skygiants: the princes from Into the Woods, singing (agony)
It's hard for me not to unfavorably compare every Isabelle Hollington Gothic to Trelawny, the one with the identical non-identical constantly-swapping twins, but The Marchington Inheritance runs a reasonable second for batshit plot resolutions.

Our Heroine is a children's book illustrator named Avril, which would be fine if she were not ALSO notable for her family reputation as a Strung-Out Sulky Counter-Culture Fight-The-Power Teen Rebel with constant Rage Against the Preppy machine, which meant that I had "Complicated" and "Sk8er Boi" stuck on rotate in my head for the entire duration of this novel. THANKS, ISABELLE HOLLAND.

spoilers are full of hilariously plausibly annoying children )
skygiants: Clopin from Notre-Dame de Paris; text 'sans misere, sans frontiere' (comment faire un monde)
I just finished Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad, which is definite proof that a book-length allegory CAN ALSO be a coherent and compelling novel. (Is this a Kazuo Ishiguro callout post? MAYBE.)

The easiest and most facile way to describe The Underground Railroad is basically like Underground the TV show meets Snowpiercer. I mean, significantly less silly than Snowpiercer, which is a deeply silly movie -- but insofar as it's a train-based road trip for your life in which every stop is an Allegory On the Evils of Class and Capitalism, like that, except in this case it's an allegory on America's original sins.

The book's heroine is Cora, a woman who escapes from a deep-South plantation on an enormous hidden network of rails and tunnels, gaining and losing allies along the way. Each time she gets off she thinks that maybe she's found a place where she can stop and live a human life, and each place she visits reflects a different knife-angle of the generally horrific history of race in America -- alternate histories, but real ones.

Allegory aside, Cora is very much a real and complex and compelling character, and the places she visits have heft to them. Cora's identity is bound up in the legend and mystery of her mother Mabel, the one slave in the plantation's history (before Cora) who was able to escape and vanish completely; she's a real person, too, and so are all the other perspectives that we glimpse briefly in interstitial interludes along Cora's journey. It's a really good book. It's a very page-turning book, and although it's (obviously) extremely grim at times, it's not actually a hopeless book.
skygiants: Yong Ha from Sungkyunkwan Scandal (trollface)
To be honest, I didn't really expect to love the kdrama Descendants of the Sun, a romantic melodrama about a special forces soldier and an ER surgeon. I'm skeptical about romanticizing the military! Contemporary melodrama is not my thing! Probably there were going to be too many dudes all over the place everywhere anyway!

OH, HOW WRONG I WAS. Descendants of the Sun is a GEM.

Screencaps cannot capture the majesty )
skygiants: Kyoko from Skip Beat! making a mad flaily dive (oh flaily flaily)
I enjoyed Martha Wells' Wheel of the Infinite but I am also pretty sure that my reading experience was devised in exactly the wrong way to allow me to appreciate the plot as a coherent narrative.

I read the first half of the book on the plane between San Francisco and Chicago, which meant I got all the fantastic initial setup: a long-suffering middle-aged heroine, exiled from her home city for accidentally getting three husbands killed while following the wrong prophetic vision, accidentally rescues a cute swordsman in a brief break from protecting a plucky theater troupe from a cursed stage puppet!

Then the cute young swordsman immediately decides to be her joint boyfriend and bodyguard because he has nothing else to do with his life, and she's like "he followed me home, can I keep him? ...wait I'm an exiled superpowered divine avatar, I literally don't have to ask anyone else, I CAN JUST KEEP HIM :D" and then he and she and the theater troupe all go back to her home city to sort out a potentially apocalyptic problem in the annual setting-the-world-in-order religious ritual and also, very importantly, get the theater puppet un-cursed, and at about this point I got to Chicago and although I was enjoying myself immensely I didn't really have time to read another word until I was on a flight back to Boston.

So at this point I opened my Kobo again and spoilers! )
skygiants: Nellie Bly walking a tightrope among the stars (bravely trotted)
Despite its incredibly bland title, Into the Darkness turned out to be one of the most interesting Barbara Michaels gothics I've yet read.

This is one of the ones where Barbara Michaels decides to break the "girl meets house" mold and go instead with "girl meets career." Our Heroine Meg Venturi, called back to her hometown for her grandfather's funeral, finds that he's left her half of the family jewelry business; the other half has (of course) been left to his dark and brooding protege, whom half the town is convinced murdered Meg's grandfather and the other half the town thinks was probably just blackmailing him.

Obviously, this is Bachelor A. Bachelor B is Meg's annoying fake cousin (there's always a cousin in there somewhere), Bachelor C is the boring lawyer who keeps trying to mansplain Meg's inheritance to her, and Bachelor D is the married businessman that Meg has been having an affair with but who rapidly becomes irrelevant to the plot.

Meanwhile, Meg's grandmother keeps cheerfully sharing conversations that she had overnight with the ghost of Meg's dead grandfather, the housekeeper will not stop pretending to be Mrs. Danvers, someone keeps mailing threatening antique jewelry to the house, there's another pile of probably-stolen and certainly-priceless antique jewelry hidden in the back of Meg's closet, and every so often there will be a murder attempt. Throughout it all, Meg comes to two realizations: a.) she really, genuinely loves the jewelry business and b.) she is really, genuinely sick of Various Bachelors treating her like a Gothic ingenue.

Spoilers under the cut )
skygiants: pearl from SU, looking suspiciously down the length of a sword (terrifying renegade pearl)
Over the past two weeks I have gone straight from a professional conference to a wedding to VividCon, lugged my roommate's oversized suitcase across four cities, hung out with innumerable incredibly delightful people, seen an equally large number of really stellar vids, visited at least six used bookstores and bought at least ten Gothic novels.

Now I am home and exhausted, so I'm just going to leave my rushed but heartfelt VividCon premiere here and go to bed:

Title: Clean Light (music by The Mowgli's)



Download

(with thanks to [personal profile] aquamirage for valuable early feedback!)
skygiants: Clopin from Notre-Dame de Paris; text 'sans misere, sans frontiere' (comment faire un monde)
The Brightest Day: A Juneteenth Historical Romance Anthology is a collection of romance novellas by black authors focusing on celebrations commemorating the end of slavery, and it is 150% - nay, 200% - worth it for Alyssa Cole's "Let It Shine," which is now certainly in my top five and maybe in my top two romance novellas.

...this doesn't actually feel like saying that much because I tend to find romance novellas less satisfying and convincing than full-length novels overall, but "Let It Shine" is so good! The heroine, Sofie, is a black girl on the verge of joining the local chapter of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee; the hero, Ivan, is a Jewish kid whose family Sofie's mom used to work for, who trains at the local black boxing gym because the white country club won't have him, and joins the Civil Rights movement to share his training in how to take a hit.

Sofie falls into one of my favorite tropes -- the quiet, well-behaved girl whose self-control and steel spine are greater strengths than anyone around her realizes -- and the story also falls into one of my favorite romantic tropes, which is when two people fall in love working towards something that they put ahead of themselves and their romance. The novella is also really effective at building its heroic character moments around participatory movements and strategic nonviolence, which despite its historic importance is something I feel like I rarely see portrayed in fiction (especially romance, a genre in which "impulse control" is ... an infrequently valorized virtue .....)

Also, there is a sexy boxing ring scene and it's very good.

The other three novellas in the anthology didn't work for me as well, although "Let It Shine" is so good that it's not really fair to compare. My second favorite was probably Kianna Alexander's "Drifting to You," which is just a very cute, relatively unstressful story about a baker and a shipbuilder getting together on a celebratory Juneteenth cruise in 1875 that is a Professional Milestone for both of them as former slaves trying to establish businesses in the free black community. I was very concerned that the narrative tension was going to involve something going wrong with either the cake or the boat and imperil their Professional Careers, so it was a relief that the only actual plot features a cardboard villain who pops briefly up to harass the heroine and is put down again within three pages.

Lena Hart's "Amazing Grace" is about a former slave who goes out west as a mail-order bride and then falls in love with a former Confederate soldier instead, which would be a hard sell for me in almost any circumstance. I liked the heroine of Piper Huguley's "A Sweet Way to Freedom" a lot -- she's an unmarried, pregnant schoolteacher in 1910 wrestling with the damage to her reputation and her pride if she goes home to her family for support -- but I did not like the hero, the bar owner who got her pregnant and then bounced, and I think I would have needed a full book to believe in his reformation, which frequently is my problem with novellas.

Anyway! Alyssa Cole! "Let It Shine!" ABSOLUTELY WORTH IT, will be seeking out more of her stuff.
skygiants: Anthy from Revolutionary Girl Utena holding a red rose (i'm the witch)
[personal profile] jothra went to a library sale last week and asked if I had any requests: "Weird 70s Gothics? Trixie, Belden?"

"WEIRD 70S GOTHICS PLEASE," I said, and Jo duly carried out her commission so well that I don't know if anybody's ever going to top it:



Portrait in Jig-Saw is apparently so obscure it doesn't even have a Goodreads page, which, having read it, I can honestly now say is kind of a shame.

Our Heroine's name is Alixander David Somerlaid MacDonald (I KNOW), otherwise known as Alisdair; she is a Strictly Sheltered Heiress who has been raised in a Freezing Castle in Complete Isolation and Solitude with only occasional visits from her father until she comes of age on her 21st birthday.

...for the record, the year is 1973.

My legit favorite part about these spoilers is that the entire plot relies on an alternate universe where the world's most famous postmodern novelist is a Thai princess, I want to live in THAT universe! )
skygiants: Fakir from Princess Tutu leaping through a window; text 'doors are for the weak' (drama!!!)
Death of a Pirate: British Radio and the Making of the Information Age is a fairly fascinating book that's trying to do a lot of things at once: the book starts out with the dramatic recounting of MURDER!!! and then immediately takes, if not a deep dive, at least a vigorous swim through such varied topics as the history of British radio and the BBC, Keynesian economic philosophy, copyright limitations, and the founding of Sealand in order to contextualize it.

Once we get back to the story of the murder itself, however, it turns out: IT'S BONKERS. The principals in the case are two pirate radio impresarios in 1966. Oliver Smedley, An Ardent Free-Trade Capitalist, was running a station called Radio Atlanta on a boat off the coast; Reggie Calvert, A Dance Hall Impresario, had taken over an entire abandoned British navy fort called Shivering Sands in the Thames Estuary and staffed it with a rotating encampment of youths running a station called Radio City. At one point Smedley and Calvert were going to have a merger, but then they had an ACRIMONIOUS BREAKUP spurred on in part by:

- the fact that Smedley was supposed to give Calvert a shiny new transmitter and instead provided an old one that never worked
- the fact that Smedley never paid all the bills he had promised Calvert that Radio Atlanta would pay
- the fact that Calvert got sick of all this and decided to merge with another station instead

The reason for all these pirate radio stations on boats and naval forts, by the way, is because in 1966 there was no legal pop radio in the UK (as explained, extensively, via the history of radio and Keynesian economic theory etc. that makes up the first half of the book). Because the pirates were technically outside of UK territory, on the other hand, they could technically get away with doing whatever they wanted, or at least the government like "it will be way too embarrassing to launch a huge naval raid against a bunch of youths on was a fort with a radio transmitter, so let's not."

HOWEVER, the fact that everything was happening outside of territorial waters where British laws and police had no jurisdiction BACKFIRED when:

- Ardent Free-Trade Capitalist Smedley decided he was so mad that Calvert had made a deal without him that he was going to MAKE SURE that the deal could never go through
- he was going to GET BACK HIS PROPERTY [the transmitter that had never worked]
- so he sent an ACTUAL OCCUPYING FORCE composed of out-of-work dockworkers to Shivering Sands, stole a bunch of key broadcasting equipment, took a bunch of it back to the mainland, and left a bunch of toughs to hold everybody who was on the station at that time hostage!!!
- (when they met the invading force, the hostage broadcasters were like 'welp' and made everybody tea)
- ("the vessel had to return briefly to pick up [the contractor who recruited the gang], who had been left behind drinking his tea")
- and then Smedley went to Calvert and his partner, an actual professional broadcaster, and was like 'I will not let you broadcast from there again or finish making your deal unless you pay me FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS'

Naturally, everyone involved was like 'wtf????' and refused to pay Smedley a dime; Calvert threatened to involve the police but the police were like 'ummmmmm technically we can't do anything for the same reasons we haven't been able to stop you from broadcasting;' Calvert then made a whole bunch of other even wilder threats; and all the hired dockworkers sat around cheerfully charging Smedley for hostaging operations which he was rapidly running out of money for.

Anyway, in the middle of all this, Calvert drove out to Smedley's house in the middle of the night and started screaming at him, and Smedley shot him and then claimed self-defense and that his HOSTILE OCCUPATION OF A POP RADIO STATION was just a little joke gone wrong! No harm no foul if only Calvert hadn't been so UPSET about it! It did help Smedley's self-defense case that Calvert happened to be carrying A FAKE PEN FULL OF NERVE GAS at the time, which apparently, according to his family, he always carried around just for safekeeping.

...so the author's point in writing about all this seems to be that a.) this incident was crucial in getting the pirate radio boats shut down and the formation of the current BBC radio system that includes actual pop radio, b.) that this is all a forerunner of later copyright battles and offshore data centers and so on, c.) pirate-radio-on-boats in the 1960s was a WILD TIME. About the latter, at least, he is most surely not mistaken.

(This has nothing to do with the main brunt of the book but I have to spare a mention for Radio City's chief engineer, who later was hired by the mob! to perform an assassination attempt!! using a spring-loaded hypodermic needle full of cyanide!!! in what it turns out was ACTUALLY a sting operation by the U.S. Treasury department who picked the hapless Radio City engineer to act as the assassin because "he needed the fee while being clearly incapable of killing anybody"!!!! This whole incident gets two pages in the book because it's somewhat irrelevant to the author's argument but seriously, where is this guy's movie?

For the record, the same mobsters then tried to intimidate Reggie Calvert's widow into selling them the remnants of the station and she was like 'lol no' and they were like '....well, when a lady knows her own mind, she knows her own mind! No hard feelings.')
skygiants: C-ko the shadow girl from Revolutionary Girl Utena in prince drag (someday my prince will come)
[personal profile] genarti read The Privilege of the Sword for the first time recently, because I had been telling her to since 2008, and then kept trying to talk to me about it. Unfortunately at this point I did not remember most of the things she was trying to talk to me about because I hadn't read it since 2007, so eventually I also had to reread it in self-defense.

It turns out this is still and probably will always be my favorite Ellen Kushner book. The central plotline follows Katherine, a cheerful young lady who gets invited to restore the family fortunes by going to live with her incredibly weird uncle in the big city and becoming a swordsman!

Unlike many plucky heroines, Katherine does not initially have really any interest at all in cross-dresing or becoming a swordsman. However, eventually she comes to enjoy swordfighting for its own sake, helped along by the mentorship of her incredibly weird uncle's nice ex-boyfriend, the necessity of dueling for a friend's honor, and the discovery that bisexuality and gender fluidity are potentially relevant concepts to her teen coming-of-age story.

...that's the A-plot! B, C, D, E, and F plots include:

- Katherine's mom's reparation of her relationship with Katherine's weird uncle
- Katherine's weird uncle's actress girlfriend's dreamy new cross-dressing fantasy Broadway show
- Katherine's weird uncle's unfortunate friendship breakup with his mathematician bestie
- Katherine's bff's attempts to overcome trauma from rape-by-fiance by engaging in romantic gay roleplay via letter-writing
- Katherine's other bff's attempts to overcome trauma from an abusive childhood by engaging in competitive voyeurism
- Katherine's bff's gigolo cousin's star-crossed romance with a scriptwriter/potter who is on the run from her abusive in-laws who do not appear in this book
- trade routes?? politics?????

I'm pretty sure that's not all the plots. There are so many plots in this book. It's fine because the plots are barely the point at best, the point is coming-of-age and life after trauma and thumbing your nose at Societal Conventions while getting to know and like yourself! I especially enjoy how in the end, spoilers )

(Note: emo murderous Alec from Swordspoint drives me up a wall in his own book, but is significantly more tolerable to me when he's just Katherine's incredibly weird uncle. I mean he still drives me up a wall here but it's much funnier when he's driving everyone else up a wall too.)
skygiants: Nellie Bly walking a tightrope among the stars (bravely trotted)
Rose Melikan's The Blackstone Key is one of the few books I've grabbed at random off a library shelf recently without ever having heard of it. Then I immediately grabbed the next two books, The Counterfeit Guest and The Mistaken Wife, so I guess they were doing something right, although also several things not right.

These books are deeply fluffy YA-ish Regency espionage hijinks starring Mary Finch, an impoverished orphan schoolteacher turned (by the end of the first book) surprise heiress with an unexpectedly encyclopedic knowledge of British law and an enthusiastic penchant for Adventures! !! !!!

Captain Holland, the series love interest, is an artillery officer who is good at mechanics and up on new military technologies. Other salient characteristics include:
- a terrible tendency towards sea- and carriage-sickness
- an ongoing resentful inability to understand all the clever literary and historical references being tossed around by the rest of the characters
- CONSTANT MONEY STRESS

I'll be honest, he won me over during the first book when Mary's like "am I a bad person for worrying about how the outcome of all this espionage will affect my potential inheritance?" and he's like "DEFINITELY NOT, if anybody tells you they don't stress about money THEY ARE LYING."

Rose Melikan is a scholar of the period and very good on British military history. She is not so good on plot. The first book is complete, hilariously convoluted nonsense involving SMUGGLERS and CIPHERS and MYSTERIOUS WATCHES and a SURPRISE CHANCE-MET DYING VILLAIN. It turns out that spoilers )

The second book is probably my favorite and definitely the least nonsense plot-wise; it's about the 1797 naval mutinies, and Our Heroine gets recruited to spy on a plotter because she happens to know his wife and will likely be in his house, which does not stretch suspension of disbelief too very wildly. (It's also sort of entertaining to watch the author do a careful dance between what I suspect is a personal sympathy for unionization and strike tactics and the fact that Mass Military Mutiny Is Definitely A Bad Thing, Our Characters Must Stop It At Any Cost.)

...then in Book Three we are expected to believe that an actual professional spy sees no better alternative for an important espionage mission than taking a well-known youthful heiress and society figure whose salient skills are, as aforementioned, a knowledge of British law and an enthusiasm for Adventure, and sneaking her off to Paris in a fake marriage with a clueless American painter while her respectable household desperately tries to pretend she's in London the whole time. At this point suspension of disbelief goes straight out the window again.

I have mixed feelings about Book Three in general; it's the darkest of the three and several sympathetic characters die as a direct result of Our Heroes' espionage endeavors including infuriating spoiler ) I'm not here for that! I'M HERE FOR THE HIJINKS.
skygiants: Hazel, from the cover of Breadcrumbs, about to venture into the Snow Queen's forest (into the woods)
With Sorrow's Knot I think I have now finished reading everything from Erin Bow's backlog, which is good in that I have consistently enjoyed it all, but bad in that I have no more Erin Bow backlog.

All of Erin Bow's work (I can now say, having read all of it) is in some way about death and undeath and the wildly unhealthy ways in which human beings react to loss; however, Sorrow's Knot is EVEN MORE explicitly about this than most. The book focuses on Otter and her friends Kestrel and Cricket, who are all pretty sure they know what they're going to do when they grow up: Kestel is going to be a ranger, Cricket is going to become a storyteller (despite being a boy and getting a certain degree of side-eye for deciding to stay in the women's village at all -- everyone knows it's dangerous in the forest and boys don't have any power to protect themselves with, sorry boys!), and Otter is going to train with her mother Willow and Willow's teacher Tamarack to learn the very important job of being a binder, aka Person Who Stops The Dead From Coming Back And Killing Us All.

Then Tamarack dies -- and then Willow abruptly and without explanation decides she doesn't want Otter becoming a binder after all -- and then the knots that stop the dead from coming back to haunt the living begin unraveling -- and then more people die -- and then Otter and friends get to go on a road trip! It's not a super fun road trip and it unsurprisingly features several close encounters with the dead.

I really liked the worldbuilding and the slow and careful work that Bow does to build out the daily lives of the characters and the culture -- it's a North American-based world without European influence, and I'm certainly not qualified to comment on how well it's done, but to me it felt interesting and non-obvious. Also, Otter's world is almost entirely composed of women and everything revolves around Significant Mother-Daughter Relationships and it's great, although Erin Bow sadly had not yet discovered lesbians as of this book. (Though I feel like perhaps this is the book that led to her discovering lesbians? Like, I do wonder if someone came up to Erin Bow and pointed out that she'd written a matriarchal village where Actual Heterosexual Romance is explicitly rare and still somehow only featured Actual Heterosexual Romance onscreen, and Erin Bow was like 'WHOOPS OK SORRY I'LL MAKE IT UP TO YOU' and then we got The Scorpion Rules. Which, I mean, if this is the case, I guess I'm not complaining, I'm very happy to have The Scorpion Rules!)

I also really liked the importance of stories and storytelling and lore and bits and pieces of information shared and not shared, but the pacing of the way those stories are shared with the reader sometimes felt a little off to me; there were occasionally times, especially towards the end, when I felt like the book was leading me to expect a Big Reveal that had already been revealed. But, I mean, the point of the book is not really to Reveal, it's to examine grief -- and as I have mentioned above, Bow is exceptionally good on grief.
skygiants: the aunts from Pushing Daisies reading and sipping wine on a couch (wine and books)
I regret to report that Night Fall is probably the least interesting Joan Aiken book I have ever read, in large part because there is not much time for anything to happen in it -- it's like 150 pages long and I read it in the course of one round-trip public transit ride from Brighton to Chelsea. That said, Joan Aiken managed to fit PLENTY of nonsense into, for example, The Witch of Clatteringshaws which has even fewer pages, and yet contains a Loch Ness monster, an evil plastic surgeon, a golf-club-riding witch, and the rightful king of Britain, so 'too short' is clearly only half an excuse at best.

The problem is that Night Fall spends at least 50% of its pages carefully setting up Our Heroine Meg's unhappy childhood, raised by a distant and judgmental father and his even more judgmental servants after the death of her loving but irresponsible film-star mother and stepfather. The one thing her father approves of is her engagement to the extremely boring stockbroker next door, who breaks his promise to take her to study art in Paris, and does not like her cat, and it's all very psychologically stifling.

So then by the time that Meg decides to confront her psychology by running away to a tiny mountain town where she witnessed a MURDER as a SMALL INJURED CHILD there is just not room left in the book for very much to happen, although someone does attempt to murder her by leaving a giant rat in her car, which is up there as overly convoluted murder methods go.

The best part of the book however is when Meg finally confronts the villain with his crimes, and the villain laughs evilly and explains that she cannot act against him because he has stranded a hostage on a tiny cliff-ledge who will be murdered if she tells what she knows!

The hostage is her cat!!

UNDERSTANDABLY, MEG IS HELPLESS.

(Well, not exactly helpless. She eventually dives down on the cliff-ledge to rescue the cat, then has to be rescued in turn by the love interest with whom she has spent a very nice half-hour or so talking about urban renewal, and who subsequently expresses the opinion that if she had fallen off the cliff he would have thrown himself in as well, because it's True Love. This young man is clearly very desperate for other young people with whom to discuss urban renewal. Unfortunately, Meg seems to forget in the sudden upswell of affection for anyone who is not a boring stockbroker that this still gets her no closer to art school in Paris.)
skygiants: Cha Song Joo and Lee Su Hyun from Capital Scandal in a swing pose (got that swing)
I know I have talked before about how much I want a version of Guys and Dolls featuring lesbian Sky Masterson. However, at those previous times, I had not recently seen Guys and Dolls. The other night I rectified this; I made [personal profile] genarti watch the 1955 film of Guys and Dolls with me because she had never seen it.

Throughout the course of the film, it became so increasingly obvious to us, textually, that Sky Masterson was already written as a lesbian that we kept forgetting that Marlon Brando was not in fact (to the best of my knowledge) a woman. Some unconvincing pronoun alternations had perhaps been made to the script to try to pretend that Sarah/Sky is a heterosexual romance, but the truth was obvious to anyone with a discerning eye.

We have already covered "Luck Be A Lady," but, at the risk of being repetitive, here, in order of appearance, is a detailed list of all the other most lesbian moments of Guys and Dolls:

- the part where Sarah talks about how she's from Boston, which honestly should have been a first clue for all of us

- the entire song I'll Know when Sky, smirking, demands that Sarah describe the SUPER HETEROSEXUAL MAN that she fantasizes about marrying one day, and Sarah literally cannot come up with one concrete thing other than, uh, he'll smoke a pipe! like men do!
- and Sky is like "ah yes, you'll know him at once because he's wearing pants"

- the part when Sky literally pops out of a closet to provide Sarah with the Havana proposition

- the entire scene in which Sarah U-haul lesbians herself into the notion that the only way to help with all Sky's sinning is to provide Sky with constant twenty-four hour accompaniment for all that sinning

- "ask me how do I feel, little me with my quiet upbringing / well, all I can say is if I were a gate I'd be swinging"

- the part where Sky wanders into Adelaide's dressing room and Adelaide coyly remarks that she doesn't know what etiquette she ought to be using or whether it should be considered inappropriate

- the part in "Your Eyes Are The Eyes Of A Woman In Love" where Sarah in the film sings back at Sky "your eyes are the eyes of a man who's in love" with deeply awkward, forced scansion and it's clearly meant to be the two of them echoing "your eyes are the eyes of a woman in love" back at each other, the song just works infinitely better that way! come on!! THIS IS A LESBIAN MUSICAL
skygiants: ran and nijiko from 7 Seeds, looking faintly judgy (dubious lesbians)
I really wanted to like Ellen Klages' novella Passing Strange. All of its component elements should and indeed do appeal to me: San Francisco in 1940! The Golden Gate International Exhibition! Gay clubs! Communities of women! A lesbian romance between a pulp magazine cover artist and a drag cabaret singer!

All perfectly solid, a good basket of ingredients, some of which do work for me; the atmosphere is great, the historic San Francisco details and in-depth painting nerdery are delightful, the main romance is cute, but the characters did not quite land for me and neither did the magic.

My biggest problem with the characters and the character dynamics is that a lot of the dialogue is highly expository. This is fine when it's relatively obscure information like 'how fish glue works as a fixative,' but slightly more frustrating when it was things that I felt like I knew already without even having met these people, and that therefore the characters, who have met previously and do know each other well, should not have to explain to each other, i.e.:

CHARACTER A: The risks of being a professor.
CHARACTER B: I wish. I'm still just a mathematics lecturer. Seems my Ph.D. is less significant that my ovaries.

It's not that I object to the characters discussing this as a relevant fact, just that since they're both women in 1940 who hang out together all the time, I'm not sure that it should be news.

My biggest problem with the magic is very spoilery )
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (cosmia)
I have never read Dhalgren or indeed any Samuel R. Delaney. However, as of yesterday I have at least had a Dhalgren Experience, thanks to [personal profile] aamcnamara, who turned up a local theatrical-dance-music-light-'architectural puppetry' performance of something called Dhalgren: Sunrise this weekend.

Dhalgren: Sunrise is comprised of bits of text from what I assume is Dhalgren the book, accompanied by dance, light, and music, almost all of it improvised. Also, some of the music was performed on imaginary instruments. "That must be a theremin!" I thought brightly to myself on seeing one of the instruments, mostly because I don't know what a theremin looks like and therefore I assume that any instrument I don't recognize is a theremin. But it turns out it was not a theremin, because there was a credit in the program for 'invented instruments,' though I don't know whether the one I saw was the Diddly Bow, the Bass Llamelophone, or the Autospring.

Anyway, so my new understanding of Dhalgren is that it is about a city in which Weird, Fraught and Inexplicable Things Are Happening. This is not a very thorough understanding, but it's still more of an understanding than I had before. The show is composed of seven scene-vignettes:

Prelude: A brief reading of [what I assume to be] the book's introduction.

Orchid: Three women dance on a bridge and a man acquires a prosthetic hand-weapon-implement. The director at the end gave special thanks to the dude who made it, understandably so, because it very effectively exuded Aura of Sinister!

Scorpions: Gang members dance and fight in front of a building? Alien gang members? Just aliens? Anyway, some entities wrapped in glowing lights have a dance fight in front of a building; the text is from the point of view of a worried inhabitant of the building who Has Concerns.

Moons: The moon has a new secondary moon friend named George. The dancing in this section was one of my favorite bits -- the Moon did some amazing things with her light-strung hula hoop. [personal profile] aamcnamara pointed out later that the narration in this bit, which featured a wry and dubious radio announcer, seemed like a perhaps-intentional echo of Welcome to Night Vale. I have never actually listened to Welcome to Night Vale, but from my cultural osmosis knowledge this seems about right.

Fire: The light show took front and center in this bit about everything being on fire and also, simultaneously, not on fire. The maintenance man doing the narration is very plaintive about all of this. There may also have been dancing in this bit but I don't remember what anyone was doing.

Sex: The guy with the sinister prosthesis has an intimate encounter with two other people inside a blanket fort. I always like the blanket-fort method of showing sex onstage, it hints appropriately while allowing actors not to have to do anything they're uncomfortable with. At some point in this process the sinister prosthesis is removed for the first time, which I expect symbolizes something about human connection.

Sunrise: The characters who have previously just had sex emerge from the building and now seem to have a difference of opinion about whether the sunrise is just normal, or whether the earth is actually falling into the sun. Eventually all the characters are onstage being distressed, along with the music and the lighting -- again, really cool light effects here, especially the final overwhelming projection of light followed by and darkness.

It's a one-hour show without intermission, which we all agreed afterwards was for the best; the deeply weird mood and atmosphere would have been difficult to slip back into if one could get up in the middle to go to the bathroom. For those of you who have actually read Dhalgren, I will leave you with [personal profile] aamcnamara's sum-up: "It was a strange experience, but honestly could have been stranger."
skygiants: Jadzia Dax lounging expansively by a big space window (daxanova)
Our adventures with Star Wars: The Clone Wars continue! Though, alas, those of many of our clone buddies do not.

Episodes 11-20 of Season 1 under the cut )
skygiants: Drosselmeyer's old pages from Princess Tutu, with text 'rocks fall, everyone dies, the end' (endings are heartless)
I recently reread Nnedi Okorafor's Who Fears Death. It remains an onslaught of a book, although being somewhat braced for the barrage of ANGER INJUSTICE GENOCIDE GONNA DESTROY A WHOLE CITY NOW does allow a little more time to, uh, stop and appreciate the occasional non-fraught thing that happens along the way? Onyesonwu makes friends with a camel at one point! That's nice!

(...for the record, my review from 2010 seems to indicate that at the time I understood and appreciated what happened at the end. Well, good job, past self, because my present self has no idea. Spoilers ))

Anyway! Rereading Who Fears Death got me thinking about the kind of books that are constructed around an ancient lore or a knowledge of the world that turns out to be fundamentally wrong, cultures constructed around poisoned lies. The Fifth Season is the other immediate example that springs to mind of a book like this -- not that there aren't other parallels between The Fifth Season and Who Fears Death. It seems to me that I ought to be able to think of more, but since I can't I'm sure you guys can.

When I mentioned this to [personal profile] genarti, she immediately said "YA dystopia! Fallout!" and that's true, a lot of dystopias are built around a Fundamentally Flawed Premise that has been imposed upon the innocent population by a dictatorial government. Those feel a little different to me, though, maybe just because that sort of dystopia very clearly grows out of our own world. We know from the beginning how to judge truth and lies, we're WAY AHEAD of our naive heroine who believes the color blue is evil because the government put an inexplicable ban on it. But Who Fears Death, while it may be set in our future, is in a future so distant from our own that there's no particular tracing back from it, and The Fifth Season is another world altogether, and we don't have any home court advantage over the protagonists as they figure out where the lies are except a belief that something that poisonous has to be wrong; maybe that's the difference.
skygiants: Jadzia Dax lounging expansively by a big space window (daxanova)
I knew I probably should have written up A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet before I read the sequel, because I loved A Closed and Common Orbit SO MUCH that now there is no way I can do justice to the first book.

I mean, A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is certainly a lot of fun! It feels a bit more like a season of television than a novel -- very much out of that genre of beloved, relatively lighthearted crew-is-family space TV, full of aliens and semi-incidental interstellar politics, with approximately one episode dedicated to each crew member's interesting alien culture or surprise dramatic backstory as well as episodes where Everyone Just Goes On A Shopping Trip. There is a Noble Captain, a Friendly Polyamorous Lizard Alien Second-in-Command, an Earnest Financial Assistant, a Manic Mechanic, a Caring Chef Who Feeds Other Species To Compensate For The Embarrassing Genocidal Tendencies Of His Own -- ok, some of the archetypes are more archetypal than others. In the dramatic season finale, our plucky band of space truckers reaches their long-haul destination at last and becomes involved in a major diplomatic incident, the outcome of which is the one thing in the book that rubbed me slightly the wrong way ) Anyway, if you like this sort of thing, you will almost certainly like this particular thing.

I like this sort of thing all right but the things A Closed and Common Orbit is doing appeal to my id MUCH more. A Closed and Common Orbit focuses on two characters who appear relatively briefly in A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet: Sidra, an AI who, due to compelling personal circumstances but counter to interstellar law, has been installed in a designed-to-be-instinguishable-from-human artificial body; and Pepper, the mechanic who has volunteered to take on responsibility for her.

The main present-day thread of the story involves Sidra's attempts to figure out whether she can comfortably inhabit a body that she was never designed to inhabit - not just whether she can live permanently as something like an independent intelligent biological life-form without giving herself away, but whether she wants to do so. The plot is mostly comprised of small slice-of-life events like Sidra Makes A New Friend or Sidra Considers Getting A Tattoo, all interwoven into a really compelling and thoughtful examination of artificial intelligence, self-determination, and free will.

The other half the book delves into Pepper's backstory as an artificially created human being, designed to be cheap disposable labor. As a child, "Jane 23" mostly-accidentally escapes the factory where she labors, and is subsequently raised by an abandoned ship's AI in a junkyard. The backstory plot does a couple of things: a.) serves as an excellent example of the always-compellingly-readable 'half-feral child must make home in dangerous environment, survives with ingenuity and a box of scraps' genre; b.) works in dialogue with Sidra's main plotline to complicate ideas of 'human' and 'artificial' and 'purpose' and 'free will'; c.) gives me FIVE MILLION FEELINGS ABOUT AI MOMS WHO LOVE YOU. Sometimes a family is an AI mom, her genetically engineered daughter, the daughter's boyfriend, their AI roommate, and the roommate's alien friend who honestly didn't even particularly want to be there that day! AND THAT'S BEAUTIFUL.

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skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (Default)
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