skygiants: Drosselmeyer's old pages from Princess Tutu, with text 'rocks fall, everyone dies, the end' (endings are heartless)
2017-06-21 07:36 pm

(no subject)

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)
2017-06-19 09:12 am

(no subject)

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)
2017-06-13 10:32 pm
Entry tags:

(no subject)

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)
2017-06-10 11:07 am
Entry tags:

(no subject)

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: Hazel, from the cover of Breadcrumbs, about to venture into the Snow Queen's forest (into the woods)
2017-06-01 07:25 pm

(no subject)

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: Moril from the Dalemark Quartet playing the cwidder (composing hallelujah)
2017-05-24 08:32 pm

(no subject)

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. )
skygiants: Tory from Battlestar Galactica; text "I can't get no relief" (tory got shafted)
2017-05-18 08:43 pm

(no subject)

Lara Elena Donnelly's Amberlough is being marketed as "John Le Carré meets Cabaret." This is largely accurate. I also saw someone mention Ellen Kushner's The Fall of Kings, which may also be accurate, but I haven't read Fall of Kings so I couldn't really say; however, I definitely did get some strong Swordspoint vibes.

The titular Amberlough is a secondary-world city (though not actually a fantastical one; there's no magic, as far as I can tell) heavily influenced by Weimar Berlin, full of corruption and cross-dressing and decadent clubs. While the nationalist/fascist One State Party is starting to gain in prominence in various regions of the country, nobody expects it to have a chance in Amberlough.

Protagonist A is Cyril DePaul, an intelligence agent who is not at all eager to re-enter the field after a previous traumatic experience; Protagonist B is Aristide Makricosta, a wildly fabulous cabaret emcee who moonlights as a key figure in a major smuggling operation. Cyril and Aristide are having a very comfortable time pretending that they are only banging so they can spy on each other, when in fact everyone is perfectly aware that they are only investigating each other so that they can bang. Protagonist C is Cordelia Lehane, Aristide's stage partner at the cabaret, who has numerous other personal business of her own but gets pulled into their storyline when Cyril finds himself in need of a beard.

The plot kicks off when Cyril gets yanked away from his moderate idyll with Aristide to go back out into the field on an undercover mission. In theory he is meant to be preventing an illicit takeover in the national elections by the One Sate Party. In practice -- well, I mean. Le Carre, Cabaret. I will leave it to you all to do the math.

This should probably be enough information that you'll be able to get a sense if this is the sort of thing you want (and feel able) to read or not. Personally, I'm more of a Privilege of the Sword person than Swordspoint; I was most interested in Cordelia, the only protagonist who at any point can really be said to take a stand for something more than [themselves+1]. That said, I will definitely be reading the next book.
skygiants: Sokka from Avatar: the Last Airbender peers through an eyeglass (*peers*)
2017-05-16 08:53 pm
Entry tags:

(no subject)

A few months back, I discovered this in a used bookstore and ended up taking it home:



And this week seemed like a good time to experience the Cold War's Special Baseball Episode, so here we are.

A Pennant for the Kremlin is an extremely serious alternate history (written in 1964) in which an American millionaire decides to leave all his assets to the Soviet Union in an effort to cultivate world peace before unexpectedly keeling over dead. His assets include about ten major hotels, plus the Chicago White Sox.

The Soviets generously decide to give the hotels to the workers!, but decide to hang onto the White Sox for reasons of plot necessity, and send over a couple of Russians out of Central Casting to take over the management:

1) the malevolent career bureaucrat who sees everything as an Insult to the Party!
2) the sweet, gently comical one whose Job Is To Understand Baseball and, by taking his job very seriously, learns to love the sport for its own sake! AND IS BELOVED BY IT IN RETURN
3) the sweet one's beautiful daughter, who's just excited for the opportunity to go shopping for pretty dresses!

The sweet one bonds with the team's manager and flirts with the eccentric millionaire's spinster secretary; the beautiful daughter falls for the wildly anti-Communist baseball player, who Learns an Important Lesson that Soviets Are People Too (or at least attractive young Soviet women with a maximum of wide-eyed innocence and a minimum of Party ideals); and the malevolent one attempts various schemes For The Greater Glory Of The Soviet Union, much to the chagrin of our aw-shucks all-American baseball players, who just want the opportunity to chuck a good old American baseball without being buffeted by copies of the Daily Worker. The spinster secretary trips all around Chicago asking innocently for portraits of Lenin in order to make her new guests feel at home; the sweet Russian becomes an unexpectedly popular national celebrity when he gives all the players incentive bonuses, but forbids them from using their images to shill for Big Tobacco - think of the children! they should be ashamed of themselves! At one point, the Soviet agenda at a U.N. meeting is completely derailed while every representative takes their turn to wax rhapsodic about the signature sport of their home country. Baseball: it's transformative!

In the end, tragically, does anyone care about spoilers for this book? )
skygiants: Lord Yon from Legend of the First King's Four Gods in full regalia; text, 'judging' (judging)
2017-05-13 09:42 pm

(no subject)

OK, so if you've been around the internet you probably have already heard that KFC recently released a romance novella featuring Colonel Sanders. It is called Tender Wings of Desire and was available for free, so obviously I downloaded it despite knowing that this made me a tool of capitalist America.

Unfortunately, Tender Wings of Desire commits the worst sin that a joke romance novella written by a corporation can possibly commit: it is boring as heck.

In case you, too, find yourself fatally curious, here is a brief summation of the events of Tender Wings of Desire:

- Madeline Parker, A Vaguely Regency Lady, who is Breathtakingly Beautiful but, Unlike Other Girls, does not like Embroidery or Matters of the Household, gets engaged to a perfectly nice Duke
- But Alas! She Does Not Love Him!
- she wants to See The World!
- so on the night before the wedding she flees into the night with zero preparation or plans
- which is fine because the next day she gets a job at an inn in a small seaside town by walking in and asking the inn if they have a job
- she's so much happier doing manual inn labor than she was as a fine lady
- no you don't understand! she's Seeing the World! a whole ... different small town of it!
- anyway then she meets a dreamy glasses-wearing sailor
- they go for a walk, once, and then they are in love
- now that she's not a lady anymore, there's absolutely no reason in the world that she shouldn't have premarital sex!
- they kiss a few times and have some tastefully ambiguous fade-to-black banging(?)
- her new innkeeper friend drops a backstory about being seduced by a rake sailor but Madeline's like "he's not LIKE that" and it's fine, he totally isn't
- but then alas, the dramatic reveal: though she THOUGHT he was but a humble sailor, his family has sent him a letter begging him to return home and assume the mantle of their business empire!
- "Yes, I'm a Colonel. Yes, I'm fabulously rich. I am a magnate of the restaurant industry, my dear, the king of an empire that I built with my bare hands. I took a sabbatical from my duties in order to see the world, see what else could possibly be out there, and on the course of my journey I found what I was looking for."
- honestly that line is the only thing entertaining enough to read the novella for and now, there it is, you've read it. You're welcome.
- (she almost dumps him because she doesn't want to go back to Being A Lady)
- (but the next chapter they're married and sailing back to Kentucky to take over the business empire so I guess that's fine)
- (can't believe I sold my soul to KFC for this)
- (I'M A VEGETARIAN)
skygiants: Sokka from Avatar: the Last Airbender peers through an eyeglass (*peers*)
2017-05-10 09:06 pm

(no subject)

I have finished rereading the back half of the Wimsey books and I have a fair number of opinions! BEAR WITH ME.

This gets a little long )
skygiants: Sokka from Avatar: the Last Airbender peers through an eyeglass (*peers*)
2017-05-07 10:00 am

(no subject)

For me, the experience of reading this Kazuo Ishiguro's The Buried Giant was a lot like that Utena duel song that goes "allegory, allegorier, ALLEGORIEST." Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple, living in a Briton village in an England afflicted by a fog that obscures memories, decide to take a voyage to visit a son in another village whom they don't quite remember but are nonetheless sure exists. Along the way, they encounter several symbolic boatmen, numerous symbolic angry widows, a Saxon child with a mysterious symbolic wound, a Saxon swordsman with a mysterious symbolic quest, various confused symbolic memory-fog-afflicted soldiers, and an elderly Sir Gawain. Sir Gawain, it goes without saying, is also extremely symbolic. There are also ogres and dragons. The ogres do things like accidentally eat poison sheep and then lie dying in ditches, sinking slowly into the mire, while children stare silently over the edge of the ditch at them. It's that kind of book.

The memory-fog that lies across the country obscures two large mysteries: what happened between the Saxons and the Britons during Arthur's wars and what lies between and underneath their currently peaceful relationship, and what memories Axl and Beatrice have lost and what lies between and underneath their current loving relationship. The book's central questions are things like 'at what price peace?' and 'at what price justice?' and 'can love be real when it's not built on anything?' These are solid questions, though I'm not entirely sure four hundred pages of dreamy unsubtle allegory is my favorite way to examine them.

My frustrations lie under a spoiler-cut )
skygiants: Nellie Bly walking a tightrope among the stars (bravely trotted)
2017-04-15 09:02 am
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(no subject)

The title of Amy Stewart's Girl Waits With Gun is rather (intentionally, I think) misleading - not only is it not actually particularly hijinks-y, but Our Heroine Constance Kopp is a grown adult woman in her mid-thirties, which is honestly one of the reasons the book stood out to me.

Based On A True Story, Girl Waits With Gun kicks off when stoic six-foot-tall Constance and her two sisters (Norma, congenitally disapproving adult pigeon-fancier; Fleurette, theatrical teen fashionista) have an unfortunate street encounter with a band of local toughs, who are practicing Reckless Driving. Constance attempts to Demand Compensation. Local Toughs Retaliate by setting up an increasing campaign of threats and harassment, specifically targeting Fleurette. Constance and her sisters switch their efforts towards attempting to get local law enforcement to take all this seriously enough to do anything about it, which is unsurprisingly as challenging in 1914 as today.

Meanwhile, all this excitement starts Constance off on a course of introspection and reinvention regarding the sisters' struggling finances, their deeply retired and isolated life - a course of action taken to protect a family secret decades before, and never altered - and the possibilities open for women in 1914 to find an existence that's both self-sufficient and satisfying. Some inkling of the outcome of all this can perhaps be gleaned from the fact that the second book of Constance's adventures is titled Lady Cop Makes Trouble.

Teen Girl Shakes Off Convention stories, while often enjoyable, are not particularly rare. Adult Woman Re-Evaluates Life And Makes More Satisfying Choices is a different subgenre and one I always appreciate on the occasions that I find it, especially when it revolves primarily around her relationship with other women.

The sisters do have one Law Enforcement Male Ally, Sheriff Heath. He is progressive and ethical and he and Constance clearly have kind of a pining mutual respect Thing going on, and also he is married to an unsympathetic woman who does not approve of his choices or enjoy the Mrs. Sheriff lifestyle at all. I made some faces about this in the first book. Lady Cop Makes Trouble starts to complicate this, and make it clear that Mrs. Heath has some legitimate reasons to be deeply unhappy and dissatisfied; I'm hoping this is a trend that continues in future books.
skygiants: Kraehe from Princess Tutu embracing Mytho with one hand and holding her other out to a flock of ravens (uses of enchantment)
2017-04-05 11:30 pm
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(no subject)

Q: Why did you read The Secret History, a book all about death and specifically about the untimely death of a young man, on your way home to sit shiva for a young man who died an untimely death?
A: idk I just grabbed the first long-looking paperback off my shelf I hadn't read before?? In retrospect, I realize it is possible more forethought should have gone into this.

Q: When and where does The Secret History take place?
A: Where: a small liberal arts college in Vermont where everybody is either doing drugs or murders. When: I HAVE NO IDEA. I spent the entire book desperately grappling for temporal clues. Someone mentions learning about the moon landing! "Ah," I think, with relief, "late 1960s." Then 'Free Bird' comes on the radio! OK .. 1970s? "We sat around with margaritas and watched MTV." When did MTV even start? Are we suddenly nineties kids now?? WE JUST DON'T KNOW. On the other hand, it is entirely possible that I missed some obvious statement like "It Is 1989 Now," as I was not necessarily in my best state of mind for noticing details while reading this book, see above.

Q: You mentioned murder?
A: Yes! Definitely murder! This is not a spoiler, as murder happens on the first page before we flash back to happier, pre-murder times in the beautiful Vermont fall.

Q: Do the students get away with murder?
A: I see what you're doing there, and yes, I am pretty positive that the people who wrote or at least conceived of How To Get Away With Murder were strongly influenced by The Secret History. Although How To Get Away With Murder is much less white.

Q: What about women?
A: How To Get Away With Murder also has many more women.

Q: I don't watch How To Get Away With Murder! What else is like The Secret History?
A: OK, imagine that you put Nick and Gatsby into a blender together until you come up with one smooth-surfaced social-climbing desperately insecure bystander, and then you drop this blended narrator whom for convenience we shall call Natsby in the middle of a bunch of highly-strung Classics majors who think they're in a Mary Renault novel, complete with beloved psychodramatic tropes (sad queer kids! uncomfortably close twins! the protagonist almost freezing to death in a Vermont attic before being rescued by the most intense and highly-strung Classics major of all! everybody quoting Greek all the time!) and wrap it all up in extremely accomplished prose. In case you were wondering, The American Dream Remains A Lie.

Q: So ... did you like The Secret History or not?
A: I found it compelling and page-turney and interesting to think about structurally as an exercise in dubiously reliable narration and shifting character perception! I also think probably for maximum appreciation I should have read it as an 18-year-old with a Lot of Feelings about emotionally disturbed teenagers who quote Greek at each other, or at the very least not at the time when as it turns out I did in fact read it, return to top.
skygiants: ran and nijiko from 7 Seeds, looking faintly judgy (dubious lesbians)
2017-04-03 09:22 pm

(no subject)

[personal profile] jothra got me Of Fire and Stars as a holiday present last year, on account of Lesbian Princesses. It is indeed a YA fantasy about about lesbian princesses! This is the novel's big selling point and indeed I was sold by it, although to be honest I think I would have liked it better/it might have worked better thematically were it a book about lesbian princess, singular, + a non-princess lesbian.

Dennaleia (Denna), the Good Princess, is polite and ladylike and scholarly and eager to be of use to her kingdom of origin and also the kingdom whose prince she is meant to be marrying. Her big problem is that she has lots and lots and lots of poorly-trained magic, which is illegal.

Amaranthine (Mare), the Rebellious Princess, is mad about being a princess and does not care about royalty or ruling or responsibilities; she cares only about horses! Mare does sneak out of the castle on the regular with her One Friend to find out what's going on with the illegal magic-users in town, but since she seems to have one (1) contact in the city (how she made this contact? unclear) and no (0) highly-placed contacts in the castle to pass along the information that she gains from her one (1) contact in the city, it's difficult to tell how this got started or why she believes it's effective.

(It's also a bit difficult to tell what's actually going on in the city, why it's so easy for Mare and her One Friend to wander in and out of secret magic-user strongholds, and why there are only six people involved in the political life of the kingdom. Worldbuilding and political intrigue is not necessarily the book's strong suit.)

So, I mean, Mare is very much a YA heroine in the classic vein, but she and her "ugh, the court, the politics, THERE IS CLEARLY NO REASON FOR ME TO PAY ATTENTION TO ANY OF THESE LOSERS [flips table]" and her initial resentment of Denna's respectable princesshood would I think have worked better for me if she was a stablehand or something; these days I prefer my princesses with a little more self-awareness and sense of duty.

That said, though neither Denna nor Mare really demonstrate overwhelming amounts of tactical awareness or strategic intelligence, their romance is a perfectly cute iteration of Horse Girl Falls For Nerd Girl and I'm very glad that the genre of Tropey YA Fantasy With Paper-Thin Worldbuilding and Magical Princesses Metaphorically Singing "I Want" Songs - a perfectly respectable genre which every so often is still exactly the genre I want to read! - has gotten a little bit gayer.

(But if you want really good lesbian princesses, may I recommend Erin Bow's The Scorpion Rules? The baby royals are responsible AND there are asshole goats!)
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (cosmia)
2017-03-22 09:21 pm

(no subject)

After reading Peter Beagle's Summerlong and being Tragically Unimpressed, I made my book club read Tamsin just so I could remember the Beagles I have loved before.

Tamsin is very much a Beagle I have loved before. As a teenager it was probably my favorite Beagle, even moreso than The Last Unicorn, just because I identified so hard with sulky, obstreperous Jenny Gluckstein, a Jewish New York teenager who moves to Dorset and promptly falls head-over-heels for a beautiful eighteenth-century ghost named Tamsin Willoughby.

I described the book this way in book club. "But I don't want to oversell you on how gay it is," I added, worriedly. "I mean I haven't reread it since I was a teenager. It definitely might not be as gay as I remember. Maybe it isn't gay at all, and I was just projecting!"

...rest assured, this book is very gay. We're not entirely sure if Beagle knows just how gay it is? There are numerous moments where Jenny describes in great detail the tingly feelings that Tamsin's quirky smile and vanilla smell and tiny ghost freckles make her feel, and then adds something like "I guess I'll probably feel that way about a boy someday!" Will you, Jenny? WILL YOU?

(I mean, maybe she will, bisexuality definitely an option, I'm just saying. The book is first-person, with the device of being an explanation of Everything That Went Down from the perspective of several years later for Jenny's friend Meena to read; the structure makes a whole lot more sense if one just assumes Jenny and Menna are by this point dating. Meena is in the book plenty! Thematically paralleled with Tamsin, even! Meena's jealousy of the time Jenny spends mysteriously disappearing to hang out with a ghost and Jenny's jealousy of Meena's tragic crush on The Boy She Pines For Across The Choir Benches is a whole thing!)

So yes, in retrospect, it turns out I still love Tamsin - even though, in retrospect, reading it now, it's a super weirdly-structured book. The first solid third of the book is all Jenny's SULKY OBSTREPEROUS AGONIZING TEENAGE FEELINGS about leaving New York, which is fine, I guess, except it introduces half a dozen characters that are super important to Jenny in New York and will never be important again. Then another character who's incredibly important to the finale of the book shows up maybe three chapters before the end, and Jenny's like "oh yeah, I forgot to mention her? But she's been here the whole time, having weird interactions with me the whole time, let's just pretend I've been talking about it, OK? OK."

Still, Jenny's amused-embarrassed voice looking back at all the time she spent as a hideously embarrassing teenager continues to ring about as true for me as it did when I myself was a hideously embarrassing teenager. I think I'm always going to love Tamsin for that.

(Also the tragic feline love story of between Jenny's actual factual cat and Tamsin's imperturbable ghost cat continues to delight.)
skygiants: Sokka from Avatar: the Last Airbender peers through an eyeglass (*peers*)
2017-03-19 06:41 pm

(no subject)

As a comfort read project, I've been rereading the Lord Peter Wimsey books for the first time since I was in high school - with the exception of Murder Must Advertise, which I wrote a paper on in college, and The Nine Tailors, which I realized I'd never read after writing my paper on Murder Must Advertise and therefore read shortly afterwards. But I haven't hit either of those yet on my reread; I've currently gotten through Whose Body, Clouds of Witness, Unnatural Death, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, and Strong Poison, and I just hauled myself over the finish line of Five Red Herrings today.

It's been an interesting and occasionally unexpected experience. Here are some general impressions )

Five left, but of those five, three of them -- Murder Must Advertise, Gaudy Night, and Busman's Honeymoon -- are the ones that I remember best, so it'll be interesting to see if the reread continues to be as much of a voyage of discovery as the early ones have been or if the later books generally match up with the impressions they've already left in my brain.
skygiants: ran and nijiko from 7 Seeds, looking faintly judgy (dubious lesbians)
2017-03-14 02:45 pm

(no subject)

I'm familiar with John Wyndham as the author of such science fiction classics as Day of the Triffids and The Kraken Wakes, but I'd never heard of The Chrysalids before reading it for work book club.

The Chrysalids is I think the earliest example I've ever encountered of the now-familiar trope, Psychic Kids Against Cruel World. In this particular case, the cruel world is a post-apocalyptic future in what I think is strongly implied to be northern Canada, which has set up a strict religious farming society in response to massive nuclear destruction.

The fact that protagonist David is a Psychic Kid isn't actually revealed until a few chapters in, after David has already talked us through his friendship with six-toed Sophie, Sophie's parents' attempt to hide her 'mutation', the eventual discovery of Sophie's extra toe by the authorities, and Sophie's family's attempt to flee. Only then is David like, "ALSO, by the way, I have a telepathic bond with my cousin Rosemary and a couple other random kids from the closest six towns or so and we all live in terror lest anyone should find out and denounce us as mutants! GOOD TIMES."

Eventually a couple things start to disturb the tenuous balance that keeps David and his other psychic friends safe and out of suspicion:

- one teenage telepathic girl decides to marry a local non-telepathic boy, despite the fact that all of her friends think this is a terrible idea -- as it, in fact, turns out very definitely to be
- David's baby sister turns out to be an ENORMOUSLY POWERFUL telepath who is CONSTANTLY SCREAMING at all the other telepathic kids ALL THE TIME because she DOESN'T KNOW HOW TO USE AN INDOOR TELEPATH VOICE, which means that suddenly all the telepathic kids are, like, running out to the middle of the woods together for no apparent reason because Petra fell into a hole and will not shut up in their heads
- also, while we're at it, Petra informs David that there are some other people out there she's been chatting with, well beyond the bounds of what the rest of the community considers dead world; they're super far away! but they're there!

You probably have a sense of the kind of book this is by now, I think. It's a very good example of this kind of book; maybe the ur-example? In any case, I enjoyed it, in a grim and postapocalyptic but not hopeless sort of way.
skygiants: Enjolras from Les Mis shouting revolution-tastically (la resistance lives on)
2017-03-12 10:45 am

(no subject)

I picked up Audrey Erskine Lindop's 1961 novel The Way to the Lantern at the Traveler Restaurant (the Connecticut diner that stocks books to give away) a few months back, solely based on the fact that it had a bright red cover with the words "A NOVEL OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION" emblazoned on it. Last week I finally started reading it.

By the time I got five pages in, the protagonist, a prisoner sentenced to death by the Revolution, had already:

- complained about the fact that everyone else slated for execution is being annoyingly noble and nonchalant about it
- complained vociferously about the fact that he’s slated to be executed under the wrong name
- been required to prove his identity by flashing his uniquely-scarred ass at the Tribunal (one cheek was bitten by a dog and has never recovered)
- protested to the Tribunal - who think he is a Viscomte in hiding, and do not believe that he is a real actor because the secret policeman who saw him on stage officially reported back that he was unbelievably bad - that he IS a real actor, he’s actually a GREAT actor, he was just TIRED that day
- managed to stave off execution due to the fact, in addition to the committee that wants to execute him for being a Viscomte in hiding, there’s ANOTHER committee that wants to execute him for being a spying Englishman and they cannot agree on who's right

At this point I almost stopped reading because this was already basically a perfect book and things could only go downhill from here.

The Way to the Lantern is essentially a reverse Scarlet Pimpernel: instead of being a brilliant mastermind with twelve identities which are never connected by the Revolutionary authorities, Our Hero is a completely irrelevant actor named Roberts who, through a series of poor decisions and unlucky catastrophes, accidentally has the Revolutionary authorities convinced that he is a brilliant mastermind with twelve identities.

Further detailed plot spoilers below explain how this came about )

Anyway I am now obviously planning to seek out everything else Audrey Erskine Lindop has ever written, so LOOK FORWARD TO MORE OF THAT.
skygiants: Mary Lennox from the Secret Garden opening the garden door (garden)
2017-03-05 05:10 pm

(no subject)

I have a confession: I am not a science person. It's an odd kind of mental block. I always liked history, and I actually also liked math, and it always seemed like therefore I should be able to master science too -- I mean, science is basically just math + story, right? And I'm good at both those things! But somehow I could never even build a mousetrap car that worked correctly, let alone wrapping my head around the more complex aspects of physics or biology. My glass-ceiling-shattering neurologist mother was always nice enough not to seem too obviously disappointed by this.

Anyway, Lab Girl -- a memoir about geochemist/geobiologist Hope Jahren's career in science, interspersed with descriptions of the scientific weirdness of botany -- was our book club pick a few months back. I didn't actually make it to that round of book club, but I read the book later on anyway.

...and I'm going to be honest: the book is compellingly written, botany is undeniably weird and interesting when looked at objectively, and yet when reading this book, I still found myself impatient to shove through the straight botany sections to get to the actual memoir story. I'm sorry! Science writing is cool, I just find it personally challenging, I don't know what's wrong with me.

("But just a couple weeks ago you were going on about how cool the alien linguistic morphology was in Embassytown" -- yes I know and for some reason it doesn't apply when it's made-up science! I don't know why this is!!! I guess I just find it more impressive when other humans come up with this stuff than when evolution/God/forces beyond our control do??? "My brain could do that! Except, of course, it doesn't.")

....and once again when trying to write about a memoir I find myself writing a post that's more about me than the book. It's a solid memoir! Jahren is pulling together a couple of story-threads -- one about being a female scientist, and then one again about being a female scientist with severe manic-depression, and then wrapped into that is the story of her lifelong partnership with her highly eccentric lab buddy/platonic life partner Bill. (I believe there was a Yuletide request related to this.) I'm glad I read the book, but I think I remain confident in my conclusion that biology was not the career for me.
skygiants: Kyoko from Skip Beat! making a mad flaily dive (oh flaily flaily)
2017-02-28 10:26 pm

(no subject)

OK, all the Crossroads books are pretty weird, but now that I have read it I feel justified in my remembered assessment that The Healing of Crossroads is ABSOLUTELY the weirdest.

So here's what happens in this book. )