skygiants: a figure in white and a figure in red stand in a courtyard in front of a looming cathedral (cour des miracles)
Some of you may recall that time I discovered a perfect lost book two years ago by a mid-century author I had never heard of and immediately decided to embark upon a quest to read everything Audrey Erskine Lindop had ever written.

This turned out to be more difficult than anticipated, but after several years, I finally found a copy of another one of her books in the wild: The Singer Not The Song (1953), which is marketed on the cover flap as a deeply intense personal struggle! for the soul of a small town! between a priest! and a bandit! "The fact that they grow to like and respect one another in the course of their conflict adds considerably to its tension and excitement!" announces the back cover flap!

"Well, that sounds like it could be PRETTY gay," thought I, "but I don't want to assume. After all, The Way to the Lantern, while AMAZING, was not notably gay."

The determined priest Father Keogh meets the bandit Malo, who loves only cats (and is rumored to turn into one at night)!

[Father Keogh] was not prepared for the beauty he saw in Malo, explains the book, and then goes on for a paragraph about his bone structure!

That night, Father Keogh has his first Intense Malo Dream:

He turned round to ask for silence and when he turned round again he had his arms about the shoulders of Malo. [...] He gave Malo his Roman collar. The sword that Malo gave him in exchange was real. He could feel the heat of Malo's cheek pressed closely against his own [...]

"OKAY," I announced to myself, and also to Twitter, "I now feel safe assuming!"

Father Keogh is determined to save the town from Malo, and also save Malo's soul; Malo is equally determined to kill Father Keogh to prevent the church from threatening his hold over the town. But, you know, in a way that shows his deep appreciation and respect, and makes all his sleazy bandit followers feel a little weird about it!

"I tell you, I know this priest."

"And I tell you you love him," Vito spat, and something like jealousy showed in his eyes.

"If I love him it's just as well," said Malo. "I might underrate him otherwise. It's a good thing to know the value of someone you're going to destroy."

Malo, for the record, is not the only one who's impressed with Father Keogh. The good father also befriends an American drunk named Sam, who loves him very much, and an local preteen named Locha, who loves him uncomfortably much. Audrey Erskine Lindop is now two for two on plotlines about adolescent girls developing awkwardly intense crushes on her protagonists -- who, to my great relief, in both cases react with HARD YIKES, but it's not my favorite plotline! I feel like Lindop is maybe working through some stuff!

(It's also worth being aware of that the book is set in Mexico and Lindop definitely steps into a few of the pitfalls that one might expect from an English author writing about Mexico in the 1950s.)

Anyway, all that said, the main focus of the book is Father Keogh and Malo's EXTREMELY INTENSE Battle Of The Soul! !! !!!

MALO: You are arrogant in this faith of yours. You cannot believe it will not win. That makes you a fool -- and it turns me into a fool for admiring you for it.

FATHER KEOGH: I believe that any risk is worth the salvation of this man's soul.

I will put further plot details under a cut so anyone who might wish to get ahold of the book (or the film! there's a film, which I haven't seen yet, but will DEFINITELY be attempting to) can experience them for themselves unspoiled, but trust me, they are GREAT.

Would I make up for a whole town of enemies? )

EXTREMELY IMPORTANT ETA: [personal profile] movingfinger has turned up a SEQUEL? in which Lindop RETCONS Father Keogh's death?? and is HAUNTED BY MALO'S GHOST???? I need help reacting to this.
skygiants: Cha Song Joo and Lee Su Hyun from Capital Scandal taking aim at each other (baby shot you down)
I have never yet watched a kdrama where I shipped everyone so nearly indiscriminately as I did in Mr. Sunshine. Part of this is the overall Les Mis doomed revolutionaries vibe, part of it is the extremely attractive cast, and part of it is just the fact that everyone is just constantly flirting at each other over deadly weapons? I don't know what to tell you.

The show is set around the time period that ends with the occupation of Korea, so you know from the start that in the broad scheme things aren't going to end well; however, the show does the thing that I most love in resistance shows, where you have a HUGE cast and literally every single minor character gets a small arc of their own in which the show is like 'I see you and respect you, French bakery owner! YOU, TOO, ARE A HERO TODAY.' Also, I don't think there's a woman in the cast who hasn't murdered somebody by the end of the show? Good job on the murder, women of Mr. Sunshine.

(I mention this not because I believe All Women Should Murder but because I've never encountered a kdrama in which even the most heroically murderous women were not narratively required to die by the end, and astoundingly, despite Mr. Sunshine's incredibly high body count, here that is just not true! AT LEAST TWO MURDEROUS WOMEN LIVE TO FIGHT ANOTHER DAY.)

Also, everyone's journey towards tragic heroism is really impeccably styled with UST radiating wildly out in twelve directions? LET'S MEET THE CAST under the cut, with many, many screencaps )
skygiants: Jadzia Dax lounging expansively by a big space window (daxanova)
I forget who on my dwlist mentioned Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, but I was intrigued by the premise: a British-Indian twentysomething seeking Fulfilling Employment signs up to teach what she thinks will be a creative writing class and what her middle-aged-to-elderly Punjabi immigrant students think will be an ESL class, which through a series of coincidences eventually morphs into an enthusiastic weekly porn-writing group.

And indeed this premise is charming, and the developing relationships between Our Very Young Very Feminist Heroine and her various students with very different experiences are interestingly drawn, and the widows' newfound enthusiasm for crafting smutty fanfiction is adorable! I did not expect there to also be a murder plot, a romance plot, and a coming-to-terms-with-your-sister's-different-life-choices plot but all these things are also happening. There is quite a lot of plot in this book, all of which somehow gets resolved through the transformative power of porn and Women Being Empowered To Ask For What They Want Out Of Sex And Relationships. Yes, even the murder plot.

There is a certain kind of literary fiction about the Transformative Power of Literature -- I just saw the Netflix Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society film so I'm thinking of that as a prime example, but it's a whole subgenre -- that often walks a fine line between being genuinely heartwarming and being a bit self-congratulatory, and Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows does indeed also walk that line and YMMV on where it falls. I will not say my heart was not warmed but I did also sometimes find myself squinting at the book going, "really, every problem was resolved by the Transformative Power of Smut? Like, every one?" EVERY ONE.
skygiants: Drosselmeyer's old pages from Princess Tutu, with text 'rocks fall, everyone dies, the end' (endings are heartless)
The thing about Naomi Mitchison's To the Chapel Perilous is that Naomi Mitchison clearly knows her Arthuriana inside and out, and has decided to do some wonderfully weird and meta things with it, and I don't understand or agree with all of what she is doing but overall I'm extremely here for it!

The plot: Lienors and Dalyn are the ace reporters covering the Grail Quest for (respectively) the Camelot Chronicle and the Northern Pict. The Camelot Chronicle is run by Merlin and heavily funded by Church dollars, although Lienors herself secretly likes to go hang out with the White Lady and the Wild Hunt in her off-hours; the Northern Pict is run by 'Lord Horny' (Satan? Cernunnos? both? UNCLEAR) and has a strong pro-Orkney slant. And Dalyn and Lienors would quite like to report the truth, ideally, and, you know, they're doing their best, but there's the matter of the sponsors and the readership and the editors are going to chop it all up in post anyway ...

After seeing a collection of knights each come out carrying different maybe-Grails, Lienors and Dalyn make the executive decision to simplify the story for the readers and write up nice, uncontroversial Galahad as the Official Grail Achiever in their reports. The rest of the book consists of their attempts to follow up on the Grail story, while all the pieces are beginning to line up around them for the fall of Camelot.

Mitchison is interested in: irreconcilable and undeniable simultaneous truths, the public and private faces of major political figures, red carpet reporting, the ties between Arthurian legends and various early religious traditions, the way commercial news impacts public policy, journalistic ethics in wartime, whether the existence of a Cauldron of Plenty renders the human condition meaningless, and cute romances between rival reporters (extra cute in a when you learn that her daughter and son-in-law worked as reporters for rival papers! MITCHISON SHIPS IT.)

Some specific character and grail spoilers )

Anyway, I am now all fired up about Arthurian meta, please tell me:

- your favorite weird work of Arthurian fiction
- your best-beloved Arthurian character
- your most important Unpopular Arthurian Opinion/Hot Take

Also if you have any good recs for interesting Arthurian scholarship, please let me know! I now desperately want to read a compare-contrast between The Once And Future King and To The Chapel Perilous focusing on Arthuriana as political allegory in postwar Britain, so ... you know .... if you've got one up your sleeve .......
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (Default)
My roommate has a copy of Stephen Puleo's Dark Tide, the one full-length history book about the Boston Molassacre, which I'd been meaning to read ever since last month's centenary and therefore decided to use as my Space Opera detox.

It's a solid and well-researched account of the disaster, covering the period of time from the initial construction of the giant molasses tank through the end of the court case to determine who was responsible for the tank's destruction and subsequent massive amounts of death, with detours into the munitions market during WWI, the Boston anarchist movement, the Harding presidency, and the big business boom of the early 1920s.

It also has an unfortunate tendency to do the thing, you know that history book thing, where it's like "March 15, 1916: heart-rending scene in which several people who three years later will be devastated by the molasses flood think uneasily about the new tank in their neighborhood, and also about Boston's changing socioeconomic demographics, and then have a conversation about molasses." Don't give me that, Stephen Puleo! If you want me to believe someone had a specific thought or a specific conversation on a specific date, I want a footnote and a source I can trace back; otherwise, talk in broader generalities and leave novelistic internal monologues for the novelists.

On the other hand, all the novelistic internal monologues does provide a LOT of opportunities for beautifully creepy horror-movie descriptions of molasses, which I DO approve of very much:

As Isaac straddled the pipe and gripped the flange to examine the bolts, he could almost hear the molasses shifting and wriggling in the pipe, could feel it wriggling inside, like a long thick worm inching towards its home. Behind him he heard something else, an unnatural wail that sent a chill through him that had nothing to do with the weather. He tried to shut his ears to the groan and the long roll of rumbling that came from inside the molasses tank. But it was no use...

OK, well played, Steven King, I TOO feel the unearthly horror of two million tons of molasses poised to unleash destruction on an unsuspecting city.

Puleo also gets a bit hagiographic about judge Hugh W. Ogden, who eventually decided the case in favor of the claimants and against the USIA corporation that built the bank, which: a good decision! I approve of it! I don't think we needed several approving chapters about how Ogden's experience in the war and opinions about how the country needed a good dose of military discipline etc. and how all that probably maybe influenced his decision-making, but of course YMMV.

My sympathies were however very effectively engaged with Isaac Gonzalez, general man-on-call at the tank, who historical record shows not only attempted many, many times to warn the company about issues with the tank but also stressed about it so much that he went on daily 1 AM cross-town runs just to make sure everything was OK and the tank hadn't exploded in the middle of the night.

(The incident that both I and everyone involved in the court case considered most infuriating:

ISAAC GONZALEZ: the tank is leaking! everyone can see it leak! children come steal molasses from the leaks! WE ALL KNOW IT'S BAD!
CORPORATE USIA: .... ok! ok. we have heard and listened to your concerns.
CORPORATE USIA: We will therefore paint the tank brown so it's harder for people to see it leaking.)

Anyway then I rewatched the Drunk History episode about the Molassacre and got mad about how they attributed all of Isaac Gonzalez's attempts to warn the company to a random firefighter played by Jason Ritter and didn't name Gonzalez ONCE, so I clearly learned something from this book! Despite my frustrations with the writing style, an overall solid read and resource.
skygiants: Sophie from Howl's Moving Castle with Calcifer hovering over her hands (a life less ordinary)
Last month I reread Nnedi Okorafor's Akata Witch for book club, and then I remembered that Akata Warrior was out now so I read that too, and it turns out it is (imo) a better book than Akata Witch which is already pretty fun.

Akata Witch introduces Sunny Nwazue, an albino Nigerian-American adolescent who discovers after moving back to Nigeria that she's part of a parallel magical society known as Leopard People. The story follows some fairly standard beats - Bullied Kid Discovers She's Secretly Magic, Makes Team of Magic Friends, Plays Magic Sports, Finds Magic Mentor, Defeats Magic Evil. It also follows some non-standard beats; for example, when Sunny finds a guidebook on How To Navigate Magic Land As An Outsider With Non-Magic Parents -- a guidebook which provides both Sunny and the reader a lot of helpful worldbuilding information -- she learns several chapters later about all the prejudices held by the guidebook's author that means everything within it has to be taken with a grain of salt. Nnedi Okorafor's interest in biased narrators and unreliable texts is something I consistently appreciate about her.

Akata Warrior is better, or at least more interesting to me, because it engages a lot more with Sunny's non-magical family (whom she's not allowed to tell about her magic powers) and the in-between-ness of her attempts to live with one foot in each world. In particular I am REALLY FOND of her stupid jock oldest brother, who gets into stupid jock trouble at college from which Sunny has to rescue him -- I love sibling stories in pretty much every configuration, but 'little sister rescues dumb older brother from his own own stupidity' is not a situation I feel like I see particularly often in fiction, and it is both refreshing and delightful.


...and then Sunny and her friends defeat some more magic evil, in a magic battle that's a bit cooler than the magic battle in the last book and also features the gang making friends with an asshole flying animal companion, which is all good but honestly the squabbling magical road trip is a thousand percent what I'm here for.

(I am less thrilled about the endless love triangle between Sunny's brother and her friends Chichi and Sasha (the brilliant hothead members of the party), but on the other hand Sunny is ALSO so annoyed by it all the time that it makes her a very relatable narrator?)
skygiants: Utena huddled up in the elevator next to a white dress; text 'they made you a dress of fire' (pretty pretty prince(ss))
I watched all of Russian Doll! I liked it!

Q: Russian Doll is that Groundhog Day sort of thing on Netflix, right?
A: That is indeed the general trope, yeah! Except with a lot more death and psychological deconstruction. You probably got all that from the trailer.

Q: OK, so why did you like it?
A: Can I answer that by comparing it to other things I like?
Q: .... sure? Will that be helpful?
A: Okay, so Russian Doll sits somewhere in the middle of a spectrum of shows about surreal snowglobe worlds full of extremely real-feeling people bouncing off each other's pain points until they form enough of a connection to push through the things that have been keeping them stagnant, with The Good Place on one end and Utena on the other.
Q: What do the points on that spectrum represent?
A: Sitcom and surrealist anime. Next question.
Q: ... that's not a spectrum though? Russian Doll is very emphatically not animated?
A: Yeah and also Russian Doll is actually probably the third point of a genre triangle representing 'the cable version with lots of cursing and casual sex', this is a bad analogy, anyway I said next question.

Q: Did you also say at some point that Russian Doll has the same energy as a Frances Hardinge book?
A: I definitely did! It totally does!
Q: ... how?? Frances Hardinge writes children's books???
A: List partially sourced from [personal profile] nextian: heavy parental stuff, terrible/amazing female protagonists, unclassifiable friendships between opposite-gender people who aren't very good at the whole concept, creepy fruit, girls consuming/disgorging horrifying objects...
Q: Not all Frances Hardinge books are like this though? Really just The Lie Tree is like this. What you're really saying is this show is just kind of like The Lie Tree.
A: Not so! Also Skinful of Shadows, A Face Like Glass, kind of Fly By Night? And the creepy objects are Cuckoo Song and -
Q: Wait, I thought this was a post about Russian Doll? Are you just trying to get me to read a bunch of Frances Hardinge now?
A: Yes, obviously! Always!

Q: MOVING ON. Speaking of heavy parental stuff and psychologically complex people, can you talk about Russian Doll's handling of mental illness?
A: I super am not qualified to talk about that but I very much hope somebody else does!

Q: Okay, but does any of this actually explain why you like Russian Doll?
A: I guess I just really like stories that treat human connection as the miracle it kind of is?
Q: Also you just like things that are weird enough to get stuck in your brain and irritate it like a grain of sand in an oyster shell while still feeling deeply grounded in relatably petty human concerns.
A: This also is true.
Q: And you like the soundtrack.
skygiants: Jareth, from Labyrinth, with his hands to his cheeks as he gasps (le gasp)
Okay, so Space Opera is a bit like Cat Valente wrote a book, and then ran it through a Douglas Adams filter, and then looked at the output and ran it through the Douglas Adams filter again but this time set to word-density=(2x), and then ran it back through a very light Cat Valente filter and dunked it in three layers of glitter and presented it to the world.

It's ... I don't think I disliked it? I probably liked it more than most Cat Valente I've read since The Orphan's Tales, on account of the fact that it doesn't feel like a less-interesting-to-me version of The Orphan's Tales and instead feels like Douglas Adams writing a sequel to Pratchett's Soul Music, but in space. It is A LOT, though. I don't think I'd ever quite realized that plain text on a page could approximate the sensation of complete sensory overload, but this book definitely does it. And it absolutely means to do it! There's a disco ball on the front cover, that's all part of the point, but like ... I'm pretty boring actually? I've never sampled mind-altering substances beyond alcohol? I don't actually go to discos very often? I haven't built up the stamina for this much glitterpunk.

The plot? The plot. Technically, there is a plot! Space Eurovision happens! Two Washed-Up Former Rock Star Humans Must Represent Humanity At Space Eurovision And Not Completely Lose ... OR WE ALL DIE! This plot advances precisely every other chapter; in the interim chapters, some more Space Eurovision happens, generally consisting of a lengthy satirical description of a weird alien culture and concluding with something like 'and the Googledyplexes won that year by vomiting up a horde of tiny singing butterflies who hovered in front of the eyes of every spectator and disgorged hallucinogenic spores that made them feel something magical.'

It's all very impressively inventive! Cat Valente's Imagination could probably power a nuclear plant on its own. Not infrequently I felt a bit like I was starting to drown under the sheer weight of intense space fabulism being thrown at me and had to flail around desperately for a single spar of a simple simile-free sentence to keep myself afloat, but, you know, that's not an unfamiliar part of the Valente Experience nor yet the Douglas Adams experience ... but I do feel a bit like I need to go detox with some extremely terse prose and a cup of black tea.
skygiants: Fakir from Princess Tutu leaping through a window; text 'doors are for the weak' (drama!!!)
A few months ago I agreed to trade [personal profile] littlerhymes some endearingly mediocre published Arthurian fanfic in exchange for a dealer's choice Dick Francis novel.

This turned out to be Flying Finish, which is about PLANES and SMUGGLING and BIRTH CONTROL PILLS and maybe also TERRORISTS?

Our Hero Henry Gray is a very reserved, buttoned-up, socially awkward lord's heir who one day decides his life is meaningless and subsequently scandalizes his entire family by going and getting a manual job helping to ship horses back and forth from the UK. I liked him very much, although I did start snickering a little meanly to myself whenever he started explaining sadly to somebody else about how the aristocracy are very oppressed! everyone judges them by their titles and nice normal people don't wish to be friends with them and sometimes they get bullied at work for this accident of birth that they just can't help! THAT'S ROUGH, BUDDY.

But, that aside, I really enjoyed Henry's story of learning to Be A Person Who Has Emotions And Likes Himself. I also liked Henry's love interest, Gabriella, who runs the airport gift shop and as a sideline smuggles birth control pills into the country, but I was a little disappointed that they literally fell in love at first sight; I always feel a little cheated by that, but especially when the protagonists are both characters I'm interested in and ESPECIALLY when at least one of them has poor social skills that would make it challenging, because I want to see how they manage to connect with each other and having it happen at first sight skips over all the most interesting-to-me parts!

BUT ANYWAY, the actual plot: several people who work at Henry's company have disappeared, and also there's one asshole coworker who keeps beating Henry up for no reason, and at first Henry's like 'it's probably just a class thing, that thing where people bully you at work sometimes for an aspect of your identity that you had no choice about, which in this case is that you are a member of the landed gentry?'


(As a sidenote, asshole coworker is a very intense vaguely sociopathic nineteen-year-old with a chip on his shoulder and carefully described pretty, almost androgynous features and in, say, an Ellen Kushner book his initial physical clashes with Henry would possibly have gone a VERY different way. I'm just saying.)

It takes Henry about 60% of the book to get around to investigating it though because he's busy falling in love at first sight, and trying to juggle his job and his family and his hobby of flying airplanes and his surprise new Italian girlfriend and his own personal growth, and honestly, that's all fair. It's a lot of extracurriculars to balance before he gets around to the stoic suffering and grimly determined action heroics involving planes and horses!
skygiants: Clopin from Notre-Dame de Paris; text 'sans misere, sans frontiere' (comment faire un monde)
I also made a vid for Festivids!

Title: Lockdown
Fandom: Underground (TV)
Music: Love Lockdown by Kanye West
Summary: Keep your love locked down ... you lose
(warnings for fast/stuttery cuts, graphic violence, and traumatic themes)

AO3 | Tumblr

Honestly, making and posting this vid stressed me out maybe more than any other fanwork I have ever created. Underground is an amazing show and Noah and Cato are such incredibly rich, complex characters and I was terrified of not doing that justice -- and I still don't think I actually did, but I'm glad I continued with it and finished it anyway, because the process gave me new perspective on the show and their arcs that I didn't have before beginning it.

Anyway if you're thinking of watching the show I promise it's really astoundingly good and there are some more optimistic elements in it so please don't take this vid as a guide ... to its entirety ....
skygiants: Jupiter from Jupiter Ascending, floating over the crowd in her space prom gown (space princess)
I'm so pleased with my gift for this year's Festivids! I got The Journey, a really well-edited vid which gets at a ton of what I find so fascinating about the 1956 version of Anastasia - the dense atmosphere and deep psychological ambiguity of it.

So you should all take three minutes out of your life to watch that, and then if you have some more vid-watching time to spare here under the wire before reveals tomorrow are a few other things from the collection that I liked:

Goodbye, a gorgeously creepy vid for The Innocents (which is a 1961 movie based on The Turn of the Screw, for those unfamiliar)

Tail As Old As Time, My Cat From Hell, THEY'RE ALL GOOD CATS

Glass Coffins, a Carmen Sandiego Classic vid that is beautifully full of HIGH DRAMA and yet also somehow poignant??

All Star, The Good Place, an absolute standout featuring Manny Jacinto's absolutely standout face

Ninefox, a beautifully weird and wonderful book vid that does a stellar job capturing the beautifully weird and wonderful Machineries of Empire books

A whole slew of really delightful Ocean's 8 vids, but I'm going to call out (Don't See) Too Many Rivals Now for having the coolest arc and cutting, and Lift for making the visuals feel fresh after watching four other vids

In Another Life, a Ginger Snaps vid that fills me with jealousy for extremely successfully vidding the one Vienna Teng song I would never have been able to figure out how to vid to

Supernova, which is very much the kind of vid I hoped someone would make out of the Wrinkle in Time film

Little Bit More, just a really well-done vid that showcases all the things that one likes about Killing Eve if one likes Killing Eve

Prove It On Me, a paean to the most dapper lesbian in Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries

Dance To Another Tune, which makes me want to watch the rest of the first season of The Runaways

smile (the worst is yet to come), which suffused me with fond Dead Like Me nostalgia

Sisters of the Moon, a love letter to the heroines of Hidden Figures

Miss Me With The Bullshit, which I have watched multiple times already despite the fact that I've never seen The Expanse because the character has such a good face

And relatedly, Soldier definitely depicts a perfect lesbian soldier/politician show that I tragically suspect is not quite what The Expanse actually is

However, I get the feeling that Crazy, Classic Life is very much what the actual show Pose is and I'm one thousand percent here for it -- this vid is just beautiful

And now I have to go fall over but there's a whole bunch of other great stuff in the collection as well that I didn't have time to shout out!
skygiants: pearl from SU, looking suspiciously down the length of a sword (terrifying renegade pearl)
largely c/ped from a comment I made over on [personal profile] kate_nepveu's journal because I want to hear everyone's thoughts: so what does everyone think is going to happen in Steven Universe s6 after, uh, all that?

I have my list, it has some spoilers )
skygiants: Jupiter from Jupiter Ascending, floating over the crowd in her space prom gown (space princess)
I never got around to posting about the first two books in Alyssa Cole's Reluctant Royals series last year when I read them, and felt a bit about it, but actually it's all for the best because now I've read her newest novella in the series and it is by far my favorite one so I can talk about it with unreserved enthusiasm!

The project of the Reluctant Royals series is "fun princess wish-fulfillment starring black women," which is a project I respect even when the actual romances leave me a little bit cold.

The first book, A Princess in Theory, features struggling grad student Naledi who turns out to be the long-lost betrothed of the prince of Thesolo, a small and relatively idyllic made-up African country (that according to [personal profile] sophia_sol is loosely based on the country of Lesotho about which I know nothing.) Naledi discovers her long-lost family! and helps to solve a conspiracy! and gets funding for a fellowship! and I'm very happy for her even though I don't care all that much about her prince boyfriend, who is not terrible but is also not particularly great?

A Duke By Default worked for me a bit better -- this one is some enjoyable Scottish nonsense in which struggling socialite Portia decides to go to Scotland for a SWORD MAKING fellowship, and then finds out that the swordmaker is a SECRET DUKE'S HEIR, and then they strategize how to use his dukedom to help fight income inequality and gentrification while Portia learns how to cope with her ADHD! Again, the romance itself didn't quite hit all the right beats for me but I liked most of the other elements enough not to mind, although I would have liked a few more actual swords in this book that's hypothetically about swordmaking (there were some swords? But mostly the swords were overshadowed by small business design and social media development, which is cool and all except that I was promised swords!)

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy, the novella that's just come out, is a significant departure from both of these stories in that a.) lesbians! and b.) it's not really tropey nonsense at all? The former always meant that I was going to love it more; the latter is probably not related to my enjoyment, I would have loved tropey nonsense too, but it's a very different sort of story.

The protagonists of this one are Likotsi, the extremely dapper gay PA of the prince in the first book, and Fabiola, an aspiring NYC jewelry designer and internet style icon who briefly dated and then dumped her back in first-book timeline. The novella kicks off when they encounter each other by chance half a year later and spend a day wandering around New York City, with the present-day chapters unfolding through Likotsi's POV and the past from Fabiola's as we learn about the stuff that was going on in her life at the time that led her to decide that she wasn't up for a relationship. (The fact that Fab is from a Haitian immigrant family, and the place and time is contemporary New York, plays a significant role in that.)

The whole novella feels a bit like an indie movie -- one of those slow romantic films that acts as a love letter to its two-person cast and the city that it's set in -- and honestly I would watch that movie in a heartbeat, especially since it would give us visual representations of all of Likotsi and Fabiola's lovingly-described outfits. But as we're sadly unlikely to get a film, the book will also fill the purpose very nicely.
skygiants: shiny metal Ultraman with a Colonel Sanders beard and crown (yes minister)
The Last Days of New Paris is ... maybe the most China Miéville book I have ever read? It is honestly self-parody levels of Miéville. I would believe, in fact, that some other writer created the entire thing as an elaborate practical joke on Miéville.

The plot: sometime in 1941, in the middle of WWII, Paris is accidentally exploded by a metaphysical idea-bomb and becomes a locked-down, constantly embattled zone where the living manifestations of Surrealist art and writing wreak havoc on the leftover Nazis. Meanwhile, the leftover Nazis have raised some sad demons to wreak havoc on the leftover Resistance.

...that's it, that's the book. There's some variety of plot involving a Resistance member teaming up with an infiltrator who's wandering Paris with a camera to catch snapshots of all the manifestations (including a line about having to catch them all that made me literally put down the book a moment and stare at the wall in outrage because OF COURSE a reference to Pokemon Snap, POKEMON IS ALSO SURREALIST ART, I GUESS, WHY NOT), and a Nazi plot to create or suborn the manifestations for its own purposes, but mostly it's just an excuse to lovingly describe the battle techniques of Dali paintings and famous Exquisite Corpses.

Miéville is always a little bit like this no matter what he's writing -- his worldbuilding is deeply surrealist in general -- but this time he gets to back it up with endless references and cameos by obscure historical figures and he is clearly having the best time in his life. Personally I felt a bit like I was being constantly bombarded with in-jokes I wasn't getting rather than actually absorbing any kind of story matter, so it left me somewhat cold, but that's fine! Write for yourself!

I did appreciate the index in back, and the entire book was worth it for the mention of the Société de Gévaudan, which apparently was a Resistance group, based in a psychiatric hospital, composed of avant-garde psychiatrists, philosophers, and patients, working collaboratively to organize weapon drops and an underground publishing house during the Occupation WHILE ALSO attempting to pursue new and more beneficial therapeutic techniques. Miéville (writing in-character as The Author China Miéville who has been told this story about New Paris by a Mysterious Personage): The facts are extraordinary enough in our timeline. But of all the untold stories of the world of New Paris, it is about the actions of the Société de Gévaudan that I would like to know more. Yes, I one thousand percent agree? Please tell me more??

I have attempted to verify Miéville's summary of the Société's activities but most Google-able sources appear to be in French and thus require more time for me to decipher, so further investigation will have to wait until a time when I'm not supposed to be getting ready for work!
skygiants: Mary Lennox from the Secret Garden opening the garden door (garden)
I've been on vacation for three days now and it has been largely wonderful! I got to celebrate [personal profile] raven's birthday at brunch with [personal profile] happydork and [personal profile] such_heights and various others, and get dinner with [personal profile] aella_irene, and today [personal profile] innerbrat and I have arrived in Amsterdam and got frites and fondue and free cider (not all at once) and also did some museuming!

Also, yesterday [personal profile] innerbrat and I went to go see a show called The Wider Earth at the Natural Science Museum in London, because Debi used to work there and I'm always intrigued by the notion of 'weird theater with puppets.'

I wasn't at all sure whether this was going to be a Play or an Informational Travelogue About Darwin's Naturalist Adventures, but it was very definitely a Play and overall one that we were glad we decided to see! The puppetry for the various creatures that Darwin encounters on his voyage is legitimately gorgeous - here's a trailer that gives something of a taste - and the music was ... charmingly unsubtle? Okay, imagine basically Ariel singing her "aaaah-ahhh-ahhhhhh" in Disney's The Little Mermaid, except instead it's a tenor, and that's the Music of Scientific Wonder and Romance that plays in the background every time Darwin is doing something important.

Which is appropriate really because Darwin himself is very much played as a puppy-eyed Disney Science Prince, who just wants the opportunity to become the naturalist that he knows he is inside! Early on he goes and flings himself down woefully at [future wife] Emma's feet:

EMMA: We've been protesting for the abolition of slavery!
DARWIN: Yes and talking of slavery, my FATHER is PRACTICALLY keeping me a slave in the house --
[personal profile] innerbrat and I: [look at each other with YIKES faces]

BUT IN FACT, much to our surprise, this turns out to be foreshadowing, as the show goes on to lean pretty hard into issues of slavery and colonialism and how those things are intertwined with the nineteenth-century theological worldview that the advance of scientific knowledge is in the process of disrupting!

This is voiced most prominently through the character of Robert Fitzroy, captain of the Beagle, who --

-- okay, so we hit the intermission, and the very first thing that [personal profile] innerbrat did was go search the AO3 to see if anybody had already written Charles Darwin/Captain Fitzroy RPF. (Nobody has.) The thing is, first of all, Puppy-Dog Eyes Disney Science Prince Darwin and Angsty Captain Fitzroy are both cast quite hot (Fitzroy's the visibly angsty one here), and second of all, the soundtrack insists on cuing up the Music of Scientific Wonder and Romance for all their positive interactions, and third of all, they spend the entire show having intense philosophical arguments and then making up, and throwing their arms around each other during life-threatening storms, and then Fitzroy names a mountain after Darwin, and then Darwin's like "I see you're having a crisis of conscience and are going to resign your commission, so I've decided that this time ashore is dedicated to inspiring YOU, specifically, by proving that I, specifically, can make it Meaningful! Look, I brought you a seashell!" and various Significant Repetitions of "I respect you even though I know in my heart that you're wrong!"

... however, as hilarious as is this show's earnest commitment to Emotional Tension On The Good Ship Beagle, I do think we are probably by this point well past "We Can Respect This Man For His Strong Beliefs While Knowing They're Wrong" when those strong beliefs are Ah, Yes, The White Man's Burden.

Still, I do remain impressed that this one-off show about Darwin at the Natural Science Museum did emphasize the topics and the historical beliefs of the people involved; I also liked the way the show left space for the story of Jemmy Button, the native Fuegian essentially kidnapped by Fitzroy for the purpose of "civilization" who's being returned to Terra del Fuego on the Beagle to start a mission there, and gives that character voice and opportunity to complicate the things that are being said about and around him.

...and for the record, Jemmy is also cast very hot, and has a number of quite significant scenes with Puppy-Dog Eyes Disney Science Prince Darwin before vanishing from the production in accordance with his historical return to Tierra del Fuego, so if you want shipboard romance for Disney Science Prince Darwin that isn't a hot but extremely Victorian Racist sea captain there is an alternative.

(My actual favorite scene, though, is probably when Puppy-Dog Eyes Disney Science Prince Darwin attempts to cheer up the ship's priest from a crisis of faith by explaining to him the proto-theory of natural selection, and then is utterly taken aback when this instead traumatizes the priest to his core. YOU TRIED, DISNEY SCIENCE PRINCE DARWIN.)
skygiants: Fakir from Princess Tutu leaping through a window; text 'doors are for the weak' (drama!!!)
I enjoyed Rebecca Roanhorse's Trail of Lightning very much and I would like to give especial kudos to the cover artist, because you take one look at the cover and you're like "okay, so what ARE the key genre factors about this book's protagonist? Well, I can tell right off that she has Cool Weapons and a Black Leather Jacket and a Car, all of which signify that she's probably a loner with an amazing powerset and a tragic backstory and a chip on her shoulder and, like, a lot of time spent fighting supernatural creatures in low-settled areas and then driving angstily off because Does She Bring the Darkness or Does the Darkness Bring Her --"

And, yes, one hundred percent that's the kind of book this is, perfectly executed example of the genre, well done to both Rebecca Roanhorse and whoever designed the book.

I did not actually get from the cover the final plot element of "also she has a love interest who's a supernaturally charming flashy healer boy with the exact opposite personality and skillset to her dark and broody murder powers," but honestly I really should have because it makes perfect structural sense.

The book takes place in post-apocalyptic Dinétah, traditional lands of the Navajo people; the worldbuilding runs on a mix of Diné lore and post-apocalyptic Americana all bound together with some good old urban-road-fantasy Cars And Black Leather Jackets tropey grease. (For the record, the Cars and Black Leather stuff is not always my particular jam, and if I hadn't gone in well primed by the cover I might not have enjoyed it as much as I did, which is why I'm taking the time to call it out!)

I honestly didn't follow the plot a hundred percent of the time -- there were definitely a couple moments where I sort of squinted at everyone heading off for the mandated Next Thing trying to figure out why the characters were so sure that it was the inevitable Next Thing -- but the book was super readable and I'll happily continue with the next one.
skygiants: Clopin from Notre-Dame de Paris; text 'sans misere, sans frontiere' (comment faire un monde)
C.L.R. James' The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution is well worth reading for a multitude of reasons, but I have to give a shout out above all things to the amazing bibliography. A representative quote, on R. Coupland's Wilberforce (London 1923) and The British Anti-Slavery Movement (London 1933): Both these books are typical for, among other vices, their smug sentimentality, characteristic of the final approach of Oxford scholarship to abolition. As the official view, they can be recommended for their thorough misunderstanding of the question. AND NOT A SINGLE PUNCH WAS PULLED THAT DAY. I took some pictures of other choice quotes and every time I look through them it fills me with joy to the bottom of my heart.

ANYWAY. The history of the Haitian revolution is incredibly fascinating on its own merits - I did know that was the only successful slave revolt of its era, but I didn't really have a great sense of the complex relationship between Haiti (or San Domingue, as it was then called) and France in that ten-year period between the French Revolution and the ascent of Napoleon, when slavery was all-too-briefly abolished and the question of independence vs faithful adherence to a then-revolutionary motherland still very much up in the air. The difficulty in trying to make political decisions based on the vacillations of an ongoing revolution taking place across an entire ocean, when any choice you make might already have been invalidated by something that happened three weeks ago that you have no way to know about -- I can't even imagine, and James does an extremely good job of conveying the sheer chaos of events, and the incredible achievement that the revolution was in spite of all attendant tragedies.

(James overall reads to me as both a generous and fair-minded writer; although Toussaint L'Ouverture is the central and most heroic figure of his narrative, he's careful to point out his mistakes, and equally careful to consider the merits of his enemies. For example, on Andre Rigaud, a rival of Toussaint's who overall sided with the white French: The waste, the waste of all this bravery, devotion and noble feeling on the corrupt and rapacious bourgeois who were still, in the eyes of the misguided Rigaud, the banner-bearers of liberty and equality.)

But James' text is also fascinating on a second level,having been written in a specific time with a specific project in mind. The book was first published in 1938, as the world teetered on the verge of World War II; the edition I read was published in 1963, and included an appendix on the Cuban Revolution. James' project is very explicitly radical, his primary intended audience those who are working towards the the decolonization of Africa and the West Indies, and as a result nearly every page forces you to think about history not as a series of disconnected events but as a long continuity of circumstances and collisions that have all impacted each other to create the world we live in today. As the first book I read this year, I suspect it's going to resonate through the rest of it.

In other news, now that [personal profile] shati and I have both read this book, we are desperate to find a copy of the 2012 French bioic starring Jimmy Jean-Louis, as yet unreleased in the US and available for purchase only for the princely sum of $99.99, so if anybody happens to have a lead on where to acquire it please do let us know!
skygiants: Chauvelin from the Scarlet Pimpernel looking enormously cranky (pissyface)
The most interesting thing about Lord Tony's Wife, the fifth Scarlet Pimpernel book, is how the book's villain-of-the-week is absolutely another book's antihero.

In the first chapter, we are introduced to Pierre Adet, a fiery young peasant who unfortunately jumps the gun and attempts to kick off the Revolution like a week too early.

PIERRE ADET: The Duc has unjustly murdered my brother-in-law for poaching on his land! Come, fellow peasants, let's seize the means of production!
THE DUC: I do not care about these peasants EXCEPT that my beautiful daughter Yvonne is on her way home from a friend's house and might run into difficulties with all these angry peasants blocking the road...
YVONNE'S DRIVER: My lady, there are a lot of peasants blocking the road, what should we do?

And thus with whip and tongue they urged their horses to break through the crowd regardless of human lives, knocking and trampling down men and lads heedless of curses and blasphemies.

Yvonne is, of course, our virtuous heroine who never did anything wrong in her entire life )
skygiants: Nellie Bly walking a tightrope among the stars (bravely trotted)
As of today, I have now seen all of NBC's Timeless, including the finale movie that adorably attempts to wrap up in two hours plotlines that were clearly intended to carry through an entire third season by giving all the protagonists access to a journal that spoils them for half the planned-out personal angst, thus allowing them to skip over it entirely.

Now complete, Timeless consists of two seasons and the aforementioned finale movie, in which an Unlikely Team composed of a soldier with a dead wife and manpain, a perennially anxious nerdy tech genius, and a professor who knows the entirety of American history well enough to identity the historical significance of 95% of the random dates spat out at her over the course of the plot bop through time attempting to stop a rogue agent from destroying history in order to save his dead family, except halfway through the first season it turns out that actually the rogue agent is just a distraction from the evil white supremacist cult that's really trying to control history.

The showwriters are clearly doing their very best to be Woke And Accurate about history; they don't always succeed but their attempts are nonetheless very charming!

Personal favorite episodes include:

- the one where the team is supposed to make sure Lincoln's assassination happens as per the historical record and the one black team member is like "uhhh do we have to though?"

- the one where they are forced to kidnap Harry Houdini, but it's fine because a.) he's extremely adorable and b.) he helps them thwart H.H. Holmes

- the one where they have to save Charles Lindbergh, but then they remember that Charles Lindbergh grows up to be a fascist, and then they're like "maybe we can change history just enough to talk him into being not a fascist!" (They cannot. But they do get to hang out with Josephine Baker!)

- the one where they meet Lucy the historian's grandfather expecting him to be evil, but really he's just sad and gay

- the one where Benjamin Franklin's mom is the secret feisty heroine of the Salem Witch Trials

- the one where Teen JFK accidentally travels to the future and goes to a house party

- the one where the villains try to assassinate Robert Johnson to remove rock-and-roll and the counterculture revolution from the timeline

- the one where Alice Paul gets framed! for murder!!!

- the one where Harriet Tubman's future visions tell her the team can be trusted!

- the one where the gang thinks they've got to save Reagan's life but it turns out that that's irrelevant and they're really there to make absolutely sure that their very lesbian boss' younger self (played by Princess Isabella from Galavant!) doesn't get talked into heterosexuality with tragic consequences for the fate of the universe
skygiants: the aunts from Pushing Daisies reading and sipping wine on a couch (wine and books)
OK, last post I'll make today, I promise, but here's my annual books read post for 2018!

As always, I would hypothetically like to post in the future about everything on this list that I haven't talked about yet, and as always it's probably not going to happen, so if you would like me to talk about anything in particular drop a comment here and I will either prioritize it for a near-future post or expound upon it in a reply.

Books read, 2018 )

Definitely fewer books than last year, but more of them were new; only twelve rereads, which meant 105 new-to-me books, which is actually significantly more than last year! But of the new-to-me a significant chunk of those were the books I was chugging through on airplanes, including the Scarlet Pimpernel books, and the Ngaio Marsh mysteries, and all the many romance novels on this year's list. I definitely read more romance this year than any previous year, which I don't mind, but would like to have read more of other things as well. And I'm pretty sure only nine nonfiction books, despite all my resolve. More in the coming year!


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

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