the oversaturation of dark feminist fairytales in the past 10 years?
The Magician King by Lev Grossman: Aaaaaargh. Basically everything that was piss-annoying about Grossman as an author in The Magicians was amplified, and--you know, I actually liked The Magicians, in spite of my general desire to slap the male heterosexuality right out of Grossman's authorial perspective, but The Magician King was just a mess and went from bad to worse in how it treated women. Not good.
Cotillion by Georgette Heyer: Heyer's so all-over-the-place for me but this one was really, really fun. And hilarious.
prodigy: Stephen Colbert with his head tilted back skeptically. (i don't know jon)
"He is blushing," said Jonathan Strange, raising his eyes from the newspaper. "We have come, Henry, with the sole purpose of seeing Miss Parbringer (of whom you write so much) and when we have seen her, we will go away again."

"Indeed? Well, I hope to invite Mrs Field and her niece to meet you at the earliest opportunity."

"Oh, there is no need to trouble yourself," said Strange, "for we have brought telescopes. We will stand at bedroom windows and spy her out, as she goes about the village."

Strange did indeed get up and go to the window as he spoke. "Henry," he said, "I like your church exceedingly. I like that little wall that goes around the building and the trees, and holds them all in tight. It makes the place look like a ship. If you ever get a good strong wind then church and trees will all sail off together to another place entirely."


Jonathan Strange is basically from another planet. This is why he is the best. Regency-set books are full of male characters who are irritating macho douchebags dark and brooding, or at best, manly and honorable (yawn); if only more of them were complete space cadets. He's like the lost, ginger Lovegood.
prodigy: Stock photography with Captive Prince joke, "blah blah fields of my homeland." (blah blah fields of my homeland)
 So I guess you've all probably heard enough about this if you follow me on any other social platforms, but I don't even caaaaare, I'm in that floaty bubble where you mostly have not started thinking about all the ways the BBC could mess up that thing you care about.


prodigy: Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones conked out on the ground. (f. m. l.)
The past few weeks have been a bunch of time spent on planes and, consequently, laid up with a bacterial infection.  I had plenty of time to read.  Here are the reviews I'm too lazy to write.

these turned out longer than anticipated )

This post used to be titled "Media Summary" because I'm pretty sure I've watched more than one movie too, but I've forgotten what they were.  Oh well.  Oh yeah, I saw The Hunger Games movie and Titanic 3-D.  THG was a pretty faithful adaptation of the book.  The soundtrack is really good.  Titanic 3-D is the movie Titanic, but in 3-D.
prodigy: Mr Darcy from 2005 film, caption "yaaay" (yaaay)
"The night is dark and full of circuses." -- [personal profile] relia

Things that transpired between starting The Night Circus and finishing The Night Circus
- 4 weeks
- Halloween
- Hosing cat's litter box out on two different occasions
- At least 4 movies in theaters
- Losing my wallet
- 2+ NYC outings
- 30K+ of productivity
- Bumpy flight from Philadelphia to Dallas

Things that transpired between starting Sorcery & Cecelia and finishing Sorcery & Cecelia:
- Flight from Dallas to LAX

Does that tell you something about the experience of finishing The Night Circus? Have you learned from my mistakes? Because you should.

~


Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus: AT LAST. At last I can review this unadulterated piece of derivative horseshit. Actually, I don't even know if 'derivative' is the right word, because I honestly don't know if the author has read enough books to derive anything from them. You probably remember my continuing adventures with this book. The most chilling moment was when I turned to the back and among the acknowledgments was a nod to inspiration from Punchdrunk, the company that does Sleep No More. It was like a hand reached out and touched me. A slimy, cold hand.

I guess this book's second worst crime, after boring me out of my disproportionately large hat-defying skull, was its criminal waste of its only remotely promising character -- Chandresh Christophe Lefèvre, a half-Indian half-French mercurial dilettante who was apparently only around to start the circus, be fickle, be unworthy of our heterosexual male hero, and accidentally fuck things up for other people. Sorry, dude. You should've tried being in a different book, one with more plot and less ahistorical bullshit. Aside from that, words cannot express how much I grew to loathe both principal star-crossed lovers by the end of the book, but not as much as I grew to loathe the book itself and its yawning lack of plot, noticeable setting, world-building, characterization, or reasons for me to keep reading other than stubbornness. There was also a dash of considerable, laughable Orientalism, but it didn't even stand out in the scrap heap.

There's not much else to say about this. It's a lot easier to review a book with some flaws, or many flaws, than it is to review one with few -- or, in this case, one that's entirely comprised of flaw. I don't know what about this book wasn't a flaw. I guess it acts as a decent cautionary tale against writing in time periods because they're fashionable when you don't know anything about them, publishing your NaNoWriMo, or naming twin characters "Poppet" and "Widget" and causing this reviewer's frontal lobe to disengage and try to fly out of his head in an agonized attempt to escape the excruciating insipidness of the book.

Unless it gets the movie deal that's been rumored, in which case this reviewer will have to dance a long slow dance with Mr. Jasper Daniel and then remind himself that the world does in fact contain actual serious real-world injustices much worse than the existence of The Night Circus.

~


Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, Sorcery and Cecelia: Since I feel a kind-of obligation to being forthright just in case it ever comes up, I disclaim that I have a very passing professional acquaintance with the authors of this book. So I also feel like it'd be weird to review it in-depth. It's one of those things I should've read five years ago. Just to note that I read it, though, and my basic reaction: it was good, it hopped along entertainingly, it was a breath of clever plot and capable writing after the long asphyxiating period of trying to get through Night Circus (along with Brandon Sanderson's questionable command of the English language, at other intervals). I mean, it had the usual charming ahistoricism and glossy G-rated false nostalgia of any Georgette Heyer-inspired pastiche, and it was incredibly Heyer/Austen, almost predictably so -- the two most major male characters were like, direct mirrors of the Duke of Avon and Mr. Darcy -- but it did it well so I enjoyed it. This isn't a genre I go to for an accurate picture of the early 19th century anyway, so probably neither should you, but this book is good and deserves the moderate acclaim it's gotten.
prodigy: Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes declaring something officially BOOORING (booooring)
This was supposed to be a review of The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. Okay, here is the story: Failbetter Games put out a promotional game for this book. Despite my reservations about another hitchhiker on the grand Oregon-bound steampunk wagon train and the unpromising description of the book, the promotional gambit inherently sold me, since, Failbetter Games, so I picked it up. I was -- am? -- was? -- am? thinking that I'd read The Night Circus, get it over with, then move on to my copy of Snuff which at least has some percentage of guaranteed entertainment value.

Unlike The Night Circus. My plan is being foiled by how fucking mediocre this book insists on being. Here's the thing: if it were really bad I'd have finished it already. Badness has a certain allure, at least for me, or the SyFy channel wouldn't be my automatic flip-to on the TV. I can get angry with bad. I can't get angry with boring. This book is just fucking boring. It reads like a hobby RPer's first attempt at original fiction after all their little friends told them their pretentious no-contractions Yuletide fic was good. I cannot think of a single turn of phrase that was anything but an attempt at beauty through descriptions that look like "A Softer World" captions.

It's also one of the worst examples of an American failing to write British English and Victorian British English in particular that I've ever seen, but you see a lot of that these days -- please, everyone, take a hint, if you think all it takes not to sound American is to excise the words "baseball" and "booyah" from your vocabulary and write like a textbook, do not write a book set anywhere but the United States. Fuck, I'm an American and I can tell. That's a bad sign. I am seriously a Yank and nothing but. I shouldn't be able to tell a Yank stupider than me wrote your book.

This book is so lackluster I can't even bring myself to go into the other ways in which it's lackluster. Bad form, publishing industry. Bad form. Fuck you, I'll finish you yet, and then I'll review you. As God is my witness, The Night Circus. As God is my motherfucking witness.

In other news, I'm not dead, just contemplating all possible meanings of the ever-90s song lyric "when it hasn't been your day, your week, your month, or even your year." Uh. Well, aside from that, Rel and I have gotten into The Walking Dead! It's actually kind of good. The existence of Glenn and Daryl helps. Shane needs, um, attention. I don't mean the social kind. Like the kind that takes swearing the Hippocratic Oath to be able to administer.
prodigy: "Blondie" from Leone's Old West trilogy accompanied by Pikachu. (stephen - stupid thing to say)
I'm actually more excited to review this thing than I was to read it. But down to business: what a strange book, I'm not sure I've ever read something so technically well-written that was so terrible. It had the feel of the fiction debut of an accomplished fanfic writer (and, given he was apparently a Warhammer writer, perhaps this has some basis) -- someone too used to working with borrowed worlds, and as a result not incapable with words but entirely unable to come up with a good idea. I'm not even sure where to start on the badness of this book: I guess I'll note that the entire thing could've been written from TV Tropes. If you read the words "Victorian Jack the Ripper-based dystopian AU where Count Dracula marries Queen Victoria, with a cast of characters ripped from history and literature" and try to picture what that would be like, you're probably right. There was nothing surprising about the story: pretty much everything was a cliche. It was like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen careened into a long Sherlock Holmes movie and "A Study in Emerald" in a high-speed car crash, and the book was put together from the resulting scrap metal.

This all could have been averted with the help of a Sassy Gay Friend if Newman weren't so goddamned addicted to putting every vaguely period character he could think of in this book. Out of a cast of thousands, I can think of maybe five characters he actually made up himself. You think it's kind of tacky to turn Oscar Wilde into a vampire to avoid his fate? Think again. You think it takes a lot of nerve to make Lord Ruthven work for Vlad Dracula? Psh. You think you don't have to mention every luminary in late Victorian society or fiction at least in passing? You have no idea. It was impossible to take seriously because it was a gallery of cameos in this overblown Dracula AU -- like a series of in-jokes meant to please people who know of things like A.C. Swinburne's sexual tastes -- and I kept being distracted by the book's need to mention offhand that Allan Quatermain existed somewhere or whatnot. It made LXG look restrained. In addition, practically every offensive trope or stereotype for this time period that you could think of featured eventually -- you've got two primary male characters motivated by fridged women, some evil Chinese gangsters, aforementioned Depraved Homosexuals, brutish and warlike Slavs, bitchy dilettantes, sexy vampire women, and basically enough to get about fifteen bingoes in What Not Do Do In Historical Fiction Bingo. It was kind of impressive.

But aside from the cheesy and unimaginative problems in ideas and characters -- which were a lot -- it had peculiarly good dialogue and period voice. The plot itself was badly handled, and only materialized about halfway through the book, and I really think a ban on Jack the Ripper in fiction should be instated; the characters were all pretty cardboard save the two protagonists, who weren't bad. Actually, the whole thing read like someone who had the skill level to write The Warrior's Apprentice was trying to write A Song of Ice and Fire; it's never a good idea to include a cast of thousands if you can only think of personalities for two or three of them, and one is Arthur Holmwood from Dracula. I was surprised to read it through and discover the plot improved a fair share by the climax, but that was a few hundred pages too late.

Overall, Anno Dracula is an interesting study in mistakes and I recommend it to anyone who writes Dracula spinoffs or Victoriana and curious about what not to ever, ever, ever under any circumstances do. Also instituting bans on: crazy men obsessed with dead girlfriends, Mycroft Holmes, 'As I'm certain you're aware, Robert'.
prodigy: "Blondie" from Leone's Old West trilogy accompanied by Pikachu. (Default)
Why is it that queers in historical fiction and fantasy always seem to wind up sniveling, lecherous Depraved Homosexuals? Ah, I just answered my own question. I'm reading Anno Dracula at the moment; I'll save my thoughts for when I finish it, but I must sigh at this trope, so popular among heterosexual readers and writers who consider themselves liberal enough to make gay jokes, more or less. You could make a very slow text-based drinking game out of it. Drink for every time a queer man's sexuality in a historical novel is described as "a taste for boys." Drink for any scene where he fondles something underage and you're supposed to find it grotesque. Drink for interest in unwilling straight men. Drink for mincing, though do moderate your liquor intake, as alcohol poisoning can be deadly. Drink for gay brothels. Drink for equation of homosexuality and pedophilia in general. Chug if he meets a gruesome end. Raise your empty glass to the lesbian women never, ever mentioned. The whole affair makes a soul want to go back to the 19th century and then suck someone's dick good and hard, just to give this genre the middle finger.

Anyway, last night/this morning (we paused and resumed) we put on a recent Jane Eyre film adaptation, the one with Michael Fassbender. I am not going to try to review a Victorian Gothic novel from 1847, nor am I interested in getting into the general literary catfights regarding the Brontes and whether it's a sin against taste to be attracted to Edward Rochester or Heathcliff or Mr Darcy or nice guys or bad boys -- the internet is already clogged with people's arguments about that.

So on the subject of the Jane Eyre movie: it was alright, although sort of fell into the uncanny valley between being the over-the-top ridiculous Beauty and the Beast-ish tropey gothic darque rain-laden story it is and trying to be something more respectable. For example, it cast mousy Mia Wasikowska for Jane Eyre, but preposterously handsome ridiculously brooding Michael Fassbender for Edward Rochester. Inherently these people can't belong to the same story, and it strained suspension of disbelief. The film really should've cast some magnetic Mary Sue -- Keira or her like -- for Jane, then the stormy overblown atmosphere of it all would've been complete. Fassbender's charismatic, though, I was surprised to find that he was; he had to be to make Rochester anything resembling likeable. I mean, the man is dead handsome, there have been decency codes against the things I'd do to him, but he and his shark teeth are pretty well suited to being Byronic. I'll put him next to Gabriel Macht for "possible James Bonds."
prodigy: "Blondie" from Leone's Old West trilogy accompanied by Pikachu. (I used to live alone before I knew you)
Stolen from [personal profile] themis .   Bolded for read, italicized for started, underlined for meaning to read.

NPR's Top 100 SFF Books )

Off the top of my head, I would've narrowed the list a bit more to print SFF and stuff published within the genre (meaning I'd exclude the likes of Wicked, Outlander, and The Time Traveler's Wife even if I thought they deserved to be there, as well as Watchmen and Sandman, which are greats but not in this industry); while all media crosspollinates and they've all influenced one another, that's true of everything, you could make the same argument of film and fiction, but I'm pretty sure everyone agrees these lists would be impossible to make without any divisons.  Aside from that, like so many lists of this nature, this thing has an incredible newness bias -- Patrick Rothfuss, seriously?  George R.R. Martin?  Susanna Clarke?  If you're whapping up Jim Butcher, for God's sake, you might as well include J.K. Rowling for impactfulness -- this list really needs to decide what kind of list it is.

Otherwise, yesterday I went to the Jersey shore for the first time.  Today is the Pennsylvania Renfaire, not for the first time.  Inbetween I had a complicated dream about a LARP/IF game/virtual reality simulation that turned evil and trapped all the players in but none of the other players would believe it in time -- this was something I discovered in a level that was supposed to be about exorcizing a house haunted by an evil father, but turned out to be possessed by a tainted AI version of the Egyptian god Horus and was far above my level.  Then it poisoned all the food and turned all the meat raw.  It was the first dreaming simulation of biting into raw chicken I've ever had, I'd rather not repeat it.
prodigy: "Blondie" from Leone's Old West trilogy accompanied by Pikachu. (vess harpist)
So, yeah, Harry Potter. How about that? We saw it at 12:20 AM in Cherry Hill and had to sit a row apart because we made the mistake of getting there all of 20 minutes early, which wouldn't have been so bad did it not mean that I was sitting directly behind the Notorious Cherry Hill Hysterical Laugh-Sobber. I have nothing else to report about seeing it except that it took a full half hour to get out of the parking lot after and that when the "19 years later" screen showed for the epilogue, the whole theater groaned and somebody shouted "That's bullshit!"

But I'm wool-gathering, aren't I. How do you describe a generation like Harry Potter? How do you catch a cloud and pin it down? You don't, I guess, you either live it or you don't -- I lived it. Other people didn't. Here's some perspective:

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, or Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone as it was originally retitled in America, came out in the US in October 1998. I'm 20 years old now, for a few more weeks. I was eight years old then, living in Portland, and I had a lot of time to myself. The first HP book had a funny cover and a funny title. I didn't pick it up for a few months, until the hardcover book with the funny cover and the funny title tempted me a little too much and I did read it. At the time I was the only kid in my class who'd read it: that would change in a few months. I read Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban when they came out too, and the first self-insert I ever dreamed up was an Evans-sister love interest for Sirius Black, at the age of nine or ten, before it ever occurred to me that self-inserts didn't have to be girl stand-ins. So that was that.

The first film came out in November 2001. I had just turned 11, my family was about to go bankrupt, and it wasn't lost on me that my Hogwarts letter should be due this year if I was still the kind of kid who admitted to waiting for Hogwarts letters. Which is to say, it wasn't lost on me that my Hogwarts letter was due this year, but silently. It was also the first time I got to have spirited book-to-screen casting opinions, thinking already that Rupert Grint was too round-faced and Daniel Radcliffe was funny-looking. So that was that too.

Somewhere between then and now I fell out of love with Harry Potter -- the series, though also the boy himself, with whom we all so readily identified in book 1 and were thoroughly sick of by book 7. I think some of this was the series decay everybody knows about, the fact that the books did, in fact, get worse, and some of it for me was "growing up with Harry Potter" like everyone is always talking about -- just that in my case, it was less growing up with a childhood best friend and more growing up with a childhood best friend that you turned around once and realized wasn't the friend you first made years ago any more, and neither were you. But there's no denying this series was my first fictional best friend; there were others I loved before, but none that I spent so much wishful obsessive time with, and nothing I loved when I was eight that I still have complicated fandom opinions on, or that I'll go to see the last movie version of the night it comes out. I'm no longer best friends with Harry, but sometimes late at night I'll look him up on Facebook and wonder how he's been. But I don't think we could reconnect.

Anyway, I think that, via [personal profile] themis, Michelle Dean's What Harry Potter Knows is an irritating, passive-aggressive article with which I agree, and which says what I mean. I guess I'll close by repeating something I just said regarding that, which is that Harry Potter was a bigger part of my life than many of my living relations. I'm a few years out of college, we don't talk so much any more, but I remember pressing my hands up against the glass at Waldenbooks and speculating on what a Goblet of Fire was. I wish I'd never found out.
prodigy: "Blondie" from Leone's Old West trilogy accompanied by Pikachu. (I used to live alone before I knew you)
This book was... weird. Mostly good weird, sometimes bad weird, often neutral weird. I can't remember reading a well-written book with so little dedication to metaplot or a continuous storyline. Like [personal profile] kaianos termed it, it was sort of episodic, like a long-running TV series with a intermittent metaplot that cropped up now and then and mostly a string of events happening to a couple recurring characters. That was pretty much the only issue I took with it, though it's a big issue; otherwise I would give this book three stars and recommend it based on entertainment factor and how engaging Hegel and Manfried Grossbart wound up being as characters. They were pretty peculiar and stood alone as far as fantasy protagonists go -- it's rare you see main characters of fantasy works who are genuinely stupid. Readers tend to sympathize better with intelligent characters. And so do I, honestly, but for a refreshing change it was interesting to read along with a pair of characters who aren't only naive and ignorant, but just plain don't figure things out, like average people, and don't stumble on a lot of plot elements because they just don't notice them. It's frustrating sometimes, but it's also new, and it makes them more sympathetic for how abominably lucky they are.

The other thing about the Grossbarts is that -- well, speaking trope-wise, most criminal, murderous, or otherwise "bad" characters in fantasy tend to be gritty, hard-boiled, and unapologetically bad. Reading The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart is like watching Fargo or some other movie where people blunder into doing horrible things through force of their own panic and stupidity and justify why they're still good people inside their own heads -- except with more swearing, blood and guts, Black Death, and graverobbing. It's really hard to describe the extremely dumb, extremely flawed protagonists of this book in a way that makes them sound appealing, but the book does a much better job of it.

Aside from that -- some of the same stuff from Enterprise of Death applies, it's Bullington, so it's funny, relatively light-hearted (though it's both darker and more absurd than Enterprise), over-the-toply violent, full of blood and disgusting gore, and occasionally anachronistic. The anachronisms weren't as glaring in this one, though, and there were a few nice touches (like that the Grossbarts never had any idea the language they spoke was called "German" because they'd never met anyone who wasn't from Germany). I think Enterprise was a stronger book, but I don't regret reading about the Grossbarts either: actually, I recommend both of Bullington's books to anyone who is not averse to dark humor and a lot of people dying. They're novel, anyway, and originality is a little hard to come by in publishing.
prodigy: "Blondie" from Leone's Old West trilogy accompanied by Pikachu. (vess harpist)
I'm surprised I picked this book up. I'm not surprised because of the title or the concept, which are both eye-catching, but because it had some of the shoddiest marketing and design Daw ever gave a first (with the publisher) novel -- which is a shame, because it was a great book and kind of a rare beast in the science fiction/fantasy section of the bookstore. I'm a little surprised it didn't get marked magical realism and shunted into literary fiction, and I wonder if the kinds of readers it would've found there wouldn't've appreciated it better. Anyway, the main reasons I call it shoddily done are its cover -- which is really "this is a generic book about Africa, it glows red-orange with a desert backdrop and the silhouette of some black woman who does not really resemble the described protagonist of the book" -- and the lack of copyediting, which missed commas and word choice here and there in a way that made it look like someone just didn't go over it with the finest-tooth comb.

Even so, how often do you read a chosen-one story set in post-apocalyptic far-future Sudan about a mixed-race girl born of war rape who learns sorcery to face her evil biological father and bring salvation to her genocide-suffering people? I think that question answered itself. It's undeniably true that the only places that ever seem to get far futures in science fiction are Western ones, or occasionally East Asian. It's also undeniably true that racist, imperialist writers tend to implicitly treat places that are war-torn as though they're still in the Middle Ages, like technology and social sophistication can't coexist with bloodshed and violent atrocity; Okorafor is of Nigerian descent, though, and seems to have gone to effort to know what the hell she is talking about regardless, so this is not that kind of book.

It's set in very dark times in the future, and the threat of violence is always hanging over characters' heads (there are many violent or disturbing scenes that leave nothing to the imagination, including one involving female circumcision); it doesn't have a gratuitous or gritty tone to it, though, but plays out like a mythic-legendary story about a chosen leader born in horrible circumstances in the middle of a genocidal war and going through a bildungsroman to master her powers and defeat her evil father. Except it's not Luke Skywalker, it's a young mixed Arab/African (sort of; ethnicities have shifted in this future) woman with blonde hair that marks her as forbiddenly mixed-race, and it's not Darth Vader, it's a cruel fascist imperialist soldier to whom magic and sexual assault are both just means to a genocidal end. Basically, if you dig that kind of SFF mythic-arc story in general, then I recommend picking up Who Fears Death, because it's a hell of a lot more fresh than the usual Western tropey take on that and the fact that it is inherently about genocide, rape, war, racism, imperialism, gender, and healing makes it a lot more powerful.

But that's all praising the subject matter, not the story Okorafor specifically wrote -- so also, the story's really interesting and gripping! It suffers some pacing issues during long Onye Learns Magic and Onye Has To Pass Another Test sections, but otherwise stuff keeps happening and the reveal of information happens with perfect timing -- I sucked in a breath in surprise and dread at a couple events -- and it's definitely full of action and eventfulness. I liked all the characters aside from one, though I think it'd be spoilery to elaborate; if anything the story's main weakness is that it's a chosen-one-is-special story so inherently the moral involves a lot of other people being ultimately less worthy than the chosen one, but I knew that going in. Aside from that, it's sad, fairly riveting, sometimes beautiful, and definitely thought-provoking. I wish there was more stuff like this coming out in science fiction and fantasy.
prodigy: "Blondie" from Leone's Old West trilogy accompanied by Pikachu. (Sherlock goes hmm)
Voted Beverly-Nakia-Javier-Xenia on The Voice a few minutes ago. I'll be sad to see Frenchie and Vicci go, but those're our choices, and anyway I think we would sacrifice a very small child to see Bev win. Maybe not the whole child. A digit. An unimportant digit. A small child's pinky toe.

--

Speaking of sacrifice. I finished Jesse Bullington's book The Enterprise of Death a few days ago, at [personal profile] relia's behest; she picked it up at the same time I picked up Eutopia and now we are book-trading. I haven't read The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart, so apparently I'm out of the genre loop, but -- The Enterprise of Death is good, solid, fun, entertaining historical fantasy/horror and I'll try and review it without spoiling it too much, as I definitely recommend it. How often do you read a book set during the Spanish Inquisition where 2/3 of the main characters are women, both of those are queer, and one of them is also black? Not very, is the thing.

Something I said to Rel about this was, roughly, "that was the least gritty book about necromancy, death, and monsters I've ever read." Which it kind of is. Not in a bad way, either. The book is over-the-toply violent, gory, disgusting, and full of technically horrific elements, but manages to maintain a sort of black-humored lighthearted jaunty tone in spite of it and even has a lot of cute, power-of-friendship, touching moments of bonding and family. Actually, I'd say it's more about bonding and family than it is about necromancy, death, and monsters. Awa, Manuel, and Monique are a ragtag band of three misfits (serious honest-to-god misfits) that come to bond like a family, and they're each what I enjoyed the most about the whole story; when do you ever have two queer female protags of something when it's not a romantic subplot between them? When do you ever have a positive but not idyllic portrayal of an open/poly marriage? But this book does, and it works -- it's also very funny, full of very interesting fantasy concepts, and a general page-turner. It's also full of squick and violence, and one genuinely non-funny but brilliantly horrific plot element I'm not going to spoil, so if you're squeamish it may still not be the best book, but it's not Frank Miller, is what I'm saying.

The book's shortcomings were all kind of attributable to beginnerism -- some choppy pacing issues, difficulty writing characters' actions/emotions consistently at the beginning, and also some degree of anachronism. Inclusion of queerness and polyamory historically is not anachronistic, of course; doing so with so little opposition or oppression seems a little idealistic, though, but I forgive the book for not wanting to be a depressing story about subjugation and hate, not everything needs to be. The anachronism I took more issue with was when jokes or puns would be made that only made sense in English and the characters would not actually be speaking English. But it wasn't that intrusive.

Overall, definitely an A! It wasn't perfect, but the author obviously has a lot of talent and I can see why Jeff VanderMeer promoted it. We're definitely going to check out Grossbart.
prodigy: "Blondie" from Leone's Old West trilogy accompanied by Pikachu. (vess harpist)
So these reviews are doubling up because for different reasons I don't really feel like I can write a comprehensive review of either, but I want to jot down I finished them all within the past few days. I think I'll keep it brief, but I'll put the Camelot (the Starz series) stuff behind a spoiler cut because I have more spoilery things to say about that. However, I doubt much of it will be that surprising to people familiar with the legends; some of it is straight from, other stuff is easy to guess.

Day Watch and Twilight Watch, by Sergei Lukyanenko: This is sort of a weird series to try and review, since I haven't read Night Watch (this one) (as opposed to the Pratchett one) (or the one by Sarah Waters) in ages and I've finally finished the next two at [personal profile] relia's behest. To an extent reading a book translated from another language, you don't know if you're reviewing the writer or the translator -- in this case I suspect the translator, since the series is clunky in a didn't-try-too-hard-to-translate-this sense, but I wouldn't know. I also don't know just about anything about Moscow, so I have no idea how the translation fared on the Moscow front. As a result, my only substantial review-thoughts are about the fantasy story and fantasy worldbuilding itself, and again, I've got no clue how much authorial intent and emphasis might've gotten lost in translation here.

Aside from that: they're urban fantasy books about a war between initiated agents of Light and agents of Dark, basically, and the Xanatos gambits and Xanatos roulettes undertaken in the service of this. I really dig a lot of the worldbuilding (the Dark and the Inquisition appealed to me especially) and the complicated/twist-filled plots that are set up; I was enh on the contrived Xanatos masterminds do everything devices often needful to pull off said complicated plots, because it's gotten to the point where the everyman POV characters are resigned to how little difference they can make in the hands of chessmasters, and that's no fun; I disliked how preachily in-the-right the Light protagonists always seemed to be even when the Dark was humanized somewhat, it had a a very "and goodness knows the wicked's lives are lonely!!" feel to it. But the world is cool, if you're into urban fantasy in a sort of fantasy-otherworld-war-on-civilian-turf setting, and the plot arcs are interesting and all wrap together, especially in Twilight Watch.

Camelot: Hmm. I'm not reviewing-reviewing this either (episode by episode, anyway) because I haven't actually seen all the episodes, but I've seen almost all. Overall I'd say it's better than I'd feared, not as good as I'd hoped, but at least it's, uh, better than Merlin. It should also be called Morgan, or maybe Morgan Pendragon, or The Mighty and Powerful Morgan, because she is the entire reason to watch the show. Hot DAMN is she the entire reason to watch the show.

Tis a silly place )
prodigy: "Blondie" from Leone's Old West trilogy accompanied by Pikachu. (I used to live alone before I knew you)
Wow. Okay. So did you know that you wanted to read a piece of historical science fiction/horror set in 1911 about eugenics and racism and religion narrated by a sheltered but perceptive white teen orphan and a snarky and resourceful black doctor? That is, did you know that you wanted to read a Lovecraft pastiche, except without the racism and floridity and with critical acknowledgment of said racism and entertaining writing? I think I sort of did, but not nearly as much as I discovered I actually did once I started reading Eutopia. This book was amazing. I actually read it all in a day/night, and didn't even mean to.

We actually stumbled on it in the Cherry Hill Barnes & Noble, or [personal profile] relia did anyway -- she picked out a cover that featured a black-and-white photograph of a girl in a white dress, except that just the girl's eyes had been replaced with some kind of shiny glossy cover-paper: causing them to glint soullessly off the image. It's hard to describe and it doesn't come through on Amazon. It is the creepiest effect.

As spoiler-avoidant as I can manage, but just in case )

The main warnings I would give this book are all number of trigger warnings: graphic violence, sexual assault, abuse, racism, classism, xenophobia, genocide, slavery, all that pretty stuff tucked under the rug of American history. It's all taken dead seriously, and is a bit uncomfortable on whole -- I wouldn't suggest reading if you have strong triggers on any of these things -- but if you can stomach I think the subject matter is worth it. Also worth mentioning is that while there are a host of important female characters, the two primary characters are by far the most relateable in the story, a consequence of which being that none of the women are quite as relateable as Andrew and Jason; this is true of the secondary male cast too, though, so I didn't have a problem with it. Your mileage may vary.

Now I'm gonna go and put that book cover face down.
prodigy: Text: >INVENTORY >You have: your brains, Fezzik's strength, Inigo's steel, a wheelbarrow, and a holocaust cloak. (>say my name is inigo montoya)
This was the GRRM-penned episode. It may be confirmation bias played a factor in my judgment, but I think it showed: everyone's dialogue seemed particularly on-point, especially the Tyrion-Bronn sections. Anyway, this is still the part of the book where stuff is heating up, so it was bound to be intense.

That being said, oh my God.

Spoiler Green is made of spoilers. )

Musing on that point, I think the Gratuitous HBOness isn't actually doing that any favors, though probably unintentionally. Contrary to semi-popular misconception, the A Song of Ice and Fire series did not come quite this HBO already: the adaptation's added a lot of random sex and violence, to say the least. This is all well and good when it's (the still WTF) Petyr Baelish monologuing to a pair of cavorting whores, but it makes the Dothraki portrayal look even more brutal and savage and lurid than it was in the books because we have to watch all their uncivilized-savage-person-violence as Dany does.

I'm not a fan of the HBO-ifying in general; it gives it a mood occasionally too close to HBO'S Rome, where you get dulled to the violence in the company of Antony and Atia eventually because you can't emotionally engage with it. In A Song of Ice and Fire, you're supposed to take all the violence dead seriously: it's a world where bad things happen to people, oftentimes for no reason, but commoners and foreigners and whores are not meant to be redshirts even if some of the POV characters think so. Adding too much more background violence makes it just seem like it's colored with blood and no one cares -- which undermines the context of various characters' classism, callousness, and self-centeredness, and misses the whole point of the intended social complexity in favor of a simplified bloody political sword-and-sorcery epic. It's good TV and good entertainment, but it's not the books.
prodigy: Glorious 25th of May lilac with "How do they rise?" caption. (how do they rise up)


It's funny, I do think I've put more consistent effort into commemorating this fictional holiday over the years than any state or religious ones, including the ones I celebrate. Terry Pratchett did have something brilliantly memetic on his hands in the Glorious 25th of May, I wonder if he knew -- I'm going to be out with friends tomorrow, but hope to get some lilac one way or another. I wonder if non-Discworld fans (or less passionate Discworld fans) wonder what the big deal is about the 25th of May, if it's just a general fannish gesture of dedication or a way to indicate you like something that doesn't normally have a lot of logos or T-shirts or whatever. My roommate wore a lilac pinned to a towel one year in college, which I think is basically the most expedient way to indicate you are a cool person.

To some extent, though, I think the "geeky loyalty" you proclaim first is a sort of statement of identity -- or it is for me, anyway. I don't do the towel on Towel Day not out of lack of respect for Mr. Adams or his legacy, but because I feel it would be sort of dishonest on some level: I loved Hitchhiker's Guide when I was a kid and first read it, but it didn't change my life. I don't actually have the entitlement to make myself out as that kind of fan. I know it sounds funny, taking fan cred seriously in some way, but really, I do think sports fans do have the right to be snobby if they're the type who goes to every match talking to someone who owns a T-shirt and casually roots for the team anytime they're on TV, and it's the same with media fans. There's a definite fallback of "you're so weird, it's just fiction/media/whatever!!" and sneering goggling at the Trekkies and Browncoats and the like who take it too seriously, and while I'm not a Trekkie or a Browncoat... what's wrong with taking it too seriously? Is it bad to admit that media affects us as strongly as it does? If it doesn't, what are we doing in the art and business of creating it, anyway?

I read Night Watch just before I transferred to UCSD, I think, not long after it came out. It was the latest Discworld book out, in hardcover, when I was finishing up my ravenous read-through of the Discworld series. Terry Pratchett's my favorite author. I haven't had many favorite authors in my life. I don't even write comedic fiction (well, not primarily, or not intentionally primarily I should say, good Lord), and I can still count Discworld as probably the biggest wedge in my pie-chart of writing influences, shoulder-to-shoulder with A Song of Ice and Fire and a number of classic Vertigo titles. My old copy of Night Watch was dog-eared and highlighted to all hell, for purposes of [community profile] literaryquotes. It was one of the stories that really taught me what I wanted to do with stories.

So I guess on the Glorious 25th when a bunch of people commemorate the deaths of a bunch of police officers in a nonexistent universe, what I'm saying with the lilac is that: thank you, Terry Pratchett. I'm willing to embarrass myself as One Of Those Fans who Takes It Too Seriously this time, at least, because it's worth that much to me, anyway. But I know I'm not the only one.

There was some laughter. We who think we are about to die will laugh at anything.

What a bunch. I know you well, gentlemen. You're in it for the quiet life and the pension, you don't hurry too much in case the danger is still around when you get there, and the most you ever expected to face was an obstreperous drunk or a particularly difficult cow. Most of you aren't even coppers, not in your head. In the sea of adventure, you're bottom-feeders.

And now, it's war...and you're in the middle. Not on either side. You're the stupid little band of brown-jobs. You're beneath contempt. But believe me, boys -- you'll rise.


Thanks.
prodigy: "Blondie" from Leone's Old West trilogy accompanied by Pikachu. (Sherlock goes hmm)
I always get nervous when reading a new Discworld book. It's like watching my favorite sports team on their winning streak. Is this the book that's going to suck? Is this the one that'll break the winning streak? Please don't suck. Please don't be beige. Please don't disappoint me. It's like the opposite of watching Criminal Minds. Watching Criminal Minds is like following the Boston Red Sox. Practically anything is an improvement. Reading Discworld, on the other hand, is like watching the Yankees on the veeeerge of carrying it to the World Series and you're like, don't fuck this up Yankees don't fuck it up don't fuck it up -- well, I am pleased to report that on the score of I Shall Wear Midnight, the Yankees have not yet fucked up. Here's to hoping.

Spoilers and D&D analogies )

 Overall it was good and full of great exchanges and bits and character interactions -- unfortunately, authorial unwillingness to sacrifice any of them for the plot meant the plot really suffered as a result. And that was a pity, because otherwise ISWM really could've been the coolest Tiffany book.

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prodigy: "Blondie" from Leone's Old West trilogy accompanied by Pikachu. (Default)
the late, or rather, later Henrik Egerman

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