skygiants: Susan from The Bletchley Circle looking out a window (i crack the codes)
So my assigned fic for this year's Yuletide was Statistical Methods in Risk Assessment, a Bletchley Circle fic. Bletchley Circle is an extremely historically-grounded mystery series about the aftermath of WWII and the codebreakers at Bletchley, which meant that I spent a fair bit of November and December falling down a wartime Britain research hole, starting broad and eventually narrowing in on what I actually needed to know to write the fic.

I did not write up any of the books I was reading up at the time, under the general Yuletide veil of secrecy, but I think all of them are worth the perusal:

Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love and Betrayal, Ben Macintyre

Like most of Ben Macintyre's books, this is a true-history spyjinks story which leans heavily on the hijinks. Eddie Chapman was a thief in prison on the Channel Islands when they were occupied by the Germans; he got the bright idea to get out of prison by offering his services to the Germans as a spy. Then, after being thoroughly trained in Advanced Spying by the Germans, he was parachuted into England to blow up a factory, where he was immediately caught by the British, and promptly informed them that he was in fact more than happy to be a double agent.

The usual sort of Elaborate MI5 Ruses followed, perhaps the most impressive being the hiring of a stage magician to fake the destruction of an entire factory for the Germans so they would assume Chapman was still a totally independent Nazi agent, yes sirree. It's not my favorite of Macintyre's books, but it's a fun read -- or it was at the time; I suspect "lol, those gullible folk-dancing Nazis!" might seem a bit less funny now that we are all realizing how very much Nazis are no longer a thing of the past.

(Ben Macintyre's funny bone is clearly tremendously tickled by the Nazi Who Obsessed Over English Folk Dancing. He never misses an opportunity to bring it up. Long after I have forgotten the rest of this book, I will remember the English folk-dancing Nazi.)

Nella Last's War: The Second World War Diaries of Housewife, 49

So Mass Observation was a research organization founded in the 1930s which encouraged Ordinary British Citizens to write in or diary about their daily lives, which quite by happenstance resulted in the creation of this really astoundingly thorough primary-source record of what it was like for a middle-aged British woman to live through WWII. In other words, a researcher's godsend.

It's also sort of astounding how much of a plot there is to this unstructured diary; it feels like something that could be a novel. Nella Last, at the beginning of the war, is a housewife married to a man who doesn't much like to go out and doesn't much like for Nella to go out either, at all, ever. As the book goes on, and she starts taking on war work and becoming involved in local organizations, she begins to write more and more about how trapped and stifled she's felt for most of her marriage; she starts standing up to her husband, taking on new projects, sleeping downstairs in the bomb shelter just so she can have her own space. And meanwhile one of her sons has to join the army, and hates it, and ... falls in love with another soldier? ... I mean obviously Nella Last doesn't say or think that that's what it is, and I am hesitant to start writing RPF about ordinary people, but it looks an awful lot to me like that's what is going on. Fiction has its patterns for a reason, is I guess what I'm saying.

Anyway, it's a fascinating read, though generally not a cheerful one. And occasionally some bit of period-specific awfulness of Nella's will come up and hit you in the face -- when she chattily goes on for a while about how obviously Hitler is awful but perhaps he's not entirely wrong on the eugenics thing, for example, or when her other son comes home and starts complaining about the Jews in his town and Nella's like "lol kiddo looks like you've gotten a bit racist!" in the most unconcerned fashion imaginable.

A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII, Sarah Helm

This is the book which really ended up shaping my Yuletide fic the most -- like, the thing I wrote is probably based on this book as much or more as it is on The Bletchley Circle.

Vera Atkins, a Jewish Romanian, joined the British SOE division as a secretary in 1941. She quickly rose in the organization, became the head of section F (France) and became influential in the deployment of women agents behind the lines. In 1943, the primary network of British agents in France was compromised; though many of the men and women who were captured by the Germans tried their hardest to alert headquarters, SOE's refusal to believe anything was seriously wrong meant numerous other agents heading to France dropped straight into Nazi captivity. This is the grim flipside of Macintyre's trademark cheery spyjinks.

(One captured agent radioed in under duress and pointedly did not provide his double-secret security code -- the whole point of the double-secret security code was to show when someone was radio-ing under duress -- and Atkins' boss radioed cheerily back to tell him that he'd forgotten his double-secret security code and not to do it again! I MEAN.)

Many of Vera Atkins' agents turned up after the war, but many more did not. This book is only partly about the actual wartime espionage; much of the rest of it is about Vera Atkins' determined journey across postwar Europe, visiting concentration camp after concentration camp to attempt to find out what happened to the missing ones. As you might imagine, this does not make for easy reading. But at least her quest wasn't fruitless; she did eventually trace every last one of them.

(For the record, there also exists a RIVAL biography of Vera Atkins. I did not read it, but there is a beautifully scathing review of it that purports to be from the author of this biography, which you can read here if, like me, you are entertained by the prospect of historians getting into fistfights over their subject matter.)

I also read the parts of Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan that were available via Google books, because I could not get my hands on a copy in time to read the whole thing before I had to write my fic. But the bits I could read were extremely helpful and I do intend to read the whole thing at some point! Noor Inayat Khan also turns up quite a lot in A Life In Secrets; Sarah Helm seems to think that Vera Atkins was particularly interested in Noor among all her agents, but personally I think this may just be due to the fact that Sarah Helm was particularly interested in Noor among all Vera's agents. Not that one can blame her -- her story is tragic, but incredibly compelling.
skygiants: young Kiha from Legend of the First King's Four Gods in the library with a lit candle (flame of knowledge)
Are you guys tired of Gothics yet? Because I have TWO MORE! And then I am caught up (on Gothics) (not on books in general) (despite my best efforts, that is unlikely to ever happen.)

Anyway these are a new-to-me beast, Andre Norton gothics! I had no idea that she had written anything of the sort until Open Road Media put out all those free ebooks a month or so back, at which point I of course grabbed as many as I could find; I have saved some for later, but while in the Galapagos I read Iron Butterflies and Snow Shadow.

Iron Butterflies )

Snow Shadow )
skygiants: Fakir from Princess Tutu leaping through a window; text 'doors are for the weak' (drama!!!)
Mary Stewart's Wildfires at Midnight was another emergency used-bookstore Gothic novel purchase for my plane ride today, but, alas, kind of a disappointing one.

Wildfires at Midnight traps Our Heroine, fashion model Gianetta, at a vacation-and-fishing lodge in the beautiful mountains of Skye with a Wacky Cast of Characters including:

- a movie star
- a couple of ambiguously lesbian mountain-climbers
- a more famous mountain-climber
- a writer of travel guides
- a happy Boring Fishing Couple
- an unhappy Boring Fishing Couple
- Gianetta's famous writer ex-husband, who cheated on her after they realized they had nothing in common
- Gianetta's alternate love interest, an attractive man with a tragic past
- Gianetta's husband's buddy with no personality

So far so Gilligan's Island, except of course that one of them is ... a MURDERER!!!

Which seems like an OK setup, except all of these people are awfully boring and somewhat indistinguishable (I kept forgetting which boring fishing couple was which, and mixing up Gianetta's husband's buddy with Gianetta's alternate love interest) and the ones who do show a glimmer of being interesting (i.e., most of the other women) disappear from the story with pretty astounding speed. (Not all dead! But the ones who are not dead are still written off into places where they cannot be interesting anymore.)

The denouement! )
skygiants: Jane Eyre from Paula Rego's illustrations, facing out into darkness (more than courage)
Yes, of course when my Kindle died and I had to go used-book hunting I also picked up the first $2 Gothic novel I found, what else did you expect?

Isabelle Holland's The DeMaury Papers is, nowhere near as off-the-wall bizarre as the first book of hers I read, Trelawny (aka the one with at least seven twin-swaps.) Instead, it goes the other direction and becomes hilarious in just how much it straight-faced commits to EVERY SINGLE GOTHIC TROPE. Sinister houses, dead wives, secret societies, evil governesses -- this book has it all!

Our Heroine, Janet de Maury, works in publishing and also just so happens to be the daughter of a Famous Dead Humanitarian Who Founded a Famous Society For World Domination Peace In Our Time, about which Janet has always been somewhat dubious.

JANET: Huh, weird! Our dreamy boss Tony, a book publisher who is also a former congressman who is also about to be named ambassador to a foreign country who is also incredibly handsome and charming who I've also had a crush on since I was fourteen, suddenly wants to pay me a lot of money to write a biography of my father!
BECCA, THE GENRE-SAVVY: Ah, yes, Janet's boss is definitely evil.

However, before she can write the biography, she has to go visit her beautiful dead cousin Rosemary's widower husband Gideon, where he keeps all of Janet's father's papers in the attic of his SINISTER WELSH CASTLE!

JANET: I've met Gideon three times and he's always been incredibly rude and taciturn. Also, I'm pretty sure he blames me for Beautiful Cousin Rosemary's tragic death in a mysterious hit-and-run accident in Italy. I am super not looking forward to spending a month in his sinister Welsh castle.
BECCA, THE GENRE-SAVVY: Ah, yes, Janet and Gideon are definitely going to fall in love.
JANET: However, I am excited to meet Rosemary's son Benedict, a temperamental child who was in a tragic accident and can now only walk at plot-convenient moments!

Before she can meet Benedict, however, Janet is introduced to the rest of the castle's inhabitants:

ROGER, Gideon's younger half-brother, who is charming and witty and likes taking Janet sympathetically aside to explain to her about how regrettably awful Gideon is, because he's definitely not evil!
SHEILA, Benedict's beautiful nurse-slash-governess, who seems to resent Janet for inexplicable reasons and also hate dogs, because she's definitely not evil!
THE DOG, Janet's new best friend and the real love interest of this book!

GIDEON: WELL. I did not want you here, and I would like to make it very clear that you are going to have a miserable time here, because --
JANET: ... omg whose is this dog.
GIDEON: -- um, well, it's a stray that we found and were going to give to --
JANET: wrong, this dog is now MY dog.
GIDEON: ........
JANET: I love this dog so much, coming here was totally worth it just to meet this dog.
GIDEON: .........
JANET: Sorry, were you saying something?
GIDEON: Oh, just that a mysterious person seems to have dumped out all 50 boxes containing your father's papers and now fifty years' worth of documentation is in a disorganized heap on the floor, sorry about that!

But, determined to push on, Janet gets fifty MORE boxes and decides to hire an assistant to help her achieve a semblance of archival order!

GIDEON: Perhaps you would like to hire Gwyneth, the local vicar's bitter daughter? She has a clubfoot and a very intense stare but people say she's very productive!
JANET: Gwyneth seems to have a crush on Gideon and a Bad Attitude, I have a very bad feeling about the fact that I've been guilted into hiring her!
BECCA, THE GENRE-SAVVY: Ah, yes, Gwyneth is definitely evil and we are definitely about to hit some seventies Gothic novel ablism up in here.

GWYNETH: Hey, it's nice to have a job again, my dad is sweet but I really appreciate having the chance to get out and about and exercise my professional skills!
JANET: Gwyneth, I cannot believe I had any doubts about hiring you. I abase myself. You are wonderful in literally every way.
BECCA, THE GENRE-SAVVY: ... my apologies for misjudging you, Isabelle Holland.

JANET: So, Gwyneth, what did you used to do in the big city before you came home to take care of your aging father?
GWYNETH: Oh, I worked for the British secret intelligence service. Bygone days!

Gideon, of course, also worked for the British secret intelligence service. And also the Israeli intelligence service. Because Gideon is not only a Welsh lord, who is also possibly a spy, but ALSO ... the child of a beautiful Jewish Holocaust refugee!

JANET: Oh, I'm so sorry to hear about all your mother's tragically dead relatives.
GIDEON: Really? Are you?
JANET: .... um?
GIDEON: Well, it's just your beautiful cousin Rosemary always gave me the impression that you were kind of shallow and didn't care about other people's suffering.
JANET: ........... thanks, Rosemary.
GIDEON: Well, isn't it true that you weren't super into your father and his Secret Society for World Domination Peace?
JANET: Oh, that's because my father was an asshole.
GIDEON: ... but aren't you spending all this time sorting out his papers and writing his biography?
JANET: Oh, that's because my dreamy boss is paying me a lot of money.

In between all this setup, there is of course time for the obligatory Gothic novel dramatic elements, like:

- the mysterious syringes Janet keeps spotting in Benedict's room and which Sheila puts down to Mysteriously Appearing Plot-Convenient Diabetes!
- the time that Janet finds a mysterious note in her room warning her to leave, which then disappears!
- the time that a car almost runs over Janet and Gwyneth!
- the time that someone takes potshots at Janet and Gideon in the woods!
- the time Janet goes up to the attic in the middle of the night looking for her dog and someone clocks her over the head!
- the time someone KIDNAPS THE DOG which is REALLY THE LAST STRAW

The dark secrets and denouement )
skygiants: cute blue muppet worm from Labyrinth (just a worm)
Those who follow me on Twitter may have seen me bewailing the fact that my Kindle tragically expired last week with FIVE DAYS left in the trip and NO PHYSICAL BOOKS.

Obviously, I made a plea for one of the people I was visiting for work to take me to the nearest used bookstore as soon as our meeting was done, where I found a copy of China Miéville's Embassytown.

I've read a lot of Miéville over the years, and I'm kind of annoyed at myself that somehow the one I missed when it was published is perhaps the best one he's ever written. Instead at that time I was reading Kraken. Which ... had elements in which it that were fine ... but was CERTAINLY NO EMBASSYTOWN.

Embassytown is that rare beast, science fiction of hard linguistics. It's set on a human trade outpost on an alien planet, which is populated by an intelligent species, the Ariekei. Communication with the Ariekei is uniquely difficult due to the fact that their language (known only as Language) must a.) be spoken by two mouths at once and b.) spoken with single conscious intent -- so they can't understand a programmed computer voice, or two people with distinct consciousnesses speaking at once; the only thing that registers to them as speech is one mind, speaking in two voices. Or, at least, a very close approximation thereof.

The staff and Ambassadors of Embassytown have gone to great lengths to create that approximation and keep a functioning level of trade communications with their host species, and it's gone OK, for a while. Unfortunately, one experiment is about to accidentally trigger something new, and horrifying -- a genuine linguistic apocalypse.

Caught in the middle of all this is our protagonist, Avice Benner Cho, a child of Embassytown who achieved moderate fame as a child by virtue of being enshrined in Language as a living example of an Ariekei simile: "the girl who was hurt in the dark and ate what was given to her." Avice then rose to the status of minor celebrity by becoming one of the few people born in Embassytown who ever left -- and then came back, because her new linguist husband Scile (latest in a line of several spouses) has decided that he would like to write his dissertation on Language. Pretty soon, Scile starts to get a severe bee in his bonnet about the fact that a small group of Ariekei are using similes to teach themselves something that has previously been impossible for them as users of Language: how to lie. Though the problems this causes in Scile and Avice's relationship are fairly rapidly overshadowed by the aforementioned linguistic apocalypse.

This is already a long post and I haven't even mentioned about half the stuff in this book (the living architecture! the space travel! Avice's incredibly intriguing android bff!) It's probably the best showcase of Miéville's incredibly inventive imagination since the Bas-Lag books, but he's leveled up in plotting and leveled out in -- grimness? Not that this book isn't grim, at times, because it CERTAINLY is, and a lot a lot a lot of people (of various species) die, and there are certainly times when it seems like all hope may well be lost, but --

-- well, here's a thing that struck me very much, reading this book at this particular moment: as things get more apocalyptic in the book, I kept waiting for the random acts of senseless hate and prejudice that always appear in an apocalypse, and they never happened. Plenty of horrible things do happen, but they're all either accidental, or motivated by grim logic, or, at absolute worst, ambition. Hatred has a place in this book, but it's always personal. Xenophobia, even under situations that seem like they would almost inevitably create xenophobia, has very little place at all. That's enough, in this story, to allow a turn away from total catastrophe and into change and adaptation. And in spite of the fact that I would not ever call this book cheerful, there's something kind of amazingly optimistic about that.
skygiants: Beatrice from Much Ado putting up her hand to stop Benedick talking (no more than reason)
[personal profile] cinaed happened to be telling me about Heyer's Black Sheep (one of the few I have not read) right before I went on vacation to the Galapagos, and then it happened to be available for Kindle checkout from my library that very day, and so the path for fluffy travel escapist reading had been prepared.

As it turns out, I like pretty much everything about Black Sheep except ... maybe the end .......?

So Black Sheep is one of those Heyers which focuses on an ironical older couple caught up in the orbit of a Very Dramatic younger couple, though in this case the whole point is not to let the younger couple get married. Our Heroine, 28-year-old Abigail Wendover, shares guardianship of her wealthy teenage niece Fanny with her sweet-but-histrionic older sister Selina. Fanny is under the earnest impression that she is desperately in love with Stacy Calverleigh, a sketchy fortune-hunter who is in his late twenties and very, very obviously gross (to Abigail!) (but alas not to Fanny or Selina!)

Enter Stacy Calverleigh's weird uncle Miles, the family black sheep who bounced off to India [obligatory colonialism warning] years ago and happens coincidentally to be back in town.

ABIGAIL: Well, sir, now that you are conveniently in town, will you help me break up my niece and your nephew?
MILES: I would, but: I'm not responsible for him and I don't care.
ABIGAIL: Would you care if you pointed out to you repeatedly how it was an important and ethical thing to do?
MILES: I definitely would not care about that. But you seem like fun, so can keep doing it if it means you'll keep hanging out with me!

Miles is Not Respectable any more than his nephew is, but, to her deep embarrassment, Abigail finds herself Showing Him Marked Preference. He is just so entertaining! However, the rest of her highly respectable extended family is even MORE down on him than they are on Stacy Calverleigh, because there is a Dark Tragic Secret Linking Them In Their Past --

MILES: Oh, yes, I definitely tried to elope with your brother's fiancee way back in the day. Embarrassing times for all!
ABIGAIL: Oh, so this was a Love Tragically Thwarted kind of thing?
MILES: Definitely, definitely not, SO happy we didn't go through with it. That was a disaster waiting to happen.

So this is all set up in the front half of the book, and then Abigail mostly spends the back half of the book zooming around in twelve different directions trying to stop Fanny from running off with Sketchy Stacy, while also grappling with the question of whether she would be a big fat hypocrite to do everything in her power to prevent Fanny from marrying Stacy against her family's wishes and immediately afterwards herself bounce off to marry Miles against her family's wishes. Like, it's definitely different just due to the fact that she is an adult and Fanny is not! But is it that different?

Spoilers for the end )
skygiants: Nellie Bly walking a tightrope among the stars (bravely trotted)
I just finished reading Sylvia Townsend Warner's Summer Will Show -- a deeply weird, depressing, idealistic, fascinating, occasionally horrible book. I think I loved it but I don't know at all whether I feel OK telling anybody else to read it, so I'm just going to talk about it and we'll see where that gets us.

Summer Will Show -- set in 1848 but written in 1936, and if you read it you will not forget it was written in 1936 -- focuses on Sophia Willoughby, a pragmatic, stoical, narrow-minded, extremely upper-class Englishwoman who has banished her philandering husband and is engaged in raising her two children on her well-ordered estate.

Sophia is very competent at fulfilling her role but feels deeply trapped and frustrated by every aspect of it, including being a mother. She hates having to worry about her sickly children and all the things that could conceivably kill them; she dreams of retreating to a cottage and doing things that it would never conceivably be allowable for her to do, like chopping her own damn wood. Obviously it is nonetheless awful when within the first forty pages or so, both of her children catch smallpox and die.

At a loss for purpose and next steps, and maybe not exactly in her clearest state of mind, Sophia decides to go to Paris and demand that her husband get her pregnant again so she can at least have something to do with the rest of her life. She happens to land right at the start of the February Revolution and the rest is lesbian revolutionary spoilers. )
skygiants: Anthy from Revolutionary Girl Utena holding a red rose (i'm the witch)
Intisar Khanani's Sunbolt Chronicles is an ongoing fantasy serial which currently consists of Sunbolt (novella) and Memories of Ash (novel.) It stars Hitomi, a Plucky Street Urchin with magical talents; she begins as a bit player in a revolution and subsequently bounces through a rapid succession of plot elements including but not limited to:

- an escape from a sinister dungeon!
- a bond with a life-sucking supernatural individual!
- a mentor with a mysterious past!
- a mission from a phoenix!
- a missing mother with inexplicable motivations!
- a wedding invitation in the middle of a feud in the middle of the desert!
- vampires!
- werewolves!
- tanuki!
- magic school!
- a heist!

The series definitely has a protagonist and it definitely has a villain, but otherwise it is structured more or less as A Series Of Interesting Events; Hitomi always has a goal of one sort or another, but she's frequently thrown off-course into other adventures in a way that makes the story feel TV-episodic in a way that novels usually don't. I find it interestingly difficult to predict what's going to happen next. Part of that is because of the serial structure, and the other part of it is --

OK, you know how when you read a novel it is frequently very easy to tell who the thematically important people are going to be, especially love interests, because the author will take a moment to indicate something about their appearance or manner that's interesting, and you're like, ah! We're meant to care about THAT person, they will most likely play some sort of important role later on.

The thing is that pretty much every named character who shows up in the Sunbolt Chronicles gets this treatment. Everyone is important! It's pretty refreshing! This, and the interestingly weird weird structure, and one or two other factors (one and a half whole books in and there has as of yet been no romance!) make it stand out for me from the other present-tense first-person YA which it otherwise resembles.
skygiants: (swan)
As mentioned, I had a strong urge to reread some E. Nesbit thanks to Everfair, so I took The Enchanted Castle with me on vacation.

The Enchanted Castle is quite possibly the ur-Nesbit. It has everything:

- a group of squabbling but affectionate siblings
- a ring of invisibility! (or is it a wishing ring?) (or is it a TOKEN OF THE GODS THAT EXACTS A TERRIBLE PRICE FOR ITS USAGE?) (or is it just going to make you repeatedly and unfortunately late for tea?)
- a background tragic long-lost romance
- people turning into statues! statues turning into living statues! (quite useful, as it turns out that "all statues that come to life are proficient in all athletic exercises")
- implausibly friendly Greek myths come to life; see also 'living statues' (Eros is "a really nice boy, as the girls instantly agreed" and Psyche is "a darling, as any one could see")
- A DINOSAUR; see once again 'living statues'
- an unsubtle critique of capitalism
- a fair bit of probably accidental period classism
- a brief unfortunate incident of blackface
- a collection of construct puppets that come horribly alive and demand, in the most Uncanny Valley fashion possible, to be shown to a really good hotel!

The bit with the puppets that come alive is probably the most memorable set piece of The Enchanted Castle, a book that contains a number of extremely memorable set pieces; they are simultaneously so disturbing and so hilariously banal, requiring Our Plucky Heroes to screw their courage to the sticking point and NOT ONLY cunningly walk them to the tunnel where they plan to imprison them, but ALSO at the same time answer polite questions about their schoolwork and whether they play sports. The worst of all possible things!

Really, nowhere does E. Nesbit show how much she knows her way around writing kids more than in The Enchanted Castle. The magical adventures are wonderful, and occasionally rise up into the numinous and almost haunting -- I'm fascinated by the dropped remark at the end that this book would have absolutely been an epic tragedy, were it not for the convenient fact that the people who found the magical ring were children and not yet adults -- but the parts that are just kids hanging out complaining at each other without any magic at all are just as compelling, and also hilarious.

More Nesbit rereads are almost certainly in my future, though I don't remember loving any of her books quite as much as The Enchanted Castle. (Edward Eager rereads, too, since every single thing he ever wrote is an ardent love letter to E. Nesbit, which is how I discovered her in the first place.)
skygiants: Clopin from Notre-Dame de Paris; text 'sans misere, sans frontiere' (comment faire un monde)
Nisi Shawl's Everfair is an alternate history in which a group of British socialists and African-American missionaries form an unlikely partnership to buy up a parcel of land and found an independent Utopian nation in the Belgian Congo. Unsurprisingly, things do not go 100% Utopian from there. On the downside, the colony has to deal with international intrigue and attacks by hostile Belgian forces as well as internal conflicts about race and religion and governance; on the upside, everyone does get mechanical limbs and mechanical airships!

The book covers about 30 years of story-time, beginning in the 1890s and progressing up past the end of WWI. Some things change as a result of the existence of Everfair, and others don't. As a thought experiment, it's extremely compelling and well-thought-out. As a story, I found it interesting to read but a little difficult to fall into completely -- the story progresses as a series of brief chapters from a variety of POVs, and often skips ahead months or years in between chapters. This allows for a thorough and complex picture of the whole colony, but, on the flip side, made the individual character arcs feel really choppy (at least to me).

The only character thread that really spans the whole book is the fraught romance between Daisy Albin (AU E. Nesbit -- most major characters are AUs of historic figures, but she was the only one I could recognize without looking it up because I am not an expert on the Fabian Socialists but I am an expert on E. Nesbit's Life Choices) and Lisette Toutournier (AU Colette, whom I feel I ought to have recognized, but did not, because I have never actually read any Colette.) Spoilers )

Anyway. Everfair is worth reading, and I'm glad I read it, but I did not like it as much overall as Shawl's short stories, which I now want to reread. Along with a lot of E. Nesbit.
skygiants: Pique, Duck and Lilie, from Princess Tutu.  HUGS FOR EVERYONE (group hug!)
For my first post about television in 2017, I want to grab all of you by the collar and tell you at great length about Age of Youth, now on Netflix as Hello My Twenties.

Age of Youth is about five college roommates, almost all of whom are haunted by a DARK SECRET of some sort or another -- murder! ghosts! crushing debt! loan sharks! stalkers! even more murder! -- and yes, all of these are problems, but you can't worry about them all the time when you're also sharing a house with four other people, and the trash always needs taking out, and someone is ALWAYS borrowing your stuff without asking, or looking out the window and whistling obnoxiously when you're trying to have a romantic moment, and also there is ONLY ONE BATHROOM.

Although there are a couple of love interests floating around here and there, the primary focus of the show is emphatically on the relationships between the girls; there's maybe one reverse Bechdel pass in all twelve episodes. And let me tell you, every time we got a fakeout where it looked like a girl was about to call on a love interest for help and instead the roommates came charging to the rescue, MY HEART GREW THREE SIZES.

Also, the general lack of tolerance the show has for male angst is ... kind of amazing.

Cut for more on the girls and further picspam )

Anyway, as aforementioned, I highly recommend this drama -- though please ask me if you want trigger warnings, as trigger warnings may be needed.
skygiants: Sheska from Fullmetal Alchemist with her head on a pile of books (ded from book)
Annual reading log post! As always, I have very good and optimistic intentions of writing up everything that doesn't have a post linked yet (I REALLY DO), but if you would like me to talk about anything feel free to leave me a comment on this post too.

Books read, 2016 )

122 books overall is more than last year and meets my ideal average of 10/month, so that is not bad at all! And only 15 rereads (plus the ENTIRETY of Skip Beat), so 107 of them were new-to-me. But only ten nonfiction books, which is not amazing, and I definitely wanted to read more new-to-me manga and graphic novels than the amount I actually did, which was ... zero. Next year!
skygiants: Susan from The Bletchley Circle looking out a window (i crack the codes)
Yuletide reveals! I had two fics in the archive this year:

Statistical Methods in Risk Assessment, The Bletchley Circle

This was my assigned fic -- the excellent prompt was to write a fic focused on Jean, the oldest of the Bletchley Circle women, femslash optional but encouraged -- and I fell neck-deep into the research hole on it. I have a post coming about the several WWII-era history books that I read over the past few months while figuring what I actually wanted to write about, but most of what actually went into the story ended up coming out of what I learned about the Special Operations Executive branch, the only arm of the British government that sent women behind the lines as spies. And IT'S ALL FASCINATING, so thank you for such an amazing prompt, [personal profile] xylaria! (Also, it finally gave me the push to actually watch season 2 of The Bletchley Circle, which I'd been meaning to do for literally years.)

Or, What You Will, Singin' in the Rain

I would very much have liked to fall neck-deep down the research hole on this one also -- [personal profile] emma_in_dream's excellent request was for Singin' in the Rain fic that incorporated historical of Golden Age Hollywood -- except I grabbed it as a pinch-hit on December 18th and I did not have time! So I did what I could with background knowledge, Wikipedia, and enthusiasm, plus a recent hallucinogenic Busby Berkeley musical experience. Don't ask me where the fake Twelfth Night movie musical part came from because I really do not know; it just sort of arrived fully-formed and would not leave.

Thank you to [personal profile] genarti, [personal profile] saramily, [profile] gramary1971, and [personal profile] innerbrat for amazing beta work, and to [personal profile] genarti especially for pointing out how to use Malvolio to foreshadow the oncoming banhammer of the Motion Picture Production Code.

(Also, thank you again for my amazing Healer fic, [personal profile] china_shop!)
skygiants: ran and nijiko from 7 Seeds, looking faintly judgy (dubious lesbians)
I really wanted to love Peter Beagle's newest novel Summerlong, because I love Peter Beagle and I never thought we would get a new Beagle novel, but alas I did not like it so well as I wished.

Summerlong follows long-term stable romantic partners Abe Aronson, a cranky Jewish retired professor that it's difficult not to read as Beagle's self-insert, and Joanna Delvecchio, a flight attendant counting down the years until she can retire and do what she wants.

Their relatively settled patterns are disrupted by the entrance of Lioness, a Mysterious Beautiful Young Woman who is Vaguely Greek And Somehow Unworldly, Strongly Identified With Spring, Makes Flowers Bloom, and appears to be Fleeing Or Hiding From Someone, Maybe, IDK, A Divine Greek Husband...?

Basically this appears to be Peter Beagle's stab at a divine-mundane novel in the vein of DWJ's Eight Days of Luke, in which a brush with myth triggers a change in the lives of the humans caught up in it. This is all well and good as far as it goes, and certainly Peter Beagle has the chops for the numinous mundane, except that the mundane part interwoven with the myth has all the features of those professor-midlife-crisis novels that have long been my nemesis, featuring irritated spoilers )

...however, the whole thing was almost worth it for how hard I laughed during one particular sequence in which Abe reads the entire Lymond Chronicles while repeatedly flying back and forth between Chicago and Seattle. This is as far as I remember the only other fiction namechecked in the entire book. Why the Lymond Chronicles, Peter Beagle? Did you just now read them and decide you had to tell the world?
skygiants: Rebecca from Fullmetal Alchemist waving and smirking (o hai)
Hey! So you guys may remember Further Arguments In Support of Yudah Cohen's Proposal to Bluma Zilberman, a short story which I published in Diabolical Plots earlier this year.

If you liked this story, I have two pieces of good news:

a. You can now listen to it as an audio short from PodCastle

b. Also at PodCastle, you can also now read OR listen to a NEW related story, Shaina Rubin Keeps Her Head Under Circumstances Nobody Could Have Expected, in which Bluma's cousin Shaina is deeply embarrassed to discover herself in need of rescue from supernatural danger (especially if rescue comes in the form of annoying cousins)

Both of these stories should stand alone, for the record! I made very sure (thanks [personal profile] aberration!) to find a second reader who had not read the first one to test this.


This is Shaina Rubin, I think you all have a good sense of her personality now
skygiants: C-ko the shadow girl from Revolutionary Girl Utena in prince drag (someday my prince will come)
I read Charlotte Bronte's >Villette for the first time last week. I don't know why I didn't anticipate how wildly entertaining I would find it, given how much I love Jane Eyre, but in fact it was a delightful surprise which I did not anticipate at all.

Also, there ... are gayer nineteenth-century novels? But NOT MANY.

skygiants: (wife of bath)
And speaking of Yuletide, I won again? HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN. I swear I only had one gift when I checked this morning (I wasn't actually present-shaking, it's just the easiest way for me to get back in to do edits) and now I have three? ALL DELIGHTFUL???

Just in Spring

In the back of her mind, she’d kept an inventory of every picture, every absurd figurine, just in case she be called upon to explain its absence. By jettisoning everything, she’d cast it out of her mind and into oblivion. And now, she thought, this house was truly hers, as it should have been all along.

This is seven thousand words of slow, careful Gaslight recovery fic and it is gorgeous and goes places I did not think to expect.

citizens of the same country

Jung Hoo’s jaw drops. “I can’t,” he says, after a moment. “I don’t know anything about journalism or politics. I don’t even watch the news.”

“Well.” Moon Ho leans across the desk, his eyes bright with challenge. “Maybe it’s time you started. If you want to clean a wound of its infection, you need to learn some first aid.”

This short postcanon Healer fic feels like a slice of the show, from the pitch-perfect voices to the focus on journalistic integrity and using truth to fight power! which I'm not going to lie feels very important right now!!

The Dame's Only Doing It For That Doll

She was always dressed impeccably, her man’s suit tailored perfectly. She felt like the closest thing you could get to Marlene Dietrich or Katherine Hepburn. She would sit in the common room playing solitaire while Sgt. Sarah sat next to her reading the Bible, just as they had every night for at least twenty years.

skygiants: Nice from Baccano! in post-explosion ecstasy (maybe too excited . . .?)
It's the first night of Hanukkah, also Christmas Eve! Normally at this time I would be prepping to go to New York for the traditional Chinese food and a movie, but I have had too much travel this year and yet more coming up, so instead I am home on my couch with Chinese food, and that is also pretty OK.

Meanwhile, as we wait for the Yuletide archive to open, seems like it's a good time for another costume poll!

Last time, we actually ended up with a neck and neck tie between the two wardrobe extremes of Jeremy, a complicated man who contains multitudes:

The people love Prince Jeremy! The people also love weird yellow plaid-skirted hobo Jeremy.

But will the people also love ...

Top five You're Beautiful Episode 9 costumes under the cut )

Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 33

And the ultimate most fabulous costume of episode 9 is...

View Answers

Jeremy and his bowl cut
4 (12.1%)

Mi Nam and her fur straightjacket
6 (18.2%)

He Yi and as many furs as she damn well wants
7 (21.2%)

Jeremy, space prince
11 (33.3%)

Stylist Wang and her cloche
5 (15.2%)

-- and while I was doing this, Yuletide came out! HAPPY HOLIDAYS EVERYONE.


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

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