skygiants: Yoko from Twelve Kingdoms, sword drawn (sword in hand)
Okay, I'm going to start by ssaying that I'm glad to have read the new Shirley Jackson biography, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life -- it's extremely thorough, consistently interesting and has a great deal of respect for its subject -- but also, I have some bones to pick with it. I'm sorry, Ruth Franklin, you did a lot of work and I'm glad you're so fond of Shirley Jackson! I am too! I learned a great deal from your book, thanks for writing it!

...and now, the beef:

- Ruth Franklin really wants there to be two villains in Jackson's story, her mother Geraldine and her husband Stanley Hyman, and ... I'm absolutely not saying these two people were great people or treated Jackson wonderfully (Hyman especially not) but I feel like Jackson's relationship with Geraldine in particular seems more complicated than Franklin wants to make it, even from the snippets of letters that are included in the book

- and while Ruth Franklin is certainly dedicated to the Feminist Take and the Horror of Housewifery and, like, I sympathize, also it feels a little ... reductive? ... to imply that so much of Shirley Jackson's incomparably weird fiction can be boiled down to mother issues/husband issues

- on a related note, the biography spends a lot of time talking about Shirley Jackson's (and also her husband Stanley Hyman's) weight, and -- I mean, it's relevant, Shirley Jackson eventually had health problems of which she died, but it feels like we're getting updates on her size about once a chapter and I don't care that much and I kept getting slightly weirded out by the fact that Franklin cared that much

- meanwhile, Franklin teases in a very early chapter insights derived from Shirley's year-long correspondence with a kindred spirit housewife who wrote her a fan letter, and then when we finally get there spends a chapter discussing this VERY INTENSE letter-writing relationship which the housewife eventually dropped for Reasons Unknown, and doesn't even present a theory as to why or show us any text from the last letter that she read but never responded to? MORE TIME ON THIS, LESS TIME ON LOVING DESCRIPTIONS OF ALL THE HOUSES THAT SHIRLEY'S GRANDFATHER EVER BUILT

- ok so Franklin quotes this page from Jackson's college diary:

my friend was so strange that everyone, even the man i loved, thought we were lesbians and they used to talk about us, and i was afraid of them and i hated them, then i wanted to write stories about lesbians and how people misunderstood them, and finally this man sent me away because i was a lesbian and my friend was away and i was all alone

and Franklin's analysis:

although characters who may be lesbians appear more than once in her fiction, Jackson -- typically for her era and her class -- evinced a personal horror of lesbianism. It's possible that the relatively extreme way in which she would later disparage lesbians reflects some repression on her part, especially considering that she and Hyman had several close male friends who were homosexual. But that is conjecture only. Jackson never spoke of experiencing sexual desire for women. When she refers to herself and Jeanou as lesbians in that piece, at a time when lesbianism was little discussed or understood, she seems to be using the idea of it as a metaphor for social nonconformity.

Okay, look: I have not done extensive research into Jackson's life. I am not going to try to argue with Franklin about whether or not Shirley Jackson was queer. It's for sure possible to read the above as 'this man sent me away because [he thought] i was a lesbian'. But are you seriously really going to try to tell me that when Shirley 'Introducing Dreamy Gay Theodora' Jackson wrote 'everyone thought we were lesbians' she didn't know what the word meant? Because I DO NOT BELIEVE YOU, RUTH FRANKLIN.

(Also, she talks about how Jackson 'evinced a personal horror of lesbianism' but ... where's the citation? This doesn't come up again in-text until four hundred pages later in the biography, when Jackson is stressing about the first draft of Castle and whether she's accidentally writing the sisters as gay -- do they hide because they are somehow unnatural? am i never to be sure of any of my characters? if the alliance between [merricat] and constance is unholy then my book is unholy and i am writing something terrible, in my own terms, because my own identity is gone and the word is only something that means something else -- and again! it seems! that there is something significantly more complicated going on there than 'yikes, lesbians!' Also it seems hypothetically relevant that this was all being discussed in the correspondence with the housewife who eventually dropped her for Reasons Unknown! ANYWAY!)

...all that said, I appreciate Franklin for including these extensive quotes in the book to give me something to fight with her about; good scholarship even if I'm dubious about the analysis!

I also appreciate her description of Shirley Jackson's unfinished children's book: a portal fantasy about two kids who reluctantly go to the birthday party of a girl they don't much like, only to find out that she is a.) a portal fantasy princess and b.) now they have to go on a fantasy adventure to rescue her from peril. I'm so sad she never finished it, I would really love to read Shirley Jackson's Twelve Kingdoms.
skygiants: the Phantom of the Opera, reaching out (creeper of the opera)
People who follow me on Twitter may remember that when I was a few chapters away from the thrilling conclusion of The Singer Not the Song, I temporarily lost my copy of the book and went into a full-blown tailspin about it.

As you know, the book eventually turned up safe and sound, but it turned out in the end to be a blessing because without that panic, I never would have gone to look up local libraries in the faint hope that they might have acquired some more Audrey Erskine Lindop since my first time searching several years ago -- and in fact they had! Specifically, they had acquired Sight Unseen (1969), the back copy of which reads:

Everybody wanted to play Brian Touhey's life for him:

His fiancee wanted him to stay sober and paint "sober" pictures.

His fiancee's mother wanted him to find another fiancee.

His "Beau Brummel" cousin wanted him to be a successful businessman.

His cat, Dogberry, wanted him to give up women completely and serve fresh fish more often.

But none of them worked quite as hard for what they wanted as Colonel Hawkins. And he wanted to lock Bryan away in a gloomy old house on Romney Marsh -- where Bryan could drink and paint; where he could put down on canvas the phantasmagoria of his alcohol soaked brain; where he could die...

For the record, I remember clearly that I acquired this book the day before St. Patrick's Day, because I went to chorus practice and forced [personal profile] sovay to look at the back cover, and then went to a St. Patrick's Day party and forced everybody there to look at the back cover as well because it delighted me so much.

Based on this cover and the experience of The Singer Not the Song, I felt it was not unreasonable for me to expect this book to be an extremely homoerotic boy-meets-house Gothic. Which it ... sort of is? And I want to be clear: it's not quite as gay as The Singer Not the Song (but then, what could be.) The emotional dynamic is more like a version of the main triangle in Gilda with Gilda and Johnnie's roles reversed: an older man becomes obsessed with a younger man, and sets him up with a young woman who's obsessed with him (the older man) in a situation where they can't help but also become a little obsessed with each other, and it's all going to resolve in either threesome or murder.

The plot:

Brian is a fairly terrible young man who owns a failing antiques shop, which he lies and says is haunted to see if it will turn out in an uptick in sales. (It doesn't.) He also paints intense, creepy paintings, but only when he's drunk. He also has a semi-hemi-demi fiancee whom everyone including the reader is clearly meant to find a bit boring, so it's a pity that approximately the first half of the book involves a lot of will-they-won't-they about their clearly doomed relationship. (The fiancee's mother, on the other hand, who hates Brian with the passion of a thousand suns, is absolutely great and I'm so sad she disappears from the book.)

Anyway, Colonel Hawkins comes across Brian's art and promptly decides that he can make Brian's Extremely Valuable, possibly by spreading rumors that he's possessed by a painting ghost. Or maybe Brian is possessed by a painting ghost!

As in any good Gothic, Brian is immediately suspicious of Hawkins but also compelled by him:

It occurred to me that it was only when I was out of Hawkins' company that I thought him so sinister. When I was with him I felt stimulated and oddly soothed by that cool voice.

Colonel Hawkins, by the way, also has a tragic backstory involving the imaginary painting ghost:

"Who was 'Darling, darling Laura'?" I asked.

"The only person I have ever met whose work bore the smallest resemblance to yours."

"Oh, she painted?"

"He did."

There the conversation ended as Hawkins had no obvious intention of continuing it.

Hawkins, by the way, himself paints technically well enough to arouse Brian's deep envy, but despises his own work:

BRIAN: "If you can touch me up, why don't you paint like that yourself?"
HAWKINS: "Because I can only touch you up and not paint like that myself unless I copy you."

Along the way Brian is adopted by a stray cat, which promptly becomes the most important relationship in his life, and also a means by which Hawkins can further exert control: Brian has accidentally tripped over Dogberry the cat and now Dogberry is mad at him! HAWKINS, CAT WHISPERER, IS THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN HELP HIM COAX DOGBERRY TO EAT. I suspect I am not the only one who find this a pleasant piece of thematic repetition in Lindop's work.

Inevitably, Colonel Hawkins decides that Brian's fiancee is a Bad Influence on his work and sends him off to stay in his sinister mansion! spoilers through the end )
skygiants: clone helmet lit by the vastness of space (clone feelings)
Now that everyone's excited about Star Wars it seems like a good time to say that we finished all the currently available Clone Wars! I've been emotionally compromised by the first arc of this last season for the past several months!

Season Six, under the cut )
skygiants: Himari, from Mawaru Penguin Drum, with stars in her hair and a faintly startled expression (gonna be a star)
We've just finished watching The Greatest Love, a Hong Sisters kdrama about a vastly famous action-hero actor who falls in tumultuous love with a once-famous, now washed-up pop singer struggling to climb her way back into the industry by featuring on a Bachelor-style TV show.

Midway through the first episode, my roommate [profile] attractivegkry wandered in, had the plot explained to her, and remarked, "Can't wait for the US remake starring Jason Statham and Britney Spears!"

This comparison is not totally exact -- hero Dokko Jin is definitely more of an equivalent to one of the Ubiquitous Marvel Chrises, fame- and popularity-wise, while Gu Ae-yeong is really more like a Spice Girl than a solo singer -- but all the same it had a profound impact on the way we experienced various plot points in the show.

ME: Okay, so you're a personal assistant, and it turns out your boss, Jason Statham, has somehow never heard of Britney Spears and it's your job to explain her entire career to him --

[personal profile] tenillypo: Okay, so you're an elementary school student, and Jason Statham is on the playground, ripping open his shirt to display his nipples to a confused Britney Spears --
ME: And you don't know who any of those people are, because you're in elementary school --

ME: Okay, so you're in a movie theater, and you walk into the lobby, and Britney Spears and Jason Statham are sitting there cuddling on a bench, and she's whisper-singing 'Toxic' in his ear --

[personal profile] tenillypo: I'm not sure I understand why they want Dokko Jin to star in Ae-jeong's comeback music video -- I mean, he's an action hero? What does that look like in an MV?

(link resolves to Jason Statham's early career as a backup dancer; click at your own peril. We were deeply disappointed that the plot point about Dokko Jin potentially starring in Gu Ae-jeong's music video never resolved.)

Anyway. Statham and Spears aside, the Hong Sisters enjoy nonsense and there is a LOT of absolute nonsense in this show, but there's also a solid attempt at a critique of their own industry and its pervasive toxicity and double standards around behavior for male and female celebrities. Ae-Jeong's other love interest, a mild-mannered doctor who performs such thrilling reality-TV activities in his role as the Korean Bachelor as "putting together a puzzle in complete silence," appears to exist in the story entirely so that he can make confused and judgmental faces whenever anyone tries to explain the workings of the industry to him. Some spoilery thoughts )
skygiants: Enjolras from Les Mis shouting revolution-tastically (la resistance lives on)
A friend of mine diagnosed, correctly, that I was the correct audience for In the Land of Happy Tears: Yiddish Tales for Modern Times and passed me on her copy -- it's a collection of Yiddish-language short stories, translated and aimed at kids.

The stories are broken down into three sections - "Bravery," "Rebellion," "Justice," and "Wonder" - so, I mean, there is very clearly an agenda (that I approve of!) at work here in the selections. This made it no less hilarious to me when I hit the story titled The Wise Hat, about a magical hat that confers wisdom on a king's advisors, which concludes as follows:

By the next day, a revolution began. King Yuhavit was decapitated. The former fool, who remained a fool, was hanged. The former sage, who had now also become a fool, was shot. Their clothing and their hats were destroyed. And now everything is as it should be.


Of the eighteen stories in the collection, I would estimate that only three or four are really actively Jacobin, but they definitely add a zesty punch to a collection that is otherwise full of, like, Some Pretty Leaves Travel From Autumn Land To Green Land and The Diary Of An Adorable Young Squirrel.

From another story, about identical twin brothers:

Because aside from a healthy chunk of real estate, the brothers had also inherited some bad blood -- blue blood, their parents had called it. The parents were even proud of it, and this in itself was enough to show the kinds of brains they had, not knowing that healthy people's blood is red and not blue!

...actually, now that I'm looking, it seems like all of the really revolutionary ones are by Moyshe Nadir, an author and Yiddish theater critic who was so rude in his reviews that he started having to attend the theater in disguise to avoid getting thrown out. Clearly, an author to investigate!

Other turn-of-the-century authors in the anthology include Leon Elbe (airy little folktales about leaves and kites and the moon), Jacob Kreplak (elliptical and somewhat melancholy child's-eye-view realism), Jacob Reisfader (folktales about virtuous children), Rachel Shabad (folktales about virtuous adults) and Sonia Kantor (Daily Lives of Animals; no biographical details known! a mystery!)
skygiants: Eve from Baccano! looking up at a starry sky (little soul big world)
The thing I like most of all, maybe, in speculative fiction, is when stories about the fantastical and the numinous have their roots in the deeply mundane and vice versa -- you can reach the stars, but you still need logistics, you still need plumbing, ordinary people are still going to have to make those things happen, and when they do that's maybe the most fantastical thing of all.

Iona Datt Sharma does this better than nearly anybody writing today. Their short story collection Not For Use In Navigation came out two weeks ago and it is absolutely chock full of stressed-out bureaucrats in space, among other themes (queerness; AI; infrastructure; mistakes and regrets and their aftermath; the way that humans succeed and fail at navigating difference; life as it is lived and goes on being lived after trauma and catastrophic change.)

Just about every story in this collection is a gem, but here's some favorites:

Light, Like a Candle Flame: all right so we're on the new planet, now where are we going to put the sanitation plant (says the stressed-out bureaucrat to her partner, the space ship)

Flightcraft: a nod to all those people who like WWII and women and planes (it's me! I'm one of those people!), but with magic and lesbians and the slow work of making a life after the war ends

Archana and Chandni: a lesbian Indian wedding, in space; full of aunties and sisters (one of whom is a spaceship) (but a spaceship that all the aunties love best!)

Nine Thousand Hours: not actually a horror story, but a premise that is deeply horrifying to me, personally, about a magical mistake with EXTREMELY SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES

Ur: daily life next to aliens; a community in limbo, waiting for a referendum on whether you get to stay and build

Quarter Days: the longest piece in the collection; a firm of magical practitioners navigate bureaucracy, complex magical infrastructure, and the people they've become in the wake of WWI

Akbar and the Crows; Birbal and the sadhu; Akbar's holiday; Akbar learns to read and write: Technically these are four different stories, interspersed through the collection, and every time I bumped into another one it brought me more joy -- folktales of an Akbar and a Birbal, a powerful ruler and her cleverest advisor running a vast intersteller empire
skygiants: fairy tale illustration of a girl climbing a steep flight of stairs (mother i climbed)
I wasn't sure how much I was feeling Queen of Blood, the first book in Sarah Beth Durst's Queens of Renthia trilogy, but I decided to progress on with the next two nonetheless and ended up glad I did!

The series is set in a world that's jam-packed with constantly angry nature spirits that like to murder people, which ... at this particular historical moment feels like an unsubtle climate change metaphor in a way I don't entirely love ..... but also provides an excuse for a political setup focused on a non-hereditary monarchy: Renthia is ruled by a queen who has spirit-controlling powers and keeps them in check, and when she dies, the spirits choose a queen from among the various women born with spirit-controlling powers who've been training to replace her.

(Men do not have spirit-controlling powers. This fact is dropped early on and never returned to; it's not a plot point, the trilogy just doesn't really care very much about men. On the one hand, a relatable and understandable viewpoint! On the other hand, Sarah Beth Durst clearly did not remember that queerness of any kind existed until someone reminded her two-thirds of the way through book three, at which point she hastily assembled a side lesbian romance out of the leftover plot points in her fridge, so perhaps it's for the best that she didn't attempt a nuanced exploration of gender identity...)

In the first book, The Queen of Blood, Teen Heroine Daleina enters the training process to become one of the queen's official heirs despite the fact that her spirit-controlling powers are fairly minimal, trusting to her determination, hard work, and sense of responsibility to carry her through! which it mostly does, but I'm not sure it needed four hundred pages to do it.

In the second book, The Reluctant Queen, Daleina has fallen ill, which means it's very important to find new heirs lest she die and the spirits immediately murder everybody. The gruff champion who spent most of the first book training Daleina goes out searching, and turns up Naelin: a middle-aged mom with immense spirit-controlling power who has no interest in becoming queen and is ready to Refuse the Call FIVE HUNDRED TIMES.

I enjoyed this book a lot; it was both refreshing and entertaining to see the rest of the cast attempting to throw various Magical Coming-Of-Age tropes at a grown woman who was having absolutely none of it. "What do you mean, you're going to call an angry spirit at me with no warning so I can learn to control it with my power, that's super dangerous, my KIDS are here??" BLESS.

Other things I enjoyed about both this book and the third in the series:
- the legitimate conflicts between Daleina, an extremely responsible teenager whose top priority is the country, and Naelin, an extremely responsible adult whose top priority is her kids
- Naelin and Daleina both have het romances and they're both very supportive but a bit boring, BUT Daleina's sweet-but-boring healer boyfriend comes with a cheerful sociopathic professional poisoner mother who vastly more interesting and also vastly more relevant to the narrative
- in fact everyone has important moms and sisters
- but nobody has important fathers or brothers
- Daleina also has a royal frenemy who starts out as her school friend and becomes the queen of the neighboring kingdom and is also a bit sociopathic but, like, doesn't really want to murder Daleina, she likes Daleina, they were school friends and everything! it's just that she's fairly sure that if she's going to save the world she's got to murder Daleina?
- she also is much more interesting than Daleina's very sweet boyfriend

Overall Sarah Beth Durst is clearly very interested in women who are not the standard Powerful Teen fantasy heroines, and who are motivated by a sense of duty and responsibility, and I am interested in those things too! I'm still VERY dubious about the cosmology of her nature spirits, but for me it was worth the price of admission.
skygiants: (swan)
The fact that Zen Cho's The True Queen has now formally joined the ranks of Lesbian Regency Romances reminded me that I never got around to writing up Penelope Friday's Petticoats and Promises which [personal profile] lokifan mentioned as one of the few other extant examples last time I was talking about lesbian Regency romance.

The arc of Petticoats and Promises:

- lifelong Regency best friends Clara and Serena discover they are in love! hurrah!
- whoops Serena's family has suffered a downfall in fortunes and there isn't enough money for her to have a season, but it's fine, she can go visit Clara on hers!
- OH NO, Clara's terrible mom catches them together and Serena gets packed off home in a cloud of mysterious disgrace!
- the next thing Serena hears, Clara is married!
- Resentful and Betrayed, Serena goes off to have her own Season and meets a cool older lesbian who helps her grow into herself
- will Clara and Serena get back together after Clara has bowed to social heterosexual pressure? will Serena's deeply caring but conventional parents support her if she comes out to them? could you take the entire arc of this book and drop it in, like, the 1980s and replace "season" with "college" and have it read almost exactly the same? I leave it to the discerning reader to intuit the answer to these questions!

And, I mean, "the historical aspect is almost entirely set dressing" is an issue for many Regency romances, Petticoats and Promises is absolutely not alone in this regard. I personally would have wanted either a little more actual plot, or a richer and more grounded exploration of the actual historical time period -- either would have done! -- but if you're craving a story about a young lesbian Finding Herself while wearing a lot of pretty dresses, this will do perfectly well!
skygiants: Fakir from Princess Tutu leaping through a window; text 'doors are for the weak' (drama!!!)
Okay, so on principle, I want to encourage books like The Whale: A Love Story. It would have been very easy for Mark Beauregard to write the kind of nonfiction that drives me up a wall, involving a lot of unverifiable internal monologue and speculation, and instead he just went directly to publishing Nathaniel Hawthorne/Herman Melville slash fiction! In theory, I respect this!

In practice, I don't think any narrator in my recent memory has filled me with QUITE so much secondhand embarrassment as Beauregard's obsessively horny Herman Melville?

Hawthorne's features were so fine that they could have belonged to a woman: eyebrows that prettily framed his coffee brown eyes; a hawkish Roman nose; sensuous red lips, the bottom lip a wide devouring flare; and waving chestnut hair that fell in ringlets behind his ears.

Hawthorne was fifteen years Herman's senior, but his face seemed to Herman to defy the laws of earthly decay. So noble did Hawthorne seem that Herman conjectured that some unique mechanism had gradually been transferring his inner beauty touch by touch outward towards his external features with each passing day [...] that his face would become almost ethereal.

Here is an actual daguerrotype of Hawthorne, for context:

I mean he's a perfectly appealing-looking dude but I don't know if 'ethereal' and 'sensuous' are the words I'd use?

[Hawthorne]'s only concessions to the cold were his knee-high black boots and a black scarf that he had tied around his waist, but which now he unwound and wrapped dashingly around his neck - mostly but not completely covering the bare flesh of his exposed chest. He did it so self-consciously that Herman suspected for a moment that he might be flaunting himself: he was even more beautiful and sexual than Herman's wood-chopping fantasy had been.

While reading this, I could not help but think about those tumblr posts that attempt to slut-shame Alexander Hamilton ... let Nathaniel Hawthorne wear a scarf without being subject to the male gaze!

The book covers the period from 1851-52 when Hawthorne and Melville were literary neighbors and also, in occasional scholarly speculation and definitely in this text, literary gaybors. Their relationship largely consists of Melville showing up, wild-eyed and lustful, at Hawthorne's door and Hawthorne repeatedly explaining that it's not that he's not into Melville but also, he is happily married and does not want to cheat on his wife, sorry!

Meanwhile, Melville makes terrible decision after terrible decision, acts like more and more of a dick to his wife and family, and goes deeper and deeper into debt in order to hang onto the thin thread of hope that he might someday work his way into Hawthorne's heart and maybe also his pants. "It'll all be fine once Moby-Dick sells a million copies!" he tells himself, repeatedly. Buddy ..... I and history have bad news for you there .....

Some moments when I literally had to put my hands over my face so I didn't scream out loud at Melville's bad decision-making abilities:

- Melville flips out internally at Hawthorne giving him a book! in front of his WIFE! the tenderness with which he made this gesture seemed absolutely shameless to Herman
- Melville promises his wife that she can buy a house that will be hers, with her money, and then promptly goes and buys a house that she doesn't like because it's walking distance to Hawthorne's place
- Melville attempts to confess his crush to his EXTREMELY STRAIGHT, EXTREMELY STRESSED cousin: "I have the feeling that I have not yet begun to unfold the inner flower of myself, but I believe that I can do so now, with the help of this special person."
- Melville forgets that he is living in the 1850s and invites a random teenager with a crush on him upstairs to his study, and closes the door, with his entire family downstairs and 100% convinced he's having an affair

And, I mean, for all I know the events as provided by this text are a thousand percent factual; Herman Melville really does seem like a person who was indeed extra enough to make exactly these consistently bad decisions. But I think possibly he might also have had slightly more of a sense of humor and self-awareness about it? Or maybe not, I don't know, I've never actually read Moby-Dick. Anyway I spent a lot of this book with my hands over my face, but if you are less affected by this than I and have been longing to read novel-length Great American Author published slash fiction then here is for sure your chance!

This review courtesy of [personal profile] obopolsk, who has been trying to hand me her copy of The Whale for YEARS and finally successfully ambushed me last week.
skygiants: Kraehe from Princess Tutu embracing Mytho with one hand and holding her other out to a flock of ravens (uses of enchantment)
I've been feeling playlisty recently, so a few weeks ago I did a Twitter meme where I asked people for prompts for 5-song playlistlets about things we both liked, which I would make in the next week. has now been almonst a month, but on the other hand almost every playlist on this list has more than 5 songs in it, so really it was an equal-opportunity lie!

clones (star wars) for [personal profile] bluestalking - I uh for sure had this one ready to go already, mostly with songs siphoned off from the playlist for my clone amateur oral historian character from our last tabletop campaign

bash for [personal profile] jothra - relatedly, the playlist for my clone amateur oral historian character from our last tabletop campaign

wild theatrical productions for [personal profile] evewithanapple - I was not sure whether this prompt meant 'songs from wild theatrical productions' or 'the mood of creating/experiencing a wild theatrical production', so I attempted to do the second with the first? please note that 'wild' is not a condemnation, some of these are from productions I think are legitimately delightful and some from productions I sincerely believe are terrible

Kay for [personal profile] aella_irene - this was surprisingly difficult, the only thing in my personal feelings about Sir Kay that for sure I feel like I captured was my strong belief that he spends his entire life annoyed and stressed

Russian Doll for [personal profile] aberration - this is another one I definitely had cued up and ready to go already

the Iron Bull (Dragon Age) for [personal profile] agonistes - the Land Down Under here represents Ferelden

bog bodies - [personal profile] shati forbade me from using Zombie by The Cranberries in this playlist, which, technically, I did not

UNIONS! - [personal profile] happydork is lucky this playlist was not composed entirely of Daniel Kahn songs

True Pretenses by Rose Lerner for [personal profile] sophia_sol - this one was so much fun to do AND coincidentally also gave me an excuse to use another Daniel Kahn song >.>

Ernest Shackleton Loves Me for [personal profile] pseudo_tsuga - an attempt at conveying the Mood of this great work without using any actual songs from the show

Princess Tutu - ok YOU guys all know that my personal playlist for this is LENGTHY, but the person who requested it is my roommate M and we've just finished watching S1, so I had to leave off more than half the things I would put on it until a later date when they will make sense >.>

Twelve Kingdoms for [personal profile] izilen - another playlist I have had ready to go for years just waiting for someone to ask me about it

the specific emotion of yankumi pretending that shin rescued her from the scary gang member she just beat up for [personal profile] esmenet - this is indeed a very specific delightful emotion which I did my best to capture!

trapped in an inn for [personal profile] nextian - a mediocre playlist for a great prompt, I would LOVE more suggestions for songs that express the feeling of 'I'm been stuck for a week in this place with a bunch of people I don't like OH WAIT no nevermind I love them now'

Feel free to chime in with a.) song suggestions for any of these playlists or b.) more prompts, I am always looking to grow my music collection and I continue to find playlisting a pleasant and soothing activity.
skygiants: Sophie from Howl's Moving Castle with Calcifer hovering over her hands (a life less ordinary)
So Becca, you may ask, is everything you've read recently gay?

To which I respond: no, not at all! The Door at the End of the World, an ARC of which was passed onto me due to its DWJ-reminiscent qualities as determined by respectable DWJ experts [personal profile] aamcnamara and [personal profile] bluestalking, is the kind of solidly charming middle-grade book that exists in a pleasant liminal space full of nifty magic and devoid of any sexuality whatsoever.

The plot: undistinguished adolescent Lucy Ebersley is a minor bureaucratic functionary working at one of the intersections between a collection of linked worlds, of which Earth is one (large and ignorant), Lucy's world is another (tiny, largely irrelevant), and six others fill various positions (has magic! has super technology! has a lot of beautiful scenery and is great for vacations!)

(In Lucy's world, adolescents have already gotten all their schooling, taken civil service exams, and are ready to serve as minor bureaucratic functionaries. We roll with it.)

Unfortunately, Lucy's boss has mysteriously disappeared, leaving Lucy alone to cope with a broken world-door, an amiable but hapless Earth teenager named Arthur who took a wrong turn and can't get home, and a collection of intelligent magical bees.

Like any good minor bureaucratic functionary, Lucy promptly attempts to escalate the problem to the proper officials! Alas, this is the kind of book where, it turns out, the proper officials cannot at all be trusted, leaving Lucy and her sidekick Arthur to solve the collapse of the multiverse with only the tools at hand: Lucy's organizational skills, Arthur's cheerful willingness to roll with anything, some chance-met connections in the inter-universe smuggling underground, and, of course, the bees. A solidly enjoyable middle-grade read; the bees are a delight and I support them in all their endeavors.
skygiants: Azula from Avatar: the Last Airbender with her hands on Mai and Ty Lee's shoulders (team hardcore)
I am on a really enjoyable streak of books that are extremely good and also extremely gay! The difference with Zen Cho's The True Queen is that I was quite sure before I began it that at least the first part would be true based on how much I consistently love everything Zen has ever written, and my expectations were very much lived up to.

The True Queen is set in the same magical-Regency world as Sorcerer to the Crown, Zen's first novel -- although I feel a bit strange now describing it as magical-Regency because The True Queen has a scope much broader than Britain. In fact the book begins in Janda Baik, Malaysia, where amnesiac probably-sisters Muna and Sakti have washed ashore and been taken under the wing of everybody's favorite strong-minded elderly witch Mak Genggang. Sakti has a vast amount of magic and self-confidence and also a curse; Muna has none of those things but she does have a deal of good sense that Sakti is in sore need of, which is enough to land her the role of primary protagonist!

However, Muna's good sense is not quite enough to prevent Muna and Sakti from getting themselves into such a Serious Scrape such that the only course is for them to be sent far away to England, where Sakti can participate in a magical exchange program at a school for young ladies set up by Prunella Gentleman, the British Sorcerer Royal (formerly seen as one of the primary protagonists in Sorcerer to the Crown).

Unfortunately, various intersecting plots interfere with this plan, including:

- mysterious disappearances
- stolen magical artifacts
- an irritable polong who just wants to steal
- complex internecine Fairy politics
- a distressed dragon's efforts to rescue his moderately less distressed (but still imperiled) boyfriend
- An Extremely Powerful Aunt
- and, as is inevitable in any plot about amnesiac sisters, Muna and Sakti's own secret identities, and how that impacts their relationship with each other

Like Sorcerer to the Crown, The True Queen is a delightful Regency romp that steadfastly refuses to ignore the imperialism that Regency romps most often prefer to skate quickly over. However, for all that much of the book takes place in England, Muna's world and concerns generally lie well outside of it and so the impact on her and the book as a whole is quite different -- there's some very good stuff about this in a recent interview, but overall it makes for a book that is both very satisfying and very satisfyingly different than the first. Strongly recommend both!
skygiants: Jupiter from Jupiter Ascending, floating over the crowd in her space prom gown (space princess)
I really dug E.K. Johnston's Queen's Shadow, the just-released book about Padmé and her handmaidens. The book begins when Padmé ends her queenship and covers Padmé's her first year or two as senator, and there's not a lot of plot, per se, but it does the thing that really good fanfiction does of digging deep into characterization and worldbuilding to make sense of things that don't necessarily make a ton of sense in canon.

I especially loved the exploration of Padmé's persona as Queen Amidala and the way she learns to alter that persona for her role as Senator, and the amount of strategic analysis she and all her team put into that -- and also the way that her actions in the Senate during the first movie have a very real and not necessarily positive impact on the way that both her putative enemies and allies regard her.

Also, handmaidens! So many handmaidens! Artsy handmaidens! Political handmaidens! Hacker handmaidens! GAY HANDMAIDENS!

(All the handmaidens are a little bit gay, but some are much gayer than others.)

In addition to the above, you will probably enjoy this book if you like:

- encouraging explorations of the way that sitting on a committee about concrete transportation can have a real impact on both Galactic policy and the every day lives of the people you represent
- loving descriptions of incredible space outfits with lots of Genevieve Valentine-style analysis about what kind of image they're meant to convey for political purposes
- affectionate shout-outs to Bail Organa's ever-present Clone Wars green turtleneck
- Getting The Band Together scenes with Padmé and her most important canon political allies
- a lot of fairly hilarious dunking on poor Rush Clovis, whom E.K. Johnston has absolutely no time for
- really intense loyalty dynamics between royalty and their sworn servants/bodyguards
- I mean TECHNICALLY there is nothing EXPLICITLY in the book stating Padmé/Sabé as a canon romantic relationship, but Padmé is constantly thinking things like "She missed Sabé like she would miss the sun," Sabé IS canon bi, and the conversation with her own one-book casual love interest goes "You love her" "of course I do; she will always pick Naboo, and I will always pick her"
- so, you know, if you're into that sort of thing, E.K. Johnston is definitely not telling you NOT to be into it, is all I'm saying

(Please note: I am currently playing an ex-Naboo handmaiden in a tabletop roleplaying campaign and Johnston's assumptions about how handmaidens work and how gay they probably are overlap pleasingly with my own; this ALSO may have had something to do with how much I enjoyed this book.)
skygiants: a figure in white and a figure in red stand in a courtyard in front of a looming cathedral (cour des miracles)
Some of you may recall that time I discovered a perfect lost book two years ago by a mid-century author I had never heard of and immediately decided to embark upon a quest to read everything Audrey Erskine Lindop had ever written.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I tell you, I know this priest."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some specific character and grail spoilers )

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Okay, but does any of this actually explain why you like Russian Doll?
A: I guess I just really like stories that treat human connection as the miracle it kind of is?
Q: Also you just like things that are weird enough to get stuck in your brain and irritate it like a grain of sand in an oyster shell while still feeling deeply grounded in relatably petty human concerns.
A: This also is true.
Q: And you like the soundtrack.


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

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