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.
skygiants: the Phantom of the Opera, reaching out (creeper of the opera)
Catching a chunk of the Tony Awards the other night (bless Bette Midler, who WILL NOT BE SILENCED) reminded me that I never wrote up Razzle Dazzle: The Battle for Broadway, a nonfiction account of (primarily) the Shubert Organization, Broadway's largest theater-owning company, with stopovers into the offices of other leading Broadway financiers along the way.

The book starts out with Broadway ticket-scalping scandals, jumps back to a overview of the lives of the original Shubert brothers, and lays out the drama of various generations of hard-partying Shuberts eventually being ousted by Responsible, Respectable Lawyers Jerry Schoenfeld and Bernie Jacobs.

Then Michael Bennett, legendary choreographer of A Chorus Line, enters the picture and the whole book gets sort of carried off by him for a while. A great deal of page space is devoted to the psychodramatic relationship between Bennett and Jacobs -- as recounted in this book, a wildly unhealthy pseudo-father-son dynamic in which Jacobs constantly attempted to ensure Bennett's emotional and financial dependence on Jacobs while Bennett was constantly attempting to break away and BE A PRODUCER ON HIS OWN, DAD. An excerpt featuring further Michael Bennett drama, including one of history's most melodramatic Tony Awards, is up in Vanity Fair for the curious.

And then it's Andrew Lloyd Webber and Andrew Lloyd Webber and Andrew Lloyd Webber, alongside an in-depth discussion of the various political and financial campaigns that eventually led to the Disneyfication of Broadway after its days of 1970s sleaze, and that brings us about up to the present day.

It's an interesting, rather gossippy account of the money, organizational politics, and personal quirks that underlie the eventual decisions about what makes it onto a theater stage; I read the whole thing and then left it in the airbnb I was staying in when I finished it, because I felt I had taken what I wanted from it and couldn't really imagine wanting to read it again. It's certainly interesting to know how the sausage is made, but it's occasionally a bit depressing to look at Broadway largely from the perspective of the people for whom profit is the most important consideration.
skygiants: (wife of bath)
I feel at this point that I'm sort of playing a long-term drinking game with Joan Aiken: every time an inexplicable Arthurian reference shows up out of nowhere in her fiction, immediately go to the nearest repository of alcohol and grab a bottle!

...although to be honest last night was just a really good night for drinking a beer and reading an entire [personal profile] rachelmanija-recommended Regency Gothic on the porch, and I didn't think of the drinking game angle until this morning. Also, the Arthurian references in The Five-Minute Marriage pretty much limit themselves to unusual naming conventions and are honestly the least weird I've ever encountered in Aiken. The Five-Minute Marriage overall is really only about as weird as, say, a particularly madcap Georgette Heyer. Not a murderous beehive, exploding can of soup, or immortal Queen Guinevere in sight!

Our Heroine is Philadelphia Elaine Carteret, an impoverished Regency music teacher struggling to maintain herself and her ailing, amiably confused mother, who of course happens to be a DISINHERITED DAUGHTER OF THE GREAT HOUSE OF PENISTONE.

Unfortunately, when Delphie turns up at Penistone Manor (it has a name, but I've forgotten it) to try and claim some financial support for her mother, she is met by a plot twist: there's already a Philadelphia Elaine Carteret in the family and the current lord has been supporting her for the past twenty years.

ARROGANT ALPHA HERO GARETH PENISTONE (current heir): However, imposter, you have turned up just in time! Because the current lord is DYING and he's going to disinherit both me and Elaine if we don't get married before he dies, which everyone expects to happen, like, right now, today.
FRIENDLY MORDRED PENISTONE (illegitimate relative, definitely not a villain, why would you think that?): It's OK! We'll get a FAKE bishop to write a FAKE marriage certificate and in exchange for this DEFINITELY FAKE MARRIAGE we'll slip your mother into the will. OK? OK.
DELPHIE: Every proper feeling is mortified by this offer! ... but it's true I could use the cash, and it's not like I ever actually want to see any of you again.

So Delphie and Gareth get fake married, just until the current lord dies, which is almost certainly going to happen right that night!

24 HOURS LATER, in a TOTALLY SHOCKING twist:

FRIENDLY MORDRED PENISTONE: Oops, I accidentally forgot to tell the definitely real Bishop to perform a fake ceremony, so ... congratulations on your marriage! Also, the current lord has made a miraculous recovery!

Everyone's favorite fanfic tropes follow )
skygiants: Sokka from Avatar: the Last Airbender peers through an eyeglass (*peers*)
I found In the Teeth of the Evidence at a used bookstore when I was still in the midst of my Sayers reread, and bought it because it contained a bunch of Sayers stories that (to the best of my recollection) I had not read and I figured I might as well.

These are ... not Sayers' greatest works. The first seven stories feature Lord Peter Wimsey and Sayers' other recurring detective, traveling salesman Montague Egg; they're all very much of the Solve A Brain-Twister In Four Pages variety and are otherwise not very interesting. Also, Montague Egg is the sort of person who goes around quoting maxims like "Never miss a chance of learning for that word spells '£' plus 'earning,'" and, like, on the one hand, I respect Sayers for resisting the temptation to make her other detective as Dreamy as Lord Peter, but on the other hand.

I found the back half of stories easier going; they were not any better per se but at least there was more variety? Stories included:

I'm just straight-up spoiling the punchline for many of these so click at your own risk )
skygiants: Hazel, from the cover of Breadcrumbs, about to venture into the Snow Queen's forest (into the woods)
T. Kingfisher's The Raven and the Reindeer is an enjoyable Snow Queen variant that stakes out its territory with a few clear thematic changes:

- Kai was always kind of a jerk
- Gerta is projecting feelings onto Kay that neither of them really have
- Gerta's journey of discovery and self-knowledge is largely about getting over Kay and finding true love with the robber girl

The book commits hard to these things, as well as to the talking raven, and the creepy reindeer magic, and the Finnish-Sami setting. It's a well-written quest story and I had fun reading it, but as soon as I finished it I was struck with an irresistible urge to go to my bookshelf and reread Anne Ursu's Breadcrumbs, which remains my all-time favorite Snow Queen retelling.

The books are doing extremely different things, so it's not really fair to compare them. The Raven and the Reindeer is a quest fantasy coming-of-age story, written for teens and adults. Breadcrumbs is a battle to the death against loneliness and depression as filtered through the iconography of fairy tales, written for eleven-year-olds. The Raven and the Reindeer is Robin McKinley; Breadcrumbs is middle-grade Utena.

Also, Breadcrumbs is not gay. Nor is it straight! Because everyone's eleven.

Now, having just said that it's unfair to compare them, I'm going to compare them anyways: talking about Gertas and Kays and robber girls in a spoilery fashion )

As a sidenote, I don't think I've ever actually read the whole original of Anderson's Snow Queen, but from similarities among all Snow Queen variants I have now collected the following important facts about the Snow Queen:
- snow is made of bees
- having a frozen heart makes you very good at math
- flowers are more helpful than almost any human being
- the best thing to do with a kidnapped child is make them do ice puzzles for you
skygiants: Cha Song Joo and Lee Su Hyun from Capital Scandal in a swing pose (got that swing)
This weekend [personal profile] genarti, [profile] wickedtrue and I went to go see Arrabal at the A.R.T. -- a theater piece in my favorite genre, dance dance revolution.

I haven't seen very much dance theater that isn't just straight-up ballet. Arrabal uses the language of tango rather than classical ballet, but it still feels quite a lot like a ballet -- there's very minimal dialogue (two brief scene-setting news-clips, two significant letters read aloud, and a brief callout song in which the psychopomp/magician makes fun of the love interest for his machismo comprise the whole of it) with everything else conveyed through motion and mime.

The music is gorgeous, the dancing likewise. The plot is relatively simple, and not actually as depressing as I thought it would be. Arrabal is the infant daughter of an Argentinian protester. Eighteen years later, she's haunted by his absence; his surviving friends, meanwhile, decide it's time for them to meet her and tell her his story.

....his surviving friends run a dance club, so along the way Arrabal gets a cute new dress and a pair kicky high heels, learns how to tango, falls for the leader of the pack, makes out with the leader of the pack's girlfriend, and briefly visits an orgy before deciding that it's maybe not for her, thanks. None of us were entirely sure what was actually going on with the orgy, plot-wise. This is the downside of ballet theater with minimal dialogue. But it's all very pretty and beautifully danced!

And then we cut back to Arrabal's grandmother and her friends marching for their disappeared children and suddenly we're all crying, so, you know. The important parts come through.
skygiants: Jane Eyre from Paula Rego's illustrations, facing out into darkness (more than courage)
You know how you live your life, watching television shows like a normal person, and then suddenly you're watching an episode of a show and all the important and dramatic scenes are full of women over thirty interacting with each other, and even though people on screen are literally being set on fire you suddenly have this tremendous feeling of peace in your heart?

ANYWAY. Relatedly, the kdrama I've just finished is a Gothic thriller called (depending on who you ask) Ms. Perfect or The Perfect Wife. The show itself is not perfect, but if you're into Gothics and would like to watch a show in which grown women drive pretty much every plotline, it might be worth your time -- with the very strong caveat that despite some token nods towards the importance of treatment and therapy we're definitely going Full Madwoman In The Attic, Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect Any Brownie Points Regarding Trope Deconstruction Or Respectful Handling of Mental Health.



More under the cut )
skygiants: Moril from the Dalemark Quartet playing the cwidder (composing hallelujah)
I have spent the last five days rereading through Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief books at the rate of one a day, and doing very little else!

If you've missed them, the long arc of the Queen's Thief series features the three warring alt!Grecian kingdoms of Sounis, Eddis and Attolia getting their act together to avoid being absorbed by an alt!Babylonian empire. The books are heavy on well-researched worldbuilding, political complexity, and third-act twists; they are light on divine influence, though the gods do have a plan and they would rather like the protagonists to stop whining about it. Books include:

The Thief: A magus, his two apprentices, a soldier and a thief go on a life-changing field trip to steal a divine king-making relic, and Megan Whalen Turner shows off her unreliable first-person narration.

The Queen of Attolia: All three kingdoms start a slapfight with each other while the series protagonist sulks in his room, except when he's stealing important political figures from other kingdoms. Megan Whalen Turner would like you to know she can dance deftly around significant information just as easily in omniscient third as she can in first.

The King of Attolia: A sweet, honest guardsman punches his king in the face, and proceeds to regret every single one of his life choices. Megan Whalen Turner's like "look, this time I'm using limited third and telling you EXACTLY what my protagonist thinks and believes at any given time, it's not MY fault he only knows like 20% of what's actually going on."

A Conspiracy of Kings: The heir to the kingdom of Sounis is like "I COULD sort out this civil war by becoming king OR I could do hard labor for the rest of my life and honestly the latter sounds more appealing?" Megan Whalen Turner returns to first person but is too busy examining questions of ethics around violence in the political sphere to put all that much effort into setting up twists.

This is the part that's spoilery for the first four books )

Anyway, yesterday I finally got to the point where I could read the just-published new book, Thick as Thieves. So this is the part that's spoilery for Thick as Thieves. )

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